A Modern Wizard
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But what was better than mere physical beauty, he was an exception in intelligence, even for a collie, and lavished a wealth of love upon his young master. On this morning, Leon had purposely stolen away without the dog, for the pleasure of what now occurred. Lossy, finally awakening from his morning nap, and missing his master, had started after him taking almost the same course pursued by Leon. And now, after his long run, he bounded forward, landing upon Leon's breast with force enough to roll him over, and then, whining with joy at the reunion, the dog kissed his master's face and hands again and again.
This display of affection delighted Leon, and he returned it with unusual demonstrativeness. Rising from the ground, he snapped his fingers, and at the sound Lossy bounded into the air, to be caught in the arms of his master, hugged close to his bosom, and then dropped to the ground. This trick was repeated again and again, the dog responding with increasing impatience for the signal. Sometimes it was varied. Leon turning his back, and bending his body at a slight angle, would give the signal, whereupon Lossy would spring with agility upon his back and climb forward, until, by holding the shoulders with his forepaws, he could reach his head around, seeking to kiss Leon's face. Here the fun was, for as the dog's head protruded over one shoulder, Leon turned his face away, whereupon Lossy would quickly essay to reach his goal over the other. In the midst of this sort of play, Leon was surprised to hear his dog growl. Then Lossy leaped to the ground, his hair rose almost straight along his spine, his ears pricked forward, and again he growled ominously. Before Leon could step forward to investigate, the man who had been silently observing the whole scene stepped out, and Leon recognized Dr. Medjora.
While the two men gaze silently upon each other, I may take the opportunity to say a few words about Dr. Medjora.
Immediately after his trial he left New York for a brief period, very much against the wishes of Madam Corona. She pleaded with him for an immediate marriage, but he firmly adhered to his own plans. The wedding occurred, however, a year later, and he resumed the practice of his profession in the Metropolis. Nineteen years later, at the time when Margaret Grath died, he was counted one of the most eminent practitioners in the country. He had steadfastly declined to adopt surgery, that most fascinating field wherein great reputations are frequently acquired through a single audacious operation, happily carried to a successful termination; but instead, he remained the plain medical man, paying special attention to zymotic diseases. Within this sphere he slowly but no less surely acquired fame, as from time to time the dying were plucked almost from the arms of death, and restored to health and usefulness.
Attracting the admiration and esteem of his patients in a most remarkable degree, he nevertheless aroused in them a certain feeling of almost superstitious awe.People did not say aloud that Dr. Medjora was a partner of the Evil One, but many whispers, not easily traceable, finally resulted in his being commonly known as the "Wizard Doctor" or simply the "Wizard."
On this morning, having come into the vicinity during the week for some trout fishing, and then having learned of the auction sale about to take place, he had determined to be present. He was early on his way to the farm, when, crossing the strip of wood, he had first observed Leon with the chipmunks. Now having shown himself he spoke:
"You are Leon Grath, I believe?" said he.
"If you do, your belief is ill founded," replied Leon, speaking with no ill temper, but rather with a touch of sadness.
"Surely you are Leon – "
"I am Leon, but not Grath. You are Dr. Medjora?"
"Ah! Then you remember me?"
"Certainly! I remember all men, friend or foe. You have been more the former than the latter. Therefore the remembrance is quite distinct."
Hearing the sound of his master's voice, untinged by anger, the collie evidently decided that the newcomer was no enemy, and strolling off a short distance, turned thrice, and lay down, resting his nose between his two forepaws, and eying the twain, awaited developments.
"I am glad that you have pleasant recollections of our brief acquaintance. But now, will you explain what you mean by saying that you are not Leon Grath. I thought that Grath was your name?"
"So did I, Doctor, but I have learned that I was mistaken. I was with
Margaret Grath when she died, and she told me – " He paused.
"She told you what?" asked Dr. Medjora, with apparent eagerness.
"That Grath is not my name."
"What then is it? Did she tell you that?"
"No! I am Leon, the nameless!"
There was a touch of bitterness in Leon's voice, and, as he felt a slight difficulty in enunciation caused by rising emotions, he turned away his head and gazed into the deepest part of the wood, closing his jaws tight together, and straining every muscle of his body to high tension, in his endeavor to regain full control of himself. Dr. Medjora observed the inward struggle for mastery of self, and admired the youth for his strength of character. Without, however, betraying that he had noticed anything, he said quietly:
"What will you do about it?"
"I will make a name for myself," was the reply given, with sharp decisiveness of tones, and a smile played around the corners of Leon's mouth, as though the open assertion of his purpose was a victory half won.
Oh, the springtime of our youth! The young man climbs to the top of the first hill, and, gazing off into his future, sees so many roads leading to fortune, that he hesitates only about the choice, not deeming failure possible by any path. But, presently, when his chosen way winds up the mountain-side, growing narrower and more difficult with every setting sun, at length he realizes the difference between expectation and fulfilment. But Leon was now on the top of his first hill, and climbing mountains seemed so brave a task that he was eager to begin. Therefore, he spoke boldly. Almost at once he met his first check.
"You will make a name for yourself!" repeated Dr. Medjora. "How? Have you decided?"
Leon felt at once confronted with the task which he had set himself. Now, the truth was that he had decided upon his way in life; or, rather, I should say he had chosen, and, having made his choice, he considered that he had decided the matter permanently. Yet, the first man who questioned him, caused him to doubt the wisdom of his choice, to hesitate about speaking of it, and to feel diffident, so that he did not answer promptly. Dr. Medjora watched him closely, and spoke again.
"Ah, I see; you think of becoming an author."
"How did you know that?" asked Leon, quickly, very much perplexed to find his secret guessed.
"Then it is a fact? You would not ask me how I know it, were it not true. I will answer your question, though it is of slight consequence. You are evidently a young man of strong will-power, and yet you became awkwardly diffident when I asked you what path in life you had elected to follow. I have observed that diffidence is closely allied to a species of shame, and that both are invariable symptoms of budding authorship. To one of your temperament, I should say that these feelings would come only from two causes, secret authorship and love. The latter being out of consideration, the former became a self-evident fact."
"Dr. Medjora, you seem to be a logician, and I should think that you might be a successful author yourself."
"I might be, but I am not. I could be, only I do not choose to be. But we are speaking of yourself. If you wish to be a writer, I presume that you have written something. Does it satisfy you; that is to say, do you consider that it is as excellent as it need be?"
"I have done a little writing. While thinking, this week, about my future, somehow there came to me a longing to write. I did so, and I have been over my little sketch so many times, that I cannot see wherein it is faulty. Therefore, I must admit, however conceited it may sound, that I am satisfied with it."
"That is a very bad sign. When a man is satisfied with his own work he has already reached the end of his abilities. It is only continual dissatisfaction with our efforts, that ever makes us ambitious to attain better things. You have said that, in your opinion, I could be a successful writer. Then let me read and judge what you have written. You have it with you, I suppose?"
Leon was much embarrassed. He wished that he could say no, but the composition was in his pocket. So he drew it out and handed it to Dr. Medjora, without saying a word. The Doctor glanced at it a moment and then said encouragingly:
"There is a quality in this, as excellent as it is rare. Brevity."
"Ah, Doctor!" said Leon, eagerly. "That is what I have aimed at. I have but a single idea to expound, and I have endeavored to clothe it in as few words as possible. Or, rather, I should say, I have tried to make every word count. Please read it with that view uppermost."
The Doctor nodded assent, and then read the little story, which was as follows:
I am dead!
Impossible! For you are alive!
But I? I am dead!
Or so he thinks.
Why should he, a Christian minister, stoop to dig a grave?
Murderer did I say? Was it murder to kill a dog?
For only a dog I was; or may I say, I am?
But stay! What is the test of immortality?
The ego says, "I am I," and earns eternity.
Yet view it as you may, here I am, dead, yet not annihilated.
I say here I am, yet where am I?
Thus do I win immortality, and cheat the Christian's creed.
Having read to the end, Dr. Medjora nodded approvingly to Leon and said:
"For a first composition, you may well rest satisfied with this. It is very subtile. Indeed I am surprised at the originality and thought which you have displayed here. I should like to discuss with you some of the points. May I?"
"With pleasure," Leon replied with ardor, delighted to find his little story so well received.
"The first thought that occurs to me is, that there is a certain amount of inspiration about your essay. I say essay because it is that rather than a story. From this, I deduce a fact discouraging to your ambition, for inspirations are rare, and it is probable that were you to succeed in selling this to some magazine, you would find it difficult to produce anything else as good."
"Why, Doctor," said Leon, anxious to prove his ability, "I wrote that in a few minutes."
"By which statement you mean that with time for thought, you might do better. But your argument is in favor of my theory. The more rapidly you wrote this, the more difficult will it be for you to write another. Let me tell you what I read between the lines here. Miss Grath having died, you were left alone in the world. Her two amiable sisters coming to the farm, probably made your loneliness intensified, and whilst depressed by your mood, your dog showed you some affection, which reaching you when your heart was full, caused it to spill over, and this was the result. Am I wrong?"
"No! You have guessed the circumstances almost exactly. As you say, I was feeling lonely and depressed. I came here for solitude, which is something different from loneliness, and which is as soothing as loneliness is depressing. I was sitting under that tree, thinking bitter things of the world in general, and of the people about me more especially, when without my having heard him approach, my dog, Lossy, dear old brute, pushed his head over my shoulders, placed his paws around my neck, and kissed me. It affected me deeply. It was as though I had received a message from Providence, telling me not to despair. Then like a flash it came to me, that if love is an attribute of the soul, and a dog's love is the most unselfish of all, it must follow logically that a dog has a soul."
"Your deduction is correct, if there be any such thing as soul. But, for the moment, I will not take that up. You have told enough to show that I am right as to the origin of your tale. It is also evident that you cannot hope to be under such emotional excitement at all times, when you might be called upon to write; to write or go without a meal. However, I have faith in you, and do not doubt that we shall find a way for you to earn as many meals as you shall need."
"Do you mean that you will assist me?"
"I will assist you, if I am correct in my present opinion of you. Young men who need and expect assistance, are rarely worthy of help. But I wish to talk about your essay. I like the line 'Was it murder to kill a dog?' and the one which follows, 'For only a dog I was; or may I say, I am?' Of course the word murder, strictly applied, means the killing of a man by his fellow. I think I comprehend what you mean here, but I would like you to explain it to me."
"Doctor, you compliment me by taking this so seriously. There is a deeper meaning in the words than might be detected by a superficial reader. As you say, the word murder applies only to the killing of a man, by a man. Or I might change the wording and say, the killing of a human being. Here, human implies the possession of those higher attributes, the aggregate of which is the soul, which by man is arrogantly claimed to exist exclusively in man. And it is the violent separation of this soul from its earthly body, which makes it the heinous crime, murder; while the beast, not possessing a soul, may be killed without scruple, and without crime. Hence I say, 'Was it murder to kill a dog?' and at once, in so few words, I raise the question as to whether the dog has not a soul."
"I follow you. Your explanation is only what I expected. I said that I liked the next line: 'For only a dog I was; or may I say, I am?' This time I will show you that I comprehend you. The question here implies much. If the dog is annihilated at death, then this dog ceased to exist when his master slew him. But he is speaking; he realizes that he continues to exist. Therefore, he says most pertinently, 'or may I say, I am?' The question carries its own affirmative, for what is not, cannot question its own existence. The subtilty here is very nice. You convince your reader by presenting what seems to be a self-evident proposition, and if he admits this, he must accord immortality to the dog, for he that after death may say 'I am' is immortal. But the flaw, which you have so well hidden, lies in the fact that you have started with the assumption of that which you have essayed to prove. You make the dead dog speak, which would be an impossibility had he been annihilated."
"I am delighted, Doctor, at the way in which you criticise me. But I am contending that the dog is immortal, hence my assumption at the very start, that though dead, he may record his sensations. I do not really mean to discuss the point, nor to prove it. I merely mean dogmatically to assume it. I picture a dog, who in life believed that death would be his total extinction, but who, when suddenly deprived of life, finds that he is still in existence, and endeavors to analyze his condition. If you will overlook the seeming egotism of pointing out what I think the most subtile idea, I would call your attention to the line where, concluding that he is immortal, he says 'Here I am,' and instantly asks 'Where am I?'"
"Yes. I had already admired that and what follows; but I will ask you to expound it yourself."
"You are very kind," said Leon, pleased, and eager to talk upon his subject. "He asks where he is, and after a moment decides that he is in his master's mind. Then he argues truly that, as mind is but a part, or attribute of the soul, if the soul be immortal, the mind and all that it contains must live on, also. Therefore, being in the man's mind, he needs only to stay there, to escape annihilation. Then he adds, that he will prick the man's conscience forever. Here is something more than a mere dogmatism. None will deny that the wanton killing of a dog can never be forgotten, and if the dog remains in one's mind, is not that a sort of immortality?"
"Sophistry, my boy, sophistry; but clever. The idea is original, and well conceived for the purpose of your narrative. But, like many deductions assumed to be logical, it is illogical, because your premises are wrong. It is not the dog, nor his spirit, that abides in the mind and assails the conscience. What the man tries in vain to forget is the thought of killing the beast, and thought, of course, is immutable; but it does not at all follow that the thing of which we think is imperishable."
"I see your meaning, Doctor, and of course you are right. But do you side with the Christian, and claim that the dog is annihilated, while man is immortal?"
"A discussion upon religious topics is seldom profitable. In reply to your question, I think that you will be satisfied if I admit that the dog is as surely immortal as man. No more so, and no less. The Christian hypothesis, in this respect, is a unique curiosity to a thinking man, at best. We are asked to believe that man is first non-existent; then in a moment he begins to exist, or is born; then he dies, but, nevertheless, continues to exist endlessly. Now it is an evident fact that birth and death are analogous occurrences, and related only to existence on this planet. The body of a man is born, and it dies. It begins, and it ends. As to immortality, if you contend that something abided in that body which continues to exist after death, then it is necessary to admit that it had an existence previous to its entrance into the body, at birth. Nothing can continue to exist in all future time, which began at any fixed moment; it must have being, whether we look forward or backward. Form is perishable. It had a beginning, birth; and it will have an end, death! But the intelligence which inhabits all form will live forever, because it has forever lived. So I repeat, the dog is as immortal as the man."
There followed a silence after this speech, the two men gazing upon one another intently, without speaking. Leon was deeply affected. He felt almost as though listening to himself, and there is no human being who does not find himself entertaining. Leon had grown up without human companionship, for, in his environment, there was no one of temperament congenial to his. But he had not lacked for company. He found that within the covers of those books which he had begged, borrowed, or bought with hard-earned, and more hardly-saved, pennies. Miss Grath had never encouraged him to waste his time "reading those wicked science books," when he should have been studying his Testament. But he had sat alone in his garret room, on many a night, reading by a candle, for he dared not use the oil, which was measured out to last a given time. Thus he had become infatuated with works of divers kinds: Mythology, Sociology, Theology, Physiology, Psychology, and other kindred but difficult subjects. Difficult indeed to the student who is his own teacher. He had come to read his books, imagining that he listened to the authors talking, and, not infrequently, carried away by his interest in his subject, he had caught himself addressing questions aloud to the writer, whom his fancy pictured as present. Now, for the first time, he had heard a man "talk like a book." When he recovered from his pleasurable surprise, he said with emotion and ardor:
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