by Otto Larssen
TWO gentlemen sat chatting together one evening.
Their daily business was to occupy themselves
with literature. At the present moment they were
engaged in drinking whisky,--an occupation both
agreeable and useful,--and in chatting about books,
the theater, women and many other things. Finally
they came around to that inexhaustible subject for
conversation, the mysterious life of the soul, the
hidden things, the Unknown, that theme for which
Shakespeare has given us an oft-quoted and oft-
abused device, which one of the men, Mr. X., now
used to point his remarks. Raising his glass, he
looked at himself meditatively in a mirror
opposite, and, in a good imitation of the manner of
his favorite actor, he quoted:
"There are more things in heaven and earth than
are dreamt of in thy philosophy, Horatio."
Mr. Y. arranged a fresh glass for himself, and
"I believe it. I believe also that it is given
but to a few chosen ones to see these things. It
never fell to my lot, I know. Fortunately for me,
perhaps. For,--at least so it appears to me,--
these chosen ones appear on closer investigation to
be individuals of an abnormal condition of brain.
As far as I personally am concerned, I know of
nothing more strange than the usual logical and
natural sequence of events on our globe. I confess
things do sometimes happen outside of this orderly
sequence; but for the cold-blooded and thoughtful
person the Strange, the apparently Inexplicable,
usually turns out to be a sum of Chance, that
Chance we will never be quite clever enough to
fully take into our calculations.
"As an instance I would like to tell you the
story of what happened several years back to a
friend of mine, a young French writer. He had a
good, sincere mind, but he had also a strong
leaning toward mysticism,--something which was just
then in danger of becoming as much of a fashion in
France as it is here now. The event of which I am
about to tell you threw him into what was almost a
delirium, which came near to robbing him of his
normal intelligence, and therefore came near to
robbing French readers of a few excellent books.
"This was the way it happened:
"It was about ten years back, and I was
the spring and summer in Paris. I had a room with
the family of a concierge on the left bank, rue de
Vaugirard, near the Luxembourg Gardens.
"A few steps from my modest domicile lived my
friend Lucien F. We had become acquainted through
a chain of circumstances which do not belong to
this story, but these circumstances had made firm
friends of us, a friendship which was a source of
great pleasure and also of assistance to me in my
study of Paris conditions. This friendship also
enabled me to enjoy better and cheaper whisky than
one can usually meet with in the city by the Seine,
a real good 'Jameson Highland.'
"Lucien F. had already published several books
which had aroused attention through the oddity of
their themes, and their gratifying success had made
it possible for him to establish himself in a
comfortably furnished bachelor apartment on the
corner of the rue de Vaugirard and the rue de
"The apartment had a corridor and three rooms;
dining room, a bedroom, and a charming study with
an inclosed balcony, the three windows of which,--a
large one in the center and two smaller ones at the
side,--sent a flood of light in over the great
writing table which filled nearly the entire
balcony. Inside the room, near the balcony, stood
a divan covered with a bearskin rug. Upon this
divan I spent many of my hours in Paris, occupied
in the smoking of my friend's excellent cigars, and
the sampling of his superlatively good whisky. At
the same time I could lie staring up at the tops of
the trees in the Luxembourg Gardens, while Lucien
worked at his desk. For, unlike most writers, he
could work best when he was not alone.
"If I remained away several days, he would
invariably ring my bell early some morning, and
drag me out of bed with the remark: 'The whisky is
ready. I can't write if you are not there.'
"During the particular days of which I shall
you, he was engaged in the writing of a fantastic
novelette, 'The Force of the Wind,' a work which
interested him greatly and which he would interrupt
unwillingly at intervals to furnish copy for the
well-known newspaper that numbered him among the
members of its staff. His books were printed by
the same house that did the printing for the paper.
"Often, as I lay in my favorite position on the
divan, the bell would ring and we would be honored
by a visit from the printer's boy Adolphe, a little
fellow in a blue blouse, the true type of Paris
gamin. Adolphe rejoiced in a broken nose, a pair
of crafty eyes, and had his fists always full of
manuscripts which he treated with a carelessness
that would have driven a literary novice to
despair. The long rolls of yellow paper would hang
out of his trousers pockets as if ready to fall
apart at his next movement. And the disrespectful
manner in which he crammed my friend Lucien's
scarcely dried essay into the breast of his blouse
would have certainly called forth remarks from a
journalist of more self-conceit.
"But his eyes were so full of sly cunning, and
there was such an atmosphere of Paris about the
stocky little fourteen-year-old chap, that we would
often keep him longer with us, and treat him to a
glass of anisette to hear his opinion of the
writers whose work he handled. He was an amusing
cross between a tricky little Paris gamin and a
real child, and he hit off the characteristics of
the various writers with as keen a touch of
actuality as he could put into his stories of how
many centimes he had won that morning at 'craps'
from his friend Pierre. Pierre was another
employee of the printing house, Adolphe's comrade
in his study of the mysteries of Paris streets, and
now his rival. They were both in love with the
same girl, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the
keeper of 'La Prunelle' cafe, and her favor was
often the prize of the morning's game.
"Now and then this rivalry between the two
Parisians would drop into a hand-to-hand fight. I
myself was witness to such a skirmish one day, in
front of 'La Prunelle.' The rivals pulled each
other's hair mightily while the manuscripts flew
about over the pavement, and Virginie, in her short
skirts, stood at the door of the cafe and laughed
until she seemed about to shake to pieces.
"Pierre was the strongest, and Adolphe came off
with a bloody nose. He gathered up his manuscripts
in grim Silence and left the battlefield and the
still laughing Virginie with an expression of deep
anger on his wounded face.
"The following day, when I teased him a little
because of his defeat, he smiled a sly smile and
"'Yes, but I won a franc from him, the big stupid
animal. And so it was I, after all, who took
Virginie out that evening. We went to the Cafe
"Neant," where I let them put me in the coffin and
pretend to be decaying, to amuse her. She thought
it was lots of fun.'
"One morning Lucien had come for me as usual,
me on the divan, and seated himself at his writing
table. He was just putting the last words to his
novel, and the table was entirely covered with the
scattered leaves, closely written. I could just
see his neck as he sat there, a thin-sinewed,
expressive neck. He bent over his work, blind and
deaf for anything else. I lay there and gazed out
over the tops of the trees in the park up into the
blue summer sky. The window on the left side of
the desk stood wide open, for it was a warm and
sultry day. I sipped my whisky slowly. The air
was heavy, and thunder threatened in the distance.
After a little while the clouds gathered together,
heavy, low-hanging, copper-hued, real thunder
clouds, and the trees in the park rustled softly.
The air was stifling, and lay heavy as lead on my
"Lucien did not hear or see anything, his pen
flew over the paper.
"I fell back lazily on my divan.
"Then, suddenly, there was a mighty tumult. A
strong gust of wind swept through the street,
bending the trees in the gardens quite out of my
horizon. With a crash the right-hand window in the
balcony flew wide open, and like a cyclone, the
wind swept through, clearing the table in an
instant of all the loose sheets of paper that had
lain scattered about it.
"'The devil! Why don't you shut the window!'
cried, springing up from the sofa.
"'Spare your energy, it's too late,' said
with a gentle mockery in his soft voice. 'Look
there!'--he pointed out into the street, where his
sheets of paper went swirling about in the heavy
air like white doves.
"A second later came the rain, a veritable
cloud-burst. We shut the windows and gave
ourselves up to melancholy thoughts about the lost
manuscript, the recovery of which now seemed
"'That's one thousand francs, at least, that
wind has robbed me of,' sighed Lucien. 'Well,
enfin, that doesn't matter so much. But do you
know anything more tiresome than to work over the
same subject a second time? I can't think of doing
it. It would fairly make me sick to try it.'
"We were in a sad mood that morning. When we
went out to breakfast at about two o'clock, we
looked about for some traces of the lost
"There was nothing to be seen. It had vanished
completely, whirled off to all four corners of the
earth probably, this manuscript from which Lucien
had expected so much. Truly it was 'The Force of
* * *
* * *
"Now comes the strange part of the story. One
morning, two weeks later, Lucien stood in the door
of my little room, pale as a ghost. He had a
bundle of printer's proofs in his hand, and held
them out to me without a word.
"I looked at it and read:
"'"The Force of the Wind," by Lucien F.'
"It was a good bundle of proofs, the entire
proofs of Lucien's novel, that novel the manuscript
of which we had seen blown out of the balcony
window and whirled away by the winds.
"'My dear man,' I exclaimed, as I handed him
the proofs. 'You have been industrious indeed, to
write your entire novel over again in so short a
time--and to have proofs already----'
"Lucien did not answer. He stood silent,
at me with a weird look in his otherwise so
sensible eyes. After a moment he stammered:
"'I did not write the novel over again. I have
not touched a pen since the day the manuscript blew
out of the window.'
"'Are you a sleep-walker, Lucien?'
"'Why do you ask?'
"'Why, that would be the only natural
explanation. They say we can do a great many
things in sleep, of which we know nothing when we
wake. I've heard queer stories of that. Men have
committed murders in their sleep. It happens quite
often that sleep-walkers write letters in a
handwriting they do not recognize when awake.'
"'I have never been a sleep-walker,' answered
"'Oh, you never can tell,' I remarked. 'Would
rather explain it as magic? Or as the work of
fairies? Or do you believe in ghosts? Your muse
has fascinated you, you mystic!' And I laughed and
trilled a line from 'The Mascot,' which we had seen
the evening before at the Lyric.
"But my merriment did not seem to strike an
answering note in Lucien. He turned from me in
silence, and with an offended expression took his
hat and his proofs, and--humorist and skeptic as he
was ordinarily, he parted from me with the words,
uttered in a theatrical tone:
"'There are more things in heaven and earth than
are dreamed of in thy philosophy.'
"He turned on his heel and left the room.
"To be candid, I was unpleasantly affected by
little scene. I could not for an instant doubt
Lucien's honesty,--he was so pale, so frightened
almost--so touching in the alarm and excitement of
his soul. Of course the only explanation that I
could see was that he had written his novel in a
"For certainly no printer could set up type
a manuscript that did not exist,--to say nothing of
printing it and sending out proofs.
"Several days passed, but Lucien did not come
near me. I went to his place once or twice, but
the door was locked. Had the devil carried him off
bodily? Or had this strange and inexplicable
occurrence robbed him of his sanity, and robbed me
of his friendship and his excellent whisky?
"After three useless attempts to find him at
home, and after writing him a letter which he did
not answer, I gave up Lucien without any further
attempt to understand his enigmatical behavior. A
short time after, I left for my home without having
seen or heard anything more of him.
"Months passed. I remained at home, and one
evening when, during the course of a gay party, the
conversation came around to the subject of
mysticism and occult occurrences, I dished up my
story of the enigmatical manuscript. The Unknown,
the Occult, was the rage just then, and my story
was received with great applause and called forth
numerous quotations as to 'more things in heaven
and earth.' I came to think so much of it myself
that I wrote it out and sent it to Professor
Flammarion, who was just then making a study of the
Unknown, which he preserved in his later book
"The occupying myself with the story brought my
mind around again to memories of Lucien. One day,
I saw a notice in _Le Figaro_ to the effect that
his book, 'The Force of the Wind,' had appeared in
a second large edition, and had aroused much
attention, particularly in spiritualistic circles.
I seemed to see him again before me, with his long
nervous neck, which was so expressive. The vision
of this neck rose up before me whenever I drank the
same sort of whisky that I had drunk so often with
him, and the longing to hear something more of my
lost friend came over me. I sat down one evening
when in a sentimental mood, and wrote to him,
asking him to tell me something of himself and to
send me his book.
"A week later I received the little book and
following letter which I have here in my pocket.
It is somewhat crumpled, for I have read it several
times. But no matter. I will read it to you now,
if you will pardon my awkward translating of the
"Here it is:
"Many thanks for your letter. Here is the
I have to thank you also that you did not lay my
behavior of your last days in Paris up against me.
It must have seemed strange to you. I will try to
"I have been nervous from childhood. The fact
that most of my books have treated of fantastic
subjects,--somewhat in the manner of Edgar Allan
Poe--has made me more susceptible for all that
world which lies beyond and about the world of
every-day life. I have sought after,--and yet
feared--the mystical; cool and lucid as I can be at
times, I have always had an inclination for the
enigmatical, the Unknown.
"But the first thing that ever happened in my
life that I could not explain or understand was the
affair of the manuscript. You remember the day I
stood in your room? I must have looked the picture
of misery. The affair had played more havoc with
my nerves than you can very well understand. Your
mockery hurt me, and yet under all I felt ashamed
of my own thoughts concerning this foolish
occurrence. I could not explain the phenomenon,
and I shivered at the things that it suggested to
me. In this condition, which lasted several weeks,
I could not bear to see you or anyone else, and I
was impolite enough even to leave your letter
"The book appeared and made a hit, since that
sort of thing was the center of interest just then.
But almost a month passed before I could arouse
myself from that condition of fear and--I had
almost said, softening of the brain --which
prevented my enjoyment of my success.
"Then the explanation came. Thanks to this
occurrence I know now that I shall never again be
in danger of being 'haunted.'
"And I know now that Chance can bring about
stranger happenings than can any fancied
visitations from the spirit world. Here you have
the story of this 'mystic' occurrence, which came
near endangering my sanity, and which turns out to
be a chance combination of a gust of wind, a sudden
downpour of rain, and the strange elements in the
character of our little friend Adolphe the
"You remember that funny little chap with the
crafty eye, his talent for gambling, and his
admiration for the girl of 'La Prunelle'? A queer
little mixture this child who has himself alone to
look to for livelihood and care, the typical race
of the Paris streets, the modified gamin from 'Les
"About a month after the appearance of my book
lay on the divan one day,--your favorite place, you
remember?--and lost myself in idle reasonings on
the same old subject that never left my mind day or
night, when the bell rang and Adolphe appeared, to
call for the essay on 'Le Boulevarde.' There was
an unusually nervous gleam in his eyes that day. I
gave him an anisette and tried to find out what his
trouble was. I did find it out, and I found out a
good deal more besides.
"Thanks to his good fortune as a gambler,
Virginie came to look upon him with favor. Pierre
was quite out of the race and Adolphe's affection
was reciprocated as much as his heart could desire.
But with his good fortune in love came all the
suffering, all the torture, the suspicions that
tear the hearts of us men when we set our hopes
upon a woman's truth. Young as he was he went
through them all, and now he was torturing himself
with the thought that she did not really love him
and was only pretending, while she gave her heart
to another. Perhaps he was right-- why not?
"I talked to Adolphe as man to man, and managed
to bring back a gleam of his usual jollity and sly
humor. He took another glass of anisette, and said
"'M. Lucien--I did something----'
"'Did what?' I asked.
"'Something I should have told you long ago--it
was wrong, and you've always been so nice to me
"You remember the day, two months ago, when we
had such a sudden wind and rain storm, a regular
cloud-burst? I was down here in this neighborhood
fetching manuscripts from M. Labouchere and M.
Laroy. I was to have come up here for copy from
you, too. But then--you'll understand after all
I've been telling you,--I came around past 'La
Prunelle' and Virginie stood in the doorway, and
she'd promised to go out with me that evening. So
I ran up to speak to her. And then when I went on
again, I saw a sheet with your writing lying in the
street. You know I know all the gentlemen's
writing, whose copy I fetch. Then I was
frightened. I thought to myself, 'The devil,' I
thought, 'here I've lost M. Lucien's manuscript.'
I couldn't remember calling for it, but I thought I
must have done so before I got M. Laroy's. I can't
remember much except Virginie these days. I took
up the sheet and saw three others a little further
on. And I saw a lot more shining just behind the
railing of the Luxembourg Garden. You know how
hard it rained. The water held the paper down, so
the wind couldn't carry it any further. I ran into
the Garden and picked up all the sheets, thirty-two
of them. All of them, except the first four I
found in the street, had blown in behind the
railing. And I can tell you I was precious glad
that I had them all together. I ran back to the
office, told them I had dropped the manuscript in
the street, but asked them not to say anything to
you about it. But the sheets were all there,--you
always number them so clearly, and 'handsome
August,' the compositor, promised he wouldn't tell
on me. I knew if the foreman heard of it, he'd put
me out, for he had a grudge against me. So nobody
knew anything about it. But I thought I ought to
tell you, 'cause you've been so nice to me. Maybe
you'll understand how one gets queer at times, when
a girl like Virginie tells you she likes you better
than Pierre, and yet you think she might deceive
you for his sake--that big, stupid animal-- But now
I'll be going. Much obliged for your kindness, M.
Lucien, and for the anisette--' And he left me.
"There you have the explanation, the very
and natural explanation of the phenomenon that
almost drove me crazy.
"The entire 'supernatural' occurrence was
by a careless boy's love affairs, by a gust of
southwest wind, by a sudden heavy rain, and by the
chance that I had used English ink, the kind that
water cannot blur. All these simple natural things
made me act so foolishly toward a good friend, the
sort of friend I have always known you to be. Let
me hear from you, and tell me what you people up
North think of my book. I give you my word that
the 'Unknown Powers' shall never again make me
foolish enough to risk losing your friendship!
"So this is my story. Yes, 'there are more
things in heaven and earth--' But the workings of
Chance are the strangest of all. And this whisky
is really very good. Here's to you."