Voice of America Short Story: ‘The Diamond Lens’ by Fitz-James O’Brien Part 1
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Now, the Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.
Our story today is called “The Diamond Lens. ” It was written by Fitz-James O’Brien. We will tell the story in two parts. Now, here is Maurice Joyce with part one of “The Diamond Lens.”
MAURICE JOYCE: When I was ten years old, one of my older cousins gave me a microscope. The first time I looked through its magic lens, the clouds that surrounded my daily life rolled away. I saw a universe of tine living creatures in a drop of water. Day after day, night after night, I studied life under my microscope.
The fungus that spoiled my mother’s jam was, for me, a land of magic gardens. I would put one of those spots of green mold under my microscope and see beautiful forests, where strange silver and golden fruit hung from the branches of tiny trees. I felt as if I had discovered another Garden of Eden.
Although I didn’t tell anyone about my secret world, I decided to spend my life studying the microscope.
My parents had other plans for me. When I was nearly twenty years old, they insisted that I learn a profession even though we were a rich family, and I really didn’t have to work at all. I decided to study medicine in New York.
This city was far away from my family, so I could spend my time as I pleased. As long as I paid my medical school fees every year, my family would never know I wasn’t attending any classes. In New York, I would be able to buy excellent microscopes and meet scientists from all over the world. I would have plenty of money and plenty of time to spend on my dream. I left home with high hopes.
Two days after I arrived in New York, I found a place to live. It was large enough for me to use one of the rooms as my laboratory. I filled this room with expensive scientific equipment that I did not know how to use. But by the end of my first year in the city, I had become an expert with the microscope. I also had become more and more unhappy.
The lens in my expensive microscope was still not strong enough to answer my questions about life. I imagined there were still secrets in Nature that the limited power of my equipment prevented me from knowing.
I lay awake nights, wishing to find the perfect lens – an instrument of great magnifying power. Such a lens would permit me to see life in the smallest parts of its development. I was sure that a powerful lens like that could be built. And I spent my second year in New York trying to create it.
I experimented with every kind of material. I tried simple glass, crystal and even precious stones. But I always found myself back where I started.
My parents were angry at the lack of progress in my medical studies. I had not gone to one class since arriving in New York. Also, I had spent a lot of money on my experiments.
One day, while I was working in my laboratory, Jules Simon knocked at my door. He lived in the apartment just above mine. I knew he loved jewelry, expensive clothing and good living. There was something mysterious about him, too. He always had something to sell: a painting, a rare stature, an expensive pair of lamps.
I never understood why Simon did this. He didn’t seem to need the money. He had many friends among the best families of New York.
Simon was very excited as he came into my laboratory. “O my deer fellow!” he gasped. “I have just seen the most amazing thing in the world!”
He told me he had gone to visit a woman who had strange, magical powers. She could speak to the dead and read the minds of the living. To test her, Simon had written some questions about himself on a piece of paper. The woman, Madame Vulpes, had answered all of the questions correctly.
Hearing about the woman gave me an idea. Perhaps she would be able to help me discover the secret of the perfect lens. Two days later, I went to her house.
Madame Vulpes was an ugly woman with sharp, cruel eyes. She didn’t say a word to me when she opened the door, but took me right into her living room. We sat down at a large round table, and she spoke. “What do you want from me?”
“I want to speak to a person who died many years before I was born.”
“Put your hands on the table.”
We sat there for several minutes. The room grew darker and darker. But Madame Vulpes did not turn on any lights. I began to feel a little silly. Then I felt a series of violent knocks. They shook the table, the back of my chair, the floor under my feet and even the windows.
Madam Vulpes smiled. “They are very strong tonight. You are lucky. They want you to write down the name of the spirit you wish to talk to.”
I tore a piece of paper out of my notebook and wrote down a name. I didn’t show it to Madame Vulpes.
After a moment, Madame Vulpes’ hand began to shake so hard the table move. She said the spirit was now holding her hand and would write me a message.
I gave her paper and a pencil. She wrote something and gave the paper to me. The message read: “I am her. Question me.” I was signed “Leeuwenhoek.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The name was the same one I had written on my piece of paper. I was sure that an ignorant woman like Madame Vulpes would not know who Leeuwenhoek was. Why would she know the name of the man who invented the microscope?
Quickly, I wrote a question on another piece of paper. “How can I create the perfect lens?” Leeuwenhoek wrote back: “Find a diamond of one hundred and forty carats. Give it a strong electrical charge. The electricity will change the diamond’s atoms. From that stone you can form the perfect lens.”
I left Madame Vulpes’ house in a state of painful excitement. Where would I find a diamond that large? All my family’s money could not buy a diamond like that. And even if I had enough money, I knew that such diamonds are very difficult to find.
When I came home, I saw a light in Simon’s window. I climbed the stairs to his apartment and went in without knocking. Simon’s back was toward me as he bent over a lamp. He looked as if he were carefully studying a small object in his hands. As soon as he heard me enter, he put the object in his pocket. His face became red, and he seemed very nervous.
“What are you looking at?” I asked. Simon didn’t answer me. Instead, he laughed nervously and told me to sit down. I couldn’t wait to tell him my news.
“Simon, I have just come from Madame Vulpes. She gave me some important information that will help me find the perfect lens. If only I could find a diamond that weighs one hundred forty carats!”
My words seemed to change Simon into a wild animal. He rushed to a small table and grabbed a long, thin knife. “No!” he shouted. “You won’t get my treasure! I’ll die before I give it to you!”
“My dear Simon,” I said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I went to Madame Vulpes to ask her for help with a scientific problem. She told me I needed an enormous diamond. You could not possible own a diamond that large. If you did, you would be very rich. And you wouldn’t be living here.”
He stared at me for a second. Then he laughed and apologized.
“Simon,” I suggested, “let us drink some wine and forget all this. I have two bottles downstairs in my apartment. What do you think?”
“I like your idea,” he said.
I brought the wine to his apartment, and we began to drink. By the time we had finished the first bottle, Simon was very sleepy and very drunk. I felt as calm as ever…for I believed that I knew Simon’s secret.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: You have just heard part one of the “The Diamond Lens” by Fitz-James O’Brien. It was adapted for Special English by Dona de Sanctis. Your storyteller was Maurice Joyce.
Listen again next week for the final part of our story told in Special English on the Voice of America. This is Shirley Griffith.
Voice of America Short Story: ‘The Diamond Lens’ by Fitz-James O’Brien Part 2
Now, the Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.
Our story is called “The Diamond Lens. ” It was written by Fitz-James O’Brien. Today we will hear the second and final part of the story. Here is Maurice Joyce with part two of “The Diamond Lens.”
MAURICE JOYCE: When I was a child, someone gave me a microscope. I spent hours looking through that microscope, exploring Nature’s tiny secrets. As I grew up, I became more interested in my microscope than in people.
When I was twenty years old, my parents sent me to New York City to study medicine. I never went to any of my classes. Instead, I spent all my time, and a lot of my money, trying to build the perfect microscope. I wanted to make a powerful lens that would let me see even the smallest parts of life. But all my experiments failed.
Then one day, I met a young man, who lived in the apartment above mine. Jules Simon told me about a woman who could speak to the dead. When I visited Madame Vulpes, she let me speak to the spirit of the man who invented the microscope. The spirit of Anton Leeuwenhoek told me how to make a perfect lens from a diamond of one hundred forty carats.
But where could I find a diamond that big?
When I returned home, I went to Simon’s apartment. He was surprised to see me and tried to hide a small object in his pocket. I wanted to discover what it was, so I brought two bottles of wine to his apartment. We began to drink. By the time we had finished the first bottle, Simon was very drunk.
“Simon, I know you have a secret. Why don’t you tell me about it?” Something in my voice must have made him feel safe. He made me promise to keep his secret. Then he took a small box from his pocket. When he opened it, I saw a large diamond shaped like a rose. A pure white light seemed to come from deep inside the diamond.
Simon told me he had stolen the diamond from a man in South America. He said it weighed exactly one hundred forty carats.
Excitement shook my body. I could not believe my luck. On the same evening that the spirit of Leeuwenhoek tells me the secret of the perfect lens, I find the diamond I need to create it.
I decided to steal Simon’s treasure.
I sat across the table from him as he drank another glass of wine. I knew I could not simply steal the diamond. Simon would call the police. There was only one way to get the diamond. I had to kill Simon.
Everything I needed to murder Simon was right there in his apartment. A bottle full of sleeping powder was on a table near his bed. A long thin knife lay on the table. Simon was so busy looking at his diamond that I was able to put the drug in his glass quite easily. He fell asleep in fifteen minutes.
I put his diamond in my pocket and carried Simon to the bed. I wanted to make the police think Simon had killed himself. I picked up Simon’s long thin knife and stared down at him. I tried to imagine exactly how the knife would enter Simon’s heart if he were holding the knife himself.
I pushed the knife deep into his heart. I heard a sound come from his throat, like the bursting of a large bubble. His body moved and his right hand grabbed the handle of the knife. He must have died immediately.
I washed our glasses and took the two wine bottles away with me. I left the lights on, closed the door and went back to my apartment.
Simon’s death was not discovered until three o’clock the next day. One of the neighbors knocked at his door and when there was no answer, she called the police. They discovered Simon’s body on the bed. The police questioned everyone. But they did not learn the truth. The police finally decided Jules Simon had killed himself, and soon everyone forgot about him. I had committed the perfect crime.
For three months after Simon’s death, I worked day and night on my diamond lens. At last the lens was done. My hands shook as I put a drop of water on a piece of glass. Carefully, I added some oil to the water to prevent it from drying. I turned on a strong light under the glass and looked through the diamond lens.
For a moment, I saw nothing in that drop of water. And then I saw a pure white light. Carefully, I moved the lens of my microscope closer to the drop of water.
Slowly, the white light began to change. It began to form shapes. I could see clouds and wonderful trees and flowers. These plants were the most unusual colors: bright reds, greens, purples, as well as silver and gold. The branches of these trees moved slowly in a soft wind. Everywhere I looked, I could see fruits and flowers of a thousand different colors.
“How strange,” I thought, “that this beautiful place has no animal life in it.”
Then, I saw something moving slowly among the brightly-colored trees and bushes. The branches of a purple and silver bush were gently pushed aside. And, there, before my eye, stood the most beautiful woman I had ever seen! She was perfect: pink skin, large blue eyes and long golden hair that fell over her shoulders to her knees.
She stepped away from the rainbow-colored trees. Like a flower floating on water, she drifted through the air. Watching her move was like listening to the sound of tiny bells ringing in the wind.
She went to the rainbow-colored trees and looked up at one of them. The tree moved one of its branches that was full of fruit. It lowered the branch to her, and she took one of the fruits. She turned it in her tiny hands and began to eat.
How I wished I had the power to enter that bright light and float with her through those beautiful forests.
Suddenly, I realized I had fallen in love with this tiny creature! I loved someone who would never love me back. Someone who is a prisoner in a drop of water. I ran out of the room, threw myself on my bed and cried until I fell asleep.
Day after day, I returned to my microscope to watch her. I never left my apartment. I rarely even ate or slept.
One day, as usual, I went to my microscope, ready to watch my love. She was there, but a terrible change had taken place. Her face had become thin, and she could hardly walk. The wonderful light in her golden hair and blue eyes was gone. At that moment, I would have given my soul to become as small as she and enter her world to help her.
What was causing her to be so sick? She seemed in great pain. I watched her for hours, helpless and alone with my breaking heart. She grew weaker and weaker. The forest also was changing. The trees were losing their wonderful colors.
Suddenly, I realized I had not looked at the drop of water for several days. I had looked into it with the microscope, but not at it. As soon as I looked at the glass under the microscope, I understood the horrible truth. I had forgotten to add more oil to the drop of water to stop it from drying. The drop of water had disappeared.
I rushed again to look through the lens. The rainbow forests were all gone.
My love lay in a spot of weak light. Her pink body was dried and wrinkled. Her eyes were black as dust. Slowly she disappeared forever.
I fainted and woke many hours later on pieces of my microscope. I had fallen on it when I fainted. My mind was as broken as the diamond lens. I crawled to my bed and withdrew from the world.
I finally got better, months later. But all my money was gone. People now say I am crazy. They call me “Linley, the mad scientist.”
No one believes I spoke to the spirit of Leeuwenhoek. They laugh when I tell them how I killed Jules Simon and stole his diamond to make the perfect lens. They think I never saw that beautiful world in a drop of water.
But I know the truth of the diamond lens. And now, so do you.
SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: You have just heard “The Diamond Lens” by Fitz-James O’Brien. It was adapted for Special English by Dona de Sanctis. Your storyteller was Maurice Joyce.
Listen again next week for another AMERICAN STORY told in Special English on the Voice of America. This is Shirley Griffith.
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