The Mystery of the Ungodly Mirror
Translated by Anita Conrade
Another of these magicians directed the sun to paint his portrait, and the sun did.
Edgar Allan Poe,  "The Thousand-and-second Tale of  Scheherazade."
     One evening, when our steps had carried us towards the Palais-Royal, that Elysée of the fashionables, I remarked to my friend C. Auguste Dupin that Paris was not at all the way foreigners usually imagine it to be.
“They expect,” said I, “to find neat, ruler-straight streets and houses with elegant façades of even height. But if one makes an exception for streets of recent construction like Rivoli and Castiglione, one must admit that our city’s alleys are usually twisted. And it is not rare for the dignity of a magnificent mansion to be marred by the proximity of sordid shacks.”
“An accurate observation,” replied Dupin. “It is true that in this city, the ultimate in esthetic refinement is to be seen cheek-by-jowl with the most repulsive eyesore. In fact, although such disparities may intrigue the philosopher, there is no denying that they shock the man of taste.”
As we were crossing Orléans mall just then, which was still lively and crowded despite the lateness of the hour, I exclaimed:
“Have you any idea of the impression the magnificence of the Palais-Royal makes upon a foreigner? He discovers a profusion of elegant shops, shaded sidewalk cafés, and splendid restaurants, where he is sure to be served with dexterity, celerity, and courtesy that he would have trouble finding elsewhere. Not to mention the gratuitous pleasure to be derived from admiring the bevies of lovely damsels one meets upon one’s path.”
“I would rather admire the giraffe in the King’s Menagerie,” Dupin retorted hotly. “It is truly a singular creature, mild-mannered and affectionate with Parisians. They say that every day, it drinks the milk of the three cows pastured alongside it. Moreover, during the three colder seasons of the year, its shelter is heated by a stove which maintains the temperature of the climates to which it is native.”
I had to smile at Dupin’s tirade. How could I have forgotten his acute misogyny? Of course, it forced him to marvel at (or, to be more precise, to feign to marvel at) the qualities of a rare animal, if our conversation turned to the delights of the fairer sex. Indeed, I believe that my friend didn’t give a fig for the giraffe at the King’s Menagerie: it was simply unbearable for him to hear a man vaunt feminine charms or grace.
As though he had divined my thoughts – which was conceivable, so keen were his skills in this domain – Dupin took me by the elbow in a friendly way and let drop these words:
“The sum of mystery floating in the ineffable, the mutual affinities of certain ghostly elements, such as the wind and the fog, and the portentous aspect of a bird glimpsed with a troubled eye: all these things thrill me far more than the shameless hussies who mince through the malls and passages of Paris!”
Then, abruptly:
“It’s late; let us go home. I expect Vidocq at nine.”
    The twelve strokes of midnight echoed ominously in the silence of our study. “Vidocq is now quite late,” I was moved to comment. “Let us hope there is no reason to fret about his safety.”
“Luck smiles only on the hardy,” chuckled Dupin. “He’s bound to walk in any minute, all...”
“Covered with mud!” cried Vidocq, shoving the door open. “And a very good evening to you gentlemen, nevertheless. By the Devil, how cozy it is in here!”
And without further ado, the chief of the security police pulled a chair close to the hearth.
“Did you nab that songmonger in Gournay?”
“Indeed I did, my dear Dupin. The rascal finally confessed. The case is closed. But I had the devil’s own time making my way back through the fields. More gullies than road!”
“You could have taken the highway,” I suggested.
“And risk finding the city toll gates closed when I arrived? Thank you but no, sir!”
Vidocq took a cigar from his waistcoat pocket, and, lighting it, said, “Do you know the Hermitage?”
“That lonely old pile of stones on the outskirts of Vincennes?” ventured Dupin. “If I remember correctly, it once belonged to the great naturalist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. But it has been vacant for a long time.”
“Right. At present it is no longer empty, however. The nastiest bear in the kingdom lives there.”
“He must have tread on your corns,” I remarked facetiously.
Vidocq shrugged. “My mare went lame half a league from Vincennes,” he said. “A piece of flint in her shoe. Without an awl, I couldn’t dislodge it. It looked as though I’d have to lead her all the way home! But as we were limping past the Hermitage it occurred to me that the residents of that property might well be able to lend me a tool. As the gate was closed, I rang the bell. After a fairly long wait, a scruffy fellow with an olive complexion, a sort of a Moor, appeared at the grill. In an incomprehensible jargon, he rudely bade me to be on my way. He even threatened to set the dogs on me. Bah! What a gruff old bear.”
The memory of this unpleasant encounter had revived the officer’s ire, but the incident would have been forgotten, had not Dupin chanced to remark, “I suppose the man was afraid.”
“Afraid? Pray tell me why he should be so fearful.”
“My word, for any number of reasons. The Hermitage is an isolated dwelling, far from the main road, on the edge of the wood.”
“Certainly. But other than that?”
“It has been abandoned for years. Now it has a new owner. It would be the ideal place in which to conduct unsavory business.”
“Quite right,” I broke in, masking to the best of my ability the laughter rising in my throat. “The Hermitage surely conceals some ugly secret. A band of thieves, for example, may have adopted it as a warehouse. Those scoundrels could be keeping their loot hidden in there, and no one would ever be the wiser. If one of those types is the guard on duty, he’s sure to be hostile to passersby who take it into their heads to ring the bell.”
“My dear friend,” smiled Dupin, puffing on his meerschaum pipe, “you should sit down and write a mystery novel. The publishers of Paris would be fighting to pay you for your words.”
Vidocq, on the other hand, was impervious to the silliness of the yarn I’d spun. No doubt he was already picturing a procession of carts, creaking under the weight of their loads of stolen goods, rolling through the dusky shadows of the Hermitage gates. For the next thing he did was to clap me on the shoulder and cry, “I’ll be sainted. I believe you’re right. This barbarian is a gallows bird if ever there was one. Now I’m convinced.”
“Don’t be foolish,” Dupin intervened. “Our friend is joking. His tale was just the flimsy stuff of fantasy, the product of his active imagination.”
“I simply hazarded what might be. I never asserted it was a fact,” I protested mildly.
But Vidocq was no longer listening.
“The mystery of the Hermitage,” he murmured obstinately. “Now is the time for me to go and investigate it.”
“Well done,” Dupin told me sarcastically, after the policeman had gone. “Now he’ll be obsessed with the Hermitage for weeks. I shouldn’t be surprised if he attempts to scale the wall.”
“What a joke!” I cried. “He’ll be furious when he sees how he fooled himself.”
“Let’s hope you’re right,” sighed Dupin. “But you know how cursedly stubborn Vidocq can be!”
Subsequent events were to prove Dupin right. Three days later, when I was strolling in the Louvre Gardens, Vidocq came up to me and said, point-blank: “I spoke to Boucard, the captain of the troop in Vincennes.”
“What’s so extraordinary about that?” I retorted.
“Please spare me your efforts to be witty. I asked him what he knew about the Hermitage. He told me he’d often visited the place when Saint-Hilaire was living there. He says it’s an old structure, built to resist a siege, with acres of underground storehouses and cellars. Just imagine how much stolen property could be sitting down there.”
“Cellars are often damp, and dampness tends to damage valuable objects beyond repair.”
“Oh, your mockery is beginning to annoy me,” growled the officer. He continued, with growing excitement, “I was able to obtain further details from Boucard. The house has been sold to a rich Levantine, a man by the name of Hadj Aswân. No one has seen the new owner, because he has never visited the premises, preferring to remain in Paris. In fact, he hasn’t even furnished the house.”
“Furniture is so expensive these days,” I sighed.
Vidocq shrugged with irritation.
“Go ahead. Chatter and laugh,” he urged me. “You put me in mind of the monkeys in the King’s Menagerie. But wait until you hear the rest: A man and woman arrived with a single wagonload of servants’ furnishings, barely enough to fill one or two rooms. The man’s name is Yussef. I’m certain he’s the ill-bred lout who chased me away from the gate. His wife’s name is Zarafa. Apparently she is just as ornery as he is. They don’t have a single acquaintance in the neighborhood, and no one has set foot inside the Hermitage. Doesn’t that sound bizarre, to say the least?”
“My friend,” said I, “These people come from a foreign land, and if the portrait you have sketched of them is accurate, I’m not surprised they have no visitors. The only conclusion I draw from your indications is that the house was sold to a certain Mr. Aswân, and that he sent a couple of Levantine servants to keep watch over it. No doubt he will furnish it properly and dwell in the house when he sees fit. For God’s sake, please don’t become so obsessed with this trivial incident. There is not the slightest mystery. Everything is as clear and bright as the day.”
However, my efforts to soothe the policeman were all in vain. In fact, they had exactly the opposite effect, because when we bid each other good-bye, his wild suspicions seemed even more deeply anchored in his mind.
      Not long afterwards, Vidocq assigned Nicolas, a lively and intelligent boy, the task of keeping a weather eye on the Hermitage. He was to take note of who entered and left the place, reporting back to Vidocq. In short order, Nicolas had the old dwelling under close surveillance.
Late one afternoon, Nicolas heard a carriage drive up. Running to a crack in the wall where he could spy upon the property without being seen, he slipped into his hiding place and waited. A splendid landau, driven by a beturbaned coachman, appeared at the gates of the Hermitage. Yussef, who was apparently expecting the arrival of the coach, rushed to unfasten the lock. The carriage rolled slowly in, and as it lurched to a stop in front of the house, a man emerged. He was impeccably dressed, but although he was wearing the latest Paris fashions, he seemed to be a Levantine. He turned around, as if to speak to a passenger still seated inside. The other door opened, and a man who was obviously French stepped onto the driveway. The two visitors disappeared into the house. Time went by. Dusk was falling, obscuring Nicolas’s view. Nevertheless, the boy was able to make out Yussef walking down the lane to the gate, with a lantern in his hand. The horses trotted out of the gate, drawing the carriage behind them, and vanished into the night. Young Nicolas bided his time for a moment, and then returned to Vincennes, where he had found lodgings.
The next day, Nicolas discovered a new mystery. At twilight, after watching Yussef take leave of the property, Nicolas scaled the wall in a place which commanded a view of the whole Hermitage. A single light was burning in a window on the ground floor. The rest of the house was cloaked in darkness. After a slight hesitation, for Vidocq had warned him of the canine threat, the young man slid silently to the ground and sneaked up to the lighted window. It proved to be a pantry, in which a woman with a dark complexion – most certainly Zarafa – was busy with some chore. If dogs there were, they were not barking, so Nicolas was able to tiptoe around the perimeter of the house without being disturbed. His exploration revealed the existence of a back entrance. He tried to open the door, gently at first and then with increasing agitation, but it would not budge. It was locked from inside.
“A momentary setback!” he exclaimed to himself. “But I’ll bet that some night they’ll forget to lock it.”
Suddenly, hearing a noise from within the house, the young man withdrew into the shadow of a venerable elm and fixed his gaze on the door. But nothing and no one came out.
“The woman must have gone to fetch something,” he concluded. And he was preparing to retreat to his observation post, when he chanced to raise his eyes and see a detail he’d never seen before: a light burning on the second floor.
“She must have gone upstairs. I wonder what business she has up there.”
Again, Nicolas stole over to where he could peek into the pantry window. To his amazement, he saw that Zarafa was still there. Thus there had to be someone else in the upstairs room. His curiosity aroused, the boy watched every move the Levantine woman made. She laid a white linen on a tray, and then set two plates, a knife, a fork, and a cup upon it. Then, after slicing some white bread from a loaf covered with a towel, she next turned to carving a cold pork roast, piling the meat on the platter with the bread before returning to her stove.
Thought Nicolas, “No doubt she’s preparing her husband’s supper. But damn it all! I can’t believe that that Musulman would dare to gnaw on a piece of pigmeat.”
A few seconds later, he heard the gate creak open and then slam shut. He hurried to conceal himself in a thick patch of shrubbery and saw Yussef go into the pantry. Taking the tray Zarafa held out to him, Yussef immediately left the room, leaving Zarafa alone.
Nicolas returned to Vincennes with a thousand questions nagging at his mind. What secret did the upstairs room contain? Who was the dinner guest? Mystery...
At last, one evening, Nicolas discovered that the residents had indeed forgotten to lock the back door. He opened it easily and slipped into the house.
A glow to his right turned out to be a stairway. He had barely reached it when the pantry door swung open, ejecting Yussef bearing a tray loaded with food. Hardily, the boy leaped up a few stairs and crouched in a dark corner. His heart beat in his throat as the servant placed his foot on the first step. Desperation lending fleetness to his foot, Nicolas silently climbed the steps ahead of the lumbering Yussef, all the way to the third floor landing. Seeing Yussef stop on the second floor, Nicolas heaved a sigh of relief. Yussef stopped in front of a door beneath which a crack of light was visible, went in, and emerged without the tray, although he was careful to lock the door before he went downstairs. The danger to Nicolas was past, although the situation was still serious. It was foolish to go downstairs, and just as vain to remain where he was. At last, Nicolas opted to climb the stairs all the way to the attic. A few extra flights of stairs led him to a dusty space beneath the rafters of the house.
“I wonder if this window is open,” he thought to himself.
It was. Cautiously, he leaned out and surveyed the roof. It was trimmed with a fairly broad eaves running all around the border. A lightning rod was mounted on one of the gables, with its iron stem reaching down to the earth.
“That’ll be my ladder down,” the boy rejoiced. “In fact, I’ll have an opportunity to peek into the room as I descend. The thing is, I have to have something to tell Mr. Vidocq, if I want to pocket that shiny piece of gold he promised me.”
Agile as a monkey, Nicolas stepped over the window sill and set his foot on the gutter. Gleefully oblivious to the height, he ran to where the lightning rod stood. Catching hold of its iron stem, he slid down the façade of the mansion, quickly and safely reaching the floor where the lighted window was. Bracing himself with his feet on a gutter pipe, he swung out to where he could see into the window without being seen. He was astonished when he noticed the bars on the window. The cell was scantily furnished with a wooden cot, a chair, and a small table on which the tray had been placed. The food had not been touched. In a glance, Nicolas took in the whole vision. But the sight that made him catch his breath was that of a man squinting to read a newspaper by the dim light of an Argand lamp.
“Shall I let him know I’ve seen him?” he asked himself in perplexity.
The stranger solved the riddle for him. Putting aside his paper, he rose to adjust the wick of his stingy lamp. This action led him to raise his eyes to the window, meeting Nicolas’s gaze. Stunned, he froze in mid-gesture, but he did not seem to be afraid. Nicolas gave him a friendly smile and mouthed the words, “Do you need help?” taking care to allow his lips to be read. The man must have succeeded, because his face lit up and he nodded his head vigorously. But suddenly, he glanced at the door, grimacing with anxiety, as if he heard someone on the stairs. Opening the window, he swiftly passed a thin folder made of oilcloth through the bars to the boy’s eagerly waiting hand, then motioned to him to run and hide.
“That must be old Yussef coming to check,” said the boy, grasping the envelope and stuffing it into his shirtfront. “I’m off. But don’t worry, we’ll be seeing each other soon again!”
The prisoner hastily resumed his posture on the cot and made as if he were absorbed in his reading, while Nicolas lowered himself the rest of the way down the iron rod.
     Immediately after Nicolas finished recounting what he had seen to Vidocq, the latter hurried over to ring our doorbell at number 33 of the rue Dunot.
The head of the security police was jubilant.
“I was convinced that something fishy was going on in that lonely old house,” he babbled as he paced back and forth on the carpet of our library. “Of course, the stories of cut-throats, crooks, and swindlers hiding their loot in the basement of the Hermitage may have been a bit too imaginative. However, this unexpected turn of events shows that, once again, my obstinacy was fully justified...”
“You can crow later, can’t you?” Dupin broke in with a bitter voice. “At the moment, I feel it is urgent to examine the oilcloth folder Nicolas was given. Did you remember to bring it? ... Ah, here it is, and not a moment too soon!”
And, putting aside his meerschaum pipe which sent volutes of smoke whirling through the air of the room, my illustrious friend seized the thin envelope Vidocq was holding out to him. He opened it neatly and drew out a thin rectangle of polished metal dancing with a thousand reflections of the flames of our few candles.
“A miserable pocket mirror of plated metal, barely enough to please a dimpled serving wench!”
Dupin conscientiously ignored the policeman’s remark. Slowly and gently, lavishing incredible care upon the object in his hands, he turned the glittering plate over and over again, scrutinizing its smooth surface from every angle with his sharp eyes. At last, as if he were arousing himself from his intense concentration with great difficulty:
“I need a powerful magnifying lens,” he murmured. “Please excuse me for a moment, my friends.”
Then, without another word, he disappeared into his laboratory.
When Dupin again joined us in the drawing room, night was falling. The bottle of claret I had uncorked was empty and Mr. Vidocq had smoked his entire stock of cigars.
“Fine!” declared my friend. “We must act with the greatest speed... not to mention infinite dexterity. My dear Vidocq, cock your pistols and run to the Hermitage. Neutralize Yussef and Zarafa, using the garrote and poire d’angoisse if you must. Whatever you do, don’t cause a commotion. As soon as it is possible, bring me their prisoner.
And, as the policeman gazed at him, paralyzed with astonishment, he added sternly, “Go swiftly! A man’s life is at stake.”
Then, turning to me, in the same imperious tone: “Take this letter to the Prefect of Police. It is imperative to have the backing of the police in this adventure. It could rock the tranquillity of the affairs of the entire kingdom.”
    Three days had elapsed. Dupin had just finished scanning the morning edition of La Gazette des Tribunaux when the door of our apartments opened to admit a tall old gentleman, whose features, complexion, and garb all attested to his Levantine origins.
My friend rose to greet him:
“Your Excellent Majesty...” said he, bowing deferentially.
He rolled an armchair toward our guest, but the latter, with a haughty shake of his head, signified that he did not deign to take a seat.
Dupin nodded his assent and curled his spine into an even lower bow. Then, resuming an erect posture, he turned to a card-holder on the mantelpiece, grasped an envelope made of dark paper, and lit two candles. I noticed a smile flutter across his lips as he uttered the following pun:
“For it is a case which requires the utmost reflection... a great and luminous reflection.”
Just then, he made an abrupt about-face, and, brandishing the little silver mirror he had just removed from its oilcloth case, he aimed its glittering lights at the eyes of the Arab.
“The curse!” groaned the sovereign, with the countenance of Death itself.
Dupin smoothed the air with his hand.
“In truth, it is a curse that is easily lifted,” he said in a soothing tone.
And, drawing a fine batiste handkerchief from his pocket, he set himself to a curious chore which baffled me completely.
“Would Your Majesty care to observe this silver rectangle a second time?” asked Dupin when he had finished. “I can assure him that there is no longer a single trace of a threat. Not a single one!”
While my friend was saying these enigmatic words, our guest had recovered his calm to some degree. But all the arrogance he had displayed upon entering had vanished. For a moment, he stared at Dupin with an air of intense anxiety; then, overcoming his fears, he forced himself to turn his eyes toward the shiny plate Dupin was holding out to him.
The Levantine seemed hypnotized by what he saw there, and for a long time he remained immobile, with his mouth agape and an empty gaze. At last, when he seemed to be emerging from his stupor, my friend asked him to step over towards one of the windows of our drawing room. He opened it and pointed to a tall silhouette standing out against the morning mist, where Rue Dunot meets Rue du Trianon Bas.
Mesmer’s fluid would not have caused a more spectacular reaction. Trembling with violent spasms, as if racked by a powerful flow of electricity, the Levantine squeezed the window railing and cried, “Hassan! That is Hassan!”
“Yes, it is indeed the eldest son of Your Royal Highness,” said Dupin solemnly. “He has returned to the realm of the living, and awaits only the bidding of his wise and venerable father to regain his palace on the banks of the Nile.”
But our guest had already ceased listening to him. Oblivious to all human custom, he stumbled across the drawing room and grabbed the door. He would have leaped out of the house without further ado, had not Dupin raised his index finger in the air and pronounced a few words in Arabic. Discountenanced by this phrase, the Arab stopped short on the threshold. Then, recovering his dignity, he dug into his burnoose and brought out a handful of what seemed to me to be common glass marbles and tossed them negligently onto the carpet.Dupin crossed the room and lifted the heavy curtain of crimson velvet which hid the closet where we kept old newspapers and gazettes.
“You may show yourself at present, my dear friend,” said he, in a voice full of benevolence. “Your kidnapper is gone.”
The man he was addressing, who had remained hidden behind the thick curtain during the entire proceedings, stepped into the drawing room. He was a heftily built man with plump cheeks and a face that exuded kindliness. As he walked out into the light, Dupin pointed to the carpet strewn with gleaming spots and said, with some insistence, “That heap of stones contains rubies, emeralds, some sapphires, and one opal. And all these jewels belong to you, Mr. Daguerre!”
    Here is a summary of the explanation with which my friend Dupin enlightened me, once Mr. Daguerre had bid us good-bye and left with a happy heart, as you may well imagine:
Louis-Jacques Daguerre trained as an artist, and then found work painting stage sets and panoramas. He caused a sensation with his invention the Diorama, an attraction which was composed of huge scenes painted on a translucent canvas, illuminated in such a way as to mimic the action and lighting of the Napoleonic battles. A born inventor, Daguerre hit upon the idea of using the properties of the camera obscura to accentuate the dramatic effects of his presentation. Next, he sought a way to fix the images and optical effects produced by the dark chamber. His research led him to an encounter with Nicéphore Nièpce, whose work, although different, was aimed in the same direction. The showman and the scientist joined forces, pooled their findings, and continued to experiment in search of a satisfactory process. After the premature death of his partner, Daguerre finally succeeded in obtaining a permanent reproduction of the images projected by the camera obscura.
The process which bears his name, the daguerreotype, consists of making a copper plate sensitive to light by coating it with a thin layer of polished silver fumed with iodine vapor. When this plate is exposed to the light projected through the aperture of the dark chamber for twenty or thirty minutes and then fumed with mercury vapor, it reveals an image. This image is then fixed in a bath of hyposulfite of soda. The result is an extremely accurate likeness.
The first attempt to commercialize the daguerreotype by subscription failed, because the pool of investors lacked confidence in the result. Daguerre then thought of seeking foreign backers, and knocked at the door of Prince Hassan, the eldest son of Mehemet Ali, Viceroy of Egypt. To convince the prince of the interest and importance of his invention, he offered to “daguerreotype” him immediately. The young dandy agreed to sit for a portrait, and without touching a brush or pen Daguerre produced a print of very high quality. It was a perfectly faithful copy of the prince’s features, although Hassan had opted to close his eyes during the sitting – note this detail – because it is impossible to remain unblinking for the length of time the exposure requires. Delighted with the result, Hassan sent his daguerreotype to his father in Egypt.
Shortly afterwards, an event that was as unpredictable as it was dramatic took place. The future of the daguerreotype and its inventor could have been nipped in the bud. One night, after attending a ball at the Opéra, the prince suddenly fell into a cataleptic coma from which doctors despaired of rousing him, despite every effort to treat him medically. In great alarm, the prince’s friend Hadj Aswân had an emissary sent to Cairo to inform Mehemet Ali of the misfortune. The monarch became convinced that his son had been struck by a divine malediction, which had been foreshadowed by the ungodly image of the face with closed eyes. For what does Islam teach us about images? That their purpose must not be to idolize a mere human being and elevate him to the rank of divinity, and that the artist must not believe that his own puny act of creation could ever match the creation of God. Thus, drunk with rage towards this Monsieur Daguerre whose intelligence his son had praised in a letter, Mehemet Ali ordered that all his blasphemous images be destroyed. Below is an excerpt from the columns of the Gazette des Tribunaux dated last March 9th:
“Early yesterday afternoon, the Diorama, which constituted the entire material fortune of Monsieur Daguerre, went up in flames, with its sets. Investigators believe that the fire first broke out in the Boulevard Room. A draft coming in through the open entrance doors caused the fire to roar through the theater at an amazing rate. Rescuers arrived on the scene quickly, as did firemen from neighboring stations, with their pumps. Several platoons of the municipal guard were also detached to the theater. Despite the swiftness with which help arrived, it was impossible to save the Diorama. In less than thirty minutes, it had burned to the ground. Mr. Daguerre’s apartment, located in the neighboring building, was also ravaged by the blaze. His optical instruments, notes, and drawings – the fruit of years of scientific experimentation – have been lost. The cause of the disaster has yet to be determined.”
    But this act of faith was still not enough. The monarch also demanded that the heretic be physically restrained. Thus, Hadj Aswân carried out his plan to attract Daguerre to the Hermitage, a property he had just purchased from Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. He had become acquainted with the administrator of the Royal Menagerie when Saint-Hilaire was in charge of caring for the giraffe Mehemet had given to Charles X.
As soon as he had Daguerre within his clutches, Hadj Aswân, like a perfect sycophant, said to him: “My friend Prince Hassan regrets having been... how do you say it? ... daguerreotyped. The image wounds his eyes and disgusts his conscience. Take it back, I beg you, and do what must be done to lift the divine curse.” Then, without any further explanation, he left the premises, leaving behind an astounded Daguerre. Daguerre’s perplexity could only increase when he found himself locked up in a room. Without the obstinacy of the chief of the security police, the agility of Nicolas, and the sagacity of Dupin, he might still be a prisoner there.
It was not difficult for my friend Dupin to identify the small silver mirror Vidocq had show him as a daguerreotype, because the invention had been described to him in detail by the honorable Dennis Waters, the American delegate to the Académie des Sciences. At the same time, he recognized the subject with closed eyes as the eldest son of Mehemet Ali. And his prodigious powers of deduction did the rest.
Alerted by Dupin, the Prefect of Police immediately ordered that the prince be taken to the clinic directed by Esprit Blanche, the famous doctor who specialized in mental illnesses. For Dupin’s readings in scientific literature led him to understand that Hassan had succumbed to a fulminating nervous attack, the key symptom of which was a catatonic state which could only be cured by the administration of a series of electrical shocks.
Likewise, the Prefect of Police was the dignitary who was chosen for the delicate task of convincing the Viceroy of Egypt, who was a guest of France, to make an unofficial visit to us in our faubourg-Saint-Germain apartment.
How did Dupin conjure away the supposed malediction? Before Mehemet Ali’s eyes, he simply erased the portrait of the prince. For a daguerreotype is so fragile that the image engraved upon the silver plate can be erased forever merely by rubbing it with a cloth such as a handkerchief. At the same moment, according to the orders from the Prefect, who himself was obeying to the letter the instructions he was receiving from Dupin, Doctor Blanche brought Prince Hassan to Rue Dunot, after he had succeeded in awakening him from his torpor. Mehemet Ali could only believe that the rapid sequence of incomprehensible events were the result of a divine miracle.
For justice to be done, it remained only for Daguerre to be compensated for the destruction of his property and the moral suffering he had endured. This is what Dupin coldly recalled to his royal guest. What better indemnity than a handful of precious stones? The inventor of the Diorama and the daguerreotype could not complain.
After the conclusion of this singular affair, the chevalier Dupin dismissed it from his mind and fell back into his somber reveries. Nevertheless, he did refer to it once again. I had just closed the evening edition of the Gazette des Tribunaux, and my friend, who, as usual, could read my thoughts like an open book, made the following remark, drawling out his words and punctuating them with puffs of tobacco smoke:
“Certainly the solemn revelation of the daguerreotype which took place this morning before a plenary meeting of the Academies of Sciences and Fine Arts is a good thing. However, I fear that in the land of Islam, opinion about the invention may still be divided, simply because the process did not exist in the time of the Prophet Mohammed. Certain Muslim scholars will compare the daguerreotype to a hand-drawn illustration and will declare it ungodly if it represents an animate being. Others will on the contrary consider that it is a reflection of reality, likening it to the reflection which appears in a mirror. The latter will tolerate its existence.”
Dupin exhaled a long plume of smoke, and then, settling himself more comfortably in his armchair, concluded, “And Allah alone knows the Truth!”