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 9:01 pm


Unresisting, I let Zwakh lead me down the stairs. The smell of the fog, which penetrated the house from the street, grew stronger and stronger. Prokop and Vrieslander had gone on a little way ahead, and we could hear them talking outside the entrance.

"It must have fallen right through the grating into the sewers, Devil take it." We came out into the street and I could see Prokop bending down, looking for the puppet-head.

"I'm glad you can't find the stupid thing", growled Vrieslander. He was leaning against the wall and at regular intervals his face shone brightly and then faded again as he sucked the hissing flame of a match into his short pipe.

Prokop waved his arm for silence and bent down even lower. He was almost kneeling on the cobbles. "Do be quiet! Can't you hear anything?"

We went over to where he was squatting. He pointed silently at the grating over the sewer and put his hand by his ear. We stood there for a while, listening for sounds from the drain.


"What was it you heard?" It was the old puppeteer who finally asked the question, but Prokop immediately grabbed him by the wrist.

For a brief moment, scarcely more than the length of a heartbeat, it had seemed to me as if somewhere down below a hand were knocking, almost inaudibly, on a sheet of iron. The next second, when I thought about it, it had disappeared, but in my breast there was an echo, like a memory of the sound, that gradually dissolved into a vague sense of terror. Steps coming down the street dispelled the feeling.

"Let's go. What are we hanging around for?" Vrieslander demanded.

We continued down the street, Prokop following reluctantly. "I'm willing to wager my last breath there was someone down there screaming for dear life."

None of us responded, but I felt it was an almost imperceptible fear rising within us that tied our tongues.

Soon we were looking at the red-curtained window of a tavern. A piece of cardboard announced:


Grande Conserte Tonight

The edges were decorated with faded photographs of women.

Before Zwakh could grasp the knob, the door opened inward and we were greeted with much bowing and scraping by a big burly fellow with black, brilliantined hair and no collar, but a green silk tie round his bare neck and the waistcoat of his dress suit adorned with a bunch of pig's teeth.

"Well, well, well, what fine gentlemen", he said, and hurriedly twisted his head round to shout across the crowded tavern, "Quick, Pane Schaffranek, a fanfare." The response was a tinkling sound from the piano, as if a rat were running along the keys.

"Well, well well, what fine gentlemen, what fine gentlemen. Isn't that nice", the burly man kept muttering to himself as he helped us off with our coats. "Yes, we have the whole of the aristocracy of the land gathered here tonight", he said proudly, in response to Vrieslander's astonished expression at the appearance of a few elegant young men in evening dress on a kind of raised dais at the back of the tavern that was separated from the front part by a balustrade and a couple of steps.

Clouds of pungent tobacco smoke hung in drifts above the tables. Against the walls behind them, the benches were full of figures in rags and tatters: whores from the old ramparts, unkempt, grubby, barefoot, their firm breasts scarcely concealed beneath their discoloured shawls, beside them pimps with their blue soldiers' caps and cigarettes behind their ears; cattle-dealers with hairy hands and clumsy fingers whose every gesture was a mute statement of infamy; out-of-work waiters with insolent looks and pock-marked clerks in check trousers.

We heard the oily voice of the burly man say, "I'll bring you a screen so you won't be disturbed", and a wheeled partition with little pictures of dancing Chinamen all over it slowly rolled into position alongside the corner table where we had seated ourselves.

The babble of voices died down as the grating tones of a harp made themselves heard. At a brief rest in the tune there was deathly silence, as if everyone were holding their breath, and it was with a sudden shock we became aware of the hissing of the flat, heart-shaped flames from the iron gas-pipes; then, almost immediately, the music swelled up and swamped the noise.

As if they had simply materialised before my eyes, two strange figures appeared out of the clouds of tobacco smoke. One was an old man with the long, white beard of an Old Testament prophet, and a black silk skull-cap such as Jewish patriarchs wear on his bald head. He was blind, and his glassy, milky-blue eyes were fixed on the ceiling as his skinny, claw-like fingers tore at the strings of the harp, his lips moving in silent song. Beside him, the picture of hypocritical bourgeois respectability in her greasy black taffeta dress with a jet cross round her neck and jet bracelets on her arms, was a bloated female with a concertina on her lap.

A wild jumble of notes came lurching out of the instrument which then, exhausted, confined itself to a feeble accompaniment. The old man snapped at the air a few times, then opened his mouth wide so that we could see the blackened stumps of his teeth. Slowly, amid all sorts of strange Hebrew gutterals, a wild bass voice forced its way up from his chest:

"Sta-haars both re-hed and bluuuue—" "Trallala", screeched the female, immediately snapping her spittle-flecked lips shut, as if she had said too much. "Sta-ars both red and blue, Crescent mo-hoons too."

—"Redbeard, Greenbeard,
All kinds of sta-hars,"
—"Trallala, trallala."

Couples stepped onto the floor and the dancing began.

"It's the song of the chomezig borchu, the blessing of the leavened bread", the old puppeteer explained with a smile as he softly beat out the rhythm on the table with the tin spoon that, oddly enough, was fixed to the table by a chain. "It must have been a hundred years ago or more that two bakers, Redbeard and Greenbeard, put poison into the bread rolls—they were star-shaped and crescent-shaped—on the eve of the first Sabbath in Passover, Shabbes Hagodel, to cause the wholesale murder of Jews in the Ghetto. But the beadle—the meshores—was warned in time by a divine revelation and managed to catch the two would-be murderers and hand them over to the authorities. To commemorate this miraculous deliverance from death, the learned scholars, the landomin and the bocherlech, composed this strange song which you can hear now being played as dance music in a brothel."


"Sta-hars both re-hed and bluuue," the old man's bawling was gradually turning into a hollow-sounding, fanatical howl.

Suddenly the tune became muddled and gradually adapted itself to the rhythm of the Bohemian Slapak, a shuffling pas de deux in which the partners danced closely entwined, cheek to sweaty cheek.

"That's the way. Bravo. Here you are. Catch. Giddy-up!" a slim young swell on the raised dais with a monocle in his eye called out to the harpist, putting his hand in his pocket and throwing a silver coin in the musician's direction. It didn't reach him. I saw it glitter as it flew over the crowded dance floor, then it suddenly disappeared. Some ruffian—I seemed to know his face, I think it must have been the same one who was standing next to Charousek when we were sheltering from the rain recently—had slipped his hand out of his partner's blouse, where it had been pretty firmly ensconced until then, and in one movement, slick as a monkey, without for a moment getting out of step with the music, had snatched the coin out of the air. The rogue's face remained as impassive as ever, only two or three couples dancing near him grinned slyly.

"Must be one of the 'Regiment', to judge by the quickness of the hand", said Zwakh with a laugh.

"I'm sure Pernath has never heard about the 'Regiment'", Vrieslander quickly interrupted, with a surreptitious wink to the old puppeteer that I was not supposed to see. I well understood what they were about; it was the same as earlier on in my room. They thought I was ill and wanted to cheer me up. The idea was that Zwakh should tell me some story, any old story. The look of pity the old man gave me pierced me to the heart and sent a hot flush spreading over my face. If only he knew how his pity wounded me.

I missed the old puppeteer's introduction to his story, I just felt as if I were slowly bleeding to death. I felt myself growing colder and colder, more and more rigid, just as when I had seen the wooden face lying on Vrieslander's lap. Then I suddenly found myself right in the middle of the story; I felt somehow alienated from it, as if it were a lifeless piece from a school anthology.

Zwakh began:

"The story of the learned Dr. Hulbert and his Regiment

Well, how shall I start? His face was all covered in warts and his legs were as bandy as a dachshund's. Even as a boy all his time was spent at his studies, dry-as-dust studies that frayed his nerves. He made a meagre pittance by giving private lessons, and from that he had to support his sick mother. I think he probably only knew what green meadows looked like, or hedges and hills covered with flowers and trees, from books. You know yourself how little sunshine reaches Prague's dark streets and alleys.

He was awarded his doctorate with distinction, as was expected, and in time became a celebrated lawyer. He was so famous that everybody, even judges and old attorneys, would come to him if there was anything they didn't know. And all the time he still lived in a wretched little attic looking out over the courtyard behind the Tyn Church where the Old Toll House Tavern is where we usually go for our drink.

The years passed, and Dr. Hulbert's reputation as a leading light of the legal profession spread throughout the country. No one would have thought that a man such as he, whom no one could remember ever having heard talk of anything other than law, would be susceptible to the tender passion, especially as his hair was already beginning to turn white. But it is in such people who keep their hearts locked tight that the fires of yearning burn brightest.

On the day when Dr. Hulbert achieved the goal which must have been his highest ambition since his student days, on the day, that is, when His Majesty the Emperor in Vienna appointed him Chancellor of our University, the news flew from mouth to mouth that he had become engaged to a beautiful young lady from a noble, though impoverished family.

It really seemed that happiness had come to stay for Dr. Hulbert. Even though the marriage remained childless, he doted on his young wife and his greatest pleasure was to fulfil her every wish before she could express it.

Amidst all this happiness he did not forget those less fortunate than himself. 'God has satisfied my longing', he is supposed to have said. 'He has allowed the vision that has been like a guiding star to me from my earliest childhood to become reality; He has given me the dearest creature the earth affords for my very own. And I want to see to it that, as far as it is in my power, a reflection of my happiness will fall on others.'

And so it came about that he took in a poor student as his own son. Presumably he was motivated by the memory of how much his own wretched youth would have been helped by such a kindness. But the earth we live on is such that many deeds that appear fine and noble have consequences one would expect from a despicable act, because we are unable to predict whether they bear harmful or wholesome seeds within them. Dr. Hulbert's act of charity was to be the source of the most bitter suffering for him.

His young wife was soon inflamed with secret passion for the young student, and fate at its most cruel decreed that it should be at the very moment when Dr. Hulbert, as a token of his love, came home unexpectedly with a bouquet of roses as a surprise birthday present, that he found her in the arms of the man on whom he had heaped kindness after kindness.

It is said that the blue spring gentian will lose its colour for good if the pale, sulphurous gleam of the lightning that announces a hailstorm should suddenly shine on it; what is certain is that old Dr. Hulbert's soul lost all its radiance from the day his happiness was shattered. That very same evening he, who until then had never known the meaning of intemperance, was still here at Loisitchek's at daybreak, dead-drunk on cheap brandy. And Loisitchek's became home to him for what was left of his ruined life. In the summer he would sleep among the rubble of some building site or other, in the winter here on the wooden benches.

By silent agreement, they did not take away his title of Professor and Doctor of Laws. No one had the heart to accuse him of conduct unbecoming a scholar and gentleman.

Gradually there gathered round him all the shifty riffraff that haunted the Ghetto, until finally there was formed that strange community that even today is still known as the 'Regiment'. Dr. Hulbert's comprehensive knowledge of the law was deployed to shield those in whom the police took too close an interest. If there was a recently released jailbird close to starvation, Dr. Hulbert would send him out into the Old Town Square stark naked so that the Council was compelled to provide him with a suit. A homeless prostitute who was about to be drummed out of town would be quickly married off to some rogue who was registered in one of the city wards, thus giving her right of residence. Dr. Hulbert knew hundreds of such ploys that reduced the police to impotence.

For their part, these outcasts, the dregs of human society, faithfully contributed everything they 'earned', right down to the very last kreutzer, to the common purse, from which they supported themselves. In this regard, not one of them was guilty of the slightest dishonesty. Perhaps it was this iron discipline that led to them being called the 'Regiment'.

Every year on the first of December, the anniversary of the day of Dr. Hulbert's misfortune, a strange nocturnal celebration was held here at Loisitchek's. They would all be here, packed shoulder to shoulder: beggars and vagrants, pimps and whores, drunks and ragmen; and they would be as quiet as if it were a church service. Then Dr. Hulbert would stand in that corner there—where those two musicians are sitting, right under the coronation portrait of His Majesty the Emperor—and tell them the story of his life: how he had worked his way up by the sweat of his brow, had become Doctor of Laws and finally Chancellor of the University. And every time he reached the point where he entered his wife's room with a bunch of roses in his hand, to celebrate her birthday and at the same time in commemoration of the day when he had come to ask for her hand in marriage, the day when she had agreed to be his bride, at that point his voice would give way and he would collapse, sobbing, onto the table. And often it would happen that some brazen harlot would go up to him, shyly and in secret, so that no one would see, and place a half-withered flower in his hand.

For a long time not one of his audience would move. These types are too tough for tears, but they would stare at their boots and tug self-consciously at their fingers.

One morning old Dr. Hulbert was found dead on a bench down by the Moldau. I imagine he must have frozen to death. His funeral was something I'll never forget, the 'Regiment' almost bled itself white to make sure everything went off with as much pomp as possible. At the head of the procession came the University Beadle in full regalia, bearing on his hands outstretched before him the purple cushion with the gold chain on it, then, behind the hearse, the interminable file of the 'Regiment', barefoot, filthy, ragged and torn. One of them had sold his every last possession and trudged past with his body, legs and arms wrapped in layers of old newspaper.

Thus they paid him their last respects.

On his grave in the cemetery is a white stone with three figures carved on it: the Saviour on the cross between the two robbers. No one knows who had it put there. There is a rumour that it was Dr. Hulbert's wife who paid for it.

His will, however, contained a legacy that provides a free bowl of soup every day for each member of the 'Regiment' at Loisitchek's. That's why there are these spoons hanging from the chains, and the depressions hollowed out of the table-top are the soup-bowls. At midday the waitress comes along with a huge metal pump and squirts them full of gruel; and if there's anyone who can't prove they belong to the 'Regiment', she sucks the soup back into the pump.

From this table, the story of this peculiar custom has gone all round the world."

It was the awareness of some disturbance in the tavern that roused me from my lethargy. Zwakh's last sentences were drifting away over the surface of my consciousness; I saw him moving his hands to demonstrate the piston of a large pump going in and out, then the scenes that were unfolding all around us suddenly started to flick past my vision as quickly as if they were part of a clockwork peep-show, and yet with spectral clarity, so that for a while I completely lost awareness of myself and felt like a cogwheel in a living mechanism.

The room had become one seething mass of people. The raised platform was crowded with gentlemen in black tails, white cuffs and glittering rings, a dragoon's uniform with captain's epaulettes and, at the rear, a lady's hat with salmon-pink ostrich feathers.

Loisa was glowering up through the bars of the railings, so full of hatred that he was unsteady on his feet. Jaromir was there too, staring up fixedly and with his back tight, very tight, against the side wall, as if an invisible hand were pressing him against it.

The figures suddenly stopped dancing, the landlord must have shouted out something that had startled them. The music was still playing, but softly; it was unsure of itself, it was trembling, you could feel it distinctly. And yet the landlord was making no attempt to conceal the gloating expression on his face.

A police inspector in uniform suddenly appeared in the doorway. He spread his arms out so that no one could leave. Behind him was a detective constable.

"So, we're dancing are we? In spite of the ban? I'm closing the place down. Mine host, you're coming along with me, and all the rest of you, off to the Station."

He barked out the words, like a military command.

The hulk of a landlord said nothing, but the gloating grin did not disappear from his face.

It merely froze.

The concertina spluttered and died away in a whistle.

The harp changed its tune.

Suddenly all the faces were seen in profile, staring expectantly up at the platform.

And an elegant figure in black made its nonchalant way down the few steps and walked slowly up to the inspector.

The inspector's eyes were spellbound, fixed on the black patent-leather shoes strolling towards him.

The swell stopped one step in front of the policeman and his bored gaze travelled slowly from his helmet down to his boots and back again.

The other young aristocrats up on the platform were bent over the railing, stifling their laughter with grey silk handkerchiefs. The Captain of Dragoons stuck a gold coin in his eye like a monocle and spat his cigarette-end out into the hair of a girl leaning on a chair below.

The inspector went pale and in his embarrassment kept staring at the pearl in the aristocrat's shirt-front. The flat, indifferent gaze from the unmoving, clean-shaven face with the Roman nose was too much for him. It made him uneasy. Crushed him.

He was stretched on the rack of the deathly hush in the tavern.

"Just like those effigies of knights lying with their hands crossed on stone coffins in Gothic cathedrals", whispered the painter, Vrieslander, as he looked at the aristocrat.

Finally the young swell broke the silence. "Errr . . . Hmmm", he went, imitating the landlord's voice, "Well, well, well, what fine gentlemen; isn't that nice." The pub exploded in a howling gale that made the glasses rattle. The toughs fell about laughing. A bottle hit the wall and smashed to pieces. The hulking landlord brayed obsequiously as he let us in on the joke, "His Highness Prince Ferri Athenstadt."

The Prince handed the inspector his visiting-card. The poor policeman took it and saluted several times, clicking his heels.

Silence returned. The crowd listened breathlessly for what would come next.

Prince Athenstadt spoke again:

"The ladies and gentlemen whom you see gathered here are . . . er . . . are all guests of mine." With a nonchalant gesture His Highness indicated the down-and-outs. "Perhaps, inspector, you would like me to . . . er . . . introduce you?"

The inspector shook his head with a forced smile, muttered a few embarrassed words about 'only doing his duty' and finally managed to come out with, "I can see that this is an orderly establishment."

That put life back into the Captain of Dragoons: he rushed over to the lady's hat with the ostrich feathers at the rear of the dais and, to the cheers of the young aristocrats, dragged Rosina down onto the dance-floor.

She was so drunk she staggered round with her eyes shut. The large, expensive hat was all askew and she was wearing nothing over her naked body but long pink stockings and a tail-coat.

A signal, and the wild music started up again—'Trallala, trallala'—sweeping away the gurgling cry the deaf-and-dumb Jaromir emitted when he saw Rosina.

We decided to leave. Zwakh called the waitress, his words swallowed up in the general noise.

The scenes I saw were as fantastic as any opium hallucination:

The Captain has his arms round the half-naked Rosina as they slowly revolve to the music, the deferential crowd making room for them.

Then a murmur starts up round the benches, "Loisitchek, Loisitchek", and people crane their necks as an even stranger couple joins the other on the dance-floor. An effeminate-looking young lad in pink leotard and tights, with long blond hair down to his shoulders, his cheeks and lips made up like a whore's and his eyes cast down in provocative modesty, is clinging, lovesick, to the chest of Prince Athenstadt.

The harp is oozing a sickly waltz.

A sharp disgust with life rose in my throat. I took a quick, fearful glance at the door: the inspector was standing there with his back to the dance-floor, making sure he did not have to see anything, in hasty, whispered conversation with the detective constable, who was putting something back in his pocket. There was a clink of handcuffs.

Then the pair of them squinted over at the pock-marked face of Loisa, who at first tried to hide and then stood as if paralysed, his face chalk-white and twisted in terror.

A picture flashed before my mind's eye and immediately faded: the picture of Prokop, as I had seen him only an hour ago, leaning over the bars of the drain cover listening, and a piercing cry of mortal anguish coming from below the ground.

I try to shout out, but can't.

Cold fingers have been thrust into my mouth, forcing my tongue up against my front teeth, filling my mouth like a lump that makes it impossible for me to bring out a single word.

I can't see the fingers, I know they are invisible, and yet I can feel them as if they were a physical presence.

It is perfectly clear to me that they belong to the spectral hands that brought the Book of Ibbur to me in my room in Hahnpassgasse.

"Water! Water!" shouts Zwakh, who is sitting beside me. They are holding my head and shining a candle into my eyes.

There is a whispered conference, "Take him to his flat—fetch the doctor—Hillel, the archivist, knows about this kind of thing—take him there."

Then I am lying on a stretcher, stiff as a corpse, and Prokop and Vrieslander are carrying me out.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:03 pm


Zwakh had run on ahead up the stairs, and I heard the anxious questions of Miriam, Hillel's daughter, and his attempts to reassure her.

I made no effort to follow what they were saying to each other, and I guessed more than heard that Zwakh was telling her that I had had an accident; they had come to ask for help to bring me round and give me first aid.

Still I could not move a muscle, still the invisible fingers held my tongue fast; but my mind was sure and firm, and the feeling of terror had left me. I knew exactly where I was and what was happening to me and I did not even find it strange when they carried me, like a corpse, stretcher and all, up to Shemaiah Hillel's study, set me down and left me alone there.

I was filled with a calm and natural contentment, such as you feel when coming home after a long journey.

It was dark in the room and the blurred lines of the cross shapes in the window-frames stood out against the dull, hazy gleam coming up from the street. Everything seemed quite natural, and I was not in the least surprised when Hillel entered carrying a seven-flamed Menorah, nor that he calmly wished me 'Good evening' as if he were expecting me.

As he went about the room, adjusting a few objects here and there on the sideboard, then using the candelabra to light another seven-armed one, I was suddenly struck by something about him which until that moment I had not registered as special, in spite of the fact that we would meet on the stairs two or three times a week: the elegant proportions of his body and limbs, and the slim, delicate lines of his face with its high forehead. And, as I could now see in the light from the candles, he could not be any older than I was, forty-five at the most.

"You arrived a few minutes earlier than I had assumed", he began after a while, "otherwise I would have had the candles ready lit." He pointed to the two candelabra and came up to the stretcher looking, so it seemed, with his dark, deep-set eyes at someone who was standing or kneeling by my head whom I, however, could not see. At the same time his lips moved, speaking soundless words.

Immediately the invisible fingers let my tongue go and the paralysis left me. I sat up and looked behind me: there was no one in the room apart from Shemaiah Hillel and myself. The person who had come a few minutes earlier than he had been expecting must be me, then?

What I found much more bewildering than the mere fact, was that I was incapable of feeling the least surprise at it.

Hillel obviously guessed my thoughts, for he gave me a friendly smile and helped me up from the stretcher, pointed to a chair and said, "There is nothing mysterious about it at all. It is only magic and sorcery—kishuf—that frighten men; life itches and burns like a hairshirt, but the rays from the sun of the spiritual world are mild and warming."

I said nothing, since nothing occurred to me that I could say in reply, and he did not seem to expect any, but sat down opposite me and calmly continued, "A silver mirror, if it had feeling, would only suffer pain while it was being polished. Once it was smooth and shining, it would reflect all the images that struck it without suffering or emotion.

Happy the man", he went on softly, "who can say of himself, 'I have been polished'." For a moment he was wrapped in thought and I heard him murmur a few words in Hebrew, "Lishu'oskho kivisi Adoshem." Then his voice was clearly to be heard again:

"Thou earnest to me in a deep sleep and I have woken thee. In the Psalm of David it says, 'Then spake I with myself, now shall I begin. It is the right hand of the Lord that hath wrought this change.'

When men arise from their beds, they think they have shaken off sleep and they know not that they have fallen victim to their senses and are in the grip of a much deeper sleep than the one they have just left. There is only one true state of wakefulness, and that is the one you are now approaching. If you should speak to others of it, they will say you are sick and they cannot understand you. For that reason it is pointless and cruel to speak to them of it.

Lord, Thou earnest them away as with a flood;
They are as a sleep:
They are as grass which groweth up:
In the evening it is cut down and withereth."

I wanted to ask, 'Who was the stranger who came to me in my room and gave me the Book of Ibbur? Was I awake or dreaming when I saw him?' but Hillel answered before even I could put the thought into words.

"Assume that the man who came to you and whom you call the Golem signifies the awakening of the dead through your innermost spiritual life. Each thing on earth is nothing but an eternal symbol clothed in dust.

How is it possible to think with your eyes? Each shape that you see is a thought in your eye. Everything that takes on shape was a ghost before."

I felt ideas, which until then had been firmly anchored in my mind, tear themselves loose and drift like rudderless ships on a boundless ocean.

Placidly Hillel went on,

"Anyone who has been wakened can no longer die; sleep and death are the same."

". . . can no longer die?" A dull ache gripped me.

"Two paths run beside each other: the Path of Life and the Path of Death. You have taken the Book of Ibbur and read in it. Your soul has been made pregnant by the Spirit of Life", I heard him say.

"Hillel, Hillel, let me take the path that all men take, the Path of Death!" everything within me screamed out loud. Hillel's countenance froze in an expression of deep earnestness:

"Men do not take any path, neither that of life nor that of death. They drift like chaff in the wind. In the Talmud it is written, 'Before God created the world he showed the souls a mirror, wherein they could see the spiritual sufferings of existence and the joys that followed. Some accepted the suffering. But the others refused and God struck them out of the Book of the Living.' But you are taking a path and you have set out on it of your own free will, even if you are no longer aware of it. Do not grieve; as knowledge comes gradually, so does memory. Knowledge and memory are the same thing."

The friendly, almost kindly tone in which Hillel concluded this speech restored my calm, and I felt safe and sound, like a sick child that knows its father is close by.

I looked up and saw that the room was suddenly peopled with figures standing in a circle round us. Some had white shrouds such as the rabbis of old used to wear, others had three-cornered hats and silver buckles on their shoes. But then Hillel passed his hand over my eyes and the room was empty once more.

Then he accompanied me out onto the stairs and gave me a burning candle for me to light my way up to my room.

I went to bed and tried to sleep, but sleep would not come and instead I found myself in a strange state that was neither dreaming, nor waking, nor sleeping.

I had snuffed the candle, but in spite of that everything in the room was so clear that I could distinguish each individual shape. At the same time I felt completely comfortable and free from that agonising restlessness which usually torments you when you find it impossible to get to sleep.

Never before in my life had I been capable of such sharp and precise thought as now. The rhythm of health flowed through my every nerve, arranging my thoughts in orderly rows, like an army awaiting my command.

I only needed to call on them, and they stepped up and did what I wanted.

During the last few weeks I had been trying, without making any progress whatsoever, to carve a cameo out of sunstone; I never managed to make all the flecks in the stone fit in with the face I had in mind. Now I remembered the piece, and in a flash I could see the solution and knew precisely what line to take with the graver to do justice to the texture of the gem.

Formerly I had been the slave of a horde of fantastic impressions and visions, and often I could not say whether they were feelings or ideas. Now I suddenly found I was lord and master in my own kingdom. Calculations, which previously I had only been able to do with much groaning on paper, now seemed to work themselves out in my head as if by magic.

All this was the result of my new-found ability to perceive and retain those things—and only those things—that I needed: numbers, shapes, objects or colours. And if it was a matter of questions which could not be answered by means of such tools—philosophical problems and the like—then my inner vision was replaced by hearing, and the voice I heard was that of Shemaiah Hillel.

I was granted the strangest insights.

I suddenly saw things, which a thousand times previously I had allowed to slip past my ear as mere words, now clear before me, and soaked with significance in every pore; things I had learnt 'off by heart', I now 'grasped' at one stroke so that I 'owned' them. Mysteries hidden in the forms of words that I had never even suspected were now revealed to me.

The 'high' ideals of humanity, which until now, chests puffed out and besplattered with decorations, had looked down their respectable aldermanic noses at me, removed the masks from their features and apologised: they themselves were really only poor souls, but still they were used to prop up an even more insolent fraud.

Might I perhaps not have been dreaming after all? Could it be that I had not talked to Hillel?

But no, there was the candle Shemaiah had given me. Happy as a little boy who has slipped out of bed on Christmas Eve to make sure the marvellous jumping-jack really is there, I snuggled back down into the pillows.

Like a tracker dog I penetrated further into the jungle of spiritual puzzles surrounding me.

First of all I tried to go to the point farthest back in my life that memory could reach. From there it must be possible, or so I believed, for me to see that part of my life which a quirk of fate had hidden in darkness.

But however hard I tried, I still could get no farther than seeing myself in the gloomy courtyard of this house with a view through the arched gateway to Aaron Wassertrum's junk-shop; it was as if I had spent a hundred years as an engraver of gems in this house without ever having been a child.

I had almost decided that any further groping around in the wells of the past was hopeless, when I suddenly realised with dazzling clarity that, although in my memory the broad highway of events ended at that arched gateway, that was not the case with a whole host of narrow footpaths which had presumably always accompanied the main road, but which I had ignored. 'Then where'—it was like a voice screaming in my ear—'did you learn the skills by which you earn your living? Who taught you to engrave gems, and everything that goes with it? To read, to write, to speak? To eat and walk, breathe, think and feel?'

Immediately I began to follow the advice that came from within me. Systematically I retraced my life.

I forced myself to follow an uninterrupted but inverted chain of thought: What had just happened? What had led to it? What came before that? And so on, back into the past.

I was back at that arched gateway again. Now! Now! Only a little jump into empty space and surely I would have crossed the abyss separating me from my forgotten past? Then I saw something which I had missed on my way back through my thoughts. It was Shemaiah Hillel passing his hand over my eyes, just as he had done before in his study.

And everything was erased. Even my desire to delve into the past.

There was only one thing left that I had gained from it, and that was the realisation that the sequence of events in one's life is a road leading to a dead end, however broad and easy it might appear. It is the narrow, hidden tracks that lead back to our lost homeland; what contains the solution to the last mysteries is not the ugly scar that life's rasp leaves on us, but the fine, almost invisible writing that is engraved in our body.

Just as I could find my way back to the days of my childhood, if I went through my alphabet book from back to front, from Z to A, to reach the point where I had started reading it at school, so too, I realised, I ought to be able to journey to that other distant home which is beyond all thought.

I carried a world of work on my shoulders. Hercules, I remembered, had also borne the weight of the vault of heaven on his head, and I saw the gleam of hidden significance in the old legend. And just as Hercules had managed to escape from it through his cunning in asking Atlas, 'Just let me tie a layer of rope round my head so that the awful burden does not crush my brain', so perhaps, I sensed, there was a dark path leading away from this precipice.

A deep distrust of blindly following my thoughts any farther in this direction suddenly crept over me. I stretched out straight in bed and covered my eyes and ears with my hands so as not to be distracted by my senses; so as to kill off every thought.

But my determination was smashed by an iron law: one thought could only be driven away by another thought, and if that one should die there would already be the next feasting on its flesh. I sought refuge in the roaring torrent of my blood, but my thoughts were ever at my heels; I hid in the pounding forge of my heart, but after a short while they had discovered me there.

Once more Hillel's kindly voice came to my rescue, saying, "Keep to your path and do not falter. The key to the art of forgetting belongs to our brothers who follow the Path of Death; but you have been made pregnant by the Spirit of Life."

The Book of Ibbur appeared before me with two letters engraved in flame upon it: the one representing the bronze woman was throbbing, powerful as an earthquake; the other was infinitely far away: the hermaphrodite on the mother-of-pearl throne with the crown of red wood on its head.

Then Shemaiah Hillel passed his hand over my eyes for the third time and I fell asleep.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:11 pm


Dear, dear Herr Pernath,

I am writing this letter to you in great haste and fear. Please destroy it as soon as you have read it—or, even better, bring it to me together with the envelope. Only that will put my mind at rest. But do not tell a soul I have written to you! Not even at the place where you will go today!

Recently (from this brief reference to an event that you witnessed, you will guess who is the author of this letter; I am too afraid to put my name at the end of it) your good, honest face filled me with a great feeling of trust; also, your dear late father taught me as a child: all this gives me the courage to turn to you, perhaps you are the only person who can help me!

I beseech you: be in the Cathedral on the Hradschin at five o'clock this evening.

A lady known to you.

I must have sat there for a quarter of an hour with the letter in my hand. The strange atmosphere of reverent solemnity, in which I had been enveloped since last night, was dissipated in a trice, blown away by the fresh breeze of a new day with its earthly tasks. A new-born destiny, wreathed in auspicious smiles, a veritable child of spring, was coming towards me. A human soul had turned to me for help! To me! What a change it brought about in my room! The worm-eaten cupboard suddenly had a smile on its carved features and the four chairs looked like four old folk sitting round the table, chuckling happily over a game of cards.

Now there was something to give meaning to my days, something rich and radiant. Was the rotten tree to bear fruit after all?

I could feel a current of vital energy coursing through my veins. It had long slept within me, concealed in the depths of my soul, buried beneath the debris of daily routine, but now it poured forth, like a spring gushing from the ice when the grip of winter is broken. And I knew, just as certainly as I knew I was holding her letter in my hand, that I would be able to help, whatever the danger that threatened her. It was the rejoicing in my heart that gave me that certitude.

Again and again I read the line, ". . . also, your dear late father taught me as a child . . ." It took my breath away. Did it not sound like the promise, 'Today thou shalt be with me in paradise'? The hand that she was stretching towards me for help also held out a gift: the memory that would lead me back to the past I longed to reach; it would reveal to me the secret, help to lift the veil that had closed off my past.

"Your dear late father", how alien the words sounded when I repeated them over to myself! Father! For a brief moment I saw the tired face of an old man with white hair appear in the armchair beside the chest: a stranger, a complete stranger, and yet so eerily familiar! Then normal vision reasserted itself and the hammerstrokes of my heart beat out the actual hour of the clock.

I started in horror. How long had I been dreaming? Had I missed the appointed time? I looked at the clock: the Lord be praised, it was only half past four.

I went into my bedroom for my hat and coat and set off down the stairs. Today I was impervious to the mutterings of the dark corners, the petty, spiteful, sour misgivings that emanated from them: "We're not letting you go—you belong to us—we don't want you to be happy—happiness in this house, the very idea!" Usually in these passages and alcoves there is a fine, poisonous dust that grabs me by the throat and chokes me, but today it retreated before the vital breath streaming from my mouth. I paused for a moment outside Hillel's door. Should I go in? Some hidden awe kept me from knocking. I felt so different today, as if it would be wrong for me to go in to him. Already the hand of life was pushing me on, down the steps.

The street was white with snow.

I think many people wished me good afternoon; whether I replied or not, I can't remember. I kept touching my breast pocket to make sure I still had the letter. The place where it lay felt warm.

I made my way through the massive stone arcades of the Old Town Square, past the bronze fountain, its baroque railings covered in icicles, and across the stone bridge with its statues of saints and its monument to St. John Nepomuk.

Down below, the river foamed as it pounded the piers of the bridge with waves of loathing.

Half dreaming, my eye caught the monument to St. Luitgard: on the hollowed-out sandstone the 'Torments of the Damned' were carved in high relief and the snow was lying thick on the lids of the souls in purgatory and on their manacled hands raised in supplication.

Arches swallowed me up and released me, palaces with arrogant carved portals on which lions' heads bit into bronze rings slowly passed me by.

Here too was snow, snow everywhere. Soft and white as the fur of a gigantic polar bear. Tall, proud windows, their ledges glittering with ice, stared coldly up at the sky. I was astonished to see the air so full of migrating birds. As I climbed the countless granite steps to the Hradschin, each one the width of four bodies laid head to foot, the city with its roofs and gables sank, step by step, from my conscious mind.

Already the twilight was creeping along the rows of houses as I stepped out into the empty square in the middle of which the Cathedral towers up to the heavenly throne. Footsteps, the edges encrusted with ice, led to the side door.

From somewhere in a distant house the soft, musing tones of a harmonium crept out into the stillness of the evening. They were like melancholy tears trickling down into the deserted square.

The well-padded door swung to with a sigh behind me as I entered the Cathedral and stood in the darkness of the side aisle. The nave was filled with the green and blue shimmer of the dying light slanting down through the stained-glass windows onto the pews; at the far end, the altar gleamed at me in a frozen cascade of gold. Showers of sparks came from the bowls of the red glass lamps. The air was musty with the smell of wax and incense.

I leant back in one of the pews. My heart grew strangely calm in this realm where everything stood still. The whole expanse of the Cathedral was filled with a presence that had no heartbeat, with a secret, patient expectation.

Eternal sleep lay over the silver reliquaries.

There! From a long, long way away the sound of horses' hooves reached my ear, muffled, scarcely audible; they seemed to approach and then fell silent.

A dull thud, like the closing of a carriage door.

The rustle of a silk dress came through the church and a slim, delicate lady's hand touched my arm. "Please, please can we go to that pillar over there. Out here among the pews I cannot bring myself to speak of the things I must tell you."

The holy images all around came into sharp focus. I was suddenly wide-awake and alert.

"I don't know how to thank you, Herr Pernath, that you have come all the way up here in this terrible weather for my sake."

I stammered a few banal phrases.

"But I could think of no other place where I would be safer from spies and danger than here. I'm sure no one has followed us to the Cathedral."

I took out the letter and handed it to her. She was almost completely enveloped in a luxurious fur, but I had recognised her as the terrified woman who had sought refuge from Wassertrum in my room in Hahnpassgasse. It did not surprise me at all; I had not expected it to be anyone else.

My eyes did not leave her face, which presumably seemed paler in the twilit alcove than it was in reality. Her beauty took my breath away and I stood there, spellbound. It was all I could do not to fall down on my knees and kiss her feet because she was the one I was to help, because she had chosen me for the task.

"Please, I beg you from the bottom of my heart to forget—at least for as long as we are in here—the situation in which you saw me when we last met", she went on urgently. "I don't know how you feel about such things."

All I could think of to say was, "I am an old man, but never in my life have I been so arrogant as to feel called upon to sit in judgment on my fellow men."

"I thank you, Herr Pernath", was her warm but simple reply. "But now I must ask you to listen patiently, to see if you can help me in my desperate situation, or at least advise me." I could feel she was in the grip of some terrible fear, her voice trembled. "That night, in the studio, that was when, to my horror, I suddenly realised that hideous monster was deliberately spying on me. For months already I had noticed that wherever I went—whether alone, or with my husband or . . . with . . . with Dr. Savioli—the villainous face of that junk-dealer would always appear somewhere in the vicinity. Awake or asleep, those squinting eyes haunted me. There is still no sign of what his intentions are, but that only increases the fear that torments me at night: when is he going to slip the noose round my neck?

At first Dr. Savioli tried to reassure me. What could a poor wretch like this Aaron Wassertrum do? At worst it would be some petty blackmail or something of the kind. But his lips went white, every time the name of Wassertrum was mentioned, and I began to suspect that, to reassure me, Dr. Savioli was concealing something from me, something dreadful that might cost him his life—or me mine!

And then I learnt what it was that he was carefully trying to conceal from me: this Wassertrum has been to see him several times, at night, in his apartment! I know something is going on, I can sense with every fibre of my body that something is gradually tightening round us like a snake crushing its prey. What does that murderer think he's doing? Why can't Dr. Savioli shake him off? No, no, I won't put up with it any longer, I must do something—anything—before it drives me mad."

I tried to put in a few words of comfort, but she interrupted me. "And in the last few days the nightmare that is threatening to choke me has taken on more and more tangible form. Dr. Savioli has suddenly fallen ill; I cannot contact him, cannot visit him without the constant fear of my love for him being discovered. He is delirious, and all that I could find out is that in his fever he imagines he is being pursued by some monster with a hare-lip: Aaron Wassertrum!

I know how brave Dr. Savioli is, so you can imagine how much it terrifies me to know that he has collapsed, paralysed by a fear which to me just seems like the dark presence of the Angel of Death.

You will say that I am a coward. If my love for him is so great, why do I not openly admit it, why do I not give up everything for him, wealth, honour, reputation and so on? But"—she screamed out the words so that they echoed round the galleries—"I cannot! I have my child, my dear little girl! I can't give up my girl! Do you think my husband would let me keep her? Here, Herr Pernath, take this"—frantically she tore open a bag that was stuffed full of strings of pearls and jewels—"and give it to this Wassertrum. I know how rapacious he is, he can have everything I possess, but he must leave me my child. That will keep him quiet, won't it? Please say something, please, for the love of God, even if it's only one word! Say you will help me!"

She was almost beside herself, but with great difficulty I managed to calm her sufficiently to get her to sit down in one of the pews. I said whatever came into my head, a tangle of disjointed phrases. All the while thoughts were whizzing round my brain, fantastic bubbles that burst scarcely had they seen the light of day, so that I hardly knew myself what my lips were saying.

Unconsciously, my gaze was fixed on the painted statue of a monk standing in a niche in the wall. As I talked and talked, the statue gradually became transformed, the monk's habit turning into a threadbare overcoat with a turned-up collar out of which appeared a youthful face with emaciated cheeks and unhealthy red blotches. Before I could comprehend my vision, the monk had returned. The throb of blood in my veins was too loud.

The unfortunate woman was bent over my hand, sobbing gently. I gave her some of the energy which had come to me when I had read her letter and which I could feel again now, coursing powerfully through my limbs. Slowly she seemed to recover.

After a long silence she started to speak softly, "I will tell you why it is you I have turned to, Herr Pernath. It is because of a few words you once said to me, and which I have never forgotten, even though it was all those years ago."

All those years ago? My blood froze.

"You were saying goodbye to me—I can't remember why, I was still a child—and you said in a friendly, but oh, so sad voice, 'I presume it will never happen, but if there should come a time in your life when you don't know where to turn, then remember me. Perhaps the good Lord will allow me to be the one to help you.' I turned away quickly and dropped my ball into the fountain so that you would not see my tears. What I would really have liked to do would have been to give you the heart of red coral that I wore on a silk ribbon round my neck, but I was too embarrassed, it would have seemed so silly."


The invisible, choking fingers were feeling their way towards my tongue again. Without warning an image appeared before my mind's eye, like the pale reflected shimmer of a long-lost, yearned-for land: a little girl in a white dress, and all around her the parkland of a country estate surrounded by old elm-trees. I could see it quite clearly.

I must have changed colour, I could tell by the hurried way she went on. "I know that what you said then was just prompted by the mood of farewell, but they have often been a comfort to me, and . . . and I thank you for that."

I clenched my teeth and called up all my strength to bury the raging pain deep in my breast which was threatening to tear me apart.

I realised that the hand which had bolted the door to my memories had performed an act of mercy. That brief shimmer from the old days had etched its message on my mind: for years a love that was too strong for my heart had gnawed at my mind until insanity had spread the soothing balm of oblivion over my wounded spirit.

Gradually insensibility spread its peace over me, cooling the tears behind my eyelids. Solemnly, proudly, the bells echoed through the Cathedral, and I could look with a joyful smile into the eyes of the one who had come to seek help from me.

Once more I heard the dull thud of the carriage door and the clatter of the horses' hooves.

Trudging through the glittering, midnight-blue snow, I made my way back down into the town. The street-lamps blinked at me in astonishment, and the piles of Christmas trees stacked up high whispered of tinsel and silver-painted nuts and the coming celebrations. Beside the column bearing the statue of the Mother of God, the old beggarwomen with their grey scarves over their heads were muttering a rosary of the Virgin by candlelight. The stalls of the Christmas market were crouched around the dark entrance to the old Ghetto. Right in the middle of them, covered with red canvas, illuminated by the harsh light of smoky torches, was the open stage of a puppet theatre. Zwakh's Punchinello, dressed in crimson and magenta, his whip with a skull dangling from it in his hand, clattered across the boards on a wooden stallion.

Crowded together in rows and with their fur caps pulled tight down over their ears, the children were staring up open-mouthed and listening spellbound to the verses of the Prague poet, Oskar Wiener, that my friend Zwakh was declaiming from inside the booth:

What have we here? A jumping jack! As skinny as a rhyming hack; All dressed in rags of red and blue—Watch the tricks that he gets up to.

I turned down the dark, twisting street that led to the square. A packed, silent crowd was standing shoulder to shoulder in the darkness in front of a notice. One man had struck a match and I managed to read odd words here and there which registered dully in my consciousness:

Missing Person

. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . his mid-sixties. . .. . ...
. . .. . frock-coat. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . ...
. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . ..face: plump and
clean shaven. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . ..
. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . white. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . ...
. . .. . .. . the Police. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .
Room no:. . .. . ...

Void of interest in my surroundings, void of all desire, I slowly went on into the darkness between the rows of unlit houses, a living corpse. A handful of tiny stars glittered in the narrow strip of sky above the gables.

At peace now, my thoughts went back to the Cathedral, and the calm that encompassed my soul became more blissful, more profound. All at once, from the square came the voice of the puppeteer, crystal clear on the wintry air, as if it were close to my ear:

Where is the heart of coral red? It hung upon a silken thread, Gleaming in the blood-red dawn.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:14 pm


Until deep into the night I paced restlessly up and down my room, tormenting my brain to find some way of helping 'her'. Often I was on the point of going down to Shemaiah Hillel, to tell him everything that had been confided to me and to ask him for advice, but each time I rejected the idea.

I saw him towering so high above me in the spirit, that it seemed a desecration to bother him with practical matters. Then again, there were moments when I was racked with doubt as to whether I really had been through all those happenings which, although only a brief span of time separated them from the present, now seemed so strangely faded compared to the throbbing vitality of my experiences of the last few hours.

Was it not all a dream? How could I, a man who had suffered the outrageous misfortune of forgetting his past, accept as fact, even for a moment, something for which my memory was the only witness on which I could call? My glance fell on Hillel's candle, which was still on the chair. Thank God! I had been in personal contact with him; that at least was one thing I could be sure of. Should I not abandon all this introspection and rush straight down to him, clasp his knees and pour out the excruciating anguish that was eating away at my heart?

I already had my hand on the latch, but then I let go of it. I could see what would happen: Hillel would gently pass his hand over my eyes and—no, no, not that! I had no right to ask for relief. 'She' had put her trust in me and in my help and if, at the moment, the danger she feared appeared small and insignificant to me, it certainly seemed enormous to her.

Tomorrow would be time enough to ask Hillel for advice. I forced myself to look at the matter coolly and objectively. Should I go and disturb him now, in the middle of the night? Impossible! It would be the act of a madman.

I was going to light the lamp, but then I let it be. The reflection of the moonlight from the roofs opposite shone into my room, making it brighter than I needed. I was afraid the night would pass even more slowly if I lit the lamp. There was a sense of hopelessness about lighting the lamp just to await the morning; a vague fear whispered that that would make the dawn recede until I should never see it.

I went over to the window. The rows of ornate gables were like a ghostly cemetery floating in the air, weatherworn tombstones with eroded dates erected above the dark vaults of decay, those 'dwelling-places' where the swarms of the living had gnawed out caverns and passageways.

For a long time I stood there, staring out into the night, until I gradually became aware of a feeling of surprise nibbling gently at my consciousness: why was I not trembling with fear when I could clearly hear the sound of cautious steps from the other side of the wall?

I listened. There was no doubt about it, someone was out there again. The brief groans from the boards betrayed each hesitant, creeping step. At once I was fully alert again. Every fibre in my body was so concentrated in my determination to hear that I literally grew smaller. All my sense of time was focused on the present.

A brief rustling that broke off short, as if startled at itself, then deadly silence, that agonising, watchful hush, fraught with its own betrayal, that stretched each minute to an excruciating eternity. I stood there, stock-still, my ear pressed against the wall, with the ominous certainty rising in my throat that someone else was standing on the other side, doing just the same.

I strained my ear—nothing.

The studio next door seemed utterly deserted.

Silently, on tiptoe, I stole over to the chair by my bed, picked up Hillel's candle and lit it. Then I stood there, working out what I was going to do. The handle of the iron door in the corridor that led to Savioli's studio was on the other side. I picked up the first suitable implement that came to hand, a wire hook that I found on the table among my engraving tools. That kind of lock was easy to open, all it needed was one touch on the spring.

And then what would happen?

I decided that it could only be Aaron Wassertrum next door, prying around, perhaps rummaging through cupboards and drawers to find more evidence, more weapons in his fight against Savioli. What good would my interrupting him at it do?

I did not waste much time in thought. Action, not reflection, was what was needed! Anything to put an end to this terrible wait for morning to come!

The next moment I was standing by the iron door. I pushed at it, then carefully inserted the hook into the lock, listening all the time. Yes! From inside the studio came the scraping sound of someone pulling out a drawer.

The next moment the bolt shot back.

Although it was dark and my candle only dazzled me, I had a view of the whole room. A man in a long black coat started up in panic from a desk, hesitated for a second, uncertain what to do, took one step forward, as if he were going to hurl himself at me, then snatched his hat from his head and swiftly covered his face with it. I was about to demand what he was doing here, but he forestalled me. "Pernath? Is it you?! For God's sake, get rid of that light!" I seemed to recognise the voice; it certainly wasn't Wassertrum's.

Automatically I blew out the candle.

The room lay in semi-darkness, dimly lit, like my own, by the shimmering haze from the window, and I had to strain my eyes to the utmost before I could recognise in the emaciated face with the unhealthy red blotches that suddenly appeared above the coat, the features of the medical student, Charousek.

"The monk!" were the words that came to my lips, and all at once I comprehended the vision I had had yesterday evening in the Cathedral. Charousek! That was the man I should turn to! And I heard once again the words he had spoken while we were sheltering from the rain in the house entrance, "Aaron Wassertrum will soon find out that there are those who can pierce the vital artery with poisoned needles through solid walls. Soon, on the very day he thinks he has Dr. Savioli at his mercy!"

Had I an ally in Charousek? Did he know what had happened as well? The fact that I had found him here, and at such an odd hour, suggested as much, but I was loth to ask him straight out. He had rushed over to the window and was peering through the curtains down into the street. I guessed that he was afraid Wassertrum might have seen the light of my candle.

After a long silence he said, in an unsteady voice, "You probably think I'm a thief, Pernath, finding me here, at night, in someone else's apartment, but I swear to you—"

I interrupted immediately to reassure him. To show that I did not distrust him at all but saw him, on the contrary, as an ally, I told him everything—with the few reservations I thought necessary—about the studio and that I was afraid that a lady who was a close friend of mine was in danger of falling victim, in some way or other, to blackmailing demands from the rapacious Wassertrum. From the polite way he heard me out, without putting any questions, I deduced that he already knew most of it, even if not the precise details.

"So it's true", he muttered to himself when I had finished. "I was right after all. The fellow intends to ruin Savioli, but hasn't enough evidence yet. Why else would he spend all his time snooping round here? You see," he explained, when he saw my puzzled expression, "yesterday I was walking—let's say 'by chance"—along Hahnpassgasse when I happened to notice Wassertrum strolling up and down, with feigned nonchalance, outside the entrance to this house; the moment he thought no one was looking, he quickly slipped into the building. I immediately followed and pretended to be visiting you; that is, I knocked at your door, and as I did so I caught him trying a key on the iron door to the roof space. Of course, he stopped the moment he saw me and used the same pretence of knocking at your door. You don't seem to have been in.

Cautious enquiries in the Ghetto revealed that someone—and from the descriptions it could only be Dr. Savioli—had a secret love-nest here. As Savioli is seriously ill, I could work out the rest for myself. See, I've taken these from the drawer, to thwart Wassertrum", he said, pointing to a packet of letters on the desk. "They're the only papers I could find, let's hope I haven't missed any. At least I've had a good look through all the chests and cupboards, as far as it's possible in this darkness."

As he was speaking, my eyes searched the room and were caught by the sight of a trapdoor in the floor. I vaguely remembered Zwakh telling me some time or other that there was a secret entrance to the study from below. It was square and had a ring as a handle.

"Where shall we keep the letters?" asked Charousek. "I should imagine you and I, Herr Pernath, are probably the only people Wassertrum thinks are harmless, me because . . . well . . . there are . . . particular reasons for that" (his features were twisted in an expression of violent hatred as he spat out those last words) "and you he considers . . ." Charousek choked back the word 'mad' with a hurried and obviously feigned fit of coughing, but I guessed what he had been going to say. I was not hurt by it. I felt so happy at the idea of being able to help 'her' that my sensitivity to such suggestions had completely vanished. We decided to hide the packet in my room and went back there through the iron door.

Charousek had left a long time ago but I still could not make up my mind to go to bed. A sense of unease was gnawing at me, making rest impossible. I felt there was still something I had to do, but what was it? What? Make a plan of our next moves for Charousek? No, that alone wasn't enough. He wouldn't let the junk-dealer out of his sight for one second anyway, of that there was no doubt. I shuddered at the memory of the hatred emanating from his every word. What on earth could it be Wassertrum had done to him?

This strange sense of unease inside me was growing, driving me to distraction. There was something invisible calling me, something from the other side, and I could not understand it. I felt like a horse being broken in: it can feel the tug on the reins, but doesn't know which movement it's supposed to perform, cannot tell what is in its master's mind.

Go down to Shemaiah Hillel?

Every fibre in my body resisted the idea.

The vision I had had in the Cathedral, when Charousek's head had appeared on the monk's body in answer to my mute appeal for help, was indication enough that I should not reject vague feelings out of hand. For some time now hidden powers had been germinating within me, of that I was certain; the sense was so overpowering that I did not even try to deny it. To feel letters, not just read them with my eyes in books, to set up an interpreter within me to translate the things instinct whispers without the aid of words: that must be the key, I realised, that must be the way to establish a clear language of communication with my own inner being.

'They have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear and hear not'; the passage from the Bible came to me like an explanation.

"Key . . . key . . . key . . ." As my mind was teasing me with these strange ideas, I suddenly noticed that my lips were mechanically repeating that one word. "Key . . . key . . .?" My eye fell on the wire hook which I had used to open the door to the loft, and immediately I was inflamed with the desire to see where the square trapdoor in the studio led. Without pause for thought, I went back into Savioli's studio and pulled the ring on the trapdoor until I had managed to raise it.

At first, nothing but darkness.

Then I saw steep, narrow steps descending into the blackness. I set off down them, but they seemed never-ending. I groped my way past alcoves damp with mould and mildew, round twists, turns and sharp corners, across passageways leading off ahead, to the left or the right, past the remains of an old wooden door, taking this fork or that, at random; and always the steps, steps and more steps, leading up and down, up and down, and over it all the heavy, stifling smell of soil and fungoid growth.

And still not a glimmer of light. If only I had brought Hillel's candle with me!

At last the ground became level. From the dull crunching sound of my footsteps I guessed I was walking on dry sand. It could only be one of those countless passages that run, without rhyme or reason, from the Ghetto down to the river. I was not in the least surprised; half the town had been built over this network of tunnels and since time immemorial the inhabitants of Prague had had good reason to shun the light of day.

Even though I seemed to have been walking for an eternity, the complete lack of sound from above my head told me that I must still be within the confines of the Ghetto, where a tomb-like silence reigns at night. Had I been below even moderately busy streets or squares, the clatter of carriages would have reached me.

For a second fear grabbed me by the throat: what if I was merely going round in circles? What if I should fall down some hole and injure myself, break a leg and be stuck down here?! What would happen to her letters then? They lay in my room, and Wassertrum was sure to get his hands on them.

Unbidden, the comforting presence of Shemaiah Hillel, whom I vaguely associated with the idea of help and guidance, flooded through my mind. To be on the safe side, however, I went more slowly, checking my foothold at each step and holding one arm above me so as not to knock my head against the roof if the passage should suddenly get lower. Occasionally, and then with increasing frequency, my hand hit the rock above me until eventually it was so low that I had to bend down to continue.

Suddenly there was empty space above my upraised arm. I stood still and stared up. Eventually I seemed to make out a scarcely perceptible shimmer of light coming from the ceiling. Could it be the opening of some shaft, perhaps from a cellar? I stretched up and felt around with both hands above head height. The opening was rectangular and lined with stone. Gradually I began to make out the shadowy outlines of a horizontal cross at the top of the opening and finally I managed to grasp the bars that formed it and pull myself up and through the gap between them.

Standing on the cross, I tried to get my bearings. If my fingers were not deceiving me, that must be the remains of an iron spiral staircase? I had to spend a long, long time groping in the darkness until I found the second step, then I started climbing. There were eight steps in all, each one at almost head height above the last.

Strange! At the top, the staircase came up against a kind of horizontal panelling which let through, in regular lines, the shimmer of light that I had seen from below. I bent down as far as I could to see if, from the extra distance, I could make out the pattern of the lines. To my astonishment I realised that they formed the precise shape of a six-pointed star, such as is found on synagogues.

What on earth could it be?

Suddenly it dawned on me: this, too, was a trapdoor, with the light seeping round the edges. A wooden trapdoor in the shape of a star. I put my shoulder against it and heaved; one second later I was standing in a room flooded with bright moonlight. It was fairly small and completely empty apart from a pile of rubbish in one corner. There was only one window, and that had strong iron bars. I checked the walls several times, but however carefully I searched I could find no door or other kind of entrance, apart from the one I had just used. The bars over the window were too close for me to put my head through, but from what I could see of the street outside, the room must have been roughly on a level with the third floor, as the houses opposite had only two storeys and were considerably lower.

The pavement on the other side of the street was just in view, but the dazzling moonlight that was shining full in my face formed deep shadows, rendering it impossible for me to make out any details. The street must be part of the Jewish Ghetto, for all the windows of the building opposite were bricked up and merely indicated by ledges projecting from the wall; nowhere else in the city do the houses turn their backs on each other in this odd fashion.

In vain I racked my brains to try to work out what this singular building in which I found myself might be. Could it perhaps be one of the abandoned side-towers of the Greek Church? Or did it somehow form part of the Old-New Synagogue?

The situation was all wrong for that.

Again I looked round the room: not the slightest clue. The walls and ceiling were bare, the whitewash and plaster had long since flaked off and there were neither nails nor holes to suggest the room had ever even been inhabited. The floor was ankle-deep in dust, as if no living being had been here for decades.

I shuddered at the idea of examining the rubbish in the corner. It was in deepest darkness and I could not make out what it consisted of. At first glance it appeared to be rags tied up in a bundle. Or was it a couple of old, black suitcases? I prodded it with my foot and managed to use my heel to drag part of it towards the ray of light the moon cast across the room. It looked like a broad, dark strip of material that was slowly unrolling.

What was that spot, glittering like an eye? A metal button perhaps?

It gradually resolved itself into the arm of some curiously old-fashioned coat hanging out of the bundle. And beneath it was a little white box, or something like that; under the pressure of my foot it gave way and crumbled into a mottled, layered heap. I gave it another poke with my foot and a piece of paper fluttered into the light.

A picture?

I bent down: a Juggler, the lowest trump in the game of Tarock. What I had taken for a white box was a pack of cards.

I picked it up. How grotesque, a pack of cards in this eerie place! The strange thing was, I had to force myself to smile as a faint shudder of horror crept up my spine. I tried to think of a simple explanation of how they came to be here, mechanically counting the pack as I did so. Seventy-eight cards, it was complete. Even as I was counting them I was struck by the fact that the cards felt like slivers of ice. They gave off a glacial cold, and I found that my fingers were so stiff that it was almost impossible to release the cards from their grip. Once more I looked for a rational explanation. My thin suit and the long walk without coat or hat through the underground passages, the bitter cold of the winter's night, the stone walls, the severe frost that seemed to flow in through the window with the moonlight—if there was anything odd it was that I had only started to feel the cold now. The fever of excitement I was in must have made me insensible to it.

Fits of shivering rippled across my skin, penetrating deeper and deeper into my body. My skeleton seemed to be turning to ice and I was aware of each individual bone in my body as if it were a cold metal rod onto which my flesh was freezing fast. Walking round the room, stamping my feet on the ground, beating my arms against my sides—nothing helped. I clenched my teeth to stop them chattering.

It must be Death, I said to myself, laying his chill hand on my skull. And I fought like a madman against the numbing sleep in which the freezing cold was enveloping me like a stifling, soft woollen cloak.

The letters in my room, her letters! The words exploded in my brain like a howl of despair. They will be found if I die here! And she is relying on me, she is looking to me to save her! Help!—Help!—Help!

And I screamed out through the bars of the window, sending my cry echoing through the deserted street, "Help! Help! Help!" I threw myself to the ground and immediately jumped up again. I mustn't die, I mustn't! For her sake, for her sake alone! I had to find warmth, even if it meant striking a spark from my own bones. Then I caught sight of the rags in the corner, and I rushed across to them and pulled them on over my own clothes with shaking hands. It was a threadbare suit of some thick, dark material in an ancient, curious style.

It gave off a smell of decay.

Then I huddled down in the opposite corner and felt my skin slowly, very slowly begin to grow warmer. But the gruesome awareness of the icy skeleton inside my body refused to leave. I sat there motionless, my eyes wandering round the room. The playing card I had noticed first—the Juggler—was still in the ray of light that ran across the middle of the room.

I stared at it, I could not tear my eyes away.

As far as I could tell from that distance, it seemed to be a crude picture, painted in watercolours by a child's hand, representing the Hebrew character Aleph in the form of a man in quaint, old-fashioned dress, with a short, pointed beard, and one hand raised whilst the other pointed downwards. I could feel a disturbing thought seeping its way into my mind: did the man's face not bear a strange resemblance to my own? That beard, it wasn't right for a Juggler. I crawled over to where the card lay and threw it into the corner with the rest of the jumble, just to rid myself of the tormenting sight.

There it was now, lying there and gleaming across at me through the gloom, a blurred, greyish-white smudge.

I forced myself to think about what I could do to get back to my room. Wait for morning, then call out from the window to passers-by to find a ladder and bring me some candles or a lantern! Without a light I would never manage to find my way back through the maze of tunnels, that was certain, horrifyingly certain. Or, if the window should be too high, perhaps someone could climb onto the roof and use a rope . . .? My God! It struck me like a bolt of lightning. Now I knew where I was! A room without an entrance, with only a barred window, the ancient house in Altschulgasse that everyone avoided! Many years ago someone had let himself down by a rope to look in through the window and the rope had broken and . . . Yes! I was in the house where the ghostly figure of the Golem disappeared each time!

I was overwhelmed with horror. I tried to resist, but in vain; even the memory of the letters was powerless against it. My mind was paralysed and my heart started to contract convulsively.

Hastily I told myself it was only the icy draught blowing from the corner over there. Lips numb with fear, I repeated it over to myself, faster and faster, my breath whistling, but it was no use: that smudge of white over there, the card, it was swelling into blistered lumps, feeling its way forward to the edge of the ray of moonlight and then creeping back into the darkness. The silence in the room was punctuated by dripping sounds, half imagined, half real. . . outside me, all around me, and yet somewhere else at the same time . . . deep within my heart and then out in the room once more; it was the sound a pair of compasses makes when it falls and the point sticks into a piece of wood.

And again and again, that smudge of white .. . that smudge of white! "It's a card, a miserable, stupid little playing card!" I sent the scream echoing round my skull, but in vain . . . now it was . . . was taking on human form . . . the Juggler . . . and was squatting in the corner and staring at me with vacant eyes out of my own face!

For hour after hour I sat there without moving, huddled up in my corner, a frozen skeleton in mouldy clothes that belonged to another. And across the room he sat, he . . . I . . . myself.

Mute and motionless, we stared into each other's eyes, the one a hideous mirror-image of the other. Can he see the moonbeam too, as it sucks its way across the floor as sluggishly as a snail, and crawls up the infinite spaces of the wall like the hand of some invisible clock, growing paler and paler as it rises?

I fixed him with my gaze, and it was no use his trying to dissolve in the half-light of morning which was coming in through the window to help him. I held him fast.

Step by step I wrestled with him for my life, for the life that is mine because it no longer belongs to me. He grew smaller and smaller, and as the day broke he crept back into the playing card. I stood up, walked across the room and put the Juggler in my pocket.

The street below was still completely deserted.

I rummaged through the things in the corner that were now revealed in the dull morning light: some broken pottery, there a rusty pan, here scraps of mouldy material, the neck of a bottle. Inanimate objects, and yet so remarkably familiar. And the walls too, how clear the lines and cracks were becoming! Now where had I seen them before?

I picked up the pack of cards and it began to dawn on me. Had I not painted them myself? As a child? A long, long time ago? It was an ancient set of tarot cards. With Hebrew signs. Number twelve must be the Hanged Man, I seemed to remember, hanging head downwards with his arms behind his back? I flicked through the pack. There! There he was!

Then another image, half dream, half certainty, appeared before my inner eye: a blackened schoolhouse, crooked, hunch-backed, a sullen witches' cottage, its left shoulder too high, the other merging into a neighbouring house. There are several of us, adolescent boys . . . somewhere there is an abandoned cellar . . .

Then I looked down at my body and was thrown into confusion once more. I did not recognise the old-fashioned suit at all. . .

I started at the clatter of a cart on the cobbles, but when I looked down from the window there was not a soul to be seen, just a mastiff standing pensively by the corner of a house.

There! At last! Voices! Human voices! Two old women were trotting slowly down the street. I forced my head part-way through the bars and called out to them. Open-mouthed, they stared up, asking each other what it might be. But when they saw me they let out a piercing cry and fled. I realised they had taken me for the Golem.

I expected a crowd to gather so I would be able to explain my situation to them, but a good hour passed during which, now and then, a pale face would arrive below, peer up warily at me and immediately start back in mortal fear. Should I wait—perhaps for hours, perhaps even until tomorrow—for the police to arrive, those state-licensed crooks, as Zwakh calls them?

No, I would rather try to investigate the underground passages, to follow them a little way to see where they led. Perhaps now it was day a glimmer of light might come through cracks in the rock?

I clambered back down the spiral stairs and continued on the way I had been following yesterday, over whole mounds of broken bricks, through subterranean cellars, then up a ruined staircase—to find myself suddenly in the hallway of the black schoolhouse I had seen in my dream.

Immediately I was engulfed in a tidal wave of memories: desks bespattered from top to bottom with ink, arithmetic jotters, songs bawled out at full voice, a boy setting a cockchafer loose in the class, readers with sandwiches squashed between the pages and smelling of orange peel. But I wasted no time in reflection and hurried home.

The first person I met—it was in Salnitergasse—was a misshapen old Jew with white side-locks. Scarcely had he caught sight of me than he covered his face with his hands and started to reel off Hebrew prayers in a loud howl. At the noise, many people must have rushed out of their hovels, for an incredible clamour broke out behind me. I turned round and saw a teeming throng of pale, terror-struck faces surging down the alley behind me. I stood dumbfounded until I looked down at myself: I was still wearing the strange, medieval clothes from the night before over my suit; the people must think they were seeing the Golem. Quickly I hurried round the corner and hid in an entrance, tearing off the mouldy clothes.

A second later the crowd was pouring past me, waving sticks in the air and shouting abuse.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:16 pm


Several times during the course of the day I had knocked at Hillel's door. I felt I could not rest until I had asked him what all the strange events I had been through could mean, but each time I was told he was not at home. His daughter said she would let me know as soon as he came home from the Jewish Town Hall.

What a strange girl she is, that Miriam. A type of girl I have never come across before. A beautiful girl, but with a beauty so foreign that at first you can't comprehend it, a beauty that strikes you dumb when you look at her and, in some inexplicable way, makes you feel disheartened. As 1 mused on this, the only explanation I could come up with was that her face must be formed according to laws of proportion that have been lost for thousands of years. I wondered what precious stone I would have to choose to capture it in a cameo while still engraving it according to the rules of my art. The attempt failed at the very first hurdle: the blue-black sheen of her hair and eyes were beyond any stone I could think of. How then could I even contemplate trying to capture the vision, the spirit of the unearthly slimness of that face in a cameo? All that would emerge would be the tedious similitude of an academic portrait. I came to see that only a mosaic would do, but what materials would I use? It would take a lifetime just to assemble a suitable supply of them.

Where on earth was Hillel? I found myself longing for him as for a dear, old friend. It was remarkable how attached to him I had grown in the last few days. After all, to be precise, I had only spoken to him once in my whole life.

Of course! The letters—her letters. I was going to find a better hiding place for them. For my own peace of mind, in case I should have to be away from home for any length of time again. I took them out of the chest; they would be safer kept in the iron box.

A photograph slipped out from among the letters. I tried not to look, but it was too late. 'She' was looking me straight in the eyes, a brocade gown round her shoulders, just as I had seen her the first time, when she had fled from Savioli's studio and taken refuge in my room.

A stabbing pain almost drove me to distraction. I read the dedication underneath without taking in the words; then came the name:

Your Angelina.


As I spoke the name, the veil that had shut off my youth from me was rent from top to bottom.

I felt I was going to collapse under the weight of misery. I clawed the air and bit my hand, I whimpered: O dear God, only let me be blind once more, let me continue that life-in-death I have lived until now!

The agony welled up inside me, rose to my lips and poured forth. It tasted strangely sweet, like blood . . .


The name throbbed through my veins; it was an unbearable, ghostly caress.

With a violent shudder I pulled myself together and forced myself, my clenched teeth grinding together, to stare at the photograph until I slowly mastered it.

Mastered it!

As I had mastered the playing card during the night.

Steps at last! A man's tread.

He was here!

Joyfully I rushed to the door and threw it open.

Outside stood Shemaiah Hillel and behind him—I reproached myself for the feeling of disappointment it caused me—with his red cheeks and round, child's eyes, was old Zwakh the puppeteer.

"It gives me great pleasure, Herr Pernath, to see you in such good health", said Hillel.

Such a cold tone?

Ice. Suddenly the room was full of ice, searing, numbing ice.

In a daze, I only half listened to what Zwakh, breathless with excitement, was prattling on to me about.

"Have you heard? The Golem is haunting the Ghetto again! We were talking about it not that long ago. You remember, don't you, Pernath? The whole of the Ghetto is in uproar. Vrieslander saw it with his own eyes. And this time again it started with a murder!" I looked up in astonishment: a murder?

Zwakh shook me. "Yes. Don't you ever hear anything, Pernath? There's a huge police notice appealing for witnesses at every corner: fat old Zottmann, the 'Freemason'—I mean Zottmann the managing director of the Life Assurance Company—has been murdered, so they say. Loisa—the one who lives in this house—has already been arrested. And Rosina has disappeared without trace. The Golem . . . the Golem . . . it's enough to make your hair stand on end."

I made no answer, but searched Hillel's eyes. Why was he staring at me so fixedly? All at once the corners of his mouth twitched with a suppressed smile. I realised it was meant for me.

I was so beside myself with joy I could have flung my arms around his neck. In my ecstasy I rushed aimlessly round the room. What should I bring first? Glasses? A bottle of burgundy? (I only had the one.) Cigarettes? Finally I managed to speak. "But why don't you sit down?" Quickly I pushed chairs across for my friends.

Zwakh was beginning to get irritated. "Why do you keep smiling like that, Hillel? Perhaps you don't believe the Golem is haunting the Ghetto? It seems to me you don't believe in the Golem at all."

"I would not believe in it even if I were to see it standing before me in this very room", Hillel calmly answered, with a glance at me. I understood the double meaning his words contained.

In astonishment, Zwakh took his glass from his lips without drinking. "And the evidence of hundreds of people counts for nothing to you, Hillel? But just you wait and mark my words: now there will be murder after murder in the Jewish quarter. I know about these things. The Golem brings some macabre things in its wake."

"There is nothing miraculous about a proliferation of similar events", replied Hillel. He stood up as he spoke, went over to the window and looked down at the junk shop. "When the thaw comes, the roots begin to stir, the poisonous ones as well as the wholesome ones."

Zwakh gave me a merry wink, jerking his head in Hillel's direction. "If the Rabbi wanted, he could tell us things that would make your hair stand on end", he said in a half-whisper. Shemaiah turned round.

"I am not a Rabbi, even if I have the right to use that title. I am just a poor archivist at the Jewish Town Hall and keep the register of the living and the dead."

I felt there was some hidden significance in his words. The old puppeteer seemed unconsciously aware of it as well. He fell quiet, and for a long time none of us spoke.

It was Zwakh who broke the silence, and his voice sounded unusually grave. "By the way, Rabbi—I'm sorry, I mean Herr Hillel, there's something I have been meaning to ask you for a long time. You don't have to answer if you'd rather not, or if you're not allowed to . . ."

Shemaiah came over to the table and idly fingered the wine-glass. He did not drink, perhaps there were Jewish rituals forbidding it.

"Ask away, Herr Zwakh."

"You know something of the Jewish esoteric doctrine called the Cabbala, Hillel?"

"Only a little."

"I have heard there is supposed to be a collection of mystical writings from which one can learn the Cabbala: the Sohar . . ."

"Yes, the Sohar, the Book of Splendour."

"There you are, you see!" Zwakh said angrily. "Isn't it scandalous that a book that is supposed to contain the keys to the understanding of the Bible and to eternal bliss—-"

Hillel interrupted him. "Only some keys."

"All right! But some keys at least! And isn't it scandalous that this work, because of its great value and extreme rarity, is only available to the rich? In fact I believe I'm right in saying there is only one copy, and that in the British Museum in London and written, what's more, in Chaldaean, Aramaic, Hebrew or whatever. Have I, for example, in my whole life ever had the opportunity to learn those languages or to go to London?"

"Are all your desires set so passionately on that goal", asked Hillel, gently mocking.

"Well, to be honest.. . no", Zwakh admitted, somewhat deflated.

"Then you can have no cause for complaint", Hillel said drily. "Unless you cry out for the spirit with every atom in your body, as a man who is suffocating gasps for air, you cannot see the mysteries of God."

'Despite that, there is said to be a book which contains all the keys to the puzzles of the other world, not just some.' As the thought flashed through my mind, my hand automatically fingered the Juggler, which I still had in my pocket, but before I could formulate the question, Zwakh had spoken it out loud.

Once again Hillel smiled his sphinx-like smile. "Every question that can be asked by man is answered the moment it is asked in the spirit."

Zwakh turned to me, "Have you any idea what he means by that?" But I gave no answer, I was holding my breath so as not to miss a single word of what Hillel was saying.

Shemaiah went on, "The whole of life consists of nothing but questions which have taken on physical form and which bear the seed of their answer within them, and of answers which are pregnant with questions. A man who sees anything else in it is a fool."

Zwakh thumped the table. "Yes: questions that are different every time and answers that mean different things to different people."

"That is the whole point", said Hillel amicably. "It is, I believe, solely the doctor's privilege to have 'one pill for every ill". Each questioner is given the answer best suited to his needs; otherwise humanity would not follow the path of their longings. Do you think there is no rhyme or reason why our Jewish books are written in consonants alone? Each reader has to find for himself the secret vowels that go with them and which reveal a meaning that is for him alone; the living word should not wither into dead dogma."

The old puppeteer disagreed violently. "That's nothing but words, Rabbi, words! Call me a fairground juggler if I can make head or tail of it!"

A fairground juggler! Like a bolt from the blue, Zwakh's words immediately brought back to mind the Juggler I had found during the night. I almost fell off my chair in horrified surprise.

Hillel avoided my eye. I heard his voice as from a great distance. "A juggler? Perhaps that is what you are. One should never be too sure of oneself. By the way Herr Zwakh, talking of jugglers, do you play Tarock?"

"Tarock? Of course. Since I was a boy."

"Then I'm astonished you can ask me about a book which contains the whole of the Cabbala when you must have held it in your hand thousands of times."

"Me? In my hand? My own hand?" Zwakh scratched his head in bewilderment.

"Yes, you! Has it never struck you that the Tarock pack has twenty-two trumps—precisely the same number as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet? And, what is more, do not our Bohemian cards have pictures which are obviously symbols? The Fool, Death, the Devil, the Last Judgment? How loud, my friend, do you want life to shout its answers to you? It's not necessary, of course, for you to know that Tarock, or Tarot, is the same as the Jewish word Tora, 'the Law', or the old Egyptian tarut, which means 'One who is asked', and the ancient Zend word tarisk, which means 'I demand the answer'. But scholars should know these facts before they assert that the Tarock pack originated during the time of Charles the Sixth. And just as the Juggler, the lowest trump, is the first card in the pack, so man is the first figure in his own picture book, his own double: the Hebrew character Aleph, which is formed after the shape of a man, with one hand pointing up at the sky and the other downwards, saying, therefore, 'As it is above, so it is below; as it is below, so it is above.' That is why I said before, who knows whether you are really Zwakh the puppeteer and not the 'Juggler'? Do not tempt fate."

As he spoke, Hillel fixed his gaze on me, and I gradually felt greater and greater depths of new meaning open up at his words. "Do not tempt fate, Herr Zwakh. If you do, you can find yourself straying into dark passages from which no one has ever returned unless he bore a talisman with him. There is a legend that once three men descended into the realm of darkness; one went mad, the other blind, and only the third, Rabbi ben Akiba, returned safely home and said he had met himself. You may object that there are a number of people—Goethe, for example,—who have met themselves, usually on a bridge or some other footway leading from one bank of a river to the other, have looked themselves in the eye and not gone mad. But that was just a reflection of their own consciousness and not a true double, not what is called Habal Garmin, 'the breath of the bones', of which it is said, 'As it went down into the grave, in bone incorruptible, so will it rise up on the day of the Last Judgment'." Hillel's gaze pierced deeper and deeper into mine. "Our grandmothers say of him, 'He lives high above the ground in a room without a door, with

only one window, from which it is impossible to communicate with mankind. Anyone who manages to bind him and to refine him, will be reconciled with himself . . . to get back M to Tarock, however, you know as well as I do that each person is dealt a different hand, but it is the one who knows how to use the trumps aright who wins the game. But come along now, Herr Zwakh, it's time to go, otherwise you'll drink all of Herr Pernath's wine and there'll be none left for him."
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:20 pm


A snow-battle was raging outside my window. One snow-flake regiment after the other, tiny soldiers in shaggy, white coats, rushed across the window-panes for minutes on end, always in the same direction, as if they were all fleeing from some particularly vicious enemy. Then all of a sudden they would tire of running away, seemed, for some inexplicable reason, to be consumed with anger and dashed back again until they were ambushed from above and below by new hostile armies and everything dissolved into a chaotic, swirling mass.

I felt as though months had elapsed since the strange experiences which I had been through such a short while ago. Had it not been for the fact that several times a day new and ever more grotesque rumours of the Golem would reach my ears and refresh my memory of that night, I think there would have been moments when I suspected I had been the victim of a hallucination.

The thing that stood out most vividly from the fantastic pattern the events had woven round me was what Zwakh had told me about the murder of the so-called 'Freemason', which was still unsolved. I really could not see pockmarked Loisa as the murderer, although I was not without my own, dark suspicions. Almost immediately after Prokop claimed to have heard a weird noise from the sewers, we had seen the lad at Loisitchek's. On the other hand, there was no reason to believe the shout from underground was a cry for help, even assuming it was not simply a figment of the imagination.

The flurries of snow were dazzling my eyes and I was beginning to see everything as a jumble of dancing stripes. I turned my attention back to the cameo I was working on. I had made a wax model of Miriam's face and I felt that the moonstone, with its bluish sheen, ought to be perfect for it. I was very pleased; it was a happy chance that I had found something so suitable among my stock of stones. The deep-black hornblende setting gave it just the right light, and its shape fitted so well it was as if nature had created it especially to be transformed into a lasting likeness of Miriam's delicate profile.

Initially it had been my intention to cut a cameo from it representing the Egyptian god Osiris. I had been inspired by the vision of the hermaphrodite from the Book of Ibbur which I could recall to mind at will with remarkable clarity but, after I had made the first incisions, I gradually came to see such a close resemblance to the daughter of Shemaiah Hillel, that I altered my plan.

The Book of Ibbur!

The memory affected me so strongly that I laid aside my burin. It was incredible, all the things that had come into my life in such a short stretch of time! All at once, like someone who suddenly finds himself transported into the middle of an interminable sandy desert, I became conscious of the immense, profound loneliness separating me from my fellow men. Had I a single friend, apart from Hillel, with whom I could talk about my experiences?

It was true that in the still small hours of recent nights the memory had returned of how, throughout my youth, going back even to my earliest childhood, I had been tormented by an indescribable, agonising thirst for the miraculous, for anything that lay beyond mortality. But the fulfilment of my yearning had come like a violent hurricane, crushing the joy even as it welled up in my soul. I was trembling with fear at the thought of the inevitable moment when I would wake to my past, when those forgotten events would come alive in their full, soul-searing immediacy.

But not yet, not yet! Let me first savour the pleasure of watching this unutterable radiance come towards me!

It was in my power! I only had to go into my bedroom and unlock the box in which lay the Book of Ibbur, the gift of the invisible ones.

How long ago it was since my hand last touched it when I locked up Angelina's letters with it!

From time to time, when the wind sends the snow piled up on the roofs cascading down to the ground, there is a dull rumbling from outside. Otherwise all is hushed silence, as the carpet of snow over the cobble-stones absorbs every noise.

I was about to go back to my engraving when suddenly, along the street below, came the sound of horses' hooves, the clash of steel on stone so sharp I could almost see the flash of sparks. It was impossible to open the window to look down, it was bound to the masonry with icy sinews and the lower half was white with drifting snow. All I could see was Charousek, who was standing and talking, apparently quite amicably, to Wassertrum. I saw the words die on their lips and amazement spread across both their faces as they stared, presumably at the carriage, which was invisible from where I was.

It must be Angelina's husband, was the thought that flashed through my mind. It couldn't be Angelina herself, it would be sheer madness for her to drive up in her carriage outside my house in Hahnpassgasse for everyone to see! But what should I tell her husband if that is who it is and he asks me straight out?

Deny it, of course, deny everything!

Quickly I tried to work out what might have happened. It can only be her husband; he'll have received an anonymous letter—from Wassertrum most likely—telling him she's meeting her lover here; she'll have thought up some excuse, probably that she's commissioned a cameo or something of the kind from me. There! A furious knocking at my door and—Angelina was standing before me.

She was incapable of speech, but the expression on her face told me everything: there was no point in hiding any more, the game was up.

And yet there was something inside me that rejected this interpretation. I just could not bring myself to think that the feeling that I could help her had been a delusion. I led her to the armchair and silently stroked her hair as she, like a weary child, pressed her face to my breast. We could hear the crackling of the logs in the stove and see the red glow of the flames fluttering across the floorboards, flaring up and dying away—flaring up and dying away—flaring up and dying away . . .

I seemed to hear a voice inside me singing, 'Where is the heart of coral red?' I started up. Where am I? How long has she been sitting here?

I questioned her, cautiously, gently, oh! so gently, so as not to alarm her, taking care that my probing should not touch the painful wound. Piece by piece, I learnt all I needed to know, putting it together like a mosaic.

"Your husband knows. . .?"

"No, not yet; he's away."

So Charousek had guessed correctly: it was Dr. Savioli whose life was in danger. And it was because it was Savioli's life that was being threatened and not hers any more, that she was here. I realised she no longer had any thought of concealment.

Wassertrum had been to see Savioli again; had forced his way to his sick-bed by means of threats and force.

Go on! Go on! What did he want from him?

What he wanted? Half Savioli had told her, half she had guessed: Wassertrum wanted . . . wanted . . . Savioli . . . to . . . to take his own life. Now she knew the reason for Wassertrum's wild, unbridled hatred: it was Savioli who had driven his son, Wassory the eye specialist, to his death.

The first thought that flashed through my mind was to dash down and reveal everything to Wassertrum, to tell him that it was Charousek who had struck the blow, Savioli had only been his instrument . . . 'Traitor! Traitor!' screamed a voice inside my brain, 'You would hand over Charousek to the vengeance of that vindictive rogue, a penniless, consumptive student who tried to help you and her!' I felt as though I were being torn into two bleeding halves. Then a calm, ice-cold voice gave me the solution. 'You fool! The answer is in your own hand. All you have to do is pick up that file on the table over there, run down the stairs and stick it into that junk-dealer's throat until the point comes out through the back of his neck!'

My heart sent up a jubilant cry of thanksgiving to God.

I continued my questioning. "And Dr. Savioli?"

He would kill himself, there was no doubt about it, unless she managed to save him. The nurses were not letting him out of their sight; they had drugged him with morphine, but perhaps he would suddenly wake up, perhaps he was . . . even now . . . and . . . and . . . No! No! She had to leave, she mustn't waste another second; she would write to her husband, confess everything; let him take the child from her, as long as Savioli was saved; if she told her husband, that would rob Wassertrum of the only weapon he possessed against them.

She must reveal their secret herself before he could betray it.

"No, Angelina, that you will not do", I cried, thinking of the file, and my voice cracked with jubilant delight at the thought of the power I held in my hand.

Angelina tried to tear herself away; I held her tight.

"Just answer me one thing: will your husband take Wassertrum's word for it?"

"But he has evidence, he obviously has my letters, perhaps a picture of me, all the things that were hidden in the desk next door."

Letters? A picture? The desk? I could control myself no longer. I drew Angelina to my breast and kissed her. Her hair fell in a golden veil over my face. Then I grasped her slim hands, and told her, the words coming tumbling out of my mouth, that Wassertrum's mortal enemy, a penniless Czech student, had taken the letters and everything for safe keeping; they were now in my possession, securely locked away.

She flung her arms around my neck, laughing and crying at the same time. She kissed me, then ran to the door, turned back and kissed me again. Then she was gone.

I stood there in a daze. I could still feel her breath on my cheek.

I heard the thunder of her carriage over the cobbles, the furious gallop of the horses' hooves. A minute later everything was silent. Silent as the grave.

The silence filled my heart, too.

Suddenly the door creaked softly behind me and Charousek appeared in the room.

"Excuse me, Herr Pernath, but I knocked for a long time; you didn't seem to hear."

I just nodded.

"I hope you don't assume I've made my peace with Wassertrum, because you saw me talking to him just now?" Charousek's mocking grin told me it was just one of his bitter jokes. "I must say, fortune seems to be on my side. That vermin down there is beginning to take a liking to me, Herr Pernath. It's a strange thing, the call of the blood", he added softly, almost as though speaking to himself. I had no idea what he was talking about, and assumed I had missed part of what he had said. I was still trembling from the after-effects of all the excitement.

"He wanted to give me a coat", Charousek went on in his normal voice. "I thanked him but said no, of course. My skin is hot enough as it is. And then he forced some money on me."

I was about to exclaim, 'You didn't accept it?' but just managed to keep my tongue. Round red blotches appeared on Charousek's cheeks. "Naturally I accepted the money."

My head was going round and round. "Ac. . .cepted it?" I stammered.

"I would never have thought such pure, unalloyed joy was possible here on earth." He paused for a moment and twisted his face into a grotesque expression. "Is it not elevating, dear brethren, to contemplate ever new proofs of the wisdom and prudence with which Providence's thrifty hand orders Mother Nature's domestic economy?"

He was declaiming like a preacher, at the same time jingling the coins in his pocket. "Verily, I shall regard it as my sacred duty to devote this charitable gift to the worthiest of ends, right down to the very last kreutzer."

Was he drunk? Or mad?

Charousek suddenly changed his tone. "The fact that it is Wassertrum himself who is paying for his . . . medicine, is not without a certain diabolical humour, don't you think?"

The hidden meaning behind Charousek's words gradually began to dawn on me; I felt a shiver of horror at the feverish look in his eyes.

"But that's enough about that, Herr Pernath. First let us deal with more immediate matters. That lady just now, that was her, wasn't it? What did she think she was doing, driving up here so openly?"

I told Charousek what had happened.

"Wassertrum certainly has no evidence", he interrupted triumphantly, "otherwise he wouldn't have searched the studio again this morning. Odd you didn't hear him? He spent a good hour there."

I was puzzled how he came by all this precise knowledge, and told him so.

"May I?" In order to illustrate his explanation, he took a cigarette from the table, lit it and began, "You see, if you open the door now, the draught coming in from the stairwell will blow the cigarette smoke in the other direction. It is perhaps the only law of nature with which Herr Wassertrum is well acquainted and with that in mind he had a small, concealed aperture inserted in the wall of the studio overlooking the street—the house belongs to him, as you know. It is a kind of ventilation shaft, and in it he has hung a little scrap of red cloth, so that when anyone goes into or out of the room—that is, opens the door—Wassertrum can tell from below by the fluttering of the red rag. However, I know that too." Charousek added drily, "and, if necessary, I can see it perfectly from the basement opposite, which a merciful Providence has graciously assigned to me for my abode. The neat little trick with the ventilation shaft is that worthy patriarch's very own, but I've known about it for years."

"Your hatred for him must be beyond all human bounds, for you to follow his every step like that. And you've been doing it for years, you tell me!?"

"Hatred?" Charousek gave a twisted smile. "Hatred? Hatred's not the word for it. The word to express my feelings for him has yet to be invented. To be precise, it's not him I hate, it's his blood. Can you understand that? Like a wild animal, I can scent if someone has a single drop of his blood in their veins and"—he clenched his teeth—"that happens now and then here in the Ghetto." He had worked himself up into such a fury, that he was incapable of going on. He went over to the window and stared out. I could hear his heavy suppressed breathing. For a while neither of us spoke.

"Here, what's this?" He suddenly started up and waved me over. "Quick, quick! Haven't you any opera glasses or something like that?"

We peered down cautiously from behind the curtains. Jaromir, the deaf-mute, was standing outside the entrance to Wassertrum's junk-shop and, as far as we could tell from his sign-language, was offering to sell him a small, glittering object he was holding, half concealed, in his hand. Wassertrum pounced on it like a vulture then darted back into his shop. The next moment he rushed back out again, deathly pale, and grabbed Jaromir. A violent struggle ensued, but then suddenly Wassertrum let go and seemed to be considering his next move as he gnawed furiously at his hare-lip. Casting a suspicious glance in our direction, he took Jaromir amicably by the arm and led him into his shop.

We must have waited a good quarter of an hour, they seemed to be taking a long time to come to terms. Eventually Jaromir emerged with a satisfied smile on his face and went on his way.

"What do you think that was about?" I asked. "It can't have been of any great importance. The poor chap was probably just turning some object he'd managed to beg into ready cash."

Charousek did not reply, but went back to the table and silently sat down. He obviously thought the episode of no importance for, after a short silence, he continued where he had left off.

"Yes. As I said, I hate his blood. By the way, you must interrupt me, Pernath, if I get too worked up again. I want to remain cool; I mustn't waste my best feelings like that. When I do, I have a kind of hang-over afterwards. A man with any sense of decency should speak calmly, not with flowery affectation like some whore or poet. Since the world began it would never have occurred to anyone to 'wring their hands in grief had not ham actors thought up that particularly visual gesture."

I realised he was deliberately just rambling on in an attempt to restore his inner calm. Not that he was having great success at the moment. He walked up and down the room in an agitated manner, picking up all sorts of objects and then putting them down again with a preoccupied air. Then he suddenly pulled himself together and returned to the subject.

"I can recognise his blood in the slightest unconscious movement a person makes. I know children who look like him and are supposed to be his, but do not belong to the same tribe, it is impossible for me to be deceived. For years no one told me that Dr. Wassory was his son, but I—how shall I put it?—1 could scent it.

Even as a small boy, before I had any idea of what Wassertrum's connection with me was"—for a moment he gave me a searching glance—"I possessed this gift. They kicked me and beat me—there is probably no part of my body that has not experienced acute pain—they starved me until I was half crazy with hunger and thirst and happy to eat rotting scraps, but I was incapable of feeling hatred towards those that tormented me. It was simply impossible. There was no room for hatred within me. Do you understand? In spite of the fact that my whole being was soaked in hatred.

Wassertrum has never caused me the least harm. By that I mean that he never beat me, nor threw things at me, nor even swore at me when I was a ragged street-urchin running round the Ghetto. I am perfectly aware of that, and yet all the hatred, all the rancour boiling up inside me was directed at him, at him alone!

One remarkable fact is that as a child I never once played a trick on him. If the other children did, I immediately went my own way. But I could spend hours standing in a doorway, hidden behind the door, staring at his face through the crack until everything went black, so intense was this inexplicable feeling of hatred.

It must have been then, I think, that I laid the foundations of the second sight that awakes within me the moment I come into contact with people, or even with things, that have some connection with him. As a child I must have unconsciously absorbed his every movement—the way he wears his coat, the way he picks things up, or drinks, or coughs and all that kind of thing—and learnt them off by heart until they had etched themselves on my soul, so that anywhere I can unfailingly recognise the merest traces in others as his legacy. Later on it started to become an obsession. I would throw away the most inoffensive objects, merely because I was tormented by the thought that his hand might have touched them. Others, however, were dear to me because I felt they were like friends who wished him ill."

Charousek was silent for a moment. I saw him gazing abstractedly into space. Mechanically, his fingers stroked the file on the table.

"Then when a few teachers took pity on me and collected enough to allow me to study philosophy and medicine—and to learn to think for myself, by the by—I gradually came to understand what hatred is. We can only hate something as deeply as I do, if it is part of ourselves.

And when I found out . . . learnt everything, bit by bit . . . what my mother was .. . and still must be, if. . . if she is still alive . . . and that my own body"—he turned away so that I should not see his face—"is filled with his foul blood .. . then it was clear to me where the root of it lay. At times I feel there is even some mysterious connection in the fact that I am consumptive and spit blood: my body fights against everything that conies from him, and spews it up in disgust.

Often my hatred of him follows me into my sleep and tries to console me with visions of all possible kinds of torture which, in my dreams, I inflict on him; but I have always rejected them because they leave me feeling dissatisfied.

Whenever I think about myself, I am filled with surprise that I find it impossible to hate, even to feel a mild antipathy towards anyone or anything in the world apart from him and his tribe. At such times a nauseating feeling begins to creep over me: I could be what people call a 'good man'. Fortunately that is not the case. As I told you, there is no room for that left inside me.

You mustn't go thinking that I have been embittered by misfortune (it was only later on that I learnt what he had done to my mother). I have had one day of joy that eclipses anything granted to ordinary mortals. I don't know if you have ever had a truly intense, burning religious experience? I never had, until the day Wassory put an end to himself. I was standing outside the shop down there and I saw him receive the news. Anyone unacquainted with the true theatre of life would have called his reaction 'impassive', but when I saw him stand there for a full hour, listless, his blood-red hare-lip just drawn up a fraction of an inch higher than normal over his teeth, and a peculiar look in his eye, as if it were turned inwards on itself—when I saw him like that, I caught a whiff of incense from the wings of the Archangel passing overhead. Do you know the statue of the Black Madonna in the Tyn Church? I flung myself to the ground before it, and my soul was enveloped in the darkness of paradise."

As I looked at Charousek standing there, his big, dreamy eyes full of tears, I remembered what Hillel had said about how incomprehensible the dark path that the Brothers of Death follow appears to us.

Charousek went on, "You are probably not the least bit interested in the material circumstances which 'justify' my hatred, or at least render it comprehensible to the paid servants of the law. Facts give the appearance of milestones but are, in reality, only empty eggshells; they are the insistent popping of champagne corks at the tables of the rich, which only a simpleton would take for the banquet itself. Wassertrum used all the fiendish means which people like him have at their disposal to persuade my mother—if it wasn't worse then that—to let him have his way with her. And then . . . then he sold her off to . . . to a brothel; that kind of thing isn't difficult if you count the Police Commissioner among your business associates. But he didn't do it because he was tired of her. Oh no! I know every nook and cranny of that heart of his. The day he sold her off was the awful day he realised just how passionately in love with her he was. Someone like him may appear to behave without rhyme or reason, but deep down he's always consistent. The squirrel inside him gives a screech of horror the moment anyone comes and buys something from his junk-shop. No matter how much they pay for it, all that he feels is that he is being forced to hand something over. His favourite verb is 'to have', and if he were capable of thinking in abstract terms, 'possession' would be the concept that expressed his ideal.

During the affair with my mother, fear grew and grew within him until it was a gigantic mountain, the fear of no longer being in control of himself; the fear not of giving love, but of being compelled to give love; the fear of finding some invisible presence inside him that would fetter his will, or what he would like to think of as his will. That was how it began, the rest followed automatically, just as a pike automatically pounces, whether it wants to or not, when something that glitters floats past at the right moment.

The logical consequence for Wassertrum was to sell my mother into slavery. It gratified those other characteristics sleeping within his soul, his greed for money and the perverse pleasure he finds in tormenting himself.

You must forgive me, Herr Pernath", Charousek's voice suddenly took on such a harsh, sober tone that I started in surprise, "forgive me for all this clever talk, but when you're studying at the University you come across masses of idiotic books and you automatically adopt their fatuous jargon."

I forced myself to smile to try and cheer him up; secretly I knew he was fighting back the tears.

'I must find some way of helping him', I thought; 'at least do whatever I can to relieve his immediate need.' Without his noticing, I took the hundred-crown note I kept at home out of the sideboard drawer and slipped it into my pocket.

"When, later on, you set up as a doctor and live in a better district, you'll feel at peace with yourself, Herr Charousek", I said, in order to give the conversation a conciliatory turn. "Will you soon be qualified?"

"In a short time. I owe it to the people who have been kind enough to support me. Otherwise there's no point; my days are numbered."

I made the usual objection that he was taking too pessimistic a view of things, but he waved it away with a smile. "It's better like that. It would be no pleasure to act the part of the great physician, perhaps even to end up with a title after a career as a licensed poisoner. However", he added with his caustic humour, "I'm afraid this earthly ghetto is soon going to be deprived of the benefit of any further medical miracle-working from me." He picked up his hat. "But I won't take up any more of your time. Or is there something else we need to discuss in the Savioli case? I think not. But you will let me know directly you hear anything new, won't you? The best thing would be to hang a mirror up in the window as a sign that I should come to see you. One thing, though—you must never come to my cellar, Wassertrum would jump to the conclusion that we are in this together straight away. I'm very curious to know what he'll do, now that he has seen the lady come to see you. You must simply tell him she brought you a piece of jewelry to repair and if he tries to press you, just pretend to go berserk."

No suitable opportunity arose to press the bank-note on Charousek, so I picked up my modelling clay from the window-sill. "Let's go then; I'll accompany you downstairs as far as Hillel's. He's expecting me", I lied.

He stopped in surprise. "Is he a friend of yours?"

"In a way. Do you know him? Or do you suspect him as well?" I had to smile at the very idea.

"God forbid!"

"What makes you say it like that?"

Charousek hesitated, pondering before he answered. "I've no idea why. It must be some subconscious impulse. Whenever I meet him in the street I want to step off the pavement and go down on my knees before him, as if he were a priest carrying the host. You see, Pernath, in Hillel you have a person who is the opposite of Wassertrum in every atom of his being. For example, among the Christians in the district, who, in this case are as wrongly informed as always, he has the reputation of being a miser and a secret millionaire; in fact, he's incredibly poor."

I stopped, appalled at the thought. "Poor?"

"Yes, even poorer than I am, if that's possible. I think he only knows the verb 'to receive' from books. When he leaves the Jewish Town Hall on the first of the month, the beggars run away from him because they know he would press his meagre salary on the first one he came across and end up starving—together with his daughter—a few days later. There's an old Talmudic legend that says that of the twelve tribes of Israel, ten are cursed and two holy. If that's true, then he represents the two holy ones and Wassertrum all the ten others put together. Have you never noticed the way Wassertrum goes all colours of the rainbow whenever Hillel passes him in the street? Interesting fact, that. I tell you, blood like that could never mix, the children would all be stillborn; that is, assuming the mothers hadn't died of horror first. And another thing: Hillel's the only person Wassertrum steers clear of, he avoids him like the plague. Probably because Hillel represents something completely incomprehensible to him, something he just cannot work out. Perhaps he senses the cabbalist in him, as well."

We were already on our way down the stairs.

"Do you believe there are still cabbalists around today? Do you believe there is anything at all in the Cabbala?" I asked, curious as to what he would answer, but he seemed not to have been listening. I repeated my question.

He seemed flustered by it and diverted my attention to a door giving onto the stair-well that was made from the lids of packing-cases nailed together. "You've got some new neighbours there", he said. "It's a Jewish family, but poor: that meshugge musician, Nephtali Schaffranek, with his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. When it gets dark and he's left alone with the girls, he goes into one of his crazy moods and ties their thumbs together so they won't run away. Then he squeezes them into an old chicken-coop and gives them 'singing-lessons', as he calls it, so that they'll be able to earn a living when they grow up; that is, he teaches them the weirdest songs, fragments, German words that he's picked up somewhere and, in his deranged mind, takes for—Prussian battle-hymns, or I don't know what."

And, true enough, strange music could just be heard wafting out onto the landing. The vague contours of a music-hall song were being scraped out on one and the same excruciatingly high note of a fiddle, whilst two squeaky children's voices sang:

Frau Pick,
Frau Hock,
Frau Kle—pe—tarsch
Always gossiping together
Never mind the wind or weather—

It was crazy and comic at the same time, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud.

"Schaffranek's son-in-law—his daughter sells the juice from pickled gherkins by the glass to schoolchildren at the egg market—spends the whole day running round from office to office", Charousek went on in his bitter manner, "begging for old postage stamps. He sorts through them, and whenever he finds some that happen to have been franked on one half only, he puts one on top of the other, cuts them in two, then sticks the unfranked halves together and sells them as new. At first business boomed and sometimes he even made the grand sum of a crown a day, but eventually the Jewish businessmen of Prague cottoned on, and now they do it themselves. They cream off most of the profit."

"Would you try to help the poor and needy, Charousek, if you had more money than you knew what to do with?" I asked him quickly. We were at Hillel's door now, and I knocked.

"Can you think me such a wretch that I wouldn't?" he asked in astonishment.

Miriam's footsteps were approaching. I waited until she had her hand on the latch, then I quickly stuffed the banknote into his pocket. "No, Charousek, I don't think that of you, but then you ought to think me a wretch if I didn't."

Before he had a chance to reply, I shook his hand and closed the door behind me. While Miriam was greeting me I listened to find out what he would do. He stood still for a while, then gave a sob and made his way down the stairs, slowly, feeling for each step, as if he had to hold on to the banister.

It was the first time I had gone to Hillel's apartment. It was as bare as a prison cell. The floor was spotlessly clean and sprinkled with white sand. There was no furniture apart from two chairs, a table and a sideboard; standing against either wall to the right and left were two wooden stands. Miriam was sitting opposite me at the window, and I was kneading away at my modelling clay.

"Does an artist have to have a face in front of him in order to catch the likeness?" she asked shyly, and only to break the silence. Bashfully our eyes avoided each other. She was so tormented by embarrassment at the wretched room that she didn't know where to look, and my cheeks were burning with self-reproach at not having taken the trouble sooner to find out how she and her father lived.

All the same, I had to find some answer.

"It's not so much in order to catch the likeness as to make sure that one's inner vision is right." Even as I spoke, I could feel how false, how completely false everything I was saying was. For years I had parrotted the mistaken dictum of the painters that to create a work of art one had to study nature. It was only since that night when Hillel had woken me that my inner eye had opened, that sight behind closed lids which vanishes the moment you open your eyes, a gift that everyone believes they possess, but that is given to less than one among millions.

How could I talk of even thinking of checking the infallible guidance of spiritual vision against the crude measure of appearances. Miriam seemed to be thinking similar thoughts, to go by the look of astonishment on her face.

"You mustn't take it literally", I said in excuse.

Attentively she watched me as I deepened the lines of the model with the graver. "It must be immensely difficult to transfer all that precisely onto the gemstone?"

"That's only mechanical work; more or less, anyway."

A pause.

"May I see it when it's finished?"

"But it's meant for you, Miriam."

"No, no; that's impossible . . . it . . . it . . ." I could see her hands start twisting nervously.

"You won't accept even a little thing like this from me?" I quickly broke in. "I wish I could do more for you."

Hastily she turned away.

What had I said!? I must have wounded her deeply. It sounded as if I were referring to her poverty. Should I try to explain what I really meant? Would that only make matters worse? I decided to try. "Listen to what I have to say, Miriam. Do please listen. I am so much in your father's debt, you've no idea how much . . ."

She looked at me, unsure of herself; clearly she did not understand.

". .. how very much I owe him. More than my life."

"Because he did what he could for you after you had fainted? Anyone would have done that."

I could sense that she had no idea what the bond was that tied me to her father. Cautiously I probed to see how far I could go without giving away things he had concealed from her. "I would say there is intangible aid that is more highly to be valued than mere physical succour. I mean the spiritual influence that can radiate from one person to another. Do you understand what I mean, Miriam? It is possible to heal someone spiritually and not just physically, Miriam."

"And my—"

"Yes, that's what your father did for me!" I took her hand. "Surely, then, you can understand how deeply I feel the desire to do something that will give pleasure, if not to him, then to someone close to him? Won't you trust me just a little? Is there nothing at all that I could do for you?"

She shook her head. "You think I must be unhappy here?"

"Of course not. But perhaps you sometimes have worries I could take care of? It's your duty—your duty, do you hear—to let me share them. Why would you both live here, in this dark, depressing alley, if you didn't have to? You're still so young Miriam and—"

"But you live here yourself, Herr Pernath", she interrupted with a smile, "what binds you to this house?"

Her question stopped me in my tracks. She was right. Why did I live here? I couldn't explain why. What binds you to this house? I repeated to myself absent-mindedly. I could not find an explanation, and for the moment I completely forgot where I was. Then, suddenly, I found myself carried away somewhere high up . . . in a garden . . . the enchanting fragrance of lilac . . . far below me the city . . .

"Have I touched an old wound? Have I hurt you?" Miriam's voice came to me from far, far away. She was bending over me, scanning my face with an anxious expression. I must have been sitting there in a trance for a long time for her to be so concerned.

For a while waves of feeling surged and sank inside me, until suddenly they burst the dam and overwhelmed me, and I was pouring out my whole heart to Miriam. As if I were talking to a dear friend I had spent all my life with and from whom I had no secrets, I told her the truth about myself, how I had learnt from Zwakh's story that at some time, years ago, I had been mad and robbed of all memory of my past; I told her how images had recently awoken within me that must have their roots in those days, and how I was trembling at the thought of the moment when everything would be revealed and would tear me apart once more.

The only things that I kept back from her were those which would involve mentioning her father, my experiences in the underground passages and all that.

She had moved her chair close to mine, and was listening with deep, breathless sympathy, which comforted me more than I could say. At last I had found someone in whom I could confide when my spiritual loneliness became too heavy to bear. Of course, there was always Hillel, but for me he was like a being from beyond the clouds, like a ray of light which came and went, so that I could not see it just whenever I happened to feel a longing for it.

I told her that, and she understood. She, too, saw him in the same way, even though he was her father. He was filled with an immense love for her, and she for him, "and yet", she confided, "I am separated from him as if there were a glass wall between us which I cannot break through. It has been like that for as long as I can remember. Whenever as a child I dreamed I saw him standing by my bed, he was always wearing the robes of the high priest, with the golden breastplate of Moses with the twelve stones in it over his breast, and blue rays of light shone out from his temples. I believe his is the kind of love that reaches beyond the grave, and is too great for us to comprehend. That was what my mother always said when we used to talk about him secretly."

She suddenly gave a shudder and her whole body quivered. I was about to jump up from my chair, but she put her hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry, it's nothing. Just a memory. When my mother died—I alone know how much he loved her, although I was only a little girl at the time—I thought I was going to suffocate with the pain, and I ran to him and clung to his robe and wanted to scream but couldn't because my whole being seemed paralysed; then . . . and then—it sends shivers down my spine whenever I think of it, even now—then he looked at me with a smile, kissed me on the forehead and passed his hand over my eyes, and from that moment on it was as if all my grief at losing my mother had been washed away. I could not cry one single tear when she was buried; I saw the sun in the sky as the radiant hand of God and wondered why people were crying. My father was walking beside me behind the coffin, and every time I looked up he gave a gentle smile, and I could feel the tremor of horror that passed through the crowd when they saw it."

"And are you happy, Miriam? Really happy? Isn't there also something terrifying in the idea of having as a father a being who has grown so far beyond humanity?" I asked gently.

Miriam gave a joyful shake of the head. "My life seems to pass like a blissful dream. When you asked me just now whether I had any worries and why we lived here, Herr Pernath, it almost made me laugh. Is nature beautiful? The trees are green and the sky is blue, of course, but it is all much, much more beautiful when I close my eyes and see it in my imagination. Do I have to be sitting in a meadow to see it? And as for the bit of poverty and . . . and . . . and hunger, hope and expectation make up for that a thousandfold."

"Expectation?" I asked in astonishment.

"Expecting a miracle. Don't you know what it is to do that? No? You poor man, I pity you. So few people know what it is to expect a miracle! That's the reason, you see, why I have no friends and never go out. I used to have a few friends—Jewish girls, of course, like myself—but we always seemed to be talking at cross-purposes. They didn't understand me, nor I them. When I talked about miracles they thought at first I meant it as a joke, and when they realised that I was serious, and that when I talked of miracles I didn't mean what the Germans, with their spectacles on their noses, mean when they use the word—the way the grass keeps growing, and things like that—but the opposite, if anything, then their first impulse was to call me mad. But since that was obviously not the case—I am pretty quick-witted, have learnt Hebrew and Aramaic, can read the Targumim and Midrashim, and have other such trifling skills—they had to find another word for it, and finally settled on one that is completely meaningless: they called me 'highly strung'.

When I tried to get them to see that for me the important—the essential—thing about the Bible and other holy writings was the miraculous element and that alone, and not moral or ethical commandments, which can only be hidden ways of approaching the miraculous, then all they could do was to throw platitudes at me. They were afraid to admit openly that the only parts of the sacred writings they believed in were those which could just as well be in the Civil Code. They were uncomfortable at the very mention of the word 'miracle'. It felt as if the ground were opening up at their feet, they said.

As if there could be anything more marvellous than to have the ground open up at your feet!

The world exists for us to think it to tatters', I once heard my father say. 'Then, and only then, does life begin.' I don't know what he meant by 'life', but sometimes I do feel that one day I will do what I can best describe as 'wake up', even if I have no idea what kind of world I will wake up in. And I'm sure that miracles will precede it.

'Have you already witnessed a miracle, that you are constantly expecting another?' my friends often used to ask me, and when I said I hadn't, they immediately started gloating. Tell me, Herr Pernath, can you understand the workings of hearts like that? That miracles have happened to me, even if only little ones, tiny little ones", Miriam's eyes were shining, "was something I wouldn't reveal to them"—I could hear the tears of joy in her voice—"but you will understand. Often, for weeks, for months even", she was speaking very softly now, "we have lived from miracles alone. When there was no more bread in the house, not a single mouthful, then I knew the hour had come! And I would sit here and wait and wait until my heart was pounding so that I could hardly breathe. And . .. and then I would feel drawn outside and I would run downstairs and this way and that through the streets, as fast as I could so that I would be back in time before my father came home. And . . . and every time I found money. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always enough for me to be able to buy the bare necessities. Often there would be a crown coin lying in the middle of the street. I would see it glittering from far off, and people would tread on it or slip on it, but none of them noticed it. Sometimes I was so full of confidence, that I didn't even bother to go out, but searched the floor in the kitchen over there to see whether some money or bread had not fallen from heaven."

An idea flashed through my mind, and I smiled with pleasure at it.

She noticed my smile. "Don't laugh, Herr Pernath", she begged. "Believe me, I know that these miracles will grow, and that one day—-"

I reassured her. "But I'm not laughing, Miriam. Whatever gave you that idea? I'm eternally happy that you're not like all the rest, looking for the usual cause behind every effect, and taking exception when, for once—in cases where we shout, 'Thank God!'—things turn out differently."

She stretched out her hand to me. "And you won't ever say again that you want to help me—or us—, will you, Herr Pernath? Now that you know it would deny me the chance of a miracle happening if you were to?"

I promised, but in my heart I made a reservation.

The door opened and Hillel came in. Miriam embraced him, and he greeted me in a warm, friendly manner, but once more using the formal mode of address. Also there seemed to be a slight tiredness or uncertainty about him. Or was I imagining it? Perhaps it was just the result of the twilight that filled the room.

"You must have come", he said, when Miriam had left us alone together, "to ask for my advice in the case concerning the lady—-"

I was so astonished, I was about to interrupt, but he forestalled me. "It was Charousek who told me. He looked so remarkably changed that I spoke to him in the street. His heart was full to overflowing, and he told me all about it. He also told me you gave him some money." He gave me a penetrating look, emphasising each word in a most curious manner, but I could not understand what he meant by it. "It is true that it means a few more drops of happiness have fallen from heaven . . . and . . . and in this . . . case I think there's no harm done, but . . ." he thought for a while, "but sometimes one only causes sorrow to oneself and to others with such deeds. Helping people is not as easy as you think, my friend. If it were, then redeeming the world would be a very, very simple matter indeed. Or don't you agree?"

"But don't you give money to the poor as well, Hillel? Often everything you possess?" I asked.

He shook his head and smiled. "It seems to me you have turned into a Talmudist overnight, answering a question with another question. That makes it difficult to have a proper argument."

He paused, as if he expected me to answer, but once again I could not understand what he was waiting for.

"Well, to get back to the subject", he went on in a different tone of voice, "I don't think your protegee—I mean the lady—is in any danger just at the moment. Cross your bridges when you come to them. People do also say, 'A stitch in time saves nine', but I think it is wiser to let things take their course and be ready for anything. There may be the possibility of a meeting between Aaron Wassertrum and myself, but the initiative has to come from him; I can take no steps to bring it about, it is he who must cross the street. Whether he comes to see you or me does not matter, I will speak to him. It will still be his decision whether he follows my advice or not. I'll wash my hands of the matter."

Apprehensively, I tried to read his face. I had never before heard him speak in such a cold and menacing manner. But behind those dark and deep-set eyes lay a slumbering abyss. Miriam's words, 'as if there were a glass wall between us', came to mind. All I could do was to shake his hand and depart without saying a word.

He accompanied me out into the passage, and when I turned round on the stairs and looked back, I saw that he was still standing there, giving me a friendly wave, but with the expression of someone who would like to say more, yet cannot.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:22 pm


It had been my plan just to collect my coat and walking-stick from my apartment and then go out for a meal at the Old Toll House Tavern, where Zwakh, Prokop and Vrieslander would be sitting, as they did every night, telling each other crazy stories until the early hours, but scarcely had I entered my room than my intention vanished, just as if a hand had whipped away a scarf or something similar I had been wearing.

There was a tension in the air which I could not explain, but which was almost tangible and which, within a few seconds of my entering, took such violent hold of me that I hardly knew what to do first: light the lamp, close the door behind me, sit down or walk up and down.

Had someone crept in while I was out and hidden themselves in the room? Was it someone's fear of being seen that I had caught? Was perhaps Wassertrum here? I pulled the curtains aside, opened the wardrobe, glanced into the other room: no one.

The iron box had not been moved from where I had left it.

Would the best thing be to burn the letters right away and remove that worry once and for all? My fingers were already feeling for the key in my waistcoat pocket but did it have to be now? There was time enough before the morning.

Light the lamp first of all!

I could not find the matches.

Was the door locked? I took a few steps back towards it then stopped again. Why this sudden fear?

I tried to tell myself I was behaving like a coward, but the thought came to a halt, right in the middle of the sentence.

I was suddenly seized by the insane idea that I should quickly climb up onto the table and take a chair with me to hit 'the thing' on the head that was crawling round on the floor, if. .. if it should come that close.

"But there's no one here", I said to myself out loud, in some irritation; "have you ever been afraid in your life?"

It made no difference. The air I was breathing had turned thin and sharp, like ether.

If only I had been able to see something, anything, however awful, my fear would have vanished in a trice.

Nothing came.

My eyes searched every corner: nothing.

Everywhere I looked, nothing but familiar things: furniture, chests, the lamp, the picture, the wall clock, faithful old friends all of them, and lifeless.

I hoped they would change their shape as I looked at them, allowing me to assume some optical delusion had been the cause of the fear that was paralysing me.

No, that was not it, either. They stood there, rigid, remaining true to their shapes. Much too rigid, given the murkiness of the light in the room, for it to be natural.

They are under the same spell as you are', I told myself. 'They don't dare make even the slightest movement.'

Why wasn't the wall clock ticking?

The lurking presence all around devoured every noise.

I shook the table and was surprised that I could hear the sound.

If at least the wind were whistling round the house. Not even that! Or if the wood in the stove would crackle. The fire had gone out.

And all the time the same awful lurking presence filling the air incessantly, like the constant sound of running water! All my senses permanently ready to pounce, but with nothing to clutch at! I doubted whether I would ever survive it, the room full of eyes I could not see, full of aimlessly wandering hands I could not grasp.

This, I realised, was terror giving birth to itself, the paralysing dread at an inexplicable, shapeless nothing that eats away the boundaries of our thought.

Stiffening every sinew, I stood and waited.

I must have waited a quarter of an hour. Perhaps 'it' could be tricked into trying to creep up on me from behind, and I could catch it.

I swung round: still nothing. The same nothing that did not exist, and yet filled the room with its ghastly life and chilled me to the marrow.

If I were to run out? What was there stopping me?

But I knew with absolute certainty that 'it' would go with me. I also realised that it would not help if I lit the candle, and yet I still searched for the matches until at length I found them.

But the wick refused to burn, for a long time it was nothing more than a faint glimmer. The little flame could neither live nor die, and when it finally won the battle for survival it gave off a consumptive glow, as dull as a dirty yellow piece of tin. No, darkness was better. I put it out again and threw myself fully clothed onto my bed. I counted my heartbeats, one . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . up to a thousand and then again and again from the beginning, for hours, days, weeks, as it seemed, until my lips were dry and my hair was standing on end. No relief, not even for a second.

I started saying words out loud, any words that came into my head: "prince", "tree", "child", "book", and repeating them mechanically until they suddenly stood before me, naked, stripped of sense, fearful sounds from a distant, barbaric past, and I had to cudgel my brains to rediscover their meaning: p-r-i-n-c-e? b-o-o-k?

Had I gone mad? Or was I dead? I pinched myself to see.

"Stand up", I commanded. "Sit down in that chair."

I collapsed into the armchair.

If only death would come! If only I could escape from the sense of this intangible, lurking presence! "I won't!" I screamed. "I WON'T!—Can't you hear me?!"

Drained of all strength, I slumped back into the chair; incapable of thought, incapable of action, I stared dully into space.

'Why does he keep insisting on offering me the seeds?' The thought washed over me, receded and then returned. Receded. Returned.

I slowly realised there was a strange being standing there—perhaps had been standing before me since I had sat down in the chair—holding out his hand towards me. It was a grey, broad-shouldered creature, about the size of a sturdily built human, leaning on a knotted, corkscrew stick of white wood. Where the head should have been I could see nothing but a sphere of pale mist. The apparition gave off a dismal odour of sandalwood and damp slate.

I was in the grip of a feeling of utter helplessness, which almost robbed me of my senses. All the torment, which for weeks had been gnawing at my nerves, had condensed into mortal fear and taken shape in this abortion. My instinct for self-preservation told me—warned me, screamed in my ear—that I would go mad with terror if I could see the face of the phantom, and yet it drew me like a magnet, so that I found it impossible to avert my gaze from the pale, misty sphere and kept scrutinising it for eyes, a nose, a mouth. Despite all my efforts, however, I could not discern the slightest movement in the misty sphere. I could visualise all kinds of heads on the body, but I knew that each and every one was a product of my own imagination. And they always dissolved, almost at the very moment I had created them.

The one that retained its shape longest was an Egyptian ibis head.

In the darkness the phantom was outlined in a spectral haze. The only perceptible movement was a slight contraction of the silhouette, which then dilated again, as if the whole of its body were pulsating with deep, slow breaths. Instead of feet, it was standing on bony stumps, from which the grey, bloodless flesh was pushed up for a few inches in bulging rolls.

Immobile, it held out its hand towards me. In it were little seeds the size of beans, red with black spots round the edges.

What on earth was I supposed to do with them?

I had a vague, nagging feeling that an enormous responsibility lay upon me, a responsibility that went far beyond the confines of this world, were I to make the wrong decision. Somewhere in the realm of prime causes, I sensed, there was a balance with the weight of half the world in each scale, and the one into which I cast my handful of dust was the one that would sink to the ground.

That, I realised, was the cause of this awful, lurking presence all around me. 'Do not move a muscle', reason advised, 'even if death should never come to release you from your torment.'

'But that', another voice whispered, 'would still be making a choice; that would be to reject the seeds. There is no way round it; you must decide.'

I looked round for help, for some sign to tell me what I should do. Nothing. I probed the recesses of my mind: not a spark of an idea, everything lifeless, dead.

I recognised that in this terrible moment the lives of myriads of men and women weighed as light as a feather.

It must already have been deep into the night, for I could no longer distinguish the walls of my room. From the studio next door came the sound of steps. I could hear someone moving wardrobes, pulling out drawers and letting them crash to the floor; I thought I recognised Wassertrum's rasping bass cursing and swearing. I ignored the sounds. They meant as little to me as the rustling of a mouse.

I closed my eyes. Long lines of human faces passed me in endless procession, rigid death masks with the eyelids firmly closed: my own kin, my own ancestors. They rose from their graves, and all had the same shape of skull, however much individuals appeared to vary, with hair brushed smooth and parted, curled or cut short, with full-bottomed wigs or pigtails fastened with a ring; down the centuries they came, their features growing more and more familiar until they merged into one last face: the face of the Golem, with which the chain of my ancestors broke off.

Then the darkness dissolved the room into an infinite, empty space, the centre of which was myself sitting in my chair with the grey shadow still in front of me, its arm outstretched. And when I opened my eyes, I could see strange beings standing round us in two circles, intersecting so that they formed a figure of eight.

Those in the one circle were swathed in robes of shimmering violet, the others reddish black. They were people of an alien race, tall and unnaturally slight in stature, their faces hidden behind shining cloths.

From the quivering of my heart I could tell that the moment of decision had come. My fingers itched to take the seeds; at that I saw a tremor go through the figures in the reddish circle.

Should I reject the seeds? The trembling passed to those in the bluish circle. I examined the headless man closely; he was still standing in the same posture, as motionless as ever.

Even the breathing had stopped.

I raised my arm, still with no idea what I should do, and—struck the outstretched hand of the phantom, so that the seeds rolled away over the floor.

For one moment, with the sudden violence of an electric shock, I lost consciousness and felt I was plunging down through bottomless depths; then I found my feet firmly on the ground.

The grey apparition had disappeared. Likewise the figures from the reddish circle.

The bluish figures on the other hand had formed a circle round me. On their breasts they bore an inscription in golden hieroglyphs and silently—it looked as if they were taking an oath—they raised their hands, each holding between index finger and thumb one of the red seeds I had knocked out of the headless phantom's hand.

I heard a shower of hail rattle against the window outside, and a peal of thunder rent the air. A winter storm in all its blind fury was raging over the town. The howling of the storm was interrupted at regular intervals by the sound of dull detonations from the direction of the river, announcing the break-up of the ice which covered the Moldau. My room blazed with the flashes of lightning following one another in uninterrupted procession. I suddenly felt so weak that my knees trembled and I had to sit down again.

"Do not fear", said a clear voice beside me, "do not fear, it is Lelshimurim, the Night of Protection."

Gradually the storm died down and the deafening noise turned into the monotonous drumming of the hailstones on the roofs. The lassitude I felt in every limb had reached such proportions that I was only dully aware of the things going on around me, which took on a kind of dreamlike quality.

One of the figures in the circle spoke. "The one ye seek, he is not here."

The others replied, but their words were in a foreign tongue.

At that, the first spoke a sentence in which the name 'Enoch' occurred, but I could not understand the rest, too loud were the groans of the ice-floes breaking up in the river.

Then one left the circle and stood before me, pointed to the hieroglyphs on his breast—they were the same characters as those the others bore—and asked me whether I could read them. And when, almost incoherent in my exhaustion, I replied that I could not, he stretched out the palm of his hand towards me, and the shining characters appeared on my breast, at first in Latin script:


before gradually changing back into the ones I could not read.

And I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep such as I had not known since the night when Hillel loosened my tongue.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:25 pm


The last few days had flown by. I scarcely even seemed to have time for meals. From dawn to dusk an irresistible urge towards physical activity shackled me to my workbench.

I finished the cameo; Miriam received it with a childlike delight.

I have also repaired the letter J in the Book of Ibbur.

I leant back in my chair, relaxing by reviewing all the little events of these days in my mind.

On the morning after the great storm, the old woman who looks after me came rushing into the room with the news that during the night the stone bridge had collapsed. Collapsed .,. strange! Perhaps at the very moment when I had knocked the seeds . . . no, no, I must not entertain the thought. It might give the events of that night a veneer of rationality, and I had decided to bury them deep in my breast until they awoke of their own accord. Leave well alone!

How long ago was it that I had crossed the bridge and looked at the stone statues? And now, after standing for centuries, it was in ruins. I felt almost sad at the idea that I would never set foot on it again. Even if they rebuilt it, it would still not be the old mysterious stone bridge. For hours while I worked on the cameo I had found my thoughts turning to it, and it had all come back into my mind, as naturally as if I had never forgotten: how often I had crossed it as a child, looking up at the statues of Saint Luitgard and all the others who were now buried beneath the raging waters.

In my mind I had once more seen all those tiny little things which, as a child, I had called my own. I remembered, too, my father and mother and all my schoolfriends. Only the house where I had lived was lost to memory. But I knew that one day, when I was least expecting it, it would suddenly reappear in my mind, and I looked forward to that day.

It was so comfortable to feel that, all at once, my life was running on a simple, natural course. When I took The Book of Ibbur out of the iron box the day before yesterday, I found that there was nothing remarkable about it at all; it looked like any old parchment book with decorative initials, it looked quite ordinary to me. I could not understand how it could ever have affected me as supernatural. It was written in Hebrew and therefore completely incomprehensible to me.

When would the unknown man come to collect it?

The joy of living, which had quietly returned while I was working on the cameo, awoke again in all its invigorating freshness, repelling the night thoughts which were still trying to ambush me.

Quickly I picked up the photograph of Angelina—I had cut off the dedication at the bottom—and kissed it. It was all so foolish and unreasonable, but why for once not think of happiness, why not grasp the present and enjoy it, as one might enjoy the sight of a glistening soap-bubble.

Was it not perhaps just possible that these images which the yearning in my heart conjured up for me could turn into reality? Was it so absolutely beyond the bounds of possibility that I might become famous over night? Her equal, through reputation if not by birth? At least the equal of Dr. Savioli? I thought of Miriam's cameo. If I should manage to create others as fine? There was no doubt that even the foremost artists of the past had not produced anything better.

And then, assuming one chance event: supposing Angelina's husband should suddenly die?

I felt hot and cold all over. One tiny chance event and my desire, my most audacious desire, could turn into reality. Happiness hung by a thin thread which could break at any moment, letting it fall into my lap like a ripe fruit. Had not things happened to me which were a thousand times more miraculous? Things whose very existence humanity did not even suspect?

Was it not a miracle that, in a few short weeks, creative powers had awoken within me which lifted my work to a far higher level, far above the commonplace?

And this was only the beginning!

Had I no right to happiness?

Must mysticism mean a complete lack of personal desire?

I drowned the 'Yes' within me. Could I not dream for a minute, for a second, for the brief span of human existence?

And I was dreaming with my eyes open. The gemstones on the table grew and grew, surrounding me on all sides with multicoloured cascades. There were trees of opal standing together in groves, scattering the light-waves from the sky, which was an iridescent blue, like the wing of some gigantic tropical butterfly, in a sparkling shower over boundless meadows redolent with summer heat. I was thirsty, and cooled my limbs in the icy spray of the streams dashing down over rocks of shimmering mother-of-pearl. The air hung heavy over blossom-strewn banks, intoxicating me with the odour of jasmine, hyacinth, narcissus, daphne. . .

It was too much! Too much! I erased the vision.

I was thirsty.

Such were the torments of paradise.

I flung open the window and let the warm breeze play on my brow. There was a scent of the coming spring.


The image of Miriam forced its way into my mind. The way she had had to lean against the wall so as not to fall over with excitement when she came to tell me that a miracle had happened, a real miracle: she had found a coin in the loaf of bread that the baker had put through the bars onto the kitchen window-ledge.

I grabbed my purse. With any luck it would not be too late and I would still have time today to magic another ducat into her hand.

She had visited me daily, 'to keep me company', as she called it, though she had been so full of the 'miracle' that she had hardly spoken a word. The experience had stirred her to the very depths of her soul, and when I recalled how sometimes—without any obvious cause, purely from the memory—she would go deathly pale, even to her lips, then my head swam at the mere thought that in my blindness I might have done something with incalculable consequences.

And when I reminded myself of Hillel's last, dark words and related them to what I was doing, an ice-cold shiver ran down my spine. The fact that my motives were pure was no excuse. The end does not justify the means, of that I was well aware.

And what if my desire to help was merely an ostensible motive? Could there not be an insidious lie hidden behind it? Perhaps the unconscious wish to preen myself in the role of benefactor?

I was beginning to doubt my own self.

What was clear was that I had been much too superficial in my assessment of Miriam. The simple fact that she was Hillel's daughter must mean that she was different from other girls. How could I have been so foolish as to interfere with the workings of a soul that was perhaps infinitely superior to my own?

Her very profile, which was much closer to the sixth Egyptian dynasty—though much too spiritual, even for that—than to our own age with its rationalistic types, should have been a warning to me. 'Only fools distrust outward appearances.' I had read that somewhere. How true it was! How true!

By now Miriam and I were close friends. Should I confess to her that it was I who had been slipping the ducats into the loaves every day? The blow would be too sudden. It would only bewilder her. I dare not risk it, I would have to proceed more cautiously.

Perhaps I should try to tone down the 'miracle'? Instead of putting the coins into the bread, leave them on the stairs where she would find them when she opened the door, and then, and then? I comforted myself with the thought that I would surely be able to think of something new, of some less abrupt way of gradually leading her from the realm of miracles back into the everyday world?

Yes! That was the way to do it!

Or should I cut through the knot with one blow by telling her father and asking his advice? I blushed at the very thought. Time enough for that if all else failed.

But there was no time to lose, I must set about it right away.

I had a sudden inspiration. I had to persuade Miriam to do something unfamiliar, to drag her for a few hours out of her normal surroundings, to open her mind to other thoughts.

We could hire a carriage and go for a ride! Who would recognise us if we avoided the Jewish quarter? Perhaps it would interest her to see the bridge that had collapsed?

Or she could go with old Zwakh or one of her friends from school if the idea of going with me was too outrageous.

I was determined not to take no for an answer.

As I left my room I almost knocked a man over.


He must have been spying through the keyhole, as he was bending down when I collided with him.

"Were you looking for me?" I asked brusquely.

He stammered a few words of excuse in his impossible dialect, then agreed that he had been.

I asked him to come in and sit down, but he stood by the table, convulsively twisting the brim of his hat. However much he tried to conceal it from me, his face and his every movement betrayed a profound hostility. Until now I had never seen the man this close to. It wasn't his dreadful ugliness which was so repulsive (that, rather, aroused my compassion; he looked like a creature whom nature herself had given a furious, disgusted kick in the face at birth), but something else, some indefinable aura he gave off. The influence of his 'blood' as Charousek had so aptly formulated it.

Involuntarily, I wiped the hand that had shaken his when he came in. I tried to do it unobtrusively, but he must have noticed; he had to force himself to suppress the flash of hatred which threatened to suffuse his features.

"Nice place you've got 'ere", he said hesitantly, when he realised I was not going to do him the favour of opening the conversation. He rather contradicted what he was saying by closing his eyes, perhaps to avoid having to meet mine. Or did he think it would give his face a harmless expression? You could hear the conscious effort he was making to speak standard German.

I did not feel obliged to reply to this, and waited to see what he would say next.

In his embarrassment he put his hand out towards the file which, God knows why, had been left lying on the table since Charousek's visit, but immediately drew back involuntarily, as if he had been bitten by a snake. I felt a rush of astonishment at such subconscious psychical sensitivity.

He finally roused himself to speech. "Of course, it's part of the business, to 'ave an elegant establishment like this when you get such . . . fine visitors." He opened his eyes, to see what impression his words had had on me, but evidently decided it was premature and quickly closed them again.

I tried to force him into a corner, "You mean the lady who came here in her carriage recently? Why don't you say what you mean?"

He hesitated for a moment, then grasped me fiercely by the wrist and dragged me to the window. The strange, abrupt way he did it reminded me of the way he had pulled the deaf-mute, Jaromir, into his den a few days ago. He held out a glittering object to me in his crooked fingers. "What do you think, Herr Pernath, can anything be done with it?"

It was a gold watch, the covers of which were so bent that it almost looked as if someone had damaged them deliberately. I took my magnifying glass. The hinges were half torn off and inside . . . wasn't there something engraved on it? It was scarcely legible anyway, but for good measure someone had covered it with a lot of fresh scratches. Slowly I deciphered it:

Ka. . .rl Zott. . .mann

Zottmann? Zottmann? Now where had I seen that name? I couldn't remember. Zottmann

Wassertrum almost knocked the magnifying glass out of my hand. "The mechanism's all right, I've 'ad a look meself. But the cases's buggered."

"Just needs hammering out again, perhaps a couple of welds. Any goldsmith could do that for you, Herr Wassertrum."

"But I'd like it done proper, artistic as you might say", he put in hastily, almost anxiously.

"Very well then, if it's that important to you . . ."

"Important!" His voice cracked with eagerness. "Important? I'm goin' to wear it meself, that watch. And whenever I show it to anyone I want to be able to say, 'Look, that's Herr Pernath's workmanship, that is.'"

The fellow was nauseating, smearing me with his slimy flattery.

"If you come back in an hour it'll be ready for you."

Wassertrum squirmed until he almost tied himself in knots. "No, no . . . I don't want you . . . to put yourself out. . . Three days, four days. . . next week's soon enough. I'd never forgive myself, if I thought I was imposing on you."

What was he after, getting into such a state? I stepped into the next room and locked the watch in my iron box. On top was Angelina's picture. I quickly closed the lid in case Wassertrum should be watching.

When I went back I noticed that he had changed colour. I gave him a close look, but immediately abandoned my suspicion. He couldn't have seen anything.

"That's settled then; some time next week perhaps", I said, in order to bring his visit to a close. Suddenly, however, he seemed in no hurry at all. He pulled up a chair and sat down. Contrary to his earlier behaviour, he now kept his fish's eyes wide open and fixed on the top button of my waistcoat.

"I bet that baggage told you to say you know nothing, if it all came out, didn't she, ey?" Without warning, he suddenly started ranting on at me, thumping the table with his fist. There was something frightening in the abrupt way he could shift from one tone to the other, switching like lightning from flattery to a brutal verbal assault. I imagined it was quite likely that most people, especially women, would be in his power in no time at all, if there was the least thing he could use against them.

My first thought was to grab him by the throat and throw him out, but on reflection I decided it would be wiser first of all to find out what he knew.

"I have really no idea what you mean, Herr Wassertrum", I said, looking as blank as possible. "Baggage? What, some kind of luggage?"

"I'll be teachin' you your own language next", he snorted. "You'll have to swear on the Bible in court, you will, when it comes down to it. I'm tellin' you, d'you understand?" He started to shout, "You can't look me in the face and tell me that her from over there", he jerked his thumb in the direction of the studio, "didn't come runnin' in 'ere, with nothin' on but a bit of carpet?"

I saw red, grabbed the rogue by the chest and shook him. "One more word in that tone of voice and I'll break every bone in your body, do you understand?"

Ashen grey, he sank down into the chair and stammered, "What? What's the matter? What d'you want? I was only saying."

I strode up and down the room a few times to recover my composure, not listening to the continuous dribble of excuses slobbering from his lips. Then I sat down facing him, knee to knee, determined to clear up the matter, so far as it concerned Angelina, once and for all. If a peaceful solution was not possible, I hoped to force him finally to open hostilities and perhaps waste some of the arrows in his quiver in a premature volley.

Without paying the least attention to his interruptions, I told him in no uncertain terms that blackmail of any kind was doomed to failure, since there was no accusation he could back up with hard facts, and I (in the extremely unlikely event of it ever coming to court) would definitely avoid giving evidence. Angelina, I emphasised, was much too close a friend for me to leave her in the lurch when she was in danger. I was prepared to pay any price to save her, even perjury!

Every muscle in his face was twitching, his hare-lip turned up until it touched his nose and he bared his teeth, gobbling all the time like a turkey-cock in his attempts to interrupt. "Did I ever say I wanted anythin' from the baggage? Will you just listen." I refused to let myself be put off my stride, and that sent him beside himself with impatience. Suddenly he erupted in a roar, "It's that Savioli I want, the goddamned swine . . . the . . . the . . ." He was gasping for air. I stopped immediately; now I had him where I wanted him. But the next moment he had himself under control again and was staring at my waistcoat.

"Listen, Pernath"—he forced himself to adopt the cool, calculating tone of a businessman—"you keep on talking about that bag—. . . the lady. Fine! She's married. Fine! She's taken up with that young . . . rascal. What has it to do with me?" He was waving his hands to and fro in front of my face, the tips of his fingers and thumbs pressed together, as if he were holding a pinch of salt in them. "That's between 'er and 'er conscience, the little baggage. I'm a man of the world and you're a man of the world. We both know what's what. All I want is to get my money back. Now d'you understand, Pernath?"

I started in astonishment. "Money? What money? Is Dr. Savioli in your debt?"

Wassertrum evaded the point. "I've things to settle with 'im. It all boils down to the same thing."

"You mean to murder him", I shouted.

He leapt up, staggered, and swallowed hard several times.

"Yes! Murder him! How long did you think you could keep up this act?" I pointed to the door. "Out you go."

Slowly he picked up his hat, put it on and turned to leave. Then he stopped and said, with a calm I would never have thought him capable of, "Right. If that's how you want it. I wanted to leave you out of it. Why not? But if you don't, then that's all right by me. It's the tender-'earted sawbones what makes the worst cuts. I've 'ad it up to about 'ere. If you'd shown a bit more sense . . . Savioli's only in your way, isn't 'e? Now—I'm—going—to—make—mincemeat of (to make his meaning absolutely clear, he drew his hand across his throat) all three of you."

There was an expression of such fiendish cruelty on his face, and he seemed so sure of himself, that the blood froze in my veins. Obviously he must have something he could use against us, something I had no idea of, the existence of which even Charousek did not suspect. I felt the ground sway under my feet.

"The file! The file!"

It was a whisper running through my brain. I gauged the distance: one step to the table, two steps to reach Wassertrum. I was about to spring when there in the doorway, as if by magic, stood Hillel.

The room was swimming before my eyes. I saw, as if through a mist, that Hillel remained motionless, while Wassertrum shrank back, step by step, until he came up against the wall.

Then I heard Hillel say, "You know the rule, Aaron, that all Jews must vouch for each other? Do not make it too difficult for us." He added a few words in Hebrew which I could not understand.

"Why d'you 'ave to go snoopin' at doors?" the old junk-dealer spat out venomously, lips quivering.

"Whether I was listening or not is none of your business." Again Hillel added a sentence in Hebrew which, this time, sounded like a threat. I expected it would lead to an argument, but Wassertrum answered not a word; he just thought for a moment and then went out, with a defiant look on his face.

I looked at Hillel expectantly. He signalled me to stay silent. Clearly he was waiting for something, for he was listening for what was happening out in the corridor. I was about to go and close the door, but he waved me back impatiently.

A good minute passed, then we heard Wassertrum's shuffling steps coming back up the stairs. Without a word, Hillel left and made way for him.

Wassertrum waited until Hillel was out of hearing, then he snarled at me, "Gimme my watch back."
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:29 pm


Where on earth was Charousek? Almost twenty-four hours had passed and still he had not appeared. Could he have forgotten the signal we had agreed on? Or had he perhaps not seen it?

I went to the window and adjusted the mirror so that the ray of sunlight falling on it was reflected onto the tiny barred window of his basement.

Hillel's intervention yesterday had reassured me somewhat. I felt sure he would have warned me if there were danger in the offing. And anyway, Wassertrum had taken no steps of any significance since then. Immediately after he left me he had returned to his shop. I glanced quickly down at it, yes, there he was, slumped motionless behind his cast-iron hotplates just as he had been when I had seen him first thing this morning.

Unbearable, this eternal waiting!

The mild spring air pouring in through the open window in the next room was making me sick with yearning. The drip of melting ice from the roofs! All those delicate filaments of water gleaming in the sun! It was as if invisible threads were drawing me outside. Impatiently I paced up and down the room; threw myself into a chair; stood up again.

My breast was filled with the sprouting shoots of a feeling of being in love which had no precise object. I could not rid myself of it; the whole night through it had tormented me. At first it had been Angelina's body nestling against mine, then I was in the middle of an ostensibly innocent conversation with Miriam; hardly had I torn up that image, than Angelina returned and kissed me; I could smell the scent of her hair, and the soft sable she was wearing tickled the skin of my neck, slipped from her bare shoulders and—she turned into Rosina, dancing with drunken, half-closed eyes, wearing a tail-coat, but otherwise naked. I seemed to be half asleep, yet at the same time it was as if I were awake. Awake in a sweetly sapping twilight state.

Towards morning my double appeared at my bedside, the spectral Habal Garmin, the 'Breath of the Bones' of which Hillel had spoken. I could tell by the look in its eyes that it was in my power, that it would be compelled to answer any question I might put to it, on any matter concerning this world or the world beyond. I knew that it was just waiting for me to ask, but my thirst for knowledge of the mysteries was no match for the lascivious throbbing of my blood, and dried up in the arid soil of reason. I dismissed the phantom, commanding it to turn into the image of Angelina. It shrank to the letter 'Aleph' and then grew again until it was the naked woman, gigantic as a brazen colossus and with a pulse like an earthquake, that I had seen in the Book of Ibbur. She bent over me, and I inhaled the overpowering smell of her hot flesh.

Was Charousek never going to come? The bells were singing out from the church towers. I would wait another fifteen minutes, but then I would go out, out into the busy streets thronged with people in their Sunday best. I would mingle with the crowds in the wealthy districts, see the beautiful women, their coquettish faces, their slender hands and legs.

I excused myself with the thought that I might chance to meet Charousek.

To while away the time, I took the old-fashioned pack of Tarock cards down from the shelf. Perhaps one of the picture cards would give me an idea for a cameo? I looked for the Juggler. Nowhere to be found. Where could it have got to? I shuffled through the pack again, immersed in reflections on their hidden meaning, especially the Hanged Man. What on earth could it signify?

It showed a man hanging by a rope, head downward, between heaven and earth; his arms were tied behind his back and his right leg was bent over the left, forming a cross above an inverted triangle.

An incomprehensible symbol.

There! At last Charousek was coming. Or perhaps not?

A joyful surprise: it was Miriam.

"Do you know, Miriam, I was just going to go down and ask you to come out for a drive with me." It was not the whole truth, but that didn't worry me. "You won't refuse me, will you? My heart is so full of happiness today, and you, Miriam, you alone, are the one to crown it."

"For a drive?" she repeated, in such a bewildered voice that I had to laugh out loud.

"Is the suggestion so absurd, then?"

"No, no, but . . .", she was at a loss for words, "extremely odd. To go for a drive!"

"Not odd at all when you think that hundreds of thousands do it, do nothing else, in fact, all their lives."

"Ah yes, other people", she agreed, still under the influence of the surprise. I took both her hands in mine. "I would like you, Miriam, to enjoy the pleasures other people have, only to a much fuller extent."

She suddenly turned deathly pale. I could tell what her thoughts were from the dull, fixed expression in her eyes, and I was cut to the quick.

"You mustn't let this . . . this miracle prey on your mind, Miriam", I told her. "Will you promise me that, out of. . . friendship for me."

She could hear the anxiety in my words and looked at me in astonishment.

"I could be happy for you, if it wasn't such a strain on you, but as things are . . .? I'm very concerned about you, Miriam, do you know that? Concerned for . . . for . . . how shall I put it? . . . for your peace of mind. Don't take it too literally, but . . . I wish the miracles had never happened."

I expected her to contradict me, but she just nodded, wrapped in thought.

"It's wearing you down. Am I not right, Miriam?"

She roused herself. "Sometimes I almost wish they had never happened, either."

To me it seemed a ray of hope.

She spoke slowly, as if lost in a dream, "Whenever I think that a time might come when I had to live without such miracles—"

"But you might become rich overnight, and then you wouldn't need . . ." I interrupted her, without thinking, only to break off the moment I saw the horror spread over her face, "I mean, your worries might be solved in a perfectly ordinary way, and then your miracles would be more inward, spiritual experiences."

She shook her head and said adamantly, "Inward experiences are not miracles. What is surprising is that there seem to be people who have no such experiences at all. Ever since my childhood, day by day, night by night, I have—" (she broke off abruptly, and I guessed that there was something else deep within her, something she had never told me about, perhaps a web of invisible events, such as I was entangled in) "but that's beside the point. Even if someone should appear and heal the sick by the laying on of hands, I wouldn't call it a miracle. Only when lifeless matter—earth—is animated by the spirit, and the laws of nature are broken, only then will the miracle have occurred that I have been longing for since I can remember. My father once told me that there were two sides to the Cabbala, a magic side and an abstract side, which can never be brought together. That is to say, the magic side can draw the abstract to it, but the converse is impossible. The magic side is a gift, the abstract can be mastered, even if only with the help of a guide." This took her back to the thread of her earlier thoughts. "It is the gift that I thirst after; I care nothing for what I can master, it means no more to me than a speck of dust. As I said before, whenever I think that a time might come when I had to live without such miracles . . ."—seeing her fingers clench convulsively, I was tormented with guilt and remorse—"I feel the very idea is killing me already."

"Is that the reason why you wished the miracles had never happened?" I asked.

"Only partly. There's something else as well. I . . . I", she thought for a while, "I wasn't ready yet for a miracle of that kind. That's it. How can I explain it to you? Suppose, just for the sake of example, that every night for years I have been having one and the same dream, which keeps on developing, and in which someone—let's say an inhabitant of another world—is giving me instruction, not only by showing me through a mirror-image of myself and the gradual changes in it how far I am from the maturity in the magic sphere needed to experience a 'miracle', but also by supplying the solution to intellectual problems I happen to be concerned with, solutions I can verify during my waking hours. I'm sure you will understand what I mean when I tell you that such a being makes up for the loss of any earthly 'happiness'. He is a bridge connecting me with the 'other side', a ladder, such as Jacob dreamt of, by which I can climb from the darkness into the light; he is both guide and friend to me, and the confidence I feel that, whatever dark paths my soul might tread, I will never stray into the black abyss of madness, comes from 'him' who has never deceived me. And then, contrary to everything he has told me, a miracle appears in my life!? What should I believe now? Was that being, in whom for many years I found fulfilment, a mere delusion? If I were forced to give up my faith in him, I would plunge head first into a bottomless pit. And yet a miracle did occur! I would dance for joy, if-"

"If?" I interrupted, breathless. Perhaps she herself would say the word I was waiting for, and I could confess everything.

"If I were to learn that I was wrong, that it wasn't a miracle at all. But I know, just as well as I know that I'm sitting here, that it would destroy me." At this my heart stood still. "To be dragged down, to have to leave heaven and come back to earth. Do you think anyone could bear that?"

"Why don't you ask your father to help you?" I said, helpless with fear.

"Ask my father? To help me?" She gave me a blank look. "When there are only two possible paths for me, how could he find a third? Do you know what the only way out of it is? If the same thing should happen to me as happened to you. If at this very moment I could forget everything that lies behind me, my whole life up to today. Isn't it strange: what is a misfortune to you would be the greatest happiness to me!"

For a long time neither of us said anything. Then she suddenly took my hand and smiled, almost a happy smile.

"I don't want you to be sad for my sake." (She was comforting me, me!) Before, you were so full of joy at the spring outside, and now you're the incarnation of gloom. I shouldn't have spoken at all. Dismiss it from your mind and return to your previous thoughts. I'm so happy—"

"You are happy, Miriam?" I interrupted in bitter tones.

She gave me a resolute smile. "Yes! Happy! Really! When I came up here to see you, I felt so incredibly anxious. I don't know why, but I just couldn't get over the feeling that you were in some great danger"—I was all ears—"and now, instead of being pleased to find you safe and sound, I've been burdening you with my troubles and-"

I forced myself to be cheerful, "—-and can only make up for it by coming out for a drive with me." I made every effort to sound as light-hearted as possible. "Just for once, Miriam, I'd like to try and see if I can blow away your gloomy thoughts. You can say what you like, you're still far from being an Egyptian mage; for the moment you're just a young girl who'll have to be on her guard against the tricks the spring breezes can play."

She suddenly became quite high-spirited. "What's got into you today, Herr Pernath? I've never seen you like this before! And talking of the 'spring breezes', it is a well-known fact that for Jewish girls it is the parents who direct the 'spring breezes', we have only to obey. And we do, it's in our blood. Not mine, though," she added in a rather more serious tone, "my mother flatly refused to marry that awful Aaron Wassertrum."

"What? Your mother? Marry the old junk-dealer from across the road?"

Miriam nodded. "Thank God nothing ever came of it; though it was a devastating blow for the poor man."

"Poor man, you call him?" I exclaimed. "The fellow's a criminal!"

She shook her head from side to side reflectively. "It's true he's a criminal. But anyone with his handicaps would have to become either a criminal or a prophet."

Intrigued, I pulled my chair closer. "What precisely do you know about him? I'd be interested to hear, for a quite particular—"

"If you had ever seen his shop from inside, Herr Pernath, you would understand the workings of his mind straight away. I say that because I was often in there as a child. Why the astonished look? Is that so strange? He was always kind and friendly to me. I remember once he even gave me a large, sparkling stone which had particularly caught my fancy among the things in his shop. My mother said it was a diamond and, of course, I had to take it back there and then.

At first he refused to take it back, but then he grabbed it out of my hand and threw it away in fury. But I saw the tears pouring down his face, and even at that age I knew enough Hebrew to understand what he was murmuring. 'Everything my hand touches, is cursed.' It was the last time I was allowed to go and visit him, and since then he has never invited me in. And I know why. If I had not tried to comfort him, everything would have stayed as it was, but because I felt so awfully sorry for him and told him so, he never wanted to see me again. You can't understand that, Herr Pernath? But it's simple. He is obsessed. The moment someone touches his heart, he is filled with distrust, a distrust it is impossible to dislodge. He believes he is much uglier than he really is, if that is possible, and that is the basis for everything he thinks and does. People say his wife loved him; perhaps it was more pity than love, but a lot of people believed she loved him. The only one who was convinced of the opposite, was Wassertrum himself. Everywhere he smells hatred and betrayal.

The only exception was his son. Who could say what the reason was? Perhaps because he had watched his son's development from a tiny baby and had thus seen every characteristic from the moment of germination, so to speak, there was never anything to trigger off his distrust. Or perhaps it was the Jewish blood in him which led him to lavish all the love he was capable of on his offspring; our race has an instinctive fear of dying out and not being able to fulfil its mission, which we have forgotten anyway, but which lives on in some obscure corner of our being.

He guided his son's upbringing with a shrewdness which bordered on wisdom and was nothing short of miraculous in such a completely uneducated man. In order to spare his child mental torment later in life, he showed the insight of a psychologist in shielding him from any experience that might have contributed to the development of a conscience.

As his tutor he employed an outstanding scientist, who held that animals were insensitive to pain and that expressions of distress were mere mechanical reflexes. The fundamental principle underlying this far-sighted educational system was to squeeze as much pleasure and enjoyment as possible out of any creature and then throw away the shell as useless.

As you can well imagine, Herr Pernath, money, as the key to and symbol of 'power', played a leading role in all this. And just as he is careful to keep his own wealth secret, in order to cloak the extent of his influence in obscurity, so he thought up a way of making that possible for his son, whilst at the same time sparing him the discomfort of a life of apparent poverty: he imbued him with the pernicious cult of 'beauty', taught him an aesthete's responses and gestures, brought him up to appear outwardly like one of the lilies of the field, whilst inside he was a vulture.

Of course, this whole business of 'beauty' can hardly have been his own idea; it was probably his 'improvement' of a suggestion from some more cultured person.

He never resented the fact that, later on, his son disowned him at every opportunity. On the contrary, it was he who obliged him to behave in that way. It was a selfless love, and one that, as I have already said of my father's, reaches beyond the grave."

Miriam was silent for a while, but I could tell from the look on her face, and from the change in her tone of voice when she continued, that she was following the thread of her thoughts. "Strange fruits grow on the tree of Jewry."

"Tell me, Miriam", I asked, "have you never heard the rumour that Wassertrum keeps a wax doll in his shop? I can't remember who told me, perhaps it was only a dream . . ."

"No, no, Herr Pernath, it's quite true. There's a life-size wax doll in the corner where he sleeps on his straw mattress surrounded by piles of grotesque jumble. They say he took it in payment of a debt from the owner of a waxworks, years ago, simply because it resembled a Christian . . . a woman who is supposed to have been his lover once."

'Charousek's mother!' was the thought that immediately came to mind. "You don't know her name, Miriam?"

Miriam shook her head. "If it's important, would you like me to try and find out?"

"Good Lord, no, Miriam, it's no matter at all." (I could see from the brightness of her eyes how worked up she was. I resolved not to let her relapse into her old state.) "What I'm more interested in is something you touched on earlier. I mean what you said about the 'spring breezes'. I'm sure your father wouldn't dream of dictating to you whom you should marry?"

She gave a merry laugh. "My father? What on earth are you thinking!"

"Well, that makes me very happy."

"Why?" she asked, unsuspecting.

"Because it means I still have a chance."

It was only meant as a joke, and that's how she took it, but she still jumped up and ran to the window so that I shouldn't see her blush.

To help her over her embarrassment, I said, "As an old friend, there's one thing I must ask of you. When the time comes, you must let me in on the secret. Or are you thinking of staying an old maid?"

"No! No! No!" Her denial was so emphatic I couldn't repress a smile. "I'll have to get married some time."

"Of course! Naturally!"

She became as flustered as a schoolgirl. "Can't you be serious for a single minute, Herr Pernath?" I obediently put on my schoolmaster's face, and she sat down again. "When I say I'll have to get married some time, I mean that, although up to now I have not given the when or the whom any thought, it would go against what I see as the meaning of life if I were to assume that I, as a woman, had come into the world to remain childless."

For the first time I saw the woman behind the girl.

"It is a dream of mine", she went on softly, "to imagine that it is one of the goals of life for two beings to fuse into one, into—have you ever heard of the Egyptian cult of Osiris?—something of which the 'hermaphrodite' is a symbol."

The word caught my attention. "The hermaphrodite . . .?"

"By that I mean the magic union of the male and female principles in the human race to create a demi-god. As a final goal! No, not as a final goal, as the beginning of a new course, which will be eternal, which will have no final end."

I was deeply moved. "And you hope that some time you will find the one you seek? Could it not be that he lives in some far-off land, is perhaps not even here on earth?"

"I know nothing about that", she replied simply. "All I can do is wait. If he is separated from me by time or space—which I cannot believe, why then would I be bound to the Ghetto here?—or if we do not recognise each other, and I do not find him, then my life will have been without purpose, just the mindless whim of some idiotic demon. But please, please, let's not talk about that any more", she pleaded. "Whenever a thought is put into words, it gets an ugly, earthly taste, and I wouldn't want—." She suddenly broke off..

"What wouldn't you want, Miriam?"

She raised her hand and quickly stood up, saying, "You have a visitor, Herr Pernath."

There was a rustle of silk out in the corridor, an impetuous knock and then: Angelina!

Miriam was going to leave, but I held her back. "Allow me to introduce you. The daughter of an old friend—Countess——-"

"One can't even drive up to the house any more, the ! roads have been dug up everywhere. When are you going to move to an area that's fit for human habitation, Pernath? Outside the snow is melting, the sky is enough to make your heart burst with joy, and here you are stuck in your dank, dark cavern like an old frog. By the way, do you know I went to see my jeweller yesterday and he said you're the finest gem-cutter, the greatest engraver living today, if not one of the greatest who ever lived?" Angelina chattered on like a river in spate, and I sat spellbound. I was mesmerised by her radiant blue eyes, her little feet in their tiny patent-leather boots, her coquettish face beaming out of a mountain of furs, and her little rosy ear-lobes.

She hardly gave herself time to draw breath. "My carriage is waiting at the corner. I was afraid I might not find you at home. I hope you haven't had lunch yet? First of all we'll drive to—now, where shall we drive first? We'll head for—just a minute—yes! To the Arboretum, perhaps—or, well—anywhere out in the country, anywhere one can really feel all the sap rising and the buds budding. Come on, come on, where's your hat? Then I'll take you back to my house for lunch and we can chat until evening. There's your hat, what are you waiting for? I've got a lovely, soft, warm rug down in the carriage. We can wrap ourselves up to the ears in it and snuggle up together till we're boiling hot."

What could I say? 'I've just arranged to go out for a ride with the daughter of my old friend here'? Miriam had quickly taken her leave of Angelina before I could get the words out. I saw her to the door, even though she made it clear, with a friendly smile, that it wasn't necessary.

"Listen, Miriam, out here on the stairs I can't really tell you how fond I am of you, and that I would much rather go with—-"

"You mustn't keep the lady waiting, Herr Pernath", she insisted. "Goodbye, and enjoy your drive."

She said it with unfeigned warmth, but I could see that the brightness had gone from her eyes. She hurried down the stairs and my heart was too full for words. I felt I had lost a whole world.

Intoxicated, I sat at Angelina's side as we drove at a furious gallop through the crowded streets. Life was surging all around so that, dazed as I was, I only registered tiny glints of the scenes slipping past me: sparkling jewels in an earring or a muff-chain, a shiny top hat, a lady's white gloves, a poodle with a pink bow round its neck that ran along yapping at the carriage wheels, black horses in silver harnesses and covered in foam racing towards us, a shop window with gleaming bowls full of pearl necklaces and glittering jewelry, the sheen of silk round slim, girlish hips.

The chill wind cutting into our faces made the sensuous warmth of Angelina's body seem even more beguiling.

The policemen at the crossings jumped respectfully to one side as we flew past them.

Then we were going down the Embankment, which was one long line of carriages, at a walk, and past the ruins of the stone bridge with its throng of gawping sightseers. I scarcely gave it a glance. The slightest word from Angelina, her eyelashes, the rapid twitching of her lips, it was all much more important to me than watching the blocks of stone down in the river heave the tumbling ice-floes up into the air.

An avenue through the park; then the give of soil trampled flat, the rustle of dead leaves under the wheels; damp air; huge bare trees full of crows' nests; pallid green fields with grubby white islands of melting snow, it all flashed past me as if in a dream.

Angelina mentioned Dr. Savioli, but only in a few, almost indifferent words. "Now the danger is past", she said, with her delightful, childlike lack of inhibition, "and I know that his health has improved, everything I have been through seems so terribly boring. And I want to enjoy myself again, close my eyes and plunge into life's glittering bubbles. I think all women are like that, only they won't admit it. Or are they so stupid that they don't realise it? Don't you think so too?" She ignored my answer. "Anyway, I think women are completely uninteresting. You mustn't think I'm just trying to flatter you, but I know that I far prefer the mere presence of a man I like to the most stimulating conversation with a woman, however intelligent. When it comes down to it, it's all chitter-chatter about some silly nonsense. At best they'll talk about clothes, and fashions don't change that often, do they?" She suddenly gave me a coquettish look and said, "I'm dreadfully frivolous, aren't I?" I was so beguiled by her charm that it was all I could do not to take her head in my hands and plant a kiss on the nape of her pretty little neck. "Tell me I'm frivolous." She snuggled up closer to me and took my arm.

We were leaving the main avenue now, driving past clumps of ornamental shrubs, still wrapped in their protective winter coats of straw, so that they looked like the trunks of monsters that had had their heads and limbs chopped off. People sitting in the sunshine on the benches watched us drive by and immediately their tongues started wagging.

We were silent for a while, each immersed in our own thoughts. How completely different Angelina was from the Angelina who existed in my imagination! To me it seemed as if today she had entered the real world of the present for the first time. Was this really the same woman I had comforted that evening in the Cathedral? I could not take my eyes off her half-open lips.

Still she did not say anything; she seemed to be seeing some image in her mind's eye.

The carriage was rolling over a damp meadow. It smelt of the awakening earth.

"Do you know, Countess—"

She interrupted softly, "Call me Angelina."

"Do you know, Angelina, yesterday I . . . I spent the whole night dreaming of you?" I almost had to force the words out.

She made a slight movement, as if to withdraw her arm from mine, and looked at me wide-eyed. "Incredible! And I dreamt of you! And just now I was thinking exactly the same!"

Again our conversation juddered to a halt and we both guessed that we had had the same dream. I could feel it by the throbbing of her blood. Her arm was quivering ever so slightly against my breast and she was looking fixedly away from me, out of the carriage.

Slowly I drew her hand to my lips, pulled back the soft, scented glove and, as her breathing grew more agitated, pressed my teeth, mad with love, into the ball of her thumb.

Hours later I was staggering like a drunken man down through the evening mist to the town. I followed any street that took my fancy, and it was a long time before I realised I was walking round in a circle.

Then I found myself leaning over the iron railings by the river, staring down into the roaring waves. I could still feel Angelina's arms around my neck, and I could see the stone basin of the fountain, where once before, years ago, we had taken leave of one another; it was full of rotting elm-leaves, and once again she was walking with me, as she had only a few hours ago, silent, her head on my shoulder, through the twilit park of the castle where she lived.

I sat on a bench and pulled my hat down over my face to help me dream.

The waters were thundering over the weir, drowning the last grumblings of the city as it went to sleep. From time to time I looked up as I pulled my coat tighter round me, and the shadow on the river grew deeper and deeper until, under the heavy pressure of night, it was a mere grey-black flow, with the foam of the weir a strip of dazzling white running diagonally across to the other bank.

I shuddered at the thought of having to go back to my dreary lodgings. The glory of one short afternoon had made me for ever a stranger in my own home. A few weeks, a few days perhaps, and my bliss would surely be over, leaving me with nothing but a beautiful, painful memory.

And then?

Then I would not belong anywhere, neither here nor on the other side, neither on this bank nor across river.

I stood up. Before I returned to the darkness of the Ghetto, I wanted to have one more look through the park railings at the castle and the windows of the room where she was sleeping. I set off in the direction from which I had come, feeling my way through the thick fog along rows of houses and across slumbering squares, past black monuments that suddenly reared up menacingly before me, past lonely sentry boxes and the scrollery of baroque facades. In the thick mist, the dull glow of the street-lamps grew into fantastic, gigantic rings coloured like faded rainbows, turned into piercing, pale-yellow eyes, then dissolved in the mist behind me.

My foot felt a broad stone step strewn with gravel. Where was I? It was a steeply rising, sunken lane. To the left and right were smooth garden walls with the bare branches of a tree trailing down over them. They seemed to come down from the sky, the trunk was hidden behind the wall of fog. A few thin, rotten twigs snapped off with a loud crack as my hat brushed against them, and tumbled down my coat into the misty abyss concealing my feet.

Then a point of light shone out, a single, lonely point of light somewhere in the distance, mysteriously suspended between heaven and earth.

I must have taken a wrong turning, it could only be the Old Castle Steps that ran across the slope of the Furstenberg Gardens.

Long stretches of clayey soil, then a paved path.

A bulky shadow towered up above me, the top ending in a stiff black pointed hat: the Dalibor Tower, the dungeon where many subjects had died of hunger whilst their kings hunted game in the Stag Moat below.

A narrow twisting alley with crenelations, a spiral staircase scarcely wide enough for my shoulders, then I was standing opposite a row of houses none of which was taller than myself; if I stretched out my arm I could touch their roofs.

I was in 'Goldmakers Alley' where, in the Middle Ages, the adepts of alchemy heated the philosophers' stone and poisoned the moonbeams. There was no other way out than the one by which I had come, but I could not find the gap in the wall. Instead I bumped into a wooden gate. 'It's no use', I thought to myself, Til have to wake someone up to show me the way out.'

Strange, there is a house blocking the end of the street, larger than the others and apparently lived in. I can't remember ever having seen it before. It is shining so brightly out of the mist, it must be whitewashed.

I go through the gate, across the narrow strip of garden and press my face against the window-panes. Everything is dark. I knock on the window. Inside, an ancient man, as old as Methuselah, comes tottering in through the door, stops in the middle of the room, slowly turns his head towards the dusty alchemical flasks and retorts on the shelves, gives the huge spiders' webs in the corners a reflective stare and then turns his gaze directly towards me.

The shadow of his cheek-bones falls across his eyes sockets, so that it looks as if they were empty as those of a mummy.

He obviously cannot see me.

I knock on the glass.

He can't hear it. As silently as a sleepwalker, he goes out of the room.

I wait in vain. I knock on the door of the house. No one opens.

There was nothing left for it but to go on looking until I found the way out of the street.

It would be best, I decided, to go and mix with people. To go to the Old Toll House, where my friends, Zwakh, Prokop and Vrieslander would surely be, in order to drown my desperate longing for Angelina's embraces for at least a few hours. I quickly set off for the inn.

They were sitting round the worm-eaten old table like a trio of dead men, all three with white, thin-stemmed clay pipes clenched between their teeth. The whole room was full of smoke. The dark-brown walls so swallowed up the meagre light from the old-fashioned hanging lamp that it was almost impossible to tell which was which.

In the corner sat the taciturn waitress, flat-chested and weatherworn, with her blank gaze and yellow duck's-bill of a nose, eternally knitting away at a sock. Dull-red blankets had been hung over the closed doors, so that the voices from the next room sounded like the soft hum of a swarm of bees.

Vrieslander, with his straight-brimmed conical hat on his head, his pointed beard, leaden complexion and scar under his eye, looked like some drowned Dutchman from a bygone century.

Joshua Prokop had stuck a fork through his musician's locks and was keeping up a constant drumming with his uncannily long, bony fingers whilst admiring Zwakh's efforts to clothe a pot-bellied bottle of arrack in a purple cloak from one of his puppets.

"It's going to be Babinski", explained Vrieslander with the utmost gravity. "You don't know who Babinski was? Zwakh, tell Pernath who Babinski was."

"Babinski", explained Zwakh at once, without interrupting his work for a moment, "was a celebrated robber and murderer who used to live in Prague. For many years he went about his deplorable business without anyone noticing. Gradually, however, it began to strike people in the better families that this or that member had been missing at dinner and never reappeared. Though at first nothing was said—the matter did, after all, have its good side in that it meant less cooking—they could not ignore the fact that people might start to talk and the family's social prestige would suffer. Especially when it was daughters of marriageable age who disappeared without trace. Anyway, family pride demanded that they publicly demonstrate the high regard in which they held family values.

Those sections of the personal columns in the local newspapers headed 'Come Back, All Is Forgiven' grew out of all proportion—a fact which Babinski, with that thoughtlessness which is characteristic of professional murderers, had not taken into account—and finally aroused general attention.

At heart Babinski was a man of simple tastes, and his untiring industry had enabled him to establish a cosy home in the idyllic little village of Krtsch just outside Prague. It was the tiniest of cottages, but sparkling clean and had a garden at the front full of geraniums.

Since, on his income, he could not afford to acquire more land, he found it necessary, in order to dispose of his victims unobtrusively, to do without the extra flower-bed he had set his heart on and establish in its stead a simple, yet practical grassy mound which could easily be enlarged whenever business or the season demanded.

It was on this blessed spot that every evening Babinski, after all the trials and tribulations of the day, would sit enjoying the last rays of the setting sun and playing all sorts of melancholy tunes on his flute."

"Just a moment", interrupted Joshua Prokop and, taking his house-key out of his pocket, held it to his lips like a clarinet and played on it, "Toorali toorali-addy."

"Were you there, then", asked Vrieslander in astonishment, "since you know just which tune it was he played."

Prokop threw him a furious glance. "No. Babinski lived too long ago for that. But, as a composer, I ought to know what Babinski played if anyone does. It's not for you to judge, you've no ear for music. Toorali toorali toorali-ay."

Deeply moved, Zwakh listened until Prokop put away his house-key, then went on, "The constant increase in the size of the mound gradually aroused his neighbours' suspicions, but the credit for finally putting an end to the fiend's selfish activities goes to a policeman from the suburb of Zizkov, who happened to observe, from a safe distance, Babinski strangling a highly respectable old lady. He was arrested at his country retreat.

Taking his otherwise exemplary character into account as a mitigating circumstance, the court condemned him to death by hanging, at the same time commissioning the firm of Leipen Bros., Wholesale and Retail Rope Merchants, to supply the authorities with the requisite cordage at a reasonable price and with invoices in triplicate.

In spite of all such precautions, however, it happened that the rope broke and Babinski's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Twenty years the murderer spent behind the walls of Saint Pancras Prison without a single word of complaint ever crossing his lips; even today the staff of the institution still sing the praises of his model behaviour, he was even granted permission to play his flute on the official birthday of our most noble sovereign—"

Prokop immediately felt for his house-key, but Zwakh stopped him with a wave of the hand.

"On the occasion of a general amnesty, the rest of his sentence was remitted and he was given the position of gatekeeper at the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy. Thanks to his proficiency with the spade, which he had acquired in his previous walk of life, the light gardening, which was part of his duties, took up so little of his time that he had leisure enough to purify his heart and mind through the study of carefully selected works of improving literature.

The results were pleasing in the extreme. Whenever the Mother Superior sent him to the local inn on a Saturday evening, to raise his spirits a little, he would always return punctually before nightfall, remarking that he found the general decline in moral standards depressing; there were so many shady characters making the roads unsafe that the sensible course for any right-thinking person was to see that he set off for home in good time.

At that time in Prague the candle-makers had developed the unfortunate tradition of selling little figures with red cloaks representing the murderer Babinski. There was not one among the bereaved families who did not have such a figure. Usually, however, they were to be seen in the shops under a glass cover, and there was nothing calculated to infuriate Babinski so much as the sight of one of these.

'It is extremely degrading and betokens an unparalleled coarseness of spirit to keep on confronting a person with his youthful peccadilloes', Babinski would say on such occasions, adding, 'and it is deeply regrettable that the authorities have taken no steps to deal with such an outrage.'

Even on his deathbed he was still expressing similar sentiments, and not in vain, for soon afterwards the government banned the trade in the offensive Babinski statuettes."

Zwakh took a deep draught from his hot toddy, and all three grinned a fiendish grin. Then he stole a cautious glance at the pallid waitress, and I saw her wipe a tear from her eye.

"Well, esteemed colleague and gem-cutter, have you nothing for us?" asked Vrieslander after a considerable pause for general reflection, "Apart, that is, from footing the bill out of gratitude for such a delightful narrative?"

I told them about my wandering in the fog. When I came to the place where I had seen the white house, all three took their pipes out of their mouths with excitement, and when I had finished, Prokop banged the table with his fist and shouted, "That's the absolute limit! This Pernath experiences every legend personally. By the way, talking of your Golem, the matter's been cleared up, did you know that?"

"What do you mean: cleared up?" I asked, completely dumbfounded.

"You know that mad Jewish beggar, Hashile? No? Well, Hashile was the Golem."

"A beggar was the Golem?"

"Yes. Hashile was the Golem. This afternoon the ghost was seen walking without a care in the world in its notorious seventeenth-century costume along Salnitergasse, and the man from the knacker's yard managed to trap it with a dog-catcher's noose."

"What on earth are you talking about? I don't understand a word of it."

"But I'm telling you, it was Hashile. I heard he found the clothes some time back in a house entrance. But, to get back to the white house on the Kleinseite, your story is terribly interesting. There is an old legend that up there in the Street of the Alchemists is a house which is only visible in fog, and that to a 'Sunday's child' alone. It is called the 'Wall by the Last Lamp'. If you go up by day all you will see is a large, grey rock; beyond it there's a sheer drop down into the Stag's Moat. You were lucky, Pernath, that you didn't take another step, you would have tumbled down and broken every bone in your body.

Beneath the rock, according to the legend, there's a huge treasure buried. The stone itself is said to have been laid by the 'Order of Asiatic Brethren', whom some people claim founded Prague, as the foundation stone for a house which will not be inhabited until the end of time, by a person—or, rather, by a hermaphrodite, a being composed of man and woman. And this being will have a hare on its coat of arms. By the way, the hare was the symbol of Osiris, so that's probably where all the business with the Easter bunny originated.

Until the time is come, Methuselah himself, so the legend goes, will keep watch at the place to stop Satan flying down and treading the stone, thus begetting a son with it, the so-called Armilos. Have you never heard of this Armilos? They even know—that is, the old Rabbis know—what he would look like if he appeared on earth: golden hair tied at the back, with two partings, then sickle-shaped eyes and arms that reach down to his feet."

"Such a divine popinjay should be recorded", muttered Vrieslander, looking for a pencil.

"Well, Pernath, if you should ever have the good fortune to turn into a hermaphrodite and stumble on the buried treasure", Prokop concluded, "then don't forget I was your best friend."

I didn't feel like joking; my heart ached. Zwakh could probably tell by my look, and even if he didn't know the reason, he quickly came to my aid.

"However that may be, it's remarkable, almost uncanny, that Pernath should have a vision at the precise spot that is so closely linked to an old legend. There are connections that some people cannot escape from if their soul has the ability to see shapes that are not accessible to our sense of touch. I'm afraid I can't help it, I think there's nothing more fascinating than the supernatural! What do the rest of you think?"

Vrieslander and Prokop were serious now, and none of us thought an answer necessary.

"And what do you think, Eulalia?" asked Zwakh, turning round.

The old waitress scratched her head with a knitting needle, sighed, blushed and said, "Oh, get away with you! The things you do say, sir!"

After we had stopped laughing, Vrieslander said, ''There's been something in the air the whole day. I haven't been able to do a single stroke. I've not been able to get Rosina out of my mind, the way she danced in that tail-coat."

"Has she reappeared yet?" I asked.

" 'Appeared' is good. The Vice Squad booked her for a special appearance! Perhaps the inspector took a fancy to her when he saw her at Loisitchek's that night? Anyway, now she's in a fever of activity and doing her bit to increase commerce in the Jewish quarter. And a strapping wench she's turned into in such a short time!"

"It's astonishing when you think what one of these daughters of Eve can do to a man, simply by making him fall in love with her", Zwakh commented. "In order to make enough money to be able to sleep with her, that poor fellow, Jaromir, has turned into an artist overnight. He goes round the taverns cutting silhouettes for the customers who want that kind of portrait."

Prokop, who had not been listening to Zwakh, smacked his lips and said, "Really? Is she that pretty now? Have you had a little nibble yet, Vrieslander?"

The waitress immediately jumped up indignantly and flounced out of the room.

"There goes that broiling fowl again!" muttered Prokop in exasperation at her departing form. "Virtue outraged! That's the last thing she needs! Huh!"

Zwakh calmed him down. "Don't bother with her. Anyway, she made her exit on the wrong cue! But she'd just finished the sock."

The landlord brought a new supply of hot toddy and the conversation took a decidedly lascivious turn; too lascivious not to set the blood throbbing in my veins, given my already feverish state. I fought against it, but the more I tried to shut myself off from it and concentrate my thoughts on Angelina, the more insistent became the ringing in my ears. Rather abruptly, I got up and left.

The fog had lifted slightly and sprinkled fine needles of ice all over me, but it was still so thick that I could not read the street names, and missed my way going home. I was in the wrong street and was about to turn round when I heard someone call my name. "Herr Pernath! Herr Pernath!"

I looked around, up, down: no one.

Beside me a door with a small, discreet red light over it yawned wide revealing, or so it seemed, the luminescent outlines of a figure at the back of the hallway.

Again the voice, "Herr Pernath! Herr Pernath!"

Surprised, I went into the vestibule, and two warm, female arms wrapped themselves round my neck. A door slowly opened a little, and in the light I could see that it was Rosina who was pressing her hot body against mine.
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Re: The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:34 pm


A dull, grey day.

I had slept late into the morning, a lifeless, dreamless sleep, for all the world as if I were dead.

The old woman who did my housework had either not turned up or had forgotten to light the stove. It was full of cold ashes. The furniture was covered in dust, the floor unswept.

Shivering, I walked up and down. The room was full of the stale smell of cheap liquor. My coat, my clothes stank of cold tobacco smoke.

I threw open the window and then shut it again; the filthy, icy air from the street was unbearable. Outside, the sparrows were perched motionless in the gutters, their feathers soaked. Wherever I looked, there was nothing but drab despair around me, and I had a soul to match, all mangled and torn.

The seat of that armchair, how threadbare it was! The horsehair was coming out at the edges. I should take it to the upholsterer, but why bother, just one more, joyless lifetime to last through, and it would be fit for the rubbish heap with everything else.

And those net curtains on the windows, how tasteless, how pointless! Why didn't I twist them into a rope and hang myself by them? Then at least I wouldn't have to look at the misbegotten things any more, and the whole dreary, tiresome business would be over, once and for all!

Yes, that was the sensible thing to do. Make an end of it. Today. Now. This morning. Not even bother with breakfast. A revolting thought, to do away with yourself on a full stomach! To lie in the wet, cold earth with undigested food decaying inside you!

If only the sun had shone for the last time, so that its sparkling rays would no longer fill your heart with the brazen lie that life is full of joy!

No, I was not going to fall for that again! Never again be at the mercy of this clumsy, pointless destiny that raised me up, then dropped me in the mud, merely in order to make me realise how transient all earthly things were—which I knew already, anyway, which every child, every dog in the street knows.

Poor, poor Miriam. If only I could help her at least.

It was time to make a decision, one final, irrevocable decision, before that confounded vital urge woke up again and started dangling more fancies before my all-too-credulous inward eye.

What use had they been to me, all these messages from the incorruptible realm?

None, none whatsoever.

All they had done had been to send me staggering round in circles until this earth seemed an impossible torment.

There was just one thing I could do.

I worked out in my head how much money I had left in the bank. Yes. That was the only way. Of all my worthless deeds in this life, that was the only, tiny one that might have any value at all.

I must tie up everything I possessed, including the few gems in the drawer, in a little parcel and send it to Miriam. That would free her from material cares for a few years at least. And write a letter to Hillel, telling him the truth about her and her 'miracles'.

He alone could help her. I knew that he would find a way.

I gathered together all the stones and wrapped them up. If I went to the bank now I could have everything arranged within the hour.

And then a bunch of red roses for Angelina. My every nerve screamed with sorrow and longing: just one more day, let me live for just one more day!

In order to go through this agony of despair again?

No, I must not wait one single minute longer. I felt satisfaction at not having given way.

I looked round. Was there anything else left to do? Of course, the file. I put it in my pocket to throw it away somewhere in the street, as I had intended to do recently.

I hated that file! How close it had come to making me a murderer!

Who was that coming to disturb me now?

The junk-dealer.

"Only a moment of your time, Herr von Pernath", he asked, immediately ennobling me when I told him I had no time. "Just a moment for a few words."

The sweat was pouring down his face and he was trembling with excitement.

"Can we 'ave a few words, in private this time, Herr von Pernath? I don't want that—that Hillel to come burstin' in again. Could you lock the door, or perhaps we should go into the next room?" He dragged me along behind him in his usual rough manner. Then he looked round furtively a few times and said in a hoarse whisper, "I've changed my mind, you see, in that little matter we was discussin' the other day. It's better that way. Wouldn't 'ave done me no good, anyway. So that's it. Water under the bridge now."

I tried to read his eyes, but he returned my gaze, though the effort it cost him could be seen in the way his hand clenched the back of the chair.

"I'm glad to hear it, Herr Wassertrum", I said in as friendly a tone as I could manage. "Life is dreary enough, without mutual hatred making it a misery for each other."

"Talks just like a book", he grunted, relieved. He rummaged around in his trouser pocket and took out the gold watch with the broken spring lids. "Just to show you I really mean it, I've brought you a little present. Go on, take it. I insist."

"What are you thinking of?" I objected. "You don't imagine—" Then I remembered what Miriam had said about him and I stretched out my hand for the watch, so as not to hurt his feelings. But he ignored it and turned deathly pale as he listened, gurgling, "There! Listen! I knew it would 'appen! It's that Hillel again. He's knockin' at the door!"

I listened as well. Then I went back into the other room, pulling the door to behind me so as reassure him. It wasn't Hillel this time. Charousek came in, put his finger to his lips as a sign that he knew who was in the next room and then, without waiting to hear what I might say, showered me with a torrent of words.

"Ah, Herr Pernath, my dear friend, how can I tell you how much pleasure it gives me to find you alone, and in such good health, too." He was talking like a ham actor, and his pompous, unnatural language was in such stark contrast to his contorted face that I shuddered with horror.

"Never, Herr Pernath, would I have presumed to visit you in your home in the tattered attire in which you have, I am sure, frequently seen me in the street. But what am I saying? Seen me!? You were often gracious enough to give me your hand! Today you see me with a clean white collar and a spotless suit. And do you know whom I have to thank for that? One of the noblest and, I regret I have to say, most misunderstood men in the city. I am overcome with tears whenever I think of him.

Although he enjoys but a modest income, he is ever ready to help the poor and needy. Whenever I used to see him standing so sadly outside his shop, I was moved by a heartfelt urge to go up to him and, without a word, shake him by the hand. A few days ago he called to me as I was passing and gave me some money, enabling me to put down the deposit for a suit.

And do you know, Herr Pernath, who my benefactor is? It is with pride that I tell you, for I have long been the only person to suspect that beneath that modest exterior beats a heart of gold. It is Herr Anton Wassertrum!"

I realised, of course, that Charousek was acting out this comedy for the benefit of the junk-dealer listening in the next room, but I had no idea what he hoped to achieve by it. I was not at all convinced that the rather crude flattery would fool the suspicious Wassertrum. Charousek obviously deduced my thoughts from the anxious expression on my face, for he grinned and shook his head. His next words were presumably designed to tell me that he knew his man, and knew precisely how far he could go.

"Yes, Herr—Anton—Wassertrum! It makes my heart bleed not to be able to tell him myself how eternally grateful I am, and I must beg you, Herr Pernath, never to reveal to him that I was here and told you all this. I know that the selfishness of his fellow citizens has embittered him and filled him with a deep, ineradicable and, unfortunately, all too justified distrust.

I have trained as a psychologist, but it is my instinct that tells me that it would be best if Herr Wassertrum never heard, not even from my own lips, in what high esteem I hold him. That would be to sow the seeds of doubt in his unhappy soul, and far be it from me to do that. Better that he should think me ungrateful.

Herr Pernath, I myself have known, from my earliest childhood, what it is to be unhappy, to stand alone and abandoned in the world. I do not even know my father's name, nor have I ever seen my dear mother's face. She must have died very early on." At this point Charousek's voice took on a strangely mysterious, urgent tone. "But I am convinced she must have been one of those profoundly sensitive characters who can never express their innermost feelings—just like Herr Wassertrum.

I possess one page torn out of my mother's diary—I keep it always close to my breast—and in it she wrote that she loved my father, although he is supposed to have been ugly, more than any mortal woman has ever loved a man. And yet she seems never to have told him. Perhaps for the same reason why I, for example, could not tell Herr Wassertrum, even if it should break my heart, how grateful I feel towards him.

But there is one more thing that page from her diary tells me, even if I had the greatest difficulty deciphering it since the words have been rendered almost illegible by tears: My father—may his memory be erased in heaven and on earth—must have maltreated my mother most dreadfully!"

Charousek suddenly fell on his knees with a resounding crash, and screamed in such spine-chilling tones that I could not tell whether he was still play-acting or had actually gone mad, "O thou almighty being, whose name man should not speak, I kneel before thee and beg thee: cursed, thrice cursed, be my father for all eternity!"

His teeth snapped shut, literally biting the last word in two, and he listened for a while, eyes wide open. Then he grinned a fiendish grin. I thought I could hear a faint groan from Wassertrum in the next room.

"You must forgive me, Herr Pernath", Charousek went on, after a pause, in a histrionically strangled voice, "for letting myself go like that, but I pray morning, noon and night that the Almighty will grant that my father, whoever he may be, should die the most gruesome death imaginable."

I was about to make some automatic reply, but Charousek quickly interrupted me. "But now, Herr Pernath, I come to the request I have to make of you. Herr Wassertrum had a protege to whom he was inordinately attached, probably a nephew of his. People even say it was his son, but I can't believe that, since in that case he would have borne the same name. In fact he was called Wassory, Dr. Theodore Wassory.

Whenever I see him in my mind's eye I can't hold back my tears. I was devoted to him, heart and soul, as if we were bound by some direct tie of love and kinship." Charousek sobbed, as if he was so moved he could hardly speak. "Oh, that such a noble spirit had to depart this life. For some reason that I have never discovered, he killed himself. And I was one of those called to his assistance, but too late, too late, oh, too, too late! And then, as I stood alone at his deathbed, covering his cold, pale hand with kisses, I—why should I not confess it, Herr Pernath? It could not be called theft—I took a rose lying on the breast of the corpse and slipped into my pocket the phial with the contents of which the poor unfortunate had put an end to a life so full of promise and achievement."

Charousek took out a small medicine bottle and went on with quivering voice, "I'm going to put these mementoes of my late friend, the withered rose and the phial, on the table here. How many times during those desolate hours when, lonely at heart and consumed with longing for my mother, I wished for death, have I played with that phial. It was comforting to know that I only needed to pour the liquid onto a cloth and breathe in the fumes to float painlessly to the realm where dear Theodore is resting from the tribulations of this vale of tears.

And now I beg you, Pernath, for the sake of the high esteem in which I hold you, to take them and give them to Herr Wassertrum. Tell him you had them from someone who was close to Dr. Wassory, but whose name you have sworn never to reveal, perhaps a lady's. He will believe you, and they will be a reminder of his son, just as they reminded me of a dear friend.

That will be my way of thanking him without his knowing. I am a poor man, and it is all I have, but I will be content to know that both will now belong to him, and yet he will never suspect that they came from me. Merely to think of it is balm to my soul.

And now, goodbye, and a thousand thanks for your help in this matter. I know I can rely on you."

He grasped my hand, gave me a meaningful wink, and then, when I did not understand, mouthed some silent words at me.

"Just a moment, Herr Charousek, and I'll see you down the stairs", I said, mechanically repeating the words I read from his lips, and followed him out. We stopped on the dark first-floor landing. Before taking my leave of Charousek, I told him to his face, "I can imagine what the purpose of your little charade was. You . . . you want Wassertrum to poison himself with the phial!"

"Of course", Charousek admitted cheerfully.

"And you imagine I'll be a party to that?!"

"Not at all necessary."

"But up there you said I was to take the bottle to Wassertrum!"

Charousek shook his head. "When you go back up to your room you will see that he has already pocketed both."

"How can you assume that?" I asked in astonishment. "Someone like Wassertrum will never kill himself, he's much too much of a coward, and he never acts on impulse."

"Then you know nothing about the insidious poison of suggestion", Charousek countered earnestly. "Had I spoken in normal tones, you would perhaps be correct in your assessment, but I had worked out beforehand how I was going to speak, right down to the slightest emphasis. Swine like that only react to the most nauseatingly turgid rhetoric. Believe me! I could have described his expression at every sentence I spoke. There is no Kitsch too crass to draw tears from such rabble, rotten to the core though they be. Don't you think that, if it were not for that, all the theatres would have long since been razed to the ground? You can recognise scum by their sentimentality. Thousands of poor devils can starve to death without a single tear being shed, but dress up any greasepaint bitch as a country bumpkin and let her roll her eyes at them from the stage and they'll blubber like abandoned lap-dogs. Even if by tomorrow old Papa Wassertrum has forgotten the scene that has just cut him to his dung-heap of a heart, when the time comes when he feels sorry for himself, every single one of my words will reawaken within him. At such moments of spiritual diarrhoea all it needs is a gentle shove—and I shall make sure he gets one—and even the most cowardly cur will reach for the poison. It just has to be close at hand! Friend Theo would probably not have gone through with it if I hadn't made it easy for him."

"But Charousek, that's dreadful!" I exclaimed, horrified. "Don't you feel any—"

He quickly put his hand over my mouth and pushed me into an alcove. "Quiet! Here he comes!"

Wassertrum came stumbling down the stairs, supporting himself against the wall, and lurched past us. Charousek quickly shook my hand and crept after him.

When I returned to my room, I saw that the rose and the phial had disappeared. In their place on the table lay Wassertrum's battered gold watch.

At the bank they told me I would have to wait eight days until I could get my money; that was the usual notice.

I told them to fetch the manager. I was going to leave town within the hour and was in a great hurry, I lied.

He was in conference, they said, but anyway, he would not be able to alter the bank's standard practices. At that a man with a glass eye, who was waiting at the counter behind me, snorted with laughter.

So I would have to wait eight days, eight dreadful, dreary days, for death. They seemed to stretch out endlessly before me.

I was so depressed that I walked up and down, up and down, outside a coffee house without any idea of how long I had been doing so. Finally I went in, simply to get rid of the awful fellow with the glass eye who had followed me from the bank. He was hovering nearby, and whenever I looked at him he immediately started searching around on the ground, as if he had lost something. He was wearing a bright check jacket that was much too tight and baggy black trousers with shiny patches that hung down like sacks round his legs. His left boot had a raised, egg-shaped leather patch sewn on, so that it looked as if he wore a signet ring on his toe.

Scarcely had I found a seat than he came in and sat down at the next table. I thought he was going to try to cadge a loan from me and I was already getting my purse out when I caught the flash of a diamond on his fat, butcher's fingers.

Hour after hour I sat in the coffee house, feeling I was about to go mad from the strain on my nerves, but where else could I go? Home? Wander round the city? The one seemed worse than the other.

The stale air, the incessant, inane clatter of the billiard balls, the perpetual hacking cough of a half-blind journalist opposite me, the spindle-shanked infantry officer, alternately picking his nose or combing his moustache with nicotine-stained fingers in front of a small pocket-mirror, the seething clump of vile, sweaty, gabbling Italians round the card table in the corner, now rapping their knuckles and squawking as they played their trumps, now hawking up a lump of phlegm and spewing it onto the floor: all that was bad enough, but to see it reflected two, three times over in the mirrors on the walls! It slowly sucked the blood out of my veins.

It gradually began to grow dark, and a flat-footed, weak-kneed waiter poked at the gas lamps with a long pole until, with a shake of the head, he resigned himself to the fact that they were not going to light.

Whenever I turned my head I met the wolfish squint of the man with the glass eye, who then quickly hid behind a newspaper or dipped his grubby moustache into the cup of coffee which he had long since finished. He had pulled his hard, round hat well down over his face so that his ears stuck out almost horizontally, but he showed no signs of wanting to leave.

It was unbearable.

I paid and left.

As I was closing the door behind me, someone took the handle out of my hand. I turned round: that fellow again! I turned left for the Jewish quarter, but he came up close beside me and stopped me. "That's the absolute limit!" I shouted at him.

"To the right", he said curtly.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He gave me an insolent stare. "You're Pernath!"

"I assume you mean Hen Pernath?"

He just gave a scornful snigger. "That's enough fooling around. You're coming with me."

"Are you mad? Who are you, anyway?"

In reply he silently opened his jacket, revealing a worn, tin double-headed eagle pinned to the lining. I understood at once: the rogue was a secret policeman and he was arresting me.

"But for God's sake, tell me what I'm supposed to have done."

"You'll find out soon enough. At the station", he said rudely. "Off we go now. Quick march."

I told him I would prefer to take a cab.

"Nothing doing."

We walked to the police station.

A policeman led me to a door. The name on it read:

ALOIS OTSCHIN Superintendent of Police

"In you go", said the policeman.

Two grubby desks with three-foot high panels hiding the occupants stood facing each other; between them were a couple of rickety chairs; a portrait of the Emperor on the wall looked down on a goldfish tank on the window-ledge.

Otherwise the room was empty.

Sticking out from under the left-hand desk were a club-foot and, beside it, a huge felt slipper, both surmounted by frayed grey trouser-legs. I heard a rustle of papers. Someone murmured a few words in Czech, and immediately afterwards the Superintendent appeared from behind the right-hand desk and came up to me. He was a short man with a grey, pointed beard and the peculiar habit of baring his teeth every time he was about to speak, like someone staring into bright sunlight. Then he would screw up his eyes behind his glasses, which gave him a frighteningly malicious expression.

"Your name is Athanasius Pernath and you are—" he looked at a sheet of paper with nothing written on it,"—a gem engraver."

Immediately the club-foot under the other desk came to life; it rubbed against the leg of the chair, and I could hear the scratch of pen on paper.

I concurred. "Pernath. Gem engraver."

"Well, we're both agreed on that, Herr . . . Pernath . . . Pernath, yes, Pernath. Yes, yes." Suddenly the Superintendent was full of warmth, as if he had just heard the most gratifying news. He stretched out both hands towards me and made grotesque attempts to sound harmless. "Tell me, Herr Pernath, what do you do all day?"

"I think that is no business of yours, Herr Otschin", I answered coolly.

He screwed up his eyes for a moment then suddenly shot out a lightning-quick question, "Since when has the Countess been having this affair with Savioli?" but I had been expecting something of the kind and did not bat an eyelid.

He interrogated me cunningly, darting from one topic to another in his attempt to get me to contradict myself, but although my heart was in my mouth with fright, I said nothing to give myself away and kept insisting that I had never heard the name of Savioli, was acquainted with Angelina from my father's time and that she had frequently commissioned cameos from me.

In spite of that, I had the feeling the Superintendent could tell whenever I was lying and was inwardly fuming that he had not managed to get anything out of me. He thought for a moment, then pulled me towards him by the lapel, gave a warning jerk of the thumb towards the left-hand desk and whispered in my ear, "Athanasius, your late father was my best friend. I want to save you, Athanasius. But you'll have to tell me everything about the Countess. Everything, do you hear?"

I had no idea what he was talking about. "What do you mean, you want to save me?" I asked him out loud.

The club-foot stamped irritatedly on the floor. The Superintendent's face went ashen-grey with hatred. His lip curled. He waited. I knew that he would pounce again (his shock tactics reminded me of Wassertrum), so I waited, too. A goat-like face, obviously belonging to the owner of the club-foot, appeared above the desk-panels, then suddenly the Superintendent yelled at me in an ear-splitting voice:


I was speechless with astonishment.

With a sour look on his goat's face, club-foot withdrew behind his desk.

The Superintendent also seemed rather taken aback by my calm, but cleverly disguised his surprise by drawing up a chair and offering me a seat.

"So you refuse to make the statement I have requested about the Countess, Herr Pernath?"

"I have no statement to make, Superintendent, at least not the statement you expect. In the first place, I know nobody by the name of Savioli, and secondly I am firmly convinced that the suggestion that she is deceiving her husband is a vile calumny."

"Are you prepared to repeat that under oath?"

My heart missed a beat. "Yes. Any time you like."

"Good. Hmm."

There was quite a long pause, during which the Superintendent appeared to be racking his brains. When he looked at me again, there was a rather obviously assumed expression of pain on his face. As he spoke, his voice vibrant with tears, I was immediately reminded of Charousek. "But Athanasius, you can tell me—me, your father's old friend—me, who carried you in his arms when you were a little baby—-" I could hardly stop myself from laughing: the man was at most ten years older than I, "tell me, Athanasius, it was self-defence, wasn't it?"

The goat's face reappeared.

"What was self-defence?" I asked, completely mystified.

"The affair with . . . ZOTTMANN!" The Superintendent suddenly yelled the name at me, and it struck me like a blow from a dagger. Zottmann! Zottmann! The watch! Zottmann was the name engraved on the watch. The blood throbbed in my veins. That fiend Wassertrum had given me the watch to throw suspicion of the murder onto me.

Immediately the Superintendent threw off his mask, bared his teeth and screwed up his eyes. "So you admit the murder, Pernath?"

"But it's all a mistake, a dreadful mistake. For the love of God, listen to me. I can explain everything, Superintendent!" I cried.

"Now will you tell me everything about the Countess?" he quickly broke in. "I must point out that it will be counted in your favour."

"I can't say any more than I have already. The Countess is innocent."

He clenched his teeth and turned to goat-face. "Take this down: Pernath confesses to the murder of Karl Zottmann, insurance agent—-"

I was seized by a blind fury. "You swine! How dare you?!" I roared at him and looked round for a heavy object.

The next moment two policemen had grabbed me and handcuffed me. At that the Superintendent strutted before me like a cock on the dung-heap. "And this watch?"—he suddenly had the battered watch in his hand—"Was poor Zottmann still alive when you stole it from him or not?"

I had calmed down now and simply stated: "The junk-dealer, Anton Wassertrum, gave me that watch this morning."

There was a snort of laughter, and I saw the club-foot and the felt slipper perform a dance of joy under the desk.
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