Umbertoec o



Download 1.04 Mb.
Page19/41
Date28.01.2021
Size1.04 Mb.
1   ...   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   ...   41

CHAPTER 20

Wit and the Art of Ingenuity



roberto still did not act, allowing the Intruder space to play in order to discover his game. He put the clocks back on the deck, wound them daily, then ran to feed the animals to prevent the Other from doing it, then he tidied every room and everything on deck, so that if the Other moved, his passage would be noted. During the day Roberto remained inside but with the door ajar, so as not to miss a sound from outside or from below; he kept watch at night, drank aqua vitae, again went down into the depths of the Daphne.

He discovered two other storage spaces beyond the hawser locker towards the prow, one was empty, the other completely full, its walls covered with shelves that had raised edges to prevent objects, falling when the sea turned rough. He saw lizard skins dried in the sun, pits of fruit of forgotten identity, stones of various colors, pebbles polished by the sea, fragments of coral, insects pierced with a pin on a board, a fly and a spider in a piece of amber, a dried chameleon, jars filled with liquid in which young snakes or little eels floated, enormous bones (a whale’s, he thought), the sword that must have adorned the snout of a fish, and a long horn which Roberto took for a unicorn’s, though I believe it was a narwhal’s In short, a room revealing a taste for erudite collection, such as could be found in those days on the vessels of explorers and naturalists.

In the center there was an open case, empty except for some straw on the bottom. What it must have contained Roberto realized when he returned to his lodging and, opening the door, found an animal awaiting him, erect, more terrible than if it had been the Intruder himself in flesh and blood.

A rat, a sewer rat, no, a demon more than half a man’s height, eyes glaring, a long tail stretching over the floor, it stood motionless on its hind legs while the front ones were like little arms stretched out towards Roberto. Short-haired, it had a bag on its belly, an opening, a natural sac from which a little monster of the same species was peering. We know how much thought Roberto had devoted to rats on the first two evenings; he had expected them big and wild, like all rats that live on ships. But this one exceeded his most fearful ex­pectations. He could not believe that human eye had ever seen a rat of such dimensions—and, with reason, for as we will later see, it was, I have deduced, a marsupial.

When the first moment of terror was past, it became clear, from the invader’s immobility, that the animal was stuffed, badly embalmed or badly preserved in the hold: the skin em­anated an odor of decomposed organs, and tufts of straw were already spilling from its back.

The Intruder, shortly before Roberto entered the cabinet of wonders, had removed its most effective piece, and as Ro­berto was admiring that museum, he had placed the animal in Roberto’s lodging, perhaps hoping that Roberto, victim, los­ing his reason, would rush to the bulwarks and plunge into the sea. He would have me dead, he would have me insane,

Roberto muttered, but I will make him eat his rat in mouth-fuls, I will stuff him and put him on those shelves. Where are you hiding, rogue, where are you, perhaps you are watching me to see if I lose my mind, but I will see you lose yours, scoundrel.

He pushed the animal onto the deck with the butt of his musket and, overcoming his revulsion, picked it up with his bare hands and flung it into the sea.

Determined to discover the hiding-place of the Intruder, he went back to the woodpile, taking care not to roll again on the logs now scattered over the floor. Beyond the wood he found a place that on the Amaryllis they called the soda (or soute or sola), for storing biscuit. Under a canvas there, carefully wrapped and protected, he found first of all a very large spy­glass, more powerful than the one he had in his room, perhaps a Hyperbole of the Eyes intended for the exploration of the sky. The telescope was in a big basin of light metal, and beside the basin, also carefully wrapped, were instruments of uncer­tain nature, metallic arms, a circular cloth with rings along its circumference, a kind of helmet, and finally three rounded containers that, to his smell, seemed full of a thick, stagnant oil. What purpose this collection might serve, Roberto did not ask himself: at that moment what he sought was a living creature.

He examined the soda to see if, below it, yet another space opened. There was one, but it was very cramped, so that he could advance only on all fours. He explored it, holding the lamp low, watching out for scorpions and in fear of setting fire to the ceiling. After a brief crawl he reached the end, striking his head against hard larch, the Ultima Thule of the Daphne, beyond which he could hear the water slapping against the hull. So beyond that blind passage there could be nothing further.

Then he stopped, as if the Daphne could reveal no more secrets to him.
If it seems strange that during a week or more on board the ship Roberto had not succeeded in seeing everything, suf­fice it to recall what happens to a boy who climbs into the attics or the cellars of a great and ancient dwelling, irregular in its plan. At every step cases of old books appear, discarded clothing, empty bottles, and piles of fagots, ruined furniture, dusty and rickety cupboards. The boy advances, lingers on the discovery of some treasure, glimpses an entrance, a dark pas­sage, and imagines some alarming presence there, postpones the search to a later occasion, and he proceeds always in tiny steps, on the one hand fearing to go too far, on the other in anticipation of future discoveries, yet daunted by the emotion of the recent ones, and that attic or cellar never ends, and can have in store for him enough new nooks and crannies to last through his boyhood and beyond.

And if the boy is frightened every time by new noises, or if—to keep him away from those labyrinths—he is daily told terrifying tales (and if that boy, in addition, is drunk), obvi­ously the space will expand at each new adventure. Such was Roberto’s life in the exploration of his still hostile territory.


It was early morning, and Roberto again was dreaming. He dreamed of Holland. It was while the Cardinal’s men were conducting him to Amsterdam to put him on the Amaryllis. During the journey they stopped at a city, and he entered the cathedral. He was impressed by the cleanliness of the naves, so different from those of Italian and French churches. Bare of decorations, only a few standards hanging from the naked columns, the glass windows plain and without images: the sun created there a milky atmosphere dotted only by the few black forms of the worshippers below. In that peace a single sound was heard, a sad melody that seemed to wander through the ivory air, born from the capitals or the keystones. Then he noticed in one chapel, in the ambulatory of the choir, a man in black, alone in one corner playing a little recorder, his eyes staring into the void.

When the musician finished, Roberto went over to him, wondering if he should give him something; not looking into Roberto’s face, the man thanked him for his praise, and Ro­berto realized he was blind. He was the master of the bells (der Musicyn en Directeur van de Klokwerken, le carillonneur, der Glockenspieler, he tried to explain), but it was also part of his job to delight with the sound of his flute the faithful who lingered at evening in the yard and the cemetery beside the church. He knew many melodies, and on each he developed two, three, sometimes even five variations of increasing com­plexity, nor was it necessary for him to read notes: born blind, he could move in that handsome luminous space (yes, he said luminous) of his church, seeing, as he said, the sun with his skin. He explained how his instrument was so much a living thing, that it reacted to the seasons, and to the temperature of morning and sunset, but in the church there was always a sort of diffuse warmth that guaranteed the wood a steady perfection—and Roberto reflected on the notion of diffuse warmth a man of the north might have, for he himself was growing cold in this clarity.

The musician played for him the first melody twice more, and said it was entitled “Doen Daphne d’over schoone Maeght.” He refused any offering, touched Roberto’s face and said, or at least Roberto understood him to say, that “Daphne” was something sweet, which would accompany Roberto all of his life.

Now, on the Daphne, Roberto opened his eyes and, without doubt, heard coming from below, through the fissures in the wood, the notes of “Daphne,” as if it were being played by a more metallic instrument which, not hazarding variations, re­peated at regular intervals the first phrase of the tune, like a stubborn ritornello.

He told himself at once that it was a most ingenious em­blem: to be on a fluyt named Daphne and to hear music for flute entitled “Daphne.” It was pointless to persist in the illusion that this was a dream. It was a new message from the Intruder.

Once again he armed himself, once again he sought strength from the keg, then followed the sound. It seemed to originate in the clock-room. But, since he had scattered those mechanisms over the deck, the space was now empty. He re­visited it. Still empty, but the music was coming from its far wall. Surprised the first time by the clocks themselves, breath­less the second time from the effort of carrying them off, he had never considered whether or not the room ran all the way to the hull. If so, the far wall should have been curved. But was it? The great canvas with that perspective of clocks created a deception of the eye, so at first sight there was no telling if the wall was flat or concave.

Roberto started to rip away the canvas, but he realized it was a running curtain, as in a theater. And behind the curtain there was another door, also closed with a chain and lock.

With the courage of the devotees of Bacchus, and as if with a spingard shot he could overpower all enemies, he aimed his gun, shouted in a loud voice (and God only knows why), “Nevers et Saint-Denis!,” gave the door a kick, and flung him­self forward, intrepid.


The object occupying the space was an organ, which was surmounted by about twenty pipes, from whose holes the notes of the melody issued. The organ was fixed to the wall and consisted of a wooden structure supported by an armature of little metal columns. On the upper level, the pipes were in the center, but at either side of them little automata moved. To the left, on a kind of circular base, stood an anvil certainly hollow inside, like a bell; around the base were four figures that moved their arms rhythmically, striking the anvil with little metal hammers. The hammers, of varying weight, pro­duced silvery sounds in harmony with the tune sung by the pipes, commenting on it through a series of chords. Roberto recalled conversations in Paris with a Minim friar, who spoke to him of research into the Universal Harmony. Thanks more to their musical functions than to their features, he now rec­ognized Vulcan and the three Cyclopes to whom, as legend had it, Pythagoras referred when he affirmed that the differ­ence in musical intervals depended on number, weight, and measure.

To the right of the pipes an amorino tapped out (striking a wand upon a wooden book held in his other hand) the ternary rhythm on which the melody “Daphne” was based.

On a slightly lower level lay the console of the organ, its keys rising and falling according to the notes emitted by the pipes, as if an invisible hand were running over them. Below the keys, where as a rule the organist works the bellows with his feet, a cylinder had been set, in which teeth were fitted, large spikes, in an order unpredictably regular or regularly unpredictable, which suggested the way notes are arranged in rising and descending patterns, unforeseen breaks, vast white spaces and a density of crotchets, on the lines of a sheet of music.

Below the cylinder was a fixed horizontal bar supporting some little levers which, as the cylinder turned, successively touched the teeth and, through a play of half-hidden rods, operated the keys—as they operated the pipes.

But the most stupefying phenomenon was the reason why the cylinder rotated and the pipes received breath. To the side of the organ a glass syphon was fixed, whose form recalled the cocoon of a silkworm, inside which two perforated plates could be discerned, one above the other, dividing it into three sep­arate chambers. The syphon received an influx of water from a pipe entering its lowest chamber from an open gun-port that also admitted light to this room, pouring in the liquid that through the action of some hidden pump was obviously sucked directly from the sea, but in such a way that, entering the cocoon, it was mixed with air.

The water entered the lowest part of the cocoon with force, as if it were boiling; spun in a vortex against the walls, it no doubt released the air, which was inhaled through the two plates. Thanks to a tube linking the upper part of the cocoon with the base of the organ pipes, the air was trans­formed into song through artful movements. The water, which meanwhile had gathered in the lower part, ran off through another tube and, moving the wheel of a little mill, then poured into a metal shell below, whence it was emptied, by another pipe, through the gun-port.

The wheel turned a bar that, connected to the cylinder, transmitted its own movement.

To the drunken Roberto all this seemed natural, so natural that he felt betrayed when the cylinder began to slow down, and the pipes whistled their tune as if it was dying in their throat, while the Cyclopes and the amorino relaxed their blows. Obviously—though in his day there was much talk of perpetual motion—the hidden pump that controlled the in­take and flow of the water could operate only for a certain amount of time after being set in motion, and then its impetus came to an end.

Roberto did not know whether to be amazed more by this feat of technasma—and he had heard talk of other similar feats, the making of little skeletons or winged cherubs dance —or more by the fact that the Intruder (since it could be none but he) had made the organ play on that morning and at that hour.

And to send what message? That Roberto was defeated from the beginning? That the Daphne could still conceal such and so many surprises, that he could spend his life trying to violate her, in vain?


A philosopher once told him that God knows the world better than we do because He made it. And that to approach divine knowledge, even slightly, it was necessary to conceive the world as a great building and try to construct it. This is what he had to do. To know the Daphne, he had to construct her.

He sat down at his table then and traced the outline of the ship, relying both on the remembered structure of the Amaryllis and on what he had seen so far of the Daphne. So, then, he said to himself, we have the cabins of the quarterdeck and, below, the guard-room. Even further below (but still at the level of the deck), the gun-room and the space where the tiller passes. It has to emerge at the stern, and there can be nothing more than that. All this is on the same level with the cook-room in the forecastle. After that, the bowsprit rests on another elevation, and there—if I am correctly interpreting Roberto’s awkward paraphrases—is the place where, with but­tocks exposed, bodily functions were performed at that time. If you went down below the cook-room, you arrived at the stores. He had explored to the end of the bowsprit, and here, too, there could be nothing else. Below he had found the hawsers and the fossil collection. There was no going beyond that.

So he retraced his steps and crossed the whole lower deck, through the aviary and the greenhouse. Unless the Intruder could transform himself at will into animal or vegetable, he could not hide there. Beneath the tiller were the organ and the clocks. There, too, Roberto had gone all the way to the hull.

Descending still farther, he had found the broadest part of the hold, with additional provisions, ballast, wood; and he had knocked against the side to make sure there was no false wall that would give off a hollow sound. If this was a normal ship, the bilge would not allow other refuges. Unless the Intruder himself clung to the keel, underwater, like a leech, and crawled aboard at night; but of all the explanations—and he was prepared to consider many—this seemed to Roberto the least scientific.

Aft, more or less beneath the organ, there was the soda with the basin, the telescope, and the other instruments. Look­ing around it, he had not investigated to see if the space ended right at the helm; but from the drawing he was now making, it seemed to him that the paper did not allow him to imagine any other void—if he had drawn the curve of the stern cor­rectly. Below, only the blind passage was left, and after that there was nothing, he was sure.

So, dividing the ship into compartments, he had filled it all and left no space for any other storage. Conclusion: the Intruder did not have a fixed place. He moved as Roberto moved, he was like the far side of the moon, which we know must exist though we never see it.

Who could see the other face of the moon? Only an in­habitant of the fixed stars: he could wait, not moving, and he would catch the concealed face by surprise. As long as Roberto moved with the Intruder or allowed the Intruder to base his movements on Roberto’s, Roberto would never see him.

He had to become a fixed star and force the Intruder to move. And as the Intruder obviously was on deck when Ro-berto was below, and vice versa, he had to make the Intruder believe him below in order to surprise him on deck.

To mislead the Intruder, Roberto left a light burning in the captain’s quarters, as if he were there, engaged in writing. Then he went and hid at the top of the forecastle, just behind the bell, so that, turning, he could survey the area below the bowsprit, while before him he dominated the deck and the aftercastle all the way to the lantern of the poop. He set his musket beside him—and, I fear, also a keg of aqua vitae.

He spent the night alert to any sound, as if he were still spying on Dr. Byrd, pinching his ears to stay awake, until dawn. In vain.

Then he went back to his berth, where meanwhile the light had gone out. And found his papers in disorder. The Intruder had spent the night there, perhaps reading the letters to the Lady, while Roberto was suffering the chill of the night and the morning’s dew!

The Adversary had now penetrated his memories... Ro­berto recalled Salazar’s warning: expressing his private passions had opened a breach in his spirit.

He rushed out on deck and fired a bullet at random, splin­tering a mast, then he shot again, until he realized that he was killing no one. Considering the time it took in those days to reload a musket, the enemy could take a stroll between shots, having a good laugh at that rumpus—which had im­pressed only the animals, clucking below.

The Intruder was laughing, then. But where was he laugh­ing? Roberto went back to his drawing and told himself that he truly knew nothing about ship-building. The drawing showed only top, bottom, and length, not breadth. Seen in its length (we would now say, in cross-section), the ship revealed no other possible hiding-places, but seen in its breadth, other places could be lurking among those already discovered.

Roberto, pondering, realized only now that on this ship too many things were still missing. For example, he had found no other weapons. Very well: assume that the sailors had taken them away—if they had abandoned the ship of their own volition. But on the Amaryllis the hold had been crammed also with considerable lumber, for repairing masts, the helm, the sides, in the event of damage by the elements, whereas here he had found only enough firewood, recently dried, to supply the cook-stove, but nothing of oak or larch or seasoned fir. Also wanting, along with carpenter’s wood, were carpenter’s tools: saws, axes of various sizes, hammers, nails....

Were there other storerooms? He drew the design over again, and tried to portray the ship not seen from a side but as if observed from the crow’s nest. And he decided that in this beehive he was drawing there could still be inserted a nook beneath the organ, from which it was possible to descend far­ther, without a ladder, into the blind passage. Not big enough to contain everything that was missing, but an extra hole, in any case. If in the low ceiling of the blind passage there existed a trap through which to hoist oneself into that same newly conceived space, from there anyone could climb up to the clocks and then have the run of the entire vessel.

Now Roberto was sure that the Enemy could be only there. He hurried below, slipped into the passage, this time throwing light on its ceiling. And there was a trapdoor. He resisted the initial impulse to open it. If the Intruder was up there, he would wait for Roberto to stick his head through the opening, then overpower him. The Intruder had to be taken by surprise from the direction where he was not expecting an attack, as they had done at Casale.

If there was a chamber above, it was adjacent to that of the telescope, and Roberto could enter there.

He went up, passing through the soda, stepping over the instruments, to find himself at a wall that—only now did he realize it—was not of the same hard wood as the hull.

This wall was fairly thin. As before, on entering the place from which the music came, he gave a sturdy kick, and the wood splintered.

He was in the dim light of a rat’s nest, with a little porthole in the rounded far wall. And there on a pallet, his knees al­most against his chin, his outstretched arm clutching a big pistol, was the Other.

He was an old man, his pupils dilated, his desiccated face framed by a pepper-and-salt beard, his sparse white hair stand­ing up on his head, his mouth almost toothless, the gums the color of blueberries. He was engulfed in some cloth that once might have been black but now was greasy, with pale stains.

Pointing the pistol, which he gripped in both hands as his arms trembled, he shouted in a weak voice. The first sentence was in German or Dutch, and the second, and surely he was repeating his message, was in halting Italian—a sign that he had deduced his interlocutor’s nationality by looking at his papers.

“If you move, I kill you!”

Roberto was so surprised by the apparition that his reaction was slow. And just as well, for he had time to realize that the pistol was not cocked, and the Enemy therefore was not much versed in the military arts.

So he went over amiably, grasped the pistol by the barrel, and tried to slip it from those hands clenched around the butt, while the creature emitted wrathful Germanic cries.

With some effort Roberto finally managed to wrest the weapon from him. The man sank down, and Roberto knelt beside him, supporting the old man’s head.

“Sir,” he said, “I mean you no harm. I am a friend. You understand? Amicus!”

The man opened and closed his mouth, but could not speak; only the white of his eyes could be seen, or, rather, the red, and Roberto feared he was on the point of death. He took the man in his arms, frail as he was, and carried him to his room. He offered him water, made him sip some aqua vitae, and the man said, “Gratias ago, domine,” raised his hand as if to bless Roberto, who at that point, taking a closer look at the man’s dress, realized he was a cleric.




Share with your friends:
1   ...   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   ...   41




The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2020
send message

    Main page