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Chapter 40

Of The Sorcerers In The Isle Of Minda

"Tiffin! tiffin!" cried Media; "time for tiffin! Up, comrades! and
while the mat is being spread, walk we to the bow, and inhale the
breeze for an appetite. Hark ye, Vee-Vee! forget not that calabash
with the sea-blue seal, and a round ring for a brand. Rare old stuff,
that, Mohi; older than you: the circumnavigator, I call it. My sire
had a canoe launched for the express purpose of carrying it thrice
round Mardi for a flavor. It was many moons on the voyage; the
mariners never sailed faster than three knots. Ten would spoil the
best wine ever floated."

Tiffin over, and the blue-sealed calabash all but hid in the great
cloud raised by our pipes, Media proposed to board it in the smoke.
So, goblet in hand, we all gallantly charged, and came off victorious
from the fray.

Then seated again, and serenely puffing in a circle, the
circumnavigator meanwhile pleasantly going the rounds, Media called
upon Mohi for something entertaining.

Now, of all the old gossips in Mardi, surely our delightful old
Diodorus was furnished with the greatest possible variety of
histories, chronicles, anecdotes, memoirs, legends, traditions, and
biographies. There was no end to the library he carried. In himself,
he was the whole history of Mardi, amplified, not abridged, in one

In obedience, then, to King Media's command, Mohi regaled the company
with a narrative, in substance as follows:--

In a certain quarter of the Archipelago was an island called Minda;
and in Minda were many sorcerers, employed in the social differences
and animosities of the people of that unfortunate land. If a Mindarian
deemed himself aggrieved or insulted by a countryman, he forthwith
repaired to one of these sorcerers; who, for an adequate
consideration, set to work with his spells, keeping himself in the
dark, and directing them against the obnoxious individual. And full
soon, by certain peculiar sensations, this individual, discovering
what was going on, would straightway hie to his own professor of the
sable art, who, being well feed, in due time brought about certain
counter-charms, so that in the end it sometimes fell out that neither
party was gainer or loser, save by the sum of his fees.

But the worst of it was, that in some cases all knowledge of these
spells were at the outset hidden from the victim; who, hearing too
late of the mischief brewing, almost always fell a prey to his foe;
which calamity was held the height of the art. But as the great body
of sorcerers were about matched in point of skill, it followed that
the parties employing them were so likewise. Hence arose those
interminable contests, in which many moons were spent, both parties
toiling after their common destruction.

Indeed, to say nothing of the obstinacy evinced by their employers, it
was marvelous, the pertinacity of the sorcerers themselves. To the
very last tooth in their employer's pouches, they would stick to their
spells; never giving over till he was financially or physically

But much as they were vilified, no people in Minda were half so
disinterested as they. Certain indispensable conditions secured, some
of them were as ready to undertake the perdition of one man as
another; good, bad, or indifferent, it made little matter.

What wonder, then, that such abominable mercenaries should cause a
mighty deal of mischief in Minda; privately going about, inciting
peaceable folks to enmities with their neighbors; and with marvelous
alacrity, proposing themselves as the very sorcerers to rid them of
the annoyances suggested as existing.

Indeed, it even happened that a sorcerer would be secretly retained to
work spells upon a victim, who, from his bodily sensations, suspecting
something wrong, but knowing not what, would repair to that self-same
sorcerer, engaging him to counteract any mischief that might be
brewing. And this worthy would at once undertake the business; when,
having both parties in his hands, he kept them forever in suspense;
meanwhile seeing to it well, that they failed not in handsomely
remunerating him for his pains.

At one time, there was a prodigious excitement about these sorcerers,
growing out of some alarming revelations concerning their practices.
In several villages of Minda, they were sought to be put down. But
fruitless the attempt; it was soon discovered that already their
spells were so spread abroad, and they themselves so mixed up with the
everyday affairs of the isle, that it was better to let their vocation
alone, than, by endeavoring to suppress it, breed additional troubles.
Ah! they were a knowing and a cunning set, those sorcerers; very hard
to overcome, cajole, or circumvent.

But in the name of the Magi, what were these spells of theirs, so
potent and occult? On all hands it was agreed, that they derived their
greatest virtue from the fumes of certain compounds, whose
ingredients--horrible to tell--were mostly obtained from the human
heart; and that by variously mixing these ingredients, they adapted
their multifarious enchantments.

They were a vain and arrogant race. Upon the strength of their dealing
in the dark, they affected even more mystery than belonged to them;
when interrogated concerning their science, would confound the
inquirer by answers couched in an extraordinary jargon, employing
words almost as long as anacondas. But all this greatly prevailed with
the common people.

Nor was it one of the least remarkable things, that oftentimes two
sorcerers, contrarily employed upon a Mindarian,--one to attack, the
other to defend,--would nevertheless be upon the most friendly terms
with each other; which curious circumstance never begat the slightest
suspicions in the mind of the victim.

Another phenomenon: If from any cause, two sorcerers fell out, they
seldom exercised their spells upon each other; ascribable to this,
perhaps,--that both being versed in the art, neither could hope to get
the advantage.

But for all the opprobrium cast upon these sorcerers, part of which
they deserved, the evils imputed to them were mainly, though
indirectly, ascribable to the very persons who abused them; nay, to
the very persons who employed them; the latter being by far the
loudest in their vilifyings; for which, indeed, they had excellent

Nor was it to be denied, that in certain respects, the sorcerers were
productive of considerable good. The nature of their pursuits leading
them deep into the arcana of mind, they often lighted upon important
discoveries; along with much that was cumbersome, accumulated valuable
examples concerning the inner working of the hearts of the Mindarians;
and often waxed eloquent in elucidating the mysteries of iniquity.

Yet was all this their lore graven upon so uncouth, outlandish, and
antiquated tablets, that it was all but lost to the mass of their
countrymen; and some old sachem of a wise man is quoted as having
said, that their treasures were locked up after such a fashion, that
for old iron, the key was worth more than the chest and its contents.

Herman Melville