Fourth Adventure

The mistake of the watchman in arresting Mr. George Pepusch for a thief was soon explained. In the meantime, however, some informalities had been discovered in his passport, and for this reason they required that he should produce some resident citizen of Frankfurt as his bail, till when he must be contented with his present place in prison.

Here then sat Mr. George Pepusch in a very neat room, meditating on whom he could find in Frankfurt to be his bail. He had been away so long that he feared he must be forgotten by those who had formerly known him well, and, as to foreign recommendations, he possessed none whatever. He began to look out of the window in a very melancholy mood, and cursed his fate aloud, when a window was opened close by him, and a voice exclaimed, “What! do I see right? Is it you, George?” Mr. Pepusch was not a little astonished on perceiving the friend, with whom he had been most intimate during his residence at Madras. “The deuce!” he exclaimed, “that I should be so forgetful, so utterly stupid! I knew that you had got safely into harbour, and in Hamburg heard strange things of your way of living, and, when I had got here, never thought of paying you a visit. But he who has such wonderful things in his head as I have⁠—Well, it is lucky that accident brought you to me! You see I am under arrest, but you can immediately set me free, by answering for my being really the George Pepusch, whom you knew years ago, and not a thief nor a robber.”

“Why,” replied Peregrine, “I should be an excellent bail, being myself under arrest!”

He now related at large to his friend, how since his return to Frankfurt he had found himself deprived of both his parents, and had from that time led, amidst all the bustle of a city, a lonely joyless life, devoted to the memory of other days. To this George replied morosely, “Oh yes, I have heard of it, I have heard of the fools’ tricks you play, that you may waste life in a childish dream. You would be a hero of innocence, of childishness, and for this despise the just claims which society has upon you. You give imaginary family feasts, and bestow upon the poor the costly viands, the dear wines, which you have before served up to the dead. You give yourself Christmas boxes, and act as if you were a child, and then present to poor children these gifts, which are of the sort usually wasted in rich houses upon spoiled young ones. But you do not reflect that you are doing a scurvy benefit to the poor in tickling their gums with delicacies, that they may doubly feel their wretchedness, when afterwards they are compelled, by pressing hunger, to eat the vile bits that would be rejected by many a petted lapdog. Ha! how this alms-giving disgusts me, when I think that what you thus waste in a day would be sufficient to support them for months in a moderate manner. Then too you overload them with glittering gewgaws, when a common toy, presented by their fathers or mothers, gives them infinitely more pleasure. They eat themselves sick with your infernal marzipan, and with the knowledge of your splendid gifts, which in the end must be denied to them, you sow in their young minds the seeds of discontent and uneasiness. You are rich, full of youth, and yet withdraw yourself from all society, and thus frustrate the approaches of well-meaning minds. I will believe that the death of your parents may have shaken you, but if everyone who has suffered a real loss were to creep into his shell, by heavens! the whole world would be like a house of mourning, and I would not live in it. But, my friend! do you know that you are under the influence of the most determined egotism that ever lurked beneath a silly misanthropy? Go, go, Peregrine, I can no longer esteem you, no longer be your friend, if you do not change this way of life, and give up your abominable system of housekeeping.”

Peregrine snapped his fingers, and Master Flea instantly placed the microscopic glass in his eye. The thoughts of the angry Pepusch ran thus: “Is it not a pity that such a kind, understanding man should fall into these dangerous fancies, which at last will completely unnerve him, and deprive him of his best powers? But it is evident that his delicate mind, which is besides inclined to melancholy, could not endure the blow inflicted on him by the death of his parents, and he seeks for consolation in a mode of life which borders upon madness. He is lost if I do not save him. The more I esteem him, the harder I will attack him, and the stronger I will paint his folly.”

In these thoughts Peregrine saw that he had found his old friend unaltered, and, after Master Flea had taken the microscopic glass out of his eye, he said, “George, I will not contend with you as to what you say of my mode of life, for I know you mean it well with me, but I must tell you that it gives me real delight when I can make a day of festival to the poor, although in this I do not think of myself a detestable egotism, of which at least I feel unconscious. They are the flowers in my life, which else seems to me like a wild melancholy field of thistles.”

“What do you say of thistles?” interrupted George Pepusch hastily, “Why do you despise thistles, and place them in opposition to flowers? Are you so little versed in natural history as not to know that the most wonderful blossom in the world is that of the thistle, I mean the Cactus grandiflorus. And again, is not the thistle, Zeherit, the most beautiful Cactus under the sun? Peregrine, I have so long kept it from you, or rather was forced to keep it from you, because I myself had not the full conviction of it, but now learn, that I myself am the thistle, Zeherit, and will never give up my claims to the hand of the daughter of the worthy king, Sekakis, the heavenly Princess Gamaheh. I had found her, but in the same moment the diabolical watchmen seized me, and dragged me to prison.”

“How!” cried Peregrine, half petrified with astonishment, “are you too involved in the strangest of all histories?”

“What history?” asked Pepusch.

Peregrine did not hesitate to tell his friend, as he had before told Mr. Swammer, all that had happened at the bookbinder’s, and afterwards at his own house. He did not even conceal the appearance of Master Flea, although, as may be easily supposed, he kept to himself the secret of his possessing the microscopic glass.

George’s eyes burnt, he bit his lips, struck his forehead, and, when Peregrine had ended, cried out like a maniac, “The false one! the traitress!” Greedy, in the self-pangs of despairing love, to drain the last drop from the poison cup, which Peregrine had unconsciously proffered him, he made him repeat every little trait of Dörtje’s behaviour, interrupting him with murmurs of, “In the arms! On the breast! Glowing kisses!” Then again he started away from the window, and ran about the room with the gestures of a madman. In vain Peregrine cried out to him to hear the rest, exclaiming that he had much that was consolatory to say⁠—Pepusch did not the more leave off his raving.

The door was opened, and an officer of the council announced to Peregrine that no sufficient cause had been found for his longer imprisonment, and he might return home.

The first use Peregrine made of his regained freedom was to offer himself as bail for George Pepusch, testifying that he was really George Pepusch, with whom he had lived in intimacy at Madras, and who was known to him for a man of fortune and respectability.

Master Flea exhausted himself in very philosophic and instructive reflections, which amounted to this: that the Thistle, Zeherit, in spite of his rough exterior, was very kind and reasonable, but a little too overbearing, and fairly considered was quite correct in his censure of Mr. Peregrine’s way of life, though somewhat too harsh perhaps in his expressions. He too⁠—that is, Master Flea⁠—would really advise Mr. Peregrine henceforth to go abroad in the world.

“Believe me,” he said, “it will bring you many advantages to leave your solitude. You need no longer fear seeming shy and confused, as with the mysterious glass in your eye you command the thoughts of men, and it is therefore impossible that you should not always maintain the right tact. How firmly and calmly may you stand before the highest, while their inward souls lie open to your eyes. Therefore, move freely in the world; your blood will circulate more lightly, all melancholy brooding will cease and, which is the best of all, motley ideas and thoughts will arise in your brain; the image of the fair Gamaheh will lose its brightness, and you will soon be better able to keep your word with me.”

Peregrine felt that both George Pepusch and Master Flea meant him well, and he resolved to follow their wise advice. But when he heard the sweet voice of his beautiful beloved, he could not think how it was possible for him to leave the house, which had become a paradise to him.

At length he brought himself to visit a public promenade. Master Flea had fixed the glass in his eye, and taken up a place in his collar, where he gently rocked himself to and fro at his ease.

“Have I at last the pleasure of seeing my good friend Mr. Tyss again? You make yourself scarce, my dear sir, and we have all been longing for you. Let us go into a coffeehouse, and take a glass of wine together. I am truly rejoiced to see you.”

It was thus that he was addressed by a young man, whom he had seen scarcely two or three times. The thoughts ran thus: “Is the stupid misanthrope visible again? But I must flatter him, that I may soon borrow money of him. He’ll not surely be possessed by the devil, and accept my invitation; I have not a halfpenny in my pocket, and no innkeeper will trust me any longer.”

Two well-dressed girls now crossed him. They were sisters, distantly related to him.

“Ah, cousin!” cried one of them, laughing, “do we meet you at last? It is not well done to lock yourself up so that one can never get a sight of you. You do not know how fond mamma is of you, because you are such a sensible man. Promise me to come soon. There, kiss my hand.” The thoughts ran thus: “How! what is this? what has come to our cousin? I wanted to make him blush and stammer, and formerly he used to run away from every girl, but now he stands and eyes me so strangely, and kisses my hand without the least shyness. If he should be in love with me? That would be a fine thing! My mother says that he is somewhat stupid, but what does that signify? I will have him: a stupid man, when he is rich as my cousin is, is the very best.” The sister had merely lisped, with downcast eyes and blushing cheeks, “Come to us shortly, dear cousin.” The thoughts ran thus: “Our cousin is a very handsome man, and I do not understand why mamma calls him silly, and can’t endure him. If he should come to our house, he will fall in love with me, for I am the prettiest girl in all Frankfurt. I will have him, because I want a rich man, that I may sleep till twelve o’clock in the day, and wear dearer shawls than my sister.”

A physician, in passing, perceived Peregrine, stopped his carriage, and called out, “Good morning, my dear sir: you look uncommonly well; heaven keep you so! But, if anything should happen, think of me, the old friend of your late father: such sound constitutions as yours I can soon set to rights. Adieu.” The thoughts ran thus: “I believe the fellow is constantly well out of pure avarice, but he looks tolerably pale now, and seems at last to have something the matter with him. Well; only let him once come under my hands, and he shall not soon get up from his bed again; he shall undergo a sound penance for his obstinate health.”

Immediately after this, an old merchant cried out to him, “My best greetings to you, worthy Mr. Tyss; see how I am forced to run and bustle, and plague myself with business. You have done wisely in withdrawing from it, though with your quick-sightedness you could not fail of doubling your father’s fortune.” The thoughts were thus: “If the fool would only meddle with business, he would speculate away his whole fortune in a short time, and that would be a real delight. His old papa, whose joy was in ruining other people that wished to help themselves by a little bankruptcy, would turn himself about in his grave.”

Many more such cutting contrasts between words and thoughts occurred to Peregrine. He always directed his answers rather by what people meant than by what they said, and, as he penetrated into their inmost intents, they themselves were puzzled what to think of him. At last he felt wearied, snapped his fingers, and immediately the glass vanished from the pupil of his left eye.

On returning to his house he was surprised by a strange spectacle. A man stood in the middle of the passage, looking steadfastly through a strangely-formed glass at Mr. Swammer’s door. Upon this door sun-bright circles played in rainbow colours, and then met in one fiery point, that seemed to pierce through the wood. As this took place a deep sighing was heard, broken by cries of pain, which came, as it appeared, from the room. To his horror, Peregrine fancied that he distinguished Gamaheh’s voice.

“What do you want? what are you doing here?” he exclaimed to the man, who really seemed to be practising diabolic arts, the rainbow circles growing with every moment quicker and brighter, the centre-point piercing more keenly, and the cries sounding more painfully from the chamber.

“Oh!” exclaimed the stranger, closing his glass, and hastily putting it into his pocket, “Oh! the landlord. Your pardon, my dear sir, that I am operating here without your permission; I did indeed pay you a visit to request it, but Alina told me you had gone out, and the business here would admit of no delay.”

“What business?” said Peregrine, pretty harshly; “what business is it that will admit of no delay?”

“Don’t you know,” replied the stranger with an odious grin, “don’t you know that my ill-advised niece, Dörtje Elverdink, has run away? You were arrested, though with great injustice, as her seducer, on which score I will with great pleasure testify your perfect innocence, if it should be requisite. It is not to you, but to Swammerdam, once my friend, and now my enemy, that the faithless Dörtje has fled. She is in that chamber⁠—I know it⁠—and alone, since Swammerdam has gone out. I cannot get in, as the door is barred and bolted, and I am too mild to employ force, but I have taken the liberty to torment her a little with my optical glass, that she may know I am her lord and master in spite of her imaginary princess-ship.”

“You are the devil!” exclaimed Peregrine, in the highest indignation, “You are the devil! but not lord and master of the beautiful Gamaheh. Out of my house! Practise your devil’s tricks where you will, but here you will fail with them, I can promise you.”

“Don’t put yourself in a passion,” replied Leeuwenhoek, “Don’t put yourself in a passion, my dear Mr. Tyss; I am an innocent man, who means nothing but good. It is a little monster, a little basilisk, that sits in yonder room, in the shape of a lovely woman. If the abode with my insignificance displeased her, she might have fled, but the traitress should not have robbed me of my most precious treasure, the best friend of my soul, without whom I am nothing. She should not have run away with Master Flea. You will not understand what I mean, worthy sir, but⁠—”

Here Master Flea, who had planted himself in a secure place, could not refrain from bursting out into a fine mocking laugh.

“Ha!” cried Leeuwenhoek, struck with a sudden terror, “ha! what was that? Can it be possible? Here, on this spot? Permit me, my dear sir⁠—”

Thus saying, Leeuwenhoek stretched out his hand, and snatched at Peregrine’s collar, who dexterously avoided his grasp, and, seizing him with a strong arm, dragged him towards the door, to fling him out without farther ado. But just as he had reached the door, it was opened from without, and in rushed George Pepusch, followed by Swammerdam.

No sooner did Leeuwenhoek perceive his enemy Swammerdam, than he burst from Peregrine with the utmost exertion of his last strength, and planted himself with his back against the door of the mysterious chamber, where the fair one was imprisoned. Swammerdam, seeing this, took a little telescope from his pocket, drew it out at full length, and fell upon his adversary, exclaiming, “Draw, scoundrel, if you have courage!”

Leeuwenhoek had quickly a similar instrument in his hand, drew it out as the other had done, and cried, “Come on; I am ready, and you shall soon feel my prowess.”

Each now put his glass to his eye, and fell furiously upon the other with sharp, murderous glances, now lengthening and now shortening his weapon by drawing the tubes in and out. There were feints, parries, thrusts, in short, all the tricks of the fencing-school, and with every moment they seemed to grow more angry. Whenever one was hit he cried out aloud, sprang into the air, cut the most wonderful capers, made the most beautiful entrechats, and turned pirouettes, as well as the best pas seul dancer on the Parisian stage, till his adversary fixed him fast with the shortened telescope. When the other was hit he did precisely the same, and in this way they went on interchangeably with the most violent springs, the maddest gestures, and the most furious cries. The perspiration dropped from their brows, the blood-red eyes seemed starting from their heads, and as there appeared no other cause for their St. Vitus’ dance than their looking at each other through their glasses, they might have been taken for maniacs, just escaped from the madhouse. For the rest, it was a very pretty sight.

Swammerdam at last succeeded in driving Leeuwenhoek from his post by the door⁠—which he had maintained with obstinate bravery⁠—and thus carrying on the war in the remoter parts of the ground. George Pepusch saw the opportunity, pressed against the unoccupied door, that was neither barred nor bolted, and slipped into the chamber, but in the next moment he rushed out, exclaiming, “She has fled! Fled!” and then hurried out of the house with the rapidity of lightning.

Both Leeuwenhoek and Swammerdam were seriously wounded, for both hopped and danced about after a mad fashion, and with their howlings and cryings made a music to it that seemed like the shrieks of the damned in hell. Peregrine knew not how to set about separating them, and thus ending a contest, which was as ludicrous as it was terrific. At last the combatants perceived that the door stood wide open, forgot their duel and their pains, put their destructive weapons into their pockets, and rushed into the chamber.

Mr. Tyss took it grievously to heart that the fair one had fled from his house, and wished the abominable Leeuwenhoek at the devil, when the voice of Alina was heard upon the stairs. She was laughing aloud, and muttered between, “What strange things one does see! Wonderful! incredible!”

“What?” cried Peregrine dejectedly, “what wonder has happened now?”

“Oh, my dear Mr. Tyss!” exclaimed the old woman, “only come upstairs directly, and go into your chamber.”

And she opened the room-door with a cunning titter. On entering, O wonder! O joy! the little Dörtje Elverdink tripped up to him, in her dress of tissue, as he had before seen her at Mr. Swammer’s.

“At length I see you again!” lisped the little one, and contrived to nestle up so closely to Peregrine, that he could not help embracing her most tenderly in spite of all his good resolutions. His senses seemed ecstacied by love and joy.

It has often happened to a man that in the height of his transports he has hit his nose somewhat roughly, and, being suddenly awakened out of his heaven by the earthly pain, has tumbled down again into the vulgar world. Just so it chanced with our Mr. Tyss. In stooping down to kiss Dörtje’s sweet mouth, he gave his nose, of goodly dimensions, a hard blow against the diadem of shining brilliants, which the little one wore in her raven locks. The pain of the blow upon the sharp points of the stone brought him sufficiently to himself to perceive the diadem. The diadem reminded him of the Princess Gamaheh, and with this recollection recurred all that Master Flea had told him of the little siren. He bethought himself that a Princess, the daughter of a mighty king, could not possibly care about his love, and therefore all her pretended affection must be a mere trick, by which the dissembler hoped to regain possession of Master Flea. With this consideration a cold ice stream seemed to rush through his veins, which, if it did not quite extinguish, at least damped, the love flames.

Peregrine gently freed himself from the arms of the little one, who had lovingly embraced him, and said with downcast eyes, “Oh, heavens! you are the daughter of the mighty King Sekakis, the beautiful Gamaheh. Your pardon, princess, if a feeling, which I could not master, hurried me into folly, into madness. But yourself, lady⁠—”

“What are you saying, my fair friend?” interrupted Dörtje Elverdink; “I the daughter of a mighty king? I a princess? I am your Alina, who will love you to distraction, if you⁠—but how is this? Alina, the queen of Golconda? she is already with you; I have spoken with her⁠—a good kind woman, but she has grown old, and is no longer so handsome as in the time of her marriage with the French general. Woe is me! I am not the right one; I never ruled in Golconda. Woe is me!”

The little one had closed her eyes, and began to totter. Peregrine conveyed her to a sofa.

“Gamaheh!” she went on, speaking in a state of somnambulism, “Gamaheh, do you say? Gamaheh, the daughter of King Sekakis? Yes, I recollect, in Famagusta! I was indeed a beautiful tulip⁠—Yet no, even then I felt desire and love in my breast. Still, still on that point⁠ ⁠…”

She was silent, and seemed to be falling into a perfect slumber. Peregrine undertook the perilous enterprise of placing her in a more convenient position, but, as he gently embraced her, a concealed pin prickled him sharply in the finger. According to his custom he snapt his fingers, and Master Flea, taking it for the concerted signal, immediately placed the microscopic glass in his eye.

Now, as usual, Peregrine saw behind the tunicle of the eyes the strange interweaving of nerves and veins, which pierced deep into the brain. But with these were twined bright silver threads, a hundred times thinner than the thinnest spider’s web, and it was these very threads that confused him, for they seemed to be endless, branching out into something indistinguishable even by the microscopic eye; perhaps they were thoughts of a sublimer kind, the others of a sort more easily comprehended. Then he observed flowers, strangely blended, which took the shape of men, then again men, who dissolved as it were into the earth, and peeped forth again as stones and metals. Amongst these all manner of beasts were in motion, who underwent innumerable changes, and spoke strange languages. No one appearance answered to the other, and in the plaintive sounds of sorrow that filled the air, there was a dissonance, corresponding with that of the images. But it was this very dissonance that ennobled still more the deep fundamental harmony, which broke out triumphantly, and united all that seemed irreconcileable.

“Do not puzzle yourself,” whispered Master Flea, “do not puzzle yourself, my good Peregrine; those which you see, are the images of a dream. Even if anything more should lurk behind them, now is not the time for farther inquiry. Only call the little deceiver by her real name, and then sift her as much as you please.”

As the lady had many names, it must have been difficult, one would have thought, for Peregrine to hit upon the right, but, without the least reflection, he exclaimed, “Dörtje Elverdink! dear, charming girl; was it no deceit? Is it possible that you can love me?”

Immediately the little one awoke from her dreamy state, opened her eye, and said with burning glance, “What a doubt, my Peregrine! Could a maiden do as I have done, unless her breast were filled with the most glowing passion? Peregrine, I love you more than anyone, and, if you will be mine, I am yours with my whole soul, and remain with you because I cannot leave you, and not merely to escape from the tyranny of my uncle.”

The silver threads had disappeared, and the thoughts, properly arranged, ran thus: “How is this? At first I feigned a passion for him only to regain Master Flea for myself and Leeuwenhoek, and now I actually am fond of him. I have caught myself in my own snares. I think no more of Master Flea, and would like to be his, who seems lovelier to me than any man I have ever seen.”

It may be easily supposed what effect these thoughts produced in Peregrine’s breast. He fell on his knees before the fair one, covered her hand with a thousand burning kisses, called her his joy, his heaven, his whole happiness.

“Well!” lisped the maiden, drawing him gently to her side, “well, my love, you certainly will not deny a request, on the fulfilment of which depends the repose, nay, the very existence of your beloved.”

“Demand,” replied Peregrine, tenderly embracing her, “demand anything, my life⁠—anything you will. Your slightest wish is my command. Nothing in the world is so dear to me that I would not with pleasure sacrifice it to you and your affection.”

“Woe is me!” lisped Master Flea, “who could have imagined that the little traitress would have conquered? I am lost!”

“Hear then,” replied Gamaheh, after having returned with equal fire the glowing kisses, which Peregrine imprinted on her lips, “Hear then: I know how the⁠—”

The door burst open, and in rushed George Pepusch.

“Zeherit!” cried the little one in despair, and fell back on the sofa, senseless.

The Thistle, Zeherit, flew to the princess, took her in his arms, and ran off with the speed of lightning.

For this time Master Flea was saved.