The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:37 pm


My hands tied behind my back and followed by a policeman with his bayonet fixed, I had to walk through the lamplit streets. Scores of street urchins ran alongside, bawling and yelling, women flung open windows, waved their wooden spoons and shouted insults at me. In the distance appeared the massive stone cube of the Law Courts, with the inscription over the entrance:

Avenging Justice
Protects the Law-abiding Citizen

Then I was passing through a huge gateway, along a corridor and into a room that reeked of kitchen smells. A man with a bushy beard and wearing a sabre, uniform jacket and cap, his bare feet protruding from long Johns tied at the ankles, stood up, put the coffee mill he had been holding between his knees on one side, and ordered me to take all my clothes off. He looked through my pockets, taking out everything he found in them, and asked me if I was infested with any vermin.

When I said no, he took the rings off my fingers and said that was all, now I could get dressed again. Then I was taken up several flights of stairs and along corridors with large, grey lockable chests standing in the window embrasures. The other side of the corridor was an unbroken row of iron doors with massive bolts and small, barred windows; above each burnt a gas jet.

A giant of a gaoler with a military bearing—the first honest face I had seen for hours—opened one of the doors, pushed me into a dark, closet-like cavity with a pestilential stench, and locked the door behind me. I was in complete darkness, and found my bearings by feeling my way round. My knee bumped against a galvanised iron bucket. Finally—the room was so narrow I could hardly turn round—I managed to find the door-handle to hold on to. I was in a cell: double bunk-beds with straw mattresses ran along the walls on either side, the gap between them scarcely one pace wide. A barred window three feet square high above the back wall let in the dull light of the night sky. The heat was unbearable, the cell filled with the smell of unwashed clothes.

When my eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, I saw that one bunk was empty, but the other three were occupied by men in grey prisoners' uniforms sitting with their elbows on their knees and their faces in their hands.

Not one spoke a word.

I sat on the empty bunk and waited. Waited. Waited.

One hour.

Two hours, three hours.

Whenever I thought I heard a step outside, I sat up. Now, I thought, now they're coming to fetch me to see the examining magistrate.

Each time my hopes were dashed. The sound of the steps faded down the corridor.

I tore open my collar, I felt I was going to suffocate. One by one, I heard the groans of the other prisoners as they stretched out on their mattresses.

"Can't we open the window up there?" I put my despairing question to the general darkness around, almost starting at the sound of my own voice.

"No", was the sour response from one of the straw mattresses.

Nevertheless, I felt along the mildewed wall . . . a shelf at chest height . . .two jugs of water . . . a few stale crusts of bread. With difficulty I managed to clamber onto it, grasped the bars and pressed my face to the gap, so that at least I could breathe some fresh air. And there I stood, until my knees started to tremble, staring out into a monotony of dark-grey fog. The cold iron bars seemed to sweat.

It must soon be midnight.

Behind me I heard snoring. There was only one of them who seemed unable to sleep. He tossed and turned on the straw, sometimes moaning softly to himself.

Would morning never come? There! A clock was chiming! And again.

I counted with trembling lips. One—two—three!—Thank God, only a few more hours until it would begin to get light. The chiming continued. Four? Five? The sweat started pouring down my face. Six!—Seven!! . . . It was eleven o'clock! Only one hour had passed since I had last heard the clock strike.

Bit by bit I started to work out what must have happened. Wassertrum had tricked me into accepting Zottmann's watch so that I would be suspected of murder. He must be the murderer himself, or how else could he have come into possession of the watch? If he had come across the corpse somewhere and then stolen the watch, he would certainly have claimed the thousand crowns reward which had been offered for information leading to the discovery , of the missing man. But that could not be the case: the j posters were still up in the streets, as I had clearly seen as I ! made my way to the prison.

What was obvious was that the junk-dealer had informed against me; also that, as far as Angelina was concerned, he was in league with the Superintendent. Why else the interrogation about Savioli? On the other hand, that showed that Wassertrum had not yet managed to get hold of Angelina's letters.

I thought hard.

Suddenly the whole plot was revealed to me with awful clarity, as if I had been there myself. Yes, that's what must have happened: Wassertrum had searched my room with his police accomplice and must have secretly taken my strong box, suspecting it contained compromising material. He wouldn't have been able to open it right away, since I had the key with me . . . perhaps he was in his lair, trying to break it open at this very moment.

In a frenzy of desperation I shook the bars. In my mind I could see Wassertrum rifling through Angelina's letters. If only I could tell Charousek what had happened, so that he could at least warn Savioli in time!

For a moment I clung to the hope that the news of my arrest would have spread through the Jewish quarter like wildfire. I trusted Charousek as I would trust my guardian angel. Wassertrum could not match his fiendish cunning. "I will have him by the throat the very moment he thinks he has Dr. Savioli at his mercy", Charousek had said.

The next moment I rejected the whole idea and was seized with panic. What if Charousek came too late?

Then Angelina was lost.

I bit my lips till the blood came, and tore my breast with remorse at not having burnt the letters straight away. I swore a solemn oath that I would kill Wassertrum the moment I was free again.

What did it matter to me whether I died by my own hand or on the gallows?!

Not for a single moment did I doubt that the examining magistrate would believe me if I told him the story of the watch and of Wassertrum's threats. I was sure to be free by the morrow, and at the very least the court would order Wassertrum's arrest on suspicion of murder. I counted the hours, praying for them to pass more quickly. All the while I stared out into the black murk outside.

After an interminable time it began to get lighter and, first as a dark patch, then clearer and clearer, a huge copper disc appeared out of the mist: the face of an old clock on a tower. But—yet another torment—the hands were missing.

Then five o'clock struck.

I heard the other prisoners waking up and starting a conversation in Czech. One voice seemed familiar. I turned round and clambered down from the shelf. There was the pock-marked Loisa sitting on the bunk opposite mine and staring at me in amazement. The other two were hard-faced rogues who scrutinised me contemptuously. "Embezzler, don't you think?" the one asked his mate in an undertone, giving him a dig in the ribs at the same time.

The other muttered some disparaging remark, rummaged around in his mattress, pulled out a black piece of paper and lay it on the floor. Then he splashed a little water from the jug onto it, knelt down and used it as a mirror as he combed his hair into a kiss-curl with his fingers. Then he dried the paper with solicitous care and hid it in his mattress again.

"Pan Pernath, Pan Pernath." Loisa kept muttering my name to himself, staring at me wide-eyed, as if he had seen a ghost.

"You gentlemen appear to be acquainted, if you'll allow the remark", said the prisoner with uncombed hair in the slightly stilted manner characteristic of Viennese Czechs, sketching a mocking bow in my direction. "Permit me to introduce myself: Vossatka's the name, Black Vossatka. Arson", he added an octave lower, his voice throbbing with pride.

The man with the kiss-curl spat through his teeth, stared at me contemptuously for a few seconds, then said laconically, pointing to his own chest, "Breaking and entering."

I remained silent.

"Well, and what's brought you here, Count?" the Viennese Czech asked after a short pause.

I thought for a moment and then said calmly, "Murder in the course of robbery."

The two started in surprise, the scornful expression on their faces giving way to a look of utmost respect as, with one voice, they exclaimed, "An 'onour to share a cell with you."

When they saw that I took no notice of them, they withdrew to a corner where they held a whispered conversation. Then the one with the kiss-curl stood up and came over to me, silently felt my biceps and returned to his companion, shaking his head.

In a low voice, so the other two would not hear, I asked Loisa, "I suppose you're being kept on suspicion of having murdered Zottmann as well?"

He nodded. "Yes, a long time now."

More hours passed. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep. Suddenly I heard Loisa calling softly, "Herr Pernath, Herr Pernath!"

"Yes?" I pretended to wake up.

"Please—excuse me, Herr Pernath, but—please—do you know what Rosina's doing? Is she at home?" the poor lad stammered. I felt extremely sorry for him as he stood there staring at me with his bloodshot eyes, convulsively wringing his hands with worry.

"She doing well. She's . . . she's a . . . waitress at . . . the Old Toll House Tavern", I lied. I could hear his sigh of relief.

Two convicts brought in a tray with enamel bowls containing the liquid left over from boiling sausages and, without a word, left three in the cell. After a few more hours the bolts rattled and the gaoler took me to the examining magistrate. My knees trembled with suspense as we went up and down stairs.

"Do you think it's possible I might be let out today?" I asked the gaoler anxiously.

I saw him repress his smile, out of pity for me. "Hm? Today? Hmm? God, everything's possible."

A chill ran down my spine.

Again I was looking at a door with a name on an enamel sign:

Karl, Freiherr von Leisetreter
Examining Magistrate

Another bare room and another two desks with three-foot high panels. In front of one stood a tall, old man with a white bushy beard neatly parted down in the middle, a black frock coat, thick red lips and creaky boots.

"You are Herr Pernath?"


"Gem engraver?"


"Cell 70?"


"Held on suspicion of the murder of Karl Zottmann?"

"Baron Leisetreter, may I first—"

"Held on suspicion of the murder of Karl Zottmann? "

"Probably. At least, that's what I imagine. But—"

"Have you made a confession?"

"What is there to confess, Baron Leisetreter, I'm innocent?"

"Have you made a confession? "


"Remanded in custody. Gaoler, take the man out."

"Please listen to me, your Honour. It is imperative that I get home today. I have important things to do—"

Behind the second desk someone cackled.

Baron Leisetreter grinned.

"Gaoler, take this man out."

The days crept by, week followed sluggish week, and still I was sitting in my cell. At twelve o'clock every day we were allowed out into the prison courtyard with the other convicts and prisoners on remand to trudge round on the damp earth for twenty minutes.

Talking to each other was forbidden.

In the middle of the yard was a bare, half-dead tree; an oval picture of the Virgin Mary painted on glass had grown into the bark. Along the walls ran a scraggy privet hedge, its leaves almost black from soot; all around were the barred windows of our cells from which, occasionally, we could see a putty-coloured face with anaemic lips looking down at us.

After the twenty minutes it was back up to our living tombs and bread, water and sausage broth; on Sundays we had putrid lentils.

In all that time I had had only one further interrogation. Did I have any witnesses that 'Herr' Wassertrum had given me the watch?

"Yes. Herr Shemaiah Hillel . . . that is . . .. no" (I remembered that he had not been there) "but Herr Charousek . . . no, he wasn't there, either."

"In brief: no one else was present?" "No, no one else was there, Baron Leisetreter." Again the cackle from behind the other desk followed by: "Gaoler, take this man out."

My anxiety about Angelina had turned into a dull feeling of resignation. There was no longer any point in worrying about her, I told myself; either Wassertrum had succeeded in carrying out his revenge or Charousek had stepped in.

Now it was my concern for Miriam that was almost driving me mad. I imagined her waiting hourly for the 'miracle' to happen again, running out to meet the baker every morning and examining the bread with trembling hands; perhaps she was worrying herself sick with fears for my safety.

Often during the night these anxieties would hound me from my sleep, and I would clamber up onto the shelf and stare out at the copper face of the clock in the tower, consumed with the desire that my thoughts might reach Hillel, might scream out to him to help Miriam and liberate her from the torment of waiting for a miracle.

Then sometimes I would throw myself onto the straw mattress and hold my breath until I almost burst, trying to force the image of my double to appear so that I could send it to comfort her. Once it did even appear beside my bunk with the words Chabrat Zereh Aur Bocher in mirror writing on its breast. I was about to shout out loud with joy that everything would be all right now, but it disappeared into the ground before I could order it to go to Miriam.

And why no news from my friends? I asked my cellmates whether letters were forbidden. They did not know. They had never received any, but then they had no one who could write to them, they said. The gaoler promised to make enquiries when the opportunity arose.

My nails were all torn because I had to bite them to keep them short, and my hair was a tangled mass, for we were not allowed scissors, a comb or brush. Nor was there any water for washing.

Most of the time I was fighting against nausea because they used soda instead of salt in the sausage broth, a prison regulation 'to combat the sexual urge'.

Time passed in awful, grey monotony; I was stretched out on the rack of the hours and minutes.

There were moments—all of us at some time fell prey to them—when one or another would jump off his bunk ; and pace up and down for hour after hour like a wild animal, finally to collapse back onto his mattress and lie there listlessly waiting—waiting—waiting.

When evening came the bugs appeared in droves, crisscrossing the walls like ants. It made me wonder why the fellow with the sabre and long Johns had even bothered to ask me whether I was carrying any vermin. Perhaps the court was worried about cross-breeding producing new species of insects?

Usually on Wednesday mornings a man with flapping trouser-legs and a slouch-hat over his piggy eyes and fat snout would appear—Dr. Rosenblatt, the prison doctor—to assure himself that we were all in the best of health. If ; any of us claimed to be ill, he would prescribe zinc ointment for rubbing on the chest, whatever the complaint.

Once the president of the district court—a tall, perfumed scoundrel from so-called 'good' society who had the crudest vices written all over his face—even accompanied him, to see that everything was in order or, as my cell-mate with the kiss-curl put it, "whether any of us 'as topped 'isself."

I went over to put a request to him, at which he immediately jumped behind the gaoler, pointed a revolver at me and screamed, "What do you want?"

I asked politely whether there were any letters for me. For answer Dr. Rosenblatt gave me a push in the chest and then quickly made his escape. The president of the court also left, jeering at me from the safety of the doorway that I would do better to confess to the murder. Only then would I receive any letters this side of the tomb.

I had long since become accustomed to the heat and bad air. I was shivering with cold all the time, even when the sun was shining. The occupants of two of the bunks had changed several times, but I ignored the newcomers. One week it would be a pickpocket and a footpad, the next a counterfeiter and a fence.

Everything happened one day, was forgotten the next. Nothing could touch me apart from my gnawing concern for Miriam. There was only one thing that had made an impression on me, sometimes a distorted version even haunted my dreams:

I had been standing on the shelf to stare up at the sky when I suddenly felt a sharp object sticking into my thigh. When I looked I discovered it was the file which had made a hole in my pocket and found its way into the lining of my jacket.. It must have been there for a long time, otherwise the man who checked my clothes would have found it. I took it out and tossed it onto my straw mattress. When I climbed down from the shelf, it had disappeared, and I had no doubt that it could only have been Loisa who had taken it. A few days later they took him out to transfer him to a cell on the next floor down. It was quite wrong, said the gaoler, for two remand prisoners such as Loisa and myself, who were accused of the same crime, to be kept in the same cell.

With all my heart I hoped the poor lad might manage to escape with the help of the file.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:42 pm


When I asked him what the date was—the sunshine was as hot as in the middle of summer and the tired tree in the courtyard had put out a few buds—the gaoler was silent for a moment, but then he whispered to me that it was the fifteenth of May. Actually he shouldn't be telling me, he added, it was forbidden to talk to the prisoners at all, and especially those who had not confessed were supposed to be kept in the dark about the passage of time.

Three whole months I had been in prison, and still no news from outside!

In the evening, the soft sound of a piano came through the barred window that was now left open on warm days. One of the convicts told me that it was the daughter of the warder who lived below playing.

Day and night I dreamt of Miriam. I wondered how she was. At times I had a comforting feeling, as if my thoughts had reached her, were standing by her bedside while she slept and had placed a cool hand on her brow.

At other times, when my cell-mates were taken to be interrogated one after the other, all except me, I had moments of despair in which a shadowy fear that she was long dead took me by the throat.

Then I would try to question destiny as to whether she was alive or dead, sick or well. I would take a handful of straws out of my mattress and read the answer from the number. And almost every time it was the 'wrong' answer, and I searched through my mind for a glimpse into the future. I tried to trick my soul, which was concealing the secret from me, by asking what appeared on the surface to be a different question: Would the day ever come when I would be happy and once more able to laugh? In such cases the oracle always answered yes, and then for an hour I rejoiced and was glad.

Just as a plant sprouts and grows in secret, so had a deep, unfathomable love for Miriam gradually awoken within me, and I could not understand how I had been able to sit and talk with her all those times without being aware of it.

At such moments my trembling hope that she, too, might be thinking of me with similar feelings would often harden to a certainty, and if I heard a step in the corridor outside, I was almost afraid that they might come and release me, and my dream would be torn to shreds by the harshness of reality outside.

Over the long months of my imprisonment my hearing had become so sharp that I heard even the quietest sounds. Every day at nightfall I heard a carriage in the distance and racked my brains to think who might be in it. There was something strange in the idea that there were people outside who could do whatever they liked, who could move around and go here or there and yet not feel intoxicated by it. That I should ever be in that happy position again, able to walk through the streets in the sunshine, I was no longer capable of imagining. The day when Angelina had held me in her arms seemed to be part of an existence that belonged to the distant past. When I looked back on it, it was with the kind of mild sadness that creeps over you when you open a book and find between the pages a withered flower once worn by the beloved of your youth.

Would old Zwakh still be sitting in the Old Toll House every evening with Prokop and Vrieslander, embarrassing Eulalia to the roots of her old maid's soul? No, it was May, the time when he went with his puppet theatre touring the provincial backwaters and playing Bluebeard on a green meadow outside the town gates.

I was alone in my cell. Vossatka, the arsonist and my sole companion for the last week, had been taken to the examining magistrate several hours ago.

His interrogation was lasting a remarkably long time.

There. The iron bar on the door clanked and, beaming with delight, Vossatka rushed in, threw a bundle of clothes onto his bunk and began to change with lightning speed. He threw his prison uniform onto the floor, accompanying each item with an oath.

"Not been able to prove a thing, not a sausage, the bunglers. Arson! I ask you!" He pulled down his lower lid with his index finger. "You have to be up early to catch Black Vossatka. Was the wind, I said. And never budged from that. Sir Blowhard Wind, you can lock him up, if you can catch him. Just wait for this evening. Loisitchek's'll really be humming." He threw out his arms and danced a few steps of a polka. "The springtime of lo-ove will soon fade away", he sang. With a smack he slapped a hard hat sporting a blue-spotted jay's feather onto his head. "Oh, yes, you'll be interested to hear this, Count. D'you know the latest? Your friend, that Loisa's escaped! I heard it when I was up there with the bunglers. Towards the end of last month it was. By now he'll be over the hills and—poof!" he snapped his fingers, "far away."

'Aha! The file', I thought, with a smile.

"And now, Count", said the arsonist, giving my hand j the friendly shake of a fellow criminal, "see that you get out as soon as possible. And if you're ever short of ready cash, just ask for Black Vossatka at Loisitchek's, all the girls there know me. That's it then. Goodbye, Count. Pleased to have met you."

He paused in the doorway, but the gaoler was already shoving a new inmate into the cell. As soon as I saw him, I recognised the lout in the soldier's cap who had once stood next to me in the rain under an archway in Hahnpassgasse. What a pleasant surprise! Perhaps he might have some news of Hillel, Zwakh and all the others?

I wanted to start asking him questions right away, but to my astonishment he put a finger to his lips with a conspiratorial look on his face, indicating that I should say nothing. Only when the door had been locked from outside and the warder's steps died away down the corridor did he come to life.

My heart was thumping with excitement. What could it mean? Did he know who I was? What did he want?

The first thing the lout did was to sit down and take off his left boot. Then he gripped a plug in the heel with his teeth and pulled it out. From the cavity he took a small, bent piece of sheet-iron and ripped off the sole, which was obviously only loosely attached, and then proudly handed both to me.

All this he did in less than no time and without paying the least attention to my excited questions.

"There! Greetings from Herr Charousek."

I was so taken aback that I could think of nothing to say.

"All you do is take the iron and prise open the sole during the night. Or any time when no one's looking. 'Ollow inside, you see", the lout went on with a superior look on his face. "You'll find a letter from Herr Charousek in there."

I was so overcome with delight that I threw my arms round his neck, the tears streaming down my cheeks. He gently pushed me away and said reproachfully, "You've got to pull yourself together, Herr von Pernath. We 'aven't got no time to lose. Any moment they might find out I'm in the wrong cell. Franzl and me swopped numbers down in the gatehouse."

I must have looked completely nonplussed, for he went on, "It don't matter if you don't understand. The important thing is, I'm here."

"But tell me, Herr . . .?"

"Wenzel, they call me, Pretty Boy Wenzel."

"Well tell me, Wenzel, how is Hillel, the archivist at the Jewish Town Hall, and his daughter?'

"No time for all that now", the self-styled Pretty Boy interrupted impatiently. "I might be chucked out any moment now. The reason I'm 'ere is I confessed special to robbery with violence—-"

"What! You committed robbery with violence just to get in here to help me, Wenzel!?" I asked, aghast.

The lout shook his head contemptuously. "If I really 'ad done a robbery, I wouldn't be confessing to it, would I. What do you take me for!?"

The penny slowly dropped. The fellow had worked a trick to smuggle Charousek's letter in to me.

"Right then. First of all", he took on an air of supreme importance, "I've to learn you about eppleppsy."

"About what?"

"Eppleppsy. Just watch me and see 'ow it's done. First you fill your gob with spittle", he blew out his cheeks and moved them from side to side, like someone rinsing his mouth out, "then you foam at the mouth, like so." This he proceeded to do, with the most revolting realism. "Then you grab your thumbs, go all cross-eyed", he squinted horribly, "and then, this's the 'ard bit, you 'ave to give little grunts, like this, 'Berr, berr, berr', and fall over at the same time." He collapsed onto the floor, making the walls tremble. When he got up, he said, "That's your natural eppleppsy, just like what Dr. 'Ulbert taught us in the Regiment."

"Yes, yes, very convincing", I agreed. "But what's the point of it all?"

"Because first of all you 'ave to get out of this place!" Wenzel explained. "That Dr. Rosenblatt's an obstinate old bastard. Your 'ead could drop off and 'e'd still pass you fit as a fiddle. There's only one thing puts the fear of God into him, eppleppsy. If you can throw a good fit, you'll be in the prison 'ospital in no time at all, and it's child's play to break out of there." His voice took on a confidential tone. "The bars on the window over there 'ave been sawn through, you see, and just stuck together with a bit of mud. That's one of the Regiment's little secrets! You just need to keep a sharp look-out for a few nights till you see a noose on the end of a rope let down from the roof. Then you take out the bars, all quiet like so you don't disturb no one, put your arms through the noose and we'll pull you up onto the roof and down to the street on the other side, and that's it."

"But why should I break out of prison?" I objected timidly, "I'm innocent."

"But that ain't no reason not to escape!" Pretty Boy Wenzel objected, his eyes wide with astonishment.

It took all my persuasion to talk him out of this harebrained scheme which, he assured me, was the result of a 'Regimental council'. He just couldn't believe I had rejected such a God-given opportunity and preferred to wait until I was released.

"Nevertheless, I would like to thank you and your comrades from the bottom of my heart", I said, shaking him warmly by the hand. "When my trials are over, the first thing I'll do will be to give you all a token of my gratitude."

"No need for that", said Wenzel aimiably. "We wouldn't say no to a couple of glasses of Pilsener, but that's all. Pan Charousek, him what's treasurer of the Regiment now, 'as told us all about the good you do on the quiet. Any message for 'im when I get out in a few days time?"

"Yes, please", I said quickly. "Ask him to go and see Hillel and tell him I've been very concerned about the health of his daughter Miriam. Herr Hillel should not let her out of his sight. You'll remember the name, won't you: Hillel."

"Hirrel?" "No: Hillel." "Hiller?" "No: Hill-el."

Wenzel found it almost impossible to get his tongue round such a completely un-Czech-sounding name, but finally managed it, grimacing madly.

"Just one more thing. Please ask Herr Charousek if he would be kind enough, as far as it is in his power, to help a certain lady; he'll know whom I mean."

"You probably mean that aristocratic tart what was 'aving a bit on the side with that Nyemetz, that German, what's 'e called, Dr. Sapioli? No need to worry about 'er, she's got 'er divorce and 'as cleared off with 'er kid and Sapioli."

"Do you know that for certain?" I could feel the quiver in my voice. However glad I was for Angelina's sake, it still pierced me like a knife to the heart. All the anxiety I had suffered for her and now I was forgotten. Perhaps she thought I really was a murderer. There was a bitter taste at the back of my throat.

The lout, with a delicacy which, strangely enough, even the most degraded wretches show in matters of love, seemed to have guessed how I felt, for he looked away and did not answer.

"Do you perhaps know how Herr Hillel's daughter, Fraulein Miriam, is? Do you know her?" I asked, hardly able to get the words out.

"Miriam? Miriam?" Wenzel screwed up his face in a reflective frown. "Miriam? Does she often go down to Loisitchek's of an evening?"

I couldn't help but smile. "No. Certainly not."

"Then I won't know her", replied Wenzel laconically.

We said nothing for a while.

There might, of course, be something about her in Charousek's note.

"I suppose you've 'card", he suddenly went on, "that old Wassertrum's kicked the bucket?"

I started in horror.

"Yes", Wenzel pointed to his throat. "Someone done 'im in. 'Orrible it was, I can tell you. When they broke into 'is shop because 'e 'adn't been seen for a few days, I was the first in, wasn't I. And there 'e was, old Wassertrum, sitting in a filthy armchair, blood all down his chest and the eyes popping out of 'is 'ead. You know, I'm a pretty tough customer, but it made my 'ead spin, I can tell you, I thought I was going to keel over myself. I 'ad to keep telling myself, 'Wenzel', I said, 'no need to get worked up, it's only a dead Jew.' There was a file sticking into 'is gullet and the shop was a right mess. 'E must 'ave come across the burglar, who done 'im in."

The file! The file! I could feel my breath go cold with horror. The file! So it had found its target after all!

"And I know who it was, too", Wenzel went on after a pause. "It was that pock-marked Loisa, I tell you, that's who it was. I found 'is pocket-knife on the ground in the shop and I slipped it into my pocket so the police wouldn't find it. 'E got into the shop by an underground passage—-" He suddenly broke off and listened for a few seconds, then threw himself onto a bunk and began to snore for all he was worth. Immediately there was the clank of the padlock being removed and the gaoler came in and gave me a suspicious stare. I looked completely blank. Wenzel was almost impossible to wake. It took several blows before he sat up, yawned and staggered out sleepily, followed by the gaoler.

Feverish with suspense, I unfolded Charousek's letter:

12th May

My dear friend and benefactor,

Week after week I have waited for you to be released, but always in vain. I have tried everything I can think of to collect evidence to prove your innocence, but I could not find any. I begged the examining magistrate to expedite the proceedings, but every time the reply was that there was nothing he could do, that was the responsibility of the prosecution service and not his.

Bureaucrats passing the buck!

But just now, only an hour ago, I came across something which looks very promising: I learnt that Jaromir sold Wassertrum a gold watch which he found in his brother's bed after he was arrested. Now there is a rumour going round at Loisitchek's, where, as you know, the detectives do their drinking, that poor Zottmann's watch—they still haven't found the body, by the way—was found in your rooms. I worked out the rest myself: Wassertrum and all his works!

I immediately found Jaromir and gave him a thousand crowns—

The letter sank to the bed, and my eyes were filled with tears of joy. Only Angelina could have given Charousek such a sum; neither Zwakh, nor Prokop, nor Vrieslander had that much money. She hadn't forgotten me after all! I read on:

—a thousand crowns and promised him a further two thousand if he would agree to go to the police with me right away, and admit to having stolen the watch from his brother and sold it.

But we can only do that after I've sent off this letter to you. Time is short, but you can rest assured that it will be done. And today, I give you my word on that.

I have no doubt at all that Loisa committed the murder and that the watch is Zottmann's. If, by any chance, it should not be, Jaromir knows what he has to do. Whatever the case, he will identify it as the one found in your rooms.

So bear up and do not despair. The day of your release may be quite close now.

And will the day come when we will meet again? I do not know. I am inclined to say not, for I have not long to go now and I must be on my guard so that my last hour does not catch me by surprise. But there is one belief you must hold firm: we will see each other again. If not in this life, nor in another life after death, then on the day when Time is shattered, the day when, as it says in the Bible, the Lord will spew those that are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, out of His mouth.

Do not be surprised to hear me talk like this. I have never spoken to you about such matters, and the one time you mentioned the word 'Cabbala', I evaded the issue, but I know what I know. Perhaps you understand what I am talking about, but if not, then I beg you, please erase what I have just said from your mind. Once, in a delirium, I thought I saw a sign on your breast. Perhaps I was dreaming with my eyes open?

If you really cannot understand all this, then just assume that there is a certain inner knowledge, which I have had almost from my earliest childhood and which has led me on my strange path. This inner knowledge does not coincide with what medical science teaches; it is knowledge which, thank God, is closed to medicine and, I hope, will always remain so. I have not let myself be stultified by science, whose highest goal is to furnish a 'waiting room', which it would be best to tear down.

But enough of that. I must tell you what has been happening while you have been in prison.

By the end of April Wassertrum had reached the point where my suggestion was beginning to have its effect. I could tell by the way he kept on talking to himself in the street and waving his arms about. That kind of thing is a sign that a person's thoughts are gathering for the attack and will soon fall upon their master.

Then he bought a little book and started making notes.

He was writing! Writing! The very idea! Wassertrum writing!

And then he went to a lawyer. Waiting outside in the street I knew what he was doing up in the lawyer's chambers: he was making his will. However, the one thing I didn't foresee was that he would make me his heir. The joy would probably have given me St. Vitus' dance, if I had suspected it.

He made me his heir because he imagined I was the only person on earth to whom he could make amends. It was his conscience that tricked him. Perhaps it was also the hope that when, after his death, I suddenly found myself a millionaire by his favour, I would bless him, thus cancelling out the curse he heard me pronounce in your rooms.

Thus my use of suggestion had a triple effect.

The joke is that he secretly did believe in atonement in the world beyond after all, while he had spent most of his life trying to convince himself there was nothing in it. But that's the way it is with all these people who are too clever for their own good, you can recognise it by the insane fury they get into when you tell them the facts to their face. They feel they've been caught out.

From the moment Wassertrum went to see his lawyer, I never let him out of my sight. At night I kept my ear pressed to the boards across the entrance to his shop, any moment could be the decisive one. I think I would have heard the pop of the cork coming out of the bottle of ; poison through any wall, however thick. There was perhaps only one more hour to go to the completion of my life's work, when an outsider intervened and murdered him. With a file.

Wenzel will give you the details, it is too bitter for me even to write it down. Call it superstition if you will, but when I saw that blood had been shed—it was all over the things in the shop—I felt as if his soul had escaped me. There is something inside me, some acute, infallible instinct, which tells me that it is not all the same if a man dies by his own hand or another's. My mission would only have been completed if Wassertrum had had to take his blood with him into the earth. Now that it has all turned out differently, I feel rejected, an instrument that was not found worthy of the hand of the Angel of Death.

But I will not rail against fate. My hatred is a hatred that goes beyond the grave, and I still have my own blood, that I can shed in whatever way I like, so that it will pursue his wherever it may go in the realm of shades.

Every day since they buried his bones I have been sitting beside his grave, listening for a voice within my breast that will tell me what to do. I think I already know, but I intend to wait a while until the inner word becomes as clear as a bubbling spring. We humans are an impure race, and often it takes weeks of fasting and waking until we can understand the whisperings of our soul.

Last week I was officially informed by the court that Wassertrum had made me his sole heir. I presume I do not need to assure you, Herr Pernath, that I will not touch one copper of it. I will take care not to give 'him' a hold on me 'on the other side'. The houses he owned will be auctioned, the objects he touched will be burnt, and after my death one third of the money realised will go to you. In my mind's eye I can already see you jumping up and protesting, but I can reassure you. Everything you will receive is yours by right, with interest. I have known for a long time that years ago Wassertrum cheated your father and his family out of everything they owned; it is only now that I have the documents to prove it.

Another third will be distributed among the twelve members of the Regiment who knew Dr. Hulbert personally. I want each one to be rich enough to be able to enter 'good' society in Prague.

The final third will be distributed equally among the next seven to commit a murder in the course of robbery, but who are released because there is insufficient evidence against them. I owe that to public morality.

I think that is everything. Farewell my dear, dear friend; I hope you will sometimes think of me.

With sincere gratitude,

Innocence Charousek.

Deeply moved, I put the letter down. I could feel no joy at the prospect of imminent release. Charousek! Poor fellow! Looking after me like a brother simply because I once gave him a hundred crowns. If only I could at least shake him by the hand! But I sensed that he was right; that day would never come. I could see him standing before me, his restless eyes, consumptive's shoulders and high, noble forehead. Perhaps this blighted existence would have turned out differently if a helping hand had been held out to him early enough.

I read through his letter once more.

How much method there was in Charousek's madness!

Was he mad at all? I was ashamed that I had entertained that idea, even for a moment. Did not the hints he dropped tell me enough? He was a person like Hillel, like Miriam, ! like myself, a person over whom his own soul had taken control, guiding him upwards through the wild gorges and gulfs of this life to the snow-capped peaks of an untrodden land beyond. Was not he, who had spent his whole life plotting murder, much purer than any of those who look down their noses at the rest of humanity as they pretend to follow the skin-deep commandments of some unknown, mythical prophet?

He kept the commandment dictated to him by an all-powerful urge, without thought of a 'reward', either here or in the world beyond. Was this nothing other than the most religious devotion to duty in the most profound, most arcane sense of the word?

'Cowardly, cunning, bloodthirsty, sick, disturbed: a criminal personality', I could hear what the judgment of the multitude would be, if they were to come and light their way through the passages of his soul with their dim stable lamps, that envious multitude that will never comprehend that the poisonous autumn crocus is a thousand times more beautiful and noble than the useful chive.

Again the bolts were drawn back outside, and I heard someone being pushed into the cell, but I didn't even turn round, so completely were my thoughts absorbed by the contents of the letter.

Not a word about Angelina, nothing about Hillel.

Of course, Charousek must have written it in great haste, I could tell by the writing. Would he send me another secret letter? My hopes were fixed on the morrow and the exercise with the other prisoners in the yard. That was when it would be easiest for one of the Regiment to pass something to me.

I was startled out of my reflections by a quiet voice. "Would you permit me to introduce myself, sir? My name is Laponder, Amadeus Laponder."

I turned round. A short, slightly built and still fairly young man in elegant clothes, only without a hat like all remand prisoners, was giving me a polite bow.

He was as closely shaved as an actor, and there was something strange about his large, shining, light-green, almond-shaped eyes: however directly they were looking at me, they did not seem to register me; there was something absent-minded about them.

I muttered my name and returned his bow, intending to turn away again immediately, but for a long time I could not take my eyes off him, so alien he seemed with the permanent mandarin-like smile which the upturned corners of his curved mouth seemed to give his face. With his smooth, transparent skin, his narrow, girlish nose and delicate nostrils, he looked almost like a Chinese statue of the Buddha sculpted in rose quartz. 'Amadeus Laponder, Amadeus Laponder', I kept repeating to myself. 'What crime can he have committed?'
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:47 pm


"Have you already been interrogated?" I asked after a while.

"That's where I've just come from. I hope I won't have to impose on you for too long", Laponder replied politely.

'The poor devil', I thought to myself, 'he's no idea how they treat remand prisoners here.' I decided to prepare him for it gradually.

"You eventually get used to sitting doing nothing, once the first days are past; they're the worst."

An expression of gratitude appeared on his face.

Another pause.

"Did the interrogation last long, Herr Laponder?"

"No. They simply asked me if I confessed and then I had to sign my statement."

"You signed a confession!" I exclaimed.


He said it as if it were a matter of course.

It can't be a serious crime, I decided, he doesn't show any sign of nerves at all. Probably challenging someone to a duel, or something of the kind.

"Unfortunately I've been in here so long it seems like a whole lifetime", I gave an involuntary sigh and his face immediately took on a sympathetic expression. "I sincerely hope you won't have to go through that, Herr Laponder. By all appearances, you'll soon be out of here."

"Depends how you look at it", he said calmly, but it sounded as if there was a double meaning hidden in his words.

"You don't believe you will?" I asked with a smile. He shook his head.

"What do you mean? What awful crime have you committed? Please excuse the question, Herr Laponder, but I am genuinely interested, I'm not asking simply out of curiosity."

He hesitated for a moment, then he said, without batting an eyelid, "Murder with rape."

I felt as if he had hit me over the head with a club. I could not utter a word for horror and disgust.

He seemed to notice and discreetly looked to one side, but there was not the slightest slackening of his automaton smile to suggest he had been hurt by my sudden change in behaviour.

Our conversation ended there, and we silently avoided each other's gaze.

When it became dark and I went to bed, he immediately followed my example, undressed, carefully hung his clothes on the nail in the wall, lay down and appeared, from his deep, regular breathing, to have fallen fast asleep straight away.

I, on the other hand, could not get to sleep all night. The idea that I was sharing a tiny cell with such a monster, even breathing the same air as he, was so horribly disturbing that it drove all the other events of the day, even Charousek's letter, completely from my mind. I had lain down in such a position that I had the murderer constantly in view; I could not have borne having him behind me. The cell was dimly lit by a shimmer of moonlight, and I could see Laponder lying there motionless, almost rigid. There was something corpselike about his features, and his half-open mouth only intensified the impression.

For many hours he lay there, not changing his position once; not, that is, until a long time after midnight when a moonbeam fell on his face and he became slightly restless, moving his lips silently, like someone talking in his sleep. It seemed to be always the same words, perhaps a sentence of two syllables, something like, "Let me. Let me. Let me."

For the next few days I took no notice of him, nor did he break the silence at all. His manner remained as friendly as ever. He seemed to be able to tell if I wanted to walk up and down, and would immediately draw back his feet, if he was sitting on his bunk, so as not to be in my way. I began to reproach myself for my brusqueness, but with the best will in the world, I could not overcome my repugnance for him. However much I hoped I might become accustomed to his presence, it did not happen. It even kept me awake at night. I scarcely managed to get more than a quarter of an hour's sleep at a time.

Every evening the same ritual would be repeated, down to the very last detail: he would wait respectfully until I was lying down, then he would undress, fold his clothes meticulously, hang them up, and so on, and so on.

One night, it must have been around two, I was standing on the shelf again, drowsy from lack of sleep, staring at the full moon, whose beams were reflected like a film of glittering oil on the copper dial of the clock, full of melancholy thoughts of Miriam.

Suddenly I heard the soft sound of her voice behind me.

At once I was awake, wide-awake. I turned round and listened. I could not understand the words exactly, but it sounded like, "Ask me. Ask me."

It was definitely Miriam's voice.

Trembling with excitement, I climbed down, as quietly as I could, and went over to Laponder's bed. The moonlight was shining full on his face, and I could see clearly that his lids were open, but only the whites of his eyes were visible. From the rigidity of his cheek muscles I could tell he was in a deep sleep.

Only his lips were moving, as they had a few days ago, and gradually the words coming through his clenched teeth became distinctly audible, "Ask me. Ask me."

The voice sounded just like Miriam's.

"Miriam? Miriam?" I cried out involuntarily, immediately lowering my voice so as not to wake the sleeping Laponder. I waited until his face had returned to its former rigid state, then repeated softly, "Miriam? Miriam?"

His lips formed one word, scarcely audible but yet distinct, "Yes."

I put my ear close to his mouth. After a while I could hear Miriam's voice whispering to me; so unmistakable was the voice, that an icy shiver rippled over my skin. I drank in her words so greedily that I only took in the gist. She spoke of her love for me, of her unutterable happiness that we had finally found one another, would never part. She spoke without pausing for breath, like someone who is afraid of being interrupted and wants to make use of every second.

Then the voice faltered, went completely silent for a while.

"Miriam?" I asked, holding my breath and trembling with fear, "Miriam, are you dead?"

For a long time there was no answer, then, almost inaudibly, "No—1 am alive—I am sleeping." That was all. I listened and listened. In vain. There was nothing more.

Trembling with the nervous strain, I had to support myself on the edge of the bunk so as not to collapse on top of Laponder. The illusion was so complete, that for a brief moment I thought it was Miriam lying before me and it took all my power of self-control not to place a kiss on the murderer's lips.

"Enoch! Enoch!" I suddenly heard him say, at first almost incoherently, then in clearer and more articulated tones, "Enoch! Enoch!"

Immediately I recognised Hillel's voice. "Is that you, Hillel?" No answer.

I remembered having read somewhere that to get sleepers to talk one should not direct the questions at their ears, but at the network of nerves in the solar plexus This I did. "Hillel?"

"Yes. I hear you."

"Is Miriam well? You know everything?" I asked quickly.

"Yes. I know everything. Have known for a long time. Do not worry, Enoch, and do not fear."

"Can you forgive me, Hillel?"

"I told you, do not worry."

"Will we see each other soon?" I was afraid I would not be able to understand the answer; even the previous one had been little more than a faint breath.

"I hope so. I will wait . . . for you . . . if I can . . . then I must. . . land . . ."

"Where? To which land?" I almost grabbed Laponder. "To which land? To which land?"

"Land . . . of Gad . . . southern . . . Palestine . .."

The voice faded away.

In my confusion a hundred questions shot through my head. Why did he call me Enoch? What about Zwakh? Jaromir? The watch? Vrieslander? Angelina? Charousek?

"Farewell, I hope you will sometimes think of me" came, suddenly loud and clear, from the lips of the murderer. This time the words were in Charousek's tone, but as if I had spoken them myself.

Then I remembered: they were the very words with which he had ended his letter.

Laponder's face was in darkness now, the moonlight falling on the end of his mattress. In a quarter of an hour it would have disappeared from the cell.

I put question after question, but received no more answers. Laponder lay there, motionless as a corpse, his lids closed. I reproached myself that all this time I had only seen Laponder as a murderer, not as a man. From what I had just heard, he was obviously a somnambulist, someone who was susceptible to the influence of the full moon. Perhaps he had committed the rape and murder in a kind of trance.

It was certain even.

Now, as morning began to break, the rigidity in his features gave way to a beatific smile. A man who has a murder on his conscience cannot sleep as peacefully as that, I told myself. I could hardly wait for the moment when he would wake up.

Would he know what had happened?

Finally he opened his eyes, met my gaze and looked aside. I immediately went over to him and took his hand. "You must excuse me, Herr Laponder, for my unfriendly behaviour, but I'm not accustomed—"

"Oh please, my dear sir, you may rest assured that I understand completely", he interrupted. "It must be an awful feeling to have to be shut up with a murderer and rapist."

"Say no more about it", I begged him. "Last night I turned the whole matter over in my mind, and I can't help thinking that perhaps you . . ."

He spoke the thought that was in my mind, "You think I am ill."

I agreed. "There were certain signs that led me to that conclusion. I . . . I . . . may I ask you a rather direct question, Herr Laponder?"

"Please do."

"It may sound rather strange, but . . . would you tell me what dreams you had last night?"

With a smile he shook his head. "I never dream."

"But you were talking in your sleep."

He looked up in surprise, thought for a while and then said firmly, "That could only be if you had asked me a question." I admitted I had. He paused, then repeated, "As I said, I never dream", adding, almost under his breath, "I . . . I roam."

"You roam? What exactly does that mean?"

He seemed somewhat unwilling to speak, so I decided it would be best to tell him what had led me to question him, and I gave him a summary of what had happened during the night.

When I had finished, he said solemnly, "The one thing you can be sure of is that everything I said in my sleep is based on truth. When I said just now that I did not dream, but 'roamed', I meant that my dream-life was different from that of, shall we say, normal people. If you like, you can call it leaving the body behind. Last night, for example. I was in the strangest room which you entered from below, through a trapdoor."

"What did it look like?" I interpolated quickly. "Was there no one there? Was it empty?"

"No, there was furniture in it, though not much. And a bed in which a young girl was asleep—or in some state of suspended animation—and a man was sitting beside her with his hand over her forehead." Laponder described their faces. There was no doubt about it, it was Hillel and Miriam. I could hardly breathe with suspense.

"Please go on. Was there anyone else in the room?"

"Anyone else? Just a moment . .. no, there was no one else in the room. There was a seven-branched candelabra on the table . . . Then I went down a spiral staircase."

"It was broken?" I broke in.

"Broken? No, no, it was in good repair. There was a room leading off on one side, and in it there was a man sitting with silver buckles on his shoes. He looked very foreign, a type that I have never seen before, with a yellow complexion and slanting eyes. He was leaning forward and seemed to be waiting for something. For instructions, perhaps."

"A book, a big, old book? You didn't see anything like that anywhere?" I asked.

He rubbed his forehead. "A book, you say? Yes, that's right. There was a book on the floor. It was made of parchment. It was open and the page began with a large letter 'A' painted in gold."

"Don't you mean with an T?"

"No, with an 'A'."

"Are you sure of that? Wasn't it an T?"

"No, it was definitely an 'A'."

I shook my head and began to have my doubts. It was clear that in his trance Laponder had read what was in my mind, but had confused everything: Hillel, Miriam, the Golem, the Book of Ibbur and the subterranean passage.

"Have you had this gift of being able to 'roam', as you call it, for long?" I asked.

"Since I was twenty-one—-" he broke off and seemed unwilling to talk about it. Then an expression of utter astonishment spread across his face and he stared at my chest as if he could see something there. Ignoring my puzzlement, he hastily grasped my hand and begged me, almost pleading, "For heaven's sake, tell me everything. Today is the last day I can spend with you. They'll be coming to fetch me soon, within the hour perhaps, to hear the death sentence read—"

Appalled, I interrupted him. "Then you must take me with you as a witness! I will testify that you are ill. You are a somnambulist, a sleep-walker. They mustn't be allowed to execute you without a psychiatrist's report. You must see that?!"

In some agitation he waved away my objections. "That's all so irrelevant. Please, tell me everything."

"But what is there to tell you? Let's talk about you instead and—"

"I realise now that you must have had certain strange experiences that concern me closely, more closely than you can ever imagine; please, I beg you, tell me everything!" he pleaded.

I could not understand why my life should interest him more than his own affairs which, at the moment were, in all truth, urgent enough, but to calm him down I told him all the incomprehensible things that had happened to me. After each incident, he nodded with a satisfied air, like a person who has seen to the bottom of some matter.

When I came to the part where the headless apparition had stood, holding out the red beans with black spots towards me, he could hardly wait for me to finish.

"So you knocked them out of his hand", he muttered reflectively. "I never thought there could be a third 'path'."

"That wasn't a third path", I said. "It was the same as if I had rejected the seeds."

He smiled.

"You don't think so, Herr Laponder?"

"If you had rejected them, you would presumably also have followed the 'Path of Life', but the seeds, which represent magic powers, would not have remained behind. As it is, they rolled onto the ground, you said. That means that they have remained here and will be guarded by your ancestors until the time of germination comes. Then the powers, which at the moment slumber within them, will come to life."

I didn't follow. "The seeds will be guarded by my ancestors?"

"To a certain extent you have to understand your experiences symbolically", explained Laponder. "The circle of blue luminous beings around you was the chain of inherited 'selves' which all those born of woman carry with them. The soul is not a single unity; that is what it is destined to become, and that is what we call 'immortality'. Your soul is still composed of many 'selves', just as a colony of ants is composed of many single ants. You bear within you the spiritual remains of many thousand ancestors, the heads of your line. It is the same with all creatures. How could a chicken that is artificially hatched in an incubator immediately look for the right food, if the experience of millions of years were not stored inside it? The existence of 'instinct' indicates the presence of our ancestors in our bodies and in our souls. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you."

I finished my account. I told him everything, even the things Miriam had said about the 'hermaphrodite'. When I stopped and looked up, I noticed that Laponder had turned as white as a sheet and that the tears were running down his face. Quickly I stood up and pretended I hadn't noticed, walking up and down in the cell until he was calm again. Then I sat down opposite him and summoned up all my persuasive powers to try and convince him how important it was to inform his judges of his psychological condition.

"If only you hadn't confessed to the murder!" were my final words.

"But I had to! They asked me on my honour", he said naively.

Somewhat puzzled, I asked, "Do you think a lie is worse than . . . than rape and murder?"

"As a general principle probably not, but in my case yes, definitely. You see, when the examining magistrate asked me if I admitted the crime, I had the strength to tell the truth. That is, it was in my power to lie or not to lie. When I committed the rape and the murder I had no choice. Even though I was fully aware of what I was doing, I still had no choice. There was something inside me, the presence of which I had until then never suspected, that woke up and was stronger than I. Do you imagine I would have murdered someone if I had had the choice? I have never killed anything, not even the smallest animal; now I would be absolutely incapable of doing so.

Just assume for the moment it was the law that you had to murder people, and not to do so would incur the death penalty, as is the case in wartime; at this very moment I would deserve to be condemned to death. I just could not commit a murder. When I committed my crime, it was the other way round."

"But all the more, now that you feel you are a different person, you should do everything in your power to avoid the sentence", I objected, but Laponder waved my argument away. "That is where you are wrong! From their point of view the judges' decision was quite correct. Should they let someone like me to go around free? To commit another crime tomorrow or the day after?"

"No. But they should intern you in a hospital for the mentally ill, that's what I am saying!"

"If I were mad, then you would be right", replied Laponder, unconcerned. "But I'm not mad. I am something quite different, something that might look very much like madness, but is, in fact, the opposite. Listen to me, please, and you will understand at once. You remember you told me about the apparition of the headless phantom—which is, of course, a symbol, you can easily find the key if you think about it. Well, it appeared to me as well. Only I took the seeds! That means I am following the 'Path of Death'. For me, the most sacred thing imaginable is to allow my steps to be guided by the spirit within me, blindly, wholly trusting in it wherever the path may lead, to poverty or riches, to the gallows or a throne. I have never hesitated when the choice was mine.

That is why I did not lie, when the choice was mine.

Do you know the words of the Prophet Micah, 'He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what the Lord doth require of thee'?

If I had lied, I would have created an ultimate cause, because I had the choice. When I committed the murder, I did not create a cause. It was merely the effect of a cause that had long been slumbering within me, and over which I had no control, that was released.

That is why my hands are clean.

By making me into a murderer, the spirit within me has carried out an execution on me; by stringing me up on the gallows, men will detach my fate from theirs: I will reach freedom."

This man is a saint, I thought to myself, and my hair stood on end as I shuddered at my own insignificance.

"You told me that a doctor used hypnotism to treat you, with the result that for a long time you lost the memory of your childhood and youth", he continued. "That is the characteristic—the stigma—of all those who have been 'bitten by the snake of the spiritual realm'. It seems almost as if, inside us, one life has to be grafted onto another, as a scion is grafted onto a wild tree, before the miracle of awakening can occur. The separation that usually comes with death is in our case achieved by erasing the memory, sometimes just by a sudden spiritual about-turn.

In my case, there was no obvious external cause. I just woke up one morning in my twenty-first year a different person. All at once I was completely indifferent to everything that I had cared for until then. Life seemed nothing more than a silly story of cowboys and indians and lost its reality; dreams became absolute certainty—and I mean true and demonstrable certainty—and everyday life became a dream.

Everyone could do that if they had the key. And that key lies solely in becoming aware, while asleep, of the 'form' of one's 'self—of one's skin, so to speak—and finding the narrow slit through which our consciousness slips between wakefulness and deep sleep. That is why I said 'I roam', and not 'I dream'.

The struggle for immortality is a battle for the sceptre against the ghosts and sounds within us, and waiting for our own self to be crowned king is waiting for the Messiah.

The spectral Habal Gamin which you saw, the 'Breath of the Bones' of the Cabbala, that was the king. At the moment when he is crowned, the thread, by which you are bound to the world through your physical senses and your reason, will tear apart.

You will ask how it could happen that I, in spite of my detachment from the world, could turn into a rapist and murderer over night? Human beings are like glass tubes with coloured balls running along them. In most cases there is only one ball during a whole lifetime: if the ball is red, then the person is 'bad'; if it is yellow, the person is 'good'. If there are two, one red and one yellow, then 'one' has an 'unstable character'. We who have been 'bitten by the snake' go through as much in one lifetime as the whole of mankind goes through in an epoch. The red and yellow balls shoot along the glass tube one after the other, and when they are finished, then we will have become prophets, will be the mirrors of God."

Laponder was silent. For a long time I found it impossible to say a word. I was dazed from what he had told me.

"Why were you so concerned to ask me about my experiences, when you are so far above me?" I asked eventually.

"You are wrong", said Laponder. "I am far below you. I asked you because I felt you were in possession of the one key I still lacked."

"Me? In possession of a key? Good God!"

"Yes, you. And you gave it to me. I don't think there can be a happier man on earth than I am today."

Outside there was the noise of the bars being pulled back; Laponder paid no attention to it.

"What you said about the hermaphrodite, that was the key. Now I possess certainty. That is why I am glad that they are coming for me, for soon I will reach my goal."

I could not see Laponder's face for tears, but I could hear the smile in his voice. "And now, farewell, Herr Pernath, and remember: what they will hang tomorrow is only my outer garments. It is you who have revealed to me the ultimate beauty; now the mystical marriage can take place." He stood up and followed the gaoler. "It is connected with the rape and murder", were the last words I heard, though I could only dimly understand them.

Every night after that when the full moon was in the sky, I kept imagining I could see Laponder's sleeping face on the grey linen of the bed. In the days after he had been taken away I had heard the sound of thunderous hammering and sawing from the execution yard, sometimes continuing through the night until the dawn. I knew what it meant and sat for hours with my hands over my ears in despair.

Month after month passed. I could see how the summer was trickling away in the sickly appearance of the sparse foliage in the exercise yard; I could smell it in the mouldy air from the walls. Every time I noticed the dying tree with the glass picture of the Virgin in its bark, I automatically saw it as an image of the way Laponder's face had lodged within me. It was always with me, his Buddha's face with its smooth skin and strange, constant smile.

Only once, in September, had the examining magistrate sent for me and asked me suspiciously what reason I could give for saying at the bank that I had to leave the town on urgent business, and why in the hours before my arrest I had been in such an uneasy mood, and why I had all my precious stones on me?

When I replied that I had had the intention of committing suicide, there again came the scornful cackle from behind the other desk.

Until then I had been alone in the cell and could immerse myself in my thoughts, in my grief for Charousek, whom I felt must be dead by now, and Laponder, and in my yearning for Miriam. Then new prisoners came: thieving, dissipated-looking office workers, pot-bellied bank clerks, 'orphans' as Black Vossatka would have called them, ruining the air and my mood. One day one of them told us full of indignation about a sex murder that had taken place in the city some time ago. Fortunately, he went on, they had caught the murderer straight away and soon made short work of him.

"Laponder was 'is name, the evil-minded bastard!" shouted out another, a ruffian with predatory features who had been given the heavy sentence of fourteen days in prison for child abuse. "They caught 'im in the act, they did. A lamp fell over while they was fighting and the room burnt down. The girl's corpse was so charred they still haven't been able to find out who she was. She had black hair and a narrow face, and that's all what's known. And that Laponder refused point blank to come out with 'er name. If I'd 've 'ad my way, I'd Ve skinned 'im alive and sprayed pepper all over 'im, but then that's your upper classes for you, innit? Murderers the 'ole lot of 'em. As if there wasn't plenty of other ways, if you want to get rid of a tart", he added with a cynical grin.

I was seething with rage; for two pins I'd have knocked the fellow to the ground. Every night he snored in the bed where Laponder had lain. I breathed a sigh of relief when he was finally released.

But even then I wasn't free of him. What he had said stuck in me, like a barbed arrow. Constantly, especially during the dark, the awful suspicion gnawed at me that Laponder's victim might have been Miriam. The more I fought against the notion, the tighter it wrapped its tendrils round me, until it threatened to become an obsession.

Sometimes though, especially when the moon shone brightly through the bars, things were better. I could relive the hours I had spent with Laponder, and the feeling he aroused in me dispelled the torment. But all too often those terrible moments would return in which I would see Miriam's charred corpse, and feel that I was about to go mad with anxiety. At such moments the vague suspicions on which my fear was based would harden into the firm conviction revealed in a vivid picture full of indescribably horrific detail.

One November evening towards ten o'clock—it was already pitch-dark and my despair had reached such a point of intensity that, like an animal dying of thirst, I had to bite my straw mattress to stop myself from crying out loud—the gaoler suddenly opened the door and ordered me to follow him to the examining magistrate. I felt so weak that I staggered rather than walked.

Any hope I had of ever leaving this awful place had long since died within me.

I prepared myself for the usual icy question followed by the usual cackling from behind the desk, before I was sent back into the darkness. Baron Leisetreter had already gone home and there was no one in the room but an old, hunchbacked, spider-fingered clerk. I just stood there, dully waiting to see what would come next. Then I noticed that the gaoler had stayed in the room and was giving me encouraging winks, but I was much too downhearted to ask myself what they might mean.

"The investigation into the case of Karl Zottmann has led to the conclusion—", the clerk began, cackled, clambered onto a chair and rummaged around in the papers on the shelf before he found the one he wanted, then continued, "—the conclusion that prior to his death the aforementioned Zottmann, in the course of a secret assignation with the former prostitute Rosina Metzeles, spinster, generally known at the time as Rosie the Redhead, later procured for an undisclosed sum from Kautsky's Wine Bar by the deaf-mute, Jaromir Kwassnitschka, silhouette artist, now detained at His Imperial Majesty's pleasure, and since April of this year living in a common-law marriage—Rosie the Redhead, that is—with His Highness Prince Ferri Athenstadt, was enticed—the aforementioned Zottmann, that is—into a disused cellar of the house, cadastral number 21,873, stroke Roman III, commonly referred to as Hahnpassgasse no. 7, where he was incarcerated against his will and left to starve or freeze to death." The clerk peered at me over his spectacles and leafed through several pages of the document before continuing.

"The investigation led to the further conclusion that subsequent to his decease the aforementioned Karl Zottmann was, in all probability, robbed of all the possessions he carried on his person, in particular of the double-cased pocket-watch"—the clerk held up the watch by its chain—"enclosed under section capital P, stroke b. The testimony of Jaromir Kwassnitschka, silhouette artist, orphan of the late manufacturer of communion wafers of the same name, in which he claimed to have found the above-mentioned watch in the bed of his brother, Loisa, who has since absconded, and disposed of it to Aaron Wassertrum, dealer in second-hand goods and owner of several properties subsequently deceased, for an agreed sum, was rejected due to the unreliable character of the deponent.

The investigation also established that the corpse of the aforementioned Karl Zottmann contained, at the time of its discovery, a notebook in its rear trousers pocket in which it had made, presumably some time before its demise, several entries relevant to the case and which assisted the Imperial and Royal authorities in identifying the criminal. The testimony of the entries in the deceased's notebook casts strong suspicion on Loisa Kwassnitschka, at present a fugitive from justice, to whom the Imperial and Royal state prosecution service has accordingly turned its attention. In consideration of the new material evidence detailed above, the detention order against Athanasius Pernath, gem engraver with no previous convictions at present, is therefore to be revoked and the proceedings against him withdrawn.

The ground seemed to give way under my feet, and for a few minutes I lost consciousness. When I came to, I was sitting on a chair and the gaoler was giving me a friendly pat on the shoulder. The clerk remained utterly impassive, sniffed, blew his nose and then said, "Notification of the decision could not take place before today due to the fact that your name begins with a 'P' and must therefore naturally come towards the end of the alphabetical order." Then he continued reading:

"In addition, Athanasius Pernath, gem engraver, is to be apprised of the fact that, by the terms of the last will and testament of Innocence Charousek, medical student of this city, who died in May of this year, he, Athanasius Pernath, is 7declared heir to one third of the total estate of the said Innocence Charousek, and is hereby required to append his signature below in acknowledgement of this notification of the court's decision."

As he read the last word, the clerk dipped his pen in the ink-well and began scrawling across the paper. I expected his usual cackle, but he refrained from it.

"Innocence Charousek", I murmured, lost in thought. The gaoler leant over and whispered to me:

"He came to visit me, did Herr Dr. Charousek. It was just before he died and he was asking after you. 'Give him my very, very best wishes', he said. Of course I couldn't tell you then. Strictly against the rules. He came to a terrible end, did that poor Dr. Charousek. Did away with himself, he did. They found him lying on his front on the grave of that Anton Wassertrum. He'd dug two deep holes in the ground, cut open the arteries in his wrists and stuck his arms down the holes. He must have bled to death. Mad he probably was, that poor Dr. Char-"

The clerk pushed his chair back noisily and handed me the pen to sign. Then he stood up, full of self-importance, and said, in exactly the tones of his aristocratic superior, "Gaoler, take this man out."

Once again—after how many, many months?—the man with the sabre and long Johns in the room in the gatehouse had put aside the coffee-mill he was holding between his knees, only this time he did not examine me, but returned my precious stones, my purse with the ten crowns in it, my coat and all my other things.

Then I was out in the street.

"Miriam, Miriam! Soon at last we shall see each other again!" It was all I could do to suppress a wild shout of joy. It must have been midnight. Like a dull brass plate, the full moon was floating wanly behind a veil of cloud. The cobbles were covered with a layer of sticky mud. In the mist the cab looked like a prehistoric monster; I was so unused to walking that my legs almost gave way, and I staggered towards it, the soles of my feet completely numb, as if I were suffering from inflammation of the spinal chord.

"Hahnpassgasse, Cabbie, as quick as you can, number seven. D'you hear? Hahnpassgasse No. 7."
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:51 pm


We had only driven a few yards when the cab stopped.

"Hahnpassgasse, your Honour?"

"Yes, yes, on you go!"

The cab set off again, and again it stopped.

"For God's sake, what's the matter now?!"

"You did say Hahnpassgasse, your Honour?"

"Yes, yes. Of course I did!"

"But I can't take you to Hahnpassgasse."

"Why ever not?"

"'Cos they've dug up the roads everywhere. They're pulling the whole of the Jewish quarter down."

"Take me as far as you can, then, but be quick about it!"

His nag took one leap forward and then subsided into its habitual amble. I let down the rattling windows and greedily sucked in the cool night air. Everything had become so strange, so bewilderingly new, the houses, the streets, the closed shutters. A white dog trotted past, alone and morose, along the damp pavement. How strange! A dog! I had completely forgotten the existence of such animals. Full of a childish delight, I shouted after it, "Come on now, how can you look so glum?"

What would Hillel say? And Miriam?

Only a few more minutes and I would be there. I would not stop hammering on their door until I had roused them from their beds. Now everything was going to be all right, all the trials and tribulations of this year over at last. What a splendid Christmas it would be! And this time I wouldn't sleep through it like last year!

For a moment my old fear returned to paralyse me as I remembered the words of the ruffian with the predatory features. The charred face—rape—murder. No! No! I forced myself to shake off the horrifying images. No, no, it could not be true. Miriam was alive! Had I not heard her voice from Laponder's lips?

Just one more minute—thirty seconds—and then—-

The cab stopped beside a mountain of rubble. Everywhere the road was barricaded by heaps of cobblestones with red lamps on top of them. An army of navvies was working by the light of blazing torches.

The way was blocked by piles of debris and broken masonry. I clambered over it, sinking in up to my knees.

There, that must be Hahnpassgasse, mustn't it? I had the greatest difficulty orienting myself, nothing but ruins all around. Wasn't that the house where I had lived? The facade had been ripped off.

I climbed to the top of a mound of earth; far below, what had been the street had become a narrow passageway between black walls. I looked up. The lattice of exposed rooms rose up into the air like the cells of a gigantic honeycomb, lit half by the torchlight, half by the dull moon.

That one up there, that must have been my room. I could recognise it by the paint on the walls, although there was only a small patch left to see. And next to it the studio, Savioli's studio. I suddenly had an empty feeling in my heart. How strange! The studio! Angelina! That was all so far, so immeasurably far behind me now.

I turned round. Of the house in which Wassertrum had lived there was not one stone left standing on another. Everything had been razed to the ground, the junk-shop, Charousek's basement, everything, everything.

A phrase I had read somewhere came to mind, 'Our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.'

I asked one of the workmen whether he knew where the people who had left these houses lived now. Did he know Shemaiah Hillel, the archivist at the Jewish Town Hall?

"Nix daitsch", was the curt answer, but when I offered him a crown, he immediately found he could understand German; however he still could not help me. None of his workmates either.

Perhaps I would find out more if I asked at Loisitchek's?—Loisitchek's was closed, they said, the house was being renovated.

Well, then, I could wake up someone in the area, anyone. Wouldn't that be possible?—There was no one living in the area, no one at all, not even a stray cat. Forbidden by the authorities. Because of typhoid.

"But the Old Toll House Tavern? The Old Toll House must be open?"


"Are you sure?"


I tried a few names, the first that came into my head, of people who had run small shops or stalls in the neighbourhood; then Zwakh, Vrieslander, Prokop . . .?

At every name the man shook his head.

"Perhaps you know Jaromir Kwassnitschka?"

The worker looked up. "Jaromir? Deaf and dumb?"

Thank God! Someone I knew at last. "Yes, he's a deaf-mute. Where is he living?"

"Does he cut out those little pictures? Out of black paper?"

"Yes, that's him. Where can I find him?"

With many digressions, corrections and repetitions, the workman told me the way to an all-night cafe in the centre of town and went back to his digging.

For over an hour I fought my way through the maze of rubble, balancing over planks and ducking under beams that barred the way. The whole Jewish quarter was a waste of brick and stone, as if the Ghetto had been destroyed by an earthquake. Breathless with agitation, covered in dust and my shoes all torn, I eventually made my way out of the labyrinth and found the sleazy tavern only a few blocks away. Cafe Chaos said the sign over the door. It consisted of one tiny, almost deserted room which scarcely had space for the tables placed against the walls. In the middle was a three-legged billiard table on which the waiter was snoring. A market-woman, with her basket of vegetables on the floor beside her, was sitting dozing in a corner, a glass of tea in front of her.

Finally the waiter deigned to wake up and ask me what I wanted. The insolent look with which he scanned me from head to toe made me realise how tattered and torn I must look. I glanced in the mirror and was horrified to see an unfamiliar face staring at me, pale and anaemic, wrinkled, grey as putty, with a scrubby beard and long, tangled hair.

As I ordered a black coffee, I asked the waiter whether he had seen Jaromir, the silhouette cutter.

"No idea where he can have got to", he yawned, then lay down on the billiard table and went back to sleep.

I took the Prager Tagblatt down from its hook on the wall, but the letters seemed to be scuttling about like ants all over the page, so that I did not take in one word of what I was reading.

Hours passed, and through the window-panes appeared that dubious dark-blue colour that signals the arrival of dawn for a gas-lit cafe. Now and then a few policemen would peer in, the feathers on their helmets a shimmering green, and depart again with their slow, heavy tread.

Three bleary-eyed soldiers came in.

A street-sweeper had a glass of schnapps.

At long, long last, Jaromir.

He was so changed, that at first I did not recognise him. His eyes were dull, he had lost his front teeth, his hair was thinning and there were deep hollows behind his ears.

I was so overjoyed to see a familiar face after all this time, that I jumped up, went over to him and wrung his hand. He appeared extraordinarily apprehensive and kept glancing towards the door. I used every sign I could think of to show him that I was glad to see him, but for a long time he did not seem to believe me, and whatever questions I asked, they all received the same helpless gesture of incomprehension.

How could I make him understand? Ah, an idea!

I borrowed a pencil and drew the faces of Zwakh, Vrieslander and Prokop.

"What? None of them in Prague any more?"

He waved his arms around in the air, made a gesture indicating money being counted out, marched his fingers across the table and slapped himself on the back of the hand. I guessed that all three had probably been given money by Charousek with which they had made a going concern of the puppet theatre company and were now on tour.

"And Hillel? Where is he living now?" I drew his face and a house followed by a question mark. The question mark Jaromir did not understand since he could not read, but he realised what I wanted to know; he took a match, apparently threw it up in the air, but actually made it disappear like a conjuror.

What did that mean? Hillel was also away on a journey?

I drew the Jewish Town Hall. Jaromir shook his head vigorously.

"Hillel is not there any more?" A violent shake of the head.

"Then where is he?" Again the trick with the match.

"He's just saying the gentleman has gone away, but no one don't know where", explained the street-sweeper, who had been watching us with interest the whole time.

Fear struck at my heart; Hillel had gone! Now I was completely alone in the world. The objects in the room began to dance before my eyes.

"And Miriam?" My hand was trembling so much that for a long time I could not achieve the likeness.

"Has Miriam disappeared too?" Miriam had disappeared too, disappeared without trace.

I groaned out loud and paced up and down the room, making the three soldiers give each other puzzled looks. Jaromir tried to calm me down and made great efforts to tell me something else he had heard. He lay his head on his arm, like someone sleeping.

I grasped the table to steady myself. "For God's sake, you don't mean Miriam is dead?" A shake of the head. Jaromir repeated his mime of someone sleeping.

"Has she been ill?" I drew a bottle of medicine. A shake of the head. Again Jaromir laid his head on his arm. By now it was daylight and the gaslamps were turned off one after the other, but still I could not fathom what the gesture was intended to convey.

I gave up and sat thinking. The only thing left to do was to go to the Jewish Town Hall as soon as it opened and ask there if they had any idea where Hillel and Miriam might have gone. I had to look for him.

I sat next to Jaromir in silence, as deaf and dumb as he was. When, after a long time, I looked up, I saw that he was snipping away at a silhouette. I recognised Rosina's profile. He handed me the scrap of paper, put his hand over his eyes and softly began to cry. Then he suddenly leapt to his feet and staggered out of the door without another word.

At the Jewish Town Hall all they could tell me was that one day their archivist, Shemaiah Hillel, had been absent without explanation and had not reappeared since. He must have taken his daughter with him, for since that day she had not been seen either.

No clue as to where they might have gone.

At the bank they told me my account was still blocked by a court order, but any day now they expected it to be released. Charousek's legacy would have to go through official channels as well, of course, just when I was impatient to get my hands on the money so that I could do everything to trace Hillel and Miriam.

I sold the precious stones I had on me and rented two small furnished rooms in the attic of a house in Altschul-gasse, the only street that had been excluded from the demolition of the old Ghetto. By a strange coincidence it was the very house into which, according to legend, the Golem disappeared.

I asked the inhabitants of the house, mostly small tradesmen and artisans, what was the truth about the room without an entrance, and they laughed in my face. How could anyone believe that kind of nonsense!

My own experiences connected with it had, during my time in prison, taken on the pale cast of a dream that had long since faded, and I now looked on them as empty symbols lacking the pulse of real life, and struck them out of the book of memory. It was the words of Laponder, which sometimes I could hear as clearly as if he were still sitting opposite me in our cell, which encouraged me in the belief that it must have been purely an inner vision, even though at the time it had seemed like tangible reality.

How many things that I once possessed had vanished for good? The Book of Ibbur, the fantastic pack of Tarock cards, Angelina, even my old friends, Zwakh, Vrieslander and Prokop.

It was Christmas Eve and I had brought home a little Christmas tree with red candles. I wanted to relive my youth with the glitter of lights and the fragrance of pine needles and burning wax around me. Before the end of the year I might well already be on my way, searching for the two of them in villages and towns, or anywhere else I felt I might find them. I had gradually lost all my impatience at having to wait, and all my fear that Miriam might have been murdered. I knew in my heart that I would find them both.

All the time I was inwardly smiling with happiness, and whenever I put my hand on some object it felt as if it gave off healing power. In some inexplicable way, I was filled with the content of a person who, after many years of wandering, sees from a distance the towers and spires of his native town gleaming in the sunlight.

Once I went to the tiny cafe to invite Jaromir to spend Christmas Eve with me, but I was told he had not been back since I was last there. Disappointed, I was about to leave, when an old pedlar came in with worthless bric-a-brac on his tray. I was rummaging around among all the fobs, small crucifixes, hairpins and brooches when I happened upon a heart carved of some red stone on a faded silk ribbon. To my astonishment, I realised it was the memento that Angelina had wanted to give me, when she was still a little girl, at the fountain in the castle where she lived.

All at once the days of my youth flashed past my inward eye, as if I were watching a peep-show drawn by a child. I was so moved I just stood there for a long time, staring at the tiny red heart in my hand.

I was sitting in my attic listening to the crackle of the pine-needles whenever a twig that was above one of the candles began to glow.

'Perhaps, somewhere or other, at this very moment old Zwakh is putting on his Puppets' Christmas', I imagined, 'and is declaiming that verse by his favourite writer, Oskar Wiener, in cryptic tones,

Where is the heart of coral red? It hangs upon a silken thread. Give, oh give it not away, For I was true; I loved it dear And laboured seven years and a day To win this heart I loved so dear.

All of a sudden I was filled with a strangely solemn feeling. The candles had burnt down. Just one was still flickering. The smoke was gathering in drifts around the room. As if there were a hand tugging me, I suddenly turned round:

There on the threshold was my likeness, my double,

dressed in a white cloak, a crown on its head.

Just for a second it stood there, then flames burst through the wooden door and a suffocating cloud of hot smoke poured into the room.

Fire! The house was on fire! Fire!

I tore open the window and climbed onto the roof. Already I could hear the piercing siren of the fire-engine approaching.

Gleaming helmets and brusque commands, then the ghostly, flapping rhythm of the pumps breathing in and out as the water demons gathered their strength to pounce on their mortal enemy: fire. The tinkle of glass; red tongues of fire shooting out of all the windows; mattresses thrown down into the street, people jumping down, injuring themselves, being carried off.

I do not know why, but I felt a wild, jubilant ecstasy coursing through my veins. My hair was standing on end.

I ran to the chimney so as not to get burnt, the flames were clutching at me. A chimney-sweep's rope was wrapped round it. I uncoiled it. One twist round wrist and leg, as we had been taught at gym in school, and I calmly began to let myself down the front of the house.

Past a window: inside the light is dazzling.

And I see . . . I see . . .

My whole body becomes one great, echoing shout of joy:

"HUM! Miriam! HUM!"

I make a jump for the bars. Miss. Lose my grip on the rope.

For a moment I am hanging between heaven and earth, head downwards, legs forming a cross.

The rope twangs as it takes my weight. The fibres stretch and creak.

I am falling.

Consciousness is fading.

As I fall I grab the window-ledge, but my hand slips off. No grip. The stone is smooth.

Smooth, like a lump of fat.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:57 pm


". . . like a lump of fat!"

That is the stone that looks like a lump of fat.

The words are still ringing in my ears. Then I sit up and try to remember where I am.

I am in bed. In my hotel.

And I'm not called Pernath.

Was it all a dream? No, dreams are not like that. I look at the clock; I have hardly been asleep for an hour. It's half past two. And there on the hook is someone else's hat that I took by mistake in the Cathedral today, while I was sitting in a pew during high mass.

Is there a name in it?

I take down the hat; in gold letters on the white silk lining is the unknown and yet so strangely familiar name:


Now it won't leave me in peace any more. I dress quickly and hurry down the stairs.

"Porter! Open the door! I'm going out for a walk for an hour or so."

"Where to, if I might ask, sir?"

"To the Jewish quarter. To Hahnpassgasse. There is a street of that name, isn't there?"

"Certainly there is, certainly." The porter gave a suggestive grin. "But there's not much going on in the Jewish quarter nowadays, if you catch my meaning. It's all been rebuilt."

"That doesn't matter. Where is Hahnpassgasse?"

The porter pointed to the map with a fat finger, "There, sir."

"And Loisitchek's bar?"

"Here, sir."

"Give me a large sheet of paper."

"Here you are, sir."

I wrapped up Pernath's hat in it. The odd thing about it was that it was almost new, spotlessly clean, and yet as brittle as if it were ancient.

As I made my way, my mind ran over these strange events. In my dream I experienced everything this Athanasius Pernath experienced; in the course of one night I saw, heard, felt everything as if I was Pernath. But then why did I not know what he saw through the barred window at the moment when the rope broke and he called out, "Hillel, Hillel!"?

That, I realised, was the moment at which he separated from me.

I decided I must find this Athanasius Pernath, even if it meant running round this city for three days and three nights.

So that's Hahnpassgasse? Not the least like it looked in my dream. Nothing but new houses.

A minute later I was sitting in Cafe Loisitchek, a characterless but fairly clean place. It did, though, have a raised dais with a wooden balustrade at the back; a certain resemblance to the old Loisitchek's of my dream was undeniable.

"What can I get you, sir?" asked the waitress, a buxom girl who was literally bursting out of a red velvet tail-coat.

"Brandy, please.—Ah, thank you.—Oh, Fraulein?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Whom does the cafe belong to?"

"Herr Loisitchek. He owns the whole building. A very distinguished member of the business community."

Aha, the fellow with the pig's teeth on his watch chain! I remember.

A good question to help me get my bearings occurred to me.


"Yes, sir?"

"When did the stone bridge collapse?"

"Thirty-three years ago."

"Hmm. Thirty-three years ago." I calculated. Pernath, the gem engraver, must be getting on for ninety by now.


"Yes, sir?"

"Is there no one among your customers here who can remember what the old Jewish Ghetto used to look like? I'm a writer, that's why I'm interested in it."

The waitress thought for a moment. "Among the customers? No. But just a minute. Do you see the marker over there who's playing billiards with that student? The old man with the Roman nose? He's lived here all his life, he'll be able to tell you everything about it. Shall I tell him to come when he's finished?"

I looked over to where she indicated. A slim, white-haired old man was leaning against the mirror chalking his cue. A debauched, but oddly aristocratic face. Now whom did he remind me of?

"Fraulein, what is the billiard marker called?"

The waitress leant her elbows on the table, licked her pencil and at lightning speed wrote her first name countless times on the marble top, quickly erasing it each time with a wet finger-tip. As she did so, her smouldering eyes kept giving me more or less suggestive glances, depending on how well she thought they were received. An essential accompaniment was the raising of the eyebrows to give her a wide-eyed, appealing look.

"Fraulein", I repeated, "what is the billiard marker called?" I could tell that she would have preferred another question, 'Fraulein, why are you wearing nothing but a tail-coat?' or words to that effect, but I didn't ask it, I was too preoccupied with my dream.

"What do you think he's called?" she pouted. "His name's Ferri, Ferri Athenstadt."

Aha! Ferri Athenstadt! Another old acquaintance! "You must tell me everything you know about him, Fraulein", I wheedled, though it meant I had to fortify myself with another brandy, "I do so love listening to your lovely voice." (I found myself so nauseous it turned my stomach.)

She leant towards me with a conspiratorial air, so close that her hair tickled my cheek, and whispered, "Old Ferri, he was a sly one, he was. People say he had a title that went back hundreds of years; nothing but silly gossip, of course, just because he always goes round so beautifully clean-shaven. The story is that he had pots of money and a red-haired little Jewess, that had been on the game since she was a girl (she quickly scribbled her name a few more times on the table-top), stripped him bare—of money I mean, of course. Then when he had no money left she ran off and married this toff, she whispered a name I could not understand in my ear.

"The toff had to give up all his grand titles of course, had to go round calling himself Sir Simple Simon. Serve him right. And the fact that she used to be on the game still showed, right to the end. I always say—

"Fritzi! The bill", someone shouted from the dais.

I was glancing round the room when I suddenly heard a faint, metallic chirping, like a grasshopper, from behind .

When I turned round I could not believe my eyes. There, sitting hunched up in the corner, face to the wall, and turning the handle of a little music-box the size of a cigarette packet with his skeletal fingers, was blind Nephtali Schaffranek, as old as Methuselah.

I went over to him. In a whispering voice he was singing a muddled song to himself:

Frau Pick,
Frau Hock,
Stars both red and blue
All gossiping together

"Do you know what the man is called", I asked a waiter as he hurried past.

"No, sir, no one knows him or his name. He's even forgotten it himself. He's all alone in the world. He's a hundred and ten years old, they say. He comes in every night and gets a free coffee for old times' sake."

I leant down over the old man and shouted in his ear, "Schaffranek!"

He twitched, as if he had had an electric shock. He mumbled something and rubbed his forehead in thought.

"Can you understand me, Herr Schaffranek?"

He nodded.

"Listen carefully. I want to ask you some questions about the old days. If you answer properly, you can have this crown on the table here."

"Crown", repeated the old man, and immediately began twirling the handle of his tinny music box like mad.

I put my hand on his. "Just try to remember. Did you know, about thirty-three years ago, a gem cutter by the name of Pernath?"

"Pain in the arse! Tailor and cutter!" he babbled asthmatically, laughing uncontrollably, as if he had just heard a capital joke.

"No, not 'pain in the arse', Pernath!"

"Pereles!?" he said, jubilantly.

"No, not Pereles, either. Per—nath!"

"Pascheles?" he crowed.

My hopes dashed, I gave up the attempt.

"You wanted to speak to me, sir?" Ferri Athenstadt, the billiard marker, introduced himself with a faint bow.

"Yes, I do. I thought we might have a game while we talked."

"Do you play for money, sir? I'll give you ninety start."

"Right then. For a crown. Would you like to cue off?"

His Highness took his cue, aimed, miscued, grimaced. I knew perfectly well what he was up to. He would let me reach ninety-nine and then finish in one break. The odd feeling I had was growing stronger by the minute, and I decided not to waste time beating about the bush.

"Tell me, Herr Athenstadt, do you remember—it was many years ago, around the time when the stone bridge fell down—a certain Athanasius Pernath who lived in the old Jewish quarter?"

A man with a squint wearing a red-and-white striped linen jacket and tiny gold earrings, who was sitting on the bench along the wall reading the newspaper, looked up and stared at me, crossing himself.

"Pernath? Pernath?" repeated the aristocratic marker, racking his brains, "Pernath? Wasn't he tall and slim? Brown hair, short pointed beard flecked with grey?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Roughly forty years old at the time? He looked like . . .", His Highness suddenly stared at me in surprise, "Are you a relation, sir?"

The man with the squint crossed himself.

"Me? A relation? What an odd idea! No, I'm interested in him, that's all. Do you know more about him?" I asked calmly, although I could feel my heart turning to ice.

Ferri Athenstadt racked his brains once more. "If I'm not mistaken, people thought he was mad. Once he claimed he was called . . . just a minute . . . yes, he claimed he was called Laponder. And another time he tried to pass himself off as a certain . . . Charousek."

"All a pack of lies!" interrupted the man with the squint. "That Charousek really existed. My father had several thousand crowns from him."

"Who is this man?" I asked Athenstadt in a low voice.

"A ferryman, he's called Tschamrda. As far as Pernath is concerned, all I can remember, at least I believe I'm right in this, is that in later years he married a beautiful, dark-skinned Jewess."

'Miriam!' I said to myself. I was so excited that my hands were trembling and I couldn't go on playing.

The ferryman crossed himself.

"What ever's the matter with you today, Herr Tschamrda?" asked Athenstadt in astonishment.

"That Pernath never lived!" he exclaimed. "I don't believe it!"

I immediately bought the man a brandy to loosen his tongue.

"There are people who do say Pernath is still alive", the ferryman declared at length. "He's a comb-cutter, so I've heard tell, and lives up on the Hradschin."

"Where on the Hradschin?"

The ferryman crossed himself. "That's just it. He lives in a place where no living person can live: at the wall by the last lamp."

"Do you know the house, Herr Tscham . . . Tschamer . . . Tschamrda?"

"I wouldn't go up there, not for all the money in the world!" he protested. "Jesus, Joseph and Mary, what do you take me for!?"

"But you could show me the way, from a distance, couldn't you, Herr Tschamrda?"

"That I could do", muttered the ferryman, "if you can wait until six in the morning. That's when I go down to the Moldau. But I warn you not to! You'll fall into the Stag's Moat and break your neck, Mother of God have mercy on us!"

We went down together through the morning air; a fresh breeze was blowing from the river. I was so tense with expectation I could scarcely feel the ground under my feet. Suddenly I saw the house in Altschulgasse before me; I recognised every window, the curving gutter, the bars, the window-ledges like glistening lumps of fat, everything, everything!

"When did this house burn down?" I asked my companion with the squint. I was so tense the blood was pounding in my ears.

"Burn down? Why, never." "But it did! I'm sure of it." "No."

"But I'm sure. Would you like to bet on it?" "How much?" "One crown."

"Done!" Tschamrda fetched the porter. "Has this house ever been burnt down?"

"Burnt down? What ever for?" The man laughed. I just could not believe it.

"I've been living here for seventy years", the porter assured us, "so I should know." Strange .. . strange!

On a zig-zag course that kept darting sideways into the current, the ferryman rowed me across the Moldau. His boat consisted of little more than eight unplaned planks, and the yellow waters foamed against the wood of the bows. The roofs on the Hradschin were a glittering red in the morning sun.

I was in the grip of a solemn feeling that was beyond words, like the gradual dawning of a muted emotion from a former existence, as if the world around me were enchanted. I saw everything as if in a dream, as if I had at times lived in several different places at once.

I got out. "How much do I owe you, ferryman?" "One kreutzer. If you'd helped me row, it would have been two."

Once again I am making my way up the lonely Castle Steps that I ascended the previous night in my sleep. My heart is beating fast. I know that next comes the bare tree whose branches reach over the wall.

No. It is covered with white blossom. The air is full of the sweet scent of lilac. At my feet lies the city in the first light of the morning, like a vision of the promised land.

Not a sound, just fragrance and light.

I could find my way up to the bizarre little Street of the Alchemists with my eyes closed, so familiar every step suddenly seems. But in the place where last night there was a wooden gate in front of the shining white house, the street now ends in a magnificent set of elegantly bowed gilt railings. The gate in the wall running along behind the railings is flanked by two yew-trees that tower up above the blossoming shrubs.

Standing on tiptoe to see over the bushes I am dazzled by fresh splendour: the garden wall is covered with mosaics of turquoise set with strange, golden shellwork frescoes depicting the cult of the Egyptian god Osiris.

On the double gate is the image of the god, a hermaphrodite with one half on each side, the right-hand one female, the left-hand male. Done in half-relief, the figure is seated on a sumptuous, low throne of mother-of-pearl. Its golden head is that of a hare with the ears pricked and close together, so that they look like the two pages of an open book.

There is a scent of dew, and the fragrance of hyacinths drifts over the wall.

For a long time I just stand there like a stone statue, marvelling at it all. I feel as if an alien world is appearing before me. Then an old gardener or servant with silver buckles on his shoes, a lace jabot and a strangely cut coat appears behind the railings from the left and asks me what I want. Without a word I hand Athanasius Pernath's hat in its paper wrapping over the railing to him.

He takes it and goes in through the double gate.

When it opens, I see beyond it a marble building like a temple, and on its steps stands

ATHANASIUS PERNATH and leaning against him is


both of them gazing down on the city.

For a moment Miriam turns round, sees me, smiles and whispers something to Athanasius Pernath.

I am spellbound by her beauty. She is still as young as in my dream last night.

Athanasius Pernath turns slowly towards me, and my heart stands still:

His face is so like mine, that it is as if I were looking into a mirror.

Then the gates close and all I can see is the shimmering hermaphrodite. The old servant gives me my own hat and says, in a voice that sounds as if it came from the depths of the earth,

"Hen Athanasius Pernath's compliments. He thanks you most kindly and begs you not to interpret the fact that he has not invited you into the garden as a lack of hospitality; it is a strict house rule from time immemorial.

He has not, I am to tell you, put your hat on; he noticed the mistake immediately.

He hopes that his has not given you a headache."

The End.
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