The Magic Skin
by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Ellen Marriage
I. THE TALISMAN
II. A WOMAN
WITHOUT A HEART
III. THE AGONY
To Monsieur Savary, Member of Le Academie des Sciences.
I. THE TALISMAN
Towards the end of the month of October 1829 a young man entered
the Palais-Royal just as the gaming-houses opened, agreeably to the
law which protects a passion by its very nature easily excisable. He
mounted the staircase of one of the gambling hells distinguished by
the number 36, without too much deliberation.
"Your hat, sir, if you please?" a thin, querulous voice called out.
A little old man, crouching in the darkness behind a railing, suddenly
rose and exhibited his features, carved after a mean design.
As you enter a gaming-house the law despoils you of your hat at the
outset. Is it by way of a parable, a divine revelation? Or by exacting
some pledge or other, is not an infernal compact implied? Is it done
to compel you to preserve a respectful demeanor towards those who are
about to gain money of you? Or must the detective, who squats in our
social sewers, know the name of your hatter, or your own, if you
happen to have written it on the lining inside? Or, after all, is the
measurement of your skull required for the compilation of statistics
as to the cerebral capacity of gamblers? The executive is absolutely
silent on this point. But be sure of this, that though you have
scarcely taken a step towards the tables, your hat no more belongs to
you now than you belong to yourself. Play possesses you, your fortune,
your cap, your cane, your cloak.
As you go out, it will be made clear to you, by a savage irony,
that Play has yet spared you something, since your property is
returned. For all that, if you bring a new hat with you, you will have
to pay for the knowledge that a special costume is needed for a
The evident astonishment with which the young man took a numbered
tally in exchange for his hat, which was fortunately somewhat rubbed
at the brim, showed clearly enough that his mind was yet untainted;
and the little old man, who had wallowed from his youth up in the
furious pleasures of a gambler's life, cast a dull, indifferent glance
over him, in which a philosopher might have seen wretchedness lying in
the hospital, the vagrant lives of ruined folk, inquests on numberless
suicides, life-long penal servitude and transportations to
His pallid, lengthy visage appeared like a haggard embodiment of
the passion reduced to its simplest terms. There were traces of past
anguish in its wrinkles. He supported life on the glutinous soups at
Darcet's, and gambled away his meagre earnings day by day. Like some
old hackney which takes no heed of the strokes of the whip, nothing
could move him now. The stifled groans of ruined players, as they
passed out, their mute imprecations, their stupefied faces, found him
impassive. He was the spirit of Play incarnate. If the young man had
noticed this sorry Cerberus, perhaps he would have said, "There is
only a pack of cards in that heart of his."
The stranger did not heed this warning writ in flesh and blood, put
here, no doubt, by Providence, who has set loathing on the threshold
of all evil haunts. He walked boldly into the saloon, where the rattle
of coin brought his senses under the dazzling spell of an agony of
greed. Most likely he had been drawn thither by that most convincing
of Jean Jacques' eloquent periods, which expresses, I think, this
melancholy thought, "Yes, I can imagine that a man may take to
gambling when he sees only his last shilling between him and death."
There is an illusion about a gambling saloon at night as vulgar as
that of a bloodthirsty drama, and just as effective. The rooms are
filled with players and onlookers, with poverty-stricken age, which
drags itself thither in search of stimulation, with excited faces, and
revels that began in wine, to end shortly in the Seine. The passion is
there in full measure, but the great number of the actors prevents you
from seeing the gambling-demon face to face. The evening is a harmony
or chorus in which all take part, to which each instrument in the
orchestra contributes his share. You would see there plenty of
respectable people who have come in search of diversion, for which
they pay as they pay for the pleasures of the theatre, or of gluttony,
or they come hither as to some garret where they cheapen poignant
regrets for three months to come.
Do you understand all the force and frenzy in a soul which
impatiently waits for the opening of a gambling hell? Between the
daylight gambler and the player at night there is the same difference
that lies between a careless husband and the lover swooning under his
lady's window. Only with morning comes the real throb of the passion
and the craving in its stark horror. Then you can admire the real
gambler, who has neither eaten, slept, thought, nor lived, he has so
smarted under the scourge of his martingale, so suffered on the rack
of his desire for a coup of trente-et-quarante. At that accursed hour
you encounter eyes whose calmness terrifies you, faces that fascinate,
glances that seem as if they had power to turn the cards over and
consume them. The grandest hours of a gambling saloon are not the
opening ones. If Spain has bull-fights, and Rome once had her
gladiators, Paris waxes proud of her Palais-Royal, where the
inevitable roulettes cause blood to flow in streams, and the public
can have the pleasure of watching without fear of their feet slipping
Take a quiet peep at the arena. How bare it looks! The paper on the
walls is greasy to the height of your head, there is nothing to bring
one reviving thought. There is not so much as a nail for the
convenience of suicides. The floor is worn and dirty. An oblong table
stands in the middle of the room, the tablecloth is worn by the
friction of gold, but the straw-bottomed chairs about it indicate an
odd indifference to luxury in the men who will lose their lives here
in the quest of the fortune that is to put luxury within their reach.
This contradiction in humanity is seen wherever the soul reacts
powerfully upon itself. The gallant would clothe his mistress in
silks, would deck her out in soft Eastern fabrics, though he and she
must lie on a truckle-bed. The ambitious dreamer sees himself at the
summit of power, while he slavishly prostrates himself in the mire.
The tradesman stagnates in his damp, unhealthy shop, while he builds a
great mansion for his son to inherit prematurely, only to be ejected
from it by law proceedings at his own brother's instance.
After all, is there a less pleasing thing in the world than a house
of pleasure? Singular question! Man is always at strife with himself.
His present woes give the lie to his hopes; yet he looks to a future
which is not his, to indemnify him for these present sufferings;
setting upon all his actions the seal of inconsequence and of the
weakness of his nature. We have nothing here below in full measure but
There were several gamblers in the room already when the young man
entered. Three bald-headed seniors were lounging round the green
table. Imperturbable as diplomatists, those plaster-cast faces of
theirs betokened blunted sensibilities, and hearts which had long
forgotten how to throb, even when a woman's dowry was the stake. A
young Italian, olive-hued and dark-haired, sat at one end, with his
elbows on the table, seeming to listen to the presentiments of luck
that dictate a gambler's "Yes" or "No." The glow of fire and gold was
on that southern face. Some seven or eight onlookers stood by way of
an audience, awaiting a drama composed of the strokes of chance, the
faces of the actors, the circulation of coin, and the motion of the
croupier's rake, much as a silent, motionless crowd watches the
headsman in the Place de Greve. A tall, thin man, in a threadbare
coat, held a card in one hand, and a pin in the other, to mark the
numbers of Red or Black. He seemed a modern Tantalus, with all the
pleasures of his epoch at his lips, a hoardless miser drawing in
imaginary gains, a sane species of lunatic who consoles himself in his
misery by chimerical dreams, a man who touches peril and vice as a
young priest handles the unconsecrated wafer in the white mass.
One or two experts at the game, shrewd speculators, had placed
themselves opposite the bank, like old convicts who have lost all fear
of the hulks; they meant to try two or three coups, and then to depart
at once with the expected gains, on which they lived. Two elderly
waiters dawdled about with their arms folded, looking from time to
time into the garden from the windows, as if to show their
insignificant faces as a sign to passers-by.
The croupier and banker threw a ghastly and withering glance at the
punters, and cried, in a sharp voice, "Make your game!" as the young
man came in. The silence seemed to grow deeper as all heads turned
curiously towards the new arrival. Who would have thought it? The
jaded elders, the fossilized waiters, the onlookers, the fanatical
Italian himself, felt an indefinable dread at sight of the stranger.
Is he not wretched indeed who can excite pity here? Must he not be
very helpless to receive sympathy, ghastly in appearance to raise a
shudder in these places, where pain utters no cry, where wretchedness
looks gay, and despair is decorous? Such thoughts as these produced a
new emotion in these torpid hearts as the young man entered. Were not
executioners known to shed tears over the fair-haired, girlish heads
that had to fall at the bidding of the Revolution?
The gamblers saw at a glance a dreadful mystery in the novice's
face. His young features were stamped with a melancholy grace, his
looks told of unsuccess and many blighted hopes. The dull apathy of
the suicide had made his forehead so deadly pale, a bitter smile
carved faint lines about the corners of his mouth, and there was an
abandonment about him that was painful to see. Some sort of demon
sparkled in the depths of his eye, which drooped, wearied perhaps with
pleasure. Could it have been dissipation that had set its foul mark on
the proud face, once pure and bright, and now brought low? Any doctor
seeing the yellow circles about his eyelids, and the color in his
cheeks, would have set them down to some affection of the heart or
lungs, while poets would have attributed them to the havoc brought by
the search for knowledge and to night-vigils by the student's lamp.
But a complaint more fatal than any disease, a disease more
merciless than genius or study, had drawn this young face, and had
wrung a heart which dissipation, study, and sickness had scarcely
disturbed. When a notorious criminal is taken to the convict's prison,
the prisoners welcome him respectfully, and these evil spirits in
human shape, experienced in torments, bowed before an unheard-of
anguish. By the depth of the wound which met their eyes, they
recognized a prince among them, by the majesty of his unspoken irony,
by the refined wretchedness of his garb. The frock-coat that he wore
was well cut, but his cravat was on terms so intimate with his
waistcoat that no one could suspect him of underlinen. His hands,
shapely as a woman's were not perfectly clean; for two days past
indeed he had ceased to wear gloves. If the very croupier and the
waiters shuddered, it was because some traces of the spell of
innocence yet hung about his meagre, delicately-shaped form, and his
scanty fair hair in its natural curls.
He looked only about twenty-five years of age, and any trace of
vice in his face seemed to be there by accident. A young constitution
still resisted the inroads of lubricity. Darkness and light,
annihilation and existence, seemed to struggle in him, with effects of
mingled beauty and terror. There he stood like some erring angel that
has lost his radiance; and these emeritus-professors of vice and shame
were ready to bid the novice depart, even as some toothless crone
might be seized with pity for a beautiful girl who offers herself up
The young man went straight up to the table, and, as he stood
there, flung down a piece of gold which he held in his hand, without
deliberation. It rolled on to the Black; then, as strong natures can,
he looked calmly, if anxiously, at the croupier, as if he held useless
subterfuges in scorn.
The interest this coup awakened was so great that the old gamesters
laid nothing upon it; only the Italian, inspired by a gambler's
enthusiasm, smiled suddenly at some thought, and punted his heap of
coin against the stranger's stake.
The banker forgot to pronounce the phrases that use and wont have
reduced to an inarticulate cry—"Make your game. . . . The game is
made. . . . Bets are closed." The croupier spread out the cards, and
seemed to wish luck to the newcomer, indifferent as he was to the
losses or gains of those who took part in these sombre pleasures.
Every bystander thought he saw a drama, the closing scene of a noble
life, in the fortunes of that bit of gold; and eagerly fixed his eyes
on the prophetic cards; but however closely they watched the young
man, they could discover not the least sign of feeling on his cool but
"Even! red wins," said the croupier officially. A dumb sort of
rattle came from the Italian's throat when he saw the folded notes
that the banker showered upon him, one after another. The young man
only understood his calamity when the croupiers's rake was extended to
sweep away his last napoleon. The ivory touched the coin with a little
click, as it swept it with the speed of an arrow into the heap of gold
before the bank. The stranger turned pale at the lips, and softly shut
his eyes, but he unclosed them again at once, and the red color
returned as he affected the airs of an Englishman, to whom life can
offer no new sensation, and disappeared without the glance full of
entreaty for compassion that a desperate gamester will often give the
bystanders. How much can happen in a second's space; how many things
depend on a throw of the die!
"That was his last cartridge, of course," said the croupier,
smiling after a moment's silence, during which he picked up the coin
between his finger and thumb and held it up.
"He is a cracked brain that will go and drown himself," said a
frequenter of the place. He looked round about at the other players,
who all knew each other.
"Bah!" said a waiter, as he took a pinch of snuff.
"If we had but followed HIS example," said an old gamester to the
others, as he pointed out the Italian.
Everybody looked at the lucky player, whose hands shook as he
counted his bank-notes.
"A voice seemed to whisper to me," he said. "The luck is sure to go
against that young man's despair."
"He is a new hand," said the banker, "or he would have divided his
money into three parts to give himself more chance."
The young man went out without asking for his hat; but the old
watch-dog, who had noted its shabby condition, returned it to him
without a word. The gambler mechanically gave up the tally, and went
downstairs whistling Di tanti Palpiti so feebly, that he himself
scarcely heard the delicious notes.
He found himself immediately under the arcades of the Palais-Royal,
reached the Rue Saint Honore, took the direction of the Tuileries, and
crossed the gardens with an undecided step. He walked as if he were in
some desert, elbowed by men whom he did not see, hearing through all
the voices of the crowd one voice alone—the voice of Death. He was
lost in the thoughts that benumbed him at last, like the criminals who
used to be taken in carts from the Palais de Justice to the Place de
Greve, where the scaffold awaited them reddened with all the blood
spilt here since 1793.
There is something great and terrible about suicide. Most people's
downfalls are not dangerous; they are like children who have not far
to fall, and cannot injure themselves; but when a great nature is
dashed down, he is bound to fall from a height. He must have been
raised almost to the skies; he has caught glimpses of some heaven
beyond his reach. Vehement must the storms be which compel a soul to
seek for peace from the trigger of a pistol.
How much young power starves and pines away in a garret for want of
a friend, for lack of a woman's consolation, in the midst of millions
of fellow-creatures, in the presence of a listless crowd that is
burdened by its wealth! When one remembers all this, suicide looms
large. Between a self-sought death and the abundant hopes whose voices
call a young man to Paris, God only knows what may intervene; what
contending ideas have striven within the soul; what poems have been
set aside; what moans and what despair have been repressed; what
abortive masterpieces and vain endeavors! Every suicide is an awful
poem of sorrow. Where will you find a work of genius floating above
the seas of literature that can compare with this paragraph:
"Yesterday, at four o'clock, a young woman threw herself into the
Seine from the Pont des Arts."
Dramas and romances pale before this concise Parisian phrase; so
must even that old frontispiece, The Lamentations of the glorious king
of Kaernavan, put in prison by his children, the sole remaining
fragment of a lost work that drew tears from Sterne at the bare
perusal—the same Sterne who deserted his own wife and family.
The stranger was beset with such thoughts as these, which passed in
fragments through his mind, like tattered flags fluttering above the
combat. If he set aside for a moment the burdens of consciousness and
of memory, to watch the flower heads gently swayed by the breeze among
the green thickets, a revulsion came over him, life struggled against
the oppressive thought of suicide, and his eyes rose to the sky: gray
clouds, melancholy gusts of the wind, the stormy atmosphere, all
decreed that he should die.
He bent his way toward the Pont Royal, musing over the last fancies
of others who had gone before him. He smiled to himself as he
remembered that Lord Castlereagh had satisfied the humblest of our
needs before he cut his throat, and that the academician Auger had
sought for his snuff-box as he went to his death. He analyzed these
extravagances, and even examined himself; for as he stood aside
against the parapet to allow a porter to pass, his coat had been
whitened somewhat by the contact, and he carefully brushed the dust
from his sleeve, to his own surprise. He reached the middle of the
arch, and looked forebodingly at the water.
"Wretched weather for drowning yourself," said a ragged old woman,
who grinned at him; "isn't the Seine cold and dirty?"
His answer was a ready smile, which showed the frenzied nature of
his courage; then he shivered all at once as he saw at a distance, by
the door of the Tuileries, a shed with an inscription above it in
letters twelve inches high: THE ROYAL HUMANE SOCIETY'S APPARATUS.
A vision of M. Dacheux rose before him, equipped by his
philanthropy, calling out and setting in motion the too efficacious
oars which break the heads of drowning men, if unluckily they should
rise to the surface; he saw a curious crowd collecting, running for a
doctor, preparing fumigations, he read the maundering paragraph in the
papers, put between notes on a festivity and on the smiles of a
ballet-dancer; he heard the francs counted down by the prefect of
police to the watermen. As a corpse, he was worth fifteen francs; but
now while he lived he was only a man of talent without patrons,
without friends, without a mattress to lie on, or any one to speak a
word for him—a perfect social cipher, useless to a State which gave
itself no trouble about him.
A death in broad daylight seemed degrading to him; he made up his
mind to die at night so as to bequeath an unrecognizable corpse to a
world which had disregarded the greatness of life. He began his
wanderings again, turning towards the Quai Voltaire, imitating the
lagging gait of an idler seeking to kill time. As he came down the
steps at the end of the bridge, his notice was attracted by the
second-hand books displayed on the parapet, and he was on the point of
bargaining for some. He smiled, thrust his hands philosophically into
his pockets, and fell to strolling on again with a proud disdain in
his manner, when he heard to his surprise some coin rattling
fantastically in his pocket.
A smile of hope lit his face, and slid from his lips over his
features, over his brow, and brought a joyful light to his eyes and
his dark cheeks. It was a spark of happiness like one of the red dots
that flit over the remains of a burnt scrap of paper; but as it is
with the black ashes, so it was with his face, it became dull again
when the stranger quickly drew out his hand and perceived three
pennies. "Ah, kind gentleman! carita, carita; for the love of St.
Catherine! only a halfpenny to buy some bread!"
A little chimney sweeper, with puffed cheeks, all black with soot,
and clad in tatters, held out his hand to beg for the man's last
Two paces from the little Savoyard stood an old pauvre honteux,
sickly and feeble, in wretched garments of ragged druggeting, who
asked in a thick, muffled voice:
"Anything you like to give, monsieur; I will pray to God for you .
But the young man turned his eyes on him, and the old beggar
stopped without another word, discerning in that mournful face an
abandonment of wretchedness more bitter than his own.
"La carita! la carita!"
The stranger threw the coins to the old man and the child, left the
footway, and turned towards the houses; the harrowing sight of the
Seine fretted him beyond endurance.
"May God lengthen your days!" cried the two beggars.
As he reached the shop window of a print-seller, this man on the
brink of death met a young woman alighting from a showy carriage. He
looked in delight at her prettiness, at the pale face appropriately
framed by the satin of her fashionable bonnet. Her slender form and
graceful movements entranced him. Her skirt had been slightly raised
as she stepped to the pavement, disclosing a daintily fitting white
stocking over the delicate outlines beneath. The young lady went into
the shop, purchased albums and sets of lithographs; giving several
gold coins for them, which glittered and rang upon the counter. The
young man, seemingly occupied with the prints in the window, fixed
upon the fair stranger a gaze as eager as man can give, to receive in
exchange an indifferent glance, such as lights by accident on a
passer-by. For him it was a leave-taking of love and of woman; but his
final and strenuous questioning glance was neither understood nor felt
by the slight-natured woman there; her color did not rise, her eyes
did not droop. What was it to her? one more piece of adulation, yet
another sigh only prompted the delightful thought at night, "I looked
rather well to-day."
The young man quickly turned to another picture, and only left it
when she returned to her carriage. The horses started off, the final
vision of luxury and refinement went under an eclipse, just as that
life of his would soon do also. Slowly and sadly he followed the line
of the shops, listlessly examining the specimens on view. When the
shops came to an end, he reviewed the Louvre, the Institute, the
towers of Notre Dame, of the Palais, the Pont des Arts; all these
public monuments seemed to have taken their tone from the heavy gray
Fitful gleams of light gave a foreboding look to Paris; like a
pretty woman, the city has mysterious fits of ugliness or beauty. So
the outer world seemed to be in a plot to steep this man about to die
in a painful trance. A prey to the maleficent power which acts
relaxingly upon us by the fluid circulating through our nerves, his
whole frame seemed gradually to experience a dissolving process. He
felt the anguish of these throes passing through him in waves, and the
houses and the crowd seemed to surge to and fro in a mist before his
eyes. He tried to escape the agitation wrought in his mind by the
revulsions of his physical nature, and went toward the shop of a
dealer in antiquities, thinking to give a treat to his senses, and to
spend the interval till nightfall in bargaining over curiosities.
He sought, one might say, to regain courage and to find a
stimulant, like a criminal who doubts his power to reach the scaffold.
The consciousness of approaching death gave him, for the time being,
the intrepidity of a duchess with a couple of lovers, so that he
entered the place with an abstracted look, while his lips displayed a
set smile like a drunkard's. Had not life, or rather had not death,
intoxicated him? Dizziness soon overcame him again. Things appeared to
him in strange colors, or as making slight movements; his irregular
pulse was no doubt the cause; the blood that sometimes rushed like a
burning torrent through his veins, and sometimes lay torpid and
stagnant as tepid water. He merely asked leave to see if the shop
contained any curiosities which he required.
A plump-faced young shopman with red hair, in an otter-skin cap,
left an old peasant woman in charge of the shop—a sort of feminine
Caliban, employed in cleaning a stove made marvelous by Bernard
Palissy's work. This youth remarked carelessly:
"Look round, monsieur! We have nothing very remarkable here
downstairs; but if I may trouble you to go up to the first floor, I
will show you some very fine mummies from Cairo, some inlaid pottery,
and some carved ebony—genuine Renaissance work, just come in, and of
In the stranger's fearful position this cicerone's prattle and
shopman's empty talk seemed like the petty vexations by which narrow
minds destroy a man of genius. But as he must even go through with it,
he appeared to listen to his guide, answering him by gestures or
monosyllables; but imperceptibly he arrogated the privilege of saying
nothing, and gave himself up without hindrance to his closing
meditations, which were appalling. He had a poet's temperament, his
mind had entered by chance on a vast field; and he must see perforce
the dry bones of twenty future worlds.
At a first glance the place presented a confused picture in which
every achievement, human and divine, was mingled. Crocodiles, monkeys,
and serpents stuffed with straw grinned at glass from church windows,
seemed to wish to bite sculptured heads, to chase lacquered work, or
to scramble up chandeliers. A Sevres vase, bearing Napoleon's portrait
by Mme. Jacotot, stood beside a sphinx dedicated to Sesostris. The
beginnings of the world and the events of yesterday were mingled with
grotesque cheerfulness. A kitchen jack leaned against a pyx, a
republican sabre on a mediaeval hackbut. Mme. du Barry, with a star
above her head, naked, and surrounded by a cloud, seemed to look
longingly out of Latour's pastel at an Indian chibook, while she tried
to guess the purpose of the spiral curves that wound towards her.
Instruments of death, poniards, curious pistols, and disguised weapons
had been flung down pell-mell among the paraphernalia of daily life;
porcelain tureens, Dresden plates, translucent cups from china, old
salt-cellars, comfit-boxes belonging to feudal times. A carved ivory
ship sped full sail on the back of a motionless tortoise.
The Emperor Augustus remained unmoved and imperial with an air-pump
thrust into one eye. Portraits of French sheriffs and Dutch
burgomasters, phlegmatic now as when in life, looked down pallid and
unconcerned on the chaos of past ages below them.
Every land of earth seemed to have contributed some stray fragment
of its learning, some example of its art. Nothing seemed lacking to
this philosophical kitchen-midden, from a redskin's calumet, a green
and golden slipper from the seraglio, a Moorish yataghan, a Tartar
idol, to the soldier's tobacco pouch, to the priest's ciborium, and
the plumes that once adorned a throne. This extraordinary combination
was rendered yet more bizarre by the accidents of lighting, by a
multitude of confused reflections of various hues, by the sharp
contrast of blacks and whites. Broken cries seemed to reach the ear,
unfinished dramas seized upon the imagination, smothered lights caught
the eye. A thin coating of inevitable dust covered all the
multitudinous corners and convolutions of these objects of various
shapes which gave highly picturesque effects.
First of all, the stranger compared the three galleries which
civilization, cults, divinities, masterpieces, dominions, carousals,
sanity, and madness had filled to repletion, to a mirror with numerous
facets, each depicting a world. After this first hazy idea he would
fain have selected his pleasures; but by dint of using his eyes,
thinking and musing, a fever began to possess him, caused perhaps by
the gnawing pain of hunger. The spectacle of so much existence,
individual or national, to which these pledges bore witness, ended by
numbing his senses—the purpose with which he entered the shop was
fulfilled. He had left the real behind, and had climbed gradually up
to an ideal world; he had attained to the enchanted palace of ecstasy,
whence the universe appeared to him by fragments and in shapes of
flame, as once the future blazed out before the eyes of St. John in
A crowd of sorrowing faces, beneficent and appalling, dark and
luminous, far and near, gathered in numbers, in myriads, in whole
generations. Egypt, rigid and mysterious, arose from her sands in the
form of a mummy swathed in black bandages; then the Pharaohs swallowed
up nations, that they might build themselves a tomb; and he beheld
Moses and the Hebrews and the desert, and a solemn antique world.
Fresh and joyous, a marble statue spoke to him from a twisted column
of the pleasure-loving myths of Greece and Ionia. Ah! who would not
have smiled with him to see, against the earthen red background, the
brown-faced maiden dancing with gleeful reverence before the god
Priapus, wrought in the fine clay of an Etruscan vase? The Latin queen
caressed her chimera.
The whims of Imperial Rome were there in life, the bath was
disclosed, the toilette of a languid Julia, dreaming, waiting for her
Tibullus. Strong with the might of Arabic spells, the head of Cicero
evoked memories of a free Rome, and unrolled before him the scrolls of
Titus Livius. The young man beheld Senatus Populusque Romanus;
consuls, lictors, togas with purple fringes; the fighting in the
Forum, the angry people, passed in review before him like the cloudy
faces of a dream.
Then Christian Rome predominated in his vision. A painter had laid
heaven open; he beheld the Virgin Mary wrapped in a golden cloud among
the angels, shining more brightly than the sun, receiving the prayers
of sufferers, on whom this second Eve Regenerate smiles pityingly. At
the touch of a mosaic, made of various lavas from Vesuvius and Etna,
his fancy fled to the hot tawny south of Italy. He was present at
Borgia's orgies, he roved among the Abruzzi, sought for Italian love
intrigues, grew ardent over pale faces and dark, almond-shaped eyes.
He shivered over midnight adventures, cut short by the cool thrust of
a jealous blade, as he saw a mediaeval dagger with a hilt wrought like
lace, and spots of rust like splashes of blood upon it.
India and its religions took the shape of the idol with his peaked
cap of fantastic form, with little bells, clad in silk and gold. Close
by, a mat, as pretty as the bayadere who once lay upon it, still gave
out a faint scent of sandal wood. His fancy was stirred by a
goggle-eyed Chinese monster, with mouth awry and twisted limbs, the
invention of a people who, grown weary of the monotony of beauty,
found an indescribable pleasure in an infinite variety of ugliness. A
salt- cellar from Benvenuto Cellini's workshop carried him back to the
Renaissance at its height, to the time when there was no restraint on
art or morals, when torture was the sport of sovereigns; and from
their councils, churchmen with courtesans' arms about them issued
decrees of chastity for simple priests.
On a cameo he saw the conquests of Alexander, the massacres of
Pizarro in a matchbox, and religious wars disorderly, fanatical, and
cruel, in the shadows of a helmet. Joyous pictures of chivalry were
called up by a suit of Milanese armor, brightly polished and richly
wrought; a paladin's eyes seemed to sparkle yet under the visor.
This sea of inventions, fashions, furniture, works of art and
fiascos, made for him a poem without end. Shapes and colors and
projects all lived again for him, but his mind received no clear and
perfect conception. It was the poet's task to complete the sketches of
the great master, who had scornfully mingled on his palette the hues
of the numberless vicissitudes of human life. When the world at large
at last released him, when he had pondered over many lands, many
epochs, and various empires, the young man came back to the life of
the individual. He impersonated fresh characters, and turned his mind
to details, rejecting the life of nations as a burden too overwhelming
for a single soul.
Yonder was a sleeping child modeled in wax, a relic of Ruysch's
collection, an enchanting creation which brought back the happiness of
his own childhood. The cotton garment of a Tahitian maid next
fascinated him; he beheld the primitive life of nature, the real
modesty of naked chastity, the joys of an idleness natural to mankind,
a peaceful fate by a slow river of sweet water under a plantain tree
that bears its pleasant manna without the toil of man. Then all at
once he became a corsair, investing himself with the terrible poetry
that Lara has given to the part: the thought came at the sight of the
mother-of-pearl tints of a myriad sea-shells, and grew as he saw
madrepores redolent of the sea-weeds and the storms of the Atlantic.
The sea was forgotten again at a distant view of exquisite
miniatures; he admired a precious missal in manuscript, adorned with
arabesques in gold and blue. Thoughts of peaceful life swayed him; he
devoted himself afresh to study and research, longing for the easy
life of the monk, devoid alike of cares and pleasures; and from the
depths of his cell he looked out upon the meadows, woods, and
vineyards of his convent. Pausing before some work of Teniers, he took
for his own the helmet of the soldier or the poverty of the artisan;
he wished to wear a smoke-begrimed cap with these Flemings, to drink
their beer and join their game at cards, and smiled upon the comely
plumpness of a peasant woman. He shivered at a snowstorm by Mieris; he
seemed to take part in Salvator Rosa's battle-piece; he ran his
fingers over a tomahawk form Illinois, and felt his own hair rise as
he touched a Cherokee scalping-knife. He marveled over the rebec that
he set in the hands of some lady of the land, drank in the musical
notes of her ballad, and in the twilight by the gothic arch above the
hearth he told his love in a gloom so deep that he could not read his
answer in her eyes.
He caught at all delights, at all sorrows; grasped at existence in
every form; and endowed the phantoms conjured up from that inert and
plastic material so liberally with his own life and feelings, that the
sound of his own footsteps reached him as if from another world, or as
the hum of Paris reaches the towers of Notre Dame.
He ascended the inner staircase which led to the first floor, with
its votive shields, panoplies, carved shrines, and figures on the wall
at every step. Haunted by the strangest shapes, by marvelous creations
belonging to the borderland betwixt life and death, he walked as if
under the spell of a dream. His own existence became a matter of doubt
to him; he was neither wholly alive nor dead, like the curious objects
about him. The light began to fade as he reached the show-rooms, but
the treasures of gold and silver heaped up there scarcely seemed to
need illumination from without. The most extravagant whims of
prodigals, who have run through millions to perish in garrets, had
left their traces here in this vast bazar of human follies. Here,
beside a writing desk, made at the cost of 100,000 francs, and sold
for a hundred pence, lay a lock with a secret worth a king's ransom.
The human race was revealed in all the grandeur of its wretchedness;
in all the splendor of its infinite littleness. An ebony table that an
artist might worship, carved after Jean Goujon's designs, in years of
toil, had been purchased perhaps at the price of firewood. Precious
caskets, and things that fairy hands might have fashioned, lay there
in heaps like rubbish.
"You must have the worth of millions here!" cried the young man as
he entered the last of an immense suite of rooms, all decorated and
gilt by eighteenth century artists.
"Thousands of millions, you might say," said the florid shopman;
"but you have seen nothing as yet. Go up to the third floor, and you
The stranger followed his guide to a fourth gallery, where one by
one there passed before his wearied eyes several pictures by Poussin,
a magnificent statue by Michael Angelo, enchanting landscapes by
Claude Lorraine, a Gerard Dow (like a stray page from Sterne),
Rembrandts, Murillos, and pictures by Velasquez, as dark and full of
color as a poem of Byron's; then came classic bas-reliefs, finely-cut
agates, wonderful cameos! Works of art upon works of art, till the
craftsman's skill palled on the mind, masterpiece after masterpiece
till art itself became hateful at last and enthusiasm died. He came
upon a Madonna by Raphael, but he was tired of Raphael; a figure by
Correggio never received the glance it demanded of him. A priceless
vase of antique porphyry carved round about with pictures of the most
grotesquely wanton of Roman divinities, the pride of some Corinna,
scarcely drew a smile from him.
The ruins of fifteen hundred vanished years oppressed him; he
sickened under all this human thought; felt bored by all this luxury
and art. He struggled in vain against the constantly renewed fantastic
shapes that sprang up from under his feet, like children of some
Are not fearful poisons set up in the soul by a swift concentration
of all her energies, her enjoyments, or ideas; as modern chemistry, in
its caprice, repeats the action of creation by some gas or other? Do
not many men perish under the shock of the sudden expansion of some
moral acid within them?
"What is there in that box?" he inquired, as he reached a large
closet —final triumph of human skill, originality, wealth, and
splendor, in which there hung a large, square mahogany coffer,
suspended from a nail by a silver chain.
"Ah, monsieur keeps the key of it," said the stout assistant
mysteriously. "If you wish to see the portrait, I will gladly venture
to tell him."
"Venture!" said the young man; "then is your master a prince?"
"I don't know what he is," the other answered. Equally astonished,
each looked for a moment at the other. Then construing the stranger's
silence as an order, the apprentice left him alone in the closet.
Have you never launched into the immensity of time and space as you
read the geological writings of Cuvier? Carried by his fancy, have you
hung as if suspended by a magician's wand over the illimitable abyss
of the past? When the fossil bones of animals belonging to
civilizations before the Flood are turned up in bed after bed and
layer upon layer of the quarries of Montmartre or among the schists of
the Ural range, the soul receives with dismay a glimpse of millions of
peoples forgotten by feeble human memory and unrecognized by permanent
divine tradition, peoples whose ashes cover our globe with two feet of
earth that yields bread to us and flowers.
Is not Cuvier the great poet of our era? Byron has given admirable
expression to certain moral conflicts, but our immortal naturalist has
reconstructed past worlds from a few bleached bones; has rebuilt
cities, like Cadmus, with monsters' teeth; has animated forests with
all the secrets of zoology gleaned from a piece of coal; has
discovered a giant population from the footprints of a mammoth. These
forms stand erect, grow large, and fill regions commensurate with
their giant size. He treats figures like a poet; a naught set beside a
seven by him produces awe.
He can call up nothingness before you without the phrases of a
charlatan. He searches a lump of gypsum, finds an impression in it,
says to you, "Behold!" All at once marble takes an animal shape, the
dead come to life, the history of the world is laid open before you.
After countless dynasties of giant creatures, races of fish and clans
of mollusks, the race of man appears at last as the degenerate copy of
a splendid model, which the Creator has perchance destroyed.
Emboldened by his gaze into the past, this petty race, children of
yesterday, can overstep chaos, can raise a psalm without end, and
outline for themselves the story of the Universe in an Apocalypse that
reveals the past. After the tremendous resurrection that took place at
the voice of this man, the little drop in the nameless Infinite,
common to all spheres, that is ours to use, and that we call Time,
seems to us a pitiable moment of life. We ask ourselves the purpose of
our triumphs, our hatreds, our loves, overwhelmed as we are by the
destruction of so many past universes, and whether it is worth while
to accept the pain of life in order that hereafter we may become an
intangible speck. Then we remain as if dead, completely torn away from
the present till the valet de chambre comes in and says, "Madame la
comtesse answers that she is expecting monsieur."
All the wonders which had brought the known world before the young
man's mind wrought in his soul much the same feeling of dejection that
besets the philosopher investigating unknown creatures. He longed more
than ever for death as he flung himself back in a curule chair and let
his eyes wander across the illusions composing a panorama of the past.
The pictures seemed to light up, the Virgin's heads smiled on him, the
statues seemed alive. Everything danced and swayed around him, with a
motion due to the gloom and the tormenting fever that racked his
brain; each monstrosity grimaced at him, while the portraits on the
canvas closed their eyes for a little relief. Every shape seemed to
tremble and start, and to leave its place gravely or flippantly,
gracefully or awkwardly, according to its fashion, character, and
A mysterious Sabbath began, rivaling the fantastic scenes witnessed
by Faust upon the Brocken. But these optical illusions, produced by
weariness, overstrained eyesight, or the accidents of twilight, could
not alarm the stranger. The terrors of life had no power over a soul
grown familiar with the terrors of death. He even gave himself up,
half amused by its bizarre eccentricities, to the influence of this
moral galvanism; its phenomena, closely connected with his last
thoughts, assured him that he was still alive. The silence about him
was so deep that he embarked once more in dreams that grew gradually
darker and darker as if by magic, as the light slowly faded. A last
struggling ray from the sun lit up rosy answering lights. He raised
his head and saw a skeleton dimly visible, with its skull bent
doubtfully to one side, as if to say, "The dead will none of thee as
He passed his hand over his forehead to shake off the drowsiness,
and felt a cold breath of air as an unknown furry something swept past
his cheeks. He shivered. A muffled clatter of the windows followed; it
was a bat, he fancied, that had given him this chilly sepulchral
caress. He could yet dimly see for a moment the shapes that surrounded
him, by the vague light in the west; then all these inanimate objects
were blotted out in uniform darkness. Night and the hour of death had
suddenly come. Thenceforward, for a while, he lost consciousness of
the things about him; he was either buried in deep meditation or sleep
overcame him, brought on by weariness or by the stress of those many
thoughts that lacerated his heart.
Suddenly he thought that an awful voice called him by name; it was
like some feverish nightmare, when at a step the dreamer falls
headlong over into an abyss, and he trembled. He closed his eyes,
dazzled by bright rays from a red circle of light that shone out from
the shadows. In the midst of the circle stood a little old man who
turned the light of the lamp upon him, yet he had not heard him enter,
nor move, nor speak. There was something magical about the apparition.
The boldest man, awakened in such a sort, would have felt alarmed at
the sight of this figure, which might have issued from some
sarcophagus hard by.
A curiously youthful look in the unmoving eyes of the spectre
forbade the idea of anything supernatural; but for all that, in the
brief space between his dreaming and waking life, the young man's
judgment remained philosophically suspended, as Descartes advises. He
was, in spite of himself, under the influence of an unaccountable
hallucination, a mystery that our pride rejects, and that our
imperfect science vainly tries to resolve.
Imagine a short old man, thin and spare, in a long black velvet
gown girded round him by a thick silk cord. His long white hair
escaped on either side of his face from under a black velvet cap which
closely fitted his head and made a formal setting for his countenance.
His gown enveloped his body like a winding sheet, so that all that was
left visible was a narrow bleached human face. But for the wasted arm,
thin as a draper's wand, which held aloft the lamp that cast all its
light upon him, the face would have seemed to hang in mid air. A gray
pointed beard concealed the chin of this fantastical appearance, and
gave him the look of one of those Jewish types which serve artists as
models for Moses. His lips were so thin and colorless that it needed a
close inspection to find the lines of his mouth at all in the pallid
face. His great wrinkled brow and hollow bloodless cheeks, the
inexorably stern expression of his small green eyes that no longer
possessed eyebrows or lashes, might have convinced the stranger that
Gerard Dow's "Money Changer" had come down from his frame. The
craftiness of an inquisitor, revealed in those curving wrinkles and
creases that wound about his temples, indicated a profound knowledge
of life. There was no deceiving this man, who seemed to possess a
power of detecting the secrets of the wariest heart.
The wisdom and the moral codes of every people seemed gathered up
in his passive face, just as all the productions of the globe had been
heaped up in his dusty showrooms. He seemed to possess the tranquil
luminous vision of some god before whom all things are open, or the
haughty power of a man who knows all things.
With two strokes of the brush a painter could have so altered the
expression of this face, that what had been a serene representation of
the Eternal Father should change to the sneering mask of a
Mephistopheles; for though sovereign power was revealed by the
forehead, mocking folds lurked about the mouth. He must have
sacrificed all the joys of earth, as he had crushed all human sorrows
beneath his potent will. The man at the brink of death shivered at the
thought of the life led by this spirit, so solitary and remote from
our world; joyless, since he had no one illusion left; painless,
because pleasure had ceased to exist for him. There he stood,
motionless and serene as a star in a bright mist. His lamp lit up the
obscure closet, just as his green eyes, with their quiet malevolence,
seemed to shed a light on the moral world.
This was the strange spectacle that startled the young man's
returning sight, as he shook off the dreamy fancies and thoughts of
death that had lulled him. An instant of dismay, a momentary return to
belief in nursery tales, may be forgiven him, seeing that his senses
were obscured. Much thought had wearied his mind, and his nerves were
exhausted with the strain of the tremendous drama within him, and by
the scenes that had heaped on him all the horrid pleasures that a
piece of opium can produce.
But this apparition had appeared in Paris, on the Quai Voltaire,
and in the nineteenth century; the time and place made sorcery
impossible. The idol of French scepticism had died in the house just
opposite, the disciple of Gay-Lussac and Arago, who had held the
charlatanism of intellect in contempt. And yet the stranger submitted
himself to the influence of an imaginative spell, as all of us do at
times, when we wish to escape from an inevitable certainty, or to
tempt the power of Providence. So some mysterious apprehension of a
strange force made him tremble before the old man with the lamp. All
of us have been stirred in the same way by the sight of Napoleon, or
of some other great man, made illustrious by his genius or by fame.
"You wish to see Raphael's portrait of Jesus Christ, monsieur?" the
old man asked politely. There was something metallic in the clear,
sharp ring of his voice.
He set the lamp upon a broken column, so that all its light might
fall on the brown case.
At the sacred names of Christ and Raphael the young man showed some
curiosity. The merchant, who no doubt looked for this, pressed a
spring, and suddenly the mahogany panel slid noiselessly back in its
groove, and discovered the canvas to the stranger's admiring gaze. At
sight of this deathless creation, he forgot his fancies in the show-
rooms and the freaks of his dreams, and became himself again. The old
man became a being of flesh and blood, very much alive, with nothing
chimerical about him, and took up his existence at once upon solid
The sympathy and love, and the gentle serenity in the divine face,
exerted an instant sway over the younger spectator. Some influence
falling from heaven bade cease the burning torment that consumed the
marrow of his bones. The head of the Saviour of mankind seemed to
issue from among the shadows represented by a dark background; an
aureole of light shone out brightly from his hair; an impassioned
belief seemed to glow through him, and to thrill every feature. The
word of life had just been uttered by those red lips, the sacred
sounds seemed to linger still in the air; the spectator besought the
silence for those captivating parables, hearkened for them in the
future, and had to turn to the teachings of the past. The untroubled
peace of the divine eyes, the comfort of sorrowing souls, seemed an
interpretation of the Evangel. The sweet triumphant smile revealed the
secret of the Catholic religion, which sums up all things in the
precept, "Love one another." This picture breathed the spirit of
prayer, enjoined forgiveness, overcame self, caused sleeping powers of
good to waken. For this work of Raphael's had the imperious charm of
music; you were brought under the spell of memories of the past; his
triumph was so absolute that the artist was forgotten. The witchery of
the lamplight heightened the wonder; the head seemed at times to
flicker in the distance, enveloped in cloud.
"I covered the surface of that picture with gold pieces," said the
"And now for death!" cried the young man, awakened from his
musings. His last thought had recalled his fate to him, as it led him
imperceptibly back from the forlorn hopes to which he had clung.
"Ah, ha! then my suspicions were well founded!" said the other, and
his hands held the young man's wrists in a grip like that of a vice.
The younger man smiled wearily at his mistake, and said gently:
"You, sir, have nothing to fear; it is not your life, but my own
that is in question. . . . But why should I hide a harmless fraud?" he
went on, after a look at the anxious old man. "I came to see your
treasures to while away the time till night should come and I could
drown myself decently. Who would grudge this last pleasure to a poet
and a man of science?"
While he spoke, the jealous merchant watched the haggard face of
his pretended customer with keen eyes. Perhaps the mournful tones of
his voice reassured him, or he also read the dark signs of fate in the
faded features that had made the gamblers shudder; he released his
hands, but, with a touch of caution, due to the experience of some
hundred years at least, he stretched his arm out to a sideboard as if
to steady himself, took up a little dagger, and said:
"Have you been a supernumerary clerk of the Treasury for three
years without receiving any perquisites?"
The stranger could scarcely suppress a smile as he shook his head.
"Perhaps your father has expressed his regret for your birth a
little too sharply? Or have you disgraced yourself?"
"If I meant to be disgraced, I should live."
"You have been hissed perhaps at the Funambules? Or you have had to
compose couplets to pay for your mistress' funeral? Do you want to be
cured of the gold fever? Or to be quit of the spleen? For what blunder
is your life forfeit?"
"You must not look among the common motives that impel suicides for
the reason of my death. To spare myself the task of disclosing my
unheard-of sufferings, for which language has no name, I will tell you
this—that I am in the deepest, most humiliating, and most cruel
trouble, and," he went on in proud tones that harmonized ill with the
words just uttered, "I have no wish to beg for either help or
The two syllables which the old man pronounced resembled the sound
of a rattle. Then he went on thus:
"Without compelling you to entreat me, without making you blush for
it, and without giving you so much as a French centime, a para from
the Levant, a German heller, a Russian kopeck, a Scottish farthing, a
single obolus or sestertius from the ancient world, or one piastre
from the new, without offering you anything whatever in gold, silver,
or copper, notes or drafts, I will make you richer, more powerful, and
of more consequence than a constitutional king."
The young man thought that the older was in his dotage, and waited
in bewilderment without venturing to reply.
"Turn round," said the merchant, suddenly catching up the lamp in
order to light up the opposite wall; "look at that leathern skin," he
The young man rose abruptly, and showed some surprise at the sight
of a piece of shagreen which hung on the wall behind his chair. It was
only about the size of a fox's skin, but it seemed to fill the deep
shadows of the place with such brilliant rays that it looked like a
small comet, an appearance at first sight inexplicable. The young
sceptic went up to this so-called talisman, which was to rescue him
from all points of view, and he soon found out the cause of its
singular brilliancy. The dark grain of the leather had been so
carefully burnished and polished, the striped markings of the graining
were so sharp and clear, that every particle of the surface of the bit
of Oriental leather was in itself a focus which concentrated the
light, and reflected it vividly.
He accounted for this phenomenon categorically to the old man, who
only smiled meaningly by way of answer. His superior smile led the
young scientific man to fancy that he himself had been deceived by
some imposture. He had no wish to carry one more puzzle to his grave,
and hastily turned the skin over, like some child eager to find out
the mysteries of a new toy.
"Ah," he cried, "here is the mark of the seal which they call in
the East the Signet of Solomon."
"So you know that, then?" asked the merchant. His peculiar method
of laughter, two or three quick breathings through the nostrils, said
more than any words however eloquent.
"Is there anybody in the world simple enough to believe in that
idle fancy?" said the young man, nettled by the spitefulness of the
silent chuckle. "Don't you know," he continued, "that the
superstitions of the East have perpetuated the mystical form and the
counterfeit characters of the symbol, which represents a mythical
dominion? I have no more laid myself open to a charge of credulity in
this case, than if I had mentioned sphinxes or griffins, whose
existence mythology in a manner admits."
"As you are an Orientalist," replied the other, "perhaps you can
read that sentence."
He held the lamp close to the talisman, which the young man held
towards him, and pointed out some characters inlaid in the surface of
the wonderful skin, as if they had grown on the animal to which it
"I must admit," said the stranger, "that I have no idea how the
letters could be engraved so deeply on the skin of a wild ass." And he
turned quickly to the tables strewn with curiosities and seemed to
look for something.
"What is it that you want?" asked the old man.
"Something that will cut the leather, so that I can see whether the
letters are printed or inlaid."
The old man held out his stiletto. The stranger took it and tried
to cut the skin above the lettering; but when he had removed a thin
shaving of leather from them, the characters still appeared below, so
clear and so exactly like the surface impression, that for a moment he
was not sure that he had cut anything away after all.
"The craftsmen of the Levant have secrets known only to
themselves," he said, half in vexation, as he eyed the characters of
this Oriental sentence.
"Yes," said the old man, "it is better to attribute it to man's
agency than to God's."
The mysterious words were thus arranged:
[Drawing of apparently Sanskrit characters omitted]
Or, as it runs in English:
POSSESSING ME THOU SHALT POSSESS ALL THINGS. BUT THY LIFE IS MINE,
FOR GOD HAS SO WILLED IT. WISH, AND THY WISHES SHALL BE FULFILLED;
BUT MEASURE THY DESIRES, ACCORDING TO THE LIFE THAT IS IN THEE. THIS
IS THY LIFE, WITH EACH WISH I MUST SHRINK EVEN AS THY OWN DAYS. WILT
THOU HAVE ME? TAKE ME. GOD WILL HEARKEN UNTO THEE. SO BE IT!
"So you read Sanskrit fluently," said the old man. "You have been
in Persia perhaps, or in Bengal?"
"No, sir," said the stranger, as he felt the emblematical skin
curiously. It was almost as rigid as a sheet of metal.
The old merchant set the lamp back again upon the column, giving
the other a look as he did so. "He has given up the notion of dying
already," the glance said with phlegmatic irony.
"Is it a jest, or is it an enigma?" asked the younger man.
The other shook his head and said soberly:
"I don't know how to answer you. I have offered this talisman with
its terrible powers to men with more energy in them than you seem to
me to have; but though they laughed at the questionable power it might
exert over their futures, not one of them was ready to venture to
conclude the fateful contract proposed by an unknown force. I am of
their opinion, I have doubted and refrained, and——"
"Have you never even tried its power?" interrupted the young
"Tried it!" exclaimed the old man. "Suppose that you were on the
column in the Place Vendome, would you try flinging yourself into
space? Is it possible to stay the course of life? Has a man ever been
known to die by halves? Before you came here, you had made up your
mind to kill yourself, but all at once a mystery fills your mind, and
you think no more about death. You child! Does not any one day of your
life afford mysteries more absorbing? Listen to me. I saw the
licentious days of Regency. I was like you, then, in poverty; I have
begged my bread; but for all that, I am now a centenarian with a
couple of years to spare, and a millionaire to boot. Misery was the
making of me, ignorance has made me learned. I will tell you in a few
words the great secret of human life. By two instinctive processes man
exhausts the springs of life within him. Two verbs cover all the forms
which these two causes of death may take—To Will and To have your
Will. Between these two limits of human activity the wise have
discovered an intermediate formula, to which I owe my good fortune and
long life. To Will consumes us, and To have our Will destroys us, but
To Know steeps our feeble organisms in perpetual calm. In me Thought
has destroyed Will, so that Power is relegated to the ordinary
functions of my economy. In a word, it is not in the heart which can
be broken, or in the senses that become deadened, but it is in the
brain that cannot waste away and survives everything else, that I have
set my life. Moderation has kept mind and body unruffled. Yet, I have
seen the whole world. I have learned all languages, lived after every
manner. I have lent a Chinaman money, taking his father's corpse as a
pledge, slept in an Arab's tent on the security of his bare word,
signed contracts in every capital of Europe, and left my gold without
hesitation in savage wigwams. I have attained everything, because I
have known how to despise all things.
"My one ambition has been to see. Is not Sight in a manner Insight?
And to have knowledge or insight, is not that to have instinctive
possession? To be able to discover the very substance of fact and to
unite its essence to our essence? Of material possession what abides
with you but an idea? Think, then, how glorious must be the life of a
man who can stamp all realities upon his thought, place the springs of
happiness within himself, and draw thence uncounted pleasures in idea,
unspoiled by earthly stains. Thought is a key to all treasures; the
miser's gains are ours without his cares. Thus I have soared above
this world, where my enjoyments have been intellectual joys. I have
reveled in the contemplation of seas, peoples, forests, and mountains!
I have seen all things, calmly, and without weariness; I have set my
desires on nothing; I have waited in expectation of everything. I have
walked to and fro in the world as in a garden round about my own
dwelling. Troubles, loves, ambitions, losses, and sorrows, as men call
them, are for me ideas, which I transmute into waking dreams; I
express and transpose instead of feeling them; instead of permitting
them to prey upon my life, I dramatize and expand them; I divert
myself with them as if they were romances which I could read by the
power of vision within me. As I have never overtaxed my constitution,
I still enjoy robust health; and as my mind is endowed with all the
force that I have not wasted, this head of mine is even better
furnished than my galleries. The true millions lie here," he said,
striking his forehead. "I spend delicious days in communings with the
past; I summon before me whole countries, places, extents of sea, the
fair faces of history. In my imaginary seraglio I have all the women
that I have never possessed. Your wars and revolutions come up before
me for judgment. What is a feverish fugitive admiration for some more
or less brightly colored piece of flesh and blood; some more or less
rounded human form; what are all the disasters that wait on your
erratic whims, compared with the magnificent power of conjuring up the
whole world within your soul, compared with the immeasurable joys of
movement, unstrangled by the cords of time, unclogged by the fetters
of space; the joys of beholding all things, of comprehending all
things, of leaning over the parapet of the world to question the other
spheres, to hearken to the voice of God? There," he burst out,
vehemently, "there are To Will and To have your Will, both together,"
he pointed to the bit of shagreen; "there are your social ideas, your
immoderate desires, your excesses, your pleasures that end in death,
your sorrows that quicken the pace of life, for pain is perhaps but a
violent pleasure. Who could determine the point where pleasure becomes
pain, where pain is still a pleasure? Is not the utmost brightness of
the ideal world soothing to us, while the lightest shadows of the
physical world annoy? Is not knowledge the secret of wisdom? And what
is folly but a riotous expenditure of Will or Power?"
"Very good then, a life of riotous excess for me!" said the
stranger, pouncing upon the piece of shagreen.
"Young man, beware!" cried the other with incredible vehemence.
"I had resolved my existence into thought and study," the stranger
replied; "and yet they have not even supported me. I am not to be
gulled by a sermon worthy of Swedenborg, nor by your Oriental amulet,
nor yet by your charitable endeavors to keep me in a world wherein
existence is no longer possible for me. . . . Let me see now," he
added, clutching the talisman convulsively, as he looked at the old
man, "I wish for a royal banquet, a carouse worthy of this century,
which, it is said, has brought everything to perfection! Let me have
young boon companions, witty, unwarped by prejudice, merry to the
verge of madness! Let one wine succeed another, each more biting and
perfumed than the last, and strong enough to bring about three days of
delirium! Passionate women's forms should grace that night! I would be
borne away to unknown regions beyond the confines of this world, by
the car and four-winged steed of a frantic and uproarious orgy. Let us
ascend to the skies, or plunge ourselves in the mire. I do not know if
one soars or sinks at such moments, and I do not care! Next, I bid
this enigmatical power to concentrate all delights for me in one
single joy. Yes, I must comprehend every pleasure of earth and heaven
in the final embrace that is to kill me. Therefore, after the wine, I
wish to hold high festival to Priapus, with songs that might rouse the
dead, and kisses without end; the sound of them should pass like the
crackling of flame through Paris, should revive the heat of youth and
passion in husband and wife, even in hearts of seventy years."
A laugh burst from the little old man. It rang in the young man's
ears like an echo from hell; and tyrannously cut him short. He said no
"Do you imagine that my floors are going to open suddenly, so that
luxuriously-appointed tables may rise through them, and guests from
another world? No, no, young madcap. You have entered into the compact
now, and there is an end of it. Henceforward, your wishes will be
accurately fulfilled, but at the expense of your life. The compass of
your days, visible in that skin, will contract according to the
strength and number of your desires, from the least to the most
extravagant. The Brahmin from whom I had this skin once explained to
me that it would bring about a mysterious connection between the
fortunes and wishes of its possessor. Your first wish is a vulgar one,
which I could fulfil, but I leave that to the issues of your new
existence. After all, you were wishing to die; very well, your suicide
is only put off for a time."
The stranger was surprised and irritated that this peculiar old man
persisted in not taking him seriously. A half philanthropic intention
peeped so clearly forth from his last jesting observation, that he
"I shall soon see, sir, if any change comes over my fortunes in the
time it will take to cross the width of the quay. But I should like us
to be quits for such a momentous service; that is, if you are not
laughing at an unlucky wretch, so I wish that you may fall in love
with an opera-dancer. You would understand the pleasures of
intemperance then, and might perhaps grow lavish of the wealth that
you have husbanded so philosophically."
He went out without heeding the old man's heavy sigh, went back
through the galleries and down the staircase, followed by the stout
assistant who vainly tried to light his passage; he fled with the
haste of a robber caught in the act. Blinded by a kind of delirium, he
did not even notice the unexpected flexibility of the piece of
shagreen, which coiled itself up, pliant as a glove in his excited
fingers, till it would go into the pocket of his coat, where he
mechanically thrust it. As he rushed out of the door into the street,
he ran up against three young men who were passing arm-in-arm.
Such were the gratifying expressions exchanged between them.
"Why, it is Raphael!"
"Good! we were looking for you."
"What! it is you, then?"
These three friendly exclamations quickly followed the insults, as
the light of a street lamp, flickering in the wind, fell upon the
astonished faces of the group.
"My dear fellow, you must come with us!" said the young man that
Raphael had all but knocked down.
"What is all this about?"
"Come along, and I will tell you the history of it as we go."
By fair means or foul, Raphael must go along with his friends
towards the Pont des Arts; they surrounded him, and linked him by the
arm among their merry band.
"We have been after you for about a week," the speaker went on. "At
your respectable hotel de Saint Quentin, where, by the way, the sign
with the alternate black and red letters cannot be removed, and hangs
out just as it did in the time of Jean Jacques, that Leonarda of yours
told us that you were off into the country. For all that, we certainly
did not look like duns, creditors, sheriff's officers, or the like.
But no matter! Rastignac had seen you the evening before at the
Bouffons; we took courage again, and made it a point of honor to find
out whether you were roosting in a tree in the Champs-Elysees, or in
one of those philanthropic abodes where the beggars sleep on a
twopenny rope, or if, more luckily, you were bivouacking in some
boudoir or other. We could not find you anywhere. Your name was not in
the jailers' registers at the St. Pelagie nor at La Force! Government
departments, cafes, libraries, lists of prefects' names, newspaper
offices, restaurants, greenrooms—to cut it short, every lurking place
in Paris, good or bad, has been explored in the most expert manner. We
bewailed the loss of a man endowed with such genius, that one might
look to find him at Court or in the common jails. We talked of
canonizing you as a hero of July, and, upon my word, we regretted
As he spoke, the friends were crossing the Pont des Arts. Without
listening to them, Raphael looked at the Seine, at the clamoring waves
that reflected the lights of Paris. Above that river, in which but now
he had thought to fling himself, the old man's prediction had been
fulfilled, the hour of his death had been already put back by fate.
"We really regretted you," said his friend, still pursuing his
theme. "It was a question of a plan in which we included you as a
superior person, that is to say, somebody who can put himself above
other people. The constitutional thimble-rig is carried on to-day,
dear boy, more seriously than ever. The infamous monarchy, displaced
by the heroism of the people, was a sort of drab, you could laugh and
revel with her; but La Patrie is a shrewish and virtuous wife, and
willy- nilly you must take her prescribed endearments. Then besides,
as you know, authority passed over from the Tuileries to the
journalists, at the time when the Budget changed its quarters and went
from the Faubourg Saint-Germain to the Chaussee de Antin. But this you
may not know perhaps. The Government, that is, the aristocracy of
lawyers and bankers who represent the country to-day, just as the
priests used to do in the time of the monarchy, has felt the necessity
of mystifying the worthy people of France with a few new words and old
ideas, like philosophers of every school, and all strong intellects
ever since time began. So now Royalist-national ideas must be
inculcated, by proving to us that it is far better to pay twelve
million francs, thirty-three centimes to La Patrie, represented by
Messieurs Such-and- Such, than to pay eleven hundred million francs,
nine centimes to a king who used to say _I_ instead of WE. In a word,
a journal, with two or three hundred thousand francs, good, at the
back of it, has just been started, with a view to making an opposition
paper to content the discontented, without prejudice to the national
government of the citizen-king. We scoff at liberty as at despotism
now, and at religion or incredulity quite impartially. And since, for
us, 'our country' means a capital where ideas circulate and are sold
at so much a line, a succulent dinner every day, and the play at
frequent intervals, where profligate women swarm, where suppers last
on into the next day, and light loves are hired by the hour like cabs;
and since Paris will always be the most adorable of all countries, the
country of joy, liberty, wit, pretty women, mauvais sujets, and good
wine; where the truncheon of authority never makes itself disagreeably
felt, because one is so close to those who wield it,—we, therefore,
sectaries of the god Mephistopheles, have engaged to whitewash the
public mind, to give fresh costumes to the actors, to put a new plank
or two in the government booth, to doctor doctrinaires, and warm up
old Republicans, to touch up the Bonapartists a bit, and revictual the
Centre; provided that we are allowed to laugh in petto at both kings
and peoples, to think one thing in the morning and another at night,
and to lead a merry life a la Panurge, or to recline upon soft
cushions, more orientali.
"The sceptre of this burlesque and macaronic kingdom," he went on,
"we have reserved for you; so we are taking you straightway to a
dinner given by the founder of the said newspaper, a retired banker,
who, at a loss to know what to do with his money, is going to buy some
brains with it. You will be welcomed as a brother, we shall hail you
as king of these free lances who will undertake anything; whose
perspicacity discovers the intentions of Austria, England, or Russia
before either Russia, Austria or England have formed any. Yes, we will
invest you with the sovereignty of those puissant intellects which
give to the world its Mirabeaus, Talleyrands, Pitts, and
Metternichs—all the clever Crispins who treat the destinies of a
kingdom as gamblers' stakes, just as ordinary men play dominoes for
Kirschenwasser. We have given you out to be the most undaunted
champion who ever wrestled in a drinking-bout at close quarters with
the monster called Carousal, whom all bold spirits wish to try a fall
with; we have gone so far as to say that you have never yet been
worsted. I hope you will not make liars of us. Taillefer, our
amphitryon, has undertaken to surpass the circumscribed saturnalias of
the petty modern Lucullus. He is rich enough to infuse pomp into
trifles, and style and charm into dissipation . . . Are you listening,
Raphael?" asked the orator, interrupting himself.
"Yes," answered the young man, less surprised by the accomplishment
of his wishes than by the natural manner in which the events had come
He could not bring himself to believe in magic, but he marveled at
the accidents of human fate.
"Yes, you say, just as if you were thinking of your grandfather's
demise," remarked one of his neighbors.
"Ah!" cried Raphael, "I was thinking, my friends, that we are in a
fair way to become very great scoundrels," and there was an
ingenuousness in his tones that set these writers, the hope of young
France, in a roar. "So far our blasphemies have been uttered over our
cups; we have passed our judgments on life while drunk, and taken men
and affairs in an after-dinner frame of mind. We were innocent of
action; we were bold in words. But now we are to be branded with the
hot iron of politics; we are going to enter the convict's prison and
to drop our illusions. Although one has no belief left, except in the
devil, one may regret the paradise of one's youth and the age of
innocence, when we devoutly offered the tip of our tongue to some good
priest for the consecrated wafer of the sacrament. Ah, my good
friends, our first peccadilloes gave us so much pleasure because the
consequent remorse set them off and lent a keen relish to them; but
"Oh! now," said the first speaker, "there is still left——"
"What?" asked another.
"There is a word as high as the gallows and deeper than the Seine,"
"Oh, you don't understand me; I mean political crime. Since this
morning, a conspirator's life is the only one I covet. I don't know
that the fancy will last over to-morrow, but to-night at least my
gorge rises at the anaemic life of our civilization and its railroad
evenness. I am seized with a passion for the miseries of retreat from
Moscow, for the excitements of the Red Corsair, or for a smuggler's
life. I should like to go to Botany Bay, as we have no Chartreaux left
us here in France; it is a sort of infirmary reserved for little Lord
Byrons who, having crumpled up their lives like a serviette after
dinner, have nothing left to do but to set their country ablaze, blow
their own brains out, plot for a republic or clamor for a war——"
"Emile," Raphael's neighbor called eagerly to the speaker, "on my
honor, but for the revolution of July I would have taken orders, and
gone off down into the country somewhere to lead the life of an
"And you would have read your breviary through every day."
"You are a coxcomb!"
"Why, we read the newspapers as it is!"
"Not bad that, for a journalist! But hold your tongue, we are going
through a crowd of subscribers. Journalism, look you, is the religion
of modern society, and has even gone a little further."
"What do you mean?"
"Its pontiffs are not obliged to believe in it any more than the
Chatting thus, like good fellows who have known their De Viris
illustribus for years past, they reached a mansion in the Rue Joubert.
Emile was a journalist who had acquired more reputation by dint of
doing nothing than others had derived from their achievements. A bold,
caustic, and powerful critic, he possessed all the qualities that his
defects permitted. An outspoken giber, he made numberless epigrams on
a friend to his face; but would defend him, if absent, with courage
and loyalty. He laughed at everything, even at his own career. Always
impecunious, he yet lived, like all men of his calibre, plunged in
unspeakable indolence. He would fling some word containing volumes in
the teeth of folk who could not put a syllable of sense into their
books. He lavished promises that he never fulfilled; he made a pillow
of his luck and reputation, on which he slept, and ran the risk of
waking up to old age in a workhouse. A steadfast friend to the gallows
foot, a cynical swaggerer with a child's simplicity, a worker only
from necessity or caprice.
"In the language of Maitre Alcofribas, we are about to make a
famous troncon de chiere lie," he remarked to Raphael as he pointed
out the flower-stands that made a perfumed forest of the staircase.
"I like a vestibule to be well warmed and richly carpeted," Raphael
said. "Luxury in the peristyle is not common in France. I feel as if
life had begun anew here."
"And up above we are going to drink and make merry once more, my
dear Raphael. Ah! yes," he went on, "and I hope we are going to come
off conquerors, too, and walk over everybody else's head."
As he spoke, he jestingly pointed to the guests. They were entering
a large room which shone with gilding and lights, and there all the
younger men of note in Paris welcomed them. Here was one who had just
revealed fresh powers, his first picture vied with the glories of
Imperial art. There, another, who but yesterday had launched forth a
volume, an acrid book filled with a sort of literary arrogance, which
opened up new ways to the modern school. A sculptor, not far away,
with vigorous power visible in his rough features, was chatting with
one of those unenthusiastic scoffers who can either see excellence
anywhere or nowhere, as it happens. Here, the cleverest of our
caricaturists, with mischievous eyes and bitter tongue, lay in wait
for epigrams to translate into pencil strokes; there, stood the young
and audacious writer, who distilled the quintessence of political
ideas better than any other man, or compressed the work of some
prolific writer as he held him up to ridicule; he was talking with the
poet whose works would have eclipsed all the writings of the time if
his ability had been as strenuous as his hatreds. Both were trying not
to say the truth while they kept clear of lies, as they exchanged
flattering speeches. A famous musician administered soothing
consolation in a rallying fashion, to a young politician who had just
fallen quite unhurt, from his rostrum. Young writers who lacked style
stood beside other young writers who lacked ideas, and authors of
poetical prose by prosaic poets.
At the sight of all these incomplete beings, a simple Saint
Simonian, ingenuous enough to believe in his own doctrine, charitably
paired them off, designing, no doubt, to convert them into monks of
his order. A few men of science mingled in the conversation, like
nitrogen in the atmosphere, and several vaudevillistes shed rays like
the sparking diamonds that give neither light nor heat. A few paradox-
mongers, laughing up their sleeves at any folk who embraced their
likes or dislikes in men or affairs, had already begun a two-edged
policy, conspiring against all systems, without committing themselves
to any side. Then there was the self-appointed critic who admires
nothing, and will blow his nose in the middle of a cavatina at the
Bouffons, who applauds before any one else begins, and contradicts
every one who says what he himself was about to say; he was there
giving out the sayings of wittier men for his own. Of all the
assembled guests, a future lay before some five; ten or so should
acquire a fleeting renown; as for the rest, like all mediocrities,
they might apply to themselves the famous falsehood of Louis XVIII.,
Union and oblivion.
The anxious jocularity of a man who is expending two thousand
crowns sat on their host. His eyes turned impatiently towards the door
from time to time, seeking one of his guests who kept him waiting.
Very soon a stout little person appeared, who was greeted by a
complimentary murmur; it was the notary who had invented the newspaper
that very morning. A valet-de-chambre in black opened the doors of a
vast dining-room, whither every one went without ceremony, and took
his place at an enormous table.
Raphael took a last look round the room before he left it. His wish
had been realized to the full. The rooms were adorned with silk and
gold. Countless wax tapers set in handsome candelabra lit up the
slightest details of gilded friezes, the delicate bronze sculpture,
and the splendid colors of the furniture. The sweet scent of rare
flowers, set in stands tastefully made of bamboo, filled the air.
Everything, even the curtains, was pervaded by elegance without
pretension, and there was a certain imaginative charm about it all
which acted like a spell on the mind of a needy man.
"An income of a hundred thousand livres a year is a very nice
beginning of the catechism, and a wonderful assistance to putting
morality into our actions," he said, sighing. "Truly my sort of virtue
can scarcely go afoot, and vice means, to my thinking, a garret, a
threadbare coat, a gray hat in winter time, and sums owing to the
porter. . . . I should like to live in the lap of luxury a year, or
six months, no matter! And then afterwards, die. I should have known,
exhausted, and consumed a thousand lives, at any rate."
"Why, you are taking the tone of a stockbroker in good luck," said
Emile, who overheard him. "Pooh! your riches would be a burden to you
as soon as you found that they would spoil your chances of coming out
above the rest of us. Hasn't the artist always kept the balance true
between the poverty of riches and the riches of poverty? And isn't
struggle a necessity to some of us? Look out for your digestion, and
only look," he added, with a mock-heroic gesture, "at the majestic,
thrice holy, and edifying appearance of this amiable capitalist's
dining-room. That man has in reality only made his money for our
benefit. Isn't he a kind of sponge of the polyp order, overlooked by
naturalists, which should be carefully squeezed before he is left for
his heirs to feed upon? There is style, isn't there, about those bas-
reliefs that adorn the walls? And the lustres, and the pictures, what
luxury well carried out! If one may believe those who envy him, or who
know, or think they know, the origins of his life, then this man got
rid of a German and some others—his best friend for one, and the
mother of that friend, during the Revolution. Could you house crimes
under the venerable Taillefer's silvering locks? He looks to me a very
worthy man. Only see how the silver sparkles, and is every glittering
ray like a stab of a dagger to him? . . . Let us go in, one might as
well believe in Mahomet. If common report speak truth, here are thirty
men of talent, and good fellows too, prepared to dine off the flesh
and blood of a whole family; . . . and here are we ourselves, a pair
of youngsters full of open-hearted enthusiasm, and we shall be
partakers in his guilt. I have a mind to ask our capitalist whether he
is a respectable character. . . ."
"No, not now," cried Raphael, "but when he is dead drunk, we shall
have had our dinner then."
The two friends sat down laughing. First of all, by a glance more
rapid than a word, each paid his tribute of admiration to the splendid
general effect of the long table, white as a bank of freshly-fallen
snow, with its symmetrical line of covers, crowned with their pale
golden rolls of bread. Rainbow colors gleamed in the starry rays of
light reflected by the glass; the lights of the tapers crossed and
recrossed each other indefinitely; the dishes covered with their
silver domes whetted both appetite and curiosity.
Few words were spoken. Neighbors exchanged glances as the Maderia
circulated. Then the first course appeared in all its glory; it would
have done honor to the late Cambaceres, Brillat-Savarin would have
celebrated it. The wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, white and red, were
royally lavished. This first part of the banquet might been compared
in every way to a rendering of some classical tragedy. The second act
grew a trifle noisier. Every guest had had a fair amount to drink, and
had tried various crus at this pleasure, so that as the remains of the
magnificent first course were removed, tumultuous discussions began; a
pale brow here and there began to flush, sundry noses took a purpler
hue, faces lit up, and eyes sparkled.
While intoxication was only dawning, the conversation did not
overstep the bounds of civility; but banter and bon mots slipped by
degrees from every tongue; and then slander began to rear its little
snake's heard, and spoke in dulcet tones; a few shrewd ones here and
there gave heed to it, hoping to keep their heads. So the second
course found their minds somewhat heated. Every one ate as he spoke,
spoke while he ate, and drank without heeding the quantity of the
liquor, the wine was so biting, the bouquet so fragrant, the example
around so infectious. Taillefer made a point of stimulating his
guests, and plied them with the formidable wines of the Rhone, with
fierce Tokay, and heady old Roussillon.
The champagne, impatiently expected and lavishly poured out, was a
scourge of fiery sparks to these men; released like post-horses from
some mail-coach by a relay; they let their spirits gallop away into
the wilds of argument to which no one listened, began to tell stories
which had no auditors, and repeatedly asked questions to which no
answer was made. Only the loud voice of wassail could be heard, a
voice made up of a hundred confused clamors, which rose and grew like
a crescendo of Rossini's. Insidious toasts, swagger, and challenges
Each renounced any pride in his own intellectual capacity, in order
to vindicate that of hogsheads, casks, and vats; and each made noise
enough for two. A time came when the footmen smiled, while their
masters all talked at once. A philosopher would have been interested,
doubtless, by the singularity of the thoughts expressed, a politician
would have been amazed by the incongruity of the methods discussed in
the melee of words or doubtfully luminous paradoxes, where truths,
grotesquely caparisoned, met in conflict across the uproar of brawling
judgments, of arbitrary decisions and folly, much as bullets, shells,
and grapeshot are hurled across a battlefield.
It was at once a volume and a picture. Every philosophy, religion,
and moral code differing so greatly in every latitude, every
government, every great achievement of the human intellect, fell
before a scythe as long as Time's own; and you might have found it
hard to decide whether it was wielded by Gravity intoxicated, or by
Inebriation grown sober and clear-sighted. Borne away by a kind of
tempest, their minds, like the sea raging against the cliffs, seemed
ready to shake the laws which confine the ebb and flow of
civilization; unconsciously fulfilling the will of God, who has
suffered evil and good to abide in nature, and reserved the secret of
their continual strife to Himself. A frantic travesty of debate
ensued, a Walpurgis-revel of intellects. Between the dreary jests of
these children of the Revolution over the inauguration of a newspaper,
and the talk of the joyous gossips at Gargantua's birth, stretched the
gulf that divides the nineteenth century from the sixteenth.
Laughingly they had begun the work of destruction, and our journalists
laughed amid the ruins.
"What is the name of that young man over there?" said the notary,
indicating Raphael. "I thought I heard some one call him Valentin."
"What stuff is this?" said Emile, laughing; "plain Valentin, say
you? Raphael DE Valentin, if you please. We bear an eagle or, on a
field sable, with a silver crown, beak and claws gules, and a fine
motto: NON CECIDIT ANIMUS. We are no foundling child, but a descendant
of the Emperor Valens, of the stock of the Valentinois, founders of
the cities of Valence in France, and Valencia in Spain, rightful heirs
to the Empire of the East. If we suffer Mahmoud on the throne of
Byzantium, it is out of pure condescension, and for lack of funds and
With a fork flourished above Raphael's head, Emile outlined a crown
upon it. The notary bethought himself a moment, but soon fell to
drinking again, with a gesture peculiar to himself; it was quite
impossible, it seemed to say to secure in his clientele the cities of
Valence and Byzantium, the Emperor Valens, Mahmoud, and the house of
"Should not the destruction of those ant-hills, Babylon, Tyre,
Carthage, and Venice, each crushed beneath the foot of a passing
giant, serve as a warning to man, vouchsafed by some mocking power?"
said Claude Vignon, who must play the Bossuet, as a sort of purchased
slave, at the rate of fivepence a line.
"Perhaps Moses, Sylla, Louis XI., Richelieu, Robespierre, and
Napoleon were but the same man who crosses our civilizations now and
again, like a comet across the sky," said a disciple of Ballanche.
"Why try to fathom the designs of Providence?" said Canalis, maker
"Come, now," said the man who set up for a critic, "there is
nothing more elastic in the world than your Providence."
"Well, sir, Louis XIV. sacrificed more lives over digging the
foundations of the Maintenon's aqueducts, than the Convention expended
in order to assess the taxes justly, to make one law for everybody,
and one nation of France, and to establish the rule of equal
inheritance," said Massol, whom the lack of a syllable before his name
had made a Republican.
"Are you going to leave our heads on our shoulders?" asked Moreau
(of the Oise), a substantial farmer. "You, sir, who took blood for
wine just now?"
"Where is the use? Aren't the principles of social order worth some
"Hi! Bixiou! What's-his-name, the Republican, considers a
landowner's head a sacrifice!" said a young man to his neighbor.
"Men and events count for nothing," said the Republican, following
out his theory in spite of hiccoughs; "in politics, as in philosophy,
there are only principles and ideas."
"What an abomination! Then you would ruthlessly put your friends to
death for a shibboleth?"
"Eh, sir! the man who feels compunction is your thorough scoundrel,
for he has some notion of virtue; while Peter the Great and the Duke
of Alva were embodied systems, and the pirate Monbard an
"But can't society rid itself of your systems and organizations?"
"Oh, granted!" cried the Republican.
"That stupid Republic of yours makes me feel queasy. We sha'n't be
able to carve a capon in peace, because we shall find the agrarian law
"Ah, my little Brutus, stuffed with truffles, your principles are
all right enough. But you are like my valet, the rogue is so
frightfully possessed with a mania for property that if I left him to
clean my clothes after his fashion, he would soon clean me out."
"Crass idiots!" replied the Republican, "you are for setting a
nation straight with toothpicks. To your way of thinking, justice is
more dangerous than thieves."
"Oh, dear!" cried the attorney Deroches.
"Aren't they a bore with their politics!" said the notary Cardot.
"Shut up. That's enough of it. There is no knowledge nor virtue worth
shedding a drop of blood for. If Truth were brought into liquidation,
we might find her insolvent."
"It would be much less trouble, no doubt, to amuse ourselves with
evil, rather than dispute about good. Moreover, I would give all the
speeches made for forty years past at the Tribune for a trout, for one
of Perrault's tales or Charlet's sketches."
"Quite right! . . . Hand me the asparagus. Because, after all,
liberty begets anarchy, anarchy leads to despotism, and despotism back
again to liberty. Millions have died without securing a triumph for
any one system. Is not that the vicious circle in which the whole
moral world revolves? Man believes that he has reached perfection,
when in fact he has but rearranged matters."
"Oh! oh!" cried Cursy, the vaudevilliste; "in that case, gentlemen,
here's to Charles X., the father of liberty."
"Why not?" asked Emile. "When law becomes despotic, morals are
relaxed, and vice versa.
"Let us drink to the imbecility of authority, which gives us such
an authority over imbeciles!" said the good banker.
"Napoleon left us glory, at any rate, my good friend!" exclaimed a
naval officer who had never left Brest.
"Glory is a poor bargain; you buy it dear, and it will not keep.
Does not the egotism of the great take the form of glory, just as for
nobodies it is their own well-being?"
"You are very fortunate, sir——"
"The first inventor of ditches must have been a weakling, for
society is only useful to the puny. The savage and the philosopher, at
either extreme of the moral scale, hold property in equal horror."
"All very fine!" said Cardot; "but if there were no property, there
would be no documents to draw up."
"These green peas are excessively delicious!"
"And the cure was found dead in his bed in the morning. . . ."
"Who is talking about death? Pray don't trifle, I have an uncle."
"Could you bear his loss with resignation?"
"Gentlemen, listen to me! HOW TO KILL AN UNCLE. Silence! (Cries of
"Hush! hush!") In the first place, take an uncle, large and stout,
seventy years old at least, they are the best uncles. (Sensation.) Get
him to eat a pate de foie gras, any pretext will do."
"Ah, but my uncle is a thin, tall man, and very niggardly and
"That sort of uncle is a monster; he misappropriates existence."
"Then," the speaker on uncles went on, "tell him, while he is
digesting it, that his banker has failed."
"How if he bears up?"
"Let loose a pretty girl on him."
"And if——?" asked the other, with a shake of the head.
"Then he wouldn't be an uncle—an uncle is a gay dog by nature."
"Malibran has lost two notes in her voice."
"No, sir, she has not."
"Yes, sir, she has."
"Oh, ho! No and yes, is not that the sum-up of all religious,
political, or literary dissertations? Man is a clown dancing on the
edge of an abyss."
"You would make out that I am a fool."
"On the contrary, you cannot make me out."
"Education, there's a pretty piece of tomfoolery. M.
Heineffettermach estimates the number of printed volumes at more than
a thousand millions; and a man cannot read more than a hundred and
fifty thousand in his lifetime. So, just tell me what that word
education means. For some it consists in knowing the name of
Alexander's horse, of the dog Berecillo, of the Seigneur d'Accords,
and in ignorance of the man to whom we owe the discovery of rafting
and the manufacture of porcelain. For others it is the knowledge how
to burn a will and live respected, be looked up to and popular,
instead of stealing a watch with half-a- dozen aggravating
circumstances, after a previous conviction, and so perishing, hated
and dishonored, in the Place de Greve."
"Will Nathan's work live?"
"He has very clever collaborators, sir."
"He is a great man; let us say no more about him."
"You are all drunk!"
"The consequence of a Constitution is the immediate stultification
of intellects. Art, science, public works, everything, is consumed by
a horribly egoistic feeling, the leprosy of the time. Three hundred of
your bourgeoisie, set down on benches, will only think of planting
poplars. Tyranny does great things lawlessly, while Liberty will
scarcely trouble herself to do petty ones lawfully."
"Your reciprocal instruction will turn out counters in human
flesh," broke in an Absolutist. "All individuality will disappear in a
people brought to a dead level by education."
"For all that, is not the aim of society to secure happiness to
each member of it?" asked the Saint-Simonian.
"If you had an income of fifty thousand livres, you would not think
much about the people. If you are smitten with a tender passion for
the race, go to Madagascar; there you will find a nice little nation
all ready to Saint-Simonize, classify, and cork up in your phials, but
here every one fits into his niche like a peg in a hole. A porter is a
porter, and a blockhead is a fool, without a college of fathers to
promote them to those positions."
"You are a Carlist."
"And why not? Despotism pleases me; it implies a certain contempt
for the human race. I have no animosity against kings, they are so
amusing. Is it nothing to sit enthroned in a room, at a distance of
thirty million leagues from the sun?"
"Let us once more take a broad view of civilization," said the man
of learning who, for the benefit of the inattentive sculptor, had
opened a discussion on primitive society and autochthonous races. "The
vigor of a nation in its origin was in a way physical, unitary, and
crude; then as aggregations increased, government advanced by a
decomposition of the primitive rule, more or less skilfully managed.
For example, in remote ages national strength lay in theocracy, the
priest held both sword and censer; a little later there were two
priests, the pontiff and the king. To-day our society, the latest word
of civilization, has distributed power according to the number of
combinations, and we come to the forces called business, thought,
money, and eloquence. Authority thus divided is steadily approaching a
social dissolution, with interest as its one opposing barrier. We
depend no longer on either religion or physical force, but upon
intellect. Can a book replace the sword? Can discussion be a
substitute for action? That is the question."
"Intellect has made an end of everything," cried the Carlist. "Come
now! Absolute freedom has brought about national suicides; their
triumph left them as listless as an English millionaire."
"Won't you tell us something new? You have made fun of authority of
all sorts to-day, which is every bit as vulgar as denying the
existence of God. So you have no belief left, and the century is like
an old Sultan worn out by debauchery! Your Byron, in short, sings of
crime and its emotions in a final despair of poetry."
"Don't you know," replied Bianchon, quite drunk by this time, "that
a dose of phosphorus more or less makes the man of genius or the
scoundrel, a clever man or an idiot, a virtuous person or a criminal?"
"Can any one treat of virtue thus?" cried Cursy. "Virtue, the
subject of every drama at the theatre, the denoument of every play,
the foundation of every court of law. . . ."
"Be quiet, you ass. You are an Achilles for virtue, without his
heel," said Bixiou.
"What will you bet that I will drink a bottle of champagne like a
flash, at one pull?"
"What a flash of wit!"
"Drunk as lords," muttered a young man gravely, trying to give some
wine to his waistcoat.
"Yes, sir; real government is the art of ruling by public opinion."
"Opinion? That is the most vicious jade of all. According to you
moralists and politicians, the laws you set up are always to go before
those of nature, and opinion before conscience. You are right and
wrong both. Suppose society bestows down pillows on us, that benefit
is made up for by the gout; and justice is likewise tempered by red-
tape, and colds accompany cashmere shawls."
"Wretch!" Emile broke in upon the misanthrope, "how can you slander
civilization here at table, up to the eyes in wines and exquisite
dishes? Eat away at that roebuck with the gilded horns and feet, and
do not carp at your mother. . ."
"Is it any fault of mine if Catholicism puts a million deities in a
sack of flour, that Republics will end in a Napoleon, that monarchy
dwells between the assassination of Henry IV. and the trial of Louis
XVI., and Liberalism produces Lafayettes?"
"Didn't you embrace him in July?"
"Then hold your tongue, you sceptic."
"Sceptics are the most conscientious of men."
"They have no conscience."
"What are you saying? They have two apiece at least!"
"So you want to discount heaven, a thoroughly commercial notion.
Ancient religions were but the unchecked development of physical
pleasure, but we have developed a soul and expectations; some advance
has been made."
"What can you expect, my friends, of a century filled with politics
to repletion?" asked Nathan. "What befell The History of the King of
Bohemia and his Seven Castles, a most entrancing conception? . . ."
"I say," the would-be critic cried down the whole length of the
table. "The phrases might have been drawn at hap-hazard from a hat,
'twas a work written 'down to Charenton.' "
"You are a fool!"
"And you are a rogue!"
"They are going to fight."
"No, they aren't."
"You will find me to-morrow, sir."
"This very moment," Nathan answered.
"Come, come, you pair of fire-eaters!"
"You are another!" said the prime mover in the quarrel.
"Ah, I can't stand upright, perhaps?" asked the pugnacious Nathan,
straightening himself up like a stag-beetle about to fly.
He stared stupidly round the table, then, completely exhausted by
the effort, sank back into his chair, and mutely hung his head.
"Would it not have been nice," the critic said to his neighbor, "to
fight about a book I have neither read nor seen?"
"Emile, look out for your coat; your neighbor is growing pale,"
"Kant? Yet another ball flung out for fools to sport with, sir!
Materialism and spiritualism are a fine pair of battledores with which
charlatans in long gowns keep a shuttlecock a-going. Suppose that God
is everywhere, as Spinoza says, or that all things proceed from God,
as says St. Paul . . . the nincompoops, the door shuts or opens, but
isn't the movement the same? Does the fowl come from the egg, or the
egg from the fowl? . . . Just hand me some duck . . . and there, you
have all science."
"Simpleton!" cried the man of science, "your problem is settled by
"Professors' chairs were not made for philosophy, but philosophy
for the professors' chairs. Put on a pair of spectacles and read the
"Where but in Paris will you find such a ready and rapid exchange
of thought?" cried Bixiou in a deep, bass voice.
"Bixiou! Act a classical farce for us! Come now."
"Would you like me to depict the nineteenth century?"
"Clap a muffle on your trumpets."
"Shut up, you Turk!"
"Give him some wine, and let that fellow keep quiet."
"Now, then, Bixiou!"
The artist buttoned his black coat to the collar, put on yellow
gloves, and began to burlesque the Revue des Deux Mondes by acting a
squinting old lady; but the uproar drowned his voice, and no one heard
a word of the satire. Still, if he did not catch the spirit of the
century, he represented the Revue at any rate, for his own intentions
were not very clear to him.
Dessert was served as if by magic. A huge epergne of gilded bronze
from Thomire's studio overshadowed the table. Tall statuettes, which a
celebrated artist had endued with ideal beauty according to
conventional European notions, sustained and carried pyramids of
strawberries, pines, fresh dates, golden grapes, clear-skinned
peaches, oranges brought from Setubal by steamer, pomegranates,
Chinese fruit; in short, all the surprises of luxury, miracles of
confectionery, the most tempting dainties, and choicest delicacies.
The coloring of this epicurean work of art was enhanced by the
splendors of porcelain, by sparkling outlines of gold, by the chasing
of the vases. Poussin's landscapes, copied on Sevres ware, were
crowned with graceful fringes of moss, green, translucent, and fragile
as ocean weeds.
The revenue of a German prince would not have defrayed the cost of
this arrogant display. Silver and mother-of-pearl, gold and crystal,
were lavished afresh in new forms; but scarcely a vague idea of this
almost Oriental fairyland penetrated eyes now heavy with wine, or
crossed the delirium of intoxication. The fire and fragrance of the
wines acted like potent philters and magical fumes, producing a kind
of mirage in the brain, binding feet, and weighing down hands. The
clamor increased. Words were no longer distinct, glasses flew in
pieces, senseless peals of laughter broke out. Cursy snatched up a
horn and struck up a flourish on it. It acted like a signal given by
the devil. Yells, hisses, songs, cries, and groans went up from the
maddened crew. You might have smiled to see men, light-hearted by
nature, grow tragical as Crebillon's dramas, and pensive as a sailor
in a coach. Hard-headed men blabbed secrets to the inquisitive, who
were long past heeding them. Saturnine faces were wreathed in smiles
worthy of a pirouetting dancer. Claude Vignon shuffled about like a
bear in a cage. Intimate friends began to fight.
Animal likenesses, so curiously traced by physiologists in human
faces, came out in gestures and behavior. A book lay open for a Bichat
if he had repaired thither fasting and collected. The master of the
house, knowing his condition, did not dare stir, but encouraged his
guests' extravangances with a fixed grimacing smile, meant to be
hospitable and appropriate. His large face, turning from blue and red
to a purple shade terrible to see, partook of the general commotion by
movements like the heaving and pitching of a brig.
"Now, did you murder them?" Emile asked him.
"Capital punishment is going to be abolished, they say, in favor of
the Revolution of July," answered Taillefer, raising his eyebrows with
"Don't they rise up before you in dreams at times?" Raphael
"There's a statute of limitations," said the murderer-Croesus.
"And on his tombstone," Emile began, with a sardonic laugh, "the
stonemason will carve 'Passer-by, accord a tear, in memory of one
that's here!' Oh," he continued, "I would cheerfully pay a hundred
sous to any mathematician who would prove the existence of hell to me
by an algebraical equation."
He flung up a coin and cried:
"Heads for the existence of God!"
"Don't look!" Raphael cried, pouncing upon it. "Who knows? Suspense
is so pleasant."
"Unluckily," Emile said, with burlesque melancholy, "I can see no
halting-place between the unbeliever's arithmetic and the papal Pater
noster. Pshaw! let us drink. Trinq was, I believe, the oracular answer
of the dive bouteille and the final conclusion of Pantagruel."
"We owe our arts and monuments to the Pater noster, and our
knowledge, too, perhaps; and a still greater benefit—modern
government—whereby a vast and teeming society is wondrously
represented by some five hundred intellects. It neutralizes opposing
forces and gives free play to CIVILIZATION, that Titan queen who has
succeeded the ancient terrible figure of the KING, that sham
Providence, reared by man between himself and heaven. In the face of
such achievements, atheism seems like a barren skeleton. What do you
"I am thinking of the seas of blood shed by Catholicism." Emile
replied, quite unimpressed. "It has drained our hearts and veins dry
to make a mimic deluge. No matter! Every man who thinks must range
himself beneath the banner of Christ, for He alone has consummated the
triumph of spirit over matter; He alone has revealed to us, like a
poet, an intermediate world that separates us from the Deity."
"Believest thou?" asked Raphael with an unaccountable drunken
smile. "Very good; we must not commit ourselves; so we will drink the
celebrated toast, Diis ignotis!"
And they drained the chalice filled up with science, carbonic acid
gas, perfumes, poetry, and incredulity.
"If the gentlemen will go to the drawing-room, coffee is ready for
them," said the major-domo.
There was scarcely one of those present whose mind was not
floundering by this time in the delights of chaos, where every spark
of intelligence is quenched, and the body, set free from its tyranny,
gives itself up to the frenetic joys of liberty. Some who had arrived
at the apogee of intoxication were dejected, as they painfully tried
to arrest a single thought which might assure them of their own
existence; others, deep in the heavy morasses of indigestion, denied
the possibility of movement. The noisy and the silent were oddly
For all that, when new joys were announced to them by the
stentorian tones of the servant, who spoke on his master's behalf,
they all rose, leaning upon, dragging or carrying one another. But on
the threshold of the room the entire crew paused for a moment,
motionless, as if fascinated. The intemperate pleasures of the banquet
seemed to fade away at this titillating spectacle, prepared by their
amphitryon to appeal to the most sensual of their instincts.
Beneath the shining wax-lights in a golden chandelier, round about
a table inlaid with gilded metal, a group of women, whose eyes shone
like diamonds, suddenly met the stupefied stare of the revelers. Their
toilettes were splendid, but less magnificent than their beauty, which
eclipsed the other marvels of this palace. A light shone from their
eyes, bewitching as those of sirens, more brilliant and ardent than
the blaze that streamed down upon the snowy marble, the delicately
carved surfaces of bronze, and lit up the satin sheen of the tapestry.
The contrasts of their attitudes and the slight movements of their
heads, each differing in character and nature of attraction, set the
heart afire. It was like a thicket, where blossoms mingled with
rubies, sapphires, and coral; a combination of gossamer scarves that
flickered like beacon-lights; of black ribbons about snowy throats; of
gorgeous turbans and demurely enticing apparel. It was a seraglio that
appealed to every eye, and fulfilled every fancy. Each form posed to
admiration was scarcely concealed by the folds of cashmere, and half
hidden, half revealed by transparent gauze and diaphanous silk. The
little slender feet were eloquent, though the fresh red lips uttered
Demure and fragile-looking girls, pictures of maidenly innocence,
with a semblance of conventional unction about their heads, were there
like apparitions that a breath might dissipate. Aristocratic beauties
with haughty glances, languid, flexible, slender, and complaisant,
bent their heads as though there were royal protectors still in the
market. An English-woman seemed like a spirit of melancholy—some coy,
pale, shadowy form among Ossian's mists, or a type of remorse flying
from crime. The Parisienne was not wanting in all her beauty that
consists in an indescribable charm; armed with her irresistible
weakness, vain of her costume and her wit, pliant and hard, a
heartless, passionless siren that yet can create factitious treasures
of passion and counterfeit emotion.
Italians shone in the throng, serene and self-possessed in their
bliss; handsome Normans, with splendid figures; women of the south,
with black hair and well-shaped eyes. Lebel might have summoned
together all the fair women of Versailles, who since morning had
perfected all their wiles, and now came like a troupe of Oriental
women, bidden by the slave merchant to be ready to set out at dawn.
They stood disconcerted and confused about the table, huddled together
in a murmuring group like bees in a hive. The combination of timid
embarrassment with coquettishness and a sort of expostulation was the
result either of calculated effect or a spontaneous modesty. Perhaps a
sentiment of which women are never utterly divested prescribed to them
the cloak of modesty to heighten and enhance the charms of wantonness.
So the venerable Taillefer's designs seemed on the point of collapse,
for these unbridled natures were subdued from the very first by the
majesty with which woman is invested. There was a murmur of
admiration, which vibrated like a soft musical note. Wine had not
taken love for traveling companion; instead of a violent tumult of
passions, the guests thus taken by surprise, in a moment of weakness,
gave themselves up to luxurious raptures of delight.
Artists obeyed the voice of poetry which constrains them, and
studied with pleasure the different delicate tints of these chosen
examples of beauty. Sobered by a thought perhaps due to some emanation
from a bubble of carbonic acid in the champagne, a philosopher
shuddered at the misfortunes which had brought these women, once
perhaps worthy of the truest devotion, to this. Each one doubtless
could have unfolded a cruel tragedy. Infernal tortures followed in the
train of most of them, and they drew after them faithless men, broken
vows, and pleasures atoned for in wretchedness. Polite advances were
made by the guests, and conversations began, as varied in character as
the speakers. They broke up into groups. It might have been a
fashionable drawing-room where ladies and young girls offer after
dinner the assistance that coffee, liqueurs, and sugar afford to
diners who are struggling in the toils of a perverse digestion. But in
a little while laughter broke out, the murmur grew, and voices were
raised. The saturnalia, subdued for a moment, threatened at times to
renew itself. The alternations of sound and silence bore a distant
resemblance to a symphony of Beethoven's.
The two friends, seated on a silken divan, were first approached by
a tall, well-proportioned girl of stately bearing; her features were
irregular, but her face was striking and vehement in expression, and
impressed the mind by the vigor of its contrasts. Her dark hair fell
in luxuriant curls, with which some hand seemed to have played havoc
already, for the locks fell lightly over the splendid shoulders that
thus attracted attention. The long brown curls half hid her queenly
throat, though where the light fell upon it, the delicacy of its fine
outlines was revealed. Her warm and vivid coloring was set off by the
dead white of her complexion. Bold and ardent glances came from under
the long eyelashes; the damp, red, half-open lips challenged a kiss.
Her frame was strong but compliant; with a bust and arms strongly
developed, as in figures drawn by the Caracci, she yet seemed active
and elastic, with a panther's strength and suppleness, and in the same
way the energetic grace of her figure suggested fierce pleasures.
But though she might romp perhaps and laugh, there was something
terrible in her eyes and her smile. Like a pythoness possessed by the
demon, she inspired awe rather than pleasure. All changes, one after
another, flashed like lightning over every mobile feature of her face.
She might captivate a jaded fancy, but a young man would have feared
her. She was like some colossal statue fallen from the height of a
Greek temple, so grand when seen afar, too roughly hewn to be seen
anear. And yet, in spite of all, her terrible beauty could have
stimulated exhaustion; her voice might charm the deaf; her glances
might put life into the bones of the dead; and therefore Emile was
vaguely reminded of one of Shakespeare's tragedies—a wonderful maze,
in which joy groans, and there is something wild even about love, and
the magic of forgiveness and the warmth of happiness succeed to cruel
storms of rage. She was a siren that can both kiss and devour; laugh
like a devil, or weep as angels can. She could concentrate in one
instant all a woman's powers of attraction in a single effort (the
sighs of melancholy and the charms of maiden's shyness alone
excepted), then in a moment rise in fury like a nation in revolt, and
tear herself, her passion, and her lover, in pieces.
Dressed in red velvet, she trampled under her reckless feet the
stray flowers fallen from other heads, and held out a salver to the
two friends, with careless hands. The white arms stood out in bold
relief against the velvet. Proud of her beauty; proud (who knows?) of
her corruption, she stood like a queen of pleasure, like an
incarnation of enjoyment; the enjoyment that comes of squandering the
accumulations of three generations; that scoffs at its progenitors,
and makes merry over a corpse; that will dissolve pearls and wreck
thrones, turn old men into boys, and make young men prematurely old;
enjoyment only possible to giants weary of their power, tormented by
reflection, or for whom strife has become a plaything.
"What is your name?" asked Raphael.
"Out of Venice Preserved!" exclaimed Emile.
"Yes," she answered. "Just as a pope takes a new name when he is
exalted above all other men, I, too, took another name when I raised
myself above women's level."
"Then have you, like your patron saint, a terrible and noble lover,
a conspirator, who would die for you?" cried Emile eagerly—this gleam
of poetry had aroused his interest.
"Once I had," she answered. "But I had a rival too in La
Guillotine. I have worn something red about me ever since, lest any
happiness should carry me away."
"Oh, if you are going to get her on to the story of those four lads
of La Rochelle, she will never get to the end of it. That's enough,
Aquilina. As if every woman could not bewail some lover or other,
though not every one has the luck to lose him on the scaffold, as you
have done. I would a great deal sooner see a lover of mine in a trench
at the back of Clamart than in a rival's arms."
All this in the gentlest and most melodious accents, and pronounced
by the prettiest, gentlest, and most innocent-looking little person
that a fairy wand ever drew from an enchanted eggshell. She had come
up noiselessly, and they became aware of a slender, dainty figure,
charmingly timid blue eyes, and white transparent brows. No ingenue
among the naiads, a truant from her river spring, could have been
shyer, whiter, more ingenuous than this young girl, seemingly about
sixteen years old, ignorant of evil and of the storms of life, and
fresh from some church in which she must have prayed the angels to
call her to heaven before the time. Only in Paris are such natures as
this to be found, concealing depths of depravity behind a fair mask,
and the most artificial vices beneath a brow as young and fair as an
At first the angelic promise of those soft lineaments misled the
friends. Raphael and Emile took the coffee which she poured into the
cups brought by Aquilina, and began to talk with her. In the eyes of
the two poets she soon became transformed into some sombre allegory,
of I know not what aspect of human life. She opposed to the vigorous
and ardent expression of her commanding acquaintance a revelation of
heartless corruption and voluptuous cruelty. Heedless enough to
perpetrate a crime, hardy enough to feel no misgivings; a pitiless
demon that wrings larger and kinder natures with torments that it is
incapable of knowing, that simpers over a traffic in love, sheds tears
over a victim's funeral, and beams with joy over the reading of the
will. A poet might have admired the magnificent Aquilina; but the
winning Euphrasia must be repulsive to every one—the first was the
soul of sin; the second, sin without a soul in it.
"I should dearly like to know," Emile remarked to this pleasing
being, "if you ever reflect upon your future?"
"My future!" she answered with a laugh. "What do you mean by my
future? Why should I think about something that does not exist as yet?
I never look before or behind. Isn't one day at a time more than I can
concern myself with as it is? And besides, the future, as we know,
means the hospital."
"How can you forsee a future in the hospital, and make no effort to
"What is there so alarming about the hospital?" asked the terrific
Aquilina. "When we are neither wives nor mothers, when old age draws
black stockings over our limbs, sets wrinkles on our brows, withers up
the woman in us, and darkens the light in our lover's eyes, what could
we need when that comes to pass? You would look on us then as mere
human clay; we with our habiliments shall be for you like so much mud
—worthless, lifeless, crumbling to pieces, going about with the
rustle of dead leaves. Rags or the daintiest finery will be as one to
us then; the ambergris of the boudoir will breathe an odor of death
and dry bones; and suppose there is a heart there in that mud, not one
of you but would make mock of it, not so much as a memory will you
spare to us. Is not our existence precisely the same whether we live
in a fine mansion with lap-dogs to tend, or sort rags in a workhouse?
Does it make much difference whether we shall hide our gray heads
beneath lace or a handkerchief striped with blue and red; whether we
sweep a crossing with a birch broom, or the steps of the Tuileries
with satins; whether we sit beside a gilded hearth, or cower over the
ashes in a red earthen pot; whether we go to the Opera or look on in
the Place de Greve?"
"Aquilina mia, you have never shown more sense than in this
depressing fit of yours," Euphrasia remarked. "Yes, cashmere, point
d'Alencon, perfumes, gold, silks, luxury, everything that sparkles,
everything pleasant, belongs to youth alone. Time alone may show us
our folly, but good fortune will acquit us. You are laughing at me,"
she went on, with a malicious glance at the friends; "but am I not
right? I would sooner die of pleasure than of illness. I am not
afflicted with a mania for perpetuity, nor have I a great veneration
for human nature, such as God has made it. Give me millions, and I
would squander them; I should not keep one centime for the year to
come. Live to be charming and have power, that is the decree of my
every heartbeat. Society sanctions my life; does it not pay for my
extravagances? Why does Providence pay me every morning my income,
which I spend every evening? Why are hospitals built for us? And
Providence did not put good and evil on either hand for us to select
what tires and pains us. I should be very foolish if I did not amuse
"And how about others?" asked Emile.
"Others? Oh, well, they must manage for themselves. I prefer
laughing at their woes to weeping over my own. I defy any man to give
me the slightest uneasiness."
"What have you suffered to make you think like this?" asked
"I myself have been forsaken for an inheritance," she said,
striking an attitude that displayed all her charms; "and yet I had
worked night and day to keep my lover! I am not to be gulled by any
smile or vow, and I have set myself to make one long entertainment of
"But does not happiness come from the soul within?" cried Raphael.
"It may be so," Aquilina answered; "but is it nothing to be
conscious of admiration and flattery; to triumph over other women,
even over the most virtuous, humiliating them before our beauty and
our splendor? Not only so; one day of our life is worth ten years of a
bourgeoise existence, and so it is all summed up."
"Is not a woman hateful without virtue?" Emile said to Raphael.
Euphrasia's glance was like a viper's, as she said, with an irony
in her voice that cannot be rendered:
"Virtue! we leave that to deformity and to ugly women. What would
the poor things be without it?"
"Hush, be quiet," Emile broke in. "Don't talk about something you
have never known."
"That I have never known!" Euphrasia answered. "You give yourself
for life to some person you abominate; you must bring up children who
will neglect you, who wound your very heart, and you must say, 'Thank
you!' for it; and these are the virtues you prescribe to woman. And
that is not enough. By way of requiting her self-denial, you must come
and add to her sorrows by trying to lead her astray; and though you
are rebuffed, she is compromised. A nice life! How far better to keep
one's freedom, to follow one's inclinations in love, and die young!"
"Have you no fear of the price to be paid some day for all this?"
"Even then," she said, "instead of mingling pleasures and troubles,
my life will consist of two separate parts—a youth of happiness is
secure, and there may come a hazy, uncertain old age, during which I
can suffer at my leisure."
"She has never loved," came in the deep tones of Aquilina's voice.
"She never went a hundred leagues to drink in one look and a denial
with untold raptures. She has not hung her own life on a thread, nor
tried to stab more than one man to save her sovereign lord, her king,
her divinity. . . . Love, for her, meant a fascinating colonel."
"Here she is with her La Rochelle," Euphrasia made answer. "Love
comes like the wind, no one knows whence. And, for that matter, if one
of those brutes had once fallen in love with you, you would hold
sensible men in horror."
"Brutes are put out of the question by the Code," said the tall,
"I thought you had more kindness for the army," laughed Euphrasia.
"How happy they are in their power of dethroning their reason in
this way," Raphael exclaimed.
"Happy?" asked Aquilina, with dreadful look, and a smile full of
pity and terror. "Ah, you do not know what it is to be condemned to a
life of pleasure, with your dead hidden in your heart. . . ."
A moment's consideration of the rooms was like a foretaste of
Milton's Pandemonium. The faces of those still capable of drinking
wore a hideous blue tint, from burning draughts of punch. Mad dances
were kept up with wild energy; excited laughter and outcries broke out
like the explosion of fireworks. The boudoir and a small adjoining
room were strewn like a battlefield with the insensible and incapable.
Wine, pleasure, and dispute had heated the atmosphere. Wine and love,
delirium and unconsciousness possessed them, and were written upon all
faces, upon the furniture; were expressed by the surrounding disorder,
and brought light films over the vision of those assembled, so that
the air seemed full of intoxicating vapor. A glittering dust arose, as
in the luminous paths made by a ray of sunlight, the most bizarre
forms flitted through it, grotesque struggles were seen athwart it.
Groups of interlaced figures blended with the white marbles, the noble
masterpieces of sculpture that adorned the rooms.
Though the two friends yet preserved a sort of fallacious clearness
in their ideas and voices, a feeble appearance and faint thrill of
animation, it was yet almost impossible to distinguish what was real
among the fantastic absurdities before them, or what foundation there
was for the impossible pictures that passed unceasingly before their
weary eyes. The strangest phenomena of dreams beset them, the lowering
heavens, the fervid sweetness caught by faces in our visions, and
unheard-of agility under a load of chains,—all these so vividly, that
they took the pranks of the orgy about them for the freaks of some
nightmare in which all movement is silent, and cries never reach the
ear. The valet de chambre succeeded just then, after some little
difficulty, in drawing his master into the ante-chamber to whisper to
"The neighbors are all at their windows, complaining of the racket,
"If noise alarms them, why don't they lay down straw before their
doors?" was Taillefer's rejoinder.
Raphael's sudden burst of laughter was so unseasonable and abrupt,
that his friend demanded the reason of his unseemly hilarity.
"You will hardly understand me," he replied. "In the first place, I
must admit that you stopped me on the Quai Voltaire just as I was
about to throw myself into the Seine, and you would like to know, no
doubt, my motives for dying. And when I proceed to tell you that by an
almost miraculous chance the most poetic memorials of the material
world had but just then been summed up for me as a symbolical
interpretation of human wisdom; whilst at this minute the remains of
all the intellectual treasures ravaged by us at table are comprised in
these two women, the living and authentic types of folly, would you be
any the wiser? Our profound apathy towards men and things supplied the
half-tones in a crudely contrasted picture of two theories of life so
diametrically opposed. If you were not drunk, you might perhaps catch
a gleam of philosophy in this."
"And if you had not both feet on that fascinating Aquilina, whose
heavy breathing suggests an analogy with the sounds of a storm about
to burst," replied Emile, absently engaged in the harmless amusement
of winding and unwinding Euphrasia's hair, "you would be ashamed of
your inebriated garrulity. Both your systems can be packed in a
phrase, and reduced to a single idea. The mere routine of living
brings a stupid kind of wisdom with it, by blunting our intelligence
with work; and on the other hand, a life passed in the limbo of the
abstract or in the abysses of the moral world, produces a sort of
wisdom run mad. The conditions may be summed up in brief; we may
extinguish emotion, and so live to old age, or we may choose to die
young as martyrs to contending passions. And yet this decree is at
variance with the temperaments with which we were endowed by the
bitter jester who modeled all creatures."
"Idiot!" Raphael burst in. "Go on epitomizing yourself after that
fashion, and you will fill volumes. If I attempted to formulate those
two ideas clearly, I might as well say that man is corrupted by the
exercise of his wits, and purified by ignorance. You are calling the
whole fabric of society to account. But whether we live with the wise
or perish with the fool, isn't the result the same sooner or later?
And have not the prime constituents of the quintessence of both
systems been before expressed in a couple of words—Carymary,
"You make me doubt the existence of a God, for your stupidity is
greater than His power," said Emile. "Our beloved Rabelais summed it
all up in a shorter word than your 'Carymary, Carymara'; from his
Peut-etre Montaigne derived his own Que sais-je? After all, this last
word of moral science is scarcely more than the cry of Pyrrhus set
betwixt good and evil, or Buridan's ass between the two measures of
oats. But let this everlasting question alone, resolved to-day by a
'Yes' and a 'No.' What experience did you look to find by a jump into
the Seine? Were you jealous of the hydraulic machine on the Pont Notre
"Ah, if you but knew my history!"
"Pooh," said Emile; "I did not think you could be so commonplace;
that remark is hackneyed. Don't you know that every one of us claims
to have suffered as no other ever did?"
"Ah!" Raphael sighed.
"What a mountebank art thou with thy 'Ah'! Look here, now. Does
some disease of the mind or body, by contracting your muscles, bring
back of a morning the wild horses that tear you in pieces at night, as
with Damiens once upon a time? Were you driven to sup off your own dog
in a garret, uncooked and without salt? Have your children ever cried,
'I am hungry'? Have you sold your mistress' hair to hazard the money
at play? Have you ever drawn a sham bill of exchange on a fictitious
uncle at a sham address, and feared lest you should not be in time to
take it up? Come now, I am attending! If you were going to drown
yourself for some woman, or by way of a protest, or out of sheer
dulness, I disown you. Make your confession, and no lies! I don't at
all want a historical memoir. And, above all things, be as concise as
your clouded intellect permits; I am as critical as a professor, and
as sleepy as a woman at her vespers."
"You silly fool!" said Raphael. "When has not suffering been keener
for a more susceptible nature? Some day when science has attained to a
pitch that enables us to study the natural history of hearts, when
they are named and classified in genera, sub-genera, and families;
into crustaceae, fossils, saurians, infusoria, or whatever it is,—
then, my dear fellow, it will be ascertained that there are natures as
tender and fragile as flowers, that are broken by the slight bruises
that some stony hearts do not even feel——"
"For pity's sake, spare me thy exordium," said Emile, as, half
plaintive, half amused, he took Raphael's hand.
II. A WOMAN WITHOUT A HEART
After a moment's silence, Raphael said with a careless gesture:
"Perhaps it is an effect of the fumes of punch—I really cannot
tell— this clearness of mind that enables me to comprise my whole
life in a single picture, where figures and hues, lights, shades, and
half-tones are faithfully rendered. I should not have been so
surprised at this poetical play of imagination if it were not
accompanied with a sort of scorn for my past joys and sorrows. Seen
from afar, my life appears to contract by some mental process. That
long, slow agony of ten years' duration can be brought to memory
to-day in some few phrases, in which pain is resolved into a mere
idea, and pleasure becomes a philosophical reflection. Instead of
feeling things, I weigh and consider them——"
"You are as tiresome as the explanation of an amendment," cried
"Very likely," said Raphael submissively. "I spare you the first
seventeen years of my life for fear of abusing a listener's patience.
Till that time, like you and thousands of others, I had lived my life
at school or the lycee, with its imaginary troubles and genuine
happinesses, which are so pleasant to look back upon. Our jaded
palates still crave for that Lenten fare, so long as we have not tried
it afresh. It was a pleasant life, with the tasks that we thought so
contemptible, but which taught us application for all that. . . ."
"Let the drama begin," said Emile, half-plaintively,
"When I left school," Raphael went on, with a gesture that claimed
the right of speaking, "my father submitted me to a strict discipline;
he installed me in a room near his own study, and I had to rise at
five in the morning and be in bed by nine at night. He meant me to
take my law studies seriously. I attended the Schools, and read with
an advocate as well, but my lectures and work were so narrowly
circumscribed by the laws of time and space, and my father required
such a strict account of my doings, at dinner, that . . ."
"What is this to me?" asked Emile.
"The devil take you!" said Raphael. "How are you to enter into my
feelings if I do not relate the facts that insensibly shaped my
character, made me timid, and prolonged the period of youthful
simplicity? In this manner I cowered under as strict a despotism as a
monarch's till I came of age. To depict the tedium of my life, it will
be perhaps enough to portray my father to you. He was tall, thin, and
slight, with a hatchet face, and pale complexion; a man of few words,
fidgety as an old maid, exacting as a senior clerk. His paternal
solicitude hovered over my merriment and gleeful thoughts, and seemed
to cover them with a leaden pall. Any effusive demonstration on my
part was received by him as a childish absurdity. I was far more
afraid of him than I had been of any of our masters at school.
"I seem to see him before me at this moment. In his chestnut-brown
frock-coat he looked like a red herring wrapped up in the cover of a
pamphlet, and he held himself as erect as an Easter candle. But I was
fond of my father, and at heart he was right enough. Perhaps we never
hate severity when it has its source in greatness of character and
pure morals, and is skilfully tempered with kindness. My father, it is
true, never left me a moment to myself, and only when I was twenty
years old gave me so much as ten francs of my own, ten knavish
prodigals of francs, such a hoard as I had long vainly desired, which
set me a-dreaming of unutterable felicity; yet, for all that he sought
to procure relaxations for me. When he had promised me a treat
beforehand, he would take me to Les Boufoons, or to a concert or ball,
where I hoped to find a mistress. . . . A mistress! that meant
independence. But bashful and timid as I was, knowing nobody, and
ignorant of the dialect of drawing-rooms, I always came back as
awkward as ever, and swelling with unsatisfied desires, to be put in
harness like a troop horse next day by my father, and to return with
morning to my advocate, the Palais de Justice, and the law. To have
swerved from the straight course which my father had mapped out for
me, would have drawn down his wrath upon me; at my first delinquency,
he threatened to ship me off as a cabin-boy to the Antilles. A
dreadful shiver ran through me if I had ventured to spend a couple of
hours in some pleasure party.
"Imagine the most wandering imagination and passionate temperament,
the tenderest soul and most artistic nature, dwelling continually in
the presence of the most flint-hearted, atrabilious, and frigid man on
earth; think of me as a young girl married to a skeleton, and you will
understand the life whose curious scenes can only be a hearsay tale to
you; the plans for running away that perished at the sight of my
father, the despair soothed by slumber, the dark broodings charmed
away by music. I breathed my sorrows forth in melodies. Beethoven or
Mozart would keep my confidences sacred. Nowadays, I smile at
recollections of the scruples which burdened my conscience at that
epoch of innocence and virtue.
"If I set foot in a restaurant, I gave myself up for lost; my fancy
led me to look on a cafe as a disreputable haunt, where men lost their
characters and embarrassed their fortunes; as for engaging in play, I
had not the money to risk. Oh, if I needed to send you to sleep, I
would tell you about one of the most frightful pleasures of my life,
one of those pleasures with fangs that bury themselves in the heart as
the branding-iron enters the convict's shoulder. I was at a ball at
the house of the Duc de Navarreins, my father's cousin. But to make my
position the more perfectly clear, you must know that I wore a
threadbare coat, ill-fitting shoes, a tie fit for a stableman, and a
soiled pair of gloves. I shrank into a corner to eat ices and watch
the pretty faces at my leisure. My father noticed me. Actuated by some
motive that I did not fathom, so dumfounded was I by this act of
confidence, he handed me his keys and purse to keep. Ten paces away
some men were gambling. I heard the rattling of gold; I was twenty
years old; I longed to be steeped for one whole day in the follies of
my time of life. It was a license of the imagination that would find a
parallel neither in the freaks of courtesans, nor in the dreams of
young girls. For a year past I had beheld myself well dressed, in a
carriage, with a pretty woman by my side, playing the great lord,
dining at Very's, deciding not to go back home till the morrow; but
was prepared for my father with a plot more intricate than the
Marriage of Figaro, which he could not possibly have unraveled. All
this bliss would cost, I estimated, fifty crowns. Was it not the
artless idea of playing truant that still had charms for me?
"I went into a small adjoining room, and when alone counted my
father's money with smarting eyes and trembling fingers—a hundred
crowns! The joys of my escapade rose before me at the thought of the
amount; joys that flitted about me like Macbeth's witches round their
caldron; joys how alluring! how thrilling! how delicious! I became a
deliberate rascal. I heeded neither my tingling ears nor the violent
beating of my heart, but took out two twenty-franc pieces that I seem
to see yet. The dates had been erased, and Bonaparte's head simpered
upon them. After I had put back the purse in my pocket, I returned to
the gaming-table with the two pieces of gold in the palms of my damp
hands, prowling about the players like a sparrow-hawk round a coop of
chickens. Tormented by inexpressible terror, I flung a sudden
clairvoyant glance round me, and feeling quite sure that I was seen by
none of my acquaintance, betted on a stout, jovial little man, heaping
upon his head more prayers and vows than are put up during two or
three storms at sea. Then, with an intuitive scoundrelism, or
Machiavelism, surprising in one of my age, I went and stood in the
door, and looked about me in the rooms, though I saw nothing; for both
mind and eyes hovered about that fateful green cloth.
"That evening fixes the date of a first observation of a
physiological kind; to it I owe a kind of insight into certain
mysteries of our double nature that I have since been enabled to
penetrate. I had my back turned on the table where my future felicity
lay at stake, a felicity but so much the more intense that it was
criminal. Between me and the players stood a wall of onlookers some
five feet deep, who were chatting; the murmur of voices drowned the
clinking of gold, which mingled in the sounds sent up by this
orchestra; yet, despite all obstacles, I distinctly heard the words of
the two players by a gift accorded to the passions, which enables them
to annihilate time and space. I saw the points they made; I knew which
of the two turned up the king as well as if I had actually seen the
cards; at a distance of ten paces, in short, the fortunes of play
blanched my face.
"My father suddenly went by, and then I knew what the Scripture
meant by 'The Spirit of God passed before his face.' I had won. I
slipped through the crowd of men who had gathered about the players
with the quickness of an eel escaping through a broken mesh in a net.
My nerves thrilled with joy instead of anguish. I felt like some
criminal on the way to torture released by a chance meeting with the
king. It happened that a man with a decoration found himself short by
forty francs. Uneasy eyes suspected me; I turned pale, and drops of
perspiration stood on my forehead, I was well punished, I thought, for
having robbed my father. Then the kind little stout man said, in a
voice like an angel's surely, 'All these gentlemen have paid their
stakes,' and put down the forty francs himself. I raised my head in
triumph upon the players. After I had returned the money I had taken
from it to my father's purse, I left my winnings with that honest and
worthy gentleman, who continued to win. As soon as I found myself
possessed of a hundred and sixty francs, I wrapped them up in my
handkerchief, so that they could neither move or rattle on the way
back; and I played no more.
" 'What were you doing at the card-table?' said my father as we
stepped into the carriage.
" 'I was looking on,' I answered, trembling.
" 'But it would have been nothing out of the common if you had been
prompted by self-love to put some money down on the table. In the eyes
of men of the world you are quite old enough to assume the right to
commit such follies. So I should have pardoned you, Raphael, if you
had made use of my purse. . . . .'
"I did not answer. When we reached home, I returned the keys and
money to my father. As he entered his study, he emptied out his purse
on the mantelpiece, counted the money, and turned to me with a kindly
look, saying with more or less long and significant pauses between
" 'My boy, you are very nearly twenty now. I am satisfied with you.
You ought to have an allowance, if only to teach you how to lay it
out, and to gain some acquaintance with everyday business.
Henceforward I shall let you have a hundred francs each month. Here is
your first quarter's income for this year,' he added, fingering a pile
of gold, as if to make sure that the amount was correct. 'Do what you
please with it.'
"I confess that I was ready to fling myself at his feet, to tell
him that I was a thief, a scoundrel, and, worse than all, a liar! But
a feeling of shame held me back. I went up to him for an embrace, but
he gently pushed me away.
" 'You are a man now, MY CHILD,' he said. 'What I have just done
was a very proper and simple thing, for which there is no need to
thank me. If I have any claim to your gratitude, Raphael,' he went on,
in a kind but dignified way, 'it is because I have preserved your
youth from the evils that destroy young men in Paris. We will be two
friends henceforth. In a year's time you will be a doctor of law. Not
without some hardship and privations you have acquired the sound
knowledge and the love of, and application to, work that is
indispensable to public men. You must learn to know me, Raphael. I do
not want to make either an advocate or a notary of you, but a
statesman, who shall be the pride of our poor house. . . .
Good-night,' he added.
"From that day my father took me fully into confidence. I was an
only son; and ten years before, I had lost my mother. In time past my
father, the head of a historic family remembered even now in Auvergne,
had come to Paris to fight against his evil star, dissatisfied at the
prospect of tilling the soil, with his useless sword by his side. He
was endowed with the shrewdness that gives the men of the south of
France a certain ascendency when energy goes with it. Almost unaided,
he made a position for himself near the fountain of power. The
revolution brought a reverse of fortune, but he had managed to marry
an heiress of good family, and, in the time of the Empire, appeared to
be on the point of restoring to our house its ancient splendor.
"The Restoration, while it brought back considerable property to my
mother, was my father's ruin. He had formerly purchased several
estates abroad, conferred by the Emperor on his generals; and now for
ten years he struggled with liquidators, diplomatists, and Prussian
and Bavarian courts of law, over the disputed possession of these
unfortunate endowments. My father plunged me into the intricate
labyrinths of law proceedings on which our future depended. We might
be compelled to return the rents, as well as the proceeds arising from
sales of timber made during the years 1814 to 1817; in that case my
mother's property would have barely saved our credit. So it fell out
that the day on which my father in a fashion emancipated me, brought
me under a most galling yoke. I entered on a conflict like a
battlefield; I must work day and night; seek interviews with
statesmen, surprise their convictions, try to interest them in our
affairs, and gain them over, with their wives and servants, and their
very dogs; and all this abominable business had to take the form of
pretty speeches and polite attentions. Then I knew the mortifications
that had left their blighting traces on my father's face. For about a
year I led outwardly the life of a man of the world, but enormous
labors lay beneath the surface of gadding about, and eager efforts to
attach myself to influential kinsmen, or to people likely to be useful
to us. My relaxations were lawsuits, and memorials still furnished the
staple of my conversation. Hitherto my life had been blameless, from
the sheer impossibility of indulging the desires of youth; but now I
became my own master, and in dread of involving us both in ruin by
some piece of negligence, I did not dare to allow myself any pleasure
"While we are young, and before the world has rubbed off the
delicate bloom from our sentiments, the freshness of our impressions,
the noble purity of conscience which will never allow us to palter
with evil, the sense of duty is very strong within us, the voice of
honor clamors within us, and we are open and straightforward. At that
time I was all these things. I wished to justify my father's
confidence in me. But lately I would have stolen a paltry sum from
him, with secret delight; but now that I shared the burden of his
affairs, of his name and of his house, I would secretly have given up
my fortune and my hopes for him, as I was sacrificing my pleasures,
and even have been glad of the sacrifice! So when M. de Villele
exhumed, for our special benefit, an imperial decree concerning
forfeitures, and had ruined us, I authorized the sale of my property,
only retaining an island in the middle of the Loire where my mother
was buried. Perhaps arguments and evasions, philosophical,
philanthropic, and political considerations would not fail me now, to
hinder the perpetration of what my solicitor termed a 'folly'; but at
one-and-twenty, I repeat, we are all aglow with generosity and
affection. The tears that stood in my father's eyes were to me the
most splendid of fortunes, and the thought of those tears has often
soothed my sorrow. Ten months after he had paid his creditors, my
father died of grief; I was his idol, and he had ruined me! The
thought killed him. Towards the end of the autumn of 1826, at the age
of twenty-two, I was the sole mourner at his graveside—the grave of
my father and my earliest friend. Not many young men have found
themselves alone with their thoughts as they followed a hearse, or
have seen themselves lost in crowded Paris, and without money or
prospects. Orphans rescued by public charity have at any rate the
future of the battlefield before them, and find a shelter in some
institution and a father in the government or in the procureur du roi.
I had nothing.
"Three months later, an agent made over to me eleven hundred and
twelve francs, the net proceeds of the winding up of my father's
affairs. Our creditors had driven us to sell our furniture. From my
childhood I had been used to set a high value on the articles of
luxury about us, and I could not help showing my astonishment at the
sight of this meagre balance.
" 'Oh, rococo, all of it!' said the auctioneer. A terrible word
that fell like a blight on the sacred memories of my childhood, and
dispelled my earliest illusions, the dearest of all. My entire fortune
was comprised in this 'account rendered,' my future lay in a linen bag
with eleven hundred and twelve francs in it, human society stood
before me in the person of an auctioneer's clerk, who kept his hat on
while he spoke. Jonathan, an old servant who was much attached to me,
and whom my mother had formerly pensioned with an annuity of four
hundred francs, spoke to me as I was leaving the house that I had so
often gaily left for a drive in my childhood.
" 'Be very economical, Monsieur Raphael!'
"The good fellow was crying.
"Such were the events, dear Emile, that ruled my destinies, moulded
my character, and set me, while still young, in an utterly false
social position," said Raphael after a pause. "Family ties, weak ones,
it is true, bound me to a few wealthy houses, but my own pride would
have kept me aloof from them if contempt and indifference had not shut
their doors on me in the first place. I was related to people who were
very influential, and who lavished their patronage on strangers; but I
found neither relations nor patrons in them. Continually circumscribed
in my affections, they recoiled upon me. Unreserved and simple by
nature, I must have appeared frigid and sophisticated. My father's
discipline had destroyed all confidence in myself. I was shy and
awkward; I could not believe that my opinion carried any weight
whatever; I took no pleasure in myself; I thought myself ugly, and was
ashamed to meet my own eyes. In spite of the inward voice that must be
the stay of a man with anything in him, in all his struggles, the
voice that cries, 'Courage! Go forward!' in spite of sudden
revelations of my own strength in my solitude; in spite of the hopes
that thrilled me as I compared new works, that the public admired so
much, with the schemes that hovered in my brain,—in spite of all
this, I had a childish mistrust of myself.
"An overweening ambition preyed upon me; I believed that I was
meant for great things, and yet I felt myself to be nothing. I had
need of other men, and I was friendless. I found I must make my way in
the world, where I was quite alone, and bashful, rather than afraid.
"All through the year in which, by my father's wish, I threw myself
into the whirlpool of fashionable society, I came away with an
inexperienced heart, and fresh in mind. Like every grown child, I
sighed in secret for a love affair. I met, among young men of my own
age, a set of swaggerers who held their heads high, and talked about
trifles as they seated themselves without a tremor beside women who
inspired awe in me. They chattered nonsense, sucked the heads of their
canes, gave themselves affected airs, appropriated the fairest women,
and laid, or pretended that they had laid their heads on every pillow.
Pleasure, seemingly, was at their beck and call; they looked on the
most virtuous and prudish as an easy prey, ready to surrender at a
word, at the slightest impudent gesture or insolent look. I declare,
on my soul and conscience, that the attainment of power, or of a great
name in literature, seemed to me an easier victory than a success with
some young, witty, and gracious lady of high degree.
"So I found the tumult of my heart, my feelings, and my creeds all
at variance with the axioms of society. I had plenty of audacity in my
character, but none in my manner. Later, I found out that women did
not like to be implored. I have from afar adored many a one to whom I
devoted a soul proof against all tests, a heart to break, energy that
shrank from no sacrifice and from no torture; THEY accepted fools whom
I would not have engaged as hall porters. How often, mute and
motionless, have I not admired the lady of my dreams, swaying in the
dance; given up my life in thought to one eternal caress, expressed
all my hopes in a look, and laid before her, in my rapture, a young
man's love, which should outstrip all fables. At some moments I was
ready to barter my whole life for one single night. Well, as I could
never find a listener for my impassioned proposals, eyes to rest my
own upon, a heart made for my heart, I lived on in all the sufferings
of impotent force that consumes itself; lacking either opportunity or
courage or experience. I despaired, maybe, of making myself
understood, or I feared to be understood but too well; and yet the
storm within me was ready to burst at every chance courteous look. In
spite of my readiness to take the semblance of interest in look or
word for a tenderer solicitude, I dared neither to speak nor to be
silent seasonably. My words grew insignificant, and my silence stupid,
by sheer stress of emotion. I was too ingenuous, no doubt, for that
artificial life, led by candle-light, where every thought is expressed
in conventional phrases, or by words that fashion dictates; and not
only so, I had not learned how to employ speech that says nothing, and
silence that says a great deal. In short, I concealed the fires that
consumed me, and with such a soul as women wish to find, with all the
elevation of soul that they long for, and a mettle that fools plume
themselves upon, all women have been cruelly treacherous to me.
"So in my simplicity I admired the heroes of this set when they
bragged about their conquests, and never suspected them of lying. No
doubt it was a mistake to wish for a love that springs for a word's
sake; to expect to find in the heart of a vain, frivolous woman,
greedy for luxury and intoxicated with vanity, the great sea of
passion that surged tempestuously in my own breast. Oh! to feel that
you were born to love, to make some woman's happiness, and yet to find
not one, not even a noble and courageous Marceline, not so much as an
old Marquise! Oh! to carry a treasure in your wallet, and not find
even some child, or inquisitive young girl, to admire it! In my
despair I often wished to kill myself."
"Finely tragical to-night!" cried Emile.
"Let me pass sentence on my life," Raphael answered. "If your
friendship is not strong enough to bear with my elegy, if you cannot
put up with half an hour's tedium for my sake, go to sleep! But, then,
never ask again for the reason of suicide that hangs over me, that
comes nearer and calls to me, that I bow myself before. If you are to
judge a man, you must know his secret thoughts, sorrows, and feelings;
to know merely the outward events of a man's life would only serve to
make a chronological table—a fool's notion of history."
Emile was so much struck with the bitter tones in which these words
were spoken, that he began to pay close attention to Raphael, whom he
watched with a bewildered expression.
"Now," continued the speaker, "all these things that befell me
appear in a new light. The sequence of events that I once thought so
unfortunate created the splendid powers of which, later, I became so
proud. If I may believe you, I possess the power of readily expressing
my thoughts, and I could take a forward place in the great field of
knowledge; and is not this the result of scientific curiosity, of
excessive application, and a love of reading which possessed me from
the age of seven till my entry on life? The very neglect in which I
was left, and the consequent habits of self-repression and self-
concentration; did not these things teach me how to consider and
reflect? Nothing in me was squandered in obedience to the exactions of
the world, which humble the proudest soul and reduce it to a mere
husk; and was it not this very fact that refined the emotional part of
my nature till it became the perfected instrument of a loftier purpose
than passionate desires? I remember watching the women who mistook me
with all the insight of contemned love.
"I can see now that my natural sincerity must have been displeasing
to them; women, perhaps, even require a little hypocrisy. And I, who
in the same hour's space am alternately a man and a child, frivolous
and thoughtful, free from bias and brimful of superstition, and
oftentimes myself as much a woman as any of them; how should they do
otherwise than take my simplicity for cynicism, my innocent candor for
impudence? They found my knowledge tiresome; my feminine languor,
weakness. I was held to be listless and incapable of love or of steady
purpose; a too active imagination, that curse of poets, was no doubt
the cause. My silence was idiotic; and as I daresay I alarmed them by
my efforts to please, women one and all have condemned me. With tears
and mortification, I bowed before the decision of the world; but my
distress was not barren. I determined to revenge myself on society; I
would dominate the feminine intellect, and so have the feminine soul
at my mercy; all eyes should be fixed upon me, when the servant at the
door announced my name. I had determined from my childhood that I
would be a great man; I said with Andre Chenier, as I struck my
forehead, 'There is something underneath that!' I felt, I believed,
the thought within me that I must express, the system I must
establish, the knowledge I must interpret.
"Let me pour out my follies, dear Emile; to-day I am barely
twenty-six years old, certain of dying unrecognized, and I have never
been the lover of the woman I dreamed of possessing. Have we not all
of us, more or less, believed in the reality of a thing because we
wished it? I would never have a young man for my friend who did not
place himself in dreams upon a pedestal, weave crowns for his head,
and have complaisant mistresses. I myself would often be a general,
nay, emperor; I have been a Byron, and then a nobody. After this sport
on these pinnacles of human achievement, I became aware that all the
difficulties and steeps of life were yet to face. My exuberant self-
esteem came to my aid; I had that intense belief in my destiny, which
perhaps amounts to genius in those who will not permit themselves to
be distracted by contact with the world, as sheep that leave their
wool on the briars of every thicket they pass by. I meant to cover
myself with glory, and to work in silence for the mistress I hoped to
have one day. Women for me were resumed into a single type, and this
woman I looked to meet in the first that met my eyes; but in each and
all I saw a queen, and as queens must make the first advances to their
lovers, they must draw near to me—to me, so sickly, shy, and poor.
For her, who should take pity on me, my heart held in store such
gratitude over and beyond love, that I had worshiped her her whole
life long. Later, my observations have taught me bitter truths.
"In this way, dear Emile, I ran the risk of remaining companionless
for good. The incomprehensible bent of women's minds appears to lead
them to see nothing but the weak points in a clever man, and the
strong points of a fool. They feel the liveliest sympathy with the
fool's good qualities, which perpetually flatter their own defects;
while they find the man of talent hardly agreeable enough to
compensate for his shortcomings. All capacity is a sort of
intermittent fever, and no woman is anxious to share in its
discomforts only; they look to find in their lovers the wherewithal to
gratify their own vanity. It is themselves that they love in us! But
the artist, poor and proud, along with his endowment of creative
power, is furnished with an aggressive egotism! Everything about him
is involved in I know not what whirlpool of his ideas, and even his
mistress must gyrate along with them. How is a woman, spoilt with
praise, to believe in the love of a man like that? Will she go to seek
him out? That sort of lover has not the leisure to sit beside a sofa
and give himself up to the sentimental simperings that women are so
fond of, and on which the false and unfeeling pride themselves. He
cannot spare the time from his work, and how can he afford to humble
himself and go a-masquerading! I was ready to give my life once and
for all, but I could not degrade it in detail. Besides, there is
something indescribably paltry in a stockbroker's tactics, who runs on
errands for some insipid affected woman; all this disgusts an artist.
Love in the abstract is not enough for a great man in poverty; he has
need of its utmost devotion. The frivolous creatures who spend their
lives in trying on cashmeres, or make themselves into clothes-pegs to
hang the fashions from, exact the devotion which is not theirs to
give; for them, love means the pleasure of ruling and not of obeying.
She who is really a wife, one in heart, flesh, and bone, must follow
wherever he leads, in whom her life, her strength, her pride, and
happiness are centered. Ambitious men need those Oriental women whose
whole thought is given to the study of their requirements; for
unhappiness means for them the incompatibility of their means with
their desires. But I, who took myself for a man of genius, must needs
feel attracted by these very she-coxcombs. So, as I cherished ideas so
different from those generally received; as I wished to scale the
heavens without a ladder, was possessed of wealth that could not
circulate, and of knowledge so wide and so imperfectly arranged and
digested that it overtaxed my memory; as I had neither relations nor
friends in the midst of this lonely and ghastly desert, a desert of
paving stones, full of animation, life, and thought, wherein every one
is worse than inimical, indifferent to wit; I made a very natural if
foolish resolve, which required such unknown impossibilities, that my
spirits rose. It was as if I had laid a wager with myself, for I was
at once the player and the cards.
"This was my plan. The eleven hundred francs must keep life in me
for three years—the time I allowed myself in which to bring to light
a work which should draw attention to me, and make me either a name or
a fortune. I exulted at the thought of living on bread and milk, like
a hermit in the Thebaid, while I plunged into the world of books and
ideas, and so reached a lofty sphere beyond the tumult of Paris, a
sphere of silent labor where I would entomb myself like a chrysalis to
await a brilliant and splendid new birth. I imperiled my life in order
to live. By reducing my requirements to real needs and the barest
necessaries, I found that three hundred and sixty-five francs sufficed
for a year of penury; and, in fact, I managed to exist on that slender
sum, so long as I submitted to my own claustral discipline."
"Impossible!" cried Emile.
"I lived for nearly three years in that way," Raphael answered,
with a kind of pride. "Let us reckon it out. Three sous for bread, two
for milk, and three for cold meat, kept me from dying of hunger, and
my mind in a state of peculiar lucidity. I have observed, as you know,
the wonderful effects produced by diet upon the imagination. My
lodgings cost me three sous daily; I burnt three sous more in oil at
night; I did my own housework, and wore flannel shirts so as to reduce
the laundress' bill to two sous per day. The money I spent yearly in
coal, if divided up, never cost more than two sous for each day. I had
three years' supply of clothing, and I only dressed when going out to
some library or public lecture. These expenses, all told, only
amounted to eighteen sous, so two were left over for emergencies. I
cannot recollect, during that long period of toil, either crossing the
Pont des Arts, or paying for water; I went out to fetch it every
morning from the fountain in the Place Saint Michel, at the corner of
the Rue de Gres. Oh, I wore my poverty proudly. A man urged on towards
a fair future walks through life like an innocent person to his death;
he feels no shame about it.
"I would not think of illness. Like Aquilina, I faced the hospital
without terror. I had not a moment's doubt of my health, and besides,
the poor can only take to their beds to die. I cut my own hair till
the day when an angel of love and kindness . . . But I do not want to
anticipate the state of things that I shall reach later. You must
simply know that I lived with one grand thought for a mistress, a
dream, an illusion which deceives us all more or less at first. To-day
I laugh at myself, at that self, holy perhaps and heroic, which is now
no more. I have since had a closer view of society and the world, of
our manners and customs, and seen the dangers of my innocent credulity
and the superfluous nature of my fervent toil. Stores of that sort are
quite useless to aspirants for fame. Light should be the baggage of
seekers after fortune!
"Ambitious men spend their youth in rendering themselves worthy of
patronage; it is their great mistake. While the foolish creatures are
laying in stores of knowledge and energy, so that they shall not sink
under the weight of responsible posts that recede from them, schemers
come and go who are wealthy in words and destitute in ideas, astonish
the ignorant, and creep into the confidence of those who have a little
knowledge. While the first kind study, the second march ahead; the one
sort is modest, and the other impudent; the man of genius is silent
about his own merits, but these schemers make a flourish of theirs,
and they are bound to get on. It is so strongly to the interest of men
in office to believe in ready-made capacity, and in brazen-faced
merit, that it is downright childish of the learned to expect material
rewards. I do not seek to paraphrase the commonplace moral, the song
of songs that obscure genius is for ever singing; I want to come, in a
logical manner, by the reason of the frequent successes of mediocrity.
Alas! study shows us such a mother's kindness that it would be a sin
perhaps to ask any other reward of her than the pure and delightful
pleasures with which she sustains her children.
"Often I remember soaking my bread in milk, as I sat by the window
to take the fresh air; while my eyes wandered over a view of roofs—
brown, gray, or red, slated or tiled, and covered with yellow or green
mosses. At first the prospect may have seemed monotonous, but I very
soon found peculiar beauties in it. Sometimes at night, streams of
light through half-closed shutters would light up and color the dark
abysses of this strange landscape. Sometimes the feeble lights of the
street lamps sent up yellow gleams through the fog, and in each street
dimly outlined the undulations of a crowd of roofs, like billows in a
motionless sea. Very occasionally, too, a face appeared in this gloomy
waste; above the flowers in some skyey garden I caught a glimpse of an
old woman's crooked angular profile as she watered her nasturtiums;
or, in a crazy attic window, a young girl, fancying herself quite
alone as she dressed herself—a view of nothing more than a fair
forehead and long tresses held above her by a pretty white arm.
"I liked to see the short-lived plant-life in the gutters—poor
weeds that a storm soon washed away. I studied the mosses, with their
colors revived by showers, or transformed by the sun into a brown
velvet that fitfully caught the light. Such things as these formed my
recreations —the passing poetic moods of daylight, the melancholy
mists, sudden gleams of sunlight, the silence and the magic of night,
the mysteries of dawn, the smoke wreaths from each chimney; every
chance event, in fact, in my curious world became familiar to me. I
came to love this prison of my own choosing. This level Parisian
prairie of roofs, beneath which lay populous abysses, suited my humor,
and harmonized with my thoughts.
"Sudden descents into the world from the divine height of
scientific meditation are very exhausting; and, besides, I had
apprehended perfectly the bare life of the cloister. When I made up my
mind to carry out this new plan of life, I looked for quarters in the
most out-of-the-way parts of Paris. One evening, as I returned home to
the Rue des Cordiers from the Place de l'Estrapade, I saw a girl of
fourteen playing with a battledore at the corner of the Rue de Cluny,
her winsome ways and laughter amused the neighbors. September was not
yet over; it was warm and fine, so that women sat chatting before
their doors as if it were a fete-day in some country town. At first I
watched the charming expression of the girl's face and her graceful
attitudes, her pose fit for a painter. It was a pretty sight. I looked
about me, seeking to understand this blithe simplicity in the midst of
Paris, and saw that the street was a blind alley and but little
frequented. I remembered that Jean Jacques had once lived here, and
looked up the Hotel Saint-Quentin. Its dilapidated condition awakened
hopes of a cheap lodging, and I determined to enter.
"I found myself in a room with a low ceiling; the candles, in
classic- looking copper candle-sticks, were set in a row under each
key. The predominating cleanliness of the room made a striking
contrast to the usual state of such places. This one was as neat as a
bit of genre; there was a charming trimness about the blue coverlet,
the cooking pots and furniture. The mistress of the house rose and
came to me. She seemed to be about forty years of age; sorrows had
left their traces on her features, and weeping had dimmed her eyes. I
deferentially mentioned the amount I could pay; it seemed to cause her
no surprise; she sought out a key from the row, went up to the attics
with me, and showed me a room that looked out on the neighboring roofs
and courts; long poles with linen drying on them hung out of the
"Nothing could be uglier than this garret, awaiting its scholar,
with its dingy yellow walls and odor of poverty. The roofing fell in a
steep slope, and the sky was visible through chinks in the tiles.
There was room for a bed, a table, and a few chairs, and beneath the
highest point of the roof my piano could stand. Not being rich enough
to furnish this cage (that might have been one of the Piombi of
Venice), the poor woman had never been able to let it; and as I had
saved from the recent sale the furniture that was in a fashion
peculiarly mine, I very soon came to terms with my landlady, and moved
in on the following day.
"For three years I lived in this airy sepulchre, and worked
unflaggingly day and night; and so great was the pleasure that study
seemed to me the fairest theme and the happiest solution of life. The
tranquillity and peace that a scholar needs is something as sweet and
exhilarating as love. Unspeakable joys are showered on us by the
exertion of our mental faculties; the quest of ideas, and the tranquil
contemplation of knowledge; delights indescribable, because purely
intellectual and impalpable to our senses. So we are obliged to use
material terms to express the mysteries of the soul. The pleasure of
striking out in some lonely lake of clear water, with forests, rocks,
and flowers around, and the soft stirring of the warm breeze,—all
this would give, to those who knew them not, a very faint idea of the
exultation with which my soul bathed itself in the beams of an unknown
light, hearkened to the awful and uncertain voice of inspiration, as
vision upon vision poured from some unknown source through my
"No earthly pleasure can compare with the divine delight of
watching the dawn of an idea in the space of abstractions as it rises
like the morning sun; an idea that, better still, attains gradually
like a child to puberty and man's estate. Study lends a kind of
enchantment to all our surroundings. The wretched desk covered with
brown leather at which I wrote, my piano, bed, and armchair, the odd
wall-paper and furniture seemed to have for me a kind of life in them,
and to be humble friends of mine and mute partakers of my destiny. How
often have I confided my soul to them in a glance! A warped bit of
beading often met my eyes, and suggested new developments,—a striking
proof of my system, or a felicitous word by which to render my all but
inexpressible thought. By sheer contemplation of the things about me I
discerned an expression and a character in each. If the setting sun
happened to steal in through my narrow window, they would take new
colors, fade or shine, grow dull or gay, and always amaze me with some
new effect. These trifling incidents of a solitary life, which escape
those preoccupied with outward affairs, make the solace of prisoners.
And what was I but the captive of an idea, imprisoned in my system,
but sustained also by the prospect of a brilliant future? At each
obstacle that I overcame, I seemed to kiss the soft hands of a woman
with a fair face, a wealthy, well-dressed woman, who should some day
say softly, while she caressed my hair:
" 'Poor Angel, how thou hast suffered!'
"I had undertaken two great works—one a comedy that in a very
short time must bring me wealth and fame, and an entry into those
circles whither I wished to return, to exercise the royal privileges
of a man of genius. You all saw nothing in that masterpiece but the
blunder of a young man fresh from college, a babyish fiasco. Your
jokes clipped the wings of a throng of illusions, which have never
stirred since within me. You, dear Emile, alone brought soothing to
the deep wounds that others had made in my heart. You alone will
admire my 'Theory of the Will.' I devoted most of my time to that long
work, for which I studied Oriental languages, physiology and anatomy.
If I do not deceive myself, my labors will complete the task begun by
Mesmer, Lavater, Gall, and Bichat, and open up new paths in science.
"There ends that fair life of mine, the daily sacrifice, the
unrecognized silkworm's toil, that is, perhaps, its own sole
recompense. Since attaining years of discretion, until the day when I
finished my 'Theory,' I observed, learned, wrote, and read
unintermittingly; my life was one long imposition, as schoolboys say.
Though by nature effeminately attached to Oriental indolence, sensual
in tastes, and a wooer of dreams, I worked incessantly, and refused to
taste any of the enjoyments of Parisian life. Though a glutton, I
became abstemious; and loving exercise and sea voyages as I did, and
haunted by the wish to visit many countries, still child enough to
play at ducks and drakes with pebbles over a pond, I led a sedentary
life with a pen in my fingers. I liked talking, but I went to sit and
mutely listen to professors who gave public lectures at the
Bibliotheque or the Museum. I slept upon my solitary pallet like a
Benedictine brother, though woman was my one chimera, a chimera that
fled from me as I wooed it! In short, my life has been a cruel
contradiction, a perpetual cheat. After that, judge a man!
"Sometimes my natural propensities broke out like a fire long
smothered. I was debarred from the women whose society I desired,
stripped of everything and lodged in an artist's garret, and by a sort
of mirage or calenture I was surrounded by captivating mistresses. I
drove through the streets of Paris, lolling on the soft cushions of a
fine equipage. I plunged into dissipation, into corroding vice, I
desired and possessed everything, for fasting had made me light-headed
like the tempted Saint Anthony. Slumber, happily, would put an end at
last to these devastating trances; and on the morrow science would
beckon me, smiling, and I was faithful to her. I imagine that women
reputed virtuous, must often fall a prey to these insane tempests of
desire and passion, which rise in us in spite of ourselves. Such
dreams have a charm of their own; they are something akin to evening
gossip round the winter fire, when one sets out for some voyage in
China. But what becomes of virtue during these delicious excursions,
when fancy overleaps all difficulties?
"During the first ten months of seclusion I led the life of poverty
and solitude that I have described to you; I used to steal out
unobserved every morning to buy my own provisions for the day; I
tidied my room; I was at once master and servant, and played the
Diogenes with incredible spirit. But afterwards, while my hostess and
her daughter watched my ways and behavior, scrutinized my appearance
and divined my poverty, there could not but be some bonds between us;
perhaps because they were themselves so very poor. Pauline, the
charming child, whose latent and unconscious grace had, in a manner,
brought me there, did me many services that I could not well refuse.
All women fallen on evil days are sisters; they speak a common
language; they have the same generosity—the generosity that possesses
nothing, and so is lavish of its affection, of its time, and of its
"Imperceptibly Pauline took me under her protection, and would do
things for me. No kind of objection was made by her mother, whom I
even surprised mending my linen; she blushed for the charitable
occupation. In spite of myself, they took charge of me, and I accepted
"In order to understand the peculiar condition of my mind, my
preoccupation with work must be remembered, the tyranny of ideas, and
the instinctive repugnance that a man who leads an intellectual life
must ever feel for the material details of existence. Could I well
repulse the delicate attentions of Pauline, who would noiselessly
bring me my frugal repast, when she noticed that I had taken nothing
for seven or eight hours? She had the tact of a woman and the
inventiveness of a child; she would smile as she made sign to me that
I must not see her. Ariel glided under my roof in the form of a sylph
who foresaw every want of mine.
"One evening Pauline told me her story with touching simplicity.
Her father had been a major in the horse grenadiers of the Imperial
Guard. He had been taken prisoner by the Cossacks, at the passage of
Beresina; and when Napoleon later on proposed an exchange, the Russian
authorities made search for him in Siberia in vain; he had escaped
with a view of reaching India, and since then Mme. Gaudin, my
landlady, could hear no news of her husband. Then came the disasters
of 1814 and 1815; and, left alone and without resource, she had
decided to let furnished lodgings in order to keep herself and her
"She always hoped to see her husband again. Her greatest trouble
was about her daughter's education; the Princess Borghese was her
Pauline's godmother; and Pauline must not be unworthy of the fair
future promised by her imperial protectress. When Mme. Gaudin confided
to me this heavy trouble that preyed upon her, she said, with sharp
pain in her voice, 'I would give up the property and the scrap of
paper that makes Gaudin a baron of the empire, and all our rights to
the endowment of Wistchnau, if only Pauline could be brought up at
Saint-Denis?' Her words struck me; now I could show my gratitude for
the kindnesses expended on me by the two women; all at once the idea
of offering to finish Pauline's education occurred to me; and the
offer was made and accepted in the most perfect simplicity. In this
way I came to have some hours of recreation. Pauline had natural
aptitude; she learned so quickly, that she soon surpassed me at the
piano. As she became accustomed to think aloud in my presence, she
unfolded all the sweet refinements of a heart that was opening itself
out to life, as some flower-cup opens slowly to the sun. She listened
to me, pleased and thoughtful, letting her dark velvet eyes rest upon
me with a half smile in them; she repeated her lessons in soft and
gentle tones, and showed childish glee when I was satisfied with her.
Her mother grew more and more anxious every day to shield the young
girl from every danger (for all the beauty promised in early life was
developing in the crescent moon), and was glad to see her spend whole
days indoors in study. My piano was the only one she could use, and
while I was out she practised on it. When I came home, Pauline would
be in my room, in her shabby dress, but her slightest movement
revealed her slender figure in its attractive grace, in spite of the
coarse materials that she wore. As with the heroine of the fable of
'Peau-d'Ane,' a dainty foot peeped out of the clumsy shoes. But all
her wealth of girlish beauty was as lost upon me. I had laid commands
upon myself to see a sister only in Pauline. I dreaded lest I should
betray her mother's faith in me. I admired the lovely girl as if she
had been a picture, or as the portrait of a dead mistress; she was at
once my child and my statue. For me, another Pygmalion, the maiden
with the hues of life and the living voice was to become a form of
inanimate marble. I was very strict with her, but the more I made her
feel my pedagogue's severity, the more gentle and submissive she grew.
"If a generous feeling strengthened me in my reserve and self-
restraint, prudent considerations were not lacking beside. Integrity
of purpose cannot, I think, fail to accompany integrity in money
matters. To my mind, to become insolvent or to betray a woman is the
same sort of thing. If you love a young girl, or allow yourself to be
beloved by her, a contract is implied, and its conditions should be
thoroughly understood. We are free to break with the woman who sells
herself, but not with the young girl who has given herself to us and
does not know the extent of her sacrifice. I must have married
Pauline, and that would have been madness. Would it not have given
over that sweet girlish heart to terrible misfortunes? My poverty made
its selfish voice heard, and set an iron barrier between that gentle
nature and mine. Besides, I am ashamed to say, that I cannot imagine
love in the midst of poverty. Perhaps this is a vitiation due to that
malady of mankind called civilization; but a woman in squalid poverty
would exert no fascination over me, were she attractive as Homer's
Galatea, the fair Helen.
"Ah, vive l'amour! But let it be in silk and cashmere, surrounded
with the luxury which so marvelously embellishes it; for is it not
perhaps itself a luxury? I enjoy making havoc with an elaborate
erection of scented hair; I like to crush flowers, to disarrange and
crease a smart toilette at will. A bizarre attraction lies for me in
burning eyes that blaze through a lace veil, like flame through cannon
smoke. My way of love would be to mount by a silken ladder, in the
silence of a winter night. And what bliss to reach, all powdered with
snow, a perfumed room, with hangings of painted silk, to find a woman
there, who likewise shakes away the snow from her; for what other name
can be found for the white muslin wrappings that vaguely define her,
like some angel form issuing from a cloud! And then I wish for furtive
joys, for the security of audacity. I want to see once more that woman
of mystery, but let it be in the throng, dazzling, unapproachable,
adored on all sides, dressed in laces and ablaze with diamonds, laying
her commands upon every one; so exalted above us, that she inspires
awe, and none dares to pay his homage to her.
"She gives me a stolen glance, amid her court, a look that exposes
the unreality of all this; that resigns for me the world and all men
in it! Truly I have scorned myself for a passion for a few yards of
lace, velvet, and fine lawn, and the hairdresser's feats of skill; a
love of wax-lights, a carriage and a title, a heraldic coronet painted
on window panes, or engraved by a jeweler; in short, a liking for all
that is adventitious and least woman in woman. I have scorned and
reasoned with myself, but all in vain.
"A woman of rank with her subtle smile, her high-born air, and
self- esteem captivates me. The barriers she erects between herself
and the world awaken my vanity, a good half of love. There would be
more relish for me in bliss that all others envied. If my mistress
does nothing that other women do, and neither lives nor conducts
herself like them, wears a cloak that they cannot attain, breathes a
perfume of her own, then she seems to rise far above me. The further
she rises from earth, even in the earthlier aspects of love, the
fairer she becomes for me.
"Luckily for me we have had no queen in France these twenty years,
for I should have fallen in love with her. A woman must be wealthy to
acquire the manners of a princess. What place had Pauline among these
far-fetched imaginings? Could she bring me the love that is death,
that brings every faculty into play, the nights that are paid for by
life? We hardly die, I think, for an insignificant girl who gives
herself to us; and I could never extinguish these feelings and poet's
dreams within me. I was born for an inaccessible love, and fortune has
overtopped my desire.
"How often have I set satin shoes on Pauline's tiny feet, confined
her form, slender as a young poplar, in a robe of gauze, and thrown a
loose scarf about her as I saw her tread the carpets in her mansion
and led her out to her splendid carriage! In such guise I should have
adored her. I endowed her with all the pride she lacked, stripped her
of her virtues, her natural simple charm, and frank smile, in order to
plunge her heart in our Styx of depravity that makes invulnerable,
load her with our crimes, make of her the fantastical doll of our
drawing-rooms, the frail being who lies about in the morning and comes
to life again at night with the dawn of tapers. Pauline was fresh-
hearted and affectionate—I would have had her cold and formal.
"In the last days of my frantic folly, memory brought Pauline
before me, as it brings the scenes of our childhood, and made me pause
to muse over past delicious moments that softened my heart. I
sometimes saw her, the adorable girl who sat quietly sewing at my
table, wrapped in her meditations; the faint light from my window fell
upon her and was reflected back in silvery rays from her thick black
hair; sometimes I heard her young laughter, or the rich tones of her
voice singing some canzonet that she composed without effort. And
often my Pauline seemed to grow greater, as music flowed from her, and
her face bore a striking resemblance to the noble one that Carlo Dolci
chose for the type of Italy. My cruel memory brought her back athwart
the dissipations of my existence, like a remorse, or a symbol of
purity. But let us leave the poor child to her own fate. Whatever her
troubles may have been, at any rate I protected her from a menacing
tempest—I did not drag her down into my hell.
"Until last winter I led the uneventful studious life of which I
have given you some faint picture. In the earliest days of December
1829, I came across Rastignac, who, in spite of the shabby condition
of my wardrobe, linked his arm in mine, and inquired into my affairs
with a quite brotherly interest. Caught by his engaging manner, I gave
him a brief account of my life and hopes; he began to laugh, and
treated me as a mixture of a man of genius and a fool. His Gascon
accent and knowledge of the world, the easy life his clever management
procured for him, all produced an irresistible effect upon me. I
should die an unrecognized failure in a hospital, Rastignac said, and
be buried in a pauper's grave. He talked of charlatanism. Every man of
genius was a charlatan, he plainly showed me in that pleasant way of
his that makes him so fascinating. He insisted that I must be out of
my senses, and would be my own death, if I lived on alone in the Rue
des Cordiers. According to him, I ought to go into society, to
accustom people to the sound of my name, and to rid myself of the
simple title of 'monsieur' which sits but ill on a great man in his
" 'Those who know no better,' he cried, 'call this sort of business
SCHEMING, and moral people condemn it for a "dissipated life." We need
not stop to look at what people think, but see the results. You work,
you say? Very good, but nothing will ever come of that. Now, I am
ready for anything and fit for nothing. As lazy as a lobster? Very
likely, but I succeed everywhere. I go out into society, I push myself
forward, the others make way before me; I brag and am believed; I
incur debts which somebody else pays! Dissipation, dear boy, is a
methodical policy. The life of a man who deliberately runs through his
fortune often becomes a business speculation; his friends, his
pleasures, patrons, and acquaintances are his capital. Suppose a
merchant runs a risk of a million, for twenty years he can neither
sleep, eat, nor amuse himself, he is brooding over his million, it
makes him run about all over Europe; he worries himself, goes to the
devil in every way that man has invented. Then comes a liquidation,
such as I have seen myself, which very often leaves him penniless and
without a reputation or a friend. The spendthrift, on the other hand,
takes life as a serious game and sees his horses run. He loses his
capital, perhaps, but he stands a chance of being nominated Receiver-
General, of making a wealthy marriage, or of an appointment of attache
to a minister or ambassador; and he has his friends left and his name,
and he never wants money. He knows the standing of everybody, and uses
every one for his own benefit. Is this logical, or am I a madman after
all? Haven't you there all the moral of the comedy that goes on every
day in this world? . . . Your work is completed' he went on after a
pause; 'you are immensely clever! Well, you have only arrived at my
starting-point. Now, you had better look after its success yourself;
it is the surest way. You will make allies in every clique, and secure
applause beforehand. I mean to go halves in your glory myself; I shall
be the jeweler who set the diamonds in your crown. Come here to-morrow
evening, by way of a beginning. I will introduce you to a house where
all Paris goes, all OUR Paris, that is—the Paris of exquisites,
millionaires, celebrities, all the folk who talk gold like Chrysostom.
When they have taken up a book, that book becomes the fashion; and if
it is something really good for once, they will have declared it to be
a work of genius without knowing it. If you have any sense, my dear
fellow, you will ensure the success of your "Theory," by a better
understanding of the theory of success. To-morrow evening you shall go
to see that queen of the moment—the beautiful Countess Foedora. . .
" 'I have never heard of her. . . .'
" 'You Hottentot!' laughed Rastignac; 'you do not know Foedora? A
great match with an income of nearly eighty thousand livres, who has
taken a fancy to nobody, or else no one has taken a fancy to her. A
sort of feminine enigma, a half Russian Parisienne, or a half Parisian
Russian. All the romantic productions that never get published are
brought out at her house; she is the handsomest woman in Paris, and
the most gracious! You are not even a Hottentot; you are something
between the Hottentot and the beast. . . . Good-bye till to-morrow.'
"He swung round on his heel and made off without waiting for my
answer. It never occurred to him that a reasoning being could refuse
an introduction to Foedora. How can the fascination of a name be
explained? FOEDORA haunted me like some evil thought, with which you
seek to come to terms. A voice said in me, 'You are going to see
Foedora!' In vain I reasoned with that voice, saying that it lied to
me; all my arguments were defeated by the name 'Foedora.' Was not the
name, and even the woman herself, the symbol of all my desires, and
the object of my life?
"The name called up recollections of the conventional glitter of
the world, the upper world of Paris with its brilliant fetes and the
tinsel of its vanities. The woman brought before me all the problems
of passion on which my mind continually ran. Perhaps it was neither
the woman nor the name, but my own propensities, that sprang up within
me and tempted me afresh. Here was the Countess Foedora, rich and
loveless, proof against the temptations of Paris; was not this woman
the very incarnation of my hopes and visions? I fashioned her for
myself, drew her in fancy, and dreamed of her. I could not sleep that
night; I became her lover; I overbrimmed a few hours with a whole
lifetime—a lover's lifetime; the experience of its prolific delights
"The next day I could not bear the tortures of delay; I borrowed a
novel, and spent the whole day over it, so that I could not possibly
think nor keep account of the time till night. Foedora's name echoed
through me even as I read, but only as a distant sound; though it
could be heard, it was not troublesome. Fortunately, I owned a fairly
creditable black coat and a white waistcoat; of all my fortune there
now remained abut thirty francs, which I had distributed about among
my clothes and in my drawers, so as to erect between my whims and the
spending of a five-franc piece a thorny barrier of search, and an
adventurous peregrination round my room. While I as dressing, I dived
about for my money in an ocean of papers. This scarcity of specie will
give you some idea of the value of that squandered upon gloves and
cab-hire; a month's bread disappeared at one fell swoop. Alas! money
is always forthcoming for our caprices; we only grudge the cost of
things that are useful or necessary. We recklessly fling gold to an
opera-dancer, and haggle with a tradesman whose hungry family must
wait for the settlement of our bill. How many men are there that wear
a coat that cost a hundred francs, and carry a diamond in the head of
their cane, and dine for twenty-five SOUS for all that! It seems as
though we could never pay enough for the pleasures of vanity.
"Rastignac, punctual to his appointment, smiled at the
transformation, and joked about it. On the way he gave me benevolent
advice as to my conduct with the countess; he described her as mean,
vain, and suspicious; but though mean, she was ostentatious, her
vanity was transparent, and her mistrust good-humored.
" 'You know I am pledged,' he said, 'and what I should lose, too,
if I tried a change in love. So my observation of Foedora has been
quite cool and disinterested, and my remarks must have some truth in
them. I was looking to your future when I thought of introducing you
to her; so mind very carefully what I am about to say. She has a
terrible memory. She is clever enough to drive a diplomatist wild; she
would know it at once if he spoke the truth. Between ourselves, I
fancy that her marriage was not recognized by the Emperor, for the
Russian ambassador began to smile when I spoke of her; he does not
receive her either, and only bows very coolly if he meets her in the
Bois. For all that, she is in Madame de Serizy's set, and visits
Mesdames de Nucingen and de Restaud. There is no cloud over her here
in France; the Duchesse de Carigliano, the most-strait-laced marechale
in the whole Bonapartist coterie, often goes to spend the summer with
her at her country house. Plenty of young fops, sons of peers of
France, have offered her a title in exchange for her fortune, and she
has politely declined them all. Her susceptibilities, maybe, are not
to be touched by anything less than a count. Aren't you a marquis? Go
ahead if you fancy her. This is what you may call receiving your
"His raillery made me think that Rastignac wished to joke and
excite my curiosity, so that I was in a paroxysm of my extemporized
passion by the time that we stopped before a peristyle full of
flowers. My heart beat and my color rose as we went up the great
carpeted staircase, and I noticed about me all the studied refinements
of English comfort; I was infatuatedly bourgeois; I forgot my origin
and all my personal and family pride. Alas! I had but just left a
garret, after three years of poverty, and I could not just then set
the treasures there acquired above such trifles as these. Nor could I
rightly estimate the worth of the vast intellectual capital which
turns to riches at the moment when opportunity comes within our reach,
opportunity that does not overwhelm, because study has prepared us for
the struggles of public life.
"I found a woman of about twenty-two years of age; she was of
average height, was dressed in white, and held a feather fire-screen
in her hand; a group of men stood around her. She rose at the sight of
Rastignac, and came towards us with a gracious smile and a musically-
uttered compliment, prepared no doubt beforehand, for me. Our friend
had spoken of me as a rising man, and his clever way of making the
most of me had procured me this flattering reception. I was confused
by the attention that every one paid to me; but Rastignac had luckily
mentioned my modesty. I was brought in contact with scholars, men of
letters, ex-ministers, and peers of France. The conversation,
interrupted a while by my coming, was resumed. I took courage, feeling
that I had a reputation to maintain, and without abusing my privilege,
I spoke when it fell to me to speak, trying to state the questions at
issue in words more or less profound, witty or trenchant, and I made a
certain sensation. Rastignac was a prophet for the thousandth time in
his life. As soon as the gathering was large enough to restore freedom
to individuals, he took my arm, and we went round the rooms.
" 'Don't look as if you were too much struck by the princess,' he
said, 'or she will guess your object in coming to visit her.'
"The rooms were furnished in excellent taste. Each apartment had a
character of its own, as in wealthy English houses; and the silken
hangings, the style of the furniture, and the ornaments, even the most
trifling, were all subordinated to the original idea. In a gothic
boudoir the doors were concealed by tapestried curtains, and the
paneling by hangings; the clock and the pattern of the carpet were
made to harmonize with the gothic surroundings. The ceiling, with its
carved cross-beams of brown wood, was full of charm and originality;
the panels were beautifully wrought; nothing disturbed the general
harmony of the scheme of decoration, not even the windows with their
rich colored glass. I was surprised by the extensive knowledge of
decoration that some artist had brought to bear on a little modern
room, it was so pleasant and fresh, and not heavy, but subdued with
its dead gold hues. It had all the vague sentiment of a German ballad;
it was a retreat fit for some romance of 1827, perfumed by the exotic
flowers set in their stands. Another apartment in the suite was a
gilded reproduction of the Louis Quatorze period, with modern
paintings on the walls in odd but pleasant contrast.
" 'You would not be so badly lodged,' was Rastignac's slightly
sarcastic comment. 'It is captivating, isn't it?' he added, smiling as
he sat down. Then suddenly he rose, and led me by the hand into a
bedroom, where the softened light fell upon the bed under its canopy
of muslin and white watered silk—a couch for a young fairy betrothed
to one of the genii.
" 'Isn't it wantonly bad taste, insolent and unbounded coquetry,'
he said, lowering his voice, 'that allows us to see this throne of
love? She gives herself to no one, and anybody may leave his card
here. If I were not committed, I should like to see her at my feet all
tears and submission.'
" 'Are you so certain of her virtue?'
" 'The boldest and even the cleverest adventurers among us,
acknowledge themselves defeated, and continue to be her lovers and
devoted friends. Isn't that woman a puzzle?'
"His words seemed to intoxicate me; I had jealous fears already of
the past. I leapt for joy, and hurried back to the countess, whom I
had seen in the gothic boudoir. She stopped me by a smile, made me sit
beside her, and talked about my work, seeming to take the greatest
interest in it, and all the more when I set forth my theories
amusingly, instead of adopting the formal language of a professor for
their explanation. It seemed to divert her to be told that the human
will was a material force like steam; that in the moral world nothing
could resist its power if a man taught himself to concentrate it, to
economize it, and to project continually its fluid mass in given
directions upon other souls. Such a man, I said, could modify all
things relatively to man, even the peremptory laws of nature. The
questions Foedora raised showed a certain keenness of intellect. I
took a pleasure in deciding some of them in her favor, in order to
flatter her; then I confuted her feminine reasoning with a word, and
roused her curiosity by drawing her attention to an everyday matter—
to sleep, a thing so apparently commonplace, that in reality is an
insoluble problem for science. The countess sat in silence for a
moment when I told her that our ideas were complete organic beings,
existing in an invisible world, and influencing our destinies; and for
witnesses I cited the opinions of Descartes, Diderot, and Napoleon,
who had directed, and still directed, all the currents of the age.
"So I had the honor of amusing this woman; who asked me to come to
see her when she left me; giving me les grande entrees, in the
language of the court. Whether it was by dint of substituting polite
formulas for genuine expressions of feeling, a commendable habit of
mine, or because Foedora hailed in me a coming celebrity, an addition
to her learned menagerie; for some reason I thought that I had pleased
her. I called all my previous physiological studies and knowledge of
woman to my aid, and minutely scrutinized this singular person and her
ways all evening. I concealed myself in the embrasure of a window, and
sought to discover her thoughts from her bearing. I studied the
tactics of the mistress of the house, as she came and went, sat and
chatted, beckoned to this one or that, asked questions, listened to
the answers, as she leaned against the frame of the door; I detected a
languid charm in her movements, a grace in the flutterings of her
dress, remarked the nature of the feelings she so powerfully excited,
and became very incredulous as to her virtue. If Foedora would none of
love to-day, she had had strong passions at some time; past experience
of pleasure showed itself in the attitudes she chose in conversation,
in her coquettish way of leaning against the panel behind her; she
seemed scarcely able to stand alone, and yet ready for flight from too
bold a glance. There was a kind of eloquence about her lightly folded
arms, which, even for benevolent eyes, breathed sentiment. Her fresh
red lips sharply contrasted with her brilliantly pale complexion. Her
brown hair brought out all the golden color in her eyes, in which blue
streaks mingled as in Florentine marble; their expression seemed to
increase the significance of her words. A studied grace lay in the
charms of her bodice. Perhaps a rival might have found the lines of
the thick eyebrows, which almost met, a little hard; or found a fault
in the almost invisible down that covered her features. I saw the
signs of passion everywhere, written on those Italian eyelids, on the
splendid shoulders worthy of the Venus of Milo, on her features, in
the darker shade of down above a somewhat thick under-lip. She was not
merely a woman, but a romance. The whole blended harmony of lines, the
feminine luxuriance of her frame, and its passionate promise, were
subdued by a constant inexplicable reserve and modesty at variance
with everything else about her. It needed an observation as keen as my
own to detect such signs as these in her character. To explain myself
more clearly; there were two women in Foedora, divided perhaps by the
line between head and body: the one, the head alone, seemed to be
susceptible, and the other phlegmatic. She prepared her glance before
she looked at you, something unspeakably mysterious, some inward
convulsion seemed revealed by her glittering eyes.
"So, to be brief, either my imperfect moral science had left me a
good deal to learn in the moral world, or a lofty soul dwelt in the
countess, lent to her face those charms that fascinated and subdued
us, and gave her an ascendency only the more complete because it
comprehended a sympathy of desire.
"I went away completely enraptured with this woman, dazzled by the
luxury around her, gratified in every faculty of my soul—noble and
base, good and evil. When I felt myself so excited, eager, and elated,
I thought I understood the attraction that drew thither those artists,
diplomatists, men in office, those stock-jobbers encased in triple
brass. They came, no doubt, to find in her society the delirious
emotion that now thrilled through every fibre in me, throbbing through
my brain, setting the blood a-tingle in every vein, fretting even the
tiniest nerve. And she had given herself to none, so as to keep them
all. A woman is a coquette so long as she knows not love.
" 'Well,' I said to Rastignac, 'they married her, or sold her
perhaps, to some old man, and recollections of her first marriage have
caused her aversion for love.'
"I walked home from the Faubourg St. Honore, where Foedora lived.
Almost all the breadth of Paris lies between her mansion and the Rue
des Cordiers, but the distance seemed short, in spite of the cold. And
I was to lay siege to Foedora's heart, in winter, and a bitter winter,
with only thirty francs in my possession, and such a distance as that
lay between us! Only a poor man knows what such a passion costs in
cab-hire, gloves, linen, tailor's bills, and the like. If the Platonic
stage lasts a little too long, the affair grows ruinous. As a matter
of fact, there is many a Lauzun among students of law, who finds it
impossible to approach a ladylove living on a first floor. And I,
sickly, thin, poorly dressed, wan and pale as any artist convalescent
after a work, how could I compete with other young men, curled,
handsome, smart, outcravatting Croatia; wealthy men, equipped with
tilburys, and armed with assurance?
" 'Bah, death or Foedora!' I cried, as I went round by a bridge;
'my fortune lies in Foedora.'
"That gothic boudoir and Louis Quatorze salon came before my eyes.
I saw the countess again in her white dress with its large graceful
sleeves, and all the fascinations of her form and movements. These
pictures of Foedora and her luxurious surroundings haunted me even in
my bare, cold garret, when at last I reached it, as disheveled as any
naturalist's wig. The contrast suggested evil counsel; in such a way
crimes are conceived. I cursed my honest, self-respecting poverty, my
garret where such teeming fancies had stirred within me. I trembled
with fury, I reproached God, the devil, social conditions, my own
father, the whole universe, indeed, with my fate and my misfortunes. I
went hungry to bed, muttering ludicrous imprecations, but fully
determined to win Foedora. Her heart was my last ticket in the
lottery, my fortune depended upon it.
"I spare you the history of my earlier visits, to reach the drama
the sooner. In my efforts to appeal to her, I essayed to engage her
intellect and her vanity on my side; in order to secure her love, I
gave her any quantity of reasons for increasing her self-esteem; I
never left her in a state of indifference; women like emotions at any
cost, I gave them to her in plenty; I would rather have had her angry
with me than indifferent.
"At first, urged by a strong will and a desire for her love, I
assumed a little authority, but my own feelings grew stronger and
mastered me; I relapsed into truth, I lost my head, and fell
desperately in love.
"I am not very sure what we mean by the word love in our poetry and
our talk; but I know that I have never found in all the ready
rhetorical phrases of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in whose room perhaps I
was lodging; nor among the feeble inventions of two centuries of our
literature, nor in any picture that Italy has produced, a
representation of the feelings that expanded all at once in my double
nature. The view of the lake of Bienne, some music of Rossini's, the
Madonna of Murillo's now in the possession of General Soult,
Lescombat's letters, a few sayings scattered through collections of
anecdotes; but most of all the prayers of religious ecstatics, and
passages in our fabliaux,—these things alone have power to carry me
back to the divine heights of my first love.
"Nothing expressed in human language, no thought reproducible in
color, marble, sound, or articulate speech, could ever render the
force, the truth, the completeness, the suddenness with which love
awoke in me. To speak of art, is to speak of illusion. Love passes
through endless transformations before it passes for ever into our
existence and makes it glow with its own color of flame. The process
is imperceptible, and baffles the artist's analysis. Its moans and
complaints are tedious to an uninterested spectator. One would need to
be very much in love to share the furious transports of Lovelace, as
one reads Clarissa Harlowe. Love is like some fresh spring, that
leaves its cresses, its gravel bed and flowers to become first a
stream and then a river, changing its aspect and its nature as it
flows to plunge itself in some boundless ocean, where restricted
natures only find monotony, but where great souls are engulfed in
"How can I dare to describe the hues of fleeting emotions, the
nothings beyond all price, the spoken accents that beggar language,
the looks that hold more than all the wealth of poetry? Not one of the
mysterious scenes that draw us insensibly nearer and nearer to a
woman, but has depths in it which can swallow up all the poetry that
ever was written. How can the inner life and mystery that stirs in our
souls penetrate through our glozes, when we have not even words to
describe the visible and outward mysteries of beauty? What enchantment
steeped me for how many hours in unspeakable rapture, filled with the
sight of Her! What made me happy? I know not. That face of hers
overflowed with light at such times; it seemed in some way to glow
with it; the outlines of her face, with the scarcely perceptible down
on its delicate surface, shone with a beauty belonging to the far
distant horizon that melts into the sunlight. The light of day seemed
to caress her as she mingled in it; rather it seemed that the light of
her eyes was brighter than the daylight itself; or some shadow passing
over that fair face made a kind of change there, altering its hues and
its expression. Some thought would often seem to glow on her white
brows; her eyes appeared to dilate, and her eyelids trembled; a smile
rippled over her features; the living coral of her lips grew full of
meaning as they closed and unclosed; an indistinguishable something in
her hair made brown shadows on her fair temples; in each new phase
Foedora spoke. Every slight variation in her beauty made a new
pleasure for my eyes, disclosed charms my heart had never known
before; I tried to read a separate emotion or a hope in every change
that passed over her face. This mute converse passed between soul and
soul, like sound and answering echo; and the short-lived delights then
showered upon me have left indelible impressions behind. Her voice
would cause a frenzy in me that I could hardly understand. I could
have copied the example of some prince of Lorraine, and held a live
coal in the hollow of my hand, if her fingers passed caressingly
through my hair the while. I felt no longer mere admiration and
desire: I was under the spell; I had met my destiny. When back again
under my own roof, I still vaguely saw Foedora in her own home, and
had some indefinable share in her life; if she felt ill, I suffered
too. The next day I used to say to her:
" 'You were not well yesterday.'
"How often has she not stood before me, called by the power of
ecstasy, in the silence of the night! Sometimes she would break in
upon me like a ray of light, make me drop my pen, and put science and
study to flight in grief and alarm, as she compelled my admiration by
the alluring pose I had seen but a short time before. Sometimes I went
to seek her in the spirit world, and would bow down to her as to a
hope, entreating her to let me hear the silver sounds of her voice,
and I would wake at length in tears.
"Once, when she had promised to go to the theatre with me, she took
it suddenly into her head to refuse to go out, and begged me to leave
her alone. I was in such despair over the perversity which cost me a
day's work, and (if I must confess it) my last shilling as well, that
I went alone where she was to have been, desiring to see the play she
had wished to see. I had scarcely seated myself when an electric shock
went through me. A voice told me, 'She is here!' I looked round, and
saw the countess hidden in the shadow at the back of her box in the
first tier. My look did not waver; my eyes saw her at once with
incredible clearness; my soul hovered about her life like an insect
above its flower. How had my senses received this warning? There is
something in these inward tremors that shallow people find
astonishing, but the phenomena of our inner consciousness are produced
as simple as those of external vision; so I was not surprised, but
much vexed. My studies of our mental faculties, so little understood,
helped me at any rate to find in my own excitement some living proofs
of my theories. There was something exceedingly odd in this
combination of lover and man of science, of downright idolatry of a
woman with the love of knowledge. The causes of the lover's despair
were highly interesting to the man of science; and the exultant lover,
on the other hand, put science far away from him in his joy. Foedora
saw me, and grew grave: I annoyed her. I went to her box during the
first interval, and finding her alone, I stayed there. Although we had
not spoken of love, I foresaw an explanation. I had not told her my
secret, still there was a kind of understanding between us. She used
to tell me her plans for amusement, and on the previous evening had
asked with friendly eagerness if I meant to call the next day. After
any witticism of hers, she would give me an inquiring glance, as if
she had sought to please me alone by it. She would soothe me if I was
vexed; and if she pouted, I had in some sort a right to ask an
explanation. Before she would pardon any blunder, she would keep me a
suppliant for long. All these things that we so relished, were so many
lovers' quarrels. What arch grace she threw into it all! and what
happiness it was to me!
"But now we stood before each other as strangers, with the close
relation between us both suspended. The countess was glacial: a
presentiment of trouble filled me.
" 'Will you come home with me?' she said, when the play was over.
"There had been a sudden change in the weather, and sleet was
falling in showers as we went out. Foedora's carriage was unable to
reach the doorway of the theatre. At the sight of a well-dressed woman
about to cross the street, a commissionaire held an umbrella above us,
and stood waiting at the carriage-door for his tip. I would have given
ten years of life just then for a couple of halfpence, but I had not a
penny. All the man in me and all my vainest susceptibilities were
wrung with an infernal pain. The words, 'I haven't a penny about me,
my good fellow!' came from me in the hard voice of thwarted passion;
and yet I was that man's brother in misfortune, as I knew too well;
and once I had so lightly paid away seven hundred thousand francs! The
footman pushed the man aside, and the horses sprang forward. As we
returned, Foedora, in real or feigned abstraction, answered all my
questions curtly and by monosyllables. I said no more; it was a
hateful moment. When we reached her house, we seated ourselves by the
hearth, and when the servant had stirred the fire and left us alone,
the countess turned to me with an inexplicable expression, and spoke.
Her manner was almost solemn.
" 'Since my return to France, more than one young man, tempted by
my money, has made proposals to me which would have satisfied my
pride. I have come across men, too, whose attachment was so deep and
sincere that they might have married me even if they had found me the
penniless girl I used to be. Besides these, Monsieur de Valentin, you
must know that new titles and newly-acquired wealth have been also
offered to me, and that I have never received again any of those who
were so ill-advised as to mention love to me. If my regard for you was
but slight, I would not give you this warning, which is dictated by
friendship rather than by pride. A woman lays herself open to a rebuff
of some kind, if she imagines herself to be loved, and declines,
before it is uttered, to listen to language which in its nature
implies a compliment. I am well acquainted with the parts played by
Arsinoe and Araminta, and with the sort of answer I might look for
under such circumstances; but I hope to-day that I shall not find
myself misconstrued by a man of no ordinary character, because I have
frankly spoken my mind.'
"She spoke with the cool self-possession of some attorney or
solicitor explaining the nature of a contract or the conduct of a
lawsuit to a client. There was not the least sign of feeling in the
clear soft tones of her voice. Her steady face and dignified bearing
seemed to me now full of diplomatic reserve and coldness. She had
planned this scene, no doubt, and carefully chosen her words
beforehand. Oh, my friend, there are women who take pleasure in
piercing hearts, and deliberately plunge the dagger back again into
the wound; such women as these cannot but be worshiped, for such women
either love or would fain be loved. A day comes when they make amends
for all the pain they gave us; they repay us for the pangs, the
keenness of which they recognize, in joys a hundred-fold, even as God,
they tell us, recompenses our good works. Does not their perversity
spring from the strength of their feelings? But to be so tortured by a
woman, who slaughters you with indifference! was not the suffering
"Foedora did not know it, but in that minute she trampled all my
hopes beneath her feet; she maimed my life and she blighted my future
with the cool indifference and unconscious barbarity of an inquisitive
child who plucks its wings from a butterfly.
" 'Later on,' resumed Foedora, 'you will learn, I hope, the
stability of the affection that I keep for my friends. You will always
find that I have devotion and kindness for them. I would give my life
to serve my friends; but you could only despise me, if I allowed them
to make love to me without return. That is enough. You are the only
man to whom I have spoken such words as these last.'
"At first I could not speak, or master the tempest that arose
within me; but I soon repressed my emotions in the depths of my soul,
and began to smile.
" 'If I own that I love you,' I said, 'you will banish me at once;
if I plead guilty to indifference, you will make me suffer for it.
Women, magistrates, and priests never quite lay the gown aside.
Silence is non-committal; be pleased then, madame, to approve my
silence. You must have feared, in some degree, to lose me, or I should
not have received this friendly admonition; and with that thought my
pride ought to be satisfied. Let us banish all personal
considerations. You are perhaps the only woman with whom I could
discuss rationally a resolution so contrary to the laws of nature.
Considered with regard to your species, you are a prodigy. Now let us
investigate, in good faith, the causes of this psychological anomaly.
Does there exist in you, as in many women, a certain pride in self, a
love of your own loveliness, a refinement of egoism which makes you
shudder at the idea of belonging to another; is it the thought of
resigning your own will and submitting to a superiority, though only
of convention, which displeases you? You would seem to me a thousand
times fairer for it. Can love formerly have brought you suffering? You
probably set some value on your dainty figure and graceful appearance,
and may perhaps wish to avoid the disfigurements of maternity. Is not
this one of your strongest reasons for refusing a too importunate
love? Some natural defect perhaps makes you insusceptible in spite of
yourself? Do not be angry; my study, my inquiry is absolutely
dispassionate. Some are born blind, and nature may easily have formed
women who in like manner are blind, deaf, and dumb to love. You are
really an interesting subject for medical investigation. You do not
know your value. You feel perhaps a very legitimate distaste for
mankind; in that I quite concur —to me they all seem ugly and
detestable. And you are right,' I added, feeling my heart swell within
me; 'how can you do otherwise than despise us? There is not a man
living who is worthy of you.'
"I will not repeat all the biting words with which I ridiculed her.
In vain; my bitterest sarcasms and keenest irony never made her wince
nor elicited a sign of vexation. She heard me, with the customary
smile upon her lips and in her eyes, the smile that she wore as a part
of her clothing, and that never varied for friends, for mere
acquaintances, or for strangers.
" 'Isn't it very nice of me to allow you to dissect me like this?'
she said at last, as I came to a temporary standstill, and looked at
her in silence. 'You see,' she went on, laughing, 'that I have no
foolish over-sensitiveness about my friendship. Many a woman would
shut her door on you by way of punishing you for your impertinence.'
" 'You could banish me without needing to give me the reasons for
your harshness.' As I spoke I felt that I could kill her if she
" 'You are mad,' she said, smiling still.
" 'Did you never think,' I went on, 'of the effects of passionate
love? A desperate man has often murdered his mistress.'
" 'It is better to die than to live in misery,' she said coolly.
'Such a man as that would run through his wife's money, desert her,
and leave her at last in utter wretchedness.'
"This calm calculation dumfounded me. The gulf between us was made
plain; we could never understand each other.
" 'Good-bye,' I said proudly.
" 'Good-bye, till to-morrow,' she answered, with a little friendly
"For a moment's space I hurled at her in a glance all the love I
must forego; she stood there with than banal smile of hers, the
detestable chill smile of a marble statue, with none of the warmth in
it that it seemed to express. Can you form any idea, my friend, of the
pain that overcame me on the way home through rain and snow, across a
league of icy-sheeted quays, without a hope left? Oh, to think that
she not only had not guessed my poverty, but believed me to be as
wealthy as she was, and likewise borne as softly over the rough ways
of life! What failure and deceit! It was no mere question of money
now, but of the fate of all that lay within me.
"I went at haphazard, going over the words of our strange
conversation with myself. I got so thoroughly lost in my reflections
that I ended by doubts as to the actual value of words and ideas. But
I loved her all the same; I loved this woman with the untouched heart
that might surrender at any moment—a woman who daily disappointed the
expectations of the previous evening, by appearing as a new mistress
on the morrow.
"As I passed under the gateway of the Institute, a fevered thrill
ran through me. I remembered that I was fasting, and that I had not a
penny. To complete the measure of my misfortune, my hat was spoiled by
the rain. How was I to appear in the drawing-room of a woman of
fashion with an unpresentable hat? I had always cursed the inane and
stupid custom that compels us to exhibit the lining of our hats, and
to keep them always in our hands, but with anxious care I had so far
kept mine in a precarious state of efficiency. It had been neither
strikingly new, nor utterly shabby, neither napless nor over-glossy,
and might have passed for the hat of a frugally given owner, but its
artificially prolonged existence had now reached the final stage, it
was crumpled, forlorn, and completely ruined, a downright rag, a
fitting emblem of its master. My painfully preserved elegance must
collapse for want of thirty sous.
"What unrecognized sacrifices I had made in the past three months
for Foedora! How often I had given the price of a week's sustenance to
see her for a moment! To leave my work and go without food was the
least of it! I must traverse the streets of Paris without getting
splashed, run to escape showers, and reach her rooms at last, as neat
and spruce as any of the coxcombs about her. For a poet and a
distracted wooer the difficulties of this task were endless. My
happiness, the course of my love, might be affected by a speck of mud
upon my only white waistcoat! Oh, to miss the sight of her because I
was wet through and bedraggled, and had not so much as five sous to
give to a shoeblack for removing the least little spot of mud from my
boot! The petty pangs of these nameless torments, which an irritable
man finds so great, only strengthened my passion.
"The unfortunate must make sacrifices which they may not mention to
women who lead refined and luxurious lives. Such women see things
through a prism that gilds all men and their surroundings. Egoism
leads them to take cheerful views, and fashion makes them cruel; they
do not wish to reflect, lest they lose their happiness, and the
absorbing nature of their pleasures absolves their indifference to the
misfortunes of others. A penny never means millions to them; millions,
on the contrary, seem a mere trifle. Perhaps love must plead his cause
by great sacrifices, but a veil must be lightly drawn across them,
they must go down into silence. So when wealthy men pour out their
devotion, their fortunes, and their lives, they gain somewhat by these
commonly entertained opinions, an additional lustre hangs about their
lovers' follies; their silence is eloquent; there is a grace about the
drawn veil; but my terrible distress bound me over to suffer fearfully
or ever I might speak of my love or of dying for her sake.
"Was it a sacrifice after all? Was I not richly rewarded by the joy
I took in sacrificing everything to her? There was no commonest event
of my daily life to which the countess had not given importance, had
not overfilled with happiness. I had been hitherto careless of my
clothes, now I respected my coat as if it had been a second self. I
should not have hesitated between bodily harm and a tear in that
garment. You must enter wholly into my circumstances to understand the
stormy thoughts, the gathering frenzy, that shook me as I went, and
which, perhaps, were increased by my walk. I gloated in an infernal
fashion which I cannot describe over the absolute completeness of my
wretchedness. I would have drawn from it an augury of my future, but
there is no limit to the possibilities of misfortune. The door of my
lodging-house stood ajar. A light streamed from the heart-shaped
opening cut in the shutters. Pauline and her mother were sitting up
for me and talking. I heard my name spoken, and listened.
" 'Raphael is much nicer-looking than the student in number seven,'
said Pauline; 'his fair hair is such a pretty color. Don't you think
there is something in his voice, too, I don't know what it is, that
gives you a sort of a thrill? And, then, though he may be a little
proud, he is very kind, and he has such fine manners; I am sure that
all the ladies must be quite wild about him.'
" 'You might be fond of him yourself, to hear you talk,' was Madame
" 'He is just as dear to me as a brother,' she laughed. 'I should
be finely ungrateful if I felt no friendship for him. Didn't he teach
me music and drawing and grammar, and everything I know in fact? You
don't much notice how I get on, dear mother; but I shall know enough,
in a while, to give lessons myself, and then we can keep a servant.'
"I stole away softly, made some noise outside, and went into their
room to take the lamp, that Pauline tried to light for me. The dear
child had just poured soothing balm into my wounds. Her outspoken
admiration had given me fresh courage. I so needed to believe in
myself and to come by a just estimate of my advantages. This revival
of hope in me perhaps colored my surroundings. Perhaps also I had
never before really looked at the picture that so often met my eyes,
of the two women in their room; it was a scene such as Flemish
painters have reproduced so faithfully for us, that I admired in its
delightful reality. The mother, with the kind smile upon her lips, sat
knitting stockings by the dying fire; Pauline was painting hand-
screens, her brushes and paints, strewn over the tiny table, made
bright spots of color for the eye to dwell on. When she had left her
seat and stood lighting my lamp, one must have been under the yoke of
a terrible passion indeed, not to admire her faintly flushed
transparent hands, the girlish charm of her attitude, the ideal grace
of her head, as the lamplight fell full on her pale face. Night and
silence added to the charms of this industrious vigil and peaceful
interior. The light-heartedness that sustained such continuous toil
could only spring from devout submission and the lofty feelings that
"There was an indescribable harmony between them and their
possessions. The splendor of Foedora's home did not satisfy; it called
out all my worst instincts; something in this lowly poverty and
unfeigned goodness revived me. It may have been that luxury abased me
in my own eyes, while here my self-respect was restored to me, as I
sought to extend the protection that a man is so eager to make felt,
over these two women, who in the bare simplicity of the existence in
their brown room seemed to live wholly in the feelings of their
hearts. As I came up to Pauline, she looked at me in an almost
motherly way; her hands shook a little as she held the lamp, so that
the light fell on me and cried:
" 'Dieu! how pale you are! and you are wet through! My mother will
try to wipe you dry. Monsieur Raphael,' she went on, after a little
pause, 'you are so very fond of milk, and to-night we happen to have
some cream. Here, will you not take some?'
"She pounced like a kitten, on a china bowl full of milk. She did
it so quickly, and put it before me so prettily, that I hesitated.
" 'You are going to refuse me?' she said, and her tones changed.
"The pride in each felt for the other's pride. It was Pauline's
poverty that seemed to humiliate her, and to reproach me with my want
of consideration, and I melted at once and accepted the cream that
might have been meant for her morning's breakfast. The poor child
tried not to show her joy, but her eyes sparkled.
" 'I needed it badly,' I said as I sat down. (An anxious look
passed over her face.) 'Do you remember that passage, Pauline, where
Bossuet tells how God gave more abundant reward for a cup of cold
water than for a victory?'
" 'Yes,' she said, her heart beating like some wild bird's in a
" 'Well, as we shall part very soon, now,' I went on in an unsteady
voice, 'you must let me show my gratitude to you and to your mother
for all the care you have taken of me.'
" 'Oh, don't let us cast accounts,' she said laughing. But her
laughter covered an agitation that gave me pain. I went on without
appearing to hear her words:
" 'My piano is one of Erard's best instruments; and you must take
it. Pray accept it without hesitation; I really could not take it with
me on the journey I am about to make.'
"Perhaps the melancholy tones in which I spoke enlightened the two
women, for they seemed to understand, and eyed me with curiosity and
alarm. Here was the affection that I had looked for in the glacial
regions of the great world, true affection, unostentatious but tender,
and possibly lasting.
" 'Don't take it to heart so,' the mother said; 'stay on here. My
husband is on his way towards us even now,' she went on. 'I looked
into the Gospel of St. John this evening while Pauline hung our door-
key in a Bible from her fingers. The key turned; that means that
Gaudin is in health and doing well. Pauline began again for you and
for the young man in number seven—it turned for you, but not for him.
We are all going to be rich. Gaudin will come back a millionaire. I
dreamed once that I saw him in a ship full of serpents; luckily the
water was rough, and that means gold or precious stones from over-
"The silly, friendly words were like the crooning lullaby with
which a mother soothes her sick child; they in a manner calmed me.
There was a pleasant heartiness in the worthy woman's looks and tones,
which, if it could not remove trouble, at any rate soothed and quieted
it, and deadened the pain. Pauline, keener-sighted than her mother,
studied me uneasily; her quick eyes seemed to read my life and my
future. I thanked the mother and daughter by an inclination of the
head, and hurried away; I was afraid I should break down.
"I found myself alone under my roof, and laid myself down in my
misery. My unhappy imagination suggested numberless baseless projects,
and prescribed impossible resolutions. When a man is struggling in the
wreck of his fortunes, he is not quite without resources, but I was
engulfed. Ah, my dear fellow, we are too ready to blame the wretched.
Let us be less harsh on the results of the most powerful of all social
solvents. Where poverty is absolute there exist no such things as
shame or crime, or virtue or intelligence. I knew not what to do; I
was as defenceless as a maiden on her knees before a beast of prey. A
penniless man who has no ties to bind him is master of himself at any
rate, but a luckless wretch who is in love no longer belongs to
himself, and may not take his own life. Love makes us almost sacred in
our own eyes; it is the life of another that we revere within us; then
and so it begins for us the cruelest trouble of all—the misery with a
hope in it, a hope for which we must even bear our torments. I thought
I would go to Rastignac on the morrow to confide Foedora's strange
resolution to him, and with that I slept.
" 'Ah, ha!' cried Rastignac, as he saw me enter his lodging at nine
o'clock in the morning. 'I know what brings you here. Foedora has
dismissed you. Some kind souls, who were jealous of your ascendency
over the countess, gave out that you were going to be married. Heaven
only knows what follies your rivals have equipped you with, and what
slanders have been directed at you.'
" 'That explains everything!' I exclaimed. I remembered all my
presumptuous speeches, and gave the countess credit for no little
magnanimity. It pleased me to think that I was a miscreant who had not
been punished nearly enough, and I saw nothing in her indulgence but
the long-suffering charity of love.
" 'Not quite so fast,' urged the prudent Gascon; 'Foedora has all
the sagacity natural to a profoundly selfish woman; perhaps she may
have taken your measure while you still coveted only her money and her
splendor; in spite of all your care, she could have read you through
and through. She can dissemble far too well to let any dissimulation
pass undetected. I fear,' he went on, 'that I have brought you into a
bad way. In spite of her cleverness and her tact, she seems to me a
domineering sort of person, like every woman who can only feel
pleasure through her brain. Happiness for her lies entirely in a
comfortable life and in social pleasures; her sentiment is only
assumed; she will make you miserable; you will be her head footman.'
"He spoke to the deaf. I broke in upon him, disclosing, with an
affectation of light-heartedness, the state of my finances.
" 'Yesterday evening,' he rejoined, 'luck ran against me, and that
carried off all my available cash. But for that trivial mishap, I
would gladly have shared my purse with you. But let us go and
breakfast at the restaurant; perhaps there is good counsel in
"He dressed, and had his tilbury brought round. We went to the Cafe
de Paris like a couple of millionaires, armed with all the audacious
impertinence of the speculator whose capital is imaginary. That devil
of a Gascon quite disconcerted me by the coolness of his manners and
his absolute self-possession. While we were taking coffee after an
excellent and well-ordered repast, a young dandy entered, who did not
escape Rastignac. He had been nodding here and there among the crowd
to this or that young man, distinguished both by personal attractions
and elegant attire, and now he said to me:
" 'Here's your man,' as he beckoned to this gentleman with a
wonderful cravat, who seemed to be looking for a table that suited his
" 'That rogue has been decorated for bringing out books that he
doesn't understand a word of,' whispered Rastignac; 'he is a chemist,
a historian, a novelist, and a political writer; he has gone halves,
thirds, or quarters in the authorship of I don't know how many plays,
and he is as ignorant as Dom Miguel's mule. He is not a man so much as
a name, a label that the public is familiar with. So he would do well
to avoid shops inscribed with the motto, "Ici l'on peut ecrire soi-
meme." He is acute enough to deceive an entire congress of
diplomatists. In a couple of words, he is a moral half-caste, not
quite a fraud, nor entirely genuine. But, hush! he has succeeded
already; nobody asks anything further, and every one calls him an
" 'Well, my esteemed and excellent friend, and how may Your
Intelligence be?' So Rastignac addressed the stranger as he sat down
at a neighboring table.
" 'Neither well nor ill; I am overwhelmed with work. I have all the
necessary materials for some very curious historical memoirs in my
hands, and I cannot find any one to whom I can ascribe them. It
worries me, for I shall have to be quick about it. Memoirs are falling
out of fashion.'
" 'What are the memoirs—contemporaneous, ancient, or memoirs of
the court, or what?'
" 'They relate to the Necklace affair.'
" 'Now, isn't that a coincidence?' said Rastignac, turning to me
and laughing. He looked again to the literary speculation, and said,
" 'This is M. de Valentin, one of my friends, whom I must introduce
to you as one of our future literary celebrities. He had formerly an
aunt, a marquise, much in favor once at court, and for about two years
he has been writing a Royalist history of the Revolution.'
"Then, bending over this singular man of business, he went on:
" 'He is a man of talent, and a simpleton that will do your memoirs
for you, in his aunt's name, for a hundred crowns a volume.'
" 'It's a bargain,' said the other, adjusting his cravat. 'Waiter,
" 'Yes, but you must give me twenty-five louis as commission, and
you will pay him in advance for each volume,' said Rastignac.
" 'No, no. He shall only have fifty crowns on account, and then I
shall be sure of having my manuscript punctually.'
"Rastignac repeated this business conversation to me in low tones;
and then, without giving me any voice in the matter, he replied:
" 'We agree to your proposal. When can we call upon you to arrange
" 'Oh, well! Come and dine here to-morrow at seven o'clock.'
"We rose. Rastignac flung some money to the waiter, put the bill in
his pocket, and we went out. I was quite stupified by the flippancy
and ease with which he had sold my venerable aunt, la Marquise de
" 'I would sooner take ship for the Brazils, and give the Indians
lessons in algebra, though I don't know a word of it, than tarnish my
"Rastignac burst out laughing.
" 'How dense you are! Take the fifty crowns in the first instance,
and write the memoirs. When you have finished them, you will decline
to publish them in your aunt's name, imbecile! Madame de Montbauron,
with her hooped petticoat, her rank and beauty, rouge and slippers,
and her death upon the scaffold, is worth a great deal more than six
hundred francs. And then, if the trade will not give your aunt her
due, some old adventurer, or some shady countess or other, will be
found to put her name to the memoirs.'
" 'Oh,' I groaned; 'why did I quit the blameless life in my garret?
This world has aspects that are very vilely dishonorable.'
" 'Yes,' said Rastignac, 'that is all very poetical, but this is a
matter of business. What a child you are! Now, listen to me. As to
your work, the public will decide upon it; and as for my literary
middle-man, hasn't he devoted eight years of his life to obtaining a
footing in the book-trade, and paid heavily for his experience? You
divide the money and the labor of the book with him very unequally,
but isn't yours the better part? Twenty-five louis means as much to
you as a thousand francs does to him. Come, you can write historical
memoirs, a work of art such as never was, since Diderot once wrote six
sermons for a hundred crowns!'
" 'After all,' I said, in agitation, 'I cannot choose but do it.
So, my dear friend, my thanks are due to you. I shall be quite rich
with twenty-five louis.'
" 'Richer than you think,' he laughed. 'If I have my commission
from Finot in this matter, it goes to you, can't you see? Now let us
go to the Bois de Boulogne,' he said; 'we shall see your countess
there, and I will show you the pretty little widow that I am to
marry—a charming woman, an Alsacienne, rather plump. She reads Kant,
Schiller, Jean Paul, and a host of lachrymose books. She has a mania
for continually asking my opinion, and I have to look as if I entered
into all this German sensibility, and to know a pack of
ballads—drugs, all of them, that my doctor absolutely prohibits. As
yet I have not been able to wean her from her literary enthusiasms;
she sheds torrents of tears as she reads Goethe, and I have to weep a
little myself to please her, for she has an income of fifty thousand
livres, my dear boy, and the prettiest little hand and foot in the
world. Oh, if she would only say mon ange and brouiller instead of mon
anche and prouiller, she would be perfection!'
"We saw the countess, radiant amid the splendors of her equipage.
The coquette bowed very graciously to us both, and the smile she gave
me seemed to me to be divine and full of love. I was very happy; I
fancied myself beloved; I had money, a wealth of love in my heart, and
my troubles were over. I was light-hearted, blithe, and content. I
found my friend's lady-love charming. Earth and air and heaven—all
nature—seemed to reflect Foedora's smile for me.
"As we returned through the Champs-Elysees, we paid a visit to
Rastignac's hatter and tailor. Thanks to the 'Necklace,' my
insignificant peace-footing was to end, and I made formidable
preparations for a campaign. Henceforward I need not shrink from a
contest with the spruce and fashionable young men who made Foedora's
circle. I went home, locked myself in, and stood by my dormer window,
outwardly calm enough, but in reality I bade a last good-bye to the
roofs without. I began to live in the future, rehearsed my life drama,
and discounted love and its happiness. Ah, how stormy life can grow to
be within the four walls of a garret! The soul within us is like a
fairy; she turns straw into diamonds for us; and for us, at a touch of
her wand, enchanted palaces arise, as flowers in the meadows spring up
towards the sun.
"Towards noon, next day, Pauline knocked gently at my door, and
brought me—who could guess it?—a note from Foedora. The countess
asked me to take her to the Luxembourg, and to go thence to see with
her the Museum and Jardin des Plantes.
" 'The man is waiting for an answer,' said Pauline, after quietly
waiting for a moment.
"I hastily scrawled my acknowledgements, and Pauline took the note.
I changed my dress. When my toilette was ended, and I looked at myself
with some complaisance, an icy shiver ran through me as I thought:
" 'Will Foedora walk or drive? Will it rain or shine?—No matter,
though,' I said to myself; 'whichever it is, can one ever reckon with
feminine caprice? She will have no money about her, and will want to
give a dozen francs to some little Savoyard because his rags are
"I had not a brass farthing, and should have no money till the
evening came. How dearly a poet pays for the intellectual prowess that
method and toil have brought him, at such crises of our youth!
Innumerable painfully vivid thoughts pierced me like barbs. I looked
out of my window; the weather was very unsettled. If things fell out
badly, I might easily hire a cab for the day; but would not the fear
lie on me every moment that I might not meet Finot in the evening? I
felt too weak to endure such fears in the midst of my felicity. Though
I felt sure that I should find nothing, I began a grand search through
my room; I looked for imaginary coins in the recesses of my mattress;
I hunted about everywhere—I even shook out my old boots. A nervous
fever seized me; I looked with wild eyes at the furniture when I had
ransacked it all. Will you understand, I wonder, the excitement that
possessed me when, plunged deep in the listlessness of despair, I
opened my writing-table drawer, and found a fair and splendid ten-
franc piece that shone like a rising star, new and sparkling, and
slily hiding in a cranny between two boards? I did not try to account
for its previous reserve and the cruelty of which it had been guilty
in thus lying hidden; I kissed it for a friend faithful in adversity,
and hailed it with a cry that found an echo, and made me turn sharply,
to find Pauline with a face grown white.
" 'I thought,' she faltered, 'that you had hurt yourself! The man
who brought the letter——' (she broke off as if something smothered
her voice). 'But mother has paid him,' she added, and flitted away
like a wayward, capricious child. Poor little one! I wanted her to
share in my happiness. I seemed to have all the happiness in the world
within me just then; and I would fain have returned to the unhappy,
all that I felt as if I had stolen from them.
"The intuitive perception of adversity is sound for the most part;
the countess had sent away her carriage. One of those freaks that
pretty women can scarcely explain to themselves had determined her to
go on foot, by way of the boulevards, to the Jardin des Plantes.
" 'It will rain,' I told her, and it pleased her to contradict me.
"As it fell out, the weather was fine while we went through the
Luxembourg; when we came out, some drops fell from a great cloud,
whose progress I had watched uneasily, and we took a cab. At the
Museum I was about to dismiss the vehicle, and Foedora (what agonies!)
asked me not to do so. But it was like a dream in broad daylight for
me, to chat with her, to wander in the Jardin des Plantes, to stray
down the shady alleys, to feel her hand upon my arm; the secret
transports repressed in me were reduced, no doubt, to a fixed and
foolish smile upon my lips; there was something unreal about it all.
Yet in all her movements, however alluring, whether we stood or
whether we walked, there was nothing either tender or lover-like. When
I tried to share in a measure the action of movement prompted by her
life, I became aware of a check, or of something strange in her that I
cannot explain, or an inner activity concealed in her nature. There is
no suavity about the movements of women who have no soul in them. Our
wills were opposed, and we did not keep step together. Words are
wanting to describe this outward dissonance between two beings; we are
not accustomed to read a thought in a movement. We instinctively feel
this phenomenon of our nature, but it cannot be expressed.
"I did not dissect my sensations during those violent seizures of
passion," Raphael went on, after a moment of silence, as if he were
replying to an objection raised by himself. "I did not analyze my
pleasures nor count my heartbeats then, as a miser scrutinizes and
weighs his gold pieces. No; experience sheds its melancholy light over
the events of the past to-day, and memory brings these pictures back,
as the sea-waves in fair weather cast up fragment after fragment of
the debris of a wrecked vessel upon the strand.
" 'It is in your power to render me a rather important service,'
said the countess, looking at me in an embarrassed way. 'After
confiding in you my aversion to lovers, I feel myself more at liberty
to entreat your good offices in the name of friendship. Will there not
be very much more merit in obliging me to-day?' she asked, laughing.
"I looked at her in anguish. Her manner was coaxing, but in no wise
affectionate; she felt nothing for me; she seemed to be playing a
part, and I thought her a consummate actress. Then all at once my
hopes awoke once more, at a single look and word. Yet if reviving love
expressed itself in my eyes, she bore its light without any change in
the clearness of her own; they seemed, like a tiger's eyes, to have a
sheet of metal behind them. I used to hate her in such moments.
" 'The influence of the Duc de Navarreins would be very useful to
me, with an all-powerful person in Russia,' she went on, persuasion in
every modulation of her voice, 'whose intervention I need in order to
have justice done me in a matter that concerns both my fortune and my
position in the world, that is to say, the recognition of my marriage
by the Emperor. Is not the Duc de Navarreins a cousin of yours? A
letter from him would settle everything.'
" 'I am yours,' I answered; 'command me.'
" 'You are very nice,' she said, pressing my hand. 'Come and have
dinner with me, and I will tell you everything, as if you were my
"So this discreet, suspicious woman, who had never been heard to
speak a word about her affairs to any one, was going to consult me.
" 'Oh, how dear to me is this silence that you have imposed on me!'
I cried; 'but I would rather have had some sharper ordeal still.' And
she smiled upon the intoxication in my eyes; she did not reject my
admiration in any way; surely she loved me!
"Fortunately, my purse held just enough to satisfy her cab-man. The
day spent in her house, alone with her, was delicious; it was the
first time that I had seen her in this way. Hitherto we had always
been kept apart by the presence of others, and by her formal
politeness and reserved manners, even during her magnificent dinners;
but now it was as if I lived beneath her own roof—I had her all to
myself, so to speak. My wandering fancy broke down barriers, arranged
the events of life to my liking, and steeped me in happiness and love.
I seemed to myself her husband, I liked to watch her busied with
little details; it was a pleasure to me even to see her take off her
bonnet and shawl. She left me alone for a little, and came back,
charming, with her hair newly arranged; and this dainty change of
toilette had been made for me!
"During the dinner she lavished attention upon me, and put charm
without end into those numberless trifles to all seeming, that make up
half of our existence nevertheless. As we sat together before a
crackling fire, on silken cushions surrounded by the most desirable
creations of Oriental luxury; as I saw this woman whose famous beauty
made every heart beat, so close to me; an unapproachable woman who was
talking and bringing all her powers of coquetry to bear upon me; then
my blissful pleasure rose almost to the point of suffering. To my
vexation, I recollected the important business to be concluded; I
determined to go to keep the appointment made for me for this evening.
" 'So soon?' she said, seeing me take my hat.
"She loved me, then! or I thought so at least, from the bland tones
in which those two words were uttered. I would then have bartered a
couple of years of life for every hour she chose to grant to me, and
so prolong my ecstasy. My happiness was increased by the extent of the
money I sacrificed. It was midnight before she dismissed me. But on
the morrow, for all that, my heroism cost me a good many remorseful
pangs; I was afraid the affair of the Memoirs, now of such importance
for me, might have fallen through, and rushed off to Rastignac. We
found the nominal author of my future labors just getting up.
"Finot read over a brief agreement to me, in which nothing whatever
was said about my aunt, and when it had been signed he paid me down
fifty crowns, and the three of us breakfasted together. I had only
thirty francs left over, when I had paid for my new hat, for sixty
tickets at thirty sous each, and settled my debts; but for some days
to come the difficulties of living were removed. If I had but listened
to Rastignac, I might have had abundance by frankly adopting the
'English system.' He really wanted to establish my credit by setting
me to raise loans, on the theory that borrowing is the basis of
credit. To hear him talk, the future was the largest and most secure
kind of capital in the world. My future luck was hypothecated for the
benefit of my creditors, and he gave my custom to his tailor, an
artist, and a young man's tailor, who was to leave me in peace until I
"The monastic life of study that I had led for three years past
ended on this day. I frequented Foedora's house very diligently, and
tried to outshine the heroes or the swaggerers to be found in her
circle. When I believed that I had left poverty for ever behind me, I
regained my freedom of mind, humiliated my rivals, and was looked upon
as a very attractive, dazzling, and irresistible sort of man. But
acute folk used to say with regard to me, 'A fellow as clever as that
will keep all his enthusiasms in his brain,' and charitably extolled
my faculties at the expense of my feelings. 'Isn't he lucky, not to be
in love!' they exclaimed. 'If he were, could he be so light-hearted
and animated?' Yet in Foedora's presence I was as dull as love could
make me. When I was alone with her, I had not a word to say, or if I
did speak, I renounced love; and I affected gaiety but ill, like a
courtier who has a bitter mortification to hide. I tried in every way
to make myself indispensable in her life, and necessary to her vanity
and to her comfort; I was a plaything at her pleasure, a slave always
at her side. And when I had frittered away the day in this way, I went
back to my work at night, securing merely two or three hours' sleep in
the early morning.
"But I had not, like Rastignac, the 'English system' at my finger-
ends, and I very soon saw myself without a penny. I fell at once into
that precarious way of life which industriously hides cold and
miserable depths beneath an elusive surface of luxury; I was a coxcomb
without conquests, a penniless fop, a nameless gallant. The old
sufferings were renewed, but less sharply; no doubt I was growing used
to the painful crisis. Very often my sole diet consisted of the scanty
provision of cakes and tea that is offered in drawing-rooms, or one of
the countess' great dinners must sustain me for two whole days. I used
all my time, and exerted every effort and all my powers of
observation, to penetrate the impenetrable character of Foedora.
Alternate hope and despair had swayed my opinions; for me she was
sometimes the tenderest, sometimes the most unfeeling of women. But
these transitions from joy to sadness became unendurable; I sought to
end the horrible conflict within me by extinguishing love. By the
light of warning gleams my soul sometimes recognized the gulfs that
lay between us. The countess confirmed all my fears; I had never yet
detected any tear in her eyes; an affecting scene in a play left her
smiling and unmoved. All her instincts were selfish; she could not
divine another's joy or sorrow. She had made a fool of me, in fact!
"I had rejoiced over a sacrifice to make for her, and almost
humiliated myself in seeking out my kinsman, the Duc de Navarreins, a
selfish man who was ashamed of my poverty, and had injured me too
deeply not to hate me. He received me with the polite coldness that
makes every word and gesture seem an insult; he looked so ill at ease
that I pitied him. I blushed for this pettiness amid grandeur, and
penuriousness surrounded by luxury. He began to talk to me of his
heavy losses in the three per cents, and then I told him the object of
my visit. The change in his manners, hitherto glacial, which now
gradually, became affectionate, disgusted me.
"Well, he called upon the countess, and completely eclipsed me with
"On him Foedora exercised spells and witcheries unheard of; she
drew him into her power, and arranged her whole mysterious business
with him; I was left out, I heard not a word of it; she had made a
tool of me! She did not seem to be aware of my existence while my
cousin was present; she received me less cordially perhaps than when I
was first presented to her. One evening she chose to mortify me before
the duke by a look, a gesture, that it is useless to try to express in
words. I went away with tears in my eyes, planning terrible and
outrageous schemes of vengeance without end.
"I often used to go with her to the theatre. Love utterly absorbed
me as I sat beside her; as I looked at her I used to give myself up to
the pleasure of listening to the music, putting all my soul into the
double joy of love and of hearing every emotion of my heart translated
into musical cadences. It was my passion that filled the air and the
stage, that was triumphant everywhere but with my mistress. Then I
would take Foedora's hand. I used to scan her features and her eyes,
imploring of them some indication that one blended feeling possessed
us both, seeking for the sudden harmony awakened by the power of
music, which makes our souls vibrate in unison; but her hand was
passive, her eyes said nothing.
"When the fire that burned in me glowed too fiercely from the face
I turned upon her, she met it with that studied smile of hers, the
conventional expression that sits on the lips of every portrait in
every exhibition. She was not listening to the music. The divine pages
of Rossini, Cimarosa, or Zingarelli called up no emotion, gave no
voice to any poetry in her life; her soul was a desert.
"Foedora presented herself as a drama before a drama. Her lorgnette
traveled restlessly over the boxes; she was restless too beneath the
apparent calm; fashion tyrannized over her; her box, her bonnet, her
carriage, her own personality absorbed her entirely. My merciless
knowledge thoroughly tore away all my illusions. If good breeding
consists in self-forgetfulness and consideration for others, in
constantly showing gentleness in voice and bearing, in pleasing
others, and in making them content in themselves, all traces of her
plebeian origin were not yet obliterated in Foedora, in spite of her
cleverness. Her self-forgetfulness was a sham, her manners were not
innate but painfully acquired, her politeness was rather subservient.
And yet for those she singled out, her honeyed words expressed natural
kindness, her pretentious exaggeration was exalted enthusiasm. I alone
had scrutinized her grimacings, and stripped away the thin rind that
sufficed to conceal her real nature from the world; her trickery no
longer deceived me; I had sounded the depths of that feline nature. I
blushed for her when some donkey or other flattered and complimented
her. And yet I loved her through it all! I hoped that her snows would
melt with the warmth of a poet's love. If I could only have made her
feel all the greatness that lies in devotion, then I should have seen
her perfected, she would have been an angel. I loved her as a man, a
lover, and an artist; if it had been necessary not to love her so that
I might win her, some cool-headed coxcomb, some self-possessed
calculator would perhaps have had an advantage over me. She was so
vain and sophisticated, that the language of vanity would appeal to
her; she would have allowed herself to be taken in the toils of an
intrigue; a hard, cold nature would have gained a complete ascendency
over her. Keen grief had pierced me to my very soul, as she
unconsciously revealed her absolute love of self. I seemed to see her
as she one day would be, alone in the world, with no one to whom she
could stretch her hand, with no friendly eyes for her own to meet and
rest upon. I was bold enough to set this before her one evening; I
painted in vivid colors her lonely, sad, deserted old age. Her comment
on this prospect of so terrible a revenge of thwarted nature was
" 'I shall always have money,' she said; 'and with money we can
always inspire such sentiments as are necessary for our comfort in
those about us.'
"I went away confounded by the arguments of luxury, by the
reasoning of this woman of the world in which she lived; and blamed
myself for my infatuated idolatry. I myself had not loved Pauline
because she was poor; and had not the wealthy Foedora a right to
repulse Raphael? Conscience is our unerring judge until we finally
stifle it. A specious voice said within me, 'Foedora is neither
attracted to nor repulses any one; she has her liberty, but once upon
a time she sold herself to the Russian count, her husband or her
lover, for gold. But temptation is certain to enter into her life.
Wait till that moment comes!' She lived remote from humanity, in a
sphere apart, in a hell or a heaven of her own; she was neither frail
nor virtuous. This feminine enigma in embroideries and cashmeres had
brought into play every emotion of the human heart in me—pride,
ambition, love, curiosity.
"There was a craze just then for praising a play at a little
Boulevard theatre, prompted perhaps by a wish to appear original that
besets us all, or due to some freak of fashion. The countess showed
some signs of a wish to see the floured face of the actor who had so
delighted several people of taste, and I obtained the honor of taking
her to a first presentation of some wretched farce or other. A box
scarcely cost five francs, but I had not a brass farthing. I was but
half-way through the volume of Memoirs; I dared not beg for assistance
of Finot, and Rastignac, my providence, was away. These constant
perplexities were the bane of my life.
"We had once come out of the theatre when it was raining heavily,
Foedora had called a cab for me before I could escape from her show of
concern; she would not admit any of my excuses—my liking for wet
weather, and my wish to go to the gaming-table. She did not read my
poverty in my embarrassed attitude, or in my forced jests. My eyes
would redden, but she did not understand a look. A young man's life is
at the mercy of the strangest whims! At every revolution of the wheels
during the journey, thoughts that burned stirred in my heart. I tried
to pull up a plank from the bottom of the vehicle, hoping to slip
through the hole into the street; but finding insuperable obstacles, I
burst into a fit of laughter, and then sat stupefied in calm
dejection, like a man in a pillory. When I reached my lodging, Pauline
broke in through my first stammering words with:
" 'If you haven't any money——?'
"Ah, the music of Rossini was as nothing compared with those words.
But to return to the performance at the Funambules.
"I thought of pawning the circlet of gold round my mother's
portrait in order to escort the countess. Although the pawnbroker
loomed in my thoughts as one of the doors of a convict's prison, I
would rather myself have carried my bed thither than have begged for
alms. There is something so painful in the expression of a man who
asks money of you! There are loans that mulct us of our self-respect,
just as some rebuffs from a friend's lips sweep away our last
"Pauline was working; her mother had gone to bed. I flung a
stealthy glance over the bed; the curtains were drawn back a little;
Madame Gaudin was in a deep sleep, I thought, when I saw her quiet,
sallow profile outlined against the pillow.
" 'You are in trouble?' Pauline said, dipping her brush into the
" 'It is in your power to do me a great service, my dear child,' I
"The gladness in her eyes frightened me.
" 'Is it possible that she loves me?' I thought. 'Pauline,' I
began. I went and sat near to her, so as to study her. My tones had
been so searching that she read my thought; her eyes fell, and I
scrutinized her face. It was so pure and frank that I fancied I could
see as clearly into her heart as into my own.
" 'Do you love me?' I asked.
" 'A little,—passionately—not a bit!' she cried.
"Then she did not love me. Her jesting tones, and a little gleeful
movement that escaped her, expressed nothing beyond a girlish, blithe
goodwill. I told her about my distress and the predicament in which I
found myself, and asked her to help me.
" 'You do not wish to go to the pawnbroker's yourself, M. Raphael,'
she answered, 'and yet you would send me!'
"I blushed in confusion at the child's reasoning. She took my hand
in hers as if she wanted to compensate for this home-truth by her
light touch upon it.
" 'Oh, I would willingly go,' she said, 'but it is not necessary. I
found two five-franc pieces at the back of the piano, that had slipped
without your knowledge between the frame and the keyboard, and I laid
them on your table.'
" 'You will soon be coming into some money, M. Raphael,' said the
kind mother, showing her face between the curtains, 'and I can easily
lend you a few crowns meanwhile.'
" 'Oh, Pauline!' I cried, as I pressed her hand, 'how I wish that I
" 'Bah! why should you?' she said petulantly. Her hand shook in
mine with the throbbing of her pulse; she snatched it away, and looked
at both of mine.
" 'You will marry a rich wife,' she said, 'but she will give you a
great deal of trouble. Ah, Dieu! she will be your death,—I am sure of
"In her exclamation there was something like belief in her mother's
" 'You are very credulous, Pauline!'
" 'The woman whom you will love is going to kill you—there is no
doubt of it,' she said, looking at me with alarm.
"She took up her brush again and dipped it in the color; her great
agitation was evident; she looked at me no longer. I was ready to give
credence just then to superstitious fancies; no man is utterly
wretched so long as he is superstitious; a belief of that kind is
often in reality a hope.
"I found that those two magnificent five-franc pieces were lying,
in fact, upon my table when I reached my room. During the first
confused thoughts of early slumber, I tried to audit my accounts so as
to explain this unhoped-for windfall; but I lost myself in useless
calculations, and slept. Just as I was leaving my room to engage a box
the next morning, Pauline came to see me.
" 'Perhaps your ten francs is not enough,' said the amiable, kind-
hearted girl; 'my mother told me to offer you this money. Take it,
please, take it!'
"She laid three crowns upon the table, and tried to escape, but I
would not let her go. Admiration dried the tears that sprang to my
" 'You are an angel, Pauline,' I said. 'It is not the loan that
touches me so much as the delicacy with which it is offered. I used to
wish for a rich wife, a fashionable woman of rank; and now, alas! I
would rather possess millions, and find some girl, as poor as you are,
with a generous nature like your own; and I would renounce a fatal
passion which will kill me. Perhaps what you told me will come true.'
" 'That is enough,' she said, and fled away; the fresh trills of
her birdlike voice rang up the staircase.
" 'She is very happy in not yet knowing love,' I said to myself,
thinking of the torments I had endured for many months past.
"Pauline's fifteen francs were invaluable to me. Foedora, thinking
of the stifling odor of the crowded place where we were to spend
several hours, was sorry that she had not brought a bouquet; I went in
search of flowers for her, as I had laid already my life and my fate
at her feet. With a pleasure in which compunction mingled, I gave her
a bouquet. I learned from its price the extravagance of superficial
gallantry in the world. But very soon she complained of the heavy
scent of a Mexican jessamine. The interior of the theatre, the bare
bench on which she was to sit, filled her with intolerable disgust;
she upbraided me for bringing her there. Although she sat beside me,
she wished to go, and she went. I had spent sleepless nights, and
squandered two months of my life for her, and I could not please her.
Never had that tormenting spirit been more unfeeling or more
"I sat beside her in the cramped back seat of the vehicle; all the
way I could feel her breath on me and the contact of her perfumed
glove; I saw distinctly all her exceeding beauty; I inhaled a vague
scent of orris-root; so wholly a woman she was, with no touch of
womanhood. Just then a sudden gleam of light lit up the depths of this
mysterious life for me. I thought all at once of a book just published
by a poet, a genuine conception of the artist, in the shape of the
statue of Polycletus.
"I seemed to see that monstrous creation, at one time an officer,
breaking in a spirited horse; at another, a girl, who gives herself up
to her toilette and breaks her lovers' hearts; or again, a false lover
driving a timid and gentle maid to despair. Unable to analyze Foedora
by any other process, I told her this fanciful story; but no hint of
her resemblance to this poetry of the impossible crossed her—it
simply diverted her; she was like a child over a story from the
" 'Foedora must be shielded by some talisman,' I thought to myself
as I went back, 'or she could not resist the love of a man of my age,
the infectious fever of that splendid malady of the soul. Is Foedora,
like Lady Delacour, a prey to a cancer? Her life is certainly an
"I shuddered at the thought. Then I decided on a plan, at once the
wildest and the most rational that lover ever dreamed of. I would
study this woman from a physical point of view, as I had already
studied her intellectually, and to this end I made up my mind to spend
a night in her room without her knowledge. This project preyed upon me
as a thirst for revenge gnaws at the heart of a Corsican monk. This is
how I carried it out. On the days when Foedora received, her rooms
were far too crowded for the hall-porter to keep the balance even
between goers and comers; I could remain in the house, I felt sure,
without causing a scandal in it, and I waited the countess' coming
soiree with impatience. As I dressed I put a little English penknife
into my waistcoat pocket, instead of a poniard. That literary
implement, if found upon me, could awaken no suspicion, but I knew not
whither my romantic resolution might lead, and I wished to be
"As soon as the rooms began to fill, I entered the bedroom and
examined the arrangements. The inner and outer shutters were closed;
this was a good beginning; and as the waiting-maid might come to draw
back the curtains that hung over the windows, I pulled them together.
I was running great risks in venturing to manoeuvre beforehand in this
way, but I had accepted the situation, and had deliberately reckoned
with its dangers.
"About midnight I hid myself in the embrasure of the window. I
tried to scramble on to a ledge of the wainscoting, hanging on by the
fastening of the shutters with my back against the wall, in such a
position that my feet could not be visible. When I had carefully
considered my points of support, and the space between me and the
curtains, I had become sufficiently acquainted with all the
difficulties of my position to stay in it without fear of detection if
undisturbed by cramp, coughs, or sneezings. To avoid useless fatigue,
I remained standing until the critical moment, when I must hang
suspended like a spider in its web. The white-watered silk and muslin
of the curtains spread before me in great pleats like organ-pipes.
With my penknife I cut loopholes in them, through which I could see.
"I heard vague murmurs from the salons, the laughter and the louder
tones of the speakers. The smothered commotion and vague uproar
lessened by slow degrees. One man and another came for his hat from
the countess' chest of drawers, close to where I stood. I shivered, if
the curtains were disturbed, at the thought of the mischances
consequent on the confused and hasty investigations made by the men in
a hurry to depart, who were rummaging everywhere. When I experienced
no misfortunes of this kind, I augured well of my enterprise. An old
wooer of Foedora's came for the last hat; he thought himself quite
alone, looked at the bed, and heaved a great sigh, accompanied by some
inaudible exclamation, into which he threw sufficient energy. In the
boudoir close by, the countess, finding only some five or six intimate
acquaintances about her, proposed tea. The scandals for which existing
society has reserved the little faculty of belief that it retains,
mingled with epigrams and trenchant witticisms, and the clatter of
cups and spoons. Rastignac drew roars of laughter by merciless
sarcasms at the expense of my rivals.
" 'M. de Rastignac is a man with whom it is better not to quarrel,'
said the countess, laughing.
" 'I am quite of that opinion,' was his candid reply. 'I have
always been right about my aversions—and my friendships as well,' he
added. 'Perhaps my enemies are quite as useful to me as my friends. I
have made a particular study of modern phraseology, and of the natural
craft that is used in all attack or defence. Official eloquence is one
of our perfect social products.
" 'One of your friends is not clever, so you speak of his integrity
and his candor. Another's work is heavy; you introduce it as a piece
of conscientious labor; and if the book is ill written, you extol the
ideas it contains. Such an one is treacherous and fickle, slips
through your fingers every moment; bah! he is attractive, bewitching,
he is delightful! Suppose they are enemies, you fling every one, dead
or alive, in their teeth. You reverse your phraseology for their
benefit, and you are as keen in detecting their faults as you were
before adroit in bringing out the virtues of your friends. This way of
using the mental lorgnette is the secret of conversation nowadays, and
the whole art of the complete courtier. If you neglect it, you might
as well go out as an unarmed knight-banneret to fight against men in
armor. And I make use of it, and even abuse it at times. So we are
respected—I and my friends; and, moreover, my sword is quite as sharp
as my tongue.'
"One of Foedora's most fervid worshipers, whose presumption was
notorious, and who even made it contribute to his success, took up the
glove thrown down so scornfully by Rastignac. He began an unmeasured
eulogy of me, my performances, and my character. Rastignac had
overlooked this method of detraction. His sarcastic encomiums misled
the countess, who sacrificed without mercy; she betrayed my secrets,
and derided my pretensions and my hopes, to divert her friends.
" 'There is a future before him,' said Rastignac. 'Some day he may
be in a position to take a cruel revenge; his talents are at least
equal to his courage; and I should consider those who attack him very
rash, for he has a good memory——'
" 'And writes Memoirs,' put in the countess, who seemed to object
to the deep silence that prevailed.
" 'Memoirs of a sham countess, madame,' replied Rastignac. 'Another
sort of courage is needed to write that sort of thing.'
" 'I give him credit for plenty of courage,' she answered; 'he is
faithful to me.'
"I was greatly tempted to show myself suddenly among the railers,
like the shade of Banquo in Macbeth. I should have lost a mistress,
but I had a friend! But love inspired me all at once, with one of
those treacherous and fallacious subtleties that it can use to soothe
all our pangs.
"If Foedora loved me, I thought, she would be sure to disguise her
feelings by some mocking jest. How often the heart protests against a
lie on the lips!
"Well, very soon my audacious rival, left alone with the countess,
rose to go.
" 'What! already?' asked she in a coaxing voice that set my heart
beating. 'Will you not give me a few more minutes? Have you nothing
more to say to me? will you never sacrifice any of your pleasures for
"He went away.
" 'Ah!' she yawned; 'how very tiresome they all are!'
"She pulled a cord energetically till the sound of a bell rang
through the place; then, humming a few notes of Pria che spunti, the
countess entered her room. No one had ever heard her sing; her
muteness had called forth the wildest explanations. She had promised
her first lover, so it was said, who had been held captive by her
talent, and whose jealousy over her stretched beyond his grave, that
she would never allow others to experience a happiness that he wished
to be his and his alone.
"I exerted every power of my soul to catch the sounds. Higher and
higher rose the notes; Foedora's life seemed to dilate within her; her
throat poured forth all its richest tones; something well-nigh divine
entered into the melody. There was a bright purity and clearness of
tone in the countess' voice, a thrilling harmony which reached the
heart and stirred its pulses. Musicians are seldom unemotional; a
woman who could sing like that must know how to love indeed. Her
beautiful voice made one more puzzle in a woman mysterious enough
before. I beheld her then, as plainly as I see you at this moment. She
seemed to listen to herself, to experience a secret rapture of her
own; she felt, as it were, an ecstasy like that of love.
"She stood before the hearth during the execution of the principal
theme of the rondo; and when she ceased her face changed. She looked
tired; her features seemed to alter. She had laid the mask aside; her
part as an actress was over. Yet the faded look that came over her
beautiful face, a result either of this performance or of the
evening's fatigues, had its charms, too.
" 'This is her real self,' I thought.
"She set her foot on a bronze bar of the fender as if to warm it,
took off her gloves, and drew over her head the gold chain from which
her bejeweled scent-bottle hung. It gave me a quite indescribable
pleasure to watch the feline grace of every movement; the supple grace
a cat displays as it adjusts its toilette in the sun. She looked at
herself in the mirror and said aloud ill-humoredly—'I did not look
well this evening, my complexion is going with alarming rapidity;
perhaps I ought to keep earlier hours, and give up this life of
dissipation. Does Justine mean to trifle with me?' She rang again; her
maid hurried in. Where she had been I cannot tell; she came in by a
secret staircase. I was anxious to make a study of her. I had lodged
accusations, in my romantic imaginings, against this invisible
waiting-woman, a tall, well-made brunette.
" 'Did madame ring?'
" 'Yes, twice,' answered Foedora; 'are you really growing deaf
" 'I was preparing madame's milk of almonds.'
"Justine knelt down before her, unlaced her sandals and drew them
off, while her mistress lay carelessly back on her cushioned armchair
beside the fire, yawned, and scratched her head. Every movement was
perfectly natural; there was nothing whatever to indicate the secret
sufferings or emotions with which I had credited her.
" 'George must be in love!' she remarked. 'I shall dismiss him. He
has drawn the curtains again to-night. What does he mean by it?'
"All the blood in my veins rushed to my heart at this observation,
but no more was said about curtains.
" 'Life is very empty,' the countess went on. 'Ah! be careful not
to scratch me as you did yesterday. Just look here, I still have the
marks of your nails about me,' and she held out a silken knee. She
thrust her bare feet into velvet slippers bound with swan's-down, and
unfastened her dress, while Justine prepared to comb her hair.
" 'You ought to marry, madame, and have children.'
" 'Children!' she cried; 'it wants no more than that to finish me
at once; and a husband! What man is there to whom I could——? Was my
hair well arranged to-night?'
" 'Not particularly.'
" 'You are a fool!'
" 'That way of crimping your hair too much is the least becoming
way possible for you. Large, smooth curls suit you a great deal
" 'Yes, really, madame; that wavy style only looks nice in fair
" 'Marriage? never, never! Marriage is a commercial arrangement,
for which I was never made.'
"What a disheartening scene for a lover! Here was a lonely woman,
without friends or kin, without the religion of love, without faith in
any affection. Yet however slightly she might feel the need to pour
out her heart, a craving that every human being feels, it could only
be satisfied by gossiping with her maid, by trivial and indifferent
talk. . . . I grieved for her.
"Justine unlaced her. I watched her carefully when she was at last
unveiled. Her maidenly form, in its rose-tinged whiteness, was visible
through her shift in the taper light, as dazzling as some silver
statue behind its gauze covering. No, there was no defect that need
shrink from the stolen glances of love. Alas, a fair form will
overcome the stoutest resolutions!
"The maid lighted the taper in the alabaster sconce that hung
before the bed, while her mistress sat thoughtful and silent before
the fire. Justine went for a warming-pan, turned down the bed, and
helped to lay her mistress in it; then, after some further time spent
in punctiliously rendering various services that showed how seriously
Foedora respected herself, her maid left her. The countess turned to
and fro several times, and sighed; she was ill at ease; faint, just
perceptible sounds, like sighs of impatience, escaped from her lips.
She reached out a hand to the table, and took a flask from it, from
which she shook four or five drops of some brown liquid into some milk
before taking it; again there followed some painful sighs, and the
exclamation, 'MON DIEU!'
"The cry, and the tone in which it was uttered, wrung my heart. By
degrees she lay motionless. This frightened me; but very soon I heard
a sleeper's heavy, regular breathing. I drew the rustling silk
curtains apart, left my post, went to the foot of the bed, and gazed
at her with feelings that I cannot define. She was so enchanting as
she lay like a child, with her arm above her head; but the sweetness
of the fair, quiet visage, surrounded by the lace, only irritated me.
I had not been prepared for the torture to which I was compelled to
" 'Mon Dieu!' that scrap of a thought which I understood not, but
must even take as my sole light, had suddenly modified my opinion of
Foedora. Trite or profoundly significant, frivolous or of deep import,
the words might be construed as expressive of either pleasure or pain,
of physical or of mental suffering. Was it a prayer or a malediction,
a forecast or a memory, a fear or a regret? A whole life lay in that
utterance, a life of wealth or of penury; perhaps it contained a
"The mystery that lurked beneath this fair semblance of womanhood
grew afresh; there were so many ways of explaining Foedora, that she
became inexplicable. A sort of language seemed to flow from between
her lips. I put thoughts and feelings into the accidents of her
breathing, whether weak or regular, gentle, or labored. I shared her
dreams; I would fain have divined her secrets by reading them through
her slumber. I hesitated among contradictory opinions and decisions
without number. I could not deny my heart to the woman I saw before
me, with the calm, pure beauty in her face. I resolved to make one
more effort. If I told her the story of my life, my love, my
sacrifices, might I not awaken pity in her or draw a tear from her who
"As I set all my hopes on this last experiment, the sounds in the
streets showed that day was at hand. For a moment's space I pictured
Foedora waking to find herself in my arms. I could have stolen softly
to her side and slipped them about her in a close embrace. Resolved to
resist the cruel tyranny of this thought, I hurried into the salon,
heedless of any sounds I might make; but, luckily, I came upon a
secret door leading to a little staircase. As I expected, the key was
in the lock; I slammed the door, went boldly out into the court, and
gained the street in three bounds, without looking round to see
whether I was observed.
"A dramatist was to read a comedy at the countess' house in two
days' time; I went thither, intending to outstay the others, so as to
make a rather singular request to her; I meant to ask her to keep the
following evening for me alone, and to deny herself to other comers;
but when I found myself alone with her, my courage failed. Every tick
of the clock alarmed me. It wanted only a quarter of an hour of
" 'If I do not speak,' I thought to myself, 'I must smash my head
against the corner of the mantelpiece.'
"I gave myself three minutes' grace; the three minutes went by, and
I did not smash my head upon the marble; my heart grew heavy, like a
sponge with water.
" 'You are exceedingly amusing,' said she.
" 'Ah, madame, if you could but understand me!' I answered.
" 'What is the matter with you?' she asked. 'You are turning pale.'
" 'I am hesitating to ask a favor of you.'
"Her gesture revived my courage. I asked her to make the
appointment with me.
" 'Willingly,' she answered' 'but why will you not speak to me
" 'To be candid with you, I ought to explain the full scope of your
promise: I want to spend this evening by your side, as if we were
brother and sister. Have no fear; I am aware of your antipathies; you
must have divined me sufficiently to feel sure that I should wish you
to do nothing that could be displeasing to you; presumption, moreover,
would not thus approach you. You have been a friend to me, you have
shown me kindness and great indulgence; know, therefore, that
to-morrow I must bid you farewell.—Do not take back your word,' I
exclaimed, seeing her about to speak, and I went away.
"At eight o'clock one evening towards the end of May, Foedora and I
were alone together in her gothic boudoir. I feared no longer; I was
secure of happiness. My mistress should be mine, or I would seek a
refuge in death. I had condemned my faint-hearted love, and a man who
acknowledges his weakness is strong indeed.
"The countess, in her blue cashmere gown, was reclining on a sofa,
with her feet on a cushion. She wore an Oriental turban such as
painters assign to early Hebrews; its strangeness added an
indescribable coquettish grace to her attractions. A transitory charm
seemed to have laid its spell on her face; it might have furnished the
argument that at every instant we become new and unparalleled beings,
without any resemblance to the US of the future or of the past. I had
never yet seen her so radiant.
" 'Do you know that you have piqued my curiosity?' she said,
" 'I will not disappoint it,' I said quietly, as I seated myself
near to her and took the hand that she surrendered to me. 'You have a
very beautiful voice!'
" 'You have never heard me sing!' she exclaimed, starting
involuntarily with surprise.
" 'I will prove that it is quite otherwise, whenever it is
necessary. Is your delightful singing still to remain a mystery? Have
no fear, I do not wish to penetrate it.'
"We spent about an hour in familiar talk. While I adopted the
attitude and manner of a man to whom Foedora must refuse nothing, I
showed her all a lover's deference. Acting in this way, I received a
favor—I was allowed to kiss her hand. She daintily drew off the
glove, and my whole soul was dissolved and poured forth in that kiss.
I was steeped in the bliss of an illusion in which I tried to believe.
"Foedora lent herself most unexpectedly to my caress and my
flatteries. Do not accuse me of faint-heartedness; if I had gone a
step beyond these fraternal compliments, the claws would have been out
of the sheath and into me. We remained perfectly silent for nearly ten
minutes. I was admiring her, investing her with the charms she had
not. She was mine just then, and mine only,—this enchanting being was
mine, as was permissible, in my imagination; my longing wrapped her
round and held her close; in my soul I wedded her. The countess was
subdued and fascinated by my magnetic influence. Ever since I have
regretted that this subjugation was not absolute; but just then I
yearned for her soul, her heart alone, and for nothing else. I longed
for an ideal and perfect happiness, a fair illusion that cannot last
for very long. At last I spoke, feeling that the last hours of my
frenzy were at hand.
" 'Hear me, madame. I love you, and you know it; I have said so a
hundred times; you must have understood me. I would not take upon me
the airs of a coxcomb, nor would I flatter you, nor urge myself upon
you like a fool; I would not owe your love to such arts as these! so I
have been misunderstood. What sufferings have I not endured for your
sake! For these, however, you were not to blame; but in a few minutes
you shall decide for yourself. There are two kinds of poverty, madame.
One kind openly walks the street in rags, an unconscious imitator of
Diogenes, on a scanty diet, reducing life to its simplest terms; he is
happier, maybe, than the rich; he has fewer cares at any rate, and
accepts such portions of the world as stronger spirits refuse. Then
there is poverty in splendor, a Spanish pauper, concealing the life of
a beggar by his title, his bravery, and his pride; poverty that wears
a white waistcoat and yellow kid gloves, a beggar with a carriage,
whose whole career will be wrecked for lack of a halfpenny. Poverty of
the first kind belongs to the populace; the second kind is that of
blacklegs, of kings, and of men of talent. I am neither a man of the
people, nor a king, nor a swindler; possibly I have no talent either,
I am an exception. With the name I bear I must die sooner than beg.
Set your mind at rest, madame,' I said; 'to-day I have abundance, I
possess sufficient of the clay for my needs'; for the hard look passed
over her face which we wear whenever a well-dressed beggar takes us by
surprise. 'Do you remember the day when you wished to go to the
Gymnase without me, never believing that I should be there?' I went
" 'I had laid out my last five-franc piece that I might see you
there. —Do you recollect our walk in the Jardin des Plantes? The hire
of your cab took everything I had.'
"I told her about my sacrifices, and described the life I led;
heated not with wine, as I am to-day, but by the generous enthusiasm
of my heart, my passion overflowed in burning words; I have forgotten
how the feelings within me blazed forth; neither memory nor skill of
mine could possibly reproduce it. It was no colorless chronicle of
blighted affections; my love was strengthened by fair hopes; and such
words came to me, by love's inspiration, that each had power to set
forth a whole life—like echoes of the cries of a soul in torment. In
such tones the last prayers ascend from dying men on the battlefield.
I stopped, for she was weeping. GRAND DIEU! I had reaped an actor's
reward, the success of a counterfeit passion displayed at the cost of
five francs paid at the theatre door. I had drawn tears from her.
" 'If I had known——' she said.
" 'Do not finish the sentence,' I broke in. 'Even now I love you
well enough to murder you——'
"She reached for the bell-pull. I burst into a roar of laughter.
" 'Do not call any one,' I said. 'I shall leave you to finish your
life in peace. It would be a blundering kind of hatred that would
murder you! You need not fear violence of any kind; I have spent a
whole night at the foot of your bed without——'
" 'Monsieur——' she said, blushing; but after that first impulse
of modesty that even the most hardened women must surely own, she
flung a scornful glance at me, and said:
" 'You must have been very cold.'
" 'Do you think that I set such value on your beauty, madame,' I
answered, guessing the thoughts that moved her. 'Your beautiful face
is for me a promise of a soul yet more beautiful. Madame, those to
whom a woman is merely a woman can always purchase odalisques fit for
the seraglio, and achieve their happiness at a small cost. But I
aspired to something higher; I wanted the life of close communion of
heart and heart with you that have no heart. I know that now. If you
were to belong to another, I could kill him. And yet, no; for you
would love him, and his death might hurt you perhaps. What agony this
is!' I cried.
" 'If it is any comfort to you,' she retorted cheerfully, 'I can
assure you that I shall never belong to any one——'
" 'So you offer an affront to God Himself,' I interrupted; 'and you
will be punished for it. Some day you will lie upon your sofa
suffering unheard-of ills, unable to endure the light or the slightest
sound, condemned to live as it were in the tomb. Then, when you seek
the causes of those lingering and avenging torments, you will remember
the woes that you distributed so lavishly upon your way. You have sown
curses, and hatred will be your reward. We are the real judges, the
executioners of a justice that reigns here below, which overrules the
justice of man and the laws of God.'
" 'No doubt it is very culpable in me not to love you,' she said,
laughing. 'Am I to blame? No. I do not love you; you are a man, that
is sufficient. I am happy by myself; why should I give up my way of
living, a selfish way, if you will, for the caprices of a master?
Marriage is a sacrament by virtue of which each imparts nothing but
vexations to the other. Children, moreover, worry me. Did I not
faithfully warn you about my nature? Why are you not satisfied to have
my friendship? I wish I could make you amends for all the troubles I
have caused you, through not guessing the value of your poor five-
franc pieces. I appreciate the extent of your sacrifices; but your
devotion and delicate tact can be repaid by love alone, and I care so
little for you, that this scene has a disagreeable effect upon me.'
" 'I am fully aware of my absurdity,' I said, unable to restrain my
tears. 'Pardon me,' I went on, 'it was a delight to hear those cruel
words you have just uttered, so well I love you. O, if I could testify
my love with every drop of blood in me!'
" 'Men always repeat these classic formulas to us, more or less
effectively,' she answered, still smiling. 'But it appears very
difficult to die at our feet, for I see corpses of that kind about
everywhere. It is twelve o'clock. Allow me to go to bed.'
" 'And in two hours' time you will cry to yourself, AH, MON DIEU!'
" 'Like the day before yesterday! Yes,' she said, 'I was thinking
of my stockbroker; I had forgotten to tell him to convert my five per
cent stock into threes, and the three per cents had fallen during the
"I looked at her, and my eyes glittered with anger. Sometimes a
crime may be a whole romance; I understood that just then. She was so
accustomed, no doubt, to the most impassioned declarations of this
kind, that my words and my tears were forgotten already.
" 'Would you marry a peer of France?' I demanded abruptly.
" 'If he were a duke, I might.'
"I seized my hat and made her a bow.
" 'Permit me to accompany you to the door,' she said, cutting irony
in her tones, in the poise of her head, and in her gesture.
" 'I shall never see you again.'
" 'I hope not,' and she insolently inclined her head.
" 'You wish to be a duchess?' I cried, excited by a sort of madness
that her insolence roused in me. 'You are wild for honors and titles?
Well, only let me love you; bid my pen write and my voice speak for
you alone; be the inmost soul of my life, my guiding star! Then, only
accept me for your husband as a minister, a peer of France, a duke. I
will make of myself whatever you would have me be!'
" 'You made good use of the time you spent with the advocate,' she
said smiling. 'There is a fervency about your pleadings.'
" 'The present is yours,' I cried, 'but the future is mine! I only
lose a woman; you are losing a name and a family. Time is big with my
revenge; time will spoil your beauty, and yours will be a solitary
death; and glory waits for me!'
" 'Thanks for your peroration!' she said, repressing a yawn; the
wish that she might never see me again was expressed in her whole
"That remark silenced me. I flung at her a glance full of hatred,
and hurried away.
"Foedora must be forgotten; I must cure myself of my infatuation,
and betake myself once more to my lonely studies, or die. So I set
myself tremendous tasks; I determined to complete my labors. For
fifteen days I never left my garret, spending whole nights in pallid
thought. I worked with difficulty, and by fits and starts, despite my
courage and the stimulation of despair. The music had fled. I could
not exorcise the brilliant mocking image of Foedora. Something morbid
brooded over every thought, a vague longing as dreadful as remorse. I
imitated the anchorites of the Thebaid. If I did not pray as they did,
I lived a life in the desert like theirs, hewing out my ideas as they
were wont to hew their rocks. I could at need have girdled my waist
with spikes, that physical suffering might quell mental anguish.
"One evening Pauline found her way into my room.
" 'You are killing yourself,' she said imploringly; 'you should go
out and see your friends——'
" 'Pauline, you were a true prophet; Foedora is killing me, I want
to die. My life is intolerable.'
" 'Is there only one woman in the world?' she asked, smiling. 'Why
make yourself so miserable in so short a life?'
"I looked at Pauline in bewilderment. She left me before I noticed
her departure; the sound of her words had reached me, but not their
sense. Very soon I had to take my Memoirs in manuscript to my
literary- contractor. I was so absorbed by my passion, that I could
not remember how I had managed to live without money; I only knew that
the four hundred and fifty francs due to me would pay my debts. So I
went to receive my salary, and met Rastignac, who thought me changed
" 'What hospital have you been discharged from?' he asked.
" 'That woman is killing me,' I answered; 'I can neither despise
her nor forget her.'
" 'You had much better kill her, then perhaps you would think no
more of her,' he said, laughing.
" 'I have often thought of it,' I replied; 'but though sometimes
the thought of a crime revives my spirits, of violence and murder,
either or both, I am really incapable of carrying out the design. The
countess is an admirable monster who would crave for pardon, and not
every man is an Othello.'
" 'She is like every woman who is beyond our reach,' Rastignac
" 'I am mad,' I cried; 'I can feel the madness raging at times in
my brain. My ideas are like shadows; they flit before me, and I cannot
grasp them. Death would be preferable to this life, and I have
carefully considered the best way of putting an end to the struggle. I
am not thinking of the living Foedora in the Faubourg Saint Honore,
but of my Foedora here,' and I tapped my forehead. 'What to you say to
" 'Pshaw! horrid agonies,' said Rastignac.
" 'Or charcoal fumes?'
" 'A low dodge.'
" 'Or the Seine?'
" 'The drag-nets, and the Morgue too, are filthy.'
" 'A pistol-shot?'
" 'And if you miscalculate, you disfigure yourself for life. Listen
to me,' he went on, 'like all young men, I have pondered over suicide.
Which of us hasn't killed himself two or three times before he is
thirty? I find there is no better course than to use existence as a
means of pleasure. Go in for thorough dissipation, and your passion or
you will perish in it. Intemperance, my dear fellow, commands all
forms of death. Does she not wield the thunderbolt of apoplexy?
Apoplexy is a pistol-shot that does not miscalculate. Orgies are
lavish in all physical pleasures; is not that the small change for
opium? And the riot that makes us drink to excess bears a challenge to
mortal combat with wine. That butt of Malmsey of the Duke of
Clarence's must have had a pleasanter flavor than Seine mud. When we
sink gloriously under the table, is not that a periodical death by
drowning on a small scale? If we are picked up by the police and
stretched out on those chilly benches of theirs at the police-station,
do we not enjoy all the pleasures of the Morgue? For though we are not
blue and green, muddy and swollen corpses, on the other hand we have
the consciousness of the climax.
" 'Ah,' he went on, 'this protracted suicide has nothing in common
with the bankrupt grocer's demise. Tradespeople have brought the river
into disrepute; they fling themselves in to soften their creditors'
hearts. In your place I should endeavor to die gracefully; and if you
wish to invent a novel way of doing it, by struggling with life after
this manner, I will be your second. I am disappointed and sick of
everything. The Alsacienne, whom it was proposed that I should marry,
had six toes on her left foot; I cannot possibly live with a woman who
has six toes! It would get about to a certainty, and then I should be
ridiculous. Her income was only eighteen thousand francs; her fortune
diminished in quantity as her toes increased. The devil take it; if we
begin an outrageous sort of life, we may come on some bit of luck,
"Rastignac's eloquence carried me away. The attractions of the plan
shone too temptingly, hopes were kindled, the poetical aspects of the
matter appealed to a poet.
" 'How about money?' I said.
" 'Haven't you four hundred and fifty francs?'
" 'Yes, but debts to my landlady and the tailor——'
" 'You would pay your tailor? You will never be anything whatever,
not so much as a minister.'
" 'But what can one do with twenty louis?'
" 'Go to the gaming-table.'
" 'You are going to launch out into what I call systematic
dissipation,' said he, noticing my scruples, 'and yet you are afraid
of a green table-cloth.'
" 'Listen to me,' I answered. 'I promised my father never to set
foot in a gaming-house. Not only is that a sacred promise, but I still
feel an unconquerable disgust whenever I pass a gambling-hell; take
the money and go without me. While our fortune is at stake, I will set
my own affairs straight, and then I will go to your lodgings and wait
"That was the way I went to perdition. A young man has only to come
across a woman who will not love him, or a woman who loves him too
well, and his whole life becomes a chaos. Prosperity swallows up our
energy just as adversity obscures our virtues. Back once more in my
Hotel de Saint-Quentin, I gazed about me a long while in the garret
where I had led my scholar's temperate life, a life which would
perhaps have been a long and honorable one, and that I ought not to
have quitted for the fevered existence which had urged me to the brink
of a precipice. Pauline surprised me in this dejected attitude.
" 'Why, what is the matter with you?' she asked.
"I rose and quietly counted out the money owing to her mother, and
added to it sufficient to pay for six months' rent in advance. She
watched me in some alarm.
" 'I am going to leave you, dear Pauline.'
" 'I knew it!' she exclaimed.
" 'Listen, my child. I have not given up the idea of coming back.
Keep my room for me for six months. If I do not return by the
fifteenth of November, you will come into possession of my things.
This sealed packet of manuscript is the fair copy of my great work on
"The Will," ' I went on, pointing to a package. 'Will you deposit it
in the King's Library? And you may do as you wish with everything that
is left here.'
"Her look weighed heavily on my heart; Pauline was an embodiment of
conscience there before me.
" 'I shall have no more lessons,' she said, pointing to the piano.
"I did not answer that.
" 'Will you write to me?'
" 'Good-bye, Pauline.'
"I gently drew her towards me, and set a kiss on that innocent fair
brow of hers, like snow that has not yet touched the earth—a father's
or a brother's kiss. She fled. I would not see Madame Gaudin, hung my
key in its wonted place, and departed. I was almost at the end of the
Rue de Cluny when I heard a woman's light footstep behind me.
" 'I have embroidered this purse for you,' Pauline said; 'will you
refuse even that?'
"By the light of the street lamp I thought I saw tears in Pauline's
eyes, and I groaned. Moved perhaps by a common impulse, we parted in
haste like people who fear the contagion of the plague.
"As I waited with dignified calmness for Rastignac's return, his
room seemed a grotesque interpretation of the sort of life I was about
to enter upon. The clock on the chimney-piece was surmounted by a
Venus resting on her tortoise; a half-smoked cigar lay in her arms.
Costly furniture of various kinds—love tokens, very likely—was
scattered about. Old shoes lay on a luxurious sofa. The comfortable
armchair into which I had thrown myself bore as many scars as a
veteran; the arms were gnashed, the back was overlaid with a thick,
stale deposit of pomade and hair-oil from the heads of all his
visitors. Splendor and squalor were oddly mingled, on the walls, the
bed, and everywhere. You might have thought of a Neapolitan palace and
the groups of lazzaroni about it. It was the room of a gambler or a
mauvais sujet, where the luxury exists for one individual, who leads
the life of the senses and does not trouble himself over
"There was a certain imaginative element about the picture it
presented. Life was suddenly revealed there in its rags and spangles
as the incomplete thing it really is, of course, but so vividly and
picturesquely; it was like a den where a brigand has heaped up all the
plunder in which he delights. Some pages were missing from a copy of
Byron's poems: they had gone to light a fire of a few sticks for this
young person, who played for stakes of a thousand francs, and had not
a faggot; he kept a tilbury, and had not a whole shirt to his back.
Any day a countess or an actress or a run of luck at ecarte might set
him up with an outfit worthy of a king. A candle had been stuck into
the green bronze sheath of a vestaholder; a woman's portrait lay
yonder, torn out of its carved gold setting. How was it possible that
a young man, whose nature craved excitement, could renounce a life so
attractive by reason of its contradictions; a life that afforded all
the delights of war in the midst of peace? I was growing drowsy when
Rastignac kicked the door open and shouted:
" 'Victory! Now we can take our time about dying.'
"He held out his hat filled with gold to me, and put it down on the
table; then we pranced round it like a pair of cannibals about to eat
a victim; we stamped, and danced, and yelled, and sang; we gave each
other blows fit to kill an elephant, at sight of all the pleasures of
the world contained in that hat.
" 'Twenty-seven thousand francs,' said Rastignac, adding a few
bank- notes to the pile of gold. 'That would be enough for other folk
to live upon; will it be sufficient for us to die on? Yes! we will
breathe our last in a bath of gold—hurrah!' and we capered afresh.
"We divided the windfall. We began with double-napoleons, and came
down to the smaller coins, one by one. 'This for you, this for me,' we
kept saying, distilling our joy drop by drop.
" 'We won't go to sleep,' cried Rastignac. 'Joseph! some punch!'
"He threw gold to his faithful attendant.
" 'There is your share,' he said; 'go and bury yourself if you
"Next day I went to Lesage and chose my furniture, took the rooms
that you know in the Rue Taitbout, and left the decoration to one of
the best upholsterers. I bought horses. I plunged into a vortex of
pleasures, at once hollow and real. I went in for play, gaining and
losing enormous sums, but only at friends' houses and in ballrooms;
never in gaming-houses, for which I still retained the holy horror of
my early days. Without meaning it, I made some friends, either through
quarrels or owing to the easy confidence established among those who
are going to the bad together; nothing, possibly, makes us cling to
one another so tightly as our evil propensities.
"I made several ventures in literature, which were flatteringly
received. Great men who followed the profession of letters, having
nothing to fear from me, belauded me, not so much on account of my
merits as to cast a slur on those of their rivals.
"I became a 'free-liver,' to make use of the picturesque expression
appropriated by the language of excess. I made it a point of honor not
to be long about dying, and that my zeal and prowess should eclipse
those displayed by all others in the jolliest company. I was always
spruce and carefully dressed. I had some reputation for cleverness.
There was no sign about me of the fearful way of living which makes a
man into a mere disgusting apparatus, a funnel, a pampered beast.
"Very soon Debauch rose before me in all the majesty of its horror,
and I grasped all that it meant. Those prudent, steady-going
characters who are laying down wine in bottles for their heirs, can
barely conceive, it is true, of so wide a theory of life, nor
appreciate its normal condition; but when will you instill poetry into
the provincial intellect? Opium and tea, with all their delights, are
merely drugs to folk of that calibre.
"Is not the imperfect sybarite to be met with even in Paris itself,
that intellectual metropolis? Unfit to endure the fatigues of
pleasure, this sort of person, after a drinking bout, is very much
like those worthy bourgeois who fall foul of music after hearing a new
opera by Rossini. Does he not renounce these courses in the same frame
of mind that leads an abstemious man to forswear Ruffec pates, because
the first one, forsooth, gave him the indigestion?
"Debauch is as surely an art as poetry, and is not for craven
spirits. To penetrate its mysteries and appreciate its charms,
conscientious application is required; and as with every path of
knowledge, the way is thorny and forbidding at the outset. The great
pleasures of humanity are hedged about with formidable obstacles; not
its single enjoyments, but enjoyment as a system, a system which
establishes seldom experienced sensations and makes them habitual,
which concentrates and multiplies them for us, creating a dramatic
life within our life, and imperatively demanding a prompt and enormous
expenditure of vitality. War, Power, Art, like Debauch, are all forms
of demoralization, equally remote from the faculties of humanity,
equally profound, and all are alike difficult of access. But when man
has once stormed the heights of these grand mysteries, does he not
walk in another world? Are not generals, ministers, and artists
carried, more or less, towards destruction by the need of violent
distractions in an existence so remote from ordinary life as theirs?
"War, after all, is the Excess of bloodshed, as the Excess of self-
interest produces Politics. Excesses of every sort are brothers. These
social enormities possess the attraction of the abyss; they draw
towards themselves as St. Helena beckoned Napoleon; we are fascinated,
our heads swim, we wish to sound their depths though we cannot account
for the wish. Perhaps the thought of Infinity dwells in these
precipices, perhaps they contain some colossal flattery for the soul
of man; for is he not, then, wholly absorbed in himself?
"The wearied artist needs a complete contrast to his paradise of
imaginings and of studious hours; he either craves, like God, the
seventh day of rest, or with Satan, the pleasures of hell; so that his
senses may have free play in opposition to the employment of his
faculties. Byron could never have taken for his relaxation to the
independent gentleman's delights of boston and gossip, for he was a
poet, and so must needs pit Greece against Mahmoud.
"In war, is not man an angel of extirpation, a sort of executioner
on a gigantic scale? Must not the spell be strong indeed that makes us
undergo such horrid sufferings so hostile to our weak frames,
sufferings that encircle every strong passion with a hedge of thorns?
The tobacco smoker is seized with convulsions, and goes through a kind
of agony consequent upon his excesses; but has he not borne a part in
delightful festivals in realms unknown? Has Europe ever ceased from
wars? She has never given herself time to wipe the stains from her
feet that are steeped in blood to the ankle. Mankind at large is
carried away by fits of intoxication, as nature has its accessions of
"For men in private life, for a vegetating Mirabeau dreaming of
storms in a time of calm, Excess comprises all things; it perpetually
embraces the whole sum of life; it is something better still—it is a
duel with an antagonist of unknown power, a monster, terrible at first
sight, that must be seized by the horns, a labor that cannot be
"Suppose that nature has endowed you with a feeble stomach or one
of limited capacity; you acquire a mastery over it and improve it; you
learn to carry your liquor; you grow accustomed to being drunk; you
pass whole nights without sleep; at last you acquire the constitution
of a colonel of cuirassiers; and in this way you create yourself
afresh, as if to fly in the face of Providence.
"A man transformed after this sort is like a neophyte who has at
last become a veteran, has accustomed his mind to shot and shell and
his legs to lengthy marches. When the monster's hold on him is still
uncertain, and it is not yet known which will have the better of it,
they roll over and over, alternately victor and vanquished, in a world
where everything is wonderful, where every ache of the soul is laid to
sleep, where only the shadows of ideas are revived.
"This furious struggle has already become a necessity for us. The
prodigal has struck a bargain for all the enjoyments with which life
teems abundantly, at the price of his own death, like the mythical
persons in legends who sold themselves to the devil for the power of
doing evil. For them, instead of flowing quietly on in its monotonous
course in the depths of some counting-house or study, life is poured
out in a boiling torrent.
"Excess is, in short, for the body what the mystic's ecstasy is for
the soul. Intoxication steeps you in fantastic imaginings every whit
as strange as those of ecstatics. You know hours as full of rapture as
a young girl's dreams; you travel without fatigue; you chat pleasantly
with your friends; words come to you with a whole life in each, and
fresh pleasures without regrets; poems are set forth for you in a few
brief phrases. The coarse animal satisfaction, in which science has
tried to find a soul, is followed by the enchanted drowsiness that men
sigh for under the burden of consciousness. Is it not because they all
feel the need of absolute repose? Because Excess is a sort of toll
that genius pays to pain?
"Look at all great men; nature made them pleasure-loving or base,
every one. Some mocking or jealous power corrupted them in either soul
or body, so as to make all their powers futile, and their efforts of
"All men and all things appear before you in the guise you choose,
in those hours when wine has sway. You are lord of all creation; you
transform it at your pleasure. And throughout this unceasing delirium,
Play may pour, at your will, its molten lead into your veins.
"Some day you will fall into the monster's power. Then you will
have, as I had, a frenzied awakening, with impotence sitting by your
pillow. Are you an old soldier? Phthisis attacks you. A diplomatist?
An aneurism hangs death in your heart by a thread. It will perhaps be
consumption that will cry out to me, 'Let us be going!' as to Raphael
of Urbino, in old time, killed by an excess of love.
"In this way I have existed. I was launched into the world too
early or too late. My energy would have been dangerous there, no
doubt, if I had not have squandered it in such ways as these. Was not
the world rid of an Alexander, by the cup of Hercules, at the close of
a drinking bout?
"There are some, the sport of Destiny, who must either have heaven
or hell, the hospice of St. Bernard or riotous excess. Only just now I
lacked the heart to moralize about those two," and he pointed to
Euphrasia and Aquilina. "They are types of my own personal history,
images of my life! I could scarcely reproach them; they stood before
me like judges.
"In the midst of this drama that I was enacting, and while my
distracting disorder was at its height, two crises supervened; each
brought me keen and abundant pangs. The first came a few days after I
had flung myself, like Sardanapalus, on my pyre. I met Foedora under
the peristyle of the Bouffons. We both were waiting for our carriages.
" 'Ah! so you are living yet?'
"That was the meaning of her smile, and probably of the spiteful
words she murmured in the ear of her cicisbeo, telling him my history
no doubt, rating mine as a common love affair. She was deceived, yet
she was applauding her perspicacity. Oh, that I should be dying for
her, must still adore her, always see her through my potations, see
her still when I was overcome with wine, or in the arms of courtesans;
and know that I was a target for her scornful jests! Oh, that I should
be unable to tear the love of her out of my breast and to fling it at
"Well, I quickly exhausted my funds, but owing to those three years
of discipline, I enjoyed the most robust health, and on the day that I
found myself without a penny I felt remarkably well. In order to carry
on the process of dying, I signed bills at short dates, and the day
came when they must be met. Painful excitements! but how they quicken
the pulses of youth! I was not prematurely aged; I was young yet, and
full of vigor and life.
"At my first debt all my virtues came to life; slowly and
despairingly they seemed to pace towards me; but I could compound with
them—they were like aged aunts that begin with a scolding and end by
bestowing tears and money upon you.
"Imagination was less yielding; I saw my name bandied about through
every city in Europe. 'One's name is oneself' says Eusebe Salverte.
After these excursions I returned to the room I had never quitted,
like a doppelganger in a German tale, and came to myself with a start.
"I used to see with indifference a banker's messenger going on his
errands through the streets of Paris, like a commercial Nemesis,
wearing his master's livery—a gray coat and a silver badge; but now I
hated the species in advance. One of them came one morning to ask me
to meet some eleven bills that I had scrawled my name upon. My
signature was worth three thousand francs! Taking me altogether, I
myself was not worth that amount. Sheriff's deputies rose up before
me, turning their callous faces upon my despair, as the hangman
regards the criminal to whom he says, 'It has just struck half-past
three.' I was in the power of their clerks; they could scribble my
name, drag it through the mire, and jeer at it. I was a defaulter. Has
a debtor any right to himself? Could not other men call me to account
for my way of living? Why had I eaten puddings a la chipolata? Why had
I iced my wine? Why had I slept, or walked, or thought, or amused
myself when I had not paid them?
"At any moment, in the middle of a poem, during some train of
thought, or while I was gaily breakfasting in the pleasant company of
my friends, I might look to see a gentleman enter in a coat of
chestnut- brown, with a shabby hat in his hand. This gentleman's
appearance would signify my debt, the bill I had drawn; the spectre
would compel me to leave the table to speak to him, blight my spirits,
despoil me of my cheerfulness, of my mistress, of all I possessed,
down to my very bedstead.
"Remorse itself is more easily endured. Remorse does not drive us
into the street nor into the prison of Sainte-Pelagie; it does not
force us into the detestable sink of vice. Remorse only brings us to
the scaffold, where the executioner invests us with a certain dignity;
as we pay the extreme penalty, everybody believes in our innocence;
but people will not credit a penniless prodigal with a single virtue.
"My debts had other incarnations. There is the kind that goes about
on two feet, in a green cloth coat, and blue spectacles, carrying
umbrellas of various hues; you come face to face with him at the
corner of some street, in the midst of your mirth. These have the
detestable prerogative of saying, 'M. de Valentin owes me something,
and does not pay. I have a hold on him. He had better not show me any
offensive airs!' You must bow to your creditors, and moreover bow
politely. 'When are you going to pay me?' say they. And you must lie,
and beg money of another man, and cringe to a fool seated on his
strong-box, and receive sour looks in return from these horse-leeches;
a blow would be less hateful; you must put up with their crass
ignorance and calculating morality. A debt is a feat of the
imaginative that they cannot appreciate. A borrower is often carried
away and over-mastered by generous impulses; nothing great, nothing
magnanimous can move or dominate those who live for money, and
recognize nothing but money. I myself held money in abhorrence.
"Or a bill may undergo a final transformation into some meritorious
old man with a family dependent upon him. My creditor might be a
living picture for Greuze, a paralytic with his children round him, a
soldier's widow, holding out beseeching hands to me. Terrible
creditors are these with whom we are forced to sympathize, and when
their claims are satisfied we owe them a further debt of assistance.
"The night before the bills fell due, I lay down with the false
calm of those who sleep before their approaching execution, or with a
duel in prospect, rocked as they are by delusive hopes. But when I
woke, when I was cool and collected, when I found myself imprisoned in
a banker's portfolio, and floundering in statements covered with red
ink —then my debts sprang up everywhere, like grasshoppers, before my
eyes. There were my debts, my clock, my armchairs; my debts were
inlaid in the very furniture which I liked best to use. These gentle
inanimate slaves were to fall prey to the harpies of the Chatelet,
were to be carried off by the broker's men, and brutally thrown on the
market. Ah, my property was a part of myself!
"The sound of the door-bell rang through my heart; while it seemed
to strike at me, where kings should be struck at—in the head. Mine
was a martyrdom, without heaven for its reward. For a magnanimous
nature, debt is a hell, and a hell, moreover, with sheriff's officers
and brokers in it. An undischarged debt is something mean and sordid;
it is a beginning of knavery; it is something worse, it is a lie; it
prepares the way for crime, and brings together the planks for the
scaffold. My bills were protested. Three days afterwards I met them,
and this is how it happened.
"A speculator came, offering to buy the island in the Loire
belonging to me, where my mother lay buried. I closed with him. When I
went to his solicitor to sign the deeds, I felt a cavern-like chill in
the dark office that made me shudder; it was the same cold dampness
that had laid hold upon me at the brink of my father's grave. I looked
upon this as an evil omen. I seemed to see the shade of my mother, and
to hear her voice. What power was it that made my own name ring
vaguely in my ears, in spite of the clamor of bells?
"The money paid down for my island, when all my debts were
discharged, left me in possession of two thousand francs. I could now
have returned to the scholar's tranquil life, it is true; I could have
gone back to my garret after having gained an experience of life, with
my head filled with the results of extensive observation, and with a
certain sort of reputation attaching to me. But Foedora's hold upon
her victim was not relaxed. We often met. I compelled her admirers to
sound my name in her ears, by dint of astonishing them with my
cleverness and success, with my horses and equipages. It all found her
impassive and uninterested; so did an ugly phrase of Rastignac's, 'He
is killing himself for you.'
"I charged the world at large with my revenge, but I was not happy.
While I was fathoming the miry depths of life, I only recognized the
more keenly at all times the happiness of reciprocal affection; it was
a shadow that I followed through all that befell me in my
extravagance, and in my wildest moments. It was my misfortune to be
deceived in my fairest beliefs, to be punished by ingratitude for
benefiting others, and to receive uncounted pleasures as the reward of
my errors—a sinister doctrine, but a true one for the prodigal!
"The contagious leprosy of Foedora's vanity had taken hold of me at
last. I probed my soul, and found it cankered and rotten. I bore the
marks of the devil's claw upon my forehead. It was impossible to me
thenceforward to do without the incessant agitation of a life fraught
with danger at every moment, or to dispense with the execrable
refinements of luxury. If I had possessed millions, I should still
have gambled, reveled, and racketed about. I wished never to be alone
with myself, and I must have false friends and courtesans, wine and
good cheer to distract me. The ties that attach a man to family life
had been permanently broken for me. I had become a galley-slave of
pleasure, and must accomplish my destiny of suicide. During the last
days of my prosperity, I spent every night in the most incredible
excesses; but every morning death cast me back upon life again. I
would have taken a conflagration with as little concern as any man
with a life annuity. However, I at last found myself alone with a
twenty-franc piece; I bethought me then of Rastignac's luck——
"Eh, eh!——" Raphael exclaimed, interrupting himself, as he
remembered the talisman and drew it from his pocket. Perhaps he was
wearied by the long day's strain, and had no more strength left
wherewith to pilot his head through the seas of wine and punch; or
perhaps, exasperated by this symbol of his own existence, the torrent
of his own eloquence gradually overwhelmed him. Raphael became excited
and elated and like one completely deprived of reason.
"The devil take death!" he shouted, brandishing the skin; "I mean
to live! I am rich, I have every virtue; nothing will withstand me.
Who would not be generous, when everything is in his power? Aha! Aha!
I wished for two hundred thousand livres a year, and I shall have
them. Bow down before me, all of you, wallowing on the carpets like
swine in the mire! You all belong to me—a precious property truly! I
am rich; I could buy you all, even the deputy snoring over there. Scum
of society, give me your benediction! I am the Pope."
Raphael's vociferations had been hitherto drowned by a
thorough-bass of snores, but now they became suddenly audible. Most of
the sleepers started up with a cry, saw the cause of the disturbance
on his feet, tottering uncertainly, and cursed him in concert for a
"Silence!" shouted Raphael. "Back to your kennels, you dogs! Emile,
I have riches, I will give you Havana cigars!"
"I am listening," the poet replied. "Death or Foedora! On with you!
That silky Foedora deceived you. Women are all daughters of Eve. There
is nothing dramatic about that rigmarole of yours."
"Ah, but you were sleeping, slyboots."
"No—'Death or Foedora!'—I have it!"
"Wake up!" Raphael shouted, beating Emile with the piece of
shagreen as if he meant to draw electric fluid out of it.
"TONNERRE!" said Emile, springing up and flinging his arms round
Raphael; "my friend, remember the sort of women you are with."
"I am a millionaire!"
"If you are not a millionaire, you are most certainly drunk."
"Drunk with power. I can kill you!—Silence! I am Nero! I am
"But, Raphael, we are in queer company, and you ought to keep quiet
for the sake of your own dignity."
"My life has been silent too long. I mean to have my revenge now on
the world at large. I will not amuse myself by squandering paltry
five-franc pieces; I will reproduce and sum up my epoch by absorbing
human lives, human minds, and human souls. There are the treasures of
pestilence—that is no paltry kind of wealth, is it? I will wrestle
with fevers—yellow, blue, or green—with whole armies, with gibbets.
I can possess Foedora—Yet no, I do not want Foedora; she is a
disease; I am dying of Foedora. I want to forget Foedora."
"If you keep on calling out like this, I shall take you into the
"Do you see this skin? It is Solomon's will. Solomon belongs to
me—a little varlet of a king! Arabia is mine, Arabia Petraea to boot;
and the universe, and you too, if I choose. If I choose— Ah! be
careful. I can buy up all our journalist's shop; you shall be my
valet. You shall be my valet, you shall manage my newspaper. Valet!
VALET, that is to say, free from aches and pains, because he has no
At the word, Emile carried Raphael off into the dining-room.
"All right," he remarked; "yes, my friend, I am your valet. But you
are about to be editor-in-chief of a newspaper; so be quiet, and
behave properly, for my sake. Have you no regard for me?"
"Regard for you! You shall have Havana cigars, with this bit of
shagreen: always with this skin, this supreme bit of shagreen. It is a
cure for corns, and efficacious remedy. Do you suffer? I will remove
"Never have I known you so senseless——"
"Senseless, my friend? Not at all. This skin contracts whenever I
form a wish—'tis a paradox. There is a Brahmin underneath it! The
Brahmin must be a droll fellow, for our desires, look you, are bound
"I tell you——"
"Yes, yes, very true, I am quite of your opinion—our desires
"The skin, I tell you."
"You don't believe me. I know you, my friend; you are as full of
lies as a new-made king."
"How can you expect me to follow your drunken maunderings?"
"I will bet you I can prove it. Let us measure it——"
"Goodness! he will never get off to sleep," exclaimed Emile, as he
watched Raphael rummaging busily in the dining-room.
Thanks to the peculiar clearness with which external objects are
sometimes projected on an inebriated brain, in sharp contrast to its
own obscure imaginings, Valentin found an inkstand and a table-napkin,
with the quickness of a monkey, repeating all the time:
"Let us measure it! Let us measure it!"
"All right," said Emile; "let us measure it!"
The two friends spread out the table-napkin and laid the Magic Skin
upon it. As Emile's hand appeared to be steadier than Raphael's, he
drew a line with pen and ink round the talisman, while his friend
"I wished for an income of two hundred thousand livres, didn't I?
Well, when that comes, you will observe a mighty diminution of my
"Yes—now go to sleep. Shall I make you comfortable on that sofa?
Now then, are you all right?"
"Yes, my nursling of the press. You shall amuse me; you shall drive
the flies away from me. The friend of adversity should be the friend
of prosperity. So I will give you some Hava—na—cig——"
"Come, now, sleep. Sleep off your gold, you millionaire!"
"You! sleep off your paragraphs! Good-night! Say good-night to
Nebuchadnezzar!—Love! Wine! France!—glory and tr—treas——"
Very soon the snorings of the two friends were added to the music
with which the rooms resounded—an ineffectual concert! The lights
went out one by one, their crystal sconces cracking in the final
flare. Night threw dark shadows over this prolonged revelry, in which
Raphael's narrative had been a second orgy of speech, of words without
ideas, of ideas for which words had often been lacking.
Towards noon, next day, the fair Aquilina bestirred herself. She
yawned wearily. She had slept with her head upon a painted velvet
footstool, and her cheeks were mottled over by contact with the
surface. Her movement awoke Euphrasia, who suddenly sprang up with a
hoarse cry; her pretty face, that had been so fresh and fair in the
evening, was sallow now and pallid; she looked like a candidate for
the hospital. The rest awoke also by degrees, with portentous
groanings, to feel themselves over in every stiffened limb, and to
experience the infinite varieties of weariness that weighed upon them.
A servant came in to throw back the shutters and open the windows.
There they all stood, brought back to consciousness by the warm rays
of sunlight that shone upon the sleepers' heads. Their movements
during slumber had disordered the elaborately arranged hair and
toilettes of the women. They presented a ghastly spectacle in the
bright daylight. Their hair fell ungracefully about them; their eyes,
lately so brilliant, were heavy and dim; the expression of their faces
was entirely changed. The sickly hues, which daylight brings out so
strongly, were frightful. An olive tint had crept over the lymphatic
faces, so fair and soft when in repose; the dainty red lips were grown
pale and dry, and bore tokens of the degradation of excess. Each
disowned his mistress of the night before; the women looked wan and
discolored, like flowers trampled under foot by a passing procession.
The men who scorned them looked even more horrible. Those human
faces would have made you shudder. The hollow eyes with the dark
circles round them seemed to see nothing; they were dull with wine and
stupefied with heavy slumbers that had been exhausting rather than
refreshing. There was an indescribable ferocious and stolid bestiality
about these haggard faces, where bare physical appetite appeared shorn
of all the poetical illusion with which the intellect invests it. Even
these fearless champions, accustomed to measure themselves with
excess, were struck with horror at this awakening of vice, stripped of
its disguises, at being confronted thus with sin, the skeleton in
rags, lifeless and hollow, bereft of the sophistries of the intellect
and the enchantments of luxury. Artists and courtesans scrutinized in
silence and with haggard glances the surrounding disorder, the rooms
where everything had been laid waste, at the havoc wrought by heated
Demoniac laughter broke out when Taillefer, catching the smothered
murmurs of his guests, tried to greet them with a grin. His darkly
flushed, perspiring countenance loomed upon this pandemonium, like the
image of a crime that knows no remorse (see L'Auberge Rouge). The
picture was complete. A picture of a foul life in the midst of luxury,
a hideous mixture of the pomp and squalor of humanity; an awakening
after the frenzy of Debauch has crushed and squeezed all the fruits of
life in her strong hands, till nothing but unsightly refuse is left to
her, and lies in which she believes no longer. You might have thought
of Death gloating over a family stricken with the plague.
The sweet scents and dazzling lights, the mirth and the excitement
were all no more; disgust with its nauseous sensations and searching
philosophy was there instead. The sun shone in like truth, the pure
outer air was like virtue; in contrast with the heated atmosphere,
heavy with the fumes of the previous night of revelry.
Accustomed as they were to their life, many of the girls thought of
other days and other wakings; pure and innocent days when they looked
out and saw the roses and honeysuckle about the casement, and the
fresh countryside without enraptured by the glad music of the skylark;
while earth lay in mists, lighted by the dawn, and in all the
glittering radiance of dew. Others imagined the family breakfast, the
father and children round the table, the innocent laughter, the
unspeakable charm that pervaded it all, the simple hearts and their
meal as simple.
An artist mused upon his quiet studio, on his statue in its severe
beauty, and the graceful model who was waiting for him. A young man
recollected a lawsuit on which the fortunes of a family hung, and an
important transaction that needed his presence. The scholar regretted
his study and that noble work that called for him. Emile appeared just
then as smiling, blooming, and fresh as the smartest assistant in a
"You are all as ugly as bailiffs. You won't be fit for anything
to-day, so this day is lost, and I vote for breakfast."
At this Taillefer went out to give some orders. The women went
languidly up to the mirrors to set their toilettes in order. Each one
shook herself. The wilder sort lectured the steadier ones. The
courtesans made fun of those who looked unable to continue the
boisterous festivity; but these wan forms revived all at once, stood
in groups, and talked and smiled. Some servants quickly and adroitly
set the furniture and everything else in its place, and a magnificent
breakfast was got ready.
The guests hurried into the dining-room. Everything there bore
indelible marks of yesterday's excess, it is true, but there were at
any rate some traces of ordinary, rational existence, such traces as
may be found in a sick man's dying struggles. And so the revelry was
laid away and buried, like carnival of a Shrove Tuesday, by masks
wearied out with dancing, drunk with drunkenness, and quite ready to
be persuaded of the pleasures of lassitude, lest they should be forced
to admit their exhaustion.
As soon as these bold spirits surrounded the capitalist's
breakfast- table, Cardot appeared. He had left the rest to make a
night of it after the dinner, and finished the evening after his own
fashion in the retirement of domestic life. Just now a sweet smile
wandered over his features. He seemed to have a presentiment that
there would be some inheritance to sample and divide, involving
inventories and engrossing; an inheritance rich in fees and deeds to
draw up, and something as juicy as the trembling fillet of beef in
which their host had just plunged his knife.
"Oh, ho! we are to have breakfast in the presence of a notary,"
"You have come here just at the right time," said the banker,
indicating the breakfast; "you can jot down the numbers, and initial
off all the dishes."
"There is no will to make here, but contracts of marriage there may
be, perhaps," said the scholar, who had made a satisfactory
arrangement for the first time in twelve months.
"One moment," cried Cardot, fairly deafened by a chorus of wretched
jokes. "I came here on serious business. I am bringing six millions
for one of you." (Dead silence.) "Monsieur," he went on, turning to
Raphael, who at the moment was unceremoniously wiping his eyes on a
corner of the table-napkin, "was not your mother a Mlle. O'Flaharty?"
"Yes," said Raphael mechanically enough; "Barbara Marie."
"Have you your certificate of birth about you," Cardot went on,
"and Mme. de Valentin's as well?"
"I believe so."
"Very well then, monsieur; you are the sole heir of Major
O'Flaharty, who died in August 1828 at Calcutta."
"An incalcuttable fortune," said the critic.
"The Major having bequeathed several amounts to public institutions
in his will, the French Government sent in a claim for the remainder
to the East India Company," the notary continued. "The estate is clear
and ready to be transferred at this moment. I have been looking in
vain for the heirs and assigns of Mlle. Barbara Marie O'Flaharty for a
fortnight past, when yesterday at dinner——"
Just then Raphael suddenly staggered to his feet; he looked like a
man who has just received a blow. Acclamation took the form of
silence, for stifled envy had been the first feeling in every breast,
and all eyes devoured him like flames. Then a murmur rose, and grew
like the voice of a discontented audience, or the first mutterings of
a riot, as everybody made some comment on this news of great wealth
brought by the notary.
This abrupt subservience of fate brought Raphael thoroughly to his
senses. He immediately spread out the table-napkin with which he had
lately taken the measure of the piece of shagreen. He heeded nothing
as he laid the talisman upon it, and shuddered involuntarily at the
sight of a slight difference between the present size of the skin and
the outline traced upon the linen.
"Why, what is the matter with him?' Taillefer cried. "He comes by
his fortune very cheaply."
"Soutiens-le Chatillon!" said Bixiou to Emile. "The joy will kill
A ghastly white hue overspread every line of the wan features of
the heir-at-law. His face was drawn, every outline grew haggard; the
hollows in his livid countenance grew deeper, and his eyes were fixed
and staring. He was facing Death.
The opulent banker, surrounded by faded women, and faces with
satiety written on them, the enjoyment that had reached the pitch of
agony, was a living illustration of his own life.
Raphael looked thrice at the talisman, which lay passively within
the merciless outlines on the table-napkin; he tried not to believe
it, but his incredulity vanished utterly before the light of an inner
presentiment. The whole world was his; he could have all things, but
the will to possess them was utterly extinct. Like a traveler in the
midst of the desert, with but a little water left to quench his
thirst, he must measure his life by the draughts he took of it. He saw
what every desire of his must cost him in the days of his life. He
believed in the powers of the Magic Skin at last, he listened to every
breath he drew; he felt ill already; he asked himself:
"Am I not consumptive? Did not my mother die of a lung complaint?"
"Aha, Raphael! what fun you will have! What will you give me?"
"Here's to the death of his uncle, Major O'Flaharty! There is a man
"He will be a peer of France."
"Pooh! what is a peer of France since July?" said the amateur
"Are you going to take a box at the Bouffons?"
"You are going to treat us all, I hope?" put in Bixiou.
"A man of his sort will be sure to do things in style," said Emile.
The hurrah set up by the jovial assembly rang in Valentin's ears,
but he could not grasp the sense of a single word. Vague thoughts
crossed him of the Breton peasant's life of mechanical labor, without
a wish of any kind; he pictured him burdened with a family, tilling
the soil, living on buckwheat meal, drinking cider out of a pitcher,
believing in the Virgin and the King, taking the sacrament at Easter,
dancing of a Sunday on the green sward, and understanding never a word
of the rector's sermon. The actual scene that lay before him, the
gilded furniture, the courtesans, the feast itself, and the
surrounding splendors, seemed to catch him by the throat and made him
"Do you wish for some asparagus?" the banker cried.
"I WISH FOR NOTHING!" thundered Raphael.
"Bravo!" Taillefer exclaimed; "you understand your position; a
fortune confers the privilege of being impertinent. You are one of us.
Gentlemen, let us drink to the might of gold! M. Valentin here, six
times a millionaire, has become a power. He is a king, like all the
rich; everything is at his disposal, everything lies under his feet.
From this time forth the axiom that 'all Frenchmen are alike in the
eyes of the law,' is for him a fib at the head of the Constitutional
Charter. He is not going to obey the law—the law is going to obey
him. There are neither scaffolds nor executioners for millionaires."
"Yes, there are," said Raphael; "they are their own executioners."
"Here is another victim of prejudices!" cried the banker.
"Let us drink!" Raphael said, putting the talisman into his pocket.
"What are you doing?" said Emile, checking his movement.
"Gentlemen," he added, addressing the company, who were rather taken
aback by Raphael's behavior, "you must know that our friend Valentin
here—what am I saying?—I mean my Lord Marquis de Valentin—is in the
possession of a secret for obtaining wealth. His wishes are fulfilled
as soon as he knows them. He will make us all rich together, or he is
a flunkey, and devoid of all decent feeling."
"Oh, Raphael dear, I should like a set of pearl ornaments!"
"If he has any gratitude in him, he will give me a couple of
carriages with fast steppers," said Aquilina.
"Wish for a hundred thousand a year for me!"
"Pay my debts!"
"Send an apoplexy to my uncle, the old stick!"
"Ten thousand a year in the funds, and I'll cry quits with you,
"Deeds of gift and no mistake," was the notary's comment.
"He ought, at least, to rid me of the gout!"
"Lower the funds!" shouted the banker.
These phrases flew about like the last discharge of rockets at the
end of a display of fireworks; and were uttered, perhaps, more in
earnest than in jest.
"My good friend," Emile said solemnly, "I shall be quite satisfied
with an income of two hundred thousand livres. Please to set about it
"Do you not know the cost, Emile?" asked Raphael.
"A nice excuse!" the poet cried; "ought we not to sacrifice
ourselves for our friends?"
"I have almost a mind to wish that you all were dead," Valentin
made answer, with a dark, inscrutable look at his boon companions.
"Dying people are frightfully cruel," said Emile, laughing. "You
are rich now," he went on gravely; "very well, I will give you two
months at most before you grow vilely selfish. You are so dense
already that you cannot understand a joke. You have only to go a
little further to believe in your Magic Skin."
Raphael kept silent, fearing the banter of the company; but he
drank immoderately, trying to drown in intoxication the recollection
of his fatal power.
III. THE AGONY
In the early days of December an old man of some seventy years of
age pursued his way along the Rue de Varenne, in spite of the falling
rain. He peered up at the door of each house, trying to discover the
address of the Marquis Raphael de Valentin, in a simple, childlike
fashion, and with the abstracted look peculiar to philosophers. His
face plainly showed traces of a struggle between a heavy mortification
and an authoritative nature; his long, gray hair hung in disorder
about a face like a piece of parchment shriveling in the fire. If a
painter had come upon this curious character, he would, no doubt, have
transferred him to his sketchbook on his return, a thin, bony figure,
clad in black, and have inscribed beneath it: "Classical poet in
search of a rhyme." When he had identified the number that had been
given to him, this reincarnation of Rollin knocked meekly at the door
of a splendid mansion.
"Is Monsieur Raphael in?" the worthy man inquired of the Swiss in
"My Lord the Marquis sees nobody," said the servant, swallowing a
huge morsel that he had just dipped in a large bowl of coffee.
"There is his carriage," said the elderly stranger, pointing to a
fine equipage that stood under the wooden canopy that sheltered the
steps before the house, in place of a striped linen awning. "He is
going out; I will wait for him."
"Then you might wait here till to-morrow morning, old boy," said
the Swiss. "A carriage is always waiting for monsieur. Please to go
away. If I were to let any stranger come into the house without
orders, I should lose an income of six hundred francs."
A tall old man, in a costume not unlike that of a subordinate in
the Civil Service, came out of the vestibule and hurried part of the
way down the steps, while he made a survey of the astonished elderly
applicant for admission.
"What is more, here is M. Jonathan," the Swiss remarked; "speak to
Fellow-feeling of some kind, or curiosity, brought the two old men
together in a central space in the great entrance-court. A few blades
of grass were growing in the crevices of the pavement; a terrible
silence reigned in that great house. The sight of Jonathan's face
would have made you long to understand the mystery that brooded over
it, and that was announced by the smallest trifles about the
When Raphael inherited his uncle's vast estate, his first care had
been to seek out the old and devoted servitor of whose affection he
knew that he was secure. Jonathan had wept tears of joy at the sight
of his young master, of whom he thought he had taken a final farewell;
and when the marquis exalted him to the high office of steward, his
happiness could not be surpassed. So old Jonathan became an
intermediary power between Raphael and the world at large. He was the
absolute disposer of his master's fortune, the blind instrument of an
unknown will, and a sixth sense, as it were, by which the emotions of
life were communicated to Raphael.
"I should like to speak with M. Raphael, sir," said the elderly
person to Jonathan, as he climbed up the steps some way, into a
shelter from the rain.
"To speak with my Lord the Marquis?" the steward cried. "He
scarcely speaks even to me, his foster-father!"
"But I am likewise his foster-father," said the old man. "If your
wife was his foster-mother, I fed him myself with the milk of the
Muses. He is my nursling, my child, carus alumnus! I formed his mind,
cultivated his understanding, developed his genius, and, I venture to
say it, to my own honor and glory. Is he not one of the most
remarkable men of our epoch? He was one of my pupils in two lower
forms, and in rhetoric. I am his professor."
"Ah, sir, then you are M. Porriquet?"
"Exactly, sir, but——"
"Hush! hush!" Jonathan called to two underlings, whose voices broke
the monastic silence that shrouded the house.
"But is the Marquis ill, sir?" the professor continued.
"My dear sir," Jonathan replied, "Heaven only knows what is the
matter with my master. You see, there are not a couple of houses like
ours anywhere in Paris. Do you understand? Not two houses. Faith, that
there are not. My Lord the Marquis had this hotel purchased for him;
it formerly belonged to a duke and a peer of France; then he spent
three hundred thousand francs over furnishing it. That's a good deal,
you know, three hundred thousand francs! But every room in the house
is a perfect wonder. 'Good,' said I to myself when I saw this
magnificence; 'it is just like it used to be in the time of my lord,
his late grandfather; and the young marquis is going to entertain all
Paris and the Court!' Nothing of the kind! My lord refused to see any
one whatever. 'Tis a funny life that he leads, M. Porriquet, you
understand. An inconciliable life. He rises every day at the same
time. I am the only person, you see, that may enter his room. I open
all the shutters at seven o'clock, summer or winter. It is all
arranged very oddly. As I come in I say to him:
" 'You must get up and dress, my Lord Marquis.'
"Then he rises and dresses himself. I have to give him his
dressing- gown, and it is always after the same pattern, and of the
same material. I am obliged to replace it when it can be used no
longer, simply to save him the trouble of asking for a new one. A
queer fancy! As a matter of fact, he has a thousand francs to spend
every day, and he does as he pleases, the dear child. And besides, I
am so fond of him that if he gave me a box on the ear on one side, I
should hold out the other to him! The most difficult things he will
tell me to do, and yet I do them, you know! He gives me a lot of
trifles to attend to, that I am well set to work! He reads the
newspapers, doesn't he? Well, my instructions are to put them always
in the same place, on the same table. I always go at the same hour and
shave him myself; and don't I tremble! The cook would forfeit the
annuity of a thousand crowns that he is to come into after my lord's
death, if breakfast is not served inconciliably at ten o'clock
precisely. The menus are drawn up for the whole year round, day after
day. My Lord the Marquis has not a thing to wish for. He has
strawberries whenever there are any, and he has the earliest mackerel
to be had in Paris. The programme is printed every morning. He knows
his dinner by rote. In the next place, he dresses himself at the same
hour, in the same clothes, the same linen, that I always put on the
same chair, you understand? I have to see that he always has the same
cloth; and if it should happen that his coat came to grief (a mere
supposition), I should have to replace it by another without saying a
word about it to him. If it is fine, I go in and say to my master:
" 'You ought to go out, sir.'
"He says Yes, or No. If he has a notion that he will go out, he
doesn't wait for his horses; they are always ready harnessed; the
coachman stops there inconciliably, whip in hand, just as you see him
out there. In the evening, after dinner, my master goes one day to the
Opera, the other to the Ital——no, he hasn't yet gone to the
Italiens, though, for I could not find a box for him until yesterday.
Then he comes in at eleven o'clock precisely, to go to bed. At any
time in the day when he has nothing to do, he reads—he is always
reading, you see—it is a notion he has. My instructions are to read
the Journal de la Librairie before he sees it, and to buy new books,
so that he finds them on his chimney-piece on the very day that they
are published. I have orders to go into his room every hour or so, to
look after the fire and everything else, and to see that he wants
nothing. He gave me a little book, sir, to learn off by heart, with
all my duties written in it—a regular catechism! In summer I have to
keep a cool and even temperature with blocks of ice and at all seasons
to put fresh flowers all about. He is rich! He has a thousand francs
to spend every day; he can indulge his fancies! And he hadn't even
necessaries for so long, poor child! He doesn't annoy anybody; he is
as good as gold; he never opens his mouth, for instance; the house and
garden are absolutely silent. In short, my master has not a single
wish left; everything comes in the twinkling of an eye, if he raises
his hand, and INSTANTER. Quite right, too. If servants are not looked
after, everything falls into confusion. You would never believe the
lengths he goes about things. His rooms are all—what do you call
it?—er—er—en suite. Very well; just suppose, now, that he opens his
room door or the door of his study; presto! all the other doors fly
open of themselves by a patent contrivance; and then he can go from
one end of the house to the other and not find a single door shut;
which is all very nice and pleasant and convenient for us great folk!
But, on my word, it cost us a lot of money! And, after all, M.
Porriquet, he said to me at last:
" 'Jonathan, you will look after me as if I were a baby in long
clothes,' Yes, sir, 'long clothes!' those were his very words. 'You
will think of all my requirements for me.' I am the master, so to
speak, and he is the servant, you understand? The reason of it? Ah, my
word, that is just what nobody on earth knows but himself and God
Almighty. It is quite inconciliable!"
"He is writing a poem!" exclaimed the old professor.
"You think he is writing a poem, sir? It's a very absorbing affair,
then! But, you know, I don't think he is. He wants to vergetate. Only
yesterday he was looking at a tulip while he was dressing, and he said
" 'There is my own life—I am vergetating, my poor Jonathan.' Now,
some of them insist that that is monomania. It is inconciliable!"
"All this makes it very clear to me, Jonathan," the professor
answered, with a magisterial solemnity that greatly impressed the old
servant, "that your master is absorbed in a great work. He is deep in
vast meditations, and has no wish to be distracted by the petty
preoccupations of ordinary life. A man of genius forgets everything
among his intellectual labors. One day the famous Newton——"
"Newton?—oh, ah! I don't know the name," said Jonathan.
"Newton, a great geometrician," Porriquet went on, "once sat for
twenty-four hours leaning his elbow on the table; when he emerged from
his musings, he was a day out in his reckoning, just as if he had been
sleeping. I will go to see him, dear lad; I may perhaps be of some use
"Not for a moment!" Jonathan cried. "Not though you were King of
France—I mean the real old one. You could not go in unless you forced
the doors open and walked over my body. But I will go and tell him you
are here, M. Porriquet, and I will put it to him like this, 'Ought he
to come up?' And he will say Yes or No. I never say, 'Do you wish?' or
'Will you?' or 'Do you want?' Those words are scratched out of the
dictionary. He let out at me once with a 'Do you want to kill me?' he
was so very angry."
Jonathan left the old schoolmaster in the vestibule, signing to him
to come no further, and soon returned with a favorable answer. He led
the old gentleman through one magnificent room after another, where
every door stood open. At last Porriquet beheld his pupil at some
distance seated beside the fire.
Raphael was reading the paper. He sat in an armchair wrapped in a
dressing-gown with some large pattern on it. The intense melancholy
that preyed upon him could be discerned in his languid posture and
feeble frame; it was depicted on his brow and white face; he looked
like some plant bleached by darkness. There was a kind of effeminate
grace about him; the fancies peculiar to wealthy invalids were also
noticeable. His hands were soft and white, like a pretty woman's; he
wore his fair hair, now grown scanty, curled about his temples with a
refinement of vanity.
The Greek cap that he wore was pulled to one side by the weight of
its tassel; too heavy for the light material of which it was made. He
had let the paper-knife fall at his feet, a malachite blade with gold
mounting, which he had used to cut the leaves of the book. The amber
mouthpiece of a magnificent Indian hookah lay on his knee; the
enameled coils lay like a serpent in the room, but he had forgotten to
draw out its fresh perfume. And yet there was a complete contradiction
between the general feebleness of his young frame and the blue eyes,
where all his vitality seemed to dwell; an extraordinary intelligence
seemed to look out from them and to grasp everything at once.
That expression was painful to see. Some would have read despair in
it, and others some inner conflict terrible as remorse. It was the
inscrutable glance of helplessness that must perforce consign its
desires to the depths of its own heart; or of a miser enjoying in
imagination all the pleasures that his money could procure for him,
while he declines to lessen his hoard; the look of a bound Prometheus,
of the fallen Napoleon of 1815, when he learned at the Elysee the
strategical blunder that his enemies had made, and asked for twenty-
four hours of command in vain; or rather it was the same look that
Raphael had turned upon the Seine, or upon his last piece of gold at
the gaming-table only a few months ago.
He was submitting his intelligence and his will to the homely
common- sense of an old peasant whom fifty years of domestic service
had scarcely civilized. He had given up all the rights of life in
order to live; he had despoiled his soul of all the romance that lies
in a wish; and almost rejoiced at thus becoming a sort of automaton.
The better to struggle with the cruel power that he had challenged, he
had followed Origen's example, and had maimed and chastened his
The day after he had seen the diminution of the Magic Skin, at his
sudden accession of wealth, he happened to be at his notary's house. A
well-known physician had told them quite seriously, at dessert, how a
Swiss attacked by consumption had cured himself. The man had never
spoken a word for ten years, and had compelled himself to draw six
breaths only, every minute, in the close atmosphere of a cow-house,
adhering all the time to a regimen of exceedingly light diet. "I will
be like that man," thought Raphael to himself. He wanted life at any
price, and so he led the life of a machine in the midst of all the
luxury around him.
The old professor confronted this youthful corpse and shuddered;
there seemed something unnatural about the meagre, enfeebled frame. In
the Marquis, with his eager eyes and careworn forehead, he could
hardly recognize the fresh-cheeked and rosy pupil with the active
limbs, whom he remembered. If the worthy classicist, sage critic, and
general preserver of the traditions of correct taste had read Byron,
he would have thought that he had come on a Manfred when he looked to
find Childe Harold.
"Good day, pere Porriquet," said Raphael, pressing the old
schoolmaster's frozen fingers in his own damp ones; "how are you?"
"I am very well," replied the other, alarmed by the touch of that
feverish hand. "But how about you?"
"Oh, I am hoping to keep myself in health."
"You are engaged in some great work, no doubt?"
"No," Raphael answered. "Exegi monumemtum, pere Porriquet; I have
contributed an important page to science, and have now bidden her
farewell for ever. I scarcely know where my manuscript is."
"The style is no doubt correct?" queried the schoolmaster. "You, I
hope, would never have adopted the barbarous language of the new
school, which fancies it has worked such wonders by discovering
"My work treats of physiology pure and simple."
"Oh, then, there is no more to be said," the schoolmaster answered.
"Grammar must yield to the exigencies of discovery. Nevertheless,
young man, a lucid and harmonious style—the diction of Massillon, of
M. de Buffon, of the great Racine—a classical style, in short, can
never spoil anything——But, my friend," the schoolmaster interrupted
himself, "I was forgetting the object of my visit, which concerns my
Too late Raphael recalled to mind the verbose eloquence and elegant
circumlocutions which in a long professorial career had grown habitual
to his old tutor, and almost regretted that he had admitted him; but
just as he was about to wish to see him safely outside, he promptly
suppressed his secret desire with a stealthy glance at the Magic Skin.
It hung there before him, fastened down upon some white material,
surrounded by a red line accurately traced about its prophetic
outlines. Since that fatal carouse, Raphael had stifled every least
whim, and had lived so as not to cause the slightest movement in the
terrible talisman. The Magic Skin was like a tiger with which he must
live without exciting its ferocity. He bore patiently, therefore, with
the old schoolmaster's prolixity.
Porriquet spent an hour in telling him about the persecutions
directed against him ever since the Revolution of July. The worthy
man, having a liking for strong governments, had expressed the
patriotic wish that grocers should be left to their counters,
statesmen to the management of public business, advocates to the
Palais de Justice, and peers of France to the Luxembourg; but one of
the popularity-seeking ministers of the Citizen King had ousted him
from his chair, on an accusation of Carlism, and the old man now found
himself without pension or post, and with no bread to eat. As he
played the part of guardian angel to a poor nephew, for whose
schooling at Saint Sulpice he was paying, he came less on his own
account than for his adopted child's sake, to entreat his former
pupil's interest with the new minister. He did not ask to be
reinstated, but only for a position at the head of some provincial
QRaphael had fallen a victim to unconquerable drowsiness by the
time that the worthy man's monotonous voice ceased to sound in his
ears. Civility had compelled him to look at the pale and unmoving eyes
of the deliberate and tedious old narrator, till he himself had
reached stupefaction, magnetized in an inexplicable way by the power
"Well, my dear pere Porriquet," he said, not very certain what the
question was to which he was replying, "but I can do nothing for you,
nothing at all. I WISH VERY HEARTILY that you may succeed——"
All at once, without seeing the change wrought on the old man's
sallow and wrinkled brow by these conventional phrases, full of
indifference and selfishness, Raphael sprang to his feet like a
startled roebuck. He saw a thin white line between the black piece of
hide and the red tracing about it, and gave a cry so fearful that the
poor professor was frightened by it.
"Old fool! Go!" he cried. "You will be appointed as headmaster!
Couldn't you have asked me for an annuity of a thousand crowns rather
than a murderous wish? Your visit would have cost me nothing. There
are a hundred thousand situations to be had in France, but I have only
one life. A man's life is worth more than all the situations in the
"This is your doing, double-distilled idiot! What made you suggest
that I should see M. Porriquet?" and he pointed to the old man, who
was petrified with fright. "Did I put myself in your hands for you to
tear me in pieces? You have just shortened my life by ten years!
Another blunder of this kind, and you will lay me where I have laid my
father. Would I not far rather have possessed the beautiful Foedora?
And I have obliged that old hulk instead—that rag of humanity! I had
money enough for him. And, moreover, if all the Porriquets in the
world were dying of hunger, what is that to me?"
Raphael's face was white with anger; a slight froth marked his
trembling lips; there was a savage gleam in his eyes. The two elders
shook with terror in his presence like two children at the sight of a
snake. The young man fell back in his armchair, a kind of reaction
took place in him, the tears flowed fast from his angry eyes.
"Oh, my life!" he cried, "that fair life of mine. Never to know a
kindly thought again, to love no more; nothing is left to me!"
He turned to the professor and went on in a gentle voice—"The harm
is done, my old friend. Your services have been well repaid; and my
misfortune has at any rate contributed to the welfare of a good and
His tones betrayed so much feeling that the almost unintelligible
words drew tears from the two old men, such tears as are shed over
some pathetic song in a foreign tongue.
"He is epileptic," muttered Porriquet.
"I understand your kind intentions, my friend," Raphael answered
gently. "You would make excuses for me. Ill-health cannot be helped,
but ingratitude is a grievous fault. Leave me now," he added. "To-
morrow or the next day, or possibly to-night, you will receive your
appointment; Resistance has triumphed over Motion. Farewell."
The old schoolmaster went away, full of keen apprehension as to
Valentin's sanity. A thrill of horror ran through him; there had been
something supernatural, he thought, in the scene he had passed
through. He could hardly believe his own impressions, and questioned
them like one awakened from a painful dream.
"Now attend to me, Jonathan," said the young man to his old
servant. "Try to understand the charge confided to you."
"Yes, my Lord Marquis."
"I am as a man outlawed from humanity."
"Yes, my Lord Marquis."
"All the pleasures of life disport themselves round my bed of
death, and dance about me like fair women; but if I beckon to them, I
must die. Death always confronts me. You must be the barrier between
the world and me."
"Yes, my Lord Marquis," said the old servant, wiping the drops of
perspiration from his wrinkled forehead. "But if you don't wish to see
pretty women, how will you manage at the Italiens this evening? An
English family is returning to London, and I have taken their box for
the rest of the season, and it is in a splendid position—superb; in
the first row.
Raphael, deep in his own deep musings, paid no attention to him.
Do you see that splendid equipage, a brougham painted a dark brown
color, but with the arms of an ancient and noble family shining from
the panels? As it rolls past, all the shop-girls admire it, and look
longingly at the yellow satin lining, the rugs from la Savonnerie, the
daintiness and freshness of every detail, the silken cushions and
tightly-fitting glass windows. Two liveried footmen are mounted behind
this aristocratic carriage; and within, a head lies back among the
silken cushions, the feverish face and hollow eyes of Raphael,
melancholy and sad. Emblem of the doom of wealth! He flies across
Paris like a rocket, and reaches the peristyle of the Theatre Favart.
The passers-by make way for him; the two footmen help him to alight,
an envious crowd looking on the while.
"What has that fellow done to be so rich?" asks a poor law-student,
who cannot listen to the magical music of Rossini for lack of a five-
Raphael walked slowly along the gangway; he expected no enjoyment
from these pleasures he had once coveted so eagerly. In the interval
before the second act of Semiramide he walked up and down in the
lobby, and along the corridors, leaving his box, which he had not yet
entered, to look after itself. The instinct of property was dead
within him already. Like all invalids, he thought of nothing but his
own sufferings. He was leaning against the chimney-piece in the
greenroom. A group had gathered about it of dandies, young and old, of
ministers, of peers without peerages, and peerages without peers, for
so the Revolution of July had ordered matters. Among a host of
adventurers and journalists, in fact, Raphael beheld a strange,
unearthly figure a few paces away among the crowd. He went towards
this grotesque object to see it better, half-closing his eyes with
"What a wonderful bit of painting!" he said to himself. The
stranger's hair and eyebrows and a Mazarin tuft on the chin had been
dyed black, but the result was a spurious, glossy, purple tint that
varied its hues according to the light; the hair had been too white,
no doubt, to take the preparation. Anxiety and cunning were depicted
in the narrow, insignificant face, with its wrinkles incrusted by
thick layers of red and white paint. This red enamel, lacking on some
portions of his face, strongly brought out his natural feebleness and
livid hues. It was impossible not to smile at this visage with the
protuberant forehead and pointed chin, a face not unlike those
grotesque wooden figures that German herdsmen carve in their spare
An attentive observer looking from Raphael to this elderly Adonis
would have remarked a young man's eyes set in a mask of age, in the
case of the Marquis, and in the other case the dim eyes of age peering
forth from behind a mask of youth. Valentin tried to recollect when
and where he had seen this little old man before. He was thin,
fastidiously cravatted, booted and spurred like one-and-twenty; he
crossed his arms and clinked his spurs as if he possessed all the
wanton energy of youth. He seemed to move about without constraint or
difficulty. He had carefully buttoned up his fashionable coat, which
disguised his powerful, elderly frame, and gave him the appearance of
an antiquated coxcomb who still follows the fashions.
For Raphael this animated puppet possessed all the interest of an
apparition. He gazed at it as if it had been some smoke-begrimed
Rembrandt, recently restored and newly framed. This idea found him a
clue to the truth among his confused recollections; he recognized the
dealer in antiquities, the man to whom he owed his calamities!
A noiseless laugh broke just then from the fantastical personage,
straightening the line of his lips that stretched across a row of
artificial teeth. That laugh brought out, for Raphael's heated fancy,
a strong resemblance between the man before him and the type of head
that painters have assigned to Goethe's Mephistopheles. A crowd of
superstitious thoughts entered Raphael's sceptical mind; he was
convinced of the powers of the devil and of all the sorcerer's
enchantments embodied in mediaeval tradition, and since worked up by
poets. Shrinking in horror from the destiny of Faust, he prayed for
the protection of Heaven with all the ardent faith of a dying man in
God and the Virgin. A clear, bright radiance seemed to give him a
glimpse of the heaven of Michael Angelo or of Raphael of Urbino: a
venerable white-bearded man, a beautiful woman seated in an aureole
above the clouds and winged cherub heads. Now he had grasped and
received the meaning of those imaginative, almost human creations;
they seemed to explain what had happened to him, to leave him yet one
But when the greenroom of the Italiens returned upon his sight he
beheld, not the Virgin, but a very handsome young person. The
execrable Euphrasia, in all the splendor of her toilette, with its
orient pearls, had come thither, impatient for her ardent, elderly
admirer. She was insolently exhibiting herself with her defiant face
and glittering eyes to an envious crowd of stockbrokers, a visible
testimony to the inexhaustible wealth that the old dealer permitted
her to squander.
Raphael recollected the mocking wish with which he had accepted the
old man's luckless gift, and tasted all the sweets of revenge when he
beheld the spectacle of sublime wisdom fallen to such a depth as this,
wisdom for which such humiliation had seemed a thing impossible. The
centenarian greeted Euphrasia with a ghastly smile, receiving her
honeyed words in reply. He offered her his emaciated arm, and went
twice or thrice round the greenroom with her; the envious glances and
compliments with which the crowd received his mistress delighted him;
he did not see the scornful smiles, nor hear the caustic comments to
which he gave rise.
"In what cemetery did this young ghoul unearth that corpse of
hers?" asked a dandy of the Romantic faction.
Euphrasia began to smile. The speaker was a slender, fair-haired
youth, with bright blue eyes, and a moustache. His short dress coat,
hat tilted over one ear, and sharp tongue, all denoted the species.
"How many old men," said Raphael to himself, "bring an upright,
virtuous, and hard-working life to a close in folly! His feet are cold
already, and he is making love."
"Well, sir," exclaimed Valentin, stopping the merchant's progress,
while he stared hard at Euphrasia, "have you quite forgotten the
stringent maxims of your philosophy?"
"Ah, I am as happy now as a young man," said the other, in a
cracked voice. "I used to look at existence from a wrong standpoint.
One hour of love has a whole life in it."
The playgoers heard the bell ring, and left the greenroom to take
their places again. Raphael and the old merchant separated. As he
entered his box, the Marquis saw Foedora sitting exactly opposite to
him on the other side of the theatre. The Countess had probably only
just come, for she was just flinging off her scarf to leave her throat
uncovered, and was occupied with going through all the indescribable
manoeuvres of a coquette arranging herself. All eyes were turned upon
her. A young peer of France had come with her; she asked him for the
lorgnette she had given him to carry. Raphael knew the despotism to
which his successor had resigned himself, in her gestures, and in the
way she treated her companion. He was also under the spell no doubt,
another dupe beating with all the might of a real affection against
the woman's cold calculations, enduring all the tortures from which
Valentin had luckily freed himself.
Foedora's face lighted up with indescribable joy. After directing
her lorgnette upon every box in turn, to make a rapid survey of all
the dresses, she was conscious that by her toilette and her beauty she
had eclipsed the loveliest and best-dressed women in Paris. She
laughed to show her white teeth; her head with its wreath of flowers
was never still, in her quest of admiration. Her glances went from one
box to another, as she diverted herself with the awkward way in which
a Russian princess wore her bonnet, or over the utter failure of a
bonnet with which a banker's daughter had disfigured herself.
All at once she met Raphael's steady gaze and turned pale, aghast
at the intolerable contempt in her rejected lover's eyes. Not one of
her exiled suitors had failed to own her power over them; Valentin
alone was proof against her attractions. A power that can be defied
with impunity is drawing to its end. This axiom is as deeply engraved
on the heart of woman as in the minds of kings. In Raphael, therefore,
Foedora saw the deathblow of her influence and her ability to please.
An epigram of his, made at the Opera the day before, was already known
in the salons of Paris. The biting edge of that terrible speech had
already given the Countess an incurable wound. We know how to
cauterize a wound, but we know of no treatment as yet for the stab of
a phrase. As every other woman in the house looked by turns at her and
at the Marquis, Foedora would have consigned them all to the
oubliettes of some Bastille; for in spite of her capacity for
dissimulation, her discomfiture was discerned by her rivals. Her
unfailing consolation had slipped from her at last. The delicious
thought, "I am the most beautiful," the thought that at all times had
soothed every mortification, had turned into a lie.
At the opening of the second act a woman took up her position not
very far from Raphael, in a box that had been empty hitherto. A murmur
of admiration went up from the whole house. In that sea of human faces
there was a movement of every living wave; all eyes were turned upon
the stranger lady. The applause of young and old was so prolonged,
that when the orchestra began, the musicians turned to the audience to
request silence, and then they themselves joined in the plaudits and
swelled the confusion. Excited talk began in every box, every woman
equipped herself with an opera glass, elderly men grew young again,
and polished the glasses of their lorgnettes with their gloves. The
enthusiasm subsided by degrees, the stage echoed with the voices of
the singers, and order reigned as before. The aristocratic section,
ashamed of having yielded to a spontaneous feeling, again assumed
their wonted politely frigid manner. The well-to-do dislike to be
astonished at anything; at the first sight of a beautiful thing it
becomes their duty to discover the defect in it which absolves them
from admiring it,—the feeling of all ordinary minds. Yet a few still
remained motionless and heedless of the music, artlessly absorbed in
the delight of watching Raphael's neighbor.
Valentin noticed Taillefer's mean, obnoxious countenance by
Aquilina's side in a lower box, and received an approving smirk from
him. Then he saw Emile, who seemed to say from where he stood in the
orchestra, "Just look at that lovely creature there, close beside
you!" Lastly, he saw Rastignac, with Mme. de Nucingen and her
daughter, twisting his gloves like a man in despair, because he was
tethered to his place, and could not leave it to go any nearer to the
unknown fair divinity.
Raphael's life depended upon a covenant that he had made with
himself, and had hitherto kept sacred. He would give no special heed
to any woman whatever; and the better to guard against temptation, he
used a cunningly contrived opera-glass which destroyed the harmony of
the fairest features by hideous distortions. He had not recovered from
the terror that had seized on him in the morning when, at a mere
expression of civility, the Magic Skin had contracted so abruptly. So
Raphael was determined not to turn his face in the direction of his
neighbor. He sat imperturbable as a duchess with his back against the
corner of the box, thereby shutting out half of his neighbor's view of
the stage, appearing to disregard her, and even to be unaware that a
pretty woman sat there just behind him.
His neighbor copied Valentin's position exactly; she leaned her
elbow on the edge of her box and turned her face in three-quarter
profile upon the singers on the stage, as if she were sitting to a
painter. These two people looked like two estranged lovers still
sulking, still turning their backs upon each other, who will go into
each other's arms at the first tender word.
Now and again his neighbor's ostrich feathers or her hair came in
contact with Raphael's head, giving him a pleasurable thrill, against
which he sternly fought. In a little while he felt the touch of the
soft frill of lace that went round her dress; he could hear the
gracious sounds of the folds of her dress itself, light rustling
noises full of enchantment; he could even feel her movements as she
breathed; with the gentle stir thus imparted to her form and to her
draperies, it seemed to Raphael that all her being was suddenly
communicated to him in an electric spark. The lace and tulle that
caressed him imparted the delicious warmth of her bare, white
shoulders. By a freak in the ordering of things, these two creatures,
kept apart by social conventions, with the abysses of death between
them, breathed together and perhaps thought of one another. Finally,
the subtle perfume of aloes completed the work of Raphael's
intoxication. Opposition heated his imagination, and his fancy, become
the wilder for the limits imposed upon it, sketched a woman for him in
outlines of fire. He turned abruptly, the stranger made a similar
movement, startled no doubt at being brought in contact with a
stranger; and they remained face to face, each with the same thought.
Each surveyed the other, both of them petrified with astonishment.
Raphael noticed Pauline's daintily simple costume. A woman's
experienced eyes would have discerned and admired the outlines beneath
the modest gauze folds of her bodice and the lily whiteness of her
throat. And then her more than mortal clearness of soul, her maidenly
modesty, her graceful bearing, all were unchanged. Her sleeve was
quivering with agitation, for the beating of her heart was shaking her
"Come to the Hotel de Saint-Quentin to-morrow for your papers," she
said. "I will be there at noon. Be punctual."
She rose hastily, and disappeared. Raphael thought of following
Pauline, feared to compromise her, and stayed. He looked at Foedora;
she seemed to him positively ugly. Unable to understand a single
phrase of the music, and feeling stifled in the theatre, he went out,
and returned home with a full heart.
"Jonathan," he said to the old servant, as soon as he lay in bed,
"give me half a drop of laudanum on a piece of sugar, and don't wake
me to-morrow till twenty minutes to twelve."
"I want Pauline to love me!" he cried next morning, looking at the
talisman the while in unspeakable anguish.
The skin did not move in the least; it seemed to have lost its
power to shrink; doubtless it could not fulfil a wish fulfilled
"Ah!" exclaimed Raphael, feeling as if a mantle of lead had fallen
away, which he had worn ever since the day when the talisman had been
given to him; "so you are playing me false, you are not obeying me,
the pact is broken! I am free; I shall live. Then was it all a
wretched joke?" But he did not dare to believe in his own thought as
he uttered it.
He dressed himself as simply as had formerly been his wont, and set
out on foot for his old lodging, trying to go back in fancy to the
happy days when he abandoned himself without peril to vehement
desires, the days when he had not yet condemned all human enjoyment.
As he walked he beheld Pauline—not the Pauline of the Hotel Saint-
Quentin, but the Pauline of last evening. Here was the accomplished
mistress he had so often dreamed of, the intelligent young girl with
the loving nature and artistic temperament, who understood poets, who
understood poetry, and lived in luxurious surroundings. Here, in
short, was Foedora, gifted with a great soul; or Pauline become a
countess, and twice a millionaire, as Foedora had been. When he
reached the worn threshold, and stood upon the broken step at the
door, where in the old days he had had so many desperate thoughts, an
old woman came out of the room within and spoke to him.
"You are M. Raphael de Valentin, are you not?"
"Yes, good mother," he replied.
"You know your old room then," she replied; "you are expected up
"Does Mme. Gaudin still own the house?" Raphael asked.
"Oh no, sir. Mme. Gaudin is a baroness now. She lives in a fine
house of her own on the other side of the river. Her husband has come
back. My goodness, he brought back thousands and thousands. They say
she could buy up all the Quartier Saint-Jacques if she liked. She gave
me her basement room for nothing, and the remainder of her lease. Ah,
she's a kind woman all the same; she is no more proud to-day than she
Raphael hurried up the staircase to his garret; as he reached the
last few steps he heard the sounds of a piano. Pauline was there,
simply dressed in a cotton gown, but the way that it was made, like
the gloves, hat, and shawl that she had thrown carelessly upon the
bed, revealed a change of fortune.
"Ah, there you are!" cried Pauline, turning her head, and rising
with unconcealed delight.
Raphael went to sit beside her, flushed, confused, and happy; he
looked at her in silence.
"Why did you leave us then?" she asked, dropping her eyes as the
flush deepened on his face. "What became of you?"
"Ah, I have been very miserable, Pauline; I am very miserable
"Alas!" she said, filled with pitying tenderness. "I guessed your
fate yesterday when I saw you so well dressed, and apparently so
wealthy; but in reality? Eh, M. Raphael, is it as it always used to be
Valentin could not restrain the tears that sprang to his eyes.
"Pauline," he exclaimed, "I——"
He went no further, love sparkled in his eyes, and his emotion
overflowed his face.
"Oh, he loves me! he loves me!" cried Pauline.
Raphael felt himself unable to say one word; he bent his head. The
young girl took his hand at this; she pressed it as she said, half
sobbing and half laughing:—
"Rich, rich, happy and rich! Your Pauline is rich. But I? Oh, I
ought to be very poor to-day. I have said, times without number, that
I would give all the wealth upon this earth for those words, 'He loves
me!' O my Raphael! I have millions. You like luxury, you will be glad;
but you must love me and my heart besides, for there is so much love
for you in my heart. You don't know? My father has come back. I am a
wealthy heiress. Both he and my mother leave me completely free to
decide my own fate. I am free—do you understand?"
Seized with a kind of frenzy, Raphael grasped Pauline's hands and
kissed them eagerly and vehemently, with an almost convulsive caress.
Pauline drew her hands away, laid them on Raphael's shoulders, and
drew him towards her. They understood one another—in that close
embrace, in the unalloyed and sacred fervor of that one kiss without
an afterthought—the first kiss by which two souls take possession of
"Ah, I will not leave you any more," said Pauline, falling back in
her chair. "I do not know how I come to be so bold!" she added,
"Bold, my Pauline? Do not fear it. It is love, love true and deep
and everlasting like my own, is it not?"
"Speak!" she cried. "Go on speaking, so long your lips have been
dumb for me."
"Then you have loved me all along?"
"Loved you? MON DIEU! How often I have wept here, setting your room
straight, and grieving for your poverty and my own. I would have sold
myself to the evil one to spare you one vexation! You are MY Raphael
to-day, really my own Raphael, with that handsome head of yours, and
your heart is mine too; yes, that above all, your heart—O wealth
inexhaustible! Well, where was I?" she went on after a pause. "Oh yes!
We have three, four, or five millions, I believe. If I were poor, I
should perhaps desire to bear your name, to be acknowledged as your
wife; but as it is, I would give up the whole world for you, I would
be your servant still, now and always. Why, Raphael, if I give you my
fortune, my heart, myself to-day, I do no more than I did that day
when I put a certain five-franc piece in the drawer there," and she
pointed to the table. "Oh, how your exultation hurt me then!"
"Oh, why are you rich?" Raphael cried; "why is there no vanity in
you? I can do nothing for you."
He wrung his hands in despair and happiness and love.
"When you are the Marquise de Valentin, I know that the title and
the fortune for thee, heavenly soul, will not be worth——"
"One hair of your head," she cried.
"I have millions too. But what is wealth to either of us now? There
is my life—ah, that I can offer, take it."
"Your love, Raphael, your love is all the world to me. Are your
thoughts of me? I am the happiest of the happy!"
"Can any one overhear us?" asked Raphael.
"Nobody," she replied, and a mischievous gesture escaped her.
"Come, then!" cried Valentin, holding out his arms.
She sprang upon his knees and clasped her arms about his neck.
"Kiss me!" she cried, "after all the pain you have given me; to
blot out the memory of the grief that your joys have caused me; and
for the sake of the nights that I spent in painting hand-screens——"
"Those hand-screens of yours?"
"Now that we are rich, my darling, I can tell you all about it.
Poor boy! how easy it is to delude a clever man! Could you have had
white waistcoats and clean shirts twice a week for three francs every
month to the laundress? Why, you used to drink twice as much milk as
your money would have paid for. I deceived you all round—over firing,
oil, and even money. O Raphael mine, don't have me for your wife, I am
far too cunning!" she said laughing.
"But how did you manage?"
"I used to work till two o'clock in the morning; I gave my mother
half the money made by my screens, and the other half went to you."
They looked at one another for a moment, both bewildered by love
"Some day we shall have to pay for this happiness by some terrible
sorrow," cried Raphael.
"Perhaps you are married?" said Pauline. "Oh, I will not give you
up to any other woman."
"I am free, my beloved."
"Free!" she repeated. "Free, and mine!"
She slipped down upon her knees, clasped her hands, and looked at
Raphael in an enthusiasm of devotion.
"I am afraid I shall go mad. How handsome you are!" she went on,
passing her fingers through her lover's fair hair. "How stupid your
Countess Foedora is! How pleased I was yesterday with the homage they
all paid to me! SHE has never been applauded. Dear, when I felt your
arm against my back, I heard a vague voice within me that cried, 'He
is there!' and I turned round and saw you. I fled, for I longed so to
throw my arms about you before them all."
"How happy you are—you can speak!" Raphael exclaimed. "My heart is
overwhelmed; I would weep, but I cannot. Do not draw your hand away. I
could stay here looking at you like this for the rest of my life, I
think; happy and content."
"O my love, say that once more!"
"Ah, what are words?" answered Valentin, letting a hot tear fall on
Pauline's hands. "Some time I will try to tell you of my love; just
now I can only feel it."
"You," she said, "with your lofty soul and your great genius, with
that heart of yours that I know so well; are you really mine, as I am
"For ever and ever, my sweet creature," said Raphael in an
uncertain voice. "You shall be my wife, my protecting angel. My griefs
have always been dispelled by your presence, and my courage revived;
that angelic smile now on your lips has purified me, so to speak. A
new life seems about to begin for me. The cruel past and my wretched
follies are hardly more to me than evil dreams. At your side I breathe
an atmosphere of happiness, and I am pure. Be with me always," he
added, pressing her solemnly to his beating heart.
"Death may come when it will," said Pauline in ecstasy; "I have
Happy he who shall divine their joy, for he must have experienced
"I wish that no one might enter this dear garret again, my
Raphael," said Pauline, after two hours of silence.
"We must have the door walled up, put bars across the window, and
buy the house," the Marquis answered.
"Yes, we will," she said. Then a moment later she added: "Our
search for your manuscripts has been a little lost sight of," and they
both laughed like children.
"Pshaw! I don't care a jot for the whole circle of the sciences,"
"Ah, sir, and how about glory?"
"I glory in you alone."
"You used to be very miserable as you made these little scratches
and scrawls," she said, turning the papers over.
"Oh yes, I am your Pauline—and what then?"
"Where are you living now?"
"In the Rue Saint Lazare. And you?"
"In the Rue de Varenne."
"What a long way apart we shall be until——" She stopped, and
looked at her lover with a mischievous and coquettish expression.
"But at the most we need only be separated for a fortnight,"
"Really! we are to be married in a fortnight?" and she jumped for
joy like a child.
"I am an unnatural daughter!" she went on. "I give no more thought
to my father or my mother, or to anything in the world. Poor love, you
don't know that my father is very ill? He returned from the Indies in
very bad health. He nearly died at Havre, where we went to find him.
Good heavens!" she cried, looking at her watch; "it is three o'clock
already! I ought to be back again when he wakes at four. I am mistress
of the house at home; my mother does everything that I wish, and my
father worships me; but I will not abuse their kindness, that would be
wrong. My poor father! He would have me go to the Italiens yesterday.
You will come to see him to-morrow, will you not?"
"Will Madame la Marquise de Valentin honor me by taking my arm?"
"I am going to take the key of this room away with me," she said.
"Isn't our treasure-house a palace?"
"One more kiss, Pauline."
"A thousand, MON DIEU!" she said, looking at Raphael. "Will it
always be like this? I feel as if I were dreaming."
They went slowly down the stairs together, step for step, with arms
closely linked, trembling both of them beneath their load of joy. Each
pressing close to the other's side, like a pair of doves, they reached
the Place de la Sorbonne, where Pauline's carriage was waiting.
"I want to go home with you," she said. "I want to see your own
room and your study, and to sit at the table where you work. It will
be like old times," she said, blushing.
She spoke to the servant. "Joseph, before returning home I am going
to the Rue de Varenne. It is a quarter-past three now, and I must be
back by four o'clock. George must hurry the horses." And so in a few
moments the lovers came to Valentin's abode.
"How glad I am to have seen all this for myself!" Pauline cried,
creasing the silken bed-curtains in Raphael's room between her
fingers. "As I go to sleep, I shall be here in thought. I shall
imagine your dear head on the pillow there. Raphael, tell me, did no
one advise you about the furniture of your hotel?"
"No one whatever."
"Really? It was not a woman who——"
"Oh, I know I am fearfully jealous. You have good taste. I will
have a bed like yours to-morrow."
Quite beside himself with happiness, Raphael caught Pauline in his
"Oh, my father!" she said; "my father——"
"I will take you back to him," cried Valentin, "for I want to be
away from you as little as possible."
"How loving you are! I did not venture to suggest it——"
"Are you not my life?"
It would be tedious to set down accurately the charming prattle of
the lovers, for tones and looks and gestures that cannot be rendered
alone gave it significance. Valentin went back with Pauline to her own
door, and returned with as much happiness in his heart as mortal man
When he was seated in his armchair beside the fire, thinking over
the sudden and complete way in which his wishes had been fulfilled, a
cold shiver went through him, as if the blade of a dagger had been
plunged into his breast—he thought of the Magic Skin, and saw that it
had shrunk a little. He uttered the most tremendous of French oaths,
without any of the Jesuitical reservations made by the Abbess of
Andouillettes, leant his head against the back of the chair, and sat
motionless, fixing his unseeing eyes upon the bracket of the curtain
"Good God!" he cried; "every wish! Every desire of mine! Poor
He took a pair of compasses and measured the extent of existence
that the morning had cost him.
"I have scarcely enough for two months!" he said.
A cold sweat broke out over him; moved by an ungovernable spasm of
rage, he seized the Magic Skin, exclaiming:
"I am a perfect fool!"
He rushed out of the house and across the garden, and flung the
talisman down a well.
"Vogue la galere," cried he. "The devil take all this nonsense."
So Raphael gave himself up to the happiness of being beloved, and
led with Pauline the life of heart and heart. Difficulties which it
would be somewhat tedious to describe had delayed their marriage,
which was to take place early in March. Each was sure of the other;
their affection had been tried, and happiness had taught them how
strong it was. Never has love made two souls, two natures, so
absolutely one. The more they came to know of each other, the more
they loved. On either side there was the same hesitating delicacy, the
same transports of joy such as angels know; there were no clouds in
their heaven; the will of either was the other's law.
Wealthy as they both were, they had not a caprice which they could
not gratify, and for that reason had no caprices. A refined taste, a
feeling for beauty and poetry, was instinct in the soul of the bride;
her lover's smile was more to her than all the pearls of Ormuz. She
disdained feminine finery; a muslin dress and flowers formed her most
Pauline and Raphael shunned every one else, for solitude was
abundantly beautiful to them. The idlers at the Opera, or at the
Italiens, saw this charming and unconventional pair evening after
evening. Some gossip went the round of the salons at first, but the
harmless lovers were soon forgotten in the course of events which took
place in Paris; their marriage was announced at length to excuse them
in the eyes of the prudish; and as it happened, their servants did not
babble; so their bliss did not draw down upon them any very severe
One morning towards the end of February, at the time when the
brightening days bring a belief in the nearness of the joys of spring,
Pauline and Raphael were breakfasting together in a small
conservatory, a kind of drawing-room filled with flowers, on a level
with the garden. The mild rays of the pale winter sunlight, breaking
through the thicket of exotic plants, warmed the air somewhat. The
vivid contrast made by the varieties of foliage, the colors of the
masses of flowering shrubs, the freaks of light and shadow, gladdened
the eyes. While all the rest of Paris still sought warmth from its
melancholy hearth, these two were laughing in a bower of camellias,
lilacs, and blossoming heath. Their happy faces rose above lilies of
the valley, narcissus blooms, and Bengal roses. A mat of plaited
African grass, variegated like a carpet, lay beneath their feet in
this luxurious conservatory. The walls, covered with a green linen
material, bore no traces of damp. The surfaces of the rustic wooden
furniture shone with cleanliness. A kitten, attracted by the odor of
milk, had established itself upon the table; it allowed Pauline to
bedabble it in coffee; she was playing merrily with it, taking away
the cream that she had just allowed the kitten to sniff at, so as to
exercise its patience, and keep up the contest. She burst out laughing
at every antic, and by the comical remarks she constantly made, she
hindered Raphael from perusing the paper; he had dropped it a dozen
times already. This morning picture seemed to overflow with
inexpressible gladness, like everything that is natural and genuine.
Raphael, still pretending to read his paper, furtively watched
Pauline with the cat—his Pauline, in the dressing-gown that hung
carelessly about her; his Pauline, with her hair loose on her
shoulders, with a tiny, white, blue-veined foot peeping out of a
velvet slipper. It was pleasant to see her in this negligent dress;
she was delightful as some fanciful picture by Westall; half-girl,
half-woman, as she seemed to be, or perhaps more of a girl than a
woman, there was no alloy in the happiness she enjoyed, and of love
she knew as yet only its first ecstasy. When Raphael, absorbed in
happy musing, had forgotten the existence of the newspaper, Pauline
flew upon it, crumpled it up into a ball, and threw it out into the
garden; the kitten sprang after the rotating object, which spun round
and round, as politics are wont to do. This childish scene recalled
Raphael to himself. He would have gone on reading, and felt for the
sheet he no longer possessed. Joyous laughter rang out like the song
of a bird, one peal leading to another.
"I am quite jealous of the paper," she said, as she wiped away the
tears that her childlike merriment had brought into her eyes. "Now, is
it not a heinous offence," she went on, as she became a woman all at
once, "to read Russian proclamations in my presence, and to attend to
the prosings of the Emperor Nicholas rather than to looks and words of
"I was not reading, my dear angel; I was looking at you."
Just then the gravel walk outside the conservatory rang with the
sound of the gardener's heavily nailed boots.
"I beg your pardon, my Lord Marquis—and yours, too, madame—if I
am intruding, but I have brought you a curiosity the like of which I
never set eyes on. Drawing a bucket of water just now, with due
respect, I got out this strange salt-water plant. Here it is. It must
be thoroughly used to water, anyhow, for it isn't saturated or even
damp at all. It is as dry as a piece of wood, and has not swelled a
bit. As my Lord Marquis certainly knows a great deal more about things
than I do, I thought I ought to bring it, and that it would interest
Therewith the gardener showed Raphael the inexorable piece of skin;
there were barely six square inches of it left.
"Thanks, Vaniere," Raphael said. "The thing is very curious."
"What is the matter with you, my angel; you are growing quite
white!" Pauline cried.
"You can go, Vaniere."
"Your voice frightens me," the girl went on; "it is so strangely
altered. What is it? How are you feeling? Where is the pain? You are
in pain!—Jonathan! here! call a doctor!" she cried.
"Hush, my Pauline," Raphael answered, as he regained composure.
"Let us get up and go. Some flower here has a scent that is too much
for me. It is that verbena, perhaps."
Pauline flew upon the innocent plant, seized it by the stalk, and
flung it out into the garden; then, with all the might of the love
between them, she clasped Raphael in a close embrace, and with
languishing coquetry raised her red lips to his for a kiss.
"Dear angel," she cried, "when I saw you turn so white, I
understood that I could not live on without you; your life is my life
too. Lay your hand on my back, Raphael mine; I feel a chill like
death. The feeling of cold is there yet. Your lips are burning. How is
your hand? —Cold as ice," she added.
"Mad girl!" exclaimed Raphael.
"Why that tear? Let me drink it."
"O Pauline, Pauline, you love me far too much!"
"There is something very extraordinary going on in your mind,
Raphael! Do not dissimulate. I shall very soon find out your secret.
Give that to me," she went on, taking the Magic Skin.
"You are my executioner!" the young man exclaimed, glancing in
horror at the talisman.
"How changed your voice is!" cried Pauline, as she dropped the
fatal symbol of destiny.
"Do you love me?" he asked.
"Do I love you? Is there any doubt?"
"Then, leave me, go away!"
The poor child went.
"So!" cried Raphael, when he was alone. "In an enlightened age,
when we have found out that diamonds are a crystallized form of
charcoal, at a time when everything is made clear, when the police
would hale a new Messiah before the magistrates, and submit his
miracles to the Academie des Sciences—in an epoch when we no longer
believe in anything but a notary's signature—that I, forsooth, should
believe in a sort of Mene, Tekel, Upharsin! No, by Heaven, I will not
believe that the Supreme Being would take pleasure in torturing a
harmless creature.—Let us see the learned about it."
Between the Halle des Vins, with its extensive assembly of barrels,
and the Salpetriere, that extensive seminary of drunkenness, lies a
small pond, which Raphael soon reached. All sorts of ducks of rare
varieties were there disporting themselves; their colored markings
shone in the sun like the glass in cathedral windows. Every kind of
duck in the world was represented, quacking, dabbling, and moving
about—a kind of parliament of ducks assembled against its will, but
luckily without either charter or political principles, living in
complete immunity from sportsmen, under the eyes of any naturalist
that chanced to see them.
"That is M. Lavrille," said one of the keepers to Raphael, who had
asked for that high priest of zoology.
The Marquis saw a short man buried in profound reflections, caused
by the appearance of a pair of ducks. The man of science was
middle-aged; he had a pleasant face, made pleasanter still by a kindly
expression, but an absorption in scientific ideas engrossed his whole
person. His peruke was strangely turned up, by being constantly raised
to scratch his head; so that a line of white hair was left plainly
visible, a witness to an enthusiasm for investigation, which, like
every other strong passion, so withdraws us from mundane
considerations, that we lose all consciousness of the "I" within us.
Raphael, the student and man of science, looked respectfully at the
naturalist, who devoted his nights to enlarging the limits of human
knowledge, and whose very errors reflected glory upon France; but a
she-coxcomb would have laughed, no doubt, at the break of continuity
between the breeches and striped waistcoat worn by the man of
learning; the interval, moreover, was modestly filled by a shirt which
had been considerably creased, for he stooped and raised himself by
turns, as his zoological observations required.
After the first interchange of civilities, Raphael thought it
necessary to pay M. Lavrille a banal compliment upon his ducks.
"Oh, we are well off for ducks," the naturalist replied. "The
genus, moreover, as you doubtless know, is the most prolific in the
order of palmipeds. It begins with the swan and ends with the zin-zin
duck, comprising in all one hundred and thirty-seven very distinct
varieties, each having its own name, habits, country, and character,
and every one no more like another than a white man is like a negro.
Really, sir, when we dine off a duck, we have no notion for the most
part of the vast extent——"
He interrupted himself as he saw a small pretty duck come up to the
surface of the pond.
"There you see the cravatted swan, a poor native of Canada; he has
come a very long way to show us his brown and gray plumage and his
little black cravat! Look, he is preening himself. That one is the
famous eider duck that provides the down, the eider-down under which
our fine ladies sleep; isn't it pretty? Who would not admire the
little pinkish white breast and the green beak? I have just been a
witness, sir," he went on, "to a marriage that I had long despaired of
bringing about; they have paired rather auspiciously, and I shall
await the results very eagerly. This will be a hundred and thirty-
eighth species, I flatter myself, to which, perhaps, my name will be
given. That is the newly matched pair," he said, pointing out two of
the ducks; "one of them is a laughing goose (anas albifrons), and the
other the great whistling duck, Buffon's anas ruffina. I have
hesitated a long while between the whistling duck, the duck with white
eyebrows, and the shoveler duck (anas clypeata). Stay, that is the
shoveler—that fat, brownish black rascal, with the greenish neck and
that coquettish iridescence on it. But the whistling duck was a
crested one, sir, and you will understand that I deliberated no
longer. We only lack the variegated black-capped duck now. These
gentlemen here, unanimously claim that that variety of duck is only a
repetition of the curve-beaked teal, but for my own part,"—and the
gesture he made was worth seeing. It expressed at once the modesty and
pride of a man of science; the pride full of obstinacy, and the
modesty well tempered with assurance.
"I don't think it is," he added. "You see, my dear sir, that we are
not amusing ourselves here. I am engaged at this moment upon a
monograph on the genus duck. But I am at your disposal."
While they went towards a rather pleasant house in the Rue du
Buffon, Raphael submitted the skin to M. Lavrille's inspection.
"I know the product," said the man of science, when he had turned
his magnifying glass upon the talisman. "It used to be used for
covering boxes. The shagreen is very old. They prefer to use skate's
skin nowadays for making sheaths. This, as you are doubtless aware, is
the hide of the raja sephen, a Red Sea fish."
"But this, sir, since you are so exceedingly good——"
"This," the man of science interrupted, as he resumed, "this is
quite another thing; between these two shagreens, sir, there is a
difference just as wide as between sea and land, or fish and flesh.
The fish's skin is harder, however, than the skin of the land animal.
This," he said, as he indicated the talisman, "is, as you doubtless
know, one of the most curious of zoological products."
"But to proceed——" said Raphael.
"This," replied the man of science, as he flung himself down into
his armchair, "is an ass' skin, sir."
"Yes, I know," said the young man.
"A very rare variety of ass found in Persia," the naturalist
continued, "the onager of the ancients, equus asinus, the koulan of
the Tartars; Pallas went out there to observe it, and has made it
known to science, for as a matter of fact the animal for a long time
was believed to be mythical. It is mentioned, as you know, in Holy
Scripture; Moses forbade that it should be coupled with its own
species, and the onager is yet more famous for the prostitutions of
which it was the object, and which are often mentioned by the prophets
of the Bible. Pallas, as you know doubtless, states in his Act.
Petrop. tome II., that these bizarre excesses are still devoutly
believed in among the Persians and the Nogais as a sovereign remedy
for lumbago and sciatic gout. We poor Parisians scarcely believe that.
The Museum has no example of the onager.
"What a magnificent animal!" he continued. "It is full of mystery;
its eyes are provided with a sort of burnished covering, to which the
Orientals attribute the powers of fascination; it has a glossier and
finer coat than our handsomest horses possess, striped with more or
less tawny bands, very much like the zebra's hide. There is something
pliant and silky about its hair, which is sleek to the touch. Its
powers of sight vie in precision and accuracy with those of man; it is
rather larger than our largest domestic donkeys, and is possessed of
extraordinary courage. If it is surprised by any chance, it defends
itself against the most dangerous wild beasts with remarkable success;
the rapidity of its movements can only be compared with the flight of
birds; an onager, sir, would run the best Arab or Persian horses to
death. According to the father of the conscientious Doctor Niebuhr,
whose recent loss we are deploring, as you doubtless know, the
ordinary average pace of one of these wonderful creatures would be
seven thousand geometric feet per hour. Our own degenerate race of
donkeys can give no idea of the ass in his pride and independence. He
is active and spirited in his demeanor; he is cunning and sagacious;
there is grace about the outlines of his head; every movement is full
of attractive charm. In the East he is the king of beasts. Turkish and
Persian superstition even credits him with a mysterious origin; and
when stories of the prowess attributed to him are told in Thibet or in
Tartary, the speakers mingle Solomon's name with that of this noble
animal. A tame onager, in short, is worth an enormous amount; it is
well-nigh impossible to catch them among the mountains, where they
leap like roebucks, and seem as if they could fly like birds. Our myth
of the winged horse, our Pegasus, had its origin doubtless in these
countries, where the shepherds could see the onager springing from one
rock to another. In Persia they breed asses for the saddle, a cross
between a tamed onager and a she-ass, and they paint them red,
following immemorial tradition. Perhaps it was this custom that gave
rise to our own proverb, 'Surely as a red donkey.' At some period when
natural history was much neglected in France, I think a traveler must
have brought over one of these strange beasts that endures servitude
with such impatience. Hence the adage. The skin that you have laid
before me is the skin of an onager. Opinions differ as to the origin
of the name. Some claim that Chagri is a Turkish word; others insist
that Chagri must be the name of the place where this animal product
underwent the chemical process of preparation so clearly described by
Pallas, to which the peculiar graining that we admire is due;
Martellens has written to me saying that Chaagri is a river——"
"I thank you, sir, for the information that you have given me; it
would furnish an admirable footnote for some Dom Calmet or other, if
such erudite hermits yet exist; but I have had the honor of pointing
out to you that this scrap was in the first instance quite as large as
that map," said Raphael, indicating an open atlas to Lavrille; "but it
has shrunk visibly in three months' time——"
"Quite so," said the man of science. "I understand. The remains of
any substance primarily organic are naturally subject to a process of
decay. It is quite easy to understand, and its progress depends upon
atmospherical conditions. Even metals contract and expand appreciably,
for engineers have remarked somewhat considerable interstices between
great blocks of stone originally clamped together with iron bars. The
field of science is boundless, but human life is very short, so that
we do not claim to be acquainted with all the phenomena of nature."
"Pardon the question that I am about to ask you, sir," Raphael
began, half embarrassed, "but are you quite sure that this piece of
skin is subject to the ordinary laws of zoology, and that it can be
"Certainly——oh, bother!——" muttered M. Lavrille, trying to
stretch the talisman. "But if you, sir, will go to see Planchette," he
added, "the celebrated professor of mechanics, he will certainly
discover some method of acting upon this skin, of softening and
"Ah, sir, you are the preserver of my life," and Raphael took leave
of the learned naturalist and hurried off to Planchette, leaving the
worthy Lavrille in his study, all among the bottles and dried plants
that filled it up.
Quite unconsciously Raphael brought away with him from this visit,
all of science that man can grasp, a terminology to wit. Lavrille, the
worthy man, was very much like Sancho Panza giving to Don Quixote the
history of the goats; he was entertaining himself by making out a list
of animals and ticking them off. Even now that his life was nearing
its end, he was scarcely acquainted with a mere fraction of the
countless numbers of the great tribes that God has scattered, for some
unknown end, throughout the ocean of worlds.
Raphael was well pleased. "I shall keep my ass well in hand," cried
he. Sterne had said before his day, "Let us take care of our ass, if
we wish to live to old age." But it is such a fantastic brute!
Planchette was a tall, thin man, a poet of a surety, lost in one
continual thought, and always employed in gazing into the bottomless
abyss of Motion. Commonplace minds accuse these lofty intellects of
madness; they form a misinterpreted race apart that lives in a
wonderful carelessness of luxuries or other people's notions. They
will spend whole days at a stretch, smoking a cigar that has gone out,
and enter a drawing-room with the buttons on their garments not in
every case formally wedded to the button-holes. Some day or other,
after a long time spent in measuring space, or in accumulating Xs
under Aa-Gg, they succeed in analyzing some natural law, and resolve
it into its elemental principles, and all on a sudden the crowd gapes
at a new machine; or it is a handcart perhaps that overwhelms us with
astonishment by the apt simplicity of its construction. The modest man
of science smiles at his admirers, and remarks, "What is that
invention of mine? Nothing whatever. Man cannot create a force; he can
but direct it; and science consists in learning from nature."
The mechanician was standing bolt upright, planted on both feet,
like some victim dropped straight from the gibbet, when Raphael broke
in upon him. He was intently watching an agate ball that rolled over a
sun-dial, and awaited its final settlement. The worthy man had
received neither pension nor decoration; he had not known how to make
the right use of his ability for calculation. He was happy in his life
spent on the watch for a discovery; he had no thought either of
reputation, of the outer world, nor even of himself, and led the life
of science for the sake of science.
"It is inexplicable," he exclaimed. "Ah, your servant, sir," he
went on, becoming aware of Raphael's existence. "How is your mother?
You must go and see my wife."
"And I also could have lived thus," thought Raphael, as he recalled
the learned man from his meditations by asking of him how to produce
any effect on the talisman, which he placed before him.
"Although my credulity must amuse you, sir," so the Marquis ended,
"I will conceal nothing from you. That skin seems to me to be endowed
with an insuperable power of resistance."
"People of fashion, sir, always treat science rather
superciliously," said Planchette. "They all talk to us pretty much as
the incroyable did when he brought some ladies to see Lalande just
after an eclipse, and remarked, 'Be so good as to begin it over
again!' What effect do you want to produce? The object of the science
of mechanics is either the application or the neutralization of the
laws of motion. As for motion pure and simple, I tell you humbly, that
we cannot possibly define it. That disposed of, unvarying phenomena
have been observed which accompany the actions of solids and fluids.
If we set up the conditions by which these phenomena are brought to
pass, we can transport bodies or communicate locomotive power to them
at a predetermined rate of speed. We can project them, divide them up
in a few or an infinite number of pieces, accordingly as we break them
or grind them to powder; we can twist bodies or make them rotate,
modify, compress, expand, or extend them. The whole science, sir,
rests upon a single fact.
"You see this ball," he went on; "here it lies upon this slab. Now,
it is over there. What name shall we give to what has taken place, so
natural from a physical point of view, so amazing from a moral?
Movement, locomotion, changing of place? What prodigious vanity lurks
underneath the words. Does a name solve the difficulty? Yet it is the
whole of our science for all that. Our machines either make direct use
of this agency, this fact, or they convert it. This trifling
phenomenon, applied to large masses, would send Paris flying. We can
increase speed by an expenditure of force, and augment the force by an
increase of speed. But what are speed and force? Our science is as
powerless to tell us that as to create motion. Any movement whatever
is an immense power, and man does not create power of any kind.
Everything is movement, thought itself is a movement, upon movement
nature is based. Death is a movement whose limitations are little
known. If God is eternal, be sure that He moves perpetually; perhaps
God is movement. That is why movement, like God is inexplicable,
unfathomable, unlimited, incomprehensible, intangible. Who has ever
touched, comprehended, or measured movement? We feel its effects
without seeing it; we can even deny them as we can deny the existence
of a God. Where is it? Where is it not? Whence comes it? What is its
source? What is its end? It surrounds us, it intrudes upon us, and yet
escapes us. It is evident as a fact, obscure as an abstraction; it is
at once effect and cause. It requires space, even as we, and what is
space? Movement alone recalls it to us; without movement, space is but
an empty meaningless word. Like space, like creation, like the
infinite, movement is an insoluble problem which confounds human
reason; man will never conceive it, whatever else he may be permitted
"Between each point in space occupied in succession by that ball,"
continued the man of science, "there is an abyss confronting human
reason, an abyss into which Pascal fell. In order to produce any
effect upon an unknown substance, we ought first of all to study that
substance; to know whether, in accordance with its nature, it will be
broken by the force of a blow, or whether it will withstand it; if it
breaks in pieces, and you have no wish to split it up, we shall not
achieve the end proposed. If you want to compress it, a uniform
impulse must be communicated to all the particles of the substance, so
as to diminish the interval that separates them in an equal degree. If
you wish to expand it, we should try to bring a uniform eccentric
force to bear on every molecule; for unless we conform accurately to
this law, we shall have breaches in continuity. The modes of motion,
sir, are infinite, and no limit exists to combinations of movement.
Upon what effect have you determined?"
"I want any kind of pressure that is strong enough to expand the
skin indefinitely," began Raphael, quite of out patience.
"Substance is finite," the mathematician put in, "and therefore
will not admit of indefinite expansion, but pressure will necessarily
increase the extent of surface at the expense of the thickness, which
will be diminished until the point is reached when the material gives
"Bring about that result, sir," Raphael cried, "and you will have
"Then I should rob you of your money," replied the other,
phlegmatic as a Dutchman. "I am going to show you, in a word or two,
that a machine can be made that is fit to crush Providence itself in
pieces like a fly. It would reduce a man to the conditions of a piece
of waste paper; a man—boots and spurs, hat and cravat, trinkets and
gold, and all——"
"What a fearful machine!"
"Instead of flinging their brats into the water, the Chinese ought
to make them useful in this way," the man of science went on, without
reflecting on the regard man has for his progeny.
Quite absorbed by his idea, Planchette took an empty flower-pot,
with a hole in the bottom, and put it on the surface of the dial, then
he went to look for a little clay in a corner of the garden. Raphael
stood spellbound, like a child to whom his nurse is telling some
wonderful story. Planchette put the clay down upon the slab, drew a
pruning-knife from his pocket, cut two branches from an elder tree,
and began to clean them of pith by blowing through them, as if Raphael
had not been present.
"There are the rudiments of the apparatus," he said. Then he
connected one of the wooden pipes with the bottom of the flower-pot by
way of a clay joint, in such a way that the mouth of the elder stem
was just under the hole of the flower-pot; you might have compared it
to a big tobacco-pipe. He spread a bed of clay over the surface of the
slab, in a shovel-shaped mass, set down the flower-pot at the wider
end of it, and laid the pipe of the elder stem along the portion which
represented the handle of the shovel. Next he put a lump of clay at
the end of the elder stem and therein planted the other pipe, in an
upright position, forming a second elbow which connected it with the
first horizontal pipe in such a manner that the air, or any given
fluid in circulation, could flow through this improvised piece of
mechanism from the mouth of the vertical tube, along the intermediate
passages, and so into the large empty flower-pot.
"This apparatus, sir," he said to Raphael, with all the gravity of
an academician pronouncing his initiatory discourse, "is one of the
great Pascal's grandest claims upon our admiration."
"I don't understand."
The man of science smiled. He went up to a fruit-tree and took down
a little phial in which the druggist had sent him some liquid for
catching ants; he broke off the bottom and made a funnel of the top,
carefully fitting it to the mouth of the vertical hollowed stem that
he had set in the clay, and at the opposite end to the great
reservoir, represented by the flower-pot. Next, by means of a
watering-pot, he poured in sufficient water to rise to the same level
in the large vessel and in the tiny circular funnel at the end of the
Raphael was thinking of his piece of skin.
"Water is considered to-day, sir, to be an incompressible body,"
said the mechanician; "never lose sight of that fundamental principle;
still it can be compressed, though only so very slightly that we
should regard its faculty for contracting as a zero. You see the
amount of surface presented by the water at the brim of the flower-
"Very good; now suppose that that surface is a thousand times
larger than the orifice of the elder stem through which I poured the
liquid. Here, I am taking the funnel away——"
"Well, then, if by any method whatever I increase the volume of
that quantity of water by pouring in yet more through the mouth of the
little tube; the water thus compelled to flow downwards would rise in
the reservoir, represented by the flower-pot, until it reached the
same level at either end."
"That is quite clear," cried Raphael.
"But there is this difference," the other went on. "Suppose that
the thin column of water poured into the little vertical tube there
exerts a force equal, say, to a pound weight, for instance, its action
will be punctually communicated to the great body of the liquid, and
will be transmitted to every part of the surface represented by the
water in the flower-pot so that at the surface there will be a
thousand columns of water, every one pressing upwards as if they were
impelled by a force equal to that which compels the liquid to descend
in the vertical tube; and of necessity they reproduce here," said
Planchette, indicating to Raphael the top of the flower-pot, "the
force introduced over there, a thousand-fold," and the man of science
pointed out to the marquis the upright wooden pipe set in the clay.
"That is quite simple," said Raphael.
Planchette smiled again.
"In other words," he went on, with the mathematician's natural
stubborn propensity for logic, "in order to resist the force of the
incoming water, it would be necessary to exert, upon every part of the
large surface, a force equal to that brought into action in the
vertical column, but with this difference—if the column of liquid is
a foot in height, the thousand little columns of the wide surface will
only have a very slight elevating power.
"Now," said Planchette, as he gave a fillip to his bits of stick,
"let us replace this funny little apparatus by steel tubes of suitable
strength and dimensions; and if you cover the liquid surface of the
reservoir with a strong sliding plate of metal, and if to this metal
plate you oppose another, solid enough and strong enough to resist any
test; if, furthermore, you give me the power of continually adding
water to the volume of liquid contents by means of the little vertical
tube, the object fixed between the two solid metal plates must of
necessity yield to the tremendous crushing force which indefinitely
compresses it. The method of continually pouring in water through a
little tube, like the manner of communicating force through the volume
of the liquid to a small metal plate, is an absurdly primitive
mechanical device. A brace of pistons and a few valves would do it
all. Do you perceive, my dear sir," he said taking Valentin by the
arm, "there is scarcely a substance in existence that would not be
compelled to dilate when fixed in between these two indefinitely
"What! the author of the Lettres provinciales invented it?" Raphael
"He and no other, sir. The science of mechanics knows no simpler
nor more beautiful contrivance. The opposite principle, the capacity
of expansion possessed by water, has brought the steam-engine into
being. But water will only expand up to a certain point, while its
incompressibility, being a force in a manner negative, is, of
"If this skin is expanded," said Raphael, "I promise you to erect a
colossal statue to Blaise Pascal; to found a prize of a hundred
thousand francs to be offered every ten years for the solution of the
grandest problem of mechanical science effected during the interval;
to find dowries for all your cousins and second cousins, and finally
to build an asylum on purpose for impoverished or insane
"That would be exceedingly useful," Planchette replied. "We will go
to Spieghalter to-morrow, sir," he continued, with the serenity of a
man living on a plane wholly intellectual. "That distinguished
mechanic has just completed, after my own designs, an improved
mechanical arrangement by which a child could get a thousand trusses
of hay inside his cap."
"Then good-bye till to-morrow."
"Till to-morrow, sir."
"Talk of mechanics!" cried Raphael; "isn't it the greatest of the
sciences? The other fellow with his onagers, classifications, ducks,
and species, and his phials full of bottled monstrosities, is at best
only fit for a billiard-marker in a saloon."
The next morning Raphael went off in great spirits to find
Planchette, and together they set out for the Rue de la
Sante—auspicious appellation! Arrived at Spieghalter's, the young man
found himself in a vast foundry; his eyes lighted upon a multitude of
glowing and roaring furnaces. There was a storm of sparks, a deluge of
nails, an ocean of pistons, vices, levers, valves, girders, files, and
nuts; a sea of melted metal, baulks of timber and bar-steel. Iron
filings filled your throat. There was iron in the atmosphere; the men
were covered with it; everything reeked of iron. The iron seemed to be
a living organism; it became a fluid, moved, and seemed to shape
itself intelligently after every fashion, to obey the worker's every
caprice. Through the uproar made by the bellows, the crescendo of the
falling hammers, and the shrill sounds of the lathes that drew groans
from the steel, Raphael passed into a large, clean, and airy place
where he was able to inspect at his leisure the great press that
Planchette had told him about. He admired the cast-iron beams, as one
might call them, and the twin bars of steel coupled together with
"If you were to give seven rapid turns to that crank," said
Spieghalter, pointing out a beam of polished steel, "you would make a
steel bar spurt out in thousands of jets, that would get into your
legs like needles."
"The deuce!" exclaimed Raphael.
Planchette himself slipped the piece of skin between the metal
plates of the all-powerful press; and, brimful of the certainty of a
scientific conviction, he worked the crank energetically.
"Lie flat, all of you; we are dead men!" thundered Spieghalter, as
he himself fell prone on the floor.
A hideous shrieking sound rang through the workshops. The water in
the machine had broken the chamber, and now spouted out in a jet of
incalculable force; luckily it went in the direction of an old
furnace, which was overthrown, enveloped and carried away by a
"Ha!" remarked Planchette serenely, "the piece of skin is as safe
and sound as my eye. There was a flaw in your reservoir somewhere, or
a crevice in the large tube——"
"No, no; I know my reservoir. The devil is in your contrivance,
sir; you can take it away," and the German pounced upon a smith's
hammer, flung the skin down on an anvil, and, with all the strength
that rage gives, dealt the talisman the most formidable blow that had
ever resounded through his workshops.
"There is not so much as a mark on it!" said Planchette, stroking
the perverse bit of skin.
The workmen hurried in. The foreman took the skin and buried it in
the glowing coal of a forge, while, in a semi-circle round the fire,
they all awaited the action of a huge pair of bellows. Raphael,
Spieghalter, and Professor Planchette stood in the midst of the grimy
expectant crowd. Raphael, looking round on faces dusted over with iron
filings, white eyes, greasy blackened clothing, and hairy chests,
could have fancied himself transported into the wild nocturnal world
of German ballad poetry. After the skin had been in the fire for ten
minutes, the foreman pulled it out with a pair of pincers.
"Hand it over to me," said Raphael.
The foreman held it out by way of a joke. The Marquis readily
handled it; it was cool and flexible between his fingers. An
exclamation of alarm went up; the workmen fled in terror. Valentin was
left alone with Planchette in the empty workshop.
"There is certainly something infernal in the thing!" cried
Raphael, in desperation. "Is no human power able to give me one more
day of existence?"
"I made a mistake, sir," said the mathematician, with a penitent
expression; "we ought to have subjected that peculiar skin to the
action of a rolling machine. Where could my eyes have been when I
"It was I that asked for it," Raphael answered.
The mathematician heaved a sigh of relief, like a culprit acquitted
by a dozen jurors. Still, the strange problem afforded by the skin
interested him; he meditated a moment, and then remarked:
"This unknown material ought to be treated chemically by re-agents.
Let us call on Japhet—perhaps the chemist may have better luck than
Valentin urged his horse into a rapid trot, hoping to find the
chemist, the celebrated Japhet, in his laboratory.
"Well, old friend," Planchette began, seeing Japhet in his
armchair, examining a precipitate; "how goes chemistry?"
"Gone to sleep. Nothing new at all. The Academie, however, has
recognized the existence of salicine, but salicine, asparagine,
vauqueline, and digitaline are not really discoveries——"
"Since you cannot invent substances," said Raphael, "you are
obliged to fall back on inventing names."
"Most emphatically true, young man."
"Here," said Planchette, addressing the chemist, "try to analyze
this composition; if you can extract any element whatever from it, I
christen it diaboline beforehand, for we have just smashed a hydraulic
press in trying to compress it."
"Let's see! let's have a look at it!" cried the delighted chemist;
"it may, perhaps, be a fresh element."
"It is simply a piece of the skin of an ass, sir," said Raphael.
"Sir!" said the illustrious chemist sternly.
"I am not joking," the Marquis answered, laying the piece of skin
Baron Japhet applied the nervous fibres of his tongue to the skin;
he had skill in thus detecting salts, acids, alkalis, and gases. After
several experiments, he remarked:
"No taste whatever! Come, we will give it a little fluoric acid to
Subjected to the influence of this ready solvent of animal tissue,
the skin underwent no change whatsoever.
"It is not shagreen at all!" the chemist cried. "We will treat this
unknown mystery as a mineral, and try its mettle by dropping it in a
crucible where I have at this moment some red potash."
Japhet went out, and returned almost immediately.
"Allow me to cut away a bit of this strange substance, sir," he
said to Raphael; "it is so extraordinary——"
"A bit!" exclaimed Raphael; "not so much as a hair's-breadth. You
may try, though," he added, half banteringly, half sadly.
The chemist broke a razor in his desire to cut the skin; he tried
to break it by a powerful electric shock; next he submitted it to the
influence of a galvanic battery; but all the thunderbolts his science
wotted of fell harmless on the dreadful talisman.
It was seven o'clock in the evening. Planchette, Japhet, and
Raphael, unaware of the flight of time, were awaiting the outcome of a
final experiment. The Magic Skin emerged triumphant from a formidable
encounter in which it had been engaged with a considerable quantity of
chloride of nitrogen.
"It is all over with me," Raphael wailed. "It is the finger of God!
I shall die!——" and he left the two amazed scientific men.
"We must be very careful not to talk about this affair at the
Academie; our colleagues there would laugh at us," Planchette remarked
to the chemist, after a long pause, in which they looked at each other
without daring to communicate their thoughts. The learned pair looked
like two Christians who had issued from their tombs to find no God in
the heavens. Science had been powerless; acids, so much clear water;
red potash had been discredited; the galvanic battery and electric
shock had been a couple of playthings.
"A hydraulic press broken like a biscuit!" commented Planchette.
"I believe in the devil," said the Baron Japhet, after a moment's
"And I in God," replied Planchette.
Each spoke in character. The universe for a mechanician is a
machine that requires an operator; for chemistry—that fiendish
employment of decomposing all things—the world is a gas endowed with
the power of movement.
"We cannot deny the fact," the chemist replied.
"Pshaw! those gentlemen the doctrinaires have invented a nebulous
aphorism for our consolation—Stupid as a fact."
"Your aphorism," said the chemist, "seems to me as a fact very
They began to laugh, and went off to dine like folk for whom a
miracle is nothing more than a phenomenon.
Valentin reached his own house shivering with rage and consumed
with anger. He had no more faith in anything. Conflicting thoughts
shifted and surged to and fro in his brain, as is the case with every
man brought face to face with an inconceivable fact. He had readily
believed in some hidden flaw in Spieghalter's apparatus; he had not
been surprised by the incompetence and failure of science and of fire;
but the flexibility of the skin as he handled it, taken with its
stubbornness when all means of destruction that man possesses had been
brought to bear upon it in vain—these things terrified him. The
incontrovertible fact made him dizzy.
"I am mad," he muttered. "I have had no food since the morning, and
yet I am neither hungry nor thirsty, and there is a fire in my breast
that burns me."
He put back the skin in the frame where it had been enclosed but
lately, drew a line in red ink about the actual configuration of the
talisman, and seated himself in his armchair.
"Eight o'clock already!" he exclaimed. "To-day has gone like a
He leaned his elbow on the arm of the chair, propped his head with
his left hand, and so remained, lost in secret dark reflections and
consuming thoughts that men condemned to die bear away with them.
"O Pauline!" he cried. "Poor child! there are gulfs that love can
never traverse, despite the strength of his wings."
Just then he very distinctly heard a smothered sigh, and knew by
one of the most tender privileges of passionate love that it was
"That is my death warrant," he said to himself. "If she were there,
I should wish to die in her arms."
A burst of gleeful and hearty laughter made him turn his face
towards the bed; he saw Pauline's face through the transparent
curtains, smiling like a child for gladness over a successful piece of
mischief. Her pretty hair fell over her shoulders in countless curls;
she looked like a Bengal rose upon a pile of white roses.
"I cajoled Jonathan," said she. "Doesn't the bed belong to me, to
me who am your wife? Don't scold me, darling; I only wanted to
surprise you, to sleep beside you. Forgive me for my freak."
She sprang out of bed like a kitten, showed herself gleaming in her
lawn raiment, and sat down on Raphael's knee.
"Love, what gulf were you talking about?" she said, with an anxious
expression apparent upon her face.
"You hurt me," she answered. "There are some thoughts upon which
we, poor women that we are, cannot dwell; they are death to us. Is it
strength of love in us, or lack of courage? I cannot tell. Death does
not frighten me," she began again, laughingly. "To die with you, both
together, to-morrow morning, in one last embrace, would be joy. It
seems to me that even then I should have lived more than a hundred
years. What does the number of days matter if we have spent a whole
lifetime of peace and love in one night, in one hour?"
"You are right; Heaven is speaking through that pretty mouth of
yours. Grant that I may kiss you, and let us die," said Raphael.
"Then let us die," she said, laughing.
Towards nine o'clock in the morning the daylight streamed through
the chinks of the window shutters. Obscured somewhat by the muslin
curtains, it yet sufficed to show clearly the rich colors of the
carpet, the silks and furniture of the room, where the two lovers were
lying asleep. The gilding sparkled here and there. A ray of sunshine
fell and faded upon the soft down quilt that the freaks of live had
thrown to the ground. The outlines of Pauline's dress, hanging from a
cheval glass, appeared like a shadowy ghost. Her dainty shoes had been
left at a distance from the bed. A nightingale came to perch upon the
sill; its trills repeated over again, and the sounds of its wings
suddenly shaken out for flight, awoke Raphael.
"For me to die," he said, following out a thought begun in his
dream, "my organization, the mechanism of flesh and bone, that is
quickened by the will in me, and makes of me an individual MAN, must
display some perceptible disease. Doctors ought to understand the
symptoms of any attack on vitality, and could tell me whether I am
sick or sound."
He gazed at his sleeping wife. She had stretched her head out to
him, expressing in this way even while she slept the anxious
tenderness of love. Pauline seemed to look at him as she lay with her
face turned towards him in an attitude as full of grace as a young
child's, with her pretty, half-opened mouth held out towards him, as
she drew her light, even breath. Her little pearly teeth seemed to
heighten the redness of the fresh lips with the smile hovering over
them. The red glow in her complexion was brighter, and its whiteness
was, so to speak, whiter still just then than in the most impassioned
moments of the waking day. In her unconstrained grace, as she lay, so
full of believing trust, the adorable attractions of childhood were
added to the enchantments of love.
Even the most unaffected women still obey certain social
conventions, which restrain the free expansion of the soul within them
during their waking hours; but slumber seems to give them back the
spontaneity of life which makes infancy lovely. Pauline blushed for
nothing; she was like one of those beloved and heavenly beings, in
whom reason has not yet put motives into their actions and mystery
into their glances. Her profile stood out in sharp relief against the
fine cambric of the pillows; there was a certain sprightliness about
her loose hair in confusion, mingled with the deep lace ruffles; but
she was sleeping in happiness, her long lashes were tightly pressed
against her cheeks, as if to secure her eyes from too strong a light,
or to aid an effort of her soul to recollect and to hold fast a bliss
that had been perfect but fleeting. Her tiny pink and white ear,
framed by a lock of her hair and outlined by a wrapping of Mechlin
lace, would have made an artist, a painter, an old man, wildly in
love, and would perhaps have restored a madman to his senses.
Is it not an ineffable bliss to behold the woman that you love,
sleeping, smiling in a peaceful dream beneath your protection, loving
you even in dreams, even at the point where the individual seems to
cease to exist, offering to you yet the mute lips that speak to you in
slumber of the latest kiss? Is it not indescribable happiness to see a
trusting woman, half-clad, but wrapped round in her love as by a cloak
—modesty in the midst of dishevelment—to see admiringly her
scattered clothing, the silken stocking hastily put off to please you
last evening, the unclasped girdle that implies a boundless faith in
you. A whole romance lies there in that girdle; the woman that it used
to protect exists no longer; she is yours, she has become YOU;
henceforward any betrayal of her is a blow dealt at yourself.
In this softened mood Raphael's eyes wandered over the room, now
filled with memories and love, and where the very daylight seemed to
take delightful hues. Then he turned his gaze at last upon the
outlines of the woman's form, upon youth and purity, and love that
even now had no thought that was not for him alone, above all things,
and longed to live for ever. As his eyes fell upon Pauline, her own
opened at once as if a ray of sunlight had lighted on them.
"Good-morning," she said, smiling. "How handsome you are, bad man!"
The grace of love and youth, of silence and dawn, shone in their
faces, making a divine picture, with the fleeting spell over it all
that belongs only to the earliest days of passion, just as simplicity
and artlessness are the peculiar possession of childhood. Alas! love's
springtide joys, like our own youthful laughter, must even take
flight, and live for us no longer save in memory; either for our
despair, or to shed some soothing fragrance over us, according to the
bent of our inmost thoughts.
"What made me wake you?" said Raphael. "It was so great a pleasure
to watch you sleeping that it brought tears to my eyes."
"And to mine, too," she answered. "I cried in the night while I
watched you sleeping, but not with happiness. Raphael, dear, pray
listen to me. Your breathing is labored while you sleep, and something
rattles in your chest that frightens me. You have a little dry cough
when you are asleep, exactly like my father's, who is dying of
phthisis. In those sounds from your lungs I recognized some of the
peculiar symptoms of that complaint. Then you are feverish; I know you
are; your hand was moist and burning——Darling, you are young," she
added with a shudder, "and you could still get over it if
unfortunately——But, no," she cried cheerfully, "there is no
'unfortunately,' the disease is contagious, so the doctors say."
She flung both arms about Raphael, drawing in his breath through
one of those kisses in which the soul reaches its end.
"I do not wish to live to old age," she said. "Let us both die
young, and go to heaven while flowers fill our hands."
"We always make such designs as those when we are well and strong,"
Raphael replied, burying his hands in Pauline's hair. But even then a
horrible fit of coughing came on, one of those deep ominous coughs
that seem to come from the depths of the tomb, a cough that leaves the
sufferer ghastly pale, trembling, and perspiring; with aching sides
and quivering nerves, with a feeling of weariness pervading the very
marrow of the spine, and unspeakable languor in every vein. Raphael
slowly laid himself down, pale, exhausted, and overcome, like a man
who has spent all the strength in him over one final effort. Pauline's
eyes, grown large with terror, were fixed upon him; she lay quite
motionless, pale, and silent.
"Let us commit no more follies, my angel," she said, trying not to
let Raphael see the dreadful forebodings that disturbed her. She
covered her face with her hands, for she saw Death before her—the
hideous skeleton. Raphael's face had grown as pale and livid as any
skull unearthed from a churchyard to assist the studies of some
scientific man. Pauline remembered the exclamation that had escaped
from Valentin the previous evening, and to herself she said:
"Yes, there are gulfs that love can never cross, and therein love
must bury itself."
On a March morning, some days after this wretched scene, Raphael
found himself seated in an armchair, placed in the window in the full
light of day. Four doctors stood round him, each in turn trying his
pulse, feeling him over, and questioning him with apparent interest.
The invalid sought to guess their thoughts, putting a construction on
every movement they made, and on the slightest contractions of their
brows. His last hope lay in this consultation. This court of appeal
was about to pronounce its decision—life or death.
Valentin had summoned the oracles of modern medicine, so that he
might have the last word of science. Thanks to his wealth and title,
there stood before him three embodied theories; human knowledge
fluctuated round the three points. Three of the doctors brought among
them the complete circle of medical philosophy; they represented the
points of conflict round which the battle raged, between Spiritualism,
Analysis, and goodness knows what in the way of mocking eclecticism.
The fourth doctor was Horace Bianchon, a man of science with a
future before him, the most distinguished man of the new school in
medicine, a discreet and unassuming representative of a studious
generation that is preparing to receive the inheritance of fifty years
of experience treasured up by the Ecole de Paris, a generation that
perhaps will erect the monument for the building of which the
centuries behind us have collected the different materials. As a
personal friend of the Marquis and of Rastignac, he had been in
attendance on the former for some days past, and was helping him to
answer the inquiries of the three professors, occasionally insisting
somewhat upon those symptoms which, in his opinion, pointed to
"You have been living at a great pace, leading a dissipated life,
no doubt, and you have devoted yourself largely to intellectual work?"
queried one of the three celebrated authorities, addressing Raphael.
He was a square-headed man, with a large frame and energetic
organization, which seemed to mark him out as superior to his two
"I made up my mind to kill myself with debauchery, after spending
three years over an extensive work, with which perhaps you may some
day occupy yourselves," Raphael replied.
The great doctor shook his head, and so displayed his satisfaction.
"I was sure of it," he seemed to say to himself. He was the
illustrious Brisset, the successor of Cabanis and Bichat, head of the
Organic School, a doctor popular with believers in material and
positive science, who see in man a complete individual, subject solely
to the laws of his own particular organization; and who consider that
his normal condition and abnormal states of disease can both be traced
to obvious causes.
After this reply, Brisset looked, without speaking, at a
middle-sized person, whose darkly flushed countenance and glowing eyes
seemed to belong to some antique satyr; and who, leaning his back
against the corner of the embrasure, was studying Raphael, without
saying a word. Doctor Cameristus, a man of creeds and enthusiasms, the
head of the "Vitalists," a romantic champion of the esoteric doctrines
of Van Helmont, discerned a lofty informing principle in human life, a
mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon which mocks at the scalpel,
deceives the surgeon, eludes the drugs of the pharmacopoeia, the
formulae of algebra, the demonstrations of anatomy, and derides all
our efforts; a sort of invisible, intangible flame, which, obeying
some divinely appointed law, will often linger on in a body in our
opinion devoted to death, while it takes flight from an organization
well fitted for prolonged existence.
A bitter smile hovered upon the lips of the third doctor,
Maugredie, a man of acknowledged ability, but a Pyrrhonist and a
scoffer, with the scalpel for his one article of faith. He would
consider, as a concession to Brisset, that a man who, as a matter of
fact, was perfectly well was dead, and recognize with Cameristus that
a man might be living on after his apparent demise. He found something
sensible in every theory, and embraced none of them, claiming that the
best of all systems of medicine was to have none at all, and to stick
to facts. This Panurge of the Clinical Schools, the king of observers,
the great investigator, a great sceptic, the man of desperate
expedients, was scrutinizing the Magic Skin.
"I should very much like to be a witness of the coincidence of its
retrenchment with your wish," he said to the Marquis.
"Where is the use?" cried Brisset.
"Where is the use?" echoed Cameristus.
"Ah, you are both of the same mind," replied Maugredie.
"The contraction is perfectly simple," Brisset went on.
"It is supernatural," remarked Cameristus.
"In short," Maugredie made answer, with affected solemnity, and
handing the piece of skin to Raphael as he spoke, "the shriveling
faculty of the skin is a fact inexplicable, and yet quite natural,
which, ever since the world began, has been the despair of medicine
and of pretty women."
All Valentin's observation could discover no trace of a feeling for
his troubles in any of the three doctors. The three received every
answer in silence, scanned him unconcernedly, and interrogated him
unsympathetically. Politeness did not conceal their indifference;
whether deliberation or certainty was the cause, their words at any
rate came so seldom and so languidly, that at times Raphael thought
that their attention was wandering. From time to time Brisset, the
sole speaker, remarked, "Good! just so!" as Bianchon pointed out the
existence of each desperate symptom. Cameristus seemed to be deep in
meditation; Maugredie looked like a comic author, studying two queer
characters with a view to reproducing them faithfully upon the stage.
There was deep, unconcealed distress, and grave compassion in Horace
Bianchon's face. He had been a doctor for too short a time to be
untouched by suffering and unmoved by a deathbed; he had not learned
to keep back the sympathetic tears that obscure a man's clear vision
and prevent him from seizing like the general of an army, upon the
auspicious moment for victory, in utter disregard of the groans of
After spending about half an hour over taking in some sort the
measure of the patient and the complaint, much as a tailor measures a
young man for a coat when he orders his wedding outfit, the
authorities uttered several commonplaces, and even talked of politics.
Then they decided to go into Raphael's study to exchange their ideas
and frame their verdict.
"May I not be present during the discussion, gentlemen?" Valentin
had asked them, but Brisset and Maugredie protested against this, and,
in spite of their patient's entreaties, declined altogether to
deliberate in his presence.
Raphael gave way before their custom, thinking that he could slip
into a passage adjoining, whence he could easily overhear the medical
conference in which the three professors were about to engage.
"Permit me, gentlemen," said Brisset, as they entered, "to give you
my own opinion at once. I neither wish to force it upon you nor to
have it discussed. In the first place, it is unbiased, concise, and
based on an exact similarity that exists between one of my own
patients and the subject that we have been called in to examine; and,
moreover, I am expected at my hospital. The importance of the case
that demands my presence there will excuse me for speaking the first
word. The subject with which we are concerned has been exhausted in an
equal degree by intellectual labors—what did he set about, Horace?"
he asked of the young doctor.
"A 'Theory of the Will,' "
"The devil! but that's a big subject. He is exhausted, I say, by
too much brain-work, by irregular courses, and by the repeated use of
too powerful stimulants. Violent exertion of body and mind has
demoralized the whole system. It is easy, gentlemen, to recognize in
the symptoms of the face and body generally intense irritation of the
stomach, an affection of the great sympathetic nerve, acute
sensibility of the epigastric region, and contraction of the right and
left hypochondriac. You have noticed, too, the large size and
prominence of the liver. M. Bianchon has, besides, constantly watched
the patient, and he tells us that digestion is troublesome and
difficult. Strictly speaking, there is no stomach left, and so the man
has disappeared. The brain is atrophied because the man digests no
longer. The progressive deterioration wrought in the epigastric
region, the seat of vitality, has vitiated the whole system. Thence,
by continuous fevered vibrations, the disorder has reached the brain
by means of the nervous plexus, hence the excessive irritation in that
organ. There is monomania. The patient is burdened with a fixed idea.
That piece of skin really contracts, to his way of thinking; very
likely it always has been as we have seen it; but whether it contracts
or no, that thing is for him just like the fly that some Grand Vizier
or other had on his nose. If you put leeches at once on the
epigastrium, and reduce the irritation in that part, which is the very
seat of man's life, and if you diet the patient, the monomania will
leave him. I will say no more to Dr. Bianchon; he should be able to
grasp the whole treatment as well as the details. There may be,
perhaps, some complication of the disease—the bronchial tubes,
possibly, may be also inflamed; but I believe that treatment for the
intestinal organs is very much more important and necessary, and more
urgently required than for the lungs. Persistent study of abstract
matters, and certain violent passions, have induced serious disorders
in that vital mechanism. However, we are in time to set these
conditions right. Nothing is too seriously affected. You will easily
get your friend round again," he remarked to Bianchon.
"Our learned colleague is taking the effect for the cause,"
Cameristus replied. "Yes, the changes that he has observed so keenly
certainly exist in the patient; but it is not the stomach that, by
degrees, has set up nervous action in the system, and so affected the
brain, like a hole in a window pane spreading cracks round about it.
It took a blow of some kind to make a hole in the window; who gave the
blow? Do we know that? Have we investigated the patient's case
sufficiently? Are we acquainted with all the events of his life?
"The vital principle, gentlemen," he continued, "the Archeus of Van
Helmont, is affected in his case—the very essence and centre of life
is attacked. The divine spark, the transitory intelligence which holds
the organism together, which is the source of the will, the
inspiration of life, has ceased to regulate the daily phenomena of the
mechanism and the functions of every organ; thence arise all the
complications which my learned colleague has so thoroughly
appreciated. The epigastric region does not affect the brain but the
brain affects the epigastric region. No," he went on, vigorously
slapping his chest, "no, I am not a stomach in the form of a man. No,
everything does not lie there. I do not feel that I have the courage
to say that if the epigastric region is in good order, everything else
is in a like condition——
"We cannot trace," he went on more mildly, "to one physical cause
the serious disturbances that supervene in this or that subject which
has been dangerously attacked, nor submit them to a uniform treatment.
No one man is like another. We have each peculiar organs, differently
affected, diversely nourished, adapted to perform different functions,
and to induce a condition necessary to the accomplishment of an order
of things which is unknown to us. The sublime will has so wrought that
a little portion of the great All is set within us to sustain the
phenomena of living; in every man it formulates itself distinctly,
making each, to all appearance, a separate individual, yet in one
point co-existent with the infinite cause. So we ought to make a
separate study of each subject, discover all about it, find out in
what its life consists, and wherein its power lies. From the softness
of a wet sponge to the hardness of pumice-stone there are infinite
fine degrees of difference. Man is just like that. Between the sponge-
like organizations of the lymphatic and the vigorous iron muscles of
such men as are destined for a long life, what a margin for errors for
the single inflexible system of a lowering treatment to commit; a
system that reduces the capacities of the human frame, which you
always conclude have been over-excited. Let us look for the origin of
the disease in the mental and not in the physical viscera. A doctor is
an inspired being, endowed by God with a special gift—the power to
read the secrets of vitality; just as the prophet has received the
eyes that foresee the future, the poet his faculty of evoking nature,
and the musician the power of arranging sounds in an harmonious order
that is possibly a copy of an ideal harmony on high."
"There is his everlasting system of medicine, arbitrary,
monarchical, and pious," muttered Brisset.
"Gentlemen," Maugredie broke in hastily, to distract attention from
Brisset's comment, "don't let us lose sight of the patient."
"What is the good of science?" Raphael moaned. "Here is my recovery
halting between a string of beads and a rosary of leeches, between
Dupuytren's bistoury and Prince Hohenlohe's prayer. There is Maugredie
suspending his judgment on the line that divides facts from words,
mind from matter. Man's 'it is,' and 'it is not,' is always on my
track; it is the Carymary Carymara of Rabelais for evermore: my
disorder is spiritual, Carymary, or material, Carymara. Shall I live?
They have no idea. Planchette was more straightforward with me, at any
rate, when he said, 'I do not know.' "
Just then Valentin heard Maugredie's voice.
"The patient suffers from monomania; very good, I am quite of that
opinion," he said, "but he has two hundred thousand a year;
monomaniacs of that kind are very uncommon. As for knowing whether his
epigastric region has affected his brain, or his brain his epigastric
region, we shall find that out, perhaps, whenever he dies. But to
resume. There is no disputing the fact that he is ill; some sort of
treatment he must have. Let us leave theories alone, and put leeches
on him, to counteract the nervous and intestinal irritation, as to the
existence of which we all agree; and let us send him to drink the
waters, in that way we shall act on both systems at once. If there
really is tubercular disease, we can hardly expect to save his life;
Raphael abruptly left the passage, and went back to his armchair.
The four doctors very soon came out of the study; Horace was the
"These gentlemen," he told him, "have unanimously agreed that
leeches must be applied to the stomach at once, and that both physical
and moral treatment are imperatively needed. In the first place, a
carefully prescribed rule of diet, so as to soothe the internal
irritation"—here Brisset signified his approval; "and in the second,
a hygienic regimen, to set your general condition right. We all,
therefore, recommend you to go to take the waters in Aix in Savoy; or,
if you like it better, at Mont Dore in Auvergne; the air and the
situation are both pleasanter in Savoy than in the Cantal, but you
will consult your own taste."
Here it was Cameristus who nodded assent.
"These gentlemen," Bianchon continued, "having recognized a slight
affection of the respiratory organs, are agreed as to the utility of
the previous course of treatment that I have prescribed. They think
that there will be no difficulty about restoring you to health, and
that everything depends upon a wise and alternate employment of these
various means. And——"
"And that is the cause of the milk in the cocoanut," said Raphael,
with a smile, as he led Horace into his study to pay the fees for this
"Their conclusions are logical," the young doctor replied.
"Cameristus feels, Brisset examines, Maugredie doubts. Has not man a
soul, a body, and an intelligence? One of these three elemental
constituents always influences us more or less strongly; there will
always be the personal element in human science. Believe me, Raphael,
we effect no cures; we only assist them. Another system—the use of
mild remedies while Nature exerts her powers—lies between the
extremes of theory of Brisset and Cameristus, but one ought to have
known the patient for some ten years or so to obtain a good result on
these lines. Negation lies at the back of all medicine, as in every
other science. So endeavor to live wholesomely; try a trip to Savoy;
the best course is, and always will be, to trust to Nature."
It was a month later, on a fine summer-like evening, that several
people, who were taking the waters at Aix, returned from the promenade
and met together in the salons of the Club. Raphael remained alone by
a window for a long time. His back was turned upon the gathering, and
he himself was deep in those involuntary musings in which thoughts
arise in succession and fade away, shaping themselves indistinctly,
passing over us like thin, almost colorless clouds. Melancholy is
sweet to us then, and delight is shadowy, for the soul is half asleep.
Valentin gave himself up to this life of sensations; he was steeping
himself in the warm, soft twilight, enjoying the pure air with the
scent of the hills in it, happy in that he felt no pain, and had
tranquilized his threatening Magic Skin at last. It grew cooler as the
red glow of the sunset faded on the mountain peaks; he shut the window
and left his place.
"Will you be so kind as not to close the windows, sir?" said an old
lady; "we are being stifled——"
The peculiarly sharp and jarring tones in which the phrase was
uttered grated on Raphael's ears; it fell on them like an indiscreet
remark let slip by some man in whose friendship we would fain believe,
a word which reveals unsuspected depths of selfishness and destroys
some pleasing sentimental illusion of ours. The Marquis glanced, with
the cool inscrutable expression of a diplomatist, at the old lady,
called a servant, and, when he came, curtly bade him:
"Open that window."
Great surprise was clearly expressed on all faces at the words. The
whole roomful began to whisper to each other, and turned their eyes
upon the invalid, as though he had given some serious offence.
Raphael, who had never quite managed to rid himself of the bashfulness
of his early youth, felt a momentary confusion; then he shook off his
torpor, exerted his faculties, and asked himself the meaning of this
A sudden and rapid impulse quickened his brain; the past weeks
appeared before him in a clear and definite vision; the reasons for
the feelings he inspired in others stood out for him in relief, like
the veins of some corpse which a naturalist, by some cunningly
contrived injection, has colored so as to show their least
He discerned himself in this fleeting picture; he followed out his
own life in it, thought by thought, day after day. He saw himself, not
without astonishment, an absent gloomy figure in the midst of these
lively folk, always musing over his own fate, always absorbed by his
own sufferings, seemingly impatient of the most harmless chat. He saw
how he had shunned the ephemeral intimacies that travelers are so
ready to establish—no doubt because they feel sure of never meeting
each other again—and how he had taken little heed of those about him.
He saw himself like the rocks without, unmoved by the caresses or the
stormy surgings of the waves.
Then, by a gift of insight seldom accorded, he read the thoughts of
all those about him. The light of a candle revealed the sardonic
profile and yellow cranium of an old man; he remembered now that he
had won from him, and had never proposed that the other should have
his revenge; a little further on he saw a pretty woman, whose lively
advances he had met with frigid coolness; there was not a face there
that did not reproach him with some wrong done, inexplicably to all
appearance, but the real offence in every case lay in some
mortification, some invisible hurt dealt to self-love. He had
unintentionally jarred on all the small susceptibilities of the circle
round about him.
His guests on various occasions, and those to whom he had lent his
horses, had taken offence at his luxurious ways; their ungraciousness
had been a surprise to him; he had spared them further humiliations of
that kind, and they had considered that he looked down upon them, and
had accused him of haughtiness ever since. He could read their inmost
thoughts as he fathomed their natures in this way. Society with its
polish and varnish grew loathsome to him. He was envied and hated for
his wealth and superior ability; his reserve baffled the inquisitive;
his humility seemed like haughtiness to these petty superficial
natures. He guessed the secret unpardonable crime which he had
committed against them; he had overstepped the limits of the
jurisdiction of their mediocrity. He had resisted their inquisitorial
tyranny; he could dispense with their society; and all of them,
therefore, had instinctively combined to make him feel their power,
and to take revenge upon this incipient royalty by submitting him to a
kind of ostracism, and so teaching him that they in their turn could
do without him.
Pity came over him, first of all, at this aspect of mankind, but
very soon he shuddered at the thought of the power that came thus, at
will, and flung aside for him the veil of flesh under which the moral
nature is hidden away. He closed his eyes, so as to see no more. A
black curtain was drawn all at once over this unlucky phantom show of
truth; but still he found himself in the terrible loneliness that
surrounds every power and dominion. Just then a violent fit of
coughing seized him. Far from receiving one single word—indifferent,
and meaningless, it is true, but still containing, among well-bred
people brought together by chance, at least some pretence of civil
commiseration—he now heard hostile ejaculations and muttered
complaints. Society there assembled disdained any pantomime on his
account, perhaps because he had gauged its real nature too well.
"His complaint is contagious."
"The president of the Club ought to forbid him to enter the salon."
"It is contrary to all rules and regulations to cough in that way!"
"When a man is as ill as that, he ought not to come to take the
"He will drive me away from the place."
Raphael rose and walked about the rooms to screen himself from
their unanimous execrations. He thought to find a shelter, and went up
to a young pretty lady who sat doing nothing, minded to address some
pretty speeches to her; but as he came towards her, she turned her
back upon him, and pretended to be watching the dancers. Raphael
feared lest he might have made use of the talisman already that
evening; and feeling that he had neither the wish nor the courage to
break into the conversation, he left the salon and took refuge in the
billiard-room. No one there greeted him, nobody spoke to him, no one
sent so much as a friendly glance in his direction. His turn of mind,
naturally meditative, had discovered instinctively the general grounds
and reasons for the aversion he inspired. This little world was
obeying, unconsciously perhaps, the sovereign law which rules over
polite society; its inexorable nature was becoming apparent in its
entirety to Raphael's eyes. A glance into the past showed it to him,
as a type completely realized in Foedora.
He would no more meet with sympathy here for his bodily ills than
he had received it at her hands for the distress in his heart. The
fashionable world expels every suffering creature from its midst, just
as the body of a man in robust health rejects any germ of disease. The
world holds suffering and misfortune in abhorrence; it dreads them
like the plague; it never hesitates between vice and trouble, for vice
is a luxury. Ill-fortune may possess a majesty of its own, but society
can belittle it and make it ridiculous by an epigram. Society draws
caricatures, and in this way flings in the teeth of fallen kings the
affronts which it fancies it has received from them; society, like the
Roman youth at the circus, never shows mercy to the fallen gladiator;
mockery and money are its vital necessities. "Death to the weak!" That
is the oath taken by this kind of Equestrian order, instituted in
their midst by all the nations of the world; everywhere it makes for
the elevation of the rich, and its motto is deeply graven in hearts
that wealth has turned to stone, or that have been reared in
Assemble a collection of school-boys together. That will give you a
society in miniature, a miniature which represents life more truly,
because it is so frank and artless; and in it you will always find
poor isolated beings, relegated to some place in the general
estimations between pity and contempt, on account of their weakness
and suffering. To these the Evangel promises heaven hereafter. Go
lower yet in the scale of organized creation. If some bird among its
fellows in the courtyard sickens, the others fall upon it with their
beaks, pluck out its feathers, and kill it. The whole world, in
accordance with its character of egotism, brings all its severity to
bear upon wretchedness that has the hardihood to spoil its
festivities, and to trouble its joys.
Any sufferer in mind or body, any helpless or poor man, is a
pariah. He had better remain in his solitude; if he crosses the
boundary-line, he will find winter everywhere; he will find freezing
cold in other men's looks, manners, words, and hearts; and lucky
indeed is he if he does not receive an insult where he expected that
sympathy would be expended upon him. Let the dying keep to their bed
of neglect, and age sit lonely by its fireside. Portionless maids,
freeze and burn in your solitary attics. If the world tolerates misery
of any kind, it is to turn it to account for its own purposes, to make
some use of it, saddle and bridle it, put a bit in its mouth, ride it
about, and get some fun out of it.
Crotchety spinsters, ladies' companions, put a cheerful face upon
it, endure the humors of your so-called benefactress, carry her
lapdogs for her; you have an English poodle for your rival, and you
must seek to understand the moods of your patroness, and amuse her,
and—keep silence about yourselves. As for you, unblushing parasite,
uncrowned king of unliveried servants, leave your real character at
home, let your digestion keep pace with your host's laugh when he
laughs, mingle your tears with his, and find his epigrams amusing; if
you want to relieve your mind about him, wait till he is ruined. That
is the way the world shows its respect for the unfortunate; it
persecutes them, or slays them in the dust.
Such thoughts as these welled up in Raphael's heart with the
suddenness of poetic inspiration. He looked around him, and felt the
influence of the forbidding gloom that society breathes out in order
to rid itself of the unfortunate; it nipped his soul more effectually
than the east wind grips the body in December. He locked his arms over
his chest, set his back against the wall, and fell into a deep
melancholy. He mused upon the meagre happiness that this depressing
way of living can give. What did it amount to? Amusement with no
pleasure in it, gaiety without gladness, joyless festivity, fevered
dreams empty of all delight, firewood or ashes on the hearth without a
spark of flame in them. When he raised his head, he found himself
alone, all the billiard players had gone.
"I have only to let them know my power to make them worship my
coughing fits," he said to himself, and wrapped himself against the
world in the cloak of his contempt.
Next day the resident doctor came to call upon him, and took an
anxious interest in his health. Raphael felt a thrill of joy at the
friendly words addressed to him. The doctor's face, to his thinking,
wore an expression that was kind and pleasant; the pale curls of his
wig seemed redolent of philanthropy; the square cut of his coat, the
loose folds of his trousers, his big Quaker-like shoes, everything
about him down to the powder shaken from his queue and dusted in a
circle upon his slightly stooping shoulders, revealed an apostolic
nature, and spoke of Christian charity and of the self-sacrifice of a
man, who, out of sheer devotion to his patients, had compelled himself
to learn to play whist and tric-trac so well that he never lost money
to any of them.
"My Lord Marquis," said he, after a long talk with Raphael, "I can
dispel your uneasiness beyond all doubt. I know your constitution well
enough by this time to assure you that the doctors in Paris, whose
great abilities I know, are mistaken as to the nature of your
complaint. You can live as long as Methuselah, my Lord Marquis,
accidents only excepted. Your lungs are as sound as a blacksmith's
bellows, your stomach would put an ostrich to the blush; but if you
persist in living at high altitude, you are running the risk of a
prompt interment in consecrated soil. A few words, my Lord Marquis,
will make my meaning clear to you.
"Chemistry," he began, "has shown us that man's breathing is a real
process of combustion, and the intensity of its action varies
according to the abundance or scarcity of the phlogistic element
stored up by the organism of each individual. In your case, the
phlogistic, or inflammatory element is abundant; if you will permit me
to put it so, you generate superfluous oxygen, possessing as you do
the inflammatory temperament of a man destined to experience strong
emotions. While you breath the keen, pure air that stimulates life in
men of lymphatic constitution, you are accelerating an expenditure of
vitality already too rapid. One of the conditions for existence for
you is the heavier atmosphere of the plains and valleys. Yes, the
vital air for a man consumed by his genius lies in the fertile
pasture-lands of Germany, at Toplitz or Baden-Baden. If England is not
obnoxious to you, its misty climate would reduce your fever; but the
situation of our baths, a thousand feet above the level of the
Mediterranean, is dangerous for you. That is my opinion at least," he
said, with a deprecatory gesture, "and I give it in opposition to our
interests, for, if you act upon it, we shall unfortunately lose you."
But for these closing words of his, the affable doctor's seeming
good- nature would have completely won Raphael over; but he was too
profoundly observant not to understand the meaning of the tone, the
look and gesture that accompanied that mild sarcasm, not to see that
the little man had been sent on this errand, no doubt, by a flock of
his rejoicing patients. The florid-looking idlers, tedious old women,
nomad English people, and fine ladies who had given their husbands the
slip, and were escorted hither by their lovers—one and all were in a
plot to drive away a wretched, feeble creature to die, who seemed
unable to hold out against a daily renewed persecution! Raphael
accepted the challenge, he foresaw some amusement to be derived from
"As you would be grieved at losing me," said he to the doctor, "I
will endeavor to avail myself of your good advice without leaving the
place. I will set about having a house built to-morrow, and the
atmosphere within it shall be regulated by your instructions."
The doctor understood the sarcastic smile that lurked about
Raphael's mouth, and took his leave without finding another word to
The Lake of Bourget lies seven hundred feet above the
Mediterranean, in a great hollow among the jagged peaks of the hills;
it sparkles there, the bluest drop of water in the world. From the
summit of the Cat's Tooth the lake below looks like a stray turquoise.
This lovely sheet of water is about twenty-seven miles round, and in
some places is nearly five hundred feet deep.
Under the cloudless sky, in your boat in the midst of the great
expanse of water, with only the sound of the oars in your ears, only
the vague outline of the hills on the horizon before you; you admire
the glittering snows of the French Maurienne; you pass, now by masses
of granite clad in the velvet of green turf or in low-growing shrubs,
now by pleasant sloping meadows; there is always a wilderness on the
one hand and fertile lands on the other, and both harmonies and
dissonances compose a scene for you where everything is at once small
and vast, and you feel yourself to be a poor onlooker at a great
banquet. The configuration of the mountains brings about misleading
optical conditions and illusions of perspective; a pine-tree a hundred
feet in height looks to be a mere weed; wide valleys look as narrow as
meadow paths. The lake is the only one where the confidences of heart
and heart can be exchanged. There one can live; there one can
meditate. Nowhere on earth will you find a closer understanding
between the water, the sky, the mountains, and the fields. There is a
balm there for all the agitations of life. The place keeps the secrets
of sorrow to itself, the sorrow that grows less beneath its soothing
influence; and to love, it gives a grave and meditative cast,
deepening passion and purifying it. A kiss there becomes something
great. But beyond all other things it is the lake for memories; it
aids them by lending to them the hues of its own waves; it is a mirror
in which everything is reflected. Only here, with this lovely
landscape all around him, could Raphael endure the burden laid upon
him; here he could remain as a languid dreamer, without a wish of his
He went out upon the lake after the doctor's visit, and was landed
at a lonely point on the pleasant slope where the village of Saint-
Innocent is situated. The view from this promontory, as one may call
it, comprises the heights of Bugey with the Rhone flowing at their
foot, and the end of the lake; but Raphael liked to look at the
opposite shore from thence, at the melancholy looking Abbey of Haute-
Combe, the burying-place of the Sardinian kings, who lie prostrate
there before the hills, like pilgrims come at last to their journey's
end. The silence of the landscape was broken by the even rhythm of the
strokes of the oar; it seemed to find a voice for the place, in
monotonous cadences like the chanting of monks. The Marquis was
surprised to find visitors to this usually lonely part of the lake;
and as he mused, he watched the people seated in the boat, and
recognized in the stern the elderly lady who had spoken so harshly to
him the evening before.
No one took any notice of Raphael as the boat passed, except the
elderly lady's companion, a poor old maid of noble family, who bowed
to him, and whom it seemed to him that he saw for the first time. A
few seconds later he had already forgotten the visitors, who had
rapidly disappeared behind the promontory, when he heard the
fluttering of a dress and the sound of light footsteps not far from
him. He turned about and saw the companion; and, guessing from her
embarrassed manner that she wished to speak with him, he walked
She was somewhere about thirty-six years of age, thin and tall,
reserved and prim, and, like all old maids, seemed puzzled to know
which way to look, an expression no longer in keeping with her
measured, springless, and hesitating steps. She was both young and old
at the same time, and, by a certain dignity in her carriage, showed
the high value which she set upon her charms and perfections. In
addition, her movements were all demure and discreet, like those of
women who are accustomed to take great care of themselves, no doubt
because they desire not to be cheated of love, their destined end.
"Your life is in danger, sir; do not come to the Club again!" she
said, stepping back a pace or two from Raphael, as if her reputation
had already been compromised.
"But, mademoiselle," said Raphael, smiling, "please explain
yourself more clearly, since you have condescended so far——"
"Ah," she answered, "unless I had had a very strong motive, I
should never have run the risk of offending the countess, for if she
ever came to know that I had warned you——"
"And who would tell her, mademoiselle?" cried Raphael.
"True," the old maid answered. She looked at him, quaking like an
owl out in the sunlight. "But think of yourself," she went on;
"several young men, who want to drive you away from the baths, have
agreed to pick a quarrel with you, and to force you into a duel."
The elderly lady's voice sounded in the distance.
"Mademoiselle," began the Marquis, "my gratitude——" But his
protectress had fled already; she had heard the voice of her mistress
squeaking afresh among the rocks.
"Poor girl! unhappiness always understands and helps the unhappy,"
Raphael thought, and sat himself down at the foot of a tree.
The key of every science is, beyond cavil, the mark of
interrogation; we owe most of our greatest discoveries to a WHY? and
all the wisdom in the world, perhaps, consists in asking WHEREFORE? in
every connection. But, on the other hand, this acquired prescience is
the ruin of our illusions.
So Valentin, having taken the old maid's kindly action for the text
of his wandering thoughts, without the deliberate promptings of
philosophy, must find it full of gall and wormwood.
"It is not at all extraordinary that a gentlewoman's gentlewoman
should take a fancy to me," said he to himself. "I am twenty-seven
years old, and I have a title and an income of two hundred thousand a
year. But that her mistress, who hates water like a rabid cat—for it
would be hard to give the palm to either in that matter—that her
mistress should have brought her here in a boat! Is not that very
strange and wonderful? Those two women came into Savoy to sleep like
marmots; they ask if day has dawned at noon; and to think that they
could get up this morning before eight o'clock, to take their chances
in running after me!"
Very soon the old maid and her elderly innocence became, in his
eyes, a fresh manifestation of that artificial, malicious little
world. It was a paltry device, a clumsy artifice, a piece of priest's
or woman's craft. Was the duel a myth, or did they merely want to
frighten him? But these petty creatures, impudent and teasing as
flies, had succeeded in wounding his vanity, in rousing his pride, and
exciting his curiosity. Unwilling to become their dupe, or to be taken
for a coward, and even diverted perhaps by the little drama, he went
to the Club that very evening.
He stood leaning against the marble chimney-piece, and stayed there
quietly in the middle of the principal saloon, doing his best to give
no one any advantage over him; but he scrutinized the faces about him,
and gave a certain vague offence to those assembled, by his
inspection. Like a dog aware of his strength, he awaited the contest
on his own ground, without necessary barking. Towards the end of the
evening he strolled into the cardroom, walking between the door and
another that opened into the billiard-room, throwing a glance from
time to time over a group of young men that had gathered there. He
heard his name mentioned after a turn or two. Although they lowered
their voices, Raphael easily guessed that he had become the topic of
their debate, and he ended by catching a phrase or two spoken aloud.
"I dare you to do it!"
"Let us make a bet on it!"
"Oh, he will do it."
Just as Valentin, curious to learn the matter of the wager, came up
to pay closer attention to what they were saying, a tall, strong,
good- looking young fellow, who, however, possessed the impertinent
stare peculiar to people who have material force at their back, came
out of the billiard-room.
"I am deputed, sir," he said coolly addressing the Marquis, "to
make you aware of something which you do not seem to know; your face
and person generally are a source of annoyance to every one here, and
to me in particular. You have too much politeness not to sacrifice
yourself to the public good, and I beg that you will not show yourself
in the Club again."
"This sort of joke has been perpetrated before, sir, in garrison
towns at the time of the Empire; but nowadays it is exceedingly bad
form," said Raphael drily.
"I am not joking," the young man answered; "and I repeat it: your
health will be considerably the worse for a stay here; the heat and
light, the air of the saloon, and the company are all bad for your
"Where did you study medicine?" Raphael inquired.
"I took my bachelor's degree on Lepage's shooting-ground in Paris,
and was made a doctor at Cerizier's, the king of foils."
"There is one last degree left for you to take," said Valentin;
"study the ordinary rules of politeness, and you will be a perfect
The young men all came out of the billiard-room just then, some
disposed to laugh, some silent. The attention of other players was
drawn to the matter; they left their cards to watch a quarrel that
rejoiced their instincts. Raphael, alone among this hostile crowd, did
his best to keep cool, and not to put himself in any way in the wrong;
but his adversary having ventured a sarcasm containing an insult
couched in unusually keen language, he replied gravely:
"We cannot box men's ears, sir, in these days, but I am at a loss
for any word by which to stigmatize such cowardly behavior as yours."
"That's enough, that's enough. You can come to an explanation to-
morrow," several young men exclaimed, interposing between the two
Raphael left the room in the character of aggressor, after he had
accepted a proposal to meet near the Chateau de Bordeau, in a little
sloping meadow, not very far from the newly made road, by which the
man who came off victorious could reach Lyons. Raphael must now either
take to his bed or leave the baths. The visitors had gained their
point. At eight o'clock next morning his antagonist, followed by two
seconds and a surgeon, arrived first on the ground.
"We shall do very nicely here; glorious weather for a duel!" he
cried gaily, looking at the blue vault of sky above, at the waters of
the lake, and the rocks, without a single melancholy presentiment or
doubt of the issue. "If I wing him," he went on, "I shall send him to
bed for a month; eh, doctor?"
"At the very least," the surgeon replied; "but let that willow twig
alone, or you will weary your wrist, and then you will not fire
steadily. You might kill your man instead of wounding him."
The noise of a carriage was heard approaching.
"Here he is," said the seconds, who soon descried a caleche coming
along the road; it was drawn by four horses, and there were two
"What a queer proceeding!" said Valentin's antagonist; "here he
comes post-haste to be shot."
The slightest incident about a duel, as about a stake at cards,
makes an impression on the minds of those deeply concerned in the
results of the affair; so the young man awaited the arrival of the
carriage with a kind of uneasiness. It stopped in the road; old
Jonathan laboriously descended from it, in the first place, to assist
Raphael to alight; he supported him with his feeble arms, and showed
him all the minute attentions that a lover lavishes upon his mistress.
Both became lost to sight in the footpath that lay between the
highroad and the field where the duel was to take place; they were
walking slowly, and did not appear again for some time after. The four
onlookers at this strange spectacle felt deeply moved by the sight of
Valentin as he leaned on his servant's arm; he was wasted and pale; he
limped as if he had the gout, went with his head bowed down, and said
not a word. You might have taken them for a couple of old men, one
broken with years, the other worn out with thought; the elder bore his
age visibly written in his white hair, the younger was of no age.
"I have not slept all night, sir;" so Raphael greeted his
The icy tone and terrible glance that went with the words made the
real aggressor shudder; he know that he was in the wrong, and felt in
secret ashamed of his behavior. There was something strange in
Raphael's bearing, tone, and gesture; the Marquis stopped, and every
one else was likewise silent. The uneasy and constrained feeling grew
to a height.
"There is yet time," he went on, "to offer me some slight apology;
and offer it you must, or you will die sir! You rely even now on your
dexterity, and do not shrink from an encounter in which you believe
all the advantage to be upon your side. Very good, sir; I am generous,
I am letting you know my superiority beforehand. I possess a terrible
power. I have only to wish to do so, and I can neutralize your skill,
dim your eyesight, make your hand and pulse unsteady, and even kill
you outright. I have no wish to be compelled to exercise my power; the
use of it costs me too dear. You would not be the only one to die. So
if you refuse to apologize to me, not matter what your experience in
murder, your ball will go into the waterfall there, and mine will
speed straight to your heart though I do not aim it at you."
Confused voices interrupted Raphael at this point. All the time
that he was speaking, the Marquis had kept his intolerably keen gaze
fixed upon his antagonist; now he drew himself up and showed an
impassive face, like that of a dangerous madman.
"Make him hold his tongue," the young man had said to one of his
seconds; "that voice of his is tearing the heart out of me."
"Say no more, sir; it is quite useless," cried the seconds and the
surgeon, addressing Raphael.
"Gentlemen, I am fulfilling a duty. Has this young gentleman any
final arrangements to make?"
"That is enough; that will do."
The Marquis remained standing steadily, never for a moment losing
sight of his antagonist; and the latter seemed, like a bird before a
snake, to be overwhelmed by a well-nigh magical power. He was
compelled to endure that homicidal gaze; he met and shunned it
"I am thirsty; give me some water——" he said again to the second.
"Are you nervous?"
"Yes," he answered. "There is a fascination about that man's
"Will you apologize?"
"It is too late now."
The two antagonists were placed at fifteen paces' distance from
each other. Each of them had a brace of pistols at hand, and,
according to the programme prescribed for them, each was to fire twice
when and how he pleased, but after the signal had been given by the
"What are you doing, Charles?" exclaimed the young man who acted as
second to Raphael's antagonist; "you are putting in the ball before
"I am a dead man," he muttered, by way of answer; "you have put me
facing the sun——"
"The sun lies behind you," said Valentin sternly and solemnly,
while he coolly loaded his pistol without heeding the fact that the
signal had been given, or that his antagonist was carefully taking
There was something so appalling in this supernatural unconcern,
that it affected even the two postilions, brought thither by a cruel
curiosity. Raphael was either trying his power or playing with it, for
he talked to Jonathan, and looked towards him as he received his
adversary's fire. Charles' bullet broke a branch of willow, and
ricocheted over the surface of the water; Raphael fired at random, and
shot his antagonist through the heart. He did not heed the young man
as he dropped; he hurriedly sought the Magic Skin to see what another
man's life had cost him. The talisman was no larger than a small oak-
"What are you gaping at, you postilions over there? Let us be off,"
said the Marquis.
That same evening he crossed the French border, immediately set out
for Auvergne, and reached the springs of Mont Dore. As he traveled,
there surged up in his heart, all at once, one of those thoughts that
come to us as a ray of sunlight pierces through the thick mists in
some dark valley—a sad enlightenment, a pitiless sagacity that lights
up the accomplished fact for us, that lays our errors bare, and leaves
us without excuse in our own eyes. It suddenly struck him that the
possession of power, no matter how enormous, did not bring with it the
knowledge how to use it. The sceptre is a plaything for a child, an
axe for a Richelieu, and for a Napoleon a lever by which to move the
world. Power leaves us just as it finds us; only great natures grow
greater by its means. Raphael had had everything in his power, and he
had done nothing.
At the springs of Mont Dore he came again in contact with a little
world of people, who invariably shunned him with the eager haste that
animals display when they scent afar off one of their own species
lying dead, and flee away. The dislike was mutual. His late adventure
had given him a deep distaste for society; his first care,
consequently, was to find a lodging at some distance from the
neighborhood of the springs. Instinctively he felt within him the need
of close contact with nature, of natural emotions, and of the
vegetative life into which we sink so gladly among the fields.
The day after he arrived he climbed the Pic de Sancy, not without
difficulty, and visited the higher valleys, the skyey nooks,
undiscovered lakes, and peasants' huts about Mont Dore, a country
whose stern and wild features are now beginning to tempt the brushes
of our artists, for sometimes wonderfully fresh and charming views are
to be found there, affording a strong contrast to the frowning brows
of those lonely hills.
Barely a league from the village Raphael discovered a nook where
nature seemed to have taken a pleasure in hiding away all her
treasures like some glad and mischievous child. At the first sight of
this unspoiled and picturesque retreat, he determined to take up his
abode in it. There, life must needs be peaceful, natural, and
fruitful, like the life of a plant.
Imagine for yourself an inverted cone of granite hollowed out on a
large scale, a sort of basin with its sides divided up by queer
winding paths. On one side lay level stretches with no growth upon
them, a bluish uniform surface, over which the rays of the sun fell as
upon a mirror; on the other lay cliffs split open by fissures and
frowning ravines; great blocks of lava hung suspended from them, while
the action of rain slowly prepared their impending fall; a few stunted
trees tormented by the wind, often crowned their summits; and here and
there in some sheltered angle of their ramparts a clump of chestnut-
trees grew tall as cedars, or some cavern in the yellowish rocks
showed the dark entrance into its depths, set about by flowers and
brambles, decked by a little strip of green turf.
At the bottom of this cup, which perhaps had been the crater of an
old-world volcano, lay a pool of water as pure and bright as a
diamond. Granite boulders lay around the deep basin, and willows,
mountain-ash trees, yellow-flag lilies, and numberless aromatic plants
bloomed about it, in a realm of meadow as fresh as an English bowling-
green. The fine soft grass was watered by the streams that trickled
through the fissures in the cliffs; the soil was continually enriched
by the deposits of loam which storms washed down from the heights
above. The pool might be some three acres in extent; its shape was
irregular, and the edges were scalloped like the hem of a dress; the
meadow might be an acre or two acres in extent. The cliffs and the
water approached and receded from each other; here and there, there
was scarcely width enough for the cows to pass between them.
After a certain height the plant life ceased. Aloft in air the
granite took upon itself the most fantastic shapes, and assumed those
misty tints that give to high mountains a dim resemblance to clouds in
the sky. The bare, bleak cliffs, with the fearful rents in their
sides, pictures of wild and barren desolation, contrasted strongly
with the pretty view of the valley; and so strange were the shapes
they assumed, that one of the cliffs had been called "The Capuchin,"
because it was so like a monk. Sometimes these sharp-pointed peaks,
these mighty masses of rock, and airy caverns were lighted up one by
one, according to the direction of the sun or the caprices of the
atmosphere; they caught gleams of gold, dyed themselves in purple;
took a tint of glowing rose-color, or turned dull and gray. Upon the
heights a drama of color was always to be seen, a play of ever-
shifting iridescent hues like those on a pigeon's breast.
Oftentimes at sunrise or at sunset a ray of bright sunlight would
penetrate between two sheer surfaces of lava, that might have been
split apart by a hatchet, to the very depths of that pleasant little
garden, where it would play in the waters of the pool, like a beam of
golden light which gleams through the chinks of a shutter into a room
in Spain, that has been carefully darkened for a siesta. When the sun
rose above the old crater that some antediluvian revolution had filled
with water, its rocky sides took warmer tones, the extinct volcano
glowed again, and its sudden heat quickened the sprouting seeds and
vegetation, gave color to the flowers, and ripened the fruits of this
forgotten corner of the earth.
As Raphael reached it, he noticed several cows grazing in the
pasture- land; and when he had taken a few steps towards the water, he
saw a little house built of granite and roofed with shingle in the
spot where the meadowland was at its widest. The roof of this little
cottage harmonized with everything about it; for it had long been
overgrown with ivy, moss, and flowers of no recent date. A thin smoke,
that did not scare the birds away, went up from the dilapidated
chimney. There was a great bench at the door between two huge honey-
suckle bushes, that were pink with blossom and full of scent. The
walls could scarcely be seen for branches of vine and sprays of rose
and jessamine that interlaced and grew entirely as chance and their
own will bade them; for the inmates of the cottage seemed to pay no
attention to the growth which adorned their house, and to take no care
of it, leaving to it the fresh capricious charm of nature.
Some clothes spread out on the gooseberry bushes were drying in the
sun. A cat was sitting on a machine for stripping hemp; beneath it lay
a newly scoured brass caldron, among a quantity of potato-parings. On
the other side of the house Raphael saw a sort of barricade of dead
thorn-bushes, meant no doubt to keep the poultry from scratching up
the vegetables and pot-herbs. It seemed like the end of the earth. The
dwelling was like some bird's-nest ingeniously set in a cranny of the
rocks, a clever and at the same time a careless bit of workmanship. A
simple and kindly nature lay round about it; its rusticity was
genuine, but there was a charm like that of poetry in it; for it grew
and throve at a thousand miles' distance from our elaborate and
conventional poetry. It was like none of our conceptions; it was a
spontaneous growth, a masterpiece due to chance.
As Raphael reached the place, the sunlight fell across it from
right to left, bringing out all the colors of its plants and trees;
the yellowish or gray bases of the crags, the different shades of the
green leaves, the masses of flowers, pink, blue, or white, the
climbing plants with their bell-like blossoms, and the shot velvet of
the mosses, the purple-tinted blooms of the heather,—everything was
either brought into relief or made fairer yet by the enchantment of
the light or by the contrasting shadows; and this was the case most of
all with the sheet of water, wherein the house, the trees, the granite
peaks, and the sky were all faithfully reflected. Everything had a
radiance of its own in this delightful picture, from the sparkling
mica-stone to the bleached tuft of grass hidden away in the soft
shadows; the spotted cow with its glossy hide, the delicate water-
plants that hung down over the pool like fringes in a nook where blue
or emerald colored insects were buzzing about, the roots of trees like
a sand-besprinkled shock of hair above grotesque faces in the flinty
rock surface,—all these things made a harmony for the eye.
The odor of the tepid water; the scent of the flowers, and the
breath of the caverns which filled the lonely place gave Raphael a
sensation that was almost enjoyment. Silence reigned in majesty over
these woods, which possibly are unknown to the tax-collector; but the
barking of a couple of dogs broke the stillness all at once; the cows
turned their heads towards the entrance of the valley, showing their
moist noses to Raphael, stared stupidly at him, and then fell to
browsing again. A goat and her kid, that seemed to hang on the side of
the crags in some magical fashion, capered and leapt to a slab of
granite near to Raphael, and stayed there a moment, as if to seek to
know who he was. The yapping of the dogs brought out a plump child,
who stood agape, and next came a white-haired old man of middle
height. Both of these two beings were in keeping with the
surroundings, the air, the flowers, and the dwelling. Health appeared
to overflow in this fertile region; old age and childhood thrived
there. There seemed to be, about all these types of existence, the
freedom and carelessness of the life of primitive times, a happiness
of use and wont that gave the lie to our philosophical platitudes, and
wrought a cure of all its swelling passions in the heart.
The old man belonged to the type of model dear to the masculine
brush of Schnetz. The countless wrinkles upon his brown face looked as
if they would be hard to the touch; the straight nose, the prominent
cheek-bones, streaked with red veins like a vine-leaf in autumn, the
angular features, all were characteristics of strength, even where
strength existed no longer. The hard hands, now that they toiled no
longer, had preserved their scanty white hair, his bearing was that of
an absolutely free man; it suggested the thought that, had he been an
Italian, he would have perhaps turned brigand, for the love of the
liberty so dear to him. The child was a regular mountaineer, with the
black eyes that can face the sun without flinching, a deeply tanned
complexion, and rough brown hair. His movements were like a bird's—
swift, decided, and unconstrained; his clothing was ragged; the white,
fair skin showed through the rents in his garments. There they both
stood in silence, side by side, both obeying the same impulse; in both
faces were clear tokens of an absolutely identical and idle life. The
old man had adopted the child's amusements, and the child had fallen
in with the old man's humor; there was a sort of tacit agreement
between two kinds of feebleness, between failing powers well-nigh
spent and powers just about to unfold themselves.
Very soon a woman who seemed to be about thirty years old appeared
on the threshold of the door, spinning as she came. She was an
Auvergnate, a high-colored, comfortable-looking, straightforward sort
of person, with white teeth; her cap and dress, the face, full figure,
and general appearance, were of the Auvergne peasant stamp. So was her
dialect; she was a thorough embodiment of her district; its
hardworking ways, its thrift, ignorance, and heartiness all met in
She greeted Raphael, and they began to talk. The dogs quieted down;
the old man went and sat on a bench in the sun; the child followed his
mother about wherever she went, listening without saying a word, and
staring at the stranger.
"You are not afraid to live here, good woman?"
"What should we be afraid of, sir? When we bolt the door, who ever
could get inside? Oh, no, we aren't afraid at all. And besides," she
said, as she brought the Marquis into the principal room in the house,
"what should thieves come to take from us here?"
She designated the room as she spoke; the smoke-blackened walls,
with some brilliant pictures in blue, red, and green, an "End of
Credit," a Crucifixion, and the "Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard" for
their sole ornament; the furniture here and there, the old wooden
four-post bedstead, the table with crooked legs, a few stools, the
chest that held the bread, the flitch that hung from the ceiling, a
jar of salt, a stove, and on the mantleshelf a few discolored yellow
plaster figures. As he went out again Raphael noticed a man half-way
up the crags, leaning on a hoe, and watching the house with interest.
"That's my man, sir," said the Auvergnate, unconsciously smiling in
peasant fashion; "he is at work up there."
"And that old man is your father?"
"Asking your pardon, sir, he is my man's grandfather. Such as you
see him, he is a hundred and two, and yet quite lately he walked over
to Clermont with our little chap! Oh, he has been a strong man in his
time; but he does nothing now but sleep and eat and drink. He amuses
himself with the little fellow. Sometimes the child trails him up the
hillsides, and he will just go up there along with him."
Valentin made up his mind immediately. He would live between this
child and old man, breathe the same air; eat their bread, drink the
same water, sleep with them, make the blood in his veins like theirs.
It was a dying man's fancy. For him the prime model, after which the
customary existence of the individual should be shaped, the real
formula for the life of a human being, the only true and possible
life, the life-ideal, was to become one of the oysters adhering to
this rock, to save his shell a day or two longer by paralyzing the
power of death. One profoundly selfish thought took possession of him,
and the whole universe was swallowed up and lost in it. For him the
universe existed no longer; the whole world had come to be within
himself. For the sick, the world begins at their pillow and ends at
the foot of the bed; and this countryside was Raphael's sick-bed.
Who has not, at some time or other in his life, watched the comings
and goings of an ant, slipped straws into a yellow slug's one
breathing-hole, studied the vagaries of a slender dragon-fly, pondered
admiringly over the countless veins in an oak-leaf, that bring the
colors of a rose window in some Gothic cathedral into contrast with
the reddish background? Who has not looked long in delight at the
effects of sun and rain on a roof of brown tiles, at the dewdrops, or
at the variously shaped petals of the flower-cups? Who has not sunk
into these idle, absorbing meditations on things without, that have no
conscious end, yet lead to some definite thought at last. Who, in
short, has not led a lazy life, the life of childhood, the life of the
savage without his labor? This life without a care or a wish Raphael
led for some days' space. He felt a distinct improvement in his
condition, a wonderful sense of ease, that quieted his apprehensions
and soothed his sufferings.
He would climb the crags, and then find a seat high up on some peak
whence he could see a vast expanse of distant country at a glance, and
he would spend whole days in this way, like a plant in the sun, or a
hare in its form. And at last, growing familiar with the appearances
of the plant-life about him, and of the changes in the sky, he
minutely noted the progress of everything working around him in the
water, on the earth, or in the air. He tried to share the secret
impulses of nature, sought by passive obedience to become a part of
it, and to lie within the conservative and despotic jurisdiction that
regulates instinctive existence. He no longer wished to steer his own
Just as criminals in olden times were safe from the pursuit of
justice, if they took refuge under the shadow of the altar, so Raphael
made an effort to slip into the sanctuary of life. He succeeded in
becoming an integral part of the great and mighty fruit-producing
organization; he had adapted himself to the inclemency of the air, and
had dwelt in every cave among the rocks. He had learned the ways and
habits of growth of every plant, had studied the laws of the
watercourses and their beds, and had come to know the animals; he was
at last so perfectly at one with this teeming earth, that he had in
some sort discerned its mysteries and caught the spirit of it.
The infinitely varied forms of every natural kingdom were, to his
thinking, only developments of one and the same substance, different
combinations brought about by the same impulse, endless emanations
from a measureless Being which was acting, thinking, moving, and
growing, and in harmony with which he longed to grow, to move, to
think, and act. He had fancifully blended his life with the life of
the crags; he had deliberately planted himself there. During the
earliest days of his sojourn in these pleasant surroundings, Valentin
tasted all the pleasures of childhood again, thanks to the strange
hallucination of apparent convalescence, which is not unlike the
pauses of delirium that nature mercifully provides for those in pain.
He went about making trifling discoveries, setting to work on endless
things, and finishing none of them; the evening's plans were quite
forgotten in the morning; he had no cares, he was happy; he thought
One morning he had lain in bed till noon, deep in the dreams
between sleep and waking, which give to realities a fantastic
appearance, and make the wildest fancies seem solid facts; while he
was still uncertain that he was not dreaming yet, he suddenly heard
his hostess giving a report of his health to Jonathan, for the first
time. Jonathan came to inquire after him daily, and the Auvergnate,
thinking no doubt that Valentin was still asleep, had not lowered the
tones of a voice developed in mountain air.
"No better and no worse," she said. "He coughed all last night
again fit to kill himself. Poor gentleman, he coughs and spits till it
is piteous. My husband and I often wonder to each other where he gets
the strength from to cough like that. It goes to your heart. What a
cursed complaint it is! He has no strength at all. I am always afraid
I shall find him dead in his bed some morning. He is every bit as pale
as a waxen Christ. DAME! I watch him while he dresses; his poor body
is as thin as a nail. And he does not feel well now; but no matter.
It's all the same; he wears himself out with running about as if he
had health and to spare. All the same, he is very brave, for he never
complains at all. But really he would be better under the earth than
on it, for he is enduring the agonies of Christ. I don't wish that
myself, sir; it is quite in our interests; but even if he didn't pay
us what he does, I should be just as fond of him; it is not our own
interest that is our motive.
"Ah, mon Dieu!" she continued, "Parisians are the people for these
dogs' diseases. Where did he catch it, now? Poor young man! And he is
so sure that he is going to get well! That fever just gnaws him, you
know; it eats him away; it will be the death of him. He has no notion
whatever of that; he does not know it, sir; he sees nothing——You
mustn't cry about him, M. Jonathan; you must remember that he will be
happy, and will not suffer any more. You ought to make a neuvaine for
him; I have seen wonderful cures come of the nine days' prayer, and I
would gladly pay for a wax taper to save such a gentle creature, so
good he is, a paschal lamb——"
As Raphael's voice had grown too weak to allow him to make himself
heard, he was compelled to listen to this horrible loquacity. His
irritation, however, drove him out of bed at length, and he appeared
upon the threshold.
"Old scoundrel!" he shouted to Jonathan; "do you mean to put me to
The peasant woman took him for a ghost, and fled.
"I forbid you to have any anxiety whatever about my health,"
Raphael went on.
"Yes, my Lord Marquis," said the old servant, wiping away his
"And for the future you had very much better not come here without
Jonathan meant to be obedient, but in the look full of pity and
devotion that he gave the Marquis before he went, Raphael read his own
death-warrant. Utterly disheartened, brought all at once to a sense of
his real position, Valentin sat down on the threshold, locked his arms
across his chest, and bowed his head. Jonathan turned to his master in
alarm, with "My Lord——"
"Go away, go away," cried the invalid.
In the hours of the next morning, Raphael climbed the crags, and
sat down in a mossy cleft in the rocks, whence he could see the narrow
path along which the water for the dwelling was carried. At the base
of the hill he saw Jonathan in conversation with the Auvergnate. Some
malicious power interpreted for him all the woman's forebodings, and
filled the breeze and the silence with her ominous words. Thrilled
with horror, he took refuge among the highest summits of the
mountains, and stayed there till the evening; but yet he could not
drive away the gloomy presentiments awakened within him in such an
unfortunate manner by a cruel solicitude on his account.
The Auvergne peasant herself suddenly appeared before him like a
shadow in the dusk; a perverse freak of the poet within him found a
vague resemblance between her black and white striped petticoat and
the bony frame of a spectre.
"The damp is falling now, sir," said she. "If you stop out there,
you will go off just like rotten fruit. You must come in. It isn't
healthy to breathe the damp, and you have taken nothing since the
"TONNERRE DE DIEU! old witch," he cried; "let me live after my own
fashion, I tell you, or I shall be off altogether. It is quite bad
enough to dig my grave every morning; you might let it alone in the
evenings at least——"
"Your grave, sir! I dig your grave!—and where may your grave be? I
want to see you as old as father there, and not in your grave by any
manner of means. The grave! that comes soon enough for us all; in the
"That is enough," said Raphael.
"Take my arm, sir."
The feeling of pity in others is very difficult for a man to bear,
and it is hardest of all when the pity is deserved. Hatred is a
tonic—it quickens life and stimulates revenge; but pity is death to
us—it makes our weakness weaker still. It is as if distress simpered
ingratiatingly at us; contempt lurks in the tenderness, or tenderness
in an affront. In the centenarian Raphael saw triumphant pity, a
wondering pity in the child's eyes, an officious pity in the woman,
and in her husband a pity that had an interested motive; but no matter
how the sentiment declared itself, death was always its import.
A poet makes a poem of everything; it is tragical or joyful, as
things happen to strike his imagination; his lofty soul rejects all
half- tones; he always prefers vivid and decided colors. In Raphael's
soul this compassion produced a terrible poem of mourning and
melancholy. When he had wished to live in close contact with nature,
he had of course forgotten how freely natural emotions are expressed.
He would think himself quite alone under a tree, whilst he struggled
with an obstinate coughing fit, a terrible combat from which he never
issued victorious without utter exhaustion afterwards; and then he
would meet the clear, bright eyes of the little boy, who occupied the
post of sentinel, like a savage in a bent of grass; the eyes
scrutinized him with a childish wonder, in which there was as much
amusement as pleasure, and an indescribable mixture of indifference
and interest. The awful BROTHER, YOU MUST DIE, of the Trappists seemed
constantly legible in the eyes of the peasants with whom Raphael was
living; he scarcely knew which he dreaded most, their unfettered talk
or their silence; their presence became torture.
One morning he saw two men in black prowling about in his
neighborhood, who furtively studied him and took observations. They
made as though they had come there for a stroll, and asked him a few
indifferent questions, to which he returned short answers. He
recognized them both. One was the cure and the other the doctor at the
springs; Jonathan had no doubt sent them, or the people in the house
had called them in, or the scent of an approaching death had drawn
them thither. He beheld his own funeral, heard the chanting of the
priests, and counted the tall wax candles; and all that lovely fertile
nature around him, in whose lap he had thought to find life once more,
he saw no longer, save through a veil of crape. Everything that but
lately had spoken of length of days to him, now prophesied a speedy
end. He set out the next day for Paris, not before he had been
inundated with cordial wishes, which the people of the house uttered
in melancholy and wistful tones for his benefit.
He traveled through the night, and awoke as they passed through one
of the pleasant valleys of the Bourbonnais. View after view swam
before his gaze, and passed rapidly away like the vague pictures of a
dream. Cruel nature spread herself out before his eyes with
tantalizing grace. Sometimes the Allier, a liquid shining ribbon,
meandered through the distant fertile landscape; then followed the
steeples of hamlets, hiding modestly in the depths of a ravine with
its yellow cliffs; sometimes, after the monotony of vineyards, the
watermills of a little valley would be suddenly seen; and everywhere
there were pleasant chateaux, hillside villages, roads with their
fringes of queenly poplars; and the Loire itself, at last, with its
wide sheets of water sparkling like diamonds amid its golden sands.
Attractions everywhere, without end! This nature, all astir with a
life and gladness like that of childhood, scarcely able to contain the
impulses and sap of June, possessed a fatal attraction for the
darkened gaze of the invalid. He drew the blinds of his carriage
windows, and betook himself again to slumber.
Towards evening, after they had passed Cesne, he was awakened by
lively music, and found himself confronted with a village fair. The
horses were changed near the marketplace. Whilst the postilions were
engaged in making the transfer, he saw the people dancing merrily,
pretty and attractive girls with flowers about them, excited youths,
and finally the jolly wine-flushed countenances of old peasants.
Children prattled, old women laughed and chatted; everything spoke in
one voice, and there was a holiday gaiety about everything, down to
their clothing and the tables that were set out. A cheerful expression
pervaded the square and the church, the roofs and windows; even the
very doorways of the village seemed likewise to be in holiday trim.
Raphael could not repress an angry exclamation, nor yet a wish to
silence the fiddles, annihilate the stir and bustle, stop the clamor,
and disperse the ill-timed festival; like a dying man, he felt unable
to endure the slightest sound, and he entered his carriage much
annoyed. When he looked out upon the square from the window, he saw
that all the happiness was scared away; the peasant women were in
flight, and the benches were deserted. Only a blind musician, on the
scaffolding of the orchestra, went on playing a shrill tune on his
clarionet. That piping of his, without dancers to it, and the solitary
old man himself, in the shadow of the lime-tree, with his curmudgeon's
face, scanty hair, and ragged clothing, was like a fantastic picture
of Raphael's wish. The heavy rain was pouring in torrents; it was one
of those thunderstorms that June brings about so rapidly, to cease as
suddenly. The thing was so natural, that, when Raphael had looked out
and seen some pale clouds driven over by a gust of wind, he did not
think of looking at the piece of skin. He lay back again in the corner
of his carriage, which was very soon rolling upon its way.
The next day found him back in his home again, in his own room,
beside his own fireside. He had had a large fire lighted; he felt
cold. Jonathan brought him some letters; they were all from Pauline.
He opened the first one without any eagerness, and unfolded it as if
it had been the gray-paper form of application for taxes made by the
revenue collector. He read the first sentence:
"Gone! This really is a flight, my Raphael. How is it? No one can
tell me where you are. And who should know if not I?"
He did not wish to learn any more. He calmly took up the letters
and threw them in the fire, watching with dull and lifeless eyes the
perfumed paper as it was twisted, shriveled, bent, and devoured by the
capricious flames. Fragments that fell among the ashes allowed him to
see the beginning of a sentence, or a half-burnt thought or word; he
took a pleasure in deciphering them—a sort of mechanical amusement.
"Sitting at your door—expected—Caprice—I obey—Rivals—I,
never!— thy Pauline—love—no more of Pauline?—If you had wished to
leave me for ever, you would not have deserted me—Love eternal—To
The words caused him a sort of remorse; he seized the tongs, and
rescued a last fragment of the letter from the flames.
"I have murmured," so Pauline wrote, "but I have never complained,
my Raphael! If you have left me so far behind you, it was doubtless
because you wished to hide some heavy grief from me. Perhaps you will
kill me one of these days, but you are too good to torture me. So do
not go away from me like this. There! I can bear the worst of torment,
if only I am at your side. Any grief that you could cause me would not
be grief. There is far more love in my heart for you than I have ever
yet shown you. I can endure anything, except this weeping far away
from you, this ignorance of your——"
Raphael laid the scorched scrap on the mantelpiece, then all at
once he flung it into the fire. The bit of paper was too clearly a
symbol of his own love and luckless existence.
"Go and find M. Bianchon," he told Jonathan.
Horace came and found Raphael in bed.
"Can you prescribe a draught for me—some mild opiate which will
always keep me in a somnolent condition, a draught that will not be
injurious although taken constantly."
"Nothing is easier," the young doctor replied; "but you will have
to keep on your feet for a few hours daily, at any rate, so as to take
"A few hours!" Raphael broke in; "no, no! I only wish to be out of
bed for an hour at most."
"What is your object?" inquired Bianchon.
"To sleep; for so one keeps alive, at any rate," the patient
answered. "Let no one come in, not even Mlle. Pauline de Wistchnau!"
he added to Jonathan, as the doctor was writing out his prescription.
"Well, M. Horace, is there any hope?" the old servant asked, going
as far as the flight of steps before the door, with the young doctor.
"He may live for some time yet, or he may die to-night. The chances
of life and death are evenly balanced in his case. I can't understand
it at all," said the doctor, with a doubtful gesture. "His mind ought
to be diverted."
"Diverted! Ah, sir, you don't know him! He killed a man the other
day without a word!—Nothing can divert him!"
For some days Raphael lay plunged in the torpor of this artificial
sleep. Thanks to the material power that opium exerts over the
immaterial part of us, this man with the powerful and active
imagination reduced himself to the level of those sluggish forms of
animal life that lurk in the depths of forests, and take the form of
vegetable refuse, never stirring from their place to catch their easy
prey. He had darkened the very sun in heaven; the daylight never
entered his room. About eight o'clock in the evening he would leave
his bed, with no very clear consciousness of his own existence; he
would satisfy the claims of hunger and return to bed immediately. One
dull blighted hour after another only brought confused pictures and
appearances before him, and lights and shadows against a background of
darkness. He lay buried in deep silence; movement and intelligence
were completely annihilated for him. He woke later than usual one
evening, and found that his dinner was not ready. He rang for
"You can go," he said. "I have made you rich; you shall be happy in
your old age; but I will not let you muddle away my life any longer.
Miserable wretch! I am hungry—where is my dinner? How is it?—Answer
A satisfied smile stole over Jonathan's face. He took a candle that
lit up the great dark rooms of the mansion with its flickering light;
brought his master, who had again become an automaton, into a great
gallery, and flung a door suddenly open. Raphael was all at once
dazzled by a flood of light and amazed by an unheard-of scene.
His chandeliers had been filled with wax-lights; the rarest flowers
from his conservatory were carefully arranged about the room; the
table sparkled with silver, gold, crystal, and porcelain; a royal
banquet was spread—the odors of the tempting dishes tickled the
nervous fibres of the palate. There sat his friends; he saw them among
beautiful women in full evening dress, with bare necks and shoulders,
with flowers in their hair; fair women of every type, with sparkling
eyes, attractively and fancifully arrayed. One had adopted an Irish
jacket, which displayed the alluring outlines of her form; one wore
the "basquina" of Andalusia, with its wanton grace; here was a half-
clad Dian the huntress, there the costume of Mlle. de la Valliere,
amorous and coy; and all of them alike were given up to the
intoxication of the moment.
As Raphael's death-pale face showed itself in the doorway, a sudden
outcry broke out, as vehement as the blaze of this improvised banquet.
The voices, perfumes, and lights, the exquisite beauty of the women,
produced their effect upon his senses, and awakened his desires.
Delightful music, from unseen players in the next room, drowned the
excited tumult in a torrent of harmony—the whole strange vision was
Raphael felt a caressing pressure on is own hand, a woman's white,
youthful arms were stretched out to grasp him, and the hand was
Aquilina's. He knew now that this scene was not a fantastic illusion
like the fleeting pictures of his disordered dreams; he uttered a
dreadful cry, slammed the door, and dealt his heartbroken old servant
a blow in the face.
"Monster!" he cried, "so you have sworn to kill me!" and trembling
at the risks he had just now run, he summoned all his energies,
reached his room, took a powerful sleeping draught, and went to bed.
"The devil!" cried Jonathan, recovering himself. "And M. Bianchon
most certainly told me to divert his mind."
It was close upon midnight. By that time, owing to one of those
physical caprices that are the marvel and the despair of science,
Raphael, in his slumber, became radiant with beauty. A bright color
glowed on his pale cheeks. There was an almost girlish grace about the
forehead in which his genius was revealed. Life seemed to bloom on the
quiet face that lay there at rest. His sleep was sound; a light, even
breath was drawn in between red lips; he was smiling—he had passed no
doubt through the gate of dreams into a noble life. Was he a
centenarian now? Did his grandchildren come to wish him length of
days? Or, on a rustic bench set in the sun and under the trees, was he
scanning, like the prophet on the mountain heights, a promised land, a
far-off time of blessing.
"Here you are!"
The words, uttered in silver tones, dispelled the shadowy faces of
his dreams. He saw Pauline, in the lamplight, sitting upon the bed;
Pauline grown fairer yet through sorrow and separation. Raphael
remained bewildered by the sight of her face, white as the petals of
some water flower, and the shadow of her long, dark hair about it
seemed to make it whiter still. Her tears had left a gleaming trace
upon her cheeks, and hung there yet, ready to fall at the least
movement. She looked like an angel fallen from the skies, or a spirit
that a breath might waft away, as she sat there all in white, with her
head bowed, scarcely creasing the quilt beneath her weight.
"Ah, I have forgotten everything!" she cried, as Raphael opened his
eyes. "I have no voice left except to tell you, 'I am yours.' There is
nothing in my heart but love. Angel of my life, you have never been so
beautiful before! Your eyes are blazing—— But come, I can guess it
all. You have been in search of health without me; you were afraid of
"Go! go! leave me," Raphael muttered at last. "Why do you not go?
If you stay, I shall die. Do you want to see me die?"
"Die?" she echoed. "Can you die without me? Die? But you are young;
and I love you! Die?" she asked, in a deep, hollow voice. She seized
his hands with a frenzied movement. "Cold!" she wailed. "Is it all an
Raphael drew the little bit of skin from under his pillow; it was
as tiny and as fragile as a periwinkle petal. He showed it to her.
"Pauline!" he said, "fair image of my fair life, let us say
"Good-bye?" she echoed, looking surprised.
"Yes. This is a talisman that grants me all my wishes, and that
represents my span of life. See here, this is all that remains of it.
If you look at me any longer, I shall die——"
The young girl thought that Valentin had grown lightheaded; she
took the talisman and went to fetch the lamp. By its tremulous light
which she shed over Raphael and the talisman, she scanned her lover's
face and the last morsel of the magic skin. As Pauline stood there, in
all the beauty of love and terror, Raphael was no longer able to
control his thoughts; memories of tender scenes, and of passionate and
fevered joys, overwhelmed the soul that had so long lain dormant
within him, and kindled a fire not quite extinct.
"Pauline! Pauline! Come to me——"
A dreadful cry came from the girl's throat, her eyes dilated with
horror, her eyebrows were distorted and drawn apart by an unspeakable
anguish; she read in Raphael's eyes the vehement desire in which she
had once exulted, but as it grew she felt a light movement in her
hand, and the skin contracted. She did not stop to think; she fled
into the next room, and locked the door.
"Pauline! Pauline!" cried the dying man, as he rushed after her; "I
love you, I adore you, I want you, Pauline! I wish to die in your
With unnatural strength, the last effort of ebbing life, he broke
down the door, and saw his mistress writhing upon a sofa. Pauline had
vainly tried to pierce her heart, and now thought to find a rapid
death by strangling herself with her shawl.
"If I die, he will live," she said, trying to tighten the knot that
she had made.
In her struggle with death her hair hung loose, her shoulders were
bare, her clothing was disordered, her eyes were bathed in tears, her
face was flushed and drawn with the horror of despair; yet as her
exceeding beauty met Raphael's intoxicated eyes, his delirium grew. He
sprang towards her like a bird of prey, tore away the shawl, and tried
to take her in his arms.
The dying man sought for words to express the wish that was
consuming his strength; but no sounds would come except the choking
death-rattle in his chest. Each breath he drew sounded hollower than
the last, and seemed to come from his very entrails. At the last
moment, no longer able to utter a sound, he set his teeth in Pauline's
breast. Jonathan appeared, terrified by the cries he had heard, and
tried to tear away the dead body from the grasp of the girl who was
crouching with it in a corner.
"What do you want?" she asked. "He is mine, I have killed him. Did
I not foresee how it would be?"
"And what became of Pauline?"
"Pauline? Ah! Do you sometimes spend a pleasant winter evening by
your own fireside, and give yourself up luxuriously to memories of
love or youth, while you watch the glow of the fire where the logs of
oak are burning? Here, the fire outlines a sort of chessboard in red
squares, there it has a sheen like velvet; little blue flames start up
and flicker and play about in the glowing depths of the brasier. A
mysterious artist comes and adapts that flame to his own ends; by a
secret of his own he draws a visionary face in the midst of those
flaming violet and crimson hues, a face with unimaginable delicate
outlines, a fleeting apparition which no chance will ever bring back
again. It is a woman's face, her hair is blown back by the wind, her
features speak of a rapture of delight; she breathes fire in the midst
of the fire. She smiles, she dies, you will never see her any more.
Farewell, flower of the flame! Farewell, essence incomplete and
unforeseen, come too early or too late to make the spark of some
"You do not see, then? I will begin again. Make way! make way! She
comes, she is here, the queen of illusions, a woman fleeting as a
kiss, a woman bright as lightning, issuing in a blaze like lightning
from the sky, a being uncreated, of spirit and love alone. She has
wrapped her shadowy form in flame, or perhaps the flame betokens that
she exists but for a moment. The pure outlines of her shape tell you
that she comes from heaven. Is she not radiant as an angel? Can you
not hear the beating of her wings in space? She sinks down beside you
more lightly than a bird, and you are entranced by her awful eyes;
there is a magical power in her light breathing that draws your lips
to hers; she flies and you follow; you feel the earth beneath you no
longer. If you could but once touch that form of snow with your eager,
deluded hands, once twine the golden hair round your fingers, place
one kiss on those shining eyes! There is an intoxicating vapor around,
and the spell of a siren music is upon you. Every nerve in you is
quivering; you are filled with pain and longing. O joy for which there
is no name! You have touched the woman's lips, and you are awakened at
once by a horrible pang. Oh! ah! yes, you have struck your head
against the corner of the bedpost, you have been clasping its brown
mahogany sides, and chilly gilt ornaments; embracing a piece of metal,
a brazen Cupid."
"But how about Pauline, sir?"
"What, again? Listen. One lovely morning at Tours a young man, who
held the hand of a pretty woman in his, went on board the Ville
d'Angers. Thus united they both looked and wondered long at a white
form that rose elusively out of the mists above the broad waters of
the Loire, like some child of the sun and the river, or some freak of
air and cloud. This translucent form was a sylph or a naiad by turns;
she hovered in the air like a word that haunts the memory, which seeks
in vain to grasp it; she glided among the islands, she nodded her head
here and there among the tall poplar trees; then she grew to a giant's
height; she shook out the countless folds of her drapery to the light;
she shot light from the aureole that the sun had litten about her
face; she hovered above the slopes of the hills and their little
hamlets, and seemed to bar the passage of the boat before the Chateau
d'Usse. You might have thought that La dame des belles cousines sought
to protect her country from modern intrusion."
"Well, well, I understand. So it went with Pauline. But how about
"Oh! Foedora, you are sure to meet with her! She was at the
Bouffons last night, and she will go to the Opera this evening, and if
you like to take it so, she is Society."