Produced by David Widger
THE WORKS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
IN FIVE VOLUMES
The Raven Edition
The Devil in the Belfry Lionizing X-ing a Paragraph Metzengerstein The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. How to Write a Blackwood article A Predicament Mystification Diddling The Angel of the Odd Mellonia Tauta The Duc de l'Omlette The Oblong Box Loss of Breath The Man That Was Used Up The Business Man The Landscape Garden Maelzel's Chess-Player The Power of Words The Colloquy of Monas and Una The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion Shadow.--A Parable
THE DEVIL IN THE BELFRY
What o'clock is it?--_Old Saying_.
EVERYBODY knows, in a general way, that the finest place in the worldis--or, alas, was--the Dutch borough of Vondervotteimittiss. Yet asit lies some distance from any of the main roads, being in a somewhatout-of-the-way situation, there are perhaps very few of my readerswho have ever paid it a visit. For the benefit of those who have not,therefore, it will be only proper that I should enter into some accountof it. And this is indeed the more necessary, as with the hope ofenlisting public sympathy in behalf of the inhabitants, I design hereto give a history of the calamitous events which have so lately occurredwithin its limits. No one who knows me will doubt that the duty thusself-imposed will be executed to the best of my ability, with allthat rigid impartiality, all that cautious examination into facts, anddiligent collation of authorities, which should ever distinguish him whoaspires to the title of historian.
By the united aid of medals, manuscripts, and inscriptions, I am enabledto say, positively, that the borough of Vondervotteimittiss has existed,from its origin, in precisely the same condition which it at presentpreserves. Of the date of this origin, however, I grieve that I can onlyspeak with that species of indefinite definiteness which mathematiciansare, at times, forced to put up with in certain algebraic formulae.The date, I may thus say, in regard to the remoteness of its antiquity,cannot be less than any assignable quantity whatsoever.
Touching the derivation of the name Vondervotteimittiss, I confessmyself, with sorrow, equally at fault. Among a multitude of opinionsupon this delicate point--some acute, some learned, some sufficientlythe reverse--I am able to select nothing which ought to be consideredsatisfactory. Perhaps the idea of Grogswigg--nearly coincident withthat of Kroutaplenttey--is to be cautiously preferred.--Itruns:--Vondervotteimittis--Vonder, lege Donder--Votteimittis, quasiund Bleitziz--Bleitziz obsol:--pro Blitzen. This derivative, to saythe truth, is still countenanced by some traces of the electric fluidevident on the summit of the steeple of the House of the Town-Council. Ido not choose, however, to commit myself on a theme of such importance,and must refer the reader desirous of information to the Oratiunculaede Rebus Praeter-Veteris, of Dundergutz. See, also, BlunderbuzzardDe Derivationibus, pp. 27 to 5010, Folio, Gothic edit., Red and Blackcharacter, Catch-word and No Cypher; wherein consult, also, marginalnotes in the autograph of Stuffundpuff, with the Sub-Commentaries ofGruntundguzzell.
Notwithstanding the obscurity which thus envelops the date of thefoundation of Vondervotteimittis, and the derivation of its name, therecan be no doubt, as I said before, that it has always existed as we findit at this epoch. The oldest man in the borough can remember not theslightest difference in the appearance of any portion of it; and,indeed, the very suggestion of such a possibility is considered aninsult. The site of the village is in a perfectly circular valley, abouta quarter of a mile in circumference, and entirely surrounded by gentlehills, over whose summit the people have never yet ventured to pass. Forthis they assign the very good reason that they do not believe there isanything at all on the other side.
Round the skirts of the valley (which is quite level, and pavedthroughout with flat tiles), extends a continuous row of sixty littlehouses. These, having their backs on the hills, must look, of course, tothe centre of the plain, which is just sixty yards from the front doorof each dwelling. Every house has a small garden before it, with acircular path, a sun-dial, and twenty-four cabbages. The buildingsthemselves are so precisely alike, that one can in no manner bedistinguished from the other. Owing to the vast antiquity, the styleof architecture is somewhat odd, but it is not for that reason the lessstrikingly picturesque. They are fashioned of hard-burned little bricks,red, with black ends, so that the walls look like a chess-board upon agreat scale. The gables are turned to the front, and there are cornices,as big as all the rest of the house, over the eaves and over the maindoors. The windows are narrow and deep, with very tiny panes and a greatdeal of sash. On the roof is a vast quantity of tiles with long curlyears. The woodwork, throughout, is of a dark hue and there is muchcarving about it, with but a trifling variety of pattern for, time outof mind, the carvers of Vondervotteimittiss have never been able tocarve more than two objects--a time-piece and a cabbage. But these theydo exceedingly well, and intersperse them, with singular ingenuity,wherever they find room for the chisel.
The dwellings are as much alike inside as out, and the furniture is allupon one plan. The floors are of square tiles, the chairs and tablesof black-looking wood with thin crooked legs and puppy feet. Themantelpieces are wide and high, and have not only time-pieces andcabbages sculptured over the front, but a real time-piece, which makesa prodigious ticking, on the top in the middle, with a flower-potcontaining a cabbage standing on each extremity by way of outrider.Between each cabbage and the time-piece, again, is a little China manhaving a large stomach with a great round hole in it, through which isseen the dial-plate of a watch.
The fireplaces are large and deep, with fierce crooked-lookingfire-dogs. There is constantly a rousing fire, and a huge pot over it,full of sauer-kraut and pork, to which the good woman of the house isalways busy in attending. She is a little fat old lady, with blue eyesand a red face, and wears a huge cap like a sugar-loaf, ornamentedwith purple and yellow ribbons. Her dress is of orange-coloredlinsey-woolsey, made very full behind and very short in the waist--andindeed very short in other respects, not reaching below the middle ofher leg. This is somewhat thick, and so are her ankles, but she hasa fine pair of green stockings to cover them. Her shoes--of pinkleather--are fastened each with a bunch of yellow ribbons puckered upin the shape of a cabbage. In her left hand she has a little heavy Dutchwatch; in her right she wields a ladle for the sauerkraut and pork. Byher side there stands a fat tabby cat, with a gilt toy-repeater tied toits tail, which the boys have there fastened by way of a quiz.
The boys themselves are, all three of them, in the garden attending thepig. They are each two feet in height. They have three-corneredcocked hats, purple waistcoats reaching down to their thighs, buckskinknee-breeches, red stockings, heavy shoes with big silver buckles, longsurtout coats with large buttons of mother-of-pearl. Each, too, has apipe in his mouth, and a little dumpy watch in his right hand. Hetakes a puff and a look, and then a look and a puff. The pig--which iscorpulent and lazy--is occupied now in picking up the stray leaves thatfall from the cabbages, and now in giving a kick behind at the giltrepeater, which the urchins have also tied to his tail in order to makehim look as handsome as the cat.
Right at the front door, in a high-backed leather-bottomed armed chair,with crooked legs and puppy feet like the tables, is seated the old manof the house himself. He is an exceedingly puffy little old gentleman,with big circular eyes and a huge double chin. His dress resembles thatof the boys--and I need say nothing farther about it. All the differenceis, that his pipe is somewhat bigger than theirs and he can make agreater smoke. Like them, he has a watch, but he carries his watch inhis pocket. To say the truth, he has something of more importance than awatch to attend to--and what that is, I shall presently explain. He sitswith his right leg upon his left knee, wears a grave countenance, andalways keeps one of his eyes, at least, resolutely bent upon a certainremarkable object in the centre of the plain.
This object is situated in the steeple of the House of the Town Council.The Town Council are all very little, round, oily, intelligent men, withbig saucer eyes and fat double chins, and have their coats much longerand their shoe-buckles much bigger than the ordinary inhabitants ofVondervotteimittiss. Since my sojourn in the borough, they have hadseveral special meetings, and have adopted these three importantresolutions:
That it is wrong to alter the good old course of things:
That there is nothing tolerable out of Vondervotteimittiss: and--
That we will stick by our clocks and our cabbages.
Above the session-room of the Council is the steeple, and in the steepleis the belfry, where exists, and has existed time out of mind, thepride and wonder of the village--the great clock of the borough ofVondervotteimittiss. And this is the object to which the eyes of the oldgentlemen are turned who sit in the leather-bottomed arm-chairs.
The great clock has seven faces--one in each of the seven sides of thesteeple--so that it can be readily seen from all quarters. Its faces arelarge and white, and its hands heavy and black. There is a belfry-manwhose sole duty is to attend to it; but this duty is the most perfectof sinecures--for the clock of Vondervotteimittis was never yet known tohave anything the matter with it. Until lately, the bare suppositionof such a thing was considered heretical. From the remotest period ofantiquity to which the archives have reference, the hours have beenregularly struck by the big bell. And, indeed the case was just the samewith all the other clocks and watches in the borough. Never was such aplace for keeping the true time. When the large clapper thought properto say Twelve o'clock! all its obedient followers opened their throatssimultaneously, and responded like a very echo. In short, the goodburghers were fond of their sauer-kraut, but then they were proud oftheir clocks.
All people who hold sinecure offices are held in more or less respect,and as the belfry--man of Vondervotteimittiss has the most perfect ofsinecures, he is the most perfectly respected of any man in the world.He is the chief dignitary of the borough, and the very pigs look up tohim with a sentiment of reverence. His coat-tail is very farlonger--his pipe, his shoe--buckles, his eyes, and his stomach, very farbigger--than those of any other old gentleman in the village; and as tohis chin, it is not only double, but triple.
I have thus painted the happy estate of Vondervotteimittiss: alas, thatso fair a picture should ever experience a reverse!
There has been long a saying among the wisest inhabitants, that no goodcan come from over the hills; and it really seemed that the words hadin them something of the spirit of prophecy. It wanted five minutesof noon, on the day before yesterday, when there appeared a veryodd-looking object on the summit of the ridge of the eastward. Such anoccurrence, of course, attracted universal attention, and every littleold gentleman who sat in a leather-bottomed arm-chair turned one of hiseyes with a stare of dismay upon the phenomenon, still keeping the otherupon the clock in the steeple.
By the time that it wanted only three minutes to noon, the droll objectin question was perceived to be a very diminutive foreign-looking youngman. He descended the hills at a great rate, so that every body had soona good look at him. He was really the most finicky little personage thathad ever been seen in Vondervotteimittiss. His countenance was of a darksnuff-color, and he had a long hooked nose, pea eyes, a wide mouth, andan excellent set of teeth, which latter he seemed anxious of displaying,as he was grinning from ear to ear. What with mustachios and whiskers,there was none of the rest of his face to be seen. His head wasuncovered, and his hair neatly done up in papillotes. His dress wasa tight-fitting swallow-tailed black coat (from one of whose pocketsdangled a vast length of white handkerchief), black kerseymereknee-breeches, black stockings, and stumpy-looking pumps, with hugebunches of black satin ribbon for bows. Under one arm he carried a hugechapeau-de-bras, and under the other a fiddle nearly five times as bigas himself. In his left hand was a gold snuff-box, from which, as hecapered down the hill, cutting all manner of fantastic steps, hetook snuff incessantly with an air of the greatest possibleself-satisfaction. God bless me!--here was a sight for the honestburghers of Vondervotteimittiss!
To speak plainly, the fellow had, in spite of his grinning, an audaciousand sinister kind of face; and as he curvetted right into the village,the old stumpy appearance of his pumps excited no little suspicion; andmany a burgher who beheld him that day would have given a trifle for apeep beneath the white cambric handkerchief which hung so obtrusivelyfrom the pocket of his swallow-tailed coat. But what mainly occasioned arighteous indignation was, that the scoundrelly popinjay, while he cut afandango here, and a whirligig there, did not seem to have the remotestidea in the world of such a thing as keeping time in his steps.
The good people of the borough had scarcely a chance, however, to gettheir eyes thoroughly open, when, just as it wanted half a minute ofnoon, the rascal bounced, as I say, right into the midst of them; gavea chassez here, and a balancez there; and then, after a pirouette anda pas-de-zephyr, pigeon-winged himself right up into the belfry of theHouse of the Town Council, where the wonder-stricken belfry-man satsmoking in a state of dignity and dismay. But the little chap seized himat once by the nose; gave it a swing and a pull; clapped the big chapeaude-bras upon his head; knocked it down over his eyes and mouth; andthen, lifting up the big fiddle, beat him with it so long and sosoundly, that what with the belfry-man being so fat, and the fiddlebeing so hollow, you would have sworn that there was a regiment ofdouble-bass drummers all beating the devil's tattoo up in the belfry ofthe steeple of Vondervotteimittiss.
There is no knowing to what desperate act of vengeance this unprincipledattack might have aroused the inhabitants, but for the important factthat it now wanted only half a second of noon. The bell was about tostrike, and it was a matter of absolute and pre-eminent necessity thatevery body should look well at his watch. It was evident, however, thatjust at this moment the fellow in the steeple was doing something thathe had no business to do with the clock. But as it now began to strike,nobody had any time to attend to his manoeuvres, for they had all tocount the strokes of the bell as it sounded.
One! said the clock.
Von! echoed every little old gentleman in every leather-bottomedarm-chair in Vondervotteimittiss. Von! said his watch also; von!said the watch of his vrow; and von! said the watches of the boys, andthe little gilt repeaters on the tails of the cat and pig.
Two! continued the big bell; and
Doo! repeated all the repeaters.
Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine! Ten! said the bell.
Dree! Vour! Fibe! Sax! Seben! Aight! Noin! Den! answered the others.
Eleven! said the big one.
Eleben! assented the little ones.
Twelve! said the bell.
Dvelf! they replied perfectly satisfied, and dropping their voices.
Und dvelf it is! said all the little old gentlemen, putting up theirwatches. But the big bell had not done with them yet.
Thirteen! said he.
Der Teufel! gasped the little old gentlemen, turning pale, droppingtheir pipes, and putting down all their right legs from over their leftknees.
Der Teufel! groaned they, Dirteen! Dirteen!!--Mein Gott, it isDirteen o'clock!!
Why attempt to describe the terrible scene which ensued? AllVondervotteimittiss flew at once into a lamentable state of uproar.
Vot is cum'd to mein pelly? roared all the boys--I've been ongry fordis hour!
Vot is com'd to mein kraut? screamed all the vrows, It has been doneto rags for this hour!
Vot is cum'd to mein pipe? swore all the little old gentlemen, Donderand Blitzen; it has been smoked out for dis hour!--and they filled themup again in a great rage, and sinking back in their arm-chairs, puffedaway so fast and so fiercely that the whole valley was immediatelyfilled with impenetrable smoke.
Meantime the cabbages all turned very red in the face, and it seemed asif old Nick himself had taken possession of every thing in the shape ofa timepiece. The clocks carved upon the furniture took to dancing asif bewitched, while those upon the mantel-pieces could scarcely containthemselves for fury, and kept such a continual striking of thirteen, andsuch a frisking and wriggling of their pendulums as was really horribleto see. But, worse than all, neither the cats nor the pigs could putup any longer with the behavior of the little repeaters tied to theirtails, and resented it by scampering all over the place, scratching andpoking, and squeaking and screeching, and caterwauling and squalling,and flying into the faces, and running under the petticoats of thepeople, and creating altogether the most abominable din and confusionwhich it is possible for a reasonable person to conceive. And to makematters still more distressing, the rascally little scape-grace in thesteeple was evidently exerting himself to the utmost. Every now and thenone might catch a glimpse of the scoundrel through the smoke. There hesat in the belfry upon the belfry-man, who was lying flat upon his back.In his teeth the villain held the bell-rope, which he kept jerking aboutwith his head, raising such a clatter that my ears ring again even tothink of it. On his lap lay the big fiddle, at which he was scraping,out of all time and tune, with both hands, making a great show, thenincompoop! of playing Judy O'Flannagan and Paddy O'Rafferty.
Affairs being thus miserably situated, I left the place in disgust, andnow appeal for aid to all lovers of correct time and fine kraut. Letus proceed in a body to the borough, and restore the ancient order ofthings in Vondervotteimittiss by ejecting that little fellow from thesteeple.