Rodrigues Ottolengui.

A Modern Wizard



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"It's no sale! It's no sale!" cried out Miss Grath. "'T ain't legal to sell my property agin my word."

"Now, look here, Miss Grath," said Mr. Potter; "I'm here to sell, and whatever I sell is sold. That dog's sold, and that settles it. If you dispute it, you jes' say so, right now, and you kin sell the rest of this farm yourself. Now decide quick! Is the sale of that dog all straight?"

Miss Grath, despite her anger, was shrewd enough to see that her interests would be ruined if she suspended the sale. She could never hope to get the crowd together again, and no other auctioneer would obtain such good prices. So she was obliged to yield, though she did so with little grace.

"Oh! I 'spose ef you choose to be ugly 'bout it, I hain't got nothin' more to say. Dr. Medjora kin have the dog, an' much good may it do him. I hope he'll regret buyin' it, some day."

And so, through the cleverness of Mr. Potter, the poet-auctioneer, when Dr. Medjora and Leon started for New York on the following morning the collie went with them.

CHAPTER IV.
AN OMINOUS WELCOME

Leon at this time was about twenty years old, but, as we have seen, he had already passed the crisis in his life which made a man of him. He was a curious product, considered as a New England country boy. Despite the fact that all of his life had been passed on the farm, except a brief period when he had been sent to another section, equally rural, he had adopted none of the idioms peculiar to the people about him. Without any noteworthy schooling, he could boast of being something of a scholar. I have already mentioned his predilection for the higher order of books, and by reading these he had undoubtedly obtained a glimpse of a vast field of learning; but one may place his eye to a crack in a door and see a large part of the horizon, yet the door hides much more than the crack reveals, and the observer sees nothing except through the crack. So Leon, knowing much, knew less than he thought he did; and many ideas which he believed to be mature, and original products of his own brain, were but reflections of the authors whose works he had read, and whose deductions he had adopted, because he had read nothing by other writers contradicting them. Therefore he was exactly in that mental condition which would make him a good pupil, because he would be a disputative one. The student who accepts the teaching of his master without question, will acquire but a meagre grasp of knowledge, while he who adopts nothing antagonistic to his own reason, until his reason has been satisfied, may be more troublesome, because less docile, but his progress will be more real.

That Leon had very decided convictions upon many topics, and that he would argue tenaciously in defence of his views, would not at all militate against his learning. Those ideas which were most firmly fixed in his mind, could readily be dislodged, if erroneous, for the very reason that they were not truly original with himself.

Having adopted the teaching of one book, he could certainly be made to accept opposite theories, if another book, with more convincing arguments, should be brought to his notice.

For these reasons, it might be said that his mind was in a plastic condition, ready to be moulded into permanent thoughts. With such a teacher as Dr. Medjora, he would learn whatever the Doctor taught; he would adopt whatever theories the Doctor wished. Under the control of another master he might become the antithesis of what the Doctor would make of him. Therefore it may be truly said that when he accepted Dr. Medjora's offer, he sealed his fate, as surely as when Faust contracted with Mephisto.

Just as he had gleaned the ideas of authors, so also his conception of cities, and city life, had been taken from books. He had read works of travel, and thought that he was quite familiar with travelling. He was consequently astonished to find how much at variance with the real, were his notions. When he found himself aboard of The Puritan, that palatial steamboat of the Fall River line, he was dazed by the magnificence and luxury, thus seen for the first time in his life. But later in the night, when he and the Doctor sat upon the upper deck, as they swiftly glided through the moonlit waters of Long Island Sound, he was so enraptured at this broader view of the Universe, that he felt a distinct pain as his thoughts recurred to Lake Massabesic, which now seemed so diminutive, and which only a few days before had been an ocean to him. Yet there was still the real ocean which he had not yet seen, and which would render the Sound as diminutive in comparison, as the lake. And so, also, we arrogant inhabitants of this planet may presently come to some other world so much greater, so much larger, so much more grand, that we will not even deign to turn a telescope towards the little world which we have left behind. In some such manner, Leon was leaving his little world behind him, and even already he was abandoning all thought of it, as his heart welled up and his soul expanded towards the greater world looming up before him. In that little town behind him he had lost his name, which indeed had never been his. But in the great city which he approached, was he not destined to make a new name for himself? He was young, and in answer to this mental question his answer was – "Certainly!" All young men see Fame just there – just ahead of them! They need but to stretch out a hand, and it is within their grasp. Yet, alas! How few ever clutch it!

Dr. Medjora sat beside Leon for a long time in silence. He noticed the lad's absorption, and readily comprehended the mental effects produced. It suited his purpose to remain silent. He wished his companion to become intoxicated by this new experience, for, in such a mood of abstraction, he hoped for an opportunity to accomplish a design which was of great importance to himself. He wished to hypnotize Leon. Why, I will explain later, but the chief reason at the present moment was this:

Dr. Medjora had, as you know, observed Leon feeding the chipmunks, and had said to himself, "He has inherited the power." By this he meant Leon possessed that temperament which is supposed to render the individual most capable of controlling others. And let me say at once that I do not allude to any occult power. There is nothing whatever in connection with this history, which transcends known and recognized scientific laws. But, to express myself clearly, I may say that all persons are susceptible to impressions from suggestion. Those who fall asleep, because sleep has been suggested, are said to be hypnotic subjects; while he who can produce sleep by suggestion in the greatest number of persons, may be said to have "the power" in its most developed form. But it is a power thoroughly well comprehended by scientists of to-day, and may be acquired by almost any one to some extent, just as any one is susceptible to hypnotic influence, to a greater or less degree according to the conditions. I believe that there is no person living who cannot be hypnotized, by some living person, however well he may resist all others. Or in other words, there be some individuals so little susceptible to outside suggestions, so self-reliant, and so strong in their own ego, that it would be extremely difficult to produce true hypnosis in them. Yet the phenomenon is possible with even these, provided the hypnotizer be one who is a past-master in methods, and possesses the most effective power of conveying suggestion.

Such a man was Dr. Medjora. Never yet had he met a human being who could resist him, if he exerted himself. He was a master of methods, possessing a knowledge of the minutest details of the psychological aspect of the subject, and therefore the most powerful hypnotizer of the age, perhaps. One fact he had long recognized. That just as one individual is more susceptible than another, so an individual who might resist at one time, would be perfectly docile at another. So much depends upon the mental attitude of the subject. One of the favorable states is abstraction, for in such a condition the mind is off its guard, so to speak, and it may be possible that, by a sudden shock, the suggestion to sleep, might be conveyed and be obeyed.

Thus he was glad to note that Leon was losing himself in thought, because it would give him an opportunity to hypnotize the lad, and if he could once be thrown into that state, hypnosis could be re-produced thereafter very readily. It would only be necessary for the Doctor to suggest to Leon, while asleep, that he permit himself to be hypnotized in the future, and the possibility of resistance would be destroyed.

Therefore the Doctor watched Leon, as a cat does a bird when seeking a chance to seize and destroy it. Several times he was about to make the attempt, but he hesitated. That he did so annoyed him, for it was a new experience to him to doubt his ability to accomplish a purpose. But, truly, he questioned the wisdom of what he meditated, in spite of the fact that he knew this to be a rare opportunity, which would never occur again. The boy would never, after this night, be so intoxicated by Nature as he was at this time. Even though Leon were, as the Doctor believed, one of those exceptional individuals who could successfully resist him, his will-power was for the time in abeyance, and a well-directed effort to throw him into hypnotic slumber promised success. Yet he could not overlook the other fact, that, were the attempt to prove a failure, it would render all future experiments doubly difficult.

Thus an hour passed. There was no one on the upper deck besides these two. Leon had remained so still, so motionless for many minutes, that he might have been a corpse sitting there and gazing into the line of foam which trailed in the wake of the boat. He was fascinated, why might he not be hypnotized? Still, the Doctor was loath to take a risk. He called the lad's name, at first very softly. But he repeated it again, and again, in louder tones. Leon did not reply. His abstraction was so great that he did not hear. It was certainly a favorable moment. The Doctor rose slowly from his chair; so slowly that he scarcely seemed to move, but in a few moments he stood erect. Then he paused, and for some time remained motionless. With a movement that was more a gliding than a step, one leg crept forward towards Leon, and then the other was drawn after it, thus bringing the Doctor nearer. Again he stood motionless. Again the manoeuvre was repeated, and now, still unnoticed, he stood beside the lad. The approach more than ever reminded one of a cat, only now one would think of a tiger rather than of the little domestic animal. For the Doctor looked tall and gaunt in the moonlight. Now he stooped slowly forward, bending his back, as the tiger prepares to spring upon its prey, and now his mouth was near Leon's ear.

The final moment had come; the experiment was to be tried. But even now the Doctor had devised a scheme by which he hoped to lose nothing, even though he should fail. His first intention had been to cry out, "Go to sleep!" a command which he had often seen obeyed instantly. This time the formula was changed. In a loud tone, which, however, was mellifluous and persuasive, he uttered these words:

"You are asleep!"

He paused and anxiously awaited the result. For a brief instant success poised upon the verge of his desire. Leon's eyes closed, and his head drooped forward. Then, like lightning, there came a change. The lad jumped up, and started back, assuming an attitude of defiance, and a wrathful demeanor. He was entirely awake and in full control of his senses as he cried out:

"You tried to mesmerize me!"

As swiftly the Doctor was again master of himself, and, recognizing defeat, he was fully prepared to assume control of the situation and twist circumstances so that they should culminate in advantage to himself. In the very moment of his first failure, his quick mind grasped at the hope that was offered by Leon's words. He had said "mesmerize," and this convinced Dr. Medjora that the word "hypnotize" was as yet unknown to him, and that all the later discoveries in psychical science must be as a sealed book to him. So with perfect calmness he replied:

"I fail to see upon what you base such a senseless deduction. You have sat motionless for half an hour. I called you three or four times, and you did not reply. Then I came here and stood beside you, but you took no notice of me. Finally I said what I thought was true, 'You are asleep!' Instantly you jump up like a madman and accuse me of trying to mesmerize you. Now, why? Explain!"

How could this youth cope with the skill of such a man? He could not. As he listened to the Doctor's words and heard his frank and friendly speech, his fears were banished, his suspicions lulled, and he felt ashamed. Being honest, he expressed his thoughts:

"I beg your pardon, Doctor. I think now that I must have been sleeping. Your words startled me, and, as I awoke, I spoke stupidly. Will you forgive me?"

There was a shade of anxiety in his tones, which demonstrated to the Doctor that he valued his friendship, and feared to alienate his good will. Thus he knew that he had deftly dispelled doubt, and that nothing had been lost. Indeed, something had been gained, for he knew now what he had only before suspected; that Leon could not be hypnotized. Or, rather, not by any one else in the world besides himself, for he by no means abandoned his design. Only, when next he should make an attempt, he would take better precautions, and he would succeed. So he thought. Now, it would be as well to continue the conversation, by discussing the suggested topic, for it would strengthen the lad's confidence, if he did not appear to shun it.

"Forgive you, my boy," said the Doctor, "there is nothing to forgive. It was I who was stupid, for I should not have disturbed you so unexpectedly. But I am fond of studying human beings, and you have been very entertaining to me to-night. I have been observing the effect that Nature can produce upon a virgin mind, such as yours. You have been drinking in the grandeur of the world about us, until you were so enthralled that you had forgotten all except the emotions by which you were moved. You were not asleep, but you were in an abstraction so deep that it was akin to sleep. I yielded to the temptation of saying what I did, merely to see what effect it would produce. I was certainly surprised at the result. That you should have been startled is natural enough, but how the idea of mesmerism occurred to you, bewilders me. What do you know about that mysterious subject?"

"Not very much," said Leon, with some diffidence. "As you may imagine, Doctor, I have not had a large library from which to choose. But I have read a translation of a work by Deleuze, which appears to discuss the subject thoroughly."

"Ah! I see. You have read Deleuze. I am familiar with the work. Well, then, tell me. After weighing the matter thoroughly in your own mind, do you believe it is possible for one person to mesmerize another?"

"I do not. Most emphatically I do not," said Leon.

"Most emphatically you do not. A strong way to express your views, for which you must of course have convincing reasons. But if so, why were you afraid that I would do what you emphatically believe to be an impossibility?" The Doctor smiled indulgently as he asked this embarrassing question.

"Because, as you have said, I was only half-awake," replied Leon, apologetically.

The Doctor was now assured that Leon, even when he should come to think over the occurrences of the night when alone, would harbor no suspicion against him. So all would be safe.

"Well, then," continued the Doctor, "tell me why you are so sure that mesmerism is not possible. You say you have read Deleuze. He claims that wonderful things may be accomplished."

"So wonderful that a thinking man cannot believe them to be true."

"But surely Deleuze was honest, and he relates many remarkable cases which he assures his readers occurred within his own cognizance."

"That is very true. No one who reads the author's book could doubt the sincerity of his purpose and the truth of what he relates. Or rather I should say, one must believe that he does not wilfully deceive. But it must be equally evident that the man was deluded."

"Why so?"

"It is difficult to tell exactly. But I know this, that after reading his work, which is intended to convince the skeptic, not only did his words leave me unconvinced, but a positive disbelief was aroused. There are places where he makes assertions, which he admits he cannot explain. He tells of wonderful occurrences which he cannot account for, while, in spite of that, he does not hesitate to attribute them to mesmerism. Such teaching is unsatisfactory and unscientific."

"Very true, but because Deleuze did not understand a phenomenon, does it logically follow that there is no explanation of it to be had?"

"Why, not at all, Doctor. But the explanation must eliminate it from the realm of the mysterious, and make it acceptable to the reason. In its present form it is utterly unacceptable. I cannot believe that one individual may possess a power by which he may control his fellow-creatures. The idea is repugnant in the extreme. It lessens one's self-dependence. Do you believe in mesmerism?"

This was a direct question, and the Doctor thought that the subject had been pursued far enough. He had no desire to approach a point where he might be compelled to give this inquiring youth an insight into the scientific side of hypnotism. He preferred to leave him wallowing in the mire of mesmerism. Consequently, he did not hesitate to reply:

"No, Leon. I do not believe in mesmerism. Mesmer himself was a very erratic, unscientific man, who either did not or would not arrange his observations into scientific order, from which logical deductions might have been made. Therefore, his whole teaching may be counted rather among the curiosities of literature, than as having any value to the mind of one who seeks the truth. Life is too short to waste much time upon such fruitless speculations."

"I am glad that you agree with me," said Leon. "I was afraid from what you said that you might believe in that sort of thing."

To this the Doctor made no reply, the words "that sort of thing" threatening to lead him upon dangerous ground again. He essayed, by a gentle digression, to divert the conversation into another direction.

"Speaking of mesmerism, Leon, I suppose that you know that its advocates likened it to the power which reptiles are said to have over birds and small animals, whom they fascinate first, and then devour. Now I was much interested to note the familiarity with which the little chipmunks approached you this morning."

"Did you see them?" Leon was surprised, for he had not known how long the Doctor had been present.

"Yes," replied the Doctor; "I watched you for some time. How is it that these little wild animals would come to you? Disbelieving in mesmerism, have you yourself the power to charm or fascinate the lower animals?"

"Why, not at all, Doctor. Let me explain. First, as to the chipmunks. There was nothing wonderful about that, for though they are wild, they know me as well as though they had lived in the house with me. One day I found a dead chipmunk, and later I found the nest of young ones in a tree. I took food to them from day to day, and they grew to know me. Were it not that I have not been in the woods since the funeral until this morning, so that it is several days since the little fellows last saw me, they would have shown even greater friendliness than they did. I have often had them run up to my shoulders, and perch there eating what I would give them."

"But what you tell me only makes me believe the more that you exert some power of fascination," said the Doctor, laughing jestingly. "You must teach me the secret of charming animals, Leon. Really you must."

"I will do so gladly. It is very simple. The animals, the little ones I mean, are afraid of us. Banish their fear, and at the same time excite their instinct to take food where they can find it, and your desire is accomplished. For example, take the fish. If I go to the edge of Lake Massabesic at a certain spot, the fish will jump out of the water in their anxiety to receive food from my hands. I can even take the little fellows out of the water, and when I drop them in again, they pause but a few moments before venturing within my reach again. How did I train them to this? I noticed that from my habit of throwing the old bait out of my boat when landing, the fish had made the spot a feeding place. I threw them some crumbs of bread, and they hurried to the surface to snatch it, diving swiftly down again to eat. I tried an experiment. Holding the bread in my hand, I dipped my arm deep into the water, and allowed it to remain motionless. For a long time the fish were very shy. They stood off at a distance, and gazed longingly, but they did not approach this strange object. I crushed the bread into small bits and withdrew my arm. In a moment they were all feeding. After doing this a number of times on successive days, at last one fellow, more venturesome than the others, made a swift dash forward, and grabbing a bit of the bread from my hand as quickly swam off with it. Others, observing his success, followed his example. Within a few more days, they did not hesitate, but approached as soon as my hand appeared below the water, and presently they were not alarmed if I moved my hand about among them. The first time that I attempted to take hold of one, I created a disturbance which made them shy for a few days; but after a time they learned that I would not harm them, whereas I always brought them food. Why should they not trust me? So you see, Doctor, there is no witchcraft about it."



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