Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Gustav Meyrink's Walpurgisnacht

The Penguin's ancestors had been personal physicians to the imperial family since time immemorial, and there was a saying current among the aristocratic circles on the castle hill in Prague that ‘Halberds’ had hung over all the crowned heads of Bohemia like swords of Damocles, ready to fall on their victims the moment they showed the least signs of illness. This special connection with the imperial house seemed confirmed by the fact that, after the death of the Dowager Empress Maria Anna, the Halberd family, the last scion of which was the confirmed bachelor, Dr. Thaddaeus Halberd known as the ‘Penguin’, was also doomed to extinction.

Every morning since his twenty-fifth year, starting on the day his father had died, he had punctiliously entered the events of the previous day, just as his ancestors had done and continuing the serial numbers they had used: the current day was No. 16,117.

As he could not have known that he would remain a bachelor and therefore leave no family after his death, he had – again following the example of his ancestors – from the very beginning used a secret code and signs, which only he could decipher, for anything connected with his amorous exploits.

To his credit, it must be admitted that the number of such passages in the book were relatively few; the ratio of their frequency, compared to the goulashes consumed at Schnell's, which he was equally conscientious in recording, was of the order of 1:300.

Leafing through its pages, he had felt a disagreeable sensation creep over him; as he read through the individual entries he had gradually became aware – for the very first time – of how inexpressibly monotonous his life had been. At other times it had been his pride that he boasted a way of life that was more regular and self-enclosed than that of almost any of the exclusive aristocratic circles in the Hradschin, and that his blood, although not blue, had, over the generations, rid itself of all impetuosity, of all plebeian desire for progress. Now, however, while he was still under the impression of the events of the previous night in Elsenwanger House, he suddenly felt that a desire had awoken within him which could only be described by unpleasant words, words such as: dissatisfaction, curiosity, the lust for adventure, the urge to investigate inexplicable events.