House of Clerval and Rosch,
My dear Pierre,
Your letter has come at last; and after such aid as yours, in such an enterprise as this has proved, how can I not fulfill my promise? I write then to inform you, fully and frankly, “what it was all about.”
Anticipating your command, I begin at my own beginning: that first glimpse of the Promethean, one bitter cold morning in the Parc des Bastions, attempting, as I thought, to eat the hyacinths.
At first glance I assumed this was yet another unfortunate mendicant, cast abroad in the second season of famines after the summerless year. Drawing closer, I felt in a pocket and suggested, “If you wish, I will give you a franc; then you need not eat the flowers.”
The figure turned, and rose. It went on rising until I recoiled a pace, for its full height must be over seven English feet. The nether limbs were imperfectly concealed by the tatters of an ordinary man’s breeches; the body was wrapped in some kind of cloak. The feet were enormous, and bare. On discerning the features I recoiled again, for the lividly hued visage, the watery eyes, the strangely blackened lips within a straggling beard all spoke the victim of famine, if not disease. Then the figure inclined its thatch of filthy black hair, and spoke.
“Sir, I truly thank you.” The voice was indeed masculine, very deep, the French bearing a slight accent, although the speech of an educated man. “I did not wish to eat these — flowers, do you say? Only to examine them.” He returned his eyes earthward. “I have never seen such — flowers — before.”
He spoke with such wonder, indeed such delight, that I was astonished twice over: first, at such an emotion from such a source, and then, upon reflection, in wonder of my own. How could a person of such apparent maturity never have seen hyacinths bloom?
Though curious to the point of impetuosity, I did limit myself to, “You are not from these parts?”
He had turned his eyes back to the one blossom that lay like a scrap of silk in his huge palm. He seemed discomposed; employing my own wits, I ventured, “You are from Spain, perhaps? Or even Africa?”
He hesitated. One might have said, he fidgeted. “No,” he said at last. “I am—I first came from South America.”
“Indeed?” You know, Pierre, that I dreamed once of traveling so far; before the outcome of Gabriele’s final enthusiasm. “Forgive me, sir, but from what part of that most interesting continent? The northern jungles?” How else could he have failed to encounter hyacinths? “Perhaps from the waters of the actual Amazon?”
He answered at length, with every appearance of reluctance, “I grieve to disappoint you, sir. I am a native of—of—Tierra del Fuego. The extreme cold of those mountains has enabled me to tolerate your winters without—” He shuffled the grass with his enormous feet. “Without the usual habiliments—”
“The mountains of Tierra del Fuego do not support hyacinths?”
He inclined his head toward the flower he held. “Is that the name?” He seemed to feel a curiosity equal to mine, but the question had disconcerted him further. “The—the mountains of Tierra del Fuego, sir. I fear they seldom support anything. Least of all ‘hyacinths.’”
“You astonish me,” I answered honestly. “Tell me, then, how do your people live?”
This time I was not vouchsafed a reply. Voices came from behind us, others descending the Rue de la Croix Rouge from Old Town. My interlocutor flung up his head, much in the manner of a startled deer. Then in one motion he swept his outer garment round him, in three enormous bounds reached the lower wall, swung himself over with the spring of an East Indian orangutan, and vanished. All that remained was the flower, a spot of purple, darker than blood upon sere winter grass.