Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


 "The Wizard's Jar" by Charles Stokes Wayne  (from his collection Mrs. Lord's Mooonstone and other Stories, 1888; no earlier appearance known)

Sometimes it's not nice to mess around with things you don't understand.

Mr. Harrison Blodgett was a young man who had inherited $10,000 from a grand uncle.  What to do with this vast sum?  There happened to be newspaper advertisement that offered great returns on one's investment.  Curiously eager, Blodgett sent a small amount in response and found, a few weeks later, that his money had doubled.  The letter bearing this news also suggested that he travel to New York to personally supervise his ventures.  And so Blodgett came to the city to indulge in stock speculation.

Some months later, he found himself in desperate straights.  His money was mostly gone and what remained were invested in shares that would bankrupt him if he sold.  Blodgett was lonely and down-trodden; his missed his home and especially missed his nieces and nephews who gave him so much joy.  It was a hot July Fourth when he exited his rude dwellings and made his way to a nearby park where he watcched little children joyously at play.  This brought to mind his nieces and nephews and he decided to spend what little money he had on gifts for them.  It waas a holiday and every store he approached was boarded up until he stumbled upon an old curiousity shop that happened to be open.

The shop was a grimy place, "crowded with all manner of quaint and beautiful articles."  The owner waas a little man with "dark curly hair and a hook nose that told his visitor quite as plainly as words could have done that he was a son of Abraham."  This off-handed racist description -- the only mention in the story, by the way -- sadly sets the underpinning of the tale.

Blodgett is fascinated by one object inn the shop:  "an oddly-shaped tobacco jar.  It was a light blue in color , and was decorated with rays gold diverging from a from a circle in the middle of one side."  The shopkeeper said the rays were made of actual gold embedded in the clay of the jar.  Blodgett buys the jar, spending all his money.  Gifts for his nieces and nephews would have to wait.  The shopkeeper told Blodgett that the jar once had an outline of a bull in the center the medallion, but that it had faded out of existence.  The jar was called the Wizard's Jar because its cap looked like the cap of a wizard.  It had once held tobacco or, perhaps, gold coins.

The following morning Blodgett awoke to find that a perfectly distinct picture of a bear had appeared on the jar and that the rays had distorted into the shape of an "R."  Taking this as an omen (for the letter "R" clearly referred to his Reading stocks), he rushed to his broker to switch to the bear side of the market.  Suddenly blodgett was worth a lot of money.  A few week's later, the picture changed to one of a bull and the rays shifted to form the letters "L" and "S," he followed the jar's advise and invested in Lake Shore to great success.

By the time the next Fourth of July came, Blodgett was not only wealthy but was engaged to the beautiful Henrietta Smithers, the genial daughter of a former U.S. congressman.  Blodgett was spending the holiday at the Smithers' country seat, but just before he was to return to New York he was sticken with a fever that laid him down for two weeks.  The doctor insisted that he have complete quiet to rest -- no news, no newspapers, no contact with the city.  Henrietta dutifully enforced these injunctions.  When Blodgett finally returned to the city, he found his wealth in ruins; his people had not been able to contact him and thus made disastrous choices.  Worse, because no one could contact him, it was felt that he had absconded.  

Blodgett tried to explain what had happened only to find that banks and investors would not give him the funds to rebuild his wealth.  He was no worried, though -- he had been in that state before and he could use the Wizard's Jar to recoup his fortune.  He returned to his apartment to find that a large picture had fallen off the wall and had knocked over a pedestal.  The Wizard's Jar lay shattered on the floor in "ten thousand fragments."

The underlying assumption of the story is that the shopkeeper, a "son of Abraham," was responsible for Blodgett's downfall.   Jews were often thought to dabble in black magic and a magic jar that can give and then take away wealth certainly applies here.  We also know that his was the only shop opened on July Fourth -- whether this was because he was anti-patriotic or because of his venal greed is unclear.  Because the shopkeeper soaked Blodgett on the price of the jar only reinfoces another racial stereotype.  Without the addition of the casual racism of the sentence that identified him as a Jew, this story would have been far more enjoyable and less off-putting.

I can find little about the author, Charles Stokes Wayne (1858-1920).  He was born in Philadelphia and wrote a number of novels, including A Prince to Order, The Snapdragon, The King Pin, and The Marriage of Mrs. Merlin -- some of which were published under his pseudonym "Horace Hazeltine."  The fictionmags index lists well over a hundred (mainly mainstream) stories published between 1899 and 1929, both under his own name and others as "Hazeltine" -- none of the five stories in Mrs. Lord's Moonstone were listed on the fictionmags index.  Mrs. Lord's Moonstone and Other Stories was publlished by the Philadelphia firm of Wynne & Wayne.  Could the Wayne refer to the author?  The book is available to read on the internet.

1 comment:

  1. I just bought a faux-Sherlock Holmes mystery featuring the Moonstone. Great minds think alike! You'll also enjoy the FFB book review in a couple of days. It was inspired by you!