One Night part 4

A night-watchman loomed up in front of me. “I come,” I said, “to get you to see about a theft which has just been committed on my premises.”The man followed me, and the few words which he spoke dispelled my nightmare. At that moment I was not aware what a comedy I was playing.When we reached the threshold of my lodging I would have dared to go into my room and hunt in every nook and corner, and go to sleep at last in complete tranquillity. The watchman searched the sitting- room, the bath-room, lighting his flashlight, and made the rounds of the whole suite. In order to give weight to my words—which lay very lightly upon me—I pretended that a jewel-case had been lying on this taboret between the candlestick and the traveling bag, and that the case had disappeared.With increasing zeal I vented my indignation on the sharpers who lounge around hotels and prey on travelers, and inveighed against the authorities, who never seem to be able to bring the guilty to justice. I must have overdone it, because the watchman smiled, and I saw the faintest trace of incredulity in his eyes. I grew angry.“I am certain,” I explained, “that an hour ago a—a valuable medallion, set in pearls and inlaid with arabesques, was in that case.”And as the man interrupted me to assure me that the reputation of the house had never been questioned, and that the vicinity was the quietest in the city, I answered that while I was in bed I had suddenly been awakened by a scratching sound like that of a diamond on glass, or of an object being drawn across a marble-topped table, that as I jumped up a man went out, slamming the door behind him. As to the case, it had four copper nails on the under side, and the sound of one of these scraping on something was what had wakened me.The watchman looked me straight in the eyes.

Complaint to the Captain

“Follow me,” he said, “and make your complaint to the Captain.”But to this I would not consent. I excused myself, saying that my friend would not be back for quite a while. My friend now meant nothing to me but a subterfuge—and I dared not for a single second leave our papers and other valuables unguarded in this suspicious place.Again that smile in the watchman`s eye. I wanted to knock him down. Suddenly the door opened and he who had been the prime cause of my dread, whom I had vainly, yes, madly, sought all through the city, stepped in. I threw myself on his neck and asked him where in the world he had been and what had kept him so long. I quickly drew him aside and gave him a detailed account of the adventure.The watchman pretended not to notice. He understood. Quite seriously, for in my aroused state the least mockery would have ruined everything, he and my friend agreed that a complaint should be lodged next day and that, to give me justice and punish the guilty, the questionable neighborhoods in the vicinity of the barracks and the docks should be systematically searched.But in the light of day the city seemed to me so peaceful, so cloister-like, so restful, that I could think only of enjoying to the full the charms of its antique works of art and the melancholy splendor of its decaying relics.

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One Night part 3

Suddenly I saw, right before my eyes, the inn where we were staying. Trembling, I put the key in the lock. What awaited me behind the door? My friend had so completely vanished from my thoughts that I did not even ask myself whether he might have returned yet.I searched all the crannies of our suite, one after the other; looked under the armchairs, sofas, and beds with a lighted candle, opened and quickly closed the cubbies, locked the door and carefully rearranged the furniture, and was frightened by my very eagerness to allay my fear. I loaded my revolver. In my bedroom I took the most elaborate precautions. To what end?

Somebody stopped on my floor

I certainly did not mean to try to go to sleep. I began to read, my eyes glued to the pages, but my attention really occupied with what might be lurking behind the door, outside the window. I could hear the, steps of a fellow-lodger coming up the stair, moving to the rhythm of my anxiety. Somebody stopped on my floor. I jumped up- out of bed, thinking of burglars.A dazzling idea came to me: to notify the police. I half dressed myself, but the moment I got to the street all my fever laid hold of me again. Should I jostle those beggars who stood like figures on a monument, and lose myself once more in the labyrinth of night from which I had emerged by miracle? Should I renew my former unrest? And work myself up to madness? I reascended the stairs, and when I stood in front of my lodging, I trembled to think what might have happened in my absence.I remember I sank down on the threshold with my arms hanging limp and weary, while at the same time I seemed to be raised and thrust away by a thousand unfeeling hands. I heard the noisy speech of other lodgers who were coming up the stairs.Nearer they came. Leaning over the landing I thought to make them a sign, to appeal to them, to say something at least, and then involuntarily I huddled back against the wall, mute, with bated breath, and as I hid myself I thought that all my blood had gone out of me, that I was collapsing. They filed past without seeing me, then vanished into their several lodgings.I was enraged at myself for not having addressed them. I even climbed one flight to knock at the end of a passage when the last comer had disappeared. When I got there I fled hastily down again.All at once I sprang downstairs four steps at a time and came out into the street, not knowing what I was doing.

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One Night part 2

The darkness grew thicker and thicker. Unbroken chains of lights glowed along the thoroughfares. One belfry after another awoke and great bells began to peal.Not far from me a church with yawning doors was engulfing the multitude. The disappearance of the antlike creatures into this gigantic mouth assumed in my eyes a disquieting significance. Had not my poor companion been carried along by the crowd and thrust willy-nilly into this depth of the unknown, out of which arose a ponderous gnashing and crunching of bronze upon bell-metal?I must have uttered a cry, because an old man who some time since had stopped on the other side of the street to look at me, and who seemed to be seeking an excuse to address me, said something unintel-ligible and then went away, looking back reproachfully, enigmatically.

Our old-fashioned suite

I was fairly twitching with anxiety. Our old-fashioned suite was many-cornered, crammed with little nooks in which the darkness piled up, compressed into dread intensity. I dressed hurriedly and began to ransack the city in all directions, rationally at first, then quite feverishly.I thought I saw my friend now among the loiterers who leaned over the parapets of a stone bridge, now in the recesses of a cellar where frightful sots lurched about a bar, now under a gigantic candelabrum, whose fitfully flickering light illumined a bas-relief of a battle between serpents and eagles.Every time I banished one of these ideas my head whirled the more. My eyes smarted and my heart was as if in a vise. I resolved to return. But hardly had I taken a step before the object of my anxiety changed. I ceased to worry about my friend and feared only for myself. Whether he was lost or killed, I must return at once! Oh, that nocturnal flight! Through black streets whose house-fronts leered so horribly! Towers loomed up out of sable squares as if built upon the Unknown to reach the stars.Wine-cellars resounded with oaths and brawlings and the sound of my footsteps, reechoed from the angles and doorways of colossal houses, was like a cannonade. More mysterious than before and more implacably hostile the passers-by appeared. Could I ask them to direct me? They were garroters, assassins ready to stick a knife into my back. I walked in the middle of the street, casting stealthy glances over my shoulder, knowing that I was ghostly pale, and fearing above all that my fear would be noticed.A little hunchback peddling matches approached me. I sprang back. to avoid him. A cocotte whispered silly words in my ear. I quickened my pace, not daring to thrust her from me bodily. In a glazed arcade, one of those hideous cloaked beggars, such as had disquieted me ever since I started out, stood blocking the passage with his sweeping gestures. I wheeled about. And the hour was striking overhead in the cathedral with a sound of swords clashing in combat.

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One Night part 1

Emile Verhaeren (1855-1920)

Emile Verhaeren was one of the most widely read poets of modern Belgium. Influenced at first by the French Parnassiens and Natura-lists, he ultimately developed a style and a philosophy of his own. He began work in the eighties. A large part of his writings are poems, but in his plays and short stories, clearly the work of a poet, he achieves effects of striking power.One Night is translated by Keene Wallis, and appears in the vol-ume, Five Tales by Emile Verhaeren, Albert and Charles Boni, New York, 1924, by whose permission it is here used.

One Night

“ Till be back directly,” the best friend I have in the world called to JL me as he raced down the stairs of the great inn where we had just put up in the outskirts of a decayed city of old Spain.I saw him disappear, then I heard his last “Be right back,” mingled with the sound of his retreating footsteps. Left alone, I went to the balcony and leaned over. Folk, haughty in their dirt and rags, strutted through the arcades. Indescribable beggars blocked the doorways. Dogs howled at the windows of convents or at the many crucifixes which gave the quarter the appearance of an abandoned graveyard.Dusk increased the mystery of the streets. In the bloody sunset the houses seemed the habitations of ghosts. I could see into a window. I felt that a disquietude ran from chamber to chamber of that house, then the room, into which I was looking was filled with people of somber aspect who suddenly prostrated themselves before a great Christ hanging on the wall between flickering candles and votive wreaths, and seeming to run living blood.Suddenly, at the end of a lane the first lamp twinkled into emerald light. I looked at my watch. An hour had passed since my friend`s departure. An overmastering anxiety rose within me. From the moment when I had first begun to look out over this ancient city, fear had been gradually inflaming my fancies. I imagined my friend meeting with a mishap, being robbed, murdered. I did not know in which direction he had gone, nor with what intent.I began to conjure up horrors, ascribing his disappearance to the workings of an alien and hostile influence. I scrutinized the passers-by, only to find them equivocal. There were old women, cavernous from illness and senility, children almost naked, whimpering until their mothers pressed them to their dry breasts; then came men, burly brutes with long staffs at the end of which was something shiny. A fiery team plunged past with a wild clash of iron- shod hoofs.

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