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Title: The Mysterious Sketch
Author: Erckmann-Chatrian
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Mysterious Sketch" ***

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Copyright (C) 2011 by Michael John Wooff



The mysterious sketch

by Emile Erckmann (1822-1899) and
Alexandre Chatrian (1826-1890)

I

Opposite the Saint Sebaldus Chapel in Nuremberg rises up a little
inn, tall and narrow, with a jagged gable, dusty windows and a 
plaster cast of Our Lady on top of its roof.  It was here that I spent
the unhappiest days of my life.  I had gone to Nuremberg to study
the old German masters, but, due to a lack of liquidity, I had to 
paint portraits...and what portraits they were! Fat purveyors of 
tittle-tattle with a cat on their knees, aldermen in wigs, burgomasters 
wearing a three-cornered hat and the whole thing set off by luminous 
ochre and cinnabar by the bucketful.

From portraits I descended to sketches and from sketches to outlines.

Nothing can be worse, believe me, than to constantly have on your 
back a head steward, tight-lipped, shrill, impudent-looking, who comes 
to you every day with:  "So then!  How soon will you be paying, sir?  
Have you any idea how much your bill is now?  No.  It doesn't bother 
you, does it?... Sir eats, drinks and sleeps as he pleases...  Does not 
our heavenly Father feed even the birds of the air?  Sir's bill comes to 
four hundred schillings and ten kreuzer...  It's hardly worth mentioning, 
I know."

Those who have not heard this scale being sung can have no concept
of it - love of art, imagination, a sacred passion for the beautiful all
dry up under the withering breath of such a browbeater...  You grow 
gauche and timid, all your energy dissipated along with any feeling of 
personal dignity.

One night, penniless as usual, and threatened with debtor's prison by 
that worthy steward Rap, I decided I would thwart his hopes of payment
by slitting my throat.  With this pleasant thought in mind, sitting on my
truckle bed opposite the window, I gave myself up to a thousand 
philosophical reflexions of varying degrees of cheerfulness.  I did not
dare to open my razor for fear that the irresistible force of my
reasoning might well instil in me sufficient courage to do away with
myself once and for all.  Having argued with myself in this way, I blew
out my candle, deferring the conclusion to this line of thought to the
morrow.

This abominable Rap had driven me completely round the bend.  All I
could do now artistically was draw silhouettes and my only desire was
to have the money to rid myself of this awful man's odious presence. 
But that night my mind performed a singular about-turn.  I woke up 
going on for one o'clock, relit my light and, wrapping around me my 
grey smock, dashed down on paper a quick sketch reminiscent of an 
old Dutch master...something strange, bizarre and bearing no 
resemblance to my usual style.

Picture a dark courtyard hemmed in by high dilapidated walls...These
walls are furnished with hooks seven or eight feet from the ground.
Even at a cursory glance we may guess that this is a shambles of some 
sort.

On the left there is a latticework made up of narrow strips.  Through it
you can see a side of beef suspended from an enormous ceiling by
enormous pulleys.  Broad pools of blood run down over paving stones
and meet up in a drain full of undefined debris.

The light comes down from on high, from between chimneys, against
which weathervanes are silhouetted by a piece of sky only as big as 
your hand and the roofs of neighbouring houses drop their shadows
dramatically from one floor to another.

At the end of this recess is a space.  In this space is a woodshed, on
this woodshed ladders, a few bales of straw, rope, a hen-coop and an 
old rabbit hutch that has seen better days.

How did these heterogeneous details come to present themselves to
my imagination?...  I do not know.  I had no memories of things like 
this and yet each stroke of my charcoal pencil was a fantastic feat 
of observation by dint of being true to nature.  Nothing was missing!

But on the right of the picture one corner of the sketch remained 
blank. I knew not what to put there...  Something was stirring and 
moving about... Suddenly I saw a foot, a foot in the air, a foot off 
the ground. Despite its improbable position, I followed my inspiration 
without understanding where all this was leading.  This foot bordered 
on a leg...over the tensely stretched-out leg there soon floated part 
of a dress...To cut a long story short an old woman appeared, rumpled,
dishevelled, haggard, successively leaning backward over the edge
of a well and fighting against a fist that was strangling her...

I was drawing a murder scene.  The charcoal pencil fell from my hand.

This woman, posed in the most brazen of attitudes, the small of her 
back pushed up against the coping of the well, her face twisted in 
terror, her two hands tightly attached to the arm of the murderer, 
frightened me... I did not dare to look at her.  But the man himself, 
the owner of this arm, I could not see... It was impossible for me to 
finish what I was doing.

"I'm tired," I told myself, my brow bathed in sweat.  "I only have this
one figure still to do.  I'll finish it tomorrow... It shouldn't be hard."

And I went back to bed, scared half to death by my vision.  Five 
minutes later I was fast asleep.

The following day I was up at the crack of dawn.  I had just got
dressed and was preparing myself to take up where I had left off
when two short knocks resounded at the door:

"Come in!"

The door opened.  A man already in the twilight of his life, tall,
thin, dressed in black, appeared on the threshold.  The face of
this man, his eyes set close together, his great hook nose over
which loomed a broad, bony brow had something stern about it.
He greeted me solemnly.

"Mr Christian Venius, the painter?" he said.

"I am he, sir."

He bowed once more, giving his own name:

"Baron Frederick Van Spreckdal."

The appearance in my poor hovel of the rich art collector Van
Spreckdal, a judge in the criminal court, made a strong impression
on me.  I could not stop myself from casting a surreptitious glance
at my old worm-eaten furniture, my damp tapestries and my dusty
floor.  I felt humiliated by such a squalid state of affairs...  But
Van Spreckdal did not seem to pay any attention to these things
and promptly sat down at my little table:

"Mister Venius," he went on, "I've come to..."

But, just then, his eyes came to rest on the incomplete sketch....
he failed to finish his sentence.  I had seated myself on the edge
of the truckle bed and the sudden attention given by this person
to one of my works made my heart beat faster with a feeling
of apprehension that was difficult to define.

After a minute Van Spreckdal raised his head:

"Are you the author of this sketch?" he asked, now giving me his
undivided attention.

"Yes, sir."

"What are you asking for it?"

"I don't sell my sketches...  It's the rough draft for a picture."

"I see," he said, lifting up the paper with the tips of his long yellow
fingers.  He took a magnifying glass from his waistcoat pocket and
started to study the drawing in silence.

The sun's rays were, at this time of day, falling obliquely into my
garret.  Van Spreckdal did not breathe a word; his big nose curved
into a claw, his thick eyebrows contracted, and his protruding
chin created a thousand wrinkles in his long sunken cheeks.  The
silence was so impenetrable that I could hear quite distinctly the
plaintive buzzing of a fly caught in a spider's web.

"And how big is this picture going to be, Mister Venius?" he said
without even looking at me.

"Three feet by four feet."

"What will you charge for the picture?"

"Fifty ducats."

Van Spreckdal placed the drawing on the table and took out of
his pocket a drooping green silk purse, elongated into the shape
of a pear.  He slid the rings in order to open it.

"Fifty ducats then," he said.  "There you have them."

I went dizzy.

The baron got up, said goodbye to me and I heard his great ivory-
handled cane knock against each step till he finally came to the
bottom of the stairs.  Then, waking up from my temporary stupor,
I suddenly remembered that I had not thanked him, and I ran down
those four flights of stairs as quick as a flash.  But, when I got to
the door, it was in vain that I looked both right and left - the street
was deserted.

"Well!  Fancy that!" I said to myself.  "Here's a how-d'you-do!"

And I went back up the stairs quite out of breath.

II

The surprising way in which Van Spreckdal had just appeared
to me threw me into a deep trance:  "Yesterday," I said to myself
as I contemplated the pile of ducats sparkling in the sunshine,
"yesterday I formed the culpable intention of cutting my throat
for the lack of a few miserable schillings and today good fortune
smiles on me unbidden...  A good job then I didn't open my
razor and, if ever the temptation to do away with myself overtakes
me again, I'll take care to put the thing off to the following day."

After these judicious reflexions, I sat down to finish the sketch.
Four strokes of the charcoal pencil and that would be that.  But here 
an unfathomable disappointment awaited me.  I found it impossible 
to make these four strokes.  I had lost the thread of my inspiration
and the mysterious personage would not emerge from the limbo
of my brain.  It was in vain that I evoked it, mapped it out, went 
back to it -- it was no more in keeping with the whole than a
figure by Raphael would be in a David Teniers smoke-filled snug...
I was sweating cobs.

To cap it all Rap, in accordance with his habitual good manners, 
opened the door without knocking, his eyes becoming glued to
my pile of ducats.  Then he cried out in a voice like a yelp:

"Aha!  I've caught you.  Will you persist in telling me now, Mr
Painter, that you're short of money?..."

And his claw-like fingers advanced with that nervous trembling
that the sight of gold always arouses in misers.

For a few seconds I stood there stupefied.

The memory of all the open snubs that this individual had inflicted
on me, his covetous gaze, his insolent smile, everything about him
exasperated me.  In a single bound I seized him and, pushing him
out of my bedroom with both hands, I flattened his nose with the 
door.

This was all done with the crack and the rapidity of a jack-in-the-box.

But outside the old usurer was shrieking like an eagle:

"I want my money!  Thief!  I want my money!"

The other tenants were coming out of their rooms and asking
questions:

"What's wrong?  What's happening?"

I opened the door again abruptly and dispatched a kick to the
spine of Mister Rap that promptly sent him reeling down more than
a score of stairs:

"That's what's happening!" I cried, beside myself.  Then I locked
the door and bolted it while the laughs of my neighbours greeted
Mister Rap as he fell.

I was pleased with myself and rubbed my hands together joyfully.
This adventure had put new life into me.  I went back to the task
in hand and was going to finish the sketch when my ears were
assailed by an out of the ordinary noise.

Rifle butts were being struck against the pavement...  I looked
out of my window and saw three gendarmes, their carbines
grounded, their cocked hats crosswise, standing on guard at 
the main entrance.

"Has that scoundrel Rap broken something?" I said to myself in 
fear and trembling.

And see what a strange thing the human mind is: I, who had wanted 
to cut my own throat just the previous day, shuddered to the marrow 
of my bones when I reflected that I might well be hanged if Rap was 
dead.

The stairwell filled with a hubbub of noises...  There was a rising 
tide of muffled footfalls, the metallic clink of weapons and brief 
verbal exchanges.

Suddenly they tried to open my door.  It was closed!

Then there was a general commotion.

"In the name of the law...open up!"

I got to my feet all of a-quiver, my legs virtually giving way under 
me.

"Open up!" the same voice repeated.

Seeing that flight was impossible, I stumbled towards the door and 
turned the key to unlock it.

Two fists instantly clamped themselves on my shoulders. A short 
thickset man, smelling of wine, said to me:

"I'm arresting you!"

He was wearing a bottle-green frock coat buttoned up to the chin, 
a stovepipe hat...had great brown sideburns...rings on all his fingers 
and was called Passauf...

He was the chief of police.

Five bulldog heads adorned with flat caps, with long, sharp noses and 
lower jaws protruding like hooks, were watching me from outside the 
door.

"What do you want?" I asked Passauf.

"Come downstairs with us," he shouted out abruptly, motioning to one 
of his men to grab me.

The latter dragged me out, more dead than alive, while the others 
ransacked my room from top to bottom.

I went down, held up by my armpits, like a man in the third stage of 
consumption...my hair flapping about my face and tripping with each 
step I took.

They threw me into a hansom next to two strapping fellows who were 
kind enough to show me the ends of two clubs attached to their wrists 
by a leather strap....then the carriage set off.

I could hear following on behind us the running footsteps of all the 
town's youngsters.

"What have I done?" I asked one of my guards.

He looked at his companion with a strange smile and said:

"Hans...he's asking what he's done!"

That smile made my blood run cold.

Soon the carriage was enveloped in deep shadow and the hooves of the 
horses echoed under a vault.  We were entering the Raspelhaus or 
Penitentiary...I was escaping Rap's tender mercies only to end up in a 
dungeon from which not many poor devils have had the opportunity to
extricate themselves.

Big dark courtyards; lines of windows just like in a hospital decked
with guttering; not so much as a tuft of grass or a festoon of ivy, not 
even a weathervane in prospect...such were my new lodgings.  It was 
enough to make you tear your hair out by the fistful.

The policemen, accompanied by the jailer, showed me into a temporary 
cell.

The jailer, if memory serves me right, was called Kasper Schlüssel 
and, with his grey woollen bonnet, the stem of his pipe stuck between 
his teeth and the bunch of keys on his belt, he came over to me like 
the Owl god people worship in the Caribbean.  He had his great round 
gilded eyes that can see in the dark, his curved nose and his bull 
neck.

Schlüssel locked me up with a minimum of fuss like a person putting 
socks into a wardrobe, his mind elsewhere. As for me, my hands behind 
my back, head bowed, I stood there for more than ten minutes without 
moving from the spot.  Then I looked at my cell.  It had just been newly 
whitewashed and its walls were still empty of graffiti, apart from a 
gallows roughly drawn in one corner by the previous inmate.  The light 
came through a bull's-eye window situated nine or ten feet up from the 
floor; the furniture consisted of a bale of straw and a bathtub.

I sat down on the straw, my hands around my knees, in a state of 
dejection beggaring belief....

Almost simultaneously I heard Schlüssel crossing the corridor.  He 
re-opened the door of my cell and told me to follow him.  He still had 
as his attendants the two shillelagh men.  Resolutely I dogged his 
heels.

We passed through long galleries lit here and there by internal 
windows.  I perceived behind a grille the notorious Jick-Jack who 
was due to be executed the following day.  He was wearing a strait
jacket and singing in a raucous voice:

"I am the king of these mountains!"

When he saw me, he shouted:

"Yo, comrade!  I'll keep a place for you at my right hand."

The two policemen and the Owl god exchanged smiles with one another 
while I could feel goose bumps up and down my spine.

III

Schlüssel shepherded me into a very dark, high-ceilinged courtroom, 
furnished with benches in a semi-circle.  The appearance of this 
deserted courtroom, its two high windows protected by grilles, its 
crucifix of old oakwood stained brown on which the arms of Christ 
lay stretched out with the head sorrowfully resting on a shoulder, 
awoke in me I know not what religious fear in keeping with my
present situation and my lips moved as they framed a prayer.

I had not prayed for a long time, but misfortune always takes us 
back to thoughts of submissiveness...  Man is such a small thing!

Facing me, on a raised dais, two people were sitting with their 
backs to the light, which kept their faces shaded from me.  I could
see it was Van Spreckdal, however, by his aquiline nose picked out 
by a slanting reflection of the pane.  The man with him was fat - he 
had plump, full cheeks and wore a judge's robe, as did Van Spreckdal.

Sitting below them was the clerk of the court, Conrad.  He was sitting 
at a low table, tickling the lobe of his ear with the feather of his 
quill pen.  He stopped when I arrived to look at me with curiosity.

I was made to sit down and Van Spreckdal, raising his voice, spoke 
to me:

"Christian Venius, where did you get this drawing from?"

He showed me the nocturnal sketch then still in his possession. It was 
passed to me...  After I had examined it, I answered:

"I drew it myself."

This utterance on my part was followed by a fairly long silence; the 
clerk of the court, Conrad, was writing down my answer.  I heard his 
pen hurrying over the paper and thought:  "What does the question I 
have just been asked mean?  It has no connection with the kick that 
I aimed at Rap's back."

"You drew it yourself," Van Spreckdal resumed.  "What is the subject 
of it?"

"It's a subject out of my own head."

"You didn't copy these details from somewhere?"

"No, sir.  I imagined all of them."

"The accused would do well to reflect on the truth of what he is 
saying," said the judge severely.  "Do not lie to the court."

I went red in the face and cried out exaltedly:

"I have told it the truth."

"Write that down, clerk of the court," Van Spreckdal ordered.

The quill pen raced afresh.

"And this woman," the judge went on, "this woman being murdered on 
the edge of a well...  Did you imagine her as well?"

"I must have done."

"You've never seen her before?"

"Never."

Van Spreckdal got to his feet as if indignant, then, sitting down again, 
appeared to consult in a low voice with his fellow judge. 

 Those two dark profiles, silhouetted against the light-filled backdrop
of the window, the three men standing behind me...the silence in the 
amphitheatre...all these things made me shudder.

"What have they got against me?  What have I done?" I muttered to 
myself.

Suddenly Van Spreckdal said to my guards:

"Take the prisoner back to the carriage.  We're leaving for the 
Metzgerstrasse."

Then he addressed me directly:

"Christian Venius," he cried, "the situation that you find yourself 
in is most regrettable...Pull yourself together and consider that if 
human justice is unbending...you can still seek the pardon of a 
merciful God...You can even merit it by confessing your crime!"

These words stunned me like a blow from a hammer...I recoiled 
from them with arms outstretched crying:

"My God!  What a nightmare!"

And I fainted.

When I came round the carriage was rolling slowly through the 
street and another carriage was in front of us.  The two policemen 
were still there.  One of them, while we were still moving, offered 
a pinch of snuff to his colleague.  I too automatically stretched out 
my fingers to the snuffbox, but he pulled it away from me sharply.  

I felt my face go red with shame and I turned my head to one side in 
order to hide my emotion.

"If you look outside," said the owner of the snuffbox, "we'll have to 
put handcuffs on you."

"I hope the devil strangles you, you scurvy knave!" I thought to
myself inwardly.  And as the carriage had just stopped, one of them 
got down while the other held me back by the neck. Then, seeing his 
comrade ready to catch me, he pushed me out roughly.

These infinite precautions to ensure I did not run away augured
nothing good, but I still had not the foggiest idea of just how serious 
the accusation was that was hanging over me when a frightful incident 
finally opened my eyes to it and plunged me into despair.

I had just been pushed into a low alleyway with broken and uneven 
flagstones.  All along the wall there ran a yellowish ooze exhaling a 
fetid stench.  I walked among shadows with the two men behind me.  
Further on the chiaroscuro of an internal courtyard began to become 
visible.

As I approached it, I was possessed by an ever-increasing sense of 
terror.  There was nothing natural about it, just a harrowing feeling 
of impending doom, nightmarish, unnatural. I instinctively drew back 
from it with each forward step that I took.

"Get along with you!" one of the policemen shouted, putting his hand 
on my shoulder.  "Walk, damn you!"

Imagine my sense of dread when, at the end of this passage, I saw the 
courtyard I had drawn the night before with its walls furnished with 
hooks, its heaps of scrap metal, its hencoop and its rabbit hutch....
Not one skylight big or small, high or low, not one cracked pane 
of glass, not a single detail in my drawing had been left out!

I was transfixed by this bizarre turn of events.

Near the well were the two judges, Van Spreckdal and Richter. At 
their feet lay the old woman, supine...her long grey hair dishevelled...
her face blue...her eyes open inordinately wide...and her tongue 
caught in her teeth. 

It was horrendous!

"Well," Van Spreckdal said to me solemnly, "what have you got to 
say for yourself?"

I chose not to answer.

"Do you admit to having thrown this woman, Theresa Becker, down 
this well after strangling her to steal her money?"

"No!"  I shouted.  "No!  I don't know this woman!  I've never seen 
her before!  As God is my witness!"

"You've said enough," he retorted drily.

And he strode off, without any further ado, in the company of his 
colleague.

The policemen then saw fit to put the handcuffs on me.  I was taken 
back to the Raspelhaus in a catatonic state.  I no longer knew what 
to think...even my conscience was plaguing me. I started to wonder 
myself if I really had murdered the old woman!

In my guards' eyes I was guilty.

I will not tell you what my emotions were during that night in the 
Raspelhaus when, sitting on my bale of straw, with a skylight facing 
me and a gallows to look at, I heard the nightwatchman dissipate 
the silence with cries of:  "Sleep, good people of Nuremberg, the 
Lord is watching over you! One o'clock!...Two o'clock!...Three 
o'clock and all's well!"

Everyone must have some idea of what such a night is like.

Daylight came - pale and hesitant at first, it lit the bull's-eye window 
with its glimmers and the criss-crossed bars,...then it burst out upon 
the far wall.  Outside the street grew busy. There was a market that 
day.  It was Friday.  I could hear the creaking of the carts laden with 
vegetables and the good country folk burdened by baskets on their 
backs.  A few hens in cages squawked as they passed by and women 
selling butter chatted among themselves.  The market hall opposite 
was being opened to the public...the stalls were being arranged.

Finally it was broad daylight and the vast buzz of the swelling crowd, 
of housewives coming together with their basket under their arm, 
coming and going, talking and haggling, told me that it was eight 
o'clock in the morning.

With the coming of the light, my heart regained a little of its 
confidence.  Some of my darker ideas evaporated.  I felt the
desire to see what was happening outside.

Other prisoners before me had raised themselves up as far as
the bull's-eye, having made holes in the wall so as to climb it
more easily...I climbed up it in my turn and when, as I sat in the
oval hollow, my back bent, my head leaning forward, I was able
to see the crowd, life, movement...my tears trickled copiously
down my cheeks...I no longer contemplated suicide...I felt a 
need to live, to breathe in air that was truly extraordinary.

"Ah!" I said to myself.  "To live is to be happy!...They can make
me push a wheelbarrow and attach to my leg a ball and chain....
What does it matter?  As long as I can go on living!..."

While I was gazing thus, a man went by, a butcher, bent over
double, carrying an enormous side of beef on his shoulders.  
His arms were bare right up to his elbows, his head was bent
forward...A mop of long hair hid from me his face and yet, as
soon as I laid eyes on him, I gave a start...

"He's the one!"  I said to myself.

All my blood flowed back on my heart...I descended to my cell, 
trembling to the tips of my fingernails, feeling my cheeks wobble 
and my face flood with a deathly pallor and I stammered in a muffled 
voice:

"It's him!  He's there...he's there...and I'm going to die in his place
to expiate his crime...Good God!...What shall I do?  What shall I 
do?..."

I suddenly had an idea, an idea crossed my mind like manna from
heaven...My hand went into my jacket pocket!...The box containing
my charcoal was there.

Then, rushing towards the wall, I began to copy the murder scene
with unprecedented vigour.  No more uncertainty, no more trial and
error.  I knew the man...  I could see him...  He was posing for me.

At ten o'clock the jailer came into my cell.  His owl-like impassiveness
gave way to admiration.

"Can such things be?" he cried, standing in the doorway.

"Go and fetch my judges," I said to him, pursuing my work with
mounting excitement as I did so.

"They're waiting for you in the courtroom," Schlüssel added.

"I want to tell them something," I cried, putting the finishing touches
to the mysterious protagonist.

He was alive.  He was frightening to look upon.  His face, seen from
the side, foreshortened on the wall, stood out against the white
background with a prodigious presence.

The jailer left me.

A few minutes later the two judges appeared.  They stood there
open-mouthed.

As for me, my arm outstretched and trembling in every limb, I said
to them:

"Behold the murderer!"

Van Spreckdal, after some moments of silence, asked:

"His name?"

"I don't know... but he is at this moment in time in the covered 
market... he's cutting meat on the third stall on the left as you enter
the market hall through the Street of the Bodyguards."

"What do you think?" he said, leaning towards his fellow judge.

"Let that man be sent for," answered the latter in solemn tones.

Various guards, stationed in the corridor, obeyed this order.  The 
judges remained standing still looking at the drawing.  I sank down 
on the straw, my head between my knees, like someone dead.

Soon steps resounded from afar from under the vaults.  Those who 
have not waited for the hour of their deliverance and counted the 
minutes, long then like centuries... those who have not felt the 
agonizing feelings of waiting, terror, hope, doubt...those people 
will not be able to imagine the inner turmoil I was experiencing just 
then.  I could have distinguished the footsteps of the murderer, 
walking flanked by his guards, from a thousand other similar ones.  
They were getting nearer...Even the judges themselves seemed nervous.
I had raised my head and my heart was in the grip of an iron hand - 
I was staring at the now closed door.  It opened...  The man came in... 
His cheeks were puffy, his broad contracted jaws made the muscles 
in his face stand out prominently right up to his ears and his little eyes, 
restless and wild like those of a wolf, glittered under bushy eyebrows 
of a reddish brown.

Van Spreckdal showed him my drawing without so much as a word 
being said.

This broad-shouldered sanguine man, having looked at it, went pale... 
then, letting out a roar which made us all freeze in terror, he stuck out 
his huge arms and jumped backwards to knock down the guards.  
There was a frightful struggle outside in the corridor.  All that could 
be heard were the butcher's frantic panting, muffled curses, staccato 
speech and the feet of the guards, hoisted up off the floor, falling 
back on the flagstones.

This lasted for over a minute.

Finally the murderer was brought back in, his head lowered, his eye 
bloodshot, his hands tied up behind his back.  He stared once again 
at the picture of the murder...seemed to ponder it and then, in a low 
voice, speaking as if to himself, came out with:

"Who was around to have seen me at midnight?"

I had been saved from the hangman's noose!!! ....
...........................................................................

Many years have gone by since this terrible adventure.  I no longer 
do silhouettes or portraits of burgomasters, thank God!  By dint of 
perseverance and hard work, I have staked my claim to a place in 
the sun and I earn my living honourably by painting works of art, 
the only end, in my opinion, that any true artist should strive to 
attain.  But the memory of the nocturnal sketch has always stayed in 
my mind.  Sometimes, in the middle of working on something, my 
thoughts return to it.  When that happens I put down my palette and 
dream for hours on end!

How was it possible for a crime carried out by a man I did not know
in a place I had never seen before.... to reproduce itself under my 
charcoal and chalk so accurately, right down to the finest detail?

Was it by chance?  No!  And besides what is chance, after all, if not 
the effect of a cause that we cannot fathom?

Who knows?  Nature is much bolder in the construction of its realities 
than man's imagination in its fantasies.





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