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Title: Vampire
Author: Jan Neruda
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606811.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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Vampire
Jan Neruda


The excursion steamer brought us from Constantinople to the shore of
the island of Prinkipo and we disembarked. The number of passengers
was not large. There was one Polish family, a father, a mother, a
daughter and her bridegroom, and then we two. Oh, yes, I must not
forget that when we were already on the wooden bridge which crosses
the Golden Horn to Constantinople, a Greek, a rather youthful man,
joined us. He was probably an artist, judging by the portfolio he
carried under his arm. Long black locks floated to his shoulders, his
face was pale, and his black eyes were deeply set in their sockets.
From the first moment he interested me, especially for his
obligingness and for his knowledge of local conditions. But he talked
too much, and I then turned away from him.

All the more agreeable was the Polish family. The father and mother
were good-natured, fine people, the lover a handsome young fellow, of
direct and refined manners. They had come to Prinkipo to spend the
summer months for the sake of the daughter, who was slightly ailing.
The beautiful pale girl was either just recovering from a severe
illness or else a serious disease was just fastening its hold upon
her. She leaned upon her lover when she walked and very often sat down
to rest, while a frequent dry little cough interrupted her whispers.
Whenever she coughed, her escort would considerately pause in their
walk. He always cast upon her a glance of sympathetic suffering and
she would look back at him as if she would say: "It is nothing. I am
happy!" They believed in health and happiness.

On the recommendation of the Greek, who departed from us immediately
at the pier, the family secured quarters in the hotel on the hill. The
hotel-keeper was a Frenchman and his entire building was equipped
comfortably and artistically, according to the French style.

We breakfasted together and when the noon heat had abated somewhat we
all betook ourselves to the heights, where in the grove of Siberian
stone-pines we could refresh ourselves with the view. Hardly had we
found a suitable spot and settled ourselves when the Greek appeared
again. He greeted us lightly, looked about and seated himself only a
few steps from us. He opened his portfolio and began to sketch.

"I think he purposely sits with his back to the rocks so that we can't
look at his sketch," I said.

"We don't have to," said the young Pole. "We have enough before us to
look at." After a while he added, "It seems to me he's sketching us in
as a sort of background. Well--let him!"

We truly did have enough to gaze at. There is not a more beautiful or
more happy corner in the world than that very Prinkipo! The political
martyr, Irene, contemporary of Charles the Great, lived there for a
month as an exile. If I could live a month of my life there I would be
happy for the memory of it for the rest of my days! I shall never
forget even that one day spent at Prinkipo.

The air was as clear as a diamond, so soft, so caressing, that one's
whole soul swung out upon it into the distance. At the right beyond
the sea projected the brown Asiatic summits; to the left in the
distance purpled the steep coasts of Europe. The neighboring Chalki,
one of the nine islands of the "Prince's Archipelago," rose with its
cypress forests into the peaceful heights like a sorrowful dream,
crowned by a great structure--an asylum for those whose minds are
sick.

The Sea of Marmora was but slightly ruffled and played in all colors
like a sparkling opal. In the distance the sea was as white as milk,
then rosy, between the two islands a glowing orange and below us it
was beautifully greenish blue, like a transparent sapphire. It was
resplendent in its own beauty. Nowhere were there any large ships--
only two small craft flying the English flag sped along the shore. One
was a steamboat as big as a watchman's booth, the second had about
twelve oarsmen, and when their oars rose simultaneously molten silver
dripped from them. Trustful dolphins darted in and out among them and
dove with long, arching flights above the surface of the water.
Through the blue heavens now and then calm eagles winged their way,
measuring the space between two continents.

The entire slope below us was covered with blossoming roses whose
fragrance filled the air. From the coffee-house near the sea music was
carried up to us through the clear air, hushed somewhat by the
distance.

The effect was enchanting. We all sat silent and steeped our souls
completely in the picture of paradise. The young Polish girl lay on
the grass with her head supported on the bosom of her lover. The pale
oval of her delicate face was slightly tinged with soft color, and
from her blue eyes tears suddenly gushed forth. The lover understood,
bent down and kissed tear after tear. Her mother also was moved to
tears, and I--even I--felt a strange twinge.

"Here mind and body both must get well," whispered the girl. "How
happy a land this is!"

"God knows I haven't any enemies, but if I had I would forgive them
here!" said the father in a trembling voice.

And again we became silent. We were all in such a wonderful mood--so
unspeakably sweet it all was! Each felt for himself a whole world of
happiness and each one would have shared his happiness with the whole
world. All felt the same--and so no one disturbed another. We had
scarcely even noticed the Greek, after an hour or so, had arisen,
folded his portfolio and with a slight nod had taken his departure. We
remained.

Finally after several hours, when the distance was becoming overspread
with a darker violet, so magically beautiful in the south, the mother
reminded us it was time to depart. We arose and walked down towards
the hotel with the easy, elastic steps that characterize carefree
children. We sat down in the hotel under the handsome veranda.

Hardly had we been seated when we heard below the sounds of quarreling
and oaths. Our Greek was wrangling the hotel-keeper, and for the
entertainment of it we listened.

The amusement did not last long. "If I didn't have other guests,"
growled the hotel-keeper, and ascended the steps towards us.

"I beg you to tell me, sir," asked the young Pole of the approaching
hotel-keeper, "who is that gentleman? What's his name?"

"Eh--who knows what the fellow's name is?" grumbled the hotel-keeper,
and he gazed venomously downwards. "We call him the Vampire."

"An artist?"

"Fine trade! He sketches only corpses. Just as soon as someone in
Constantinople or here in the neighborhood dies, that very day he has
a picture of the dead one completed. That fellow paints them
beforehand--and he never makes a mistake--just like a vulture!"

The old Polish woman shrieked affrightedly. In her arms lay her
daughter pale as chalk. She had fainted.

In one bound the lover had leaped down the steps. With one hand he
seized the Greek and with the other reached for the portfolio.

We ran down after him. Both men were rolling in the sand. The contents
of the portfolio were scattered all about. On one sheet, sketched with
a crayon, was the head of the young Polish girl, her eyes closed and a
wreath of myrtle on her brow.



THE END



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