“Yes,” I answered him, abruptly; “very far.”
He laid a detaining hand on my sleeve, and his eyes glittered—with a malignant expression.
“Tell me,” he muttered, eagerly, “tell me—I will keep the secret. Are you going to a woman?”
I looked down upon him, half in disdain, half in amusement.
“Yes!” I said, quietly, “I am going to a woman.”
He broke into silent laughter—hideous laughter that contorted his visage and twisted his body in convulsive writhings.
I glanced at him in disgust, and shaking off his hand from my arm, I made my way to the door of the shop He hobbled quickly after me, wiping away the moisture that his inward merriment had brought into his eyes.
“Going to a woman!” he croaked “Ha, ha! You are not the first, nor will you be the last, that has gone so! Going to a woman! that is well—that is good! Go to her, go! You are strong, you have a brave arm! Go to her, find her out, and—kill her! Yes, yes—you will be able to do it easily—quite easily! Go and kill her’”
He stood at his low door mouthing and pointing, his stunted figure and evil face reminding me of one of Heinrich Heine’s dwarf devils who are depicted as piling fire on the heads of the saints. I bade him “Good day” in an indifferent tone, but he made me no answer I walked slowly away. Looking back once I saw him still standing on the threshold of his wretched dwelling, his wicked mouth working itself into all manner of grimaces, while with his crooked fingers he made signs in the air as if he caught an invisible something and throttled it. I went on down the street and out of it into the broader thoroughfares, with his last words ringing in my ears, “go and kill her!”
That day seemed very long to me I wandered aimlessly about the city, seeing few faces that I knew, for the wealthier inhabitants, afraid of the cholera, had either left the place together or remained closely shut within their own houses. Everywhere I went something bore witness to the terrible ravages of the plague. At almost every corner I met a funeral procession. Once I came upon a group of men who were standing in an open door way packing a dead body into a coffin too small for it. There was something truly revolting in the way they doubled up the arms and legs and squeezed in the shoulders of the deceased man—one could hear the bones crack. I watched the brutal proceedings for a minute or so, and then I said aloud:
“You had better make sure he is quite dead,”