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vol. 3, p. 156
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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< A Strange Adventure (continued from page 3-155) >

mining to finish the sketch at once—but I could not do it I had lost the thread of the composition; the mysterious murderer was wanting; the idea was no longer in my brain; in vain I drew and erased, retouched and altered, it was useless. The figure now designed by my hand was as much out of character with all the rest which surrounded it, as a face of Raphael’s would be in a group of Dutch faces by Teniers. I threw down my pencil in despair, and the perspiration rolled from my forehead in large drops. At this instant my landlord opened the door and entered quickly. At the sight of the gold he stood fixed to the floor. “Ha! ha!” he exclaimed “Mr. Henri, who says you have no money? I have caught you.” Enraged by his insolent looks and manner, and his i nopportune entrance, I seized him suddenly by the shoulder and pushed him violently out of the room. The landing was very narrow; he lost his balance, and rolled to the foot of the stairs, vociferating, “My money, rascal, my money.”

I re-entered my room, and doubly locked the door, when I heard shouts of laughter from the lodgers saluting the landlord's precipitate descent The adventure disturbed me. I took up my pencil once more, and essayed to fill the terrible corner yet blank in my sketch, when the sound of arms striking the ground caught my attention. I put my head out of the window, and saw several gendarmes, completely armed, guarding the door. “Can the old rascal have been injured,” I thought Confused voices and loud footsteps now were audible, and loud knocks sounded on my door.

“Open in the name of the law.” I tremblingly obeyed, when two strong hands seized me by the collar, and a little man in a green uniform, smelling strongly of tar said, “Mr. Henri, I arrest you.” “For what crime?” I asked, recognizing the emissary of the police. “Follow me,” he said rudely and signed to the men to place the handcuffs on me. All resistance was impossible; while one party led me away, another searched my room, turning over my poor furniture, and flinging down my canvass on the floor.

The gendarmes thrust me into a closed carriage, and one seated himself each side. “What have I done?” I again asked. “Jean,” said one to the other with a sneer, “he asks what he has done." Soon a dark shadow fell on us, which entered the gateway of the town prison. The jailor in a woollen cap with a short pipe between his teeth received me from the hands of my guardians and conducted me silently to my cell.

The cell was small and tolerably clean, for the wall had been recently whitewashed. A window at the height of nine or ten feet admitted the light, and on the floor lay a truss of straw. I seated myself on this, and soon fell into a deep reverie. Had my landlord in his fall been seriously wounded? The man was an insolent wretch and could not prove any ill-treatment on my part. How would it all end? While thus engaged, the door opened, and my jailer entered and desired me to follow him. Two warders placed themselves at my side, and we proceeded through dark corridors, feebly lighted by narrow windows. I was conducted to the assize room, in which sat two judges, one of whom was my visitor, the Baron S—— A recorder sat at the table. Baron S——, raising his voice, thus addressed me: “Mr. Henri, in what manner did you become possessed of this drawing?” pointing to my sketch. I replied that the drawing was my own. There was a deep silence while the recorder noted my answer. I asked myself what it all meant; what connection there could be between this sketch and my landlord’s fall?

“You then drew this sketch?’’ repeated Baron S—— “It is my own.” “You did not take the details from any other drawing?“No, I did not.” “Prisoner,” said the judge in a severe tone, “I advise you to reflect; do not speak falsely.” I colored with rage, and replied emphatically, “I have spoken the truth.” “And this woman,” he continued, “who is being assassinated at the edge of the well, —did you also conceive her portrait?” “Certainly.” “Did you ever see her?” “Never.”

With a gesture of indignation, Baron S—— rose from his chair, but reseating himself, he consulted his colleagues in an under tone. I again asked myself the meaning of these strange proceedings. Addressing my guards Baron S—— said, “Conduct the prisoner to his carnage; we are going to—— Street,” and turning to me be continued, “Mr. Henri, you are following a deplorable path. Consider that if human justice is inflexible, the grace of God can be obtained by a complete avowal of your crime.”

I was unable to reply. I felt oppressed, as if by a hideous nightmare and I silently followed my conductors. Two gendarmes accompanied me in the carriage which rolled through several streets. One of them drew out a snuff-box, and offered it to his companion. Through the force of habit I put my hand out for the box, but the owner drew it back with a gesture of disgust and quickly replaced the box in his pocket. The carriage soon stopped, and one gendarme got out while the other took me by the collar, although I was chained, holding me until his companion was ready to receive me, and then he rudely pushed me out. All these precautions struck me as arguring nothing good. My guards dragged me through a dirty, narrow passage shut in by high walls, at the end of which they opened a door leading into a square courtyard. As we advanced a feeling of horror crept over me and I felt as if I was dreaming, acting and seeing independently of my free will. The horror was intensified when I recognized the very scene I had sketched the night before—the walls covered with hooks, the old hen coop and rabbit hutch, not a detail was wanting: near the well stood the two judges, and at their feet was extended the body of he old woman, her long grey hair dishevelled, her face livid, her eyes protruding, and her tongue forced through her clenched teeth. It was a ghastly sight.

“Prisoner,” said the judge in a solemn voice, “have you anything to say?” I could not speak. “Do you own having flung this woman into the well after having strangled her, and robbed her of her money?” “No,” I exclaimed, “I do not recognize this woman; I have never before seen her. God is my witness.” “It is enough,” he said in a dry tone, and without another word he and his colleague left the court. M v guards conducted me back to my cell, when I fell into a profound stupor. Oh, the horrors of that night in prison! I shall never forget it.

The day began to dawn, and softly lit up my dark cell. The window looked on the street. It was market day! I heard the rolling of the market carts laden with fruit and vegetables, the cackling of fowls, and the animated conversation of the tradesmen. As the day advanced the noise increased, and I felt an irresistible desire to see once more the faces of my fellow citizens. My predecessors in this cell, animated no doubt with the same desire, had made holes in the wall to facilitate this object. I climbed up, and clinging to the bars, I tried to seat myself on the narrow space in the window. Once there I gazed eagerly on the crowd, and tears streamed down my cheeks. I felt a strong desire to live—only to live! —Let them condemn me to the hulks, but only let me live.

The old market place, upon which I looked, presented a gay and lively scene, —the peasants in their national costumes were seated behind their baskets of eggs, fruits, and vegetables, and coops of fowls; butchers, with bare arms, cut up the meat on their stalls, and peasants, with broad brimmed hats, leaned on their staffs, in the distance, smoking their pipes.

This varied and animated scene captivated my attention and in spite of myself I forgot my actual position. While I continued to watch the crowd, a butcher passed, bending beneath the weight of an enormous carcass. His arms were bare, his elbows raised, and his head bent forward. His hair falling over his face concealed his features, nevertheless I trembled, “It is him,” I cried.

All the blood rushed to my heart; I sprang down from the window, and my teeth chattered, while the blood coursed wildly through my veins, and mounted to my head. “It is him! He is there, and I must die to expiate his crime,” I exclaimed. “Oh, God, aid me—what must I do?” Suddenly an idea, a heaven born inspiration darted through my brain. I put my hand in my pocket, and found there my box of pencils; I approached the newly white-washed wall, and drew the scene of the murder with rapidity and marvellous power. No more doubt or useless efforts. I knew the man who had strangled the unfortunate old woman, and l saw him as clearly as if he had been seated before me. At ten o'clock the jailor entered my cell.

“What is this?” he said, looking at my sketch with surprise. “Go,” I answered, “and tell my judges to come here,” and I pursued my work with feverish ardor. “The judges <... continues on page 3-157 >

Editor's notes

  1. image by unknown author