Kardinal Napellus, Der (Cardinal Napellus)
Szerző: Gustav Meyrink • Év: 1915
A prime function of small horror magazines should be the presentation of works in translation. The genre’s major anthologies and magazines have been so cliquish and parochial (or so commercial and banal) that the rest of the world’s most famous macabre writers have been excluded. Sad to say, the smaller magazines haven’t done a good deal better, failing to fill this obvious need and niche. Two exceptions are Greg Boyd’s Asylum and my own Fantasy Macabre. It should strike you as outrageous that authors of such importance as Gustav Meyrink and Theophile Gautier could have, throughout a century, untranslated stories. Meyrink has been especially neglected in spite of his excellence and the fact that his novel The Golem is widely regarded as a premiere work of weird fiction. Michael Bullock translated ”Cardinal Napellus,” an influential German story, for Fantasy Macabre. It has its first sizeable audience right here.
We didn’t know very much about him apart from his name, Hieronymus Radspieller, and the fact that year in year out he lived in the ruined castle, where he had rented from the owner, a white-haired, surly Basque—the surviving servant and heir of a noble family that had withered in melancholy solitude—a whole floor to himself, rendering it habitable with costly, old-fashioned furnishings.
One was struck by the fantastic contrast on entering these rooms from the overgrown wilderness outside, in which no bird ever sang and everything seemed abandoned by life, except when every now and then the rotted yew trees with their tangled beards groaned in terror under the violence of the Fohn, or the greenish-black lake, like an eye staring up into the sky, reflected the white clouds passing overhead.
Hieronymus Radspieller used to spend almost all day in his boat, lowering a flashing metal egg down into the silent water on long, fine silk threads—a plummet to test the depth of the lake.
He must be employed by some geographical society, we conjectured when, after returning home from our fishing trips, we sat together for a few hours in Radspieller’s library, which he had hospitably placed at our disposal.
”I happened to hear today from an old post woman who carries the letters over the mountain pass that according to rumor he was a monk in his youth and used to flog himself bloody night after night. They say his back and arms are covered all over with scars,” interposed Mr. Finch when the conversation had once again become an exchange of ideas concerning Hieronymus Radspieller. ”And by the way, wherever has he got to today? It must be well past eleven o’clock.”
”It’s full moon,” said Giovanni Braccesco, pointing out through the open window with his withered hand at the shimmering path of light that lay across the lake. ”We shall easily be able to see his boat if we keep a lookout.”
Then after a while, we heard steps coming up the stairs; but it was only the botanist Eshcuid who entered the room so late from one of his expeditions.
He was carrying in his hand a plant as tall as a man, with steel-blue blossoms.
”It is by far the largest example of this species that has ever been found. I should never have believed that the poisonous ‘monkshood’ could ever grow to such a height,” he said in a flat voice, after nodding to us in greeting and laying the plant on the windowsill, taking the greatest possible care that none of the leaves should get doubled over.
The thought passed through my mind, ”He’s just like the rest of us,” and I had the feeling that Mr. Finch and Giovanni Braccesco were thinking the same thing at this moment. ”An old man, he wanders restlessly about the earth like someone who has to look for his grave and can’t find it, collecting plants which tomorrow are dried up. Why? What for? He doesn’t think about it. He knows that his actions are pointless, as we know that ours are, but he must also have been crushed by the melancholy realization that everything a man begins is pointless, whether it is great or small—just as this realization has been crushing the rest of us a whole life long. We have been from our youth like the dying,” I felt, ”whose fingers grope restlessly over the sheet; who do not know what to grasp at. Like the dying who admit to themselves: death is standing in the room, what does he care whether we fold our hands or clench them into fists?”
”Where will you go when the fishing season is over here?” asked the botanist, after he had taken another look at his plant and then slowly sat down with us at the table.
Mr. Finch ran his fingers through his white hair, played with a fishhook without looking up and wearily shrugged his shoulders.
”I don’t know,” Giovanni Braccesco answered absent-mindedly after a pause, as though the question had been directed to him.
An hour must have passed in leaden, wordless silence, so that I could hear the blood roaring in my head.
At last Radspieller’s pallid, beardless face appeared in the doorway.
His bearing seemed that of a calm old man, as always, and his hand was steady as he poured himself a glass of wine and drank to us; but an unfamiliar atmosphere filled with restrained excitement had come in with him and quickly spread to us.
His generally weary and indifferent eyes—which had the peculiarity that like the eyes of those suffering from a disease of the spinal cord their pupils never contracted or expanded and apparently did not react to light (they looked like gray matt silk waistcoat buttons with a black dot in them, as Mr. Finch used to say)—today darted about the room glittering feverishly, slid along the walls and over the rows of books, undecided where they should rest.
Giovanni Braccesco took a subject at random and talked about our strange methods of catching the ancient, moss-grown giant catfish that live down in the unfathomable depths of the lake, never came up into the light of day, and despise all the bait offered by nature—who snap only at the most bizarre shapes the angler can think up: glittering tin-plate shaped like hands whirling and spinning at the end of the line, or bats of red glass with cunningly concealed hooks on their wings.
Hieronymus Radspieller wasn’t listening.
I could see that his mind was wandering.
He suddenly broke out, like someone who has held back a dangerous secret behind clenched teeth for years on end and then, in an instant, without warning, hurls it from him: ”Today at last—my plumb line touched bottom.”
We stared at him uncomprehendingly.
I was so seized by the oddly trembling tone that had echoed from his words that for a while I only half took in his description of measuring the depth of the lake. Down in the abysses—many thousands of fathoms deep—there were circling whirlpools that caught up the plummet, held it in suspension and prevented it from reaching the bottom, unless some fortunate chance came to its aid.
Then again a sentence rose triumphantly aloft from his speech like a rocket: ”It is the deepest place on earth to which a human instrument has ever penetrated.” The words burned themselves into my brain, without my being able to find any reason why they should. They contained some ghostly double meaning, as though an invisible being had been standing behind him and speaking to me through his mouth in veiled symbols.
I could not take my eyes from Radspieller’s face. How spectral and unreal it had all of a sudden become! When I closed my eyes for an instant I saw it encircled by flickering blue flames. ”The St. Elmo’s fire of death,” forced its way to my tongue and I had to keep my lips closed by force of will in order not to yell it out.
As though in a dream, passages from books passed through my mind which Radspieller had written and which I had read in leisure hours, filled with amazement at his learning, passages filled with searing hatred of religion, faith and hope and everything in the Bible that speaks of promise.
This, I dimly perceived, was the backlash with which his soul had slashed down at the earth from the realm of longing after the burning asceticism of a passion-tormented youth—the pendulum of Fate that swings man from light into darkness.
With a violent effort I wrenched myself free from the paralyzing half-sleep that had come over my senses, and forced myself to listen to Radspieller’s story, the beginning of which was still echoing in me like a distant, unintelligible murmur.
He was holding the copper plumb line in his hand, turning it this way and that so that it flashed like a piece of jewelry in the light of the lamp, and saying:
”As passionate anglers you consider it an exciting feeling when you merely feel from the sudden tug on your line, which is only two hundred ells long, that a large fish has taken the bait, that in a moment or two a green monster will rise to the surface and thrash the water to foam. Just imagine this feeling multiplied a thousand-fold and you will perhaps understand what went on inside me when this piece of metal here at last announced to me: I have hit bottom. It was as though my hand had knocked at a door—It was the end of decades of labor,” he added in any undertone to himself, and there was fear in his voice: ”What—what shall I do tomorrow?”
”It is no small matter for science to have sounded out the deepest point on the surface of the earth,” commented the botanist Eshcuid.
”Science—for science?” reiterated Radspieller abstractedly, looking at us questioningly one after the other. ”What do I care about science?” he finally burst out.
Then he rose hurriedly.
Walked a few times up and down the room.
”Science matters as little to you as it does to me, Professor,” he exclaimed almost roughly, turning to Eshcuid. ”Be frank: science merely serves us as an excuse for doing something, anything, no matter what. Life, terrible, awful life has dried up our souls, has stolen our most essential, innermost self, and in order not to have constantly to scream in our distress we pursue childish fancies—in order to forget what we have lost. Let’s not lie to ourselves.”
We remained silent.
”But there’s another meaning in them too”—he was suddenly overcome by wild unrest—”in our fancies, I mean. A subtle spiritual instinct tells me: every action we perform has a magic double meaning. We cannot do anything that is not magic. I know exactly why I have been taking soundings for almost a lifetime. I also know the meaning of the fact that over and over again I have touched bottom and linked myself by a long, thin cord through all the whirlpools to a realm to which no ray of that hateful sun can penetrate, whose delight consists in causing its children to die of thirst. It is only an outwardly unimportant event that took place today, but anyone who can see and interpret recognizes from the shapeless shadow on the wall who has stepped in front of the lamp.” He smiled at me grimly. ”I will tell you briefly what this outward event means to me inwardly: I have attained what I was seeking. Henceforth I am proof against the venomous snakes of faith and hope, which can only live in the light; I felt it by the way my heart jumped today when I triumphed and I touched the bottom of the lake with the plummet. An insignificant outer happening revealed its inner face.”
”Did such terrible things happen to you in life? I mean during the time when you were a priest?” asked Mr. Finch, adding in an undertone to himself: ”That your soul should be so sore.”
Radspieller did not reply and seemed to be seeing a vision that had risen up before him. Then he sat down at the table again, stared fixedly out of the window into the moonlight, and speaking as though in his sleep and almost without breath told the following story.
”I was never a priest; but even in my youth a somber, irresistible urge drew me away from things of this earth. I have experienced hours when the face of nature was transformed before my eyes into a grinning demonic mask and mountains, landscapes, water, and sky, even my own body, appeared to me as implacable prison walls. I’m sure no child feels anything when the shadow of a cloud passing across the sun falls on a meadow—even then I was overcome by a paralyzing horror, and as though a hand had suddenly torn a blindfold from my eyes I saw deep into the secret world filled with the death agony of millions of tiny creatures which, hidden beneath the blades and roots of the grass, were tearing each other to shreds in mute hatred.
”Perhaps it was a congenital taint—my father died suffering from religious mania—that caused me before to see the whole earth as nothing but one single blood-drenched den of murderers.
”Gradually my whole life became a constant torture of mental thirst. I could no longer sleep, no longer think, and day and night, without pause, my lips twitched and trembled and mechanically formed the sentence of the prayer, ‘Deliver us from evil,’ until weakness made me lose consciousness.
”In the valleys of my home country there is a religious sect called the Blue Brothers, whose adherents, when they feel their end approaching, have themselves burned alive. Their monastery is still standing today and over its entrance gate the stone crest: a poisonous plant with five blue petals, the uppermost of which resembles a monk’s hood—the Aconitum napellus or blue monkshood.
”I was a young man when I took refuge in this order, and almost an old man when I left it.
”Behind the monastery walls lies a garden and in it, during the summer, there blossoms a bed full of this deadly blue plant which the monks water with the blood from the wounds inflicted by flogging themselves. Each monk, when he becomes a brother of the community, has to plant one of these flowers, which then, as at baptism, receives his own Christian name.
”Mine was called Hieronymus and drank my blood while I myself wasted away over the years, vainly entreating the ‘Invisible Gardener’ to perform a miracle and refresh the roots of my life with just one drop of water.
”The symbolic meaning of this strange ceremony of baptism by blood is that man should magically plant his soul in the garden of Paradise and fertilize its growth with the blood of his desires.
”On the burial mound of the founder of this ascetic sect, the legendary Cardinal Napellus, so the story runs,” one of these blue monkshoods shot up to the height of a man in a single moonlit night, covered all over with blossoms, and when the grave was opened the corpse had vanished. The saint was said to have changed himself into the plant, the first to appear on earth, and all others are supposed to be derived from this one.
”When the flowers dried up in the autumn we used to collect their poisonous seeds, which look like tiny human hearts and according to the secret tradition of the Blue Brothers represent the ‘mustard seed’ of faith which enables him who possesses it to move mountains; then we ate them.
”Just as their terrible poison changed the heart and put a man in the state between living and dying, so the essence of faith was supposed to transform our blood, to turn it into a miracle-working force in the hours between gnawing death agony and ecstatic rapture.
”But I groped with the plummet of my knowledge even deeper down into these strange allegories. I took a step further and faced the question: What will happen to my blood when the poison of the blue flower has finally impregnated it?
”And then the things around me came to life, the very stones by the wayside cried out to me with a thousand voices: again and again, when spring comes, it will be poured out so that a new poison-plant can sprout bearing your own name.
”And at that moment I had torn the mask from the vampire which till then I had been feeding, and an inextinguishable hatred took possession of me. I went out into the garden and stamped into the ground the plant that had stolen my name Hieronymus from me and had battened on my life, until not a fiber was to be seen.
”From then on, my path seemed to be strewn with miraculous events.
”That selfsame night a vision appeared to me: Cardinal Napellus, in his hand—his fingers in the position of a man holding a burning candle—the blue aconite with the five-pedaled flowers. His features were those of a corpse; only from his eyes there radiated indestructible life.
”I thought that I was looking at my own face, so closely did he resemble me, and in involuntary terror I reached for my face, as someone whose arm had been torn off in an explosion may reach with the other hand for the wound.
”Then I crept into the refectory and in a fit of wild hate broke open the shrine that was supposed to contain the relics of the saint, in order to destroy them.
”I found only that terrestrial globe, which you see there in the niche.”
Radspieller rose, took it down, placed it in front of us on the table and went on with his story. ”I took it with me on my flight from the monastery in order to smash it and so destroy the only tangible object left by the founder of the sect.
”Later I decided that I should be showing-more contempt for the relic if I sold it and gave the money to a whore. 1 did so at the first opportunity that presented itself.
”Since then many years have passed, but I have never allowed a minute to go by without seeking to trace the invisible roots of the plant which is making mankind sick, to extirpate it from my heart. I said earlier that from the moment when I awoke to lucidity one ‘miraculous event’ after the other crossed my path, but I remained firm: no will-o’-the-wisp again enticed me into the morass.
”When I began to collect antiques—everything you see here in this room dates from that period—there were many objects among them that reminded me of the dark rites of gnostic origin and of the century of the Camisards. Even this sapphire ring on my finger—curiously enough, it bears as a crest a monkshood, the emblem of the blue monks—came into my hands by chance as I was rummaging through the stock of a peddler: it didn’t shake me for a second. And when one day a friend sent me as a gift this globe—the same globe I had stolen from the monastery and sold, the relic of Cardinal Napellus—I couldn’t help laughing loudly when I recognized it, laughing at this childish threat on the part of silly
”No, the poison of faith and hope shall no longer force its way up to me in the clear, thin air of this mountain world. At these heights the blue monkshood cannot flourish. In me the old saying has attained truth in a new sense: He who wishes to plumb the depths must climb the mountains.
”Therefore shall I never again go down into the lowlands. I have been cured; and if the wonders of all the worlds of the angels fell in my lap, I should cast them from me like contemptible rubbish. Let aconite remain a poisonous drug for those with diseased hearts and for the weaklings of the valleys—I shall live up here and die in the presence of the rigid, adamantine law of the immutable necessities of nature, which no demonic specter can infringe. I shall go on and on taking soundings, without aim and without longing, joyful as a child that is content with the game and has not yet been infected by the lie that life has a deeper purpose. I shall go on and on taking soundings, but whenever I touch bottom I shall hear a shout of joy announcing: it is only the earth I am touching and nothing but the earth, the same proud earth that coldly throws back into space the hypocritical light of the sun, the earth that remains true to itself inside and out, just as this globe, the last wretched heirloom of the great Cardinal Napellus, is and remains stupid wood inside and out.
”And every time the jaws of the lake will announce to me afresh: it is true that on the crust of the earth, engendered by the sun, there grow horrible poisons, but its interior, its ravines and abysses, are free from them and the depths are pure.” Hectic patches appeared on Radspieller’s face from excitement and a crack ran through his emphatic speech; his suppressed hate broke out. ”If I had one wish”—he clenched his fists—”I would like to be able to sound with my plummet right down into the center of the earth, so that I could cry out: Look here, look here, earth, nothing but earth!”
We looked up in surprise, because he suddenly fell silent.
He had gone over to the window.
The botanist Eshcuid took out a magnifying glass, bent down over the globe and said loudly, in an effort to obliterate the painful impression that Radspieller’s last words had made upon us:
”The relic must be a forgery dating from our own century. All five continents”—he pointed to America—”are drawn on the globe.”
Sober and everyday as this sentence sounded, it could not break through the oppressive mood that began to take possession of us without visible cause and grew from second to second till it became a menacing sensation of fear.
Suddenly a sweet, stupefying odor as though from a bird-cherry tree or a spurge laurel seemed to pervade the room.
”It’s drifting across from the park,” I was about to say, but Eshcuid forestalled my convulsive attempt to shake off the nightmare. He stuck a pin into the globe and murmured something like, ”It’s strange, but even our lake, such a tiny dot, is shown on the map”—when Radspieller’s voice burst out again by the window and interrupted with shrill scorn:
”Why doesn’t the image of His Eminence the great Cardinal Napellus pursue me anymore, as it used to both sleeping and waking? In the Codex Nazaraeus, the book of the gnostic blue monks written two hundred years before Christ, it is prophesied for the neophytes: ‘He who waters the mystic plant with his blood until the end, him will it faithfully guide to the gates of everlasting life; but into the face of him who pulls it up, the blasphemer, it will gaze in the shape of death, and his spirit will wander out into the darkness until the new spring comes.’ Where have those words gone? Are they dead? I say: a promise made thousands of years ago has shattered upon me. Why doesn’t he come, so that I can spit on his face, Cardinal Nap...” A whimpering rattle tore the last syllable from Radspieller’s mouth. I saw that he had caught sight of the blue plant, which the botanist had placed on the windowsill as he came in, and that he was staring at it. I was about to jump up. To hurry over to him.
A cry from Giovanni Braccesco held me back.
Under Eshcuid’s pin the yellow parchment skin of the globe had peeled back like the rind of an over-ripe fruit, and naked in front of us lay a big, glittering sphere of glass.
And within it—a miraculous work of art—fused with it in some incomprehensible manner, was the erect figure of a cardinal in scarlet robe and hat, and in his hand, with the fingers in the position of a man carrying a burning candle, he held a plant bearing steel-blue five-pedaled flowers.
Paralyzed with horror, I was barely able to turn my head toward Radspieller.
With white lips, his features corpse-like, he stood by the wall, erect, motionless like the statuette in the glass sphere, like it holding in his hand the poisonous blue flower, and staring across to the table into the face of the Cardinal.
Only the scream in his eyes revealed that he was still alive, but we others realized that his spirit had sunk beyond recall into the night of madness.
Eshcuid, Mr. Finch, Giovanni Braccesco, and I parted next morning; without a word, almost without farewell. The last fearful hours of the night had been too full of talk for all of us, not to put a spell on our tongues.
For long I roamed over the face of the earth aimlessly and alone, but I never met any of them again.
Only once, after many years, did my path lead me back into that district. Of the castle there was nothing standing but the walls; but between the fallen masonry there rose to the height of a man in scorching, glaring sun, plant beside plant, an endless steel-blue bed of—Aconitum Napellus.
Clark Ashton Smith:
Hasisevő, avagy a Gonosz Apokalipszise, A
Robert E. Howard:
Harp of Alfred, The
Robert E. Howard:
Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
Ez az egyetlen történet Lovecraft részéről, amelyben jelentős szerepet kap a szörnyisten, Cthulhu. 1926 későnyarán, kora őszén íródhatott. A dokumentarista stílusban megírt történet nyomozója, Thurston, a szemita nyelvek egyetemi kutatója darabkáról darabkára rakja össze a rejtélyes kirakóst. A fiatal kutató egyre több tárgyi és írásos bizonyítékát leli a hírhedt Cthulhu-kultusz létezésének. A kultisták a Necronomicon szövege alapján a nagy szörnyisten eljövetelét várják. A történetek a megtestesült iszonyatról beszélnek, ami átrepült az űrön és letelepedett a Földön sok millió évvel ezelőtt. Most hosszú álmát alussza tengerborította városában: Ph’ngluimglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn, vagyis R'lyeh házában a tetszhalott Cthulhu álmodik. A Csendes-óceán déli részén néhány bátor tengerész megtalálta a várost és felébresztette a Nagy Öreget. Ennek hatására őrülethullám robogott végig a Földön, több ember lelte halálát ezekben az időkben. A találkozást csak egy tengerész élte túl, de ő is gyanús körülmények között halt meg. A fiatal kutató érzi, hogy ő is erre a sorsra juthat... A novellát nagy részben Lord Tennyson Kraken című költeménye inspirálta: Cthulhu is egy csápos, polipszerű szörny, egy alvó isten (ez a gondolat nagyban Lord Dunsany műveinek Lovecraftra gyakorolt hatásának köszönhető). S. T. Joshi felveti, hogy számottevő hatást váltott ki Lovecraftra Maupassant Horlája és Arthur Machen A fekete pecsét története című története is. Maga Lovecraft e történetet roppant középszerűnek, klisék halmazának titulálta. A Weird Tales szerkesztője, Farnsworth Wright először elutasította a közlését, és csak azután egyezett bele, hogy Lovecraft barátja, Donald Wandrei bebeszélte neki, hogy más magazinnál is érdeklődnek a sztori iránt.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
Őrület hegyei, Az / Hallucináció hegységei, A
Egy déli sarki kutatócsoport, köztük a narrátor, William Dyer a Miskatonic Egyetemről az Antarktiszra indul 1930/31 telén. A fagyott környezetben 14, a hideg által konzerválódott idegen lényre bukkannak. Miután a kutatók több csoportra oszlanak, és az egyikről nem érkezik hír, a megmaradt tagok felkeresik az eltűntek táborát, ahol szétmarcangolt emberi és állati maradványokat találnak - néhány idegen létformának pedig mindössze hűlt helyét... Legnagyobb döbbenetükre azonban a kutatás során feltárul előttük egy évmilliókkal régebben épített, hatalmas kőváros, amely a Nagy Öregek egykori lakóhelye lehetett. A kisregényt szokás Poe Arthur Gordon Pym című kisregényének folytatásaként tekinteni, az enigmatikus és meg nem magyarázott jelentésű kiáltás, a "Tekeli-li!" miatt. Eredetileg a Weird Talesbe szánta Lovecraft, de a szerkesztő túl hosszúnak találta, ezért öt éven át hevert a kisregény felhasználatlanul a fiókban. Az Astounding végül jelentősen megváltoztatva közölte a művet, több bekezdést (nagyjából ezer szót) kihagyott, a teljes, javított verzió először 1985-ben látott napvilágot.
Moon Pool, The
Amikor dr. David Throckmartin elmeséli egy csendes-óceáni civilizáció ősi romjain átélt hátborzongató élményeit, dr. Walter Goodwin, a regény narrátora azzal a meggyőződéssel hallgatja a hihetetlen történetet, hogy a nagy tudós valószínűleg megzavarodott. Azt állítja ugyanis, hogy feleségét és kutatócsoportjának több tagját magával vitte egy "fényjelenség", amely az úgynevezett Holdtóból emelkedik ki teliholdas éjszakákon. Amikor azonban Goodwin eleget tesz Throckmartin kérésének, és társaival a titokzatos szigetre utazik, fantasztikus, megdöbbentő kalandok sorozata veszi kezdetét.
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