Fifth Adventure

With the speed of lightning⁠—as the reader has already learned at the conclusion of the fourth adventure⁠—George Pepusch snatched the fair one from the arms of the enamoured Peregrine, and left him behind petrified with astonishment and terror. When at length the latter came to his recollection, and would have followed his robber-friend, all was still and desolate in the house. Upon his repeated calling, the old Alina came pattering up the stairs from one of the farthest rooms, and declared that she had not observed any, the slightest part of the whole business.

Peregrine was nigh going mad at the loss of Dörtje, but Master Flea began to console him in a tone that must have inspired the most desperate with confidence: “You are not yet quite certain, my dear Mr. Peregrine, whether the fair Dörtje Elverdink has really left your house. As well as I can judge of such things, she is not far off; I seem to feel her nearness. But, if you will follow my friendly counsel, you will leave her to her fate. Trust me, she is as capricious as the wind. It may be, as you have said, that she now is really fond of you, but how long will it be before she plunges you into such misery, that you will be in danger from it of losing your reason, like the Thistle, Zeherit? I say again, give up your lonely way of life. You will be the better for it. How many women have you known, that you should take Dörtje for the handsomest of her sex? What maiden have you approached with love, that you should believe that Dörtje alone can love you? Go to, Peregrine; experience will show you better. You are a well-made, handsome man, and I should not be so keen-sighted, as Master Flea really is, if I could not see beforehand that love would smile upon you in a very different way from what you may expect.”

Peregrine had already broken the ice by going abroad in public places, and it was therefore the less difficult for him to visit societies, from which he had formerly withdrawn himself. In this Master Flea rendered him excellent service with his microscopic glass, and he is said during this time to have kept a daybook, and to have made notes of the most remarkable and pleasant contradictions between words and thoughts, as they daily occurred to him. Perhaps the editor of this strange tale, called Master Flea, may find some future opportunity of bringing to light many worthy impartments from this same daybook; here it would only stop the current of the history, and, therefore, would not be welcome to the reader. So much, however, may be said, that many of the phrases with the corresponding thoughts seemed to be stereotyped as it were; as for example, “Favour me with your advice,” the thought being, “He is fool enough to think I ask his advice in a matter that I have long since resolved upon, and that tickles him.” “I have the most perfect confidence in you,” the thought being, “I knew long ago that you were a scoundrel,” etc. It should also be mentioned that many folks mightily puzzled Peregrine with his microscopic observations. These were the young men, who fell into raptures upon everything, and poured themselves forth in a torrent of splendid phrases. Amongst these the most remarkable were the young poets, who were boiling over with imagination and genius, and were particularly adored by the ladies. To these were associated the bluestockings, who were as familiar with metaphysics as the less learned part of their sex with scandal, and could talk like any parson in his pulpit. If it seemed strange to Peregrine that the silver threads should twine together out of Gamaheh’s brain into an undistinguishable something, he was not a little astonished at what he saw in the heads of those above mentioned. He saw indeed the strange weaving of nerves and veins, but remarked at the same time, that when the owners of them spoke most learnedly on art and science, they did not penetrate the brain, but were reflected outwards, so that all recognition of the thoughts was out of the question. He imparted his observation to Master Flea, who usually sat in a fold of his neckcloth, and Master Flea was of the opinion that what Peregrine took for thoughts were in reality none, but merely words, which in vain endeavoured to become thoughts.

If Mr. Tyss began now to amuse himself in society, his faithful companion also laid aside much of his gravity, and exhibited himself as a knavish little voluptuary, an amiable roué. He could not see the fair neck or the white bosom of any beauty, without slipping out of his hiding place with the first opportunity, and springing on the inviting spot, where he very dexterously contrived to elude the attacks of pursuing fingers. This manoeuvre combined a double interest. In the first place, he found a pleasure in it for the thing itself, and then, he hoped, by drawing Peregrine’s attention to the fair ones, to cast Dörtje’s image into shadow. This however seemed to be a fruitless labour, for none of all the ladies, whom he now approached without the least timidity, seemed to him so fair and lovely as his little princess. The great cause however of his continued constancy was that in none he found the words and thoughts so united in his favour as with her. He was convinced that he could never leave her, and this he repeated incessantly. Master Flea was in no little alarm.

One day Peregrine remarked that the old Alina laughed very cunningly, took snuff more frequently than usual, muttered strangely⁠—in short, acted altogether like one who is big with a secret and would fain be disburdened of it. To everything she replied, “Yes, one can’t tell that! one must wait!” whether these words were suited to the occasion or not, till at last Peregrine, full of impatience, exclaimed, “Speak it out at once; tell me what is the matter, without creeping around me with those mysterious looks.”

“Ah!” cried the old woman, clasping her withered hands together, “ah! the dear little thing! the sweet little puppet!”

“Whom do you mean?” asked Peregrine angrily.

“Ah!” said the old woman, smirking. “Ah! whom should I mean but our princess, below here with Mr. Swammer⁠—your bride, Mr. Tyss?”

“Woman!” cried Mr. Tyss, “unlucky woman, she is here! In the house! And you do not tell me till now?”

“Where,” replied the old woman, without in the least losing her composure, “Where should the princess be but here, where she has found her mother?”

“How!” cried Peregrine, “what is it you say, Alina?”

“Yes,” rejoined the old woman, drawing herself up, “Yes, Alina is my right name, and who knows what else may come to light, in a short time, before your nuptials?”

Peregrine entreated her, by all the angels and devils, to go on, but, without paying the least attention to his hurry, she seated herself snugly in the armchair, drew out her snuffbox, took a prodigious pinch, and demonstrated to Peregrine very circumstantially, that there was no worse failing than impatience.

“Calmness, my son; calmness is above all things requisite, or otherwise you run the risk of losing all in the moment that you think you have gained it. Before you get a word out of me, you must first promise to seat yourself there, quite quietly like a pretty-behaved child, and for the life of you not to interrupt me in my story.”

Nothing was left to Peregrine but to obey the old woman, who, when he had seated himself, related things that were strange enough to hear.

According to the old woman’s tale, the two gentlemen, namely, Swammerdam and Leeuwenhoek, had another tough struggle in the chamber, and for a time kept up a terrible clatter. Then again all had become quite still, when a heavy moaning had made her fancy that one of the two was mortally wounded, but on peeping through the keyhole she perceived something quite different from what she had expected. Swammerdam and Leeuwenhoek had seized George Pepusch, and stroked and squeezed him with their fists, so that he grew thinner and thinner, during which operation he had uttered the moans heard by the old woman. At last, when he had grown as thin as a thistle-stem, they had tried to squeeze him through the keyhole, and the poor Pepusch was hanging with half his body out, when she ran away in terror. Soon afterwards she heard a loud laughing, and saw Pepusch in his natural form, quietly led out of the house by the two magicians, while at the room door stood Dörtje and beckoned her in. The little one wished to dress herself, and needed her assistance.

The old woman could not talk enough of the great heap of clothes which the princess brought out of a variety of chests and showed to her, each of which had appeared richer than the other. She declared that none but an Indian princess could possess such jewels as the little one; her eyes still ached with the glitter. She then went on to say how, during the dressing, she had talked of this and that, of the late Mr. Tyss, on the delightful life they had formerly led in the house, and at last the conversation had fallen upon her deceased relations.

“You know, my dear Mr. Tyss, that nothing is more valued by me than my late cousin, the calico-printer’s wife. She was in Maintz, and, I believe, even in the Indies, and could speak French and sing. If I owe to my cousin the unchristian name of Alina, I will forgive her that in the grave, since it is from her alone that I have learned polite manners and the art of speaking elegantly. As I was talking much of my cousin, the little princess asked after my father, my grandfather, and so on, higher and higher up the family. I opened my heart to her, told her that my mother had been almost as handsome as myself, except that I go beyond her in regard to the nose, which I derive from my father, and which is after the shape that has been usual in the family since the memory of man. Then I came to speak of the country wake, when I waltzed with Sergeant Drumstick, and wore the skyblue stockings with red clocks. Ah, dear God! we are all weak, sinful creatures! But oh! Mr. Tyss, you should have seen how the little princess, who at first had laughed and tittered, that it was a pleasure to hear her, now grew more and more quiet, and gazed on me with such odd looks, that I began to be terribly alarmed. And then think, Mr. Tyss, on a sudden, before I could prevent it, she lies on her knees before me, and will positively kiss my hand, exclaiming, ‘Yes, it is you! Now I recognise you! It is yourself!’ and when, quite astonished, I asked what it all meant⁠—”

Here the old woman stopped, and, when Peregrine pressed her to go on, she with great gravity and precision took a mighty pinch of snuff, and said,

“You’ll know in good time, my son, what farther happened. Everything has its time and hour.”

He was now more urgent than ever with the old woman to proceed, when she burst out into a roaring fit of laughter, upon which he admonished her, with a very sour face, that his room was not exactly the place for her to play off such fooleries. But the old woman, planting her hands in her sides, seemed ready to burst. The burning red of her brow changed to an agreeable mahogany, and Peregrine was upon the point of flinging a glass of water into the old woman’s face, when she recovered her breath and speech at the same time.

“I can’t help laughing,” she said, “I can’t help laughing at the foolish little thing. No; such love is no longer on earth. Only think, Mr. Tyss⁠—”

Here she broke out into a fresh fit of laughter, and Peregrine’s patience was well nigh exhausted. At last, with much difficulty, he got out of her that the little princess had taken up the whimsical notion of Mr. Tyss being positively determined to marry the old woman, and had compelled her solemnly to promise to reject his hand.

It seemed to Peregrine as if he were mixed up in a scene of witchery, and he felt so strangely, that even the honest old Alina appeared to him a supernatural kind of being, from whom he could not fly with sufficient speed. But she still detained him, having something to communicate in all haste, that concerned the little princess.

“It is now certain,” she said confidentially, “It is now certain, my dear Mr. Tyss, that the bright star of fortune has arisen, but it is your business to keep it favourable. When I protested to the little one that you were desperately smitten with her, and far from any idea of marrying me, she replied, that she could not be convinced of it and give you her hand till you had complied with a wish that had long sat near her heart. She says that she had a pretty little negro boy in her service who had fled from her; I have indeed denied it, but she maintains that the boy is so little he might live in a nutshell.”

“Nothing will ever come of this,” exclaimed Peregrine violently, well knowing what the old woman was driving at, and rushed out of the room, and then out of the house, with great vehemence.

It is an established custom, that when the hero of a tale is under any violent agitation, he should run out into a forest, or at least, into some lonely wood, and the custom is good, because it really prevails in life. Hence it could not be otherwise with Mr. Tyss, than that he ran from his house without stopping, till he had left the city behind him and reached a remote wood. Moreover, as in a romantic history no wood must be without rustling leaves, sighing breezes, murmuring brooks, etc., etc. it is to be supposed that Peregrine found all these things in his place of refuge. Upon a mossy stone, the lower half of which lay in a bright brook, Peregrine sat down with a firm resolution to reflect on his strange adventures, and, if possible, find the Ariadne clue which might show the way out of this labyrinth of mysteries. The murmurs of the leaves, returning at equal intervals, the monotonous babbling of the waters, the constant clap, clap of a distant mill, soon formed a ground which regulated the thoughts so that they no longer rushed wildly together without time or rhythms, but became an intelligible melody. Thus, after sitting some time on this pleasant spot, he got to reflect calmly.

“In reality,” he said to himself, “a fantastic tale-writer could not have invented wilder events than I have actually gone through in the short space of a few days. Beauty, love itself visits the lonely misogynist, and a look, a word, is sufficient to fan, in his breast, the flames which he had dreaded without knowing them. But the time, the place, the whole appearance of the strange siren are so mysterious, that it seems to be the result of magic. And then it is not long before a despised little insect evinces knowledge, understanding⁠—nay, even a sort of supernatural power. And this creature talks of things which to common minds are incomprehensible, in a way as if it all were nothing more than the familiar today and yesterday of usual life, as it appears repeated for the thousandth time.

“Have I come too near the flywheel, that dark unknown powers are driving, and has it caught me in its whirlings? Would not one believe, that the reason must be lost with such things, when they cross the path of life? And yet I find myself quite well, withal: nay, it no longer seems strange to me that a Flea King should have sought my protection, and in requital have entrusted me with a mystery that opens to me the secrets of thought, and thus sets me above the deceptions of life. But whither will or can all this lead? How, if under this singular mask of a flea, an evil demon lurked, who sought to lure me into destruction, who aimed to rob me of all the happiness that might bloom to me in the possession of Dörtje?⁠ ⁠… Were it not better to get rid at once of the little monster?”

“That was a very pitiful idea, Mr. Tyss!” exclaimed Master Flea, interrupting Peregrine’s soliloquy. “Do you imagine that the mystery I have entrusted to you is a trifle? Should not this gift pass for the most decided proof of my sincere friendship? Shame on you for being suspicious! You are surprised at the reason, the mind, of a little despised insect, and that proves⁠—don’t be offended⁠—the narrowness of your education in science. I wish, in regard to the thinking instinctive soul of animals, you had read the Greek Philo, or, at least, the treatise of Hieronymus Rorarius, Quod Animalia Bruta Ratione Utantur Melius Homine; or his oration Pro Muribus; or that you knew what Lipsius and the great Leibnitz thought of the mental power of beasts; or that you were aware what the profound Rabbi Maimonides has said about their souls; you would not then take me for a demon on account of my understanding, or measure the spiritual faculties by the proportions of the body. I suppose, at last, you will come to the shrewd opinion of the Spanish physician, Gomez Pereira, who could find nothing more in animals than mere artificial machines, without thought or freedom of will, moving arbitrarily and automatically. Yet, no: I cannot deem you so absurd, and am convinced that you have long ago learned better through my humble person. Moreover, I do not well understand what you call wonders, or in what way you are able to divide into the wonderful and natural, the appearances of our being, which⁠—in reality⁠—are ourselves, as we and they mutually condition each other. Do not, therefore, wonder at anything because it has not yet occurred to you, or because you fancy you do not see the connection of cause and effect; that only proves the natural or diseased obtuseness of your sight, which injures your perception. But⁠—do not take it amiss, Mr. Peregrine⁠—the drollest part of the business is that you want to split yourself into two parts, one of which recognises and willingly believes the so-called wonders; the other, on the contrary, is mightily astonished at this recognition and belief. Has it ever occurred to you, that you believe in the images of dreams?”

“I!” exclaimed Peregrine, “My dear fellow, how can you talk of dreams, which are only the result of some disorder in our corporeal or intellectual structure?”

At these words Master Flea burst into a laugh, as fine as it was mocking, and then said to Mr. Tyss, who was not a little confounded,

“My poor friend, is your understanding so little enlightened, that you do not see the folly of such opinions? Since the time that Chaos melted together into plastic matter⁠—it may be a tolerably long time ago⁠—the spirit of the universe has formed all shapes out of this existing material, and from this come also dreams and their images. These images are sketches of what has been, or probably of what is yet to be, which the soul rapidly puts together for its amusement when the tyrant, called body, has released it from its slavish servitude. But here is neither time nor place to refute you, and bring you to a better conviction; perhaps, too, it would be of no use whatever to you. One thing only I should like to explain.”

“Dear master,” cried Peregrine, “speak, or be silent, as you think proper; do what to you seems best, for I plainly perceive that however small you may be, you have deep knowledge and sound understanding. You compel from me unconditional confidence, although I do not quite comprehend your figurative modes of speech.”

“Learn then,” resumed Master Flea, “that you are very strangely implicated in the history of the Princess Gamaheh. Swammerdam and Leeuwenhoek, the Thistle, Zeherit, and the Leech-Prince, as well as the Genius, Thetel, are all striving after the princess, and even I myself must confess that, alas! my old passion is reviving, and I could be fool enough to share my sovereignty with the false fair one. But you⁠—you, Mr. Peregrine, are the principal person, and without your consent, Gamaheh can belong to no one. If you wish to understand the more particular connection of the whole, which I myself do not know, you must speak to Leeuwenhoek about it; he has found it out, and will certainly let out much, if you will take the pains, and know how to question him.”

Master Flea was about to continue, when a man leapt from the bushes in boiling passion, and flew upon Peregrine.

“Ha!” cried George Pepusch, with frantic gestures⁠—for it was he, “Ha! faithless, treacherous friend! Have I found you? Found you in the fateful hour? Up then! pierce this breast, or fall by my hand.”

With this he drew a brace of pistols from his pocket, pressed one into Peregrine’s hand, and took his ground with the other, crying, “Shoot, coward! shoot!”

Peregrine placed himself, but declared that nothing should induce him to the incurable madness of entering into a duel with his only friend, without even a suspicion of the cause. At all events he would in no case be the first to begin a murderous attack.

At this Pepusch burst into a wild laugh, and in the same moment the ball went through Peregrine’s hat. The latter remained staring at his friend in profound silence, without picking up the hat, which had fallen to the ground, when Pepusch advanced a few steps towards him, and murmured in a hollow voice, “Shoot!” Peregrine fired his pistol in the air.

With the voice and gestures of a madman, Pepusch now flung himself upon his friend’s breast, and cried out, in heartrending tones, “She is dying! dying for you, unlucky one! Quick! Save her! You can do it⁠—save her for yourself, and let me perish in my despair!”

Pepusch ran off so fast that Peregrine had lost sight of him on the instant, and now a fearful foreboding came over him, that his friend’s mad behaviour must have been occasioned by something terrible which had happened to the little one, whereupon he hastened back to the city.

On entering his house, he was met by the old woman, loudly lamenting that the poor princess was on the sudden taken violently ill, and was dying. Mr. Swammer himself had gone after the most celebrated physician in Frankfurt.

With the feelings of death at his heart, he crept into Mr. Swammer’s room that was opened to him by the old woman. There lay the little one upon a sofa, pale and stiff like a corpse, and it was not till he knelt down and bent over her that he perceived her gentle breathing. No sooner had he touched her icy hand, than a painful smile played about her lips, and she lisped:

“Is it you, my sweet friend? Have you come to see her once again, who loves you so unspeakably⁠—who dies, alas! because she cannot breathe without you?”

Dissolving in sorrow, Peregrine poured himself forth in protestations of the tenderest love, and repeated, that nothing in the world was so dear to him that he would not sacrifice it to her. Out of words grew kisses, but in these kisses again words, like the breathings of love, were distinguishable.

“You know, my Peregrine, how much I love you. I can be yours, you, mine. I can recover on the spot⁠—you will see me bloom again in my youthful splendour, like a flower refreshed by the morning dew, and joyfully lifting up his drooping head.⁠ ⁠… But⁠—give me up the prisoner, my dear, beloved Peregrine, or else you will see me perish before your eyes, in unutterable death pangs. Peregrine⁠—I can no more⁠—it is all over!”

With this she sank back upon the cushions, from which she had half raised herself; her bosom heaved tumultuously up and down, as if, in the death-pangs; her lips grew bluer, and her eyes seemed to break.

In wild anguish Peregrine caught at his neckcloth, from which Master Flea now leapt, of his own accord, upon the white neck of the little one, exclaiming, in a tone of the deepest grief, “I am lost!”

Peregrine stretched out his hand to catch the Master, but suddenly it seemed as if some invisible power held back his arm, and far other thoughts ran through his head than those which till now had occupied it.

“How!” thought he, “Because you are a frail man, and influenced by a mad passion, will you therefore betray him, to whom you have promised your protection? Will you therefore plunge a free, harmless people into eternal slavery, and utterly ruin the friend whose thoughts and words agree? No, no, recollect yourself, Peregrine! Rather die than be a traitor!”

“Give⁠ ⁠… up⁠ ⁠… the prisoner⁠ ⁠… I am dying!” stammered the little one, with failing voice.

“No!” cried Peregrine, while in despair he caught her in his arms, “No! never! But let me die with you!”

And now a fine, penetrating harmony was heard, as if little silver bells were struck. Dörtje, with fresh roses on her lips and cheeks, started up suddenly from the sofa, and, breaking into a convulsive laughter, skipped about the chamber. She seemed to have been bit by the tarantula.

Peregrine gazed in terror on the strange spectacle, and the same did the physician, who stood at the door quite petrified, keeping out Mr. Swammer, who had followed him.