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« For Esmé - with Love and Squalor | Main | Gabrielle »
Sunday
Nov062011

Las vísperas de Fausto

A short tale ("The vespers of Faustus") by this Argentine.  You can read the original here.

That June night in 1540 in the tower chamber, Doctor Faustus ran his eyes over the shelves of his expansive library.  They stopped here and there; he took out a book, leafed through it nervously, then left it back where it had been; at length, he selected Xenophon's Memorabilia.  He placed the book in his lectern and began to read.  He looked towards the window.  Something outside had trembled.  Faustus said in a low voice: "the wind blowing in the woods."  He got up and threw open the curtains.  He saw the night, which was enlarged by the trees.    

Beneath the table slept Señor.  The dog's innocent breathing, as tranquil and persuasive as the dawn, confirmed the reality of the world.  Faustus thought about hell.

Twenty-four years before, in exchange for invincible magical power, he had sold his soul to the Devil.  The years had passed quite rapidly.  That time was set to expire at midnight.  It wasn't yet eleven o'clock.

Faustus heard steps in the stairwell; then three knocks cascaded off his door.  He asked: "Who is it?"  "I," answered a voice that was unrevealed by the monosyllable, "I."  The doctor had recognized it nevertheless, but, somewhat irritated, he asked his question once more.  With a tone of amazement and reproach, his servant replied: "I, Wagner."  Faustus opened the door.  The servant entered with a tray, a cup of Rhine wine, and some slices of bread, and commented with smiling approbation that such an addict was his master to these refreshments.  While Wagner was observing, as he had many times before, that the place was very solitary, and that these brief chats helped him get through the night, Faustus thought of the complacent custom that sweetens and quickens life, took a few sips of wine, ate a few mouthfuls of bread, and, for a moment, believed himself to be safe.  His thinking was: "If I do not stray from Wagner and the dog, there is no danger."

He decided to confide his apprehensions to Wagner.  Then he reconsidered: "Who knows what his comments might be."  He was a superstitious person (he believed in magic), with that plebeian affection for the macabre, the truculent, and the sentimental.  Instinct allowed him to be alive; crassness made him atrocious.  Faustus determined that he ought not to expose himself to anything that might upset his spirits or his intelligence.

The clock stated it was half past eleven.  Faustus thought: "They will not be able to defend me.  Nothing will save me."  Then there was something like a change of tone in his thinking; he lifted his gaze and went on: "Better that I be alone when Mephistopheles arrives.  I will defend myself better without any witnesses."  Moreover, the incident could cause an overly terrifying impression upon Wagner's mind (and perhaps also upon the defenseless irrationality of the dog).

"It's late, Wagner.  Go to bed."

When the servant was about to call Señor, Faustus stopped him and, with much tenderness, woke up his dog.  Wagner collected on his tray the plate of bread and the cup and made for the door.  The dog looked at his master with eyes in which there seemed to blaze, like a dark and feeble flame, all the love, all the hope, and all the sadness of the world.  Faustus gestured towards Wagner, and the servant and dog left the room.  He closed the door and took a look at his surroundings.  He saw the room, the desk, the private tomes.  He said to himself that he was not so alone.  The clock stated it was quarter to twelve.  With some liveliness, Faustus approached the window and opened the curtains halfway.  On the path to Finsterwalde, far off, the light of a coach flickered.

"To flee in that coach!" murmured Faustus, and it seemed to him that he was struggling for hope.  To get away, here was the impossible.  There was no steed fast enough, no path long enough.  Therefore, as if instead of night, he were to meet day at this window, he conceived of a flight into the past; he would take refuge in the year 1440, or even further back; he would postpone by two hundred years that ineluctable midnight.  He imagined the past as a tenebrous unknown region.  "And yet," he wondered, "if I wasn't there before, how can I get there now?"  How could he introduce into the past a new fact?  He vaguely remembered a verse by Agathon, quoted by Aristotle: "Even Zeus himself cannot alter that which has already occurred."  If nothing could modify the past, this infinite plane which extended from the other side of his birth was for him unreachable.  There remained, however, one escape: he would be born again, again arrive at that terrible hour when he sold his soul to Mephistopheles, sell his soul once more, and when he finally arrived at that night, he would retreat one more time to the day of his birth.

He looked at the clock.  Little time remained until midnight.  Who knows since when, he said to himself, has his life been one of arrogance, of perdition, of apprehension; who knows since when has he been cheating Mephistopheles.  Cheating him?  Wasn't this interminable repetition of blind lives his hell?

Faustus suddenly felt very old and very tired.  Nevertheless, his last thought was of fidelity to life; he believed that his rest was slipping, like some hidden water, not into death, but into life.  With courageous indifference he put off until the last moment the resolution as to whether he would flee or remain.  The bell of the clock sounded ...

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