A Modern Wizard/Chapter I
Chapter I: Lawyer and Client
Early one morning, in the spring of eighteen hundred and seventy-three, two young lawyers were seated in their private office. The firm name, painted in gilt letters upon the glass of the door, was Dudley & Bliss. Mortimer Dudley was the senior member, though not over thirty years old. Robert Bliss was two years younger.
Mr. Dudley was sorting some papers and deftly tying them into bundles with red tape. Why lawyers will persist in using tape of a sanguine color is an unsolvable mystery to me, unless it may be that they are loath to disturb the many old adages in which the significant couplet of words appears. However that may be, Mr. Dudley paused in his occupation, attracted by an exclamation from his partner, who had been reading a morning paper.
"What is it, Robert?" asked Mr. Dudley.
"Oh! Only another sensational murder case, destined, I imagine, to add more lustre to the name of some lawyer who doesn't need it. Mortimer, I wonder when our turn will come. Here we have been in these rooms for three months, and not a criminal case has come to us yet."
"Don't be impatient, Robert. We must not give up hope. Look at Munson. He was in the same class with us at college, and we all considered him a dunce. By accident he was engaged to defend that fellow who was accused of poisoning his landlady. Munson actually studied chemistry in order to defend the case. His cross-examination of the prosecution's experts made him famous. Who knows! We may get an opportunity like that some day."
"Some day! Yes, some day! I believe there is a song that begins that way. I always detested it. I do not like that word 'some day.' It's so beastly indefinite. I prefer 'to-day' or even 'to-morrow.' But let me read to you the account of this case. It is about that young woman who died so mysteriously, up in the boarding-house on West Twenty-sixth Street."
"I don't know anything about it, Robert. I haven't read the papers for three days. Tell me the main facts."
"Well, it is really a very curious story. It seems there was a young girl, twenty or thereabouts, living in town temporarily, whilst she studied music. Her name was Mabel Sloane. She is described as pretty, though that is a detail that the reporters always add. But, pretty or ugly, she died last Sunday morning, under rather peculiar circumstances. The doctors differed as to the cause of death."
"Why, there is nothing odd about that, is there?" Mr. Dudley smiled at his own wit. "Doctors disagree and the patient dies. That is the old adage. You have only reversed it. Your patient died, and the doctors then disagreed. Where's the odds?"
"The odds amount to this, Mortimer. One doctor signed a certificate of death, naming diphtheria as the cause. The other physician reported to the Board of Health that there were suspicious circumstances which led him to think that the woman might have died from poison."
"Poison? This is interesting."
"The more you hear, the more you will think so. In yesterday's papers it was announced that the Coroner had taken up the case, and that an autopsy would be held."
"Does this morning's paper give the result of the postmortem?"
"Yes. Listen! 'The autopsy upon the body of Mabel Sloane, the beautiful young musician'—you see they still harp on the beautiful—'young musician, whose mysterious death was reported yesterday, shows conclusively that the girl was poisoned. The doctors claim to have found morphine enough to kill three men. Thus the caution of Dr. Meredith, in notifying the Health Board of his suspicions, is to be commended. It is but just to say, however, that the doctors who made the postmortem, entirely exonerate Dr. Fisher, the physician who certified that the death was caused by diphtheria, for they claim, curiously enough, that the woman would undoubtedly have died of that disease even if the morphine had not been administered. This opens up a most interesting set of complications. Why should anyone poison a person who is about to die a natural death? It might be claimed that that the murderer did not know that a fatal termination of the disease would ensue. This brings us to the most interesting fact, that the one who is suspected by the police is no other than the girl's sweetheart, who is himself a physician. Thus it is plain that he should have known that the disease would probably prove fatal, and under these circumstances it is almost inconceivable that he should have resorted to poison. Nevertheless, the detectives claim that they have incontestible evidence of his guilt, although they refuse to reveal what their proofs are. However, some facts leaked out yesterday which certainly tend to incriminate Dr. Emanuel Medjora, the suspected man. In the first place, Dr. Medjora has suddenly and completely disappeared. Inquiry at his office elicited the statement that he has not been there since the day before yesterday, which it will be remembered was the time when the Coroner first came into the case. Dr. Medjora has not been at his residence, and none of his friends has seen him. In short, if he had been swallowed by an earthquake he could not have vanished more swiftly. He was supposed to have been engaged to marry Miss Sloane, and as she was a beautiful girl, accomplished, and altogether charming, it has puzzled all who knew her, to understand why he should wish to destroy her. Some light may be thrown upon this, however, by the discovery at the autopsy, that she has been a mother. What has become of the child, or where it was born, is still a part of the mystery. Miss Sloane has lived at the Twenty-sixth Street house about three months, and as she has always been cheerful and happy, the boarders cannot reconcile this report of the doctors with what they knew of the woman. They claim, with much reason, that if her baby had died she should have had moments of despondency when her grief would have been noticeable. Or if the child were alive, then why did she never allude to it? Another significant fact is, that Dr. Medjora has been seen driving in the Park, recently, with a handsome woman, stylishly dressed, and evidently wealthy, as the coachman and footman wore expensive livery. Did the Doctor tire of his pretty little musician, and wish to marry his rich friend who owns the carriage and horses? His disappearance lends color to the theory.' There, what do you think of that?" said Mr. Bliss, throwing aside the newspaper.
"What do I think?" answered his partner. "I think that this will be a great case. A chance for young men like us to make fame and fortune. If we could only be retained by that man—"
The door from the outer office opened and young Jack Barnes, the assistant, entered and handed Mr. Dudley a visiting card. The lawyer looked at it, seemed astonished, said "Show the gentleman in," and when Barnes had left the office, turned to his partner, handing him the card, and, slightly excited, exclaimed:
"In heaven's name, Robert, look at that!"
Mr. Bliss took the card and read the name:
The two young men looked at each other in silence, startled by the coincidence, and wondering whether at last Dame Fortune was about to smile upon them. A moment later Dr. Medjora entered.
Dr. Emanuel Medjora was no ordinary personage. His commanding stature would attract attention anywhere, and the more he was observed the more he incited curiosity. First as to his nationality. To what clime did he owe allegiance by birth? One could scarcely decide. His name might lead to the conclusion that he was Spanish, but save that his skin was swarthy there was little to identify him with that type. Perhaps, more than anything, he looked like the ideals which have been given to us of Othello, though again his color was at fault, not being being so deep as the Moor's. He wore a black beard, close trimmed, and pointed beneath the chin. His hair, also jetty, was longer than is usually seen in New York, and quite straight, combed back from the forehead without a part. The skull was large, the brain cavity being remarkably well developed. Any phrenologist would have revelled in the task of fingering his bumps. The physiognomist, also, would have delighted to read the character of the man from the expressiveness of his features, every one of which evidenced refined and cultured intellectuality. The two, summing up their findings, would probably have accredited the Doctor with all the virtues and half of the vices that go to make up the modern man, not to mention many of the talents commonly allotted to the rare geniuses of the world.
But according these scientists the freest scope in their examinations, and giving them besides the assistance of the palmist, clairvoyant, astrologist, chirographist, and all the other modern savants who advertise to read our inmost thoughts, for sums varying in proportion to the credulity of the applicant, and when all was told, it could not be truthfully said that either, or all, had discovered about Dr. Medjora aught save that which he may have permitted them to learn. Probably no one thoroughly understood Dr. Medjora, except Dr. Medjora himself. That he did comprehend himself, appreciating exactly his abilities and his limitations, there cannot be a shadow of a doubt. And it was this that made him such a master of men, being as he was so completely the master of himself. Those who felt bound to admit that in his presence they dwindled even in their own estimation, attributed it to various causes, all erroneous, the true secret being what I have stated. Some said that it was a certain magnetic power which he exerted through his eyes. The Doctor's eyes certainly were remarkable. Deep set in the head, and thus hidden by the beautifully arched brows, they seemed to lurk in the shadow, and from their point of vintage to look out at, and I may say into, the individual confronting him. I remember the almost weird attraction of those eyes when I first met him. Being at the time interested in an investigation of the phenomena which have been attributed to mesmerism, hypnotism, and other "isms" which are but different terms for the same thing, I could not resist the impulse to ask him whether he had ever attempted any such experiments. Evading my question, without apparently meaning to shirk a reply, he merely smiled and said, "Do you believe in that sort of thing?" Then he passed on and spoke to someone else. I relate the incident merely to show the manner of the man. But on the point, raised by some, that he controlled men by supernatural means, I think that we must dismiss that hypothesis as untenable in the main. Of course those who believed that he possessed some uncanny or mysterious power of the eyes, and would probably reveal whatever he were endeavoring to extort from them. But a true analysis would show that this was but an exhibition of their weakness, rather than of his strength. Yet, after all, the man was excessively intellectual, and as the eyes have been aptly called the "windows of the soul," what more natural than that so self-centered and wilful a man should find his lustrous orbs a great advantage to him through life?
At the moment of his entrance into the private office of Messrs. Dudley & Bliss, those two young men had partly decided that he was a murderer. At sight of him, they both abandoned the conclusion. Thus it will be seen that, if brought to the bar of justice, his presence might equally affect the jury in his behalf. He held his polished silk hat in his gloved hand, and looked keenly at each of the lawyers in turn. Then turning towards Mr. Dudley he said:
"You are Mr. Dudley, I believe? The senior member of your firm?"
Mr. Bliss was insensibly annoyed, although very fond of his partner. Being only two years his junior, he did not relish being so easily relegated to the secondary status.
"My name is Dudley," replied the elder lawyer, "but unless you have met me before, I cannot understand how you guessed my identity, as my partner is scarcely at all younger than I am." Mr. Dudley understood his partner's character very well, and wished to soothe any irritation that may have been aroused. Dr. Medjora grasped the situation instantly. Turning to Mr. Bliss he said with his most fascinating manner:
"I am sure you are not offended at my ready discrimination as to your respective ages. It is a habit of mine to observe closely. But youth is nothing to be ashamed of surely, or if so, then I am the lesser light here, for I am perhaps even younger than yourself, Mr. Bliss, being but twenty-seven."
"Oh, not at all!" exclaimed Mr. Bliss, much mollified, and telling the conventional lie with the easy grace which we all have acquired in this nineteenth century. "You were quite right to choose between us. Mr. Dudley is my superior—"
"In the firm name only, I am sure," interjected the Doctor. "Will you shake hands, as a sign that you forgive my unintentional rudeness? But stop. I am forgetting. I see that you have just been reading the announcement"—he pointed to the newspaper lying where Mr. Bliss had dropped it on a chair, folded so that the glaring head-lines were easily read—"that I am a murderer!" He paused a moment and both lawyers colored deeply. Before they could speak, the Doctor again adressed them. "You have read the particulars, and you have decided that I am guilty. Am I not right?"
"Really, Dr. Medjora, I should hardly say that. You see—" Mr. Dudley hesitated, and Dr. Medjora interrupted him, speaking sharply:
"Come! Tell me the truth! I want no polite lying. Stop!" Mr. Dudley had started up, angry at the word "lying." "I do not intend any insult; but understand me thoroughly. I have come here to consult you in your professional capacity. I am prepared to pay you a handsome retainer. But before I do so, I must be satisfied that you are the sort of men in whose hands I may place my life. It is no light thing for a man in my position to intrust such an important case to young men who have their reputations to earn."
"If you do not think we are capable, why have you come to us?" asked Mr. Bliss, hotly.
"You are mistaken. I do think you capable. But think is a very indefinite word. I must know before I go further. That is why I asked, and why I ask again, have you decided, from what you have read of my case, that I am guilty? Upon your answer I will begin to estimate your capability to manage my case."
The two young lawyers looked at each other a moment, embarrassed, and remained silent. Dr. Medjora scrutinized them keenly. Finally, Mr. Dudley decided upon his course, and spoke.
"Dr. Medjora, I will confess to you that before you came in, and, as you have guessed, from reading what the newspaper says, I had decided that you are guilty. But that was not a juridical deduction. That is, it was not an opinion adopted after careful weighing of the evidence, for, as it is here, it is all on one side. I regret now that I should have have formed an opinion so rashly, even though you were one in whom, at the time, I supposed I would have not interest."
"Very good, Mr. Dudley," said the Doctor. "I like your candor. Of course, it was not the decision of the lawyer, but simply that of the citizen affected by his morning newspaper. As such, I do not object to your having entertained it. But now, speaking as a lawyer, and without hearing anything of my defence, tell me what value is to be put upon the evidence against me, always supposing that the prosecution can bring good evidence to sustain their position."
"Well," replied Mr. Dudley, "the evidence is purely circumstancial, though circumstancial evidence often convinces a jury, and convicts a man. It is claimed against you that you have disappeared. From this it is argued that you are hiding from the police. The next deduction is, that if you fear the police, you are guilty. Per contra, whilst these deductions may be true and logical they are not necessarily so; consequently, they are good only until refuted. For example, were you to go now to the District Attorney and surrender yourself, making the claim that you have been avoiding the police only to prevent arrest, preferring to present yourself to the law officers voluntarily, the whole theory of the police, from this one standpoint, falls to the ground utterly worthless."
"Very well argued. Do you then advise me to surrender myself? But wait! We will take that up later. Let me hear your views on the next fact against me. I refer to the statement that poison was found in the body."
"Several interesting points occur to me," replied Mr. Dudley, speaking slowly. "Let me read the newspaper account again." He took up the paper, and after a minute read aloud: "'The result of the autopsy, etc., etc., shows conclusively that the girl was poisoned. The doctors claim to have discovered morphine enough to kill three men.' That is upon the face of it a premature statement. The woman died on Sunday morning. The autopsy was held yesterday. I believe it will require a chemical analysis before it can be asserted that morphine is present. Am I not correct?" The Doctor made one of his non-committal replies.
"Let us suppose that at the trial, expert chemists swear that they found morphine in poisonous quantities."
"Even then, the burden of proof would be upon the prosecution. They must prove not merely that morphine was present in quantites sufficient to cause death, but that in this case it did actually kill. That is, they must show that Mabel Sloane died from poison, and not from diphtheria. That will be their great difficulty. We can have celebrated experts, as many as you can afford, and even though poison did produce the death, we can create such a doubt from the contradictions of the experts, that the jury would give you the verdict."
"Very satisfactorily reasoned. I am encouraged. Now then, the next point. The drives with the rich unknown."
"Oh! That is a newspaper's argument, and would have no place in a court of law, unless—"
"Unless the prosecution tried to prove that the motive for the crime was to rid yourself of your finacée in order to marry a richer woman. Of course we should fight against the admission of any such evidence as tending to prejudice the jury against you, and untenable because the proof would only be presumptive."
"Presumptive. That is as to my desire to marry the woman with whom I am said to have been out driving. Now then, suppose that it could be shown that, since the death of Mabel Sloane, and prior to the trial, I had actually married this rich woman?"
"I should say that such an act would damage your case very materially."
"I only wished to have your opinion upon the point. Nothing of the sort has occurred. Well, gentlemen, I have decided to place my case in your hands. Will five hundred dollars satisfy you as a retaining fee?"
"Certainly." Mr. Dudley tried hard not to let it appear that he had never received so large a fee before. Dr. Medjora took a wallet from his pocket and counted out the amount. Mr. Bliss arose from his chair and started to leave the room, but as he touched the door knob the Doctor turned sharply and said:
"Will you oblige me by not leaving the room?"
"Oh! Certainly!" replied Mr. Bliss, mystified, and returning to his seat.
"Here, gentlemen, is the sum. I will take your receipt, if you please. Now then, as to your advice. Shall I surrender myself to the District Attorney, and so destroy argument number one, as you suggested?"
"But, Doctor," said Mr. Dudley, "you have not told us your defence."
"I am satisfied with the one which you have outlined. Should future developments require it, I will tell you whatever you need to know, in order to perfect your case. For the present I prefer to keep silent."
"Well, but really, unless you confide in your lawyers you materially weaken your case."
"I have more at stake than you have, gentlemen! You will gain in reputation, whatever may be the result. I risk my life. You must permit me therefore to conduct myself as I think best."
"Oh! Certainly, if that is your wish. As to your surrendering yourself, I strongly advise it, as you probably could not escape from the city, and even if you did, you would undoubtedly be recaptured."
"There you are entirely wrong. Not only can I escape, as you term it, but I would never be retaken."
"Then why take the risk of a trial? Innocent men have been convicted, even when ably defended!"
"Yes, and guilty ones have escaped. But you ask why I do not leave New York. I answer, because I wish to remain here. Were I to run away from these charges, of course I should never be able to return."
"Then, Doctor, I advise you to surrender."
"I will adopt your advice. But not until the day after to-morrow. I have some affairs to settle first."
"But you risk being captured by the detectives."
"I think not," said the Doctor, with a smile.
"Should we wish to communicate with you, where may we be able to find you, Doctor?"
Doctor Medjora appeared not to have heard the question. He said:
"Oh! By the way, gentlemen, you need not either of you study up chemistry, as did Mr. Munson. You remember the case? I know enough chemistry for any experts that they may introduce, and will formulate the main lines of their cross-examination myself. Let me refer to a point that you made. Did I understand you that if we can show that Mabel died of diphtheria, our case is won?"
"Why, certainly, Doctor. If we can prove that, we show that she died a natural death."
"Of course, I understood that. I merely wished to show you what a simple thing our defence is. We will convince the jury of that. I will meet you at the office of the District Attorney at eleven o'clock on the day after to-morrow. Good-morning, gentlemen." The Doctor bowed and left the room. The two lawyers looked at one another a moment, and then Mr. Dudley spoke:
"What a singular man!"
"The most extraordinary man I ever met!"
"Robert, why did you start to leave the room?"
"Mortimer, that is a very curious thing. I had a sort of premonition that he would go away without leaving his address. I meant to instruct Barnes to shadow him, when he should leave. I wonder if he read my thoughts?"
"Rubbish! But why not send Jack after him now? He will catch up with him easily enough."
Acting upon the suggestion, Mr. Bliss went into the outer office, and was annoyed to be told by the office boy that Jack Barnes had gone out half an hour before.