Magister Hartley

Magister Hartley


Excerpt from: The Treasure In Silver-Lake

Magister Hartley and his newly found side-kick arrive at a farm, where they administer their ‘medicine’, and then move on …

The main building of the farm was constructed from timber; along one side and in the back there was a well-tended orchard and vegetable garden. The public buildings were situated at some distance from the homestead. There were three horses tied to the hitching post, a sure sign that strangers were present. They were sitting in the parlour, and drinking some of the farmer’s home brew. The strangers were alone because the farmer’s wife was the only one home, and she was busy in the small stable. They saw the quack and his famulus arrive.

“Tarnation!” one of them exclaimed. “Am I seeing correctly? I ought to know him! If I’m not mistaken, then this is Hartley, the musician with the accordion!”

“An acquaintance of yours?” one of the other two asked. “Did you have business with him?”

“Of course. The fellow made good money and had his pockets full of dollars. Naturally I made just as good a deal by emptying them during the night.”

“Does he know it was you?”

“Hm, probably. How fortuitous that I coloured my red hair black yesterday! Don’t you go calling me Brinkley or colonel! The fellow could ruin our plans!”

It was evident from those remarks that he was the red-haired colonel. The bullet wound on his hand had barely healed over; he kept his hair long down either side of his head.

The two arrivals had reached the house just when the farmer’s wife came from the stable. She greeted them politely and asked about their wishes. When she found out that she was looking at a physician and his famulus, she was very pleased, and invited them into the parlour while she opened the door.

“Gentlemen,” she called inside. “Here comes a highly educated physician with his apothecary. I don’t think the company of these two gentlemen will be a bother to you.”

“Highly educated physician?” the colonel muttered to himself. “Impertinent fellow! I’d like to show him what I think of him!”

Hartley and Haller greeted those present, and without any fuss sat down at the same table. To his satisfaction, the colonel realized that Hartley hadn’t recognized him. He passed himself off as a trapper and said that he was headed into the mountains with his two companions. Then, a conversation ensued while the hostess was busy on the hearth. Above it hung a pot in which lunch was cooking. When it was ready she went outside to the front of the house to call her family home, as was customary in that region, by way of blowing into the large tin dinner-horn. [note: Although the traditional noise maker, an iron triangle suspended from a chain, struck by an iron rod circling inside, is more widely known, Heinrich Lienhard’s real-life account From St. Louis to Sutter’s Fort, 1846, translated in 1961, also features a ‘large tin dinner horn’ to call the people of a wagon train to the meals or general assemblies. Lienhard’s accounts were not published during May’s lifetime.]

The farmer, a son, a daughter and a farmhand returned from nearby fields. They shook hands with their guests, especially the doctor, amid sincere friendliness, and then sat down to eat the meal; they said prayers before and after it. The members of the farmer family were plain, forthright and devout people who weren’t a match for the cunning of a genuine Yankee, of course.

During the meal the farmer was fairly monosyllabic; afterwards he lit his pipe, put his elbows onto the table and expectantly said to Hartley:

“We must get back to the field shortly, doctor; but at this moment we’ve got a little bit of time to talk to you. I might perhaps call on your skills. With which diseases are you well-versed?”

“What a question!” the quack said. “I’m a physician and farrier and therefore cure the illnesses of humans and animals alike.”

“Alright, in that case you’re the man I need. I hope you’re not one of those travelling swindlers who have been everything and make all kinds of promises, but haven’t studied anything?”

“Do I perchance look like such a scoundrel?” Hartley puffed himself up. “Would I have passed my doctor’s and magister’s exam if I weren’t a learned man? Here sits my famulus. Ask him, and he’ll tell you that thousands and thousands of people, not counting the animals, owe their health and life to me.”

“I believe it; I believe it, sir! You have come at the right time. I’ve got a cow in the stable. You ought to know what that means. In this country, a cow only gets to be in a stable if it’s very ill. The animal hasn’t eaten in two days and hangs its head down to the ground. I deem it lost.”

“Pshaw! I only regard a patient as lost when he’s dead! The farmhand may show it to me; then I’ll give you my opinion.”

Hartley was shown to the stable, to examine the cow. When he came back he looked very serious and said:

“It was just in the nick of time, because the cow would have been dead by the evening. It ate henbane. Fortunately I have a sure remedy; the animal will be as healthy as before, by tomorrow morning. Bring me a bucket of water, and you, famulus, hand me the Aqua sylvestropolia!”

Haller opened the chest and picked out the relevant small bottle from which Hartley gave a few drops into the water. He instructed the people to administer two litres of the liquid to the cow every three hours. Then it was the human patients’ turn. The wife had the beginnings of goitre and received Aqua sumatralia. The farmer suffered from rheumatism and was given Aqua sensationia. The daughter was as fit as a fiddle but was easily coerced into taking Aqua furonia for some freckles. The farmhand was limping somewhat, ever since he was a boy, but took the opportunity to get rid of the condition with Aqua ministerialia. Lastly, Hartley also asked the three strangers whether or not he could be of service to them. The colonel shook his head and replied:

“Thank you, sir! We’re extremely healthy. And should I ever feel unwell, I’ll help myself in a Swedish manner.”


“With physiotherapy. I’ll have someone play a lively reel on the accordion and dance until I’ve worked up a sweat. That remedy is tried and tested. Understood?”

He gave Hartley a meaningful nod. The medical artisan was too shocked to speak and turned away from him to ask the farmer about the nearest farms. According to the information he received, the nearest one lay about a dozen kilometres west, and then there was one about twice as far to the north. When the magister explained that he’d immediately depart for the former, the farmer enquired about his fees. Hartley demanded five dollars and the people gladly paid immediately. Then he departed with his famulus, who shouldered the wooden box again. When they had gone far enough away from the farm so that they couldn’t be observed from there any longer, he said:

“We’ve been walking west, but will now turn north, because I wouldn’t think of going to the first farm; we’ll go to the second one. The cow is so frail, it will probably die within the hour. If the farmer then comes by the idea to ride after me, I could fare badly. But isn’t a meal and five dollars for ten drops of coloured water inviting? I hope you recognize your advantage and enter my employ!”

“Your hopes will be dashed, sir,” Haller replied. “You’re offering me quite a lot of money; but I’d also have to lie a lot. I don’t mean to offend you! I’m an honest man and will remain that. My conscience does not permit me to accept your offer.”

He said it with such sincerity and determination it made the magister realize that all further coaxing would be in vain. Hence Hartley shook his head with an expression of pity and said:

“I meant well. What a shame your conscience is so delicate!”

“I thank God that He hasn’t given me a different one. Here is your box back. I would like to show my appreciation for your generosity, but I cannot; it is impossible.”

“Alright! A man’s free will is sacred; hence I’ll cease to push. But we need not part immediately because of it. Your journey will stretch for another fifteen miles to the farm in question, so will mine, and we can stay together until then, at least.”

He took possession of his wooden chest again. The silence into which he henceforth fell gave rise to the assumption that the righteousness of the railway clerk had made an impression upon him. And so they wandered side by side, and directed their eyes only to the front, until they heard hoof beats behind them. When they turned around, they spotted the three men they had met on the farm.

“Woe is me!” Hartley let slip. “This seems to have something to do with me. Those fellows were headed into the mountains! Why are they not riding west in that case? I don’t trust them; they seem to be scoundrels, rather than trappers.”

He would soon realise, to his chagrin, that he had guessed correctly. The riders stopped when they had caught up with the two wanderers, and the colonel sneered at the quack:

“Mister, why did you change your direction? Now the farmer won’t find you.”

“Find me?” the Yankee asked.

“Yes. After you left, I told him the truth about you and your beautiful titles, and he hastily took off to follow you and retrieve his money.”

“Nonsense, sir!”

“It’s not nonsense, it’s the truth. He went over to the farm that you wanted to bless with your presence. But we were smarter. We know how to read tracks and followed yours to make you an offer.”

“I wouldn’t know what kind that could be. I don’t know you and won’t have anything to do with you.”

“But we have business with you all the more. We know you. Because we tolerate that you cheat these honest farm folks, we’ve become your accomplices, which means it’s only right and proper that you’ll pay us part of your honorary. You’re two people and we’re three; therefore we’re demanding three fifth of the amount. You can see that our actions are very just and reasonable. And should you not agree, then…well, look at my comrades!”

He pointed to the other two, who aimed their guns at Hartley. The quack deemed all further disagreement futile. He was convinced that he was dealing with highwaymen, and secretly rejoiced for having got off so cheaply. Hence he pulled three dollars from his pocket, held them up to the colonel and said:

“You seem to confuse me with someone else, and are in need of a part of my well-earned income. I’ll take your demands as a joke and agree to them. Here are the three dollars, which, according to your calculations, are your portion.”

“Three dollars? Are you bedevilled?” the colonel laughed. “Do you think we’d be riding after you for such a measly sum of money? No, no! I didn’t just refer to the money you’ve taken today. We demand our cut of what you’ve earned in total. I’m assuming that you’re carrying a nice sum of money around with you.”

“That’s not at all the case,” Hartley exclaimed with trepidation.

“We’ll see! Since you are lying I’m forced to examine you. I think that you’ll admit to it calmly because my friends aren’t joking with their guns. The life of a miserable accordion player isn’t worth a dime to us.”

He climbed from the horse and walked over to the Yankee. Hartley gave voice to all manner of remonstrations, to avert the looming disaster, but for naught. The gun barrels were staring at him so ominously that he surrendered to his fate. At the same time he secretly hoped that the colonel wasn’t going to find anything, since he believed his cash was hidden very well.

The colonel with the black-coloured red hair inspected all pockets, but found only a few dollars. Then he proceeded to inspect the suit, feeling every little bit of the fabric to ascertain whether or not anything had been sewn into it. That was unsuccessful. At that point Hartley believed he had escaped danger, but the colonel was smart. He opened the wooden box and had a close look at it.

“Hm!” he grunted. “The entire apothecary chest is deeper than the compartments; they don’t reach to the base. Let’s see if they are removable.”

Hartley grew pale, because the scoundrel was on the right track. Brinkley grabbed the compartment dividers with both hands, pulled—and the entire pharmacy lifted out of the box. Under it were several envelopes stashed crisscross. When Brinkley opened some of them he saw that they were full of banknotes of diverse denominations.

“Ah, that’s where the hidden treasure is to be had,” he merrily laughed. “I thought so! A physician and farrier earns a pretty penny; there had to be a few somewhere.”

He reached into the box to pocket the money. That caused the Yankee to erupt with the greatest fury. He threw himself onto Brinkley to snatch the money from him. That’s when a shot rang out. The bullet would certainly have gone through him had he not moved so fast; because of it, the projectile hit his upper arm only and smashed the bone. Hartley collapsed with a scream.

“Right so, you rogue!” the colonel exclaimed. “Dare to stand up or say a wrong word and the second bullet will hit more accurately than the first! Now let’s inspect your famulus.”

He placed the envelopes into his pocket and walked over to Haller.

“I’m not his famulus; I’ve only met him a short stretch before we arrived at the farm,” Haller timidly explained.

“Oh? Who or what are you in that case?”

Haller answered the question truthfully. He even gave the colonel the letter of recommendation to read, in order to prove the veracity of his statement. Brinkley took no notice of the letter’s content, returned it to Haller, and then disdainfully said:

“I believe you. Anyone who looks at you must immediately see that you’re an absolutely honest fellow, but one who hasn’t invented the wheel, either. Run to Sheridan for all I care; I’ve got no business with you.” And addressing the Yankee again, he continued: “I spoke of our share; but since you’ve lied to us, you can’t blame us for taking the lot. Strive to keep up the good deals. When we meet again, we’ll be able to divvy it up much more precisely.”

Hartley recognized that resistance was futile. He gave excuses, in an attempt at recovering at least some of the money, but his attempt only resulted in being laughed at. The colonel mounted up and rode north with his companions and the loot, proving that he wasn’t a trapper and it had never been his intention to turn west into the mountains.