The Man with the Black Feather/Chapter 16



"As soon as Theophrastus had uttered the words: 'I am entering the radiant darkness of death,' M. Eliphas de Saint-Elme de Taillebourg de la Nox raised his right hand above his head with a splendid gesture, then bent over the face of my friend, breathed upon his eyelids, and said:

"'Theophrastus Longuet, awake!'

"Theophrastus did not awake. His eyelids remained closed, and his stillness appeared to us stiller than ever. And now that he spoke no more, now that his lips were closed as tightly as his eyelids, it suddenly seemed to us, stricken with a horrible dread, that he had followed Cartouche into the radiant darkness of death.

"His corpse-like pallor, his hair grown suddenly white, showed him to us terribly old, old with the age suddenly acquired in the depths of the tomb.

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"Theophrastus Longuet, awake!"

"M. de la Nox breathed on his eyelids again and again; again and again he moved his arms in splendid gestures; again and again he cried:

"'Theophrastus Longuet, awake! Awake! Theophrastus Longuet, awake!'

"Theophrastus did not awake; and our hearts sank and sank; then, at the very moment at which we abandoned hope of his ever awaking, he uttered an appalling groan, opened his eyes, and said quietly:

"'Good-morning. Cartouche is dead,'

"M. de la Nox gasped and said, 'Thank God, the operation has succeeded!'

"Then he began his prayer again: 'In the beginning thou wert the Silence! Æon eternal! Source of Æons!…' Marceline and I were shaking the hands of Theophrastus, and laughing hysterically. In all conscience, the operation had been severe; but now that it was successful we congratulated Theophrastus warmly. We congratulated him on having escaped from his terrible plight at the cost of a bottle of hair-dye. It was not much to pay for the death of Cartouche.

"Then we bade him get up and come with us. We were in a hurry to get out of the house in Huchette Street. It seemed to us as if we had been in it a good deal more than two hundred years.

"'Come along, dear! Come along!' said Marceline.

"'Speak louder,' said Theophrastus, 'I don't know what's the matter with my ears. I seem to be very deaf; and then I can't move.'

"'You must be a little dazed, dear,' said Marceline. 'And considering the time you've been stretched on this camp-bed without stirring, it isn't to be wondered at. But make an effort and come along.'

"'Speak louder, I tell you!' said Theophrastus impatiently. 'I can move my arms, but I can't move my legs. I want to move them, but they don't stir; and then there's a pricking in my feet.'

"'It's pins and needles, dear. Bend your toes back quickly. I want to get home. We've had nothing to eat since this morning, and I'm dreadfully hungry,' said Marceline.

"'I don't know whether I've got any toes,' said Theophrastus sadly.

"'Come on. It's time we were going,' said I.

"'Undoubtedly; but you'll have to carry me, for my legs are in such a state…'

"M. de la Nox uttered a deep groan. He had turned back the socks of Theophrastus and seen his ankles. They were swollen and scarred and bleeding. In half a minute we had slit up the legs of his trousers and pants with a pair of scissors. What a dreadful sight met our eyes! The legs of Theophrastus were the legs of a man who has suffered the torture of the Boot!

"M. de la Nox groaned again, and with his eyes full of tears, he said: 'Incredible! incredible! Who could have believed that pain would be so effective at the end of two hundred years?'

"'This phenomenon is analogous to the stigmata of the Saints,' I said, suddenly realising its scientifically psychic significance.

"But Marceline burst into tears and flung herself upon the unhappy Theophrastus.

"I shook my fist in the face of Destiny, and hurried out to fetch a cab.

"When I returned, Marceline was still weeping; Theophrastus was still examining his legs with extreme curiosity and inquiring how it was that he could not move them, and how they came to be in this extraordinary condition.

"M. Eliphas de Saint-Elme de Taillebourg de la Nox did not answer; he was kneeling, with his face buried in his hands, sobbing in utter despair.

"He said, or rather sobbed, in a lamentable voice: 'My Beloved! My Beloved! I believed that I was thy son, O My Beloved! I took my shadow for thy light! O My Beloved! Thou hast humbled my pride; I am only a little bit of the Night, at the bottom of the obscure Abyss, I, the Man of Light. And the Night does not will! And I have willed, I: the Night! I am only a dark son of the Silence, Æon, Source of Æons! And I have wished to speak! Ah, Life! Life! To know Life! To possess Life! To equal Life!… Temptation! Vertigo of the eternal Abyss! Mystery of the Ternary! Three! Yes; the three worlds are one! And the world is three! It was the truth at Tyre, at Memphis! At Babylon! One! Two! Three! Active, Passive, and Reactive! One and One make two! Two is neuter! But! But! But, O My Beloved! One and Two make Twelve. One is God! Two is matter! Put matter beside God! Pythagoras has said it, and you have Twelve. That means Union!… That means? That means? Who then here below has dared to pronounce the words: That means?'

"Then he sobbed in the most heart-rending fashion, while Theophrastus on his camp-bed said:

"'I should like very much to get out of this.'"