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   Chapter 11 THE QUACK DOCTOR.

Told by the Death's Head By Mór Jókai Characters: 21304

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Well, you godless reprobate," began the mayor, addressing the prisoner, when the court was assembled the next day for a further hearing of the remarkable case, "you have come to the last of your crimes; you have illustrated how the seven mortal sins may be trebled, and how the perpetrator may clear himself of the entire twenty-one, if he possesses a fluent tongue. With your entertaining fables you have understood how to extend the time of your trial five months and two weeks, believing, no doubt, that the Frenchmen would in the meantime seize the fortress and save you from the gallows. But that has not come to pass. Only one more indictment remains on your list-Treason. I don't believe you will be able to talk yourself out of that! But we will now hear you make the attempt."

The prisoner bowed and summoned to his aid the muse, by whose help he had wrested from death one day after another, to assist him win yet another twenty-four hours in God's beautiful world.

As the honorable gentlemen of the court are aware, I entered into service here, after I deserted from the French camp at Lille-and I have tried to do my duty faithfully, as becomes a good soldier-

"I must say"-interrupted the prince with considerable stress-"you were the best gunner in my artillery."

After he had thanked his highness for the compliment, the prisoner resumed:

One day, while I was deeply absorbed in my technical studies, a quack doctor was brought to my quarters. He had announced that he was my messenger to the camp of the enemy, and that he had returned with some important information for me.

He was an imposter; I had not employed any one to perform such errands for me. I ordered the fellow to be brought before me. He was of low, but vigorous stature, with a crafty countenance, and cunning leer. He had with him an entire apothecary's outfit: a chest filled with all sorts of oils, extracts, unguents, and pills.

The fellow laughed in my face and said in an impudent tone:

"Well, comrade, don't you know me?".

"No; I have never before seen your ugly phiz," I replied, a trifle angrily.

"Nor have I seen yours; but I know you for all that-Belphegor."

I was startled. "You are Behoric?" I exclaimed. I sent the orderly from the room, then asked:

"How did you manage to find me? You never saw me without a mask."

"I will tell you: I have two magic rings; one I wear on the little finger of my right hand; the other on the little finger of my left hand, both with the setting turned inward. If I say to the rings: 'I want to find my blood-comrade, Belphegor,' one of them turns around on my finger and the setting shows me the way I must go. If I arrive at a point where two roads meet, the other ring shows me which to take. That is how I came here."

The explanation did not altogether satisfy me-the fellow's face made me doubt the truth of it; but I could not deny that I was his blood-comrade. Besides, I entertained a sort of affection for him; we had been good comrades, and had not drank each other's blood for nothing.

"Well," said I, after deliberating a moment, "what brings you here?-here, where nothing is to be got but fiery bullets."

"I came to ask you to exchange bodies."

"Why do you wish to exchange?"

"The leader has ordered it."

"Do you still belong to the satyrs?"

"Yes-and so do you. It is not a disease from which one can recover; nor an office one may resign. It is not a garment one may cast aside; nor a wife one may divorce. In a word, once a satyr, always a satyr."

"I pledged only my body, not my soul," I interrupted.

"And it isn't your soul I want, comrade; only your body. You may carry your soul in my body, and go whithersoever it may please you to wander."

"But, what shall I do while in your body?"

"You will do what I should do: sell theriac and arsenic; lapis nephriticus, nostra paracelsi, apoponax, and salamander ointment-for all of which you will receive good, hard coin from the credulous fools who will be your customers. It is the easiest life in the world!"

"But I don't know the least thing about your medicaments, and couldn't tell what any of them would heal or cure."

"Oh, you need not trouble your head about that! Just take a look into this chest. See-here in the different compartments are arranged various bottles, vials and boxes, with the names of their contents above them. These tiny letters under each one, which cannot be read without the aid of a magnifying glass, are the names of the diseases for which the contents of the bottles, vials, and boxes are infallible remedies. When a patient applies to you, listen what he has to say; then, diagnose the disease, consult your microscopic directions, and dose him according to his ability to pay."

"And how long will I have to wear your hideous form and let you occupy my stately proportions?" I asked.

"Until we both desire to exchange again. I will give you one of my magic rings and I'll keep the other. If you turn the ring on your finger at the same moment I turn mine, then the exchange will be effected, no matter how far apart our bodies may be. Now, take this ring, and summon your orderly. Bid him escort me to the gate, and give me a glass of brandy before he lets me depart."

I obeyed these directions and, after a few minutes, the burning in my throat convinced me that I was in Behoric's squat body; that he occupied my taller shell I found very shortly.

Hardly had the exchange taken place, when a bombardier came to announce that the second cannon in the third battery had burst, whereupon Behoric in my body answered:

"Boil some glue, and stick the pieces together; then wind some stout twine around the cannon to prevent it from bursting again."

At these directions the bombardier and the orderly exchanged glances and snickered.

"This won't do at all," I said to myself, so I whispered to my figure: "Behoric, just change back again for a second, will you?"

Each turned the ring on his finger, and I was again I.

"Take the broken cannon to the arsenal," I said to the grinning bombardier, "and put in its place one of the bronze pieces from chamber number IV. Why do you laugh, idiot?"

Then Behoric and I exchanged again, and I found myself trudging in his body down the hill from the fortress, with the medicine chest on my back. I was obliged to pass through the beleaguerer's camp, and, naturally, was commanded to halt. When they spoke to me I could not understand them-I, who am perfectly familiar with French, Latin, English, Polish, Russian, Turkish, Indian, Dutch-I, with Behoric's untutored ears, and with his inability to converse in any language but the German, could not understand a word the Frenchmen said to me. The colonel was obliged to send for an interpreter.

"Have you been inside the fortress?" I was asked.

"I have."

"Did you deliver to the chief gunner what I sent with you?"

"I did."

"Will he do what I ask?"

"He will."

Here, to my great surprise-for I had done nothing to earn it-the colonel pressed fifty thalers into my palm, and motioned me to pass on my way.

I wandered out into the world, trudged from city to city, selling the contents of my chest, until I came to Madgeburg, where, having accumulated a considerable sum of money, I bought a horse and wagon. I could now travel about with greater convenience and speed than when forced to carry the heavy medicine-chest on my back. I also hired an assistant to blow a trumpet when I wanted to collect a crowd around my wagon.

I became so well satisfied with the pleasant life I now led, no thought of changing back to my own body ever occurred to me. My blood-comrade might keep it, and continue to fire cannon from Ehrenbreitstein-I was quite content with my quack-doctoring, and with his anatomy.

And a wonderfully shrewd and sensible little anatomy it was! My own did not contain a tenth part the sense that was in his. Therefore, I considered it my duty to bestow the best of care on it. I fattened it with the same attention to details I would have observed had it been my own and I was amply able to supply it with everything that was necessary to increase its bulk.

I had all the money I wanted. The regular doctors became impoverished; for, to me alone would the people apply for help-and I must say the remedies I sold accomplished wonders.

One day, however, a misfortune occurred to me. I was selling my miracle-cures in the market place in Madgeburg as fast as I and my assistant could hand them out, when some one-a wretch hired by the envious doctors, no doubt-thrust a piece of burning sponge into the ear of my horse. You may guess the result.

The horse ran away, the wagon was upset, and my medicaments scattered in all directions.

My neck was not broken, but what happened was almost as bad. When I came to replace the medicaments in the chest, I found that I could not remember just where each bottle, vial, and box properly belonged. However, I made a guess of it, and put them back where I thought they ought to be. I made a good many mistakes, though, judging by some of the very peculiar effects the remedies produced after the accident.

The syndic, whose right leg was shorter than the left, sent for me to remedy the defect. I was a little fuddled from having emptied a bottle of good French wine just before I quitted my lodgings; and, instead of rubbing the elongating ointment on the shorter limb, I applied it to the longer one; the consequence of which was: the longer leg increased to such a length that the worthy syndic, when he wanted to sit down, had to perch himself on the buffet, and would bump his head against the ceiling every step he took. He threatened to shoot me.

A second mischance occurred when I was called to attend the president of the Board of Trade. He had the gout in both feet and could not move without crutches. I had a certain remedy for that fell disease, a remedy so powerful that only a very small portion, about the size of a pea, was required to embrocate an afflicted member. Thinking to hasten the cure, I applied half the contents of a box to each foot, which made the old gentleman so active and nimble, he was forced, for a time, to take the position of runner for the Elector of Brandenburg, because he could not keep his feet still; nor could he sit anywhere but at a loom, where he might stamp his feet continually; and at night, when he wanted to go to sleep he had to be bound to a tread-mill.

Two other wonderfully efficacious remedies were: a wash to force a luxuriant crop of curling hair to grow on a bald head

; the other, if applied to toothless jaws, would cause new teeth to appear.

The result of getting these two remedies misplaced was: the tooth-wash was used on the bald head of a man; and the hair-restorative on the toothless jaws of a woman. Instead of hair, two beautiful horns appeared on the man's head; while the woman grew a mustache that would have roused the envy of a drum-major.

But these cases were nothing compared to what happened to the wife of the chief justice. She was afflicted with severe paroxysms of hiccoughing, and I was summoned to relieve her. There was in my chest a remedy for such an attack; but, having been misplaced, I got hold of the wrong box, and administered to the sufferer a dose of pills intended to force obstinate hens to produce eggs. In less than six weeks that unfortunate lady gave birth to seven living children-

"I don't believe it! I don't believe a single word of it!" interrupted the prince, who had almost burst his belt with laughing. "You are asking too much if you expect us to credit such outrageous fables."

Here the chair remarked with great seriousness: "Beg pardon, your highness: but there are authentic records of similar cases. In Hungary, the wife of a Count Miczbanus gave birth at one time to seven living sons, all of whom lived to grow up."

"She certainly took some of the prisoner's hen pills," laughingly responded his highness.

The prisoner continued:

Naturally mistakes of this sort roused the animosity of the patients; but, none were so enraged as was the burgomaster. His case, indeed, capped the climax! I had two miraculous cures: one would cause to disappear from the human nose pimples, warts and all other disfiguring excrescences; the other would transform silver into gold.

The burgomaster possessed a large silver snuff-box and an exceedingly prominent and highly-colored nose which was covered with unsightly pimples. He sent for me in secret and bade me test the efficacy of the two miracle-cures on his snuff-box and on his nose.

Like some of the other remedies, these two had also changed places, in consequence of which, the burgomaster's nose turned to gold, while the snuff-box vanished as if from the face of the earth.

This cure so amused the prince he could hardly gasp:

"Enough-enough!-no more today! We will hear the rest tomorrow-I am faint with laughing."

The court adjourned until the following day, when the prisoner resumed his confession:

As might be expected, this last mistake of mine caused a dispute to arise. The burgomaster, however, was not so angry because his nose had changed to gold; but nothing would console him for the loss of his snuff-box. He actually accused me of stealing it!

Had the worthy man been versed in the science of chemistry, he would have known that there are substances which absorb, and consume, each other. For instance: argentum vivum will dissipate aurum; and aqua fortis will consume silver as will a starving cow barley. This is called occulta qualitas.

The citizens of Madgeburg, however, are not clever enough to comprehend matters so transcendental in character. I was summoned to appear before the mayor, who, being father-in-law to a doctor, sentenced me, out of spite, to be flogged in public.

This did not suit me at all, so I said to myself: "Now, friend Behoric, I have been content to occupy your carcass without murmuring, so long as nothing more was required of me than to stuff it with liver-pasties and oysters; but, when it comes to having the hide tickled with a cat-o'-nine tails, then you had better come back into it!"

I was already bound to the pillory and the executioner had bared my back, revealing the marks of former scourging-of which I could remember nothing as they were on Behoric's body.

When the executioner saw that the whip would not be new to my blood-comrade's hide, he sent for a heavier scourge, the ends of which terminated with barbed nails.

"Now, Behoric," I said, "you must take this flogging yourself."

My hands being bound together, I had no difficulty turning the ring on my little finger. I had given it but one turn, when, to my great joy, I found myself in my own body, in my casemate in Ehrenbreitstein fortress; and before me stood his honor, here, with an empty fire-ball in one hand; in the other, what he called the "proofs of my treason."

I guessed at once what my blood-comrade had been doing, what crime he had committed while occupying my body.

The Frenchmen, who are leagued with the Bocksritter, had sent Behoric to the fortress, to take my place, and inform them what was going on in here. When he found that his crime had been discovered by his honor, the mayor, he said to himself: "It is time for Belphegor to return to his body;" and, as it happened, he turned his ring at the same moment I turned the one on my finger.

I can imagine his consternation when he found himself in the pillory in Madgeburg, with his back bared for the scourge; and I have to laugh every time I think of the grimaces he must have made when the barbed nails cut into his scarred hide!

This, your highness, and honorable gentlemen of the court, is the strictly veracious history of my last capital crime.

* * *



The decision of the court at the conclusion of the long trial was as follows:

"Whereas: After hearing all the evidence, it has been found impossible to establish fully the exact nature of twenty-one of the twenty-two crimes, for which the prisoner has been indicted, the court has decided to pronounce him guilty of only the twenty-second and last on the register-'Treason.'

"But, as the prisoner avers that this transgression was committed by his blood-comrade, who occupied his, the prisoner's, body at the time the crime was committed; and that his, the prisoner's, mind was not cognizant of the blood-comrade's intentions when the exchange of bodies was effected, the court has decided to acquit the prisoner's mind and commend it to the mercy of God; and, that it may serve as a lesson to all miscreants who contemplate a similar crime, to sentence the body to death by a merciful shot in the back of the head."

The prisoner thanked the court for its clemency and assured the honorable gentlemen that he had no desire to postpone the execution of the just sentence.

When he was brought to the place of execution he removed his coat and hat, then requested, as a last favor, that his hands might be left free, and not bound behind his back, as he wished to clasp them on his breast in prayer.

The request was granted. He knelt, and in an audible tone repeated the Lord's Prayer. Then he turned toward the musketeers, who were waiting matches in readiness above the priming-pans, and said earnestly:

"Comrades, I beg you, when you shoot me, try also to kill the raven which is fluttering on my shoulder"-he glanced furtively toward his shoulder and added joyfully: "No! No! it is not the raven-it is my white dove-my precious white dove! She has come to bear my soul to the land wherein she now dwells! My good angel!-My Madus-my only love!"

Twelve musket shots rang out on the silent air, and the white dove soared away with the released soul.


* * *

Transcriber's Note: The original edition did not contain a table of contents. A table of contents has been created for this electronic edition.

The use of quotation marks in the original text was irregular and not always consistent. Some words, especially proper names, were also spelled inconsistently. Except as noted below, spelling and punctuation have been left as they originally appeared.

On the title page, "MAURUS JOKáI" was changed to "MAURUS JóKAI".

In Part I, Chapter I, a single-quote (') was changed to a double-quote (") after "It would make the carrying on a war an easy matter."

In Part I, Chapter II, "Prisoners: I was a member of a band of robbers" was changed to "Prisoner: I was a member of a band of robbers", and a missing quotation mark was added after "diabolicum implicitum".

In Part II, Chapter I, quotation marks were added after "Kto tam? Stoj!" and "not a man of your word", "you shall have this koltuk-denigenegi" was changed to "you shall have this koltuk-dengenegi", and "Incendarii ambitiosi comburantur" was changed to "Incendiarii ambitiosi comburantur".

In Part II, Chapter II, "cities, castles, and monastaries" was changed to "cities, castles, and monasteries", and a quotation mark was added after "not the other one!"

In Part III, Chapter I, a quotation mark was added after "what your crutch contains!", "I don't wan't brandy" was changed to "I don't want brandy", and a quotation mark after "the tongue in which demons spake-" was removed.

In Part IV, Chapter I, a quotation mark was added before "This wine, Malchus", a quotation mark was added after "homicidium", "Qui bene distinquet" was changed to "Qui bene distinguit", and "deeply incensed by the impiety of the donnenritter" was changed to "deeply incensed by the impiety of the dornenritter".

In Part V, Chapter II, "Que bene distinguit" was changed to "Qui bene distinguit", a period and quotation mark were added after "the two-thousand you owe me", quotation marks were removed after "seal the bargain with a kiss" and "bought with the money her son had given her", and "the same geneological tree" was changed to "the same genealogical tree".

In Part VI, Chapter I, "worth-nothing, insignificent cipher" was changed to "worth-nothing, insignificant cipher", and a missing period was added after "in every city in the land".

In Part VII, Chapter I, a quotation mark was removed after "respectable God-fearing man".

In Part VIII, Chapter III, "mantained direct communication" was changed to "maintained direct communication".

In Part IX, Chapter I, a quotation mark before "During a calm" was removed, and "how is it posible that such a storm" was changed to "how is it possible that such a storm".

In Part X, Chapter II, "all were against, me" was changed to "all were against me".

In Part XI, Chapter I, "cast from me every fear" was changed to "I cast from me every fear", and "David's battle with Goliah" was changed to "David's battle with Goliath".

In Part XI, Chapter II, "Sint ut sunt aut nou sint" was changed to "Sint ut sunt aut non sint".

In Part XIII, Chapter I, a single quote (') was changed to a double quote (") before "Why do you wish to exchange?" and "Do you still belong to the satyrs?", and a quotation mark was added before "The leader has ordered it" and after "such outrageous fables".

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