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The Owl’s Ear
by [?]

The cistern staircase struck me as being exceedingly curious, with its elegant spiral. The bushes bristling in the fissures at every step, the deserted aspect of its surroundings, all harmonized with my sadness. We descended, and soon the luminous point of the opening, which seemed to contract more and more, and to take the shape of a star with curved rays, alone sent us its pale light. When we attained the very bottom of the cistern, we found a superb sight was to be had of all those steps, lighted from above and cutting off their shadows with marvelous precision. I then heard the hum of which I have already spoken: the immense granite conch had as many echoes as stones!

“Has nobody been down here since the little man?” I asked the rural guardsman.

“No, sir. The peasants are afraid. They imagine that the hanged man will return.”

“And you?”

“I–oh, I’m not curious.”

“But the justice of the peace? His duty was to–“

“Ha! What could he have come to the Owl’s Ear for?”

“They call this the Owl’s Ear?


“That’s pretty near it,” said I, raising my eyes. “This reversed vault forms the pavilion well enough; the under side of the steps makes the covering of the tympanum, and the winding of the staircase the cochlea, the labyrinth, and vestibule of the ear. That is the cause of the murmur which we hear: we are at the back of a colossal ear.”

“It’s very likely,” said Hans Goerner, who did not seem to have understood my observations.

We started up again, and I had ascended the first steps when I felt something crush under my foot; I stopped to see what it could be, and at that moment perceived a white object before me. It was a torn sheet of paper. As for the hard object, which I had felt grinding up, I recognized it as a sort of glazed earthenware jug.

“Aha!” I said to myself; “this may clear up the burgomaster’s story.”

I rejoined Hans Goerner, who was now waiting for me at the edge of the pit.

“Now, sir,” cried he, “where would you like to go?”

“First, let’s sit down for a while. We shall see presently.”

I sat down on a large stone, while the rural guard cast his falcon eyes over the village to see if there chanced to be any trespassers in the gardens. I carefully examined the glazed vase, of which nothing but splinters remained. These fragments presented the appearance of a funnel, lined with wool. It was impossible for me to perceive its purpose. I then read the piece of a letter, written in an easy running and firm hand. I transcribe it here below, word for word. It seems to follow the other half of the sheet, for which I looked vainly all about the ruins:

“My micracoustic ear trumpet thus has the double advantage of infinitely multiplying the intensity of sounds, and of introducing them into the ear without causing the observer the least discomfort. You would never have imagined, dear master, the charm which one feels in perceiving these thousands of imperceptible sounds which are confounded, on a fine summer day, in an immense murmuring. The bumble-bee has his song as well as the nightingale, the honey-bee is the warbler of the mosses, the cricket is the lark of the tall grass, the maggot is the wren–it has only a sigh, but the sigh is melodious!

“This discovery, from the point of view of sentiment, which makes us live in the universal life, surpasses in its importance all that I could say on the matter.

“After so much suffering, privations, and weariness, how happy it makes one to reap the rewards of all his labors! How the soul soars toward the divine Author of all these microscopic worlds, the magnificence of which is revealed to us! Where now are the long hours of anguish, hunger, contempt, which overwhelmed us before? Gone, sir, gone! Tears of gratitude moisten our eyes. One is proud to have achieved, through suffering, new joys for humanity and to have contributed to its mental development. But howsoever vast, howsoever admirable may be the first fruits of my micracoustic ear trumpet, these do not delimit its advantages. There are more positive ones, more material, and ones which may be expressed in figures.