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White Magic

I SPENT one evening last summer with my friend Mauger,
pharmacien in the little town of Jacques-le-Port. He pro-
nounces his name Major, by-the-bye, it being a quaint custom of
the Islands to write proper names one way and speak them another,
thus serving to bolster up that old, old story of the German
savant’s account of the difficulties of the English language “where
you spell a man’s name Verulam,” says he reproachfully, “and
pronounce it Bacon.”

Mauger and I sat in the pleasant wood-panelled parlour behind
the shop, from whence all sorts of aromatic odours found their
way in through the closed door to mingle with the fragrance of
figs, Ceylon tea, and hot gôches-à-beurre constituting the excellent
meal spread before us. The large old-fashioned windows were
wide open, and I looked straight out upon the harbour, filled with
holiday yachts, and the wonderful azure sea.

Over against the other islands, opposite, a gleam of white
streaked the water, white clouds hung motionless in the blue sky,
and a tiny boat with white sails passed out round Falla Point. A
white butterfly entered the room to flicker in gay uncertain curves
above the cloth, and a warm reflected light played over the slender
rat-tailed forks and spoons, and raised by a tone or two the colour


                        60 White Magic

of Mauger’s tanned face and yellow beard. For, in spite of a
sedentary profession, his preferences lie with an out-of-door life,
and he takes an afternoon off whenever practicable, as he had done
that day, to follow his favourite pursuit over the golf-links at Les

While he had been deep in the mysteries of teeing and putting,
with no subtler problem to be solved than the judicious selection of
mashie and cleek, I had explored some of the curious cromlechs or
pouquelayes scattered over this part of the island, and my thoughts
and speech harked back irresistibly to the strange old religions and
usages of the past.

“Science is all very well in its way,” said I ; “and of course
it’s an inestimable advantage to inhabit this so-called nineteenth
century ; but the mediaeval want of science was far more pic-
turesque. The once universal belief in charms and portents, in
wandering saints, and fighting fairies, must have lent an interest
to life which these prosaic days sadly lack. Madelon then would
steal from her bed on moonlight nights in May, and slip across the
dewy grass with naked feet, to seek the reflection of her future
husband’s face in the first running stream she passed ; now, Miss
Mary Jones puts on her bonnet and steps round the corner, on
no more romantic errand than the investment of her month’s
wages in the savings bank at two and a half per cent.”

Mauger laughed. “I wish she did anything half so prudent !
That has not been my experience of the Mary Joneses.”

“Well, anyhow,” I insisted, “the Board school has rationalised
them. It has pulled up the innate poetry of their nature to replace
it by decimal fractions.”

To which Mauger answered “Rot !” and offered me his
cigarette-case. After the first few silent whiffs, he went on as
follows : “The innate poetry of Woman ! Confess now, there is


                        By Ella D’Arcy 61

no more unpoetic creature under the sun. Offer her the sublimest
poetry ever written and the Daily Telegraph’s latest article on
fashions, or a good sound murder or reliable divorce, and there’s no
betting on her choice, for it’s a dead certainty. Many men have
a love of poetry, but I’m inclined to think that a hundred women
out of ninety-nine positively dislike it.”

Which struck me as true. “We’ll drop the poetry, then,” I
answered ; “but my point remains, that if the girl of to-day has no
superstitions, the girl of to-morrow will have no beliefs. Teach
her to sit down thirteen to table, to spill the salt, and walk under
a ladder with equanimity, and you open the door for Spencer and
Huxley, and—and all the rest of it,” said I, coming to an impotent

“Oh, if superstition were the salvation of woman—but you are
thinking of young ladies in London, I suppose ? Here, in the
Islands, I can show you as much superstition as you please. I’m
not sure that the country-people in their heart of hearts don’t still
worship the old gods of the pouquelayes. You would not, of
course, find any one to own up to it, or to betray the least glimmer
of an idea as to your meaning, were you to question him, for ours is
a shrewd folk, wearing their orthodoxy bravely ; but possibly the
old beliefs are cherished with the more ardour for not being openly
avowed. Now you like bits of actuality. I’ll give you one, and
a proof, too, that the modern maiden is still separated by many a
fathom of salt sea-water from these fortunate isles.

“Some time ago, on a market morning, a girl came into
the shop, and asked for some blood from a dragon. ‘Some what ?’
said I, not catching her words. ‘Well, just a little blood from a
dragon,’ she answered very tremulously, and blushing. She meant
of course, ‘dragon’s blood,’ a resinous powder, formerly much used
in medicine, though out of fashion now.

The Yellow Book—Vol. III. D


                        62 White Magic

“She was a pretty young creature, with pink cheeks and dark
eyes, and a forlorn expression of countenance which didn’t seem at
all to fit in with her blooming health. Not from the town, or I
should have known her face ; evidently come from one of the
country parishes to sell her butter and eggs. I was interested to
discover what she wanted the ‘dragon’s blood’ for, and after a
certain amount of hesitation she told me. ‘They do say it’s good,
sir, if anything should have happened betwixt you an’ your young
man. ‘Then you have a young man ?’ said I. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘And you’ve fallen out with him ?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ And tears rose
to her eyes at the admission, while her mouth rounded with awe
at my amazing perspicacity. And you mean to send him some
dragon’s blood as a love potion ?’ ‘No, sir ; you’ve got to mix
it with water you ve fetched from the Three Sisters Well, and
drink it yourself in nine sips on nine nights running, and get into
bed without once looking in the glass, and then if you’ve done
everything properly, and haven’t made any mistake, he’ll come
back to you, an’ love you twice as much as before.’ ‘And la
mѐre Todevinn (Tostevin) gave you that precious recipe, and
made you cross her hand with silver into the bargain,’ said I
severely ; on which the tears began to flow outright.

“You know the old lady,” said Mauger, breaking off his narra-
tion, ” who lives in the curious stone house at the corner of the
market-place ? A reputed witch who learned both black and
white magic from her mother, who was a daughter of Hélier
Mouton, the famous sorcerer of Cakeuro. I could tell you some
funny stories relating to la Mѐre Todevinn, who numbers more
clients among the officers and fine ladies here than in any other
class ; and very curious, too, is the history of that stone house, with
the Brancourt arms still sculptured on the side. You can see them,
if you turn down by the Water-gate. This old sinister-looking


                        By Ella D’Arcy 63

building, or rather portion of a building, for more modern houses
have been built over the greater portion of the site, and now press
upon it from either hand, once belonged to one of the finest man-
sions in the islands, but through a curse and a crime has been
brought down to its present condition ; while the Brancourt
family have long since been utterly extinct. But all this isn’t the
story of Elsie Mahy, which turned out to be the name of my little

“The Mahys are of the Vauvert parish, and Pierre Jean, the
father of this girl, began life as a day-labourer, took to tomato-
growing on borrowed capital, and now owns a dozen glass-houses
of his own. Mrs. Mahy does some dairy-farming on a minute
scale, the profits of which she and Miss Elsie share as pin-money.
The young man who is courting Elsie is a son of Toumes the
builder. He probably had something to do with the putting up of
Mahy’s greenhouses, but anyhow, he has been constantly over at
Vauvert during the last six months, superintending the alterations
at de Câterelle’s place.

“Toumes, it would seem, is a devoted but imperious lover, and
the Persian and Median laws are as butter compared with the
inflexibility of his decisions. The little rift within the lute, which
has lately turned all the music to discord, occurred last Monday
week—bank-holiday, as you may remember. The Sunday school
to which Elsie belongs—and it’s a strange anomaly, isn’t it, that
a girl going to Sunday school should still have a rooted belief in
white magic ?—the school was to go for an outing to Prawn Bay,
and Toumes had arranged to join his sweetheart at the starting-
point. But he had made her promise that if by any chance he
should be delayed, she would not go with the others, but would
wait until he came to fetch her.

“Of course, it so happened that he was detained, and, equally of


                        64 White Magic

course, Elsie, like a true woman, went off without him. She did
all she knew to make me believe she went quite against her own
wishes, that her companions forced her to go. The beautifully
yielding nature of a woman never comes out so conspicuously as
when she is being coerced into following her own secret desires.
Anyhow, Toumes, arriving some time later, found her gone. He
followed on, and under ordinary circumstances, I suppose, a sharp
reprimand would have been considered sufficient. Unfortunately,
the young man arrived on the scene to find his truant love deep
in the frolics of kiss-in-the-ring. After tea in the Câterelle
Arms, the whole party had adjourned to a neighbouring meadow,
and were thus whiling away the time to the exhilarating strains of
a French horn and a concertina. Elsie was led into the centre of
the ring by various country bumpkins, and kissed beneath the eyes
of heaven, of her neighbours, and of her embittered swain.

“You may have been amongst us long enough to know that
the Toumes family are of a higher social grade than the Mahys,
and I suppose the Misses Toumes never in their lives stooped to
anything so ungenteel as public kiss-in-the-ring. It was not sur-
prising, therefore, to hear that after this incident ‘me an’ my
young man had words,’ as Elsie put it.

“Note,” said Mauger, “the descriptive truth of this expression
‘having words.’ Among the unlettered, lovers only do have
words when vexed. At other times they will sit holding hands
throughout a long summer’s afternoon, and not exchange two
remarks an hour. Love seals their tongue ; anger alone unlooses
it, and, naturally, when unloosened, it runs on, from sheer want of
practice, a great deal faster and farther than they desire.

“So, life being thorny and youth being vain, they parted late
that same evening, with the understanding that they would meet
no more ; and to be wroth with one we love worked its usual


                        By Ella D’Arcy 65

harrowing effects. Toumes took to billiards and brandy, Elsie to
tears and invocations of Beelzebub ; then came Mѐre Todevinn’s
recipe, my own more powerful potion, and now once more all is
silence and balmy peace.”

“Do you mean to tell me you sold the child a charm, and
didn’t enlighten her as to its futility ?”

“I sold her some bicarbonate of soda worth a couple of
doubles, and charged her five shillings for it into the bargain,”
said Mauger unblushingly. ” A wrinkle I learned from once over-
hearing an old lady I had treated for nothing expatiating to a
crony, ‘Eh, but, my good, my good ! dat Mr. Major, I don’t
t’ink much of him. He give away his add-vice an’ his meddecines
for nuddin. Dey not wort nuddin’ neider, for sure.’ So I
made Elsie hand me over five British shillings, and gave her the
powder, and told her to drink it with her meals. But I threw
in another prescription, which, if less important, must nevertheless
be punctiliously carried out, if the charm was to have any effect.
‘The very next time,’ I told her, ‘that you meet your young
man in the street, walk straight up to him without looking to the
right or to the left, and hold out your hand, saying these words :
“Please, I so want to be friends again !” Then if you’ve been a
good girl, have taken the powder regularly, and not forgotten
one of my directions, you’ll find that all will come right.’

“Now, little as you may credit it,” said Mauger, smiling, “the
charm worked, for all that we live in the so-called nineteenth
century. Elsie came into the shop only yesterday to tell me the
results, and to thank me very prettily. ‘I shall always come to
you now, sir,’ she was good enough to say, ‘I mean, if anything
was to go wrong again. You know a great deal more than Mѐre
Todevinn, I’m sure.’ ‘Yes, I’m a famous sorcerer,’ said I, ‘but
you had better not speak about the powder. You are wise enough


                        66 White Magic

to see that it was just your own conduct in meeting your young
man rather more than halfway, that did the trick—eh ?’ She
looked at me with eyes brimming over with wisdom. ‘You
needn’t be afraid, sir, I’ll not speak of it. Mѐre Todevinn
always made me promise to keep silence too. But of course I
know it was the powder that worked the charm.’

“And to that belief the dear creature will stick to the last day
of her life. Women are wonderful enigmas. Explain to them
that tight-lacing displaces all the internal organs, and show them
diagrams to illustrate your point, they smile sweetly, say, ‘Oh,
how funny !’ and go out to buy their new stays half an inch
smaller than their old ones. But tell them they must never pass
a pin in the street for luck’s sake, if it lies with its point towards
them, and they will sedulously look for and pick up every such
confounded pin they see. Talk to a woman of the marvels of
science, and she turns a deaf ear, or refuses point-blank to believe
you ; yet she is absolutely all ear for any old wife’s tale, drinks
it greedily in, and never loses hold of it for the rest of her

“But does she ?” said I; “that’s the point in dispute, and
though your story shows there’s still a commendable amount of
superstition in the Islands, I’m afraid if you were to come to
London, you would not find sufficient to cover a threepenny-

“Woman is woman all the world over,” said Mauger senten-
tiously, “no matter what mental garb happens to be in fashion at
the time. Grattez la femme et vous trouvez la folle. For see here :
if I had said to Mademoiselle Elsie, ‘Well, you were in the wrong ;
it’s your place to take the first step towards reconciliation,’ she
would have laughed in my face, or flung out of the shop in a rage.
But because I sold her a little humbugging powder under the


                        By Ella D’Arcy 67

guise of a charm, she submitted herself with the docility of a pet
lambkin. No ; one need never hope to prevail through wisdom
with a woman, and if I could have realised that ten years ago, it
would have been better for me.”

He fell silent, thinking of his past, which to me, who knew it,
seemed almost an excuse for his cynicism. I sought a change of
idea. The splendour of the pageant outside supplied me with

The sun had set ; and all the eastern world of sky and water,
stretching before us, was steeped in the glories of the after-glow.
The ripples seemed painted in dabs of metallic gold upon a
surface of polished blue-grey steel. Over the islands opposite hung
a far-reaching golden cloud, with faint-drawn, up-curled edges, as
though thinned out upon the sky by some monster brush ; and
while I watched it, this cloud changed from gold to rose-colour,
and instantly the steel mirror of the sea glowed rosy too, and was
streaked and shaded with a wonderful rosy-brown. As the colour
grew momentarily more intense in the sky above, so did the sea
appear to pulse to a more vivid copperish-rose, until at last it was
like nothing so much as a sea of flowing fire. And the cloud
flamed fiery too, yet all the while its up-curled edges rested
in exquisite contrast upon a background of most cool cerulean

The little sailing-boat, which I had noticed an hour previously,
reappeared from behind the Point. The sail was lowered as it
entered the harbour, and the boatman took to his oars. I watched
it creep over the glittering water until it vanished beneath the
window-sill. I got up and went over to the window to hold it
still in sight. It was sculled by a young man in rosy shirt-sleeves,
and opposite to him, in the stern, sat a girl in a rosy gown.

So long as I had observed them, not one word had either spoken.


                        68 White Magic

In silence they had crossed the harbour, in silence the sculler had
brought his craft alongside the landing-stage, and secured her to a
ring in the stones. Still silent, he helped his companion to step
out upon the quay.

“Here,” said I, to Mauger, “is a couple confirming your
‘silent’ theory with a vengeance. We must suppose that much
love has rendered them absolutely dumb.”

He came, and leaned from the window too.

“It’s not a couple, but the couple,” said he ; “and after all, in
spite of cheap jesting, there are some things more eloquent
than speech.” For at this instant, finding themselves alone upon
the jetty, the young man had taken the girl into his arms, and she had
lifted a frank responsive mouth to return his kiss.

Five minutes later the sea had faded into dull greys and sober
browns, starved white clouds moved dispiritedly over a vacant sky,
and by cricking the back of my neck I was able to follow
Toumes’ black coat and the white frock of Miss Elsie until they
reached Poidevin’s wine-vaults, and, turning up the Water-gate,
were lost to view.

MLA citation:

D’Arcy, Ella. “White Magic.” The Yellow Book, vol. 3, October 1894, pp. 59-68. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010- 2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.