(Essentials of European Literature)

Because their fabulous library was so large and valuable, the d’Esparvieu family employed Monsieur Julien Sariette to look after the three hundred thousand volumes. The books were the most precious charge that Sariette had ever had, and he guarded them as if they were jewels. There were rare first editions, some with notations in the handwriting of famous men of history. There were several unpublished manuscripts written on sheepskins and sycamore tablets. It was no more difficult to steal an emerald than to borrow one of those precious books or manuscripts from Sariette.

One morning he entered the library to find many of the books in complete disorder. Some of the finest specimens were among the desecrated books, and for a time the old librarian could not comprehend what his eyes saw. He was even more disturbed when he realized that some of the books were gone. When he reported the theft to his master, he was told that he had probably left them lying carelessly around. Sariette was greatly disturbed by this accusation.

The thefts continued for more than two months. Locks were changed, and a detective was employed, but all precautions failed. Sariette hid himself in the library one night, and what he saw there frightened him more than ever. He had fallen asleep. When he awoke, he saw that the room was filled with a queer, phosphorescent light. A book he held in his hand opened, and he could not close it. When he tried to force it shut, the book leaped up and struck him over the head, knocking him unconscious.

From that time on Sariette could neither sleep nor eat. He was at the point of insanity when young Maurice d’Esparvieu, who lived in the garden pavilion and who had not heard of the losses, asked him why so many of the books from the library were piled in his rooms. Sariette rushed to the pavilion. There lay his precious books, scattered around but all complete. He carefully carried them back into the house and put them on the shelves again.

The books continued to disappear each night and appear in the pavilion the next morning. Sariette knew no more than he did before. One day a fine talcum scattered on the floor revealed a strange footprint. Some thought it the print of a fairy, others that of a small, dainty woman.

While these events were disrupting the peace of the d’Esparvieu household, Maurice was having a love affair with Madame Gilberte des Aubels. While she was visiting him in his pavilion one evening, they were startled by the sight of a nude man who suddenly appeared. Thinking that the intruder was a burglar, Maurice offered him Gilberte’s money and jewels, but the stranger announced in a calm voice that he was Arcade, Maurice’s guardian angel. He explained his appearance by telling them that angels could take human form when they pleased. He had come to the earth at Maurice’s birth but had remained invisible, as all good guardian angels do. Because Maurice was a...

(The entire section is 1205 words.)

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The library established by the first Baron d’Esparvieu, who was raised to the nobility in Napoleonic times, has fallen into neglect because the baron’s descendants have lapsed into political conservatism and religious orthodoxy. It has been consigned by the uncaring René d’Esparvieu to the care of the eccentric Julien Sariette, who regards the books as objects to be guarded jealously rather than as repositories of wisdom.

When Sariette discovers that books are disappearing or being moved about without any sign of human agency, he becomes anxious. His anxiety persists when the missing volumes turn up in the apartment of René’s son Maurice. Maurice has no idea how they got there, his own interests being confined to the pursuit of love, but on further investigation he discovers that the thief is his neglectful guardian angel, Arcade.

Arcade’s studies in natural philosophy and the history of religion have revealed to him that his maker is not quite the God Arcade previously had assumed Him to be, but a vain and ignorant “demiurge” named Ialdabaoth, whose sphere of influence is but a tiny corner of a much vaster universe. Arcade also has concluded that the microcosm in question is in a rather sorry state thanks to Ialdabaoth’s intolerance and petty tyranny. He informs Maurice that there are many lapsed guardian angels living quietly among humans, alongside the fallen angels cast out of Heaven by Ialdabaoth, and that it is high...

(The entire section is 522 words.)