Oliver Haddo lifted his huge bulk from the low chair in which he had been sitting. He began to walk up and down the studio. It was quite strange to see this heavy man, whose seriousness was always problematical, caught up by a curious excitement.
“You’ve been talking of Paracelsus,” he said. “There is one of his experiments which the doctor has withheld from you. You will find it neither mean nor mercenary, but it is very terrible. I do not know whether the account of it is true, but it would be of extraordinary interest to test it for oneself.”
He looked round at the four persons who watched him intently. There was a singular agitation in his manner, as though the thing of which he spoke was very near his heart.
“The old alchemists believed in the possibility of spontaneous generation. By the combination of psychical powers and of strange essences they claim to have created forms in which life became manifest. Of these the most marvellous were those strange beings, male and female, which were called homunculi. The old philosophers doubted the possibility of this operation, but Paracelsus asserts positively that it can be done. I picked up once for a song on a barrow at London Bridge a little book in German. It was dirty and thumbed, many of the pages were torn, and the binding scarcely held the leaves together. It was called Die Sphinx and was edited by a certain Dr. Emil Besetzny. It contained the most extraordinary accounts I have ever read of certain spirits generated by Johann-Ferdi-