The Manuscript by Otto Larssen
Two gentlemen sat chatting together one evening.
Their daily business was to occupy themselves with literature. At
the present moment they were engaged in drinking whisky,—an
occupation both agreeable and useful,—and in chatting about books,
the theater, women and many other things. Finally they came around
to that inexhaustible subject for conversation, the mysterious life
of the soul, the hidden things, the Unknown, that theme for which
Shakespeare has given us an oft-quoted and oft-abused device, which
one of the men, Mr. X., now used to point his remarks. Raising his
glass, he looked at himself meditatively in a mirror opposite, and,
in a good imitation of the manner of his favorite actor, he quoted:
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in
thy philosophy, Horatio."
Mr. Y. arranged a fresh glass for himself, and answered:
"I believe it. I believe also that it is given but to a few chosen
ones to see these things. It never fell to my lot, I know.
Fortunately for me, perhaps. For,—at least so it appears to me,—
these chosen ones appear on closer investigation to be individuals
of an abnormal condition of brain. As far as I personally am
concerned, I know of nothing more strange than the usual logical
and natural sequence of events on our globe. I confess things do
sometimes happen outside of this orderly sequence; but for the
cold-blooded and thoughtful person the Strange, the apparently
Inexplicable, usually turns out to be a sum of Chance, that Chance
we will never be quite clever enough to fully take into our
"As an instance I would like to tell you the story of what happened
several years back to a friend of mine, a young French writer. He
had a good, sincere mind, but he had also a strong leaning toward
which was just then in danger of becoming as much of a fashion in
France as it is here now. The event of which I am about to tell
you threw him into what was almost a delirium, which came near to
robbing him of his normal intelligence, and therefore came near to
robbing French readers of a few excellent books.
"This was the way it happened:
"It was about ten years back, and I was spending the spring and
summer in Paris. I had a room with the family of a concierge on
the left bank, rue de Vaugirard, near the Luxembourg Gardens.
"A few steps from my modest domicile lived my friend Lucien F. We
had become acquainted through a chain of circumstances which do not
belong to this story, but these circumstances had made firm friends
of us, a friendship which was a source of great pleasure and also
of assistance to me in my study of Paris conditions. This
friendship also enabled me to enjoy better and cheaper whisky than
one can usually meet with in the city by the Seine, a real good
"Lucien F. had already published several books which had aroused
attention through the oddity of their themes, and their gratifying
success had made it possible for him to establish himself in a
comfortably furnished bachelor apartment on the corner of the rue
de Vaugirard and the rue de Conde.
"The apartment had a corridor and three rooms; a dining room, a
bedroom and a charming study with an inclosed balcony, the three
windows of which,—a large one in the center and two smaller ones
at the side,—sent a flood of light in over the great writing table
which filled nearly the entire balcony. Inside the room, near the
balcony, stood a divan covered with a bearskin rug. Upon this
divan I spent many of my hours in Paris, occupied in the smoking of
my friend's excellent cigars, and the sampling of his superlatively
good whisky. At the same time I could lie staring up at the tops
of the trees in the Luxembourg Gardens, while Lucien worked at his
desk. For, unlike most writers, he could work best when he was not
"If I remained away several days, he would invariably ring my bell
early some morning, and drag me out of bed with the remark: 'The
whisky is ready. I can't write if you are not there.'
"During the particular days of which I shall tell you, he was
engaged in the writing of a fantastic novelette, 'The Force of the
Wind,' a work which interested him greatly, and which he would
interrupt unwillingly at intervals to furnish copy for the well-
known newspaper that numbered him among the members of its staff.
His books were printed by the same house that did the printing for
"Often, as I lay in my favorite position on the divan, the bell
would ring and we would he honored by a visit from the printer's
boy Adolphe, a little fellow in a blue blouse, the true type of
Paris gamin. Adolphe rejoiced in a broken nose, a pair of crafty
eyes, and had his fists always full of manuscripts which he treated
with a carelessness that would have driven a literary novice to
despair. The long rolls of yellow paper would hang out of his
trousers pockets as if ready to fall apart at his next movement.
And the disrespectful manner in which he crammed my friend Lucien's
scarcely dried essay into the breast of his blouse would have
certainly called forth remarks from a journalist of more self-
"But his eyes were so full of sly cunning, and there was such an
atmosphere of Paris about the stocky little fourteen-year-old chap,
that we would often keep him longer with us, and treat him to a
glass of anisette to hear his opinion of the writers whose work he
handled. He was an amusing cross between a tricky little Paris
gamin and a real child, and he hit off the characteristics of the
various writers with as keen a touch of actuality as he could put
into his stories of how many centimes he had won that morning at
'craps' from his friend Pierre. Pierre was another employee of the
printing house, Adolphe's comrade in his study of the mysteries of
Paris streets, and now his rival. They were both in love with the
same girl, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the keeper of 'La
Prunelle' Cafe, and her favor was often the prize of the morning's
"Now and then this rivalry between the two young Parisians would
drop into a hand-to-hand fight. I myself was witness to such a
skirmish one day, in front of 'La Prunelle.' The rivals pulled
each other's hair mightily while the manuscripts flew about over
the pavement, and Virginie, in her short skirts, stood at the door
of the cafe and laughed until she seemed about to shake to pieces.
"Pierre was the strongest, and Adolphe came off with a bloody nose.
He gathered up his manuscripts in grim silence and left the
battlefield and the still laughing Virginie with an expression of
deep anger on his wounded face.
"The following day, when I teased him a little because of his
defeat, he smiled a sly smile and remarked:
"'Yes, but I won a franc from him, the big stupid animal. And so
it was I, after all, who took Virginie out that evening. We went
to the Cafe "Neant," where I let them put me in the coffin and
pretend to be decaying, to amuse her. She thought it was lots of
"One morning Lucien had come for me as usual, put me on the divan,
and seated himself at his writing table. He was just putting the
last words to his novel, and the table was entirely covered with
the scattered leaves, closely written. I could just see his neck
as he sat there, a thin-sinewed, expressive neck. He bent over his
work, blind and deaf for anything else. I lay there and gazed out
over the tops of the trees in the park up into the blue summer sky.
The window on the left side of the desk stood wide open, for it was
a warm and sultry day. I sipped my whisky slowly. The air was
heavy, and thunder threatened in the distance. After a little
while the clouds gathered together, heavy, low-hanging, copper-
hued, real thunder clouds, and the trees in the park rustled
softly. The air was stifling, and lay heavy as lead on my breast.
"Lucien did not hear or see anything, his pen flew over the paper.
"I fell hack lazily on my divan.
"Then, suddenly, there was a mighty tumult. A strong gust of wind
swept through the street, bending the trees in the gardens quite
out of my horizon. With a crash the right-hand window in the
balcony flew wide open, and like a cyclone, the wind swept through,
clearing the table in an instant of all the loose sheets of paper
that had lain scattered about it.
"'The devil! Why don't you shut the window!' I cried, springing up
from the sofa.
"'Spare your energy, it's too late,' said Lucien with a gentle
mockery in his soft voice. 'Look there!'—he pointed out into the
street, where his sheets of paper went swirling about in the heavy
air like white doves.
"A second later came the rain, a veritable cloud-burst. We shut
the windows and gave ourselves up to melancholy thoughts about the
lost manuscript, the recovery of which now seemed utterly hopeless.
"'That's one thousand francs, at least, that the wind has robbed me
of,' sighed Lucien. 'Well, enfin, that doesn't matter so much.
But do you know anything more tiresome than to work over the same
subject a second time? I can't think of doing it. It would fairly
make me sick to try it.'
"We were in a sad mood that morning. When we went out to breakfast
at about two o'clock, we looked about for some traces of the lost
"There was nothing to be seen. It had vanished completely, whirled
off to all four corners of the earth probably, this manuscript from
which Lucien had expected so much. Truly it was 'The Force of the
. . . . .
"Now comes the strange part of the story. One morning, two weeks
later, Lucien stood in the door of my little room, pale as a ghost.
He had a bundle of printer's proofs in his hand, and held them out
to me without a word.
"I looked at it and read:
"'"The Force of the Wind," by Lucien F.'
"It was a good bundle of proofs, the entire first proofs of
Lucien's novel, that novel the manuscript of which we had seen
blown out of the balcony window and whirled away by the winds.
"'My dear man,' I exclaimed, as I handed him back the proofs. 'You
HAVE been industrious indeed, to write your entire novel over again
in so short a time—and to have proofs already—'
"Lucien did not answer. He stood silent, staring at me with a
weird look in his otherwise so sensible eyes. After a moment he
"'I did not write the novel over again. I have not touched a pen
since the day the manuscript blew out of the window.'
"'Are you a sleep-walker, Lucien?'
"'Why do you ask?'
"'Why, that would be the only natural explanation. They say we can
do a great many things in sleep, of which we know nothing when we
wake. I've heard queer stories of that. Men have committed
murders in their sleep. It happens quite often that sleep-walkers
write letters in a handwriting they do not recognize when awake.'
"'I have never been a sleep-walker,' answered Lucien.
"'Oh, you never can tell,' I remarked. 'Would you rather explain
it as magic? Or as the work of fairies? Or do you believe in
ghosts? Your muse has fascinated you, you mystic!' And I laughed
and trilled a line from 'The Mascot,' which we had seen the evening
before at the Lyric.
"But my merriment did not seem to strike an answering note in
Lucien. He turned from me in silence, and with an offended
expression took his hat and his proofs, and—humorist and skeptic
as he was ordinarily, he parted from me with the words, uttered in
a theatrical tone:
"'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in
"He turned on his heel and left the room.
"To be candid, I was unpleasantly affected by the little scene. I
could not for an instant doubt Lucien's honesty,—he was so pale,
so frightened almost—so touching in the alarm and excitement of
his soul. Of course the only explanation that I could see was that
he had written his novel in a sleep-walking state.
"For certainly no printer could set up type from a manuscript that
did not exist,—to say nothing of printing it and sending out
"Several days passed, but Lucien did not come near me. I went to
his place once or twice, but the door was locked. Had the devil
carried him off bodily? Or had this strange and inexplicable
occurrence robbed him of his sanity, and robbed me of his
friendship and his excellent whisky?
"After three useless attempts to find him at home, and after
writing him a letter which he did not answer, I gave up Lucien
without any further attempt to understand his enigmatical behavior.
A short time after, I left for my home without having seen or heard
anything more of him.
. . . . .
"Months passed. I remained at home, and one evening when, during
the course of a gay party, the conversation came around to the
subject of mysticism and occult occurrences, I dished up my story
of the enigmatical manuscript. The Unknown, the Occult, was the
rage just then, and my story was received with great applause and
called forth numerous quotations as to 'more things in heaven and
earth.' I came to think so much of it myself that I wrote it out
and sent it to Professor Flammarion, who was just then making a
study of the Unknown, which he preserved in his later book
"The occupying myself with the story brought my mind around again
to memories of Lucien. One day, I saw a notice in Le Figaro to the
effect that his book, 'The Force of the Wind,' had appeared in a
second large edition, and had aroused much attention, particularly
in spiritualistic circles. I seemed to see him again before me,
with his long nervous neck, which was so expressive. The vision of
this neck rose up before me whenever I drank the same sort of
whisky that I had drunk so often with him, and the longing to hear
something more of my lost friend came over me. I sat down one
evening when in a sentimental mood, and wrote to him, asking him to
tell me something of himself and to send me his book.
"A week later I received the little book and the following letter
which I have here in my pocket. It is somewhat crumpled, for I
have read it several times. But no matter. I will read it to you
now, if you will pardon my awkward translating of the French
"Here it is:
"Many thanks for your letter. Here is the book. I have to thank
you also that you did not lay my behavior of your last days in
Paris up against me. It must have seemed strange to you. I will
try to explain it.
"I have been nervous from childhood. The fact that most of my
books have treated of fantastic subjects,—somewhat in the manner
of Edgar Allan Poe—has made me more susceptible for all that world
which lies beyond and about the world of every-day life. I have
sought after,—and yet feared—the mystical; cool and lucid as I
can be at times, I have always had an inclination for the
enigmatical, the Unknown.
"But the first thing that ever happened in my life that I could not
explain or understand was the affair of the manuscript. You
remember the day I stood in your room? I must have looked the
picture of misery. The affair had played more havoc with my nerves
than you can very well understand. Your mockery hurt me, and yet
under all I felt ashamed of my own thoughts concerning this foolish
occurrence. I could not explain the phenomenon, and I shivered at
the things that it suggested to me. In this condition, which
lasted several weeks, I could not bear to see you or anyone else,
and I was impolite enough even to leave your letter unanswered.
"The book appeared and made a hit, since that sort of thing was the
center of interest just then. But almost a month passed before I
could arouse myself from that condition of fear and—I had almost
said, softening of the brain—which prevented my enjoyment of my
"Then the explanation came. Thanks to this occurrence I know now
that I shall never again be in danger of being 'haunted.'
"And I know now that Chance can bring about stranger happenings
than can any fancied visitations from the spirit world. Here you
have the story of this 'mystic' occurrence, which came near
endangering my sanity, and which turns out to be a chance
combination of a gust of wind, a sudden downpour of rain, and the
strange elements in the character of our little friend Adolphe the
"You remember that funny little chap with the crafty eye, his
talent for gambling, and his admiration for the girl of 'La
Prunelle'? A queer little mixture this child who has himself alone
to look to for livelihood and care, the typical race of the Paris
streets, the modified gamin from 'Les Miserables.'
"About a month after the appearance of my book I lay on the divan
one day,—your favorite place, you remember?—and lost myself in
idle reasonings on the same old subject that never left my mind day
or night, when the bell rang and Adolphe appeared, to call for the
essay on 'Le Boulevarde.' There was an unusually nervous gleam in
his eyes that day. I gave him an anisette and tried to find out
what his trouble was. I did find it out, and I found out a good
deal more besides.
"Thanks to his good fortune as a gambler, Virginie came to look
upon him with favor. Pierre was quite out of the race and
Adolphe's affection was reciprocated as much as his heart could
desire. But with his good fortune in love came all the suffering,
all the torture, the suspicions that tear the hearts of us men when
we set our hopes upon a woman's truth. Young as he was he went
through them all, and now he was torturing himself with the thought
that she did not really love him and was only pretending, while she
gave her heart to another. Perhaps he was right—why not?
"I talked to Adolphe as man to man, and managed to bring back a
gleam of his usual jollity and sly humor. He took another glass of
anisette, and said suddenly:
"'M. Lucien—I did something—'
"'Did what?' I asked.
"'Something I should have told you long ago—it was wrong, and
you've always been so nice to me—'
"You remember the day, two months ago, when we had such a sudden
wind and rain storm, a regular cloud-burst? I was down here in
this neighborhood fetching manuscripts from M. Labouchere and M.
Laroy. I was to have come up here for copy from you, too. But
then—you'll understand after all I've been telling you,—I came
around past 'La Prunelle' and Virginie stood in the doorway, and
she'd promised to go out with me that evening. So I ran up to
speak to her. And then when I went on again, I saw a sheet with
your writing lying in the street. You know I know all the
gentlemen's writing, whose copy I fetch. Then I was frightened. I
thought to myself, 'The devil,' I thought, 'here I've lost M.
Lucien's manuscript.' I couldn't remember calling for it, but I
thought I must have done so before I got M. Laroy's. I can't
remember much except Virginie these days. I took up the sheet and
saw three others a little further on. And I saw a lot more shining
just behind the railing of the Luxembourg Garden. You know how
hard it rained. The water held the paper down, so the wind
couldn't carry it any further. I ran into the Garden and picked up
all the sheets, thirty-two of them. All of them, except the first
four I found in the street, had blown in behind the railing. And I
can tell you I was precious glad that I had them all together. I
ran back to the office, told them I had dropped the manuscript in
the street, but asked them not to say anything to you about it.
But the sheets were all there,—you always number them so clearly,
and 'handsome August,' the compositer, promised he wouldn't tell on
me. I knew if the foreman heard of it, he'd put me out, for he had
a grudge against me. So nobody knew anything about it. But I
thought I ought to tell you, 'cause you've been so nice to me.
Maybe you'll understand how one gets queer at times, when a girl
like Virginie tells you she likes you better than Pierre, and yet
you think she might deceive you for his sake—that big, stupid
animal— But now I'll be going. Much obliged for your kindness,
M. Lucien, and for the anisette—' And he left me.
"There you have the explanation, the very simple and natural
explanation of the phenomenon that almost drove me crazy.
"The entire 'supernatural' occurrence was caused by a careless
boy's love affairs, by a gust of southwest wind, by a sudden heavy
rain, and by the chance that I had used English ink, the kind that
water cannot blur. All these simple natural things made me act so
foolishly toward a good friend, the sort of friend I have always
known you to be. Let me hear from you, and tell me what you people
up North think of my book. I give you my word that the 'Unknown
Powers' shall never again make me foolish enough to risk losing
"So this is my story. Yes, 'there are more things in heaven and
earth—' But the workings of Chance are the strangest of all. And
this whisky is really very good. Here's to you."