Nineteen Forty-Six. The Genethliac

23 Dec

Lafayette was ablaze with purple magnolia, camellia, azalea, wistaria, and crape myrtle in the early blossoming spring of 1946. Cajun Louisiana appeared bursting with joy.

Basil Foin, eager to leave for New Orleans, sat on the porch waiting impatiently for the two strangers coming to take him to that city and his future there.

He had written and received letters from the widow, Margaret Boll, about his work and ideas. It was a surprise when she informed him that she was going to bring him to the metropolis, where he was to take up her late husband’s astrological practice. Events were moving faster than he had anticipated. His mind was exhilarated with hopeful expectations about what would happen in the city.

The practice in New Orleans was a prosperous one, built up over two decades. Basil had read the ad that the widow had placed in the state astrological newsletter and had written to inquire about the new vacancy. Acceptance was surprisingly swift. He had given notice to his landlord and packed up. Mrs. Boll offered to come with a friend who owned an automobile and transport him to the French Quarter apartment where her late husband had lived with her and saw his clients. There were two rooms with privacy that she offered him. Basil’s acceptance was immediate.

Who is this August Royer driving her to Lafayette? he wondered. The name was one he had seen somewhere. A search through back issues of the astrological monthly established he was someone of importance: the president of the New Orleans siderocasters, their leading figure.

The slim, athletic Cajun sat on the porch swing of his rooming house on College Avenue, near the Southwestern Louisiana Institute. His lively, slate gray eyes scanned the empty street again and again. Finally, a 1940 Ford appeared that Basil knew at once had come for him. He rushed at a run to the curb where it stopped, waving at the two inside the vehicle.

A short, full-figured woman whose brunette hair was streaked with white climbed out of the passenger side. The driver was a tall, sinewy bruin in a light brown suit and a straw hat. Mrs. Boll introduced herself and offered her hand. Her dress was bright orange, unusual for a recently bereaved wife in 1946.

“I’ve been waiting to see and meet you,” she said, a radiant grin on her unlined face.

The man who had driven her to Lafayette approached from behind them, studying Basil with forceful raven eyes.

Margaret Boll introduced the two men, who shook hands vigorously.

“If you are ready,” suggested Royer, “we can load your bags in the car trunk.”

This task took less than a minute for the two men to complete. “Shall we start back at once?” said the driver as he closed the lid of the luggage compartment.

Basil climbed into the rear seat while the New Orleaners sat in the front.

Soon they were rolling along past camellias, bridal wreaths, bamboo hedges, live oaks. and cypress trees. Leaving Lafayette behind, the car headed toward New Iberia and the Crescent City that was their destination. The driver remained silent, but Margaret asked her new tenant questions she could not pose by letter or telephone.

“You believe that you picked up an interest in asterocasting from your mother, you say?”

“That’s right. She knew much Acadian lore. Reading stars and constellations was an abiding interest with her. Signs in the heavens fascinated my mother. She passed on what she knew to me and I learned all that I could.”

“You wrote that you attended college in Lafayette.”

“Yes. That was in 1943. I dropped out for financial reasons and volunteered for the Army. My major was going to be philosophy. Not too practical, of course. I still read a lot in my free hours. My favorite thinker is Leibnitz. I believe much of his monadism helps to explain the nature and meaning of horoscopy. Take the human soul, for example.

“It has no extension, shape, or parts to it. The soul is indivisible, indestructible, and unchanging. The soul is a mirror that reflects the entire universe of other monads. So, that makes each of us a microcosmic reflector of the universal All. I think that is where to find the explanation for the craft of the genethliac.”

“The what?” inquired the mystified widow.

Basil gave a friendly grin. “It’s a medieval name for what is today an astrologer. Finding the position of the stars and planets at the time of someone’s birth and mapping out that influence in the life of the individual. Over many ages, the adepts have calculated from the hyleg. You must know what that is, Mrs. Boll.”

The latter turned her head around and peered with suppressed indignation at Basil.

“Of course. My late husband schooled me in the work he did. He always began a horoscope from the hyleg, the astrological position of the planets at the time of birth. Nothing is more important or determining than that.”

All at once, the driver spoke. “You succeeded in building a clientele in Lafayette in a very short time, it would appear. That is not an easy thing to accomplish. Not the way things are in today’s America.”

“My late husband, Howard, came from Texas,” declared Mrs. Boll. “It took him years to establish himself in New Orleans. We had enormous difficulty, at first. Our life together was not easy at all.”

“You have to be a New Orleanine yourself,” said Basil. “I can tell by how you talk.”

“Yes,” she said, then continued her questioning. “What is the date of your birth, may I ask?” she said in a soft murmur.

“I’m a Capricorn, born right on New Year’s Day.”

“That is highly auspicious. I believe the first day of the calendar year is a lucky one.”

“I hope so,” said Basil to himself.

Under Mayor Robert S. Maestri, the last local chieftain of Huey Long’s machine still in office, the New Orleans police had during World War II discouraged fortune-telling, palmistry, and astrology. Various types of diviners hid behind names meant to be disguises. Augurs, presagers, Chaldeans, prognosticators, and sortilegers put out signs to advertise their services. Old palmists became chirmancers, dream-readers became oneiromancers. What did astrologers do under such conditions? A few tried the label of astromancer, but continued to be harassed. A protective society formed. Under the title of siderocaster, survivors obtained business licenses. The president of this association was August Royer.

Basil Fain walked in a trance up and down the streets of the old Vieux Carre. The apartment in which Margaret lived was on Dumaine St. Down that narrow street was an old structure described by George Washington Cable. Lady Jane’s house, as it was called, had been left to a quadroon woman and her illegitimate infant by her lover. It was a famous building.

Within a week, Basil was settled in. It was time for him to begin work on horoscopes for the old customers of Howard Boll. One morning Margaret told him that the old patrons were calling up, saying they wanted to meet the new caster.

Basil hesitated, then made an unexpected confession to her.

“My dream is to become an innovator. Conventional, traditional horoscopes are tedious and monotonous.”

“Monotonous!” she bristled in surprise. Her veronica blue eyes gleamed with amazement. “How can they be monotonous?”

He pursed his thin lips. Perhaps he should not have used that word, an inner voice told him. It had outraged her feelings.

“There must always be more exploration. I have drawn up original chartings of my own. In the war years, my thinking carried me into unknown regions. My aim was to investigate the unknown heaven.”

“Unknown heaven? What is that, Basil?” anxiously asked the widow.

He decided he had to reveal what he had in mind.

“There are mysteries that mankind has had only hints of. For thousands of years, astrologers have concentrated their attention on a single zodiac with twelve signs and houses. This belt is transversed by the sun, the moon, and the visible planets. But we know that the universe contains many other bodies.

“You remember that I told you about my studies of Leibnitz and his monadism? That opened my eyes to new possibilities in the genethliac field. Let me explain.

“Every monad that exists is a miniature universe, a tiny microcosm of the actual world. Monads vary in their properties of activity and passivity. The degree of clarity, of distinction of its representation of the whole universe depends on the degree of activity within the monad. The highest level of activity is in spiritual beings, like the human soul. It is the soul of each of us that creates our perceptions of the universe and all it contains. All our ideas are innate in nature and origin. They have been engraved within our souls. The material body does not act upon the soul to produce our thoughts. Neither does our soul propel our body into motion. Think of it this way: the body acts as if it has no soul, and the soul as if it has no body. The two are separate monads, yet they act as if they were predetermined clocks.”

Margaret looked puzzled. “What does that mean?” she inquired.

“There is a predetermined, inevitable harmony between the human soul and the universal All. If we look within our interiority, we find a map of all the monads in existence. They are within as well as outside.”

She experienced a sudden insight. “All the heavenly bodies, too?  What you called the unknown heaven?”

Basil beamed with joy at her rapid comprehension.

“The stars and the planets are not influences from outside, they are innate factors within the monads of our souls. We were born with these interioralities. What does a genethliac do, then? He charts the configurations within that reflect the universe without. That is all that is needed.”

“That is breathtaking,” sighed the widow. “But how does all this affect the casting of horoscopes?”

He replied to her with a series of questions of his own.

“Why is it that astrologers concentrate on the twelve houses of the zodiac belt? Aren’t there many more asterisms and constellations in the sky? What about the northern region? And the southern? Have they nothing to tell us about human destiny and the future?”

“My husband never said anything like that,” she muttered. “This is all new to me.”

Basil rose, moved over to where she sat in the living room, and took her right hand in his.

“Trust me. Please, trust me. I have charts to show you, Margaret. Come with me to my room. I’ll explain how much more complete horoscopes are possible, with two additional cingula in the sky. There can be two more belts crossing the heavens.”

“The unknown heavens,” whispered the woman to herself.

The genethliac pointed out the signs of the new northern cingulum on a giant star map lying on a study table in his sitting room. Ursa Major the Great Bear, Bootes the Bearkeeper, Hercules the Athlete, Ophincus the Serpent-Holding Doctor, Aquila the Eagle, Delphinus the Dolphin, Pegasus the Winged Horse, Andromeda rescued from a sea monster by Perseus. Then there followed Perseus the Slayer of the Medusa, Auriga the Charioteer, Cygnus the Swan, and Cassiopia the Mother of Andromeda.

“There is also a third, southern belt of houses,” explained Basil. indicating the location of the twelve signs in the southern hemisphere of the heavens.

Cetus the Sea Monster, Eridanus the Heavenly River, Orion the Hunter, Monocerus the Unicorn, Canis Major the Great Dog, Argo the Ship, Hydra the Nine-Headed Serpent, Centaurus the Centaur, Lupus the Wolf, Phoenix the Immortal Bird, Pavo the Peacock, and Covus the Raven.

Margaret was overwhelmed by these two new zodiacal cingula. It was like a new universe to her. Everything she thought she knew about astrology was changed.

“There are twenty-four new houses of fortune and destiny,” Basil explained to her. “Each person will be born now with three hyleg signs, not just one. As you can see on the sky map, I have drawn lines from the ecliptic of the sun, the moon, and the planets to each northern and southern constellation. The interpretation of each combination of sign and planet has been started. I have composed scores of individual horoscopes within this triple system of astral belts. They are detailed and accurate, and hold the promise of spectacular success.”

The two of them gazed at each other in silence for a time. Margaret Boll was astounded when Basil leaned forward and kissed her brow gently.

What does that mean? she asked herself as she stepped back and leaned over the sky map. Why did Basil do that to me?

“Let me show you how I can cast a new horoscope for you,” he said to his landlady.

The genethliac made new nativity charts for the clients he inherited from Margaret’s late husband. He revealed to each man or woman their two additional astrological signs and houses. Confused at first, they came to accept the new orientation he brought with him. Unprecedented precision characterized the work of this new siderocaster. Clear, detailed specificity made them highly satisfied with the results. Talk of his success spread far beyond the French Quarter. New customers sought him out. By late summer, every astrologer in New Orleans knew of his breakthrough in the ancient art of the horoscope.

Rumors spread about the relationship of tenant and landlady. They were seen together in restaurants and on sidewalks. Many tried to guess how close they were. Wits made jokes about the pair. Has he won her heart? asked some sour spinsters.

The astrological community of New Orleans had for over a generation held an annual assembly at which officers for the coming year were elected and important matters discussed and decided. The August, 1946 gathering was set at the private dining hall of a popular French Quarter estaminet. Even the cooks in the kitchen could not overhear the talk in the reserved chamber. It was professional and recondite.

Basel and Margaret walked along Royal St. in the darkening evening dusk. Shadows grew along the avenue as they ambled toward the restaurant. Reaching their destination, they made their way through the front public section to the back hall where the siderocasters were already congregating. Margaret led her escort to a small empty table by the rear wall. A waiter instantly appeared to serve them. The choices the menu presented were several: crayfish bouillabaisse, redfish court bouillon, daube pot roast, and chicken jambalaya. Both of them chose the last option. Their food came swiftly and they were soon busy eating.

Throughout the salle a solemn silence reigned. Even those who had finished their meal said nothing to anyone. Basil had an uneasy sense, as if unfriendly eyes were glancing at him for brief moments. Across the room, August Royer’s tall form sat at the head of the long, narrow table reserved for the officers of the organization.

Margaret finished, then so did Basil. Both of them realized the meeting was about to begin.

The president, Royer, stood up and called the meeting to order, speaking in a surprisingly ceremonial style.

“I see that everybody has completed dining, so it is time that we turn to the business before the organization. My plan was to give you a report on the situation of our profession in the city. I have had interesting conversations with several councilmen as well as a judge. I can talk about that later. But first, there is one subject that some members asked me to take up for discussion.

“I refer to a problem of unauthorized improvisation. There is no need to describe the baseless invention that has been presented to innocent clients as authentic astrology. Fraudulent deception results if one of us tries to be original. No, our duty is to follow tradition as it came down to us from those here before us. Centuries of casting methods cannot be overthrown arbitrarily. We must loyally adhere to the established principles of our craft and science.”

Suddenly the speaker stopped. His blazing raven eyes focused in a single direction, glaring directly at Basil Foin. The latter had a growing feeling of unease, but also of anger and indignation. The target of the general accusation being levelled by Royer was evidently himself. Who else could it be?

Basil asked himself whether he should get up and try to defend himself. Would it do any good under the condition that prevailed that evening?

Once again, Royer moved his lips.

“I have a proposal to make. We must deal at once with this culprit in our midst. He must be warned that continued mischief will result in his expulsion from the ranks of this organization. No one will cooperate or associate with this troublemaker. No member will recognize him as one of us. There will be a general ostracizing of the offending individual by all legitimate operators in the realm that we work in. Do I have a second to my motion?”

A tiny old man sitting on the left of the president raised his hand in the air.

“Seconded,” announced August Royer.”Anyone negative? No? The motion passes. I will appoint someone to speak with the miscreant. Should he refuse to stop his deception and deviation, action will then be taken by our executive committee to expel him from our association.

“Shall we now proceed to the election of officers for the coming year?”

At this point, Margaret leaned forward and whispered to her companion in a secretive manner.

“Take me home, Basil. I can’t stand any more.”

The one accused by Royer bolted upward and led her out of the salle. No one looked at them as the election of new officers went on.

Outside, night had fallen. An orange full moon was rising in the east. It gave a Venetian reddish-yellow glow to old Royal St. The atmosphere was one of waiting and nervous expectancy. Something of extraordinary importance was soon to happen, but what it might be had to remain a mystery until the appropriate moment arrived.

Neither of the pair said a word until they arrived at the apartment where they lived.

“I fear that August will be brutal, Basil,” said the widow when they were inside her kitchen. “There is a tough cruelty in him. Howard often warned me about his character, and now I can see it for myself.”

“The two had problems between them?”

She nodded yes. “I never learned why, though. Not a word was ever told to me.”

The next morning, neither of them spoke of what had happened at the meeting of siderocasters.

Two clients came before noon for sessions with Basil. When they had gone, Margaret told Basil that she had to go and buy food at the outdoor French market.

“We need a few items,” she indicated to him. Basil offered to accompany her, but Margaret told him she wanted to buy only a few things. He should spend the free time calculating additional planetary aspects for his client charts. So it was that she departed to shop by herself.

A small straw basket under one arm, the widow headed for the market stalls near Decatur St.

Hawkers were shouting what they had for sale, in a loud cacophony. Greens, vegetables, and fruits of many colors. All at bargain prices, it was claimed with unending cries. Margaret made her way through the strolling crowd, when a male voice came to her from somewhere behind.

“It’s good to see you here, Margaret.”

She anxiously turned around, instantly recognizing who it was.

The gigantic astrologer wore a light tan suit of pre-war silk and a Panama hat of circular shape. He towered over the short woman so closely that she could smell his breath. All of a sudden, August Royer grabbed hold of her right arm.

“You must get rid of that interloper. He is a danger to you, Margaret.”

She glared at him, losing her initial fear of what he might do.

“Let me go. You’re hurting me.”

He leaned forward all the more, till his body overshadowed hers.

“Listen to me, Margaret. I need you and promise to take good care of you. I should have said this earlier, and not waited so long. There has always been a spot inside me for you. I must protect you from this evil faker and his clever trickery. He is deceiving all his clients and taking advantage of you, my dear. Throw him out, let him leave. He can only cause you loss and harm. This man is not to be trusted by any of us. I will shield you from him, I promise.”

Margaret felt his arms take hold of her in a solid embrace. She pushed back, surprising him with the strength of her resistance. He began to beg and plead insistently.

“Do not reject me, darling Margaret. I need you badly. You have been in my heart a long time now.”

He squeezed her about the waist with muscular might, producing sharp pain in her middle torso.

Margaret looked with horror at his inflamed face and bulging raven eyes, enlarged by mad impulses.

From nearby, a fruit hawker called out: “What are you two doing? This is a public place. We don’t permit that here.”

It was enough to startle the assailant into giving up his grip on her. In only a few seconds, she succeeded in slipping out of his reach, then escaped by rushing away. Her heart pounded in alarm.

Royer stood there watching her run away from him. Frozen in shock, he panted like a foiled beast. The hunter had lost its prey, the big man realized, by going too far.

By the time that Margaret disappeared from his sight, he had already decided what he had to do next.

Basil learned nothing about the incident at the open food market.

Established routines continued, Basil casting horoscopes, Margaret cooking and cleaning.

It was just past sundown when two uniformed policemen appeared to make the arrest that a judge had ordered late that afternoon. The knocking at the apartment door was loud and demanding. Both residents hurried out of the kitchen to answer it.

“We want a Mr. Basil Foin,” roared the senior officer. “He is under arrest and has to come with us to City Prison.”

Margaret shook with dread as the tenant took her hand in his.

“I’ll go, too,” she murmured in a wobbly voice.

“He is to go alone,” commanded the second policeman. “Only one person is allowed in our patrol car, no more.”

“You can see him tomorrow at the Parish Prison,” said the senior officer. “For tonight, he is going to be a guest of the city of New Orleans.”

As the two led Basil down to the street, Margaret screamed out “I’ll get bail money out of the bank. Tell them you are innocent, that you’ve done nothing wrong. I’ll get a bondsman to help release you as soon as they open in the morning.”

In seconds, the black police automobile from the late 1930’s was gone.

The arrested siderocaster faced an uncertain, unforeseeable fate hanging over him.

Basil rolled all night on his cell cot. Though alone, sleep did not come to him, What had fallen off the track in his personal horoscope? He had no prior sign of the impending disaster that had struck. It had to be caused by August Royer and his ruling authority among the astrologers. The arrest had arrived out of the blue. It told him that there were defects in his personal readings. He had to improve his new genethliac methods in order to foresee such events. There were still unexplored factors and influences in the human soul beyond the power of anyone to perceive. Until morning, he pondered the reasons for his blindness to what was going to happen to him. Real fear engulfed him.

The Criminal District Court Jail on Tulane Avenue was a short distance outside the French Quarter. Margaret found the office of a bondsman nearby the next morning. It took her surprisingly little time to arrange the release of Basil. The charge of fraudulent misrepresentation was a serious one. She had to empty most of the bank account that her late husband had left her in order to gain release for the tenant.

A little past noon, the disheveled prisoner was let out. The pair took a cab back to the apartment in the French Quarter. They had so much to say to each other that both of them kept silent until reaching home.

They sat in the kitchen, opposite each other at the small, rectangular table.

“I know who did this to you, Basil. He’ll do it again and again. The man has no mercy in his heart. I now realize why Howard feared and loathed him.”

They studied each other a short while, both of them deep in thought.

“I have to leave New Orleans,” frowned the astrologer. “Back to Lafayette seems the best course. He can’t harm me there.”

Margaret let out a long, deep sigh. She then surprised Basil by what she said to him.

“I have tried to make a horoscope for myself using the two new cingula that you discovered. I did not tell you what I was doing, not certain what you might think or say. There was a lot of doubt about it in my mind. After all, I am not a trained or experienced astrologer. Everything I know was picked up second-hand. I had to keep my work a secret from you. Under the old, traditional system my sign was Scorpio. But on your new charts, I discovered an unexplored life path for myself. Let me explain.

“Lupus, the Wolf, is my house in the southern cingulum of constellations. That can signify the dangers that I face here in the French Quarter, where my mortal enemy lives and has enormous power. But when I calculate my northern belt and the planetary aspects that are present there, I find that Ophiucus, the physician, will cast his healing power over my future. He promises to solve all my great difficulties and problems. Am I correct in what I am reading, Basil?”

The latter, unexpectedly, started to laugh. “That’s it, Margaret. Salvation lies in the new horoscope you have cast for yourself. In order to flee the wolf in the French Quarter, you must concentrate all your mind on your doctor, your personal curer. He will be identified by the horoscope you have drawn. He is the one who taught you to cast in the new, improved way.”

All at once, he rose and moved around the table till he was beside her.

“Come with me to Lafayette,” he said in a whisper. “I can make a success there with the two new zodiac belts. Clients can be drawn and attracted there from all over Louisiana. Even from New Orleans and the French Quarter. We will both be safe. No one will dare bother us there.”

“How about the public fraud charges against you here?” she trembled.

He bent over and lightly kissed her forehead.

“I doubt that anyone wants to pursue me there, either the police or Mr. Royer. What do you say, Margaret? I can take a bus to Lafayette today, rent some rooms for us, then come back and get you. We will both be safer there.”

She wiped a sudden tear from her eye.

“No, I’ll go with you immediately, at once. We’ll make one trip only. I never want to see the Vieux Carre again if I live to be a hundred. I’m though with life in New Orleans. It has not been what it should have been.”

She rose from the table and Basil kissed her on the lips.

The two of them soon left the apartment with bulging suitcases full of clothing and star charts of an original variety.

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