"THE SCARLET BLOSSOM"
by Wsewolod Michailovich Garshin
"In the name of His Imperial Majesty the Lord Emperor Peter the First, I order a revision of this Asylum!”
Those words were uttered in a loud, strident, resounding voice. The clerk who had registered the patient in a large dilapidated book lying on an ink-bespattered table could not restrain a smile. But the two young men who had escorted the patient did not smile. They could scarcely keep on their feet after forty-eight hours without sleep, passed alone with the lunatic whom they had just brought along by train. At the station immediately preceding their destination the attack had increased in its intensity, and they had succeeded in obtaining a strait-jacket from somewhere, which, with the assistance of the train-conductors and a gendarme, they had placed on the patient, and had brought him to the town, and finally to the Asylum in this dress.
He was dreadful to look at. Over his body and above his grey suit, which had been torn into rags during his paroxysms, was stretched a jacket of coarse canvas opened in front; its sleeves, which were fastened behind, forced his arms crosswise against his chest. His blood-shot eyes (he had not slept for ten days) blazed with a fixed and intense glare. His lower lip was twitching with a nervous tremor, whilst his tangled, curly hair fell mane-like over his forehead. With rapid, agitated steps, he paced from corner to corner of the office, gazing inquisitively at the old shelves laden with documents, and the chairs covered with a kind of oilcloth. Occasionally he glanced at his recent fellow-travellers.
“Take him to the ward. To the right.”
“I know—I know; I was here with you last year. We went over the Asylum. I know all about it, and it will be difficult to deceive me,” said the patient.
He turned towards the door. The keeper opened it before him, and, with the same rapid gait, holding his head well up, he left the office, and, almost running, went to the right, to the ward for mental patients. Those who were escorting him could scarcely keep up with him.
“Ring! I cannot. You have tied my arms.” The porter opened the door, and they entered the Asylum.
It was a large stone building, an old Government structure. Two large halls—one the dining-hall, the other a general room for quiet patients; a wide corridor with a glass door leading into a flower-garden, and some twenty separate rooms where the patients lived occupied the lower story. Here, also, were two dark rooms—one lined with mattresses, the other with boards—in which violent patients were placed; and an enormous, gloomy, vaulted room, which was the bath-room.
The upper story was occupied by women, whence there came a confused din, interspersed with yells and howling. The Asylum had been built for eighty patients, but as it was the only one available for some distance around there were nearly three hundred accommodated within its walls. Each small cubicle held four or five beds. In winter-time, when the patients were not allowed into the garden and all the iron-barred windows were tightly closed, the building became unendurable stifling.
They led the new patient into the room in which were the baths. Even on a sane person this room was calculated to produce a feeling of depression, and on a distorted, excited imagination the impression would be so much the greater. It was a large vaulted room with a greasy stone floor, and lighted by one window in a corner. The walls and arches were painted a dark red. Two stone baths, like two oval-shaped holes, and full of water, were let into, and on a level with, the floor, which had become almost black from the accumulated dirt of ages. A huge copper stove with a cylindrical boiler for heating the water, and a whole system of copper tubes and taps, filled the corner opposite the window. Everything bore an unusually gloomy and, for a disordered mind, fantastic character, which impression was further heightened by the forbidding physiognomy of the stout, taciturn warder in charge of the baths.
When they led the patient into this terrifying room in order to give him a bath, and, in accordance with the curative method of the principal medical officer of the Asylum, to place a large blister on the nape of his neck, he became terrified. Fantastic ideas, each one more monstrous than the other, came crowding into his head. What was this? An inquisition? A place for secret executions where his enemies had decided to put an end to him? Perhaps even Hell itself? Eventually he became possessed of the idea that this was to be some kind of trial. They undressed him, in spite of his frantic resistance. With a strength rendered twofold by his affliction, he easily wrenched himself free from several warders, hurling them to the ground; but eventually four of them threw him down, and, having seized him by his arms and legs, lowered him into the warm water. It seemed to him to be boiling, and into his disordered brain flashed disjointed fragmentary thoughts about trial by boiling water and red-hot iron. Choking with the water, convulsively struggling with his arms and legs, by which the warders were firmly holding him, he screamed out disjointed sentences, surpassing in reality any possible description. Supplications alternated with curses. As long as he possessed the strength to do so, he continued to cry out in this fashion; then, becoming quiet, and with scathing tears, and having no connection with anything he had previously said, he murmured: “Holy and greatest of all martyrs—St. George!—into thy hands I surrender my body. But my spirit!—no, never!”
The warders continued to hold him, although he had become quiet. The warm bath and the bag of ice placed on his hands were having their effect. But when they took him, almost unconscious, out of the water and laid him on a bench in order to apply a blister, the balance of his strength and the fantastic ideas again returned.
“Why? Why?” he shouted. “I never wished anyone harm! Why kill me? O-O-O-O-Lord! Oh, you have already tormented me. I implore you! Spare me!”
The burning hot application to the back of his neck made him struggle desperately. The attendants, unable to cope with him, did not know what to do. “You can do nothing.” said the soldier who had performed the operation; “we must rub.”
These simple words sent the patient into convulsions of fear: “Rub! Rub what? Rub whom? Me!” he reflected, and in mortal terror he closed his eyes. The soldier, taking the two ends of a coarse towel and pressing heavily, quickly drew it across the nape of the patient’s neck, tearing from it both the blister and the outer layer of skin, and leaving an open red sore. The painfulness of this operation, almost unendurable even for a quiet and sane person, seemed to the patient the end of all things. He made a desperate effort with his whole body, wrenched himself free of the warders, and his naked body slid along the stone slabs. He thought that they had cut off his head. He wished to cry out, but could not. They carried him to his cubicle in a state of unconsciousness, which passed into a profound, deathlike sleep.
It was night when he awoke. All was quiet. The heavy breathing of patients sleeping in the large room near was audible. A patient, placed for the night in the dark room, was talking to himself in a strange and monotonous voice. Above, in the women’s ward, a hoarse contralto was singing some wild song. The patient listened to these sounds. He felt a terrible weakness and lassitude in all all his limbs. His neck was dreadfully painful.
“Where am I? What has happened to me?” came into his head. Then suddenly, with extraordinary vividness, his life during the last month came before him, and he understood that he was unwell, and in what way he was unwell. He recalled a series of absurd thoughts, words, and actions which made him shudder throughout his whole being. “But that is ended; thank God, it is ended!” he whispered to himself, and again fell asleep.
An opened window, but guarded with iron bars, looked out on a little corner between the big buildings and a stone wall. Into this corner, no one ever went, and it was overgrown with some wild shrub and a lilac in gaudily full blossom at this time of the year. Behind those bushes directly opposite the window a high wall loomed, from behind which, in turn, glanced lofty tops of trees, and through their leafy branches pierced the moonlight, which was bathing all around, including the big garden from which these trees arose. On the right was the white building of the Asylum, with its iron-barred windows, through which the lights were visible. On the left, white and brilliant in the moonlight, was the blank wall of the mortuary. The moon’s rays, shining past the iron bars of the window into the room, fell on to the floor, and lighted up a part of the bed, bringing into relief the pallid face of its occupant lying with closed eyes. There was no trace of insanity in its features now. It was the deep heavy sleep of an exhausted being, dreamless, motionless and almost breathless. For a few seconds he awoke, fully conscious, and apparently sane, only to rise in the morning from his bed again bereft of reason.
“How do you feel?” asked the doctor of him the following morning.
The patient, having only just awakened, was still lying in bed.
“Splendid!” he replied, jumping out of bed, putting on his slippers, and wrapping himself up in his dressing gown—“first rate! Except for one thing. Look!” He pointed to the nape of his neck. “I cannot turn my head without pain. But it is nothing. All is good if you understand it, and I understand.”
“You know where you are?”
“Of course, doctor! I am in an Asylum. But once you understand, it is absolutely all the same—absolutely.”
The doctor looked at him fixedly in the eyes. His handsome, attractive face, with its well-tended golden beard and the calm blue eyes which looked through gold-rimmed spectacles, was immovable and inscrutable. He was observing his patient.
“Why are you looking at me so fixedly? You will not read what is in my mind,” continued the sick man, “and I can clearly read what is in yours. Why do you do evil? Why have you collected this crowd of unfortunates here, and why do you keep them here? To me it is all the same. I understand everything, and am calm, but they! What is the purpose of all this torture? To one who has recognized that in his mind there exists a mighty idea—to him it is a matter of indifference where he lives or does not live, and what he feels. It is a matter of indifference even whether he lives or dies. Is not that so?”
“Perhaps,” replied the doctor, seating himself on a chair in the corner of the room so as to watch the patient, who shuffled rapidly from corner to corner in a pair of huge, horse-hide slippers, waving the folds of his dressing-gown, made of some cotton material on which was printed wide stripes and large flowers. The “dresser” and head warder, who had accompanied the doctor, remained standing to attention at the door.
“And I have this idea!” exclaimed the patient; “and when I discovered it I felt reborn. My senses have become more acute, my brain works as it never did formerly. What was once attained by a long process of conjecture and reasoning I now know intuitively. I am an illustration of the great idea that space and time—are fictions. I live in all centuries. I live outside of space, everywhere or nowhere, as you wish. And therefore it is all the same to me whether you detain me here or release me, whether I am free or bound. I have noticed that there are several such here. But for the remainder their position is appalling. Why do you not release them? To whom is it necessary?”
“You say,” interrupted the doctor, “that you live apart from time and space. But you cannot, however, deny that we are with you in this room, and that now”—here the doctor pulled out his watch—“it is half-past ten on May 6, 18__. What are your views on this?”
“None. To me it is all the same where and when I live. If to me it is all the same, does it not mean I am everywhere and always?”
The doctor laughed.
“Rare logic,” he said rising. “Au revoir. Would you care for a cigar?”
“Thank you.” The patient stopped, took the cigar, and nervously bit off its end. “This will assist me to think,” he said. “This world is a microcosm. At one end alkali, at the other—acid. Such is the equilibrium of the world in which opposing principles neutralize each other. Good-bye, doctor.”
The doctor went farther. The greater part of the patients awaited him standing to attention. No chief enjoys such respect from his subordinates as does the mental doctor from those placed under his care.
Our patient, left alone, continued to stride from corner to corner of his cubicle. They brought him a large mug of tea, which he emptied in two gulps without sitting down; and a large slice of white bread, which disappeared as if by magic. Then he left his room, and for several hours without cessation paced in his rapid and agitated manner from end to end of the whole building. It was a rainy day, and the patients were not allowed into the garden. When the other “dresser” went to look for the new patient, the others pointed to him at the end of the corridor. He was standing there with his face pressed close to the pane of the glass door leading into the garden, and was staring fixedly at a flower-bed. An unusually bright scarlet blossom of the poppy variety had attracted his attention.
“Please come and be weighed,” said the “dresser,” touching him on the shoulder, and nearly falling down from fright when the patient turned round, such wild malice and hatred were burning in his imbecile eyes. But, seeing the “dresser,” his expression immediately changed, and he followed obediently behind the official without saying a word, apparently engrossed in profound thought. They entered the doctor’s room, and the patient of his own accord stood on the platform of the weighing-machine. The “dresser” entered his weight as 109 pounds. The following day he weighed only 107 pounds, and the day after 106 pounds.
“If he continues like this, he will not live,” said the doctor, and gave instructions that he was to be given the best dietary.
But, in spite of this, and notwithstanding his enormous appetite, the patient continued to lose weight, and grew thinner and thinner. He scarcely ever slept, and spent the whole and almost every day in uninterrupted movement.
He understood that he was in a madhouse. He knew even that he was ill. Sometimes, as during the first night, he would awake in the quietness after a whole day of violent exercise, feeling exhaustion in every limb and a dreadful heaviness in his head, but fully conscious. Perhaps it was the absence of impressions in the stillness of night and half-light. Perhaps it was the feeble working of the brain of a but just awakened being that caused him during such moments to understand fully his position, and made him apparently sane. But when morning arrived with the awakening of life and light in the Asylum, delusions again engulfed him as in a wave. The diseased brain could not grapple with them, and he once more became insane. His condition was a strange mixture of correct reasoning and nonsense. He understood that all around him were lunatics, but at the same time he saw in each of them somebody mysterious, a person hiding or hidden whom he had known previously, or of whom he had read or heard. The Asylum was inhabited by persons of all ages and nationalities, dead and living. Here there were the famed and strong of the world, and soldiers killed in the last war, but now resurrected. He saw himself in some magic enchanted circle, having collected to himself all the forces of the earth, and in proud delirium he deemed himself the centre of this circle. All his comrades in the Asylum were gathered there to perform a duty which, in a confused manner, appeared to him as a gigantic enterprise directed towards the extinction of evil on earth. He did not know in what the task would consist, but felt himself possessed of sufficient strength to execute it. He could read the thoughts of others. He saw in things their whole history. The large elms in the Asylum garden revealed whole legends of the past to him. The building, which really was of old construction, he considered a structure of Peter the Great, and was convinced that the Tsar had lived in it at the time of the Poltava battle. He read this in the walls, the plaster which had fallen, in the pieces of brick and Dutch tiles found by him in the garden. The whole history of the house and garden was written in them. He peopled the little building which did duty as a mortuary with tens and hundreds of persons long since dead, and fixedly gazed into the little window of its cellar, which looked into the garden, seeing in the uneven reflection of light on the old rainbow-tinted and dirty glass familiar features encountered by him at some period in life or seen in portraits.
In the meanwhile there came a period of bright fine weather. The patients spent the whole day out of doors in the garden. Their part of the garden, small and thickly overgrown with trees, was, wherever possible, planted with flowers. The Superintendent insisted that all who were capable of so doing should work in the garden. Every day they swept and sprinkled the paths with sand, weeded and watered the flower-beds, vegetables, and fruit which they themselves had planted. In a corner of the garden was an overgrown cherry orchard. Alongside it stretched an avenue of elms, in the center of which, on a small artificial mound, there was laid out the prettiest flower-bed in the garden. Bright-coloured flowers grew along the edges of the upper space, whilst the centre was adorned by a large full and rare yellow dahlia with red spots. It formed the centre of the whole garden, rising above it, and it was noticeable that many of the patients invested it with some secret significance. To the new patient it also appeared to be something out of the common, some palladium of the garden and building. All around the paths had also been planted by the patients. Here there was every possible flower met with in the gardens of “Little” Russia: high-growing roses, bright petunias, groups of tall tobacco-plants with small rose-coloured bloom, mint, nasturtiums, pinks, and poppies. Here, too, not far from a flight of steps, grew three small clusters of a particular kind of poppy. It was much smaller than the ordinary variety, and differed in its extraordinarily brilliant blood-red blossom.
It was this blossom which had admonished the patient when, on the first day after his admission in the Asylum, he had seen it through the glass door. Going out for the first time into the garden, he first of all, without leaving the steps which led from the corridor, looked at the brilliant blossoms. There were only two of them. By chance they had grown apart from the other flowers and in an unweeded spot, so that they were surrounded by a thick growth of weeds and grass.
The patients filed, one by one, out of the glass door, at which stood a warder, who gave to each as he passed a thick white cotton cap having a red cross in front. These caps had been intended for hospital use during the war, and had been bought at an auction. But the patients, of course, attributed a special hidden meaning to the cross. The new-comer took off his cap, and looked first at the cross, then at the poppy-blossoms. The latter were the brighter.
“It wins,” said he; “but we will see;” and he went down the steps. Having hastily glanced around, and failed to notice the warder standing behind him, the patient stepped on to the flower-bed, and stretched out his hand towards the flower, but could not decide to pluck it. He experienced a warm and stinging sensation at first in his outstretched hand, and then throughout his entire body, as if some powerful shock from a force unknown to him was emanating from the red petals and was penetrating through him. He moved closer, and put out his hand towards the actual blossom, but it seemed to him that it was defending itself and giving out a poisonous deadly exhalation. His head was reeling, but nevertheless he made one last desperate effort, and had always seized the stalk, when a heavy hand was laid suddenly on his shoulder. It was the old warder.
“It is forbidden to pluck the flowers,” said he, “and you must not go on to the flower-beds. If each of you is going to pick the flower which attracts you, the whole garden will be spoilt,” continued he with conviction, still holding the culprit by the shoulder.
The patient looked him in the face, without saying a word freed himself, and, in a state of excitement, passed on along the path. “Oh, unhappy ones!” he thought; “you do not see. You are so blind that you defend it! But at all costs I will put an end to it. If not to-day, then to-morrow we will measure forces. And if I perish, is it not all the same?”
He walked about in the garden until the evening, making acquaintances and carrying on strange conversations first with one and then with another of his companions, and at the end of the day was still more convinced that “all was ready,” as he said to himself. “Soon, soon the iron bars will fall asunder; all these prisoners will issue hence, and all will flash to all ends of the earth. The whole world will tremble, will divest itself of its ancient covering, and will appear in new and wondrous beauty.” He had almost forgotten the blossoms, but, on leaving the garden and mounting the flight of steps, he again saw them in the thick grass which had already become covered with dew, whereupon, keeping back from the rest of the patients, he awaited a favourable opportunity. No one saw him as he jumped across the flower-bed, grasped the flower, and hurriedly hid it against his chest under his shirt. When the fresh dew-covered leaves touched his body he became deathly pale, and, in an agony of fear, opened his eyes widely. A cold perspiration broke out on his forehead.
Inside the Asylum they had lit the lamps, and the majority of the patients, whilst waiting supper, were lying on their beds. A few restless ones were pacing the corridor and halls. Amongst these was the patient with the flower. He walked with his hands crossed on his chest. It seemed as if he wished to crush the plant hidden on it. When meeting the other patients, he passed them at a distance, fearing to come into contact with any part of their clothes. “Do not come near! Do not come near!” he cried out. But in the Asylum little attention was paid to such exclamations, and for two hours he paced thus in a kind of ecstasy, ever faster and faster, with ever-increasing strides.
“I will tire thee out, I will stifle thee,” he muttered maliciously. Sometimes he ground his teeth.
Supper was served in the dining-hall. Wooden painted and gilded bowls were placed at intervals on the large tables bare of cloths. These bowls contained a liquid wheaten gruel. The patients sat on benches, and each was given a portion of black bread. They ate with wooden spoons, eight to every one bowl. Those who were ordered better food were served separately. Our patient quickly gulped down his portion, which had been brought to his room by a warder; then, still unsatisfied, he went into the common dining-room.
“Allow me to eat here?” he said to the Superintendent.
“But surely you had your supper,” replied he, pouring out an extra portion into a bowl.
“I am very hungry, and it is most necessary for me to recruit my strength. All my support is in food. You know that I do not sleep at all.”
“Eat and get well, my friend,” said the Superintendent, giving orders to a warder to give the patient a spoon and some bread.
He sat down near one of the bowls, and ate a further enormous amount of gruel.
“That is enough now,” said the Superintendent at last, when all had finished their supper; but our patient still continued to sit in front of the bowl, scraping the gruel out of it with one hand, and holding the other tightly to his chest. “You will overeat yourself.”
“Ah! if only you knew how much I am need of strength! Good-bye, sir,” said the patient, at last rising from the table and warmly pressing the Superintendent’s hand. “Good-bye.”
“But where are you going?” inquired the Superintendent, with a smile.
“I? Nowhere. I am staying here. But perhaps we shall not see each other to-morrow. I thank you for all your kindness.” And he again warmly clasped the Superintendent’s hand, whilst his voice trembled and tears came welling into his eyes.
“Calm yourself, my good friend—calm yourself,” replied the Superintendent. “What is the use of such dismal thoughts? Go and lie down and sleep well. You want more sleep. If you sleep well, you will soon recover.”
The patient sobbed. The Superintendent turned round to order the warder to clear away the remains of the supper more quickly, and in half an hour afterwards all in the Asylum were already asleep, with the exception of one patient, who lay on his bed in the corner of the room fully dressed. He was trembling as if in a fever, and spasmodically held his chest, impregnated, as it seemed to him, with a strange and deadly poison.
He did not sleep all night. He had plucked the flower because he saw in this action a deed he was in duty bound to perform. At the very first glance through the glass door the blood-red petals had attracted his attention, and it seemed to him that from this moment it was perfectly clear what in particular he was called upon to perform on earth. In this brilliant red flower was collected all the evil existent on earth. He knew that opium is made from poppies, and perhaps this knowledge, taking some fantastic, distorted form, had induced him to create this terrible and monstrous phantom. In his eyes the flower was the personification of all evil. It flourished on all innocent bloodshed (which was why it was so red), on all tears, and all human venom. It was a mysterious, awful being, the antithesis of God—Ahriman—who had taken a modest and innocent form. It was necessary to pluck and kill it. But more than this was necessary; it was necessary not to allow it to emit all its evil into the world. Therefore he had hid it in its chest. He hoped that by the morning it would have lost all its strength, that its evil would have passed into his body, his soul, and there be conquered or conquer—when, if the latter, he would himself perish, die, but die as an honourable knight and the first to wrestle at once with all the evil in this world. “They have not seen it. I saw it. Could I let it live? Better death!”
And he lay wearing himself out in a struggle, phantom and unreal, but nevertheless exhausting. In the morning the “dresser” found him scarcely alive. But this notwithstanding, in a short time excitability once more gained the upper hand. He jumped up from his bed, and resumed his former race through the passages of the Asylum, conversing with the other patients and himself more loudly and disjointedly than at any previous time.
They would not let him into the garden. The doctor, seeing that his weight was daily decreasing, and that he never slept, but continued incessantly to walk and walk, ordered that a strong dose of morphine be injected hypodermically. He did not resist. Luckily, on this occasion his disordered brain in some manner accepted the operation. He fell quickly asleep, the feverish activity ceased, and the great motive which was its constant companion ceased to ring in his ears. He forgot all, and ceased to think of anything, even of the second blossom which it was necessary to pick.
However, he plucked it after an interval of three days before the very eyes of the old warder, who was unable to prevent him doing so. The warder gave chase, but with a loud triumphant yell the patient rushed into the Asylum and, hurling himself into his room, hid the plant on his chest.
“Why do you pick the flowers?” asked the warder, who had followed after him. But the patient, who was already lying on his bed in his usual position with his arms crossed, commenced to rave so incoherently that the warder went away. And once more the phantom struggle commenced. The patient felt that from the flower an evil was extending in long, gliding, snakelike streams. It was wrapping around him, pressing and crushing his limbs, and was impregnating the whole of his body with its awful substance. He wept and prayed in the intervals between the curses he showered on his enemy. By the evening the flower had quite faded. The sick man stamped on the blackened blossom, collected the pieces from the floor, and carried them to the bath-room. Throwing the shapeless bruised piece of erstwhile green into the red-hot stove, he long watched how his enemy hissed, diminished, and finally became converted into a tender snow-white ball of ash. He blew, and it all disappeared.
The following day the patient became worse. But although dreadfully pale, with hollow cheeks and burning eyes which had sunken far into their sockets, he continued his frenzied walking, raving almost without cessation, tottering and stumbling from weakness.
“I do not wish to have resort to force,” said the senior doctor to his assistant, “but if this goes on much longer he will die in two or three days’ time. We must stop this walking. To-day he weighs only ninety-three pounds. Yesterday morphia had no effect.” Then, after a short silence, he gave instructions that the patient should be bound, expressing at the same time doubts as to his ultimate recovery. And they bound him. He lay clothed in a strait-jacket on his bed, tightly fastened by wide strips of calico to the iron framework of the bed. But the frenzied activity increased rather than diminished. For many hours he strove persistently to free himself. Eventually by a strenuous effort he succeeded in bursting one of his pinions, freed his legs, and having slipped from under the rest of his fetters, began, with his arms still bound, to pace his room, giving vent to wild, unintelligible utterances.
The warder, coming into the room, called loudly for help, and with two of his brother-warders threw themselves on the patient, whereupon a long struggle commenced, tiring for them and torturing for the patient, who was in this way using up the remnants of his almost exhausted forces. Finally, they laid him on his bed and bound him tighter than before.
“You do not understand what you are doing!” he panted. “You will perish. I saw a third scarcely opened blossom. Now it must be ready. Let me finish my work! It must be killed—killed—killed! Then all will be finished and all saved. I would send you, but only I can do this. You would perish merely from contact with it.”
“Be quiet—stop talking!” said the old warder left to watch near his bed.
The patient suddenly stopped talking. He had decided on stratagem. He decided to deceive his warder. They kept him bound all day, and left him so during the night. Having given him his supper, the old attendant placed a mat near the bed and laid down. In a few minutes he was sound asleep, and the patient began his task.
Contorting his body so as to get at the ironwork of the bedstead and feeling for the edge of the iron frame with his wrist hidden in the long sleeves of the strait-jacket, he commenced quickly and vigorously to rub the sleeve on it. After a short time the thick canvas gave way, and he had freed his wrists and the first finger of one of his hands. Then matters progressed more speedily. With an ingenuity born of insanity he untied the knot behind his back which secured the sleeves, unlaced the jacket, and then for a long time listened intently to the snoring of the warder. Satisfied that the old man was sleeping soundly, the patient took off the jacket and slid from the bed. He was free! He tried the door. It was locked from the inside, and the key was probably in the warder’s pocket. Afraid of waking him, he did not dare to search his pockets, so he decided to get out of the room through the window.
It was a still, warm, dark night. The window was open. The stars were shining. He gazed at them, recognizing familiar constellations, and rejoicing that they, as it seemed to him, understood and were in sympathy with him. His mad resolution increased. It was necessary to get rid of the iron bar which formed the grating of the window in order to be able to clamber through the narrow opening into the corner of the garden, overgrown just here with bushes, and to scale over the high stone wall. Then would come the last struggle, and afterwards—mayhap death!
He tried ineffectually to bend the thick iron bar with his bare hands. Then he made a cord by twisting up the strong canvas sleeves of the strait-jacket, and fastened it to the forged spike on the end of the bar. Upon this he hung with the whole weight of his body. After frantic efforts, almost exhausting his remaining stock of strength, the spike gave way, and the narrow passage was open. He squeezed through it, bruising and lacerating his shoulders, elbows, and bared knees, and pushed his way through the bushes, but came to a stop before the wall. All was quiet. The light of the small lamps used in the rooms showed feebly through the windows of the building. No one was to be seen inside it. Nobody saw him. The old warder watching by his bed was probably still sound asleep. The twinkling rays of the stars seemed to penetrate into his very heart, giving him renewed spirit. “I am coming to you,” he whispered, glancing upwards.
Having fallen at the first attempt to scale the wall, with torn nails and bleeding hands and knees he began to search for a suitable place. A few bricks had become detached from the wall where it met the wall of the Mortuary, and making use of the hollows thus formed, the patient climbed on to the wall, seized hold of the branches of an elm growing on the other side, and quietly let himself down the tree on to the ground.
He rushed to the well-known spot near the flight of steps. The blossom with its closed petals showed up clearly and darkly in the dewy grass.
“The last!” whispered the patient—“the last! Today is victory or death! But it is all the same to me. Wait,” said he, gazing up to the starry sky, “I will soon be with you.”
He rooted up the plant, tore it to pieces, and holding it crushed in his clenched hand, he returned to his room the same way he had left it. The old warder still slept. The patient, barely reaching the bed, fell on it senseless.
In the morning they found him dead. His face was calm and serene. The tired features, with the thin lips and deeply sunken closed eyes, wore an expression of proud happiness. When they had laid him on a stretcher they attempted to open his clenched fist and remove the scarlet blossom. But it was too late, and he carried his trophy to the grave.
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