"Ceci est un fait-divers atroce." Les Mémoires du Bal-Mabille There are dreams we seem to have lived sometime long ago, somewhere, as well as things we lived about which we ask whether they were not a dream. That's what I was thinking of yesterday evening when, rummaging through my papers to see if I could find something to burn - papers can be an encumbrance - I came across a letter which revived the memory of a strange happening, so strange that if it hadn't taken place just seven years before I would have felt overcome by doubt, I would have believed that in fact I had only dreamt it, or read it, or heard about it long ago.It was in 1907. I had been fearfully ill in Bucharest and had returned to Berlin, my home. My recovery was progressing tortuously, requiring great care: on my departure the doctor had counselled me to avoid even the slightest psychological disturbance. Well-meaning doctor! I shrugged my shoulders, smiling, and told him to rest assured.After two years of exile Berlin once again lay before me. I have a soft spot for Berlin; even very sad circumstances have never stopped me from seeing it each time with pleasure. I found it as I had left it: all filled with flowers. But it had never seemed to me so beautiful as it did at the beginning of that June.But to hunt around and wander as I once used to was no longer possible. I quickly got tired and tiredness could encourage the illness' resurgence. So I gave in and stayed at home for a while, a sacrifice for which I was partly rewarded by the beauty of the old music which was performed in our neighbourhood from morning until evening. Overcome by a sweet drowsiness, I was letting my reveries emerge and then melt away unhindered in the stream of sublime harmonies, looking through the window, my eyes half-closed, at rainbows undulating in the fluid dust of the fountain in the garden square. The gentle breeze of dusk swayed the purple tassels of the roses climbing the terrace of the house opposite, and brought their scent to me. The evening brought every shadow to life, as in the mirrors, secretly, tremors passed. This was the hour I waited for to admire the most beautiful corner of the square – a patch of forest which had remained untouched in the heart of the city – some old trees, sombre and leafy, capable of inspiring the most renowned masters of painting. * I did indeed find them, at the Friedrich Museum, in a canvas by Ruysdael, the same bushy trees, shading a ruined castle near a waterfall. I could never pass before this picture without stopping for a very long time. Gazing at it, my thoughts endlessly lost themselves in the sliver of bluish, faraway enhorizoned sky. I have an innate, pagan, and devout love of old trees – the residue of an ancient belief. I owe them much noble and solemn inspiration because I don't think there is either human poetry or artful song in this world which could move me more powerfully than the secret rustling brought about among their leaves by the evening wind. And yet those painted trees charmed me more than the real ones, that small melancholic landscape appeared to me to be a reflection of my own soul.I went to the museum very often. Although I was absorbed in contemplating the paintings I wasn't oblivious to the visitors, who were sometimes interesting, so I'd noticed among them the continuous presence of a young man who, especially in that place, couldn't help but attract everyone's glances, because one could rightly say of him that he had stepped out of an old canvas by some spell. Can those who devotedly commune with the secrets of the past have a rarer pleasure than to meet an icon from long centuries ago in the flesh? Two years earlier, in the French gallery of the museum, I had remarked a young lady aristocrat who was copying Mignard's portrait of Maria Mancini and who bore such a remarkable resemblance to the original, you would have believed that while looking at herself in a mirror she was painting adornments on her own face.Just so did the young man resemble some of those lords whose gazes, hands and smiles had immortality conferred upon them by Van Dyck and after him Van der Faes. I say some of those lords because most of them look almost the same. On those who live close together, confined in their castles amid intricate relations of kinship, with identical costumes and habits, every past epoch engraves the same allure if not the same appearance. It happens also that in places you would never have imagined, creatures appear whose true likeness should be sought elsewhere, in other countries, it being impossible even to guess, in any way whatsoever, the remotest kinship with those from whom they are separated by abysses of time and family origin.Thus any supposition concerning the background of this selfsame young man was superfluous, and yet I allowed myself innumerable reflections concerning his true nature, which was unquestionably unique and strange, and imposed itself imperiously on one's attention. I was held captive by the eminence displayed in the cold haughtiness of the young man who, radiating absolute beauty, faced life alone, aloof, with head held high. From the very beginning I saw him as one of those exceptional beings, estranged from humankind, for whom I've always felt an intense attraction. I saw him almost daily, the museum being not the only place in which I encountered him. In the course of my resumed walks through the town, as I feared tiredness, I made long halts at a tavern where one could sample the masterpieces of an old Dutch distillery. After Rusydael, here were Van-Brouwer and Van der Hooch. Nowhere could I gather my thoughts better than in that narrow, rather dark room which would be the pride of any burgomaster's or guild-master's dwelling, so richly lined as it was with time-weathered oak up to the middle of the wall, where the panelling projected, forming a wide shelf all round on which ewers and Delft jugs were ranged. What wonderful moments we used to spend there!Close to me, on the only bench in that hospitable chamber, which was extremely deserted during the daytime, the young man with the face from an old portrait leisurely sipped the sweetest and most aromatic drinks, which looked like melting jewels, provoking exotic daydreams and far-off nostalgias with their peppery spices from Java or the Antilles. In that place it was as if we weren't strangers one to the other and the funny thing is that later, after we had come to know each other, we both confessed that for him as for me it seemed we had been together before in other, former times, in just such a room. But I would never have thought that we could have really become friends, being so convinced of his belonging to a world completely different from mine. It was inescapable: it was the difference between a wild flower and a garden flower. Now either centuries must have passed before a superior race on the edge of extinction, and in a final, proud assertion of its blue blood could so brilliantly have perfected itself, or it had been a happy stroke of fate, in any case, nothing greater could ever be accomplished. However, some effort was clearly needed on a daily basis in order that this jewel of mankind perfect his beauty, because I've never seen so many adornments even when it comes to our females. Should I have assumed, with this in mind, that he was one of those debauchees with their errant ways whose numbers seem to have expanded everywhere to such a regrettable extent in recent times? No, I wasn't able to believe such a thing. Even when an alarming smile would sometimes flutter on this heavily made up doll's lips, under the disciplined curve of his black eyebrows which looked as if they had been drawn on, his eyes had that innocent clarity which only shines forth below heroes' and children's eyelids.Still, he was very young; he might have been no more than twenty years old. Is there anything which isn't allowed to people at this age, especially rich ones? Not having to worry about tomorrow transforms the human mind, numbing the fearful sense of one's responsibility; wealth mollifies and makes you drunk with a sweet, perpetual dizziness which encourages the pursuit of rare pleasures, novel sensations. Of just such a world, indifferent, vain, and shorn of common prejudices, my new acquaintance was a part, he who undoubtedly had a considerable fortune. But he looked as though he lived outside that world and, more than that, outside any world. There were many others like him in West Berlin, but one could glimpse those people only rarely as they rode in the morning fog or as they flew swiftly in the evening to their decorous pleasures. Yet I couldn't imagine him living anywhere other than in one of the streets which border the royal Tiergarten to the west, encircling it with a wonderful necklace of villas, in which the gold succeeded somehow in its attempt to bring about a sort of heaven on earth. So I envisaged him skimming with his long refined fingers through books with expensive bindings, in the sumptuous loneliness of rooms with deep mirrors where a profusion of rare flowers languished. Wasn't the phantasm of such a decor the result simply of the passionate scent he was spreading around him, so intoxicating that it made you dream even though you were awake? Aubrey de Vere. Let me not remember .... Out of the blue we really talked one day, as if we had known one another since the beginning of the world. His Norman name – although even today I don't know if this is what he was really called – was not unfamiliar to me since it was the dynastic name of the unruly Counts of Oxford, after whose eclipse it was chosen and attached to the name Beauclerk by the left branch of the Stewarts, the Dukes of St Alban's. Had he been one of their descendants it wouldn't have been any greater an honour for him than for them. Although English to the marrow, in speech he ordinarily availed himself of French, and he did so as I have only rarely had the good fortune to encounter. Combined with the grave timbre of his pure and melodious voice, French was more than a means of understanding it was an instrument of seduction. Learning of these things I suddenly felt I totally understood him; the lifestyle on which Brummel has put the seal of his name was incarnated in Aubrey de Vere in its fullest splendour. Thus I interpreted even the pleasure he took in using make-up: didn't the first inhabitants of Albion that we know of paint their nakedness blue? This colour was specially cherished by my new friend; he wore it in his innermost being, it was in his eyes and under the diaphanous skin of his hands, on one or the other of which seven rings, all identical - seven Ceylonese sapphires - always sparkled. The bracelet, his perfume, that unforgettable scent of red carnation, his rings which were the only things he wore at all times – but for the rest I can't remember seeing him wearing the same clothes twice. However for him, this elaborate adornment was nothing but an element in a perfect whole expressing absolute harmony. Aubrey de Vere had a wonderfully organised mind and a brilliant esprit, he would have been the pride of the most exclusive club and wouldn't have felt embarrassed in a scholarly gathering either, because as soon as he declared that he did his laundry in London he would add that in the eighteenth century the beaux from Paris did theirs in Flanders and those living in Bordeaux did theirs in Curaçao and he knew so well how to speak of everything using comparisons with the past, using analogies and charming details whenever he happened to tell of his journeys through the ancient lands of the Orient, or throughout the remote isles of that quiet ocean where an eternal spring prevails. This was all that I could find out about his life: that he had seen many things, scouring sea and land, and had read even more things, perhaps too many at his age, it being possible that he might have mixed what he had seen with what he had read, or that he might have considered the things thus seen through the distorting lens of his reading, which together with his wealth made him lose his head a little, although he had an innately clear and cold judgement. That's how I understood, for instance, the fact that he occupied himself with daring occult research, for which he was qualified not only because of an inherent inclination for the most peculiar studies but also due to a most extraordinary education. He even seemed to be more in touch with phantoms than with the living, because in his tales human beings were never mentioned.On which occasion, or in which circumstances he could so precociously have undertaken such marvellous journeys - he never disclosed; neither who he was, nor what or from where he was, whether he had any parents, relatives or friends, not even where he lived – nothing, absolutely nothing. What kind of self-control could he have had to hide in this way, at his age, without revealing himself? But if he confessed nothing, then I asked him even less and I suppose that this was the very cause of our friendship. Had we gone on meeting each other for an eternity it would probably have been easier for him to let slip a confession than me a question. And indeed I was not at all eager to find out anything: why should this have been any business of mine? By chance I once saw him – without his noticing – choosing flowers, carnations and rare orchids, which cost him four or five hundred marks – a real debauchery – and as I knew the young demoiselle I could easily have entered the shop and bought a flower for my buttonhole just to find out where he had sent his bouquet and thus obtaining a clue, pursued my investigations. But what for? Maybe the stubborn persistence with which he curtained off his brief past and his daily life had a purpose but, let me repeat, there was so much pride in his gaze, always indifferent to what was happening on this earth, and apparently lost in the far distance of a world of dreams, that it would have dispelled any shadow of distrust or uncertainty. However, it didn't escape my notice that he was sometimes on the verge of telling me more but immediately changed his mind, he was stifling his words on his lips. Was he really blushing then, under his make-up? Were his eyes clouding over, as it seemed to me, in a fleeting, momentary disclosure of hidden anguish? I couldn't swear to it but I do know that while he was recounting his stories, his eyes, which became ever more self-absorbed, were fixed long and tenderly on his ever-present rings, as if those gems had been the receptacle of the secret of his life, reflecting in their blue and limpid ice all his thoughts and memories.After a while, without tightening further the bonds of our friendship, we saw each other more often, sometimes in the morning, most usually in the afternoon, but never, never in the evening. Because of the heat we had abandoned the Dutch tavern and met in Grunewald, on the terrace of a cafe, at the edge of a pine grove – a terrace invaded idyllically by roses of all kinds and appearances which, with every breath of wind, shed their petals into the glasses. He would always arrive without hurrying and without being late. However, once I waited pointlessly for him until dinnertime. Returning home, I was to find a brief letter in which he asked me to forgive him for not being able to come and which he signed Sir Aubrey de Vere. I examined the proud, large-lettered calligraphy closely and the blue wax seal: a sphinx lying in the centre of a Garter which looked very much like the one encircling the shield on the British medal. On the ribbon I was able to read the word 'Remember'. As a student of heraldry I expected to find authentic arms not a simple emblem. After this letter Sir Aubrey didn't send any sign. This wasn't surprising: the whole town was beginning to resemble an enormous nest teeming with villainies and evils, which a terrible humid, sultry heat was hatching. One couldn't possibly go out except in the evening, when Sir Aubrey didn't usually show himself. But the nights were so beautiful that I could hardly tear myself away and return home. Wandering like this until late, just before midnight in a deserted lane in the Tiergarten, I once had a bizarre encounter.A tall woman passed by with rich red hair under a big feathered hat, skinny and bony without hips or breasts in a tight, black spangled dress. She walked stiffly like a corpse that was propelled or drawn by an external force, alien to her will, towards a secret goal in the night. I don't know why at the very beginning I found it hard to believe she was a woman like other women, even before – in her big staring eyes which appeared to look inward and in the features of her too thickly painted face – I thought I recognised ... But why doubt, how could this remain a doubt when I could see seven Ceylonese sapphires snarling on her long-fingered hand? I stood perplexed, prey to confused feelings in which bewilderment, desolation and fear each played their part, and then, my nostrils inundated with this familiar scent – the scent of red carnation – I made to follow her. But it was too late; I had lost her. At the end of the lane were some hansom cabs: she had probably got into one of them, and had vanished.It would have been naive for an old Berliner like me to let myself be overcome with astonishment. How many such things hadn't I seen! On the other hand, I felt goaded by a vulgar inquisitiveness to lurk insistently there for several evenings. But nothing. Meanwhile, the heat was becoming even more ferocious; during the day which preceded the night I'm going to describe now, people fell in the streets like flies.It was a night of velvet and lead, in which the feeble breath of a hot wind tried vainly to dissipate the fog which coagulated the air. The horizons scintillated with brief flashes of lightning, the forest and the sullen gardens were silent as if paralysed by a malevolent spell; one could smell secrecy, sin, errancy. I advanced with great difficulty through the darkness which padded the lonely lanes, obliged to halt every now and then, overwhelmed by weakness. At the crossroads where Berlin's Fountain of Roland is located, in the excessively vivid light which, after the blackness, robbed me of my sight like a piercing arrow, I found myself face to face with Sir Aubrey, a fact which when I looked at him more closely, was not exactly pleasurable.And not because this time his appearance was unbearably outrageous. Although, anyway, one shouldn't go out in public like this. The powder he used to colour his cheeks was blue, he had daubed his lips and nostrils with violet paint, gilded his hair by sprinkling it with golden dust and drawn large purple-black rings around his eyes which gave him the appearance of a «chanteuse» or a «danseuse». For the rest, he was as always dressed impeccably, in a blue tailcoat under his light evening cloak, with an orchid in his buttonhole, nor was he without either the bracelet on his wrist or the rings on his fingers. And yet something about him had changed, he was fretful and anxious as much as I was torpid and extinguished. Contrary to his normal manner, he was speaking very hurriedly and with a trembling voice, asking me to stay with him – he who was one of those people who unintentionally, notwithstanding their very courtesy, give you to understand that they're making a considerable sacrifice when they agree to spend time with someone. Even more, he had taken my arm and was making me go with him. I could feel him shaking in all his limbs, riven with feverishness, and I could see his eyes one moment staring at nothing, glassy like the red-haired woman's, the next fearful, languid and lost. Just as before I couldn't believe that the apparition which passed in front of me was a woman, now it seemed to me that the creature dragging me into the shadows was not a man. We walked in silence along the edge of the wood, me morose and trying to look as little bored as possible, him, a smile on his lips, holding up his blue gems to look at them, gems with which perhaps secret memories were associated and to which, ardently and longingly, he seemed to devote his every last thought – we walked in silence until, arriving at the bridge over the canal where the Electors' Road begins, he halted, and disengaged himself from me.I had another man in front of me, completely different from the one of a moment before. Did his gems possess hidden powers? Step by step, he had regained himself, straightening up, stiffening his nostrils, and now he stood rigid, cold and proud, very proud. The features of his long face had sharpened, from a flower-like delicate blue the colour of his eyes had changed to a harsh, glittering steely blue, and on his narrowed lips the smile had grown cruel. With his lunar pallor and his golden hair, there was nothing terrestrial about Sir Aubrey's appearance in those moments, he looked more like a seraph or an archangel than a human being. Thus he stood, momentarily transfixed, scrutinising the darkness and suddenly striking it with his white gloves as if he wanted to banish a spectre."This is a strange night", he said gravely. "Such nights are more to be feared than drunkenness; the hot wind spreads an evil ague. Stendhal writes that in Rome, when a certain wind blows in the Trastevere, people generally kill."You too perhaps feel weakened by the stifling heat", he went on. "Will you do me the pleasure of joining me in a small repast, one or two trout, and a bottle of Rhenish wine, to recover? But before that allow me to absent myself for a short while ... and, taking out his pocket-watch, a platinum flower dipped in a small dew of blue gems: ... you do want to wait for me, don't you? I'll be gone for a while, perhaps more than a quarter of an hour, but anyway less than a half. Meanwhile, have a walk, and we'll find one another here at the bridge, whoever arrives first will await the other". He extended his hand, which was ice-cold, tipped his hat and turned his back on me. I did exactly as he said, directing myself again towards the wood; nearby there are the most beautiful trees imaginable, gigantic, centuries-old, druidic and so tall and leafy, that looking at them, you almost think you are in another realm. I came back to the bridge after a quarter but before a half an hour, although without finding my companion. Because waiting, like all misfortunes, seems harder to bear at the beginning, I walked up along the quayside, without going too far from the rendezvous.The quay was deserted, the houses blind. The windows everywhere were black, but as some of them were open, one could just make out inside those gloomy, quicksilver lights which leer in the depths of mirrors in the darkness. One of these, somewhere upstairs, gathered a web of feeble rays, in a room suffocated by gilt adornments where on the corner of a wardrobe there was a watchful lamp – more a votive light than a lamp – palely filtering through its green enamel covering the venom of a smothered light, one of those lights which in witches' rites are propitious to evil spirits wandering in the night.I halted and for a long time my gaze was riveted on that window. Oh! the charm of lighted windows in the darkness – who would dare speak about such a thing after Barbey d'Aurevilly? But in his immortal story there is the crimson curtain, in other stories written later and so soon forgotten, there are panes of who knows how many colours; at my window there was neither a curtain nor a pane and yet in that greenish fog, apart from the gilt decorations and the mirrors which appeared to be enshrouded, nothing could be seen.Had there been any connection between that window - which I only have to close my eyes for it to appear before me exactly as it did then - and what happened that very night I can only speculate, never be certain. I returned to the bridge and was as unsuccessful as I had been the first time: my friend wasn't anywhere. Preparing myself for a longer wait I leaned on the cast-iron handrail of the bridge, near the bank, uncovered my head, which was aching, and totally immersed myself in the magnificent scenery of the night.I'll never forget it. There's no question that such beautiful nights do exist, and I've never seen two that were identical, I who know how to appreciate night as no-one else can and who loved it as day cannot be loved, passionately and with endless pleasure. My wild soul, which usually seems to slumber huddled in a vague dissatisfaction, doesn't start to live fully except when the last flaming of twilight is extinguished; as completely as the veil of evening envelops the world, I am reborn, I feel I am more myself, more mine. Had my means permitted me to change the circumstances of my life, it would have been possible for me to not see daylight for years. Ah, had it not been night, I wouldn't have waited for Sir Aubrey, no! speaking of whom, I wasn't at all eager to see him again. I stayed because I wouldn't have gone home anyway, I would have lingered just as long wandering in places where , in the shadows, the rustling of the tall trees makes the solitude seem infinite. But I couldn't forgive Sir Aubrey for making me wait for him, wait for him while who knows what pleasures he was giving himself to in the thrill of that warm night, perhaps in that same diffuse greenish light, in the arms of some woman, whose beauty matched his. I also entertained another possibility: perhaps he had gone to prepare things for the seance, later, of some occult assembly. Anyway, there was no point in letting myself become embittered. So I resumed the course of my thoughts as I leaned with my elbows on the handrail, my temples against the palms of my hands. Below me the greasy scales of the indolent water were sliding, on the top of which a shroud of steam diaphanously took shape. The canal was sinister. What a profound change! – during the daytime, the scenery in this area is of the greatest gentleness: the branches of the trees along the banks, interwoven at the top, make a vault over the canal, in which their light and restless foliage, of a fresh and delicate green, is reflected. This is the route taken by the bodies of the drowned. I remember how in '95, on one gilded April morning, the waters were carrying a white bride. In Berlin one can hear, by the way, this merry song: "A corpse is floating on the Landwehrkanal". A strong breeze, cooling my brow, woke me out of my torpor. I hadn't realised how long I'd been fastened there – undisturbed by anyone, I'd taken a nap – I can't recall hearing the clock of the Gedaechtniss strike and it must have struck many times. Feeling hungover, when I raised my head from my hands and rubbed my eyes, the tightly-packed houses were outlined against the sky, which now looked like ash. The wind had coldly intensified and the trees had started to groan. I covered my head – my hat had fallen down – and once again made a tour of the quay in order to see that mysterious light. It had, however, been put out. I finally made up my mind to go home, heavy drops had begun to fall and day was breaking.Like a real night-bird, I hate the dawn. Not caring that a cold might have been fateful and instead of looking for a shelter, I hurried along the empty streets chased by the insipid light cast down, intermingling with the water, by a frowning sky whipped furiously from moment to moment by the northern wind. When at last, ringing wet, I arrived home I was seized by a terrible spite which, however, didn't prevent my sleeping dreamlessly until noon.Outside, the rain applied itself seriously, a rain which didn't stop for a whole week apart from the short pauses it allowed itself only so as to begin again more vigorously. No matter what I did my thoughts kept flying back to the previous night's events. Every time the mail came I jumped up to see if there was anything for me. Of course I was waiting for some words from Sir Aubrey – which convention demanded – and I couldn't find any explanation for the fact that on none of those envelopes was I granted the sight either of the proud calligraphy or of the sphinx seal.On the eve of a public holiday, the bad weather finally relented. Suspicious, I only went out late for a walk. The light on the horizon promised rain. That mellow and peaceful evening was so blue – a dark, fluid blue – that the city seemed drowned in the obscure depths of the sea. The streets teemed with people; abandonment to life and a lust for earthy pleasures were mirrored in all the faces, reflected in every glance, vivid, almost tempting, conferring an unusual brilliance on the beauty of women. In my imagination I was carried back to the past, I summoned up the phantasm of how the great cities of ancient times, Babylon, Palmyra, Alexandria, Byzantium, might have looked on such an evening. Thus combining reality and reverie, I followed the flow of the crowd, without hurrying, as far as the bridge over the canal where earlier I had waited for Sir Aubrey for many long hours.The charm of that location was rendered complete by the matchless whiteness of a number of swans, which seemed as if according to a plan to be on the water at that blue hour. I didn't cross the bridge again, instead I went back to a small eating place which was close by. While I was waiting for my meal, a glance cast at a newspaper apprised me only then of something which, for two days already, had been trumpeted everywhere.In Charlottenburg, at the place where the Spree takes back the water which has drained into the canal – creating a whirlpool – a corpse had been fished out, bound in a cloak, a corpse which seemed to be that of a blonde, lithe young man, expensively clothed in evening attire, adorned and gloved, but barefoot.The young man had only recently been murdered. The body bore a deep wound on the left side of the chest. The blow had been so powerful that the weapon – a narrow double-edged blade – had broken, one part remaining lodged in the wound.A small fortune in notes and gold was found on the victim, as well as the priceless jewels he wore in such reckless profusion, all of them richly studded with, and only with Ceylonese sapphires. At the same time, no printed or written papers which could have revealed anything about the murdered man – nothing, nothing. The patch bearing the name of the tailor had been ripped from his clothes as had been the small plate with the signature of the goldsmith from his watch. As for his features, the drowned man was beyond recognition, because his face had been burned with aquafortis which had virtually eaten away his skin and his flesh down to the bones. This was the end ordained for Sir Aubrey de Vere. He might have had a better, or at least a later one, after my departure, because I truly don't know which of the two of us was more to be pitied in those first days ... what I went through, from the moment I realised who the murdered man was, how I suffered: is there any need to put this into words? However, this was nothing compared to the trouble I could have landed myself in. Remember? – yes, I certainly remember. Blue, they say, is the colour of fear: I have experienced it in every possible colour, I have traversed its entire hell to the very end, going down into its bottomless abysses, ascending its most vertiginous slopes, its terrifying summits hidden in clouds of madness, and that I didn't actually go mad is astonishing. I was the only person in whose company Sir Aubrey had revealed himself to the world in broad daylight; at the Dutch tavern, at the Grunewald terrace we must have seemed inseparable, so much so that nobody would have credited the fact that it was precisely me, poor devil, who knew the least – less than nothing – about this young man to whom I seemed so closely allied. Wouldn't this have given grounds for suspicion that I had not been uninvolved in the murder of that anonymous being? I felt as if the elaborate net of the most devilish police force were weaving itself secretly around me, silently tightening, I even envisaged myself being seized, victimised ... lost forever, a new Lesurques, expiating the crimes of who knows who ... I had myself begun to believe I was guilty – and wasn't I guilty enough just due to the single fact that I had tied myself in friendship to a man like Sir Aubrey? That's when I clearly understood how difficult it is to be in a foreign country, among foreigners. So my first thought was to leave Berlin immediately, to run to my own country. All night long I couldn't close my eyes, this time the darkness oppressed me, and I waited for dawn to set me free. With the light serenity and hope were reborn within me. As for leaving, I changed my mind and unpacked my things, then, in the evening, I put them back again promising myself I would go away, without fail, the next morning – and it went on like this for many days, black days, in relation to which, when I recall them even today, I still feel, trembling at its reverberations, the distant echo of the horrible terror of those days, when any nonsense made my heart writhe like a wounded bird. But, like all human feelings – except hatred – in time fear also subsides and disappears. This is the place to let slip that my deep anguish was undetectable from the outside; I had changed nothing in my daily life, and I didn't feel the need to confess the fire that was consuming me to anybody, as I didn't deem it appropriate either to go and tell the authorities what I knew, or to put it better what I didn't know, about Sir Aubrey. Later, I went to the Dutch tavern and no-one asked about my former companion, nor did anybody at the Grunewald terrace either. Everywhere the same silence. I read all the newspapers and felt almost frustration; not even a line in which the terrifying haul was mentioned. Probably nothing had been discovered. The sphinx preserved its secret intact.Otherwise, the destruction of Sir Aubrey in itself was no more important to me than any «fait-divers». What would have been the point in exaggerating the proper regret so far as to weep for that unknown foreigner as if he were a Marcellus? The fact that he was young and beautiful? Perhaps he wasn't quite as young as he looked; there are people who play tricks on age, and as for his beauty a certain clarification wouldn't be amiss. It wasn't so much the physical being of Sir Aubrey that I'd found beautiful as his resemblance to one of those who perished long ago in the tumult of the centuries, I found him beautiful because living again in him I saw an icon from the past, I saw the dear Past itself resurrected, the Past that is forever lost. That's why I fought the temptation to go and look, like others, through the glass at the morgue at the one who used to be Sir Aubrey de Vere; as the appearance bestowed by death often erases the one we have while we live, it would have been a pity to degrade in my memory that face which seemed to have come to life out of an old canvas. I wanted him to remain as I had known him, resembling those beautiful lords who cavorted so madly at Whitehall with Killigrew and Rochester, with Barbara Villiers and with Nell Gwynne and who, drowning in velvets and silks adorned with a foam of lace and flowers made of ribbons, roses in their hands or caressing expensive dogs, were depicted by the cavalier Lely smiling and proud. However, beyond his external appearance, I retain unerasably engraved in my mind some of those flashes of insight which sparkled in his discourse, witty reflections such as I have never heard from others or come across in writing. In his floating, distant travels, this strange creature had known how to decipher mysterious whispers in the trembling of date-palm groves at the approach of ocean storms; how to penetrate secrets only revealed to an elect and which those with no vocation struggle vainly to uncover, squandering their whole lives, eyes and minds on the sterile lettering of books, just by contemplating horizons unwitnessed by anyone, which were mirrored in his eyes limpid as Ceylonese sapphires. And all of these – youth, beauty, wisdom – had been fated to end in the filthy waters of a canal ... At last the day of departure came. Autumn had begun, not the russet eastern autumn – a Bacchante dressed in leopardskin sporting bunches of grapes and fruit in her copper-coloured hair – but the insipid autumn of the lands of beer and rye, with drab skies and a low, withered sun crawling away over the horizon. I locked myself away inside the house again for the last time; I was reading hungrily, reading because there was no music any more, and because outside the window, which still remained open till late, I no longer had anything to look at. Nor were the waters of the fountain iridescent any longer in the sun's rays, the roses on the terrace of the house opposite had shed all their petals, and in that beautiful corner an axe had felled the old trees which seemed to have been painted by Ruysdael. * Seven years have passed since then. It all seems to have happened yesterday, or to have never happened. To have happened yesterday because I have a good memory, to have never happened because recollection for me has no sanctity. It often happened that I would think of the shadowy drama of which I had perhaps been the blind and invisible witness during that night of trembling and feverishness. What it had all been about, what had happened I no longer asked myself, I didn't wish to know, on the contrary; the proof of this is that yesterday when I was given the opportunity to find out it was I who declined to do so. Because of the bad weather, I stopped late in a Bucharest night tavern and was importuned there by an old acquaintance of mine, probably from school, I had glimpsed him from a distance, in Berlin as well, he studied something there apparently. An unstoppably loquacious fellow, and humorous in his own way, he made my head swim with a great deal of nonsense, stories from the newspapers, stories about girls and landlord's housemaids – elevated topics like that, on the pattern of 'The Little Lady' by Hasdeu. What a difference between the image I had of Berlin and that of the man who was sitting in front of me, flaunting his cheap impudence! But why on that evening did the memory of Sir Aubrey re-awaken more vividly than ever, why did the phantasm of the Berlin night, full of bizarre meetings, rise up once more so powerfully? Could this have been due to the bitterish vapours of the spirits which came from that very same famous old Dutch distillery? No, it was something else. More intoxicating than any liquor, a sharp scent of carnation emanating from a young lady seated at the next table was enveloping me – the scent which was given off by the young man with the blue gems, the scent which once, around midnight, the red-haired woman had left behind her in a deserted lane of the Tiergarten. And I saw again both him and her, and also the window with the greenish, foggy light, all intensely real as if by the power of a spell. I didn't resist the impulse which I had never felt until then – that of telling someone the story of Aubrey de Vere.I was listened to with rapt attention. I only noticed, every now and then, the ghost of a smile on the lips of my acquaintance. When I had concluded, with the fishing-out of the corpse, he asked me if that was the whole story. I answered yes. "Let me tell you, then, the following", he resumed, "There was a hell of a scandal. It was all hushed up immediately, that's for sure, but there was no stopping the truth from leaking out. You're going to learn some sensational things, listen ..." I stopped him immediately. "I'm not eager to learn anything". And, as he gaped at me in astonishment, not knowing how to take it, I stressed the last word, reiterating it several times. "This will seem strange to you", I continued, "but, in my opinion, the beauty of a story lies exclusively in its element of mystery; if one dispels that I find it loses all its charm. These events led me to encounter, in real life, a fragment from a novel which satisfied this need for endless mystery. Why should I allow you to spoil it?" In saying this I wasn't exactly lying, but behind the rather superficial, more literary way of seeing things something more elevated was hidden, a noble thought which alone had compelled me to stop up the mouth of my companion and which, if I disclosed it, I doubt he would have been capable of understanding. Just as I hadn't wanted to look at the mutilated face of the unfortunate young man, in order not to damage in my imagination the serene icon of his outward appearance, so in the same way I didn't consent to learn anything about him, fearing a revelation which might sully the memory I carried of him in my soul. Let this also remain beautiful, and preserve untainted its shadow of mystery and haughtiness, let Sir Aubrey de Vere remain in all respects as I liked to see him, like that exactly – why would I care how he really was? I destroyed the only proof that I had known him as an actual person, I burned the letter whose seal, encircled by the motto 'Remember', contained the smiling sphinx. 'Remember'? – yes, of course I'll remember, but as the passing years blur some of the old memories, making them drift hazily on the border between reality and imagination, one day, eventually, perhaps it will seem to me that all these things I lived through were only a dream or a story read or heard somewhere, sometime, long ago. Translated by Delia Radu and Stephen Winfield

Son of the great dramatist Ion Luca Caragiale, in his youth he was attracted to the world of aristocracy, devoting special attention to history and heraldry, travels, and museums. At 25, he developed the first concept of his novel, The Profligates, the definitive edition of which was published in 1929 by Cartea Romaneasca. At about the same time took shape the story Remember, published first in Viata romaneasca magazine (1921), and later at Cultura nationala publishing house (1924). While attending Law School in Leipzig, his first poems also appeared in Viata romaneasca. In addition to the novel and story cited above, which represent him at his best, Mateiu I. Caragiale left an unfinished novel, Under the Seal of Mystery, as well as A Heraldic Contribution to the History of the Brancoveanu Family and a volume of verse, Arms. Remember reveals a fantastic web of sensations woven around Aubrey de Vere, a character mingling the strange and the bizarre with exquisite charm. A story of atmosphere, sprung from memories, scholarly associations, and abundant imagination, Remember is a consummate exploration of the subconscious and enigmatic. Indeed, secrecy and mysteriousness pervade the story of young Adonis – in the author's words, an "icon of past times". The immense power of suggestion, the emotional degree of sensations, the unreal ambience, fantasy, an exotic fragrance, surprising, unsettling flavors, and the incertitude permeating the story introduce an esthetics of mystery into Romanian literature, in the line of French masters of the genre such as Baudelaire, Villiers de l'Isle Adam, and Barbey d'Aurevilly.

by Mateiu Caragiale (1885-1936)