Part 2 out of 6
if it were not merely a very well-acted farce which had been got up
beforehand. On looking at her attentively, however, my doubts
disappeared. She was trembling with grief, so painful was this step
to her, and I was sure that her throat was full of sobs.
I knew that she was very rich and so I continued: "What! Has not your
husband five thousand francs at his disposal! Come, think. Are you sure
that he commissioned you to ask me for them?"
She hesitated for a few seconds, as if she were making a great effort
to search her memory, and then she replied: "Yes ... yes, I am quite
sure of it." "He has written to you?"
She hesitated again and reflected, and I guessed the torture of her
thoughts. She did not know. She only knew that she was to borrow five
thousand francs of me for her husband. So she told a lie. "Yes, he has
written to me." "When, pray? You did not mention it to me yesterday."
"I received his letter this morning." "Can you show it me?" "No; no ...
no ... it contained private matters ... things too personal to
ourselves.... I burnt it." "So your husband runs into debt?"
She hesitated again, and then murmured: "I do not know." Thereupon I
said bluntly: "I have not five thousand francs at my disposal at this
moment, my dear cousin."
She uttered a kind of cry as if she were in pain and said: "Oh! oh! I
beseech you, I beseech you to get them for me...."
She got excited and clasped her hands as if she were praying to me! I
heard her voice change its tone; she wept and stammered, harassed and
dominated by the irresistible order that she had received.
"Oh! oh! I beg you to ... if you knew what I am suffering.... I want
I had pity on her: "You shall have them by and by, I swear to you."
"Oh! thank you! thank you! How kind you are!"
I continued: "Do you remember what took place at your house last
night?" "Yes." "Do you remember that Doctor Parent sent you to sleep?"
"Yes." "Oh! Very well then; he ordered you to come to me this morning
to borrow five thousand francs, and at this moment you are obeying that
She considered for a few moments, and then replied:
"But as it is my husband who wants them...."
For a whole hour I tried to convince her, but could not succeed, and
when she had gone I went to the doctor. He was just going out, and he
listened to me with a smile, and said: "Do you believe now?" "Yes, I
cannot help it." "Let us go to your cousin's."
She was already dozing on a couch, overcome with fatigue. The doctor
felt her pulse, looked at her for some time with one hand raised toward
her eyes which she closed by degrees under the irresistible power of
this magnetic influence, and when she was asleep, he said:
"Your husband does not require the five thousand francs any longer! You
must, therefore, forget that you asked your cousin to lend them to you,
and, if he speaks to you about it, you will not understand him."
Then he woke her up, and I took out a pocketbook and said: "Here is
what you asked me for this morning, my dear cousin." But she was so
surprised that I did not venture to persist; nevertheless, I tried to
recall the circumstance to her, but she denied it vigorously, thought
that I was making fun of her, and in the end very nearly lost her
* * * * *
There! I have just come back, and I have not been able to eat any
lunch, for this experiment has altogether upset me.
_July 19th._ Many people to whom I have told the adventure have laughed
at me. I no longer know what to think. The wise man says: Perhaps?
_July 21st._ I dined at Bougival, and then I spent the evening at
a boatmen's ball. Decidedly everything depends on place and
surroundings. It would be the height of folly to believe in the
supernatural on the _ile de la Grenouilliere_ ... but on the top
of Mont Saint-Michel? ... and in India? We are terribly under the
influence of our surroundings. I shall return home next week.
_July 30th._ I came back to my own house yesterday. Everything is going
_August 2d._ Nothing fresh; it is splendid weather, and I spend my days
in watching the Seine flow past.
_August 4th._ Quarrels among my servants. They declare that the glasses
are broken in the cupboards at night. The footman accuses the cook, who
accuses the needlewoman, who accuses the other two. Who is the culprit?
A clever person, to be able to tell.
_August 6th._ This time I am not mad. I have seen ... I have seen ... I
have seen!... I can doubt no longer ... I have seen it!...
I was walking at two o'clock among my rose trees, in the full sunlight ...
in the walk bordered by autumn roses which are beginning to fall. As I
stopped to look at a _Geant de Bataille_, which had three splendid
blooms, I distinctly saw the stalk of one of the roses bend, close to
me, as if an invisible hand had bent it, and then break, as if that
hand had picked it! Then the flower raised itself, following the curve
which a hand would have described in carrying it toward a mouth, and it
remained suspended in the transparent air, all alone and motionless, a
terrible red spot, three yards from my eyes. In desperation I rushed at
it to take it! I found nothing; it had disappeared. Then I was seized
with furious rage against myself, for it is not allowable for a
reasonable and serious man to have such hallucinations.
But was it a hallucination? I turned round to look for the stalk, and I
found it immediately under the bush, freshly broken, between two other
roses which remained on the branch, and I returned home then, with a
much disturbed mind; for I am certain now, as certain as I am of the
alternation of day and night, that there exists close to me an
invisible being that lives on milk and on water, which can touch
objects, take them and change their places; which is, consequently,
endowed with a material nature, although it is imperceptible to our
senses, and which lives as I do, under my roof....
_August 7th_. I slept tranquilly. He drank the water out of my
decanter, but did not disturb my sleep.
I ask myself whether I am mad. As I was walking just now in the sun by
the riverside, doubts as to my own sanity arose in me; not vague doubts
such as I have had hitherto, but precise and absolute doubts. I have
seen mad people, and I have known some who have been quite intelligent,
lucid, even clear-sighted in every concern of life, except on one
point. They spoke clearly, readily, profoundly on everything, when
suddenly their thoughts struck upon the breakers of their madness and
broke to pieces there, and were dispersed and foundered in that furious
and terrible sea, full of bounding waves, fogs and squalls, which is
I certainly should think that I was mad, absolutely mad, if I were not
conscious, did not perfectly know my state, if I did fathom it by
analyzing it with the most complete lucidity. I should, in fact, be a
reasonable man who was laboring under a hallucination. Some unknown
disturbance must have been excited in my brain, one of those
disturbances which physiologists of the present day try to note and to
fix precisely, and that disturbance must have caused a profound gulf in
my mind and in the order and logic of my ideas. Similar phenomena occur
in the dreams which lead us through the most unlikely phantasmagoria,
without causing us any surprise, because our verifying apparatus and
our sense of control has gone to sleep, while our imaginative faculty
wakes and works. Is it not possible that one of the imperceptible keys
of the cerebral finger-board has been paralyzed in me? Some men lose
the recollection of proper names, or of verbs or of numbers or merely
of dates, in consequence of an accident. The localization of all the
particles of thought has been proved nowadays; what then would there be
surprising in the fact that my faculty of controlling the unreality of
certain hallucinations should be destroyed for the time being!
I thought of all this as I walked by the side of the water. The sun was
shining brightly on the river and made earth delightful, while it
filled my looks with love for life, for the swallows, whose agility is
always delightful in my eyes, for the plants by the riverside, whose
rustling is a pleasure to my ears.
By degrees, however, an inexplicable feeling of discomfort seized me.
It seemed to me as if some unknown force were numbing and stopping me,
were preventing me from going farther and were calling me back. I felt
that painful wish to return which oppresses you when you have left a
beloved invalid at home, and when you are seized by a presentiment that
he is worse.
I, therefore, returned in spite of myself, feeling certain that I
should find some bad news awaiting me, a letter or a telegram. There
was nothing, however, and I was more surprised and uneasy than if I had
had another fantastic vision.
_August 8th._ I spent a terrible evening yesterday. He does not show
himself any more, but I feel that he is near me, watching me, looking
at me, penetrating me, dominating me and more redoubtable when he hides
himself thus, than if he were to manifest his constant and invisible
presence by supernatural phenomena. However, I slept.
_August 9th._ Nothing, but I am afraid.
_August 10th._ Nothing; what will happen to-morrow?
_August 11th._ Still nothing; I cannot stop at home with this fear
hanging over me and these thoughts in my mind; I shall go away.
_August 12th._ Ten o'clock at night. All day long I have been trying to
get away, and have not been able. I wished to accomplish this simple
and easy act of liberty--go out--get into my carriage in order to go to
Rouen--and I have not been able to do it. What is the reason?
_August 13th._ When one is attacked by certain maladies, all the
springs of our physical being appear to be broken, all our energies
destroyed, all our muscles relaxed, our bones to have become as soft as
our flesh, and our blood as liquid as water. I am experiencing that in
my moral being in a strange and distressing manner. I have no longer
any strength, any courage, any self-control, nor even any power to set
my own will in motion. I have no power left to _will_ anything, but
some one does it for me and I obey.
_August 14th._ I am lost! Somebody possesses my soul and governs it!
Somebody orders all my acts, all my movements, all my thoughts. I am no
longer anything in myself, nothing except an enslaved and terrified
spectator of all the things which I do. I wish to go out; I cannot. He
does not wish to, and so I remain, trembling and distracted in the
armchair in which he keeps me sitting. I merely wish to get up and to
rouse myself, so as to think that I am still master of myself: I
cannot! I am riveted to my chair, and my chair adheres to the ground in
such a manner that no force could move us.
Then suddenly, I must, I must go to the bottom of my garden to pick
some strawberries and eat them, and I go there. I pick the strawberries
and I eat them! Oh! my God! my God! Is there a God? If there be one,
deliver me! save me! succor me! Pardon! Pity! Mercy! Save me! Oh! what
sufferings! what torture! what horror!
_August 15th._ Certainly this is the way in which my poor cousin was
possessed and swayed, when she came to borrow five thousand francs of
me. She was under the power of a strange will which had entered into
her, like another soul, like another parasitic and ruling soul. Is the
world coming to an end?
But who is he, this invisible being that rules me? This unknowable
being, this rover of a supernatural race?
Invisible beings exist, then! How is it then that since the beginning
of the world they have never manifested themselves in such a manner
precisely as they do to me? I have never read anything which resembles
what goes on in my house. Oh! If I could only leave it, if I could only
go away and flee, so as never to return, I should be saved; but I
_August 16th_. I managed to escape to-day for two hours, like a
prisoner who finds the door of his dungeon accidentally open. I
suddenly felt that I was free and that he was far away, and so I gave
orders to put the horses in as quickly as possible, and I drove to
Rouen. Oh! How delightful to be able to say to a man who obeyed you:
"Go to Rouen!"
I made him pull up before the library, and I begged them to lend me Dr.
Herrmann Herestauss's treatise on the unknown inhabitants of the
ancient and modern world.
Then, as I was getting into my carriage, I intended to say: "To the
railway station!" but instead of this I shouted--I did not say, but I
shouted--in such a loud voice that all the passers-by turned round:
"Home!" and I fell back onto the cushion of my carriage, overcome by
mental agony. He had found me out and regained possession of me.
_August 17th_. Oh! What a night! what a night! And yet it seems to me
that I ought to rejoice. I read until one o'clock in the morning!
Herestauss, Doctor of Philosophy and Theogony, wrote the history and
the manifestation of all those invisible beings which hover around man,
or of whom he dreams. He describes their origin, their domains, their
power; but none of them resembles the one which haunts me. One might
say that man, ever since he has thought, has had a foreboding of, and
feared a new being, stronger than himself, his successor in this world,
and that, feeling him near, and not being able to foretell the nature
of that master, he has, in his terror, created the whole race of hidden
beings, of vague phantoms born of fear.
Having, therefore, read until one o'clock in the morning, I went and
sat down at the open window, in order to cool my forehead and my
thoughts, in the calm night air. It was very pleasant and warm! How I
should have enjoyed such a night formerly!
There was no moon, but the stars darted out their rays in the dark
heavens. Who inhabits those worlds? What forms, what living beings,
what animals are there yonder? What do those who are thinkers in those
distant worlds know more than we do? What can they do more than we can?
What do they see which we do not know? Will not one of them, some day
or other, traversing space, appear on our earth to conquer it, just as
the Norsemen formerly crossed the sea in order to subjugate nations
more feeble than themselves?
We are so weak, so unarmed, so ignorant, so small, we who live on this
particle of mud which turns round in a drop of water.
I fell asleep, dreaming thus in the cool night air, and then, having
slept for about three quarters of an hour, I opened my eyes without
moving, awakened by I know not what confused and strange sensation. At
first I saw nothing, and then suddenly it appeared to me as if a page
of a book which had remained open on my table, turned over of its own
accord. Not a breath of air had come in at my window, and I was
surprised and waited. In about four minutes, I saw, I saw, yes I saw
with my own eyes another page lift itself up and fall down on the
others, as if a finger had turned it over. My armchair was empty,
appeared empty, but I knew that he was there, he, and sitting in my
place, and that he was reading. With a furious bound, the bound of an
enraged wild beast that wishes to disembowel its tamer, I crossed my
room to seize him, to strangle him, to kill him!... But before I could
reach it, my chair fell over as if somebody had run away from me ... my
table rocked, my lamp fell and went out, and my window closed as if
some thief had been surprised and had fled out into the night, shutting
it behind him.
So he had run away: he had been afraid; he, afraid of me!
So ... so ... to-morrow ... or later ... some day or other ... I should
be able to hold him in my clutches and crush him against the ground! Do
not dogs occasionally bite and strangle their masters?
_August 18th._ I have been thinking the whole day long. Oh! yes, I will
obey him, follow his impulses, fulfill all his wishes, show myself
humble, submissive, a coward. He is the stronger; but an hour will
_August 19th_. I know, ... I know ... I know all! I have just read the
following in the _Revue du Monde Scientifique_: "A curious piece of
news comes to us from Rio de Janeiro. Madness, an epidemic of madness,
which may be compared to that contagious madness which attacked the
people of Europe in the Middle Ages, is at this moment raging in the
Province of San-Paulo. The frightened inhabitants are leaving their
houses, deserting their villages, abandoning their land, saying that
they are pursued, possessed, governed like human cattle by invisible,
though tangible beings, a species of vampire, which feed on their life
while they are asleep, and who, besides, drink water and milk without
appearing to touch any other nourishment.
"Professor Dom Pedro Henriques, accompanied by several medical savants,
has gone to the Province of San-Paulo, in order to study the origin and
the manifestations of this surprising madness on the spot, and to
propose such measures to the Emperor as may appear to him to be most
fitted to restore the mad population to reason."
Ah! Ah! I remember now that fine Brazilian three-master which passed in
front of my windows as it was going up the Seine, on the 8th of last
May! I thought it looked so pretty, so white and bright! That Being was
on board of her, coming from there, where its race sprang from. And it
saw me! It saw my house which was also white, and it sprang from the
ship onto the land. Oh! Good heavens!
Now I know, I can divine. The reign of man is over, and he has come.
He whom disquieted priests exorcised, whom sorcerers evoked on dark
nights, without yet seeing him appear, to whom the presentiments of
the transient masters of the world lent all the monstrous or graceful
forms of gnomes, spirits, genii, fairies, and familiar spirits. After
the coarse conceptions of primitive fear, more clear-sighted men
foresaw it more clearly. Mesmer divined him, and ten years ago physicians
accurately discovered the nature of his power, even before he exercised
it himself. They played with that weapon of their new Lord, the sway
of a mysterious will over the human soul, which had become enslaved.
They called it magnetism, hypnotism, suggestion ... what do I know? I
have seen them amusing themselves like impudent children with this
horrible power! Woe to us! Woe to man! He has come, the ... the ...
what does he call himself ... the ... I fancy that he is shouting
out his name to me and I do not hear him ... the ... yes ... he is
shouting it out ... I am listening ... I cannot ... repeat ... it ...
Horla ... I have heard ... the Horla ... it is he ... the Horla ...
he has come!...
Ah! the vulture has eaten the pigeon, the wolf has eaten the lamb; the
lion has devoured the buffalo with sharp horns; man has killed the lion
with an arrow, with a sword, with gunpowder; but the Horla will make of
man what we have made of the horse and of the ox: his chattel, his
slave and his food, by the mere power of his will. Woe to us!
But, nevertheless, the animal sometimes revolts and kills the man who
has subjugated it.... I should also like ... I shall be able to ... but
I must know him, touch him, see him! Learned men say that beasts' eyes,
as they differ from ours, do not distinguish like ours do ... And my
eye cannot distinguish this newcomer who is oppressing me.
Why? Oh! Now I remember the words of the monk at Mont Saint-Michel:
"Can we see the hundred-thousandth part of what exists? Look here;
there is the wind which is the strongest force in nature, which knocks
men, and blows down buildings, uproots trees, raises the sea into
mountains of water, destroys cliffs and casts great ships onto the
breakers; the wind which kills, which whistles, which sighs, which
roars--have you ever seen it, and can you see it? It exists for all
And I went on thinking: my eyes are so weak, so imperfect, that they
do not even distinguish hard bodies, if they are as transparent as
glass!... If a glass without tinfoil behind it were to bar my way, I
should run into it, just as a bird which has flown into a room breaks
its head against the window panes. A thousand things, moreover, deceive
him and lead him astray. How should it then be surprising that he
cannot perceive a fresh body which is traversed by the light?
A new being! Why not? It was assuredly bound to come! Why should we be
the last? We do not distinguish it, like all the others created before
us. The reason is, that its nature is more perfect, its body finer and
more finished than ours, that ours is so weak, so awkwardly conceived,
encumbered with organs that are always tired, always on the strain like
locks that are too complicated, which lives like a plant and like a
beast, nourishing itself with difficulty on air, herbs and flesh, an
animal machine which is a prey to maladies, to malformations, to decay;
broken-winded, badly regulated, simple and eccentric, ingeniously badly
made, a coarse and a delicate work, the outline of a being which might
become intelligent and grand.
We are only a few, so few in this world, from the oyster up to man. Why
should there not be one more, when once that period is accomplished
which separates the successive apparitions from all the different
Why not one more? Why not, also, other trees with immense, splendid
flowers, perfuming whole regions? Why not other elements besides fire,
air, earth and water? There are four, only four, those nursing fathers
of various beings! What a pity! Why are they not forty, four hundred,
four thousand! How poor everything is, how mean and wretched!
grudgingly given, dryly invented, clumsily made! Ah! the elephant and
the hippopotamus, what grace! And the camel, what elegance!
But, the butterfly you will say, a flying flower! I dream of one that
should be as large as a hundred worlds, with wings whose shape, beauty,
colors, and motion I cannot even express. But I see it ... it flutters
from star to star, refreshing them and perfuming them with the light
and harmonious breath of its flight!... And the people up there look
at it as it passes in an ecstasy of delight!...
* * * * *
What is the matter with me? It is he, the Horla who haunts me, and who
makes me think of these foolish things! He is within me, he is becoming
my soul; I shall kill him!
_August 19th._ I shall kill him. I have seen him! Yesterday I sat down
at my table and pretended to write very assiduously. I knew quite well
that he would come prowling round me, quite close to me, so close that
I might perhaps be able to touch him, to seize him. And then!... then
I should have the strength of desperation; I should have my hands, my
knees, my chest, my forehead, my teeth to strangle him, to crush him,
to bite him, to tear him to pieces. And I watched for him with all my
I had lighted my two lamps and the eight wax candles on my mantelpiece,
as if by this light I could have discovered him.
My bed, my old oak bed with its columns, was opposite to me; on my
right was the fireplace; on my left the door which was carefully
closed, after I had left it open for some time, in order to attract
him; behind me was a very high wardrobe with a looking-glass in it,
which served me to make my toilet every day, and in which I was in the
habit of looking at myself from head to foot every time I passed it.
So I pretended to be writing in order to deceive him, for he also was
watching me, and suddenly I felt, I was certain that he was reading
over my shoulder, that he was there, almost touching my ear.
I got up so quickly, with my hands extended, that I almost fell. Eh!
well?... It was as bright as at midday, but I did not see myself in
the glass!... It was empty, clear, profound, full of light! But my
figure was not reflected in it ... and I, I was opposite to it! I saw
the large, clear glass from top to bottom, and I looked at it with
unsteady eyes; and I did not dare to advance; I did not venture to make
a movement, nevertheless, feeling perfectly that he was there, but that
he would escape me again, he whose imperceptible body had absorbed my
How frightened I was! And then suddenly I began to see myself through a
mist in the depths of the looking-glass, in a mist as it were through a
sheet of water; and it seemed to me as if this water were flowing
slowly from left to right, and making my figure clearer every moment.
It was like the end of an eclipse. Whatever it was that hid me, did not
appear to possess any clearly defined outlines, but a sort of opaque
transparency, which gradually grew clearer.
At last I was able to distinguish myself completely, as I do every day
when I look at myself.
I had seen it! And the horror of it remained with me and makes me
shudder even now.
_August 20th_. How could I kill it, as I could not get hold of it?
Poison? But it would see me mix it with the water; and then, would our
poisons have any effect on its impalpable body? No ... no ... no doubt
about the matter.... Then?... then?...
_August 21st_. I sent for a blacksmith from Rouen, and ordered iron
shutters of him for my room, such as some private hotels in Paris have
on the ground floor, for fear of thieves, and he is going to make me a
similar door as well. I have made myself out as a coward, but I do not
care about that!...
_September 10th_. Rouen, Hotel Continental. It is done; ... it is
done ... but is he dead? My mind is thoroughly upset by what I have
Well, then, yesterday the locksmith having put on the iron shutters and
door, I left everything open until midnight, although it was getting
Suddenly I felt that he was there, and joy, mad joy, took possession of
me. I got up softly, and I walked to the right and left for some time,
so that he might not guess anything; then I took off my boots and put
on my slippers carelessly; then I fastened the iron shutters and going
back to the door quickly I double-locked it with a padlock, putting the
key into my pocket.
Suddenly I noticed that he was moving restlessly round me, that in his
turn he was frightened and was ordering me to let him out. I nearly
yielded, though I did not yet, but putting my back to the door I half
opened it, just enough to allow me to go out backward, and as I am very
tall, my head touched the lintel. I was sure that he had not been able
to escape, and I shut him up quite alone, quite alone. What happiness!
I had him fast. Then I ran downstairs; in the drawing-room, which was
under my bedroom, I took the two lamps and I poured all the oil onto
the carpet, the furniture, everywhere; then I set fire to it and made
my escape, after having carefully double-locked the door.
I went and hid myself at the bottom of the garden in a clump of laurel
bushes. How long it was! how long it was! Everything was dark, silent,
motionless, not a breath of air and not a star, but heavy banks of
clouds which one could not see, but which weighed, oh! so heavily on my
I looked at my house and waited. How long it was! I already began to
think that the fire had gone out of its own accord, or that he had
extinguished it, when one of the lower windows gave way under the
violence of the flames, and a long, soft, caressing sheet of red flame
mounted up the white wall and kissed it as high as the roof. The light
fell onto the trees, the branches, and the leaves, and a shiver of fear
pervaded them also! The birds awoke; a dog began to howl, and it seemed
to me as if the day were breaking! Almost immediately two other windows
flew into fragments, and I saw that the whole of the lower part of my
house was nothing but a terrible furnace. But a cry, a horrible,
shrill, heartrending cry, a woman's cry, sounded through the night, and
two garret windows were opened! I had forgotten the servants! I saw the
terrorstruck faces, and their frantically waving arms!...
Then, overwhelmed with horror, I set off to run to the village,
shouting: "Help! help! fire! fire!" I met some people who were already
coming onto the scene, and I went back with them to see!
By this time the house was nothing but a horrible and magnificent
funeral pile, a monstrous funeral pile which lit up the whole country,
a funeral pile where men were burning, and where he was burning also,
He, He, my prisoner, that new Being, the new master, the Horla!
Suddenly the whole roof fell in between the walls, and a volcano of
flames darted up to the sky. Through all the windows which opened onto
that furnace I saw the flames darting, and I thought that he was there,
in that kiln, dead.
Dead? perhaps?... His body? Was not his body, which was transparent,
indestructible by such means as would kill ours?
If he was not dead?... Perhaps time alone has power over that
Invisible and Redoubtable Being. Why this transparent, unrecognizable
body, this body belonging to a spirit, if it also had to fear ills,
infirmities and premature destruction?
Premature destruction? All human terror springs from that! After man
the Horla. After him who can die every day, at any hour, at any moment,
by any accident, he came who was only to die at his own proper hour and
minute, because he had touched the limits of his existence!
No ... no ... without any doubt ... he is not dead. Then ... then ... I
suppose I must kill myself!
FOOTNOTE.--This story is a tragic experience and prophecy. It was
insanity that robbed the world of its most finished short story
writer, the author of this tale; and even before his madness became
overpowering, de Maupassant complained that he was haunted by his
double--by a vision of another Self confronting and threatening
him. He had run life at its top speed; this hallucination was the
Medical science defines in such cases "an image of memory which
differs in intensity from the normal"--that is to say, a fixed idea
so persistent and growing that to the thinker it seems utterly
_The Miracle of Zobeide_
Always wise and prudent, Zobeide cautiously put aside the myrtle
branches and peeped through to see who were the persons talking by the
fountain in the cool shadow of the pink sandstone wall. And when she
saw that it was only the Rev. John Feathercock, her lord and master,
discoursing as usual with Mohammed-si-Koualdia, she went toward them
frankly but slowly.
When she was quite near she stopped, and from the light that played in
her deep black eyes you would have thought that surely she was
listening with the deepest attention. But the truth is that with all
her little brain, with all her mouth, and with all her stomach, she was
craving the yellow and odorous pulp of a melon which had been cut open
and put on the table near two tall glasses half filled with snowy
sherbet. For Zobeide was a turtle of the ordinary kind found in the
grass of all the meadows around the city of Damascus.
As she waited, Mohammed continued his story:
"And, as I tell you, O reverend one abounding in virtues, this lion
which still lives near Tabariat, was formerly a strong lion, a
wonderful lion, a lion among lions! To-day, even, he can strike a camel
dead with one blow of his paw, and then, plunging his fangs into the
spine of the dead animal, toss it upon his shoulders with a single
movement of his neck. But unfortunately, having one day brought down a
goat in the chase by simply blowing upon it the breath of his nostrils,
the lion was inflated with pride and cried: 'There is no god but God,
but I am as strong as God. Let him acknowledge it!' Allah, who heard
him, Allah, the All-powerful, said in a loud voice, 'O lion of
Tabariat, try now to carry off thy prey!' Then the lion planted his
great teeth firmly in the spine of the animal, right under the ears,
and attempted to throw it on his back. Onallahi! It was as though he
had tried to lift Mount Libanus, and his right leg fell lamed to the
ground. And the voice of Allah still held him, declaring: 'Lion,
nevermore shalt thou kill a goat!' And it has remained thus to this
day: the lion of Tabariat has still all his old-time power to carry off
camels, but he can never do the slightest harm to even a new-born kid.
The goats of the flocks dance in front of him at night, deriding him to
his face, and always from that moment his right leg has been stiff and
"Mohammed," said the Rev. Mr. Feathercock contemptuously, "these are
stories fit only for babies."
"How, then!" replied Mohammed-si-Koualdia. "Do you refuse to believe
that God is able to do whatever he may wish, that the world itself is
but a perpetual dream of God's and that, in consequence, God may change
this dream at will? Are you a Christian if you deny the power of the
"I am a Christian," replied the clergyman with a trace of
embarrassment; "but for a long time we have been obliged to admit, we
pastors of the civilized Church of the Occident, that God would not be
able, without belying himself, to change the order of things which he
established when he created the universe. We consider that faith in
miracles is a superstition which we must leave to the monks of the
Churches of Rome and of Russia, and also to your Mussulmans who live in
ignorance of the truth. And it is in order to teach you this truth that
I have come here to your country, and at the same time to fight against
the pernicious political influence exerted by these same Romish and
Greek monks of whom I have just been speaking."
"By invoking the name of Allah," responded Mohammed with intense
solemnity, "and by virtue of the collar-bone of the mighty Solomon, I
can perform great miracles. You see this turtle before us? I shall
cause it to grow each day the breadth of a finger!"
In saying these words he made a sudden movement of his foot toward
Zobeide, and Zobeide promptly drew her head into her shell.
"You claim to be able to work a miracle like that!" said the clergyman
scornfully. "You, Mohammed, a man immersed in sin, a Mussulman whom I
have seen drunk!"
"I was drunk," replied Mohammed calmly, "but not as drunk as others."
"So you think yourself able to force the power of Allah!" pursued Mr.
Feathercock, disdaining the interruption.
"I could do it without a moment's difficulty," said Mohammed.
Taking Zobeide in his hand he lifted her to the table. The frightened
turtle had again drawn in her head. Nothing could be seen but the
black-encircled golden squares of her shell against a background of
juicy melon pulp. Mohammed chanted:
"_Thou thyself art a miracle, O turtle! For thy head is the head of a
serpent, thy tail the tail of a water rat, thy bones are bird's bones
and thy covering is of stone; and yet thou knowest love as it is known
by men. And from thy eggs, O turtle of stone, other turtles come
"_Thou thyself art a miracle, O turtle! For one would say that thou
wert a shell, naught but a shell, and behold! thou art a beast that
eats. Eat of this melon, O turtle, and grow this night the length of my
nail, if Allah permit!_
"_And when thou hast grown by the breadth of a finger, O turtle, eat
further of this melon, or of its sister, another melon, and grow
further by the breadth of a finger until thou hast reached the size of
a mosque. Thou thyself art a miracle, O shell endowed with life!
Perform still another miracle, if Allah permit, if Allah permit!_"
Zobeide, reassured by the monotony of his voice, decided at last to
come out of her shell. First she showed the point of her little horny
nose, then her black eyes, her flat-pointed tail, and finally her
strong little claw-tipped feet. Seeing the melon, she made a gesture of
assent, and began to eat.
"Nothing in the world will happen!" remarked the Rev. John Feathercock
"Wait and see," answered Mohammed gravely. "I shall come back
The next morning he returned, measured Zobeide with his fingers and
"She has grown!"
"Do you imagine you can make me believe such a thing?" cried Mr.
"It is written in the Koran," answered Mohammed: "'I swear by the rosy
glow which fills the air when the sun is setting, by the shades of the
night, and by the light of the moon, that ye shall all change, in
substance and in size!' Allah has manifested himself; the size of this
turtle has changed. It will continue to change. Measure it yourself and
you will see."
Mr. Feathercock did measure Zobeide, and was forced to admit that she
had indeed grown the breadth of a finger. He became thoughtful.
Thus day by day Zobeide grew in size, in vigor and in appetite. At
first she had only been as big as a saucer, and took each day but a few
ounces of nourishment. Then she reached the size of a dessert plate,
then of a soup plate. With her strong beak she could split the rind of
a melon at a blow; distinctly could be heard the sound of her heavy
jaws as she crunched the sweet pulp of the fruits which she loved, and
which she devoured in great quantities. In one week she had grown so
tremendously that she was as big as a meat platter. The Rev. Mr.
Feathercock no longer dared to go near this monster, from whose eyes
seemed to glisten a look of deviltry. And, always and forever,
apparently devoured by a perpetual hunger, the monster ate.
The members of Mr. Feathercock's flock came to hear that he was keeping
in his house a turtle that had been enchanted in the name of Allah and
not by the power of the Occidental Divinity: this proved to be anything
but helpful to the evangelical labors of the clergyman. But he himself
refused steadily and obstinately to believe in the miracle, although
Mohammed-si-Koualdia had never set foot in the house since the day when
he had invoked the charm. He remained outside the grounds, seated at
the door of a little cafe, plunged in meditation or in dreams, and
consuming hashish in large quantities. At the end of some time Mr.
Feathercock succeeded in persuading himself that what he was witnessing
was nothing more nor less than a perfectly simple and natural
phenomenon, perhaps not well understood hitherto, and due entirely to
the extraordinarily favorable action of melon pulp on the physical
development of turtles. He decided to cut off Zobeide's supply of
Finally there came a day when Mohammed, drunk with hashish, saw Hakem,
Mr. Feathercock's valet, returning from market with a large bunch of
fresh greens. He rose majestically, though with features distorted by
the drug, and followed the boy with hasty steps.
"Miserable one!" cried he to Mr. Feathercock. "Wretched worm, you have
tried to break the charm! Rejoice then, for you have succeeded and it
is broken. But let despair follow upon the heels of your rapture, for
it is broken in a way that you do not dream. Henceforth your turtle
shall _dwindle away_ day by day!"
The Rev. Mr. Feathercock tried to laugh, but he did not feel entirely
happy. On Sundays, at the services, the few faithful souls who remained
in his flock looked upon him with suspicion. At the English consulate
they spoke very plainly, telling him unsympathetically that anyone who
would make a friend of such a man as Mohammed-si-Koualdia and who would
mingle "promiscuously" with such rabble, need look for nothing but harm
Zobeide, when she was first confronted with the fresh, damp greens,
showed the most profound contempt for them. Unquestionably she
preferred melons. Mr. Feathercock applauded his own acumen. "She was
eating too much; that was the whole trouble," he said to himself. "And
that was what made her grow so remarkably. If she eats less she will
probably not grow so much. And if she should happen to die, I shall be
rid of her. Whatever comes, it will be for the best."
But the next day Zobeide gave up pouting and began very docilely to eat
the greens, and when the boy Hakem carried her next bunch to her he
"Effendi, she is growing smaller!"
The clergyman attempted to shrug his shoulders, but it was impossible
to disguise the fact from himself--Zobeide had certainly shrunk! And
within an hour all Damascus knew that Zobeide had shrunk. When Mr.
Feathercock went to the barber shop the Greek barber said to him, "Sir,
your turtle is no ordinary turtle!" When he went to call on Mrs.
Hollingshead, a lady who was always intensely interested in all
subjects that she failed to understand and who discussed them with a
beautiful freedom, she said to him: "Dear sir, your turtle. How
exciting it must be to watch it shrink! I am certainly coming to see it
myself." When he went to the Anglican Orphanage, all the little
Syrians, all the little Arabs, all the little Armenians, all the little
Jews, drew turtles in their copy-books, turtles of every size and every
description, the big ones walking behind the little ones, the tail of
each in the mouth of another, making an interminable line. And in the
street the donkey drivers, the water-carriers, the fishmongers, the
venders of broiled meats, of baked breads, of beans, of cream, all
cried: "Mister Turtle, Mister Turtle! Try our wares. Buy something for
your poor stubborn beast that is pining away!"
And, in truth, the turtle continued to shrink. She became again the
size of a soup plate, then of a dessert plate, then of a saucer, till
finally one morning there was nothing there but a little round thing,
tiny, frail, translucent, a spot about as big as a lady's watch, almost
invisible at the base of the fountain. And the next day--ah! the next
day there was nothing there, nothing whatever, neither turtle nor the
shadow of turtle, or more trace of a turtle than of an elephant in all
Mohammed-si-Koualdia had stopped taking hashish, because he was
saturated with it. But he remained all day long, huddled in a heap at
the door of the little cafe immediately opposite the clergyman's house,
his eyes enlarged out of all proportion, set in a face the color of
death, gave him the look of a veritable sorcerer. At this moment the
Rev. Mr. Feathercock was returning from a visit to the English consul
who had said to him coldly:
"All that I can tell you is that you have made an ass of yourself or,
as a Frenchman would say, played the donkey to hear yourself bray. The
best thing you can do is to go and hunt up a congregation somewhere
The Rev. John Feathercock accepted the advice with deference, and took
the train for Bayreuth. That same evening Mohammed-si-Koualdia betook
himself to the house of one Antonio, interpreter and public scribe, and
ordered him to translate into French the following letter, which he
dictated in Arabic. Afterwards he carried this letter to Father
Stephen, prior to the monastery of the Greek Hicrosolymites:
"May heaven paint your cheeks with the colors of health, most venerable
father, and may happiness reign in your heart! I have the honor to
inform you that the Rev. John Feathercock has just left for Bayreuth,
but that he has had put upon his trunks the address of a city called
Liverpool, which, I am informed, is in the kingdom of England; and
also, everything points to the belief that he will never return.
Therefore, I dare to hope that you will send me the second part of the
reward you agreed upon as well as a generous present for Hakem, Mr.
Feathercock's valet, who carried every day a new turtle to the house of
the clergyman, and carried away the old one under his cloak.
"I also pray you to tell your friends that I have for sale, at prices
exceptionally low, fifty-five turtles, all of different sizes, the last
and smallest of which is no larger than the watch of a European
_houri_. I have been at infinite pains to find them, and they have
served to prove to me with what exquisite care Allah fashions the
members of the least of His creatures and ornaments their bodies with
the most delicate designs."
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM
_The Torture by Hope_
Many years ago, as evening was closing in, the venerable Pedro Arbuez
d'Espila, sixth prior of the Dominicans of Segovia, and third Grand
Inquisitor of Spain, followed by a _fra redemptor_, and preceded by two
familiars of the Holy Office, the latter carrying lanterns, made their
way to a subterranean dungeon. The bolt of a massive door creaked, and
they entered a mephitic _in-pace_, where the dim light revealed between
rings fastened to the wall a bloodstained rack, a brazier, and a jug.
On a pile of straw, loaded with fetters and his neck encircled by an
iron carcan, sat a haggard man, of uncertain age, clothed in rags.
This prisoner was no other than Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, a Jew of Arragon,
who--accused of usury and pitiless scorn for the poor--had been daily
subjected to torture for more than a year. Yet "his blindness was as
dense as his hide," and he had refused to abjure his faith.
Proud of a filiation dating back thousands of years, proud of his
ancestors--for all Jews worthy of the name are vain of their blood--he
descended Talmudically from Othoniel and consequently from Ipsiboa, the
wife of the last judge of Israel, a circumstance which had sustained
his courage amid incessant torture. With tears in his eyes at the
thought of this resolute soul rejecting salvation, the venerable Pedro
Arbuez d'Espila, approaching the shuddering rabbi, addressed him as
"My son, rejoice: your trials here below are about to end. If in the
presence of such obstinacy I was forced to permit, with deep regret,
the use of great severity, my task of fraternal correction has its
limits. You are the fig tree which, having failed so many times to bear
fruit, at last withered, but God alone can judge your soul. Perhaps
Infinite Mercy will shine upon you at the last moment! We must hope so.
There are examples. So sleep in peace to-night. Tomorrow you will be
included in the _auto da fe_: that is, you will be exposed to the
_quemadero_, the symbolical flames of the Everlasting Fire: it burns,
as you know, only at a distance, my son; and Death is at least two
hours (often three) in coming, on account of the wet, iced bandages,
with which we protect the heads and hearts of the condemned. There will
be forty-three of you. Placed in the last row, you will have time to
invoke God and offer to Him this baptism of fire, which is of the Holy
Spirit. Hope in the Light, and rest."
With these words, having signed to his companions to unchain the
prisoner, the prior tenderly embraced him. Then came the turn of the
_fra redemptor_, who, in a low tone, entreated the Jew's forgiveness
for what he had made him suffer for the purpose of redeeming him; then
the two familiars silently kissed him. This ceremony over, the captive
was left, solitary and bewildered, in the darkness.
* * * * *
Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, with parched lips and visage worn by suffering,
at first gazed at the closed door with vacant eyes. Closed? The word
unconsciously roused a vague fancy in his mind, the fancy that he had
seen for an instant the light of the lanterns through a chink between
the door and the wall. A morbid idea of hope, due to the weakness of
his brain, stirred his whole being. He dragged himself toward the
strange _appearance_. Then, very gently and cautiously, slipping one
finger into the crevice, he drew the door toward him. Marvelous! By an
extraordinary accident the familiar who closed it had turned the huge
key an instant before it struck the stone casing, so that the rusty
bolt not having entered the hole, the door again rolled on its hinges.
The rabbi ventured to glance outside. By the aid of a sort of luminous
dusk he distinguished at first a semicircle of walls indented by
winding stairs; and opposite to him, at the top of five or six stone
steps, a sort of black portal, opening into an immense corridor, whose
first arches only were visible from below.
Stretching himself flat he crept to the threshold. Yes, it was really a
corridor, but endless in length. A wan light illumined it: lamps
suspended from the vaulted ceiling lightened at intervals the dull hue
of the atmosphere--the distance was veiled in shadow. Not a single door
appeared in the whole extent! Only on one side, the left, heavily
grated loopholes, sunk in the walls, admitted a light which must be
that of evening, for crimson bars at intervals rested on the flags of
the pavement. What a terrible silence! Yet, yonder, at the far end of
that passage there might be a doorway of escape! The Jew's vacillating
hope was tenacious, for it was _the last_.
Without hesitating, he ventured on the flags, keeping close under the
loopholes, trying to make himself part of the blackness of the long
walls. He advanced slowly, dragging himself along on his breast,
forcing back the cry of pain when some raw wound sent a keen pang
through his whole body.
Suddenly the sound of a sandaled foot approaching reached his ears. He
trembled violently, fear stifled him, his sight grew dim. Well, it was
over, no doubt. He pressed himself into a niche and, half lifeless with
It was a familiar hurrying along. He passed swiftly by, holding in his
clenched hand an instrument of torture--a frightful figure--and
vanished. The suspense which the rabbi had endured seemed to have
suspended the functions of life, and he lay nearly an hour unable to
move. Fearing an increase of tortures if he were captured, he thought
of returning to his dungeon. But the old hope whispered in his soul
that divine _perhaps_, which comforts us in our sorest trials. A
miracle had happened. He could doubt no longer. He began to crawl
toward the chance of escape. Exhausted by suffering and hunger,
trembling with pain, he pressed onward. The sepulchral corridor seemed
to lengthen mysteriously, while he, still advancing, gazed into the
gloom where there _must_ be some avenue of escape.
Oh! oh! He again heard footsteps, but this time they were slower, more
heavy. The white and black forms of two inquisitors appeared, emerging
from the obscurity beyond. They were conversing in low tones, and
seemed to be discussing some important subject, for they were
At this spectacle Rabbi Aser Abarbanel closed his eyes: his heart beat
so violently that it almost suffocated him; his rags were damp with the
cold sweat of agony; he lay motionless by the wall, his mouth wide
open, under the rays of a lamp, praying to the God of David.
Just opposite to him the two inquisitors paused under the light of the
lamp--doubtless owing to some accident due to the course of their
argument. One, while listening to his companion, gazed at the rabbi!
And, beneath the look--whose absence of expression the hapless man did
not at first notice--he fancied he again felt the burning pincers
scorch his flesh, he was to be once more a living wound. Fainting,
breathless, with fluttering eyelids, he shivered at the touch of the
monk's floating robe. But--strange yet natural fact--the inquisitor's
gaze was evidently that of a man deeply absorbed in his intended reply,
engrossed by what he was hearing; his eyes were fixed--and seemed to
look at the Jew _without seeing him_.
In fact, after the lapse of a few minutes, the two gloomy figures
slowly pursued their way, still conversing in low tones, toward the
place whence the prisoner had come; HE HAD NOT BEEN SEEN! Amid the
horrible confusion of the rabbi's thoughts, the idea darted through
his brain: "Can I be already dead that they did not see me?" A hideous
impression roused him from his lethargy: in looking at the wall
against which his face was pressed, he imagined he beheld two fierce
eyes watching him! He flung his head back in a sudden frenzy of
fright, his hair fairly bristling! Yet, no! No. His hand groped over
the stones: it was the _reflection_ of the inquisitor's eyes, still
retained in his own, which had been refracted from two spots on the
Forward! He must hasten toward that goal which he fancied (absurdly, no
doubt) to be deliverance, toward the darkness from which he was now
barely thirty paces distant. He pressed forward faster on his knees,
his hands, at full length, dragging himself painfully along, and soon
entered the dark portion of this terrible corridor.
Suddenly the poor wretch felt a gust of cold air on the hands resting
upon the flags; it came from under the little door to which the two
Oh, Heaven, if that door should open outward. Every nerve in the
miserable fugitive's body thrilled with hope. He examined it from top
to bottom, though scarcely able to distinguish its outlines in the
surrounding darkness. He passed his hand over it: no bolt, no lock! A
latch! He started up, the latch yielded to the pressure of his thumb:
the door silently swung open before him.
"HALLELUIA!" murmured the rabbi in a transport of gratitude as,
standing on the threshold, he beheld the scene before him.
The door had opened into the gardens, above which arched a starlit
sky, into spring, liberty, life! It revealed the neighboring fields,
stretching toward the sierras, whose sinuous blue lines were relieved
against the horizon. Yonder lay freedom! Oh, to escape! He would
journey all night through the lemon groves, whose fragrance reached
him. Once in the mountains and he was safe! He inhaled the delicious
air; the breeze revived him, his lungs expanded! He felt in his
swelling heart the _Veni foras_ of Lazarus! And to thank once more the
God who had bestowed this mercy upon him, he extended his arms,
raising his eyes toward Heaven. It was an ecstasy of joy!
Then he fancied he saw the shadow of his arms approach him--fancied
that he felt these shadowy arms inclose, embrace him--and that he was
pressed tenderly to some one's breast. A tall figure actually did
stand directly before him. He lowered his eyes--and remained
motionless, gasping for breath, dazed, with fixed eyes, fairly
driveling with terror.
Horror! He was in the clasp of the Grand Inquisitor himself, the
venerable Pedro Arbuez d'Espila, who gazed at him with tearful eyes,
like a good shepherd who had found his stray lamb.
The dark-robed priest pressed the hapless Jew to his heart with so
fervent an outburst of love, that the edges of the monochal haircloth
rubbed the Dominican's breast. And while Aser Abarbanel with
protruding eyes gasped in agony in the ascetic's embrace, vaguely
comprehending that _all the phases of this fatal evening were only a
prearranged torture, that of_ HOPE, the Grand Inquisitor, with an
accent of touching reproach and a look of consternation, murmured in
his ear, his breath parched and burning from long fasting:
"What, my son! On the eve, perchance, of salvation--you wished to leave
_The Owl's Ear_
On the 29th of July, 1835, Kasper Boeck, a shepherd of the little
village of Hirschwiller, with his large felt hat tipped back, his
wallet of stringy sackcloth hanging at his hip, and his great tawny dog
at his heels, presented himself at about nine o'clock in the evening at
the house of the burgomaster, Petrus Mauerer, who had just finished
supper and was taking a little glass of kirchwasser to facilitate
This burgomaster was a tall, thin man, and wore a bushy gray mustache.
He had seen service in the armies of the Archduke Charles. He had a
jovial disposition, and ruled the village, it is said, with his finger
and with the rod.
"Mr. Burgomaster," cried the shepherd in evident excitement.
But Petrus Mauerer, without awaiting the end of his speech, frowned and
"Kasper Boeck, begin by taking off your hat, put your dog out of the
room, and then speak distinctly, intelligibly, without stammering, so
that I may understand you."
Hereupon the burgomaster, standing near the table, tranquilly emptied
his little glass and wiped his great gray mustachios indifferently.
Kasper put his dog out, and came back with his hat off.
"Well!" said Petrus, seeing that he was silent, "what has happened?"
"It happens that the _spirit_ has appeared again in the ruins of
"Ha! I doubt it. You've seen it yourself?"
"Very clearly, Mr. Burgomaster."
"Without closing your eyes?"
"Yes, Mr. Burgomaster--my eyes were wide open. There was plenty of
"What form did it have?"
"The form of a small man."
And turning toward a glass door at the left:
"Katel!" cried the burgomaster.
An old serving woman opened the door.
"I am going out for a walk--on the hillside--sit up for me until ten
o'clock. Here's the key."
Then the old soldier took down his gun from the hook over the door,
examined the priming, and slung it over his shoulder; then he addressed
"Go and tell the rural guard to meet me in the holly path, and tell him
behind the mill. Your _spirit_ must be some marauder. But if it's a
fox, I'll make a fine hood of it, with long earlaps."
Master Petrus Mauerer and humble Kasper then went out. The weather was
superb, the stars innumerable. While the shepherd went to knock at the
rural guard's door, the burgomaster plunged among the elder bushes, in
a little lane that wound around behind the old church.
Two minutes later Kasper and Hans Goerner, whinger at his side, by
running overtook Master Petrus in the holly path.
All three made their way together toward the ruins of Geierstein.
These ruins, which are twenty minutes' walk from the village, seem to
be insignificant enough; they consist of the ridges of a few decrepit
walls, from four to six feet high, which extend among the brier bushes.
Archaeologists call them the aqueducts of Seranus, the Roman camp of
Holderlock, or vestiges of Theodoric, according to their fantasy. The
only thing about these ruins which could be considered remarkable is a
stairway to a cistern cut in the rock. Inside of this spiral staircase,
instead of concentric circles which twist around with each complete
turn, the involutions become wider as they proceed, in such a way that
the bottom of the pit is three times as large as the opening. Is it an
architectural freak, or did some reasonable cause determine such an odd
construction? It matters little to us. The result was to cause in the
cistern that vague reverberation which anyone may hear upon placing a
shell at his ear, and to make you aware of steps on the gravel path,
murmurs of the air, rustling of the leaves, and even distant words
spoken by people passing the foot of the hill.
Our three personages then followed the pathway between the vineyards
and gardens of Hirschwiller.
"I see nothing," the burgomaster would say, turning up his nose
"Nor I either," the rural guard would repeat, imitating the other's
"It's down in the hole," muttered the shepherd.
"We shall see, we shall see," returned the burgomaster.
It was in this fashion, after a quarter of an hour, that they came upon
the opening of the cistern. As I have said, the night was clear,
limpid, and perfectly still.
The moon portrayed, as far as the eye could reach, one of those
nocturnal landscapes in bluish lines, studded with slim trees, the
shadows of which seemed to have been drawn with a black crayon. The
blooming brier and broom perfumed the air with a rather sharp odor, and
the frogs of a neighboring swamp sang their oily anthem, interspersed
with silences. But all these details escaped the notice of our good
rustics; they thought of nothing but laying hands on the _spirit_.
When they had reached the stairway, all three stopped and listened,
then gazed into the dark shadows. Nothing appeared--nothing stirred.
"The devil!" said the burgomaster, "we forgot to bring a bit of candle.
Descend, Kasper, you know the way better than I--I'll follow you."
At this proposition the shepherd recoiled promptly. If he had consulted
his inclinations the poor man would have taken to flight; his pitiful
expression made the burgomaster burst out laughing.
"Well, Hans, since he doesn't want to go down, show me the way," he
said to the game warden.
"But, Mr. Burgomaster," said the latter, "you know very well that steps
are missing; we should risk breaking our necks."
"Then what's to be done?"
"Yes, what's to be done?"
"Send your dog," replied Petrus.
The shepherd whistled to his dog, showed him the stairway, urged
him--but he did not wish to take the chances any more than the others.
At this moment, a bright idea struck the rural guardsman.
"Ha! Mr. Burgomaster," said he, "if you should fire your gun inside."
"Faith," cried the other, "you're right, we shall catch a glimpse at
And without hesitating the worthy man approached the stairway and
leveled his gun.
But, by the acoustic effect which I have already pointed out, the
_spirit_, the marauder, the individual who chanced to be actually in
the cistern, had heard everything. The idea of stopping a gunshot did
not strike him as amusing, for in a shrill, piercing voice he cried:
"Stop! Don't fire--I'm coming."
Then the three functionaries looked at each other and laughed softly,
and the burgomaster, leaning over the opening again, cried rudely:
"Be quick about it, you varlet, or I'll shoot! Be quick about it!"
He cocked his gun, and the click seemed to hasten the ascent of the
mysterious person; they heard him rolling down some stones.
Nevertheless it still took him another minute before he appeared, the
cistern being at a depth of sixty feet.
What was this man doing in such deep darkness? He must be some great
criminal! So at least thought Petrus Mauerer and his acolytes.
At last a vague form could be discerned in the dark, then slowly, by
degrees, a little man, four and a half feet high at the most, frail,
ragged, his face withered and yellow, his eye gleaming like a magpie's,
and his hair tangled, came out shouting:
"By what right do you come to disturb my studies, wretched creatures?"
This grandiose apostrophe was scarcely in accord with his costume and
physiognomy. Accordingly the burgomaster indignantly replied:
"Try to show that you're honest, you knave, or I'll begin by
administering a correction."
"A correction!" said the little man, leaping with anger, and drawing
himself up under the nose of the burgomaster.
"Yes," replied the other, who, nevertheless, did not fail to admire the
pygmy's courage; "if you do not answer the questions satisfactorily I
am going to put to you. I am the burgomaster of Hirschwiller; here are
the rural guard, the shepherd and his dog. We are stronger than you--be
wise and tell me peaceably who you are, what you are doing here, and
why you do not dare to appear in broad daylight. Then we shall see
what's to be done with you."
"All that's none of your business," replied the little man in his
cracked voice. "I shall not answer."
"In that case, forward, march," ordered the burgomaster, who grasped
him firmly by the nape of the neck; "you are going to sleep in prison."
The little man writhed like a weasel; he even tried to bite, and the
dog was sniffing at the calves of his legs, when, quite exhausted, he
said, not without a certain dignity:
"Let go, sir, I surrender to superior force--I'm yours!"
The burgomaster, who was not entirely lacking in good breeding, became
"Do you promise?" said he.
"Very well--walk in front."
And that is how, on the night of the 29th of July, 1835, the
burgomaster took captive a little red-haired man, issuing from the
cavern of Geierstein.
Upon arriving at Hirschwiller the rural guard ran to find the key of
the prison and the vagabond was locked in and double-locked, not to
forget the outside bolt and padlock.
Everyone then could repose after his fatigues, and Petrus Mauerer went
to bed and dreamed till midnight of this singular adventure.
On the morrow, toward nine o'clock, Hans Goerner, the rural guard,
having been ordered to bring the prisoner to the town house for another
examination, repaired to the cooler with four husky daredevils. They
opened the door, all of them curious to look upon the Will-o'-the-wisp.
But imagine their astonishment upon seeing him hanging from the bars of
the window by his necktie! Some said that he was still writhing; others
that he was already stiff. However that may be, they ran to Petrus
Mauerer's house to inform him of the fact, and what is certain is that
upon the latter's arrival the little man had breathed his last.
The justice of the peace and the doctor of Hirschwiller drew up a
formal statement of the catastrophe; then they buried the unknown in a
field of meadow grass and it was all over!
Now about three weeks after these occurrences, I went to see my cousin,
Petrus Mauerer, whose nearest relative I was, and consequently his
heir. This circumstance sustained an intimate acquaintance between us.
We were at dinner, talking on indifferent matters, when the burgomaster
recounted the foregoing little story, as I have just reported it.
"'Tis strange, cousin," said I, "truly strange. And you have no other
information concerning the unknown?"
"And you have found nothing which could give you a clew as to his
"Absolutely nothing, Christian."
"But, as a matter of fact, what could he have been doing in the
cistern? On what did he live?"
The burgomaster shrugged his shoulders, refilled our glasses, and
"To your health, cousin."
We remained silent a few minutes. It was impossible for me to accept
the abrupt conclusion of the adventure, and, in spite of myself, I
mused with some melancholy on the sad fate of certain men who appear
and disappear in this world like the grass of the field, without
leaving the least memory or the least regret.
"Cousin," I resumed, "how far may it be from here to the ruins of
"Twenty minutes' walk at the most. Why?"
"Because I should like to see them."
"You know that we have a meeting of the municipal council, and that I
can't accompany you."
"Oh! I can find them by myself."
"No, the rural guard will show you the way; he has nothing better to
And my worthy cousin, having rapped on his glass, called his servant:
"Katel, go and find Hans Goerner--let him hurry, and get here by two
o'clock. I must be going."
The servant went out and the rural guard was not tardy in coming.
He was directed to take me to the ruins.
While the burgomaster proceeded gravely toward the hall of the
municipal council, we were already climbing the hill. Hans Goerner,
with a wave of the hand, indicated the remains of the aqueduct. At the
same moment the rocky ribs of the plateau, the blue distances of
Hundsrueck, the sad crumbling walls covered with somber ivy, the tolling
of the Hirschwiller bell summoning the notables to the council, the
rural guardsman panting and catching at the brambles--assumed in my
eyes a sad and severe tinge, for which I could not account: it was the
story of the hanged man which took the color out of the prospect.
The cistern staircase struck me as being exceedingly curious, with its
elegant spiral. The bushes bristling in the fissures at every step, the
deserted aspect of its surroundings, all harmonized with my sadness. We
descended, and soon the luminous point of the opening, which seemed to
contract more and more, and to take the shape of a star with curved
rays, alone sent us its pale light. When we attained the very bottom of
the cistern, we found a superb sight was to be had of all those steps,
lighted from above and cutting off their shadows with marvelous
precision. I then heard the hum of which I have already spoken: the
immense granite conch had as many echoes as stones!
"Has nobody been down here since the little man?" I asked the rural
"No, sir. The peasants are afraid. They imagine that the hanged man
"I--oh, I'm not curious."
"But the justice of the peace? His duty was to--"
"Ha! What could he have come to the _Owl's Ear_ for?"
"They call this the _Owl's Ear_?"
"That's pretty near it," said I, raising my eyes. "This reversed vault
forms the _pavilion_ well enough; the under side of the steps makes the
covering of the _tympanum_, and the winding of the staircase the
_cochlea_, the _labyrinth_, and _vestibule_ of the ear. That is the
cause of the murmur which we hear: we are at the back of a colossal
"It's very likely," said Hans Goerner, who did not seem to have
understood my observations.
We started up again, and I had ascended the first steps when I felt
something crush under my foot; I stopped to see what it could be, and
at that moment perceived a white object before me. It was a torn sheet
of paper. As for the hard object, which I had felt grinding up, I
recognized it as a sort of glazed earthenware jug.
"Aha!" I said to myself; "this may clear up the burgomaster's story."
I rejoined Hans Goerner, who was now waiting for me at the edge of the
"Now, sir," cried he, "where would you like to go?"
"First, let's sit down for a while. We shall see presently."
I sat down on a large stone, while the rural guard cast his falcon
eyes over the village to see if there chanced to be any trespassers in
the gardens. I carefully examined the glazed vase, of which nothing
but splinters remained. These fragments presented the appearance of a
funnel, lined with wool. It was impossible for me to perceive its
purpose. I then read the piece of a letter, written in an easy running
and firm hand. I transcribe it here below, word for word. It seems to
follow the other half of the sheet, for which I looked vainly all
about the ruins:
"My _micracoustic_ ear trumpet thus has the double advantage of
infinitely multiplying the intensity of sounds, and of introducing
them into the ear without causing the observer the least discomfort.
You would never have imagined, dear master, the charm which one feels
in perceiving these thousands of imperceptible sounds which are
confounded, on a fine summer day, in an immense murmuring. The
bumble-bee has his song as well as the nightingale, the honey-bee is
the warbler of the mosses, the cricket is the lark of the tall grass,
the maggot is the wren--it has only a sigh, but the sigh is melodious!
"This discovery, from the point of view of sentiment, which makes us
live in the universal life, surpasses in its importance all that I
could say on the matter.
"After so much suffering, privations, and weariness, how happy it makes
one to reap the rewards of all his labors! How the soul soars toward
the divine Author of all these microscopic worlds, the magnificence of
which is revealed to us! Where now are the long hours of anguish,
hunger, contempt, which overwhelmed us before? Gone, sir, gone! Tears
of gratitude moisten our eyes. One is proud to have achieved, through
suffering, new joys for humanity and to have contributed to its mental
development. But howsoever vast, howsoever admirable may be the first
fruits of my _micracoustic_ ear trumpet, these do not delimit its
advantages. There are more positive ones, more material, and ones which
may be expressed in figures.
"Just as the telescope brought the discovery of myriads of worlds
performing their harmonious revolutions in infinite space--so also will
my _micracoustic_ ear trumpet extend the sense of the unbearable beyond
all possible bounds. Thus, sir, the circulation of the blood and the
fluids of the body will not give me pause; you shall hear them flow
with the impetuosity of cataracts; you shall perceive them so
distinctly as to startle you; the slightest irregularity of the pulse,
the least obstacle, is striking, and produces the same effect as a rock
against which the waves of a torrent are dashing!
"It is doubtless an immense conquest in the development of our
knowledge of physiology and pathology, but this is not the point on
which I would emphasize. Upon applying your ear to the ground, sir, you
may hear the mineral waters springing up at immeasurable depths; you
may judge of their volume, their currents, and the obstacles which they
"Do you wish to go further? Enter a subterranean vault which is so
constructed as to gather a quantity of loud sounds; then at night when
the world sleeps, when nothing will be confused with the interior
noises of our globe--listen!
"Sir, all that it is possible for me to tell you at the present
moment--for in the midst of my profound misery, of my privations, and
often of my despair, I am left only a few lucid instants to pursue my
geological observations--all that I can affirm is that the seething of
glow worms, the explosions of boiling fluids, is something terrifying
and sublime, which can only be compared to the impression of the
astronomer whose glass fathoms depths of limitless extent.
"Nevertheless, I must avow that these impressions should be studied
further and classified in a methodical manner, in order that definite
conclusions may be derived therefrom. Likewise, as soon as you shall
have deigned, dear and noble master, to transmit the little sum for use
at Neustadt as I asked, to supply my first needs, we shall see our way
to an understanding in regard to the establishment of three great
subterranean observatories, one in the valley of Catania, another in
Iceland, then a third in Capac-Uren, Songay, or Cayembe-Uren, the
deepest of the Cordilleras, and consequently--"
Here the letter stopped.
I let my hands fall in stupefaction. Had I read the conceptions of an
idiot--or the inspirations of a genius which had been realized? What am
I to say? to think? So this man, this miserable creature, living at the
bottom of a burrow like a fox, dying of hunger, had had perhaps one of
those inspirations which the Supreme Being sends on earth to enlighten
And this man had hanged himself in disgust, despair! No one had
answered his prayer, though he asked only for a crust of bread in
exchange for his discovery. It was horrible. Long, long I sat there
dreaming, thanking Heaven for having limited my intelligence to the
needs of ordinary life--for not having desired to make me a superior
man in the community of martyrs. At length the rural guardsman, seeing
me with fixed gaze and mouth agape, made so bold as to touch me on the
"Mr. Christian," said he, "see--it's getting late--the burgomaster must
have come back from the council."
"Ha! That's a fact," cried I, crumpling up the paper, "come on."
We descended the hill.
My worthy cousin met me, with a smiling face, at the threshold of his
"Well! well! Christian, so you've found no trace of the imbecile who
"I thought as much. He was some lunatic who escaped from Stefansfeld or
somewhere--Faith, he did well to hang himself. When one is good for
nothing, that's the simplest way for it."
The following day I left Hirschwiller. I shall never return.
_The Invisible Eye_
About this time (said Christian), poor as a church mouse, I took refuge
in the roof of an old house in Minnesaenger Street, Nuremberg, and made
my nest in the corner of the garret.
I was compelled to work over my straw bed to reach the window, but this
window was in the gable end, and the view from it was magnificent, both
town and country being spread out before me.
I could see the cats walking gravely in the gutters; the storks, their
beaks filled with frogs, carrying nourishment to their ravenous brood;
the pigeons, springing from their cotes, their tails spread like fans,
hovering over the streets.
In the evening, when the bells called the world to the Angelus, with my
elbows upon the edge of the roof, I listened to their melancholy
chimes; I watched the windows as, one by one, they were lighted up; the
good burghers smoking their pipes on the sidewalks; the young girls in
their red skirts, with their pitchers under their arms, laughing and
chatting around the fountain "Saint Sebalt." Insensibly all this faded
away, the bats commenced their rapid course, and I retired to my
mattress in sweet peace and tranquillity.
The old curiosity seller, Toubac, knew the way to my little lodging as
well as I did, and was not afraid to climb the ladder. Every week his
ugly head, adorned with a reddish cap, raised the trapdoor, his fingers
grasped the ledge, and he cried out in a nasal tone:
"Well, well, Master Christian, have you anything?"
To which I replied:
"Come in. Why in the devil don't you come in? I am just finishing a
little landscape, and you must tell me what you think of it."
Then his great back, seeming to elongate, grew up, even to the roof,
and the good man laughed silently.
I must do justice to Toubac: he never haggled with me about prices; he
bought all my paintings at fifteen florins, one with the other, and
sold them again for forty each. "This was an honest Jew!"
I began to grow fond of this mode of existence, and to find new charms
in it day by day.
Just at this time the city of Nuremberg was agitated by a strange and
mysterious event. Not far from my dormer window, a little to the left,
stood the Inn Boeuf-Gras, an old _auberge_ much patronized throughout
the country. Three or four wagons, filled with sacks or casks, were
always drawn up before the door, where the rustic drivers were in the
habit of stopping, on their way to the market, to take their morning
draught of wine.
The gable end of the inn was distinguished by its peculiar form. It was
very narrow, pointed, and, on two sides, cut-in teeth, like a saw. The
carvings were strangely grotesque, interwoven and ornamenting the
cornices and surrounding the windows; but the most remarkable fact was
that the house opposite reproduced exactly the same sculptures, the
same ornaments; even the signboard, with its post and spiral of iron,
was exactly copied.
One might have thought that these two ancient houses reflected each
other. Behind the inn, however, was a grand old oak, whose somber
leaves darkened the stones of the roof, while the other house stood out
in bold relief against the sky. To complete the description, this old
building was as silent and dreary as the Inn Boeuf-Gras was noisy and
On one side, a crowd of merry drinkers were continually entering in and
going out, singing, tripping, cracking their whips; on the other,
profound silence reigned.
Perhaps, once or twice during the day, the heavy door seemed to open of
itself, to allow a little old woman to go out, with her back almost in
a semicircle, her dress fitting tight about her hips, an enormous
basket on her arm, and her hand contracted against her breast.
It seemed to me that I saw at a glance, as I looked upon her, a whole
existence of good works and pious meditations.
The physiognomy of this old woman had struck me more than once: her
little green eyes, long, thin nose, the immense bouquets of flowers on
her shawl, which must have been at least a hundred years old, the
withered smile which puckered her cheeks into a cockade, the lace of
her bonnet falling down to her eyebrows--all this was fantastic, and
interested me much. Why did this old woman live in this great deserted
house? I wished to explore the mystery.
One day as I paused in the street and followed her with my eyes, she
turned suddenly and gave me a look, the horrible expression of which I
know not how to paint; made three or four hideous grimaces, and then,
letting her palsied head fall upon her breast, drew her great shawl
closely around her, and advanced slowly to the heavy door, behind which
I saw her disappear.
"She's an old fool!" I said to myself, in a sort of stupor. My faith,
it was the height of folly in me to be interested in her!
However, I would like to see her grimace again; old Toubac would
willingly give me fifteen florins if I could paint it for him.
I must confess that these pleasantries of mine did not entirely
The hideous glance which the old shrew had given me pursued me
everywhere. More than once, while climbing the almost perpendicular
ladder to my loft, feeling my clothing caught on some point, I trembled
from head to foot, imagining that the old wretch was hanging to the
tails of my coat in order to destroy me.
Toubac, to whom I related this adventure, was far from laughing at it;
indeed, he assumed a grave and solemn air.
"Master Christian," said he, "if the old woman wants you, take care!
Her teeth are small, pointed, and of marvelous whiteness, and that is
not natural at her age. She has an 'evil eye.' Children flee from her,
and the people of Nuremberg call her 'Fledermausse.'"
I admired the clear, sagacious intellect of the Jew, and his words gave
me cause for reflection.
Several weeks passed away, during which I often encountered
Fledermausse without any alarming consequences. My fears were
dissipated, and I thought of her no more.
But an evening came, during which, while sleeping very soundly, I was
awakened by a strange harmony. It was a kind of vibration, so sweet, so
melodious, that the whispering of the breeze among the leaves can give
but a faint idea of its charm.
For a long time I listened intently, with my eyes wide open, and
holding my breath, so as not to lose a note. At last I looked toward
the window, and saw two wings fluttering against the glass. I thought,
at first, that it was a bat, caught in my room; but, the moon rising at
that instant, I saw the wings of a magnificent butterfly of the night
delineated upon her shining disk. Their vibrations were often so rapid
that they could not be distinguished; then they reposed, extended upon
the glass, and their frail fibers were again brought to view.
This misty apparition, coming in the midst of the universal silence,
opened my heart to all sweet emotions. It seemed to me that an airy
sylph, touched with a sense of my solitude, had come to visit me, and
this idea melted me almost to tears.
"Be tranquil, sweet captive, be tranquil," said I; "your confidence
shall not be abused. I will not keep you against your will. Return to
heaven and to liberty." I then opened my little window. The night was
calm, and millions of stars were glittering in the sky. For a moment I
contemplated this sublime spectacle, and words of prayer and praise
came naturally to my lips; but, judge of my amazement, when, lowering
my eyes, I saw a man hanging from the crossbeam of the sign of the
Boeuf-Gras, the hair disheveled, the arms stiff, the legs elongated to
a point, and casting their gigantic shadows down to the street!
The immobility of this figure under the moon's rays was terrible. I
felt my tongue freezing, my teeth clinched. I was about to cry out in
terror when, by some incomprehensible mysterious attraction, my glance
fell below, and I distinguished, confusedly, the old woman crouched at
her window in the midst of dark shadows, and contemplating the dead man
with an air of diabolic satisfaction.
Then I had a vertigo of terror. All my strength abandoned me, and,
retreating to the wall of my loft, I sank down and became insensible.
I do not know how long this sleep of death continued. When restored to
consciousness, I saw that it was broad day. The mists of the night had
penetrated to my garret, and deposited their fresh dew upon my hair,
and the confused murmurs of the street ascended to my little lodging. I
looked without. The burgomaster and his secretary were stationed at the
door of the inn, and remained there a long time; crowds of people came
and went, and paused to look in; then recommenced their course. The
good women of the neighborhood, who were sweeping before their doors,
looked on from afar, and talked gravely with each other.
At last a litter, and upon this litter a body, covered with a linen
cloth, issued from the inn, carried by two men. They descended to the
street, and the children, on their way to school, ran behind them.
All the people drew back as they advanced.
The window opposite was still open; the end of a rope floated from the
I had not dreamed. I had, indeed, seen the butterfly of the night; I
had seen the man hanging, and I had seen Fledermausse.
That day Toubac made me a visit, and, as his great nose appeared on a
level with the floor, he exclaimed:
"Master Christian, have you nothing to sell?"
I did not hear him. I was seated upon my one chair, my hands clasped
upon my knees, and my eyes fixed before me.
Toubac, surprised at my inattention, repeated in a louder voice:
"Master Christian, Master Christian!" Then, striding over the sill, he
advanced and struck me on the shoulder.
"Well, well, what is the matter now?"
"Ah, is that you, Toubac?"
"Eh, _parbleu_! I rather think so; are you ill?"
"No, I am only thinking."
"What in the devil are you thinking about?"
"Of the man who was hanged."
"Oh, oh!" cried the curiosity vender. "You have seen him, then? The
poor boy! What a singular history! The third in the same place."
"Ah, yes! I ought to have warned you; but it is not too late. There
will certainly be a fourth, who will follow the example of the others.
_Il n'y a que le premier pas qui coute_."
Saying this, Toubac took a seat on the corner of my trunk, struck his
match-box, lighted his pipe, and blew three or four powerful whiffs of
smoke with a meditative air.
"My faith," said he, "I am not fearful; but, if I had full permission
to pass the night in that chamber, I should much prefer to sleep
"Listen, Master Christian. Nine or ten months ago a good man of
Tuebingen, wholesale dealer in furs, dismounted at the Inn Boeuf-Gras.
He called for supper; he ate well; he drank well; and was finally
conducted to that room in the third story--it is called the Green Room.
Well, the next morning he was found hanging to the crossbeam of the
"Well, that might do _for once_; nothing could be said.
"Every proper investigation was made, and the stranger was buried at
the bottom of the garden. But, look you, about six months afterwards a
brave soldier from Neustadt arrived; he had received his final
discharge, and was rejoicing in the thought of returning to his native
village. During the whole evening, while emptying his wine cups, he
spoke fondly of his little cousin who was waiting to marry him. At last
this big monsieur was conducted to his room--the Green Room--and, the
same night, the watchman, passing down the street Minnesaenger,
perceived something hanging to the crossbeam; he raised his lantern,
and lo! it was the soldier, with his final discharge in a bow on his
left hip, and his hands gathered up to the seam of his pantaloons, as
if on parade.
"'Truth to say, this is extraordinary!' cried the burgomaster; 'the
devil's to pay.' Well, the chamber was much visited; the walls were
replastered, and the dead man was sent to Neustadt.
"The registrar wrote this marginal note:
"'Died of apoplexy.'
"All Nuremberg was enraged against the innkeeper. There were many,
indeed, who wished to force him to take down his iron crossbeam, under
the pretext that it inspired people with dangerous ideas; but you may
well believe that old Michael Schmidt would not lend his ear to this
"'This crossbeam,' said he, 'was placed here by my grandfather; it has
borne the sign of Boeuf-Gras for one hundred and fifty years, from
father to son; it harms no one, not even the hay wagons which pass
beneath, for it is thirty feet above them. Those who don't like it can
turn their heads aside, and not see it.'
"Well, gradually the town calmed down, and, during several months, no
new event agitated it. Unhappily, a student of Heidelberg, returning to
the university, stopped, day before yesterday, at the Inn Boeuf-Gras,
and asked for lodging. He was the son of a minister of the gospel.
"How could anyone suppose that the son of a pastor could conceive the
idea of hanging himself on the crossbeam of a signboard, because a big
monsieur and an old soldier had done so? We must admit, Master
Christian, that the thing was not probable; these reasons would not
have seemed sufficient to myself or to you."
"Enough, enough!" I exclaimed; "this is too horrible! I see a frightful
mystery involved in all this. It is not the crossbeam; it is not the
"What! Do you suspect the innkeeper, the most honest man in the world,
and belonging to one of the oldest families in Nuremberg?"
"No, no; may God preserve me from indulging in unjust suspicions! but
there is an abyss before me, into which I scarcely dare glance."
"You are right," said Toubac, astonished at the violence of my
excitement. "We will speak of other things. Apropos, Master Christian,
where is our landscape of 'Saint Odille'?"
This question brought me back to the world of realities. I showed the
old man the painting I had just completed. The affair was soon
concluded, and Toubac, well satisfied, descended the ladder, entreating
me to think no more of the student of Heidelberg.
I would gladly have followed my good friend's counsel; but, when the
devil once mixes himself up in our concerns, it is not easy to
disembarrass ourselves of him.
In my solitary hours all these events were reproduced with frightful
distinctness in my mind.
"This old wretch," I said to myself, "is the cause of it all; she alone
has conceived these crimes, and has consummated them. But by what
means? Has she had recourse to cunning alone, or has she obtained the
intervention of invisible powers?" I walked to and fro in my retreat.
An inward voice cried out: "It is not in vain that Providence permitted
you to see Fledermausse contemplating the agonies of her victim. It is
not in vain that the soul of the poor young man came in the form of a
butterfly of the night to awake you. No, no; all this was not
accidental, Christian. The heavens impose upon you a terrible mission.
If you do not accomplish it, tremble lest you fall yourself into the
hands of the old murderess! Perhaps, at this moment, she is preparing
her snares in the darkness."
During several days these hideous images followed me without
intermission. I lost my sleep; it was impossible for me to do anything;
my brush fell from my hand; and, horrible to confess, I found myself
sometimes gazing at the crossbeam with a sort of complacency. At last I
could endure it no longer, and one evening I descended the ladder and
hid myself behind the door of Fledermausse, hoping to surprise her
From that time no day passed in which I was not _en route_, following
the old wretch, watching, spying, never losing sight of her; but she
was so cunning, had a scent so subtile that, without even turning her
head, she knew I was behind her.
However, she feigned not to perceive this; she went to the market, to
the butcher's, like any good, simple woman, only hastening her steps
and murmuring confused words.
At the close of the month I saw that it was impossible for me to attain
my object in this way, and this conviction made me inexpressibly sad.
"What can I do?" I said to myself. "The old woman divines my plans;
she is on her guard; every hope abandons me. Ah! old hag, you think
you already see me at the end of your rope." I was continually asking
myself this question: "What can I do? what can I do?" At last a
luminous idea struck me. My chamber overlooked the house of
Fledermausse; but there was no window on this side. I adroitly raised
a slate, and no pen could paint my joy when the whole ancient building
was thus exposed to me. "At last, I have you!" I exclaimed; "you
cannot escape me now; from here I can see all that passes--your
goings, your comings, your arts and snares. You will not suspect this
invisible eye--this watchful eye, which will surprise crime at the
moment it blooms. Oh, Justice, Justice! She marches slowly; but she
Nothing could be more sinister than the den now spread out before me--a
great courtyard, the large slabs of which were covered with moss; in
one corner, a well, whose stagnant waters you shuddered to look upon; a
stairway covered with old shells; at the farther end a gallery, with
wooden balustrade, and hanging upon it some old linen and the tick of
an old straw mattress; on the first floor, to the left, the stone
covering of a common sewer indicated the kitchen; to the right the
lofty windows of the building looked out upon the street; then a few
pots of dried, withered flowers--all was cracked, somber, moist. Only
one or two hours during the day could the sun penetrate this loathsome
spot; after that, the shadows took possession; then the sunshine fell
upon the crazy walls, the worm-eaten balcony, the dull and tarnished
glass, and upon the whirlwind of atoms floating in its golden rays,
disturbed by no breath of air.
I had scarcely finished these observations and reflections, when the
old woman entered, having just returned from market. I heard the
grating of her heavy door. Then she appeared with her basket. She
seemed fatigued--almost out of breath. The lace of her bonnet fell to
her nose. With one hand she grasped the banister and ascended the
The heat was intolerable, suffocating; it was precisely one of those
days in which all insects--crickets, spiders, mosquitoes, etc.--make
old ruins resound with their strange sounds.
Fledermausse crossed the gallery slowly, like an old ferret who feels
at home. She remained more than a quarter of an hour in the kitchen,
then returned, spread out her linen, took the broom, and brushed away
some blades of straw on the floor. At last she raised her head, and
turned her little green eyes in every direction, searching,
Could she, by some strange intuition, suspect anything? I do not know;
but I gently lowered the slate, and gave up my watch for the day.
In the morning Fledermausse appeared reassured. One angle of light
fell upon the gallery. In passing, she caught a fly on the wing, and
presented it delicately to a spider established in a corner of the
roof. This spider was so bloated that, notwithstanding the distance, I
saw it descend from round to round, then glide along a fine web, like
a drop of venom, seize its prey from the hands of the old shrew, and
remount rapidly. Fledermausse looked at it very attentively, with her
eyes half closed; then sneezed, and said to herself, in a jeering
tone, "God bless you, beautiful one; God bless you!"
I watched during six weeks, and could discover nothing concerning the
power of Fledermausse. Sometimes, seated upon a stool, she peeled her
potatoes, then hung out her linen upon the balustrade.
Sometimes I saw her spinning; but she never sang, as good, kind old
women are accustomed to do, their trembling voices mingling well with
the humming of the wheel.
Profound silence always reigned around her; she had no cat--that
cherished society of old women--not even a sparrow came to rest under
her roof. It seemed as if all animated nature shrank from her glance.
The bloated spider alone took delight in her society.
I cannot now conceive how my patience could endure those long hours of
observation: nothing escaped me; nothing was matter of indifference. At
the slightest sound I raised my slate; my curiosity was without limit,
Toubac complained greatly.
"Master Christian," said he, "how in the devil do you pass your time?
Formerly you painted something for me every week; now you do not finish
a piece once a month. Oh, you painters! 'Lazy as a painter' is a good,
wise proverb. As soon as you have a few kreutzers in possession, you
put your hands in your pockets and go to sleep!"
I confess that I began to lose courage--I had watched, spied, and
discovered nothing. I said to myself that the old woman could not be
so dangerous as I had supposed; that I had perhaps done her injustice
by my suspicions; in short, I began to make excuses for her. One
lovely afternoon, with my eye fixed at my post of observation, I
abandoned myself to these benevolent reflections, when suddenly the
scene changed: Fledermausse passed through the gallery with the
rapidity of lightning. She was no longer the same person; she was
erect, her jaws were clinched, her glance fixed, her neck extended;
she walked with grand strides, her gray locks floating behind her.
"Oh, at last," I said to myself, "something is coming, attention!" But,
alas! the shadows of evening descended upon the old building, the
noises of the city expired, and silence prevailed.
Fatigued and disappointed, I lay down upon my bed, when, casting my
eyes toward my dormer window, I saw the room opposite illuminated. So!
a traveler occupied the Green Room--fatal to strangers.
Now, all my fears were reawakened; the agitation of Fledermausse was
explained--she scented a new victim.
No sleep for me that night; the rustling of the straw, the nibbling of
the mice under the floor, gave me nervous chills.
I rose and leaned out of my window; I listened. The light in the room
opposite was extinguished. In one of those moments of poignant anxiety,
I cannot say if it was illusion or reality, I thought I saw the old
wretch also watching and listening.
The night passed, and the gray dawn came to my windows; by degrees the
noise and movements in the street ascended to my loft. Harassed by
fatigue and emotion I fell asleep, but my slumber was short, and by
eight o'clock I had resumed my post of observation.
It seemed as if the night had been as disturbed and tempestuous to
Fledermausse as to myself. When she opened the door of the gallery, I
saw that a livid pallor covered her cheeks and thin throat; she had on
only her chemise and a woolen skirt; a few locks of reddish gray hair
fell on her shoulders. She looked toward my hiding place with a dreamy,
abstracted air, but she saw nothing; she was thinking of other things.
Suddenly she descended, leaving her old shoes at the bottom of the
steps. "Without doubt," thought I, "she is going to see if the door
below is well fastened."