Beyond Pandora by Robert J. Martin

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The doctor’s pen paused over the chart on his desk, «This is your third set of teeth, I believe?»

His patient nodded, «That’s right, Doctor. But they were pretty slow coming in this time.»

The doctor looked up quizzically, «Is that the only reason you think you might need a booster shot?»

«Oh, no … of course not!» The man leaned forward and placed one hand, palm up, on the desk. «Last year I had an accident … stupid … lost a thumb.» He shrugged apologetically, «It took almost six months to grow back.»

Thoughtfully, the doctor leaned back in his chair, «Hm-m-m … I see.» As the man before him made an involuntary movement toward his pocket, the doctor smiled, «Go on, smoke if you want to.» Picking up the chart, he murmured, «Six months … much too long. Strange we didn’t catch that at the time.» He read silently for a few moments, then began to fill out a form clipped to the folder. «Well, I think you probably are due for another booster about now. There’ll have to be the usual tests. Not that there’s much doubt … we like to be certain.»

The middle-aged man seemed relieved. Then, on second thought, he hesitated uneasily, «Why? Is there any danger?»

Amusement flickered across the doctor’s face, turned smoothly into a reassuring half-smile. «Oh, no. There’s absolutely no danger involved. None at all. We have tissue-regeneration pretty well under control now. Still, I’m sure you understand that accurate records and data are very necessary to further research and progress.»

Reassured, the patient thawed and became confidential, «I see. Well, I suppose it’s kinda silly, but I don’t much like shots. It’s not that they hurt … it’s just that I guess I’m old-fashioned. I still feel kinda ‘creepy’ about the whole business.» Slightly embarrassed, he paused and asked defensively, «Is that unusual?»

The doctor smiled openly now, «Not at all, not at all. Things have moved pretty fast in the past few years. I suppose it takes people’s emotional reactions a while to catch up with developments that, logically, we accept as matter of fact.»

He pushed his chair back from the desk, «Maybe it’s not too hard to understand. Take ‘fire’ for example: Man lived in fear of fire for a good many hundred-thousand years—and rightly so, because he hadn’t learned to control it. The principle’s the same; First you learn to protect yourself from a thing; then control it; and, eventually, we learn to ‘harness’ it for a useful purpose.» He gestured toward the man’s cigarette, «Even so, man still instinctively fears fire—even while he uses it. In the case of tissue-regeneration, where the change took place so rapidly, in just a generation or so, that instinctive fear is even more understandable—although quite as unjustified, I assure you.»

The doctor stood up, indicating that the session was ending. While his patient scrambled to his feet, hastily putting out his cigarette, the physician came around the desk. He put his hand on the man’s shoulder, «Relax, take it easy—nothing to worry about. This is a wonderful age we live in. Barring a really major accident, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t live at least another seventy-five years. After all, that’s a very remarkable viral-complex we have doing your ‘repair’ work.»

As they walked to the door, the man shook his head, «Guess you’re right, Doc. It’s certainly done a good job so far, and I guess you specialists know what you’re doing, even if folks don’t understand it.»

At the door he paused and half turned to the doctor, «But say … something I meant to ask you. This ‘stuff’ … er, this vaccine … where did it come from? Seems to me I heard somewhere that, way back before you fellows got it ‘tamed’ it was something else—dangerous. There was another name for it. Do you know what I mean?»

The doctor’s hand tightened on the doorknob. «Yes, I know,» he said grimly, «but not many laymen remember. Just keep in mind what I told you. With any of these things, the pattern is protection, then control, then useful application.» He turned to face his patient, «Back in the days before we put it to work for us—rebuilding tissue, almost ending aging and disease—the active basis for our vaccine caused a whole group of diseases, in itself.»

Returning the man’s searching gaze, the doctor opened the door, «We’ve come a long way since then. You see,» he said quietly, «in those days they called it ‘cancer’.»

The End

August 20, 2018by Сергей
69
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The Last Fight In The Coliseum by Charlotte M. Yonge

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A.D. 404

As the Romans grew prouder and more fond of pleasure, no one could hope to please them who did not give them sports and entertainments. When any person wished to be elected to any public office, it was a matter of course that he should compliment his fellow citizens by exhibitions of the kind they loved, and when the common people were discontented, their cry was that they wanted panem ac Circenses, 'bread and sports', the only things they cared for. In most places where there has been a large Roman colony, remains can be seen of the amphitheatres, where the citizens were wont to assemble for these diversions. Sometimes these are stages of circular galleries of seats hewn out of the hillside, where rows of spectators might sit one above the other, all looking down on a broad, flat space in the centre, under their feet, where the representations took place. Sometimes, when the country was flat, or it was easier to build than to excavate, the amphitheatre was raised above ground, rising up to a considerable height.

The grandest and most renowned of all these amphitheatres is the Coliseum at Rome. It was built by Vespasian and his son Titus, the conquerors of Jerusalem, in a valley in the midst of the seven hills of Rome. The captive Jews were forced to labour at it; and the materials, granite outside, and softer travertine stone within, are so solid and so admirably built, that still at the end of eighteen centuries it has scarcely even become a ruin, but remains one of the greatest wonders of Rome.

Five acres of ground were enclosed within the oval of its outer wall, which outside rises perpendicularly in tiers of arches one above the other. Within, the galleries of seats projected forwards, each tier coming out far beyond the one above it, so that between the lowest and the outer wall there was room for a great space of chambers, passages, and vaults around the central space, called the arena, from the arena, or sand, with which it was strewn.

When the Roman Emperors grew very vain and luxurious, they used to have this sand made ornamental with metallic filings, vermilion, and even powdered precious stones; but it was thought better taste to use the scrapings of a soft white stone, which, when thickly strewn, made the whole arena look as if covered with untrodden snow. Around the border of this space flowed a stream of fresh water. Then came a straight wall, rising to a considerable height, and surmounted by a broad platform, on which stood a throne for the Emperor, curule chairs of ivory and gold for the chief magistrates and senators, and seats for the vestal virgins. Next above were galleries for the equestrian order, the great mass of those who considered themselves as of gentle station, though not of the highest rank; farther up, and therefore farther back, were the galleries belonging to the freemen of Rome; and these were again surmounted by another plain wall with a platform on the top, where were places for the ladies, who were not (except the vestal virgins) allowed to look on nearer, because of the unclothed state of some of the performers in the arena. Between the ladies' boxes, benches were squeezed in where the lowest people could seat themselves; and some of these likewise found room in the two uppermost tiers of porticoes, where sailors, mechanics, and persons in the service of the Coliseum had their post. Altogether, when full, this huge building held no less than 87,000 spectators. It had no roof; but when there was rain, or if the sun was too hot, the sailors in the porticoes unfurled awnings that ran along upon ropes, and formed a covering of silk and gold tissue over the whole. Purple was the favorite color for this velamen, or veil; because, when the sun shone through it, it cast such beautiful rosy tints on the snowy arena and the white purple-edged togas of the Roman citizens.

Long days were spent from morning till evening upon those galleries. The multitude who poured in early would watch the great dignitaries arrive and take their seats, greeting them either with shouts of applause or hootings of dislike, according as they were favorites or otherwise; and when the Emperor came in to take his place under his canopy, there was one loud acclamation, 'Joy to thee, master of all, first of all, happiest of all. Victory to thee for ever!'

When the Emperor had seated himself and given the signal, the sports began. Sometimes a rope-dancing elephant would begin the entertainment, by mounting even to the summit of the building and descending by a cord. Then a bear, dressed up as a Roman matron, would be carried along in a chair between porters, as ladies were wont to go abroad, and another bear, in a lawyer's robe, would stand on his hind legs and go through the motions of pleading a case. Or a lion came forth with a jeweled crown on his head, a diamond necklace round his neck, his mane plaited with gold, and his claws gilded, and played a hundred pretty gentle antics with a little hare that danced fearlessly within his grasp. Then in would come twelve elephants, six males in togas, six females with the veil and pallium; they took their places on couches around an ivory table, dined with great decorum, playfully sprinkled a little rosewater over the nearest spectators, and then received more guests of their unwieldy kind, who arrived in ball dresses, scattered flowers, and performed a dance.

Sometimes water was let into the arena, a ship sailed in, and falling to pieces in the midst, sent a crowd of strange animals swimming in all directions. Sometimes the ground opened, and trees came growing up through it, bearing golden fruit. Or the beautiful old tale of Orpheus was acted; these trees would follow the harp and song of the musician; but--to make the whole part complete--it was no mere play, but real earnest, that the Orpheus of the piece fell a prey to live bears.

For the Coliseum had not been built for such harmless spectacles as those first described. The fierce Romans wanted to be excited and feel themselves strongly stirred; and, presently, the doors of the pits and dens round the arena were thrown open, and absolutely savage beasts were let loose upon one another--rhinoceroses and tigers, bulls and lions, leopards and wild boars--while the people watched with savage curiosity to see the various kinds of attack and defense; or, if the animals were cowed or sullen, their rage would be worked up--red would be shown to the bulls, white to boars, red-hot goads would be driven into some, whips would be lashed at others, till the work of slaughter was fairly commenced, and gazed on with greedy eyes and ears delighted, instead of horror-struck, by the roars and howls of the noble creatures whose courage was thus misused. Sometimes indeed, when some especially strong or ferocious animal had slain a whole heap of victims, the cries of the people would decree that it should be turned loose in its native forest, and, amid shouts of 'A triumph! a triumph!' the beast would prowl round the arena, upon the carcasses of the slain victims. Almost incredible numbers of animals were imported for these cruel sports, and the governors of distant provinces made it a duty to collect troops of lions, elephants, ostriches, leopards--the fiercer or the newer the creature the better--to be thus tortured to frenzy, to make sport in the amphitheatre. However, there was daintiness joined with cruelty: the Romans did not like the smell of blood, though they enjoyed the sight of it, and all the solid stonework was pierced with tubes, through which was conducted the stream of spices and saffron, boiled in wine, that the perfume might overpower the scent of slaughter below.

Wild beasts tearing each other to pieces might, one would think, satisfy any taste of horror; but the spectators needed even nobler game to be set before their favorite monsters--men were brought forward to confront them. Some of these were at first in full armor, and fought hard, generally with success; and there was a revolving machine, something like a squirrel's cage, in which the bear was always climbing after his enemy, and then rolling over by his own weight. Or hunters came, almost unarmed, and gaining the victory by swiftness and dexterity, throwing a piece of cloth over a lion's head, or disconcerting him by putting their fist down his throat. But it was not only skill, but death, that the Romans loved to see; and condemned criminals and deserters were reserved to feast the lions, and to entertain the populace with their various kinds of death. Among these condemned was many a Christian martyr, who witnessed a good confession before the savage-eyed multitude around the arena, and 'met the lion's gory mane' with a calm resolution and hopeful joy that the lookers-on could not understand. To see a Christian die, with upward gaze and hymns of joy on his tongue, was the most strange unaccountable sight the Coliseum could offer, and it was therefore the choicest, and reserved for the last part of the spectacles in which the brute creation had a part.

The carcasses were dragged off with hooks, and bloodstained sand was covered with a fresh clean layer, the perfume wafted in stronger clouds, and a procession came forward--tall, well-made men, in the prime of their strength. Some carried a sword and a lasso, others a trident and a net; some were in light armor, others in the full heavy equipment of a soldier; some on horseback, some in chariots, some on foot. They marched in, and made their obeisance to the Emperor; and with one voice, their greeting sounded through the building, Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant! 'Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!'

They were the gladiators--the swordsmen trained to fight to the death to amuse the populace. They were usually slaves placed in schools of arms under the care of a master; but sometimes persons would voluntarily hire themselves out to fight by way of a profession: and both these, and such slave gladiators as did not die in the arena, would sometimes retire, and spend an old age of quiet; but there was little hope of this, for the Romans were not apt to have mercy on the fallen.

Fights of all sorts took place--the light-armed soldier and the netsman --the lasso and the javelin--the two heavy-armed warriors--all combinations of single combat, and sometimes a general melee. When a gladiator wounded his adversary, he shouted to the spectators, Hoc habet! 'He has it!' and looked up to know whether he should kill or spare. If the people held up their thumbs, the conquered was left to recover, if he could; if they turned them down, he was to die: and if he showed any reluctance to present his throat for the deathblow, there was a scornful shout, Recipe ferrum! 'Receive the steel!' Many of us must have seen casts of the most touching statue of the wounded man, that called forth the noble lines of indignant pity which, though so often repeated, cannot be passed over here: 


'I see before me the Gladiator lie;

He leans upon his hand--his manly brow

Consents to death, but conquers agony.

And his droop'd head sinks gradually low,

And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow

From the red gash, fall heavy one by one,

Like the first of a thunder shower; and now

The arena swims around him--he is gone

Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won.

'He heard it, but he heeded no--this eyes

Were with his heart, and that was far away.

He reck'd not of the life he lost, nor prize,

But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,

There were his young barbarians all at play,

There was their Dacian mother--he their sire,

Butcher'd to make a Roman holiday.

All this rush'd with his blood--Shall he expire,

And unavenged? Arise ye Goths and glut your ire.'

Sacred vestals, tender mothers, fat, good-humored senators, all thought it fair play, and were equally pitiless in the strange frenzy for exciting scenes to which they gave themselves up, when they mounted the stone stairs of the Coliseum. Privileged persons would even descend into the arena, examine the death agonies, and taste the blood of some specially brave victim ere the corpse was drawn forth at the death gate, that the frightful game might continue undisturbed and unencumbered. Gladiator shows were the great passion of Rome, and popular favor could hardly be gained except by ministering to it. Even when the barbarians were beginning to close in on the Empire, hosts of brave men were still kept for this slavish mimic warfare--sport to the beholders, but sad earnest to the actors.

Christianity worked its way upwards, and at least was professed by the Emperor on his throne. Persecution came to an end, and no more martyrs fed the beasts in the Coliseum. The Christian emperors endeavored to prevent any more shows where cruelty and death formed the chief interest and no truly religious person could endure the spectacle; but custom and love of excitement prevailed even against the Emperor. Mere tricks of beasts, horse and chariot races, or bloodless contests, were tame and dull, according to the diseased taste of Rome; it was thought weak and sentimental to object to looking on at a death scene; the Emperors were generally absent at Constantinople, and no one could get elected to any office unless he treated the citizens to such a show as they best liked, with a little bloodshed and death to stir their feelings; and thus it went on for full a hundred years after Rome had, in name, become a Christian city, and the same custom prevailed wherever there was an amphitheatre and pleasure-loving people.

Meantime the enemies of Rome were coming nearer and nearer, and Alaric, the great chief of the Goths, led his forces into Italy, and threatened the city itself. Honorius, the Emperor, was a cowardly, almost idiotical, boy; but his brave general, Stilicho, assembled his forces, met the Goths at Pollentia (about twenty-five miles from where Turin now stands), and gave them a complete defeat on the Easter Day of the year 403. He pursued them into the mountains, and for that time saved Rome. In the joy of the victory the Roman senate invited the conqueror and his ward Honorius to enter the city in triumph, at the opening of the new year, with the white steeds, purple robes, and vermilion cheeks with which, of old, victorious generals were welcomed at Rome. The churches were visited instead of the Temple of Jupiter, and there was no murder of the captives; but Roman bloodthirstiness was not yet allayed, and, after all the procession had been completed, the Coliseum shows commenced, innocently at first, with races on foot, on horseback, and in chariots; then followed a grand hunting of beasts turned loose in the arena; and next a sword dance. But after the sword dance came the arraying of swordsmen, with no blunted weapons, but with sharp spears and swords--a gladiator combat in full earnest. The people, enchanted, applauded with shouts of ecstasy this gratification of their savage tastes. Suddenly, however, there was an interruption. A rude, roughly robed man, bareheaded and barefooted, had sprung into the arena, and, signing back the gladiators, began to call aloud upon the people to cease from the shedding of innocent blood, and not to requite God's mercy in turning away the sword of the enemy by encouraging murder. Shouts, howls, cries, broke in upon his words; this was no place for preachings--the old customs of Rome should be observed 'Back, old man!' 'On, gladiators!' The gladiators thrust aside the meddler, and rushed to the attack. He still stood between, holding them apart, striving in vain to be heard. 'Sedition! Sedition!' 'Down with him!' was the cry; and the man in authority, Alypius, the prefect, himself added his voice. The gladiators, enraged at interference with their vocation, cut him down. Stones, or whatever came to hand, rained down upon him from the furious people, and he perished in the midst of the arena! He lay dead, and then came the feeling of what had been done.

His dress showed that he was one of the hermits who vowed themselves to a holy life of prayer and self-denial, and who were greatly reverenced, even by the most thoughtless. The few who had previously seen him, told that he had come from the wilds of Asia on pilgrimage, to visit the shrines and keep his Christmas at Rome--they knew he was a holy man--no more, and it is not even certain whether his name was Alymachus or Telemachus. His spirit had been stirred by the sight of thousands flocking to see men slaughter one another, and in his simple-hearted zeal he had resolved to stop the cruelty or die. He had died, but not in vain. His work was done. The shock of such a death before their eyes turned the hearts of the people; they saw the wickedness and cruelty to which they had blindly surrendered themselves; and from the day when the hermit died in the Coliseum there was never another fight of the Gladiators. Not merely at Rome, but in every province of the Empire, the custom was utterly abolished; and one habitual crime at least was wiped from the earth by the self-devotion of one humble, obscure, almost nameless man.

August 12, 2018by Сергей
45
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Model Citizen by Christopher Whitby

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'Is there anything you'd like to change?'

    Frank glanced at his wife. The question knocked at a door that he had long ago shut, locked and bolted, but no doubt she would have some ideas. He became aware that her foot was pressing on his and he followed her gaze to the small child standing a respectful distance behind them.

    'Peter,' he said, 'why don't you, um, go and see if there's anything worth watching on that television over there?' He waved vaguely in the direction of the customer waiting area.

    The child dutifully trotted off and made himself comfortable in one of the large chairs in front of the superwide screen that half obscured the coffee machine.

    'With a model of this age,' the man at the desk continued, 'and to be fair we don't often see a DR3 these days - a DR3SX no less, a classic - there is a limit to what we can do, but there are developments all the time and while we are doing the servicing there could be some enhancements we might be able to make.' He looked quickly at the monitor in front of him. 'You've had Albert a long time'.

    'Alberich,' Muriel corrected him.

    'Sorry?'

    'It doesn't matter,' sighed Muriel. She was used to the mistake, which seemed to persist in Rutland Robotics' records no matter how often or how carefully she had tried to get it corrected. 'We inherited him from my parents.'

    'Old family retainer,' the salesman suggested. Muriel was used to that too. 'As I said, I'm really in sales and apologies again that we seem to be so short staffed at reception, but I was wondering if you have fully considered the benefits of a newer model. Full height for a start. All the latest technology. You get a lot more for your buck these days.' He pulled out a company brochure from underneath the desk, his eye lingering for a moment on the cover picture of the spanking new Lola 3000 leaflets lounging beside the stack of range catalogues.

    Muriel took one look at the centrefold of Mandy Maids ("Ask Amanda Anything") that fell open under the salesman's hand and her features hardened a grade further. 'No,' she said firmly. 'We are quite happy.'

    'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' Frank added loyally.

    'There is one thing,' Muriel suggested, laying both hands on the desk, as if to show she had no cards concealed. 'It's irritated me for years. Stacking the dishwasher. I can do better myself.'

    'We could look into that,' the salesman replied. 'These days no-one makes them so gender specific as they used to be.' He saw Muriel's right eyebrow rise a fraction as her eyes fell again on the spread of Mandy Maids. 'In software terms' he added, ever so casually closing the brochure and slipping it beneath the desk again. 'For utilitarian domestic robots anyway.' He tried to manoeuvre the conversation onto safer ground and looked over at Peter. 'Nice lad.'

    'Doing ever so well at school,' Frank said. 'We're really proud of him. Of course, having him so late, most of the other parents think we are his grandparents.'

    Muriel frowned. Frank shut up. 'He adores Alber... Albert,' Muriel added, watching Peter's stillness in front of the frenzied cartoon action on the screen. 'You won't do anything that might make Albert seem any different will you? Nothing is so important that we would want Peter to think that we had...'

    'No, no,' the salesman cut in. 'Just a little tweaking here and there, if in fact we can do anything. There'd be nothing obvious, unless of course Peter is a dishwasher stacking fanatic.'

    Muriel stared at him. The salesman's little laugh wilted and died. 'Anything else for Albert today?' he asked.

    'I don't think so.' Muriel's tone declared the finality of her thoughts. The salesman did not bother to look at Frank for confirmation.

    'Well then, I'll have a quick word with the engineers. They'll just have started and we can have a good look at the kitchen module. See what can be done. As for your other booking, just the normal service and standard Yearly Update Pack, as per the annual contract. Yes?'

 'Happy with that,' said Frank. 'I don't think there's anything...' He checked with Muriel.

    'Happy,' she said.

    'Very happy,' Frank added.

    The salesman began tapping at his touchscreen, then paused. ' Ah, there seems to be a missed appointment, which means we could get on with that right now, if you would like.'

    'Waste not, want not,' said Frank.

    'Quite,' Muriel muttered.

    'Peter,' Frank called gently and the little boy abandoned the animated mayhem without demur and came over to stand beside him.

    'Yes Daddy?'

    'Will you follow this gentleman who's going to show you... um, just follow this gentleman and do what he tells you.'

    'He's a man you can trust,' Muriel informed the boy.

    'Thank you, Mummy'.

    As Peter and the salesman squeezed past the empty main reception counter and through a door at the back, Frank and Muriel saw the little boy hold his hand up for the adult to take.

    Muriel's frown returned. 'Do you think he's sometimes too perfect?' she said quietly.

    'What do you want?' Frank mused. 'A naughtiness module?'

    Muriel seemed lost in her thoughts. When she eventually replied, it was so softly that, had he not already known the answer, Frank would have had to ask her to repeat it.

    'No.'

August 10, 2018by Сергей
126
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The Room in the Tower by E. F. Benson

Read 40 minutes. More read on t.me/one_story


It is probable that everybody who is at all a constant dreamer has had at least one experience of an event or a sequence of circumstances which have come to his mind in sleep being subsequently realized in the material world. But, in my opinion, so far from this being a strange thing, it would be far odder if this fulfilment did not occasionally happen, since our dreams are, as a rule, concerned with people whom we know and places with which we are familiar, such as might very naturally occur in the awake and daylit world. True, these dreams are often broken into by some absurd and fantastic incident, which puts them out of court in regard to their subsequent fulfilment, but on the mere calculation of chances, it does not appear in the least unlikely that a dream imagined by anyone who dreams constantly should occasionally come true. Not long ago, for instance, I experienced such a fulfilment of a dream which seems to me in no way remarkable and to have no kind of psychical significance. The manner of it was as follows. A certain friend of mine, living abroad, is amiable enough to write to me about once in a fortnight. Thus, when fourteen days or thereabouts have elapsed since I last heard from him, my mind, probably, either consciously or subconsciously, is expectant of a letter from him. One night last week I dreamed that as I was going upstairs to dress for dinner I heard, as I often heard, the sound of the postman's knock on my front door, and diverted my direction downstairs instead. There, among other correspondence, was a letter from him. Thereafter the fantastic entered, for on opening it I found inside the ace of diamonds, and scribbled across it in his well-known handwriting, "I am sending you this for safe custody, as you know it is running an unreasonable risk to keep aces in Italy." The next evening I was just preparing to go upstairs to dress when I heard the postman's knock, and did precisely as I had done in my dream. There, among other letters, was one from my friend. Only it did not contain the ace of diamonds. Had it done so, I should have attached more weight to the matter, which, as it stands, seems to me a perfectly ordinary coincidence. No doubt I consciously or subconsciously expected a letter from him, and this suggested to me my dream. Similarly, the fact that my friend had not written to me for a fortnight suggested to him that he should do so. But occasionally it is not so easy to find such an explanation, and for the following story I can find no explanation at all. It came out of the dark, and into the dark it has gone again. All my life I have been a habitual dreamer: the nights are few, that is to say, when I do not find on awaking in the morning that some mental experience has been mine, and sometimes, all night long, apparently, a series of the most dazzling adventures befall me. Almost without exception these adventures are pleasant, though often merely trivial. It is of an exception that I am going to speak. It was when I was about sixteen that a certain dream first came to me, and this is how it befell. It opened with my being set down at the door of a big red-brick house, where, I understood, I was going to stay. The servant who opened the door told me that tea was being served in the garden, and led me through a low dark-panelled hall, with a large open fireplace, on to a cheerful green lawn set round with flower beds. There were grouped about the tea-table a small party of people, but they were all strangers to me except one, who was a schoolfellow called Jack Stone, clearly the son of the house, and he introduced me to his mother and father and a couple of sisters. I was, I remember, somewhat astonished to find myself here, for the boy in question was scarcely known to me, and I rather disliked what I knew of him; moreover, he had left school nearly a year before. The afternoon was very hot, and an intolerable oppression reigned. On the far side of the lawn ran a red-brick wall, with an iron gate in its center, outside which stood a walnut tree. We sat in the shadow of the house opposite a row of long windows, inside which I could see a table with cloth laid, glimmering with glass and silver. This garden front of the house was very long, and at one end of it stood a tower of three stories, which looked to me much older than the rest of the building. Before long, Mrs. Stone, who, like the rest of the party, had sat in absolute silence, said to me, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower." Quite inexplicably my heart sank at her words. I felt as if I had known that I should have the room in the tower, and that it contained something dreadful and significant. Jack instantly got up, and I understood that I had to follow him. In silence we passed through the hall, and mounted a great oak staircase with many corners, and arrived at a small landing with two doors set in it. He pushed one of these open for me to enter, and without coming in himself, closed it after me. Then I knew that my conjecture had been right: there was something awful in the room, and with the terror of nightmare growing swiftly and enveloping me, I awoke in a spasm of terror. Now that dream or variations on it occurred to me intermittently for fifteen years. Most often it came in exactly this form, the arrival, the tea laid out on the lawn, the deadly silence succeeded by that one deadly sentence, the mounting with Jack Stone up to the room in the tower where horror dwelt, and it always came to a close in the nightmare of terror at that which was in the room, though I never saw what it was. At other times I experienced variations on this same theme. Occasionally, for instance, we would be sitting at dinner in the dining-room, into the windows of which I had looked on the first night when the dream of this house visited me, but wherever we were, there was the same silence, the same sense of dreadful oppression and foreboding. And the silence I knew would always be broken by Mrs. Stone saying to me, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower." Upon which (this was invariable) I had to follow him up the oak staircase with many corners, and enter the place that I dreaded more and more each time that I visited it in sleep. Or, again, I would find myself playing cards still in silence in a drawing-room lit with immense chandeliers, that gave a blinding illumination. What the game was I have no idea; what I remember, with a sense of miserable anticipation, was that soon Mrs. Stone would get up and say to me, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower." This drawing-room where we played cards was next to the dining-room, and, as I have said, was always brilliantly illuminated, whereas the rest of the house was full of dusk and shadows. And yet, how often, in spite of those bouquets of lights, have I not pored over the cards that were dealt me, scarcely able for some reason to see them. Their designs, too, were strange: there were no red suits, but all were black, and among them there were certain cards which were black all over. I hated and dreaded those. As this dream continued to recur, I got to know the greater part of the house. There was a smoking-room beyond the drawing-room, at the end of a passage with a green baize door. It was always very dark there, and as often as I went there I passed somebody whom I could not see in the doorway coming out. Curious developments, too, took place in the characters that peopled the dream as might happen to living persons. Mrs. Stone, for instance, who, when I first saw her, had been black-haired, became gray, and instead of rising briskly, as she had done at first when she said, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower," got up very feebly, as if the strength was leaving her limbs. Jack also grew up, and became a rather ill-looking young man, with a brown moustache, while one of the sisters ceased to appear, and I understood she was married. Then it so happened that I was not visited by this dream for six months or more, and I began to hope, in such inexplicable dread did I hold it, that it had passed away for good. But one night after this interval I again found myself being shown out onto the lawn for tea, and Mrs. Stone was not there, while the others were all dressed in black. At once I guessed the reason, and my heart leaped at the thought that perhaps this time I should not have to sleep in the room in the tower, and though we usually all sat in silence, on this occasion the sense of relief made me talk and laugh as I had never yet done. But even then matters were not altogether comfortable, for no one else spoke, but they all looked secretly at each other. And soon the foolish stream of my talk ran dry, and gradually an apprehension worse than anything I had previously known gained on me as the light slowly faded. Suddenly a voice which I knew well broke the stillness, the voice of Mrs. Stone, saying, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower." It seemed to come from near the gate in the red-brick wall that bounded the lawn, and looking up, I saw that the grass outside was sown thick with gravestones. A curious greyish light shone from them, and I could read the lettering on the grave nearest me, and it was, "In evil memory of Julia Stone." And as usual Jack got up, and again I followed him through the hall and up the staircase with many corners. On this occasion it was darker than usual, and when I passed into the room in the tower I could only just see the furniture, the position of which was already familiar to me. Also there was a dreadful odor of decay in the room, and I woke screaming. The dream, with such variations and developments as I have mentioned, went on at intervals for fifteen years. Sometimes I would dream it two or three nights in succession; once, as I have said, there was an intermission of six months, but taking a reasonable average, I should say that I dreamed it quite as often as once in a month. It had, as is plain, something of nightmare about it, since it always ended in the same appalling terror, which so far from getting less, seemed to me to gather fresh fear every time that I experienced it. There was, too, a strange and dreadful consistency about it. The characters in it, as I have mentioned, got regularly older, death and marriage visited this silent family, and I never in the dream, after Mrs. Stone had died, set eyes on her again. But it was always her voice that told me that the room in the tower was prepared for me, and whether we had tea out on the lawn, or the scene was laid in one of the rooms overlooking it, I could always see her gravestone standing just outside the iron gate. It was the same, too, with the married daughter; usually she was not present, but once or twice she returned again, in company with a man, whom I took to be her husband. He, too, like the rest of them, was always silent. But, owing to the constant repetition of the dream, I had ceased to attach, in my waking hours, any significance to it. I never met Jack Stone again during all those years, nor did I ever see a house that resembled this dark house of my dream. And then something happened. I had been in London in this year, up till the end of the July, and during the first week in August went down to stay with a friend in a house he had taken for the summer months, in the Ashdown Forest district of Sussex. I left London early, for John Clinton was to meet me at Forest Row Station, and we were going to spend the day golfing, and go to his house in the evening. He had his motor with him, and we set off, about five of the afternoon, after a thoroughly delightful day, for the drive, the distance being some ten miles. As it was still so early we did not have tea at the club house, but waited till we should get home. As we drove, the weather, which up till then had been, though hot, deliciously fresh, seemed to me to alter in quality, and become very stagnant and oppressive, and I felt that indefinable sense of ominous apprehension that I am accustomed to before thunder. John, however, did not share my views, attributing my loss of lightness to the fact that I had lost both my matches. Events proved, however, that I was right, though I do not think that the thunderstorm that broke that night was the sole cause of my depression. Our way lay through deep high-banked lanes, and before we had gone very far I fell asleep, and was only awakened by the stopping of the motor. And with a sudden thrill, partly of fear but chiefly of curiosity, I found myself standing in the doorway of my house of dream. We went, I half wondering whether or not I was dreaming still, through a low oak-panelled hall, and out onto the lawn, where tea was laid in the shadow of the house. It was set in flower beds, a red-brick wall, with a gate in it, bounded one side, and out beyond that was a space of rough grass with a walnut tree. The facade of the house was very long, and at one end stood a three-storied tower, markedly older than the rest. Here for the moment all resemblance to the repeated dream ceased. There was no silent and somehow terrible family, but a large assembly of exceedingly cheerful persons, all of whom were known to me. And in spite of the horror with which the dream itself had always filled me, I felt nothing of it now that the scene of it was thus reproduced before me. But I felt intensest curiosity as to what was going to happen. Tea pursued its cheerful course, and before long Mrs. Clinton got up. And at that moment I think I knew what she was going to say. She spoke to me, and what she said was: "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower." At that, for half a second, the horror of the dream took hold of me again. But it quickly passed, and again I felt nothing more than the most intense curiosity. It was not very long before it was amply satisfied. John turned to me. "Right up at the top of the house," he said, "but I think you'll be comfortable. We're absolutely full up. Would you like to go and see it now? By Jove, I believe that you are right, and that we are going to have a thunderstorm. How dark it has become." I got up and followed him. We passed through the hall, and up the perfectly familiar staircase. Then he opened the door, and I went in. And at that moment sheer unreasoning terror again possessed me. I did not know what I feared: I simply feared. Then like a sudden recollection, when one remembers a name which has long escaped the memory, I knew what I feared. I feared Mrs. Stone, whose grave with the sinister inscription, "In evil memory," I had so often seen in my dream, just beyond the lawn which lay below my window. And then once more the fear passed so completely that I wondered what there was to fear, and I found myself, sober and quiet and sane, in the room in the tower, the name of which I had so often heard in my dream, and the scene of which was so familiar. I looked around it with a certain sense of proprietorship, and found that nothing had been changed from the dreaming nights in which I knew it so well. Just to the left of the door was the bed, lengthways along the wall, with the head of it in the angle. In a line with it was the fireplace and a small bookcase; opposite the door the outer wall was pierced by two lattice-paned windows, between which stood the dressing-table, while ranged along the fourth wall was the washing-stand and a big cupboard. My luggage had already been unpacked, for the furniture of dressing and undressing lay orderly on the wash-stand and toilet-table, while my dinner clothes were spread out on the coverlet of the bed. And then, with a sudden start of unexplained dismay, I saw that there were two rather conspicuous objects which I had not seen before in my dreams: one a life-sized oil painting of Mrs. Stone, the other a black-and-white sketch of Jack Stone, representing him as he had appeared to me only a week before in the last of the series of these repeated dreams, a rather secret and evil-looking man of about thirty. His picture hung between the windows, looking straight across the room to the other portrait, which hung at the side of the bed. At that I looked next, and as I looked I felt once more the horror of nightmare seize me. It represented Mrs. Stone as I had seen her last in my dreams: old and withered and white-haired. But in spite of the evident feebleness of body, a dreadful exuberance and vitality shone through the envelope of flesh, an exuberance wholly malign, a vitality that foamed and frothed with unimaginable evil. Evil beamed from the narrow, leering eyes; it laughed in the demon-like mouth. The whole face was instinct with some secret and appalling mirth; the hands, clasped together on the knee, seemed shaking with suppressed and nameless glee. Then I saw also that it was signed in the left-hand bottom corner, and wondering who the artist could be, I looked more closely, and read the inscription, "Julia Stone by Julia Stone." There came a tap at the door, and John Clinton entered. "Got everything you want?" he asked. "Rather more than I want," said I, pointing to the picture. He laughed. "Hard-featured old lady," he said. "By herself, too, I remember. Anyhow she can't have flattered herself much." "But don't you see?" said I. "It's scarcely a human face at all. It's the face of some witch, of some devil." He looked at it more closely. "Yes; it isn't very pleasant," he said. "Scarcely a bedside manner, eh? Yes; I can imagine getting the nightmare if I went to sleep with that close by my bed. I'll have it taken down if you like." "I really wish you would," I said. He rang the bell, and with the help of a servant we detached the picture and carried it out onto the landing, and put it with its face to the wall. "By Jove, the old lady is a weight," said John, mopping his forehead. "I wonder if she had something on her mind." The extraordinary weight of the picture had struck me too. I was about to reply, when I caught sight of my own hand. There was blood on it, in considerable quantities, covering the whole palm. "I've cut myself somehow," said I. John gave a little startled exclamation. "Why, I have too," he said. Simultaneously the footman took out his handkerchief and wiped his hand with it. I saw that there was blood also on his handkerchief. John and I went back into the tower room and washed the blood off; but neither on his hand nor on mine was there the slightest trace of a scratch or cut. It seemed to me that, having ascertained this, we both, by a sort of tacit consent, did not allude to it again. Something in my case had dimly occurred to me that I did not wish to think about. It was but a conjecture, but I fancied that I knew the same thing had occurred to him. The heat and oppression of the air, for the storm we had expected was still undischarged, increased very much after dinner, and for some time most of the party, among whom were John Clinton and myself, sat outside on the path bounding the lawn, where we had had tea. The night was absolutely dark, and no twinkle of star or moon ray could penetrate the pall of cloud that overset the sky. By degrees our assembly thinned, the women went up to bed, men dispersed to the smoking or billiard room, and by eleven o'clock my host and I were the only two left. All the evening I thought that he had something on his mind, and as soon as we were alone he spoke. "The man who helped us with the picture had blood on his hand, too, did you notice?" he said. "I asked him just now if he had cut himself, and he said he supposed he had, but that he could find no mark of it. Now where did that blood come from?" By dint of telling myself that I was not going to think about it, I had succeeded in not doing so, and I did not want, especially just at bedtime, to be reminded of it. "I don't know," said I, "and I don't really care so long as the picture of Mrs. Stone is not by my bed." He got up. "But it's odd," he said. "Ha! Now you'll see another odd thing." A dog of his, an Irish terrier by breed, had come out of the house as we talked. The door behind us into the hall was open, and a bright oblong of light shone across the lawn to the iron gate which led on to the rough grass outside, where the walnut tree stood. I saw that the dog had all his hackles up, bristling with rage and fright; his lips were curled back from his teeth, as if he was ready to spring at something, and he was growling to himself. He took not the slightest notice of his master or me, but stiffly and tensely walked across the grass to the iron gate. There he stood for a moment, looking through the bars and still growling. Then of a sudden his courage seemed to desert him: he gave one long howl, and scuttled back to the house with a curious crouching sort of movement. "He does that half-a-dozen times a day." said John. "He sees something which he both hates and fears." I walked to the gate and looked over it. Something was moving on the grass outside, and soon a sound which I could not instantly identify came to my ears. Then I remembered what it was: it was the purring of a cat. I lit a match, and saw the purrer, a big blue Persian, walking round and round in a little circle just outside the gate, stepping high and ecstatically, with tail carried aloft like a banner. Its eyes were bright and shining, and every now and then it put its head down and sniffed at the grass. I laughed. "The end of that mystery, I am afraid." I said. "Here's a large cat having Walpurgis night all alone." "Yes, that's Darius," said John. "He spends half the day and all night there. But that's not the end of the dog mystery, for Toby and he are the best of friends, but the beginning of the cat mystery. What's the cat doing there? And why is Darius pleased, while Toby is terror-stricken?" At that moment I remembered the rather horrible detail of my dreams when I saw through the gate, just where the cat was now, the white tombstone with the sinister inscription. But before I could answer the rain began, as suddenly and heavily as if a tap had been turned on, and simultaneously the big cat squeezed through the bars of the gate, and came leaping across the lawn to the house for shelter. Then it sat in the doorway, looking out eagerly into the dark. It spat and struck at John with its paw, as he pushed it in, in order to close the door. Somehow, with the portrait of Julia Stone in the passage outside, the room in the tower had absolutely no alarm for me, and as I went to bed, feeling very sleepy and heavy, I had nothing more than interest for the curious incident about our bleeding hands, and the conduct of the cat and dog. The last thing I looked at before I put out my light was the square empty space by my bed where the portrait had been. Here the paper was of its original full tint of dark red: over the rest of the walls it had faded. Then I blew out my candle and instantly fell asleep. My awaking was equally instantaneous, and I sat bolt upright in bed under the impression that some bright light had been flashed in my face, though it was now absolutely pitch dark. I knew exactly where I was, in the room which I had dreaded in dreams, but no horror that I ever felt when asleep approached the fear that now invaded and froze my brain. Immediately after a peal of thunder crackled just above the house, but the probability that it was only a flash of lightning which awoke me gave no reassurance to my galloping heart. Something I knew was in the room with me, and instinctively I put out my right hand, which was nearest the wall, to keep it away. And my hand touched the edge of a picture-frame hanging close to me. I sprang out of bed, upsetting the small table that stood by it, and I heard my watch, candle, and matches clatter onto the floor. But for the moment there was no need of light, for a blinding flash leaped out of the clouds, and showed me that by my bed again hung the picture of Mrs. Stone. And instantly the room went into blackness again. But in that flash I saw another thing also, namely a figure that leaned over the end of my bed, watching me. It was dressed in some close-clinging white garment, spotted and stained with mold, and the face was that of the portrait. Overhead the thunder cracked and roared, and when it ceased and the deathly stillness succeeded, I heard the rustle of movement coming nearer me, and, more horrible yet, perceived an odor of corruption and decay. And then a hand was laid on the side of my neck, and close beside my ear I heard quick-taken, eager breathing. Yet I knew that this thing, though it could be perceived by touch, by smell, by eye and by ear, was still not of this earth, but something that had passed out of the body and had power to make itself manifest. Then a voice, already familiar to me, spoke. "I knew you would come to the room in the tower," it said. "I have been long waiting for you. At last you have come. Tonight I shall feast; before long we will feast together." And the quick breathing came closer to me; I could feel it on my neck. At that the terror, which I think had paralyzed me for the moment, gave way to the wild instinct of self-preservation. I hit wildly with both arms, kicking out at the same moment, and heard a little animal-squeal, and something soft dropped with a thud beside me. I took a couple of steps forward, nearly tripping up over whatever it was that lay there, and by the merest good-luck found the handle of the door. In another second I ran out on the landing, and had banged the door behind me. Almost at the same moment I heard a door open somewhere below, and John Clinton, candle in hand, came running upstairs. "What is it?" he said. "I sleep just below you, and heard a noise as if--Good heavens, there's blood on your shoulder." I stood there, so he told me afterwards, swaying from side to side, white as a sheet, with the mark on my shoulder as if a hand covered with blood had been laid there. "It's in there," I said, pointing. "She, you know. The portrait is in there, too, hanging up on the place we took it from." At that he laughed. "My dear fellow, this is mere nightmare," he said. He pushed by me, and opened the door, I standing there simply inert with terror, unable to stop him, unable to move. "Phew! What an awful smell," he said. Then there was silence; he had passed out of my sight behind the open door. Next moment he came out again, as white as myself, and instantly shut it. "Yes, the portrait's there," he said, "and on the floor is a thing--a thing spotted with earth, like what they bury people in. Come away, quick, come away." How I got downstairs I hardly know. An awful shuddering and nausea of the spirit rather than of the flesh had seized me, and more than once he had to place my feet upon the steps, while every now and then he cast glances of terror and apprehension up the stairs. But in time we came to his dressing-room on the floor below, and there I told him what I have here described. The sequel can be made short; indeed, some of my readers have perhaps already guessed what it was, if they remember that inexplicable affair of the churchyard at West Fawley, some eight years ago, where an attempt was made three times to bury the body of a certain woman who had committed suicide. On each occasion the coffin was found in the course of a few days again protruding from the ground. After the third attempt, in order that the thing should not be talked about, the body was buried elsewhere in unconsecrated ground. Where it was buried was just outside the iron gate of the garden belonging to the house where this woman had lived. She had committed suicide in a room at the top of the tower in that house. Her name was Julia Stone. Subsequently the body was again secretly dug up, and the coffin was found to be full of blood.

August 9, 2018by Сергей
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Маттео Фальконе. Проспер Мериме

Читать 28 минут. Сотни рассказов на t.me/biblio

Если пойти на северо-запад от Порто-Веккьо (1), в глубь острова, то местность начнет довольно круто подниматься, и после трёхчасовой ходьбы по извилистым тропкам, загромождённым большими обломками скал и кое-где пересеченным оврагами, выйдешь к обширным зарослям маки. Маки — родина корсиканских пастухов и всех, кто не в ладах с правосудием. Надо сказать, что корсиканский земледелец, не желая брать на себя труд унавоживать своё поле, выжигает часть леса: не его забота, если огонь распространится дальше, чем это нужно; что бы там ни было, он уверен, что получит хороший урожай на земле, удобренной золой сожжённых деревьев. После того как колосья собраны (солому оставляют, так как ее трудно убирать), корни деревьев, оставшиеся в земле нетронутыми, пускают на следующую весну частые побеги; через несколько лет они достигают высоты в семь-восемь футов. Вот эта-то густая поросль и называется маки. Она состоит из самых разнообразных деревьев и кустарников, перепутанных как попало. Только с топором в руке человек может проложить в них путь; а бывают маки такие густые и непроходимые, что даже муфлоны2 не могут пробраться сквозь них.

Если вы убили человека, бегите в маки Порто-Веккьо, и вы проживете там в безопасности, имея при себе доброе оружье, порох и пули; не забудьте прихватить с собой коричневый плащ с капюшоном — он заменит вам и одеяло и подстилку. Пастухи дадут вам молока, сыра и каштанов, и вам нечего бояться правосудия или родственников убитого, если только не появится необходимость спуститься в город, чтобы пополнить запасы пороха.


Когда в 18… году я посетил Корсику3, дом Маттео Фальконе находился в полумиле от этого маки. Маттео Фальконе был довольно богатый человек по тамошним местам; он жил честно, то есть ничего не делая, на доходы от своих многочисленных стад, которые пастухи-кочевники пасли в горах, перегоняя с места на место. Когда я увидел его два года спустя после того происшествия, о котором я намереваюсь рассказать, ему нельзя было дать более пятидесяти лет. Представьте себе человека небольшого роста, но крепкого, с вьющимися чёрными, как смоль, волосами, орлиным носом, тонкими губами, большими живыми глазами и лицом цвета невыделанной кожи. Меткость, с которой он стрелял из ружья, была необычной даже для этого края, где столько хороших стрелков. Маттео, например, никогда не стрелял в муфлона дробью, но на расстоянии ста двадцати шагов убивал его наповал выстрелом в голову или в лопатку — по своему выбору. Ночью он владел оружием так же свободно, как и днем. Мне рассказывали о таком примере его ловкости, который мог бы показаться неправдоподобным тому, кто не бывал на Корсике. В восьмидесяти шагах от него ставили зажжённую свечу за листом прозрачной бумаги величиной с тарелку. Он прицеливался, затем свечу тушили, и спустя минуту в полной темноте он стрелял и три раза из четырех пробивал бумагу.

Такое необыкновенно высокое искусство доставило Маттео Фальконе большую известность. Его считали таким же хорошим другом, как и опасным врагом; впрочем, услужливый для друзей и щедрый к бедным, он жил в мире со всеми в округе Порто-Веккьо. Но о нем рассказывали, что в Корте, откуда он взял себе жену, он жестоко расправился с соперником, который слыл за человека опасного, как на войне, так и в любви; по крайней мере, Маттео приписывали выстрел из ружья, который настиг соперника в ту минуту, когда тот брился перед зеркальцем, висевшим у окна. Когда эту историю замяли, Маттео женился. Его жена Джузеппа родила ему сначала трех дочерей (что приводило его в ярость) и наконец сына, которому он дал имя Фортунато, — надежду семьи и продолжателя рода. Дочери были удачно выданы замуж: в случае чего отец мог рассчитывать на кинжалы и карабины зятьёв. Сыну исполнилось только десять лет, но он подавал уже большие надежды.

Однажды ранним осенним утром Маттео с женой отправились в маки поглядеть на свои стада, которые паслись на прогалине. Маленький Фортунато хотел идти с ними, но пастбище было слишком далеко, кому-нибудь надо было остаться стеречь дом, и отец не взял его с собой. Из дальнейшего будет видно, как ему пришлось в том раскаяться.

Прошло уже несколько часов, как они ушли; маленький Фортунато спокойно лежал на самом солнцепёке и, глядя на голубые горы, думал, что в будущее воскресенье он пойдет обедать в город к своему дяде caporale, как вдруг его размышления были прерваны ружейным выстрелом. Он вскочил и повернулся в сторону равнины, откуда донёсся этот звук. Снова через неравные промежутки времени послышались выстрелы, все ближе и ближе; наконец на тропинке, ведущей от равнины к дому Маттео, показался человек, покрытый лохмотьями, обросший бородой, в остроконечной шапке, какие носят горцы. Он с трудом передвигал ноги, опираясь на ружье. Его только что ранили в бедро.

Это был бандит, который, отправившись ночью в город за порохом, попал в засаду корсиканских вольтижеров. Он яростно отстреливался и в конце концов сумел спастись от погони, прячась за уступы скал. Но он не намного опередил солдат: рана не позволила ему добежать до маки.

Он подошел к Фортунато и спросил:

— Ты сын Маттео Фальконе?

— Да.

— Я Джаннетто Санпьеро. За мной гонятся жёлтые воротники. Спрячь меня, я не могу больше идти.

— А что скажет отец, если я спрячу тебя без его разрешения?

— Он скажет, что ты хорошо сделал.

— Как знать!

— Спрячь меня скорей, они идут сюда!

— Подожди, пока вернётся отец.

— Ждать? Проклятье! Да они будут здесь через пять минут. Ну же, спрячь меня скорей, а не то я убью тебя!

Фортунато ответил ему с полным хладнокровием:

— Ружье твоё разряжено, а в твоей carchera нет больше патронов.

— При мне кинжал.

— Где тебе угнаться за мной!

Одним прыжком он очутился вне опасности.

— Нет, ты не сын Маттео Фальконе! Неужели ты позволишь, чтобы меня схватили возле твоего дома?

Это, видимо, подействовало на мальчика.

— А что ты мне дашь, если я спрячу тебя? — спросил он, приближаясь.

Бандит пошарил в кожаной сумке, висевшей у него на поясе, и вынул оттуда пятифранковую монету, которую он, вероятно, припрятал, чтобы купить пороху. Фортунато улыбнулся при виде серебряной монеты; он схватил ее и сказал Джаннетто:

— Не бойся ничего.

Тотчас же он сделал большое углубление в копне сена, стоявшей возле дома. Джаннетто свернулся в нем клубком, и мальчик прикрыл его сеном так, чтобы воздух проникал туда и ему было чем дышать. Никому бы и в голову не пришло, что в копне кто-то спрятан. Кроме того, с хитростью дикаря он придумал ещё одну уловку. Он притащил кошку с котятами и положил ее на сено, чтобы казалось, будто его давно уже не ворошили. Потом, заметив следы крови на тропинке у дома, он тщательно засыпал их землей и снова как ни в чем не бывало растянулся на солнцепеке.

Несколько минут спустя шестеро стрелков в коричневой форме с желтыми воротниками под командой сержанта уже стояли перед домом Маттео. Этот сержант приходился дальним родственником Фальконе. (Известно, что на Корсике более чем где-либо считаются родством.) Его звали Теодоро Гамба. Это был очень деятельный человек, гроза бандитов, которых он переловил немало.

— Здорово, племянничек! — сказал он, подходя к Фортунато. — Как ты вырос! Не проходил ли тут кто-нибудь сейчас?

— Ну, дядя, я еще не такой большой, как вы! — ответил мальчик с простодушным видом.

— Подрастешь! Ну, говори же: тут никто не проходил?

— Проходил ли здесь кто-нибудь?

— Да, человек в остроконечной бархатной шапке и в куртке, расшитой красным и желтым.

— Человек в остроконечной бархатной шапке и куртке, расшитой красным и желтым?

— Да. Отвечай скорей и не повторяй моих вопросов.

— Сегодня утром мимо нас проехал священник на своей лошади Пьеро. Он спросил, как поживает отец, и я ответил ему…

— Ах, шельмец! Ты хитришь! Отвечай скорей, куда девался Джаннетто, мы его ищем. Он прошел по этой тропинке, я в этом уверен.

— Почем я знаю?

— Почем ты знаешь? А я вот знаю, что ты его видел.

— Разве видишь прохожих, когда спишь?

— Ты не спал, плут! Выстрелы разбудили тебя.

— Вы думаете, дядюшка, что ваши ружья так громко стреляют? Отцовский карабин стреляет куда громче.

— Черт бы тебя побрал, проклятое отродье! Я уверен, что ты видел Джаннетто. Может быть, даже спрятал его. Ребята! Входите в дом, поищите там нашего беглеца. Он ковылял на одной лапе, а у этого мерзавца слишком много здравого смысла, чтобы попытаться дойти до маки хромая. Да и следы крови кончаются здесь.

— А что скажет отец? — спросил Фортунато насмешливо. — Что он скажет, когда узнает, что без него входили в наш дом?

— Мошенник! — сказал Гамба, хватая его за ухо. — Стоит мне только захотеть, и ты запоешь по-иному! Следует, пожалуй, дать тебе десятка два ударов саблей плашмя, чтобы ты наконец заговорил.

А Фортунато продолжал посмеиваться.

— Мой отец — Маттео Фальконе! — сказал он значительно.

— Знаешь ли ты, плутишка, что я могу увезти тебя в Корте4 или в Бастию5, бросить в тюрьму на солому, заковать в кандалы и отрубить голову, если ты не скажешь, где Джаннетто Санпьеро?

Мальчик расхохотался, услышав такую смешную угрозу. Он повторил:

— Мой отец — Маттео Фальконе.

— Сержант! — тихо сказал один из вольтижеров. — Не надо ссориться с Маттео.

Гамба был явно в затруднении. Он вполголоса переговаривался с солдатами, которые успели уже осмотреть весь дом. Это заняло не так много времени, потому что жилище корсиканца состоит из одной квадратной комнаты. Стол, скамейки, сундук, домашняя утварь и охотничьи принадлежности — вот и вся его обстановка. Маленький Фортунато гладил тем временем кошку и, казалось, ехидствовал над замешательством вольтижеров и дядюшки.

Один из солдат подошёл к копне сена. Он увидел кошку и, небрежно ткнув штыком в сено, пожал плечами, как бы сознавая, что такая предосторожность нелепа. Ничто не пошевелилось, лицо мальчика не выразило ни малейшего волнения.

Сержант и его отряд теряли терпение; они уже поглядывали на равнину, как бы собираясь вернуться туда, откуда пришли, но тут их начальник, убедившись, что угрозы не производят никакого впечатления на сына Фальконе, решил сделать последнюю попытку и испытать силу ласки и подкупа.

— Племянник! — проговорил он. — Ты, кажется, славный мальчик. Ты пойдешь далеко. Но, черт побери, ты ведешь со мной дурную игру, и, если б не боязнь огорчить моего брата Маттео, я увел бы тебя с собой.

— Еще чего!

— Но когда Маттео вернётся, я расскажу ему все, как было, и за твою ложь он хорошенько выпорет тебя.

— Посмотрим!

— Вот увидишь… Но слушай: будь умником, и я тебе что-то дам.

— А я, дядюшка, дам вам совет: если вы будете медлить, Джаннетто уйдёт в маки, и тогда потребуется ещё несколько таких молодчиков, как вы, чтобы его догнать.

Сержант вытащил из кармана серебряные часы, которые стоили добрых десять экю, и, заметив, что глаза маленького Фортунато загорелись при виде их, сказал ему, держа часы на весу за конец стальной цепочки:

— Плутишка! Тебе бы, наверно, хотелось носить на груди такие часы, ты прогуливался бы по улицам Порто-Веккьо гордо, как павлин, и когда прохожие спрашивали бы у тебя: «Который час?» — ты отвечал бы: «Поглядите на мой часы».

— Когда я вырасту, мой дядя капрал подарит мне часы.

— Да, но у сына твоего дяди уже есть часы… правда, не такие красивые, как эти… а ведь он моложе тебя.

Мальчик вздохнул.

— Ну что ж, хочешь ты получить эти часы, племянничек?

Фортунато, искоса поглядывавший на часы, походил на кота, которому подносят целого цыплёнка. Чувствуя, что его дразнят, он не решается запустить в него когти, время от времени отводит глаза, чтобы устоять против соблазна, поминутно облизывается и всем своим видом словно говорит хозяину: «Как жестока ваша шутка!»

Однако сержант Гамба, казалось, и впрямь решил подарить ему часы. Фортунато не протянул руки за ними, но сказал ему с горькой усмешкой:

— Зачем вы смеетесь надо мной?

— Ей-богу, не смеюсь. Скажи только, где Джаннетто, и часы твои.

Фортунато недоверчиво улыбнулся, его чёрные глаза впились в глаза сержанта, он старался прочесть в них, насколько можно верить его словам.

— Пусть с меня снимут эполеты, — вскричал сержант, — если ты не получишь за это часы! Солдаты будут свидетелями, что я не откажусь от своих слов.

Говоря так, он все ближе и ближе подносил часы к Фортунато, почти касаясь ими бледной щеки мальчика. Лицо Фортунато явно отражало вспыхнувшую в его душе борьбу между страстным желанием получить часы и долгом гостеприимства. Его голая грудь тяжело вздымалась — казалось, он сейчас задохнется. А часы покачивались перед ним, вертелись, то и дело задевая кончик его носа. Наконец Фортунато нерешительно потянулся к часам, пальцы правой руки коснулись их, часы легли на его ладонь, хотя сержант все ещё не выпускал из рук цепочку… Голубой циферблат… Ярко начищенная крышка… Она огнём горит на солнце… Искушение было слишком велико.

Фортунато поднял левую руку и указал большим пальцем через плечо на копну сена, к которой он прислонился. Сержант сразу понял его. Он отпустил конец цепочки, и Фортунато почувствовал себя единственным обладателем часов. Он вскочил стремительнее лани и отбежал на десять шагов от копны, которую вольтижеры принялись тотчас же раскидывать.

Сено зашевелилось, и окровавленный человек с кинжалом в руке вылез из копны; он попытался стать на ноги, но запекшаяся рана не позволила ему этого. Он упал. Сержант бросился на него и вырвал кинжал. Его сейчас же связали по рукам и ногам, несмотря на сопротивление.

Лежа на земле, скрученный, как вязанка хвороста, Джаннетто повернул голову к Фортунато, который подошёл к нему.

— …сын! — сказал он скорее презрительно, чем гневно.

Мальчик бросил ему серебряную монету, которую получил от него, — он сознавал, что уже не имеет на нее права, — но преступник, казалось, не обратил на это никакого внимания. С полным хладнокровием он сказал сержанту:

— Дорогой Гамба! Я не могу идти; вам придётся нести меня до города.

— Ты только что бежал быстрее козы, — возразил жестокий победитель. — Но будь спокоен: от радости, что ты наконец попался мне в руки, я бы пронёс тебя на собственной спине целую милю, не чувствуя усталости. Впрочем, приятель, мы сделаем для тебя носилки из веток и твоего плаща, а на ферме Кресполи найдём лошадей.

— Ладно, — молвил пленник, — прибавьте только немного соломы на носилки, чтобы мне было удобнее.

Пока вольтижеры были заняты — кто приготовлением носилок из ветвей каштана, кто перевязкой раны Джаннетто, — на повороте тропинки, ведшей в маки, вдруг появились Маттео Фальконе и его жена. Женщина с трудом шла, согнувшись под тяжестью огромного мешка с каштанами, в то время как муж шагал налегке с одним ружьём в руках, а другим — за спиной, ибо никакая ноша, кроме оружия, недостойна мужчины.

При виде солдат Маттео прежде всего подумал, что они пришли его арестовать. Откуда такая мысль? Разве у Маттео были какие-нибудь нелады с властями? Нет, имя его пользовалось доброй славой. Он был, что называется, благонамеренным обывателем, но в то же время корсиканцем и горцем, а кто из корсиканцев-горцев, хорошенько порывшись в памяти, не найдет у себя в прошлом какого-нибудь грешка: ружейного выстрела, удара кинжалом или тому подобного пустячка? Совесть Маттео была чище, чем у кого-либо, ибо вот уже десять лет, как он не направлял дула своего ружья на человека, но все же он был настороже и приготовился стойко защищаться, если это понадобится.

— Жена! — сказал он Джузеппе. — Положи мешок и будь наготове.

Она тотчас же повиновалась. Он передал ей ружье, которое висело у него за спиной и могло ему помешать. Второе ружье он взял на прицел и стал медленно приближаться к дому, держась ближе к деревьям, окаймлявшим дорогу, готовый при малейшем враждебном действии укрыться за самый толстый ствол, откуда он мог бы стрелять из-за прикрытия. Джузеппа шла за ним следом, держа второе ружье и патронташ. Долг хорошей жены — во время боя заряжать ружье для своего мужа.

Сержанту тоже стало как-то не по себе, когда он увидел медленно приближавшегося Маттео с ружьем наготове и пальцем на курке.

«А что, — подумал он, — если Маттео — родственник или друг Джаннетто и захочет его защищать? Тогда двое из нас наверняка получат пули его ружей, как письма с почты. Ну, а если он прицелится в меня, несмотря на наше родство?..»

Наконец он принял смелое решение — пойти навстречу Маттео и, как старому знакомому, рассказать ему обо всем случившемся. Однако короткое расстояние, отделявшее его от Маттео, показалось ему ужасно длинным.

— Эй, приятель! — закричал он. — Как поживаешь, дружище? Это я, Гамба, твой родственник!

Маттео, не говоря ни слова, остановился; пока сержант говорил, он медленно поднимал дуло ружья так, что оно оказалось направленным в небо в тот момент, когда сержант приблизился.

— Добрый день, брат! — сказал сержант, протягивая ему руку. — Давненько мы не виделись.

— Добрый день, брат!

— Я зашел мимоходом поздороваться с тобой и сестрицей Пеппой. Сегодня мы сделали изрядный конец, но у нас слишком знатная добыча, и мы не можем жаловаться на усталость. Мы только что накрыли Джаннетто Санпьеро.

— Слава богу! — вскричала Джузеппа. — На прошлой неделе он увел у нас дойную козу.

Эти слова обрадовали Гамбу.

— Бедняга! — отозвался Маттео. — Он был голоден!

— Этот негодяй защищался, как лев, — продолжал сержант, слегка раздосадованный. — Он убил одного моего стрелка и раздробил руку капралу Шардону; ну, да это беда невелика: ведь Шардон — француз… А потом он так хорошо спрятался, что сам дьявол не сыскал бы его. Если бы не мой племянник Фортунато, я никогда бы его не нашел.

— Фортунато? — вскричал Маттео.

— Фортунато? — повторила Джузеппа.

— Да! Джаннетто спрятался вон в той копне сена, но племянник раскрыл его хитрость. Я расскажу об этом его дяде капралу, и тот пришлёт ему в награду хороший подарок. А я упомяну и его и тебя в донесении на имя прокурора.

— Проклятье! — чуть слышно произнёс Маттео.

Они подошли к отряду. Джаннетто лежал на носилках, его собирались унести. Увидев Маттео рядом с Гамбой, он как-то странно усмехнулся, а потом, повернувшись лицом к дому, плюнул на порог и сказал:

— Дом предателя!

Только человек, обречённый на смерть, мог осмелиться назвать Фальконе предателем. Удар кинжала немедленно отплатил бы за оскорбление, и такой удар не пришлось бы повторять.

Однако Маттео поднёс только руку ко лбу, как человек, убитый горем.

Фортунато, увидев отца, ушёл в дом. Вскоре он снова появился с миской молока в руках и, опустив глаза, протянул ее Джаннетто.

— Прочь от меня! — громовым голосом закричал арестованный.

Затем, обернувшись к одному из вольтижеров, он промолвил:

— Товарищ! Дай мне напиться.

Солдат подал ему флягу, и бандит отпил воду, поднесённую рукой человека, с которым он только что обменялся выстрелами. Потом он попросил не скручивать ему руки за спиной, а связать их крестом на груди.

— Я люблю лежать удобно, — сказал он.

Его просьбу с готовностью исполнили; затем сержант подал знак к выступлению, простился с Маттео и, не получив ответа, быстрым шагом двинулся к равнине.

Прошло около десяти минут, а Маттео все молчал. Мальчик тревожно поглядывал то на мать, то на отца, который, опираясь на ружье, смотрел на сына с выражением сдержанного гнева.

— Хорошо начинаешь! — сказал наконец Маттео голосом спокойным, но страшным для тех, кто знал этого человека.

— Отец! — вскричал мальчик; глаза его наполнились слезами, он сделал шаг вперёд, как бы собираясь упасть перед ним на колени.

Но Маттео закричал:

— Прочь!

И мальчик, рыдая, остановился неподвижно в нескольких шагах от отца.

Подошла Джузеппа. Ей бросилась в глаза цепочка от часов, конец которой торчал из-под рубашки Фортунато.

— Кто дал тебе эти часы? — спросила она строго.

— Дядя сержант.

Фальконе выхватил часы и, с силой швырнув о камень, разбил их вдребезги.

— Жена! — сказал он. — Мой ли это ребёнок?

Смуглые щеки Джузеппы стали краснее кирпича.

— Опомнись, Маттео! Подумай, кому ты это говоришь!

— Значит, этот ребёнок первый в нашем роду стал предателем.

Рыдания и всхлипывания Фортунато усилились, а Фальконе по-прежнему не сводил с него своих рысьих глаз. Наконец он стукнул прикладом о землю и, вскинув ружье на плечо, пошёл по дороге в маки, приказав Фортунато следовать за ним. Мальчик повиновался.

Джузеппа бросилась к Маттео и схватила его за руку.

— Ведь это твой сын! — вскрикнула она дрожащим голосом, впиваясь чёрными глазами в глаза мужа и словно пытаясь прочесть то, что творилось в его душе.

— Оставь меня, — сказал Маттео. — Я его отец!

Джузеппа поцеловала сына и, плача, вернулась в дом. Она бросилась на колени перед образом богоматери и стала горячо молиться. Между тем Фальконе, пройдя шагов двести по тропинке, спустился в небольшой овраг. Попробовав землю прикладом, он убедился, что земля рыхлая и что копать ее будет легко. Место показалось ему пригодным для исполнения его замысла.

— Фортунато! Стань у того большого камня.

Исполнив его приказание, Фортунато упал на колени.

— Молись!

— Отец! Отец! Не убивай меня!

— Молись! — повторил Маттео грозно.

Запинаясь и плача, мальчик прочитал «Отче наш» и «Верую». Отец в конце каждой молитвы твёрдо произносил «аминь».

— Больше ты не знаешь молитв?

— Отец! Я знаю ещё «Богородицу» и литанию, которой научила меня тётя.

— Она очень длинная… Ну все равно, читай.

Литанию мальчик договорил совсем беззвучно.

— Ты кончил?

— Отец, пощади! Прости меня! Я никогда больше не буду! Я попрошу дядю капрала, чтобы Джаннетто помиловали!

Он лепетал ещё что-то; Маттео вскинул ружье и, прицелившись, сказал:

— Да простит тебя бог!

Фортунато сделал отчаянное усилие, чтобы встать и припасть к ногам отца, но не успел. Маттео выстрелил, и мальчик упал мёртвый.

Даже не взглянув на труп, Маттео пошёл по тропинке к дому за лопатой, чтобы закопать сына. Не успел он пройти и нескольких шагов, как увидел Джузеппу: она бежала, встревоженная выстрелом.

— Что ты сделал? — воскликнула она.

— Совершил правосудие.

— Где он?

— В овраге. Я сейчас похороню его. Он умер христианином. Я закажу по нем панихиду. Надо сказать зятю, Теодору Бьянки, чтобы он переехал к нам жить.

1 Порто-Веккьо — город и порт на юго-восточном побережье Корсики.

2 Муфлоны — порода диких баранов, более крупных, чем домашние, и с более грубой шерстью.

3 Когда в 18… году я посетил Корсику… — в действительности Мериме, работая над новеллой, ещё ни разу не был на Корсике; он посетил этот остров лишь в сентябре 1839 года (о чем он рассказал в «Заметках о путешествии по Корсике», 1840).

4 Корте — город в центре Корсики.

5 Бастия — город и порт на северо-восточном побережье Корсики.

August 7, 2018by Сергей
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