An Old Oil Lamp, Part II of II

Table of Contents

A short story by Hugo de Haan
Translated from the French by Seung Park

Part II of II

The young man sat almost in spite of himself. He was so little used to talking about what he loved that soon enough, a veritable deluge of words flooded from his mouth, as if some dike in his soul had broken at last.

He recounted everything: the addresses, the candle, the melodic phrases, the harsh light … and the other listened to him without saying a single word.

–And that is why I wanted to buy that lamp, he concluded. But my means are so far from the price that you are asking …

–Which instrument do you play? the old man wanted to know.

–None. But I hear them all in my head.

–And what do you compose?

–Oh … a few things here and there … some sonatas … and perhaps … someday … a symphony.

–I like music very much, the old man said. Whistle for me something from one of your sonatas, from the one that you like the most.

The young man began whistling, just as asked. It was a curious spectacle indeed: for he arose from his seat and began wandering through the shop crowded with antiques, whistling all the while. And as for the old man, he remained comfortably installed in a wing chair, his eyes closed all the while.

–That isn’t bad at all, he said when the young man was finished.

–Oh … well, maybe, the young man replied.

–Have you no confidence in yourself?

–Sometimes … and not very much.

–And have you gone to see a publisher?

–Oh, no! I couldn’t dare! The stuff I write isn’t really in style, and I will get laughed at!

The old man took up the lamp and stroked it in an almost loving fashion.

–It is true that the brass is a bit tarnished, he murmured, as if he were talking to himself. It could use some polishing …

He quickly raised his head and looked the young man straight in the eye.

–Have you ever heard a story regarding a lamp, and what happened when that lamp was polished? he asked tartly.

–Um, no, sir.

–You mean to tell me that you have never heard the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp?

–No, really, I never have.

The old man went to a shelf, plucked a book from it without effort, and then turned without any difficulty at all to the page that he was looking for.

The Tales of the Arabian Nights, he said. Within them, we find the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp. I will not tell you the entire story from beginning to end, as if I did that we would be here all night. Aladdin’s father was a tailor by the name of Mustafa …

–My father was not a tailor, the young man said with a pout.

–This Aladdin had been behaving so badly by the time he was only fifteen, the old man continued with some severity, that he caused no end of hardship to his father. It is even said that his father’s eternal embarrassment at his never being able to turn his son to gainful work caused him a sickness so obstinate that he died from it after the course of several months.

–I assure you that I am not like that, interrupted the young man. See … I … I never knew my parents …

–Good … good … let us get back to our story of the lamp, then … ah, here we are … “there was once a magic lamp that was so powerful that even tyrants and emperors in their far-off thrones trembled and desired its power.”

–The young man wondered to himself what in the world this old man was getting at; he was of a mind to take to his heels and bolt from this shop that was resembling more and more, by the second, the inner sanctum of a magus.

But a curious kind of authority, emanating from that old man, kept him from doing so.

–In short, the old man continued, the lamp found its way into Aladdin’s hands, who was completely ignorant of its awesome powers. Aladdin’s mother took that lamp, and looked at it carefully. “It is quite dirty,” she said to her son, “and if we clean it a bit, it will have a bit more value to us, no doubt.” She took some water and some fine sand, but barely had she begun to clean the lamp that an awe-inspiring djinni of gigantic height appeared before her. Then it thundered: “What is your command? I — I and all the other slaves of the lamp — am here to obey, your slave, the slave of all who possess the lamp.”

The old man stopped here, closed the book, and placed it before himself.

–And it was all true, what the genie said, he concluded. In the end, the lamp gave everything to Aladdin: happiness, riches, love …

The twilight had begun entering into the room, and the old man lit the oil lamp. It was a beautiful, firm flame that allowed room for the friendly and favorable shadows that now danced about the walls.

–Fine, the young man finally said, but that lamp isn’t Aladdin’s lamp …

–What do you know, the old man countered. It is only faith that saves … take the lamp, take it with you …

–But I do not have …

–Polish it gently every time you wish to create something great, something of beauty … you will succeed … you will make money … and you will come back to me to pay me for the lamp.

The young man could scarce believe his ears. Nevertheless, he stood, took up the lamp, and held it in his arms …

–I do not know how to thank you.

–It is nothing. But make sure you take good care of that lamp …

The young man cradled the lamp under his coat, protecting it as if it were his very own child.

He did not know how best to say goodbye to the old man, but the old man seemed to have quite forgotten that he had ever been there. He had closed his eyes and seemed to all the world to be deep in sleep.

The young man exited the shop with all the haste and delicacy of a thief and went back home as fast as his feet could take him.

But in the end, the lamp sat at his table, he lit it, and his apartment was bathed in a gentle light.

He took a rag and gently polished the tarnished brass. No genie — not good, not evil — came from the lamp. If anything, the lamp just seemed happy to have been cleaner than it had been in some time.

The young man finally threw himself into writing his grand symphony, grasping at the phrases that often crossed his mind like flashes of lightning, but that he had never been able to capture in flight.

And now, here they were, taking form, as his symphony!

He polished the lamp now, the ironic smile of that first day gone, because he knew well that the lamp had aided him just as the other lamp had aided the Aladdin of old …

One day, he took his finished symphony to a well-known publisher.

–Come back here in three days, the editor told him. At 5:00PM …

–I work until six, sir …

–Then come here at six-thirty …

Those were the longest three days in his life. He did not write anything, not one more note, and he would gaze at the lamp for hours at a time, struck with the thought that the yellow flame carried madness and madness alone in its wake.

The final day, he went to that antiques store, and saw the old man reading as he sat comfortably on a period armchair. He had all the air of a magus who was consulting his grimoires, and the young man did not have the courage to face him.

The great day finally arrived, and precisely at 6:30PM, the editor received him with cordiality and respect.

–That which you have created is excellent, young man …

He then handed over a sum of money that seemed to the young man to be an incredible treasure. The young man ran into the streets like a madman, so eager was he to settle his debt with the old man.

He arrived at the shop at 7:30PM. The store was still open; a woman was in the middle of closing up.

–I would like to see the old man, said he.

–Then you should have come sooner! the woman replied. He died an hour ago.

He looked at her then, looked at her as if he were seeing a ghost.

–He died at …

–Six-thirty, yes. But what business did you have with him? Of course, I am simply the cleaning lady, but maybe I can be of some use to you …

–Well … I owed him 150 francs .. for the purchase of a lamp …

–Oh! You are the young man of the lamp! she exclaimed. What a coincidence! You see, I was standing by him when he was near death. I heard his last words, and he said them with an incredibly clear voice … “soon enough, a young man will come here … he will want to pay me for an old lamp … tell him that I am giving it to him, as a gift, and that he should take good care of it. Where I am going, there are even better things than Aladdin’s Lamp … there are billions and billions of stars …”



krzyhikaki @ June 2nd, 2006 | 1:31 pm

I’m touched and mystified at the same time… cuz it sounds like the oil lamp WAS the magic lamp or at least the fountain of youth :/

in any case, it was good reading material for an hour… makes me want to go learn french now ^_^;;

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