Harald Wägner, Dr. Hardie
of Chicago, Illinois
Lögn och förbannad dikt
We were a small party on the verandah by the lake and we regarded the scenery. It was evening. We had Lake Mälar in front of us, glossy and dead. Now and then it lapped when a stray backwash from a motor boat hit the beach. Not far away, the panorama was severed by the crowns of the pine forest, which drew an erratic zig-zag line. The reddish yellow haze of the dog day evening covered it all.
We had been sitting there since dinner and after discussing everything from Roosevelt to the Olympic Games and the private lives of our neighbors, the conversation had come to a standstill. Our host, the Hawaiian consul-general looked as if he were wracking his brains for a topic.
I, who can never be inactive, was rewinding my pocket-watch, while the son of the house, the candidate, the new undergraduate student and prospective physician, slowly lit his twentieth cigarette at the same time as he tried to imitate the inimitable gestures that characterized the fourth person of the party, Doctor Francis Hardie.
Doctor Hardie was for sure a quite remarkable man. At the age of ten he had gone to America with his father, a ruined farmer from the province of Småland.
Frans Hansson was a snotty, fair-haired country lad but was seasick and pitiful while crossing the Atlantic, and he lay crammed into a bunk aboard the emigrant steamer. It seemed to be at least fifty incarnations between this Frans Hansson and the now 40-year old doctor Francis Hardie, medical practitioner in Chicago, who was sitting there, confident and calm, covered with that kind of inimitable air that only those can affect who have experienced and conquered countless adventures to the point where life hardly has more entanglements to offer.
One could not avoid admiring those daring and grim eyes, that countenance of certainty, which one had no stomach to oppose. I read in his face a variegated life story, and I felt for a moment a sucking desire to go into the vastness in order to tempt chance, fate, adventure. In that moment I understood very well why no scary descriptions about the difficult times in America could stop the stream of adventurers running towards the west.
That’s what I thought, while all of us remained silent. Now our host said:
“Gentlemen, would you permit me to give you a grog?”
After a short deliberation, we gave our permission. According to American custom, Doctor Hardie took his whisky dry, which the candidate also found to be most convenient. Now the moon sailed like a severed thumbnail in the sky and it was quite poetic, even though it unarguably could have been even more poetic.
Feeling that the grog and the mood could not possibly fill out this dog day evening, I said to doctor Hardie, “Please tell us a story.”
“You won’t believe what I say.”
“You can’t expect that. The charm of a history lies essentially in the fact that its is invented.”
“Perhaps. But I can unfortunately not tell any false stories. I always think of George Washington and the pear tree.”
“Then tell us a true story.”
“Well. But you must promise not to interrupt my story with skeptical comments.”
We all gave our promise, fully determined to break that promise in case it would prove necessary.
Diligently, Doctor Hardie packed his pipe, lighted it and said, “Gentlemen, I’m actually not going to tell you any history, for the simple reason that I’ve experienced things too remarkable to court your skepticism. But I could tell you a few things from my youth, before I became one of the most sought-after doctors in Chicago.
“I had just graduated and established myself as a doctor in Nevada. At that time I had only fifty dollars. I rented a place for twenty, I spent another twenty on advertising. I used one dollar to put up a sign and with the remaining six I lived a few days while waiting for patients. But nobody came.
“Oh yes, there was a hysterical lady, who thought she was sick. On the contrary her strong health defied all my efforts. Soon I had to starve. For a short while I survived by cleaning windows, but soon I realized that it was nothing for me and I decided to change my location.
“I studied the map of America and found no city in the United States that fit me well. I decided to lay the foundation of my fortune and my happiness in South America, before I returned to the north.
“Well, after two months I was in Santa Teresita, the capital of Arrivante, a city in which I would exercise a determining influence on the political life for a while. I established myself in Santa Teresita.
“The population was about one hundred thousand. Of these about one thousand were as much upperclass people that they could let other people work for them. The rest begged from them, but since it was to no avail, they did not live glamorously. They could not make a living as robbers, since everything possible to steal was already stolen before my arrival.
“Nobody deposited more than five pesetas with the postal service or government bank. The only occasions when some fundings were circulated happened when the political opposition tried to overthrow the established order through bribes or to enlist troops in order to start a civil war.
“The citizens were honest men, who never accepted counterfeit money when bribed. However, it was not often that the established order existed for more than two months. The general public’s need of money mostly caused a new revolution, and I pitied the Arrivantian school children, who had to learn the name of so many regents. I established myself as a doctor in this excellent city.
“I think that you understand, gentlemen, that the Arrivantians in general were not educated enough to have any regard for science. Nor had my colleagues in the city done anything to spread regard for the medical profession. Their art amounted to simple home remedies and amputations. I was, frankly, the only one who had any knowledge of modern medicine, especially when it comes to surgery.
“I was wary of implying that the successful treatments I performed had anything to do with my medicine, e.g. such natural things as modern antisepsis, accurate diagnoses and skilfully performed surgeries. That would have deprived me of all confidence. Quite the reverse, I always let them believe that the successful result of the treatment primarily depended on the fact that they had lighted tapers for the Madonna and on the amount of paternosters or on the power of uttered incantations.
“When I bandaged a wounded person I used to read something from the catechism, which I remembered from my childhood and which began, Om hedningarna, som icke hava lagen... (For when the Gentiles, which have not the law...)
“The patients, who of course thought that Swedish was a remarkable language, attributed their recovery to these incantations. My colleagues spread the rumor that I was in league with the Devil, which in no way diminished my clinic. On the contrary. Nonetheless, I did well and my supposed connections with the Evil One was given the credit for the accomplishments of my scientific skill.
“Due to the political unrests, I had at times, yes, I can say almost always, a lot of work to do. The most common diseases were wounds from stabbings and gunshots. My reputation grew as I performed treatments that seemed to be quite remarkable but were actually relatively simple. For example, I did save the marriage for a young lady by giving her a new arm instead of the one I had to amputate because of blood poisoning.”
“Excuse me, my dear friend! the Hawaiian consul-general interrupted, but whom did you deprive of the arm that you gave to the young lady?”
“Oh, I took it from a fifteen-year old boy who had been killed in a duel. I carefully attached the arm, sutured the ends of the veins, plastered, and after three months the young lady had a well functioning arm, which I had an opportunity to see a year later in connection with a bickering in the family.
“I also gave the mayor a new nose to replace the one he had lost in the local elections. I implanted kidneys, spleens and so on, whenever there was an opportunity. All this was not extraordinary, as you must know, my young friend who will become a doctor. But it definitely made a deep impression on the inhabitants of Santa Teresita.
“Well, it will perhaps interest you to know that the leaders of the different political parties were Don Fernando and Don Cesare. As far as I could see, there was no disagreement between them except on personal questions.
“However, Don Cesare had a daughter who was very beautiful and very much in love with me. I did everything I could to save her from a broken heart. To no avail, she remained in love and ultimately I had to become engaged with her in order to avoid being killed by the brave Don Cesare, who of course could not digest such an insult that someone might have turned down his daughter’s hand. My engagement to the beautiful Donna Mercedes made of course Don Fernando my bitter enemy, for he too had a wonderful daughter who was in love with me.
“Yes, it went so far that my person at last became the main controversial issue between the political parties in Arrivante. For sure their leaders talked about the welfare of the Fatherland, but what mainly excited them was their mutual hatred. Mister consul-general, do you doubt what I say? I thought I heard that you—”
“By all means,” the consul-general said, “I don’t doubt it for a second. Please continue your interesting story.”
“WeIl, gentlemen, as you understand, it was a fairly precarious situation for me to stand in the focus of political combat as the bone of contention. Chance would, however, see to it that I was released from the trap in a shrewd way.
“To begin with, I lost of course all patients from Don Fernando’s party. A short time later war broke out. Don Cesare happened to be the president for the time being and he had held that position for four months because of the oppositions’s lack of money. However, Don Fernando extracted half a million dollars from a Spanish mining company and immediately decided to stage a revolution.
“You can understand that I watched with some suspense the termination of this fight, for it determined which one of the ladies I would be forced to marry. I was treated with respect, though I was of course not permitted to leave the city while the armies fought each other outside the city limits.
“They cursed each other and fought now and then when the troops fell out over a girl or some other object. At last there was a real battle. Both Don Cesare and Don Fernando fought with the utmost bravery. The end came when Don Fernando was carried away severely wounded with a bullet through his chest.
“The wounded man was brought to me, and it was not without a feeling of loss and sadness I understood that the fight now was decided. Don Fernando could not stay alive for long. He died in my arms after a few minutes.
“At the same moment my door was fiercely thrown open and another wounded man was produced. Imagine my surprise and perplexity when I saw that it was Don Cesare. But in what condition! His head had been partly crushed by a blistering hit by a rifle butt. He was still alive, but probably not for long.
“A short but intense examination showed that the cerebrum was partly damaged and that Don Cesare, if he stayed alive, in any degree would lose his mental faculties and be doomed to a life in spiritual darkness. What reason could there be to save Don Cesare for such a paltry existence, one that would not provide him any happiness whatsoever? He would never again be able to take part in political life, and I knew that he had nothing to live for.
“But a doctor’s duty is to save human life as long as it is possible, however miserably weak the spark of life may be. I allowed Don Cesare to be put on the operating table, removed a few pieces of bone from his head, cleaned the wound and bandaged it.
“Then I was hit by a thought that was so daring and strange that — I am not embarrassed to confess it — I almost dropped to the floor under its overwhelming weight. Shall I really assume this responsibility? I thought. Shall I dare take this step that nobody in the history of science up to now had ventured? Should I venture to modify the finest and most important organs in the clockwork of nature?
“And what would the result be? If the operation was successful — and I had reason to believe that it could be — what would the outcome be? But throw away those cowardly and hesitant thoughts! I took a step of immeasurable importance. I grabbed the tweezers and the operating knife.”
“Skål!” the candidate said.
“Skål, gentlemen. You wonder of course what I was going to do. Nothing less than replace the wounded parts of Don Cesare’s brain with fresh parts from recently and pitifully deceased Don Fernando’s.”
“H’m,” I said.
“What do you want?” the narrator continued. “This was my intention, and since I decided on performing this outstanding surgery, I wanted not only to restore his mental faculties — or, rather, give him new ones — I also wanted to open up new areas for science.
“Anyhow, as I had transferred fresh organs to other persons many times before. I now did the same for Don Cesare. I replaced the wounded cerebrum and the cerebral cortex with the fresh parts from Don Fernando. I bandaged him very well, of course, and I personally watched over the patient night and day.
“Already after a couple of weeks I had the pleasure of observing that consciousness was returning. The recovery progressed every day and after half a year the fatally sick politician had totally recovered.
“Oddly, however, he was not very friendly towards me, his savior, to begin with. I explained this animosity as being caused by the parts of the character of Don Fernando I had implanted in him. As a matter of fact I often pondered, as I sat by my patient’s bed during long nights, if there strictly speaking was Don Cesare or Don Fernando who was lying in front of me. And at times I felt afraid of what I had done. What would the outcome be and how would this human being behave when he left his sickbed?
“As you know, gentlemen, science is far from sure when it comes to the position in the brain of mental faculities and character qualities. Obviously, a certain division of labor takes place. When it comes to angry dogs, it is for example possible to remove that bad trait by taking away a part of the brain, namely the frontal part of the cerebrum. But what would happen in this case? Would the stupidity of Don Cesare be united with the stubbornness and greed of Don Fernando?
“Believe me, gentlemen, it was more luck than skill on my part that caused this case to turn out very well. I had saved the good qualities of both antagonists. Don Cesare and Don Fernando were so to speak nailed up together in one individual. And even better, I had for a long time ahead saved Arrivante from the curse of political fights. Don Cesare could for sure not fight with himself... I had united the political contrasts within Arrivante in one person. Skål, gentlemen!”
There was a long pause, while we contemplated this story. But nobody said anything. We were overwhelmed.
At last the candidate said, “But what happened to Don Cesare’s beautiful daughter?”
“She? Well, thank heavens she changed her mind! Don Cesare offered me the position of president of the republic and marriage to the girl, but I declined. Instead I took one million pesetas as renumeration and left. Arrivante created a government mortgage to get the money.
Translation copyright © 2012 by Berti Falk