THE DIAMOND LENS
By Fitz-James O'brien
FROM a very early period of my life the entire bent of my inclinations had
been toward microscopic investigations. When I was not more than ten years
old, a distant relative of our family, hoping to astonish my inexperience,
constructed a simple microscope for me by drilling in a disk of copper a
small hole in which a drop of pure water was sustained by capillary
attraction. This very primitive apparatus, magnifying some fifty
diameters, presented, it is true, only indistinct and imperfect forms, but
still sufficiently wonderful to work up my imagination to a preternatural
state of excitement.
Seeing me so interested in this rude instrument, my cousin explained to me
all that he knew about the principles of the microscope, related to me a
few of the wonders which had been accomplished through its agency, and
ended by promising to send me one regularly constructed, immediately on
his return to the city. I counted the days, the hours, the minutes that
intervened between that promise and his departure.
Meantime, I was not idle. Every transparent substance that bore the
remotest resemblance to a lens I eagerly seized upon, and employed in vain
attempts to realize that instrument the theory of whose construction I as
yet only vaguely comprehended. All panes of glass containing those oblate
spheroidal knots familiarly known as "bull's-eyes" were ruthlessly
destroyed in the hope of obtaining lenses of marvelous power. I even went
so far as to extract the crystalline humor from the eyes of fishes and
animals, and endeavored to press it into the microscopic service. I plead
guilty to having stolen the glasses from my Aunt Agatha's spectacles, with
a dim idea of grinding them into lenses of wondrous magnifying properties—in
which attempt it is scarcely necessary to say that I totally failed.
At last the promised instrument came. It was of that order known as
Field's simple microscope, and had cost perhaps about fifteen dollars. As
far as educational purposes went, a better apparatus could not have been
selected. Accompanying it was a small treatise on the microscope—its
history, uses, and discoveries. I comprehended then for the first time the
"Arabian Nights' Entertainments." The dull veil of ordinary existence that
hung across the world seemed suddenly to roll away, and to lay bare a land
of enchantments. I felt toward my companions as the seer might feel toward
the ordinary masses of men. I held conversations with nature in a tongue
which they could not understand. I was in daily communication with living
wonders such as they never imagined in their wildest visions, I penetrated
beyond the external portal of things, and roamed through the sanctuaries.
Where they beheld only a drop of rain slowly rolling down the
window-glass, I saw a universe of beings animated with all the passions
common to physical life, and convulsing their minute sphere with struggles
as fierce and protracted as those of men. In the common spots of mould,
which my mother, good housekeeper that she was, fiercely scooped away from
her jam-pots, there abode for me, under the name of mildew, enchanted
gardens, filled with dells and avenues of the densest foliage and most
astonishing verdure, while from the fantastic boughs of these microscopic
forests hung strange fruits glittering with green and silver and gold.
It was no scientific thirst that at this time filled my mind. It was the
pure enjoyment of a poet to whom a world of wonders has been disclosed. I
talked of my solitary pleasures to none. Alone with my microscope, I
dimmed my sight, day after day and night after night, poring over the
marvels which it unfolded to me. I was like one who, having discovered the
ancient Eden still existing in all its primitive glory, should resolve to
enjoy it in solitude, and never betray to mortal the secret of its
locality. The rod of my life was bent at this moment. I destined myself to
be a microscopist.
Of course, like every novice, I fancied myself a discoverer. I was
ignorant at the time of the thousands of acute intellects engaged in the
same pursuit as myself, and with the advantage of instruments a thousand
times more powerful than mine. The names of Leeuwenhoek, Williamson,
Spencer, Ehrenberg, Schultz, Dujardin, Schact, and Schleiden were then
entirely unknown to me, or, if known, I was ignorant of their patient and
wonderful researches. In every fresh specimen of cryptogamia which I
placed beneath my instrument I believed that I discovered wonders of which
the world was as yet ignorant. I remember well the thrill of delight and
admiration that shot through me the first time that I discovered the
common wheel animalcule (Rotifera vulgaris) expanding and contracting its
flexible spokes and seemingly rotating through the water. Alas! as I grew
older, and obtained some works treating of my favorite study, I found that
I was only on the threshold of a science to the investigation of which
some of the greatest men of the age were devoting their lives and
As I grew up, my parents, who saw but little likelihood of anything
practical resulting from the examination of bits of moss and drops of
water through a brass tube and a piece of glass, were anxious that I
should choose a profession.
It was their desire that I should enter the counting-house of my uncle,
Ethan Blake, a prosperous merchant, who carried on business in New York.
This suggestion I decisively combated. I had no taste for trade; I should
only make a failure; in short, I refused to become a merchant.
But it was necessary for me to select some pursuit. My parents were staid
New England people, who insisted on the necessity of labor, and therefore,
although, thanks to the bequest of my poor Aunt Agatha, I should, on
coming of age, inherit a small fortune sufficient to place me above want,
it was decided that, instead of waiting for this, I should act the nobler
part, and employ the intervening years in rendering myself independent.
After much cogitation, I complied with the wishes of my family, and
selected a profession. I determined to study medicine at the New York
Academy. This disposition of my future suited me. A removal from my
relatives would enable me to dispose of my time as I pleased without fear
of detection. As long as I paid my Academy fees, I might shirk attending
the lectures if I chose; and, as I never had the remotest intention of
standing an examination, there was no danger of my being "plucked."
Besides, a metropolis was the place for me. There I could obtain excellent
instruments, the newest publications, intimacy with men of pursuits
kindred with my own—in short, all things necessary to ensure a
profitable devotion of my life to my beloved science. I had an abundance
of money, few desires that were not bounded by my illuminating mirror on
one side and my object-glass on the other; what, therefore, was to prevent
my becoming an illustrious investigator of the veiled worlds? It was with
the most buoyant hope that I left my New England home and established
myself in New York.
My first step, of course, was to find suitable apartments. These I
obtained, after a couple of days' search, in Fourth Avenue; a very pretty
second floor, unfurnished, containing sitting-room, bedroom, and a smaller
apartment which I intended to fit up as a laboratory. I furnished my
lodgings simply, but rather elegantly, and then devoted all my energies to
the adornment of the temple of my worship. I visited Pike, the celebrated
optician, and passed in review his splendid collection of microscopes—Field's
Compound, Hingham's, Spencer's, Nachet's Binocular (that founded on the
principles of the stereoscope), and at length fixed upon that form known
as Spencer's Trunnion Microscope, as combining the greatest number of
improvements with an almost perfect freedom from tremor. Along with this I
purchased every possible accessory—draw-tubes, micrometers, a camera
lucida, lever-stage, achromatic condensers, white cloud illuminators,
prisms, parabolic condensers, polarizing apparatus, forceps, aquatic
boxes, fishing-tubes, with a host of other articles, all of which would
have been useful in the hands of an experienced microscopist, but, as I
afterward discovered, were not of the slightest present value to me. It
takes years of practice to know how to use a complicated microscope. The
optician looked suspiciously at me as I made these valuable purchases. He
evidently was uncertain whether to set me down as some scientific
celebrity or a madman. I think he was inclined to the latter belief. I
suppose I was mad. Every great genius is mad upon the subject in which he
is greatest. The unsuccessful madman is disgraced and called a lunatic.
Mad or not, I set myself to work with a zeal which few scientific students
have ever equaled. I had everything to learn relative to the delicate
study upon which I had embarked—a study involving the most earnest
patience, the most rigid analytic powers, the steadiest hand, the most
untiring eye, the most refined and subtle manipulation.
For a long time half my apparatus lay inactively on the shelves of my
laboratory, which was now most amply furnished with every possible
contrivance for facilitating my investigations. The fact was that I did
not know how to use some of my scientific implements—never having
been taught microscopies—and those whose use I understood
theoretically were of little avail until by practice I could attain the
necessary delicacy of handling. Still, such was the fury of my ambition,
such the untiring perseverance of my experiments, that, difficult of
credit as it may be, in the course of one year I became theoretically and
practically an accomplished microscopist.
During this period of my labors, in which I submitted specimens of every
substance that came under my observation to the action of my lenses, I
became a discoverer—in a small way, it is true, for I was very
young, but still a discoverer. It was I who destroyed Ehrenberg's theory
that the Volvox globator was an animal, and proved that his
"monads" with stomachs and eyes were merely phases of the formation of a
vegetable cell, and were, when they reached their mature state, incapable
of the act of conjugation, or any true generative act, without which no
organism rising to any stage of life higher than vegetable can be said to
be complete. It was I who resolved the singular problem of rotation in the
cells and hairs of plants into ciliary attraction, in spite of the
assertions of Wenham and others that my explanation was the result of an
But notwithstanding these discoveries, laboriously and painfully made as
they were, I felt horribly dissatisfied. At every step I found myself
stopped by the imperfections of my instruments. Like all active
microscopists, I gave my imagination full play. Indeed, it is a common
complaint against many such that they supply the defects of their
instruments with the creations of their brains. I imagined depths beyond
depths in nature which the limited power of my lenses prohibited me from
exploring. I lay awake at night constructing imaginary micro-scopes of
immeasurable power, with which I seemed to pierce through all the
envelopes of matter down to its original atom. How I cursed those
imperfect mediums which necessity through ignorance compelled me to use!
How I longed to discover the secret of some perfect lens, whose magnifying
power should be limited only by the resolvability of the object, and which
at the same time should be free from spherical and chromatic aberrations—in
short, from all the obstacles over which the poor microscopist finds
himself continually stumbling! I felt convinced that the simple
microscope, composed of a single lens of such vast yet perfect power, was
possible of construction. To attempt to bring the compound microscope up
to such a pitch would have been commencing at the wrong end; this latter
being simply a partially successful endeavor to remedy those very defects
of the simplest instrument which, if conquered, would leave nothing to be
It was in this mood of mind that I became a constructive microscopist.
After another year passed in this new pursuit, experimenting on every
imaginable substance—glass, gems, flints, crystals, artificial
crystals formed of the alloy of various vitreous materials—in short,
having constructed as many varieties of lenses as Argus had eyes—I
found myself precisely where I started, with nothing gained save an
extensive knowledge of glass-making. I was almost dead with despair. My
parents were surprised at my apparent want of progress in my medical
studies (I had not attended one lecture since my arrival in the city), and
the expenses of my mad pursuit had been so great as to embarrass me very
I was in this frame of mind one day, experimenting in my laboratory on a
small diamond—that stone, from its great refracting power, having
always occupied my attention more than any other—when a young
Frenchman who lived on the floor above me, and who was in the habit of
occasionally visiting me, entered the room.
I think that Jules Simon was a Jew. He had many traits of the Hebrew
character: a love of jewelry, of dress, and of good living. There was
something mysterious about him. He always had something to sell, and yet
went into excellent society. When I say sell, I should perhaps have said
peddle; for his operations were generally confined to the disposal of
single articles—a picture, for instance, or a rare carving in ivory,
or a pair of duelling-pistols, or the dress of a Mexican caballero.
When I was first furnishing my rooms, he paid me a visit, which ended in
my purchasing an antique silver lamp, which he assured me was a Cellini—it
was handsome enough even for that—and some other knick-knacks for my
sitting-room. Why Simon should pursue this petty trade I never could
imagine. He apparently had plenty of money, and had the entrée of
the best houses in the city—taking care, however, I suppose, to
drive no bargains within the enchanted circle of the Upper Ten. I came at
length to the conclusion that this peddling was but a mask to cover some
greater object, and even went so far as to believe my young acquaintance
to be implicated in the slave-trade. That, however, was none of my affair.
On the present occasion, Simon entered my room in a state of considerable
"Ah! mon ami!" he cried, before I could even offer him the ordinary
salutation, "it has occurred to me to be the witness of the most
astonishing things in the world. I promenade myself to the house of Madame
———. How does the little animal—le renard—name
himself in the Latin?"
"Vulpes," I answered.
"Ah! yes—Vulpes. I promenade myself to the house of Madame Vulpes."
"The spirit medium?"
"Yes, the great medium. Great heavens! what a woman! I write on a slip of
paper many of questions concerning affairs of the most secret—affairs
that conceal themselves in the abysses of my heart the most profound; and
behold, by example, what occurs? This devil of a woman makes me replies
the most truthful to all of them. She talks to me of things that I do not
love to talk of to myself. What am I to think? I am fixed to the earth!"
"Am I to understand you, M. Simon, that this Mrs. Vulpes replied to
questions secretly written by you, which questions related to events known
only to yourself?"
"Ah! more than that, more than that," he answered, with an air of some
alarm. "She related to me things—But," he added after a pause, and
suddenly changing his manner, "why occupy ourselves with these follies? It
was all the biology, without doubt. It goes without saying that it has not
my credence. But why are we here, mon ami? It has occurred to me to
discover the most beautiful thing as you can imagine—a vase with
green lizards on it, composed by the great Bernard Palissy. It is in my
apartment; let us mount. I go to show it to you."
I followed Simon mechanically; but my thoughts were far from Palissy and
his enameled ware, although I, like him, was seeking in the dark a great
discovery. This casual mention of the spiritualist, Madame Vulpes, set me
on a new track. What if, through communication with more subtle organisms
than my own, I could reach at a single bound the goal which perhaps a
life, of agonizing mental toil would never enable me to attain?
While purchasing the Palissy vase from my friend Simon, I was mentally
arranging a visit to Madame Vulpes.
Two evenings after this, thanks to an arrangement by letter and the
promise of an ample fee, I found Madame Vulpes awaiting me at her
residence alone. She was a coarse-featured woman, with keen and rather
cruel dark eyes, and an exceedingly sensual expression about her mouth and
under jaw. She received me in perfect silence, in an apartment on the
ground floor, very sparsely furnished. In the centre of the room, close to
where Mrs. Vulpes sat, there was a common round mahogany table. If I had
come for the purpose of sweeping her chimney, the woman could not have
looked more indifferent to my appearance. There was no attempt to inspire
the visitor with awe. Everything bore a simple and practical aspect. This
intercourse with the spiritual world was evidently as familiar an
occupation with Mrs. Vulpes as eating her dinner or riding in an omnibus.
"You come for a communication, Mr. Linley?" said the medium, in a dry,
businesslike tone of voice.
"What sort of communication do you want—a written one?"
"Yes, I wish for a written one."
"From any particular spirit?"
"Have you ever known this spirit on this earth?"
"Never. He died long before I was born. I wish merely to obtain from him
some information which he ought to be able to give better than any other."
"Will you seat yourself at the table, Mr. Lin-ley," said the medium, "and
place your hands upon it?"
I obeyed, Mrs. Vulpes being seated opposite to me, with her hands also on
the table. We remained thus for about a minute and a half, when a violent
succession of raps came on the table, on the back of my chair, on the
floor immediately under my feet, and even on the window-panes. Mrs. Vulpes
"They are very strong to-night," she remarked. "You are fortunate." She
then continued, "Will the spirits communicate with this gentleman?"
"Will the particular spirit he desires to speak with communicate?"
A very confused rapping followed this question.
"I know what they mean," said Mrs. Vulpes, addressing herself to me; "they
wish you to write down the name of the particular spirit that you desire
to converse with. Is that so?" she added, speaking to her invisible
That it was so was evident from the numerous affirmatory responses. While
this was going on, I tore a slip from my pocket-book and scribbled a name
under the table.
"Will this spirit communicate in writing with this gentleman?" asked the
medium once more.
After a moment's pause, her hand seemed to be seized with a violent
tremor, shaking so forcibly that the table vibrated. She said that a
spirit had seized her hand and would write. I handed her some sheets of
paper that were on the table and a pencil. The latter she held loosely in
her hand, which presently began to move over the paper with a singular and
seemingly involuntary motion. After a few moments had elapsed, she handed
me the paper, on which I found written, in a large, uncultivated hand, the
words, "He is not here, but has been sent for." A pause of a minute or so
ensued, during which Mrs. Vulpes remained perfectly silent, but the raps
continued at regular intervals. When the short period I mention had
elapsed, the hand of the medium was again seized with its convulsive
tremor, and she wrote, under this strange influence, a few words on the
paper, which she handed to me. They were as follows:
"I am here. Question me.
I was astounded. The name was identical with that I had written beneath
the table, and carefully kept concealed. Neither was it at all probable
that an uncultivated woman like Mrs. Vulpes should know even the name of
the great father of microscopies. It may have been biology; but this
theory was soon doomed to be destroyed. I wrote on my slip—still
concealing it from Mrs. Vulpes—a series of questions which, to avoid
tediousness, I shall place with the responses, in the order in which they
I.—Can the microscope be brought to perfection?
I.—Am I destined to accomplish this great task?
I.—I wish to know how to proceed to attain this end. For the love
which you bear to science, help me!
Spirit—A diamond of one hundred and forty carats, submitted to
electro-magnetic currents for a long period, will experience a
rearrangement of its atoms inter se and from that stone you will
form the universal lens.
I.—Will great discoveries result from the use of such a lens?
Spirit—So great that all that has gone before is as nothing.
I.—But the refractive power of the diamond is so immense that the
image will be formed within the lens. How is that difficulty to be
Spirit—Pierce the lens through its axis, and the difficulty is
obviated. The image will be formed in the pierced space, which will itself
serve as a tube to look through. Now I am called. Good-night.
I can not at all describe the effect that these extraordinary
communications had upon me. I felt completely bewildered. No biological
theory could account for the discovery of the lens. The medium
might, by means of biological rapport with my mind, have gone so
far as to read my questions and reply to them coherently. But biology
could not enable her to discover that magnetic currents would so alter the
crystals of the diamond as to remedy its previous defects and admit of its
being polished into a perfect lens. Some such theory may have passed
through my head, it is true; but if so, I had forgotten it. In my excited
condition of mind there was no course left but to become a convert, and it
was in a state of the most painful nervous exaltation that I left the
medium's house that evening. She accompanied me to the door, hoping that I
was satisfied. The raps followed us as we went through the hall, sounding
on the balusters, the flooring, and even the lintels of the door. I
hastily expressed my satisfaction, and escaped hurriedly into the cool
night air. I walked home with but one thought possessing me—how to
obtain a diamond of the immense size required. My entire means multiplied
a hundred times over would have been inadequate to its purchase. Besides,
such stones are rare, and become historical. I could find such only in the
regalia of Eastern or European monarchs.
There was a light in Simon's room as I entered my house. A vague impulse
urged me to visit him. As I opened the door of his sitting-room
unannounced, he was bending, with his back toward me, over a Carcel lamp,
apparently engaged in minutely examining some object which he held in his
hands. As I entered, he started suddenly, thrust his hand into his breast
pocket, and turned to me with a face crimson with confusion.
"What!" I cried, "poring over the miniature of some fair lady? Well, don't
blush so much; I won't ask to see it."
Simon laughed awkwardly enough, but made none of the negative
protestations usual on such occasions. He asked me to take a seat.
"Simon," said I, "I have just come from Madame Vulpes."
This time Simon turned as white as a sheet, and seemed stupefied, as if a
sudden electric shock had smitten him. He babbled some incoherent words,
and went hastily to a small closet where he usually kept his liquors.
Although astonished at his emotion, I was too preoccupied with my own idea
to pay much attention to anything else.
"You say truly when you call Madame Vulpes a devil of a woman," I
continued. "Simon, she told me wonderful things to-night, or rather was
the means of telling me wonderful things. Ah! if I could only get a
diamond that weighed one hundred and forty carats!"
Scarcely had the sigh with which I uttered this desire died upon my lips
when Simon, with the aspect of a wild beast, glared at me savagely, and,
rushing to the mantelpiece, where some foreign weapons hung on the wall,
caught up a Malay creese, and brandished it furiously before him.
"No!" he cried in French, into which he always broke when excited. "No!
you shall not have it! You are perfidious! You have consulted with that
demon, and desire my treasure! But I will die first! Me, I am brave! You
can not make me fear!"
All this, uttered in a loud voice, trembling with excitement, astounded
me. I saw at a glance that I had accidentally trodden upon the edges of
Simon's secret, whatever it was. It was necessary to reassure him.
"My dear Simon," I said, "I am entirely at a loss to know what you mean. I
went to Madame Vulpes to consult with her on a scientific problem, to the
solution of which I discovered that a diamond of the size I just mentioned
was necessary. You were never alluded to during the evening, nor, so far
as I was concerned, even thought of. What can be the meaning of this
outburst? If you happen to have a set of valuable diamonds in your
possession, you need fear nothing from me. The diamond which I require you
could not possess; or, if you did possess it, you would not be living
Something in my tone must have completely reassured him, for his
expression immediately changed to a sort of constrained merriment,
combined however, with a certain suspicious attention to my movements. He
laughed, and said that I must bear with him; that he was at certain
moments subject to a species of vertigo, which betrayed itself in
incoherent speeches, and that the attacks passed off as rapidly as they
He put his weapon aside while making this explanation, and endeavored,
with some success, to assume a more cheerful air.
All this did not impose on me in the least. I was too much accustomed to
analytical labors to be baffled by so flimsy a veil. I determined to probe
the mystery to the bottom.
"Simon," I said gayly, "let us forget all this over a bottle of Burgundy.
I have a case of Lausseure's Clos Vougeot downstairs, fragrant with
the odors and ruddy with the sunlight of the Côte d'Or. Let us have up a
couple of bottles. What say you?"
"With all my heart," answered Simon smilingly.
I produced the wine and we seated ourselves to drink. It was of a famous
vintage, that of 1848, a year when war and wine throve together, and its
pure but powerful juice seemed to impart renewed vitality to the system.
By the time we had half finished the second bottle, Simon's head, which I
knew was a weak one, had begun to yield, while I remained calm as ever,
only that every draught seemed to send a flush of vigor through my limbs.
Simon's utterance became more and more indistinct. He took to singing
French chansons of a not very moral tendency. I rose suddenly from
the table just at the conclusion of one of those incoherent verses, and,
fixing my eyes on him with a quiet smile, said, "Simon, I have deceived
you. I learned your secret this evening. You may as well be frank with me.
Mrs. Vulpes—or rather, one of her spirits—told me all."
He started with horror. His intoxication seemed for the moment to fade
away, and he made a movement toward the weapon that he had a short time
before laid down, I stopped him with my hand.
"Monster!" he cried passionately, "I am ruined! What shall I do? You shall
never have it! I swear by my mother!"
"I don't want it," I said; "rest secure, but be frank with me. Tell me all
The drunkenness began to return. He protested with maudlin earnestness
that I was entirely mistaken—that I was intoxicated; then asked me
to swear eternal secrecy, and promised to disclose the mystery to me. I
pledged myself, of course, to all. With an uneasy look in his eyes, and
hands unsteady with drink and nervousness, he drew a small case from his
breast and opened it. Heavens! How the mild lamplight was shivered into a
thousand prismatic arrows as it fell upon a vast rose-diamond that
glittered in the case! I was no judge of diamonds, but I saw at a glance
that this was a gem of rare size and purity. I looked at Simon with wonder
and—must I confess it?—with envy. How could he have obtained
this treasure? In reply to my questions, I could just gather from his
drunken statements (of which, I fancy, half the incoherence was affected)
that he had been superintending a gang of slaves engaged in
diamond-washing in Brazil; that he had seen one of them secrete a diamond,
but, instead of informing his employers, had quietly watched the negro
until he saw him bury his treasure; that he had dug it up and fled with
it, but that as yet he was afraid to attempt to dispose of it publicly—so
valuable a gem being almost certain to attract too much attention to its
owner's antecedents—and he had not been able to discover any of
those obscure channels by which such matters are conveyed away safely. He
added that, in accordance with oriental practice, he had named his diamond
with the fanciful title of "The Eye of Morning."
While Simon was relating this to me, I regarded the great diamond
attentively. Never had I beheld anything so beautiful. All the glories of
light ever imagined or described seemed to pulsate in its crystalline
chambers. Its weight, as I learned from Simon, was exactly one hundred and
forty carats. Here was an amazing coincidence. The hand of destiny seemed
in it. On the very evening when the spirit of Leeuwenhoek communicates to
me the great secret of the microscope, the priceless means which he
directs me to employ start up within my easy reach! I determined, with the
most perfect deliberation, to possess myself of Simon's diamond.
I sat opposite to him while he nodded over his glass, and calmly revolved
the whole affair. I did not for an instant contemplate so foolish an act
as a common theft, which would of course be discovered, or at least
necessitate flight and concealment, all of which must interfere with my
scientific plans. There was but one step to be taken—to kill Simon.
After all, what was the life of a little peddling Jew in comparison with
the interests of science? Human beings are taken every day from the
condemned prisons to be experimented on by surgeons. This man, Simon, was
by his own confession a criminal, a robber, and I believed on my soul a
murderer. He deserved death quite as much as any felon condemned by the
laws: why should I not, like government, contrive that his punishment
should contribute to the progress of human knowledge?
The means for accomplishing everything I desired lay within my reach.
There stood upon the mantelpiece a bottle half full of French laudanum.
Simon was so occupied with his diamond, which I had just restored to him,
that it was an affair of no difficulty to drug his glass. In a quarter of
an hour he was in a profound sleep.
I now opened his waistcoat, took the diamond from the inner pocket in
which he had placed it, and removed him to the bed, on which I laid him so
that his feet hung down over the edge. I had possessed myself of the Malay
creese, which I held in my right hand, while with the other I discovered
as accurately as I could by pulsation the exact locality of the heart. It
was essential that all the aspects of his death should lead to the surmise
of self-murder. I calculated the exact angle at which it was probable that
the weapon, if leveled by Simon's own hand, would enter his breast; then
with one powerful blow I thrust it up to the hilt in the very spot which I
desired to penetrate. A convulsive thrill ran through Simon's limbs. I
heard a smothered sound issue from his throat, precisely like the bursting
of a large air-bubble sent up by a diver when it reaches the surface of
the water; he turned half round on his side, and, as if to assist my plans
more effectually, his right hand, moved by some mere spasmodic impulse,
clasped the handle of the creese, which it remained holding with
extraordinary muscular tenacity. Beyond this there was no apparent
struggle. The laudanum, I presume, paralyzed the usual nervous action. He
must have died instantly.
There was yet something to be done. To make it certain that all suspicion
of the act should be diverted from any inhabitant of the house to Simon
himself, it was necessary that the door should be found in the morning locked
on the in-side. How to do this, and afterward escape myself? Not by
the window; that was a physical impossibility. Besides, I was determined
that the windows also should be found bolted. The solution was
simple enough. I descended softly to my own room for a peculiar instrument
which I had used for holding small slippery substances, such as minute
spheres of glass, etc. This instrument was nothing more than a long,
slender hand-vise, with a very powerful grip and a considerable leverage,
which last was accidentally owing to the shape of the handle. Nothing was
simpler than, when the key was in the lock, to seize the end of its stem
in this vise, through the keyhole, from the outside, and so lock the door.
Previously, however, to doing this, I burned a number of papers on Simon's
hearth. Suicides almost always burn papers before they destroy themselves.
I also emptied some more laudanum into Simon's glass—having first
removed from it all traces of wine—cleaned the other wine-glass, and
brought the bottles away with me. If traces of two persons drinking had
been found in the room, the question naturally would have arisen, Who was
the second? Besides, the wine-bottles might have been identified as
belonging to me. The laudanum I poured out to account for its presence in
his stomach, in case of a post-mortem examination. The theory
naturally would be that he first intended to poison himself, but, after
swallowing a little of the drug, was either disgusted with its taste, or
changed his mind from other motives, and chose the dagger. These
arrangements made, I walked out, leaving the gas burning, locked the door
with my vise, and went to bed.
Simon's death was not discovered until nearly three in the afternoon. The
servant, astonished at seeing the gas burning—the light streaming on
the dark landing from under the door—peeped through the keyhole and
saw Simon on the bed.
She gave the alarm. The door was burst open, and the neighborhood was in a
fever of excitement.
Every one in the house was arrested, myself included. There was an
inquest; but no clew to his death beyond that of suicide could be
obtained. Curiously enough, he had made several speeches to his friends
the preceding week that seemed to point to self-destruction. One gentleman
swore that Simon had said in his presence that "he was tired of life." His
landlord affirmed that Simon, when paying him his last month's rent,
remarked that "he should not pay him rent much longer." All the other
evidence corresponded—the door locked inside, the position of the
corpse, the burned papers. As I anticipated, no one knew of the possession
of the diamond by Simon, so that no motive was suggested for his murder.
The jury, after a prolonged examination, brought in the usual verdict, and
the neighborhood once more settled down to its accustomed quiet.
The three months succeeding Simon's catastrophe I devoted night and day to
my diamond lens. I had constructed a vast galvanic battery, composed of
nearly two thousand pairs of plates: a higher power I dared not use, lest
the diamond should be calcined. By means of this enormous engine I was
enabled to send a powerful current of electricity continually through my
great diamond, which it seemed to me gained in lustre every day. At the
expiration of a month I commenced the grinding and polishing of the lens,
a work of intense toil and exquisite delicacy. The great density of the
stone, and the care required to be taken with the curvatures of the
surfaces of the lens, rendered the labor the severest and most harassing
that I had yet undergone.
At last the eventful moment came; the lens was completed. I stood
trembling on the threshold of new worlds. I had the realization of
Alexander's famous wish before me. The lens lay on the table, ready to be
placed upon its platform. My hand fairly shook as I enveloped a drop of
water with a thin coating of oil of turpentine, preparatory to its
examination, a process necessary in order to prevent the rapid evaporation
of the water. I now placed the drop on a thin slip of glass under the
lens, and throwing upon it, by the combined aid of a prism and a mirror, a
powerful stream of light, I approached my eye to the minute hole drilled
through the axis of the lens. For an instant I saw nothing save what
seemed to be an illuminated chaos, a vast, luminous abyss. A pure white
light, cloudless and serene, and seemingly limitless as space itself, was
my first impression. Gently, and with the greatest care, I depressed the
lens a few hairbreadths. The wondrous illumination still continued, but as
the lens approached the object a scene of indescribable beauty was
unfolded to my view.
I seemed to gaze upon a vast space, the limits of which extended far
beyond my vision. An atmosphere of magical luminousness permeated the
entire field of view. I was amazed to see no trace of animalculous life.
Not a living thing, apparently, inhabited that dazzling expanse. I
comprehended instantly that, by the wondrous power of my lens, I had
penetrated beyond the grosser particles of aqueous matter, beyond the
realms of infusoria and protozoa, down to the original gaseous globule,
into whose luminous interior I was gazing as into an almost boundless dome
filled with a supernatural radiance.
It was, however, no brilliant void into which I looked. On every side I
beheld beautiful inorganic forms, of unknown texture, and colored with the
most enchanting hues. These forms presented the appearance of what might
be called, for want of a more specific definition, foliated clouds of the
highest rarity—that is, they undulated and broke into vegetable
formations, and were tinged with splendors compared with which the gilding
of our autumn woodlands is as dross compared with gold. Far away into the
illimitable distance stretched long avenues of these gaseous forests,
dimly transparent, and painted with prismatic hues of unimaginable
brilliancy. The pendent branches waved along the fluid glades until every
vista seemed to break through half-lucent ranks of many-colored drooping
silken pennons. What seemed to be either fruits or flowers, pied with a
thousand hues, lustrous and ever-varying, bubbled from the crowns of this
fairy foliage. No hills, no lakes, no rivers, no forms animate or
inanimate, were to be seen, save those vast auroral copses that floated
serenely in the luminous stillness, with leaves and fruits and flowers
gleaming with unknown fires, unrealizable by mere imagination.
How strange, I thought, that this sphere should be thus condemned to
solitude! I had hoped, at least, to discover some new form of animal life,
perhaps of a lower class than any with which we are at present acquainted,
but still some living organism. I found my newly discovered world, if I
may so speak, a beautiful chromatic desert.
While I was speculating on the singular arrangements of the internal
economy of Nature, with which she so frequently splinters into atoms our
most compact theories, I thought I beheld a form moving slowly through the
glades of one of the prismatic forests. I looked more attentively, and
found that I was not mistaken. Words can not depict the anxiety with which
I awaited the nearer approach of this mysterious object. Was it merely
some inanimate substance, held in suspense in the attenuated atmosphere of
the globule, or was it an animal endowed with vitality and motion? It
approached, flitting behind the gauzy, colored veils of cloud-foliage, for
seconds dimly revealed, then vanishing. At last the violet pennons that
trailed nearest to me vibrated; they were gently pushed aside, and the
form floated out into the broad light.
It was a female human shape. When I say human, I mean it possessed the
outlines of humanity; but there the analogy ends. Its adorable beauty
lifted it illimitable heights beyond the loveliest daughter of Adam.
I can not, I dare not, attempt to inventory the charms of this divine
revelation of perfect beauty. Those eyes of mystic violet, dewy and
serene, evade my words. Her long, lustrous hair following her glorious
head in a golden wake, like the track sown in heaven by a falling star,
seems to quench my most burning phrases with its splendors. If all the
bees of Hybla nestled upon my lips, they would still sing but hoarsely the
wondrous harmonies of outline that inclosed her form.
She swept out from between the rainbow-curtains of the cloud-trees into
the broad sea of light that lay beyond. Her motions were those of some
graceful naiad, cleaving, by a mere effort of her will, the clear,
unruffled waters that fill the chambers of the sea. She floated forth with
the serene grace of a frail bubble ascending through the still atmosphere
of a June day. The perfect roundness of her limbs formed suave and
enchanting curves. It was like listening to the most spiritual symphony of
Beethoven the divine, to watch the harmonious flow of lines. This, indeed
was a pleasure cheaply purchased at any price. What cared I if I had waded
to the portal of this wonder through another's blood. I would have given
my own to enjoy one such moment of intoxication and delight.
Breathless with gazing on this lovely wonder, and forgetful for an instant
of everything save her presence, I withdrew my eye from the microscope
eagerly. Alas! as my gaze fell on the thin slide that lay beneath my
instrument, the bright light from mirror and from prism sparkled on a
colorless drop of water! There, in that tiny bead of dew, this beautiful
being was forever imprisoned. The planet Neptune was not more distant from
me than she. I hastened once more to apply my eye to the microscope.
Animula (let me now call her by that dear name which I subsequently
bestowed on her) had changed her position. She had again approached the
wondrous forest, and was gazing earnestly upward. Presently one of the
trees—as I must call them—unfolded a long ciliary process,
with which it seized one of the gleaming fruits that glittered on its
summit, and, sweeping slowly down, held it within reach of Animula. The
sylph took it in her delicate hand and began to eat. My attention was so
entirely absorbed by her that I could not apply myself to the task of
determining whether this singular plant was or was not instinct with
I watched her, as she made her repast, with the most profound attention.
The suppleness of her motions sent a thrill of delight through my frame;
my heart beat madly as she turned her beautiful eyes in the direction of
the spot in which I stood. What would I not have given to have had the
power to precipitate myself into that luminous ocean and float with her
through those grooves of purple and gold! While I was thus breathlessly
following her every movement, she suddenly started, seemed to listen for a
moment, and then cleaving the brilliant ether in which she was floating,
like a flash of light, pierced through the opaline forest and disappeared.
Instantly a series of the most singular sensations attacked me. It seemed
as if I had suddenly gone blind. The luminous sphere was still before me,
but my daylight had vanished. What caused this sudden disappearance? Had
she a lover or a husband? Yes, that was the solution! Some signal from a
happy fellow-being had vibrated through the avenues of the forest, and she
had obeyed the summons.
The agony of my sensations, as I arrived at this conclusion, startled me.
I tried to reject the conviction that my reason forced upon me. I battled
against the fatal conclusion—but in vain. It was so. I had no escape
from it. I loved an animalcule.
It is true that, thanks to the marvelous power of my microscope, she
appeared of human proportions. Instead of presenting the revolting aspect
of the coarser creatures, that live and struggle and die, in the more
easily resolvable portions of the water-drop, she was fair and delicate
and of surpassing beauty. But of what account was all that? Every time
that my eye was withdrawn from the instrument it fell on a miserable drop
of water, within which, I must be content to know, dwelt all that could
make my life lovely.
Could she but see me once! Could I for one moment pierce the mystical
walls that so inexorably rose to separate us, and whisper all that filled
my soul, I might consent to be satisfied for the rest of my life with the
knowledge of her remote sympathy.
It would be something to have established even the faintest personal link
to bind us together—to know that at times, when roaming through
these enchanted glades, she might think of the wonderful stranger who had
broken the monotony of her life with his presence and left a gentle memory
in her heart!
But it could not be. No invention of which human intellect was capable
could break down the barriers that nature had erected. I might feast my
soul upon her wondrous beauty, yet she must always remain ignorant of the
adoring eyes that day and night gazed upon her, and, even when closed,
beheld her in dreams. With a bitter cry of anguish I fled from the room,
and flinging myself on my bed, sobbed myself to sleep like a child.
I arose the next morning almost at daybreak, and rushed to my microscope,
I trembled as I sought the luminous world in miniature that contained my
all. Animula was there. I had left the gas-lamp, surrounded by its
moderators, burning when I went to bed the night before. I found the sylph
bathing, as it were, with an expression of pleasure animating her
features, in the brilliant light which surrounded her. She tossed her
lustrous golden hair over her shoulders with innocent coquetry. She lay at
full length in the transparent medium, in which she supported herself with
ease, and gamboled with the enchanting grace that the nymph Salmacis might
have exhibited when she sought to conquer the modest Hermaphroditus. I
tried an experiment to satisfy myself if her powers of reflection were
developed. I lessened the lamplight considerably. By the dim light that
remained, I could see an expression of pain flit across her face. She
looked upward suddenly, and her brows contracted. I flooded the stage of
the microscope again with a full stream of light, and her whole expression
changed. She sprang forward like some some substance deprived of all
weight. Her eyes sparkled and her lips moved. Ah! if science had only the
means of conducting and reduplicating sounds, as it does rays of light,
what carols of happiness would then have entranced my ears! what jubilant
hymns to Adonais would have thrilled the illumined air!
I now comprehended how it was that the Count de Cabalis peopled his mystic
world with sylphs-beautiful beings whose breath of life was lambent fire,
and who sported forever in regions of purest ether and purest light. The
Rosicrucian had anticipated the wonder that I had practically realized.
How long this worship of my strange divinity went on thus I scarcely know.
I lost all note of time. All day from early dawn, and far into the night,
I was to be found peering through that wonderful lens. I saw no one, went
nowhere, and scarce allowed myself sufficient time for my meals. My whole
life was absorbed in contemplation as rapt as that of any of the Romish
saints. Every hour that I gazed upon the divine form strengthened my
passion—a passion that was always overshadowed by the maddening
conviction that, although I could gaze on her at will, she never, never
could behold me!
At length I grew so pale and emaciated, from want of rest and continual
brooding over my insane love and its cruel conditions, that I determined
to make some effort to wean myself from it. "Come," I said, "this is at
best but a fantasy. Your imagination has bestowed on Animula charms which
in reality she does not possess. Seclusion from female society has
produced this morbid condition of mind. Compare her with the beautiful
women of your own world, and this false enchantment will vanish."
I looked over the newspapers by chance. There I beheld the advertisement
of a celebrated danseuse who appeared nightly at Niblo's. The
Signorina Caradolce had the reputation of being the most beautiful as well
as the most graceful woman in the world. I instantly dressed and went to
The curtain drew up. The usual semicircle of fairies in white muslin were
standing on the right toe around the enameled flower-bank of green canvas,
on which the belated prince was sleeping. Suddenly a flute is heard. The
fairies start. The trees open, the fairies all stand on the left toe, and
the queen enters. It was the Signorina. She bounded forward amid thunders
of applause, and, lighting on one foot, remained poised in the air.
Heavens! was this the great enchantress that had drawn monarchs at her
chariot-wheels? Those heavy, muscular limbs, those thick ankles, those
cavernous eyes, that stereotyped smile, those crudely painted cheeks!
Where were the vermeil blooms, the liquid, expressive eyes, the harmonious
limbs of Animula?
The Signorina danced. What gross, discordant movements! The play of her
limbs was all false and artificial. Her bounds were painful athletic
efforts; her poses were angular and distressed the eye. I could bear it no
longer; with an exclamation of disgust that drew every eye upon me, I rose
from my seat in the very middle of the Signorina's pas-de-fascination
and abruptly quitted the house.
I hastened home to feast my eyes once more on the lovely form of my sylph.
I felt that henceforth to combat this passion would be impossible. I
applied my eyes to the lens. Animula was there—but what could have
happened? Some terrible change seemed to have taken place during my
absence. Some secret grief seemed to cloud the lovely features of her I
gazed upon. Her face had grown thin and haggard; her limbs trailed
heavily; the wondrous lustre of her golden hair had faded. She was ill—ill,
and I could not assist her! I believe at that moment I would have
forfeited all claims to my human birthright if I could only have been
dwarfed to the size of an animalcule, and permitted to console her from
whom fate had forever divided me.
I racked my brain for the solution of this mystery. What was it that
afflicted the sylph? She seemed to suffer intense pain. Her features
contracted, and she even writhed, as if with some internal agony. The
wondrous forests appeared also to have lost half their beauty. Their hues
were dim and in some places faded away altogether. I watched Animula for
hours with a breaking heart, and she seemed absolutely to wither away
under my very eye. Suddenly I remembered that I had not looked at the
water-drop for several days. In fact, I hated to see it; for it reminded
me of the natural barrier between Animula and myself. I hurriedly looked
down on the stage of the microscope. The slide was still there—but,
great heavens, the water drop had vanished! The awful truth burst upon me;
it had evaporated, until it had become so minute as to be invisible to the
naked eye; I had been gazing on its last atom, the one that contained
Animula—and she was dying!
I rushed again to the front of the lens and looked through. Alas! the last
agony had seized her. The rainbow-hued forests had all melted away, and
Animula lay struggling feebly in what seemed to be a spot of dim light.
Ah! the sight was horrible: the limbs once so round and lovely shriveling
up into nothings; the eyes—those eyes that shone like heaven—being
quenched into black dust; the lustrous golden hair now lank and
discolored. The last throe came. I beheld that final struggle of the
blackening form—and I fainted.
When I awoke out of a trance of many hours, I found myself lying amid the
wreck of my instrument, myself as shattered in mind and body as it. I
crawled feebly to my bed, from which I did not rise for many months.
They say now that I am mad; but they are mistaken. I am poor, for I have
neither the heart nor the will to work; all my money is spent, and I live
on charity. Young men's associations that love a joke invite me to lecture
on optics before them, for which they pay me, and laugh at me while I
lecture. "Linley, the mad microscopist," is the name I go by. I suppose
that I talk incoherently while I lecture. Who could talk sense when his
brain is haunted by such ghastly memories, while ever and anon among the
shapes of death I behold the radiant form of my lost Animula!