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The Angel of the Odd

(1844)

THE ANGEL OF THE ODD

[From The Columbian Magazine, October, 1844.]

It was a chilly November afternoon. I had just consummated an
unusually hearty dinner, of which the dyspeptic _truffe_ formed not
the least important item, and was sitting alone in the dining-room
with my feet upon the fender and at my elbow a small table which I had
rolled up to the fire, and upon which were some apologies for dessert,
with some miscellaneous bottles of wine, spirit, and _liqueur_. In the
morning I had been reading Glover's _Leonidas_, Wilkie's _Epigoniad_,
Lamartine's _Pilgrimage_, Barlow's _Columbiad_, Tuckerman's _Sicily_,
and Griswold's _Curiosities_, I am willing to confess, therefore, that
I now felt a little stupid. I made effort to arouse myself by frequent
aid of Lafitte, and all failing, I betook myself to a stray newspaper
in despair. Having carefully perused the column of "Houses to let,"
and the column of "Dogs lost," and then the columns of "Wives and
apprentices runaway," I attacked with great resolution the editorial
matter, and reading it from beginning to end without understanding a
syllable, conceived the possibility of its being Chinese, and so
re-read it from the end to the beginning, but with no more
satisfactory result. I was about throwing away in disgust

This folio of four pages, happy work
Which not even critics criticise,

when I felt my attention somewhat aroused by the paragraph which
follows:

"The avenues to death are numerous and strange. A London paper
mentions the decease of a person from a singular cause. He was playing
at 'puff the dart,' which is played with a long needle inserted in
some worsted, and blown at a target through a tin tube. He placed the
needle at the wrong end of the tube, and drawing his breath strongly
to puff the dart forward with force, drew the needle into his throat.
It entered the lungs, and in a few days killed him."

Upon seeing this I fell into a great rage, without exactly knowing
why. "This thing," I exclaimed, "is a contemptible falsehood--a poor
hoax--the lees of the invention of some pitiable penny-a-liner, of
some wretched concocter of accidents in Cocaigne. These fellows
knowing the extravagant gullibility of the age set their wits to work
in the imagination of improbable possibilities, of odd accidents as
they term them, but to a reflecting intellect (like mine, I added, in
parenthesis, putting my forefinger unconsciously to the side of my
nose), to a contemplative understanding such as I myself possess, it
seems evident at once that the marvelous increase of late in these
'odd accidents' is by far the oddest accident of all. For my own part,
I intend to believe nothing henceforward that has anything of the
'singular' about it."

"Mein Gott, den, vat a vool you bees for dat!" replied one of the most
remarkable voices I ever heard. At first I took it for a rumbling in
my ears--such as a man sometimes experiences when getting very
drunk--but upon second thought, I considered the sound as more nearly
resembling that which proceeds from an empty barrel beaten with a big
stick; and, in fact, this I should have concluded it to be, but for
the articulation of the syllables and words. I am by no means
naturally nervous, and the very few glasses of Lafitte which I had
sipped served to embolden me a little, so that I felt nothing of
trepidation, but merely uplifted my eyes with a leisurely movement and
looked carefully around the room for the intruder. I could not,
however, perceive any one at all.

"Humph!" resumed the voice as I continued my survey, "you mus pe so
dronk as de pig den for not zee me as I zit here at your zide."

Hereupon I bethought me of looking immediately before my nose, and
there, sure enough, confronting me at the table sat a personage
nondescript, although not altogether indescribable. His body was a
wine-pipe or a rum puncheon, or something of that character, and had a
truly Falstaffian air. In its nether extremity were inserted two kegs,
which seemed to answer all the purposes of legs. For arms there
dangled from the upper portion of the carcass two tolerably long
bottles with the necks outward for hands. All the head that I saw the
monster possessed of was one of those Hessian canteens which resemble
a large snuff-box with a hole in the middle of the lid. This canteen
(with a funnel on its top like a cavalier cap slouched over the eyes)
was set on edge upon the puncheon, with the hole toward myself; and
through this hole, which seemed puckered up like the mouth of a very
precise old maid, the creature was emitting certain rumbling and
grumbling noises which he evidently intended for intelligible talk.

"I zay," said he, "you mos pe dronk as de pig, vor zit dare and not
zee me zit ere; and I zay, doo, you mos pe pigger vool as de goose,
vor to dispelief vat iz print in de print. 'Tiz de troof--dat it
iz--ebery vord ob it."

"Who are you, pray?" said I with much dignity, although somewhat
puzzled; "how did you get here? and what is it you are talking about?"

"As vor ow I com'd ere," replied the figure, "dat iz none of your
pizziness; and as vor vat I be talking apout, I be talk apout vat I
tink proper; and as vor who I be, vy dat is de very ting I com'd here
for to let you zee for yourself."

"You are a drunken vagabond," said I, "and I shall ring the bell and
order my footman to kick you into the street."

"He! he! he!" said the fellow, "hu! hu! hu! dat you can't do."

"Can't do!" said I, "what do you mean? I can't do what?"

"Ring de pell," he replied, attempting a grin with his little
villainous mouth.

Upon this I made an effort to get up in order to put my threat into
execution, but the ruffian just reached across the table very
deliberately, and hitting me a tap on the forehead with the neck of
one of the long bottles, knocked me back into the armchair from which
I had half arisen. I was utterly astounded, and for a moment was quite
at a loss what to do. In the meantime he continued his talk.

"You zee," said he, "it iz te bess vor zit still; and now you shall
know who I pe. Look at me! zee! I am te _Angel ov te Odd_."

"And odd enough, too," I ventured to reply; "but I was always under
the impression that an angel had wings."

"Te wing!" he cried, highly incensed, "vat I pe do mit te wing? Mein
Gott! do you take me for a shicken?"

"No--oh, no!" I replied, much alarmed; "you are no chicken--certainly
not."

"Well, den, zit still and pehabe yourself, or I'll rap you again mid
me vist. It iz te shicken ab te wing, und te owl ab te wing, und te
imp ab te wing, und te head-teuffel ab te wing. Te angel ab _not_ te
wing, and I am te _Angel ov te Odd_."

"And your business with me at present is--is----"

"My pizziness!" ejaculated the thing, "vy vat a low-bred puppy you mos
pe vor to ask a gentleman und an angel apout his pizziness!"

This language was rather more than I could bear, even from an angel;
so, plucking up courage, I seized a salt-cellar which lay within
reach, and hurled it at the head of the intruder. Either he dodged,
however, or my aim was inaccurate; for all I accomplished was the
demolition of the crystal which protected the dial of the clock upon
the mantelpiece. As for the Angel, he evinced his sense of my assault
by giving me two or three hard, consecutive raps upon the forehead as
before. These reduced me at once to submission, and I am almost
ashamed to confess that, either through pain or vexation, there came a
few tears into my eyes.

"Mein Gott!" said the Angel of the Odd, apparently much softened at my
distress; "mein Gott, te man is eder ferry dronk or ferry zorry. You
mos not trink it so strong--you mos put te water in te wine. Here,
trink dis, like a good veller, and don't gry now--don't!"

Hereupon the Angel of the Odd replenished my goblet (which was about a
third full of port) with a colorless fluid that he poured from one of
his hand-bottles. I observed that these bottles had labels about their
necks, and that these labels were inscribed "Kirschenwässer."

The considerate kindness of the Angel mollified me in no little
measure; and, aided by the water with which he diluted my port more
than once, I at length regained sufficient temper to listen to his
very extraordinary discourse. I cannot pretend to recount all that he
told me, but I gleaned from what he said that he was a genius who
presided over the _contretemps_ of mankind, and whose business it was
to bring about the _odd accidents_ which are continually astonishing
the skeptic. Once or twice, upon my venturing to express my total
incredulity in respect to his pretensions, he grew very angry indeed,
so that at length I considered it the wiser policy to say nothing at
all, and let him have his own way. He talked on, therefore, at great
length, while I merely leaned back in my chair with my eyes shut, and
amused myself with munching raisins and filiping the stems about the
room. But, by and by, the Angel suddenly construed this behavior of
mine into contempt. He arose in a terrible passion, slouched his
funnel down over his eyes, swore a vast oath, uttered a threat of some
character, which I did not precisely comprehend, and finally made me a
low bow and departed, wishing me, in the language of the archbishop in
"Gil Bias," _beaucoup de bonheur et un peu plus de bon sens_.

His departure afforded me relief. The _very_ few glasses of Lafitte
that I had sipped had the effect of rendering me drowsy, and I felt
inclined to take a nap of some fifteen or twenty minutes, as is my
custom after dinner. At six I had an appointment of consequence, which
it was quite indispensable that I should keep. The policy of insurance
for my dwelling-house had expired the day before; and some dispute
having arisen it was agreed that, at six, I should meet the board of
directors of the company and settle the terms of a renewal. Glancing
upward at the clock on the mantelpiece (for I felt too drowsy to take
out my watch), I had the pleasure to find that I had still twenty-five
minutes to spare. It was half-past five; I could easily walk to the
insurance office in five minutes; and my usual siestas had never been
known to exceed five-and-twenty. I felt sufficiently safe, therefore,
and composed myself to my slumbers forthwith.

Having completed them to my satisfaction, I again looked toward the
timepiece, and was half inclined to believe in the possibility of odd
accidents when I found that, instead of my ordinary fifteen or twenty
minutes, I had been dozing only three; for it still wanted
seven-and-twenty of the appointed hour. I betook myself again to my
nap, and at length a second time awoke, when, to my utter amazement,
it still wanted twenty-seven minutes of six. I jumped up to examine
the clock, and found that it had ceased running. My watch informed me
that it was half-past seven; and, of course, having slept two hours, I
was too late for my appointment. "It will make no difference," I said:
"I can call at the office in the morning and apologize; in the
meantime what can be the matter with the clock?" Upon examining it I
discovered that one of the raisin stems which I had been filiping
about the room during the discourse of the Angel of the Odd had flown
through the fractured crystal, and lodging, singularly enough, in the
keyhole, with an end projecting outward, had thus arrested the
revolution of the minute hand.

"Ah!" said I, "I see how it is. This thing speaks for itself. A
natural accident, such as will happen now and then!"

I gave the matter no further consideration, and at my usual hour
retired to bed. Here, having placed a candle upon a reading stand at
the bed head, and having made an attempt to peruse some pages of the
_Omnipresence of the Deity_, I unfortunately fell asleep in less than
twenty seconds, leaving the light burning as it was.

My dreams were terrifically disturbed by visions of the Angel of the
Odd. Methought he stood at the foot of the couch, drew aside the
curtains, and in the hollow, detestable tones of a rum puncheon,
menaced me with the bitterest vengeance for the contempt with which I
had treated him. He concluded a long harangue by taking off his
funnel-cap, inserting the tube into my gullet, and thus deluging me
with an ocean of Kirschenwässer, which he poured in a continuous
flood, from one of the long-necked bottles that stood him instead of
an arm. My agony was at length insufferable, and I awoke just in time
to perceive that a rat had run off with the lighted candle from the
stand, but _not_ in season to prevent his making his escape with it
through the hole, Very soon a strong, suffocating odor assailed my
nostrils; the house, I clearly perceived, was on fire. In a few
minutes the blaze broke forth with violence, and in an incredibly
brief period the entire building was wrapped in flames. All egress
from my chamber, except through a window, was cut off. The crowd,
however, quickly procured and raised a long ladder. By means of this I
was descending rapidly, and in apparent safety, when a huge hog, about
whose rotund stomach, and indeed about whose whole air and
physiognomy, there was something which reminded me of the Angel of the
Odd--when this hog, I say, which hitherto had been quietly slumbering
in the mud, took it suddenly into his head that his left shoulder
needed scratching, and could find no more convenient rubbing-post than
that afforded by the foot of the ladder. In an instant I was
precipitated, and had the misfortune to fracture my arm.

This accident, with the loss of my insurance, and with the more
serious loss of my hair, the whole of which had been singed off by the
fire, predisposed me to serious impressions, so that finally I made up
my mind to take a wife. There was a rich widow disconsolate for the
loss of her seventh husband, and to her wounded spirit I offered the
balm of my vows. She yielded a reluctant consent to my prayers. I
knelt at her feet in gratitude and adoration. She blushed and bowed
her luxuriant tresses into close contact with those supplied me
temporarily by Grandjean. I know not how the entanglement took place
but so it was. I arose with a shining pate, wigless; she in disdain
and wrath, half-buried in alien hair. Thus ended my hopes of the widow
by an accident which could not have been anticipated, to be sure, but
which the natural sequence of events had brought about.

Without despairing, however, I undertook the siege of a less
implacable heart. The fates were again propitious for a brief period,
but again a trivial incident interfered. Meeting my betrothed in an
avenue thronged with the elite of the city, I was hastening to greet
her with one of my best considered bows, when a small particle of some
foreign matter lodging in the corner of my eye rendered me for the
moment completely blind. Before I could recover my sight, the lady of
my love had disappeared--irreparably affronted at what she chose to
consider my premeditated rudeness in passing her by ungreeted. While I
stood bewildered at the suddenness of this accident (which might have
happened, nevertheless, to any one under the sun), and while I still
continued incapable of sight, I was accosted by the Angel of the Odd,
who proffered me his aid with a civility which I had no reason to
expect. He examined my disordered eye with much gentleness and skill,
informed me that I had a drop in it, and (whatever a "drop" was) took
it out, and afforded me relief.

I now considered it high time to die (since fortune had so determined
to persecute me), and accordingly made my way to the nearest river.
Here, divesting myself of my clothes (for there is no reason why we
cannot die as we were born), I threw myself headlong into the current;
the sole witness of my fate being a solitary crow that had been
seduced into the eating of brandy-saturated corn, and so had staggered
away from his fellows. No sooner had I entered the water than this
bird took it into his head to fly away with the most indispensable
portion of my apparel. Postponing, therefore, for the present, my
suicidal design, I just slipped my nether extremities into the sleeves
of my coat, and betook myself to a pursuit of the felon with all the
nimbleness which the case required and its circumstances would admit.
But my evil destiny attended me still. As I ran at full speed, with my
nose up in the atmosphere, and intent only upon the purloiner of my
property, I suddenly perceived that my feet rested no longer upon
_terra firma_; the fact is, I had thrown myself over a precipice, and
should inevitably have been dashed to pieces but for my good fortune
in grasping the end of a long guide-rope, which depended from a
passing balloon.

As soon as I sufficiently recovered my senses to comprehend the
terrific predicament in which I stood, or rather hung, I exerted all
the power of my lungs to make that predicament known to the aeronaut
overhead. But for a long time I exerted myself in vain. Either the
fool could not, or the villain would not perceive me. Meanwhile the
machine rapidly soared, while my strength even more rapidly failed. I
was soon upon the point of resigning myself to my fate, and dropping
quietly into the sea, when my spirits were suddenly revived by hearing
a hollow voice from above, which seemed to be lazily humming an opera
air. Looking up, I perceived the Angel of the Odd. He was leaning,
with his arms folded, over the rim of the car; and with a pipe in his
mouth, at which he puffed leisurely, seemed to be upon excellent terms
with himself and the universe. I was too much exhausted to speak, so I
merely regarded him with an imploring air.

For several minutes, although he looked me full in the face, he said
nothing. At length, removing carefully his meerschaum from the right
to the left corner of his mouth, he condescended to speak.

"Who pe you," he asked, "und what der teuffel you pe do dare?"

To this piece of impudence, cruelty, and affectation, I could reply
only by ejaculating the monosyllable "Help!"

"Elp!" echoed the ruffian, "not I. Dare iz te pottle--elp yourself,
und pe tam'd!"

With these words he let fall a heavy bottle of Kirschenwässer, which,
dropping precisely upon the crown of my head, caused me to imagine
that my brains were entirely knocked out. Impressed with this idea I
was about to relinquish my hold and give up the ghost with a good
grace, when I was arrested by the cry of the Angel, who bade me hold
on.

"'Old on!" he said: "don't pe in te 'urry--don't. Will you pe take de
odder pottle, or 'ave you pe got zober yet, and come to your zenzes?"

I made haste, hereupon, to nod my head twice--once in the negative,
meaning thereby that I would prefer not taking the other bottle at
present; and once in the affirmative, intending thus to imply that I
_was_ sober and _had_ positively come to my senses. By these means I
somewhat softened the Angel.

"Und you pelief, ten," he inquired, "at te last? You pelief, ten, in
te possibility of te odd?"

I again nodded my head in assent.

"Und you ave pelief in _me_, te Angel of te Odd?"

I nodded again.

"Und you acknowledge tat you pe te blind dronk und te vool?"

I nodded once more.

"Put your right hand into your left preeches pocket, ten, in token ov
your vull zubmizzion unto te Angel ov te Odd."

This thing, for very obvious reasons, I found it quite impossible to
do. In the first place, my left arm had been broken in my fall from
the ladder, and therefore, had I let go my hold with the right hand I
must have let go altogether. In the second place, I could have no
breeches until I came across the crow. I was therefore obliged, much
to my regret, to shake my head in the negative, intending thus to give
the Angel to understand that I found it inconvenient, just at that
moment, to comply with his very reasonable demand! No sooner, however,
had I ceased shaking my head than--

"Go to der teuffel, ten!" roared the Angel of the Odd.

In pronouncing these words he drew a sharp knife across the guide-rope
by which I was suspended, and as we then happened to be precisely over
my own house (which, during my peregrinations, had been handsomely
rebuilt), it so occurred that I tumbled headlong down the ample
chimney and alit upon the dining-room hearth.

Upon coming to my senses (for the fall had very thoroughly stunned me)
I found it about four o'clock in the morning. I lay outstretched where
I had fallen from the balloon. My head groveled in the ashes of an
extinguished fire, while my feet reposed upon the wreck of a small
table, overthrown, and amid the fragments of a miscellaneous dessert,
intermingled with a newspaper, some broken glasses and shattered
bottles, and an empty jug of the Schiedam Kirschenwässer. Thus
revenged himself the Angel of the Odd.

Edgar Allan Poe