Dan Brown (original): Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.
S.E. Hinton: As I stepped out into the shadowy recesses of the gloomy gallery from the brightness of the lobby, I lurched, like some animal, desperately toward the Caravaggio, covered in gold and massive; now my only hope for triggering the alarm and bringing salvation. The canvas tore from the wall with a ripping sound and the twang of snapping twine. The last I remembered as I lay in a heap, the cold, clean tiles pressing against my cheek, was the sound of the resonating alarm and the slow, sonorous approach of my pursuer’s footsteps. Then only blackness.
Hemingway: Darkness. A hallway. The curator moving as men move, men who know death like a lover or a charging bull running in the streets of Barcelona, their ominous hoof tread close behind and the sweat and the terror fast approaching through a whiskey-clouded haze, though now it was fear, not the sweet burning residual alcohol in the throat. Jacques Saunière, seventy-six years old, still capable of fear, knowing what fear was, fearing the unmanliness that it would bring, knowing he could not stop it, clawed with ancient and papery hands at the nearest trifle. There. On the wall. Something like a Caravaggio, or a Monet. With his last strength he exerts all and chances all in a gamble that the silent alarm will bring help or perhaps that the relentless pursuer (no bull this, but a man, dark and menacing) might halt and turn aside at the veracity of the act, or perhaps the heavy frame might come down swiftly on his old head killing this aged curator right out, his last defiant act like a man dying at his own hands and not reduced to womanish weeping and pleading for his own life at the hands of a merciless stranger.
Faulkner: Saunière had loved the Caravaggio. Loved it like a child knowing (in that way that only a long life spent in intimate thought and conversation unhindered by the trivialities of a world in chaos that rushes by without heeding the beauty and immensity of artwork) that one day (though perhaps not this day, “please Lord let it not be this one,” he might say in a moment of agony and they were many at this age) he would leave it (despite all the pills and the exercise and the eating of his creamy purified yogurt new bought from the local health store in the desperate attempt to stave off the years of excess, the gin and the women and the hard living, nights up poring over manuscripts, and the back-breaking strain of living, not just living, but surviving, enduring, unvanquished) or it would leave him (for all that is beautiful suffers at the hands of delineating time which gnaws always at the back of the mind until “Jack!” he might hear “Jack!” the sound of mother at the top of the stairs on that most desperate day “Jack!” calling to him as she struggled to rise up from the ground “Jack!” and he, as if in some dream, running, weeping and running up the stairs, three at a time only to arrive too late and that most beautiful thing in his world, though he could tell no one; how could he? A six-year old boy and his mother collapsing at the top of the stairs; expiring at last from the face of the planet). Now was the time. Now. It would give its life for him, this Caravaggio. It would protect him from the barbarian onslaught, the incessant footfall of strangers, standing in the shadows watching, always watching with a menace and hatred which he, even at seventy six could not comprehend any more than at the age of six. He yanked and pulled at the frame but it would not come free. Dammit! Why now? How often had he had to readjust the frame after a field trip of young, foolish-eyed students had bustled through and (though never touching the picture) had dislocated it through their cattle-like stampede. He needed it to come free; to give its life; to trigger the alarm; that he might live, might escape the footfall he had dreaded ever since that day that she had collapsed at the top of the stairs; coming closer, always coming closer; so that now, at the age of seventy six his hands still shook with a fear and terror of the darkness pervasive like that of a six year old child. He pulled again. There was a twanging noise and the curator let out one sharp, rabbit-like shriek.
Melville: Call me Jacques. Having eluded the pursuit of a stranger –don’t ask me how- I came here at last to this cocoon of sanctity; this womb of happiness which, for so long as if in some dream or nightmare (call it what you will) I had spent so many happy hours alone; utterly alone. Now the womb was invaded; the cocoon broke open and I, pursued as if by some dark fury down cavernous corridors, come at last to my Megiddo. Whence then to run? The looming effigy of that hideous stranger, the whiteness of which I detested more than my own cuticles, threatened even from fifteen feet away. My eyes burned with horror that indeed his immensity, not physically, mind you, but the immensity that some strange characters in the drama of the world, evil men and chaotic, exude by their very ability to escape the ebb and flow of the natural law, might come down upon me, penetrate this womb of joy I had so long known, crush me within its pale marble confines and finally snuff out the life I had lived as curator and caretaker of this place. No. It would not be. I would stab at him from Hell’s heart. For hate’s sake I would spit my last breath at him. With eager, shivering hand, as though in some somnambulant excursus, hindered only by an inarticulate reticence for preserving that thing which constitutes beauty in our world, I reached for the nearest work of art; a Caravaggio, it would happen to be, in the grand, cosmic irony of the universe. This! This would be the weapon. To set off the alarm. To crush his spectral whiteness, blot out his terrifying purity, pierce his inner heart that beat with a whiteness of its own. The snap, then the groan of the wood, then my own piercing shriek as the wood fell onto my aged head, and I? I knew no more.
Midway along the path of this life’s journey
I woke to find myself too swiftly pursued
Down vaulted shadowy archaic archway,
My terror now increased, now lost, now renewed.
And I, renowned curator, Jacques Sauniere,
With the last remaining manly strength embued
Clasped the Caravaggio frame cutaway,
- Chiaroscuro, Sanctus Petrus nailed prostrate -
The fast approaching stranger's hand to stay
Or perhaps the silent 'larm to activate
And then alarm amongst the watching guard
Spread. My fears not only to corroborate
But the murd'rous pursuers pursuit retard.
Three quarters and one steps up a path so steep,
My life's sweet pilgrim ascent now stumbling hard,
With no smooth path my footing then could not keep -
The masterpiece toward myself I tore
And collapsed beneath it in a lifeless heap,
A curator to care now nevermore.
Sing, Brown, the terror of Sauniere,
Murderous, doomed that took him down to the house of death.
Begin, Brown, of how he staggered through vaulted archways
Breathless as a wild deer hunted by hounds
Turning now this way, now that, escaping the snares
While the beaters strike the bushes and the horns ring out,
So too did Sauniere, seventy six years of age, run
Through the hallowed halls of the great Grand Gallery
Until he lunged at last on a looming painting
Caravaggio, grapes, a young boy shadowy
Painted on the canvas and surrounded by the heavy gilt frame
A frame which no two men of our day could lift,
But he lifted it easily. It tore from the wall
And the sinews snapped, and the wood groaned forth,
Until it fell to the floor biting the cruel dirt.