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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 3608

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


I am about to leave my room after breakfast, when little Victoire who carries the meals up-stairs in a wooden tray, screams out:-"Gadé, Missié! ni bête-ni-pié assous dos ou!" There is a thousand-footed beast upon my back!.

Off goes my coat, which I throw upon the floor;-the little servant, who has a nervous horror of centipedes, climbs upon a chair. I cannot see anything under the coat, nevertheless;-I lift it by the collar, turn it about very cautiously-nothing! Suddenly the child screams again; and I perceive the head close to my hand;-the execrable thing had been hiding in a perpendicular fold of the coat, which I drop only just in time to escape getting bitten. Immediately the centipede becomes invisible. Then I take the coat by one flap, and turn it over very quickly: just as quickly does the centipede pass over it in the inverse direction, and disappear under it again. I have had my first good look at him: he seems nearly a foot long,-has a greenish-yellow hue against the black cloth,-and pink legs, and a violet head;-he is evidently young.... I turn the coat a second time: same disgusting manreuvre. Undulations of livid color flow over him as he lengthens and shortens;-while running his shape is but half apparent; it is only as he makes a half pause in doubling round and under the coat that the panic of his legs becomes discernible. When he is fully exposed they move with invisible rapidity,-like a vibration;-you can see only a sort of pink haze extending about him,-something to which you would no more dare advance your finger than to the vapory halo edging a circular saw in motion. Twice more I turn and re-turn the coat with the same result;-I observe that the centipede always runs towards my hand, until I withdraw it: he feints!

With a stick I uplift one port

ion of the coat after another; and suddenly perceive him curved under a sleeve,-looking quite small!-how could he have seemed so large a moment ago?... But before I can strike him he has flickered over the cloth again, and vanished; and I discover that he has the power of magnifying himself,-dilating the disgust of his shape at will: he invariably amplifies himself to face attack....

It seems very difficult to dislodge him; he displays astonishing activity and cunning at finding wrinkles and folds to hide in. Even at the risk of damaging various things in the pockets, I stamp upon the coat;-then lift it up with the expectation of finding the creature dead. But it suddenly rushes out from some part or other, looking larger and more wicked than ever,-drops to the floor, and charges at my feet: a sortie! I strike at him unsuccessfully with the stick: he retreats to the angle between wainscoting and floor, and runs along it fast as a railroad train,-dodges two or three pokes,-gains the door-frame,-glides behind a hinge, and commences to run over the wall of the stair-way. There the hand of a black servant slaps him dead.

-"Always strike at the head," the servant tells me; "never tread on the tail.... This is a small one: the big fellows can make you afraid if you do not know how to kill them."

... I pick up the carcass with a pair of scissors. It does not look formidable now that it is all contracted;-it is scarcely eight inches long,-thin as card-board, and even less heavy. It has no substantiality, no weight;-it is a mere appearance, a mask, a delusion.... But remembering the spectral, cunning, juggling something which magnified and moved it but a moment ago,-I feel almost tempted to believe, with certain savages, that there are animal shapes inhabited by goblins....

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