09 April, 2010
06 April, 2010
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|Created||Spring and Autumn Period|
|Discovered||1965 in Jiangling County|
|Present location||Hubei Provincial Museum, Hubei Province, China|
The Sword of Goujian (Traditional Chinese: 越王勾踐劍 , Simplified Chinese: 越王勾践剑) is an archaeological artifact of the Spring and Autumn Period found in 1965 in Hubei, China. Renowned for its sharpness and resilience to tarnish, it is a historical artifact of the People's Republic of China currently in the possession of Hubei Museum.
In 1965, while an archaeological survey was being performed along the second main aqueduct of the Zhang River Reservoir in Jingzhou, Hubei, more than fifty ancient tombs of the Chu State were found in Jiangling County. The dig started in the middle of October 1965 and ended in January 1966. More than 2000 artifacts were recovered from the sites, the most interesting of which was a bronze sword.
In December, 1965, 7 km away from the ruins of Jinan, an ancient capital of Chu, a casket was discovered in Wangshan site #1. Inside, an ornate sword was found on the left of a human skeleton.
The sword was found sheathed in a wooden scabbard finished in black lacquer. The scabbard had an almost air-tight fit with the sword body. Unsheathing the sword revealed an untarnished blade, despite the tomb being soaked in underground water for over two thousand years. A simple test conducted by the archaeologists showed that the blade could still easily cut a stack of twenty pieces of paper.
On one side of the blade, two columns of text were visible. In total there are eight characters written in an ancient script. The script was found to be the one called "鸟虫文" (literally "'birds and worms'-characters" owing to the intricate decorations to the defining strokes), a variant of zhuan that is very difficult to read. Initial analysis of the text deciphered six of the characters, "越王" (King of Yue) and "自作用剑" ("made this sword for (his) personal use").
The remaining two characters were likely the name of this King of Yue. From its birth in 510 BC to its demise at the hands of Chu in 334 BC, nine kings ruled Yue, including Goujian, Lu Cheng, Bu Shou, Zhu Gou, etc. The exact identity of this king sparked an active discussion/debate among archeologists and Chinese language scholars. The discussion was carried out mostly in letters, and it involved famous scholars such as Guo Moruo. After more than two months of exchange, the experts started to form a consensus that the original owner of the sword was Goujian, the King of Yue made famous by his perseverance in time of hardship. So the entirety of the text reads "越王勾践 自作用劍", meaning "(Belonging to) King Goujian of Yue, made for (his) personal use".
The Sword of Goujian is 55.6 cm (21.9 in) in length, including a 10 cm (3.9 in) hilt. The blade is 5 cm (2 in) wide. In addition to the repeating dark rhombi pattern on both sides of the blade, there are also decorations made of blue crystals and turquoise. The grip of the sword is bound by silk, while the pommel is composed of eleven concentric circles.
After being in water for two thousand years, the Sword of Goujian still has a sharp blade and shows no signs of tarnish. To solve this mystery, scientists at Fudan University and CAS made use of modern equipment to determine the chemical composition of the sword, as shown in the table below.
Amount of element by percentage
The body of the blade is mainly made of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter; the edges have more tin content, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge; the sulfur decreases the chance of tarnish in the patterns.
- (Chinese) Sina.com's collection of stories
05 April, 2010
by Josef Essberger
The discovery of a body in the Paris Metro early one morning was not particularly unusual. That it was headless sent a frisson through the sixth arrondissement, but the incident went unnoticed outside Paris.
Yet there was clearly something strange about the case. It was hardly as though the body had been decapitated to frustrate identification, for it was fully clothed and none of the owner's personal effects had been removed, save of course for his head. The Paris police soon tied up the contents of the dead man's wallet with forensic evidence from the body. Added to that, Madame Charente, the dead man's wife, could positively identify the body in the most intimate ways. (She had already reported her husband as missing.)
A few men were despatched to poke around in the warm, dark tunnels on either side of Odéon station, where the body had been found. Above ground another search was made, equally fruitlessly, and to Inspector Dutruelle it looked as though the case would linger on unsolved.
Two weeks later, four kilometres away in the west, a headless body was found at Courcelles station, again in the tunnel not far from the platform. As in the earlier case, the cause of death was apparently the severing of the head, which appeared to have been done with some precision. Again, the body was fully clothed and easily identified, and nothing but the head had apparently been removed.
"What can I tell these blessed reporters?" Inspector Dutruelle said as he handed his wife the two sticks of bread he usually bought on the way home. "They want answers for everything. And it's not just the papers now, the politicians are getting worried too. I'm reporting to the Préfet on this one."
"If there were instant answers for everything, mon petit chou, they'd have no need of you," said Madame Dutruelle. "And where would they be without you? Who cleared up that terrible Clichy case last year, and the acid bath at Reuilly Diderot?"
The little inspecteur divisionnaire-chef pulled in his stomach, puffed out his chest and rose to his full height. A smile spread across his round face. In his smart dark suit and gold-rimmed glasses you could have taken him for a provincial bank manager rather than one of Paris's most successful policemen.
"Just think," he said wryly, "they were actually about to close the file on Dr Gomes before I took charge of the investigation."
"They're fools, all of them."
"All the same, my dear, I don't know where to go on this one. There're no leads. There's no apparent motive. And it's a bizarre pattern. Assuming, of course, it is a pattern. We can't be sure of that until there's been another."
Inspector Dutruelle did not have long to wait for his pattern to emerge. A telephone call at half past five the next morning dragged him from his bed.
"It's another one, sir," said the voice at the other end.
"It's identical. Another headless corpse, just like the others - male, middle-aged, white."
"Where?" asked Inspector Dutruelle fumbling for a cigarette.
"In the Metro?"
"Yes sir, just inside the tunnel. In the anti-suicide well between the tracks."
"Close the line - if you haven't already. I'll be with you soon. And don't move it, d'you hear?"
Inspector Dutruelle replaced the receiver with a sigh as his wife padded into the room.
"I hate these early morning cases," he muttered. He lit his cigarette.
"Have a coffee before you go. Another dead body will keep."
"But we've closed the line. And it's the other side of town, my dear. North Paris."
"All the same."
He sat down heavily and watched his wife sullenly as she made the coffee. Madame Dutruelle was a simple woman of forty-six whose long, thin-lipped face was framed by stern grey hair. Her strong, practical hands were country hands, and she had never got used to city life. She lived for the day when she and her husband would retire to their home village in Les Pyrenées. Inspector Dutruelle sighed to himself again. Poor Agnes. She tried so hard to please him. How could she know that he longed to be free of her? How could she possibly know of Vololona, the young Malagasy he had met while on the Clichy case? For him it had been love at first sight.
"And for me too, my darling," Vololona had been quick to agree, her large brown eyes welling with tears as they gazed at him through the smoke of the Chatte et Lapin where she worked, "a veritable coup de foudre." She spoke French well, with a Malagasy accent and huskiness that left you with a sense of mystery and promise. Inspector Dutruelle was a happy man; but he was careful to tell no-one except Monsieur Chébaut, his closest friend, about the source of his happiness.
"I've never felt like this before, Pierre. I'm captivated by her," he said one evening when he took Monsieur Chébaut to see Vololona dancing.
It was a rare experience, even for the jaded Monsieur Chébaut. In the frantic coloured spotlights of the Chatte et Lapin Vololona danced solo and in her vitality you sensed the wildness of Madagascar. Her black limbs lashed the air to the music, which was raw and sensual.
"You know, Pierre, in thirty years of marriage I was never unfaithful. Well, you know that already. There was always my work, and the children, and I was happy enough at home. It never occured to me to look at another woman. But something happened when I met Vololona. She showed me how to live. She showed me what real ecstasy is. Look at her, Pierre. Isn't she the most exquisite thing you ever saw? And she adores me. She's crazy about me. But why, I ask you? What can she see in me - three times her age, pot-bellied, bald . . . married?"
Inspector Dutruelle leaned back in his chair and swung around to look at the other customers applauding Vololona from the shadows. He smiled proudly to himself. He knew exactly what was on their minds. Life was strange, he thought, and you could never tell. Some of them were young men, tall and handsome and virile, yet none of them knew Vololona as he knew her.
Monsieur Chébaut finished his whisky.
"I can see," he said, "that a man in your position might have certain attractions for an immigrant without papers working in one of the more dangerous quarters of Paris." Monsieur Chébaut was a lawyer.
"You're a cynic, Pierre."
"And after thirty years in the force you're not?"
"Personally, I believe her when she says she loves me. I just don't know why. Another whisky?"
"Well, one thing's for sure, Régis, it can't go on like that. One way or another things'll come to a head. But I must agree, she's exquisite all right. Like an exquisite Venus fly-trap. And at the germane moment, you know, those soft, succulent petals will close around you like a vice."
The normally placid Inspector was piqued by his friend's unreasonable attitude.
"How can you say that?" he snapped. "When you haven't even spoken to her."
"But all women are the same, Régis. Don't you know that? You should be a lawyer, then you'd know it. They can't help it, they're built that way. Believe me, it can't go on without something happening."
Inspector Dutruelle glowered at his old schoolfriend and said nothing. Monsieur Chébaut could see he had touched a raw nerve. He grinned amicably and leaned across to slap his friend playfully on the shoulder.
"Look Régis, all I'm saying is, be careful, you haven't got my experience."
Of course, that was true. When it came to women few men had Monsieur Chébaut's experience. Or his luck, for that matter. He was one of those people who go through life insulated from difficulties. He crossed roads without looking. He did not hurry for trains. He never reconciled bank accounts. Tall, slim, with boyish good looks and thick, black, wavy hair, he was the antithesis of Inspector Dutruelle.
"Look, you've got two women involved, Régis," Monsieur Chébaut continued, "and women aren't like us. Agnes isn't stupid. She must know something's going on."
"She hasn't said anything," said the Inspector brusquely. He lit another Gauloise.
"Of course she hasn't. She's cleverer than you are. She intends to keep you."
"Mind you," said Inspector Dutruelle grudgingly, "she has had some odd dreams recently - so she says. About me and another woman. But anyway, she just laughs and says she can't believe it."
"But Régis, you must know that what we say and what we think are seldom the same."
"Sometimes I wonder if I ought to tell her something, if only out of decency."
Monsieur Chébaut nearly choked on the fresh whisky he had just put to his lips.
"No," he cried with a passion that surprised the Inspector, "never, you must never tell her. Écoute Régis, even if she did mention it, you must deny everything. Even if she caught the two of you in the act, you must deny it. You can only tell a woman there's another when you've definitively made up your mind to leave her, and even then it may not be safe."
"So much for logic."
"It's no use looking for logic in women, Régis. I told you, they're not like men. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that they're not even the same species as men. Men and women aren't like dog and bitch, they're more like dog and cat. C'est bizarre, non? In any case, I do know you can't keep two women on the go without something happening. I don't know what, but something."
Now the European press had picked the story up and the little Inspector did not know how to deal with the international reporters who hung around like flies outside the old stone walls of the Préfecture de police. Their stories focussed on the bizarre nature of the killings, and the idea that there were three severed heads somewhere in Paris particularly excited them. They wanted constantly to know more. So of course did Inspector Dutruelle.
"I assure you, gentlemen," he told a press conference, "we are at least as anxious as you to recover the missing parts. We are doing everything possible. You can tell your readers that wherever they are, we'll find them."
"Can we have photographs of the victims for our readers?" asked one of the foreign reporters.
"So as we know which heads we're looking for," added a journalist from London.
It was a joke that was not shared by the people of Paris. Suddenly the normally carnival atmosphere of the Metro had evaporated. Buskers no longer worked the coaches between stations. Puppeteers and jugglers no longer entertained passengers with impromptu performances. Even the beggars, who habitually hung around the crowded stations or made impassioned speeches in the carriages, had gone. And the few passengers who remained sat more long-faced than ever, or walked more hastily down the long corridors between platforms.
Inspector Dutruelle despaired of ever clearing the case up. His mind, already excited over Vololona, was now in a turmoil. Vololona had suddenly, and tearfully, announced that she was pregnant. Then, having accepted his financial assistance to terminate the pregnancy - but refusing his offer to take her to the clinic - she told him one day on the telephone: "I thought you were going to ask me to marry you." Inspector Dutruelle was stunned.
"But you know I'm married, ma chérie," he said.
"I thought you'd leave Agnes," she replied. "I wanted to be with you. I wanted to share everything with you . . . my child . . . my life . . . my bed." Inspector Dutruelle could hear her sobbing.
"But darling, we can still see each other."
"No, it's too painful. I love you too much."
Inspector Dutruelle could not concentrate on his work at all. Day and night his thoughts were on Vololona; he longed to be with her. If only Agnes would leave him. And if only Vololona would be satisfied with what he gave her already - the dinners, the presents, the apartment. Why did women have to possess you? It seemed that the more you gave them the more they took, until there was nothing left to give but yourself. Perhaps Pierre was right after all, when you thought about it.
The investigation into the Metro murders was proceeding dismally. Inspector Dutruelle had no suspect, no leads, no motive. His superiors complained about his lack of progress and the press ridiculed him without pity. "It appears," commented France-Soir, "that the only thing Inspector Dutruelle can tell us with certainty is that with each fresh atrocity the Metro station name grows longer." The detectives under him could not understand what had happened to their normally astute Inspector, and they felt leaderless and demoralised. It was left to the security police of the Metro to point out one rather obvious fact: that the three stations where bodies had been found had one thing in common - their lines intersected at Metro Barbes Rochechouart, and it seemed that something might be learned by taking the Metro between them.
Inspector Dutruelle did not like public transport, and he especially did not like the Metro. It was cramped, smelly and claustrophobic at the best of times, and in the summer it was hot. You stood on the very edge of the platform just to feel the breeze as the blue and white trains pulled into the station. It was years since the Inspector had used the Metro.
"I can't take much more of this, Marc" he said to the young Detective Constable who was travelling with him, "it's too hot. We'll get off at the next stop."
"That's Barbes Rochechouart, sir. We can change there."
"No, Marc. We can get out there. Someone else can take a sauna, I've had enough. Anyway, we need to have a look around." Inspector Dutruelle wiped his brow. He sounded irritable. "God knows what it's like normally," he added.
When the train pulled in they took the exit for Boulevard de Rochechouart.
"At least we can get through now," said the Detective Constable as they walked up the passage towards the escalator.
"How d'you mean?" asked Inspector Dutruelle.
"Well, normally this station's packed - beggars, passengers, buskers, hawkers, plus all their tables and stalls. It's like a damn great fair and market rolled into one. You can get anything here, from Eiffel Towers to cabbages and potatoes - not to mention a spot of cannabis or heroin."
"Oh, yes," said Inspector Dutruelle, vaguely. "I remember." He passed a handkerchief across his brow again.
At the turnstyles a man was handing out publicity cards and he thrust one into Inspector Dutruelle's hand. Glancing down at it and squinting in the bright sunlight, the Inspector read aloud: "'Professor Dhiakobli, Grand Médium Voyant can help you succeed rapidly in all areas of life . . .'"
He broke off in mid-sentence with a snort.
"What a lot of mumbo-jumbo! Headless chickens and voodoo magic."
"It may be mumbo-jumbo to you, sir," said the Detective Constable with a laugh, "but round here they take that sort of thing seriously. And not only round here - after all, we use some of these techniques in the police, don't we?"
"Oh really? Such as?"
"Well, graphology for a start - you can hardly call basing a murder case on the size of someone's handwriting scientific, can you sir? Or what about astrology - employing people on the basis of the stars? Or numerology."
"Yes, Marc," said Inspector Dutruelle, pushing the card into his top pocket, "maybe you're right, and maybe when you're older you won't be so sure. Now get on the blower and call the car."
The hot July turned to hotter and more humid August. No more bodies were found in the sweltering tunnels of the Metro, and the media, bored with the lack of developments, left Inspector Dutruelle to his original obscurity. Paris, deserted by its citizens in the yearly exodus to the coast, was tolerable only to the tourists with backpacks who flocked to the cheap hotels and began again to crowd the Metro. Then, in September, the Parisiens came back and life returned to normal.
But Inspector Dutruelle's passion for Vololona did not cool with the season. Vololona had at last agreed to see him, occasionally; but she always managed (with tears in her eyes) to deflect his more amorous advances. For Inspector Dutruelle it was beneath him to observe that he continued to pay the rent on her apartment, but he was growing increasingly frustrated. The notion that she had another lover obsessed him, and in the evenings he took to prowling the broad Boulevard de Clichy between her apartment and the Chatte et Lapin. Sometimes he would stand for hours watching her door, as locals strolled past with their dogs or sat on the benches under the plane trees. Now, denied the one thing here he wanted, the scene filled him with dismay. Money and music were in the air. Lovers sipped coffee in the open and watched the whores in their doorways. Pigeons fluttered as girls in tight mini-skirts hurried to work. Tourists with their Deutschmarks arrived by the busload and the touts in dark glasses worked hard to coax them into the expensive sex shows and neon-lit video clubs. Somewhere deep below ran the Metro; but Inspector Dutruelle had no more interest in that. His superiors had given up hope of solving the Metro murders and had moved him on to other things. Sometimes he would stay all night, leaving to the tinkle of broken glass as workmen swept up after the night's revelries. Occasionally he would see Vololona leave her apartment to buy cigarettes, but he never once saw her on the arm of another man, or saw a male visitor take the lift to the seventh floor.
One night, late in October, he returned from the Boulevard de Clichy just after midnight. Madame Dutruelle, having been told that her husband was working on a case, and perhaps believing it, was already asleep. Had she been awake she would surely have been surprised to see him throw his jacket over a chair, for Inspector Dutruelle had always been meticulous with his clothes, the sort of man who irons his shoelaces. But the jacket missed and dropped to the floor. Muttering to himself, the Inspector bent and picked it up, and as he did so something fell from the top pocket. He gazed at it blankly for a moment. Then he realised it was the card he had been given at the metro station, a little the worse for having been once or twice to the cleaners, but still legible. He picked it up and slowly started to read:
Grand Médium Voyant can help you succeed rapidly in all areas of life: luck, love, marriage, attraction of clients, examinations, sexual potency. If you desire to make another love you or if your loved one has left with another, this is his domain, you will be loved and your partner will return. Prof. Dhiakobli will come behind you like a dog. He will create between you a perfect rapport on the basis of love. All problems resolved, even desperate cases. Every day from 9am to 9pm. Payment after results.
13b, rue Beldamme, 75018 Paris
staircase B, 6th floor, door on left
Metro: Barbes Rochechouart
Inspector Dutruelle stood in his socks and braces reading the card over and over again. "All problems resolved . . ." It was preposterous. And yet, it was tempting. What harm could there be in a little hocus pocus when everything else had failed? After all, everyone knew that even the police used clairvoyants when they were really up against it.
Rue Beldamme was a backstreet of tenement buildings in Paris's eighteenth arrondissement, an area popular with immigrants from francophone Africa. It lay close to the busy crossroads straddled by Metro Barbes Rochechouart. Inspector Dutruelle parked in the next street and walked the rest of the way, cursing because he had not brought his umbrella. The door to number 13b was swinging in the wind, its dark paint peeling badly. He stepped through into a narrow courtyard and found his way to the sixth-floor door on which a brass plaque read: "Professor Dhiakobli Spécialiste des travaux occultes Please ring". He stood there, breathing heavily from the stairs, and before he could press the bell the door opened and a man appeared.
"Please enter, my dear sir," said the man with an elegant wave of the hand and exaggerated courtesy. "I am Dhiakobli. And I have the honour to meet . . . ?"
As Inspector Dutruelle had imagined, Professor Dhiakobli was black. He had a short yet commanding figure, and was dressed in a well tailored grey suit. A large, silk handkerchief fell from his top pocket.
"For the moment," said Inspector Dutruelle, "my name is hardly important. I've only come in response to your advertisement."
"Monsieur has perhaps some small problem with which I can help? A minor indiscretion? Please be seated, sir, and let us talk about the matter."
Inspector Dutruelle handed his coat and gloves to the Professor and sat in the large, well upholstered chair to which he had been directed. Professor Dhiakobli himself settled behind a large mahogany desk, on top of which a chihuahua hardly bigger than a mouse was lounging, its wide, moist eyes gazing disdainfully at the newcomer.
"Ah, I see that Zeus approves of you," said the Professor, stroking the tiny dog with the tips of his manicured fingers, his own unblinking eyes also fixed on Inspector Dutruelle. "Poor Zeus, mon petit papillon, he is devoted to me, but he must remain here whenever I leave France. And you are fortunate, monsieur. It is only now that I return from Côte d'Ivoire. It is my country you know, I return there for a few months each summer. Paris in summer is so disagreeable, don't you agree?"
Professor Dhiakobli glittered with success. The frames of his glasses, the heavy bracelet on his right wrist and the watch on his left, the gem-studded rings on his fingers - all were of gold. From his manner and cultured French accent it was evident that he was an educated man. Around him the large room was like a shrine. Heavy curtains excluded the daylight (the only illumination was a small brass desklamp) and the dark, red walls were festooned with spears, costumes, photographs and other African memorabilia. There was a sweet smell in the air, and in one corner of the room the feathers of a ceremonial African headgear lay draped inappropriately over an enormous American refrigerator. You could not help being struck by the incongruity of this bizarre scene in the roughest quarter of Paris.
"As I say," began Inspector Dutruelle, ignoring the Professor's question, "I saw your card and I wondered just how you work."
"And may one enquire as to monsieur's little difficulty?"
Inspector Dutruelle cleared his throat and tried to adopt as nonchalant an air as he could.
"Well," - he coughed again - "first of all, I wondered what sort of things you can help people with."
The Professor's eyebrows rose.
"Anything," he said slowly, his smile revealing a set of large white teeth that shone brilliantly in the dimness against his black skin. "My dear sir, anything at all."
"And then, I wondered, how do you operate? That's to say, what exactly do you do . . . and how do you charge?"
"Ah monsieur, let us not talk of money. First I must learn just how I can help you. And for that a consultation is in order."
Inspector Dutruelle shifted in his seat.
"And what would a consultation involve? What does it . . . cost?"
Professor Dhiakobli wrung his hands and shrugged amicably.
"Mon cher monsieur, I do understand how distasteful it is to you to discuss so vulgar a matter as money. I too recoil at the mere thought of it. It has been my mission in life to help those who have suffered misfortune. And if some donate a small token of their gratitude, who am I to refuse their offering? They pay according to their means, to assist those who have little to offer. But for a preliminary consultation, monsieur, a nominal sum, as a mark of good faith, is usually in order. For a gentleman of your obvious standing, a trifle, a mere two hundred francs. And let me assure you, monsieur, of my absolute discretion. Nothing you may choose to tell me will go beyond these walls." He paused. Then he threw out his hands and added with a grin: "They have the sanctity of the confessional."
"I'm glad to hear it," said the Inspector.
"But monsieur still has the advantage of me . . ." continued Professor Dhiakobli.
Inspector Dutruelle decided that he had nothing to lose by talking. He adopted the name of Monsieur Mazodier, a Parisien wine merchant, and began to tell the Professor of the dilemma that was tearing at his soul. He told him of the young Malagasy girl he had met while entertaining clients; of their instant and passionate love for one another; of her sudden irrational refusal any longer to give herself to him; and of the wife he now knew he should never have married but whom he had not the heart to leave. Monsieur Mazodier was at his wits' end and now even his business was suffering. He feared that if he did not find a resolution to his problem he might do something that he or others would regret. The Professor listened intently, asking appropriate questions at appropriate moments. Finally Inspector Dutruelle said: "Well, Professor Dhiakobli, I think that's all I can tell you. I don't think I can tell you any more. From what I have told you, do you believe you can help me?"
For a long time there was silence. The Professor appeared to be in another world. He stared at Inspector Dutruelle, but seemed to be looking through him.
"My dear Monsieur Mazodier," he said at last, very slowly, almost mechanically, "the story you have told me is most poignant. Each of us has a hidden corner in his life, a jardin secret. Yet it is rare indeed for men to come to me with problems such as yours. Perhaps it is natural that most of my lovelorn clients should be women. At the mercy of their complex physical structure, is it any wonder that women are such emotional creatures? I help them find their lost ones, their partners of many years, to recreate again the rapport of their youth. You will understand that it is not easy. But this is my work. My domain."
"So you can't help me?" said Inspector Dutruelle, adding despondently: "Perhaps what I really need is a head-shrink."
The Professor gave a start. Again, for a long time he did not answer. Then his teeth flashed in the dimness.
"Écoutez monsieur, this is my work, my domain," he repeated. "Certainly I can help you. But you must understand that it will not be easy. It calls for a special ceremony. In the first place, you are married, and I shall be required to work my influence on not one but two women. In the second, we are both men of the world, monsieur, and you will not be offended if I remark upon the extreme disparity in your ages. And finally, it is clear to me that this young girl has chained your heart with her magic. You know, the magic of Madagascar is very strong. No, monsieur, it will not be easy. Enduring love cannot be bought with money alone. Sometimes . . ." He hesitated and looked Inspector Dutruelle straight in the eye, his own eyes suddenly cold and vacant. "Sometimes," he said, "we must make sacrifices."
"What sort of sacrifices?" asked Inspector Dutruelle dully.
"Oh, my dear sir, you must leave that to me. But one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs." His cold eyes remained fixed on the Inspector and he spoke in a monotone without pausing for breath. "You must not concern yourself with technicalities, monsieur. Your mind must be fixed on the future, on the life you have dreamed of. You must envisage your wife - happy in the arms of another. You must picture the fragile young child you so yearn for . . . secure in your arms . . . sharing your life . . . your days . . . your nights. The perfect solution to all your problems. Is it not worth a considerable sum?"
"It certainly would be worth a lot . . ." Inspector Dutruelle muttered as the Professor's words came to life in his mind.
"Shall we say thirty thousand francs?"
"I'm sorry?" muttered the Inspector.
"Let's say fifteen thousand before and fifteen afterwards," the Professor went on as though his visitor had not spoken. "Do you see, monsieur, how confident I am of success?"
Inspector Dutruelle did not reply. He was confused. He had not expected the Professor to be so blunt, or to propose quite so generous a token. But it did not seem to matter. After all, what was thirty thousand francs to achieve what he craved so desperately? And, in any case, at worst it was only fifteen thousand.
The Professor's eyes were still fixed on Inspector Dutruelle.
"Of course, monsieur, I have faith in your gratitude. I know that you will not forget, in your delight, that what I have done, I can undo. And now, monsieur, you must not allow me to detain you further. We have much work to do. In eight days you will return with photographs and details of Madame Mazodier and the Malagasy. And with some little articles of clothing, something close to their thoughts, say a scarf or a hat. You can arrange this?"
Inspector Dutruelle nodded blankly.
"Excellent, monsieur. I must know them in every detail - if I am to have a spiritual tête-à-tête with each of them. So, in fifteen days, you will return for the ceremony. It will take place beyond those curtains, in the space reserved for the ancestral spirits. Nobody but I and my assistants may enter there, but nevertheless it is imperative that you be present on the day. It must be at dawn, and you must come without fail - the ceremony cannot be deferred. Can you manage six in the morning, shall we say Monday the sixteenth?"
Inspector Dutruelle did not sleep well on the night of the fifteenth of December. At four o'clock in the morning he got out of bed. Though his wife stirred she did not wake. He showered and dressed. His nerves were on edge as he fiddled around in the kitchen, boiling water for his coffee. He drank two cups, strong and black, but he looked helplessly at the croissants he had spread clumsily with jam. He lit a Gauloise and paced the room. Then he pulled the windows open and leaned on the railing, finishing his cigarette. Below him the courtyard was dark and silent, and above him the sky was black. But away in the east, through the open end of the court, a violet hue was creeping over Paris. He glanced at his watch. It was a quarter past five and time to fetch the car. It would seem strange, leaving at that time of the morning without an official car and driver. He wondered what the concierge would make of it all - she was bound to be polishing the brasses by the time he reached the ground floor. He gave a shiver and pushed the windows shut.
Then he put the keys of the Renault in his coat pocket and checked that he had everything. He looked into the bedroom. Gently, he drew the duvet back and looked at his wife as she slept, her arms clasped about her knees. He leaned over and touched his lips to her cheek. Then he closed the bedroom door silently behind him, switched the lights off in the living room and kitchen, and opened the front door. As he did so the telephone rang. It startled him and he cursed aloud. He closed the front door again and hurried to answer the phone so that his wife should not wake.
"Inspector Dutruelle?" said the voice at the other end.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Sorry to disturb you at this time of the morning, Monsieur l'Inspecteur. It's the Préfecture."
"Never mind the time," said Inspector Dutruelle with as much irritation as his whispering voice could convey. "I'm off duty today."
"Well, that's the point, Inspector. The Préfet's ordered us to call you specially. He appreciates you're not on duty, but he wants you anyway."
"It's quite impossible."
"I'm afraid he insists, sir."
"He insists you come on duty immediately, sir. We're sending a car round for you."
"Yes, yes, I understand, but why?"
"It's the Metro again, sir."
"Yes, sir. They've found another corpse on the line, decapitated again."
Inspector Dutruelle did not reply. He was cursing to himself. He was cursing the Préfet, the police, this homicidal maniac, his wife. Why today? Why ever today?
"Sir? Hello sir? The car'll be with you in five minutes."
"Yes, all right. I'll be ready in five minutes."
The big black Citroen was soon speeding away from Rue Dauphine and heading north across Pont Neuf. Inspector Dutruelle looked at the winter mists rising from the Seine. His dreams, it seemed, were evaporating just as surely.
"You'd better brief me on this as quick as you can," he said wearily to the Detective Sergeant he had found waiting for him in the car. "Where was the body found?"
"Barbes Rochechouart, sir."
A cold shiver passed through the Inspector.
"I presume it's the same as the others?" he asked.
"Well, in as much as there's nothing to go on, it's the same, sir. Otherwise it couldn't be more different. For a start, we've just heard they've found two of them now. And this time they're women. One white, in her forties, and one black. A young black girl - still in her teens, by the look of things."
But Inspector Dutruelle was not listening. He was staring blankly through the glass to his right, and as they turned at Place du Châtelet the empty streets were no more than a cold, grey blur to him. The car swung onto the broad Boulevard de Sébastopol and accelerated northwards to cover the three kilometres to Metro Barbes Rochechouart. It was the route he should have been taking in his own car.
Outside the station, now closed to passengers, people were standing around under the street lights with their collars up. Inspector Dutruelle got out of the car. He hesitated. He glanced towards Rue Beldamme (just a stone's throw away across the bleak Boulevard de Rochechouart) where the Professor would be waiting for him. He shrugged and went down the station steps.
Underground, on the number four line, there was an air of gloom. Both bodies lay where they had been spotted by the first train-drivers through that morning. Inspector Dutruelle looked impassively at the first one. It was the body of a middle-aged woman, quite unexceptional, coarse and wiry, like his wife.
"She's forty-seven, Monsieur l'Inspecteur," said somebody beside him. "French. Name of Madame Catherine Dubur. Not like the other one."
"The other one?" said the Inspector blankly.
"I told you in the car, sir," said the Detective Sergeant at his ear, "there's two of them."
"You'd better show me."
They strolled in their overcoats to the other end of the platform and went down the little steps that led to the track. A uniformed policeman pulled back the blanket that covered the second body, which lay on its back. Inspector Dutruelle stared dispassionately at the stiff, black limbs that stuck out awkwardly across the railway lines. Suddenly he shuddered in alarm. Even in the dim lights of the train that was pulled up beyond you could see the resemblance to Vololona.
"Identity?" he asked. He tried to control his voice.
"We don't know, sir - this is all we found," said a policeman, handing him a tattered greetings card. Inside, in large, green handwriting, were the words: "Happy Nineteenth Birthday, from Everyone in Antananarivo."
"D'you think she's Malagasy, sir?" asked the policeman. The Inspector shrugged his shoulders, then held out an open hand.
"Your torch, please," he said.
He played its beam over the body, up and down the long, slender legs, across the clothes. At least he did not recognise the clothes. Yet the body's size, its build, its colour, everything pointed to Vololona. He bent down and flashed the light onto the fingers of the left hand and laughed weakly to himself as he saw the tawdry rings that glinted back at him. He stood up in relief. That was certainly not Vololona. Yet it was uncanny how this body reminded him of her - and the other of Agnes, for that matter. Even the ages were the same.
He smoked as he stood staring at the headless corpse. He could not understand. Was the magic of Madagascar really so strong that now he saw Vololona everywhere? And what of Agnes? How would Professor Dhiakobli explain that? How could he explain it, when you came to think of it? When you came to think of it, he had explained very little. He had been happy enough to take the money, and free enough with his words - all those grandiose notions of mission and sacrifice and spiritual tête-à-têtes . . .
Inspector Dutruelle gasped.
"The devil," he muttered to himself. Suddenly he understood everything.
"The what, sir?" said somebody beside him.
"Never mind," he answered quietly, putting his hand to his breast pocket. His heart had started to pound with a sense of danger and his head suddenly ached with questions. He took out his cigarette case and lit another Gauloise. Through its curling blue smoke, back-lit by the lights of the train, the black limbs were splayed out in a grotesque dance, while beside him men's voices were thrumming in his ear. Why was there no time to think, to extricate himself from this nightmare? He cursed himself. How could he have been so stupid? He cursed his wife and Vololona. And Professor Dhiakobli. What madness had driven him to this? Then he cursed himself again, and turned abruptly to one of the men babbling at his side.
"What time is it?"
For a moment, he hesitated. Then he called for the Detective Sergeant who was with the photographer at the other body.
"Écoute Guy, when he's got his pictures they can move the bodies and fix things up," he said. "Now get me the Préfet."
The Préfet was beside himself with rage at this further disturbance to his sleep, and he exploded with indignation when Inspector Dutruelle offered his resignation.
"Are you insane, man? You're in the middle of an investigation!"
"The investigation is over, Monsieur le Préfet."
"So, you have the killer at last!"
"In fifteen minutes, monsieur, in fifteen minutes."
"Then why in the name of God are you asking to be relieved from duty?"
"Monsieur le Préfet, my position is impossible. On this occasion it was I that paid the killer," he answered calmly as he took another cigarette from his silver cigarette case.
by Josef Essberger
She was walking lazily, for the fierce April sun was directly overhead. Her umbrella blocked its rays but nothing blocked the heat - the sort of raw, wild heat that crushes you with its energy. A few buffalo were tethered under coconuts, browsing the parched verges. Occasionally a car went past, leaving its treads in the melting pitch like the wake of a ship at sea. Otherwise it was quiet, and she saw no-one.
In her long white Sunday dress you might have taken Ginnie Narine for fourteen or fifteen. In fact she was twelve, a happy, uncomplicated child with a nature as open as the red hibiscus that decorated her black, waist-length hair. Generations earlier her family had come to Trinidad from India as overseers on the sugar plantations. Her father had had some success through buying and clearing land around Rio Cristalino and planting it with coffee.
On the dusty verge twenty yards ahead of Ginnie a car pulled up. She had noticed it cruise by once before but she did not recognize it and could not make out the driver through its dark windows, themselves as black as its gleaming paintwork. As she walked past it, the driver's glass started to open.
"Hello, Ginnie," she heard behind her.
She paused and turned. A slight colour rose beneath her dusky skin. Ravi Kirjani was tall and lean, and always well-dressed. His black eyes and large, white teeth flashed in the sunlight as he spoke. Everyone in Rio Cristalino knew Ravi. Ginnie often heard her unmarried sisters talk ruefully of him, of how, if only their father were alive and they still had land, one of them might marry him. And then they would squabble over who it might be and laugh at Ginnie because she was too simple for any man to want.
"How do you know my name, Ravi?" she asked with a thrill.
"How do you know mine?"
"Everyone knows your name. You're Mr Kirjani's son."
"Right. And where're you going Ginnie?"
She hesitated and looked down at the ground again.
"To chapel," she said with a faint smile.
"But Ginnie, good Hindus go to the temple." His rich, cultured voice was gently mocking as he added with a laugh: "Or maybe the temple pundits aren't your taste in colour."
She blushed more deeply at the reference to Father Olivier. She did not know how to reply. It was true that she liked the young French priest, with his funny accent and blue eyes, but she had been going to the Catholic chapel for months before he arrived. She loved its cheerful hymns, and its simple creed of one god - so different from those miserable Hindu gods who squabbled with each other like her sisters at home. But, added to that, the vulgarity of Ravi's remark bewildered her because his family were known for their breeding. People always said that Ravi would be a man of honour, like his father.
Ravi looked suddenly grave. His dark skin seemed even darker. It may be that he regretted his words. Possibly he saw the confusion in Ginnie's wide brown eyes. In any case, he did not wait for an answer.
"Can I offer you a lift to chapel - in my twenty-first birthday present?" he asked, putting his sunglasses back on. She noticed how thick their frames were. Real gold, she thought, like the big, fat watch on his wrist.
"It's a Mercedes, from Papa. Do you like it?" he added nonchalantly.
From the shade of her umbrella Ginnie peered up at a small lone cloud that hung motionless above them. The sun was beating down mercilessly and there was an urge in the air and an overpowering sense of growth. With a handkerchief she wiped the sweat from her forehead. Ravi gave a tug at his collar.
"It's air-conditioned, Ginnie. And you won't be late for chapel," he continued, reading her mind.
But chapel must have been the last thing on Ravi's mind when Ginnie, after a moment's hesitation, accepted his offer. For he drove her instead to a quiet sugar field outside town and there, with the Mercedes concealed among the sugar canes, he introduced himself into her. Ginnie was in a daze. Young as she was, she barely understood what was happening to her. The beat of calypso filled her ears and the sugar canes towered over her as the cold draught from the air-conditioner played against her knees. Afterwards, clutching the ragged flower that had been torn from her hair, she lay among the tall, sweet-smelling canes and sobbed until the brief tropical twilight turned to starry night.
But she told no-one, not even Father Olivier.
Two weeks later the little market town of Rio Cristalino was alive with gossip. Ravi Kirjani had been promised the hand of Sunita Moorpalani. Like the Kirjanis, the Moorpalanis were an established Indian family, one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean. But while the Kirjanis were diplomats, the Moorpalanis were a commercial family. They had made their fortune in retailing long before the collapse in oil prices had emptied their customers' pockets; and now Moorpalani stores were scattered throughout Trinidad and some of the other islands. Prudently, they had diversified into banking and insurance, and as a result their influence was felt at the highest level. It was a benevolent influence, of course, never abused, for people always said the Moorpalanis were a respectable family, and well above reproach. They had houses in Port-of-Spain, Tobago and Barbados, as well as in England and India, but their main residence was a magnificent, sprawling, colonial-style mansion just to the north of Rio Cristalino. The arranged marriage would be the social event of the following year.
When Ginnie heard of Ravi's engagement the loathing she had conceived for him grew into a sort of numb hatred. She was soon haunted by a longing to repay that heartless, arrogant brute. She would give anything to humiliate him, to see that leering, conceited grin wiped from his face. But outwardly she was unmoved. On weekdays she went to school and on Sundays she went still to Father Olivier's afternoon service.
"Girl, you sure does have a lot to confess to that whitie," her mother would say to her each time she came home late from chapel.
"He's not a whitie, he's a man of God."
"That's as may be, child, but don't forget he does be a man first."
The months passed and she did not see Ravi again.
And then it rained. All through August the rain hardly stopped. It rattled persistently on the galvanized roofs until you thought you would go mad with the noise. And if it stopped the air was as sticky as treacle and you prayed for it to rain again.
Then one day in October, towards the end of the wet season, when Ginnie's family were celebrating her only brother's eighteenth birthday, something happened that she had been dreading for weeks. She was lying in the hammock on the balcony, playing with her six-year old nephew Pinni.
Suddenly, Pinni cried out: "Ginnie, why are you so fat?"
Throughout the little frame house all celebration stopped. On the balcony curious eyes were turned upon Ginnie. And you could see what the boy meant.
"Gods have mercy on you, Virginia! Watch the shape of your belly," cried Mrs Narine, exploding with indignation and pulling her daughter indoors, away from the prying neighbours' ears. Her voice was loud and hard and there was a blackness in her eyes like the blackness of the skies before thunder. How could she have been so blind? She cursed herself for it and harsh questions burst from her lips.
"How does you bring such shame upon us, girl? What worthless layabouts does you throw yourself upon? What man'll have you now? No decent man, that does be sure. And why does you blacken your father's name like this, at your age? The man as didn't even live to see you born. Thank the gods he didn't have to know of this. You sure got some explaining to your precious man of God, child."
At last her words were exhausted and she sat down heavily, her weak heart pounding dangerously and her chest heaving from the exertion of her outburst.
Then Ginnie told her mother of the afternoon that Ravi Kirjani had raped her. There was a long silence after that and all you could hear was Mrs Narine wheezing. When at last she spoke, her words were heavy and disjointed.
"If anybody have to get damnation that Kirjani boy'll get it," she said.
Ginnie's sisters were awestruck.
"Shall we take her over to the health centre, Ma?" asked Indra. "The midwife comes today."
"Is you crazy, girl? You all does know how that woman does run she mouth like a duck's bottom. You all leave this to me."
That night Mrs Narine took her young daughter to see Doctor Khan, an old friend of her husband whose discretion she could count on.
There was no doubt about it. The child was pregnant.
"And what can us do, Dr Khan?" asked Mrs Narine.
"Marry her off, quick as you can," the lean old doctor replied bluntly.
Mrs Narine scoffed.
"Who would take her now, Doctor? I does beg you. There's nothing? Nothing you can do for us?"
A welcome breeze came through the slats of the surgery windows. Outside you could hear the shrill, persistent sound of cicadas, while mosquitoes crowded at the screens, attracted by the bare bulb over the simple desk. Dr Khan sighed and peered over the frames of his glasses. Then he lowered his voice and spoke wearily, like a man who has said the same thing many times.
"I might arrange something for the baby once it's born. But it must be born, my dear. Your daughter is slimly built. She's young, a child herself. To you she looks barely three months pregnant. Don't fool yourself, if the dates she's given us are correct, in three months she'll be full term. Anything now would be too, too messy."
"And if it's born," asked Mrs Narine falteringly, "if it's born, what does happen then?"
"No, Ma, I want it anyway, I want to keep it," said Ginnie quietly.
"Don't be a fool, child."
"It's my baby. Ma. I want to have it. I want to keep it."
"And who's to look after you, and pay for the baby? Even if that Kirjani does agrees to pay, who does you hope to marry?"
"I'll marry, don't worry."
"You'll marry! You does be a fool. Who will you marry?"
"Kirjani, Ma. I's going to marry Ravi Kirjani."
Doctor Khan gave a chuckle.
"So, your daughter is not such a fool as you think," he said. "I told you to marry her off. And the Kirjani boy's worth a try. What does she have to lose? She's too, too clever!"
So Ravi Kirjani was confronted with the pregnant Ginnie and reminded of that Sunday afternoon in the dry season when the canes were ready for harvesting. To the surprise of the Narines he did not argue at all. He offered at once to marry Ginnie. It may be that for him it was a welcome opportunity to escape a connubial arrangement for which he had little appetite. Though Sunita Moorpalani indisputably had background, nobody ever pretended that she had looks. Or possibly he foresaw awkward police questions that might have been difficult to answer once the fruit of his desire saw the light of day. Mrs Narine was staggered. Even Ginnie was surprised at how little resistance he put up.
"Perhaps," she thought with a wry smile, "he's not really so bad."
Whatever his reasons, you had to admit Ravi acted honourably. And so did the jilted Moorpalani family. If privately they felt their humiliation keenly, publicly they bore it with composure, and people were amazed that they remained on speaking terms with the man who had insulted one of their women and broken her heart.
Sunita's five brothers even invited Ravi to spend a day with them at their seaside villa in Mayaro. And as Ravi had been a friend of the family all his life he saw no reason to refuse.
The Moorpalani brothers chose a Tuesday for the outing - there was little point, they said, in going at the weekend when the working people littered the beach - and one of their LandRovers for the twenty mile drive from Rio Cristalino. They were in high spirits and joked with Ravi while their servants stowed cold chicken and salad beneath the rear bench seats and packed the iceboxes with beer and puncheon rum. Then they scanned the sky for clouds and congratulated themselves on choosing such a fine day. Suraj, the oldest brother, looked at his watch and his feet shifted uneasily as he said:
"It's time to hit the road."
His brothers gave a laugh and clambered on board. It was an odd, sardonic laugh.
The hardtop LandRover cruised through Rio Cristalino to the cross roads at the town centre. Already the market traders were pitching their roadside stalls and erecting great canvas umbrellas to shield them from sun or rain. The promise of commerce was in the air and the traders looked about expectantly as they loaded their stalls with fresh mangos or put the finishing touches to displays of giant melons whose fleshy pink innards glistened succulently under cellophane.
The LandRover turned east towards Mayaro and moments later was passing the cemetery on the edge of town. The road to the coast was busy with traffic in both directions still carrying produce to market, and the frequent bends and potholes made the journey slow. At last, on an uphill straight about six miles from Mayaro, the LandRover was able to pick up speed. Its ribbed tyres beat on the reflector studs like a drumroll and the early morning sun flashed through the coconut palms. Suddenly a terrible thing happened. The rear door of the LandRover swung open and Ravi Kirjani tumbled out, falling helplessly beneath the wheels of a heavily laden truck.
At the inquest the coroner acknowledged that the nature and extent of Ravi's injuries made it impossible to determine whether he was killed instantly by the fall or subsequently by the truck. But it was clear at least, he felt, that Ravi had been alive when he fell from the LandRover. The verdict was death due to misadventure.
Three days later Ravi's remains were cremated according to Hindu rights. As usual, a crush of people from all over Trinidad - distant relatives, old classmates, anyone claiming even the most tenuous connection with the dead man - came to mourn at the riverside pyre outside Mayaro. Some of them were convinced that they could see in Ravi's death the hands of the gods - and they pointed for evidence to the grey sky and the unseasonal rain. But the flames defied the rain and the stench of burning flesh filled the air. A few spoke darkly of murder. Did not the Moorpalanis have a compelling motive? And not by chance did they have the opportunity, and the means. But mostly they agreed that it was a tragic accident. It made little difference that it was a Moorpalani truck that had finished Ravi off. Moorpalani trucks were everywhere.
Then they watched as the ashes were thrown into the muddy Otoire River, soon to be lost in the warm waters of the Atlantic.
"Anyway," said one old mourner with a shrug, "who are we to ask questions? The police closed their files on the case before the boy was cold." And he shook the last of the rain from his umbrella and slapped impatiently at a mosquito.
You might have thought that the shock of Ravi's death would have induced in Ginnie a premature delivery. But quite the reverse. She attended the inquest and she mourned at the funeral. The expected date came and went. Six more weeks elapsed before Ginnie, by now thirteen, gave birth to a son at the public maternity hospital in San Fernando. When they saw the baby, the nurses glanced anxiously at each other. Then they took him away without letting Ginnie see him.
Eventually they returned with one of the doctors, a big Creole, who assumed his most unruffled bedside manner to reassure Ginnie that the baby was well.
"It's true he's a little pasty, my dear," he said as a nurse placed the baby in Ginnie's arms, "but, you see, that'll be the late delivery. And don't forget, you're very young . . . and you've both had a rough time. Wait a day . . . three days . . . his eyes'll turn, he'll soon have a healthy colour."
Ginnie looked into her son's blue eyes and kissed them, and in doing so a tremendous feeling of tiredness suddenly came over her. They were so very, very blue, so like Father Olivier's. She sighed at the irony of it all, the waste of it all. Was the Creole doctor really so stupid? Surely he knew as well as she did that the pallid looks could never go.