Third Adventure

He who has experienced such things in one evening as Mr. Peregrine Tyss, and who is consequently in such a state of mind, cannot possibly sleep well. He rolled about restless on his bed, and, when he fell into that sort of delirium which usually precedes sleep, he again held the little creature in his arms, and felt warm glowing kisses on his lips. Then he would start up and fancy, even when awake, that he heard the sweet voice of Alina. He would burn with desire that she might not have fled, and yet again would fear that she might return and snare him in a net, from which he could not extricate himself. This war of contrary feelings straightened his breast, and filled it at the same time with a sweet pain, such as he had never felt before.

“Sleep not, Peregrine; sleep not, generous man: I must speak with you directly,” was lisped close by Peregrine, and still the voice went on with “sleep not, sleep not,” till at last he opened his eyes, which he had closed only to see Alina more distinctly. By the light of the lamp he perceived a little monster, scarce a span long, that sat upon the white counterpane, and which at first terrified him, but in the next moment he grasped boldly at it with his hand, to convince himself whether he was or was not deceived by his fancy, but the little monster had immediately disappeared without leaving a trace behind.

Though it was not requisite to give a minute description of the fair Alina, Dörtje Elverdink, or Princess Gamaheh⁠—for the reader has long ago known that these were one and the same person apparently split into three⁠—it is, on the contrary, quite requisite to narrowly portray the little monster that sat upon the counterpane, and caused so much terror to Mr. Peregrine Tyss.

As already mentioned, the creature was scarcely a span long. In his bird-shaped head gleamed a pair of round sparkling eyes, and from his sparrow beak protruded a long sharp thing like a rapier, while two horns came out from the forehead close below the beak. The neck began close under the head also, in the manner of a bird, but grew thicker and thicker, so that without any interruption the former grew to a shapeless body, almost like a hazelnut, and seemed covered with dark-brown scales like the armadillo. But the strangest part was the formation of the arms and legs; the two former had joints, and were rooted in the creature’s cheeks, close by the beak; immediately under these arms was a pair of legs, and still farther on another pair, both double-jointed like the arms. These last feet appeared to be those on which the creature really relied, for besides that they were longer and stronger than the others, he wore upon them very handsome golden boots with diamond spurs.

The little monster having so completely vanished upon Peregrine’s attempt to seize it, he would have taken the whole for an illusion of his excited fancy, if directly afterwards a thin voice had not been audible, exclaiming:

“Good heavens! Mr. Peregine Tyss! have I really been mistaken in you? Yesterday you acted so nobly towards me, and now that I want to show my gratitude, you grasp at me with a murderous hand! But perhaps my form displeased you, and I did wrong in showing myself to you microscopically, that you might be sure to see me, which, as you may well suppose, is no such easy matter; in fact, I am still sitting upon your white counterpane, and yet you cannot perceive me. Don’t take it amiss, Peregrine, but, in truth, your optical nerves are a little too gross for my thin form. Only promise me, however, that I shall be safe with you, and that you will not make any hostile attempts upon me, and I will come close to you and tell you many things, which it would be as well that you knew now.”

“In the first place,” replied Mr. Tyss to the voice, “tell me, my good unknown friend, who you are; the rest will easily follow of itself. In the meantime I can assure you beforehand, that anything hostile is not at all in my disposition, and that I will continue to act nobly towards you, though at present I cannot comprehend in what way I have evinced my nobleness. Keep, however, your incognito, for your appearance is not the most agreeable.”

The voice, after a little hemming and coughing, continued, “You are, I repeat it with pleasure, a noble man, Mr. Peregrine, but not particularly deep in science, and above all, a little inexperienced, or you would have recognised me at the first glance. I might boast a little and say that I am one of the mightiest of kings, and rule over many, many millions, but from a natural modesty, and because, after all, the expression ‘king’ is not exactly correct, I will pass it over. Amongst the people, at whose head I have the honour to be, a republican constitution prevails. A senate, which at most can consist of forty-five thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine members, for the greater facility of voting, holds the place of regent, and he who presides over this senate has the name of master, because, in all the affairs of life, he must really be a master. Without farther circumlocution, I will now confess to you that I, who now speak to you without your seeing me, am none other than this Master Flea. That you know my people I do not make the least doubt, for most assuredly, worthy sir, you have already nourished many of them with your own blood. Hence you must needs be aware that they are animated by an untameable love of freedom, and indeed are a set of springalds, who are inclined to keep off anything like solidity of form by a continual leaping and skipping. You will easily perceive what talents must be requisite to govern such a people, and will therefore feel for me a becoming respect. Assure me of that, Mr. Peregrine, before I proceed any farther.”

For some moments it seemed to Mr. Tyss as if a great mill wheel were turning round in his head, but he soon became more composed, and began to think that the appearance of the strange lady at the bookbinder’s was just as wonderful as the present one, which was perhaps, after all, nothing more than a natural continuation of the singular history in which he had become involved. He therefore declared to Master Flea that he respected him prodigiously for his uncommon talents, and was the more anxious to know him better, as his voice sounded very sweetly, and there was a certain delicacy in his speech which betrayed a delicate form of body, whereat Master Flea continued:

“I thank you much, my best Mr. Tyss, for your favourable opinion, and hope soon to convince you that you are not mistaken in me. In the meantime, that you may learn what service you have rendered me, it is requisite that I should impart to you my whole history. Know then that my father was the renowned⁠ ⁠… (Yet stay; it just occurs to me that the beautiful gift of patience has become remarkably rare of late amongst readers and auditors, and that copious memoirs, once so much admired, are now detestable: I will therefore touch lightly and episodically that part only which is more immediately connected with my abode with you.)⁠ ⁠… In knowing that I am really Master Flea, you must know me for a man of the most extensive learning, of the most profound experience in all branches of knowledge. But hold! You cannot measure the degree of my information by your scale, since you are ignorant of the wonderful world in which I and my people live. How would you feel astonished if your mind could be opened to that world! It would seem to you a realm of the strangest and most incomprehensible wonders, and hence you must not feel surprised, if all which originates from that world should seem to you like a confused fairy tale, invented by an idle brain. Do not, therefore, allow yourself to be confounded, but trust my words. See: in many things my people are far superior to you men, for example: in all that regards the penetrating into the mysteries of nature, in strength, dexterity⁠—spiritual and corporeal dexterity. But we, too, have our passions, and with us, as with you, these are often the sources of great disquietudes, sometimes even of total destruction. Loved, nay adored, as I was, by my people, my mastery might have placed me upon the pinnacle of happiness, had I not been blinded by an unfortunate passion for a person who completely governed me, though she never could be my wife. But our race is in general reproached with a passion for the fair sex, that oversteps the bounds of decorum. Supposing however this reproach to be true, yet on the other hand, everyone knows. But hold: without more circumlocution, I saw the daughter of King Sekakis, the beautiful Gamaheh, and on the instant became so desperately enamoured of her, that I forgot my people⁠—myself⁠—and lived only in the delight of skipping about the fairest neck, the fairest bosom, and tickling the beauty with kisses. She often caught at me with her rosy fingers, without ever being able to seize me, and this I took for the toying of affection. But how silly is anyone in love, even when that one is Master Flea. Suffice it to say, that the odious Leech-Prince fell upon the poor Gamaheh, whom he kissed to death, but still I should have succeeded in saving my beloved, if a silly boaster and an awkward idiot had not interfered without being asked, and spoilt all. The boaster was the Thistle, Zeherit, and the idiot was the Genius, Thetel. When, however, the Genius rose in the air with the sleeping princess, I clung fast to the lace about her bosom, and thus was Gamaheh’s faithful fellow-traveller, without being perceived by him. It happened that we flew over two magi, who were observing the stars from a lofty tower. One of them directed his glass so sharply at me, that I was almost blinded by the shine of the magic instrument. A violent giddiness seized me; in vain I sought to hold fast. I tumbled down helplessly from the monstrous height, fell plump upon the nose of one of the magi, and only my lightness, my extraordinary activity, could have saved me.

“I was still too much stunned to skip off his nose and place myself in perfect safety, when the treacherous Leeuwenhoek⁠—he was the magician⁠—caught me dexterously with his fingers, and placed me in his microscope. Notwithstanding it was night, and he was obliged to use a lamp, he was by far too practiced an observer, and too great an adept, not immediately to recognise in me the Master Flea. Delighted that a lucky chance had delivered into his hands such an important prisoner, and resolved to draw every possible advantage from it, he flung poor me into chains, and thus began a painful imprisonment, from which I was yesterday freed by you. The possession of me gave the abominable Leeuwenhoek full power over my vassals, whom he soon collected in swarms about him, and with barbarian cruelty introduced amongst us that which is called education, and which soon robbed us of all freedom, of all enjoyment of life. In regard to scholastic studies, and the arts and sciences in general, Leeuwenhoek soon discovered, to his surprise and vexation, that we knew more than himself; the higher cultivation which he forced upon us consisted chiefly in this: that we were to be something, or at least represent something. But it was precisely this being something, this representing something, that brought with it a multitude of wants which we had never known before, and which were now to be satisfied with the sweat of our brow. The barbarous Leeuwenhoek converted us into statesmen, soldiers, professors, and I know not what besides. All were obliged to wear the dress of their respective ranks, and thus arose amongst us tailors, shoemakers, hairdressers, blacksmiths, cutlers, and a multitude of other trades, only to satisfy an useless and destructive luxury. The worst of it was that Leeuwenhoek had nothing else in view than his own advantage in showing us cultivated people to men, and receiving money for it. Moreover our cultivation was set down entirely to his account, and he got the praise which belonged to us alone. Leeuwenhoek well knew that in losing me he would also lose the dominion over my people; the more closely therefore he drew the spell which bound me to him, and so much the harder was my imprisonment. I thought with ardent desire on the beautiful Gamaheh, and pondered on the means of getting tidings of her fate, but what the acutest reason could not effect, the chance of the moment itself brought about. The friend and associate of my magician, the old Swammerdam, had found the princess in the petal of a tulip, and this discovery he imparted to his friend. By means which, my good Peregrine, I forbear detailing to you, as you do not understand much about these matters, he succeeded in restoring Gamaheh to her natural shape, and bringing her back to life. In the end, however, these very wise persons proved as awkward idiots as the Genius, Thetel, and the Thistle, Zeherit. In their eagerness they had forgotten the most material point, and thus it happened that in the very same moment the princess awoke to life, she was sinking back again into death. I alone knew the cause; love to the fair one, which now flamed in my breast stronger than ever, gave me a giant’s strength: I burst my chains, sprang with one mighty bound upon her shoulder⁠—a single bite sufficed to set the freezing blood in motion: she lived. But I must tell you, Mr. Peregrine Tyss, that this bite must be repeated if the princess is to continue blooming in youth and beauty; otherwise she will dwindle away in a few months to a shrivelled little old woman. On this account, as you must see, I am quite indispensable to her, and it is only by the fear of losing me, that I can account for the black ingratitude with which she repaid my love. Without more ado she delivered me up to my tormentor, who flung me into heavier chains than ever, but to his own destruction. In spite of all the vigilance of Leeuwenhoek and Gamaheh, I at last succeeded, in an unguarded hour, in escaping from my prison. Although the heavy boots, which I had no time to pull off, hindered me considerably in my flight, yet I got safely to the shop of the toyman, of whom you bought your ware; but it was not long before, to my infinite terror, Gamaheh entered the shop. I held myself lost; you alone could save me. I gently whispered to you my distress, and you were good enough to open a little box for me, into which I quickly sprang, and in which you as quickly carried me off with you. Gamaheh sought in vain for me, and it was not till much later that she learned how and whither I had fled.

“As soon as I was free, Leeuwenhoek lost all power over my people, who immediately slipped away, and in mockery left the tyrant peppercorns, fruit-stones, and suchlike, in their clothes. Again then my hearty thanks, kind, noble Mr. Peregrine, for the great benefit you have done me, and which I know as well as anyone how to estimate. Permit me, as a free man, to remain a little time with you; I can be useful to you in many important affairs of your life beyond what you may expect. To be sure there might be danger if you should become enamoured of the fair one⁠—”

“What do you say?” interrupted Peregrine, “What do you say, Master? I⁠—I enamoured!”

“Even so,” continued Master Flea, “Think of my terror, of my anxiety, when you entered yesterday with the princess in your arms, glowing with passion, and she employing every seductive art⁠—as she well knows how⁠—to persuade you to surrender me. Ah, then I perceived your nobleness in its full extent, when you remained immoveable, dexterously feigning as if you knew nothing of my being with you, as if you did not even understand what the princess wanted.”

“And that was precisely the truth of the matter,” said Peregrine, interrupting Master Flea anew. “You are attributing things as a merit to me, of which I had not the slightest suspicion. In the shop where I bought the toys, I neither saw you nor the fair damsel, who sought me at the bookbinder’s, and whom you are strangely pleased to call the Princess Gamaheh. It was quite unknown to me, that amongst the boxes, where I expected to find leaden soldiers, there was an empty one in which you were lurking, and how could I possibly guess that you were the prisoner whom the pretty child was requiring with such impetuosity? Don’t be whimsical, Master Flea, and dream of things, of which I had not the slightest conception.”

“Ah,” replied Master Flea, “you would dexterously avoid my thanks, kind Mr. Peregrine, and this gives me, to my great consolation, a farther lively proof of your noble way of thinking. Learn, generous man, that all the efforts of Leeuwenhoek and Gamaheh to regain me are fruitless, so long as you afford me your protection. You must voluntarily give me up to my tormentors; all other means are to no purpose⁠—Mr. Peregine Tyss, you are in love!”

“Do not talk so!” exclaimed Peregrine. “Do not call by the name of love a foolish momentary ebullition, which is already past.”

Peregrine felt the colour rushing up into his cheeks and forehead, and giving him the lie. He crept under the bedclothes. Master Flea continued:

“It is not to be wondered at if you were unable to resist the surprising charms of the princess, especially as she employed many dangerous arts to captivate you. Nor is the storm yet over. The malicious little thing will put in practice many a trick to catch you in her love-toils, as, indeed, every woman can, without exactly being a Princess Gamaheh. She will try to get you so completely in her power, that you shall only live for her and her wishes, and then⁠—woe to me! It will come to this question: is your nobleness strong enough to conquer your passion, or will you prefer yielding to Gamaheh’s wishes, and thus replunge into misery not only your little protégé, but the whole people whom you have released from a wretched slavery? Or, again, will you resist the allurements of a treacherous creature, and thus confirm my happiness and that of my subjects? Oh that you would promise me the last! That you could!”

“Master,” replied Peregrine, drawing the bedclothes away from his face, “Dear Master, you are right: nothing is more dangerous than the temptations of women. They are all false, all malicious; they play with us as cats with mice, and for our tenderest exertions we reap nothing but contempt and mockery. Hence it is that formerly a cold deathlike perspiration used to stand upon my brow as soon as any woman-creature approached me, and I myself believe that there must be something peculiar about the fair Alina, or Princess Gamaheh, as you will have it, although, with my plain human reason, I do not comprehend all that you are saying, but rather feel as if I were in some wild dream, or reading The Thousand and One Nights. Be all this, however, as it may, you have put yourself under my protection, dear Master, and nothing shall persuade me to deliver you up to your enemies; as to the seductive maiden, I will not see her again. This I promise solemnly, and would give my hand upon it, had you one to receive it and return the honourable pledge.”

With this Peregrine stretched out his arm far upon the bedclothes.

“Now,” exclaimed the little Invisible, “Now I am quite consoled, quite at ease. If I have no hand to offer you, at least permit me to prick you in the right thumb, partly to testify my extreme satisfaction, and partly to seal our bond of friendship more assuredly.”

At the same moment Peregrine felt in the thumb of his right hand a bite, which smarted so sensibly, as to prove it could have come only from the first Master of all the fleas.

“You bite like a little devil!” cried Peregrine.

“Take it,” replied Master Flea, “as a lively token of my honourable intentions. But it is fit that I should offer to you, as a pledge of my gratitude, a gift which belongs to the most extraordinary productions of art. It is nothing else than a microscope, made by a very dexterous optician of my people, while he was in Leeuwenhoek’s service. The instrument will appear somewhat small to you, for, in reality, it is about a hundred and twenty times smaller than a grain of sand, but its use will not allow of any peculiar greatness. It is this: I place the glass in the pupil of your left eye, and this eye immediately becomes microscopic. As I wish to surprise you with the effect of it, I will say no more about it for the present, and will only entreat that I may be permitted to perform the microscopic operation whenever I see that it will do you any important service. And now sleep well, Mr. Peregrine; you have need of rest.”

Peregrine, in reality, fell asleep, and did not awake till full morning, when he heard the well-known scratching of old Alina’s broom; she was sweeping out the next room. A little child, who was conscious of some mischief, could not tremble more at his mother’s rod than Mr. Peregrine trembled in the fear of the old woman’s reproaches. At length she came in with the coffee. Peregrine glanced at her through the bed-curtains, which he had drawn close, and was not a little surprised at the clear sunshine which overspread the old woman’s face.

“Are you still asleep, my dear Mr. Tyss?” she asked in one of the softest tones of which her voice was capable, and Peregrine, taking courage, answered just as softly,

“No, my dear Alina. Lay the breakfast upon the table; I will get up directly.”

But when he did really rise, it seemed to him as if the sweet breath of the creature, who had lain in his arms, was waving through the chamber, he felt so strangely and so anxiously. He would have given all the world to know what had become of the mystery of his passion, for like this mystery itself, the fair one had appeared and vanished.

While he was in vain endeavouring to drink his coffee and eat his toast⁠—every morsel of which was bitter in his mouth⁠—Alina entered, and busied herself about this and that, murmuring all the time to herself, “Strange! incredible! What things one sees! Who would have thought it?”

Peregrine, whose heart beat so strongly that he could bear it no longer, asked, “What is so strange, dear Alina?”

“All manner of things! All manner of things!” replied the old woman, laughing cunningly, while she went on with her occupation of setting the rooms to rights. Peregrine’s breast was ready to burst, and he involuntarily exclaimed, in a tone of languishing pain, “Ah! Alina!”

“Yes, Mr. Tyss, here I am; what are your commands?” replied Alina, spreading herself out before Peregrine, as if in expectation of his orders.

Peregrine stared at the copper face of the old woman, and all his fears were lost in the disgust which filled him on the sudden. He asked in a tolerably harsh tone:

“What has become of the strange lady who was here yesterday evening? Did you open the door for her? Did you look to a coach for her, as I ordered? Was she taken home?”

“Open doors!” said the old woman with an abominable grin, which she intended for a sly laugh. “Look to a coach! taken home! There was no need of all this: the fair damsel is in the house, and won’t leave the house for the present.”

Peregrine started up in joyful alarm, and she now proceeded to tell him how, when the lady was leaping down the stairs in a way that almost stunned her, Mr. Swammer stood below, at the door of his room, with an immense branch-candlestick in his hand. The old gentleman, with a profusion of bows, contrary to his usual custom, invited the lady into his apartment, and she slipped in without any hesitation, and her host locked and bolted the door.

The conduct of the misanthropic Swammer was too strange for Alina not to listen at the door, and peep a little through the keyhole. She then saw him standing in the middle of the room, and talking so wisely and pathetically to the lady, that she herself had wept, though she had not understood a single word, he having spoken in a foreign language. She could not think otherwise than that the old gentleman had laboured to bring her back to the paths of virtue, for his vehemence had gradually increased, till the damsel at last sank upon her knees and kissed his hand with great humility: she had even wept a little. Upon this he lifted her up very kindly, kissed her forehead⁠—in doing which he was forced to stoop terribly⁠—and then led her to an armchair. He next busied himself in making a fire, brought some spices, and, as far as she could perceive, began to mull some wine. Unluckily the old woman had just then taken snuff, and sneezed aloud, upon which Swammer, stretching out his arm to the door, exclaimed with a terrible voice, that went through the marrow of her bones, “Away with thee, listening Satan!” She knew not how she had got off and into her bed, but in the morning, upon opening her eyes, she fancied she saw a spectre, for before her stood Mr. Swammer in a handsome sable-fur, with gold buckles, his hat on his head, his stick in his hand.

“My good Mistress Alina,” he said, “I must go out on important business, and perhaps may not return for many hours. Take care, therefore, that there is no noise on my floor, and that no one ventures to enter my room. A lady of rank, and⁠—I may tell you⁠—a very handsome princess, has taken refuge with me. Long ago, at the court of her father, I was her governor; therefore she has confidence in me, and I must and will protect her against all evil machinations. I tell you this, Mistress Alina, that you may show the lady the respect which belongs to her rank. With Mr. Tyss’s permission she will be waited on by you, for which attendance you will be royally rewarded, provided you are silent, and do not betray the princess’ abode to anyone.” So saying, Mr. Swammer had immediately gone off.

Peregrine now asked the old woman, if it did not seem strange that the lady, whom he could swear he met at the bookbinder’s, should be a princess, seeking refuge with old Swammer? But she protested that she believed his words rather than her own eyes, and was therefore of opinion that all which had happened at the bookbinder’s or in the chamber was either a magical illusion, or that the terror and anxiety of the flight had led the princess into so strange an adventure. For the rest, she would soon learn all from the lady herself.

“But,” objected Peregrine, in reality only to continue the conversation about the lady, “but where is the suspicion, the evil opinion, you had of her yesterday?”

“Ah,” replied the old woman simpering, “that is all over. One need only look at the dear creature to be convinced she is a princess, and as beautiful withal as ever was a princess. When Swammer had gone, I could not help looking to see what she was about, and peeping a little through the keyhole. There she lay stretched out upon the sofa, her angel head leaning upon her hand, so that the raven locks poured through the little white fingers, a beautiful sight! Her dress was of silver tissue, through which the bosom and the arms were visible, and on her feet she had golden slippers. One had fallen off, and showed that she wore no stockings, so that the naked foot peeped forth from under the garments. But, my good Mr. Tyss, she is no doubt still lying on the sofa, and if you will take the trouble of peeping through the keyhole⁠—”

“What do you say?” interrupted Peregrine with vehemence, “What do you say? Shall I expose myself to her seductive sight, which might urge me into all manner of follies?”

“Courage, Peregrine! resist the temptation!” lisped a voice close beside him, which he instantly recognised for that of Master Flea.

The old woman laughed mysteriously, and after a few minutes’ silence said, “I will tell you the whole matter, as it seems to me. Whether the strange lady be a princess or not, thus much is certain, that she is of rank and rich, and that Mr. Swammer has taken up her cause warmly, and must have been long acquainted with her. And why did she run after you, dear Mr. Tyss? I say, because she is desperately in love with you, and love makes people blind and mad, and leads even princesses into the strangest and most inconsiderate follies. A gypsy prophesied to your late mother that you would one day be happy in a marriage when you least expected it. Now it is coming true.”

And with this the old woman began again describing how beautiful the lady looked. It may be easily supposed that Peregrine felt overwhelmed. At last he broke out with, “Silence, I pray you, of such things. The lady in love with me! How silly! how absurd!”

“Umph!” said the old woman. “If that were not the case she would not have sighed so piteously, she would not have exclaimed so lamentably, ‘no, my dear Peregrine, my sweet friend, you will not, you cannot be cruel to me. I shall see you again, and enjoy all the happiness of heaven.’ And our old Mr. Swammer! she has quite changed him. Did I ever use to get anything of him but a paltry sixpence for a Christmas box? And now he gave me this morning a crown, with such a kind look⁠—no common thing with him⁠—as a douceur beforehand for my services to the lady. There’s something in it all. I’ll lay you anything that in the end Mr. Swammer is her ambassador to you.”

And again the old woman began to speak of the grace and loveliness of the lady with an animation that sounded strange enough in the mouth of a withered creature like herself, till Peregrine jumped up all fire and fury, and cried out like a madman, “Be it as it will⁠—down, down to the keyhole!” In vain he was warned by Master Flea, who sat in the neckcloth of the enamoured Peregrine, and had hid himself in a fold. Peregrine did not hear his voice, and Master Flea learned what he ought to have known long before: namely, that something may be done with the most obstinate man, but not with a lover.

The lady did, indeed, lie on the sofa, just as the old woman had described, and Peregrine found that no mortal language was adequate to the expression of the heavenly charms which overspread the lovely figure. Her dress, of real silver tissue, with strange embroidery, was quite fantastic, and might do very well for the negligee of the princess Gamaheh, which she had perhaps worn in Famagusta, at the very moment of her being kissed to death by the malicious Leech-Prince. At all events it was so beautiful, and so exceedingly strange, that the idea of it could never have come from the head of the most genial theatrical tailor, nor have been conceived by the sublimest milliner.

“Yes, it is she! it is the Princess Gamaheh!” murmured Peregrine, trembling with anxiety and pleasure. But when the fair one sighed, “Peregrine! my Peregrine!” the full madness of the passion seized him, and it was only an unnameable anxiety, robbing him of all self-possession, that prevented him from breaking in the door, and throwing himself at the feet of the angel.

The friendly reader knows already how it was with the fascinations, the celestial beauty, of the little Dörtje Elverdink. The editor, however, may safely declare, that, after he too had peeped through the keyhole, and seen the fair one in her fantastic dress of tissue, he can say nothing more than that Dörtje Elverdink was a very pretty little puppet. But as no young man can possibly be in love for the first time with any but an angel, without her equal on earth, it may be allowed also to Mr. Peregrine Tyss to look upon Dörtje Elverdink as something celestial.

“Recollect yourself, my dear Mr. Tyss; think of your promise. You would never see the seductive Gamaheh again, and now I could put the microscopic glass into your eye, but without such help you must perceive that the malicious creature has long observed you, and that all she is doing is only deceit, to seduce you. Believe me, I mean it well with you.” So whispered Master Flea in the fold of his collar, but, whatever doubts might arise in Mr. Peregrine’s mind, he could not tear himself away from the fascinating sight of the little one, who knew well how to use the advantage of being supposed to fancy herself alone; flinging herself into all manner of voluptuous attitudes, she put the poor Peregrine quite beside himself.

He would most likely have been still fixed at the door, had it not been for a loud ringing, and Alina’s crying out that Swammer had returned. Upon this he hurried up the stairs into his chamber, where he gave himself up to his love thoughts, but with these thoughts returned the doubts which had been raised in his breast by the admonitions of Master Flea. There was, indeed, a flea in his ear, and he fell into all manner of disquieting meditations. He thought to himself, “Must I not believe that this lovely creature is the Princess Gamaheh, the daughter of a mighty king? But if this be the case, it is folly, madness, to aspire to the possession of so exalted a personage. Then too she has begged the surrender of a prisoner, on whom her life depends, and as this exactly agrees with what Master Flea has said, I can hardly doubt that all which I would interpret into affection for me is only a mean to subject me to her will. And yet to leave her! to lose her! That is hell! That is death!”

In these painful meditations he was disturbed by a modest knocking at his door, and the person who entered was none other than his lodger. The ancient Mr. Swammer, at other times a shrivelled, misanthropic, grumbling man, seemed suddenly to have become twenty years younger. His forehead was smooth, his eye animated, his mouth friendly: instead of the odious black periwig he wore his natural silver hair, and in the place of the dark-gray upper coat, he had on a sable, such as Aline had before described him. With a cheerful and even friendly mien, by no means usual with him, he came up to Peregrine, protesting that he did not wish to disturb his dear host in any occupation, but his duty as a lodger required that he should the first thing in the morning inform his landlord he had been under the necessity of giving refuge to a helpless damsel, who sought to escape from the tyranny of a cruel uncle, and would therefore pass some time in the house. For this he needed the permission of his kind host, which he now requested.

Involuntarily Peregrine inquired who the lady was, without reflecting that this in fact was the best question he could ask to get a clue to the strange mystery.

“It is just and proper,” replied Swammer, “that the landlord should know whom he is lodging in his house. Learn then, my respected Mr. Tyss, that the damsel, who has taken refuge with me, is none other than the fair Hollandress, Dörtje Elverdink, niece of the celebrated Leeuwenhoek, who, as you know, gives here the wonderful microscopic exhibitions. Leeuwenhoek was once my friend, but I must acknowledge that he is a hard man, and uses my goddaughter cruelly. A violent affair, which took place yesterday, compelled the maiden to flight, and it seems natural enough that she should seek help and refuge with me.”

“Dörtje Elverdink!” said Peregrine, half dreaming, “Leeuwenhoek! Perhaps a descendant of the naturalist, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who made the celebrated microscopes.”

“That our Leeuwenhoek,” replied Swammer, smiling, “is a descendant of that celebrated man, I cannot exactly say, seeing that he is the celebrated man himself, and it is a mere fable that he was buried about two hundred years ago at Delft. Believe it, my dear Mr. Tyss, or else you might doubt that I am the renowned Swammerdam, although, for the sake of shortness and that I may not have to answer the questions of every curious blockhead, I call myself Swammer. Everyone maintains that I died in the year 1680, but you see, Mr. Tyss, that I stand before you alive and hearty, and that I am really I, I can prove even to the dullest, from my Biblia Naturae. You believe me, my worthy Mr. Tyss?”

“Since a short time⁠—” said Mr. Tyss, in a tone that showed his mental perplexity, “Since a short time I have experienced so many wonders, that I should be in perpetual doubt, if the whole had not been a manifest subject of the senses. But now I believe everything, however wild and fantastic. It may be that you are the dead Jan Swammerdam, and, therefore, as a dead-alive, know more than other common men, but as to the flight of Dörtje Elverdink, or the Princess Gamaheh, or however else the lady may be called, you are in a monstrous error. Hear how the matter really happened.”

Peregrine now related quite calmly the adventure he had with the lady, her entrance into Lemmerhirt’s room, up to her reception with Mr. Swammer, who, when he had done replied, “It seems to me, as if all that you have been pleased to relate were nothing more than a singular, yet very pleasant, dream. I will, however, let that be, and request your friendship, which perhaps I may have much need of. Forget my morose conduct, and let us be more intimate. Your father was a shrewd man and my good friend, but in regard to science, depth of understanding, mature judgment, and practiced insight into life, the son goes before the father. You know not how much I esteem you, my worthy Mr. Tyss.”

“Now is the time!” whispered Master Flea, and in the same moment Peregrine felt a slight passing pain in the pupil of his left eye. He knew that Master Flea had placed the microscopic glass in his eye, but he had not before had the slightest idea of its effects. Behind the tunicle of Swammer’s eyes he perceived strange nerves and branches, the perplexed course of which he traced deep into the forehead, and could perceive that they were Swammer’s thoughts. They ran much in this way: “I did not expect to get off so easily here, without being better questioned. If papa was an ignoramus, of whom I never thought anything, the son is still worse, with a greater infusion of childishness. With the simplicity of an idiot, he tells me the whole adventure with the Princess, not seeing that she must have already told me all, as my behaviour to her of necessity presupposes an earlier intimacy. But there is no help for it; I must speak him fair, because I want his help. He is simple enough to believe all I say, and, in his stupid good nature, to make many a sacrifice to my interest, for which he will reap no other thanks than that, when all is over, and Gamaheh mine again, I shall laugh soundly at him behind his back.”

“It seemed to me⁠—” said Swammer, coming close to Peregrine. “It seemed to me, my dear Mr. Tyss, as if a flea were on your collar.”

The thoughts ran thus: “The deuce! that was, indeed, Master Flea! It would be a queer piece of business if Gamaheh should be right after all.”

Peregrine stepped nimbly back, protesting that he had no dislike to fleas.

“Then,” replied Swammer, with a profound bow, “then for the present I most respectfully take my leave, my dear Mr. Tyss.”

The thoughts ran thus: “I wish the blackwinged devil had you, idiot!”

Master Flea took the microscopic glass out of the eye of the astonished Peregrine, and then said, “You have now, my dear sir, experienced the wonderful effects of the glass, which has not its equal in the world, and must perceive what a superiority it gives you over men, by laying open before your eyes their inmost thoughts. But, if you were to use it constantly, the perpetual knowledge of their real sentiments would overwhelm you, for the bitter vexation which you have just now experienced would be too often repeated. I will always be with you when you leave your house, sitting either in your collar, or in some convenient place, and if you wish to learn the thoughts of him who is conversing with you, you have only to snap your fingers, and the glass will be in your eye immediately.”

Peregrine, seeing the manifest advantages of such a gift, was about to pour out the warmest thanks, when two deputies from the council entered, and announced to him that he was accused of a deep offence, the consequence of which must be preliminary imprisonment and the seizure of his papers.

Mr. Peregrine swore high and low that he was not conscious of the slightest offence, but one of the deputies replied with a smile that perhaps in a few hours his innocence might be proved; till when, however, he must submit to the orders of the magistrate. After this, what was left to Mr. Tyss but to get into the coach, and suffer himself to be carried off to prison? It may be supposed with what feelings he passed Mr. Swammer’s chamber.

Master Flea sat in the collar of the prisoner.