He was just writing to Clara, when he heard a light tap at the door; it paused at his words, and the repulsive face of Coppola peeped in.
Nathaniel’s heart trembled within him, but remembering what Spalanzani had told him about the countryman, Coppola, and also the sacred promises he had made to Clara with respect to the Sandman Coppelius, he felt ashamed of his childish fear, and collecting himself with all his might, said as softly and civily as possible: “I do not want a barometer, my good friend; pray, go.”
Upon this, Coppola advanced a good way into the room, and said in a hoarse voice, while his wide mouth distorted itself into a hideous laugh, and his little eyes under their long gray lashes sparkled forth piercingly: “Eh, eh—no barometer—no barometer? I have besides pretty eyes—pretty eyes!”
“Madman!” cried Nathaniel with horror, “how can you have eyes?—Eyes?”
But Coppola had already put his barometer aside, and plunged his hand into his wide coat-pocket, whence he drew lunettes and spectacles, which he placed upon the table “There—there—spectacles on the nose, those are my eyes—pretty eyes!” And so saying he drew out more and more spectacles so, that the whole table began to glisten and sparkle in the most extraordinary manner. A thousand eyes glanced, and quivered convulsively, and stared at Nathaniel; yet he could not look away from the table, and Coppola kept still laying down more and more spectacles, while flaming glances were intermingled more and more wildly, and shot their blood-red rays into Nathaniel’s breast.
Overcome with horror, he shrieked out: “Hold, hold, frightful man!” He seized fast by the arm Coppola, who was searching his pockets to bring out still more spectacles, although the whole table was already covered.
Coppola had greatly extricated himself with a hoarse repulsive laugh, and with the words: “Ah, nothing for you—but here are pretty glasses;” he had collected all the spectacles, put them up, and from the breast-pocket of his coat had drawn forth a number of telescopes large and small.
As soon as the spectacles were removed Nathaniel felt quite easy, and thinking of Clara, perceived that the hideous phantom was but the creature of his own mind, and that Coppola was an honest optician, and could by no means be the accursed double of Coppelius. Moreover, in all the glasses which Coppola now placed on the table, there was nothing remarkable, or at least nothing so ghost-like as the spectacles, and to make matters right
Nathaniel resolved to buy something of Coppola. He took up a little and very neatly worked pocket-telescope, and looked through the window to try it. Never in his life had he met a glass which brought the objects so sharply, plainly, and clearly before his eyes.
Involuntarily he looked into Spalanzani’s room; Olympia was sitting as usual before the little table, with her arms laid upon it, and her hands folded. For the first time could he see the wondrous beauty in the form of her face;—only the eyes seemed to him singularly stiff and dead. Nevertheless, as he looked more sharply through the glass, it seemed to him as if moist morn-beams were rising in the eyes of Olympia. It was as if the power of seeing was kindled for the first time; the glances flashed with constantly increasing liveliness.
As if spell-bound, Nathaniel reclined against the window, meditating on the charming Olympia. A hemming and scraping aroused him as if from a dream. Coppola was standing behind him: “Tre zecchini—three ducats!” Nathaniel, who had quite forgotten the optician, quickly paid him what he asked. “Is it not so? A pretty glass—a pretty glass?” asked Coppola, in his hoarse, repulsive voice, and with his malicious smile.
“Yes—yes,” replied Nathaniel, peevishly; “good bye, friend.” Coppola left the room, not without casting many strange glances at Nathaniel. He heard him laugh loudly on the stairs. “Ah,” thought Nathaniel, “he is laughing at me because no doubt, I have paid him too much for this little glass.” While he softly uttered these words, it seemed as if a deep deadly sigh was sounding fearfully through the room, and his breath was stopped by inward anguish. He perceived, however, that it was himself that had sighed.
“Clara,” he said to himself, “is right in taking me for a senseless dreamer, but it is pure madness—nay, more than madness, that the stupid thought, that I have paid Coppola too much for the glass, pains me even so strangely. I cannot see the cause.” He now sat down to finish his letter to Clara; but a glance through the window convinced him that Olympia was still sitting there, and he instantly sprang out, as if impelled by an irresistible power, seized Coppola’s glass, and could not tear himself from the seductive view of Olympia, till his friend and brother Sigismund, called him to go to Professor Spalanzani’s lecture.
The curtain was drawn close before the fatal room, and he could neither perceive Olympia now nor during the two following days, although he scarcely ever left the window, and constantly looked through Coppola’s glass. On the third day the windows were completely covered. Quite in despair, and impelled by a burning wish, he ran out of the town-gate.
Olympia’s form floated before him in the air, stepped forth from the bushes, and peeped at him with large beaming eyes from the clear brook. Clara’s image had completely vanished from his mind; he thought of nothing but Olympia, and complained aloud and in a murmuring tone: “Ah, thou noble, sublime star of my love, hast thou only risen upon me, to vanish immediately, and leave me in dark hopeless night?”
– The Sandman, E. T. A. Hoffman
He spun around in his chair and his heart nearly stopped.
The man hovering in the doorway wasn’t the coral crafter. Vandran had returned.
Fire roared in Nate’s ears as he leapt to his feet. Now we’ve got eyes—a beautiful pair of children’s eyes. Vandran’s image seemed to stretch and widen, his green eyes glittering like sharp-cut emeralds, his skin the sickly yellow of the dying.
He held out his revolting, hairy hands to Nate, crying, “We’ve got eyes! We’ve got eyes!”
Nate staggered, slamming his lower back against the edge of his desk. Winded, he slumped down in his chair, limp and aching with fear.
It’s not Coppelius. It’s not Coppelius. Clara’s voice rose up to quench the fire.
“It’s not him. That man is not Coppelius.”
She was right. Clara was always right.
Just think of Clara, your guardian angel.
The roaring dulled and receded, as did the specter of Coppelius. It left only Vandran behind, his thin face creased in amusement, his green eyes boring into Nate’s soul. In his outstretched hands, he cradled a steel case. “Sir? Are you all right?”
“I—” Nate dropped his hands and drew a shuddering breath. It’s not Coppelius. There is no dark force. You’re bringing this on yourself. “Yes, thank you. I just stood up too fast.” He glared at the dealer. “I thought I told you I didn’t want any of your crap.”
“Did you? I’m sorry, sir, but have we met before? This is first time I’ve been to this address.”
Did he not remember Nate? Was it a trick? Was he— Nate caught himself. Of course. He’d been in the dorms when Vandran came to him the first time, so why would the man remember him? He probably saw dozens of students and faculty members a day, hundreds and thousands during the weeks and months as he travelled around Foxwept.
Because he’s not Coppelius, and he doesn’t know you.
“Professor Spalazani said you’d moved on.” His breathing was almost back to normal, through his heart still pounded in his chest.
“That is true enough, but that was a few weeks ago, I believe. I do rotations, you see.”
“I understand. I—”
“Would you like to see my wares? I’ve got all sorts. Preprogrammed VR in visors or chips, lenses that change your eye color, whatever a young man might fancy.” He slammed the case down on Nate’s table, opening it and pulling out an assortment of goods.
“Wait, stop! I said I didn’t want anything.”
“Would you not even like to look?”
“No, I don’t need anything. I—”
“Well, if not for you, perhaps for a family member? A friend? Someone with a special occasion like a birthday?”
Clara’s birthday was coming up. And though he was giving her the ring, something amusing before that would be fun. Imagine her face. “Do you have anything for a young woman?”
Vandran pondered for a moment then drew a black visor edged with rose gold out of the pile. “This item may interest you. It shows the viewer things as they truly are.”
It was a con, of course. How could that possibly work? Still, it did fit the bill for a lighthearted gift, especially for someone as serious as Clara.
He might as well humor the man and try it out. He could always say no. Plus, he’d be able to recount the story to Clara—omitting the first part where I was terrified, obviously—and satisfy her concerns about his preoccupations with dark forces and Coppelius. Here he was, facing his fear while remaining calm and civil.
Nate raised the visor to his eyes. It was a bit too small for him but that didn’t matter, because— A blinding pain seared into his brain, as if his eyeballs had been pierced by thousands of tiny pins. He gagged and clawed at the visor, but it had welded fast to his face, and he dropped to his knees in agony. The dark force which he’d dismissed reared its head again, taunting him with a guttural laugh and layer on layer of agony. Clara had been wrong. So very, very wrong, and now he was going to die.
Just as he began to pass out, the visor was wrenched from his face and Vandran peered down at him, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open in surprise.
“Sir? Are you okay? Can you speak?”
Nate tried but his tongue felt too big for his mouth, and all he could push out was a few garbled syllables. Vandran reached out to help him up, but as soon as Nate accepted, he recoiled in horror at the feel of the others man’s skin, moist and soft, like the hand of a drowned corpse. Nate snatched his hand away and scrambled to his feet, still trying to find his voice.
When he finally did, it came out rasping and hoarse, his throat burning as though he’d been screaming in hell for all eternity. “What did you do to me?”
“Sir?” Vandran held out both his hands to show his innocence. “Nothing. It was the visor, though I’ve never seen anything like it before. I’m so sorry.” He stuffed the visor into his pocket. “I’ll notify the company right away, send it back to them for inspection.”
“Let me look at it.” Nate’s voice was commanding in its roughness, and the optics dealer winced.
“I’m sorry, sir, but—”
“Give it to me!” Nate grabbed for the man’s pocket, but Vandran danced away then pulled the visor out and crushed it in his hands.
“Why did you do that?”
“Company policy, sir. If an item is defective, it must be destroyed immediately.”
“But you just said you were going to send it back to them.”
“Yes, after I rendered it unusable.”
“I…I…” The room around Nate spun again.
“Here, sir, please sit down before you fall again.”
Nate let Vandran help him to his chair, recoiling at his touch even through the fabric of his sleeve. This man revolted him, though he didn’t know why. What had he been upset about? Something about a visor? Why was he so dizzy? He sat dumbly for a moment then turned to the dealer. “What happened?”
He looked at Nate appraisingly then gathered his goods and arranged them neatly back in the case. “I came by to see if you wanted to buy an optic, my young sir.” He closed the case with a snap. “But I don’t think I have anything you’d be interested in.”
“What’s your name?” If Nate could get his name, maybe he could remember who the man was and why he was vaguely afraid of him.
“Vandran, sir. Gordon Vandran. I’m an optics dealer from…”
The man’s voice faded as Nate searched his memory. Vandran? It was a different name, but recognition of something danced just beyond his reach. Think, Nate. Think. He looked out of his open window and the world spun again, but this time its dizzying whirl was intoxicating. Glorious, even. Sitting at the window across from him was the most perfect creature he’d ever seen.
He’d seen her before, of course, many times. But never before had her cold beauty seemed so radiant. How had he resisted running his fingers through that fiery mane? Stroking that rose-tinted, alabaster cheek, so delicate it made him want to weep? How would her divine figure feel in his arms, that long, graceful neck under his lips?
And her eyes.
How had he not noticed how lovely her eyes were? He’d once thought them fixed and lifeless, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. An azure blue so pure it put the sea and sky to shame, shot through with the silver of glittering moonbeams…they made him breathless. Passion for her filled him, a passion that grew every second he looked at her. How could he have been so blind?
– Clara, Dreaming, A.W. Cross