Rodrigues Ottolengui.

A Modern Wizard



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CHAPTER III.
A WIZARD'S TRICK

All New York, that afternoon, was treated to a sensational account in the afternoon "Extra" newspapers, of the supposed holocaust of the suspected murderer of Mabel Sloane. Yet in truth not only was Dr. Medjora safe and well, but he had never been in any serious danger.

As soon as the police had abandoned the effort to batter in the door,

Dr. Medjora turned and said to young Barnes:

"It would serve you right were I to leave you in here to be burned, in punishment for your audacity in spying upon me. Instead of that, I shall take you out with me, if only to convince you that I am not a murderer. Give me your hand!"

Barnes obeyed, satisfied that even though treachery were intended, his predicament could not be made worse than it already was. By the dim light which occasionally illuminated the passageway, as the flames flared up, momentarily freed from the smoke, and shone through the crack in the door, already burned considerably, Barnes now saw the Doctor stoop and feel along the wainscoting, finally lifting up a sliding panel, which disclosed a dark opening beyond.

"Fear nothing, but follow me," said the Doctor. "Step lightly though, as these stairs are old and rickety." Much astonished, Barnes followed the Doctor into the opening, and cautiously descended the narrow winding stairs, still holding one hand of the man who preceded him. He counted the steps, and calculated that he must be nearing the basement, when a terrible crash overhead made him look up. For one moment he caught a glimpse of blue sky, which in a second was hidden by lurid flames, and then darkness ensued, whilst a shower of debris falling about him plainly indicated that the burning building was tumbling in. The hand which held his, gripped it more tightly and their descent became more rapid, but beyond that, there was no sign from the Doctor that he was disturbed by the destroying element above them. In a few more moments they stood upon a flat cemented floor.

"It seems odd," said the Doctor, with a laugh that sounded ghoulish, considering their position, "that I should need to ask you for a match when there is so much fire about us. But I used my last one upstairs." Barnes fumbled in his pocket, and finding one, drew it along his trouser leg until it ignited. As the flame flared up, a dull red glare illumined the face of Dr. Medjora, making him seem in his companion's fancy the prototype of Mephistopheles himself. Again the Doctor laughed.

"Afraid to trust me with fire, eh? Is that why you lighted it yourself? Never mind. I only wished to get my bearings. It is long since I have been in this place. See, here is a door to the right." He grasped the iron handle, and after some exertion the bolt shot back, but when he pushed against it the door did not yield. At the same moment the match spluttered and the flame died.

"Help me push this door," said the Doctor. Barnes obeyed most willingly, but their combined efforts still failed to move it.

"Well," said the Doctor, "my young friend, it looks as though we were doomed, after all.

In case we should fail to escape, when we are thus unexpectedly hurried into the presence of the secretary of the other world, in making your statement, I trust you will not forget that you cannot blame me for the accident which curtails your earthly existence. It was no fault of mine that you were in the passageway above, nor could I foresee that we could not open this door."

This sacrilegious speech, made in a tone of voice which showed in what contempt the speaker held the great mystery of life and death, chilled young Barnes so that he shivered. It made him more than convinced that this man was fully capable of committing the murder which had been attributed to him. At the same time, as the Doctor appeared to have abandoned the effort to escape, despair rendered Barnes more courageous and sharpened his senses so that he could think for himself. Freeing his hand from the other's grasp, he felt about until he found the edge of the door, and rapidly searched for the hinges. In a few moments a cry of gladness escaped from him.

"It is all right, Doctor. The hinges are on our side. We must pull the door to open it, and not push it as we have been doing."

"Good!" said the Doctor. "I knew that. I was only trying you. You are clever. And courageous. Too much so for me to run any risks." The last words were spoken as though to himself. He continued: "Come. We must get out of this before it is too late!" He opened the door, which moved so easily that Barnes readily comprehended that the Doctor must have held it firmly shut whilst the two had been trying to open it, else his own shaking would have disclosed the fact that it opened inward. Thus he saw that Dr. Medjora spoke truly, and had only been submitting him to a test. He followed through the door, glad once more to have hope before him, for had the Doctor intended to destroy him, it would have been easy enough to shut the door, leaving him behind, fastening it, as he did now, with a heavy bolt.

"There is little chance of our being followed," said the Doctor, as he thus barred the way behind them, "but it is as well to be careful. And now that we are safe, for this vault is fire-proof, I will let you see where you are." In a moment the Doctor had found a match and lighted a lamp, and Barnes gazed about him bewildered.

At most he had expected to find himself in some forgotten vault or old wine-cellar. What he saw was quite different. The apartment, if such a term may be employed was spacious, and formed in a perfect circle, with a hemispherical roof. This dome was covered with what, in the dim light, appeared to be hieroglyphical sculpture. What puzzled Barnes most was that no seams appeared, from which he concluded that the entire cavern must have been hewn out of the solid rock. The floor also was of stone, elaborately carved, and, appearing continuous with the ceiling, at once presented an impossible problem in engineering. For the door through which they had entered evidently had no connection with the original design of the structure, since it was of modern style, and, moreover, the doorway, cut for its insertion, had destroyed the continuity of the carvings on the wall, which, to the height of this doorway, represented a seemingly endless procession, interrupted only by the cutting of the opening, which thus showed curiously divided bodies of men and women along its two edges. In the centre of the place was a singular stone, elaborately carved, with a polished upper surface. Upon this Dr. Medjora seated himself, after having lighted the lamp which hung like a censer from the centre of the roof. Barnes looked at him, awed into silence. Allowing him a few minutes to contemplate his surroundings, the Doctor said:

"You are Jack Barnes, the assistant of Dudley & Bliss. You are ambitious to become a detective. Therefore, when you read my name on my card this morning, you thought it a good opportunity to track a murderer, did you not? Answer me, and tell me no lies!"

"Yes," said Barnes, surprised to find that a curious sensation in his throat, as though he were parching, precluded his saying more.

"Well, you have tracked the murderer to his den. What do you think of the place. Safe enough from the police, eh!" The Doctor laughed in a soft congratulatory way, which grated upon his hearer's ear. He continued, as though to himself: "And Dudley & Bliss warned me that I could not escape from the police. I, Emanuel Medjora! I could not escape!" Then he burst out into a prolonged ringing peal of laughter which made Barnes tremble affrighted, as a hundred echoes for the moment made his imagination picture myriads of demons chiming in with the merriment of their master.

"Come here," cried the Doctor, checking his laugh. Barnes hesitated and then retreated. "Come here, you coward!" said the Doctor, in a sterner voice. The taunt made the blood course more swiftly through the young man's veins, and the laugh of the demon echo having died away, he threw his head up and approached the stone, stopping within a few feet of Dr. Medjora, and looking him in the eye.

"Ah! As I thought. A strong will, for a youngster. I must use strategy." This so softly that Barnes did not comprehend the sense of the words. Then the Doctor spoke in his most alluring manner:

"You are plucky, Mr. Barnes. This is a gruesome place, and I have brought you here under such peculiar circumstances that you might well be alarmed. But I see that you are not, and I admire you for your courage. It is his courage that has made man the master of all the animal world. By that he controls beasts, who could rend him to a thousand bits, with ease: only they dare not. So, for your courage, I forgive your impudence, and I might say imprudence, in following me this morning."

Barnes was mystified by this alteration of manner, and was not such a fool that he did not suspect that it boded him no special favor. He did not reply, not knowing what to say. The Doctor jumped up from his seat, saying pleasantly:

"I am forgetting my politeness. You are my guest, and I am occupying the only available seat. Pardon me, and be seated." Barnes hesitated, and the Doctor said, "Oblige me!" in a tone which made Barnes think it wise to comply. He therefore seated himself on the stone, and the Doctor muttered low to himself:

"How innocently he goes to the sacrifice," words which Barnes did not hear and would not have understood had he done so. Then the Doctor laughed with a muffled, gurgling sound, which, answered by the echoes, again made Barnes feel uncomfortable.

"Now then, Mr. Barnes," began Dr. Medjora, "I have no doubt that your curiosity has been aroused, and that you would like to know what sort of place this is, and how it came here. It is a very curious story altogether, and as we shall find time hang heavily on our hands whilst the fire is burning upstairs, I cannot entertain you better, perhaps, than with the tale. You know, of course, or you have heard, that I am a physician. But no one knows how thoroughly entitled I am to the name. I am a lineal descendant of the great ?sculapius himself." Barnes stared, wondering whether the man were mad. Having begun his recital, Dr. Medjora apparently took no more notice of Barnes than though he had not been present. But whilst he spoke, with his hands clasped behind his back, he began to pace around the room, thus walking in a circle about Barnes, as he sat upon the stone in the centre.

"The ancient Mexicans worshipped a god to whom they built pyramids. This was no other than my great ancestor ?sculapius. He was also known to many of the races that inhabited the great North country. Here in this place, a powerful tribe built a great pyramid, the top of which was this dome, hewn from a single rock, and carved, as you see, with characters which, translated would tell secrets which would astound the world. The man who acquires all the knowledge here inscribed, may well call himself the master of this century. I will be that man!"

He had increased his pace as he walked around, so that during this speech he had made three circles about Barnes, who, astonished as much by his actions as by his words, had followed him with his eyes, turning his head as far as possible in one direction to accomplish this, and then rapidly turning it to the opposite side so that he might not lose sight of the Doctor. As the last words were uttered, the Doctor stopped suddenly before him, and hurled the words at him as though they contained a menace. But Barnes flinched only slightly, and the Doctor continued his walk and his narrative.

"Yes, for here on these rocks are graven the sum of all the knowledge of the past, which the great cataclysm lost to us for so many centuries. This dome was the summit of the great temple. This floor was a hundred feet below it, and was the floor of the edifice. Then came the flood. The earth quaked, the waters rose, the earth parted, the temple was riven, and the dome fell, here upon this floor, and the record of the greatest wisdom in the world was buried beneath the earth. Lost! Lost! Lost!!"

His gyrations had increased in rapidity, so that he had run around Barnes six times during the above speech, and, as before, he stopped to confront him, fairly screaming the last words. Barnes began to feel odd in his head from turning it to watch this man who, he had now decided, was surely a madman, and as the Doctor screamed out "Lost! Lost! Lost!" almost in his face, he started to his feet, standing upon the stone and prepared to defend himself if necessary. As though much amused at this action, Dr. Medjora threw back his head and laughed. Laughed long and loud! Laughed until the answering echoes reverberated through the place as though a million tongues had been hidden in the recesses. Stopping suddenly, he began racing around again, and resumed his story:

"And so came that great cataclysm which all corners of the world record as the flood. So the great Atlantis, the centre of the civilization of the world, was lost for centuries, until at last re-discovered and re-christened America. ?sculapius perished, and his wisdom died. His records were hidden. But he left a son, and that son another, and from him sprung another, and another, and another, and so on, and on, as time sped, until to-day I am the last of the great line. Ha! You doubt it. You think that I am lying. Then how comes it that I am here? Here in the treasure house of my great ancestor? Because among my people there are traditions, and one told of this temple. I studied it, and worked it out, until I located it. Then I came here and found this old house built over it. And I knew that it covered the greatest secret in all the world. But it contained another secret too. A simple, easy secret for a man like me to solve. A secret staircase, built by some stupid old colonist, to lead him down to a secret wine-cellar, which is on the other side of that stairway. But Providence would not permit the old drunkard to turn to the right, in digging for his vault, or he would have entered this chamber, as I have done. I found this staircase, and cut my way into this place, which I closed with that iron door. And you, you fool, thought that I did not know how to open a door that I had built myself." His laugh rang out again, and the piercing shrieks, coming back from the echoes, darted through Barnes's brain, confused by his pivotal turning on the stone as he tried to follow the Doctor racing around the chamber, and as the man now rushed at him screaming:

"Now! Now! You fool, you are mine! Mine! All mine!" Barnes felt as though something in his brain had snapped, and, tottering, he threw up his arms, and then sank down, to be caught by Dr. Medjora, who lifted him as though he had been a child, and laid him upon the floor. Placing his ear to his heart a moment, the Doctor arose to his feet with a satisfied expression and speaking low, said:

"He is now thoroughly frightened, but the shock will not kill him. When he wakes he will be mine indeed! I will play the little trick, and I can be safe without fear from this." He kicked the prostrate form lightly with his foot, and then lifted Barnes up and sat him upon the stone as he slowly revived, supporting him until he had sufficiently recovered not to need assistance. Then he placed himself in front of Barnes, and as soon as the young man seemed to have regained his senses he folded his arms and said sternly:

"Look at me!" Barnes obeyed for a moment and then turned away and would have risen, but the doctor called out authoritatively:

"You cannot get up! You have no legs!" Barnes reached down with his hands towards his legs, only to be stopped by the words:

"You cannot feel! You have no hands! Now look at me! Look! I command you!" Barnes gazed helplessly into the Doctor's eyes, and the latter continued, in a voice of peremptory sternness:

"Now answer me when I speak to you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I understand. I will answer!" The voice did not seem to be the normal tones of the young man, and a smile passed over the Doctor's face as he went on.

"Do you know who you are? If so, tell me!"

"I am Jack Barnes!"

"And who am I?"

"Doctor Medjora!"

"Do you know where you are?"

"Yes! In the chamber of ?sculapius!"

"If I let you go from here, what will you do?"

"I would tell the police what I know!"

"Good! Now listen to me!"

"I am listening!"

"You wish to escape?"

"Yes!"

"I am your master?"

"You are my master!"

"You must obey my commands! You understand that?"

"I must obey your commands. I understand that!"

"You are asleep now?"

"Yes, I am asleep!"

"But if I give you a command now when you are asleep, you will obey it when I allow you to awaken?"

"What you command when I am asleep, I will do when you let me be awake!"

"You followed me to-day?"

"I followed you."

"You will forget that?"

No answer came from the sleeper. The crucial test had come. The contest of wills. The Doctor, however, was determined to succeed. Success meant a great deal to him, for he must either kill this man, or else control him. He did not consider the first expedient. Murder was not even in his thought. He stepped up to Barnes and took his two hands.

"You will forget that you followed me?"

Still no reply. The Doctor gently closed the open eyes of the sleeper, and rubbed them with a rotary movement of the thumb. Again he ventured:

"You will forget that you followed me? You – will – forget – that – you – followed – Dr. Medjora?" A pause, a quiver of the released eyelids, which opened slowly, allowing the eyes to gaze at the Doctor; then the lids closed again, a shiver passed over the sleeper's body, and the voice spoke:

"I will obey! I will forget!"

"You will forget that you followed me?"

"I will forget!"

"Repeat what I say. You will forget that you followed me?"

"I will forget that I followed you!"

"You will forget that you saw me and heard me speaking to a woman?"

"I will forget that you were speaking to a woman!"

"You will forget that there was a fire?"

"I will forget the fire!"

"You will forget the secret staircase?"

"I will forget the staircase!"

"The secret staircase!" The Doctor was determined to take no risk.

"I will forget the secret staircase!" said the sleeper.

"You will forget this room?"

"I will forget this room!"

"Finally, you will forget that you have been asleep?"

"Finally, I will forget that I have been asleep!"

"Good! That ought to be safe enough!" This the Doctor said to himself, but the sleeper replied:

"Good! That ought to be safe enough!"

"Pah! He is a mere automaton," said the Doctor.

"A mere automaton!" repeated Barnes.

At this last sally the Doctor burst out into uncontrolled laughter, so much heartier than before that it was plain that his previous laughing had been but a part of his scheme to overawe the strong young will of his companion, by raising up the affrighting echoes. The sleeper joined in with this laughing, imitating it almost note for note, and the answering echoes adding to the bedlam, made the place indeed like some dwelling-place of evil spirits. The Doctor's hilarity passed, and placing one hand upon Barnes's shoulder, in a voice of command he cried!

"Silence!" At once the stillness of death ensued, as though each gibbering demon had scurried back into his hiding-place. The Doctor took the young man's head in both hands, the palms open against the temples, and a thumb over each eye. Rubbing the closed lids gently, at the same time pressing the temples, he spoke in deep resonant tones.

"Sleep! Sleep more deeply! Sleep unconscious! Sleep oblivious! Sleep as though dead, but awaken when I call upon you to awaken!"

He continued his manipulations a few moments, and then removed his hands. The eyelids released, slowly opened, and the sleeper gazed at him. Then as slowly they closed again, and being shut, twitched and fluttered as the heart of a dying bird might do. More and more quiet the movements became, till at length all was still. Then the erect head sank gently down, until it rested upon the breast, and the body swayed, and slipped by easy stages from the stone to the floor, where, as it turned over and lay prone upon the face, a long-drawn sigh escaped, and Barnes lay as one dead. The Doctor gazed silent, satisfied, yet as though awed by his own work. Then he lost himself in reverie.

"And this thing is a man. A strong healthy body encasing a powerful will. Yet where now is that will? What has become of the soul that tenants this shell, which now seems empty, dead. Escaped, gone, and at my bidding! 'He sleeps, he is not dead,' says the scientist. What wily excuses men make for their ignorance. If he sleeps, he is dead, for sleep is death, different only because there is an awakening. Yet in the true death is there not an awakening? All analogy cries out 'Yes!' Now this man sleeps, and I have made him thus temporarily dead. Except at my bidding there can be no awakening on this earth. Then if I do not bid him rise, am I a murderer? The law would say so. The law! The law! Pah! The law that says that, is but a written token of man's ignorance. For if I leave him here, he still must awaken. And who can say that if I leave him to awaken in another world he might not thank me so much, that his spirit in gratitude would become my attendant guardian, until his foolish fellow-men, having hanged my body to a gibbet, by a rope, should send my soul into eternity beside him. My soul! Have I a soul? Yes! and not yet is it prepared to pass beyond the limit of this life. No, despite the laws, and the minions of the laws, I will live to reap the harvest which my great ancestor has garnered here. So this fellow must be awakened and restored to his place amongst his kind! Will it be safe? I have made his mind a blank. But will it so remain? His will is strong. He offered more resistance than any upon whom I have tried my power. Had I not first numbed his brain by twisting it into knots, I doubt that I should have controlled him. So if I release him, to-morrow in his waking senses he will perceive that several hours of his life are as a blank. He will realize that during that time something must have occurred that he has forgotten, and all his energy will be aroused to force remembrance. There is a vivid danger should he recall his experience, before my trial occurs and ends. And with our stupid laws who may say when that may be? Ah! I have the trick. His mind is now a blank, and these few hours will be a void. I have charged him to forget. Now I must bid him to remember, and furnish him with the incidents with which to account for the lapse of time. I will take him near the truth. So near that fluctuating recollection will be unable to disentangle fact from fiction. Thus what he recalls will bear no menace to my safety, and yet will so satisfy his will to know what has passed, that no great effort will be made to delve deeper into the records of this day. But first I must take him from this sacred place. It will be safer."



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