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

The End

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

       —Clifton Fadiman

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

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

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  1. AELIUS LAMIA, born in Italy of illustrious parents, had not yet discarded the toga proetexta when he set out for the schools of Athens to study philosophy. Subsequently he took up his residence at Rome, and in his house on the Esquiline, amid a circle of youthful wastrels, abandoned himself to licentious courses. But being accused of engaging in criminal relations with Lepida, the wife of Sulpicius Quirinus, a man of consular rank, and being found guilty, he was exiled by Tiberius Caesar. At that time he was just entering his twenty-fourth year. During the eighteen years that his exile lasted he traversed Syria, Palestine, Cappadocia, and Armenia, and made prolonged visits to Antioch, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. When, after the death of Tiberius, Caius was raised to the purple, Lamia obtained permission to return to Rome. He even regained a portion of his possessions. Adversity had taught him wisdom.

He avoided all intercourse with the wives and daughters of Roman citizens, made no efforts toward obtaining office, held aloof from public honours, and lived a secluded life in his house on the Esquiline. Occupying himself with the task of recording all the remarkable things he had seen during his distant travels, he turned, as he said, the vicissitudes of his years of expiation into a diversion for his hours of rest. In the midst of these calm enjoyments, alternating with assiduous study of the works of Epicurus, he recognized with a mixture of surprise and vexation that age was stealing upon him. In his sixty-second year, being afflicted with an illness which proved in no slight degree troublesome, he decided to have recourse to the waters at Baiae. The coast at that point, once frequented by the halcyon, was at this date the resort of the wealthy Roman, greedy of pleasure. For a week Lamia lived alone, without a friend in the brilliant crowd. Then one day, after dinner, an inclination to which he yielded urged him to ascend the inclines, which, covered with vines that resembled bacchantes, looked out upon the waves.

Having reached the summit he seated himself by the side of a path beneath a terebinth, and let his glances wander over the lovely landscape. To his left, livid and bare, the Phlegraean plain stretched out towards the ruins of Cumae. On his right, Cape Misenum plunged its abrupt spur beneath the Tyrrhenian sea. Beneath his feet luxurious Baiae, following the graceful outline of the coast, displayed its gardens, its villas thronged with statues, its porticos, its marble terraces along the shores of the blue ocean where the dolphins sported. Before him, on the other side of the bay, on the Campanian coast, gilded by the already sinking sun, gleamed the temples which far away rose above the laurels of Posilippo, whilst on the extreme horizon Vesuvius looked forth smiling.

Lamia drew from a fold of his toga a scroll containing the Treatise upon Nature , extended himself upon the ground, and began to read. But the warning cries of a slave necessitated his rising to allow of the passage of a litter which was being carried along the narrow pathway through the vineyards. The litter being uncurtained, permitted Lamia to see stretched upon the cushions as it was borne nearer to him the figure of an elderly man of immense bulk, who, supporting his head on his hand, gazed out with a gloomy and disdainful expression. His nose, which was aquiline, and his chin, which was prominent, seemed desirous of meeting across his lips, and his jaws were powerful.

 

From the first moment Lamia was convinced that the face was familiar to him. He hesitated a moment before the name came to him. Then suddenly hastening towards the litter with a display of surprise and delight —

“Pontius Pilate!” he cried.”The gods be praised who have permitted me to see you once again!”

The old man gave a signal to the slaves to stop, and cast a keen glance upon the stranger who had addressed him.

“Pontius, my dear host,” resumed the latter, “have twenty years so far whitened my hair and hollowed my cheeks that you no longer recognise your friend AElius Lamia?”

At this name Pontius Pilate dismounted from the litter as actively as the weight of his years and the heaviness of his gait permitted him, and embraced AElius Lamia again and again.

“Gods! what a treat it is to me to see you once more! But, alas, you call up memories of those long-vanished days when I was Procurator of Judaea, in the province of Syria. Why, it must be thirty years ago that I first met you. It was at Caesarea, whither you came to drag out your weary term of exile. I was fortunate enough to alleviate it a little, and out of friendship, Lamia, you followed me to that depressing place Jerusalem, where the Jews filled me with bitterness and disgust. You remained for more than ten years my guest and my companion, and in converse about Rome and things Roman we both of us managed to find consolation — you for your misfortunes, and I for my burdens of State.”

Lamia embraced him afresh.

“You forget two things, Pontius; you are overlooking the facts that you used your influence on my behalf with Herod Antipas, and that your purse was freely open to me.”

“Let us not talk of that,” replied Pontius, “since after your return to Rome you sent me by one of your freedmen a sum of money which repaid me with usury.”

“Pontius, I could never consider myself out of your debt by the mere payment of money. But tell me, have the gods fulfilled your desires? Are you in the enjoyment of all the happiness you deserve? Tell me about your family, your fortunes, your health.”

“I have withdrawn to Sicily, where I possess estates, and where I cultivate wheat for the market. My eldest daughter, my best-beloved Pontia, who has been left a widow, lives with me, and directs my household. The gods be praised, I have preserved my mental vigour; my memory is not in the least degree enfeebled. But old age always brings in its train a long procession of griefs and infirmities. I am cruelly tormented with gout. And at this very moment you find me on my way to the Phlegraean plain in search of a remedy for my sufferings. From that burning soil, whence at night flames burst forth, proceed acrid exhalations of sulphur, which, so they say, ease the pains and restore suppleness to the stiffened joints. At least, the physicians assure me that it is so.”

“May you find it so in your case, Pontius! But, despite the gout and its burning torments, you scarcely look as old as myself, although in reality you must be my senior by ten years. Unmistakably you have retained a greater degree of vigour than I ever possessed, and I am overjoyed to find you looking so hale. Why, dear friend, did you retire from the public service before the customary age? Why, on resigning your governorship in Judaea, did you withdraw to a voluntary exile on your Sicilian estates? Give me an account of your doings from the moment that I ceased to be a witness of them. You were preparing to suppress a Samaritan rising when I set out for Cappadocia, where I hoped to draw some profit from the breeding of horses and mules. I have not seen you since then. How did that expedition succeed? Pray tell me. Everything interests me that concerns you in any way.”

Pontius Pilate sadly shook his head.

“My natural disposition,” he said, “as well as a sense of duty, impelled me to fulfil my public responsibilities, not merely with diligence, but even with ardour. But I was pursued by unrelenting hatred. Intrigues and calumnies cut short my career in its prime, and the fruit it should have look to bear has withered away. You ask me about the Samaritan insurrection. Let us sit down on this hillock. I shall be able to give you an answer in few words. These occurrences are as vividly present to me as if they had happened yesterday.

“A man of the people, of persuasive speech — there are many such to be met with in Syria — induced the Samaritans to gather together in arms on Mount Gerizi
m (which in that country is looked upon as a holy place) under the promise that he would disclose to their sight the sacred vessels which in the ancient days of Evander and our father, AEneas, had been hidden away by an eponymous hero, or rather a tribal deity, named Moses. Upon this assurance the Samaritans rose in rebellion; but having been warned in time to forestall them, I dispatched detachments of infantry to occupy the mountain, and stationed cavalry to keep the approaches to it under observation.

“These measures of prudence were urgent. The rebels were already laying siege to the town of Tyrathaba, situated at the foot of Mount Gerizim. I easily dispersed them, and stifled the as yet scarcely organized revolt. Then, in order to give a forcible example with as few victims as possible, I handed over to execution the leaders of the rebellion. But you are aware, Lamia, in what strait dependence I was kept by the proconsul Vitellius, who governed Syria not in, but against the interests of Rome, and looked upon the provinces of the empire as territories which could be farmed out to tetrarchs. The head men among the Samaritans, in their resentment against me, came and fell at his feet lamenting. To listen to them, nothing had been further from their thoughts than to disobey Caesar. It was I who had provoked the rising, and it was purely in order to withstand my violence that they had gathered together around Tyrathaba. Vitellius listened to their complaints, and handing over the affairs of Judaea to his friend Marcellus, commanded me to go and justify my proceedings before the Emperor himself. With a heart overflowing with grief and resentment I took ship. Just as I approached the shores of Italy, Tiberius, worn out with age and the cares of empire, died suddenly on the self-same Cape Misenum, whose peak we see from this very spot magnified in the mists of evening. I demanded justice of Caius, his successor, whose perception was naturally acute, and who was acquainted with Syrian affairs. But marvel with me, Lamia, at the maliciousness of fortune, resolved on my discomfiture. Caius then had in his suite at Rome the Jew Agrippa, his companion, the friend of his childhood, whom he cherished as his own eyes. Now Agrippa favoured Vitellius, inasmuch as Vitellius was the enemy of Antipas, whom Agrippa pursued with his hatred. The Emperor adopted the prejudices of his beloved Asiatic, and refused even to listen to me. There was nothing for me to do but bow beneath the stroke of unmerited misfortune. With tears for my meat and gall for my portion, I withdrew to my estates in Sicily, where I should have died of grief if my sweet Pontia had not come to console her father. I have cultivated wheat, and succeeded in producing the fullest ears in the whole province. But now my life is ended; the future will judge between Vitellius and me.”

“Pontius,” replied Lamia, “I am persuaded that you acted towards the Samaritans according to the rectitude of your character, and solely in the interests of Rome. But were you not perchance on that occasion a trifle too much influenced by that impetuous courage which has always swayed you? You will remember that in Judaea it often happened that I who, younger than you, should naturally have been more impetuous than you, was obliged to urge you to clemency and suavity.”

 

“Suavity towards the Jews!” cried Pontius Pilate.”Although you have lived amongst them, it seems clear that you ill understand those enemies of the human race. Haughty and at the same time base, combining an invincible obstinacy with a despicably mean spirit, they weary alike your love and your hatred. My character, Lamia, was formed upon the maxims of the divine Augustus. When I was appointed Procurator of Judaea, the world was already penetrated with the majestic ideal of the pax romana . No longer, as in the days of our internecine strife, were we witnesses to the sack of a province for the aggrandisement of a proconsul. I knew where my duty lay. I was careful that my actions should be governed by prudence and moderation. The gods are my witnesses that I was resolved upon mildness, and upon mildness only. Yet what did my benevolent intentions avail me? You were at my side, Lamia, when, at the outset of my career as ruler, the first rebellion came to a head. Is there any need for me to recall the details to you? The garrison had been transferred from Caesarea to take up its winter quarters at Jerusalem. Upon the ensigns of the legionaries appeared the presentment of Caesar. The inhabitants of Jerusalem, who did not recognize the indwelling divinity of the Emperor, were scandalized at this, as though, when obedience is compulsory, it were not less abject to obey a god than a man. The priests of their nation appeared before my tribunal imploring me with supercilious humility to have the ensigns removed from within the holy city. Out of reverence for the divine nature of Caesar and the majesty of the empire, I refused to comply. Then the rabble made common cause with the priests, and all around the pretorium portentous cries of supplication arose. I ordered the soldiers to stack their spears in front of the tower of Antonia, and to proceed, armed only with sticks like lictors, to disperse the insolent crowd. But, heedless of blows, the Jews continued their entreaties, and the more obstinate amongst them threw themselves on the ground and, exposing their throats to the rods, deliberately courted death. You were a witness of my humiliation on that occasion, Lamia. By the order of Vitellius I was forced to send the insignia back to Caesarea. That disgrace I had certainly not merited. Before the immortal gods I swear that never once during my term of office did I flout justice and the laws. But I am grown old. My enemies and detractors are dead. I shall die unavenged. Who will not retrieve my character?”

He moaned and lapsed into silence. Lamia replied:

“That man is prudent who neither hopes nor fears anything from the uncertain events of the future. Does it matter in the least what estimate men may form of us hereafter? We ourselves are after all our own witnesses, and our own judges. You must rely, Pontius Pilate, on the testimony you yourself bear to your own rectitude. Be content with your own personal respect and that of your friends. For the rest, we know that mildness by itself will not suffice for the work of government. There is but little room in the actions of public men for that indulgence of human frailty which the philosophers recommend.”

“We’ll say no more at present,” said Pontius.”The sulphurous fumes which rise from the Phlegraean plain are more powerful when the ground which exhales them is still warm beneath the sun’s rays. I must hasten on. Adieu! But now that I have rediscovered a friend, I should wish to take advantage of my good fortune. Do me the favour, AElius Lamia, to give me your company at supper at my house to-morrow. My house stands on the seashore, at the extreme end of the town in the direction of Misenum. You will easily recognize it by the porch, which bears a painting representing Orpheus surrounded by tigers and lions, whom he is charming with the strains from his lyre.

 

“Till to-morrow, Lamia,” he repeated, as he climbed once more into his litter.”To-morrow we will talk about Judaea.”

The following day at the supper hour Lamia presented himself at the house of Pontius Pilate. Two couches only were in readiness for occupants. Creditably but simply equipped, the table held a silver service in which were set out beccaficos in honey, thrushes, oysters from the Lucrine lake, and lampreys from Sicily. As they proceeded with their repast, Pontius and Lamia interchanged inquiries with one another about their ailments, the symptoms of which they described at considerable length, mutually emulous of communicating the various remedies which had been recommended to them. Then, congratulating themselves on being thrown together once more at Baiae, they vied with one another in praise of the beauty of that enchanting coast and the mildness of the c
limate they enjoyed. Lamia was enthusiastic about the charms of the courtesans who frequented the seashore laden with golden ornaments and trailing draperies of barbaric broidery. But the aged Procurator deplored the ostentation with which by means of trumpery jewels and filmy garments foreigners and even enemies of the empire beguiled the Romans of their gold. After a time they turned to the subject of the great engineering feats that had been accomplished in the country; the prodigious bridge constructed by Caius between Puteoli and Baiae, and the canals which Augustus excavated to convey the waters of the ocean to Lake Avernus and the Lucrine lake.

“I also,” said Pontius, with a sigh, “I also wished to set afoot public works of great utility. When, for my sins, I was appointed Governor of Judaea, I conceived the idea of furnishing Jerusalem with an abundant supply of pure water by means of an aqueduct. The elevation of the levels, the proportionate capacity of the various parts, the gradient for the brazen reservoirs to which the distribution pipes were to be fixed — I had gone into every detail, and decided everything for myself with the assistance of mechanical experts. I had drawn up regulations for the superintendents so as to prevent individuals from making unauthorized depredations. The architects and the workmen had their instructions. I gave orders for the commencement of operations. But far from viewing with satisfaction the construction of that conduit, which was intended to carry to their town upon its massive arches not only water but health, the inhabitants of Jerusalem gave vent to lamentable outcries. They gathered tumultuously together, exclaiming against the sacrilege and impiousness, and hurling themselves upon the workmen, scattered the very foundation stones. Can you picture to yourself, Lamia, a filthier set of barbarians? Nevertheless, Vitellius decided in their favour, and I received orders to put a stop to the work.”

“It is a knotty point,” said Lamia, “how far one is justified in devising things for the commonweal against the will of the populace.”

Pontius Pilate continued as though he had not heard this interruption.

“Refuse an aqueduct! What madness! But whatever is of Roman origin is distasteful to the Jews. In their eyes we are an unclean race, and our very presence appears a profanation to them. You will remember that they would never venture to enter the pretorium for fear of defiling themselves, and that I was consequently obliged to discharge my magisterial functions in an open-air tribunal on that marble pavement your feet so often trod.

“They fear us and they despise us. Yet is not Rome the mother and warden of all these peoples who nestle smiling upon her venerable bosom? With her eagles in the van, peace and liberty have been carried to the very confines of the universe. Those whom we have subdued we look on as our friends, and we leave those conquered races, nay, we secure to them the permanence of their customs and their laws. Did Syria, aforetime rent asunder by its rabble of petty kings, ever even begin to taste of peace and prosperity until it submitted to the armies of Pompey? And when Rome might have reaped a golden harvest as the price of her goodwill, did she lay hands on the hoards that swell the treasuries of barbaric temples? Did she despoil the shrine of Cybele at Pessinus, or the Morimene and Cilician sanctuaries of Jupiter, or the temple of the Jewish god at Jerusalem? Antioch, Palmyra, and Apamea, secure despite their wealth, and no longer in dread of the wandering Arab of the desert, have erected temples to the genius of Rome and the divine Caesar. The Jews alone hate and withstand us. They withhold their tribute till it is wrested from them, and obstinately rebel against military service.”

“The Jews,” replied Lamia, “are profoundly attached to their ancient customs. They suspected you, unreasonably I admit, of a desire to abolish their laws and change their usages. Do not resent it, Pontius, if I say that you did not always act in such a way as to disperse their unfortunate illusion. It gratified you, despite your habitual self-restraint, to play upon their fears, and more than once have I seen you betray in their presence the contempt with which their beliefs and religious ceremonies inspired you. You irritated them particularly by giving instructions for the sacredotal garments and ornaments of their high priest to be kept in ward by your legionaries in the Antonine tower. One must admit that though they have never risen like us to an appreciation of things divine, the Jews celebrate rites which their very antiquity renders venerable.”

Pontius Pilate shrugged his shoulders.

“They have very little exact knowledge of the nature of the gods,” he said.”They worship Jupiter, yet they abstain from naming him or erecting a statue of him. They do not even adore him under the semblance of a rude stone, as certain of the Asiatic peoples are wont to do. They know nothing of Apollo, of Neptune, of Mars, nor of Pluto, nor of any goddess. At the same time, I am convinced that in days gone by they worshipped Venus. For even to this day their women bring doves to the altar as victims; and you know as well as I that the dealers who trade beneath the arcades of their temple supply those birds in couples for sacrifice. I have even been told that on one occasion some madman proceeded to overturn the stalls bearing these offerings, and their owners with them. The priests raised an outcry about it, and looked on it as a case of sacrilege. I am of opinion that their custom of sacrificing turtle-doves was instituted in honour of Venus. Why are you laughing, Lamia?”

“I was laughing,” said Lamia, “at an amusing idea which, I hardly know how, just occurred to me. I was thinking that perchance some day the Jupiter of the Jews might come to Rome and vent his fury upon you. Why should he not? Asia and Africa have already enriched us with a considerable number of gods. We have seen temples in honour of Isis and the dog-faced Anubis erected in Rome. In the public squares, and even on the race-courses, you may run across the Bona Dea of the Syrians mounted on an ass. And did you never hear how, in the reign of Tiberius, a young patrician passed himself off as the horned Jupiter of the Egyptians, Jupiter Ammon, and in this disguise procured the favours of an illustrious lady who was too virtuous to deny anything to a god? Beware, Pontius, lest the invisible Jupiter of the Jews disembark some day on the quay at Ostia!”

At the idea of a god coming out of Judaea, a fleeting smile played over the severe countenance of the Procurator. Then he replied gravely:

“How would the Jews manage to impose their sacred law on outside peoples when they are in a perpetual state of tumult amongst themselves as to the interpretation of that law? You have seen them yourself, Lamia, in the public squares, split up into twenty rival parties, with staves in their hands, abusing each other and clutching one another by the beard. You have seen them on the steps of the temple, tearing their filthy garments as a symbol of lamentation, with some wretched creature in a frenzy of prophetic exaltation in their midst. They have never realized that it is possible to discuss peacefully and with an even mind those matters concerning the divine which yet are hidden from the profane and wrapped in uncertainty. For the nature of the immortal gods remains hidden from us, and we cannot arrive at a knowledge of it. Though I am of opinion, none the less, that it is a prudent thing to believe in the providence of the gods. But the Jews are devoid of philosophy, and cannot tolerate any diversity of opinions. On the contrary, they judge worthy of the extreme penalty all those who on divine subjects profess opinions opposed to their law. And as, since the genius of Rome has towered over them, capital sentences pronounced by their own tribunals can only be carried out with the sanction of the proconsul or the procurator, they harry the Roman magistrate at an
y hour to procure his signature to their baleful decrees, they besiege the pretorium with their cries of ‘Death!’ A hundred times, at least, have I known them, mustered, rich and poor together, all united under their priests, make a furious onslaught on my ivory chair, seizing me by the skirts of my robe, by the thongs of my sandals, and all to demand of me — nay, to exact from me — the death sentence on some unfortunate whose guilt I failed to perceive, and as to whom I could only pronounce that he was as mad as his accusers. A hundred times, do I say! Not a hundred, but every day and all day. Yet it was my duty to execute their law as if it were ours, since I was appointed by Rome not for the destruction, but for the upholding of their customs, and over them I had the power of the rod and the axe. At the outset of my term of office I endeavoured to persuade them to hear reason. I attempted to snatch their miserable victims from death. But this show of mildness only irritated them the more; they demanded their prey, fighting around me like a horde of vultures with wing and beak. Their priests reported to Caesar that I was violating their law, and their appeals, supported by Vitellius, drew down upon me a severe reprimand. How many times did I long, as the Greeks used to say, to dispatch accusers and accused in one convoy to the crows!

 

“Do not imagine, Lamia, that I nourish the rancour of the discomfited, the wrath of the superannuated, against a people which in my person has prevailed against both Rome and tranquillity. But I foresee the extremity to which sooner or later they will reduce us. Since we cannot govern them, we shall be driven to destroy them. Never doubt it. Always in a state of insubordination, brewing rebellion in their inflammatory minds, they will one day burst forth upon us with a fury beside which the wrath of the Numidians and the mutterings of the Parthians are mere child’s play. They are secretly nourishing preposterous hopes, and madly premeditating our ruin. How can it be otherwise, when, on the strength of an oracle, they are living in expectation of the coming of a prince of their own blood whose kingdom shall extend over the whole earth? There are no half measures with such a people. They must be exterminated. Jerusalem must be laid waste to the very foundation. Perchance, old as I am, it may be granted me to behold the day when her walls shall fall and the flames shall envelop her houses, when her inhabitants shall pass under the edge of the sword, when salt shall be strewn on the place where once the temple stood. And in that day I shall at length be justified.”

Lamia exerted himself to lead the conversation back to a less acrimonious note.

“Pontius,” he said, “it is not difficult for me to understand both your long-standing resentment and your sinister forebodings. Truly, what you have experienced of the character of the Jews is nothing to their advantage. But I lived in Jerusalem as an interested onlooker, and mingled freely with the people, and I succeeded in detecting certain obscure virtues in these rude folk which were altogether hidden from you. I have met Jews who were all mildness, whose simple manners and faithfulness of heart recalled to me what our poets have related concerning the Spartan lawgiver. And you yourself, Pontius, have seen perish beneath the cudgels of your legionaries simple-minded men who have died for a cause they believed to be just without revealing their names. Such men do not deserve our contempt. I am saying this because it is desirable in all things to preserve moderation and an even mind. But I own that I never experienced any lively sympathy for the Jews. The Jewess, on the contrary, I found extremely pleasing. I was young, then, and the Syrian women stirred all my senses to response. Their ruddy lips, their liquid eyes that shone in the shade, their sleepy gaze pierced me to the very marrow. Painted and stained, smelling the nard and myrrh, steeped in odours, their physical attractions are both rare and delightful.”

Pontius listened impatiently to these praises.

“I was not the kind of man to fall into the snares of the Jewish women,” he said; “and since you have opened the subject yourself, Lamia, I was never able to approve of your laxity. If I did not express with sufficient emphasis formerly how culpable I held you for having intrigued at Rome with the wife of a man of consular rank, it was because you were then enduring heavy penance for your misdoings. Marriage from the patrician point of view is a sacred tie; it is one of the institutions which are the support of Rome. As to foreign women and slaves, such relations as one may enter into with them would be of little account were it not that they habituate the body to a humiliating effeminacy. Let me tell you that you have been too liberal in your offerings to the Venus of the Marketplace; and what, above all, I blame in you is that you have not married in compliance with the law and given children to the Republic, as every good citizen is bound to do.”

But the man who had suffered exile under Tiberius was no longer listening to the venerable magistrate. Having tossed off his cap of Falernian, he was smiling at some image visible to his eye alone.

After a moment’s silence he resumed in a very deep voice, which rose in pitch by little and little:

“With what languorous grace they dance, those Syrian women! I knew a Jewess at Jerusalem who used to dance in a poky little room, on a threadbare carpet, by the light of one smoky little lamp, waving her arms as she clanged her cymbals. Her loins arched, her head thrown back, and, as it were, dragged down by the weight of her heavy red hair, her eyes swimming with voluptuousness, eager, languishing, compliant, she would have made Cleopatra herself grow pale with envy. I was in love with her barbaric dances, her voice — a little raucous and yet so sweet — her atmosphere of incense, the semi-somnolescent state in which she seemed to live. I followed her everywhere. I mixed with the vile rabble of soldiers, conjurers, and extortioners with which she was surrounded. One day, however, she disappeared, and I saw her no more. Long did I seek her in disreputable alleys and taverns. It was more difficult to learn to do without her than to lose the taste for Greek wine. Some months after I lost sight of her, I learned by chance that she had attached herself to a small company of men and women who were followers of a young Galilean thaumaturgist. His name was Jesus; he came from Nazareth, and he was crucified for some crime, I don’t quite know what. Pontius, do you remember anything about the man?”

Pontius Pilate contracted his brows, and his hand rose to his forehead in the attitude of one who probes the deeps of memory. Then after a silence of some seconds:

“Jesus?” he murmured, “Jesus — of Nazareth? I cannot call him to mind.”

 

 

 

 

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MEMNON THE PHILOSOPHER, OR HUMAN WISDOM by Voltaire

 

Memnon one day took it into his head to become a great philosopher. There are few men who have not, at some time or other, conceived the same wild project. Says Memnon to himself, To be a perfect philosopher, and of course to be perfectly happy, I have nothing to do but to divest myself entirely of passions; and nothing is more easy, as everybody knows. In the first place, I will never be in love; for, when I see a beautiful woman, I will say to myself, These cheeks will one day grow wrinkled, these eyes be encircled with vermilion, that bosom become flabby and pendant, that head bald and palsied. Now I have only to consider her at present in imagination, as she will afterwards appear; and certainly a fair face will never turn my head., In the second place, I will be always temperate. It will be in vain to tempt me with good cheer, with delicious wines, or the charms of society. I will have only to figure to myself the consequences of excess, an aching head, a loathing stomach, the loss of reason, of health, and of time. I will then only eat to supply the waste of nature; my health will be always equal, my ideas pure and luminous. All this is so easy that there is no merit in accomplishing it.

But, says Memnon, I must think a little of how I am to regulate my fortune: why, my desires are moderate, my wealth is securely placed with the Receiver General of the finances of Nineveh: I have wherewithal to live independent; and that is the greatest of blessings. I shall never be under the cruel necessity of dancing attendance at court: I will never envy anyone, and nobody will envy me; still, all this is easy. I have friends, continued he, and I will preserve them, for we shall never have any difference; I will never take amiss anything they may say or do; and they will behave in the same way to me. There is no difficulty in all this.

Having thus laid his little plan of philosophy in his closet, Memnon put his head out of the window. He saw two women walking under the plane trees near his house. The one was old, and appeared quite at her ease. The other was young, handsome, and seemingly much agitated: she sighed, she wept, and seemed on that account still more beautiful.

Our philosopher was touched, not, to be sure, with the beauty of the lady (he was too much determined . not to feel any uneasiness of that kind) but with the distress which he saw her in. He came downstairs and accosted the young Ninevite in the design of consoling her with philosophy. That lovely person related to him, with an air of great simplicity, and in the most affecting manner, the injuries she sustained from an imaginary uncle; with what art he had deprived her of some imaginary property, and of the violence which she pretended to dread from him. “You appear to me,” said she, “a man of such wisdom that if you will condescend to come to my house and examine into my affairs, I am persuaded y ou will be able to draw me from the cruel embarrassment I am at present involved in.” Memnon did not hesitate to follow her, to examine her affairs philosophically and to give her sound counsel. .

The afflicted lady led him into a perfumed chamber, and politely made him sit down with her on a large sofa, where they both placed themselves opposite to each other in the attitude of conversation, their legs crossed; the one eager in telling her story, the other listening with devout attention. The lady spoke with downcast eyes, whence there sometimes fell a tear, and which, as she now and then ventured to raise them, always met those of the sage Memnon. Their discourse was full of tenderness, which redoubled as often as their eyes met. Memnon took her affairs exceedingly to heart, and felt himself every instant more and more inclined to oblige a person so virtuous and so unhappy. By degrees, in the warmth of conversation, they ceased to sit opposite; they drew nearer; their legs were no longer crossed. Memnon counseled her so closely and gave her such tender advices that neither of them could talk any longer of business nor well knew what they were about.

At this interesting moment, as may easily be imagined, who should come in but the uncle; he was armed from head to foot, and the first thing he said was, that he would immediately sacrifice, as was just, the sage Memngn and his niece; the latter, who made her escape, knew that he was well enough disposed to pardon, provided a good round sum were offered to him. Memnon was obliged to purchase his safety with all he had about him. In those days people were happy in getting so easily quit.

America was not then discovered, and distressed ladies were not nearly as dangerous as they are now. Memnon, covered with shame and confusion, got home to his own house; there he found a card inviting him to dinner with some of his intimate friends. If I remain at home alone, said he, I shall have my mind so occupied with this vexatious adventure that I shall not be able to eat a bit, and I shall bring upon myself some disease. It will therefore be prudent in me to go to my intimate friends  and partake with them of a frugal repast. I shall forget in the sweets of their society that folly I have this morning been guilty of. Accordingly, he attends the meeting; he is discovered to be uneasy at something, and he is urged to drink and banish care. A little wine, drunk in moderation, comforts the heart of god and man: so reasons Memnon the philosopher, and he becomes intoxicated. After the repast, play is proposed. A little play with one’s intimate friends is a harmless pastime; He plays and loses all that is in his purse, and four times as much on his word. A dispute arises on some circumstances in the game, and the disputants grow warm; one of his intimate friends throws a dice box at his head, and strikes out one of his eyes. The philosopher Memnon is carried home to his house, drunk and penniless, with the loss of an eye.

He sleeps out his debauch, and when his head has got a little clear, he sends his servant to the Receiver General of the finances of Nineveh to draw a little money to pay his debts of honor to his intimate friends. The servant returns and informs him that the Receiver General had that morning been declared a fraudulent bankrupt and that by this means an hundred families are reduced to poverty and despair. Memnon, almost beside himself, puts a plaster on his eye and a petition in his pocket, and goes to court to solicit justice from the king against the bankrupt. In the saloon he meets a number of ladies all in the highest spirits, and sailing along with hoops four-and-twenty feet in circumference. One of them, who knew him a little, eyed him askance, and cried aloud, “Ah! What a horrid monster!” Another, who was better acquainted with him, thus accosts him, “Good-morrow, Mr. Memnon. I hope you are very .well, Mr. Memnon. La, Mr. Memnon, how did you lose your eye?”

And, turning upon her heel, she tripped away without waiting an answer. Memnon hid himself in a corner and waited for the moment when he could throw himself at the fee t of the monarch. That moment at last arrived. Three times he kissed the earth, and* presented his petition. His gracious majesty received him very favorably, and referred the paper to one of his satraps, that he might give him an account of it. The satrap takes Memnon aside and says to him with a haughty air and satirical grin, “Hark ye, you fellow with the one eye, you must be a comical dog indeed, to address yourself to the king rather than to me; and still more so, to dare to demand justice against an honest bankrupt, whom I honor with my protection, and who is nephew to the waiting-maid of my mistress. Proceed no further in this business, my good friend, if you .wish to preserve the eye you have left.”

Memnon, having thus in his closet resolved to renounce women, the excesses of the table, play and quarreling, but especially having determined never to go to court, had been in the short space of four-and-twenty hours, duped and robbed by a gentle dame, had got drunk, had gamed, had been engaged in a quarrel, had got his eye knocked out, and had been at court where he was sneered at and insulted.

Petrified with astonishment, and his heart broken with grief, Memnon returns homeward in despair. As he was about to enter his house, he is repulsed by a number of officers who are carrying off his furniture for the benefit of his creditors: he falls down almost lifeless under a plane tree. There he finds the fair dame, of the morning, who was walking with her dear uncle; and both set up a loud laugh on seeing Memnon with his plaster. The night approached, and Memnon made his bed on some straw near the walls of his house. Here the ague seized him, and he fell asleep in one of the fits, when a celestial spirit appeared to him in a dream.

It was all resplendent with light: it had six beautiful wings, but neither feet nor head nor tail, and could be likened to nothing. “What art thou?” said Memnon. “Thy good genius,” replied the spirit. “Rest tore to me then my eye, my health, my fortune, my reason,” said Memnon; and he related how he had lost them all in one day. “These are adventures which never happen to us in the world we inhabit,” said the spirit.

“And what world do you inhabit?” said the man of affliction. “My native country,” replied the other, “is five hundred millions of leagues distant from the sun, in a little star near Sirius, which you see from hence.”

“Charming country!” said Memnon. “And are there indeed no jades to dupe a poor devil, no intimate friends that win his money, and knock out an eye for him, no fraudulent bankrupts, no satraps that make a jest of you while they refuse you justice?” “No,” said the inhabitant of the star, “we have nothing of what you talk of; we are never duped by women, because we have none among us; we never commit excesses at table, because we neither eat nor drink; we have no bankrupts, because with us there is neither silver nor gold; our eyes cannot be knocked out because we have not bodies in the form of yours; and satraps never do us injustice because in our world we are all equal.” “Pray, my lord,”then said Memnon, “without women and without eating how do you spend your time?” “In watching,” said the genius, “over the other worlds that are entrusted to us; and I am now come to give you consolation.”

“Alas!” replied Memnon, “why did you not come yesterday to hinder me from committing so many indiscretions?” “I was with your elder brother Hassan,” said the celestial being. “He is still more to be pitied than you are. His Most Gracious Majesty the Sultan of the Indies, in whose court he has the honor to serve, has caused both his eyes to be put out for some small indiscretion ; and he is now in a dungeon, his hands and feet loaded with chains.” ” ‘Tis a happy thing truly,” said Memnon, “to have a good genius in one’s family, when out of two brothers one is blind of an eye, the other blind of both: one stretched upon straw, the other in a dungeon.” “Your fate will soon change,” said the animal of the star. “It is true, you will never recover your eye, but, except that, you may be sufficiently happy if you never again take it into your head to be a perfect philosopher.” “It is then impossible?” said Memnon.

“As impossible as to be perfectly wise, perfectly strong, perfectly powerful, perfectly happy. We ourselves are very far from it. There is a world indeed where all this is possible; but, in the hundred thousand millions of worlds dispersed over the regions of space, everything goes on by degrees. There is less philosophy, and less enjoyment on the second than in the first, less in the third than in the second, and so forth till the last in the scale, where all are completely fools.” “I am afraid said Memnon, “that our little terraqueous globe here is the madhouse of those hundred thousand millions of worlds of which Your Lordship does me the honor to speak.” “Not quite,” said the spirit, “but very nearly: everything must be in its proper place.” “But are those poets and philosophers wrong, then, who tell us that everything is for the best?””No, they are right, when we consider things in relation to the gradation to the whole universe.” “Oh! I shall never believe it till I recover my eye again,” said poor Memnon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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