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Archive for May, 2018

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“Over the past year I’ve learned

Some ends don’t have endings.

Some empty space will never be filled.

Sometimes your hands intertwine perfectly,

But your minds just don’t.”

Emma-Lidewij (selected from Chaos & Catastrophe ©)

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Bianchon, a physician to whom science owes a fine system of
theoretical physiology, and who, while still young, made himself
a celebrity in the medical school of Paris, that central luminary
to which European doctors do homage, practised surgery for a long
time before he took up medicine. His earliest studies were guided
by one of the greatest of French surgeons, the illustrious
Desplein, who flashed across science like a meteor. By the
consensus even of his enemies, he took with him to the tomb an
incommunicable method. Like all men of genius, he had no heirs;
he carried everything in him, and carried it away with him. The
glory of a surgeon is like that of an actor: they live only so
long as they are alive, and their talent leaves no trace when
they are gone. Actors and surgeons, like great singers too, like
the executants who by their performance increase the power of
music tenfold, are all the heroes of a moment.

Desplein is a case in proof of this resemblance in the destinies
of such transient genius. His name, yesterday so famous, to-day
almost forgotten, will survive in his special department without
crossing its limits. For must there not be some extraordinary
circumstances to exalt the name of a professor from the history
of Science to the general history of the human race? Had Desplein
that universal command of knowledge which makes a man the living
word, the great figure of his age? Desplein had a godlike eye; he
saw into the sufferer and his malady by an intuition, natural or
acquired, which enabled him to grasp the diagnostics peculiar to
the individual, to determine the very time, the hour, the minute
when an operation should be performed, making due allowance for
atmospheric conditions and peculiarities of individual
temperament. To proceed thus, hand in hand with nature, had he
then studied the constant assimilation by living beings, of the
elements contained in the atmosphere, or yielded by the earth to
man who absorbs them, deriving from them a particular expression
of life? Did he work it all out by the power of deduction and
analogy, to which we owe the genius of Cuvier? Be this as it may,
this man was in all the secrets of the human frame; he knew it in
the past and in the future, emphasizing the present.

But did he epitomize all science in his own person as Hippocrates
did and Galen and Aristotle? Did he guide a whole school towards
new worlds? No. Though it is impossible to deny that this
persistent observer of human chemistry possessed that antique
science of the Mages, that is to say, knowledge of the elements
in fusion, the causes of life, life antecedent to life, and what
it must be in its incubation or ever it IS, it must be confessed
that, unfortunately, everything in him was purely personal.
Isolated during his life by his egoism, that egoism is now
suicidal of his glory. On his tomb there is no proclaiming statue
to repeat to posterity the mysteries which genius seeks out at
its own cost.

But perhaps Desplein’s genius was answerable for his beliefs, and
for that reason mortal. To him the terrestrial atmosphere was a
generative envelope; he saw the earth as an egg within its shell;
and not being able to determine whether the egg or the hen first
was, he would not recognize either the cock or the egg. He
believed neither in the antecedent animal nor the surviving
spirit of man. Desplein had no doubts; he was positive. His bold
and unqualified atheism was like that of many scientific men, the
best men in the world, but invincible atheists–atheists such as
religious people declare to be impossible. This opinion could
scarcely exist otherwise in a man who was accustomed from his
youth to dissect the creature above all others–before, during,
and after life; to hunt through all his organs without ever
finding the individual soul, which is indispensable to religious
theory. When he detected a cerebral centre, a nervous centre, and
a centre for aerating the blood–the first two so perfectly
complementary that in the latter years of his life he came to a
conviction that the sense of hearing is not absolutely necessary
for hearing, nor the sense of sight for seeing, and that the
solar plexus could supply their place without any possibility of
doubt–Desplein, thus finding two souls in man, confirmed his
atheism by this fact, though it is no evidence against God. This
man died, it is said, in final impenitence, as do, unfortunately,
many noble geniuses, whom God may forgive.

The life of this man, great as he was, was marred by many
meannesses, to use the expression employed by his enemies, who
were anxious to diminish his glory, but which it would be more
proper to call apparent contradictions. Envious people and fools,
having no knowledge of the determinations by which superior
spirits are moved, seize at once on superficial inconsistencies,
to formulate an accusation and so to pass sentence on them. If,
subsequently, the proceedings thus attacked are crowned with
success, showing the correlations of the preliminaries and the
results, a few of the vanguard of calumnies always survive. In
our day, for instance, Napoleon was condemned by our
contemporaries when he spread his eagle’s wings to alight in
England: only 1822 could explain 1804 and the flatboats at
Boulogne.

As, in Desplein, his glory and science were invulnerable, his
enemies attacked  his odd moods and his temper, whereas, in fact,
he was simply characterized by what the English call
eccentricity. Sometimes very handsomely dressed, like Crebillon
the tragical, he would suddenly affect extreme indifference as to
what he wore; he was sometimes seen in a carriage, and sometimes
on foot. By turns rough and kind, harsh and covetous on the
surface, but capable of offering his whole fortune to his exiled
masters–who did him the honor of accepting it for a few days–no
man ever gave rise to such contradictory judgements. Although to
obtain a black ribbon, which physicians ought not to intrigue
for, he was capable of dropping a prayer-book out of his pocket
at Court, in his heart he mocked at everything; he had a deep
contempt for men, after studying them from above and below, after
detecting their genuine expression when performing the most
solemn and the meanest acts of their lives.

The qualities of a great man are often federative. If among these
colossal spirits one has more talent than wit, his wit is still
superior to that of a man of whom it is simply stated that “he is
witty.” Genius always presupposes moral insight. This insight may
be applied to a special subject; but he who can see a flower must
be able to see the sun. The man who on hearing a diplomate he has
saved ask, “How is the Emperor?” could say, “The courtier is
alive; the man will follow!”–that man is not merely a surgeon or
a physician, he is prodigiously witty also. Hence a patient and
diligent student of human nature will admit Desplein’s exorbitant
pretensions, and believe–as he himself believed–that he might
have been no less great as a minister than he was as a surgeon.

Among the riddles which Desplein’s life presents to many of his
contemporaries, we have chosen one of the most interesting,
because the answer is to be found at the end of the narrative,
and will avenge him for some foolish charges.

Of all the students in Desplein’s hospital, Horace Bianchon was
one of those to whom he most warmly attached himself. Before
being a house surgeon at the Hotel-Dieu, Horace Bianchon had been
a medical student lodging in a squalid boarding house in the
Quartier Latin, known as the Maison Vauquer. This poor young man
had felt there the gnawing of that burning poverty which is a
sort of crucible from which great talents are to emerge as pure
and incorruptible as diamonds, which may be subjected to any
shock without being crushed. In the fierce fire of their
unbridled passions they acquire the most impeccable honesty, and
get into the habit of fighting the battles which await genius
with the constant work by which they coerce their cheated
appetites.

Horace was an upright young fellow, incapable of tergiversation
on a matter of honor, going to the point without waste of words,
and as ready to pledge his cloak for a friend as to give him his
time and his night hours. Horace, in short, was one of those
friends who are never anxious as to what they may get in return
for what they give, feeling sure that they will in their turn get
more than they give. Most of his friends felt for him that
deeply-seated respect which is inspired by unostentatious virtue,
and many of them dreaded his censure. But Horace made no pedantic
display of his qualities. He was neither a puritan nor a
preacher; he could swear with a grace as he gave his advice, and
was always ready for a jollification when occasion offered. A
jolly companion, not more prudish than a trooper, as frank and
outspoken–not as a sailor, for nowadays sailors are wily
diplomates–but as an honest man who has nothing in his life to
hide, he walked with his head erect, and a mind content. In
short, to put the facts into a word, Horace was the Pylades of
more than one Orestes–creditors being regarded as the nearest
modern equivalent to the Furies of the ancients.

He carried his poverty with the cheerfulness which is perhaps one
of the chief elements of courage, and, like all people who have
nothing, he made very few debts. As sober as a camel and active
as a stag, he was steadfast in his ideas and his conduct.

The happy phase of Bianchon’s life began on the day when the
famous surgeon had proof of the qualities and the defects which,
these no less than those, make Doctor Horace Bianchon doubly dear
to his friends. When a leading clinical practitioner takes a
young man to his bosom, that young man has, as they say, his foot
in the stirrup. Desplein did not fail to take Bianchon as his
assistant to wealthy houses, where some complimentary fee almost
always found its way into the student’s pocket, and where the
mysteries of Paris life were insensibly revealed to the young
provincial; he kept him at his side when a consultation was to be
held, and gave him occupation; sometimes he would send him to a
watering-place with a rich patient; in fact, he was making a
practice for him. The consequence was that in the course of time
the Tyrant of surgery had a devoted ally. These two men–one at
the summit of honor and of his science, enjoying an immense
fortune and an immense reputation; the other a humble Omega,
having neither fortune nor fame–became intimate friends.

The great Desplein told his house surgeon everything; the
disciple knew whether such or such a woman had sat on a chair
near the master, or on the famous couch in Desplein’s surgery, on
which he slept. Bianchon knew the mysteries of that temperament,
a compound of the lion and the bull, which at last expanded and
enlarged beyond measure the great man’s torso, and caused his
death by degeneration of the heart. He studied the eccentricities
of that busy life, the schemes of that sordid avarice, the hopes
of the politician who lurked behind the man of science; he was
able to foresee the mortifications that awaited the only
sentiment that lay hid in a heart that was steeled, but not of
steel.

One day Bianchon spoke to Desplein of a poor water-carrier of the
Saint-Jacques district, who had a horrible disease caused by
fatigue and want; this wretched Auvergnat had had nothing but
potatoes to eat during the dreadful winter of 1821. Desplein left
all his visits, and at the risk of killing his horse, he rushed
off, followed by Bianchon, to the poor man’s dwelling, and saw,
himself, to his being removed to a sick house, founded by the
famous Dubois in the Faubourg Saint-Denis. Then he went to attend
the man, and when he had cured him he gave him the necessary sum
to buy a horse and a water-barrel. This Auvergnat distinguished
himself by an amusing action. One of his friends fell ill, and he
took him at once to Desplein, saying to his benefactor, “I could
not have borne to let him go to any one else!”

Rough customer as he was, Desplein grasped the water-carrier’s
hand, and said, “Bring them all to me.”

He got the native of Cantal into the Hotel-Dieu, where he took
the greatest care of him. Bianchon had already observed in his
chief a predilection for Auvergnats, and especially for water
carriers; but as Desplein took a sort of pride in his cures at
the Hotel-Dieu, the pupil saw nothing very strange in that.

One day, as he crossed the Place Saint-Sulpice, Bianchon caught
sight of his master going into the church at about nine in the
morning. Desplein, who at that time never went a step without his
cab, was on foot, and slipped in by the door in the Rue du Petit-
Lion, as if he were stealing into some house of ill fame. The
house surgeon, naturally possessed by curiosity, knowing his
master’s opinions, and being himself a rabid follower of Cabanis
(Cabaniste en dyable, with the y, which in Rabelais seems to
convey an intensity of devilry)–Bianchon stole into the church,
and was not a little astonished to see the great Desplein, the
atheist, who had no mercy on the angels–who give no work to the
lancet, and cannot suffer from fistula or gastritis–in short,
this audacious scoffer kneeling humbly, and where? In the Lady
Chapel, where he remained through the mass, giving alms for the
expenses of the service, alms for the poor, and looking as
serious as though he were superintending an operation.

“He has certainly not come here to clear up the question of the
Virgin’s delivery,” said Bianchon to himself, astonished beyond
measure. “If I had caught him holding one of the ropes of the
canopy on Corpus Christi day, it would be a thing to laugh at;
but at this hour, alone, with no one to see–it is surely a thing
to marvel at!”

Bianchon did not wish to seem as though he were spying the head
surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu; he went away. As it happened, Desplein
asked him to dine with him that day, not at his own house, but at
a restaurant. At dessert Bianchon skilfully contrived to talk of
the mass, speaking of it as mummery and a farce.

“A farce,” said Desplein, “which has cost Christendom more blood
than all Napoleon’s battles and all Broussais’ leeches. The mass
is  a papal invention, not older than the sixth century, and
based on the Hoc est corpus. What floods of blood were shed to
establish the Fete-Dieu, the Festival of Corpus Christi–the
institution by which Rome established her triumph in the question
of the Real Presence, a schism which rent the Church during three
centuries! The wars of the Count of Toulouse against the
Albigenses were the tail end of that dispute. The Vaudois and the
Albigenses refused to recognize this innovation.”

In short, Desplein was delighted to disport himself in his most
atheistical vein; a flow of Voltairean satire, or, to be
accurate, a vile imitation of the Citateur.

“Hallo! where is my worshiper of this morning?” said Bianchon to
himself.

He said nothing; he began to doubt whether he had really seen his
chief at Saint-Sulpice. Desplein would not have troubled himself
to tell Bianchon a lie, they knew each other too well; they had
already exchanged thoughts on quite equally serious subjects, and
discussed systems de natura rerum, probing or dissecting them
with the knife and scalpel of incredulity.

Three months went by. Bianchon did not attempt to follow the
matter up, though it remained stamped on his memory. One day that
year, one of the physicians of the Hotel-Dieu took Desplein by
the arm, as if to question him, in Bianchon’s presence.

“What were you doing at Saint-Sulpice, my dear master?” said he.

“I went to see a priest who has a diseased knee-bone, and to whom
the Duchesse d’Angouleme did me the honor to recommend me,” said
Desplein.

The questioner took this defeat for an answer; not so Bianchon.

“Oh, he goes to see damaged knees in church!–He went to mass,”
said the young man to himself.

Bianchon resolved to watch Desplein. He remembered the day and
hour when he had detected him going into Saint-Sulpice, and
resolved to be there again next year on the same day and at the
same hour, to see if he should find him there again. In that case
the periodicity of his devotion would justify a scientific
investigation; for in such a man there ought to be no direct
antagonism of thought and action.

Next year, on the said day and hour, Bianchon, who had already
ceased to be Desplein’s house surgeon, saw the great man’s cab
standing at the corner of the Rue de Tournon and the Rue du
Petit-Lion, whence his friend jesuitically crept along by the
wall of Saint-Sulpice, and once more attended mass in front of
the Virgin’s altar. It was Desplein, sure enough! The master-
surgeon, the atheist at heart, the worshiper by chance. The
mystery was greater than ever; the regularity of the phenomenon
complicated it. When Desplein had left, Bianchon went to the
sacristan, who took charge of the chapel, and asked him whether
the gentleman were a constant worshiper.

“For twenty years that I have been here,” replied the man, “M.
Desplein has come four times a year to attend this mass. He
founded it.”

“A mass founded by him!” said Bianchon, as he went away. “This is
as great a mystery as the Immaculate Conception–an article which
alone is enough to make a physician an unbeliever.”

Some time elapsed before Doctor Bianchon, though so much his
friend, found an opportunity of speaking to Desplein of this
incident of his life. Though they met in consultation, or in
society, it was difficult to find an hour of confidential
solitude when, sitting with their feet on the fire-dogs and their
head resting on the back of an armchair, two men tell each other
their secrets. At last, seven years later, after the Revolution
of 1830, when the mob invaded the Archbishop’s residence, when
Republican agitators spurred them on to destroy the gilt crosses
which flashed like streaks of lightning in the immensity of the
ocean of houses; when Incredulity flaunted itself in the streets,
side by side with Rebellion, Bianchon once more detected Desplein
going into Saint-Sulpice. The doctor followed him, and knelt down
by him without the slightest notice or demonstration of surprise
from his friend. They both attended this mass of his founding.

“Will you tell me, my dear fellow,” said Bianchon, as they left
the church, “the reason for your fit of monkishness? I have
caught you three times going to mass—- You! You must account to
me for this mystery, explain such a flagrant disagreement between
your opinions and your conduct. You do not believe in God, and
yet you attend mass? My dear master, you are bound to give me an
answer.”

I am like a great many devout people, men who on the surface are
deeply religious, but quite as much atheists as you or I can be.”

And he poured out a torrent of epigrams on certain political
personages, of whom the best known gives us, in this century, a
new edition of Moliere’s Tartufe.

“All that has nothing to do with my question,” retorted Bianchon.
“I want to know the reason for what you have just been doing, and
why you founded this mass.”

Faith! my dear boy,” said Desplein, “I am on the verge of the
tomb; I may safely tell you about the beginning of my life.”

At this moment Bianchon and the great man were in the Rue des
Quatre-Vents, one of the worst streets in Paris. Desplein pointed
to the sixth floor of one of the houses looking like obelisks, of
which the narrow door opens into a passage with a winding
staircase at the end, with windows appropriately termed “borrowed
lights”–or, in French, jours de souffrance. It was a greenish
structure; the ground floor occupied by a furniture-dealer, while
each floor seemed to shelter a different and independent form of
misery. Throwing up his arm with a vehement gesture, Desplein
exclaimed:

“I lived up there for two years.”

“I know; Arthez lived there; I went up there almost every day
during my first youth; we used to call it then the pickle-jar of
great men! What then?”

“The mass I have just attended is connected with some events
which took place at the time when I lived in the garret where you
say Arthez lived; the one with the window where the clothes line
is hanging with linen over a pot of flowers. My early life was so
hard, my dear Bianchon, that I may dispute the palm of Paris
suffering with any man living. I have endured everything: hunger
and thirst, want of money, want of clothes, of shoes, of linen,
every cruelty that penury can inflict. I have blown on my frozen
fingers in that PICKLE-JAR OF GREAT MEN, which I should like to
see again, now, with you. I worked through a whole winter, seeing
my head steam, and perceiving the atmosphere of my own moisture
as we see that of horses on a frosty day. I do not know where a
man finds the fulcrum that enables him to hold out against such a
life.

“I was alone, with no one to help me, no money to buy books or to
pay the expenses of my medical training; I had not a friend; my
irascible, touchy, restless temper was against me. No one
understood that this irritability was the distress and toil of a
man who, at the bottom of the social scale, is struggling to
reach the surface. Still, I had, as I may say to you, before whom
I need wear no draperies, I had that ground-bed of good feeling
and keen sensitiveness which must always be the birthright of any
man who is strong enough to climb to any height whatever, after
having long trampled in the bogs of poverty. I could obtain
nothing from my family, nor from my home, beyond my inadequate
allowance. In short, at that time, I breakfasted off a roll which
the baker in the Rue du Petit-Lion sold me cheap because it was
left from yesterday or the day before, and I crumbled it into
milk; thus my morning meal cost me but two sous. I dined only
every other day in a boarding-house where the meal cost me
sixteen sous. You know as well as I what care I must have taken
of my clothes and shoes. I hardly know whether in later life we
feel grief so deep when a colleague plays us false as we have
known, you and I, on detecting the mocking smile of a gaping seam
in a shoe, or hearing the armhole of a coat split, I drank
nothing but water; I regarded a cafe with distant respect.
Zoppi’s seemed to me a promised land where none but the Lucullus
of the pays Latin had a right of entry. ‘Shall I ever take a cup
of coffee there with milk in it?’ said I to myself, ‘or play a
game of dominoes?’

“I threw into my work the fury I felt at my misery. I tried to
master positive knowledge so as to acquire the greatest personal
value, and merit the position I should hold as soon as I could
escape from nothingness. I consumed more oil than bread; the
light I burned during these endless nights cost me more than
food. It was a long duel, obstinate, with no sort of consolation.
I found no sympathy anywhere. To have friends, must we not form
connections with young men, have a few sous so as to be able to
go tippling with them, and meet them where students congregate?
And I had nothing! And no one in Paris can understand that
nothing means NOTHING. When I even thought of revealing my
beggary, I had that nervous contraction of the throat which makes
a sick man believe that a ball rises up from the oesophagus into
the larynx.

“In later life I have met people born to wealth who, never having
wanted for anything, had never even heard this problem in the
rule of three: A young man is to crime as a five-franc piece is
to X.–These gilded idiots say to me, ‘Why did you get into debt?
Why did you involve yourself in such onerous obligations?’ They
remind me of the princess who, on hearing that the people lacked
bread, said, ‘Why do not they buy cakes?’ I should like to see
one of these rich men, who complain that I charge too much for an
operation,–yes, I should like to see him alone in Paris without
a sou, without a friend, without credit, and forced to work with
his five fingers to live at all! What would he do? Where would he
go to satisfy his hunger?

“Bianchon, if you have sometimes seen me hard and bitter, it was
because I was adding my early sufferings on to the insensibility,
the selfishness of which I have seen thousands of instances in
the highest circles; or, perhaps, I was thinking of the obstacles
which hatred, envy, jealousy, and calumny raised up between me
and success. In Paris, when certain people see you ready to set
your foot in the stirrup, some pull your coat-tails, others
loosen the buckle of the strap that you may fall and crack your
skull; one wrenches off your horse’s shoes, another steals your
whip, and the least treacherous of them all is the man whom you
see coming to fire his pistol at you point blank.

“You yourself, my dear boy, are clever enough to make
acquaintance before long with the odious and incessant warfare
waged by mediocrity against the superior man. If you should drop
five-and-twenty louis one day, you will be accused of gambling on
the next, and your best friends will report that you have lost
twenty-five thousand. If you have a headache, you will be
considered mad. If you are a little hasty, no one can live with
you. If, to make a stand against this armament of pigmies, you
collect your best powers, your best friends will cry out that you
want to have everything, that you aim at domineering, at tyranny.
In short, your good points will become your faults, your faults
will be vices, and your virtues crime.

“If you save a man, you will be said to have killed him; if he
reappears on the scene, it will be positive that you have secured
the present at the cost of the future. If he is not dead, he will
die. Stumble, and you fall! Invent anything of any kind and claim
your rights, you will be crotchety, cunning, ill-disposed to
rising younger men.

“So, you see, my dear fellow, if I do not believe in God, I
believe still less in man. But do not you know in me another
Desplein, altogether different from the Desplein whom every one
abuses?–However, we will not stir that mud-heap.

“Well, I was living in that house, I was working hard to pass my
first examination, and I had no money at all. You know. I had
come to one of those moments of extremity when a man says, ‘I
will enlist.’ I had one hope. I expected from my home a box full
of linen, a present from one of those old aunts who, knowing
nothing of Paris, think of your shirts, while they imagine that
their nephew with thirty francs a month is eating ortolans. The
box arrived while I was at the schools; it had cost forty francs
for carriage. The porter, a German shoemaker living in a loft,
had paid the money and kept the box. I walked up and down the Rue
des Fosses-Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the Rue de l’Ecole de
Medecine without hitting on any scheme which would release my
trunk without the payment of the forty francs, which of course I
could pay as soon as I should have sold the linen. My stupidity
proved to me that surgery was my only vocation. My good fellow,
refined souls, whose powers move in a lofty atmosphere, have none
of that spirit of intrigue that is fertile in resource and
device; their good genius is chance; they do not invent, things
come to them.

“At night I went home, at the very moment when my fellow lodger
also came in–a water-carrier named Bourgeat, a native of Saint-
Flour. We knew each other as two lodgers do who have rooms off
the same landing, and who hear each other sleeping, coughing,
dressing, and so at last become used to one another. My neighbor
informed me that the landlord, to whom I owed three quarters’
rent, had turned me out; I must clear out next morning. He
himself was also turned out on account of his occupation. I spent
the most miserable night of my life. Where was I to get a
messenger who could carry my few chattels and my books? How could
I pay him and the porter? Where was I to go? I repeated these
unanswerable questions again and again, in tears, as madmen
repeat their tunes. I fell asleep; poverty has for its friends
heavenly slumbers full of beautiful dreams.

“Next morning, just as I was swallowing my little bowl of bread
soaked in milk, Bourgeat came in and said to me in his vile
Auvergne accent:

” ‘Mouchieur l’Etudiant, I am a poor man, a foundling from the
hospital at Saint-Flour, without either father or mother, and not
rich enough to marry. You are not fertile in relations either,
nor well supplied with the ready? Listen, I have a hand-cart
downstairs which I have hired for two sous an hour; it will hold
all our goods; if you like, we will try to find lodgings
together, since we are both turned out of this. It is not the
earthly paradise, when all is said and done.’

” ‘I know that, my good Bourgeat,’ said I. ‘But I am in a great
fix. I have a trunk downstairs with a hundred francs’ worth of
linen in it, out of which I could pay the landlord and all I owe
to the porter, and I have not a hundred sous.’

” ‘Pooh! I have a few dibs,’ replied Bourgeat joyfully, and he
pulled out a greasy old leather purse. ‘Keep your linen.’

“Bourgeat paid up my arrears and his own, and settled with the
porter. Then he put our furniture and my box of linen in his
cart, and pulled it along the street, stopping in front of every
house where there was a notice board. I went up to see whether
the rooms to let would suit us. At midday we were still wandering
about the neighborhood without having found anything. The price
was the great difficulty. Bourgeat proposed that we should eat at
a wine shop, leaving the cart at the door. Towards evening I
discovered, in the Cour de Rohan, Passage du Commerce, at the
very top of a house next the roof, two rooms with a staircase
between them. Each of us was to pay sixty francs a year. So there
we were housed, my humble friend and I. We dined together.
Bourgeat, who earned about fifty sous a day, had saved a hundred
crowns or so; he would soon be able to gratify his ambition by
buying a barrel and a horse. On learning of my situation–for he
extracted my secrets with a quiet craftiness and good nature, of
which the remembrance touches my heart to this day, he gave up
for a time the ambition of his whole life; for twenty-two years
he had been carrying water in the street, and he now devoted his
hundred crowns to my future prospects.”

Desplein at these words clutched Bianchon’s arm tightly. “He gave
me the money for my examination fees! That man, my friend,
understood that I had a mission, that the needs of my intellect
were greater than his. He looked after me, he called me his boy,
he lent me money to buy books, he would come in softly sometimes
to watch me at work, and took a mother’s care in seeing that I
had wholesome and abundant food, instead of the bad and
insufficient nourishment I had been condemned to. Bourgeat, a man
of about forty, had a homely, mediaeval type of face, a prominent
forehead, a head that a painter might have chosen as a model for
that of Lycurgus. The poor man’s heart was big with affections
seeking an object; he had never been loved but by a poodle that
had died some time since, of which he would talk to me, asking
whether I thought the Church would allow masses to be said for
the repose of its soul. His dog, said he, had been a good
Christian, who for twelve years had accompanied him to church,
never barking, listening to the organ without opening his mouth,
and crouching beside him in a way that made it seem as though he
were praying too.

“This man centered all his affections in me; he looked upon me as
a forlorn and suffering creature, and he became, to me, the most
thoughtful mother, the most considerate benefactor, the ideal of
the virtue which rejoices in its own work. When I met him in the
street, he would throw me a glance of intelligence full of
unutterable dignity; he would affect to walk as though he carried
no weight, and seemed happy in seeing me in good health and well
dressed. It was, in fact, the devoted affection of the lower
classes, the love of a girl of the people transferred to a
loftier level. Bourgeat did all my errands, woke me at night at
any fixed hour, trimmed my lamp, cleaned our landing; as good as
a servant as he was as a father, and as clean as an English girl.
He did all the housework. Like Philopoemen, he sawed our wood,
and gave to all he did the grace of simplicity while preserving
his dignity, for he seemed to understand that the end ennobles
every act.

“When I left this good fellow, to be house surgeon at the Hotel-
Dieu, I felt an indescribable, dull painknowing that he could
no longer live with me; but he comforted himself with the
prospect of saving up money enough for me to take my degree, and
he made me promise to go to see him whenever I had a day out:
Bourgeat was proud of me. He loved me for my own sake, and for
his own. If you look up my thesis, you will see that I dedicated
it to him.

“During the last year of my residence as house surgeon I earned
enough to repay all I owed to this worthy Auvergnat by buying him
a barrel and a horse. He was furious with rage at learning that I
had been depriving myself of spending my money, and yet he was
delighted to see his wishes fulfilled; he laughed and scolded, he
looked at his barrel, at his horse, and wiped away a tear, as he
said, ‘It is too bad. What a splendid barrel! You really ought
not. Why, that horse is as strong as an Auvergnat!’

“I never saw a more touching scene. Bourgeat insisted on buying
for me the case of instruments mounted in silver which you have
seen in my room, and which is to me the most precious thing
there. Though enchanted with my first success, never did the
least sign, the least word, escape him which might imply, ‘This
man owes all to me!’ And yet, but for him, I should have died of
want; he had eaten bread rubbed with garlic that I might have
coffee to enable me to sit up at night.

“He fell ill. As you may suppose, I passed my nights by his
bedside, and the first time I pulled him through; but two years
after he had a relapse; in spite of the utmost care, in spite of
the greatest exertions of science, he succumbed. No king was ever
nursed as he was. Yes, Bianchon, to snatch that man from death I
tried unheard-of things. I wanted him to live long enough to show
him his work accomplished, to realize all his hopes, to give
expression to the only need for gratitude that ever filled my
heart, to quench a fire that burns in me to this day.

“Bourgeat, my second father, died in my arms,” Desplein went on,
after a pause, visibly moved. “He left me everything he possessed
by a will he had had made by a public scrivener, dating from the
year when we had gone to live in the Cour de Rohan.

“This man’s faith was perfect; he loved the Holy Virgin as he
might have loved his wife. He was an ardent Catholic, but never
said a word to me about my want of religion. When he was dying he
entreated me to spare no expense that he might have every
possible benefit of clergy. I had a mass said for him every day.
Often, in the night, he would tell me of his fears as to his
future fate; he feared his life had not been saintly enough. Poor
man! he was at work from morning till night. For whom, then, is
Paradise–if there be a Paradise? He received the last sacrament
like the saint that he was, and his death was worthy of his life.

“I alone followed him to the grave. When I had laid my only
benefactor to rest, I looked about to see how I could pay my debt
to him; I found he had neither family nor friends, neither wife
nor child. But he believed. He had a religious conviction; had I
any right to dispute it? He had spoken to me timidly of masses
said for the repose of the dead; he would not impress it on me as
a duty, thinking that it would be a form of repayment for his
services. As soon as I had money enough I paid to Saint-Sulpice
the requisite sum for four masses every year. As the only thing I
can do for Bourgeat is thus to satisfy his pious wishes, on the
days when that mass is said, at the beginning of each season of
the year, I go for his sake and say the required prayers; and I
say with the good faith of a sceptic–‘Great God, if there is a
sphere which Thou hast appointed after death for those who have
been perfect, remember good Bourgeat; and if he should have
anything to suffer, let me suffer it for him, that he may enter
all the sooner into what is called Paradise.’

“That, my dear fellow, is as much as a man who holds my opinions
can allow himself. But God must be a good fellow; He cannot owe
me any grudge. I swear to you, I would give my whole fortune if
faith such as Bourgeat’s could enter my brain.”

Bianchon, who was with Desplein all through his last illness,
dares not affirm to this day that the great surgeon died an
atheist. Will not those who believe like to fancy that the humble
Auvergnat came to open the gate of Heaven to his friend, as he
did that of the earthly temple on whose pediment we read the
words–“A grateful country to its great men.”

PARIS, January 1836.(tr.Clara Bell)

Ack: Encyclopedia of the Self by Mark Zimmerman

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Lemster Aak is a kind of barge now used as a boat. Yesterday my wife and I did plein air painting and finished at home. It is done in acrylic. 30×30 cm.

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I had entered, in an idle mood, the shop of one of those curiosity
venders who are called _marchands de bric-à-brac_ in that Parisian
_argot_ which is so perfectly unintelligible elsewhere in France.

You have doubtless glanced occasionally through the windows of some of
these shops, which have become so numerous now that it is fashionable
to buy antiquated furniture, and that every petty stockbroker thinks he
must have his _chambre au moyen âge_.

There is one thing there which clings alike to the shop of the dealer
in old iron, the ware-room of the tapestry maker, the laboratory of the
chemist, and the studio of the painter: in all those gloomy dens where
a furtive daylight filters in through the window-shutters the most
manifestly ancient thing is dust. The cobwebs are more authentic
than the gimp laces, and the old pear-tree furniture on exhibition is
actually younger than the mahogany which arrived but yesterday from
America.

The warehouse of my bric-à-brac dealer was a veritable Capharnaum. All
ages and all nations seemed to have made their rendezvous there. An
Etruscan lamp of red clay stood upon a Boule cabinet, with ebony panels,
brightly striped by lines of inlaid brass; a duchess of the court of
Louis xv. nonchalantly extended her fawn-like feet under a massive
table of the time of Louis xiii., with heavy spiral supports of oak, and
carven designs of chimeras and foliage intermingled.

Upon the denticulated shelves of several sideboards glittered immense
Japanese dishes with red and blue designs relieved by gilded hatching,
side by side with enamelled works by Bernard Palissy, representing
serpents, frogs, and lizards in relief.

From disembowelled cabinets escaped cascades of silver-lustrous Chinese
silks and waves of tinsel, which an oblique sunbeam shot through with
luminous beads, while portraits of every era, in frames more or less
tarnished, smiled through their yellow varnish.

The striped breastplate of a damascened suit of Milanese armour
glittered in one corner; loves and nymphs of porcelain, Chinese
grotesques, vases of _céladon_ and crackleware, Saxon and old Sèvres
cups encumbered the shelves and nooks of the apartment.

The dealer followed me closely through the tortuous way contrived
between the piles of furniture, warding off with his hand the hazardous
sweep of my coat-skirts, watching my elbows with the uneasy attention of
an antiquarian and a usurer.

It was a singular face, that of the merchant; an immense skull, polished
like a knee, and surrounded by a thin aureole of white hair, which
brought out the clear salmon tint of his complexion all the more
strikingly, lent him a false aspect of patriarchal _bonhomie_,
counteracted, however, by the scintillation of two little yellow eyes
which trembled in their orbits like two louis-d'or upon quicksilver. The
curve of his nose presented an aquiline silhouette, which suggested the
Oriental or Jewish type. His hands--thin, slender, full of nerves which
projected like strings upon the finger-board of a violin, and armed with
claws like those on the terminations of bats' wings--shook with senile
trembling; but those convulsively agitated hands became firmer
than steel pincers or lobsters' claws when they lifted any precious
article--an onyx cup, a Venetian glass, or a dish of Bohemian crystal.
This strange old man had an aspect so thoroughly rabbinical and
cabalistic that he would have been burnt on the mere testimony of his
face three centuries ago.

'Will you not buy something from me to-day, sir? Here is a Malay kreese
with a blade undulating like flame. Look at those grooves contrived for
the blood to run along, those teeth set backward so as to tear out the
entrails in withdrawing the weapon. It is a fine character of ferocious
arm, and will look well in your collection. This two-handed sword
is very beautiful. It is the work of Josepe de la Hera; and this
_colichemarde_ with its fenestrated guard--what a superb specimen of
handicraft!'

'No; I have quite enough weapons and instruments of carnage. I want a
small figure,--something which will suit me as a paper-weight, for I
cannot endure those trumpery bronzes which the stationers sell, and
which may be found on everybody's desk.'

The old gnome foraged among his ancient wares, and finally arranged
before me some antique bronzes, so-called at least; fragments of
malachite, little Hindoo or Chinese idols, a kind of poussah-toys in
jade-stone, representing the incarnations of Brahma or Vishnoo, and
wonderfully appropriate to the very undivine office of holding papers
and letters in place.

I was hesitating between a porcelain dragon, all constellated with
warts, its mouth formidable with bristling tusks and ranges of
teeth, and an abominable little Mexican fetich, representing the god
Vitziliputzili _au naturel_, when I caught sight of a charming foot,
which I at first took for a fragment of some antique Venus.

It had those beautiful ruddy and tawny tints that lend to Florentine
bronze that warm living look so much preferable to the gray-green aspect
of common bronzes, which might easily be mistaken for statues in a state
of putrefaction. Satiny gleams played over its rounded forms, doubtless
polished by the amorous kisses of twenty centuries, for it seemed a
Corinthian bronze, a work of the best era of art, perhaps moulded by
Lysippus himself.

'That foot will be my choice,' said to the merchant, who regarded me
with an ironical and saturnine air, and held out the object desired that
I might examine it more fully.

I was surprised at its lightness. It was not a foot of metal, but in
sooth a foot of flesh, an embalmed foot, a mummy's foot. On examining
it still more closely the very grain of the skin, and the almost
imperceptible lines impressed upon it by the texture of the bandages,
became perceptible. The toes were slender and delicate, and terminated
by perfectly formed nails, pure and transparent as agates. The great
toe, slightly separated from the rest, afforded a happy contrast, in the
antique style, to the position of the other toes, and lent it an aerial
lightness--the grace of a bird's foot. The sole, scarcely streaked by
a few almost imperceptible cross lines, afforded evidence that it had
never touched the bare ground, and had only come in contact with the
finest matting of Nile rushes and the softest carpets of panther skin.

'Ha, ha, you want the foot of the Princess Hermonthis!' exclaimed the
merchant, with a strange giggle, fixing his owlish eyes upon me. 'Ha,
ha, ha! For a paper-weight! An original idea!--artistic idea!-Old
Pharaoh would certainly have been surprised had some one told him that
the foot of his adored daughter would be used for a paper-weight after
he had had a mountain of granite hollowed out as a receptacle for
the triple coffin, painted and gilded, covered with hieroglyphics and
beautiful paintings of the Judgment of Souls,' continued the queer
little merchant, half audibly, as though talking to himself.

'How much will you charge me for this mummy fragment?'

'Ah, the highest price I can get, for it is a superb piece. If I had the
match of it you could not have it for less than five hundred francs. The
daughter of a Pharaoh! Nothing is more rare.'

'Assuredly that is not a common article, but still, how much do you
want? In the first place let me warn you that all my wealth consists of
just five louis. I can buy anything that costs five louis, but nothing
dearer. You might search my vest pockets and most secret drawers without
even finding one poor five-franc piece more.'

'Five louis for the foot of the Princess Hermonthis! That is very
little, very little indeed. 'Tis an authentic foot,' muttered the
merchant, shaking his head, and imparting a peculiar rotary motion to
his eyes. 'Well, take it, and I will give you the bandages into the
bargain,' he added, wrapping the foot in an ancient damask rag. 'Very
fine? Real damask--Indian damask which has never been redyed. It is
strong, and yet it is soft,' he mumbled, stroking the frayed tissue with
his fingers, through the trade-acquired habit which moved him to praise
even an object of such little value that he himself deemed it only worth
the giving away.

He poured the gold coins into a sort of mediaeval alms-purse hanging at
his belt, repeating:

'The foot of the Princess Hermonthis to be used for a paper-weight!'

Then turning his phosphorescent eyes upon me, he exclaimed in a voice
strident as the crying of a cat which has swallowed a fish-bone:

'Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased. He loved his daughter, the dear
man!'

'You speak as if you were a contemporary of his. You are old enough,
goodness knows! but you do not date back to the Pyramids of Egypt,' I
answered, laughingly, from the threshold.

I went home, delighted with my acquisition.

With the idea of putting it to profitable use as soon as possible, I
placed the foot of the divine Princess Hermonthis upon a heap of papers
scribbled over with verses, in themselves an undecipherable mosaic work
of erasures; articles freshly begun; letters forgotten, and posted
in the table drawer instead of the letter-box, an error to which
absent-minded people are peculiarly liable. The effect was charming,
_bizarre_, and romantic.

Well satisfied with this embellishment, I went out with the gravity and
pride becoming one who feels that he has the ineffable advantage over
all the passers-by whom he elbows, of possessing a piece of the Princess
Hermonthis, daughter of Pharaoh.

I looked upon all who did not possess, like myself, a paper-weight so
authentically Egyptian as very ridiculous people, and it seemed to me
that the proper occupation of every sensible man should consist in the
mere fact of having a mummy's foot upon his desk.

Happily I met some friends, whose presence distracted me in my
infatuation with this new acquisition. I went to dinner with them, for I
could not very well have dined with myself.

When I came back that evening, with my brain slightly confused by a few
glasses of wine, a vague whiff of Oriental perfume delicately titillated
my olfactory nerves. The heat of the room had warmed the natron,
bitumen, and myrrh in which the _paraschistes_, who cut open the bodies
of the dead, had bathed the corpse of the princess. It was a perfume at
once sweet and penetrating, a perfume that four thousand years had not
been able to dissipate.

The Dream of Egypt was Eternity. Her odours have the solidity of granite
and endure as long.

I soon drank deeply from the black cup of sleep. For a few hours all
remained opaque to me. Oblivion and nothingness inundated me with their
sombre waves.

Yet light gradually dawned upon the darkness of my mind. Dreams
commenced to touch me softly in their silent flight.

The eyes of my soul were opened, and I beheld my chamber as it actually
was. I might have believed myself awake but for a vague consciousness
which assured me that I slept, and that something fantastic was about to
take place.

The odour of the myrrh had augmented in intensity, and I felt a slight
headache, which I very naturally attributed to several glasses of
champagne that we had drunk to the unknown gods and our future fortunes.

I peered through my room with a feeling of expectation which I saw
nothing to justify. Every article of furniture was in its proper place.
The lamp, softly shaded by its globe of ground crystal, burned upon its
bracket; the water-colour sketches shone under their Bohemian glass;
the curtains hung down languidly; everything wore an aspect of tranquil
slumber.

After a few moments, however, all this calm interior appeared to become
disturbed. The woodwork cracked stealthily, the ash-covered log suddenly
emitted a jet of blue flame, and the discs of the pateras seemed like
great metallic eyes, watching, like myself, for the things which were
about to happen.

My eyes accidentally fell upon the desk where I had placed the foot of
the Princess Hermonthis.

Instead of remaining quiet, as behoved a foot which had been embalmed
for four thousand years, it commenced to act in a nervous manner,
contracted itself, and leaped over the papers like a startled frog. One
would have imagined that it had suddenly been brought into contact with
a galvanic battery. I could distinctly hear the dry sound made by its
little heel, hard as the hoof of a gazelle.

I became rather discontented with my acquisition, inasmuch as I wished
my paper-weights to be of a sedentary disposition, and thought it very
unnatural that feet should walk about without legs, and I commenced to
experience a feeling closely akin to fear.

Suddenly I saw the folds of my bed-curtain stir, and heard a bumping
sound, like that caused by some person hopping on one foot across the
floor. I must confess I became alternately hot and cold, that I felt a
strange wind chill my back, and that my suddenly rising hair caused my
night-cap to execute a leap of several yards.

The bed-curtains opened and I beheld the strangest figure imaginable
before me.

It was a young girl of a very deep coffee-brown complexion, like the
bayadère Amani, and possessing the purest Egyptian type of perfect
beauty. Her eyes were almond shaped and oblique, with eyebrows so black
that they seemed blue; her nose was exquisitely chiselled, almost Greek
in its delicacy of outline; and she might indeed have been taken for a
Corinthian statue of bronze but for the prominence of her cheek-bones
and the slightly African fulness of her lips, which compelled one to
recognise her as belonging beyond all doubt to the hieroglyphic race
which dwelt upon the banks of the Nile.

Her arms, slender and spindle-shaped like those of very young girls,
were encircled by a peculiar kind of metal bands and bracelets of glass
beads; her hair was all twisted into little cords, and she wore upon
her bosom a little idol-figure of green paste, bearing a whip with seven
lashes, which proved it to be an image of Isis; her brow was adorned
with a shining plate of gold, and a few traces of paint relieved the
coppery tint of her cheeks.

As for her costume, it was very odd indeed.

Fancy a _pagne_, or skirt, all formed of little strips of material
bedizened with red and black hieroglyphics, stiffened with bitumen, and
apparently belonging to a freshly unbandaged mummy.

In one of those sudden flights of thought so common in dreams I
heard the hoarse falsetto of the bric-à-brac dealer, repeating like
a monotonous refrain the phrase he had uttered in his shop with so
enigmatical an intonation:

'Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased He loved his daughter, the dear
man!'

One strange circumstance, which was not at all calculated to restore
my equanimity, was that the apparition had but one foot; the other was
broken off at the ankle!

She approached the table where the foot was starting and fidgeting about
more than ever, and there supported herself upon the edge of the desk. I
saw her eyes fill with pearly gleaming tears.

Although she had not as yet spoken, I fully comprehended the thoughts
which agitated her. She looked at her foot--for it was indeed her
own--with an exquisitely graceful expression of coquettish sadness, but
the foot leaped and ran hither and thither, as though impelled on steel
springs.

Twice or thrice she extended her hand to seize it, but could not
succeed.

Then commenced between the Princess Hermonthis and her foot--which
appeared to be endowed with a special life of its own--a very fantastic
dialogue in a most ancient Coptic tongue, such as might have been spoken
thirty centuries ago in the syrinxes of the land of Ser. Luckily I
understood Coptic perfectly well that night.

The Princess Hermonthis cried, in a voice sweet and vibrant as the tones
of a crystal bell:

'Well, my dear little foot, you always flee from me, yet I always
took good care of you. I bathed you with perfumed water in a bowl of
alabaster; I smoothed your heel with pumice-stone mixed with
palm-oil; your nails were cut with golden scissors and polished with a
hippopotamus tooth; I was careful to select _tatbebs_ for you, painted
and embroidered and turned up at the toes, which were the envy of all
the young girls in Egypt. You wore on your great toe rings bearing the
device of the sacred Scarabseus, and you supported one of the lightest
bodies that a lazy foot could sustain.'

The foot replied in a pouting and chagrined tone:

'You know well that I do not belong to myself any longer. I have been
bought and paid for. The old merchant knew what he was about. He bore
you a grudge for having refused to espouse him. This is an ill turn
which he has done you. The Arab who violated your royal coffin in the
subterranean pits of the necropolis of Thebes was sent thither by him.
He desired to prevent you from being present at the reunion of the
shadowy nations in the cities below. Have you five pieces of gold for my
ransom?'

'Alas, no! My jewels, my rings, my purses of gold and silver were all
stolen from me,' answered the Princess Hermonthis with a sob.

'Princess,' I then exclaimed, 'I never retained anybody's foot unjustly.
Even though you have not got the five louis which it cost me, I present
it to you gladly. I should feel unutterably wretched to think that I
were the cause of so amiable a person as the Princess Hermonthis being
lame.'

I delivered this discourse in a royally gallant, troubadour tone which
must have astonished the beautiful Egyptian girl.

She turned a look of deepest gratitude upon me, and her eyes shone with
bluish gleams of light.

She took her foot, which surrendered itself willingly this time, like a
woman about to put on her little shoe, and adjusted it to her leg with
much skill.

This operation over, she took a few steps about the room, as though to
assure herself that she was really no longer lame.

'Ah, how pleased my father will be! He who was so unhappy because of my
mutilation, and who from the moment of my birth set a whole nation at
work to hollow me out a tomb so deep that he might preserve me intact
until that last day when souls must be weighed in the balance of
Amenthi! Come with me to my father. He will receive you kindly, for you
have given me back my foot.'

I thought this proposition natural enough. I arrayed myself in a
dressing-gown of large-flowered pattern, which lent me a very Pharaonic
aspect, hurriedly put on a pair of Turkish slippers, and informed the
Princess Hermonthis that I was ready to follow her.

Before starting, Hermonthis took from her neck the little idol of green
paste, and laid it on the scattered sheets of paper which covered the
table.

'It is only fair,' she observed, smilingly, 'that I should replace your
paper-weight.'

She gave me her hand, which felt soft and cold, like the skin of a
serpent, and we departed.

We passed for some time with the velocity of an arrow through a fluid
and grayish expanse, in which half-formed silhouettes flitted swiftly by
us, to right and left.

For an instant we saw only sky and sea.

A few moments later obelisks commenced to tower in the distance; pylons
and vast flights of steps guarded by sphinxes became clearly outlined
against the horizon.

We had reached our destination.

The princess conducted me to a mountain of rose-coloured granite, in the
face of which appeared an opening so narrow and low that it would have
been difficult to distinguish it from the fissures in the rock, had not
its location been marked by two stelae wrought with sculptures.

Hermonthis kindled a torch and led the way before me.

We traversed corridors hewn through the living rock. Their walls,
covered with hieroglyphics and paintings of allegorical processions,
might well have occupied thousands of arms for thousands of years in
their formation. These corridors of interminable length opened into
square chambers, in the midst of which pits had been contrived, through
which we descended by cramp-irons or spiral stairways. These pits again
conducted us into other chambers, opening into other corridors, likewise
decorated with painted sparrow-hawks, serpents coiled in circles, the
symbols of the _tau_ and _pedum_--prodigious works of art which no
living eye can ever examine--interminable legends of granite which only
the dead have time to read through all eternity.

At last we found ourselves in a hall so vast, so enormous, so
immeasurable, that the eye could not reach its limits. Files of
monstrous columns stretched far out of sight on every side, between
which twinkled livid stars of yellowish flame; points of light which
revealed further depths incalculable in the darkness beyond.

The Princess Hermonthis still held my hand, and graciously saluted the
mummies of her acquaintance.

My eyes became accustomed to the dim twilight, and objects became
discernible.

I beheld the kings of the subterranean races seated upon thrones--grand
old men, though dry, withered, wrinkled like parchment, and blackened
with naphtha and bitumen--all wearing _pshents_ of gold, and
breastplates and gorgets glittering with precious stones, their eyes
immovably fixed like the eyes of sphinxes, and their long beards
whitened by the snow of centuries. Behind them stood their peoples,
in the stiff and constrained posture enjoined by Egyptian art, all
eternally preserving the attitude prescribed by the hieratic code.
Behind these nations, the cats, ibixes, and crocodiles contemporary
with them--rendered monstrous of aspect by their swathing bands--mewed,
flapped their wings, or extended their jaws in a saurian giggle.

All the Pharaohs were there--Cheops, Chephrenes, Psammetichus,
Sesostris, Amenotaph--all the dark rulers of the pyramids and syrinxes.
On yet higher thrones sat Chronos and Xixouthros, who was contemporary
with the deluge, and Tubal Cain, who reigned before it.

The beard of King Xixouthros had grown seven times around the granite
table upon which he leaned, lost in deep reverie, and buried in dreams.

Further back, through a dusty cloud, I beheld dimly the seventy-two
pre-adamite kings, with their seventy-two peoples, for ever passed away.

After permitting me to gaze upon this bewildering spectacle a few
moments, the Princess Hermonthis presented me to her father Pharaoh, who
favoured me with a most gracious nod.

'I have found my foot again! I have found my foot!' cried the princess,
clapping her little hands together with every sign of frantic joy. 'It
was this gentleman who restored it to me.'

The races of Kemi, the races of Nahasi--all the black, bronzed, and
copper-coloured nations repeated in chorus:

'The Princess Hermonthis has found her foot again!'

Even Xixouthros himself was visibly affected.

He raised his heavy eyelids, stroked his moustache with his fingers, and
turned upon me a glance weighty with centuries.

'By Oms, the dog of Hell, and Tmei, daughter of the Sun and of Truth,
this is a brave and worthy lad!' exclaimed Pharaoh, pointing to me with
his sceptre, which was terminated with a lotus-flower.

'What recompense do you desire?'

Filled with that daring inspired by dreams in which nothing seems
impossible, I asked him for the hand of the Princess Hermonthis. The
hand seemed to me a very proper antithetic recompense for the foot.

Pharaoh opened wide his great eyes of glass in astonishment at my witty
request.

'What country do you come from, and what is your age?'

'I am a Frenchman, and I am twenty-seven years old venerable Pharaoh.'

'Twenty-seven years old, and he wishes to espouse the Princess
Hermonthis who is thirty centuries old!' cried out at once all the
Thrones and all the Circles of Nations.

Only Hermonthis herself did not seem to think my request unreasonable.

'If you were even only two thousand years old,' replied the ancient
king, 'I would willingly give you the princess, but the disproportion
is too great; and, besides, we must give our daughters husbands who will
last well. You do not know how to preserve yourselves any longer. Even
those who died only fifteen centuries ago are already no more than a
handful of dust. Behold, my flesh is solid as basalt, my bones are bars
of steel!

'I will be present on the last day of the world with the same body and
the same features which I had during my lifetime. My daughter Hermonthis
will last longer than a statue of bronze.

'Then the last particles of your dust will have been scattered abroad
by the winds, and even Isis herself, who was able to find the atoms of
Osiris, would scarce be able to recompose your being.

'See how vigorous I yet remain, and how mighty is my grasp,' he added,
shaking my hand in the English fashion with a strength that buried my
rings in the flesh of my fingers.

He squeezed me so hard that I awoke, and found my friend Alfred shaking
me by the arm to make me get up.

'Oh, you everlasting sleeper! Must I have you carried out into the
middle of the street, and fireworks exploded in your ears? It is
afternoon. Don't you recollect your promise to take me with you to see
M. Aguado's Spanish pictures?'

'God! I forgot all, all about it,' I answered, dressing myself
hurriedly. 'We will go there at once. I have the permit lying there on
my desk.'

I started to find it, but fancy my astonishment when I beheld, instead
of the mummy's foot I had purchased the evening before, the little green
paste idol left in its place by the Princess Hermonthis!

(ack: tr. Lafcadio Hearn/1908 the Mummy's Foot/Gautier-the Gutenberg Project)



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TABLE FOR TWO? This way, Monsieur, Madame, there is still a table next to the window, if Madame and Monsieur would like a view of the bay.”
Alice followed the maitre d’.
“Oh, yes. Come on, Marc, it’ll be like having lunch on a boat on the water . . .”
Her husband caught her by passing his arm under hers. “We’ll be more comfortable over there.”
“There? In the middle of all those people? I’d much rather . . .”
“Alice, please.”
He tightened his grip in such a meaningful way that she turned around. “What’s the matter?”
“Shh . . .” he said softly, looking at her intently, and led her toward the table in the middle.
“What is it, Marc?”
“I’ll tell you, darling. Let me order lunch first. Would you like the shrimp? Or the eggs in aspic?”
“Whatever you like, you know that.”
They smiled at one another, wasting the precious time of an over-worked maitre d’, stricken with a kind of nervous dance, who was standing next to them, perspiring.
“The shrimp,” said Marc. “Then the eggs and bacon. And the cold chicken with a romaine salad. Fromage blanc? The house specialty? We’ll go with the specialty. Two strong coffees. My chauffeur will be having lunch also, we’ll be leaving again at two o’clock. Some cider? No, I don’t trust it . . . Dry champagne.”
He sighed as if he had just moved an armoire, gazed at the colorless midday sea, at the pearly white sky, then at his wife, whom he found lovely in her little Mercury hat with its large, hanging veil.
“You’re looking well, darling. And all this blue water makes your eyes look green, imagine that! And you’ve put on weight since you’ve been traveling . . . It’s nice up to a point, but only up to a point!”
Her firm, round breasts rose proudly as she leaned over the table.
“Why did you keep me from taking that place next to the window?”
Marc Seguy never considered lying. “Because you were about to sit next to someone I know.”
“Someone I don’t know?”
“My ex-wife.”
She couldn’t think of anything to say and opened her blue eyes wider.
“So what, darling? It’ll happen again. It’s not important.”
The words came back to Alice and she asked, in order, the inevitable questions. “Did she see you? Could she see that you saw her? Will you point her out to me?”
“Don’t look now, please, she must be watching us . . . The lady with brown hair, no hat, she must be staying in this hotel. By herself, behind those children in red . . .”
“Yes I see.”
Hidden behind some broad-brimmed beach hats, Alice was able to look at the woman who, fifteen months ago, had still been her husband’s wife.
“Incompatibility,” Marc said. “Oh, I mean . . . total incompatibility! We divorced like well-bred people, almost like friends, quietly, quickly. And then I fell in love with you, and you really wanted to be happy with me. How lucky we are that our happiness doesn’t involve any guilty parties or victims!”
The woman in white, whose smooth, lustrous hair reflected the light from the sea in azure patches, was smoking a cigarette with her eyes half closed. Alice turned back toward her husband, took some shrimp and butter, and ate calmly. After a moment’s silence she asked: “Why didn’t you ever tell me that she had blue eyes, too?”
“Well, I never thought about it!”
He kissed the hand she was extending toward the bread basket and she blushed with pleasure. Dusky and ample, she might have seemed somewhat coarse, but the changeable blue of her eyes and her wavy, golden hair made her look like a frail and sentimental blonde. She vowed overwhelming gratitude to her husband. Immodest without knowing it, everything about her bore the overly conspicuous marks of extreme happiness.
They ate and drank heartily, and each thought the other had forgotten the woman in white. Now and then, however, Alice laughed too loudly, and Marc was careful about his posture, holding his shoulders back, his head up. They waited quite a long time for their coffee, in silence. An incandescent river, the straggled reflection of the invisible sun overhead, shifted slowly across the sea and shone with a blinding brilliance.
“She’s still there, you know,” Alice whispered.
“Is she making you uncomfortable? Would you like to have coffee somewhere else?”
“No, not at all! She’s the one who must be uncomfortable! Besides, she doesn’t exactly seem to be having a wild time, if you could see her . . .”
“I don’t have to. I know that look of hers.”
“Oh, was she like that?”
He exhaled his cigarette smoke through his nostrils and knitted his eyebrows. “Like that? No. To tell you honestly, she wasn’t happy with me.”
“Oh, really now!”
“The way you indulge me is so charming, darling . . . It’s crazy . . . You’re an angel . . . You love me . . . I’m so proud when I see those eyes of yours. Yes, those eyes . . . She . . . I just didn’t know how to make her happy, that’s all. I didn’t know how.”
“She’s just difficult!”
Alice fanned herself irritably, and cast brief glances at the woman in white, who was smoking, her head resting against the back of the cane chair, her eyes closed with an air of satisfied lassitude.
Marc shrugged his shoulders modestly.
“That’s the right word,” he admitted. “What can you do? You have to feel sorry for people who are never satisfied. But we’re satisfied . . . Aren’t we, darling?”
She did not answer. She was looking furtively, and closely, at her husband’s face, ruddy and regular; at his thick hair, threaded here and there with white silk; at his short, well-cared-for hands; and doubtful for the first time, she asked herself, “What more did she want from him?”
And as they were leaving, while Marc was paying the bill and asking for the chauffeur and about the route, she kept looking, with envy and curiosity, at the woman in white, this dissatisfied, this difficult, this superior . . .

The End

       The day Colette (1873-1954) died, the worst thunderstorm in sixty-seven years hit Paris. Her last conscious act was to gesture toward the lightning and cry out, “Look! Look!” The words suggest the essence of her genius.
At eighty-one Colette was a legendary figure. A Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, president of the Goncourt Academy, she would, to crown her career, receive a state funeral—unexampled honors for a French woman. A veteran of three marriages (the last a happy one), music hall performer, journalist, autobiographer, novelist, short story writer, deeply versed in the natural world of plants, flowers and animals, a connoisseur of more than a single variety of love, in the best sense a woman of the world, she ranked as one of the most vivid personalities of her time. During the final years of a long, crowded life, unable to stir from her Palais-Royal apartment, she reigned, surrounded by her beloved cats, as an object of wonder and pilgrimage.
Few have treated more revealingly at least one great theme, that of sexual love. She was most comfortable with the novella 
(Chéri, La Fin de Chéri, Gigi, Mitsou), but she excelled also in a kind of post-Maupassant short story, tender, sensual, witty, completely French, completely feminine.
“The Other Wife” is a deft, wry trifle, a small triumph of observation (“Look! Look!”). As with an O. Henry story, everything erupts in the last few words, indeed in the very last word. But her sensibility works on a plane quite different from his.

       —Clifton Fadiman

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What a strange idea it was for me to choose Mademoiselle Pearl for queen that evening!

Every year I celebrate Twelfth Night with my old friend Chantal. My father, who was his most intimate friend, used to take me round there when I was a child. I continued the custom, and I doubtless shall continue it as long as I live and as long as there is a Chantal in this world.
The Chantals lead a peculiar existence; they live in Paris as though they were in Grasse, Evetot, or Pont-a-Mousson.
They have a house with a little garden near the observatory. They live there as though they were in the country. Of Paris, the real Paris, they know nothing at all, they suspect nothing; they are so far, so far away! However, from time to time, they take a trip into it. Mademoiselle Chantal goes to lay in her provisions, as it is called in the family. This is how they go to purchase their provisions:
Mademoiselle Pearl, who has the keys to the kitchen closet (for the linen closets are administered by the mistress herself), Mademoiselle Pearl gives warning that the supply of sugar is low, that the preserves are giving out, that there is not much left in the bottom of the coffee bag. Thus warned against famine, Mademoiselle Chantal passes everything in review, taking notes on a pad. Then she puts down a lot of figures and goes through lengthy calculations and long discussions with Mademoiselle Pearl. At last they manage to agree, and they decide upon the quantity of each thing of which they will lay in a three months’ provision; sugar, rice, prunes, coffee, preserves, cans of peas, beans, lobster, salt or smoked fish, etc., etc. After which the day for the purchasing is determined on and they go in a cab with a railing round the top and drive to a large grocery store on the other side of the river in the new sections of the town.
Madame Chantal and Mademoiselle Pearl make this trip together, mysteriously, and only return at dinner time, tired out, although still excited, and shaken up by the cab, the roof of which is covered with bundles and bags, like an express wagon.
For the Chantals all that part of Paris situated on the other side of the Seine constitutes the new quarter, a section inhabited by a strange, noisy population, which cares little for honor, spends its days in dissipation, its nights in revelry, and which throws money out of the windows. From time to time, however, the young girls are taken to the Opera-Comique or the Theatre Francais, when the play is recommended by the paper which is read by M. Chantal.
At present the young ladies are respectively nineteen and seventeen. They are two pretty girls, tall and fresh, very well brought up, in fact, too well brought up, so much so that they pass by unperceived like two pretty dolls. Never would the idea come to me to pay the slightest attention or to pay court to one of the young Chantal ladies; they are so immaculate that one hardly dares speak to them; one almost feels indecent when bowing to them.
As for the father, he is a charming man, well educated, frank, cordial, but he likes calm and quiet above all else, and has thus contributed greatly to the mummifying of his family in order to live as he pleased in stagnant quiescence. He reads a lot, loves to talk and is readily affected. Lack of contact and of elbowing with the world has made his moral skin very tender and sensitive. The slightest thing moves him, excites him, and makes him suffer.
The Chantals have limited connections carefully chosen in the neighborhood. They also exchange two or three yearly visits with relatives who live in the distance.
As for me, I take dinner with them on the fifteenth of August and on Twelfth Night. That is as much one of my duties as Easter communion is for a Catholic.
On the fifteenth of August a few friends are invited, but on Twelfth Night I am the only stranger.
Well, this year, as every former year, I went to the Chantals’ for my Epiphany dinner.
According to my usual custom, I kissed M. Chantal, Madame Chantal and Mademoiselle Pearl, and I made a deep bow to the Misses Louise and Pauline. I was questioned about a thousand and one things, about what had happened on the boulevards, about politics, about how matters stood in Tong-King, and about our representatives in Parliament. Madame Chantal, a fat lady, whose ideas always gave me the impression of being carved out square like building stones, was accustomed to exclaiming at the end of every political discussion: “All that is seed which does not promise much for the future!” Why have I always imagined that Madame Chantal’s ideas are square? I don’t know; but everything that she says takes that shape in my head: a big square, with four symmetrical angles. There are other people whose ideas always strike me as being round and rolling like a hoop. As soon as they begin a sentence on any subject it rolls on and on, coming out in ten, twenty, fifty round ideas, large and small, which I see rolling along, one behind the other, to the end of the horizon. Other people have pointed ideas–but enough of this.
We sat down as usual and finished our dinner without anything out of the ordinary being said. At dessert the Twelfth Night cake was brought on. Now, M. Chantal had been king every year. I don’t know whether this was the result of continued chance or a family convention, but he unfailingly found the bean in his piece of cake, and he would proclaim Madame Chantal to be queen. Therefore, I was greatly surprised to find something very hard, which almost made me break a tooth, in a mouthful of cake. Gently I took this thing from my mouth and I saw that it was a little porcelain doll, no bigger than a bean. Surprise caused me to exclaim:
“Ah!” All looked at me, and Chantal clapped his hands and cried: “It’s Gaston! It’s Gaston! Long live the king! Long live the king!”
All took up the chorus: “Long live the king!” And I blushed to the tip of my ears, as one often does, without any reason at all, in situations which are a little foolish. I sat there looking at my plate, with this absurd little bit of pottery in my fingers, forcing myself to laugh and not knowing what to do or say, when Chantal once more cried out: “Now, you must choose a queen!”
Then I was thunderstruck. In a second a thousand thoughts and suppositions flashed through my mind. Did they expect me to pick out one of the young Chantal ladies? Was that a trick to make me say which one I prefer? Was it a gentle, light, direct hint of the parents toward a possible marriage? The idea of marriage roams continually in houses with grown-up girls, and takes every shape and disguise, and employs every subterfuge. A dread of compromising myself took hold of me as well as an extreme timidity before the obstinately correct and reserved attitude of the Misses Louise and Pauline. To choose one of them in preference to the other seemed to me as difficult as choosing between two drops of water; and then the fear of launching myself into an affair which might, in spite of me, lead me gently into matrimonial ties, by means as wary and imperceptible and as calm as this insignificant royalty–the fear of all this haunted me.
Suddenly I had an inspiration, and I held out to Mademoiselle Pearl the symbolical emblem. At first every one was surprised, then they doubtless appreciated my delicacy and discretion, for they applauded furiously. Everybody was crying: “Long live the queen! Long live the queen!”
As for herself, poor old maid, she was so amazed that she completely lost control of herself; she was trembling and stammering: “No–no–oh! no– not me–please–not me–I beg of you—-“
Then for the first time in my life I looked at Mademoiselle Pearl and wondered what she was.
I was accustomed to seeing her in this house, just as one sees old upholstered armchairs on which one has been sitting since childhood without ever noticing them. One day, with no reason at all, because a ray of sunshine happens to strike the seat, you suddenly think: “Why, that chair is very curious”; and then you discover that the wood has been worked by a real artist and that the material is remarkable. I had never taken any notice of Mademoiselle Pearl.
She was a part of the Chantal family, that was all. But how? By what right? She was a tall, thin person who tried to remain in the background, but who was by no means insignificant. She was treated in a friendly manner, better than a housekeeper, not so well as a relative. I suddenly observed several shades of distinction which I had never noticed before. Madame Chantal said: “Pearl.” The young ladies: “Mademoiselle Pearl,” and Chantal only addressed her as “Mademoiselle,” with an air of greater respect, perhaps.
I began to observe her. How old could she be? Forty? Yes, forty. She was not old, she made herself old. I was suddenly struck by this fact. She fixed her hair and dressed in a ridiculous manner, and, notwithstanding all that, she was not in the least ridiculous, she had such simple, natural gracefulness, veiled and hidden. Truly, what a strange creature! How was it I had never observed her before? She dressed her hair in a grotesque manner with little old maid curls, most absurd; but beneath this one could see a large, calm brow, cut by two deep lines, two wrinkles of long sadness, then two blue eyes, large and tender, so timid, so bashful, so humble, two beautiful eyes which had kept the expression of naive wonder of a young girl, of youthful sensations, and also of sorrow, which had softened without spoiling them.
Her whole face was refined and discreet, a face the expression of which seemed to have gone out without being used up or faded by the fatigues and great emotions of life.
What a dainty mouth! and such pretty teeth! But one would have thought that she did not dare smile.
Suddenly I compared her to Madame Chantal! Undoubtedly Mademoiselle Pearl was the better of the two, a hundred times better, daintier, prouder, more noble. I was surprised at my observation. They were pouring out champagne. I held my glass up to the queen and, with a well- turned compliment, I drank to her health. I could see that she felt inclined to hide her head in her napkin. Then, as she was dipping her lips in the clear wine, everybody cried: “The queen drinks! the queen drinks!” She almost turned purple and choked. Everybody was laughing; but I could see that all loved her.
As soon as dinner was over Chantal took me by the arm. It was time for his cigar, a sacred hour. When alone he would smoke it out in the street; when guests came to dinner he would take them to the billiard room and smoke while playing. That evening they had built a fire to celebrate Twelfth Night; my old friend took his cue, a very fine one, and chalked it with great care; then he said:
“You break, my boy!”
He called me “my boy,” although I was twenty-five, but he had known me as a young child.
I started the game and made a few carroms. I missed some others, but as the thought of Mademoiselle Pearl kept returning to my mind, I suddenly asked:
“By the way, Monsieur Chantal, is Mademoiselle Pearl a relative of yours?”
Greatly surprised, he stopped playing and looked at me:
“What! Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard about Mademoiselle Pearl?”
“No.”
“Didn’t your father ever tell you?”
“No.”
“Well, well, that’s funny! That certainly is funny! Why, it’s a regular romance!”
He paused, and then continued:
“And if you only knew how peculiar it is that you should ask me that to- day, on Twelfth Night!”
“Why?”
“Why? Well, listen. Forty-one years ago to day, the day of the Epiphany, the following events occurred: We were then living at Roiiy-le-Tors, on the ramparts; but in order that you may understand, I must first explain the house. Roily is built on a hill, or, rather, on a mound which overlooks a great stretch of prairie. We had a house there with a beautiful hanging garden supported by the old battlemented wall; so that the house was in the town on the streets, while the garden overlooked the plain. There was a door leading from the garden to the open country, at the bottom of a secret stairway in the thick wall–the kind you read about in novels. A road passed in front of this door, which was provided with a big bell; for the peasants, in order to avoid the roundabout way, would bring their provisions up this way.
“You now understand the place, don’t you? Well, this year, at Epiphany, it had been snowing for a week. One might have thought that the world was coming to an end. When we went to the ramparts to look over the plain, this immense white, frozen country, which shone like varnish, would chill our very souls. One might have thought that the Lord had packed the world in cotton to put it away in the storeroom for old worlds. I can assure you that it was dreary looking.
“We were a very numerous family at that time my father, my mother, my uncle and aunt, my two brothers and four cousins; they were pretty little girls; I married the youngest. Of all that crowd, there are only three of us left: my wife, I, and my sister-in-law, who lives in Marseilles. Zounds! how quickly a family like that dwindles away! I tremble when I think of it! I was fifteen years old then, since I am fifty-six now.
“We were going to celebrate the Epiphany, and we were all happy, very happy! Everybody was in the parlor, awaiting dinner, and my oldest brother, Jacques, said: ‘There has been a dog howling out in the plain for about ten minutes; the poor beast must be lost.’
“He had hardly stopped talking when the garden bell began to ring. It had the deep sound of a church bell, which made one think of death. A shiver ran through everybody. My father called the servant and told him to go outside and look. We waited in complete silence; we were thinking of the snow which covered the ground. When the man returned he declared that he had seen nothing. The dog kept up its ceaseless howling, and always from the same spot.
“We sat down to dinner; but we were all uneasy, especially the young people. Everything went well up to the roast, then the bell began to ring again, three times in succession, three heavy, long strokes which vibrated to the tips of our fingers and which stopped our conversation short. We sat there looking at each other, fork in the air, still listening, and shaken by a kind of supernatural fear.
“At last my mother spoke: ‘It’s surprising that they should have waited so long to come back. Do not go alone, Baptiste; one of these gentlemen will accompany you.’
“My Uncle Francois arose. He was a kind of Hercules, very proud of his strength, and feared nothing in the world. My father said to him: ‘Take a gun. There is no telling what it might be.’
“But my uncle only took a cane and went out with the servant.
“We others remained there trembling with fear and apprehension, without eating or speaking. My father tried to reassure us: ‘Just wait and see,’ he said; ‘it will be some beggar or some traveller lost in the snow. After ringing once, seeing that the door was not immediately opened, he attempted again to find his way, and being unable to, he has returned to our door.’
“Our uncle seemed to stay away an hour. At last he came back, furious, swearing: ‘Nothing at all; it’s some practical joker! There is nothing but that damned dog howling away at about a hundred yards from the walls. If I had taken a gun I would have killed him to make him keep quiet.’
“We sat down to dinner again, but every one was excited; we felt that all was not over, that something was going to happen, that the bell would soon ring again.
“It rang just as the Twelfth Night cake was being cut. All the men jumped up together. My Uncle, Francois, who had been drinking champagne, swore so furiously that he would murder it, whatever it might be, that my mother and my aunt threw themselves on him to prevent his going. My father, although very calm and a little helpless (he limped ever since he had broken his leg when thrown by a horse), declared, in turn, that he wished to find out what was the matter and that he was going. My brothers, aged eighteen and twenty, ran to get their guns; and as no one was paying any attention to me I snatched up a little rifle that was used in the garden and got ready to accompany the expedition.
“It started out immediately. My father and uncle were walking ahead with Baptiste, who was carrying a lantern. My brothers, Jacques and Paul, followed, and I trailed on behind in spite of the prayers of my mother, who stood in front of the house with her sister and my cousins.
“It had been snowing again for the last hour, and the trees were weighted down. The pines were bending under this heavy, white garment, and looked like white pyramids or enormous sugar cones, and through the gray curtains of small hurrying flakes could be seen the lighter bushes which stood out pale in the shadow. The snow was falling so thick that we could hardly see ten feet ahead of us. But the lantern threw a bright light around us. When we began to go down the winding stairway in the wall I really grew frightened. I felt as though some one were walking behind me, were going to grab me by the shoulders and carry me away, and I felt a strong desire to return; but, as I would have had to cross the garden all alone, I did not dare. I heard some one opening the door leading to the plain; my uncle began to swear again, exclaiming: ‘By —! He has gone again! If I can catch sight of even his shadow, I’ll take care not to miss him, the swine!’
“It was a discouraging thing to see this great expanse of plain, or, rather, to feel it before us, for we could not see it; we could only see a thick, endless veil of snow, above, below, opposite us, to the right, to the left, everywhere. My uncle continued:
‘Listen! There is the dog howling again; I will teach him how I shoot. That will be something gained, anyhow.’
“But my father, who was kind-hearted, went on:
‘It will be much better to go on and get the poor animal, who is crying for hunger. The poor fellow is barking for help; he is calling like a man in distress. Let us go to him.’
“So we started out through this mist, through this thick continuous fall of snow, which filled the air, which moved, floated, fell, and chilled the skin with a burning sensation like a sharp, rapid pain as each flake melted. We were sinking in up to our knees in this soft, cold mass, and we had to lift our feet very high in order to walk. As we advanced the dog’s voice became clearer and stronger. My uncle cried: ‘Here he is!’ We stopped to observe him as one does when he meets an enemy at night.
“I could see nothing, so I ran up to the others, and I caught sight of him; he was frightful and weird-looking; he was a big black shepherd’s dog with long hair and a wolf’s head, standing just within the gleam of light cast by our lantern on the snow. He did not move; he was silently watching us.
“My uncle said: ‘That’s peculiar, he is neither advancing nor retreating. I feel like taking a shot at him.’
“My father answered in a firm voice: ‘No, we must capture him.’
“Then my brother Jacques added: ‘But he is not alone. There is something behind him.”
“There was indeed something behind him, something gray, impossible to distinguish. We started out again cautiously. When he saw us approaching the dog sat down. He did not look wicked. Instead, he seemed pleased at having been able to attract the attention of some one.
“My father went straight to him and petted him. The dog licked his hands. We saw that he was tied to the wheel of a little carriage, a sort of toy carriage entirely wrapped up in three or four woolen blankets. We carefully took off these coverings, and as Baptiste approached his lantern to the front of this little vehicle, which looked like a rolling kennel, we saw in it a little baby sleeping peacefully.
“We were so astonished that we couldn’t speak.
My father was the first to collect his wits, and as he had a warm heart and a broad mind, he stretched his hand over the roof of the carriage and said: ‘Poor little waif, you shall be one of us!’ And he ordered my brother Jacques to roll the foundling ahead of us. Thinking out loud, my father continued:
“‘Some child of love whose poor mother rang at my door on this night of Epiphany in memory of the Child of God.’
“He once more stopped and called at the top of his lungs through the night to the four corners of the heavens: ‘We have found it!’ Then, putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder, he murmured: ‘What if you had shot the dog, Francois?’
“My uncle did not answer, but in the darkness he crossed himself, for, notwithstanding his blustering manner, he was very religious.
“The dog, which had been untied, was following us.
“Ah! But you should have seen us when we got to the house! At first we had a lot of trouble in getting the carriage up through the winding stairway; but we succeeded and even rolled it into the vestibule.
“How funny mamma was! How happy and astonished! And my four little cousins (the youngest was only six), they looked like four chickens around a nest. At last we took the child from the carriage. It was still sleeping. It was a girl about six weeks old. In its clothes we found ten thousand francs in gold, yes, my boy, ten thousand francs!– which papa saved for her dowry. Therefore, it was not a child of poor people, but, perhaps, the child of some nobleman and a little bourgeoise of the town–or again–we made a thousand suppositions, but we never found out anything-never the slightest clue. The dog himself was recognized by no one. He was a stranger in the country. At any rate, the person who rang three times at our door must have known my parents well, to have chosen them thus.
“That is how, at the age of six weeks, Mademoiselle Pearl entered the Chantal household.
“It was not until later that she was called Mademoiselle Pearl. She was at first baptized ‘Marie Simonne Claire,’ Claire being intended, for her family name.
“I can assure you that our return to the diningroom was amusing, with this baby now awake and looking round her at these people and these lights with her vague blue questioning eyes.
“We sat down to dinner again and the cake was cut. I was king, and for queen I took Mademoiselle Pearl, just as you did to-day. On that day she did not appreciate the honor that was being shown her.
“Well, the child was adopted and brought up in the family. She grew, and the years flew by. She was so gentle and loving and minded so well that every one would have spoiled her abominably had not my mother prevented it.
“My mother was an orderly woman with a great respect for class distinctions. She consented to treat little Claire as she did her own sons, but, nevertheless, she wished the distance which separated us to be well marked, and our positions well established. Therefore, as soon as the child could understand, she acquainted her with her story and gently, even tenderly, impressed on the little one’s mind that, for the Chantals, she was an adopted daughter, taken in, but, nevertheless, a stranger. Claire understood the situation with peculiar intelligence and with surprising instinct; she knew how to take the place which was allotted her, and to keep it with so much tact, gracefulness and gentleness that she often brought tears to my father’s eyes. My mother herself was often moved by the passionate gratitude and timid devotion of this dainty and loving little creature that she began calling her: ‘My daughter.’ At times, when the little one had done something kind and good, my mother would raise her spectacles on her forehead, a thing which always indicated emotion with her, and she would repeat: ‘This child is a pearl, a perfect pearl!’ This name stuck to the little Claire, who became and remained for us Mademoiselle Pearl.”
II
M. Chantal stopped. He was sitting on the edge of the billiard table, his feet hanging, and was playing with a ball with his left hand, while with his right he crumpled a rag which served to rub the chalk marks from the slate. A little red in the face, his voice thick, he was talking away to himself now, lost in his memories, gently drifting through the old scenes and events which awoke in his mind, just as we walk through old family gardens where we were brought up and where each tree, each walk, each hedge reminds us of some occurrence.
I stood opposite him leaning against the wall, my hands resting on my idle cue.
After a slight pause he continued:
“By Jove! She was pretty at eighteen–and graceful–and perfect. Ah! She was so sweet–and good and true–and charming! She had such eyes- blue-transparent–clear–such eyes as I have never seen since!”
He was once more silent. I asked: “Why did she never marry?”
He answered, not to me, but to the word “marry” which had caught his ear: “Why? why? She never would–she never would! She had a dowry of thirty thousand francs, and she received several offers–but she never would! She seemed sad at that time. That was when I married my cousin, little Charlotte, my wife, to whom I had been engaged for six years.”
I looked at M. Chantal, and it seemed to me that I was looking into his very soul, and I was suddenly witnessing one of those humble and cruel tragedies of honest, straightforward, blameless hearts, one of those secret tragedies known to no one, not even the silent and resigned victims. A rash curiosity suddenly impelled me to exclaim:
“You should have married her, Monsieur Chantal!”
He started, looked at me, and said:
“I? Marry whom?”
“Mademoiselle Pearl.”
“Why?”
“Because you loved her more than your cousin.”
He stared at me with strange, round, bewildered eyes and stammered:
“I loved her–I? How? Who told you that?”
“Why, anyone can see that–and it’s even on account of her that you delayed for so long your marriage to your cousin who had been waiting for you for six years.”
He dropped the ball which he was holding in his left hand, and, seizing the chalk rag in both hands, he buried his face in it and began to sob. He was weeping with his eyes, nose and mouth in a heartbreaking yet ridiculous manner, like a sponge which one squeezes. He was coughing, spitting and blowing his nose in the chalk rag, wiping his eyes and sneezing; then the tears would again begin to flow down the wrinkles on his face and he would make a strange gurgling noise in his throat. I felt bewildered, ashamed; I wanted to run away, and I no longer knew what to say, do, or attempt.
Suddenly Madame Chantal’s voice sounded on the stairs. “Haven’t you men almost finished smoking your cigars?”
I opened the door and cried: “Yes, madame, we are coming right down.”
Then I rushed to her husband, and, seizing him by the shoulders, I cried: “Monsieur Chantal, my friend Chantal, listen to me; your wife is calling; pull yourself together, we must go downstairs.”
He stammered: “Yes–yes–I am coming–poor girl! I am coming–tell her that I am coming.”
He began conscientiously to wipe his face on the cloth which, for the last two or three years, had been used for marking off the chalk from the slate; then he appeared, half white and half red, his forehead, nose, cheeks and chin covered with chalk, and his eyes swollen, still full of tears.
I caught him by the hands and dragged him into his bedroom, muttering: “I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon, Monsieur Chantal, for having caused you such sorrow–but–I did not know–you–you understand.”
He squeezed my hand, saying: “Yes–yes–there are difficult moments.”
Then he plunged his face into a bowl of water. When he emerged from it he did not yet seem to me to be presentable; but I thought of a little stratagem. As he was growing worried, looking at himself in the mirror, I said to him: “All you have to do is to say that a little dust flew into your eye and you can cry before everybody to your heart’s content.”
He went downstairs rubbing his eyes with his handkerchief. All were worried; each one wished to look for the speck, which could not be found; and stories were told of similar cases where it had been necessary to call in a physician.
I went over to Mademoiselle Pearl and watched her, tormented by an ardent curiosity, which was turning to positive suffering. She must indeed have been pretty, with her gentle, calm eyes, so large that it looked as though she never closed them like other mortals. Her gown was a little ridiculous, a real old maid’s gown, which was unbecoming without appearing clumsy.
It seemed to me as though I were looking into her soul, just as I had into Monsieur Chantal’s; that I was looking right from one end to the other of this humble life, so simple and devoted. I felt an irresistible longing to question her, to find out whether she, too, had loved him; whether she also had suffered, as he had, from this long, secret, poignant grief, which one cannot see, know, or guess, but which breaks forth at night in the loneliness of the dark room. I was watching her, and I could observe her heart beating under her waist, and I wondered whether this sweet, candid face had wept on the soft pillow and she had sobbed, her whole body shaken by the violence of her anguish.
I said to her in a low voice, like a child who is breaking a toy to see what is inside: “If you could have seen Monsieur Chantal crying a while ago it would have moved you.”
She started, asking: “What? He was weeping?”
“Ah, yes, he was indeed weeping!”
“Why?”
She seemed deeply moved. I answered:
“On your account.”
“On my account?”
“Yes. He was telling me how much he had loved you in the days gone by; and what a pang it had given him to marry his cousin instead of you.”
Her pale face seemed to grow a little longer; her calm eyes, which always remained open, suddenly closed so quickly that they seemed shut forever. She slipped from her chair to the floor, and slowly, gently sank down as would a fallen garment.
I cried: “Help! help! Mademoiselle Pearl is ill.”
Madame Chantal and her daughters rushed forward, and while they were looking for towels, water and vinegar, I grabbed my hat and ran away.
I walked away with rapid strides, my heart heavy, my mind full of remorse and regret. And yet sometimes I felt pleased; I felt as though I had done a praiseworthy and necessary act. I was asking myself: “Did I do wrong or right?” They had that shut up in their hearts, just as some people carry a bullet in a closed wound. Will they not be happier now? It was too late for their torture to begin over again and early enough for them to remember it with tenderness.
And perhaps some evening next spring, moved by a beam of moonlight falling through the branches on the grass at their feet, they will join and press their hands in memory of all this cruel and suppressed suffering; and, perhaps, also this short embrace may infuse in their veins a little of this thrill which they would not have known without it, and will give to those two dead souls, brought to life in a second, the rapid and divine sensation of this intoxication, of this madness which gives to lovers more happiness in an instant than other men can gather during a whole lifetime!

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