Translated by Ralph J. Gladstone
It should be remembered by the reader that the fantastic hallucinatory episodes Gautier claims to have experienced in this colorful account of his initiation into Le Club des Hachichins may be attributed to several factors: the first concerns literary style—Gautier was habituated to a rococo form of prose that was frequently excessive in its rhetorical flourishes —a style which was, however, characteristic of much French writing in the middle of the 19th century; moreover Gautier's "set and setting" (the "set" being his general psychological make-up as modified by his mood and expectations, and the "setting" being the atmosphere of the physical surroundings and the interpersonal vibrations of the people present) were, as the essay demonstrates, enormously stimulating and melodramatic per se. Much of the grotesque, incredible flavor of this account, then, may be attributed to the interacting influences of the Hotel Pimodan's haunted neo-Gothic interiors, the mystery-laden, ritualistic inclinations of Gautier's fellow hashish eaters, and an acutely inflamed and uninhibited literary imagination. Finally, the quantity of Dawamesc—a confection whose main ingredient is hashish—which was eaten by Gautier (administered presumably by Dr. Jacques Joseph Moreau de Tours, a psychiatrist who pioneered in the therapeutic use of hashish in the treatment of emotional and mental disorders) was "about the size of one's thumb," rather an excessive amount to be initially subtracted from the author's "share in Paradise."
I PIMODAN HOUSE
One December evening, in answer to a mysterious summons drawn up in enigmatic terms understood only by the knowing and unintelligible to others, I arrived in a remote section, a sort of oasis of solitude in the midst of Paris, which the river, surrounding it with both its arms, seems to defend against the encroachments of civilization: an old mansion on the Isle Saint-Louis, Pimodan House built by Lauzun, was where the bizarre club of which I was a recent member held its monthly sessions, which I was attending for the first time.
Although it was barely six o'clock, the night was black.
A mist, thickened by the proximity of the Seine, dimmed all objects with its ragged cotton wadding, torn, here and there, by the reddish haloes of lanterns and ribbons of brightness escaping from lighted windows.
The pavement, flooded with rain, glistened beneath the street lamps like water mirroring harbor lights, while a sharp wind, laden with frozen particles, whipped my face, and guttural whistling sounds provided the treble to a symphony having the breaking of the swollen waves against the bridges' arches as its bass: the evening lacked none of the rough poetry of winter.
It was difficult, along the deserted quay and in the mass of dark buildings, to distinguish the house I was seeking. However, my coachman, by rising on his seat, was able to make out, on a marble plaque with the gilt half worn off, the name of the former mansion where the adepts met.
I raised the ornate knocker, as the use of brass-buttoned bells had not yet penetrated into these out-of-the-way regions, and several times I heard the cord scrape unsuccessfully, finally it gave way to a stronger pull; the old, rusted bolt was drawn aside and the massively timbered door turned on its hinges.
Behind a yellowish, transparent pane there appeared, as I entered, the head of an old female gatekeeper, outlined by a trembling candle, a ready-made painting by Skalken. The head grimaced at me curiously, and a thin finger, extending from the gate-house, pointed the way.
As far as I could distinguish in the pale glow which always falls even from the darkest sky, the courtyard I was crossing was surrounded by buildings of ancient architecture with steep-pitched roofs; my feet felt as wet as if I had walked through a meadow, for the cracks between the paving stones were filled with grass.
The high, narrow-paned windows of the flamboyant staircase against the somber façade served as my guide and kept me from straying.
Once across the porch, I found myself at the foot of one of those immense staircases built in the days of Louis XIV, in
, which a modern house could dance with ease. An Egyptian chimera in the style of Lebrun, bestraddled by a Cupid, stretched forth its paws upon a pedestal, holding a candle in its upturned claws.
The slope of the stairs was gentle; rests and landings were well distributed and bore witness to the genius of the old architect and the grandiose life of centuries gone by. Ascending this admirable incline, clothed in my thin, black evening coat, I felt as though I were a blot on the surroundings, usurping a right to which I had no title; the service staircase would have served for me.
Paintings, most of them unframed, copies of masterpieces of the Italian and Spanish schools, lined the walls; in the shadows overhead were the vague outlines of a large mythological ceiling painted in fresco.
I reached the indicated floor.
A Utrecht velvet drum, crushed and stained, whose yellowed braid and dented nails told of its long service, marked the proper door.
I rang, and was admitted with the usual precautions. I found myself in a large room, lighted at the far end by a few lamps. To enter was to step two centuries back; time, which passes so fast, seemed not to have elapsed in this house, and like a clock negligently left unwound, its hands showed the same date always.
The walls, paneled in white-painted wood, were half-covered with darkened canvases that bore the stamp of the period. On a gigantic mantelpiece rose a statue that one might suppose to have been pilfered from the Versailles gardens.
On the ceiling, which arched into a dome, writhed a sprawling allegory painted with broad strokes, in the manner of Lemoine, which might have been by that painter.
I advanced toward the luminous part of the room, where several human shapes bustled about a table; and as soon as the light reached me and revealed who I was, a hearty hurrah shook the sonorous depths of the old structure.
"Here he is! Here he is!" several voices cried out together. "Give him his portion!"
The doctor stood near a sideboard whereon rested a tray laden with small Japanese porcelain saucers. A piece of greenish paste or jam, about the size of one's thumb, was drawn by him by means of a spatula from a crystal jar, and placed, be side a vermilion spoon, on each saucer.
The doctor's face beamed with enthusiasm, his eyes sparkled his cheeks reddened, the veins in his temples stood out anc his dilated nostrils drew in the air with force.
"This will be subtracted from your share in Paradise," saic he, handing me my allotted dose.
When each had eaten his portion, coffee was served in thc Arab manner, that is, with the grounds and without sugar. Then we sat down to the table.
This inversion of culinary habits has doubtless surprised thc reader; indeed, it is scarcely usual to take coffee before thc soup, and it is generally only at the dessert that jams are eaten The matter surely warrants explanation.
Long ago, in the Orient, there existed a dreaded order of devotees commanded by a shiekh who styled himself the Old Man of the Mountain, or prince of the Assassins.
This Old Man of the Mountain was obeyed without question the Assassins, his subjects, would act with absolute devotion in performance of his orders, whatever they might be; no danger staved them, not even the most certain death. At a sign from their leader, they would leap from a tower, or go to stab a sovereign in his palace, amidst his guards.
By what artifice did the Old Man of the Mountain instill such thorough abnegation?
By means of a wonderful drug whereof he had the formula, which had the property of inducing dazzling hallucinations.
Those taking it, on awaking from their intoxication, found real life so sad and colorless that they joyfully sacrificed it to re-enter the paradise of their dreams, for every man killed while accomplishing the orders of the sheikh went straight into heaven, while those who escaped were again permitted to enjoy the felicities of the mysterious concoction.
Now, the green paste that the doctor had just passed out among us was precisely that which the Old Man of the Mountain used to administer to his fanatics without their knowledge, making believe that he held access to Mohammed's heaven and the three classes of houris—that is, hashish, whence comes hashisheen or hashish-eater, the root of the word "assassin," whose ferocious meaning is readily explicable by the bloodthirsty habits of the votaries of the Old Man of the Mountain.
Surely, those who saw me leave my home at the hour when ordinary mortals take their nourishment had no notion that I was on my way to the Isle Saint-Louis, a virtuous and patriarchal spot if ever one was, to consume a strange dish, which, several centuries ago, served an impostor sheikh as an inducement to drive his zealots to assassination. Nothing in my perfectly ordinary appearance could have drawn suspicion to such an excess of orientalism; I rather seemed some nephew on his way to dine at his aunt's, than a believer about to taste the joys of Mohammed's heaven in company with twelve exctheingly French Arabs.
Before this revelation, had you been tothethat in Paris, in 1845, that period of stock-trading and railroads, there existed an order of hashisheen, you would not have believed it, but nonetheless nothing would have been more true—as is customary with unlikely things.
The meal was served in a bizarre manner, with every sort of extravagant and picturesque ware.
Large Venetian glasses crisscrossed with milky spirals, historically emblazoned German seidels, Flemish stoneware mugs, slender-necked flasks still wrapped in reeds, took the place of glasses, bottles, and pitchers.
Louis Leboeuf opaque porcelain and English flowered faience, the adornments of middle-class tables, shone by their absence; no two plates were alike, yet each had its own merit; China, Japan, and Saxony contributed samples of their finest clays and richest colors; all a bit chipped, a bit cracked, but all in exquisite taste.
The plates, for the most part, were Bernard de Palissy enamels or Limoges faiences, and at times the carver's knife, under a real dish, would come across a reptile, frog, or bird in relief. The -edible eel mingled its coils with those of the moulded snake.
An honest Philistine would have felt some dismay at the sight of these long-haired, bearded, moustached or singularly shorn guests, brandishing sixteenth-century daggers, Malayan krisses or navajas, and bending over food to which the gleams of the flickering lamps imported a dubious appearance.
The dinner was drawing to its close, and some of the more fervent adepts were already feeling the effects of the green paste. I, myself, had undergone a complete transposition of my taste. The water I was drinking seemed to savor like the most delicate wine, the meat turned to raspberries in my mouth, and conversely. I could not have told a cutlet from a peach.
My neighbors began to seem a little peculiar; they were opening wide, owl's eyes; their noses were lengthening into probosces; their mouths were widening like the openings in sleighbells. Their faces took on supernatural tints.
One, with a pale face in a black beard, was in peals of laughter before some unseen spectacle; another made unbelievable efforts to carry his glass to his lips, while his contortions to achieve his purpose produced a roar of jeers.
Another, in nervous agitation, twiddled his thumbs with incredible agility; yet another, thrown back in his chair, with dreamy eyes and lifeless arms, voluptuously let himself glide into the bottomless sea of oblivion.
Resting my elbows on the table, I considered everything in the gleaming of a remnant of reason which went and returned by instants like a candle ready to gutter. Vague warmths traveled over my limbs, and madness, like a wave foaming against a rock, which withdraws to hurl itself anew, entered and departed my brain, at length altogether invading it.
Hallucination, that strange guest, had set up his dwelling place in me.
"To the drawing room! to the drawing room!" cried one of those present. "Do you not hear the celestial choirs? The musicians have long been at their stands."
A delightful harmony was reaching us through the tumult of the conversation.
IV AN UNINVITED GENTLEMAN
The drawing room was an enormous chamber with molded and gilded woodwork, a painted ceiling, and friezes adorned with satyrs pursuing nymphs among rushes; it held a vast, colored marble mantelpiece, and ample brocade draperies that breathed forth the opulence of times gone by.
Upholstered furniture, settees, armchairs, and cushioned seats wide enough for the skirts of duchesses or marquises to be spread out with ease, received the hashisheen in their soft, ever-open arms.
A low seat by the chimney corner beckoned to me. I installed myself in it, surrendering unresistingly to the effects of the fantastic drug.
After several minutes, my companions had vanished, one after another, leaving no trace other than their shadows on the walls, which were soon absorbed like the brown stains that water makes on sand, fading as they dry.
As I was no longer conscious, from that time on, of what others were doing, you now must be content with a relation of my simple personal impressions.
Solitude reigned in the drawing room, which was studded with only a few dubious gleams; all of a sudden, a red flash passed beneath my eyelids, innumerable candles burst into light and I felt bathed in a warm, clear glow. I was indeed in the same place, but it was as different as a sketch is from a painting: everything was larger, richer, more gorgeous. Reality served as a point of departure for the splendors of the hallucination.
I could still see no one, but I divined the presence of a multitude.
I heard the rustling of fabrics, the creaking of shoes, voices that whispered, murmured, and lisped, stifled bursts of laughter, the scraping of chair and table legs. Dishes were roughly handled, doors were opened and closed; something unaccustomed was going on.
An enigmatic character suddenly appeared before me. How had he come in? I cannot say; yet the sight of him caused me no alarm. His nose was curved like a bird's beak; his green eyes, which he frequently wiped with an immense handkerchief, were encircled with three brown rings; a high, heavy white cravat—in its knot a visiting card containing the words: Daucas-Carota, of the Golden Pot—strangled his thin collar, causing the skin of his cheeks to overflow in ruddy folds; a black, square-cut coat, whence dangled loops of watch chains and fobs, imprisoned his body, which was thrust out like the breast of a capon. His legs, 1 must confess, were made of a bifurcated mandrake root—black, rough, full of knots and bulges—which seemed to have been freshly picked, for clods of earth still clung to its filaments. These legs thrummed and twisted with extraordinary activity, and, when the small torso that they upheld stood entirely facing me, the strange character burst into sobs, wiped his eyes with a sweeping gesture, and said in the most mournful tones:
"It is today that we must die laughing."
Tears as large as peas rolled across the wings of his nose. "Laughing . . . laughing . . ." repeated a choir of echolike, discordant nasal voices.
I then looked at the ceiling and perceived a host of bodiless heads like cherubims', with such comical expressions, such jovial physiognomies, and so profoundly happy a look that I could not but share in their hilarity. Their eyes were wrinkled about, their mouths widened, and their nostrils flared; their grimaces would have brought joy to spleen personified. These farcical masks turned in areas of opposite movement, producing a dazzling and dizzying effect.
Little by little, the drawing room became filled with extraordinary figures such as one finds only in the etchings of Callot and the aquatints of Goya: characteristic hodgepodges of spangles and rags of human and bestial figures; at another time, I would perhaps have been apprehensive about such company, but there was nothing menacing in these monstrosities. It was slyness, not ferocity, that sparkled in their pupils. Good humor alone uncovered their jagged fangs and sharp incisors.
As though I were the lord of the feast, each shape came in turn into the luminous circle whereof I occupied the center, with an air of grotesque deference, to mutter in my ear banter, none of which I now remember, but which, at the time, I found prodigiously witty, and which excited me to the maddest gaiety.
With each new apparition, a Homeric, Olympian, immense, dumbfounding laugh, which seemed to resound through infinity, burst about me with a thunderous roar.
Voices, now whining, now cavernous, screamed:
"No, it's too funny; no more! My God, my God, what fun Funnier and funnier!"
"Enough! I can bear no more . . . Ha, ha! Ho, ho! He, he! What a fine farce! What a good pun!"
"Stop! I'm stifling! I'm choking! Don't look at me so . . . or place hoops about me, I'm going to burst . . ."
Despite these half-jesting, haif-entreating protestations, the awesome hilarity went ever increasing, the din grew in intensity, the floors and walls of the house heaved and palpitated like a human diaphragm, shaken by the frenetic, irresistible, implacable laughter.
Soon, instead of coming before me one by one, the grotesque phantoms assaulted me in a body, swaying their long jesters' sleeves, tripping over the folds of their magicians' gowns, flattening their cardboard noses in ridiculous collisions, making the powder of their wigs fly off in clouds, and singing extravagant songs, with impossible rhymes, off key.
All the types ever invented by the mocking verve of nations and artists were gathered there, but multiplied tenfold, a hundredfold, in strength. It was a curious throng: the Neapolitan Punchinello familiarly tapping England's Punch on his hunched shoulder; the Harlequin of Pergamum thrusting his black snout into the floury mask of the Paillasse of France, who uttered fearful cries; the Bolognese Doctor throwing snuff into Father Cassandra's eyes; Tartaglia galloping his horse over a clown; Giles kicking Don Spavento's behind; and Karagheuz, armed with his obscene stick, fighting a duel with a buffoon Osco.
Beyond, fantasies of droll dreams confusedly danced about: hybrid creations, formless mixtures of men, beasts, and utensils; monks with wheels for feet and cauldrons for bellies; warriors, in armor of dishes, brandishing wooden swords in birds' claws; statesmen moved by turnspit gears; kings plunged to the waist in saltcellar turrets; alchemists with their heads arranged as bellows, their limbs twisted into alambics; bawds made up of bizarrely knobbed squashes—everything which, with a feverishly heated pencil, a cynic might trace when intoxication guides his hand.
Everything writhed, crawled, skipped, grunted, whistled, as Goethe says in his Walpurgis Night.
In order to escape the excessive bustle of these baroque characters, I sought refuge in a dark corner, whence I could see them giving themselves up to dances such as the Renaissance never knew in Chicard's time, nor the opera under the reign of Musard, the king of the disheveled quadrille. These dancers, with an entrechat or a balancé, wrote comedies a thousand times better than Molière, Rabelais, Swift, or Voltaire, comedies so profoundly philosophical, satires of such high reach and mordant wit, that I was obliged to hold my sides in my corner.
Daucas-Carota, wiping his eyes, was performing inconceivable pirouettes and leaps, especially for a man with legs of mandrake root, repeating in farcically piteous tones, "Today is when we must die laughing!"
You who think you know what is a comic masque, had you attended this ball induced by hashish you would agree that the most mirth-provoking farceurs of our small theaters are worthy of being sculptured at the corners of a pall, or on a tomb!
What bizarrely contorted faces! What eyes, winking and sparkling with sarcasm beneath their birdlike membranes! What piggybank smiles! What hacked-out mouths! What facetiously twelve-sided noses! What abdomens, huge with Pantagruelion mockeries!
Through all the movement of this unterrifying nightmare, there flashed sudden images of countenances of irresistible effect, caricatures that would have produced jealousy in Daumier, fantasies that would have delighted the marvelous artists of China, the Phidiases of the rickshaw.
Not all these visions, however, were monstrous or bui lesque; gracefulness too showed itself in this carnival of form Near the fireplace, a small head with peachlike cheeks, shot ing, in an endless fit of mirth, thirty-two small teeth the su of grains of rice, uttered a high-pitched, vibrant, silvery, pr longed burst of laughter embroidered with trills and orgar bursts which penetrated my eardrums and, by a nervous map netism, compelled me to commit a host of extravagances.
The joyous frenzy was at its peak; nothing now could b heard save convulsive sighs, inarticulate cluckings. The laugh ter lost its timbre and turned into grunts, while spasms fol lowed after pleasure: Daucas-Carota's words were about t come true.
Already, a few annihilated hashisheen had rolled to th ground with that lax heaviness of intoxication that reduce the danger in falling; exclamations such as "My God, hot happy I am!" "What felicity!" "I am swimming in ecstasy!' "I am in Paradise!" "I am diving into abysses of delight!' crossed, merged, and covered one another.
Hoarse cries burst from oppressed chests; arms writhe with desire toward some fleeting vision; heels and the back: of heads drummed against the floor. It was time to throw a drop of cold water on this seething vapor, lest the boiler burst
Man's bodily envelope, which has so little strength for pleasure and so much for pain, could not have endured happiness at too high a pressure.
One of the club's members, who had not partaken of the voluptuous intoxicant in order to watch over the fantasia and prevent those of us who might think we had wings from going through the winaws, rose, opened the lid of the piano and sat down. His hands, falling together, sank into the ivory of the keyboard, and a glorious chord resounded with force, stilling all murmurs and changing the direction of the intoxication.
The theme he struck up was, I believe, Agatha's aria in Die Freyschutz; the celestial melody, like a breath sweeping misshapen clouds away, soon dissipated the ridiculous visions that had obsessed me. The grimacing ghosts withdrew, crawling beneath armchairs or hiding between the folds of the draperies, heaving small, stifled sighs, and again I seemed to be alone in the drawing room.
The colossal organ of Fribourg assuredly does not produce a greater mass of sonority than the piano played by the seer as the sober adept is called). The notes quivered with such lower that they entered my breast like luminous arrows; soon, he air played seemed to come from myself; my fingers moved nter an absent keyboard; sounds sprang forth, blue and red, n electric sparks; Weber's soul had become incarnated in me. The piece concluded, my inner improvisations in the style of he German master continued, causing me ineffable ecstasy. What a pity that a magical stenographer could not have trancribed those inspired melodies, heard by me alone, and which, nodestly enough, I do not hesitate to place above the masterworks of Rossini, Meyerbeer, and Félicien David!
After the somewhat convulsive gaiety of the beginning, an ndefinable feeling of well-being, a boundless calm, took over.
I was in that blessed state induced by hashish which the Drientals call al-kief. I could no longer feel my body; the bonds of matter and spirit were severed; I moved by sheer willpower in an unresisting medium.
Thus I imagine the movement of souls in the world of fragrances to which we shall go after death. A bluish haze, an Elysian light, the reflections of an azure grotto, formed an atmosphere in the room through which I vaguely saw the tremblings of hesitant outlines; an atmosphere at once cool and warm, moist and perfumed, enveloping me like bath water in a sort of enervating sweetness. When I tried to move away, the caressing air made a thousand voluptuous waves about me; a delightful languor gripped my senses and threw me back upon the sofa, where I hung, limp as a discarded garment.
Then I understood the pleasure experienced by the spirits and angels, according to their degree of perfection, when they traverse the ethers and the skies, and how eternity might occupy one in Paradise.
Nothing material was mingled with this ecstasy; no terrestrial desire marred its purity. Love itself, in fact, could not have increased it. Romeo as a hashisheen would have forgotten his Juliet. The poor child, bending over her jasmines, would have stretched her alabaster arms across the balcony and through the night in vain. Romeo would have stayed at the foot of the silken ladder, and although I madly love the angel of youth and beauty created by Shakespeare, I must agree that the prettiest girl in Verona, to a hashisheen, is not worth the bother of stirring.
So, with a peaceful though fascinated eye, I watched a garland of ideally beautifully women, who diademed a frieze with their divine nudity; I saw the gleam of their satin shoulders, the sparkle of their silvery breasts, the overhead tripping of small pink feet, the undulation of opulent hips, without feeling the least temptation. The charming spectres that disturbed Saint Anthony would have had no power over me.
By some bizarre prodigy, after several minutes of contemplation I would melt into the object looked at, and I myself would become that object. Thus I turned into a nymph Syrinx, since the fresco represented Leda's daughter pursued by Pan. I felt all the terrors of the poor fugitive, and sought to hide behind the fantastic reeds to avoid the ram-footed monster.
VII AL-KIEF TURNS TO A NIGHTMARE
During my ecstasy, Daucas-Carota had come in. Seated like a tailor or a pasha on his appropriately twisted roots, he fixed blazing eyes upon me; his beak clapped so sardonically, so mocking an air of triumph burst through his small, distorted person, that I shuddered in spite of myself.
Guessing my alarm, he redoubled his contortions and grimaces, coming near with little jumps like a wounded daddy-longlegs or a legless cripple in his basket.
Then I felt a cold breath at my ear, and a voice told me in familiar tones, although I could not determine whose, "That wretched Daucas-Carota, who sold his legs for drink, has purloined your head and replaced it, not with an ass' head as Puck did to Bottom, but with an elephant's head!"
Singularly intrigued, I went straight to the mirror, and saw that the admonition was not unfounded.
I would have been taken for a Hindu or Javanese idol: my forehead had risen; my nose, lengthened into a trunk, curled on my chest, my ears swept my shoulders, and to compound the grievance, I was indigo in color, like the blue god Shiva.
Exasperated with fury, I began to pursue Daucas-Carota, who jumped about and whimpered, giving every sign of abject terror; I managed to seize him, and knocked him so violently against the edge of the table that at length he gave me back my head, which he had wrapped in his handkerchief.
Satisfied with this victory, I was about to resume my place on the couch when the same small, unknown voice said:
"Beware, you are surrounded by enemies; the invisible forces are seeking to attract you and hold you. You are a prisoner here: try to leave, and you will see."
A veil was rent asunder in my mind, and it became clear to me that the members of the club were nothing other than cabalists and magicians who wanted to drag me down to my perdition.
VIII THE TREADMILL
I rose with a great deal of trouble and headed toward the door of the drawing room, which I reached only after a considerable time, for some unknown force compelled me to take one step backward out of every three. According to my reckoning, it took me ten years to cover the distance.
Daucas-Carota followed me, cackling with laughter, and mumbling in mock commiseration: "If that's how fast he walks, when he arrives, he'll be an old man."
I nevertheless managed to reach the next room, which seemed to be of strange, unrecognizable dimensions. It lengthened out, lengthened out . . . indefinitely. The light that twinkled at the far end seemed as distant as a fixed star.
Discouragement took hold of me, and I was going to stop when the small voice, nearly brushing against my ear, said:
"Courage! She expects you at eleven o'clock."
Calling desperately upon the forces of my spirit, I succeeded, by an enormous projection of will, in raising my feet, which gripped the ground and which I was compelled to uproot like tree trunks. The monster with the mandrake legs escorted me, parodying my exertions, and chanting in dirge-like tones: "The marble is gaining ground! The marble is gaining ground!"
To be sure, I could feel my limbs petrifying, and the marble enveloping me to the waist like the Tuileries' Daphne; I was a statue halfway up, like the enchanted princes in the Arabian Nights. My hardened heels rang out formidably against the floor; I could have played the Commander in Don Giovanni.
By this time I had reached the head of the stairs, which I undertook to descend; they were half-lit, and through my dream they took on Cyclopean, gigantic proportions. Their two ends, bathed in shadow, seemed to plunge into heaven and hell, both of them abysses; raising my head, I indistinctly discerned, in a prodigious perspective, countless superposed landings, ramps leading up as to the top of the tower of Lylacq; looking down, I felt the presence of abysses of steps, whorls of spirals, dazzling circumvolutions.
This staircase must pierce the earth through and through, said I to myself as I continued my mechanical walking. I shall reach the bottom the day after Judgment Day.
The figures in the paintings were looking at me with a pitying air; some moved with halting contortions, like dumb folk wanting to impart important news on a supreme occasion. One would have thought they wanted to warn me about some trap to avoid, but an inert, dull force led me on. The steps were soft and sank beneath me, like the mysterious ladders in Free-masonic initiations. The sticking, yielding stairs gave way like the bellies of toads; new landings, new stairs appeared unceasingly before my resigned steps, while those that I had passed resumed their place in front of me. These proceedings took a thousand years, as I calculate it. At length I reached the vestibule, where another, no less terrible persecution awaited me.
The chimera holding a candle in its paws, which I had noted when I came in, was barring my way with clearly hostile intent; its greenish eyes sparkled with mockery, its malicious mouth laughed evilly; it was coming toward me nearly crawling on its stomach, dragging its bronze caparison through the dust, although not in submission; ferocious quivers shook its lion's haunches, and Daucas-Carota was urging it on like a dog that one wants to make fight.
"Bite him! Bite him! Marble meat for a brazen gullet, there's a savory treat!"
Without letting myself be alarmed by the horrible beast, I stepped by. A gust of cold air struck me in the face, and the night sky, cleansed of its clouds, suddenly appeared. A scattering of stars powdered the veins of the vast block of lapis-lazuli with flecks of gold.
I was in the courtyard.
To convey the effect produced on me by the somber architecture, I would need the burin used by Piranesi to scratch the black varnish of his marvelous copperplates: the courtyard had taken on the proportions of the Champs-de-Mars, and
„ in a few hours had become bordered with giant buildings set out against the horizon in a tracery of steeples, domes, towers, gables, and pyramids worthy of Rome and Babylon.
My surprise was extreme. I had never suspected the Isle Saint-Louis of containing so many monumental splendors, which, moreover, would have covered twenty times its true area; and I thought, not without apprehension, of the power of the magicians who could, in an evening, erect such structures.
"You are the plaything of idle illusions; this courtyard is very small," murmured the voice. "It is twenty-seven paces long by twenty-five across."
"Yes, yes," grumbled the bifurcated freak, "paces with seven-league boots. Never will you arrive at eleven; it is fifteen hundred years since you left. Half your hair has turned gray. Go back upstairs, it is the wisest course."
As I did not obey, the odious monster entangled me in the meshes of his legs, and, aided by his clutching hands, took me in tow despite my resistance, making me return up the stairs where I had undergone such anguish, and, to my great despair, reinstalling me in the drawing room from which I had with such pains escaped. Then the dizziness quite overwhelmed me; I became insane, delirious.
Daucas-Carota was cavorting, leaping up to the ceiling, saying, "Imbecile! I gave you back your head, but first I took out the brains with a spoon!"
I felt a fearful sadness as, raising my hand to my cranium, I found the top missing; then I lost consciousness.
IX PLACE NO FAITH IN CHRONOMETERS
When I came to, I saw the room full of people dressed in black, coming together with sad looks and shaking hands with a melancholy cordiality, like persons afflicted with a common sorrow.
They were saying: "Time is dead. Henceforth there will be no years, no months, no hours; time is dead, and we are going to its funeral."
"True, it was old enough, but I did not anticipate this development."
"It was in excellent health for its years," added one of the mourners whom I recognized as a painter friend of mine.
"Eternity was worn out; there had to be an end," resumed another.
"Great God!" I cried, struck by a sudden notion. "If there is no more time, when will it be eleven o'clock?"
"Nevermore," cried Daucas-Carota in thunderous tones, flinging his nose before my face and showing himself to me in his true guise . . . "Nevermore . . . it will always" be a quarter past nine . . . the hands will remain on the minute when time ceased to be, and your punishment will be to come, look at the motionless hands, and sit down once more only to begin again, until you are walking on the bones of your heels."
A superior force impelled me, and I made the journey four or five hundred times to interrogate the clock face with a horrible anxiety.
Daucas-Carota had seated himself astride the clock, and made fearsome faces at me.
The hands did not move.
"Wretch! You have stopped the pendulum," I cried, drunken with rage.
"I have not, it is going back and forth as usual. . . but suns will crumble into dust before yon steel arrow advances a millionth of one millimeter."
"Come, come, I see we must conjure the evil spirits, things are turning distasteful," said the seer; "let's make a little music. David's harp will be replaced this time by an Erard piano."
And sitting on the stool, he played melodies with joyous strains . . .
This seemed greatly to annoy the mandrake-man, who diminished, grew flat, lost his color, and uttered inarticulate moans; at last he lost all human semblance, and rolled on the floor in the shape of a double-rooted salsify.
The spell was broken.
"Hallelujah! Time has .risen from the dead," shouted happy, childish voices. "Now go see the clock!"
The hands pointed to eleven o'clock.
"Sir, your carriage is downstairs," said a servant.
The dream was at an end.
The hashisheen went off, each in his own direction, like the officers in Maribrough Goes to War.
With light steps, I went down the stairs that had caused me so much anguish, and a few moments later I was in my room, in full reality; the last vapors raised by the hashish had vanished.
My reason had returned, or at least what I call such for want of another term. My lucidity could even have enabled me to review a pantomime or comic play, or to write three-lettered rhyming verses.
La Revue des Deux Mondes, Feb. 1, 1846.