by Emilia Pardo Bazán
The philosopher heard the slow tolling, descending from the tall English clock crowned by bronze figurines: midnight of the last day of the year. After each peal, the dull, resonating clock case remained vibrating, as if shuddering in a mysterious terror.
The philosopher arose from his ancient leather armchair, burnished by the rubbing of his arms and shoulders over long periods of diligent and solitary study; and like one who adopts a definitive resolution, approached the burning hearth. Either now, or never, was the suitable time for the spell.
From a mounted display he took down a sword that still retained in its grooves the rust of blood drunk long ago in brawls and battles, and with it he described a pentacle around himself, a little distance before the fireplace. Sparks of fire erupted from the point of the blade, and the surface of the floor appeared charred where the magic circle was inscribed around the audacious man who dared to practice these almost forgotten rites of sorcery. As he traced the circle, he muttered cabalistic incantations.
A tall, tenebrous figure seemed to emerge from the fireplace, moving forward towards the summoner like the silent advance of shadows, with no sound of footsteps.
A vast floating cape, the color of smoke, muffled the figure; an immense dark hat, whose brim descended down to the cape’s large collar, hid the face of the apparition from sight. And the philosopher could not get near it. An enchantment held him within the circle; he would only be freed if he recited the spell backwards and also traced the pentacle in reverse. But he lacked the courage; he felt the blood in his veins congeal before the great silent figure, which seemed to have no body; which perhaps was a perverse illusion of the senses, a psychic mist.
“Satan, Lucifer, Astaroth, Belial, Belphegor, Beelzebub?” he pronounced anxiously, interrogatively. “Which of the noble princes of the Abyss honors me by responding to my invocation?”
The spectre smoothly unmasked itself. It had no face. In place of a countenance the philosopher saw a sort of changing, amorphous blot. A voice emerged from the hollow of its chest, as from a devastated cavern.
“I am not one of the Dukes or Archdukes of the Abyss. If I had a sobriquet, my name would be the Knight of Nothingness, because I don’t exist. You have invented me.”
The philosopher divined who this faceless ghost was, this invention of man. Not for nothing had he tasted the bitter liquor of learning, drinking it deeply and slowly in the stillness of his library, decanting the ancient sciences through a new filter. The Knight of Nothingness, the one who only exists in our mind, the one we believe encompasses our being and constrains only the void… is Time, sovereign Time!
“Now that you have come, I will ask you what I was going to ask of the black princes. Stop, Time, stop for me! The succession of instants that form the links of your chain wear out and use up the fabric of our poor lives…. For all my life, oh formless Time! I’ve felt you gnawing and grinding away at my existence. You have been my dread, you have been my nightmare. At each beat of my heart, instead of saying ‘one more’, I say ‘one less’. At this moment, you have just robbed me of a year… that clock’s bronze tongue has announced it!”
“In other words, you want to be free of me?” exclaimed the spectre.
“Of your infinite power…. Nothing resists you; you are the victor. You conquer the fortress, raze the city, dry up the seas. Tyrannical love humbles itself before you. It has never known how to resist you. Truly, you are powerful!”
“Powerful! But I don’t exist! When you think of me, I no longer am. And as I am not, nor have I been, I have neither mausoleum nor sepulcher. No one will say in which pyramid overwhelmed by the desert sands lie the centuries that have passed, never to return… So what do you ask of me? Your spell compels me; you have uttered the terrible formulas of Solomon, son of David.”
“I don’t ask you for youth, like Faust in his dotage… I only beg you to stop for me. I ask that I don’t feel your deadly spur.”
“That’s what you want? Granted,” responded the phantasm. And with majestic slowness, the bat-gray smoke that comprised the being dissipated. In its place materialized a colossal figure of golden bronze, a beautiful and radiant woman so large that she reached the ceiling and filled the room. The enormous figure clasped the trembling body of the philosopher in her cold, gleaming, polished arms.
“With me you will not feel Time. I am Eternity. Now you are mine,” she said in a great voice like the resounding clamor of heroic trumpets.
And in the morning, when the servant entered to open the windows of the study, he saw that the fire had gone out and his employer was dead, lying stretched out on the floor, where a black circle marked the infernal brand.
According to la Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, “El conjuro” was published in La Ilustración Española y Americana in 1909. However a quick scan of the digital archives at la Biblioteca Nacional de España did not find “El conjuro” in any of the indices for this periodical between 1909 and 1913, the period when Pardo Bazán was most likely to have published there.
Translated by Nina Zumel