One Night – 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.
“ 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.