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Weird Tales

AUGUST, 1939

Apprentice Magician

By E. HOFFMANN PRICE

A whimsical weird story about the lovely image with the lion's head, and
the reason why conjuring spells are all in dead languages

by the author of "The Stranger from Kurdistan"

THE minute I saw Uncle Simon, I knew there wasn't a chance of fooling him about anything. In- stead of being tall, like the rest of us Buckners, he was short. His face was pink and babyish, and the hair showing around the edges of his black skull-cap was just like cotton. You can't ever fool these kind and simple-looking people, not when they've lived as long as Uncle Simon.

"So you're Duke's boy, Panther Warfield Buckner?" He looked halfway solemn, and halfway amused. "And you came all the way to California to see me. Well, well. That's nice."

We hadn't written him, but he acted like he'd expected me.

He was Grandfather's brother, but we always called him Uncle when we talked about how rich he was. Dad and the rest of the folks sent me to get friendly with Uncle Simon so he'd will me his property instead of giving it to a college or something. They figured since I'd been to high school I was bright enough to do that, but here I was, feeling doubtful already.

Uncle Simon reminded me of the sheriff who raided Grandfather's still, back home in Georgia. I hadn't been born more than a couple days when that happened, but I saw him later. Then I was old enough to understand that Grandfather wearing stripes so much of the time was why I was named Panther.

"Hit's because the Buckners don't never change their stripes," Dad would say, somewhat sourly.

The preacher said, "Duke, probably you're thinking of the leopard that doesn't change his spots."

But Dad was stubborn. Nobody could tell him anything about the Scriptures. He wouldn't read, and Grandfather couldn't, and so here I was, with Uncle Simon smiling to himself about my name.

"It's been mighty lonesome, Panther," he said, looking up suddenly. "I'm getting pretty close to ninety and I've got a lot of work to do. Maybe you can help me."

"I reckon I can, Uncle Simon." When a man is near ninety, he won't have long to work a fellow to death. "I can skin mules, and I can run a tractor, like some of these up-to-date plantations have."

"Do you suppose you can run a still?"

"No, sir, but I can learn; though Dad said times were changing, and I ought to be a preacher or lawyer or something, which is why I went to high school."

He looked at me and smiled like he was enjoying a good joke. "So instead of sending you to college, he sent you out here to see his Uncle Simon."

I got red and began fumbling with the arms of my chair. The room was so big I could hardly see the further end of it, and the carpets looked like silk; deep and soft and shiny. A man smart enough to get all those things and a big house was too much for me. I said, "Uh—yes, sir."

Uncle Simon's eyes bored right through me, even though he was smiling and friendly. I was wondering why his voice was so young. It wasn't particularly deep, but it didn't crack like Grandfather's.

"You came out here to inherit my money."

I was sweating. I let out a deep breath, and brushed my cowlick from between my eyes, though it never does any good. Uncle Simon went on, "Well, I need an apprentice to learn my business. Do you know any Latin?"

I nodded, having spent three years on Latin One.

"Any Greek?"

"Yes, sir. A little," though it wasn't a thin dime's worth.

"Any Hebrew?"

There was no use trying to fool him. "What I meant was, if I'd gone to the seminary to be a preacher, I'd have learned those things."

"That's all right. It won't take you long."

"Uncle Simon," I blurted out, "what kind of a trade is this, where an apprentice has to know all those languages?"

"I'm a magician. The spells are in dead languages, or ignorant people would run around practising and hurting themselves."

It was too late to back down. So I became a magician's apprentice.

THE work was interesting, sometimes, though for a while I didn't know but what Uncle Simon was mocking me. He hadn't promised me I'd be his heir if I did my work right, and I couldn't think of any way to bring the subject up again. Whenever I'd get around to it, he'd start conjuring.

There was the time we were out in the garden. The house was inside of a high stone wall with spikes that sloped in, and some that pointed out, so getting over it from either direction was mighty near impossible unless you could fly. Uncle Simon kept the key to the gate. Anyway, we were standing about ten feet away from the live coals in the bottom of the dry swimming-pool in the yard.

My hands were blistered from chopping wood for the fire. He didn't have any help, colored or white, excepting me. It was a shame to drain that pool. And the heat of the coals was scorching the leaves of the big fig-tree. I wiped off some sweat and leaned on my rake and said, "Uncle Simon, when a man gets your age, he hadn't ought to work like you do."

"Age don't affect me like it does most folks." He sat down on a stone bench and untied his shoe laces. "Take off your shoes!...

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