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The Hollow Needle; Further adventures of Arsene Lupin By Maurice Leblanc Characters: 25335

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Some time after, the Children and their friends met at the first dawn to go to the Palace of Night, where they hoped to find the Blue Bird. Several of the party failed to answer to their names when the roll was called. Milk, for whom any sort of excitement was bad, was keeping her room. Water sent an excuse: she was accustomed always to travel in a bed of moss, was already half-dead with fatigue and was afraid of falling ill. As for Light, she had been on bad terms with Night since the world began; and Fire, as a relation, shared her dislike. Light kissed the Children and told Tyl? the way, for it was his business to lead the expedition; and the little band set out upon its road.

You can imagine dear Tyl? trotting ahead, on his hind legs, like a little man, with his nose in the air, his tongue dangling down his chin, his front paws folded across his chest. He fidgets, sniffs about, runs up and down, covering twice the ground without minding how tired it makes him. He is so full of his own importance that he disdains the temptations on his path: he neglects the rubbish heaps, pays no attention to anything he sees and cuts all his old friends.

Poor Tyl?! He was so delighted to become a man; and yet he was no happier than before! Of course, life was the same to him, because his nature had remained unchanged. What was the use of his being a man, if he continued to feel and think like a dog? In fact, his troubles were increased a hundred-fold by the sense of responsibility that now weighed upon him.

"Ah!" he said, with a sigh, for he was joining blindly in his little gods' search, without for a moment reflecting that the end of the journey would mean the end of his life. "Ah," he said, "if I got hold of that rascal of a Blue Bird, trust me, I wouldn't touch him even with the tip of my tongue, not if he were as plump and sweet as a quail!"

Bread followed solemnly, carrying the cage; the two Children came next; and Sugar brought up the rear.

But where was the Cat? To discover the reason of her absence, we must go a little way back and read her thoughts. At the time when Tylette called a meeting of the Animals and Things in the Fairy's hall, she was contemplating a great plot which would aim at prolonging the journey; but she had reckoned without the stupidity of her hearers:

"The idiots," she thought, "have very nearly spoiled the whole thing by foolishly throwing themselves at the Fairy's feet, as though they were guilty of a crime. It is better to rely upon one's self alone. In my cat-life, all our training is founded on suspicion; I can see that it is just the same in the life of men. Those who confide in others are only betrayed; it is better to keep silent and to be treacherous one's self."

The road to the Palace of Night

was rather long and rather dangerous

As you see, my dear little readers, the Cat was in the same position as the Dog: she had not changed her soul and was simply continuing her former existence; but, of course, she was very wicked, whereas our dear Tyl? was, if anything, too good. Tylette, therefore, resolved to act on her own account and went, before daybreak, to call on Night, who was an old friend of hers.

The road to the Palace of Night was rather long and rather dangerous. It had precipices on either side of it; you had to climb up and climb down and then climb up again among high rocks that always seemed waiting to crush the passers-by. At last, you came to the edge of a dark circle; and there you had to go down thousands of steps to reach the black-marble underground palace in which Night lived.

The Cat, who had often been there before, raced along the road, light as a feather. Her cloak, borne on the wind, streamed like a banner behind her; the plume in her hat fluttered gracefully; and her little grey kid boots hardly touched the ground. She soon reached her destination and, in a few bounds, came to the great hall where Night was.

It was really a wonderful sight. Night, stately and grand as a Queen, reclined upon her throne; she slept; and not a glimmer, not a star twinkled around her. But we know that the night has no secrets for cats and that their eyes have the power of piercing the darkness. So Tylette saw Night as though it were broad daylight.

Before waking her, she cast a loving glance at that motherly and familiar face. It was white and silvery as the moon; and its unbending features inspired both fear and admiration. Night's figure, which was half visible through her long black veils, was as beautiful as that of a Greek statue. She had long arms and a pair of enormous wings, now furled in sleep, came from her shoulders to her feet and gave her a look of majesty beyond compare. Still, in spite of her affection for her best of friends, Tylette did not waste too much time in gazing at her: it was a critical moment; and time was short. Tired and jaded and overcome with anguish, she sank upon the steps of the throne and mewed, plaintively:

"It is I, Mother Night!... I am worn out!"

Night sat up, all quivering. Her immense wings

beat around her; and she questioned

Tylette in a trembling voice

Night is of an anxious nature and easily alarmed. Her beauty, built up of peace and repose, possesses the secret of Silence, which life is constantly disturbing: a star shooting through the sky, a leaf falling to the ground, the hoot of an owl, a mere nothing is enough to tear the black velvet pall which she spreads over the earth each evening. The Cat, therefore, had not finished speaking, when Night sat up, all quivering. Her immense wings beat around her; and she questioned Tylette in a trembling voice. As soon as she had learned the danger that threatened her, she began to lament her fate. What! A man's son coming to her palace! And, perhaps, with the help of the magic diamond, discovering her secrets! What should she do? What would become of her? How could she defend herself? And, forgetting that she was sinning against Silence, her own particular god, Night began to utter piercing screams. It was true that falling into such a commotion was hardly likely to help her find a cure for her troubles. Luckily for her, Tylette, who was accustomed to the annoyances and worries of human life, was better armed. She had worked out her plan when going ahead of the children; and she was hoping to persuade Night to adopt it. She explained this plan to her in a few words:

"I see only one thing for it, Mother Night: as they are children, we must give them such a fright that they will not dare to insist on opening the great door at the back of the hall, behind which the Birds of the Moon live and generally the Blue Bird too. The secrets of the other caverns will be sure to scare them. The hope of our safety lies in the terror which you will make them feel."

There was clearly no other course to take. But Night had not time to reply, for she heard a sound. Then her beautiful features contracted; her wings spread out angrily; and everything in her attitude told Tylette that Night approved of her plan.

"Here they are!" cried the Cat.

The little band came marching down the steps of Night's gloomy staircase. Tyl? pranced bravely in front, whereas Tyltyl looked around him with an anxious glance. He certainly found nothing to comfort him. It was all very magnificent, but very terrifying. Picture a huge and wonderful black marble hall, of a stern and tomb-like splendour. There is no ceiling visible; and the ebony pillars that surround the amphitheatre shoot up to the sky. It is only when you lift your eyes up there that you catch the faint light falling from the stars. Everywhere, the thickest darkness reigns. Two restless flames-no more-flicker on either side of Night's throne, before a monumental door of brass. Bronze doors show through the pillars to the right and left.

The Cat rushed up to the Children:

"This way, little master, this way!... I have told Night; and she is delighted to see you."

Tylette's soft voice and smile made Tyltyl feel himself again; and he walked up to the throne with a bold and confident step, saying:

"Good-day, Mrs. Night!"

Night was offended by the word, "Good-day," which reminded her of her eternal enemy Light, and answered drily:

"Good-day?... I am not used to that!... You might say, Good-night, or, at least, Good-evening!"

Our hero was not prepared to quarrel. He felt very small in the presence of that stately lady. He quickly begged her pardon, as nicely as he could; and very gently asked her leave to look for the Blue Bird in her palace.

"I have never seen him, he is not here!" exclaimed Night, flapping her great wings to frighten the boy.

But, when he insisted and gave no sign of fear, she herself began to dread the diamond, which, by lighting up her darkness, would completely destroy her power; and she thought it better to pretend to yield to an impulse of generosity and at once to point to the big key that lay on the steps of the throne.

Without a moment's hesitation, Tyltyl seized hold of it and ran to the first door of the hall.

Everybody shook with fright. Bread's teeth chattered in his head; Sugar, who was standing some way off, moaned with mortal anguish; Mytyl howled:

"Where is Sugar?... I want to go home!"

Meanwhile, Tyltyl, pale and resolute, was trying to open the door, while Night's grave voice, rising above the din, proclaimed the first danger.

"It's the Ghosts!"

"Oh, dear!" thought Tyltyl. "I have never seen a ghost: it must be awful!"

The faithful Tyl?, by his side, was panting with all his might, for dogs hate anything uncanny.

At last, the key grated in the lock. Silence reigned as dense and heavy as the darkness. No one dared draw a breath. Then the door opened; and, in a moment, the gloom was filled with white figures running in every direction. Some lengthened out right up to the sky; others twined themselves round the pillars; others wriggled ever so fast along the ground. They were something like men, but it was impossible to distinguish their features; the eye could not catch them. The moment you looked at them, they turned into a white mist. Tyltyl did his best to chase them; for Mrs. Night kept to the plan contrived by the Cat and pretended to be frightened. She had been the Ghosts' friend for hundreds and hundreds of years and had only to say a word to drive them in again; but she was careful to do nothing of the sort and, flapping her wings like mad, she called upon all her gods and screamed:

"Drive them away! Drive them away! Help! Help!"

But the poor Ghosts, who hardly ever come out now that Man no longer believes in them, were much too happy at taking a breath of air; and, had it not been that they were afraid of Tyl?, who tried to bite their legs, they would never have been put back indoors.

"Oof!" gasped the Dog, when the door was shut at last. "I have strong teeth, goodness knows; but chaps like those I never saw before! When you bite them, you'd think their legs were made of cotton!"

By this time, Tyltyl was making for the second door and asking:

"What's behind this one?"

Night made a gesture as though to put him off. Did the obstinate little fellow really want to see everything?

"Must I be careful when I open it?" asked Tyltyl.

"No," said Night, "it is not worth while. It's the Sicknesses. They are very quiet, the poor little things! Man, for some time, has been waging such war upon them!... Open and see for yourself...."

Tyltyl threw the door wide open and stood speechless with astonishment: there was nothing to be seen....

He was just about to close the door again, when he was hustled aside by a little body in a dressing-gown and a cotton night-cap, who began to frisk about the hall, wagging her head and stopping every minute to cough, sneeze and blow her nose ... and to pull on her slippers, which were too big for her and kept dropping off her feet. Sugar, Bread and Tyltyl were no longer frightened and began to laugh like anything. But they had no sooner come near the little person in the cotton night-cap than they themselves began to cough and sneeze.

"It's the least important of the Sicknesses," said Night. "It's Cold-in-the-Head."

"Oh, dear, oh, dear!" thought Sugar. "If my nose keeps on running like this, I'm done for: I shall melt!"

Wagging her head and stopping every minute to cough, sneeze and blow her nose

Poor Sugar! He did not know where to hide himself. He had become very much attached to life since the journey began, for he had fallen over head and ears in love with Water! And yet this lov

e caused him the greatest worry. Miss Water was a tremendous flirt, expected a lot of attention and was not particular with whom she mixed; but mixing too much with Water was an expensive luxury, as poor Sugar found to his cost; for, at every kiss he gave her, he left a bit of himself behind, until he began to tremble for his life.

When he suddenly found himself attacked by Cold-in-the-Head, he would have had to fly from the palace, but for the timely aid of our dear Tyl?, who ran after the little minx and drove her back to her cavern, amidst the laughter of Tyltyl and Mytyl, who thought gleefully that, so far, the trial had not been very terrible.

The boy, therefore, ran to the next door with still greater courage.

"Take care!" cried Night, in a dreadful voice. "It's the Wars! They are more powerful than ever! I daren't think what would happen, if one of them broke loose! Stand ready, all of you, to push back the door!"

Night had not finished uttering her warnings, when the plucky little fellow repented his rashness. He tried in vain to shut the door which he had opened: an invincible force was pushing it from the other side, streams of blood flowed through the cracks; flames shot forth; shouts, oaths and groans mingled with the roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry. Everybody in the Palace of Night was running about in wild confusion. Bread and Sugar tried to take to flight, but could not find the way out; and they now came back to Tyltyl and put their shoulders to the door with despairing force.

The Cat pretended to be anxious, while secretly rejoicing:

"This may be the end of it," she said, curling her whiskers. "They won't dare to go on after this."

Dear Tyl? made superhuman efforts to help his little master, while Mytyl stood crying in a corner.

At last, our hero gave a shout of triumph:

"Hurrah! They're giving way! Victory! Victory! The door is shut!"

At the same time, he dropped on the steps, utterly exhausted, dabbing his forehead with his poor little hands which shook with terror.

"Well?" asked Night, harshly. "Have you had enough? Did you see them?"

"Yes, yes!" replied the little fellow, sobbing. "They are hideous and awful.... I don't think they have the Blue Bird...."

"You may be sure they haven't," answered Night, angrily. "If they had, they would eat him at once.... You see there is nothing to be done...."

Tyltyl drew himself up proudly:

"I must see everything," he declared. "Light said so...."

"It's an easy thing to say," retorted Night, "when one's afraid and stays at home!"

"Let us go to the next door," said Tyltyl, resolutely. "What's in here?"

"This is where I keep the Shades and the Terrors!"

Tyltyl reflected for a minute:

"As far as Shades go," he thought, "Mrs. Night is poking fun at me. It's more than an hour since I've seen anything but shade in this house of hers; and I shall be very glad to see daylight again. As for the Terrors, if they are anything like the Ghosts, we shall have another good joke."

Our friend went to the door and opened it, before his companions had time to protest. For that matter, they were all sitting on the floor, exhausted with the last fright; and they looked at one another in astonishment, glad to find themselves alive after such a scare. Meanwhile, Tyltyl threw back the door and nothing came out:

"There's no one there!" he said.

"Yes, there is! Yes, there is! Look out!" said Night, who was still shamming fright.

She was simply furious. She had hoped to make a great impression with her Terrors; and, lo and behold, the wretches, who had so long been snubbed by Man, were afraid of him! She encouraged them with kind words and succeeded in coaxing out a few tall figures covered with grey veils. They began to run all around the hall until, hearing the Children laugh, they were seized with fear and rushed indoors again. The attempt had failed, as far as Night was concerned, and the dread hour was about to strike. Already, Tyltyl was moving towards the big door at the end of the hall. A few last words took place between them:

"Do not open that one!" said Night, in awe-struck tones.

"Why not?"

"Because it's not allowed!"

"Then it's here that the Blue Bird is hidden!"

"Go no farther, do not tempt fate, do not open that door!"

"But why?" again asked Tyltyl, obstinately.

Thereupon, Night, irritated by his persistency, flew into a rage, hurled the most terrible threats at him, and ended by saying:

"Not one of those who have opened it, were it but by a hair's breadth, has ever returned alive to the light of day! It means certain death; and all the horrors, all the terrors, all the fears of which men speak on earth are as nothing compared with those which await you if you insist on touching that door!"

"Don't do it, master dear!" said Bread, with chattering teeth. "Don't do it! Take pity on us! I implore you on my knees!"

"You are sacrificing the lives of all of us," mewed the Cat.

"I won't! I sha'n't!" sobbed Mytyl.

"Pity! Pity!" whined Sugar, wringing his fingers.

All of them were weeping and crying, all of them crowded round Tyltyl. Dear Tyl? alone, who respected his little master's wishes, dared not speak a word, though he fully believed that his last hour had come. Two big tears rolled down his cheeks; and he licked Tyltyl's hands in despair. It was really a most touching scene; and for a moment, our hero hesitated. His heart beat wildly, his throat was parched with anguish, he tried to speak and could not get out a sound: besides, he did not wish to show weakness in the presence of his hapless companions!

"If I have not the strength to fulfil my task," he said to himself, "who will fulfil it? If my friends behold my distress, it is all up with me: they will not let me go through with my mission and I shall never find the Blue Bird!"

At this thought, the boy's heart leaped within his breast and all his generous nature rose in rebellion. It would never do to be, perhaps, within arm's length of happiness and not to try for it, at the risk of dying in the attempt, to try for it and hand it over at last to all mankind!

That settled it! Tyltyl resolved to sacrifice himself. Like a true hero, he brandished the heavy golden key and cried:

"I must open the door!"

He ran up to the great door, with Tyl? panting by his side. The poor Dog was half-dead with fright, but his pride and his devotion to Tyltyl obliged him to smother his fears:

"I shall stay," he said to his master, "I'm not afraid! I shall stay with my little god!"

In the meantime, all the others had fled. Bread was crumbling to bits behind a pillar; Sugar was melting in a corner with Mytyl in his arms; Night and the Cat, both shaking with fury, kept to the far end of the hall.

A wonderful garden lay before him,

a dream-garden filled with flowers that shone like stars

Then Tyltyl gave Tyl? a last kiss, pressed him to his heart and, with never a tremble, put the key in the lock. Yells of terror came from all the corners of the hall, where the runaways had taken shelter, while the two leaves of the great door opened by magic in front of our little friend, who was struck dumb with admiration and delight. What an exquisite surprise! A wonderful garden lay before him, a dream-garden filled with flowers that shone like stars, waterfalls that came rushing from the sky and trees which the moon had clothed in silver. And then there was something whirling like a blue cloud among the clusters of roses. Tyltyl rubbed his eyes; he could not believe his senses. He waited, looked again and then dashed into the garden, shouting like mad:

"Come quickly!... Come quickly!... They are here!... We have them at last!... Millions of blue birds!... Thousands of millions!... Come, Mytyl!... Come, Tyl?!... Come, all!... Help me!... You can catch them by handfuls!..."

Reassured at last, his friends came running up and all darted in among the birds, seeing who could catch the most:

"I've caught seven already!" cried Mytyl. "I can't hold them!"

"Nor can I!" said Tyltyl. "I have too many of them!... They're escaping from my arms!... Tyl? has some too!... Let us go out, let us go!... Light is waiting for us!... How pleased she will be!... This way, this way!..."

And they all danced and scampered away in their glee, singing songs of triumph as they went.

Night and the Cat, who had not shared in the general rejoicing, crept back anxiously to the great door; and Night whimpered:

"Haven't they got him?..."

"No," said the Cat, who saw the real Blue Bird perched high up on a moonbeam.... "They could not reach him, he kept too high...."

Our friends in all haste ran up the numberless stairs between them and the daylight. Each of them hugged the birds which he had captured, never dreaming that every step which brought them nearer to the light was fatal to the poor things, so that, by the time they came to the top of the staircase, they were carrying nothing but dead birds.

Light was waiting for them anxiously:

"Well, have you caught him?" she asked.

"Yes, yes!" said Tyltyl. "Lots of them! There are thousands! Look!"

As he spoke, he held out the dear birds to her and saw, to his dismay, that they were nothing more than lifeless corpses: their poor little wings were broken and their heads drooped sadly from their necks! The boy, in his despair, turned to his companions. Alas, they too were hugging nothing but dead birds!

Then Tyltyl threw himself sobbing into Light's arms. Once more, all his hopes were dashed to the ground.

"Do not cry, my child," said Light. "You did not catch the one that is able to live in broad daylight.... We shall find him yet...."

"Of course, we shall find him," said Bread and Sugar, with one voice.

They were great boobies, both of them; but they wanted to console the boy. As for friend Tyl?, he was so much put out that he forgot his dignity for a moment and, looking at the dead birds, exclaimed:

"Are they good to eat, I wonder?"

The party set out to walk back and sleep in the Temple of Light. It was a melancholy journey; all regretted the peace of home and felt inclined to blame Tyltyl for his want of caution. Sugar edged up to Bread and whispered in his ear:

"Don't you think, Mr. Chairman, that all this excitement is very useless?"

And Bread, who felt flattered at receiving so much attention, answered, pompously:

"Never you fear, my dear fellow, I shall put all this right. Life would be unbearable if we had to listen to all the whimsies of that little madcap!... To-morrow, we shall stay in bed!..."

They forgot that, but for the boy at whom they were sneering, they would never have been alive at all; and that, if he had suddenly told Bread that he must go back to his pan to be eaten and Sugar that he was to be cut into small lumps to sweeten Daddy Tyl's coffee and Mummy Tyl's syrups, they would have thrown themselves at their benefactor's feet and begged for mercy. In fact, they were incapable of appreciating their good luck until they were brought face to face with bad.

Poor things! The Fairy Bérylune, when making them a present of their human life, ought to have thrown in a little wisdom. They were not so much to blame. Of course, they were only following Man's example. Given the power of speaking, they jabbered; knowing how to judge, they condemned; able to feel, they complained. They had hearts which increased their sense of fear, without adding to their happiness. As to their brains, which could easily have arranged all the rest, they made so little of them that they had already grown quite rusty; and, if you could have opened their heads and looked at the works of their life inside, you would have seen the poor brains, which were their most precious possession, jumping about at every movement they made and rattling in their empty skulls like dry peas in a pod.

Fortunately, Light, thanks to her wonderful insight, knew all about their state of mind. She determined, therefore, to employ the Elements and Things no more than she was obliged to:

"They are useful," she thought, "to feed the children and amuse them on the way; but they must have no further share in the trials, because they have neither courage nor conviction."

Meanwhile, the party walked on, the road widened out and became resplendent; and, at the end, the Temple of Light stood on a crystal height, shedding its beams around. The tired Children made the Dog carry them pick-a-back by turns; and they were almost asleep when they reached the shining steps.

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