Spinne, Die (Spider, The)

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Szerző: Hanns-Heinz Ewers • Év: 1908

When Richard Bracquemont, medical student, decided to move into Room No. 7 of the little Hotel Stevens at 6 Rue Alfred Stevens, three people had already hanged themselves from the window-sash of the room on three successive Fridays.

The first was a Swiss travelling salesman. His body was not discovered until Saturday evening; but the physician established the fact that death must have come between five and six o’clock on Friday afternoon. The body hung suspended from a strong hook which had been driven into the window-sash, and which ordinarily served for hanging clothes. The window was closed, and the dead man had used the curtain cord as a rope. Since the window was rather low, his legs dragged on the ground almost to his knees. The suicide must consequently have exercised considerable will-power in carrying out his intention. It was further established that he was married and the father of four children; that he unquestionably had an adequate and steady income; and that he was of a cheerful disposition, and well contented in life. Neither a will nor anything in writing that might give a clue to the cause of the suicide was found; nor had he ever intimated leanings towards suicide to any of his friends or acquaintances.

The second case was not very different. The actor Karl Krause, who was employed at the nearby Cirque Medrano as a lightning bicycle artiste, engaged Room No. 7 two days after the first suicide. When he failed to appear at the performance the following Friday evening, the manager of the theatre sent an usher to the little hotel. The usher found the actor hanged from the window-sash in the unlocked room, in identically the same circumstances that had attended the suicide of the Swiss travelling salesman. This second suicide seemed no less puzzling than the first: the actor was popular, drew a very large salary, was only twenty-five years old, and seemed to enjoy life to the utmost. Again, nothing was left in writing, nor were there any other clues that might help solve the mystery. The actor was survived only by an aged mother, to whom he used to send three hundred marks for her support promptly on the first of each month.

For Madame Dubonnet, who owned the cheap little hotel, and whose clientele was made up almost exclusively of the actors of the nearby vaudevilles of Montmartre, this second suicide had very distressing consequences. Already several of her guests had moved out, and other regular customers had failed to come back. She appealed to the Commissioner of the Ninth Ward, whom she knew well, and he promised to do everything in his power to help her. So he not only pushed his investigation of reasons for the suicides with considerable zeal, but he also placed at her disposal a police officer who took up residence in the mysterious room.

It was the policeman Charles-Maria Chaumié who had volunteered his services in solving the mystery. An old ‘Marousin’ who had been a marine infantryman for eleven years, this sergeant had guarded many a lonely post in Tonkin and Annam single-handed, and had greeted many an uninvited deputation of river pirates, sneaking like cats through the jungle darkness, with a refreshing shot from his rifle. Consequently he felt himself well heeled to meet the ‘ghosts’ of which the Rue Stevens gossiped. He moved into the room on Sunday evening and went contentedly to sleep after doing high justice to the food and drink Madame Dubonnet set before him.

Every morning and evening Chaumié paid a brief visit to the police station to make his reports. During the first few days his reports confined themselves to the statement that he had not noticed even the slightest thing out of the ordinary. On Wednesday evening, however, he announced that he believed he had found a clue. When pressed for details he begged to be allowed to say nothing for the present: he said he was not certain that the thing he thought he had discovered necessarily had any bearing on the two suicides. And he was afraid of being ridiculed in case it should all turn out to be a mistake. On Thursday evening he seemed to be even more uncertain, although somewhat graver; but again he had nothing to report. On Friday morning he seemed quite excited: half seriously and half in jest he ventured the statement that the window of the room certainly had a remarkable power of attraction. Nevertheless he still clung to the theory that the fact had nothing whatever to do with the suicides, and that he would only be laughed at if he told more. That evening he failed to come to the police station; they found him hanged from the hook on the window-sash.

Even in this case the circumstances, down to the minutest detail, were again the same as they had been in the other cases: the legs dragged on the floor, and the curtain cord had been used as a rope. The window was closed, and the door had not been locked; death had evidently come at about six o’clock in the afternoon. The dead man’s mouth was wide open and his tongue hung out.

As a consequence of this third suicide in Room No. 7, all the guests left the Hotel Stevens that same day, with the exception of the German high-school teacher in Room No. 16, who took advantage of this opportunity to have his rent reduced one-third. It was small consolation for Madame Dubonnet to have Mary Garden, the famous star of the Opéra Comique, drive by in her Renault a few days later and stop to buy the red curtain cord for a price she beat down to two hundred francs. Of course she had two reasons for buying it: in the first place, it would bring luck; and in the second – well, it would get into the newspapers.

If these things had happened in summer, say in July or August, Madame Dubonnet might have got three times as much for her curtain cord; at that time of the year the newspapers would certainly have filled their columns with the case for weeks. But at an uneasy time of the year, with elections, disorders in the Balkans, a bank failure in New York, a visit of the English King and Queen – well, where could the newspapers find room for a mere murder case? The result was that the affair in the Rue Alfred Stevens got less attention than it deserved, and such notices of it as appeared in the newspapers were concise and brief, and confined themselves practically to repetitions of the police reports, without exaggerations.

These reports furnished the only basis for what little knowledge of the affair the medical student Richard Bracquemont had. He knew nothing of one other little detail that seemed so inconsequential that neither the Commissioner nor any of the other witnesses had mentioned it to the reporters. Only afterwards, after the adventure the medical student had in the room, was this detail remembered. It was this: when the police took the body of Sergeant Charles-Maria Chaumié down from the window-sash, a large black spider crawled out of the mouth of the dead man. The porter flicked it away with his finger, crying: ‘Ugh! Another such ugly beast!’ In the course of the subsequent autopsy – that is, the one held later for Bracquemont – the porter told that when they had taken down the corpse of the Swiss travelling salesman, a similar spider had been seen crawling on his shoulder – But of this Richard Bracquemont knew nothing.

He did not take up his lodging in the room until two weeks after the last suicide, on a Sunday. What he experienced there he entered very conscientiously in a diary.

 

The Diary of Richard Bracquemont, Medical Student

Monday, February 28

I moved in here last night. I unpacked my two suitcases, put a few things in order, and went to bed. I slept superbly: the clock was just striking nine when a knock at the door awakened me. It was the landlady, who brought me my breakfast herself. She is evidently quite solicitous about me, judging from the eggs, the ham, and the splendid coffee she brought me. I washed and dressed, and then watched the porter make up my room. I smoked my pipe while he worked.

So here I am. I know right well that this business is dangerous, but I know too that my fortune is made if I solve the mystery. And if Paris was once worth a mass – one could hardly buy it that cheaply nowadays – it might be worth risking my little life for it. Here is my chance, and I intend to make the most of it.

At that there were plenty of others who saw this chance. No less than twenty-seven people tried, some through the police, some through the landlady, to get the room. Three of them were women. So there were enough rivals – probably all poor devils like myself.

But I got it! Why? Oh, I was probably the only one who could offer a ‘solution’ to the police. A neat solution! Of course it was a bluff.

These entries are of course intended for the police, too. And it amuses me considerably to tell these gentlemen right at the outset that it was all a trick on my part. If the Commissioner is sensible he will say, ‘Hm! Just because I knew he was tricking us, I had all the more confidence in him!’ As far as that is concerned, I don’t care what he says afterward: now I’m here. And it seems to me a good omen to have begun my work by bluffing the police so thoroughly.

Of course I first made my application to Madame Dubonnet, but she sent me to the police station. I lounged about the station every day for a week, only to be told that my application ‘was being given consideration’ and to be asked always to come again next day. Most of my rivals had long since thrown up the sponge; they probably found some better way to spend their time than waiting for hour after hour in the musty police court. But it seems the Commissioner was by this time quite irritated by my perseverance. Finally he told me point blank that my coming back would be quite useless. He was very grateful to me as well as to all the other volunteers for our good intentions, but the police could not use the assistance of ‘dilettante laymen’. Unless I had some carefully worked out plan of procedure…

So I told him that I had exactly that kind of plan. Of course I had no such thing and couldn’t have explained a word of it. But I told him that I could tell him about my plan – which was good, although dangerous, and which might possibly come to the same conclusion as the investigation of the police sergeant – only if he would promise me on his word of honour that he was ready to carry it out. He thanked me for it, but regretted that he had no time for such things. But I saw that I was getting the upper hand when he asked me whether I couldn’t at least give him some intimation of what I planned doing.

And I gave it to him. I told him the most glorious nonsense, of which I myself hadn’t had the least notion even a second beforehand. I don’t know even now how I came by this unusual inspiration so opportunely. I told him that among all the hours of the week there was one that had a secret and strange significance. That was the hour in which Christ left His grave to go down to hell: the sixth hour of the afternoon of the last day of the Jewish week. And he might take into consideration, I went on, that it was exactly in this hour, between five and six o’clock on Friday afternoon, in which all three of the suicides had been committed. For the present I could not tell him more, but I might refer him to the Book of Revelations according to St John.

The Commissioner put on a wise expression, as if he had understood it all, thanked me, and asked me to come back in the evening. I came back to his office promptly at the appointed time; I saw a copy of the New Testament lying in front of him on the table. In the meantime I had done just what he had: I had read the book of Revelations through and – had not understood a word of it. Perhaps the Commissioner was more intelligent than I was; at least he told me that he understood what I was driving at in spite of my very vague hints. And that he was ready to grant my request and to aid me in every possible way.

I must admit that he has actually been of very considerable assistance. He has made arrangements with the landlady under which I am to enjoy all the comforts and facilities of the hotel free of charge. He has given me an exceptionally fine revolver and a police pipe. The policemen on duty have orders to go through the little Rue Alfred Stevens as often as possible, and to come up to the room at a given signal. But the main thing is his installation of a desk telephone that connects directly with the police station. Since the station is only four minutes’ walk from the hotel, I am thus enabled to have all the help I want immediately. With all this, I can’t understand what there is to be afraid of…

 

Tuesday, March 1

Nothing has happened, neither yesterday nor today. Madame Dubonnet brought me a new curtain cord from another room – Heaven knows she has enough of them vacant. For that matter, she seems to take every possible opportunity to come to my room; every time she comes she brings me something. I have again had all the details of the suicides told me, but have discovered nothing new. As far as the causes of the suicides were concerned, she had her own opinions. As for the actor, she thought he had had an unhappy love affair; when he had been her guest the year before, he had been visited frequently by a young woman who had not come at all this year. She admittedly couldn’t quite make out why the Swiss gentleman had decided to commit suicide, but of course one couldn’t know everything. But there was no doubt that the police sergeant had committed suicide only to spite her.

I must confess these explanations of Madame Dubonnet’s are rather inadequate. But I let her gabble on; at least she helps break up my boredom.

 

Thursday, March 3

Still nothing. The Commissioner rings me up several times a day and I tell him that everything is going splendidly. Evidently this information doesn’t quite satisfy him. I have taken out my medical books and begun to work. In this way I am at least getting something out of my voluntary confinement.

 

Friday, March 4, 2 p.m.

I had an excellent luncheon. Madame Dubonnet brought a half-bottle of champagne along with it. It was the kind of dinner you get before your execution. She already regards me as being three-fourths dead. Before she left me she wept and begged me to go with her. Apparently she is afraid I might also hang myself ‘just to spite her’.

I have examined the new curtain cord in considerable detail. So I am to hang myself with that? Well, I can’t say that I feel much like doing it. The cord is raw and hard, and it would make a good slipknot only with difficulty – one would have to be pretty powerfully determined to emulate the example of the other three suicides in order to make a success of the job. But now I’m sitting at the table, the telephone at my left, the revolver at my right. I certainly have no fear – but I am curious.

 

6 p.m.

Nothing happened – I almost write with regret. The crucial hour came and went, and was just like all the others. Frankly I can’t deny that sometimes I felt a certain urge to go to the window – oh, yes, but for other reasons! The Commissioner called me up at least ten times between five and six. He was just as impatient as I was. But Madame Dubonnet is satisfied: someone has lived for a week in No. 7 without hanging himself. Miraculous!

 

Monday, March 7

I am now convinced that I shall discover nothing; and I am inclined to think that the suicides of my predecessors were a matter of pure coincidence. I have asked the Commissioner to go over all the evidence in all three cases again, for I am convinced that eventually a solution to the mystery will be found. But as far as I am concerned, I intend to stay here as long as possible. I probably will not conquer Paris, but in the meantime I’m living here free and am already gaining considerably in health and weight. On top of it all I’m studying a great deal, and I notice I am rushing through in great style. And of course there is another reason that keeps me here.

 

Wednesday, March 9

I’ve progressed another step. Clarimonde –

Oh, but I haven’t said a word about Clarimonde yet. Well, she is – my third reason for staying here. And it would have been for her sake that I would gladly have gone to the window in the fateful hour – but certainly not to hang myself. Clarimonde – but why do I call her that? I haven’t the least idea as to what her name might be; but it seems to me as if I simply must call her Clarimonde. And I’d like to bet that some day I’ll find out that that is really her name.

I noticed Clarimonde during the first few days I was here. She lives on the other side of this very narrow street, and her window is directly opposite mine. She sits there back of her curtains. And let me also say that she noticed me before I was aware of her, and that she visibly manifested an interest in me. No wonder – everyone on the street knows that I am here, and knows why, too. Madame Dubonnet saw to that.

I am in no way the kind of person who falls in love. My relations with women have always been very slight. When one comes to Paris from Verdun to study medicine and hardly has enough money to have a decent meal once every three days, one has other things besides love to worry about. I haven’t much experience, and I probably began this affair pretty stupidly. Anyhow, it’s quite satisfactory as it stands.

At first it never occurred to me to establish communications with my strange neighbour. I simply decided that since I was here to make observations, and I probably had nothing real to investigate anyhow, I might as well observe my neighbour while I was at it. After all, one can’t pore over one’s books all day long. So I have come to the conclusion that, judging from appearances, Clarimonde lives all alone in her little apartment. She has three windows, but she sits only at the one directly opposite mine. She sits there and spins, spins at a little old-fashioned distaff. I once saw such a distaff at my grandmother’s, but even my grandmother never used it. It was merely an heirloom left her by some great-aunt or other. I didn’t know that they were still in use. For that matter, Clarimonde’s distaff is a very tiny, fine thing, white, and apparently made of ivory. The threads she spins must be infinitely fine. She sits behind her curtains all day long and works incessantly, stopping only when it gets dark. Of course it gets dark very early these foggy days. In this narrow street the loveliest twilight comes about five o’clock. I have never seen a light in her room.

How does she look? – Well, I really don’t know. She wears her black hair in wavy curls, and is rather pale. Her nose is small and narrow, and her nostrils quiver. Her lips are pale, too, and it seems as if her little teeth might be pointed, like those of a beast of prey. Her eyelids throw long shadows; but when she opens them her large, dark eyes are full of light. Yet I seem to sense rather than know all this. It is difficult to identify anything clearly back of those curtains.

One thing further: she always wears a black, closely buttoned dress, with large purple dots. And she always wears long black gloves, probably to protect her hands while working. It looks strange to see her narrow black fingers quickly taking and drawing the threads, seemingly almost through each other – really almost like the wriggling of an insect’s legs.

Our relations with each other? Oh, they are really quite superficial. And yet it seems as if they were truly much deeper. It began by her looking over to my window, and my looking over to hers. She noticed me, and I her. And then I evidently must have pleased her, because one day when I looked at her she smiled. And of course I did, too. That went on for several days, and we smiled at each other more and more. Then I decided almost every hour that I would greet her; I don’t know exactly what it is that keeps me from carrying out my decision.

I have finally done it, this afternoon. And Clarimonde returned the greeting. Of course the greeting was ever so slight, but nevertheless I distinctly saw her nod.

 

Thursday, March 10

Last night I sat up late over my books. I can’t truthfully say that I studied a great deal: I spent my time building air castles and dreaming about Clarimonde. I slept very lightly, but very late into the morning.

When I stepped up to the window, Clarimonde was sitting at hers. I greeted her and she nodded. She smiled, and looked at me for a long time.

I wanted to work, but couldn’t seem to find the necessary peace of mind. I sat at the window and stared at her. Then I suddenly noticed that she, too, folded her hands in her lap. I pulled at the cord of the white curtain and – practically at the same instant – she did the same. We both smiled and looked at one another.

I believe we must have sat like that for an hour.

Then she began spinning again.

 

Saturday, March 12

These days pass swiftly. I eat and drink, and sit down to work. I light my pipe and bend over my books. But I don’t read a word. Of course I always make the attempt, but I know beforehand that it won’t do any good. Then I go to the window. I greet Clarimonde, and she returns my greeting. We smile and gaze at one another – for hours.

Yesterday afternoon at six I felt a little uneasy. Darkness settled very early, and I felt a certain nameless fear. I sat at my desk and waited. I felt an almost unconquerable urge to go to the window – certainly not to hang myself, but to look at Clarimonde. I jumped up and stood back of the curtain. It seemed as if I had never seen her so clearly, although it was already quite dark. She was spinning, but her eyes looked across at me. I felt a strange comfort and a very subtle fear.

The telephone rang. I was furious at the silly old Commissioner for interrupting my dreams with his stupid questions.

This morning he came to visit me, along with Madame Dubonnet. She seems to be satisfied enough with my activities: she takes sufficient consolation from the fact that I have managed to live in Room No. 7 for two whole weeks. But the Commissioner wants results besides. I confided to him that I had made some secret observations, and that I was tracking down a very strange clue. The old fool believed all I told him. In any event I can still stay here for weeks – and that’s all I care about. Not on account of Madame Dubonnet’s cooking and cellar – God, how soon one becomes indifferent to that when one always has enough to eat! – only because of the window, which she hates and fears, and which I love so dearly: this window that reveals Clarimonde to me.

When I light the lamp I no longer see her. I have strained my eyes trying to see whether she goes out, but I have never seen her set foot on the street. I have a comfortable easy chair and a green lampshade whose glow warmly suffuses me. The Commissioner has sent me a large package of tobacco. I have never smoked such good tobacco. And yet I cannot do any work. I read two or three pages, and when I have finished I realize that I haven’t understood a word of their contents. My eyes grasp the significance of the letters, but my brain refuses to supply the connotations. Queer! Just as if my brain bore the legend: ‘No Admittance’. Just as if it refused to admit any thought other than the one: Clarimonde…

Finally I push my books aside, lean far back in my chair, and dream.

 

Sunday, March 13

This morning I witnessed a little tragedy. I was walking up and down in the corridor while the porter made up my room. In front of the little court window there is a spider web hanging, with a fat garden spider sitting in the middle of it. Madame Dubonnet refuses to let it be swept away: spiders bring luck, and Heaven knows she has had enough bad luck in her house. Presently I saw another much smaller male spider cautiously running around the edge of the web. Tentatively he ventured down one of the precarious threads towards the middle; but the moment the female moved, he hastily withdrew. He ran around to another end of the web and tried again to approach her. Finally the powerful female spider in the centre of the web seemed to look upon his suit with favour, and stopped moving. The male spider pulled at one of the threads of the web – first lightly, then so vigorously that the whole web quivered. But the object of his attention remained immovable. Then he approached her very quickly, but carefully. The female spider received him quietly and let him embrace her delicately while she retained the utmost passivity. Motionless the two of them hung for several minutes in the centre of the large web.

Then I saw how the male spider slowly freed himself, one leg after another. It seemed as if he wanted to retreat quietly, leaving his companion alone in her dream of love. Suddenly he let her go entirely and ran out of the web as fast as he could. But at the same instant the female seemed to awaken to a wild rush of activity, and she chased rapidly after him. The weak male spider let himself down by a thread, but the female followed immediately. Both of them fell to the windowsill; and, gathering all his energies, the male spider tried to run away. But it was too late. The female spider seized him in her powerful grip, carried him back up into the net, and set him down squarely in the middle of it. And this same place that had just been a bed for passionate desire now became the scene of something quite different. The lover kicked in vain, stretched his weak legs out again and again, and tried to disentangle himself from this wild embrace. But the female would not let him go. In a few minutes she had spun him in so completely that he could not move a single member. Then she thrust her sharp pincers into his body and sucked out the young blood of her lover in deep draughts. I even saw how she finally let go of the pitiful, unrecognizable little lump – legs, skin and threads – and threw it contemptuously out of the net.

So that’s what love is like among these creatures! Well, I can be glad I’m not a young spider.

 

Monday, March 14

I no longer so much as glance at my books. Only at the window do I pass all my days. And I keep on sitting there even after it gets dark. Then she is no longer there; but I close my eyes and see her anyhow…

Well, this diary has become quite different than I thought it would be. It tells about Madame Dubonnet and the Commissioner, about spiders and about Clarimonde. But not a word about the discovery I had hoped to make – Well, is it my fault?

 

Tuesday, March 15

Clarimonde and I have discovered a strange new game, and we play it all day long. I greet her, and immediately she returns the greeting. Then I drum with my fingers on my windowpane. She has hardly had time to see it before she begins drumming on hers. I wink at her, and she winks at me. I move my lips as if I were talking to her and she follows suit. Then I brush the hair back from my temples, and immediately her hand is at the side of her forehead. Truly child’s play. And we both laugh at it. That is, she really doesn’t laugh: it’s only a quiet, passive smile she has, just as I suppose mine must be.

For that matter all this isn’t nearly as senseless as it must seem. It isn’t imitation at all: I think we would both tire of that very quickly. There must be a certain telepathy or thought transference involved in it. For Clarimonde repeats my motions in the smallest conceivable fraction of a second. She hardly has time to see what I am doing before she does the same thing. Sometimes it even seems to me that her action is simultaneous with mine. That is what entices me: always doing something new and unpremeditated. And it’s astounding to see her doing the same thing at the same time. Sometimes I try to catch her. I make a great many motions in quick succession, and then repeat them again; and then I do them a third time. Finally I repeat them for the fourth time, but change their order, introduce some new motion, or leave out one of the old ones. It’s like children playing Follow the Leader. It’s really remarkable that Clarimonde never makes a single mistake, although I sometimes change the motions so rapidly that she hardly has time to memorize each one.

That is how I spend my days. But I never feel for a second that I’m squandering my time on something nonsensical. On the contrary, it seems as if nothing I had ever done were more important.

 

Wednesday, March 16

Isn’t it queer that I have never thought seriously about putting my relations with Clarimonde on a more sensible basis than that of these hour-consuming games? I thought about it last night. I could simply take my hat and coat and go down two flights of stairs, five steps across the street, and then up two other flights of stairs. On her door there is a little coat-of-arms engraved with her name: ‘Clarimonde…’ Clarimonde what? I don’t know what; but the name Clarimonde is certainly there. Then I could knock, and then…

That far I can imagine everything perfectly, down to the last move I might make. But for the life of me I can’t picture what would happen after that. The door would open – I can conceive that. But I would remain standing in front of it looking into her room, into a darkness – a darkness so utter that not a solitary thing could be distinguished in it. She would not come – nothing would come; as a matter of fact, there would be nothing there. Only the black impenetrable darkness.

Sometimes it seems as if there could be no other Clarimonde than the one I play with at my window. I can’t picture what this woman would look like if she wore a hat, or even some dress other than her black one with the large purple dots; I can’t even conceive of her without her gloves. If I could see her on the street, or even in some restaurant, eating, drinking, talking – well, I really have to laugh: the thing seems so utterly inconceivable.

Sometimes I ask myself whether I love her. I can’t answer that question entirely, because I have never been in love. But if the feeling I bear towards Clarimonde is really – well, love – then love is certainly very, very different from what I saw of it among my acquaintances or learned about it in novels.

It is becoming quite difficult to define my emotions. In fact, it is becoming difficult even to think about anything at all that has no bearing on Clarimonde – or rather, on our game. For there is truly no denying it: it’s really the game that preoccupies me – nothing else. And that’s the thing I understand least of all.

Clarimonde – well, yes, I feel attracted to her. But mingled with the attraction there is another feeling – almost like a sense of fear. Fear? No, it isn’t fear either: it is more of a temerity, a certain inarticulate alarm or apprehension before something I cannot define. And it is just this apprehension that has some strange compulsion, something curiously passionate that keeps me at a distance from her and at the same time draws me constantly nearer to her. It is as if I were going around her in a wide circle, came a little nearer at one place, withdrew again, went on, approached her again at another point and again retreated rapidly. Until finally – of that I am absolutely certain – I must go to her.

Clarimonde is sitting at her window and spinning. Threads – long, thin, infinitely fine threads. She seems to be making some fabric – I don’t know just what it is to be. And I can’t understand how she can make the network without tangling or tearing the delicate fabric. There are wonderful patterns in her work – patterns full of fabulous monsters and curious grotesques. For that matter – but what am I writing? The fact of the matter is that I can’t even see what it is she is spinning: the threads are much too fine. And yet I can’t help feeling that her work must be exactly as I see it when I close my eyes. Exactly. A huge network peopled with many creatures – fabulous monsters, and curious grotesque…

 

Thursday, March 17

I find myself in a strange state of agitation. I no longer talk to any one; I hardly even say good morning to Madame Dubonnet or the porter. I hardly take time to eat; I only want to sit at the window and play with her. It’s an exacting game. Truly it is.

And I have a premonition that tomorrow something must happen.

 

Friday, March 18

Yes, yes. Something must happen today…I tell myself – oh, yes, I talk aloud, just to hear my own voice – that it is just for that I am here. But the worst of it is that I am afraid. And this fear that what has happened to my predecessors in this room may also happen to me is curiously mingled with my other fear – the fear of Clarimonde. I can hardly keep them apart. I am afraid. I would like to scream.

 

6 p.m.

Let me put down a few words quickly, and then get into my hat and coat.

By the time five o’clock came, my strength was gone. Oh, I know now for certain that it must have something to do with this sixth hour of the next to the last day of the week…Now I can no longer laugh at the fraud with which I duped the Commissioner. I sat on my chair and stayed there only by exerting my will-power to the utmost. But this thing drew me, almost pulled me to the window. I had to play with Clarimonde – and then again there rose that terrible fear of the window. I saw them hanging there – the Swiss travelling salesman, a large fellow with a thick neck and a grey stubble beard. And the lanky acrobat and the stocky, powerful police sergeant. I saw all three of them, one after another and then all three together, hanging from the same hook with open mouths and with tongues lolling far out. And then I saw myself among them.

Oh, this fear! I felt I was as much afraid of the window-sash and the terrible hook as I was of Clarimonde. May she forgive me for it, but that’s the truth: in my ignominious fear I always confused her image with that of the three who hanged there, dangling their legs heavily on the floor.

But the truth is that I never felt for an instant any desire or inclination to hang myself: I wasn’t even afraid I would do it. No – I was afraid only of the window itself – and of Clarimonde – and of something terrible, something uncertain and unpredictable that was now to come. I had the pathetic irresistible longing to get up and go to the window. And I had to do it…

Then the telephone rang. I grabbed the receiver and before I could hear a word I myself cried into the mouthpiece: ‘Come! Come at once!’

It was just as if my unearthly yell had instantly chased all the shadows into the farthest cracks of the floor. I became composed immediately. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and drank a glass of water. Then I considered what I ought to tell the Commissioner when he came. Finally I went to the window, greeted Clarimonde, and smiled.

And Clarimonde greeted me and smiled.

Five minutes later the Commissioner was here. I told him that I had finally struck the root of the whole affair; if he would only refrain from questioning me today, I would certainly be able to make some remarkable disclosures in the very near future. The queer part of it was that while I was lying to him I was at the same time fully convinced in my own mind that I was telling the truth. And I still feel that that is the truth – against my better judgement.

He probably noticed the unusual condition of my temper, especially when I apologized for screaming into the telephone and tried to explain – and failed to find any plausible reason for my agitation. He suggested very amiably that I need not take undue consideration of him: he was always at my service – that was his duty. He would rather make a dozen useless trips over here than let me wait for him once when I really needed him. Then he invited me to go out with him tonight, suggesting that that might help distract me – it wasn’t a good thing to be alone all the time. I have accepted his invitation, although I think it will be difficult to go out: I don’t like to leave this room.

 

Saturday, March 19

We went to the Gaieté? Rochechouart, to the Cigale, and to the Lune Rousse. The Commissioner was right: it was a good thing for me to go out and breathe another atmosphere. At first I felt rather uncomfortable, as if I were doing something wrong (as if I were a deserter, running away from our flag). But by and by that feeling died; we drank a good deal, laughed, and joked.

When I went to the window this morning, I seemed to read a reproach in Clarimonde’s look. But perhaps I only imagined it: how could she know that I had gone out last night? For that matter, it seemed to last for only a moment; then she smiled again.

We played all day long.

 

Sunday, March 20

Today I can only repeat: we played all day long.

Monday, March 21

We played all day long.

 

Tuesday, March 22

Yes, and today we did the same. Nothing, absolutely nothing else. Sometimes I ask myself why we do it. What is it all for? Or, what do I really want, to what can it all lead? But I never answer my own question. For it’s certain that I want nothing other than just this. Come what may, that which is coming is exactly what I long for.

We have been talking to one another these last few days, of course not with any spoken word. Sometimes we moved our lips, at other times we only looked at one another. But we understood each other perfectly.

I was right: Clarimonde reproached me for running away last Friday. But I begged her forgiveness and told her I realized that it had been very unwise and horrid of me. She forgave me and I promised her never again to leave the window. And we kissed each other, pressing our lips against the panes for a long, long time.

 

Wednesday, March 23

I know now that I love her. It must be love – I feel it tingling in every fibre of my being. It may be that with other people love is different. But is there any one among a thousand millions who has a head, an ear, a hand that is like anyone else’s? Everyone is different, so it is quite conceivable that our love is very singular. But does that make it any less beautiful? I am almost happy in this love.

If only there would not be this fear! Sometimes it falls asleep. Then I forget it. But only for a few minutes. Then it wakes up again and will not let me go. It seems to me like a poor little mouse fighting against a huge and beautiful snake, trying to free itself from its overpowering embrace. Just wait, you poor foolish little fear, soon our love will devour you!

 

Thursday, March 24

I have made a discovery: I don’t play with Clarimonde – she plays with me.

It happened like this.

Last night, as usual, I thought about our game. I wrote down five intricate movements with which I wanted to surprise her today. I gave every motion a number. I practised them so as to be able to execute them as quickly as possible, first in order, and then backwards. Then only the even numbers and then the odd, and then only the first and last parts of each of the five motions. It was very laborious, but it gave me great satisfaction because it brought me nearer to Clarimonde, even though I could not see her. I practised in this way for hours, and finally they went like clockwork.

This morning I went to the window. We greeted each other, and the game began. Forward, backward – it was incredible to see how quickly she understood me, and how instantaneously she repeated all the things I did.

Then there was a knock at my door. It was the porter, bringing me my boots. I took them; but when I was going back to the window my glance fell on the sheet of paper on which I had recorded the order of the movements. And I saw that I had not executed a single one of these movements.

I almost reeled. I grabbed the back of the easy chair and let myself down into it. I couldn’t believe it. I read the sheet again and again. But it was true: of all the motions I had made at the window, not a single one was mine.

And again I was aware of a door opening somewhere far away – her door. I was standing before it and looking in…nothing, nothing – only an empty darkness. Then I knew that if I went out, I would be saved; and I realized that now I could go. Nevertheless I did not go. That was because I was distinctly aware of one feeling: that I held the secret of the mystery. Held it tightly in both hands. Paris – I was going to conquer Paris!

For a moment Paris was stronger than Clarimonde.

Oh, I’ve dropped all thought of it now. Now I am aware only of my love, and in the midst of it this quiet, passionate fear.

But in that instant I felt suddenly strong. I read through the details of my first movement once more and impressed it firmly in my memory. Then I went back to the window.

And I took exact notice of what I did: not a single motion I executed was among those I had set out to do.

Then I decided to run my index finger along my nose. But instead I kissed the window-pane. I wanted to drum on the window-sill, but ran my hand through my hair instead. So it was true: Clarimonde did not imitate the things I did: on the contrary, I repeated the things she indicated. And I did it so quickly, with such lightning rapidity, that I followed her motions in the same second, so that even now it seems as if I were the one who exerted the will-power to do these things.

So it is I – I who was so proud of the fact that I had determined her mode of thought – I was the one who was being so completely influenced. Only, her influence is so soft, so gentle that it seems as if nothing on earth could be so soothing.

I made other experiments. I put both my hands in my pockets and resolved firmly not to move them; then I looked across at her. I noticed how she lifted her hand and smiled, and gently chided me with her index finger. I refused to budge. I felt my right hand wanting to take itself out of my pocket, but I dug my fingers deep into the pocket lining. Then slowly, after several minutes, my fingers relaxed, my hand came out of the pocket, and I lifted my arm. And I chided her with my index finger and smiled. It seemed as if it were really not I who was doing all this, but some stranger whom I watched from a distance. No, no – that wasn’t the way of it. I, I was the one who did it – and some stranger was watching me. It was the stranger – that other me – who was so strong, who wanted to solve this mystery with some great discovery. But that was no longer I.

I – oh, what do I care about the discovery? I am only here to do her bidding, the bidding of my Clarimonde, whom I love with such tender fear.

 

Friday, March 25

I have cut the telephone wire. I can no longer stand being perpetually bothered by the silly old Commissioner, least of all when the fateful hour is at hand…

God, why am I writing all this? Not a word of it is true. It seems as if someone else were guiding my pen.

But I do – I want to set down here what actually happens. It is costing me a tremendous effort. But I want to do it. If only for the last time to do – what I really want to do.

I cut the telephone wire…oh…

Because I had to…There, I finally got it out! Because I had to, I had to!

We stood at the window this morning and played. Our game has changed a little since yesterday. She goes through some motions and I defend myself as long as possible. Until finally I have to surrender, powerless to do anything but her bidding. And I can scarcely tell what a wonderful sense of exaltation and joy it gives me to be conquered by her will, to make this surrender.

We played. And then suddenly she got up and went back into her room. It was so dark that I couldn’t see her; she seemed to disappear into the darkness. But she came back very shortly, carrying in her hands a desk telephone just like mine. Smiling, she set it down on the window-sill, took a knife, cut the wire, and carried it back again.

I defended myself for about a quarter of an hour. My fear was greater than ever, but that made my slow surrender all the more delectable. And I finally brought my telephone to the window, cut the wire, and set it back on the table.

That is how it happened.

I am sitting at the table. I have had my tea, and the porter has just taken the dishes out. I asked him what time it was – it seems my watch isn’t keeping time. It’s five fifteen…five fifteen…

I know that if I look up now Clarimonde will be doing something or other. Doing something or other that I will have to do too.

I look up anyhow. She is standing there and smiling. Well…if I could only tear my eyes away from her!…now she is going to the curtain. She is taking the cord off – it is red, just like the one on my window. She is tying a knot – a slipknot. She is hanging the cord up on the hook in the window-sash.

She is sitting down and smiling.

…No, this is no longer a thing one can call fear, this thing I am experiencing. It is a maddening, choking terror – but nevertheless I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It is a compulsion of an unheard-of nature and power, yet so subtly sensual in its inescapable ferocity.

Of course I could rush up to the window and do exactly what she wants me to do. But I am waiting, struggling, and defending myself. I feel this uncanny thing getting stronger every minute…

 

So, here I am, still sitting here. I ran quickly to the window and did the thing she wanted me to do: I took the curtain cord, tied a slipknot in it, and hung it from the hook…

And now I am not going to look up any more. I am going to stay here and look only at this sheet of paper. For I know now what she would do if I looked up again – now in the sixth hour of the next to the last day of the week. If I see her, I shall have to do her bidding…I shall have to…

I shall refuse to look at her.

But I am suddenly laughing – loudly. No, I’m not laughing – it is something laughing within me. I know why, too: it’s because of this ‘I will not…’

I don’t want to, and yet I know certainly that I must. I must. I must look at her…must, must do it…and then – the rest.

I am only waiting to stretch out the torment. Yes, that is it…For these breathless sufferings are my most rapturous transports. I am writing…quickly, quickly, so that I can remain sitting here longer…in order to stretch out these seconds of torture, which carry the ecstasy of love into infinity…

More…longer…

Again this fear, again! I know that I shall look at her, that I shall get up, that I shall hang myself. But it isn’t that that I fear. Oh, no – that is sweet, that is beautiful.

But there is something else…something else associated with it – something that will happen afterwards. I don’t know what it will be – but it is coming, it is certainly coming, certainly…certainly. For the joy of my torments is so infinitely great – oh, I feel it is so great that something terrible must follow it.

Only I must not think…

Let me write something, anything, no matter what. Only quickly, without thinking.

My name – Richard Bracquemont, Richard Bracquemont, Richard – oh, I can’t go any farther – Richard Bracquemont – Richard Bracquemont – now – now – I must look at her…Richard Bracquemont – I must – no – no, more – more…Richard…Richard Bracquemont –

 

The Commissioner of the Ninth Ward, after failing repeatedly to get a reply to his telephone calls, came to the Hotel Stevens at five minutes to six. In Room No. 7 he found the body of the student Richard Bracquemont hanging from the window-sash, in exactly the same position as that of his three predecessors.

Only his face had a different expression; it was distorted in horrible fear, and his eyes, wide open, seemed to be pushing themselves out of their sockets. His lips were drawn apart, but his powerful teeth were firmly and desperately clenched.

And glued between them, bitten and crushed to pieces, there was a large black spider, with curious purple dots.

On the table lay the medical student’s diary. The Commissioner read it and went immediately to the house across the street. There he discovered that the second apartment had been vacant and unoccupied for months and months…

Legújabbak

Clark Ashton Smith:
Hasisevő, avagy a Gonosz Apokalipszise, A

Olvasás

Robert E. Howard:
Harp of Alfred, The

Olvasás

Robert E. Howard:
Red Thunder

Olvasás

Legolvasottabb

Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
Cthulhu hívása

Ez az egyetlen történet Lovecraft részéről, amelyben jelentős szerepet kap a szörnyisten, Cthulhu. 1926 későnyarán, kora őszén íródhatott. A dokumentarista stílusban megírt történet nyomozója, Thurston, a szemita nyelvek egyetemi kutatója darabkáról darabkára rakja össze a rejtélyes kirakóst. A fiatal kutató egyre több tárgyi és írásos bizonyítékát leli a hírhedt Cthulhu-kultusz létezésének. A kultisták a Necronomicon szövege alapján a nagy szörnyisten eljövetelét várják. A történetek a megtestesült iszonyatról beszélnek, ami átrepült az űrön és letelepedett a Földön sok millió évvel ezelőtt. Most hosszú álmát alussza tengerborította városában: Ph’ngluimglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn, vagyis R'lyeh házában a tetszhalott Cthulhu álmodik. A Csendes-óceán déli részén néhány bátor tengerész megtalálta a várost és felébresztette a Nagy Öreget. Ennek hatására őrülethullám robogott végig a Földön, több ember lelte halálát ezekben az időkben. A találkozást csak egy tengerész élte túl, de ő is gyanús körülmények között halt meg. A fiatal kutató érzi, hogy ő is erre a sorsra juthat... A novellát nagy részben Lord Tennyson Kraken című költeménye inspirálta: Cthulhu is egy csápos, polipszerű szörny, egy alvó isten (ez a gondolat nagyban Lord Dunsany műveinek Lovecraftra gyakorolt hatásának köszönhető). S. T. Joshi felveti, hogy számottevő hatást váltott ki Lovecraftra Maupassant Horlája és Arthur Machen A fekete pecsét története című története is. Maga Lovecraft e történetet roppant középszerűnek, klisék halmazának titulálta. A Weird Tales szerkesztője, Farnsworth Wright először elutasította a közlését, és csak azután egyezett bele, hogy Lovecraft barátja, Donald Wandrei bebeszélte neki, hogy más magazinnál is érdeklődnek a sztori iránt.

Olvasás

Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
Őrület hegyei, Az / Hallucináció hegységei, A

Egy déli sarki kutatócsoport, köztük a narrátor, William Dyer a Miskatonic Egyetemről az Antarktiszra indul 1930/31 telén. A fagyott környezetben 14, a hideg által konzerválódott idegen lényre bukkannak. Miután a kutatók több csoportra oszlanak, és az egyikről nem érkezik hír, a megmaradt tagok felkeresik az eltűntek táborát, ahol szétmarcangolt emberi és állati maradványokat találnak - néhány idegen létformának pedig mindössze hűlt helyét... Legnagyobb döbbenetükre azonban a kutatás során feltárul előttük egy évmilliókkal régebben épített, hatalmas kőváros, amely a Nagy Öregek egykori lakóhelye lehetett. A kisregényt szokás Poe Arthur Gordon Pym című kisregényének folytatásaként tekinteni, az enigmatikus és meg nem magyarázott jelentésű kiáltás, a "Tekeli-li!" miatt. Eredetileg a Weird Talesbe szánta Lovecraft, de a szerkesztő túl hosszúnak találta, ezért öt éven át hevert a kisregény felhasználatlanul a fiókban. Az Astounding végül jelentősen megváltoztatva közölte a művet, több bekezdést (nagyjából ezer szót) kihagyott, a teljes, javított verzió először 1985-ben látott napvilágot.

Olvasás

Abraham Merritt:
Moon Pool, The

Amikor dr. David Throckmartin elmeséli egy csendes-óceáni civilizáció ősi romjain átélt hátborzongató élményeit, dr. Walter Goodwin, a regény narrátora azzal a meggyőződéssel hallgatja a hihetetlen történetet, hogy a nagy tudós valószínűleg megzavarodott. Azt állítja ugyanis, hogy feleségét és kutatócsoportjának több tagját magával vitte egy "fényjelenség", amely az úgynevezett Holdtóból emelkedik ki teliholdas éjszakákon. Amikor azonban Goodwin eleget tesz Throckmartin kérésének, és társaival a titokzatos szigetre utazik, fantasztikus, megdöbbentő kalandok sorozata veszi kezdetét.

Olvasás

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