Emile Verhaeren (1855-1920)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.