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(Part of a trilogy The Man in a Case and Gooseberries are the other stories, About Love being the third; each dealing with the same subject of missed opportunities-b)

At lunch next day there were very nice pies, crayfish, and mutton cutlets; and while we were eating, Nikanor, the cook, came up to ask what the visitors would like for dinner. He was a man of medium height, with a puffy face and little eyes; he was close-shaven, and it looked as though his moustaches had not been shaved, but had been pulled out by the roots. Alehin told us that the beautiful Pelagea was in love with this cook. As he drank and was of a violent character, she did not want to marry him, but was willing to live with him without. He was very devout, and his religious convictions would not allow him to “live in sin”; he insisted on her marrying him, and would consent to nothing else, and when he was drunk he used to abuse her and even beat her. Whenever he got drunk she used to hide upstairs and sob, and on such occasions Alehin and the servants stayed in the house to be ready to defend her in case of necessity.

We began talking about love.

“How love is born,” said Alehin, “why Pelagea does not love somebody more like herself in her spiritual and external qualities, and why she fell in love with Nikanor, that ugly snout — we all call him ‘The Snout’ — how far questions of personal happiness are of consequence in love — all that is known; one can take what view one likes of it. So far only one incontestable truth has been uttered about love: ‘This is a great mystery.’ Everything else that has been written or said about love is not a conclusion, but only a statement of questions which have remained unanswered. The explanation which would seem to fit one case does not apply in a dozen others, and the very best thing, to my mind, would be to explain every case individually without attempting to generalize. We ought, as the doctors say, to individualize each case.”

“Perfectly true,” Burkin assented.
“We Russians of the educated class have a partiality for these questions that remain unanswered. Love is usually poeticized, decorated with roses, nightingales; we Russians decorate our loves with these momentous questions, and select the most uninteresting of them, too. In Moscow, when I was a student, I had a friend who shared my life, a charming lady, and every time I took her in my arms she was thinking what I would allow her a month for housekeeping and what was the price of beef a pound. In the same way, when we are in love we are never tired of asking ourselves questions: whether it is honourable or dishonourable, sensible or stupid, what this love is leading up to, and so on. Whether it is a good thing or not I don’t know, but that it is in the way, unsatisfactory, and irritating, I do know.”

It looked as though he wanted to tell some story. People who lead a solitary existence always have something in their hearts which they are eager to talk about. In town bachelors visit the baths and the restaurants on purpose to talk, and sometimes tell the most interesting things to bath attendants and waiters; in the country, as a rule, they unbosom themselves to their guests. Now from the window we could see a grey sky, trees drenched in the rain; in such weather we could go nowhere, and there was nothing for us to do but to tell stories and to listen.

“I have lived at Sofino and been farming for a long time,” Alehin began, “ever since I left the University. I am an idle gentleman by education, a studious person by disposition; but there was a big debt owing on the estate when I came here, and as my father was in debt partly because he had spent so much on my education, I resolved not to go away, but to work till I paid off the debt. I made up my mind to this and set to work, not, I must confess, without some repugnance. The land here does not yield much, and if one is not to farm at a loss one must employ serf labour or hired labourers, which is almost the same thing, or put it on a peasant footing — that is, work the fields oneself and with one’s family. There is no middle path. But in those days I did not go into such subtleties. I did not leave a clod of earth unturned; I gathered together all the peasants, men and women, from the neighbouring villages; the work went on at a tremendous pace. I myself ploughed and sowed and reaped, and was bored doing it, and frowned with disgust, like a village cat driven by hunger to eat cucumbers in the kitchen-garden. My body ached, and I slept as I walked. At first it seemed to me that I could easily reconcile this life of toil with my cultured habits; to do so, I thought, all that is necessary is to maintain a certain external order in life. I established myself upstairs here in the best rooms, and ordered them to bring me there coffee and liquor after lunch and dinner, and when I went to bed I read every night the Yyesnik Evropi. But one day our priest, Father Ivan, came and drank up all my liquor at one sitting; and the Yyesnik Evropi went to the priest’s daughters; as in the summer, especially at the haymaking, I did not succeed in getting to my bed at all, and slept in the sledge in the barn, or somewhere in the forester’s lodge, what chance was there of reading? Little by little I moved downstairs, began dining in the servants’ kitchen, and of my former luxury nothing is left but the servants who were in my father’s service, and whom it would be painful to turn away.

“In the first years I was elected here an honourary justice of the peace. I used to have to go to the town and take part in the sessions of the congress and of the circuit court, and this was a pleasant change for me. When you live here for two or three months without a break, especially in the winter, you begin at last to pine for a black coat. And in the circuit court there were frock-coats, and uniforms, and dress-coats, too, all lawyers, men who have received a general education; I had some one to talk to. After sleeping in the sledge and dining in the kitchen, to sit in an arm-chair in clean linen, in thin boots, with a chain on one’s waistcoat, is such luxury!

“I received a warm welcome in the town. I made friends eagerly. And of all my acquaintanceships the most intimate and, to tell the truth, the most agreeable to me was my acquaintance with Luganovitch, the vice-president of the circuit court. You both know him: a most charming personality. It all happened just after a celebrated case of incendiarism; the preliminary investigation lasted two days; we were exhausted. Luganovitch looked at me and said:

” ‘Look here, come round to dinner with me.’

“This was unexpected, as I knew Luganovitch very little, only officially, and I had never been to his house. I only just went to my hotel room to change and went off to dinner. And here it was my lot to meet Anna Alexyevna, Luganovitch’s wife. At that time she was still very young, not more than twenty-two, and her first baby had been born just six months before. It is all a thing of the past; and now I should find it difficult to define what there was so exceptional in her, what it was in her attracted me so much; at the time, at dinner, it was all perfectly clear to me. I saw a lovely young, good, intelligent, fascinating woman, such as I had never met before; and I felt her at once some one close and already familiar, as though that face, those cordial, intelligent eyes, I had seen somewhere in my childhood, in the album which lay on my mother’s chest of drawers.

“Four Jews were charged with being incendiaries, were regarded as a gang of robbers, and, to my mind, quite groundlessly. At dinner I was very much excited, I was uncomfortable, and I don’t know what I said, but Anna Alexyevna kept shaking her head and saying to her husband:

” ‘Dmitry, how is this?’

“Luganovitch is a good-natured man, one of those simple-hearted people who firmly maintain the opinion that once a man is charged before a court he is guilty, and to express doubt of the correctness of a sentence cannot be done except in legal form on paper, and not at dinner and in private conversation.

” ‘You and I did not set fire to the place,’ he said softly, ‘and you see we are not condemned, and not in prison.’

“And both husband and wife tried to make me eat and drink as much as possible. From some trifling details, from the way they made the coffee together, for instance, and from the way they understood each other at half a word, I could gather that they lived in harmony and comfort, and that they were glad of a visitor. After dinner they played a duet on the piano; then it got dark, and I went home. That was at the beginning of spring.

“After that I spent the whole summer at Sofino without a break, and I had no time to think of the town, either, but the memory of the graceful fair-haired woman remained in my mind all those days; I did not think of her, but it was as though her light shadow were lying on my heart.

“In the late autumn there was a theatrical performance for some charitable object in the town. I went into the governor’s box (I was invited to go there in the interval); I looked, and there was Anna Alexyevna sitting beside the governor’s wife; and again the same irresistible, thrilling impression of beauty and sweet, caressing eyes, and again the same feeling of nearness. We sat side by side, then went to the foyer.

” ‘You’ve grown thinner,’ she said; ‘have you been ill?’

” ‘Yes, I’ve had rheumatism in my shoulder, and in rainy weather I can’t sleep.’

” ‘You look dispirited. In the spring, when you came to dinner, you were younger, more confident. You were full of eagerness, and talked a great deal then; you were very interesting, and I really must confess I was a little carried away by you. For some reason you often came back to my memory during the summer, and when I was getting ready for the theatre today I thought I should see you.’

“And she laughed.

” ‘But you look dispirited today,’ she repeated; ‘it makes you seem older.’

“The next day I lunched at the Luganovitchs’. After lunch they drove out to their summer villa, in order to make arrangements there for the winter, and I went with them. I returned with them to the town, and at midnight drank tea with them in quiet domestic surroundings, while the fire glowed, and the young mother kept going to see if her baby girl was asleep. And after that, every time I went to town I never failed to visit the Luganovitchs. They grew used to me, and I grew used to them. As a rule I went in unannounced, as though I were one of the family.

” ‘Who is there?’ I would hear from a faraway room, in the drawling voice that seemed to me so lovely.

” ‘It is Pavel Konstantinovitch,’ answered the maid or the nurse.

“Anna Alexyevna would come out to me with an anxious face, and would ask every time:

” ‘Why is it so long since you have been? Has anything happened?’

“Her eyes, the elegant refined hand she gave me, her indoor dress, the way she did her hair, her voice, her step, always produced the same impression on me of something new and extraordinary in my life, and very important. We talked together for hours, were silent, thinking each our own thoughts, or she played for hours to me on the piano. If there were no one at home I stayed and waited, talked to the nurse, played with the child, or lay on the sofa in the study and read; and when Anna Alexyevna came back I met her in the hall, took all her parcels from her, and for some reason I carried those parcels every time with as much love, with as much solemnity, as a boy.

“There is a proverb that if a peasant woman has no troubles she will buy a pig. The Luganovitchs had no troubles, so they made friends with me. If I did not come to the town I must be ill or something must have happened to me, and both of them were extremely anxious. They were worried that I, an educated man with a knowledge of languages, should, instead of devoting myself to science or literary work, live in the country, rush round like a squirrel in a rage, work hard with never a penny to show for it. They fancied that I was unhappy, and that I only talked, laughed, and ate to conceal my sufferings, and even at cheerful moments when I felt happy I was aware of their searching eyes fixed upon me. They were particularly touching when I really was depressed, when I was being worried by some creditor or had not money enough to pay interest on the proper day. The two of them, husband and wife, would whisper together at the window; then he would come to me and say with a grave face:

” ‘If you really are in need of money at the moment, Pavel Konstantinovitch, my wife and I beg you not to hesitate to borrow from us.’

“And he would blush to his ears with emotion. And it would happen that, after whispering in the same way at the window, he would come up to me, with red ears, and say:

” ‘My wife and I earnestly beg you to accept this present.’

“And he would give me studs, a cigar-case, or a lamp, and I would send them game, butter, and flowers from the country. They both, by the way, had considerable means of their own. In early days I often borrowed money, and was not very particular about it — borrowed wherever I could — but nothing in the world would have induced me to borrow from the Luganovitchs. But why talk of it?

“I was unhappy. At home, in the fields, in the barn, I thought of her; I tried to understand the mystery of a beautiful, intelligent young woman’s marrying some one so uninteresting, almost an old man (her husband was over forty), and having children by him; to understand the mystery of this uninteresting, good, simple-hearted man, who argued with such wearisome good sense, at balls and evening parties kept near the more solid people, looking listless and superfluous, with a submissive, uninterested expression, as though he had been brought there for sale, who yet believed in his right to be happy, to have children by her; and I kept trying to understand why she had met him first and not me, and why such a terrible mistake in our lives need have happened.

“And when I went to the town I saw every time from her eyes that she was expecting me, and she would confess to me herself that she had had a peculiar feeling all that day and had guessed that I should come. We talked a long time, and were silent, yet we did not confess our love to each other, but timidly and jealously concealed it. We were afraid of everything that might reveal our secret to ourselves. I loved her tenderly, deeply, but I reflected and kept asking myself what our love could lead to if we had not the strength to fight against it. It seemed to be incredible that my gentle, sad love could all at once coarsely break up the even tenor of the life of her husband, her children, and all the household in which I was so loved and trusted. Would it be honourable? She would go away with me, but where? Where could I take her? It would have been a different matter if I had had a beautiful, interesting life — if, for instance, I had been struggling for the emancipation of my country, or had been a celebrated man of science, an artist or a painter; but as it was it would mean taking her from one everyday humdrum life to another as humdrum or perhaps more so. And how long would our happiness last? What would happen to her in case I was ill, in case I died, or if we simply grew cold to one another?

“And she apparently reasoned in the same way. She thought of her husband, her children, and of her mother, who loved the husband like a son. If she abandoned herself to her feelings she would have to lie, or else to tell the truth, and in her position either would have been equally terrible and inconvenient. And she was tormented by the question whether her love would bring me happiness — would she not complicate my life, which, as it was, was hard enough and full of all sorts of trouble? She fancied she was not young enough for me, that she was not industrious nor energetic enough to begin a new life, and she often talked to her husband of the importance of my marrying a girl of intelligence and merit who would be a capable housewife and a help to me — and she would immediately add that it would be difficult to find such a girl in the whole town.

“Meanwhile the years were passing. Anna Alexyevna already had two children. When I arrived at the Luganovitchs’ the servants smiled cordially, the children shouted that Uncle Pavel Konstantinovitch had come, and hung on my neck; every one was overjoyed. They did not understand what was passing in my soul, and thought that I, too, was happy. Every one looked on me as a noble being. And grown-ups and children alike felt that a noble being was walking about their rooms, and that gave a peculiar charm to their manner towards me, as though in my presence their life, too, was purer and more beautiful. Anna Alexyevna and I used to go to the theatre together, always walking there; we used to sit side by side in the stalls, our shoulders touching. I would take the opera-glass from her hands without a word, and feel at that minute that she was near me, that she was mine, that we could not live without each other; but by some strange misunderstanding, when we came out of the theatre we always said good-bye and parted as though we were strangers. Goodness knows what people were saying about us in the town already, but there was not a word of truth in it all!

“In the latter years Anna Alexyevna took to going away for frequent visits to her mother or to her sister; she began to suffer from low spirits, she began to recognize that her life was spoilt and unsatisfied, and at times she did not care to see her husband nor her children. She was already being treated for neurasthenia.

“We were silent and still silent, and in the presence of outsiders she displayed a strange irritation in regard to me; whatever I talked about, she disagreed with me, and if I had an argument she sided with my opponent. If I dropped anything, she would say coldly:

” ‘I congratulate you.’

“If I forgot to take the opera-glass when we were going to the theatre, she would say afterwards:

” ‘I knew you would forget it.’

“Luckily or unluckily, there is nothing in our lives that does not end sooner or later. The time of parting came, as Luganovitch was appointed president in one of the western provinces. They had to sell their furniture, their horses, their summer villa. When they drove out to the villa, and afterwards looked back as they were going away, to look for the last time at the garden, at the green roof, every one was sad, and I realized that I had to say goodbye not only to the villa. It was arranged that at the end of August we should see Anna Alexyevna off to the Crimea, where the doctors were sending her, and that a little later Luganovitch and the children would set off for the western province.

“We were a great crowd to see Anna Alexyevna off. When she had said good-bye to her husband and her children and there was only a minute left before the third bell, I ran into her compartment to put a basket, which she had almost forgotten, on the rack, and I had to say good-bye. When our eyes met in the compartment our spiritual fortitude deserted us both; I took her in my arms, she pressed her face to my breast, and tears flowed from her eyes. Kissing her face, her shoulders, her hands wet with tears — oh, how unhappy we were! — I confessed my love for her, and with a burning pain in my heart I realized how unnecessary, how petty, and how deceptive all that had hindered us from loving was. I understood that when you love you must either, in your reasonings about that love, start from what is highest, from what is more important than happiness or unhappiness, sin or virtue in their accepted meaning, or you must not reason at all.

“I kissed her for the last time, pressed her hand, and parted for ever. The train had already started. I went into the next compartment — it was empty — and until I reached the next station I sat there crying. Then I walked home to Sofino. . . .”

While Alehin was telling his story, the rain left off and the sun came out. Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitch went out on the balcony, from which there was a beautiful view over the garden and the mill-pond, which was shining now in the sunshine like a mirror. They admired it, and at the same time they were sorry that this man with the kind, clever eyes, who had told them this story with such genuine feeling, should be rushing round and round this huge estate like a squirrel on a wheel instead of devoting himself to science or something else which would have made his life more pleasant; and they thought what a sorrowful face Anna Alexyevna must have had when he said good-bye to her in the railway-carriage and kissed her face and shoulders. Both of them had met her in the town, and Burkin knew her and thought her beautiful.
The End

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Impia tortorum longas hic turba furores Sanguinis innocui non satiata, aluit. Sospite nunc patria, fracto nunc funeris antro, Mors ubi dira fuit vita salusque patent.
[Quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the site of the Jacobin Club House in Paris.]
I WAS sick, sick unto death, with that long agony, and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me. The sentence, the dread sentence of death, was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears. After that, the sound of the inquisitorial voices seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. It conveyed to my soul the idea of REVOLUTION, perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of a mill-wheel. This only for a brief period, for presently I heard no more. Yet, for a while, I saw, but with how terrible an exaggeration! I saw the lips of the black-robed judges. They appeared to me white–whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words–and thin even to grotesqueness; thin with the intensity of their expression of firmness, of immovable resolution, of stern contempt of human torture. I saw that the decrees of what to me was fate were still issuing from those lips. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. I saw them fashion the syllables of my name, and I shuddered, because no sound succeeded. I saw, too, for a few moments of delirious horror, the soft and nearly imperceptible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the walls of the apartment; and then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table. At first they wore the aspect of charity, and seemed white slender angels who would save me: but then all at once there came a most deadly nausea over my spirit, and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill, as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery, while the angel forms became meaningless spectres, with heads of flame, and I saw that from them there would be no help. And then there stole into my fancy, like a rich musical note, the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave. The thought came gently and stealthily, and it seemed long before it attained full appreciation; but just as my spirit came at length properly to feel and entertain it, the figures of the judges vanished, as if magically, from before me; the tall candles sank into nothingness; their flames went out utterly; the blackness of darkness superened; all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades. Then silence, and stillness, and night were the universe.
I had swooned; but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber–no! In delirium–no! In a swoon–no! In death–no! Even in the grave all was not lost. Else there is no immortality for man. Arousing from the most profound of slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some dream. Yet in a second afterwards (so frail may that web have been) we remember not that we have dreamed. In the return to life from the swoon there are two stages; first, that of the sense of mental or spiritual; secondly, that of the sense of physical existence. It seems probable that if, upon reaching the second stage, we could recall the impressions of the first, we should find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond. And that gulf is, what? How at least shall we distinguish its shadows from those of the tomb? But if the impressions of what I have termed the first stage are not at will recalled, yet, after long interval, do they not come unbidden, while we marvel whence they come? He who has never swooned is not he who finds strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow; is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view; is not he who ponders over the perfume of some novel flower; is not he whose brain grows bewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence which has never before arrested his attention.
Amid frequent and thoughtful endeavours to remember, amid earnest struggles to regather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul had lapsed, there have been moments when I have dreamed of success; there have been brief, very brief periods when I have conjured up remembrances which the lucid reason of a later epoch assures me could have had reference only to that condition of seeming unconsciousness. These shadows of memory tell indistinctly of tall figures that lifted and bore me in silence down–down–still down–till a hideous dizziness oppressed me at the mere idea of the interminableness of the descent. They tell also of a vague horror at my heart on account of that heart’s unnatural stillness. Then comes a sense of sudden motionlessness throughout all things; as if those who bore me (a ghastly train!) had outrun, in their descent, the limits of the limitless, and paused from the wearisomeness of their toil. After this I call to mind flatness and dampness; and then all is MADNESS–the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden things.
Very suddenly there came back to my soul motion and sound–the tumultuous motion of the heart, and in my ears the sound of its beating. Then a pause in which all is blank. Then again sound, and motion, and touch, a tingling sensation pervading my frame. Then the mere consciousness of existence, without thought, a condition which lasted long. Then, very suddenly, THOUGHT, and shuddering terror, and earnest endeavour to comprehend my true state. Then a strong desire to lapse into insensibility. Then a rushing revival of soul and a successful effort to move. And now a full memory of the trial, of the judges, of the sable draperies, of the sentence, of the sickness, of the swoon. Then entire forgetfulness of all that followed; of all that a later day and much earnestness of endeavour have enabled me vaguely to recall.
So far I had not opened my eyes. I felt that I lay upon my back unbound. I reached out my hand, and it fell heavily upon something damp and hard. There I suffered it to remain for many minutes, while I strove to imagine where and what I could be. I longed, yet dared not, to employ my vision. I dreaded the first glance at objects around me. It was not that I feared to look upon things horrible, but that I grew aghast lest there should be NOTHING to see. At length, with a wild desperation at heart, I quickly unclosed my eyes. My worst thoughts, then, were confirmed. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. The atmosphere was intolerably close. I still lay quietly, and made effort to exercise my reason. I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedings, and attempted from that point to deduce my real condition. The sentence had passed, and it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed. Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. Such a supposition, notwithstanding what we read in fiction, is altogether inconsistent with real existence;–but where and in what state was I? The condemned to death, I knew, perished usually at the auto-da-fes, and one of these had been held on the very night of the day of my trial. Had I been remanded to my dungeon, to await the next sacrifice, which would not take place for many months? This I at once saw could not be. Victims had been in immediate demand. Moreover my dungeon, as well as all the condemned cells at Toledo, had stone floors, and light was not altogether excluded.
A fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart, and for a brief period I once more relapsed into insensibility. Upon recovering, I at once started to my feet, trembling convulsively in every fibre. I thrust my arms wildly above and around me in all directions. I felt nothing; yet dreaded to move a step, lest I should be impeded by the walls of a TOMB. Perspiration burst from every pore, and stood in cold big beads upon my forehead. The agony of suspense grew at length intolerable, and I cautiously moved forward, with my arms extended, and my eyes straining from their sockets, in the hope of catching some faint ray of light. I proceeded for many paces, but still all was blackness and vacancy. I breathed more freely. It seemed evident that mine was not, at least, the most hideous of fates.
And now, as I still continued to step cautiously onward, there came thronging upon my recollection a thousand vague rumours of the horrors of Toledo. Of the dungeons there had been strange things narrated–fables I had always deemed them–but yet strange, and too ghastly to repeat, save in a whisper. Was I left to perish of starvation in this subterranean world of darkness; or what fate perhaps even more fearful awaited me? That the result would be death, and a death of more than customary bitterness, I knew too well the character of my judges to doubt. The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted me.
My outstretched hands at length encountered some solid obstruction. It was a wall, seemingly of stone masonry–very smooth, slimy, and cold. I followed it up; stepping with all the careful distrust with which certain antique narratives had inspired me. This process, however, afforded me no means of ascertaining the dimensions of my dungeon; as I might make its circuit, and return to the point whence I set out, without being aware of the fact, so perfectly uniform seemed the wall. I therefore sought the knife which had been in my pocket when led into the inquisitorial chamber, but it was gone; my clothes had been exchanged for a wrapper of coarse serge. I had thought of forcing the blade in some minute crevice of the masonry, so as to identify my point of departure. The difficulty, nevertheless, was but trivial, although, in the disorder of my fancy, it seemed at first insuperable. I tore a part of the hem from the robe, and placed the fragment at full length, and at right angles to the wall. In groping my way around the prison, I could not fail to encounter this rag upon completing the circuit. So, at least, I thought, but I had not counted upon the extent of the dungeon, or upon my own weakness. The ground was moist and slippery. I staggered onward for some time, when I stumbled and fell. My excessive fatigue induced me to remain prostrate, and sleep soon overtook me as I lay.
Upon awaking, and stretching forth an arm, I found beside me a loaf and a pitcher with water. I was too much exhausted to reflect upon this circumstance, but ate and drank with avidity. Shortly afterwards I resumed my tour around the prison, and with much toil came at last upon the fragment of the serge. Up to the period when I fell I had counted fifty-two paces, and upon resuming my walk I had counted forty-eight more, when I arrived at the rag. There were in all, then, a hundred paces; and, admitting two paces to the yard, I presumed the dungeon to be fifty yards in circuit. I had met, however, with many angles in the wall, and thus I could form no guess at the shape of the vault, for vault I could not help supposing it to be.
I had little object–certainly no hope–in these researches, but a vague curiosity prompted me to continue them. Quitting the wall, I resolved to cross the area of the enclosure. At first I proceeded with extreme caution, for the floor although seemingly of solid material was treacherous with slime. At length, however, I took courage and did not hesitate to step firmly–endeavouring to cross in as direct a line as possible. I had advanced some ten or twelve paces in this manner, when the remnant of the torn hem of my robe became entangled between my legs. I stepped on it, and fell violently on my face.
In the confusion attending my fall, I did not immediately apprehend a somewhat startling circumstance, which yet, in a few seconds afterward, and while I still lay prostrate, arrested my attention. It was this: my chin rested upon the floor of the prison, but my lips, and the upper portion of my head, although seemingly at a less elevation than the chin, touched nothing. At the same time, my forehead seemed bathed in a clammy vapour, and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my nostrils. I put forward my arm, and shuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pit, whose extent of course I had no means of ascertaining at the moment. Groping about the masonry just below the margin, I succeeded in dislodging a small fragment, and let it fall into the abyss. For many seconds I hearkened to its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent; at length there was a sullen plunge into water, succeeded by loud echoes. At the same moment there came a sound resembling the quick opening, and as rapid closing of a door overhead, while a faint gleam of light flashed suddenly through the gloom, and as suddenly faded away.
I saw clearly the doom which had been prepared for me, and congratulated myself upon the timely accident by which I had escaped. Another step before my fall, and the world had seen me no more and the death just avoided was of that very character which I had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales respecting the Inquisition. To the victims of its tyranny, there was the choice of death with its direst physical agonies, or death with its most hideous moral horrors. I had been reserved for the latter. By long suffering my nerves had been unstrung, until I trembled at the sound of my own voice, and had become in every respect a fitting subject for the species of torture which awaited me.
Shaking in every limb, I groped my way back to the wall–resolving there to perish rather than risk the terrors of the wells, of which my imagination now pictured many in various positions about the dungeon. In other conditions of mind I might have had courage to end my misery at once by a plunge into one of these abysses; but now I was the veriest of cowards. Neither could I forget what I had read of these pits–that the SUDDEN extinction of life formed no part of their most horrible plan.
Agitation of spirit kept me awake for many long hours; but at length I again slumbered. Upon arousing, I found by my side, as before, a loaf and a pitcher of water. A burning thirst consumed me, and I emptied the vessel at a draught. It must have been drugged, for scarcely had I drunk before I became irresistibly drowsy. A deep sleep fell upon me–a sleep like that of death. How long it lasted of course I know not; but when once again I unclosed my eyes the objects around me were visible. By a wild sulphurous lustre, the origin of which I could not at first determine, I was enabled to see the extent and aspect of the prison.
In its size I had been greatly mistaken. The whole circuit of its walls did not exceed twenty-five yards. For some minutes this fact occasioned me a world of vain trouble; vain indeed–for what could be of less importance, under the terrible circumstances which environed me than the mere dimensions of my dungeon? But my soul took a wild interest in trifles, and I busied myself in endeavours to account for the error I had committed in my measurement. The truth at length flashed upon me. In my first attempt at exploration I had counted fifty-two paces up to the period when I fell; I must then have been within a pace or two of the fragment of serge; in fact I had nearly performed the circuit of the vault. I then slept, and upon awaking, I must have returned upon my steps, thus supposing the circuit nearly double what it actually was. My confusion of mind prevented me from observing that I began my tour with the wall to the left, and ended it with the wall to the right.
I had been deceived too in respect to the shape of the enclosure. In feeling my way I had found many angles, and thus deduced an idea of great irregularity, so potent is the effect of total darkness upon one arousing from lethargy or sleep! The angles were simply those of a few slight depressions or niches at odd intervals. The general shape of the prison was square. What I had taken for masonry seemed now to be iron, or some other metal in huge plates, whose sutures or joints occasioned the depression. The entire surface of this metallic enclosure was rudely daubed in all the hideous and repulsive devices to which the charnel superstition of the monks has given rise. The figures of fiends in aspects of menace, with skeleton forms and other more really fearful images, overspread and disfigured the walls. I observed that the outlines of these monstrosities were sufficiently distinct, but that the colours seemed faded and blurred, as if from the effects of a damp atmosphere. I now noticed the floor, too, which was of stone. In the centre yawned the circular pit from whose jaws I had escaped; but it was the only one in the dungeon.
All this I saw indistinctly and by much effort, for my personal condition had been greatly changed during slumber. I now lay upon my back, and at full length, on a species of low framework of wood. To this I was securely bound by a long strap resembling a surcingle. It passed in many convolutions about my limbs and body, leaving at liberty only my head, and my left arm to such extent that I could by dint of much exertion supply myself with food from an earthen dish which lay by my side on the floor. I saw to my horror that the pitcher had been removed. I say to my horror, for I was consumed with intolerable thirst. This thirst it appeared to be the design of my persecutors to stimulate, for the food in the dish was meat pungently seasoned.
Looking upward, I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead, and constructed much as the side walls. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that in lieu of a scythe he held what at a casual glance I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique clocks. There was something, however, in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own), I fancied that I saw it in motion. In an instant afterward the fancy was confirmed. Its sweep was brief, and of course slow. I watched it for some minutes, somewhat in fear but more in wonder. Wearied at length with observing its dull movement, I turned my eyes upon the other objects in the cell.
A slight noise attracted my notice, and looking to the floor, I saw several enormous rats traversing it. They had issued from the well which lay just within view to my right. Even then while I gazed, they came up in troops hurriedly, with ravenous eyes, allured by the scent of the meat. From this it required much effort and attention to scare them away.
It might have been half-an-hour, perhaps even an hour (for I could take but imperfect note of time) before I again cast my eyes upward. What I then saw confounded and amazed me. The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequence, its velocity was also much greater. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly DESCENDED. I now observed, with what horror it is needless to say, that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel, about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor. Like a razor also it seemed massy and heavy, tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass, and the whole HISSED as it swung through the air.
I could no longer doubt the doom prepared for me by monkish ingenuity in torture. My cognisance of the pit had become known to the inquisitorial agents–THE PIT, whose horrors had been destined for so bold a recusant as myself, THE PIT, typical of hell, and regarded by rumour as the Ultima Thule of all their punishments. The plunge into this pit I had avoided by the merest of accidents, and I knew that surprise or entrapment into torment formed an important portion of all the grotesquerie of these dungeon deaths. Having failed to fall, it was no part of the demon plan to hurl me into the abyss, and thus (there being no alternative) a different and a milder destruction awaited me. Milder! I half smiled in my agony as I thought of such application of such a term.
What boots it to tell of the long, long hours of horror more than mortal, during which I counted the rushing oscillations of the steel! Inch by inch–line by line–with a descent only appreciable at intervals that seemed ages–down and still down it came! Days passed–it might have been that many days passed–ere it swept so closely over me as to fan me with its acrid breath. The odour of the sharp steel forced itself into my nostrils. I prayed–I wearied heaven with my prayer for its more speedy descent. I grew frantically mad, and struggled to force myself upward against the sweep of the fearful scimitar. And then I fell suddenly calm and lay smiling at the glittering death as a child at some rare bauble.
There was another interval of utter insensibility; it was brief, for upon again lapsing into life there had been no perceptible descent in the pendulum. But it might have been long–for I knew there were demons who took note of my swoon, and who could have arrested the vibration at pleasure. Upon my recovery, too, I felt very–oh! inexpressibly–sick and weak, as if through long inanition. Even amid the agonies of that period the human nature craved food. With painful effort I outstretched my left arm as far as my bonds permitted, and took possession of the small remnant which had been spared me by the rats. As I put a portion of it within my lips there rushed to my mind a half-formed thought of joy–of hope. Yet what business had I with hope? It was, as I say, a half-formed thought–man has many such, which are never completed. I felt that it was of joy–of hope; but I felt also that it had perished in its formation. In vain I struggled to perfect–to regain it. Long suffering had nearly annihilated all my ordinary powers of mind. I was an imbecile–an idiot.
The vibration of the pendulum was at right angles to my length. I saw that the crescent was designed to cross the region of the heart. It would fray the serge of my robe; it would return and repeat its operations–again–and again. Notwithstanding its terrifically wide sweep (some thirty feet or more) and the hissing vigour of its descent, sufficient to sunder these very walls of iron, still the fraying of my robe would be all that, for several minutes, it would accomplish; and at this thought I paused. I dared not go farther than this reflection. I dwelt upon it with a pertinacity of attention–as if, in so dwelling, I could arrest HERE the descent of the steel. I forced myself to ponder upon the sound of the crescent as it should pass across the garment–upon the peculiar thrilling sensation which the friction of cloth produces on the nerves. I pondered upon all this frivolity until my teeth were on edge.
Down–steadily down it crept. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. To the right–to the left–far and wide–with the shriek of a damned spirit! to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled, as the one or the other idea grew predominant.
Down–certainly, relentlessly down! It vibrated within three inches of my bosom! I struggled violently–furiously–to free my left arm. This was free only from the elbow to the hand. I could reach the latter, from the platter beside me to my mouth with great effort, but no farther. Could I have broken the fastenings above the elbow, I would have seized and attempted to arrest the pendulum. I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche!
Down–still unceasingly–still inevitably down! I gasped and struggled at each vibration. I shrunk convulsively at its very sweep. My eyes followed its outward or upward whirls with the eagerness of the most unmeaning despair; they closed themselves spasmodically at the descent, although death would have been a relief, O, how unspeakable! Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen glistening axe upon my bosom. It was hope that prompted the nerve to quiver–the frame to shrink. It was HOPE–the hope that triumphs on the rack–that whispers to the death-condemned even in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
I saw that some ten or twelve vibrations would bring the steel in actual contact with my robe, and with this observation there suddenly came over my spirit all the keen, collected calmness of despair. For the first time during many hours, or perhaps days, I THOUGHT. It now occurred to me that the bandage or surcingle which enveloped me was UNIQUE. I was tied by no separate cord. The first stroke of the razor-like crescent athwart any portion of the band would so detach it that it might be unwound from my person by means of my left hand. But how fearful, in that case, the proximity of the steel! The result of the slightest struggle, how deadly! Was it likely, moreover, that the minions of the torturer had not foreseen and provided for this possibility! Was it probable that the bandage crossed my bosom in the track of the pendulum? Dreading to find my faint, and, as it seemed, my last hope frustrated, I so far elevated my head as to obtain a distinct view of my breast. The surcingle enveloped my limbs and body close in all directions save SAVE IN THE PATH OF THE DESTROYING CRESCENT.
Scarcely had I dropped my head back into its original position when there flashed upon my mind what I cannot better describe than as the unformed half of that idea of deliverance to which I have previously alluded, and of which a moiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when I raised food to my burning lips. The whole thought was now present–feeble, scarcely sane, scarcely definite, but still entire. I proceeded at once, with the nervous energy of despair, to attempt its execution.
For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low framework upon which I lay had been literally swarming with rats. They were wild, bold, ravenous, their red eyes glaring upon me as if they waited but for motionlessness on my part to make me their prey. “To what food,” I thought, “have they been accustomed in the well?”
They had devoured, in spite of all my efforts to prevent them, all but a small remnant of the contents of the dish. I had fallen into an habitual see-saw or wave of the hand about the platter; and at length the unconscious uniformity of the movement deprived it of effect. In their voracity the vermin frequently fastened their sharp fangs in my fingers. With the particles of the oily and spicy viand which now remained, I thoroughly rubbed the bandage wherever I could reach it; then, raising my hand from the floor, I lay breathlessly still.
At first the ravenous animals were startled and terrified at the change–at the cessation of movement. They shrank alarmedly back; many sought the well. But this was only for a moment. I had not counted in vain upon their voracity. Observing that I remained without motion, one or two of the boldest leaped upon the frame-work and smelt at the surcingle. This seemed the signal for a general rush. Forth from the well they hurried in fresh troops. They clung to the wood, they overran it, and leaped in hundreds upon my person. The measured movement of the pendulum disturbed them not at all. Avoiding its strokes, they busied themselves with the annointed bandage. They pressed, they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. They writhed upon my throat; their cold lips sought my own; I was half stifled by their thronging pressure; disgust, for which the world has no name, swelled my bosom, and chilled with heavy clamminess my heart. Yet one minute and I felt that the struggle would be over. Plainly I perceived the loosening of the bandage. I knew that in more than one place it must be already severed. With a more than human resolution I lay STILL.
Nor had I erred in my calculations, nor had I endured in vain. I at length felt that I was FREE. The surcingle hung in ribands from my body. But the stroke of the pendulum already pressed upon my bosom. It had divided the serge of the robe. It had cut through the linen beneath. Twice again it swung, and a sharp sense of pain shot through every nerve. But the moment of escape had arrived. At a wave of my hand my deliverers hurried tumultously away. With a steady movement, cautious, sidelong, shrinking, and slow, I slid from the embrace of the bandage and beyond the reach of the scimitar. For the moment, at least I WAS FREE.
Free! and in the grasp of the Inquisition! I had scarcely stepped from my wooden bed of horror upon the stone floor of the prison, when the motion of the hellish machine ceased and I beheld it drawn up by some invisible force through the ceiling. This was a lesson which I took desperately to heart. My every motion was undoubtedly watched. Free! I had but escaped death in one form of agony to be delivered unto worse than death in some other. With that thought I rolled my eyes nervously around on the barriers of iron that hemmed me in. Something unusual–some change which at first I could not appreciate distinctly–it was obvious had taken place in the apartment. For many minutes of a dreamy and trembling abstraction I busied myself in vain, unconnected conjecture. During this period I became aware, for the first time, of the origin of the sulphurous light which illumined the cell. It proceeded from a fissure about half-an-inch in width extending entirely around the prison at the base of the walls which thus appeared, and were completely separated from the floor. I endeavoured, but of course in vain, to look through the aperture. As I arose from the attempt, the mystery of the alteration in the chamber broke at once upon my understanding. I have observed that although the outlines of the figures upon the walls were sufficiently distinct, yet the colours seemed blurred and indefinite. These colours had now assumed, and were momentarily assuming, a startling and most intense brilliancy, that give to the spectral and fiendish portraitures an aspect that might have thrilled even firmer nerves than my own. Demon eyes, of a wild and ghastly vivacity, glared upon me in a thousand directions where none had been visible before, and gleamed with the lurid lustre of a fire that I could not force my imagination to regard as unreal.
UNREAL!–Even while I breathed there came to my nostrils the breath of the vapour of heated iron! A suffocating odour pervaded the prison! A deeper glow settled each moment in the eyes that glared at my agonies! A richer tint of crimson diffused itself over the pictured horrors of blood. I panted ‘ I gasped for breath! There could be no doubt of the design of my tormentors–oh most unrelenting! oh, most demoniac of men! I shrank from the glowing metal to the centre of the cell. Amid the thought of the fiery destruction that impended, the idea of the coolness of the well came over my soul like balm. I rushed to its deadly brink. I threw my straining vision below. The glare from the enkindled roof illumined its inmost recesses. Yet, for a wild moment, did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. At length it forced –it wrestled its way into my soul–it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. O for a voice to speak!–oh, horror!–oh, any horror but this! With a shriek I rushed from the margin and buried my face in my hands–weeping bitterly.
The heat rapidly increased, and once again I looked up, shuddering as if with a fit of the ague. There had been a second change in the cell–and now the change was obviously in the FORM. As before, it was in vain that I at first endeavoured to appreciate or understand what was taking place. But not long was I left in doubt. The inquisitorial vengeance had been hurried by my two-fold escape, and there was to be no more dallying with the King of Terrors. The room had been square. I saw that two of its iron angles were now acute–two consequently, obtuse. The fearful difference quickly increased with a low rumbling or moaning sound. In an instant the apartment had shifted its form into that of a lozenge. But the alteration stopped not here–I neither hoped nor desired it to stop. I could have clasped the red walls to my bosom as a garment of eternal peace. “Death,” I said “any death but that of the pit!” Fool! might I not have known that INTO THE PIT it was the object of the burning iron to urge me? Could I resist its glow? or if even that, could I withstand its pressure? And now, flatter and flatter grew the lozenge, with a rapidity that left me no time for contemplation. Its centre, and of course, its greatest width, came just over the yawning gulf. I shrank back–but the closing walls pressed me resistlessly onward. At length for my seared and writhing body there was no longer an inch of foothold on the firm floor of the prison. I struggled no more, but the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair. I felt that I tottered upon the brink–I averted my eyes–
There was a discordant hum of human voices! There was a loud blast as of many trumpets! There was a harsh grating as of a thousand thunders! The fiery walls rushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell fainting into the abyss. It was that of General Lasalle. The French army had entered Toledo. The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.

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Major Graf Von Farlsberg, the Prussian commandant, was reading his newspaper as he lay back in a great easy-chair, with his booted feet on the beautiful marble mantelpiece where his spurs had made two holes, which had grown deeper every day during the three months that he had been in the chateau of Uville.

A cup of coffee was smoking on a small inlaid table, which was stained with liqueur, burned by cigars, notched by the penknife of the victorious officer, who occasionally would stop while sharpening a pencil, to jot down figures, or to make a drawing on it, just as it took his fancy.
When he had read his letters and the German newspapers, which his orderly had brought him, he got up, and after throwing three or four enormous pieces of green wood on the fire, for these gentlemen were gradually cutting down the park in order to keep themselves warm, he went to the window. The rain was descending in torrents, a regular Normandy rain, which looked as if it were being poured out by some furious person, a slanting rain, opaque as a curtain, which formed a kind of wall with diagonal stripes, and which deluged everything, a rain such as one frequently experiences in the neighborhood of Rouen, which is the watering-pot of France.
For a long time the officer looked at the sodden turf and at the swollen Andelle beyond it, which was overflowing its banks; he was drumming a waltz with his fingers on the window-panes, when a noise made him turn round. It was his second in command, Captain Baron van Kelweinstein.
The major was a giant, with broad shoulders and a long, fan-like beard, which hung down like a curtain to his chest. His whole solemn person suggested the idea of a military peacock, a peacock who was carrying his tail spread out on his breast. He had cold, gentle blue eyes, and a scar from a swordcut, which he had received in the war with Austria; he was said to be an honorable man, as well as a brave officer.
The captain, a short, red-faced man, was tightly belted in at the waist, his red hair was cropped quite close to his head, and in certain lights he almost looked as if he had been rubbed over with phosphorus. He had lost two front teeth one night, though he could not quite remember how, and this sometimes made him speak unintelligibly, and he had a bald patch on top of his head surrounded by a fringe of curly, bright golden hair, which made him look like a monk.
The commandant shook hands with him and drank his cup of coffee (the sixth that morning), while he listened to his subordinate’s report of what had occurred; and then they both went to the window and declared that it was a very unpleasant outlook. The major, who was a quiet man, with a wife at home, could accommodate himself to everything; but the captain, who led a fast life, who was in the habit of frequenting low resorts, and enjoying women’s society, was angry at having to be shut up for three months in that wretched hole.
There was a knock at the door, and when the commandant said, “Come in,” one of the orderlies appeared, and by his mere presence announced that breakfast was ready. In the dining-room they met three other officers of lower rank–a lieutenant, Otto von Grossling, and two sub-lieutenants, Fritz Scheuneberg and Baron von Eyrick, a very short, fair-haired man, who was proud and brutal toward men, harsh toward prisoners and as explosive as gunpowder.
Since he had been in France his comrades had called him nothing but Mademoiselle Fifi. They had given him that nickname on account of his dandified style and small waist, which looked as if he wore corsets; of his pale face, on which his budding mustache scarcely showed, and on account of the habit he had acquired of employing the French expression, ‘Fi, fi donc’, which he pronounced with a slight whistle when he wished to express his sovereign contempt for persons or things.
The dining-room of the chateau was a magnificent long room, whose fine old mirrors, that were cracked by pistol bullets, and whose Flemish tapestry, which was cut to ribbons, and hanging in rags in places from sword-cuts, told too well what Mademoiselle Fifi’s occupation was during his spare time.
There were three family portraits on the walls a steel-clad knight, a cardinal and a judge, who were all smoking long porcelain pipes, which had been inserted into holes in the canvas, while a lady in a long, pointed waist proudly exhibited a pair of enormous mustaches, drawn with charcoal. The officers ate their breakfast almost in silence in that mutilated room, which looked dull in the rain and melancholy in its dilapidated condition, although its old oak floor had become as solid as the stone floor of an inn.
When they had finished eating and were smoking and drinking, they began, as usual, to berate the dull life they were leading. The bottles of brandy and of liqueur passed from hand to hand, and all sat back in their chairs and took repeated sips from their glasses, scarcely removing from their mouths the long, curved stems, which terminated in china bowls, painted in a manner to delight a Hottentot.
As soon as their glasses were empty they filled them again, with a gesture of resigned weariness, but Mademoiselle Fifi emptied his every minute, and a soldier immediately gave him another. They were enveloped in a cloud of strong tobacco smoke, and seemed to be sunk in a state of drowsy, stupid intoxication, that condition of stupid intoxication of men who have nothing to do, when suddenly the baron sat up and said: “Heavens! This cannot go on; we must think of something to do.” And on hearing this, Lieutenant Otto and Sub-lieutenant Fritz, who preeminently possessed the serious, heavy German countenance, said: “What, captain?”
He thought for a few moments and then replied: “What? Why, we must get up some entertainment, if the commandant will allow us.” “What sort of an entertainment, captain?” the major asked, taking his pipe out of his mouth. “I will arrange all that, commandant,” the baron said. “I will send Le Devoir to Rouen, and he will bring back some ladies. I know where they can be found, We will have supper here, as all the materials are at hand and; at least, we shall have a jolly evening.”
Graf von Farlsberg shrugged his shoulders with a smile: “You must surely be mad, my friend.”
But all the other officers had risen and surrounded their chief, saying: “Let the captain have his way, commandant; it is terribly dull here.” And the major ended by yielding. “Very well,” he replied, and the baron immediately sent for Le Devoir. He was an old non-commissioned officer, who had never been seen to smile, but who carried out all the orders of his superiors to the letter, no matter what they might be. He stood there, with an impassive face, while he received the baron’s instructions, and then went out, and five minutes later a large military wagon, covered with tarpaulin, galloped off as fast as four horses could draw it in the pouring rain. The officers all seemed to awaken from their lethargy, their looks brightened,, and they began to talk.
Although it was raining as hard as ever, the major declared that it was not so dark, and Lieutenant von Grossling said with conviction that the sky was clearing up, while Mademoiselle Fifi did not seem to be able to keep still. He got up and sat down again, and his bright eyes seemed to be looking for something to destroy. Suddenly, looking at the lady with the mustaches, the young fellow pulled out his revolver and said: “You shall not see it.” And without leaving his seat he aimed, and with two successive bullets cut out both the eyes of the portrait.
“Let us make a mine!” he then exclaimed, and the conversation was suddenly interrupted, as if they had found some fresh and powerful subject of interest. The mine was his invention, his method of destruction, and his favorite amusement.
When he left the chateau, the lawful owner, Comte Fernand d’Amoys d’Uville, had not had time to carry away or to hide anything except the plate, which had been stowed away in a hole made in one of the walls. As he was very rich and had good taste, the large drawing-room, which opened into the dining-room, looked like a gallery in a museum, before his precipitate flight.
Expensive oil paintings, water colors and drawings hung against the walls, while on the tables, on the hanging shelves and in elegant glass cupboards there were a thousand ornaments: small vases, statuettes, groups of Dresden china and grotesque Chinese figures, old ivory and Venetian glass, which filled the large room with their costly and fantastic array.
Scarcely anything was left now; not that the things had been stolen, for the major would not have allowed that, but Mademoiselle Fifi would every now and then have a mine, and on those occasions all the officers thoroughly enjoyed themselves for five minutes. The little marquis went into the drawing-room to get what he wanted, and he brought back a small, delicate china teapot, which he filled with gunpowder, and carefully introduced a piece of punk through the spout. This he lighted and took his infernal machine into the next room, but he came back immediately and shut the door. The Germans all stood expectant, their faces full of childish, smiling curiosity, and as soon as the explosion had shaken the chateau, they all rushed in at once.
Mademoiselle Fifi, who got in first, clapped his hands in delight at the sight of a terra-cotta Venus, whose head had been blown off, and each picked up pieces of porcelain and wondered at the strange shape of the fragments, while the major was looking with a paternal eye at the large drawing-room, which had been wrecked after the fashion of a Nero, and was strewn with the fragments of works of art. He went out first and said with a smile: “That was a great success this time.”
But there was such a cloud of smoke in the dining-room, mingled with the tobacco smoke, that they could not breathe, so the commandant opened the window, and all the officers, who had returned for a last glass of cognac, went up to it.
The moist air blew into the room, bringing with it a sort of powdery spray, which sprinkled their beards. They looked at the tall trees which were dripping with rain, at the broad valley which was covered with mist, and at the church spire in the distance, which rose up like a gray point in the beating rain.
The bells had not rung since their arrival. That was the only resistance which the invaders had met with in the neighborhood. The parish priest had not refused to take in and to feed the Prussian soldiers; he had several times even drunk a bottle of beer or claret with the hostile commandant, who often employed him as a benevolent intermediary; but it was no use to ask him for a single stroke of the bells; he would sooner have allowed himself to be shot. That was his way of protesting against the invasion, a peaceful and silent protest, the only one, he said, which was suitable to a priest, who was a man of mildness, and not of blood; and every one, for twenty-five miles round, praised Abbe Chantavoine’s firmness and heroism in venturing to proclaim the public mourning by the obstinate silence of his church bells.
The whole village, enthusiastic at his resistance, was ready to back up their pastor and to risk anything, for they looked upon that silent protest as the safeguard of the national honor. It seemed to the peasants that thus they deserved better of their country than Belfort and Strassburg, that they had set an equally valuable example, and that the name of their little village would become immortalized by that; but, with that exception, they refused their Prussian conquerors nothing.
The commandant and his officers laughed among themselves at this inoffensive courage, and as the people in the whole country round showed themselves obliging and compliant toward them, they willingly tolerated their silent patriotism. Little Baron Wilhelm alone would have liked to have forced them to ring the bells. He was very angry at his superior’s politic compliance with the priest’s scruples, and every day begged the commandant to allow him to sound “ding-dong, ding-dong,” just once, only just once, just by way of a joke. And he asked it in the coaxing, tender voice of some loved woman who is bent on obtaining her wish, but the commandant would not yield, and to console himself, Mademoiselle Fifi made a mine in the Chateau d’Uville.
The five men stood there together for five minutes, breathing in the moist air, and at last Lieutenant Fritz said with a laugh: “The ladies will certainly not have fine weather for their drive. Then they separated, each to his duty, while the captain had plenty to do in arranging for the dinner.
When they met again toward evening they began to laugh at seeing each other as spick and span and smart as on the day of a grand review. The commandant’s hair did not look so gray as it was in the morning, and the captain had shaved, leaving only his mustache, which made him look as if he had a streak of fire under his nose.
In spite of the rain, they left the window open, and one of them went to listen from time to time; and at a quarter past six the baron said he heard a rumbling in the distance. They all rushed down, and presently the wagon drove up at a gallop with its four horses steaming and blowing, and splashed with mud to their girths. Five women dismounted, five handsome girls whom a comrade of the captain, to whom Le Devoir had presented his card, had selected with care.
They had not required much pressing, as they had got to know the Prussians in the three months during which they had had to do with them, and so they resigned themselves to the men as they did to the state of affairs.
They went at once into the dining-room, which looked still more dismal in its dilapidated condition when it was lighted up; while the table covered with choice dishes, the beautiful china and glass, and the plate, which had been found in the hole in the wall where its owner had hidden it, gave it the appearance of a bandits’ inn, where they were supping after committing a robbery in the place. The captain was radiant, and put his arm round the women as if he were familiar with them; and when the three young men wanted to appropriate one each, he opposed them authoritatively, reserving to himself the right to apportion them justly, according to their several ranks, so as not to offend the higher powers. Therefore, to avoid all discussion, jarring, and suspicion of partiality, he placed them all in a row according to height, and addressing the tallest, he said in a voice of command:
“What is your name?” “Pamela,” she replied, raising her voice. And then he said: “Number One, called Pamela, is adjudged to the commandant.” Then, having kissed Blondina, the second, as a sign of proprietorship, he proffered stout Amanda to Lieutenant Otto; Eva, “the Tomato,” to Sub- lieutenant Fritz, and Rachel, the shortest of them all, a very young, dark girl, with eyes as black as ink, a Jewess, whose snub nose proved the rule which allots hooked noses to all her race, to the youngest officer, frail Count Wilhelm d’Eyrick.
They were all pretty and plump, without any distinctive features, and all had a similarity of complexion and figure.
The three young men wished to carry off their prizes immediately, under the pretext that they might wish to freshen their toilets; but the captain wisely opposed this, for he said they were quite fit to sit down to dinner, and his experience in such matters carried the day. There were only many kisses, expectant kisses.
Suddenly Rachel choked, and began to cough until the tears came into her eyes, while smoke came through her nostrils. Under pretence of kissing her, the count had blown a whiff of tobacco into her mouth. She did not fly into a rage and did not say a word, but she looked at her tormentor with latent hatred in her dark eyes.
They sat down to dinner. The commandant seemed delighted; he made Pamela sit on his right, and Blondina on his left, and said, as he unfolded his table napkin: “That was a delightful idea of yours, captain.”
Lieutenants Otto and Fritz, who were as polite as if they had been with fashionable ladies, rather intimidated their guests, but Baron von Kelweinstein beamed, made obscene remarks and seemed on fire with his crown of red hair. He paid the women compliments in French of the Rhine, and sputtered out gallant remarks, only fit for a low pothouse, from between his two broken teeth.
They did not understand him, however, and their intelligence did not seem to be awakened until he uttered foul words and broad expressions, which were mangled by his accent. Then they all began to laugh at once like crazy women and fell against each other, repeating the words, which the baron then began to say all wrong, in order that he might have the pleasure of hearing them say dirty things. They gave him as much of that stuff as he wanted, for they were drunk after the first bottle of wine, and resuming their usual habits and manners, they kissed the officers to right and left of them, pinched their arms, uttered wild cries, drank out of every glass and sang French couplets and bits of German songs which they had picked up in their daily intercourse with the enemy.
Soon the men themselves became very unrestrained, shouted and broke the plates and dishes, while the soldiers behind them waited on them stolidly. The commandant was the only one who kept any restraint upon himself.
Mademoiselle Fifi had taken Rachel on his knee, and, getting excited, at one moment he kissed the little black curls on her neck and at another he pinched her furiously and made her scream, for he was seized by a species of ferocity, and tormented by his desire to hurt her. He often held her close to him and pressed a long kiss on the Jewess’ rosy mouth until she lost her breath, and at last he bit her until a stream of blood ran down her chin and on to her bodice.
For the second time she looked him full in the face, and as she bathed the wound, she said: “You will have to pay for, that!” But he merely laughed a hard laugh and said: “I will pay.”
At dessert champagne was served, and the commandant rose, and in the same voice in which he would have drunk to the health of the Empress Augusta, he drank: “To our ladies!” And a series of toasts began, toasts worthy of the lowest soldiers and of drunkards, mingled with obscene jokes, which were made still more brutal by their ignorance of the language. They got up, one after the other, trying to say something witty, forcing themselves to be funny, and the women, who were so drunk that they almost fell off their chairs, with vacant looks and clammy tongues applauded madly each time.
The captain, who no doubt wished to impart an appearance of gallantry to the orgy, raised his glass again and said: “To our victories over hearts and, thereupon Lieutenant Otto, who was a species of bear from the Black Forest, jumped up, inflamed and saturated with drink, and suddenly seized by an access of alcoholic patriotism, he cried: “To our victories over France!”
Drunk as they were, the women were silent, but Rachel turned round, trembling, and said: “See here, I know some Frenchmen in whose presence you would not dare say that.” But the little count, still holding her on his knee, began to laugh, for the wine had made him very merry, and said: “Ha! ha! ha! I have never met any of them myself. As soon as we show ourselves, they run away!” The girl, who was in a terrible rage, shouted into his face: “You are lying, you dirty scoundrel!”
For a moment he looked at her steadily with his bright eyes upon her, as he had looked at the portrait before he destroyed it with bullets from his revolver, and then he began to laugh: “Ah! yes, talk about them, my dear! Should we be here now if they were brave?” And, getting excited, he exclaimed: “We are the masters! France belongs to us!” She made one spring from his knee and threw herself into her chair, while he arose, held out his glass over the table and repeated: “France and the French, the woods, the fields and the houses of France belong to us!”
The others, who were quite drunk, and who were suddenly seized by military enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of brutes, seized their glasses, and shouting, “Long live Prussia!” they emptied them at a draught.
The girls did not protest, for they were reduced to silence and were afraid. Even Rachel did not say a word, as she had no reply to make. Then the little marquis put his champagne glass, which had just been refilled, on the head of the Jewess and exclaimed: “All the women in France belong to us also!”
At that she got up so quickly that the glass upset, spilling the amber-colored wine on her black hair as if to baptize her, and broke into a hundred fragments, as it fell to the floor. Her lips trembling, she defied the looks of the officer, who was still laughing, and stammered out in a voice choked with rage:
“That–that–that–is not true–for you shall not have the women of France!”
He sat down again so as to laugh at his ease; and, trying to speak with the Parisian accent, he said: “She is good, very good! Then why did you come here, my dear?” She was thunderstruck and made no reply for a moment, for in her agitation she did not understand him at first, but as soon as she grasped his meaning she said to him indignantly and vehemently: “I! I! I am not a woman, I am only a strumpet, and that is all that Prussians want.”
Almost before she had finished he slapped her full in the face; but as he was raising his hand again, as if to strike her, she seized a small dessert knife with a silver blade from the table and, almost mad with rage, stabbed him right in the hollow of his neck. Something that he was going to say was cut short in his throat, and he sat there with his mouth half open and a terrible look in his eyes.
All the officers shouted in horror and leaped up tumultuously; but, throwing her chair between the legs of Lieutenant Otto, who fell down at full length, she ran to the window, opened it before they could seize her and jumped out into the night and the pouring rain.
In two minutes Mademoiselle Fifi was dead, and Fritz and Otto drew their swords and wanted to kill the women, who threw themselves at their feet and clung to their knees. With some difficulty the major stopped the slaughter and had the four terrified girls locked up in a room under the care of two soldiers, and then he organized the pursuit of the fugitive as carefully as if he were about to engage in a skirmish, feeling quite sure that she would be caught.
The table, which had been cleared immediately, now served as a bed on which to lay out the lieutenant, and the four officers stood at the windows, rigid and sobered with the stern faces of soldiers on duty, and tried to pierce through the darkness of the night amid the steady torrent of rain. Suddenly a shot was heard and then another, a long way off; and for four hours they heard from time to time near or distant reports and rallying cries, strange words of challenge, uttered in guttural voices.
In the morning they all returned. Two soldiers had been killed and three others wounded by their comrades in the ardor of that chase and in the confusion of that nocturnal pursuit, but they had not caught Rachel.
Then the inhabitants of the district were terrorized, the houses were turned topsy-turvy, the country was scoured and beaten up, over and over again, but the Jewess did not seem to have left a single trace of her passage behind her.
When the general was told of it he gave orders to hush up the affair, so as not to set a bad example to the army, but he severely censured the commandant, who in turn punished his inferiors. The general had said: “One does not go to war in order to amuse one’s self and to caress prostitutes.” Graf von Farlsberg, in his exasperation, made up his mind to have his revenge on the district, but as he required a pretext for showing severity, he sent for the priest and ordered him to have the bell tolled at the funeral of Baron von Eyrick.
Contrary to all expectation, the priest showed himself humble and most respectful, and when Mademoiselle Fifi’s body left the Chateau d’Uville on its way to the cemetery, carried by soldiers, preceded, surrounded and followed by soldiers who marched with loaded rifles, for the first time the bell sounded its funeral knell in a lively manner, as if a friendly hand were caressing it. At night it rang again, and the next day, and every day; it rang as much as any one could desire. Sometimes even it would start at night and sound gently through the darkness, seized with a strange joy, awakened one could not tell why. All the peasants in the neighborhood declared that it was bewitched, and nobody except the priest and the sacristan would now go near the church tower. And they went because a poor girl was living there in grief and solitude and provided for secretly by those two men.
She remained there until the German troops departed, and then one evening the priest borrowed the baker’s cart and himself drove his prisoner to Rouen. When they got there he embraced her, and she quickly went back on foot to the establishment from which she had come, where the proprietress, who thought that she was dead, was very glad to see her.
A short time afterward a patriot who had no prejudices, and who liked her because of her bold deed, and who afterward loved her for herself, married her and made her a lady quite as good as many others.
The End

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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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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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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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One September night a family had gathered round their hearth, and piled it high with the driftwood of mountain streams, the dry cones of the pine, and the splintered ruins of great trees that had come crashing down the precipice. Up the chimney roared the fire, and brightened the room with its broad blaze. The faces of the father and mother had a sober gladness; the children laughed; the eldest daughter was the image of Happiness at seventeen; and the aged grandmother, who sat knitting in the warmest place, was the image of Happiness grown old. They had found the “herb, heart’s-ease,” in the bleakest spot of all New England. This family were situated in the Notch of the White Hills, where the wind was sharp throughout the year, and pitilessly cold in the winter–giving their cottage all its fresh inclemency before it descended on the valley of the Saco. They dwelt in a cold spot and a dangerous one; for a mountain towered above their heads, so steep, that the stones would often rumble down its sides and startle them at midnight.

The daughter had just uttered some simple jest that filled them all with mirth, when the wind came through the Notch and seemed to pause before their cottage–rattling the door, with a sound of wailing and lamentation, before it passed into the valley. For a moment it saddened them, though there was nothing unusual in the tones. But the family were glad again when they perceived that the latch was lifted by some traveller, whose footsteps had been unheard amid the dreary blast which heralded his approach, and wailed as he was entering, and went moaning away from the door.
Though they dwelt in such a solitude, these people held daily converse with the world. The romantic pass of the Notch is a great artery, through which the life-blood of internal commerce is continually throbbing between Maine, on one side, and the Green Mountains and the shores of the St. Lawrence, on the other. The stage-coach always drew up before the door of the cottage. The way-farer, with no companion but his staff, paused here to exchange a word, that the sense of loneliness might not utterly overcome him ere he could pass through the cleft of the mountain, or reach the first house in the valley. And here the teamster, on his way to Portland market, would put up for the night; and, if a bachelor, might sit an hour beyond the usual bedtime, and steal a kiss from the mountain maid at parting. It was one of those primitive taverns where the traveller pays only for food and lodging, but meets with a homely kindness beyond all price. When the footsteps were heard, therefore, between the outer door and the inner one, the whole family rose up, grandmother, children, and all, as if about to welcome someone who belonged to them, and whose fate was linked with theirs.
The door was opened by a young man. His face at first wore the melancholy expression, almost despondency, of one who travels a wild and bleak road, at nightfall and alone, but soon brightened up when he saw the kindly warmth of his reception. He felt his heart spring forward to meet them all, from the old woman, who wiped a chair with her apron, to the little child that held out its arms to him. One glance and smile placed the stranger on a footing of innocent familiarity with the eldest daughter.
“Ah, this fire is the right thing!” cried he; “especially when there is such a pleasant circle round it. I am quite benumbed; for the Notch is just like the pipe of a great pair of bellows; it has blown a terrible blast in my face all the way from Bartlett.”
“Then you are going towards Vermont?” said the master of the house, as he helped to take a light knapsack off the young man’s shoulders.
“Yes; to Burlington, and far enough beyond,” replied he. “I meant to have been at Ethan Crawford’s tonight; but a pedestrian lingers along such a road as this. It is no matter; for, when I saw this good fire, and all your cheerful faces, I felt as if you had kindled it on purpose for me, and were waiting my arrival. So I shall sit down among you, and make myself at home.”
The frank-hearted stranger had just drawn his chair to the fire when something like a heavy footstep was heard without, rushing down the steep side of the mountain, as with long and rapid strides, and taking such a leap in passing the cottage as to strike the opposite precipice. The family held their breath, because they knew the sound, and their guest held his by instinct.
“The old mountain has thrown a stone at us, for fear we should forget him,” said the landlord, recovering himself. “He sometimes nods his head and threatens to come down; but we are old neighbors, and agree together pretty well upon the whole. Besides we have a sure place of refuge hard by if he should be coming in good earnest.”
Let us now suppose the stranger to have finished his supper of bear’s meat; and, by his natural felicity of manner, to have placed himself on a footing of kindness with the whole family, so that they talked as freely together as if he belonged to their mountain brood. He was of a proud, yet gentle spirit–haughty and reserved among the rich and great; but ever ready to stoop his head to the lowly cottage door, and be like a brother or a son at the poor man’s fireside. In the household of the Notch he found warmth and simplicity of feeling, the pervading intelligence of New England, and a poetry of native growth, which they had gathered when they little thought of it from the mountain peaks and chasms, and at the very threshold of their romantic and dangerous abode. He had travelled far and alone; his whole life, indeed, had been a solitary path; for, with the lofty caution of his nature, he had kept himself apart from those who might otherwise have been his companions. The family, too, though so kind and hospitable, had that consciousness of unity among themselves, and separation from the world at large, which, in every domestic circle, should still keep a holy place where no stranger may intrude. But this evening a prophetic sympathy impelled the refined and educated youth to pour out his heart before the simple mountaineers, and constrained them to answer him with the same free confidence. And thus it should have been. Is not the kindred of a common fate a closer tie than that of birth?
The secret of the young man’s character was a high and abstracted ambition. He could have borne to live an undistinguished life, but not to be forgotten in the grave. Yearning desire had been transformed to hope; and hope, long cherished, had become like certainty, that, obscurely as he journeyed now, a glory was to beam on all his pathway-though not, perhaps, while he was treading it. But when posterity should gaze back into the gloom of what was now the present, they would trace the brightness of his footsteps, brightening as meaner glories faded, and confess that a gifted one had passed from his cradle to his tomb with none to recognize him.
“As yet,” cried the stranger–his cheek glowing and his eye flashing with enthusiasm–“as yet, I have done nothing. Were I to vanish from the earth tomorrow, none would know so much of me as you: that a nameless youth came up at nightfall from the valley of the Saco, and opened his heart to you in the evening, and passed through the Notch by sunrise, and was seen no more. Not a soul would ask, ‘Who was he? Whither did the wanderer go?’ But I cannot die till I have achieved my destiny. Then, let Death come! I shall have built my monument!”
There was a continual flow of natural emotion, gushing forth amid abstracted reverie, which enabled the family to understand this young man’s sentiments, though so foreign from their own. With quick sensibility of the ludicrous, he blushed at the ardor into which he had been betrayed.
“You laugh at me,” said he, taking the eldest daughter’s hand, and laughing himself. “You think my ambition as nonsensical as if I were to freeze myself to death on the top of Mount Washington, only that people might spy at me from the country round about. And, truly, that would be a noble pedestal for a man’s statue!”
“It is better to sit here by this fire,” answered the girl, blushing, “and be comfortable and contented, though nobody thinks about us.”
“I suppose,” said her father, after a fit of musing, “there is something natural in what the young man says; and if my mind had been turned that way, I might have felt just the same. It is strange, wife, how his talk has set my head running on things that are pretty certain never to come to pass.”
“Perhaps they may,” observed the wife. “Is the man thinking what he will do when he is a widower?”
“No, no!” cried he, repelling the idea with reproachful kindness. “When I think of your death, Esther, I think of mine, too. But I was wishing we had a good farm in Bartlett, or Bethlehem, or Littleton, or some other township round the White Mountains; but not where they could tumble on our heads. I should want to stand well with my neighbors and be called Squire, and sent to General Court for a term or two; for a plain, honest man may do as much good there as a lawyer. And when I should be grown quite an old man, and you an old woman, so as not to be long apart, I might die happy enough in my bed, and leave you all crying around me. A slate gravestone would suit me as well as a marble one–with just my name and age, and a verse of a hymn, and something to let people know that I lived an honest man and died a Christian.”
“There now!” exclaimed the stranger; “it is our nature to desire a monument, be it slate or marble, or a pillar of granite, or a glorious memory in the universal heart of man.”
“We’re in a strange way, tonight,” said the wife, with tears in her eyes. “They say it’s a sign of something, when folks’ minds go a-wandering so. Hark to the children!”
They listened accordingly. The younger children had been put to bed in another room, but with an open door between, so that they could be heard talking busily among themselves. One and all seemed to have caught the infection from the fireside circle, and were outvying each other in wild wishes, and childish projects, of what they would do when they came to be men and women. At length a little boy, instead of addressing his brothers and sisters, called out to his mother.
“I’ll tell you what I wish, mother,” cried he. “I want you and father and grandma’m, and all of us, and the stranger too, to start right away, and go and take a drink out of the basin of the Flume!”
Nobody could help laughing at the child’s notion of leaving a warm bed, and dragging them from a cheerful fire, to visit the basin of the Flume–a brook, which tumbles over the precipice, deep within the Notch. The boy had hardly spoken when a wagon rattled along the road, and stopped a moment before the door. It appeared to contain two or three men, who were cheering their hearts with the rough chorus of a song, which resounded, in broken notes, between the cliffs, while the singers hesitated whether to continue their journey or put up here for the night.
“Father,” said the girl, “they are calling you by name.”
But the good man doubted whether they had really called him, and was unwilling to show himself too solicitous of gain by inviting people to patronize his house. He therefore did not hurry to the door; and the lash being soon applied, the travellers plunged into the Notch, still singing and laughing, though their music and mirth came back drearily from the heart of the mountain.
“There, mother!” cried the boy, again. “They’d have given us a ride to the Flume.”
Again they laughed at the child’s pertinacious fancy for a night ramble. But it happened that a light cloud passed over the daughter’s spirit; she looked gravely into the fire, and drew a breath that was almost a sigh. It forced its way, in spite of a little struggle to repress it. Then starting and blushing, she looked quickly round the circle, as if they had caught a glimpse into her bosom. The stranger asked what she had been thinking of.
“Nothing,” answered she, with a downcast smile. “Only I felt lonesome just then.”
“Oh, I have always had a gift of feeling what is in other people’s hearts,” said he, half seriously. “Shall I tell the secrets of yours? For I know what to think when a young girl shivers by a warm hearth, and complains of lonesomeness at her mother’s side. Shall I put these feelings into words?”
“They would not be a girl’s feelings any longer if they could be put into words,” replied the mountain nymph, laughing, but avoiding his eye.
All this was said apart. Perhaps a germ of love was springing in their hearts, so pure that it might blossom in Paradise, since it could not be matured on earth; for women worship such gentle dignity as his; and the proud, contemplative, yet kindly soul is oftenest captivated by simplicity like hers. But while they spoke softly, and he was watching the happy sadness, the lightsome shadows, the shy yearnings of a maiden’s nature, the wind through the Notch took a deeper and drearier sound. It seemed, as the fanciful stranger said, like the choral strain of the spirits of the blast, who in old Indian times had their dwelling among these mountains, and made their heights and recesses a sacred region.
There was a wail along the road, as if a funeral were passing. To chase away the gloom, the family threw pine branches on their fire, till the dry leaves crackled and the flame arose, discovering once again a scene of peace and humble happiness. The light hovered about them fondly, and caressed them all. There were the little faces of the children, peeping from their bed apart, and here the father’s frame of strength, the mother’s subdued and careful mien, the high-browed youth, the budding girl, and the good old grandam, still knitting in the warmest place. The aged woman looked up from her task, and, with fingers ever busy, was the next to speak.
“Old folks have their notions,” said she, “as well as young ones. You’ve been wishing and planning; and letting your heads run on one thing and another, till you’ve set my mind a-wandering too. Now what should an old woman wish for, when she can go but a step or two before she comes to her grave? Children, it will haunt me night and day till I tell you.”
“What is it, mother?” cried the husband and wife at once.
Then the old woman, with an air of mystery which drew the circle closer round the fire, informed them that she had provided her grave-clothes some years before–a nice linen shroud, a cap with a muslin ruff, and everything of a finer sort than she had worn since her wedding day. But this evening an old superstition had strangely recurred to her. It used to be said, in her younger days, that if anything were amiss with a corpse, if only the ruff were not smooth, or the cap did not set right, the corpse in the coffin and beneath the clods would strive to put up its cold hands and arrange it. The bare thought made her nervous.
“Don’t talk so, grandmother!” said the girl, shuddering.
“Now,” continued the old woman, with singular earnestness, yet smiling strangely at her own folly, “I want one of you, my children- when your mother is dressed and in the coffin–I want one of you to hold a looking-glass over my face. Who knows but I may take a glimpse at myself, and see whether all’s right?”
“Old and young, we dream of graves and monuments,” murmured the stranger youth. “I wonder how mariners feel when the ship is sinking, and they, unknown and undistinguished, are to be buried together in the ocean–that wide and nameless sepulchre?”
For a moment, the old woman’s ghastly conception so engrossed the minds of her hearers that a sound abroad in the night, rising like the roar of a blast, had grown broad, deep, and terrible, before the fated group were conscious of it. The house and all within it trembled; the foundations of the earth seemed to be shaken, as if this awful sound were the peal of the last trump. Young and old exchanged one wild glance, and remained an instant, pale, affrighted, without utterance, or power to move. Then the same shriek burst simultaneously from all their lips.
“The Slide! The Slide!”
The simplest words must intimate, but not portray, the unutterable horror of the catastrophe. The victims rushed from their cottage, and sought refuge in what they deemed a safer spot–where, in contemplation of such an emergency, a sort of barrier had been reared. Alas! they had quitted their security, and fled right into the pathway of destruction. Down came the whole side of the mountain, in a cataract of ruin. Just before it reached the house, the stream broke into two branches–shivered not a window there, but overwhelmed the whole vicinity, blocked up the road, and annihilated everything in its dreadful course. Long ere the thunder of the great Slide had ceased to roar among the mountains, the mortal agony had been endured, and the victims were at peace. Their bodies were never found.
The next morning, the light smoke was seen stealing from the cottage chimney up the mountain side. Within, the fire was yet smouldering on the hearth, and the chairs in a circle round it, as if the inhabitants had but gone forth to view the devastation of the Slide, and would shortly return, to thank Heaven for their miraculous escape. All had left separate tokens, by which those who had known the family were made to shed a tear for each. Who has not heard their name? The story has been told far and wide, and will forever be a legend of these mountains. Poets have sung their fate.
There were circumstances which led some to suppose that a stranger had been received into the cottage on this awful night, and had shared the catastrophe of all its inmates. Others denied that there were sufficient grounds for such a conjecture. Wo for the high-souled youth, with his dream of Earthly Immortality! His name and person utterly unknown; his history, his way of life, his plans, a mystery never to be solved, his death and his existence equally a doubt! Whose was the agony of that death moment?
The end

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