Violette Tod, Der (Purple Death, The)

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Szerző: Gustav Meyrink • Év: 1902

 

[Version #1]

 

The Tibetan fell silent. The emaciated figure stood quietly for a while, erect and unmoving, then disappeared into the jungle.

Sir Roger Thornton stared into the fire: if the Tibetan had not been a Sannyasin and a penitent to boot, if he had not been making his pilgrimage to Benares, then not a single word would have been believable. But a Sannyasin neither lies nor can be lied to.

And yet, that horribly malicious expression that had flickered in the Asian’s face! Or was it just a trick of the flickering firelight that reflects so strangely in Mongolian eyes? The Tibetans hate the Europeans and jealously guard their magical secrets, with which they hope one day to exterminate the haughty, pompous foreigners, one day, when the great day dawns.

He, Sir Hannibal Roger Thornton, himself one of these hated Europeans, must see with his own eyes whether supernatural powers really rested in the hands of these remarkable people. But he would need companions, brave men whose wills cannot be broken, even if they were pursued by the very screams of hell.

The Englishman assessed his companions: there, the Afghan, the only one who could be considered an Asian, fearless as a panther, but superstitious. That left only the European’s servant. Sir Roger roused him with a nudge from his walking stick (Pompeius Jaburek had been completely deaf since the age of ten, yet he understood every spoken word, fantastic as it may seem, by reading lips).

Sir Roger explained, with frequent gestures, what he had learned from the Tibetan: About twenty days ride from here, near the Himavat, lay a very strange land, surrounded on three sides by sheer rock walls. The sole passage led through poisonous gas, which flowed out of the ground and would instantly kill any living thing which passed by. In the ravine itself, which was about fifty square English miles in extent, there lived a small tribe in the thick of the rankest vegetation. These people were of Tibetan stock, wore pointed red caps, and rendered worship to an evil, satanic being in the form of a peacock. This devilish entity had, over the course of centuries, instructed the inhabitants in the ways of Black Magic and imparted such secrets as could turn the whole earth upside down and kill even the strongest man in the blink of an eye.

Pompeius smiled mockingly.

Sir Roger explained that he planned to use diving helmets and aqualungs to pass through the poisonous plane to penetrate the mysterious ravine.

Pompeius Jaburek nodded in agreement and rubbed his dirty hands together gleefully.

 

* * *

 

The Tibetan, indeed, had not lied: there, below, in the midst of vibrant greens, lay the strange ravine, a gold-brown desert-like belt of weather-beaten earth. It was roughly an hour’s walk in length, and then the entire area disappeared from the outside world.

The gas, spiraling up from the earth, was pure carbon dioxide.

Sir Roger Thornton, who had surveyed the width of this belt from the safety of a hilltop, decided that they would begin the descent on the following morning. The diving helmets, sent from Bombay, worked perfectly.

Pompeius carried both repeating rifles and various equipment which His Lordship had considered indispensable. The Afghan, on the other hand, had stubbornly and fearfully refused to join the expedition, explaining that he would sooner climb into a tiger’s lair. He must, he objected, weigh the risks very carefully, since even his immortal soul might well hang in the balance. So, in the end, only the two Europeans dared the venture.

 

* * *

 

The diving helmets were functioning flawlessly. Their copper globes gleamed in the sun and threw fanciful shadows on the spongy ground, from which the lethal gas swirled up in tiny geysers. Sir Roger had chosen a fast pace so that the compressed air would last them long enough to pass through the entirety of the gas zone. He saw everything before him shift unstably, as if through a thin film of water. The sunlight rose in ghostly green and colored the distant glaciers, the “Roof of the World” with its gigantic profile, like an eerie dead landscape.

Soon we found that he and Pompeius had emerged onto a fresh grassy field, and he lit a match to test the atmospheric quality first. Then he doffed his helmet and unencumbered himself of his air tank.

Behind him lay the wall of vapor, shimmering like a living mass of water. The scent of amberia blossoms in the air was overwhelming. Shimmering butterflies, strangely marked and as large as a man’s hand, rested like open magical tomes upon the unmoving blossoms.

The pair walked at a considerable distance from one another towards the west in the direction of the forest which obscured their field of vision. Sir Roger signaled his deaf servant; Pompeius cocked his rifle.

They walked along the forest edge, and before them lay a clearing. Barely a quarter of an English mile ahead of them, a group of men (clearly Tibetans, with red, pointed caps) formed a semi-circle. They had obviously been waiting for the intruders. Fearlessly Sir Roger advanced to meet the crowd, Pompeius only a few steps from his side.

Only the customary sheepskin costumes of the Tibetans seemed familiar. Otherwise, they scarcely even seemed human: expressions of hideous hate and supernatural, terrifying evil had distorted their countenances beyond recognition. At first they let the pair draw near. Then, as one, obeying their leader’s signal, they clapped their hands over their ears in one lightning-fast motion and began screaming at the top of their lungs!

Pompeius Jaburek looked questioningly at His Lordship, then raised his rifle: the bizarre actions of the crowd suggested imminent attack. But what happened next sent his heart straight for his throat. A trembling, swirling gas cloud began to gather about His Lordship, somewhat resembling the fumes they had walked through earlier. Sir Roger’s shape began to blur, to grow indistinct, as if its contours had been eroded by the whirling funnel. The man’s head seemed to elongate to a point, the entire mass collapsing onto itself as if… melting. And on the very spot where only moments before the Englishman had stood was a pale violet cube, about the size and shape of a small sugarloaf.

The deaf Pompeius shook with a terrible rage. As the Tibetans kept up their screaming, he squinted to focus on their dancing lips and read whatever it was they might be saying. It was always the same word, over and over again. At once the leader came forward, and the rest left off screaming, took their hands off their ears, and rushed toward Pompeius. At this, he commenced firing wildly at the crowd with his repeating rifle, which halted them momentarily.

Then instinctively he shouted the word back at them, the word he had read off their lips: Ämälän—“Ämälän!” He yelled it so loudly that the ravine trembled as with an earthquake. Dizziness overcame him; he saw everything as if peering through thick glasses, and the ground heaved and swayed beneath him. This lasted just a moment, and then he could see clearly again.

The Tibetans had disappeared, just as His Lordship had. Before Pompeius only countless purple cones lay scattered.

The leader still lived. His legs had already transformed into blue mush, and even the torso was beginning to shrink. It was as if the whole man were being digested inside some transparent being. Instead of a red hat, the leader’s head was covered by a thing shaped like a bishop’s mitre in which golden, living eyes moved.

Jaburek smashed the leader’s skull with his rifle butt, but he was not in time to prevent the dying man in his last moment stabbing him in the foot with a sickle. Then he surveyed the scene around him.

Not a living thing far and wide. The acrid scent of amberia blossoms had intensified and was almost stinging. It seemed to emanate from the purple skittles, and these Pompeius now investigated. They were all exactly alike, composed of a pale violet gelatinous mucus. As for the estimable Sir Roger Thornton, he could not now possibly be distinguished among the field of purple pyramids.

Pompeius gnashed his teeth and ground his heel in what remained of the dead leader’s face. Then he turned and ran back along the way he had come. At a distance he beheld the copper helmets gleaming in the sun. Gaining them, he lost no time pumping his diving canister full of air and made his way across the gas zone. Oh God, Oh God, His Lordship was dead! Dead, here in remotest India! The ice-capped mountains of the Himalayan range yawned at the heavens: after all, what cared they for the suffering of one tiny beating human heart?

 

* * *

 

Pompeius accurately wrote down, word for word, everything he had experienced and seen, although he was still far from beginning to comprehend it. Then he sent his account to the secretary of His Lordship in Bombay, in 17 Adheritolla Street. The Afghan promised to ensure its delivery. Thus assured, Pompeius Jaburek died, the result of the poison with which the Tibetan’s sickle had been smeared.

“There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet,” mumbled the Afghan, touching his forehead to the ground before the corpse, which the Hindu servants had strewn with flowers and now proceeded to cremate atop a bier, to the accompaniment of customary hymns.

Ali Murrad Bey, the secretary, receiving the horrible news, blanched and immediately sent the letter to the editorial office of the Indian Gazette. The Deluge broke out from there. The paper, which published “The Downfall of Sir Roger Thornton” the very next day, issued the morning edition a full three hours later than usual. A strange and indeed horrifying incident was blamed for the delay. It seems that Mr. Birendranath Naorodjee, the editor of The Indian Gazette, along with two assistants, was abducted without a trace from the closed work room where they sat reading the galleys around midnight. All that stood to mark their places was a trio of blue gelatinous cylinders, with sheets of freshly printed newsprint scattered between them. The police announced with pompous bluster that they had concluded their protocols and declared the case closed, albeit an insoluble mystery.

But that was only the beginning. Dozens of gesticulating men, who had only moments before been quietly perusing their newspapers, simply disappeared before the eyes of the terrified crowd which thronged the streets. In their places countless little violet pyramids stood about, on the steps, in the marketplace and side streets, everywhere the eye could see.

Before evening, Bombay had lost half its considerable population. An official health edict mandated that all ports be closed at once and that Bombay be sealed to all traffic with the outside world in an effort to contain the new epidemic. Only such drastic measures, it was thought, could hope to stem the tide. Meanwhile, telegraphs and cables were going day and night, sending the frightening report, including of course the entire transcript of the Thornton case, syllable for syllable, across the oceans and throughout the world.

By the very next day, the quarantine, imposed too late, was lifted.

From countries all over the world came the horrible news that the “Purple Death” had broken out everywhere simultaneously and threatened the population of the entire world. All lost their heads, and the civilized world looked like a teeming anthill into which some farm boy had thrust a burning tobacco pipe. In Germany, the plague broke out first in Hamburg. Austria, however, where they read only local news, remained impervious for weeks.

The first case in Hamburg was especially shocking. Pastor Stuhlken, a man whom advanced age had rendered practically deaf, sat down to an early breakfast surrounded by his beloved family: Theobald, his eldest, with his long-stemmed student pipe, Jette, his devoted wife, Michen, Tinche, in short, everyone, all fourteen members of his family. The graybeard had only just opened the newly-arrived English newspaper and begun to read to the others the report of “The Downfall of Sir Roger Thornton”. He had just gotten past the strange word Ämälän when he paused in his reading to fortify himself with a sip of coffee. Just then, to his horror, he discovered that the breakfast table was circled with naught but purple blobs of slime. In one of them was stuck a long-stemmed pipe.

All fourteen souls had been taken by the Lord. The pious old man fainted dead away.

One week later, more than half the population was dead.

It was left at last to a German scholar to shed some light on the situation. The fact that only the deaf and the deaf-mutes seemed to be immune sparked the accurate theory that the epidemic was not a biological but rather an acoustic phenomenon. In the solitude of his study he had written a long scientific paper on the matter, then scheduled a public lecture, advertising it with several slogans.

His explanation was based on his knowledge of a very obscure Indian religious text which described the creation of astral and fluid tornadoes through the speaking aloud of certain words contained in spells. This apparent superstition, the savant claimed, could now be made sense of through the modern sciences of vibration and radiation theory.

He held his lecture in Berlin and was required to employ a megaphone to read the long sentences of his manuscript, so great was the crowd of the interested public.

The memorable speech concluded with concise words: “Go now to the audiologist and have him render you deaf, and so protect yourselves from the spoken word ‘Ämälän’.”

A second later, the scholar and his entire crowd of listeners were nothing more than slime blobs, but the manuscript remained behind. Over the course of time it became widely known and spared mankind from complete extinction.

A few decades later, about 1950, a new and universally deaf population inhabited the globe. Customs and habits were different, rank and possessions all rearranged. An audiologist ruled the world. Musical scores were relegated to the same dustbin with the alchemists’ formulas of the Middle Ages; Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, all as laughable as Albertus Magnus and Bombastus Paracelsus. Here and there in those torture chambers called museums a dusty piano bears its yellowing teeth.

(Author’s postscript: The esteemed reader is hereby advised against a public recital of the forgoing.)

 

[Version #2]

 

A day or two before Pompejus Jaburek died in the hospital in Lucknow, he called the head nurse, entrusted to her a bulky envelope which he had been keeping under his pillow, and urged her, after his death, to see that its contents were given as wide publicity as possible. She might turn it over to the Government, to the press—she would know better than he how it could be made widely known. He had no doubt that the information contained in it was profoundly important —at least it was extremely strange and curious—and the only reason why he had not told his whole story when he had first got back to civilization and safety was that he was afraid of being tempted to betray a secret which might do the world incalculable harm. Well—she would understand what he meant when she had read his story, and after all, the delay was not important, since he was growing so much weaker that he knew he could not live a great deal longer. And when he died, carrying the secret with him, the danger would be over, at least the danger of any harm for which he should be responsible, and only the strange and perhaps valuable information would remain.

Pompejus Jaburek was a nondescript southeast European who had been a servant of the British explorer Sir Roger Thornton. The most remarkable thing about him was that he was as deaf as a post—he had told the nurse once that he had gone stone-deaf as a child and had never heard a sound since—but that he was so expert at lipreading that in a good light he could talk to you for hours, so easily and intelligently that you would have had no suspicion of his deafness if it had not been for the careful, singsong tone that all deaf persons acquire, like the extraordinarily cautious step of a blind man. Aside from this, his English was perfect.

He had been brought to the hospital from somewhere off to the north, two or three months before, in a very dilapidated condition, with a bad wound in his foot, and apparently with his mind clean gone. He had recovered his faculties in time, and had grown so much better that he was able to sit up in bed and write, industriously, for hours—hence the manuscript which he was bequeathing to the hospital—but although he talked intelligently and sometimes rather freely, his eyes glittered with terror when anything was said about his relations with Sir Roger, and he would cut the discussion short with a curt declaration that he was sure the English explorer would never be seen again. And since no one was sure that Pompejus Jaburek was entirely sane, no one pressed him for an explanation. He wasted away from what seemed to be the effects of a slow poison, and one morning he did not awaken.

His manuscript, written in spite of great weakness and distress of mind, was almost impossible to decipher and was full of gaps and inconsistencies. But its drift was approximately as follows:

 

Somewhere up on the Tibetan frontier, Sir Roger Thornton had been visited by a Tibetan “Sannyasin” or penitential pilgrim, on his way to Benares. Sir Roger had a profound respect for the Sannyasin. He knew that they are pretty sure to be intelligent, and that they are filled with an earnestness that makes them entirely honest. He did not know why the Sannyasin told him the story of the strange Tibetan colony in the isolated valley, but he had seen and heard so many mysterious things in his contacts with this strange race that nothing he heard about them surprized him. He knew that they hate the Europeans and that they cherish magic secrets with which they hope some day to destroy them. But Sir Hannibal Roger Thornton was one of the bravest men who ever lived, and he determined at once to see with his own eyes whether this colony possessed the magical powers which the Sannyasin imputed to them.

Sir Roger had a group of Asiatic guides and servants with him, but he knew that they were superstitious and cowardly, and that they would be entirely useless on such an expedition as this. So he touched his deaf Balkan lieutenant with his stick, and he told him in detail all that he had learned from the Tibetan ascetic.

Some twenty days’ journey from their camp, in a side valley of the Himavat, which had been so carefully described to him that he could go directly to it, it appeared that there was a very curious bit of territory. It was a tiny valley, and on three sides of it the mountains rose almost perpendicularly, so that there was no entrance or egress except from the fourth side, and the fourth side was very strangely cut off by gaseous exhalations which rose constantly from the spongy earth, and which were so deadly poisonous that any living being which tried to cross would be almost certain to be suffocated and never reach the other side. In the ravine itself, which was reported to be in dimensions perhaps half a dozen miles each way, lived a little tribe, in the midst of the most luxuriant vegetation, a tribe belonging to the Tibetan race, wearing a characteristic pointed red cap, and worshipping a Satanic being in the form of a peacock. This devilish being, in the course of the centuries, had taught the tribe a potent black magic, and had transmitted secrets to them which were capable, in time, of changing the face of the earth. Thus, they had perfected a kind of melody, which if properly executed would destroy the strongest man in an instant...

Pompejus grinned sarcastically.

Sir Roger explained to him that he had thought out a way of passing the poison-gas region with the help of diving-helmets and reservoirs of compressed air, and that he was sure there would be no serious difficulty about reaching the valley in this way. Pompejus Jaburek nodded approval, and rubbed his dirty hands together delightedly.

 

The Tibetan pilgrim had told the exact truth. The two Europeans reached a spot where the strange ravine was plainly visible, with its marvelous vegetation; and between it and them stretched a yellow-brown, desert-like girdle of loose, friable earth, not more than a mile wide, and cutting the marvelous valley completely off from the rest of the world.

The exhalations which rose incessantly from the girdle of desert were pure carbonic acid gas. Sir Roger Thornton climbed a little hill and studied the situation very carefully. Then he decided to cross the poisonous belt the next morning. The diving-outfits which he had ordered from Bombay worked perfectly.

Pompejus carried two repeating rifles and various other articles which his chief deemed necessary.

An intrepid Afghan adventurer who had first thought of accompanying the two had flatly refused to go along when he had learned that the black art was involved. He had remarked that he was perfectly willing to crawl into a tiger’s den, but that he declined to embark on an enterprise which might imperil his immortal soul. So Sir Roger and Jaburek constituted the expeditionary force.

 

The copper helmets glittered in the sun. The poison-gas crept out of the spongy soil in numberless tiny bubbles. Sir Roger had set out at a rapid, swinging gait, so that there would be no danger that the supply of air would be exhausted before the gas-zone was passed. The mountain-backed valley in front of the two floated and swayed before the eyes of the invaders like the bed of a moving brook. The sunlight had a ghostly green tinge and colored the distant glaciers—the “Roof of the World”—with its gigantic profile, like a wonderful landscape of death.

Sir Roger and Pompejus had passed the arid belt, had stepped out on the beautiful green turf, and with the help of a match or two had convinced themselves that good oxygen was present at every distance from the ground. Then the two removed their diving-outfits.

Behind them the wall of gas wavered like a strangely tenuous stream. The air was filled with a heady perfume, like the odor of amberia blossoms. Gleaming, party-colored butterflies as big as your hand, with markings these white men had never seen before, sat on the silent flowers with their wings spread wide, like open conjurers’ books.

The two, several steps apart, moved toward the little wood which cut off their view of the main part of the valley...

Sir Roger gave his deaf servant a sign—he was sure he had heard a noise. Pompejus lifted the trigger of his gun...

They skirted the little forest, and came out on a broad meadow. A quarter of a mile from the wood, they saw perhaps a hundred men, evidently Tibetans, all topped with pointed red caps, and drawn up in a semicircle. They must have had wind of their visitors’ coming, and they were ready to receive them. Sir Roger and his servant walked intrepidly, abreast of each other, but several feet apart, toward the waiting phalanx.

These Tibetans were dressed in the sheepskin coats which are the usual garb of the race; but as the Europeans came nearer to them they were startled by the unearthly ugliness of all the faces, which were naturally hideous and were moreover distorted by expressions of violent loathing, hatred and malice. They allowed the two to come very near them; then all at once, in perfect unison like one man, at a signal from a leader they all raised their hands and held them tight against their ears. Then they all shouted something at the top of their voices.

Pompejus Jaburek looked toward his master for instructions, and brought his gun into position, for the strange maneuver of the group seemed to presage some hostile intention. But what he saw as he glanced at Sir Roger drove every drop of his blood from his heart.

About the Englishman a trembling, floating garment of gas had formed, like that which the two had traversed a short time before.

Sir Roger’s form began to lose its contours, as if it had been attacked by the gas and were disintegrating under its influence. The head seemed to grow pointed; then the whole mass began to sink into itself as if it were dissolving, and on the spot where a few moments before the big, athletic Englishman had stood, nothing was visible any longer but a clear violet cone like a great lump of colored sugar...

Deaf Pompejus was seized with an impulse of mad rage. The Tibetans continued to scream, and with his uncanny skill at lipreading, he noticed that they were uttering the same word or phrase again and again. His anger seemed to have given him a clairvoyant clearness of intelligence, and his lips began to form the sound which he saw on all those ugly lips in front of him...

Suddenly their leader sprang out before them, and they all stopped yelling and took their hands away from their ears. Like panthers they all rushed at Pompejus. The deaf man began to fire into the mob like a madman with his repeating rifle. This stopped them for a moment.

Then, obeying some mysterious impulse, he began to bawl at the company the syllables which he had learned from their lips. He had caught the thing perfectly, and he bellowed it with his mighty lungs like a whole army shouting a war-cry.

He grew dizzy, everything went dim and dark before him. The earth began to sway under his feet, and he came near falling. But the feeling of dizziness lasted only a few seconds, and his mind and his senses cleared again.

The Tibetans had disappeared—disappeared exactly as his master had done—and in their place he saw a great number of the little violet cones.

Their leader was still alive. His legs were already transformed into a bluish paste, and the upper part of his body was shrinking away. It seemed as if his substance were being digested in a great transparent or invisible stomach. This man did not wear a red cap like the others, but an elaborate head-dress like a bishop’s miter, in which yellow, living eyes could be seen moving to and fro...

Jaburek stepped up to the creature and struck him on the head with the butt of his rifle, but his enemy still had the strength to hurl a sickle-shaped weapon at him and wound him in the foot...

The victor stood and looked about him. No living thing was visible anywhere on the plain...

The odor of amberia blossoms had grown so intense that it was almost suffocating. It seemed to be given out by the violet cones, which Pompejus now examined with some care. They were almost entirely uniform, and all consisted of the same clear violet gelatinous slime. Since the Tibetans had moved forward to surround him, Pompejus could not distinguish the remains of Sir Roger from the other violet pyramids.

Mad with rage, Pompejus crushed the pitiful substance of the half-dissolved leader under his heavy heels; then he made his way back to the edge of the green island. The copper helmets lay shining in the sun. . . . He pumped one of the reservoirs full of air and started back across the gas-zone. He struggled on over the strip of desert, his head buzzing with confusion, grief and horror. The ice-topped giants of the Himalayas towered toward heaven—what cared they for the pain and perplexity of a poor deaf vagabond who had lost his best friend and who would have gone to eternity in the same moment with him if it had not been for the accident of his deafness?...

 

“The knife the fellow threw was poisoned,” Pompejus had traced painfully at the end of his manuscript, “but I think I might have worked the poison out of my system if I hadn’t grieved so at the death of Sir Roger, and especially if I had not been tormented all the time by the fear that I should blurt out the awful word some time or other and exterminate a whole roomful, or a hallful, or a streetful, of innocent victims. The crazy thing rings in my head all the time and I can’t forget it. But I am so near the end now that I think the world is safe from me. And when I die, the danger will be past. The word will die with me—”

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keresés a korpuszban

Az alábbi keresővel az adatbázisban fellelhető irodalmi művek szövegeiben kutathat a megadott kifejezés(ek) után.

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Keresési beállítások:

bármelyik kifejezésre
mindegyik kifejezésre
pontos kifejezésre