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Title: The Mummy's Foot and other stories
Author: Theophile Gautier
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Language: English
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The Mummy's Foot and other stories
Theophile Gautier



Table of Contents

The Mummy's Foot
One of Cleopatra's Nights
The Fleece of Gold
La Morte Amoureuse




THE MUMMY'S FOOT

I had entered, in an idle mood, the shop of one of those curiosity-
venders, who are called marchands de bric-a-brac in that Parisian 
argot which is so perfectly unintelligible elsewhere in France.

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

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

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

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

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

The striped breastplate of a damascened suit of Milanese armor
glittered in one corner; Loves and Nymphs of porcelain; Chinese
Grotesques, vases of celadon and crackle-ware; Saxon and old Souvres
cups encumbered the shelves and nooks of the apartment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ah, the highest price I can get; for it is a superb piece: if I had
the match of it you could not have it for less than five hundred
francs;--the daughter of a Pharaoh! nothing is more rare."

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

"Five louis for the foot of the Princess Hermonthis! that is very
little, very little indeed; 'tis an authentic foot," muttered the
merchant, shaking his head, and imparting a peculiar rotary motion to
his eyes.

"Well, take it, and I will give you the bandages into the bargain," he
added, wrapping the foot in an ancient damask rag--"very fine! real
damask--Indian damask which has never been redyed; it is strong, and
yet it is soft," he mumbled, stroking the frayed tissue with his
fingers, through the trade-acquired habit which moved him to praise
even an object of so little value that he himself deemed it only worth
the giving away.

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

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

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

"Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased; he loved his daughter--the dear
man!"

"You speak as if you were a contemporary of his: you are old enough,
goodness knows! but you do not date back to the Pyramids of Egypt," I
answered, laughingly, from the threshold. I went home, delighted with
my acquisition.

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

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

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

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

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

The Dream of Egypt was Eternity: her odors have the solidity of
granite, and endure as long.

I soon drank deeply from the black cup of sleep: for a few hours all
remained opaque to me; Oblivion and Nothingness inundated me with
their somber waves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for her costume, it was very odd indeed. Fancy a pagne or skirt all
formed of little strips of material bedizened with red and black
hieroglyphics, stiffened with bitumen, and apparrently belonging to a
freshly unbandaged mummy.

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

"Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased: he loved his daughter, the dear
man!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The foot replied, in a pouting and chagrined tone:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For an instant we saw only sky and sea.

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

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

Hermonthis kindled a torch, and led the way before me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further back, through a dusty cloud, I beheld dimly the seventy-two
pre-Adamite Kings, with their seventy-two peoples--forever passed
away.

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

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

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

"The Princess Hermonthis has found her foot again!"

Even Xixouthros himself was visibly affected.

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

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

"What recompense do you desire?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"O you everlasting sleeper!--must I have you carried out into the
middle of the street, and fireworks exploded in your ears? It is after
noon; don't you recollect your promise to take me with you to see M.
Aguado's Spanish pictures?"

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

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




ONE OF CLEOPATRA'S NIGHTS



Chapter I



About eighteen hundred years ago from the moment we write these lines,
a cange magnificently gilded and painted came down the Nile with all
the rapidity which can be got from fifty long flat oars crawling on
the scratched water like the feet of a gigantic scarabeus beetle.

This cange was narrow, elongated in shape, tilted at the two ends in
the form of a crescent moon, slim in its proportions, and marvellously
fashioned for speed; a ram's head surmounted by a golden ball armed
the point of the prow, and showed that the craft belonged to a
personage of royal rank.

In the centre of the boat was erected a cabin with a flat roof, a kind
of naos, or tent of honour, coloured and gilded, with a moulding of
palm leaves, and four little square windows.

Two rooms, covered in the same way with hieroglyphics, occupied the
ends of the crescent; one of them, bigger than the other, had,
juxtaposed, a story of less height, like the chaeteauxgaillards of
those quaint galleys of the sixteenth century drawn by Della Bella;
the smaller, which served as quarters for the pilot, ended in a
triangular poop-rail.

The rudder was made of two immense oars, set on many-coloured posts,
and trailing in the water behind the bark like the webbed feet of a
swan; heads adorned with the pschent and wearing on the chin the
allegorical horn, were sculptured by handfuls along those great oars
which the pilot maneuvred standing erect on the roof of the cabin.

He was a sunburnt man, fawn-coloured like new bronze, with blue
glistening high-lights, his eyes tilted at the corners, his hair very
black and plaited into little strings, his mouth wide spread, his
cheek-bones prominent, his ears sitting out from his skull, the
Egyptian type in all its purity. A narrow loin-cloth tied on his hips,
and five or six twists of glass beads and amulets, composed all his
costume.

He seemed to be the only inhabitant of the cange, for the rowers, bent
over their oars, and hidden by the gunwale, only made their presence
divined by the symmetrical movement of the oar-blades, opening like
the spokes of a fan on each flank of the bark, and falling again into
the stream after a slight moment of suspension.

No puff of air stirred the atmosphere, and the big triangular sail of
the cange, rolled up and tied with a silken cord along the lowered
mast, showed that all hope of the wind rising had been abandoned.

The midday sun discharged its leaden arrows; the ash-coloured ooze on
the river's banks gave out flamboyant reflections; a hard light,
dazzling and dusty because of its intensity, streamed down in torrents
of flame; the azure of the sky was white with heat like metal in the
furnace; a blazing reddish haze rose like smoke on the burning
horizon. Not a cloud showed on that sky as unvarying and mournful as
eternity.

The water of the Nile, dull and lustreless, seemed to be sleeping in
its course, and to spread out in sheets of molten pewter. No breath
wrinkled its surface, nor swayed on their stalks the flower cups of
the lotus, as rigid as if they had been sculptured; only at distant
intervals the leap of a bechir or a fahaka inflating the under part of
his body, barely mirrored in the water a silver scale, and the oars of
the cange seemed to tear with difficulty the fuliginous scum of the
stagnant stream. The banks were deserted; a deep and solemn gloom
weighed on that land which was never aught else than a mighty tomb, a
land whose living inhabitants seemed never to have had any other
occupation but that of embalming the dead. A sterile gloom, dry as
pumice stone, without melancholy, without reverie, having no pearl-
grey cloud to gaze at on the horizon, no secret spring in which to
bathe its dusty feet; the gloom of the sphinx wearied with perpetually
watching the desert, the sphinx who can never quit the granite
pedestal on which it has sharpened its claws for twenty centuries.

The silence was so profound that one would have said that the whole
world had become mute, or that the air had lost its power of
conducting sound. The sole noise to be heard was the whispering and
muffled laughter of the crocodiles, swooning with heat, who wallowed
in the reeds of the river; or else some ibis who, tired of standing
erect, one foot folded back under its body, his head between his
shoulders, quitted his immobile station, and, roughly lashing the blue
air with his white wings, went to perch anew on an obelisk or a palm-
tree.

The cange shot like an arrow through the water of the river, leaving
behind it a silvery furrow which soon closed up; and some bubbles of
foam, coming to the surface to burst, were the sole witnesses of the
passage of the bark that was already out of sight.

The steep banks of the river, salmon- and ochre-coloured, opened to the
view like strips of papyrus between the double azure of the sky and
the water, so alike in tone that the slim tongue of land which
separated them seemed a pathway flung over an immense lake, so that it
would have been difficult to decide if the Nile reflected the sky or
if the sky reflected the Nile.

The spectacle changed every moment: now it was gigantic propylea that
came to mirror in the river their shelving walls, set with large flat
panels of quaint figures; pylons with splayed capitals, flights of
stairs bordered with crouching sphinxes, caps with fluted lappets on
their heads, and crossing over their pointed breasts their black
basalt paws; inordinate palaces of which the severe horizontal lines
of the entablature jutted out against the horizon, where the
emblematic sphere opened its mysterious wings like an eagle with
inordinate wing-spread; temples with enormous columns, thick like
towers, on which, on a background of dazzling white, processions of
hieroglyphic figures stood out conspicuously; all the marvellous
creations of an architecture of Titans; now it was countrysides of
desolating sterility; hills formed by little fragments of stone that
had come from excavations and buildings, crumbs of that gigantic
debauch of granite which lasted more than thirty centuries; mountains
denuded of foliage by the heat, slashed and barred by black lines like
the scars of a forest fire; mounds hunchbacked and misformed,
squatting like the criocephalus of the tombs, their misshapen forms
showing up against the edge of the sky; greenish clay, reddish ochre,
tufa rock of a floury white, and from time to time, some steep slope
of old rose-coloured marble in which gaped the black mouths of the
quarries.

This sterility was tempered by nothing at all; no oasis of foliage
refreshed the gaze; green seemed a colour unknown in this land; only
at long intervals a scrawny palm-tree sprawled on the horizon like a
vegetable crab; a thorny cochineal fig-tree brandished its steely
leaves like bronze gloves; a safflower, finding a little humidity in
the shade of a stump of a column, set off with a point of red the
general uniformity.

After this rapid glance at the general aspect of the country, let us
come back to the cange with its fifty rowers, and without announcing
ourselves, let us enter without ceremony into the naos of honour.

The interior was painted in white with green arabesques, with nets of
vermilion and gold flowers of fantastic shapes; a reed mat of extreme
fineness covered the floor; at the end of the room stood a small bed
with griffin feet, with a back arranged like a sofa or modern settee,
a stool with four steps to ascend into it, and, a luxury singular
enough according to our ideas of comfort, a kind of half circle of
cedar wood, mounted on a pedestal, designed to encircle the back of
the neck and to sustain the head of the person in bed.

On this strange pillow rested a very charming head, the head of a
woman adored and divine, one look from whom lost half a world. She was
the most complete woman who had ever lived, a type of wonder to whom
the poets can add nothing, and whom dreamers find forever at the end
of their dreams: there is no need to name Cleopatra.

Beside her Charmion, her favourite slave, waved a large fan of ibis
feathers. A young girl sprinkled with a shower of scented water the
little reed blinds with which the windows of the naos were furnished,
so that the air might only enter there impregnated with freshness and
perfumes.

Near the couch, in a vase of ribbon-like alabaster, with a slender
neck, slim and sinuous in outline, recalling vaguely the profile of
them a heron, was a bouquet of lotus flowers in water, some of them a
celestial blue, others a delicate rose like the finger tips of Isis,
the great goddess.

Cleopatra, this day, by caprice or policy, was not dressed in Grecian
fashion: she had just been present at a panegyry, and she was
returning to her summer palace in the cange, wearing the Egyptian
costume that she had been wearing at the festival.

Our lady readers will perhaps be curious to know how Queen Cleopatra
was dressed in returning from the Mammisi of Hermonthis, where were
worshipped the trinity of the God Mandou, the Goddess Ritho, and their
son Harphre; that is a satisfaction we can give them.

Queen Cleopatra had for head-dress a kind of very light gold helmet
formed by the body and wings of the sacred sparrow-hawk; the wings,
smoothed down fan-wise on each side of her head, covered her temples,
and stretched almost to her neck, leaving free at a little opening an
ear more rosy and more delicately folded than the shell whence sprang
Venus whom the Egyptians name Hathor; the tail of the bird occupied
the place where our ladies twist their rolls of hair; its body,
covered with feathers imbricated and painted in different enamels,
enveloped the top of her head, and its neck, gracefully bent towards
the forehead, made up with the head a kind of horn sparkling with
jewels; a symbolic crest in the shape of a tower completed this
elegant, although bizarre head-dress. Hair, black as that of a night
without stars, escaped from this helmet and flowed in long tresses
down her fair shoulders, but a collar or gorget, ornamented with
several rows of serpentine, of azerodrach, and of chrysoberyl, left,
alas! only the commencement of those shoulders in sight; a linen robe
with diagonal ribs, a mistlike cloth, woven from air, ventus textilis
as Petronius says, swayed in white vapour round a beautiful body whose
lines it softly shaded. This robe had half sleeves, fitting on the
shoulders but cut away towards the elbow like our sabot sleeves, and
showing a wonderful arm and a perfect hand, the arm clasped by six
circles of gold and the hand adorned by a ring representing a
scarabeus. A belt, of which the knotted ends hung down behind, marked
the waist of this floating and free tunic; a short cloak with fringes
completed the attire, and if some barbaric words do not affright the
ears of Paris, we will add that this robe was called schenti and the
short cloak calasiris.

As a last detail, let us say that Queen Cleopatra wore light sandals,
very slim, bent back at the point and attached to the ankle like the
shoes a la poulaine of the chaetelaines of the Middle Ages.

All the same Queen Cleopatra had not the satisfied air of a woman sure
that she is perfectly lovely and perfectly attired; she turned and
twisted on her little couch, and her rather brusque movements deranged
each moment the folds of her gauze conopeum which Charmion readjusted
with inexhaustible patience and without ceasing to wield her fan.

'It is stifling in this room,' said Cleopatra, 'even if Phtha, the God
of Fire, had set up his forges here, it wouldn't be hotter; the air is
like a furnace.' And she passed over her lips the tip of her little
tongue, then stretched out her hand like an invalid who feels about
for an absent cup.

Charmion, ever attentive, clapped her hands: a black slave, clad in a
straight gown pleated like the skirts of the Albanians, with a leopard
skin thrown over his shoulder, entered with the rapidity of an
apparition, holding balanced on his left hand a tray laden with cups
and slices of water-melon, and in the right a long jug furnished with
a spout like a tea-pot.

The slave filled one of the cups, pouring into it from a height with a
marvellous dexterity, and put it before the queen. Cleopatra touched
the beverage with her lips, put it down beside her, and turning
towards Charmion, her beautiful black eyes unctuous and lustrous from
the living sparkle of light in them:

'Oh, Charmion,' she said, 'I am bored.'



Chapter II



Charmion, foreseeing a confidence, made a face of grievous assent, and
came near her mistress.

'I am horribly bored,' went on Cleopatra, letting her arms hang loose
as one discouraged and defeated, 'this Egypt destroys me and crushes
me; this sky with its implacable blue is more sombre than the deep
night of Erebus; never a cloud! never a shadow, and for ever this red,
dripping sun which stares like the eye of a Cyclops! See, Charmion, I
would give a pearl for a drop of rain! From the enflamed eyeball of
this sky of bronze has never yet fallen a single tear on the
desolation of the earth; it is a huge tombstone, a dome of a
necropolis, a sky dead and dried up like the mummies it covers! it
weighs on my shoulders like a too heavy coat! it irks me and
distresses me; it seems to me as if I could not rise to my full height
without bruising my forehead against it; and then, this country is
really a fearful country; everything here is sombre, enigmatical,
incomprehensible! Imagination here produces nothing but monstrous
chimeras and inordinate monuments; this sort of architecture and art
terrifies me; these colossi whose limbs fixed in stone, condemn them
to rest eternally seated with their hands on their knees, tire me with
their stupid immobility; they obsess my eyes and my horizon. When,
then, will the giant come who will take them by the hand and relieve
them from their twenty-century-long sentry duty? Granite itself wears
out at last! What master do they await to leave the mountain that
serves them for a seat, and to rise in token of respect? Of what
invisible herd are those mighty sphinxes, crouching like watch-dogs,
the guardians, that they never close an eyelid and hold for ever their
claws at attention? What is the matter with them, then, that they fix
so obstinately their eyes of stone on eternity and infinity? What
strange secret do their tightly closed lips lock in their breasts?
Right and left, on whatever side one turns, there are only monsters
frightful to look on, dogs with men's heads, men with dogs' heads,
chimeras begotten of hideous matings in the gloomy depths of the
syrinx bushes, Anubises, Typhons, Osirises, sparrow-hawks with yellow
eyes that seem to look through you with their inquisitive regards, and
to see beyond you things that cannot be told: a family of horrible
animals and gods with scaly wings, with hooked beaks, with tearing
claws, always ready to seize you and devour you, if you pass the
threshold of the temple, and if you raise the corner of the veil!

'On the walls, on the columns, on the roofs, on the floors, on the
palaces and on the temples, in the corridors and in the deepest pits
of the cemeteries, down to the entrails of the earth where the light
does not reach, where the torches go out for lack of air, and
everywhere and always, interminable hieroglyphics, sculptured and
painted, recounting in unintelligible language things that are no
longer known, and which belong no doubt to creations that have
vanished; prodigious buried buildings where a whole people is worn out
to write the epitaph of a king! Mystery and granite, that is Egypt; a
fine country for a young woman and a young queen!

'Only menacing and funereal symbols are to be seen, the pedum, the
tau, allegorical globes, entwined serpents, balances where souls are
weighed, the unknown, death, nothingness! For the only vegetation,
pillars striped with bizarre characters; for alleys of trees, avenues
of granite obelisks; for earth, immense paving stones of granite, so
huge that each mountain could furnish only a single flagstone; for
sky, roofs of granite; a palpable eternity, a bitter and perpetual
sarcasm of the fragility and brevity of life! stairways made for
strides of Titan, which the human foot cannot step over and which must
be ascended with ladders; columns that a hundred arms could not
encircle, labyrinths where one could walk a year without finding the
exit! the vertigo of enormity, the intoxication of the gigantic, the
inordinate effort of pride which would carve at all costs its name on
the surface of the world!

'And besides, Charmion, I tell you, I have a thought that terrifies
me; in other countries of the earth they bury their dead, and their
ashes are soon mingled with the ground. Here one might say that the
living have no other occupation than that of preserving the dead;
powerful balms snatch them from destruction; all of them keep their
form and their appearance; the soul evaporates, the mortal body
remains; under this people are twenty peoples; each city has its feet
on twenty layers of tombs; each generation that goes leaves a
population of mummies in a city of darkness; under the father, you
find the grandfather and the great-grandfather in his painted and
gilded box, such as they were in their lifetime; and were you to
excavate for ever you would for ever find more of them!

'When I think of those multitudes, swathed in their bands, of those
myriads of dried-up spectres which fill the funeral pits and which
have lain there for two thousand years, face to face, in their silence
that nothing comes to trouble, not even the noise that the worm of the
tomb makes in his crawling, and who will be found there untouched
after another two thousand years, with their cats, their crocodiles,
their ibises, all the things that lived at the same time as they did,
spasms of terror seize me, and I feel shudders run up my skin. What do
they say to each other, since they still have lips, and since their
souls, if the fantasy seized them to return, would find their bodies
in the state in which they left them?

'Egypt is truly a sinister kingdom and very little fitted for me who
am fond of laughter and folly; everything here encloses a mummy; that
is the heart and core of everything. After a thousand detours it is
there you finish; the pyramids hide a sarcophagus. All that is
nothingness and folly. Rip open the sky with gigantic triangles of
stone, you will not add an inch to your corpse! How can one rejoice
and live in such a land where one breathes as perfume only the bitter
odour of naphtha, and the bitumen that boils in the embalmers'
kettles, where the floor of your room sounds hollow because the
corridors of the hypogeum and the funeral pits stretch even under your
dressing-room? To be the queen of the mummies; to have as gossips
those statues in their stiff, constrained poses, that's a lot of fun!
And yet, if to lighten the gloom, I had some passion in my heart, an
interest in life, if I were in love with somebody or something, if I
were loved! But I am not.

'That is why I am bored, Charmion; with love this sterile, surly Egypt
would seem to me more charming than Greece with its ivory gods, its
temples of white marble, its oleander woods, and its fountains of
spring water. I would not think of the grotesque countenance of
Anubis, nor of the terrors of the underground cities.'

Charmion smiled with an air of incredulity. 'That shouldn't cause you
much grief; for each of your glances pierces men's hearts like the
golden arrows of Eros himself.'

'Can a queen,' went on Cleopatra, 'know if it is the diadem or the
brow beneath that is loved in her? The beams of her sidereal crown
dazzle men's eyes and hearts; were I to come down from the height of
my throne, would I enjoy the celebrity and the popularity of Bacchide
or Archenassa, of any chance courtesan from Athens or Miletus? A queen
is something so far above men, something so lofty, so separated, so
impossible! What presumption can flatter itself with hopes of success
in such an enterprise? It is no longer a woman, it is an august and
sacred figure that has no longer a sex, a being one adores on bended
knees without loving, like the statue of a goddess. Who has ever been
seriously in love with Hera of the snowy arms, with Pallas of the sea-
green eyes? Who has ever tried to kiss the silver feet of Thetis, and
the rosy fingers of Aurora? What lover of those divine beauties has
ever taken wings to fly towards the golden palaces of heaven? Respect
and terror freeze men's souls in our presence, and to be loved by our
equals we must needs descend, to the cities of the dead that I was
talking of just now.'

Although she put forward no objection to the reasoning of her
mistress, a vague smile flitting about the lips of the Greek slave
showed that she had no great belief in this inviolability of the royal
person.

'Ah,' continued Cleopatra, 'I would like something to happen to me, a
strange adventure, something unexpected. The song of the poets, the
dance of the Syrian slaves, feasts crowned with roses and prolonged
till daybreak, midnight races, Laconian dogs, tame lions, humpbacked
dwarfs, members of the fellowship of the inimitable, combats in the
circus, and ornaments, robes of byssus, matched strings of pearls,
perfumes of Asia, the most exquisite elegances, the most senseless
sumptuousness, nothing amuses me any more: everything is indifferent
to me, everything is insupportable!'

'It is obvious,' murmured Charmion, 'that the queen hasn't had a lover
or killed anybody for a month.'

Tired by such a long outburst, Cleopatra lifted again the cup placed
beside her, moistened her lips in it, and, putting her head under her
arm with a dove-like movement, settled herself as comfortably as
possible to sleep. Charmion undid her sandals, and began softly to
tickle the soles of her feet with the feathers of a peacock's quill;
sleep did not tarry in flinging its golden powder over the lovely eyes
of the sister of Ptolemy.

While Cleopatra is sleeping, let us mount again to the bridge of the
cange, and enjoy the wonderful spectacle of the setting sun. A wide
band of violet, strongly warmed by reddish tones towards the west,
fills all the lower part of the sky; as it meets the azure zones, the
violet tint melts into clear lilac, and is drowned in the blue in a
half shade of rose; on the side where the sun, red like a buckler
fallen from Vulcan's furnace, throws burning reflected light, the
shades turn to pale lemon, and produce tints like those of turquoises.
The water, rippled by an oblique beam, had the flat radiance of a
mirror seen from the foil, or a damascened blade; the windings of the
river, the reeds, and all the undulations of the bank stand out in
firm black lines, which the whitish reflections throw into strong
relief. Thanks to this twilight clarity you will see down there, like
a grain of dust fallen on quicksilver, a little brown point which
trembles in a network of shining threads. Is it a teal that is diving,
a tortoise letting itself drift on the stream, a crocodile raising the
end of his scaly snout to breathe the less burning evening air, the
stomach of a hippopotamus stretching himself on the water's surface?
or else indeed a rock left uncovered by the lowering of the river? for
the old Hopi-Mou, Father of the Waters, has indeed need to fill his
exhausted urn at the rains of the solstice in the Mountains of the
Moon.

It is none of these. By the fragments of Osiris so happily sewn
together! it is a man who seems to be walking and skating on the
water; now the skiff that bears him can be seen, a real nutshell, a
hollowed out fish, three bands of cork fitted together, one for the
bottom and two for the sides, the whole solidly tied at the two ends
by a cord daubed with bitumen. A man is standing upright, one foot on
each side of this frail contrivance, which he guides by a single oar
that serves at the same time as rudder, and although the royal cange
flies rapidly along under the power of fifty oars, the little black
skiff gains visibly upon it.

Cleopatra was wanting some strange incident, something unexpected;
this little slim skiff, with its mysterious behaviour, has in our eyes
all the appearance of bringing, if not an adventure, at least an
adventurer. Perhaps it contains the hero of our story; the thing is
not impossible.

It was, in any case, a handsome young man of twenty, with hair so
black that it seemed blue, a skin fair as gold, and proportions so
perfect that one would have said a bronze of Lysippus; although he had
been rowing a long time, he betrayed no sign of fatigue, and on his
brow was not a single bead of sweat.

The sun plunged beneath the horizon, and on its jagged disk was drawn
the brown silhouette of a distant city that the eye could barely have
discovered without this trick of lighting; soon it went down
altogether, and the stars, those evening flowering blossoms of the
night, opened their golden calices to the azure firmament. The royal
cange, followed closely by the little skiff, stopped near a stairway
of black marble, each step of which was supported by one of the
sphinxes hated by Cleopatra. It was the landing stage of the summer
palace.

Cleopatra, leaning on Charmion, passed rapidly like a glittering
vision, between a double row of slaves carrying signal torches.

The young man took from the bottom of the boat a large lion skin,
threw it on his shoulders, leaped lightly to the ground, drew the
skiff up the steep bank, and made his way towards the palace.



Chapter III



Who is this young man who, standing on a bit of cork, dares to follow
the royal cange, and who can race against fifty rowers of the country
of Kush, naked to the waist, and rubbed with palm-tree oil? What
motive urges him on and rouses his activity? That is what we are
obliged to know in our quality of a poet gifted with the gift of
intuition, for whom all men, and even all women, and that is more
difficult, should have in their sides the window which Momus craved.

It is maybe not very easy to re-create the thoughts some two thousand
years ago, of a young man of the land of Keme who followed the bark of
Cleopatra, Queen and Goddess Euergetes, returning from the Mammisi of
Hermonthis. We shall attempt it all the same.

Ammon, son of Mandouschopsh, was a young man of a strange character:
nothing that touched the common run of mortals made any impression on
him; he seemed of a higher race, and one might have named him the
product of some divine adultery. His look had the radiance and the
fixity of the sparrow-hawk's, and serene majesty sat on his brow as on
a marble pedestal; a noble disdain arched his upper lip, and swelled
his nostrils like those of a spirited steed; though he had almost the
delicate grace of a young girl, and though Dionysus, that effeminate
god, had not a more rounded or polished chest, he hid under this soft
exterior nerves of steel and Herculean strength, that singular
privilege of certain ancient natures of uniting the beauty of the
woman with the strength of the man.

As to his colour, we are obliged to admit that he was tawny as an
orange, a colour opposed to the white and rose idea we have of beauty;
but that did not prevent him from being a very charming young man,
much sought after by all sorts of women, yellow, red, copper-coloured,
swarthy, golden, and even by more than one white Greek.

After that, don't go and imagine that Ammon was a lady-killer; the
ashes of old Priam, the snows of Hippolytus himself were not more
insensible or cold; the young neophyte in his white tunic, getting
ready for the initiation to the mysteries of Isis, does not lead a
more chaste life; the young girl who passes by in the glacial shadow
of her mother has not his fearful purity.

The pleasures of Ammon, for a young man of such a shy temperament,
were all the same of a singular nature; he set out tranquilly in the
morning with his little buckler of hippopotamus hide, his harpe or
sabre with a curved blade, his triangular bow and his quiver of
serpent skin filled with barbed arrows; then he plunged into the
desert, and set his mare, with her lean legs, her straight head, her
dishevelled mane, to the gallop till he found the track of a lioness;
it gave him great enjoyment to go and take the little lion cubs from
under their mother's body. In everything he loved only the perilous or
the impossible; he delighted in walking by impracticable paths, or
swimming in raging waters, and he would have chosen for a bathe in the
Nile precisely the spot where the cataracts are; the abyss called him.

Such was Ammon, son of Mandouschopsh.

For some time back his humour had become ever more unsociable; he
buried himself for months at a time in the ocean of sand and only
reappeared at rare intervals. His anxious mother hung vainly over the
top of her terrace and questioned the road with a tireless eye. After
a long wait, a little cloud of dust eddied on the horizon; soon the
cloud burst and revealed Ammon covered with dust, on his mare, who was
as thin as a wolf, her eye red and bloodshot, her nostrils trembling,
with scars on her side, scars which were not the marks of the spur.

After having hung up in his room some hyena or lion skin, he set out
again.

And yet no one could have been happier than Ammon; he was loved by
Naphe, the daughter of the priest Afomouthis, the most beautiful girl
in the nome of Arsine. One would have to be Ammon not to see that
Naphe had charming eyes tilted at the corners with an indefinable
expression of voluptuousness, a mouth round which sparkled a rosy
smile, clear white teeth, arms exquisitely rounded, and feet more
perfect than the jasper feet of the statue of Isis; assuredly there
was not in all Egypt a smaller hand or longer hair. The charms of
Naphe could have been surpassed only by those of Cleopatra. But who
could dream of loving Cleopatra? Ixion, who was in love with Juno,
clasped in his arms only a cloud, and he turns for ever on his wheel
among the shades.

It was Cleopatra that Ammon loved!

He had at first tried to subdue this mad passion, he had struggled in
hand-to-hand fight against it; but love is not throttled as one
throttles a lion, and the most vigorous athletes can do nothing about
it. The arrow was stuck in the wound and he dragged it about with him
everywhere; the picture of Cleopatra, radiant and splendid under her
diadem with golden points, standing alone in her imperial purple among
a kneeling people, glittered in his waking moments and in his dreams;
like a rash man who has looked at the sun and who sees always an
intangible spot flicker before him, Ammon saw always Cleopatra. Eagles
can contemplate the sun without being dazzled, but what eyeball of
diamond can be fixed with impunity on a beautiful woman, on a
beautiful queen?

His life consisted in wandering round the royal dwellings so as to
breathe the same air as Cleopatra, so as to kiss on the sand'a
felicity, alas! too rare the half effaced imprint of her foot; he
followed the sacred feasts and the panegyries, trying to snatch a beam
from her eyes, to steal in passing one of the thousand aspects of her
beauty. Sometimes shame came upon him at this senseless existence; he
gave himself up to hunting with a redoubled fury, and tried to subdue
by fatigue the heat of his blood and the tumult of his desires.

He had gone to the panegyry of Hermonthis, and, in the vague hope of
seeing the queen again for an instant, when she disembarked at the
summer palace, he had followed the cange in his skiff, without heeding
the bitter stings of the sun in a heat enough to melt in lava-sweat
the sphinxes panting on their reddened pedestals.

And then he understood that he had come to a supreme moment, that his
life was about to be decided, and that he could not die with his
secret in his heart.

It is a strange situation to love a queen; it is as if one loved a
star, and still the star comes each night to shine in its place in the
sky; it is a kind of mysterious rendezvous; you find her there, you
see her, she is not angry at you for looking at her! Oh, misery! to be
poor, unknown, obscure, seated at the very bottom of the ladder, and
to feel your heart full of love for something solemn, sparkling, and
splendid, for a woman whose meanest servant would have nothing to do
with you! to have your eyes fixed on someone who does not see you, who
will never see you, for whom you are nothing but a figure in the crowd
like all the other figures, and who would meet you a hundred times
without recognizing you! to have, if ever the opportunity for speaking
arises, no reason to give for such a crazy audacity, neither a poet's
talent, nor great genius, nor superhuman qualities, nothing but love;
and in exchange for beauty, nobility, power, all the splendours of
your dreams, to bring only passion or your youth, rare things indeed!

These ideas oppressed Ammon; lying prone on the sand, his chin on his
hands, he let himself be carried away and uplifted on the flood of a
never-failing reverie; he sketched out a thousand plans, each more
insensate than the other. He realized quite clearly that he was
striving for an impossible end, but he had not the courage to renounce
it frankly, and perfidious hope came whispering at his ear some lying
promise.

'Hathor, powerful goddess,' he said in a low voice, 'what have I done
to you that you make me so unhappy! Are you avenging yourself for the
disdain that I have for Naphe, the daughter of the priest Afomouthis?
Are you angry with me for having repulsed Lamia, the hetaira of
Athens, or Flora, the courtesan from Rome? Is it my fault if my heart
is susceptible to the beauty of Cleopatra alone, your rival? Why have
you sunk in my soul the poisoned arrows of impossible love? What
sacrifices and what offerings do you demand? Must I raise a chapel of
the rose marble of Syene with columns and gilded capitals, a ceiling
in one piece, and hollow sculptured hieroglyphics by the best workmen
of Memphis or Thebes? Answer me.'

Like all the gods and goddesses that man invokes, Hathor answered
nothing. Ammon made a desperate resolve.

Cleopatra, on her side, also invoked the goddess Hathor; she asked of
her a new pleasure, an unknown sensation; languidly lying on her bed,
she mused that the number of senses is very limited, that the most
exquisite refinements are very quickly followed by disgust, and that a
queen has really a lot of trouble to fill in her day. Trying poisons
on slaves, making men fight with tigers, or gladiators with one
another, drinking melted pearls, squandering a province, all that is
pointless and ordinary.

Charmion was reduced to her last expedient, and didn't know what to
make of her mistress.

All at once a whizzing was heard, an arrow came and planted itself
quivering in the cedar facing of the wall.

Cleopatra almost fainted with terror. Charmion rushed to the window,
and only saw a flake of foam on the river. A roll of papyrus
surrounded the wooden shaft of the arrow; it contained these words
written in phonetic characters: 'I love you!'



Chapter IV



'I love you,' repeated Cleopatra, twisting between her frail white
fingers the bit of papyrus rolled up like a scytale, 'that is the
message I was asking for; what intelligent soul, what hidden genius
has understood my desire so well?'

And thoroughly aroused from her languid torpor, she jumped down from
her bed with the agility of a cat who scents a mouse, put her little
ivory feet in her embroidered tatbebs, threw her byssus tunic over her
shoulders, and ran to the window through which Charmion was still
looking.

The night was clear and serene: the moon had already risen and
sketched with great angles of light and shade the architectural masses
of the palace, standing out boldly on a background of bluish
transparency, and freezing to watered silver the water of the river in
which its reflection streamed in a gleaming column; a light puff of
wind, which could have been taken for the breath of the sleeping
sphinxes, fluttered the reeds and set the azure bells of the lotus
trembling; the cables of the small boats moored to the banks of the
Nile groaned feebly, and the flood complained on its bed like a dove
without its mate. A vague perfume of vegetation, sweeter than that of
the aromatics that burn in the anschir of the priests of Anubis,
drifted into the room. It was one of those enchanted nights of the
East, more splendid than our most beautiful days, for our sun does not
compare with that moon.

'Don't you see down there, almost in the middle of the river, a man's
head swimming? Look now, he is crossing the track of light, and is
being lost in the shadow: he can't be seen any longer.' And, resting
on Charmion's shoulder, she leaned half her beautiful body out of the
window to try to find again the track of the mysterious swimmer. But a
clump of Nile acacias, of doums and sayals, threw at that spot its
shadow on the river and protected the flight of the audacious man. If
Ammon had had the good wit to turn round, he would have seen
Cleopatra, the sidereal queen, looking greedily for him across the
night, for him, poor obscure Egyptian that he was, a wretched hunter
of lions.

'Charmion! Charmion! bid Phrehipephbour, the chief of the rowers,
come, and tell them to launch without delay two boats in pursuit of
that man,' said Cleopatra, whose curiosity was excited to the highest
degree.

Phrehipephbour appeared; he was a man of the race of the Nahasi, with
broad hands, muscular arms, wearing a cap of a red colour on his head,
rather like a Phrygian helmet, and clothed in a tight pair of drawers,
striped diagonally white and blue. His bust, entirely bare, shone in
the light of the lamp, black and polished like a ball of jade. He took
the queen's orders and retired at once to execute them.

Two long barks, narrow, so light that the slightest forgetfulness of
equilibrium must have capsized them, cleft at once the waters of the
Nile, whistling under the strength of twenty vigorous rowers, but the
search was useless. After having beaten the river in all directions,
after having ransacked the smallest tuft of reeds, Phrehipephbour
returned to the palace without any other result but that of having
raised some heron, asleep erect on one leg, or troubled some crocodile
in his digestion.

Cleopatra experienced such a strong resentment at this rebuff that she
had a great desire to condemn Prehipephbour to the grindstone or the
beasts. Fortunately Charmion interceded for the wretch, who was all in
a panic, paling with fear under his black skin. It was the only time
in her life that one of her desires had not been granted as soon as
formulated; so she felt an uneasy surprise, like a first doubt of her
all-powerfulness.

She, Cleopatra, wife and sister of Ptolemy, proclaimed Goddess
Euergetes, reigning Queen of the Lands Below and Above, Eye of the
Sky, the Favourite of the Sun, as can be seen on the cartouches
sculptured on the walls of temples, to meet an obstacle, to wish a
thing that was not done, to have spoken and not been obeyed! One might
as well be the wife of some poor paraschist who incised dead bodies,
and melt soda in a kettle! It is monstrous, it is exorbitant, and one
must be, in truth, a very kind and very clement queen, not to crucify
this wretched Phrehipephbour.

You were wanting an adventure, something strange and unexpected; you
have got just what you wished. You see that your realm is not so dead
as you claimed. It is no stone arm from a statue that has sped that
arrow, it is not from the heart of a mummy that these three words
which have moved you so have come, you who see with a smile on your
lips your poisoned slaves beating with their heels and their heads in
the convulsions of agony your beautiful mosaic and porphyry pavements,
you who applaud the tiger when he has stoutly buried his jaws in the
side of a conquered gladiator.

You will have all that you wish, cars of silver starred with emeralds,
four-wheeled chariots of griffins, tunics of thrice-dyed purple,
mirrors of steel framed with precious stones, so clear that you can
see yourself therein as lovely as you are; robes come from the lands
of the East, so fine, so thin that they can pass through the ring of
your little finger; pearls of a perfect water, goblets wrought by
Lysippus or Myron, parrots from India that speak like poets; you will
get everything, even if you demand the cestus of Venus, or the pschent
of Isis; but, in very truth, you will not have this evening the man
who shot that arrow that trembles still in the cedar wood of your bed.

The slaves who will dress you to-morrow will have no easy task; they
will be well advised to have a light hand; the golden toilet pins
might well have for sheath the throat of the clumsy hair-waver, and
the depilator runs a strong risk of being hung up to the ceiling by
her feet.

'Who could have had the audacity to shoot that declaration fitted to
an arrow? Is it the monarch Amoun-Ra who thinks himself handsomer than
the Grecian Apollo? What do you think of him, Charmion? Or rather
Cheapsiro, the commandant of Hermothybria, so proud of his combats in
the country of Kush! Wouldn't it rather be young Sextus, the Roman
debauchee who puts on rouge, rolls his r's in speaking and wears
sleeves in the Persian mode?'

'Queen, it is none of these; although you are the loveliest lady in
the world, these men flatter you and do not love you. The monarch
Amoun-Ra has chosen an idol to whom he will always be faithful, and
that is his own person; the warrior Cheapsiro, thinks only of relating
his battles; as to Sextus, he is so seriously occupied with the
composition of a new cosmetic that he can think of nothing else.
Besides he has received some overcoats from Laconia, yellow tunics
embroidered with gold, and some Asiatic children who are absorbing him
entirely. None of these fine gentlemen would risk his neck in an
enterprise so rash and so perilous; they do not love you enough for
that.

'You were saying in your cange that dazzled eyes never dared aspire to
you, and that men could only pale and fall at your feet asking pardon,
and that there remained for you no other resource than to waken in his
gilded coffin some old Pharaoh perfumed with bitumen. Now there is an
ardent young heart which loves you. What will you do with it?'

That night Cleopatra had difficulty in sleeping; she turned on her
bed, she called long in vain on Morpheus, brother of Death; she
repeated several times that she was the most unhappy of queens, that
every one made it their business to thwart her, and that her life was
unendurable; huge grievances which affected Charmion rather lightly,
though she put on an expression of sympathy with them.

Let us leave Cleopatra for a little, seeking the sleep that flies from
her, and running over in her conjectures all the nobles of the court;
let us go back to Ammon. More skilful than Phrehipephbour the chief of
the rowers, we shall certainly succeed in finding him.

Terrified by his own hardihood, Ammon flung himself into the Nile, and
had reached swimming the little clump of doum-palms before
Phrehipephbour had launched the two barks in pursuit.

When he had got back his breath, and pushed behind his ears his long
black hair, soaked with the foam of the river, he felt calmer and more
at ease. Cleopatra had something which came from him. A connection
existed between them now; Cleopatra was thinking of him, Ammon. Maybe
it was a thought of wrath, but at least he had succeeded in arousing
in her some sort of feeling, terror, anger, or pity; he had made her
recognize his existence. It is true that he had forgotten to put his
name on the strip of papyrus; but what more would the name convey to
the queen; Ammon, son of Mandouschopsch!

A monarch or a slave were equal before her. A goddess does not abase
herself more in taking as a lover a man of the people than a patrician
or a king; from such a height nothing is seen in a man but his love.

The sentence that had been weighing on his breast like the knee of a
bronze colossus, had at length emerged; it had crossed the air, it had
arrived as far as the queen, the point of the triangle, the
inaccessible summit! In that blase soul it had set curiosity, an
immense progress.

Ammon did not suspect that he had succeeded so well, but he was more
tranquil, for he had sworn to himself by the mystic Bari, who guards
the souls in Amenthi; by the sacred birds, Bennon and Ghenghen; by
Typhon and by Osiris; by every formidable name that Egyptian mythology
could offer, that he would be the lover of Cleopatra, were it only for
a day, were it only for a night, were it only for an hour, though it
cost him his body and his soul.

How this love had come upon him for a woman that he had seen only from
afar, and to whom he scarcely dared to raise his eyes, he who did not
drop them before the yellow eyeballs of the lions, and how this little
seed fallen by chance in his soul had sprung up there so quickly and
thrown out such deep roots, is a mystery that we shall not explain; we
have said above: the abyss called him.

When he was quite sure that Phrehipephbour had gone in with his
rowers, he flung himself a second time in the Nile, and made his way
again to the palace of Cleopatra whose lamp shone through a purple
curtain, and seemed a painted star. Leander did not swim towards the
tower of Sestos with more courage and vigour, and yet Ammon was not
waited for by a Hero ready to pour on his head jars of perfumes to
banish the odours of the sea, and the bitter kisses of the tempest.

Some shrewd blow of a lance or harpe was all that could happen to him
at the best, and to tell the truth, it was hardly that of which he was
afraid.

He skirted for some time the wall of the palace, whose marble feet
bathed in the river, and stopped before a submerged opening, through
which the water rushed in whirlpools. He dived two or three times
unsuccessfully; at last he was more fortunate, hit on the passage and
disappeared.

This arcade was a vaulted canal which led the waters of the Nile to
Cleopatra's baths.



Chapter V



Cleopatra only fell asleep in the morning, at the hour when the dreams
return that have flitted through the ivory gate. The illusion of sleep
led her to see all sorts of lovers, swimming across rivers, clambering
up walls to reach her, and, in memory of the night before, her dreams
were riddled with arrows charged with declarations of love. Her little
heels, fluttering in agitation, struck the breast of Charmion sleeping
across the bed to serve as her cushion.

When she awoke, a gay sunbeam played in the window curtain, the web of
which it pierced with a thousand points of light, and came familiarly
to the bed to flit like a golden butterfly round her lovely shoulders
which it skimmed in passing with a luminous kiss. Happy sunbeam that
the gods might have envied!

Cleopatra asked to get up in an expiring voice like a sick child's;
two of her women raised her in their arms and laid her preciously on
the ground on a huge tiger skin whose claws were of gold and whose
eyes were carbuncles. Charmion wrapped her in a calasiris of linen
whiter than milk, and put her feet in tatbebs of cork on the soles of
which had been drawn, in token of contempt, two grotesque figures
representing two men of the races of Nahasi and Nahmou, bound hand and
foot, so that Cleopatra deserved literally the epithet of 'she who
treads on the peoples' which the royal cartouches give her.

It was the hour for the bath. Cleopatra went there with her women.

Cleopatra's baths were built in vast gardens filled with mimosas,
carob-trees, aloes, lemon-trees, Persian apple-trees, the luxuriant
freshness of which made a delicious contrast with the sterility of the
surroundings; immense terraces sustained groves of verdure, and raised
the flowers up to the sky by gigantic stairways of rose granite; vases
of Pentelic marble spread like huge lilies on the side of each step,
and the plants they contained, seemed only their pistils; chimeras
caressed by the chisels of the most able Greek sculptors, of a less
repulsive appearance than the Egyptian sphinxes with their surly faces
and their morose attitudes, were lying at ease on the turf all studded
with flowers, like graceful white greyhounds on a drawing-room carpet;
there were charming figures of women, their noses straight, their
foreheads smooth, their mouths little, their arms delicately rounded,
their throats round and pure, with ear-pendants, collars, and
ornaments, capricious and adorable, bifurcating into a fish's tail
like the woman of whom Horace spoke, unfurling on the wings of a bird,
widening into the flanks of a lioness, twisting into a volute of
foliage, according to the fantasy of the artist or the suitability of
the architectural position: a double row of these delicious monsters
bordered the alley that led from the palace to the bath-chamber.

At the end of this alley a large swimming pool was reached with four
stairways of porphyry; through the transparency of the chrystalline
water the steps could be seen going down to the bottom sanded with
powdered gold; women, ending in sheaths like caryatides, spouted from
their breasts a stream of perfumed water, which fell into the pool in
a silver dew, dimpling the clear mirror with little crackling drops.
In addition to this use the caryatides had in addition the other of
supporting on their heads an entablature adorned with nereids and
tritons in bas-relief and supplied with a bronze ring to which to
attach the silken cords of the awning. Beyond the gateway was seen
greenery, damp and blue-tinted, shady bowers of coolness, a bit of the
vale of Tempe transplanted into Egypt. The famous gardens of Semiramis
were nothing compared to these.

We shall not speak of the seven or eight other chambers at different
temperatures, with their hot and cold vapours, their boxes of perfume,
their cosmetics, their oils, their pumice-stone, their horsehair
gloves, and all the refinements of the ancient art of bathing pushed
to such a high degree of voluptuousness and luxury.

Cleopatra arrived, her hand on Charmion's shoulder; she had walked at
least thirty steps alone! a mighty effort! an enormous fatigue! A
slight shade of rose, spreading under the transparent skin of her
cheeks, freshened their passionate pallor; on her temples, fair as
amber, was seen a network of blue veins; her level brow, low like the
brows of the olden times, but perfect in its roundness and form,
joined by an irreproachable line to a severe straight nose, like a
cameo, intersected by rosy nostrils that palpitated at the least
emotion like the nostrils of a tigress in love; the little mouth,
round, very close to the nose, had its lip scornfully arched; but an
unbridled voluptuousness, an incredible ardour for life, gleamed in
the red splendour and the moist lustre of the lower lip. Her eyes had
straight lids, the eyebrows narrow and almost without inflection. We
shall not try to give an idea of them; it was a fire, a languor, a
glittering limpidity, enough to turn the head of Anubis' dog himself;
each look of her eyes was a poem finer than that of Homer or
Mimnermus; an imperial chin, full of force and domination, worthily
finished off this charming profile.

She stood erect on the first step of the pool, in an attitude full of
grace and pride; slightly curving backwards, her foot raised like a
goddess about to quit her pedestal whose eyes are still in the sky.
Two superb folds hung from the points of her bosom, and flowed in a
single line of the ground. Cleomenes, if he had been her contemporary,
and if he could have seen her, would have broken his Venus in pieces
in disgust.

Before entering the water, touched by a new whim, she asked Charmion
to change her head-dress of silver net; she wanted rather a crown of
lotus flowers and reeds, like a sea goddess. Charmion obeyed, her hair
flowed free, and fell in black cascades on her shoulders, and hung in
clusters like ripe grapes along her lovely cheeks.

Then the linen tunic, held only by a golden brooch, was loosened,
slipped down her marble body, and lay collapsed in a white cloud at
her feet like the swan at the feet of Leda.

And Ammon, where was he?

Oh, cruelty of fate! So many insensible objects were enjoying favours
that would ravish a lover with joy. The wind that plays with perfumed
locks or gives to fair lips kisses which it cannot appreciate, the
water which is absolutely indifferent to this voluptuousness, and
which covers with a single caress the lovely adored body, the mirror
which reflects so many charming pictures, the cothurnus or the tatbeb
which encloses a divine little foot; ah! how many lost happinesses!

Cleopatra dipped her vermilion heel in the water, and descended
several steps; the trembling water made her a girdle and bracelet of
silver, and rolled in pearls on her breast and shoulders like an
unstrung necklace; her long hair, uplifted by the water, spread behind
her like a royal mantle: she was queen even in the bath. She came and
went, diving and bringing up in her hands from the bottom handfuls of
powdered gold which she threw laughing to some of her women; at other
times she hung from the balustrade of the pool hiding and revealing
her treasures, now letting no more than her polished, lustrous back be
seen, now showing herself complete like Venus Anadyomene and varying
ceaselessly the aspects of her beauty.

Suddenly she uttered a cry more sharp than that of Diana surprised by
Acteon; she had seen through the foliage a burning eyeball gleam,
yellow and phosphorescent like the eye of a crocodile or of a lion.

It was Ammon who, crouching on the earth, behind a tuft of leaves,
more breathless then a fawn among the corn, was growing intoxicated
with the dangerous good fortune of seeing the queen in her bath.
Though he was courageous to the extent of temerity, the cry of
Cleopatra entered his heart colder than the blade of a sword: a mortal
sweat covered all his body; his arteries beat in his temples with a
strident noise; the iron hand of anxiety pressed his throat and
stifled him.

The eunuchs ran up, lances in hand. Cleopatra showed them the group of
trees where they found Ammon, squat and cowering on the ground.
Defence was impossible; he did not attempt it, and let himself be
taken. They got ready to kill him with the cruel and stupid
impassibility which characterizes eunuchs; but Cleopatra, who had had
time to wrap herself in her calasiris, signed to them with her hand to
stop and to bring the prisoner to her.

Ammon could only fall on his knees and stretch out suppliant hands to
her as to the altar of the gods.

'Are you some assassin bribed by Rome; and what do you come to do in
these sacred grounds where men are forbidden?' said Cleopatra with an
imperious gesture of interrogation.

'May my soul be found light in the balances of Amenthi, and may Yme,
daughter of the Sun and goddess of Truth, punish me if ever I had
against you, O Queen, an evil thought,' answered Ammon, still on his
knees.

Sincerity and loyalty shone on his face in characters so transparent
that Cleopatra immediately abandoned this thought, and fixed on the
young Egyptian a less severe and irritated look; she found him
handsome.

'Well, then, what reason drove you to a place where you could meet
nothing but death?'

'I love you,' said Ammon in a low voice but distinctly; for his
courage came back, as it does in all extreme situations which nothing
can make worse.

'Ah!' said Cleopatra, leaning towards him and seizing his arm with a
brusque and sudden movement. 'It is you who shot the arrow with the
papyrus roll; by Oms, the god of the lower world, you are a very
daring wretch! I recognize you now; for a long time I have seen you
wandering like a plaintive shade round the spots I inhabit. You were
at the procession of Isis, at the panegyry of Hermonthis; you followed
the royal cange. Ah! you must have a queen! You have no mediocre
ambitions; you expected doubtless to have your reward at once.
Certainly I am going to love you. Why not?'

'Queen,' answered Ammon with an air of grave melancholy, 'do not jest.
I am out of my wits, it is true. I have deserved death, that is true
too; be human, kill me.'

'No, I have the whim to be merciful to-day. I give you your life.'

'What do you expect me to do with life? I love you.'

'Well! you shall be satisfied; you shall die,' answered Cleopatra.
'You have dreamed a strange extravagant dream; your desires have
passed in imagination an unapproachable threshold, you thought that
you were Cesar or Mark Antony; you loved the queen! In certain hours
of delirium you have believed that in the suite of circumstances that
occur only once in a thousand years, Cleopatra would one day love you.
Well, what you believed impossible is going to be accomplished; I am
going to make your dream a reality; it pleases me, for once, to crown
a mad hope. It is my wish to flood you with splendour, with sunbeams
and lightning. It is my wish that your fortune be dazzling. You were
at the bottom of the wheel, I am going to put you on top, brusquely,
suddenly, without transition. I take you from nothingness: I make you
the equal of a god, and I replunge you into nothingness; that's all,
but do not come to me and call me cruel, implore my pity; do not
weaken when the hour strikes. I am kind, I lend myself to your folly;
I would have the right to have you killed at once; but you say that
you love me; I shall have you killed to-morrow; your life for a night.
I am generous, I buy it from you, I could have taken it. But what are
you doing at my feet? Rise and give me your hand to go into the
palace.'



Chapter VI



Our world is indeed small beside the old world, our feats are shabby
beside the fearful sumptuousness of the Roman patricians and the
princes of Asia; their ordinary meals would pass to-day for unlicensed
orgies, and the whole of a modern city would live for a week on the
dessert of Lucullus when he supped with some intimate friends. We,
with our miserable habits, have difficulty in conceiving those
enormous existences, that realized all recklessness, strangeness, and
the most monstrous impossibilities that the imagination can invent.
Our palaces are stables where Caligula would not have wanted to stable
his horse; the richest of our constitutional kings does not keep up
the state of a petty satrap or a Roman proconsul. The radiant suns
that shone on the earth are for ever extinguished in the nothingness
of uniformity; there rise no more on the black ant-heap of men those
colossi in Titan's shape who crossed the world in three steps like
Homer's horses; there are no more towers of Lylacq, no more giant
Babels scaling the sky with infinite spirals, no more inordinate
temples made with quarters of mountains, or royal terraces that each
century and each people can only raise one layer higher, whence the
prince, leaning meditatively on his elbow, can see the whole face of
the world like an unrolled map; no more of those confused cities,
composed of an inextricable heap of Cyclopean edifices, with their
deep circumvallations, their circuses bellowing night and day, their
reservoirs filled with sea water, and peopled with leviathans and
whales, their colossal flights of stairs, their superimposed terraces,
their towers with the coping bathed in clouds, their giant palaces,
their aqueducts, their heaving cities and their gloomy necropolises!
Alas, nothing more than hives of plaster are left us on a chequer-
board of paving-stones!

People are astonished that men did not revolt against these
confiscations of all the wealth and all the living force to the profit
of a certain few privileged people, and that such exorbitant fantasies
did not meet obstacles on their bloody way. The reason is, that these
prodigious existences were the realization under the sun of the dream
that all of us dream at night; the personification of the common
thought, and that the people saw themselves living in symbol under one
of these meteoric names which blaze inextinguishably in the night of
the ages. To-day, deprived of this glowing spectacle of the all-
powerful will, of this high contemplation of a human soul whose
slightest desire is translated into unheard-of actions, into granite
and bronze enormities, the world is absolutely and desperately bored;
mankind is no longer represented in its imperial fantasy.

The story we are writing, and the great name of Cleopatra which
figures in it, have plunged us into those reflections which displeae
a civilized ear. But the spectacle of the ancient world is something
so overwhelming, so discouraging for imaginations that believe
themselves unlicensed, and for spirits that imagine they have attained
the last limits of fairy-like magnificence, that we could not refrain
from registering here our complaints and regrets that we were not
contemporary with Sardanapalus, with Tiglath-Pileser, with Cleopatra,
Queen of Egypt, or even of Heliogabalus, Emperor of Rome and Priest of
the Sun.

We have to describe a supreme orgy, a feast that threw Belshazzar's
into the shade, a night with Cleopatra. How, in the French language,
so chaste, so glacially prude, shall we describe this frantic
outburst, this mighty, powerful debauch that was not afraid to mingle
blood and wine, those two purples, and the furious transports of
unsatisfied voluptuousness rushing to the impossible; all the fervour
of the senses which the long fast of Christianity has not yet subdued?

The promised night must be a splendid one; it was necessary that all
the possible joys of a human existence should be concentrated into a
few hours; it was necessary to make of Ammon's life a potent elixir
which he might drain in a single cup. Cleopatra wished to dazzle her
voluntary victim, and to plunge him in a whirlpool of heady pleasures,
to intoxicate him, to madden him with the wine of the orgy, so that
death, although accepted, should come without being seen or
comprehended.

Let us carry our readers into the banquet-hall.

Our present-day architecture offers few points of comparison with
those immense buildings whose ruins bear more resemblance to the
landslip of a mountain than to the debris of houses. It requires all
the exaggeration of ancient life to people and fill those prodigious
palaces whose rooms were so vast that they could have no other ceiling
than the sky; a magnificent ceiling, and one well worthy of such
architecture!

The banquet-hall had enormous Babylonian proportions; the eye could
not penetrate its incommensurable depth! monstrous columns, short,
squat, solid enough to support the pole, spread heavily out their
splayed shafts on pedestals covered with many-coloured hieroglyphics,
and sustained on their big-bellied capitals gigantic arcades of
granite, advancing by layers like steps set upside-down. Between each
pillar a colossal sphinx of basalt, topped by a pschent, stretched out
its head with oblique eyes and horned chin, and cast on the hall a
fixed mysterious gaze. On the second story, behind the first, the
capitals of the columns, slimmer than the first, were replaced by four
heads of women placed back to back, with the fluted lappets and the
twists of the Egyptian head-dress; instead of sphinxes, idols with
bull heads, impassive spectators of the nocturnal delirium and the
orgiastic revels, were seated in seats of stone like patient guests
who are waiting till the feast begins.

A third stage of a different order, with bronze elephants shooting
scented water from their trunks, crowned the building; above that the
sky opened like a blue gulf, and the curious stars leant over the
frieze.

Prodigious stairways of porphyry, so polished that they reflected the
body like a mirror, rose up and down in all directions and linked
these huge masses of architecture together.

We are only tracing here a rapid sketch to give an idea of the
composition of this formidable erection with its proportions beyond
all human measure. It would require the brush of Martin, the great
painter of vanished mightiness, and we have only a thin penstroke in
place of the apocalyptic depth of the black style; but the imagination
will fill the void; less lucky than the painter and the musician, we
can only present objects one after another. We have only spoken of the
banqueting-hall, leaving aside the guests: and at that, we have done
no more than indicate it. Cleopatra and Ammon are waiting us; here
they come.

Ammon was clothed in a linen tunic studded with stars, with a purple
mantle and bands in his hair like an Oriental king. Cleopatra wore a
pale sea-green robe, split at the side, and kept together by golden
bees; round her bare arms played two rows of large pearls; on her head
gleamed the crown with golden points. In spite of the smile on her
lips, a preoccupied shadow lightly brooded over her lovely forehead,
and occasionally her eyebrows drew together in a feverish movement.
What subject was it that could vex the great queen? As to Ammon, he
had the glowing, shining look of a man in ecstacy or seeing visions;
sparkling emanations, radiating from his temples and his brow, made
him a golden halo, like to one of the twelve great gods of Olympus.

A grave profound joy shone on all his features; he had grasped his
chimera of the restless wings, and it had not flown away; he had
attained the object of his life. He might live to the age of Nestor or
Priam; he might see his temples veined and covered with white hairs
like those of the high priest of Ammon; he would experience nothing
new, he would learn nothing further. He had been satisfied so
abundantly beyond his maddest hopes that the world had nothing more to
give him.

Cleopatra made him sit beside her on a throne flanked by golden
griffins, and clapped her little hands together. Suddenly lines of
fire, twinkling ropes, traced out the projections of the architecture:
the eyes of the sphinxes emitted phosphorescent lights, a fiery breath
came from the idols' jaws; the elephants, instead of perfumed water,
spouted out a reddish jet; bronze arms sprang from the walls with
torches in their hands; in the sculptured heart of the lotus expanded
glittering plumes.

Broad bluish flames quivered in the brass tripods, giant candelabras
shook their dishevelled lights in a blazing mist; everything twinkled
and glittered. Prismatic rainbows crossed and broke in the air; the
facets of goblets, the angles of marbles and jaspers, the cut edges of
vases became spangling, gleaming, or darting lights. Light flowed in
torrents and fell from step to step like a waterfall on a stairway of
porphyry; you would have said it was the reflection of a fire in a
river; if the Queen of Sheba had stepped up there, she would have
raised the hem of her dress, thinking she was walking on water as on
Solomon's floor of glass. Through this shining fog, the monstrous
figures of the colossi, the animals, the hieroglyphics seemed to move
and live with a factitious life; the black granite rams grinned
ironically and shook their golden horns, the idols breathed noisily
through their panting nostrils.

The orgy was at its height; dishes of flamingos' tongues and parrot-
fish liver, eels fattened on human flesh and prepared with garum,
peacocks' brains, boars stuffed with living birds, and all the marvels
of ancient feasts tenfold and a hundredfold, were heaped up on the
three sections of the gigantic triclinium. Wines from Crete, from the
Massicus and Falernum, foamed in golden bowls crowned with roses,
filled by Asiatic pages whose beautiful floating hair served to wipe
dry the hands of the guests. Musicians playing on the Egyptian
timbrel, on the dulcimer, on the sambuca, and the harp of twenty-one
strings, filled the upper balustrades and flung their harmonious
rattle into the tempest of noise that floated round the feast; thunder
would not have had a voice loud enough to make itself heard.

Ammon, his head leaning on Cleopatra's shoulder, felt his reason going
from him; the banqueting-hall swayed round him like an immense
architectural nightmare; he saw, through his bedazzlement, endless
perspectives and colonnades; new zones of porticos were superimposed
on the real ones, and soared into the skies to heights to which Babels
have never attained. If he had not felt in his hand the soft cool hand
of Cleopatra, he would have believed himself transported into a world
of enchantment by a Thessalian sorcerer, or a Persian magician.

Towards the end of the repast, humpbacked dwarfs and morions executed
grotesque dances and combats; the young Egyptian and Grecian girls,
representing the black and the white hours, danced in the Ionian mode,
a voluptuous dance performed with inimitable perfection.

Cleopatra herself rose from her throne, flung down her royal mantle,
replaced her sidereal diadem by a garland of flowers, adjusted her
golden castanets to her alabaster hands, and began to dance before
Ammon, lost in ravishment. Her lovely arms, rounded like the handles
of a marble vase, shook down above her head clusters of twinkling
notes, and her castanets prattled with an ever-growing volubility.
Raised on the vermilion tips of her little feet, she advanced quickly
and came to brush the brow of Ammon with a kiss; then she recommenced
her maneuvres and flitted round him, sometimes curving backwards, her
head thrown back, her eyes half-closed, her arms swooning and dead,
her hair unbound and hanging like a bacchante's on Mount Menalus
swayed by her god; sometimes gay, alert, laughing, fluttering,
tireless, and more capricious in her meanders than a pillaging bee.
The love of the heart, the voluptuousness of the senses, ardent
passion, inexhaustible fresh youth, the promise of approaching
felicity, she expressed them all.

The shamefast stars looked no longer, their chaste golden eyeballs
could not bear such a sight; the sky itself was hid, and a dome of
inflamed mist covered the hall.

Cleopatra returned to seat herself near Ammon. The night wore on; the
last of the black hours was about to fly away; the sky itself was hid;
a bluish glimmer entered with perplexed step among this tumult of red
lights, like a moonbeam that falls on a furnace: the high arcades grew
softly blue; day was appearing.

Ammon took the horn vase that an Ethiopian slave of sinister aspect
presented to him, a vase which contained a poison so potent that it
would have shattered any other vessel. Throwing his life to his
mistress in a last look, he carried to his lips the fatal cup where
the poisoned liquor boiled and hissed.

Cleopatra grew pale, and put her hand on Ammon's arm to stay him. His
courage touched her; she was going to say, 'Live on to love me; I
desire it', when the blast of bugles was heard. Four heralds at arms
entered on horseback into the banqueting-hall. It was Mark Antony's
officers who preceded their master by a few steps. Silently she
dropped Ammon's arm. A sunbeam came to play on Cleopatra's forehead as
if to replace her absent diadem.

'You see that the moment has come; it is the hour when lovely dreams
fly away,' said Ammon.

Then he drank at a single draught the fatal vase and fell as if struck
by lightning. Cleopatra bent her head, and in the cup a burning tear,
the only one she had shed in her life, went to join the melted pearl.

'By Hercules! my lovely queen, it was no use my making haste, I see
that I have come too late,' said Mark Antony, as he entered the
banqueting-hall: 'the supper is finished. But what is the meaning of
this body lying on the flag-stones?'

'Oh, nothing,' said Cleopatra, smiling. 'It's a poison I was
experimenting with to be ready for myself if Octavius took me a
prisoner. Would it amuse you, my dear lord, to sit beside me and watch
these Greek buffoons dance?'





THE FLEECE OF GOLD



CHAPTER I TIBURCE



TIBURCE was really a most extraordinary young man; his oddity had the
peculiar merit of being unaffected; he did not lay it aside on
returning home, as he did his hat and gloves; he was original between
four walls, without spectators, for himself alone.

Do not conclude, I beg, that Tiburce was ridiculous, that he had one
of those aggressive manias which are intolerable to all the world; he
did not eat spiders, he played on no instrument, nor did he read
poetry to anybody. He was a staid, placid youth, talking little,
listening less; and his half-opened eyes seemed to be turned inward.

He passed his life reclining in the corner of a divan, supported on
either side by a pile of cushions, worrying as little about the
affairs of the time as about what was taking place in the moon. There
were very few substantives which had any effect on him, and no one was
ever less susceptible to long words. He cared absolutely nothing for
his political rights, and thought that the people were still free at
the wine-shop.

His ideas on all subjects were very simple; he preferred to do nothing
rather than to work; he preferred good wine to cheap wine and a
beautiful woman to an ugly one; in natural history he made a
classification--than which nothing could be more succinct; things that
eat, and things that do not eat. In brief, he was absolutely detached
from all human affairs, and was as reasonable as he appeared mad.

He had not the slightest self-esteem; he did not deem himself the
pivot of creation, and realized fully that the world could turn
without his assistance; he thought little more of himself than of the
rind of a cheese, or of the eels in vinegar. In face of eternity and
the infinite, he had not the courage to be vain; having looked
sometimes through the microscope and the telescope, he had not an
exaggerated idea of the importance of the human race. His height was
five feet, four inches; but he said to himself that the people in the
sun might well be eight hundred leagues tall.

Such was our friend Tiburce.

It would be a mistake to think from all this that Tiburce was devoid
of passions. Beneath the ashes of that placid exterior smouldered more
than one burning brand. However, no one knew of any regular mistress
of his, and he displayed little gallantry toward women. Like almost
all the young men of today, without being precisely a poet or a
painter, he had read many novels and seen many pictures; lazy as he
was, he preferred to live on the faith of other people; he loved with
the poet's love, he looked with the eyes of the artist, and he was
familiar with more poets than faces; reality was repugnant to him, and
by dint of living in books and paintings, he had reached the point
where nature no longer rang true.

The Madonnas of Raphael, the courtesans of Titian, caused the most
celebrated beauties to seem ugly to him; Petrarch's Laura, Dante's
Beatrice, Byron's Haides, Andre Chenier's Camille, threw completely
into the shade the women in hats, gowns, and shoulder-capes whose
lover he might have been. And yet he did not demand an ideal with
white wings and a halo about her head; but his studies in antique
statuary, the Italian schools, his familiarity with the masterpieces
of art, and his reading of the poets had given him an exquisitely
refined taste in the matter of form, and it would have been impossible
for him to love the noblest mind on earth, unless it had the shoulders
of the Venus of Milo. So it was that Tiburce was in love with no one.

His devotion to abstract beauty was manifested by the great number of
statuettes, plaster casts, drawings and engravings with which his room
and its walls were crowded, so that the ordinary bourgeois would have
considered it rather an impossible abode; for he had no furniture save
the divan mentioned above, and several cushions of different colors
scattered over the carpet. Having no secrets, he could easily do
without a secretary, and the incommodity of commodes was to him an
established fact.

Tiburce rarely went into society, not from shyness, but from
indifference; he welcomed his friends cordially, and never returned
their visits. Was Tiburce happy? No; but he was not unhappy; he would
have liked, however, to dress in red. Superficial persons accused him
of insensibility, and kept women said that he had no heart; but in
reality his was a heart of gold, and his search for physical beauty
betrayed to observant eyes a painful disillusionment in the world of
moral beauty. In default of sweetness of perfume, he sought grace in
the vessel containing it; he did not complain, he indulged in no
elegies, he did not wear ruffles en pleureuse; but one could see that
he had suffered, that he had been deceived, and that he proposed not
to love again except with his eyes open. As dissimulation of the body
is much more difficult than dissimulation of the mind, he set much
store by material perfection; but alas! a lovely body is as rare as a
lovely soul. Moreover, Tiburce, depraved by the reflections of novel-
writers, living in the charming, imaginary society created by poets,
with his eyes full of the masterpieces of statuary and painting, had a
lordly and scornful taste; and that which he took for love was simply
the adoration of an artist. He found faults of drawing in his
mistress; although he did not suspect it, woman was to him a model,
nothing more.

One day, having smoked his hookah, having gazed at Correggio's
threefold eda in its filleted frame, having turned Radine's latest
statuette about in every direction, having taken his left foot in his
right hand, and his right foot in his left hand, and having placed his
sels on the edge of the mantel, Tiburce was forced to admit to himself
that he had come to the end of his means of diversion, that he knew
not which way to turn, and that the gray spiders of ennui were
crawling down the walls of his room, all dusty with drowsiness.

He asked the time, and was told that it was a quarter to one, which
seemed to him decisive and unanswerable. He bade his servant dress him
and went out to walk the streets; as he walked he reflected that his
heart was empty, and he felt the need of "making a passion," as they
say in Parisian slang.

This laudable resolution formed, he propounded the following questions
to himself: Shall I love a Spaniard with an amber complexion, frowning
eyebrows, and jet-black hair? or an Italian with classic features, and
orange-tinted eyelids encircling a glance of flame? or a slim-waisted
Frenchwoman, with a nose a la Roxelane and a doll's foot? or a red
Jewess with a sky-blue skin and green eyes? or a negress black as
night, and gleaming like new bronze? Shall I have a fair or a dark
passion? Terrible perplexity.

As he plodded along, head down, pondering this question, he ran
against something hard, which caused him to jump back with a blood-
curdling oath. That something was a painter friend of his; together
they entered the Museum. The painter, an enthusiastic admirer of
Rubens, paused by preference before the canvasses of the Dutch
Michelangelo, whom he extolled with a most contagious frenzy of
admiration. Tiburce, surfeited with the Greek outline, the Roman
contour, the tawny tones of the Italian masters, took delight in the
plump forms, the satiny flesh, the ruddy faces, as blooming as
bouquets of flowers, the luxuriant health that the Antwerpian artist
sends bounding through the veins of those faces of his, with their
net-work of blue and scarlet. His eye caressed with sensuous pleasure
those lovely pearl-white shoulders and those siren-like hips drowned
in waves of golden hair and marine pearls. Tiburce, who had an
extraordinary faculty of assimilation, and who understood equally well
the most contrasted types, was at that moment as Flemish as if he had
been born in the polders and had never lost sight of Lillo fort and
the steeples of Antwerp.

"It is decided," he said to himself as he left the gallery, "I will
love a Fleming."

As Tiburce was the most logical person in the world, he placed before
himself this irrefutable argument, namely, that Flemish women must be
more numerous in Flanders than elsewhere, and that it was important
for him to go to Belgium at once--to hunt the blonde. This Jason of a
new type, in quest of another 


CHAP. of gold, took the Brussels
diligence that same evening, with the mad haste of a bankrupt weary of
intercourse with men and feeling a craving to leave France, that
classic home of the fine arts, of lovely women, and of sheriffs'
officers.

After a few hours, Tiburce, not without a thrill of joy, saw the
Belgian lion appear on the signs of inns, beneath a poodle in nankeen
breeches, accompanied by the inevitable Verkoopt men dranken. On the
following evening he walked on Magdalena Strass in Brussels, climbed
the mountain with its kitchen gardens, admired the stained-glass
windows of St. Gudule's and the belfry of the Hotel de Ville, and
scrutinized, not without alarm, all the women who passed.

He met an incalculable number of negresses, mulattresses, quadroons,
half-breeds, griffs, yellow women, copper-colored women, green women,
women of the color of a boot-flap, but not a single blonde; if it had
been a little warmer he might have imagined himself at Seville;
nothing was lacking, not even the black mantilla.

As he returned to his hotel on Rue d'Or, however, he saw a girl who
was only a dark chestnut, but she was ugly. The next day, he saw near
the residenz of Laeken, an Englishwoman with carroty-red hair and
light-green shoes; but she was as thin as a frog that has been shut
up in a bottle for six months, to act as a barometer, which rendered
her inapt to realize an ideal after the style of Rubens.

Finding that Brussels was peopled solely by Andalusians with burnished
breasts--which fact is readily explained by the Spanish domination
that held the Low Countries in subjection so long--Tiburce determined
to go to Antwerp, thinking, with some appearance of reason, that the
types familiar to Rubens and so constantly reproduced on his canvasses
were likely to be frequently met with in his beloved native city.

He betook himself, therefore, to the station of the railway that runs
from Brussels to Antwerp. The steam horse had already eaten his ration
of coal; he was snorting impatiently and blowing from his inflamed
nostrils, with a strident noise, dense puffs of white smoke, mingled
with showers of sparks. Tiburce seated himself in his compartment, in
company with five Walloons, who sat as motionless in their places as
canons in the chapter-house, and the train started. The pace was
moderate at first; they moved little faster than one rides in a post
chaise at ten francs the relay; but soon the beast became excited and
was seized with a most extraordinary rage for rapidity. The poplars
beside the track fled to right and left like a routed army; the
landscape became blurred and was blotted out in a gray vapor; the
colewort and the peony studded the black strips of ground with
indistinct stars of gold and azure. Here and there a slender spire
appeared amid the billowing clouds and disappeared instantly, like the
mast of a ship on a stormy sea. Tiny light-pink or apple-green wine-
shops made a fleeting impression on the eye at the rear of their
gardens, beneath their garlands of vines or hops; here and there pools
of water, encircled by dark mud, dazzled the eye like the mirror in a
trap for larks. Meanwhile the iron monster belched forth with an ever-
increasing roar its breath of boiling steam; it puffed like an
asthmatic whale; a fiery sweat bathed its brazen sides. It seemed to
complain of the insensate swiftness of its pace and to pray for mercy
to its begrimed postillions, who spurred it on incessantly with
shovelfuls of coal. There came a noise of bumping carriages and
rattling chains: they had arrived.

Tiburce ran to right and left without fixed purpose, like a rabbit
suddenly released from its cage. He took the first street that he saw,
then a second, then a third, and plunged bravely into the heart of the
ancient city, seeking the blonde with an ardor worthy of the knights-
errant of old.

He saw a vast number of houses painted mouse-gray, canary-yellow, sea-
green, pale lilac; with roofs like stairways, moulded gables, doors
with vermiculated bosses, with short stout pillars, decorated with
quadrangular bracelets like those at the Luxembourg, leaded
Renaissance windows, gargoyles, carved beams, and a thousand curious
architectural details, which would have enchanted him on any other
occasion; he barely glanced at the illuminated Madonnas, at the
Christs bearing lanterns at the street corners, at the saints of wax
or wood with their gewgaws and tinsel--all those Catholic emblems that
have so strange a look to an inhabitant of one of our Voltairean
cities. Another thought absorbed him: his eyes sought, through the
dark, smoke-begrimed windows, some fair-haired feminine apparition, a
tranquil and kindly Brabantine face, with the ruddy freshness of the
peach, and smiling within its halo of golden hair.

He saw only old women making lace, reading prayer books, or squatting
in corners and watching for the passing of an infrequent pedestrian,
reflected by the glass of their espions, or by the ball of polished
steel hanging in the doorway.

The streets were deserted, and more silent than those of Venice; no
sound was to be heard save that of the chimes of various churches
striking the hours in every possible key, for at least twenty minutes.
The pavements, surrounded by a fringe of weeds, like those in the
courtyards of unoccupied houses, told of the infrequency and small
number of the passersby. Skimming the ground like stealthy swallows, a
few women, wrapped discreetly in the folds of their dark hoods, glided
noiselessly along the houses, sometimes followed by a small boy
carrying their dogs. Tiburce quickened his pace, in order to catch a
glimpse of the features buried beneath the shadow of the hood, and saw
there pale faces, with compressed lips, eyes surrounded by dark
circles, prudent chins, delicate and circumspect noses--the genuine
type of the pious Roman or the Spanish duenna; his burning glance was
shattered against dead glances, the glassy stare of a dead fish.

From square to square, from street to street, Tiburce arrived at last
at the Quay of the Scheldt by the Harbor Gate. The magnificent
spectacle extorted a cry of surprise from him; an endless number of
masts, yards, and cordage resembled a forest on the river, stripped of
leaves and reduced to the state of a mere skeleton. The bowsprits and
lateen yards rested familiarly on the parapet of the wharf, as a horse
rests his head on the neck of his carriage mate. There were Dutch
orques, round-sterned, with their red sails; sharp, black American
brigs, with cordage as fine as silk thread; salmon-colored Norwegian
koffs, emitting a penetrating odor of planed fir; barges, fishermen,
Breton salt-vessels, English coalers, ships from all parts of the
world. An indescribable odor of sour herring, tobacco, rancid suet,
melted tar, heightened by the acrid smells of the ships from Batavia,
loaded with pepper, cinnamon, ginger and cochineal, floated about in
the air in dense puffs, like the smoke from an enormous perfume-pan
lighted in honor of commerce.

Tiburce, hoping to find the true Flemish type among the lower classes
entered the taverns and gin-shops. He drank lambick, white beer of
Louvain, ale, porter, and whisky, desiring to improve the opportunity
to make the acquaintance of the northern Bacchus. He also smoked
cigars of several brands, ate salmon, sauerkraut, yellow potatoes,
rare roast beef, and partook of all the delights of the country.

While he was dining, German women, chubby-faced, swarthy as gypsies,
with short skirts and Alsatian caps, came to his table and squalled
unmelodiously some dismal ballad, accompanying themselves on the
violin and other unpleasant instruments. Blonde Germany, as if to
mock at Tiburce, had besmeared itself with the deepest shade of
sunburn; he tossed them angrily a handful of small coins, which
procured him the favor of another ballad of gratitude, shriller and
more uncivilized than the first.

In the evening he went to the music halls to see the sailors dance
with their mistresses; all of the latter had beautiful glossy black
hair that shone like a crow's wing. A very pretty Creole seated
herself beside him and familiarly touched her lips to his glass,
according to the custom of the country, and tried to enter into
conversation with him in excellent Spanish, for she was from Havana;
she had such velvety-black eyes, a pale complexion, so warm and
golden, such a small foot, and such a slender figure, that Tiburce,
exasperated, sent her to all the devils, to the great surprise of the
poor creature, who was little accustomed to such a greeting.

Utterly insensible to the dark perfections of the dancers, Tiburce
withdrew to the Arms of Brabant Hotel. He undressed in a dissatisfied
frame of mind, and wrapping himself as well as he could in the
openwork napkins which take the place of sheets in Flanders, he soon
slept the sleep of the just.

He had the loveliest dreams imaginable.

The nymphs and allegorical figures of the Medici Galley, in the most
enticing deshabille, paid him a nocturnal visit; they gazed fondly at
him with their great blue eyes, and smiled at him in the most friendly
way, with their lips blooming like red flowers amid the milky
whiteness of their round, plump faces. One of them, the Nereid in the
picture called The Queen's Voyage, carried familiarity so far as to
pass her pretty taper fingers, tinged with carmine, through the hair
of the love-lorn sleeper. Drapery of flowered brocade cleverly
concealed the deformity of her scaly legs, ending in a forked tail;
her fair hair was adorned with seaweed and coral, as befits a daughter
of the sea; she was adorable in that guise. Groups of chubby children,
as red as roses, swam about in a luminous atmosphere, holding aloft
wreaths of flowers of insupportable brilliancy, and drew down from
heaven a perfumed rain. At a sign from the Nereid, the nymphs stood in
two rows and tied together the ends of their long auburn hair, in such
wise as to form a sort of hammock of gold filigree for the fortunate
Tiburce and his finny mistress; they took their places therein, and
the nymphs swung them to and fro, moving their heads slightly with a
rhythm of infinite sweetness.

Suddenly there was a sharp noise, the golden threads broke, and
Tiburce fell to the ground. He opened his eyes and saw naught save a
horrible bronze-colored face, which fastened upon him two great enamel
eyes, only the whites of which could be seen.

"Your breakfast, mein Herr," said an old Hottentot negress, a servant
of the hotel, placing on a small table a salver laden with dishes and
silverware.

"Damnation! I ought to have gone to Africa to look for blondes!"
grumbled Tiburce, as he attacked his beefsteak in desperation.



CHAPTER II CHESTNUT HAIR



TTBURCE, having duly satisfied his appetite, left the Arms of Brabant
with the laudable and conscientious purpose of continuing the search
for his ideal. He was no more fortunate than on the previous day;
dark-skinned ironies, emerging from every street, cast sly and mocking
glances at him; India, Africa, America, passed before him in specimens
more or less copper-colored; one would have said that the venerable
city, advised of his purpose, concealed in a spirit of mockery, in the
depths of its most impenetrable back yards and behind its dingiest
windows, all those of its daughters who might have recalled, vividly
or remotely, the paintings of Jordaems or Rubens; stingy with its gold,
it was lavish with its ebony.

Enraged by this sort of mute ridicule, Tiburce visited the museums and
galleries, to escape it. The Flemish Olympus shone once more before
his eyes. Once more cascades of hair glistened in tiny reddish waves,
with aquiver of gold and radiance; the shoulders of the allegories,
refurbishing their silvery whiteness, glowed more vividly than ever;
the blue of the eyes became lighter, the ruddy cheeks bloomed like
bunches of carnations; a pink vapor infused warmth into the bluish
pallor of the knees, elbows, and fingers of all those fair-haired
goddesses; soft gleams of changing light, ruddy reflections, played
over the plump, rounded flesh; the pigeon-breast draperies swelled
before the breath of an invisible wind, and began to flutter about in
the azure vapor; the fresh, plump Netherlandish poesy was revealed in
all its entirety to our enthusiastic traveler.

But these beauties on canvas were not enough for him. He had come
thither in search of real, living types. He had fed long enough on
written and painted poetry, and he had discovered that intercourse
with abstractions was somewhat unsubstantial. Doubtless it would have
been much simpler to stay in Paris and fall in love with a pretty
woman, or even with an ugly one, like everybody else; but Tiburce did
not understand nature and was able to read it only in translations. He
grasped admirably all the types realized in the works of the masters,
but he would not have noticed them of his own motion if he had met
them on the street or in society; in a word, if he had been a painter,
he would have made vignettes based on the verses of poets; if he had
been a poet, he would have written verses based on the pictures of
painters. Art had taken possession of him when he was too young and
had corrupted him and prejudiced him. Such instances are more common
than is supposed in our over-refined civilization, where we come in
contact with the works of man more often than with those of nature.

For a moment Tiburce had an idea of compromising with himself, and
made this cowardly and ill-sounding remark: "Chestnut hair is a very
pretty color." He even went so far, the sycophant, the villain, the
man of little faith, as to admit to himself that black eyes were very
bright and very attractive. It may be said, to excuse him, that he had
scoured in every direction, and without the slightest result, a city
which everything justified him in believing to be radically blonde. A
little discouragement was quite pardonable.

At the moment that he uttered this blasphemy under his breath, a
lovely blue glance, wrapped in a mantilla, flashed before him and
disappeared like a will-o'-the-wisp around the corner of Mei'r Square.

Tiburce quickened his pace, but he saw nothing more; the street was
deserted from end to end. Evidently the flying vision had entered one
of the neighboring houses, or had vanished in some unknown alley.
Tiburce, bitterly disappointed, after glancing at the well, with the
iron scrollwork forged by Quintin Metzys, the painter-locksmith, took
it into his head to visit the cathedral, which he found daubed from
top to bottom with a horrible canary-yellow. Luckily the wooden
pulpit, carved by Verbruggen, with its decorations of foliage alive
with birds, squirrels, and turkeys displaying their plumage, and all
the zoological equipage which surrounded Adam and Eve in the
terrestrial paradise, redeemed that general insipidity by the delicacy
of its angles and its nicety of detail. Luckily, the blazonry of the
noble families, and the pictures of Otto Venius, of Rubens, and of Van
Dyck, partly concealed that hateful color, so dear to the middle
classes and to the clergy.

A number of Beguins at prayer were scattered about on the pavement of
the church; but the fervor of their piety caused them to bend their
faces so low over their red-edged prayer books, that it was difficult
to distinguish their features. Moreover, the sanctity of the spot and
the venerable aspect of their costumes prevented Tiburce from feeling
inclined to carry his investigation farther.

Five or six Englishmen, breathless after ascending and descending the
four hundred and seventy stairs of the steeple to which the dove's-
nests with which it is always capped give the aspect of an Alpine
peak, were examining the pictures and, trusting only in part to their
guide's loquacious learning, were hunting up in their guidebooks the
names of the masters, for fear of admiring one thing for another; and
they repeated in front of every canvas, with imperturbable stolidity:
"It is a very fine exhibition." These Englishmen had squarely-cut
faces, and the enormous distance between their noses and their chins
demonstrated the purity of the breed. As for the English lady who was
with them, she was the same one whom Tiburce had previously seen at
the residenz of Laeken; she wore the same green boots and the same red
hair. Tiburce, despairing of finding Flemish blondes, was almost on
the point of darting a killing glance at her; but the vaudeville
couplets aimed at perfidious Albion came to his mind most opportunely.

In honor of these visitors, so manifestly Britannic, who could not
move without a jingling of guineas, the beadle opened the shutters
which, during three-fourths of the year, concealed the two wonderful
paintings of the Crucifixion and the Descent from the Cross.

The Crucifixion is a work that stands by itself, and Rubens, when he
painted it, was thinking of Michelangelo. The drawing is rough,
savage, impetuous, like those of the Roman school; all the muscles
stand out at once, all the bones and sinews are visible, nerves of
steel are surrounded by flesh like granite. Here is no trace of the
joyous, ruddy tones with which the Antwerpian artist nonchalantly
sprinkles his innumerable productions; it is the Italian bistre in its
tawniest intensity; executioners, colossi shaped like elephants, have
tigers' muzzles and attitudes of bestial ferocity; even the Christ
Himself, included in this exaggeration, wears rather the aspect of a
Milo of Crotona, nailed to a wooden horse by rival athletes, than of a
God voluntarily sacrificing Himself for the redemption of humanity.
There is nothing Flemish in the picture save the great Snyders dog
barking in a corner.

When the shutters of the Descent from the Cross were thrown open,
Tiburce was dazzled and seized with vertigo as if he had looked into
an abyss of blinding light; the sublime head of the Magdalen blazed
triumphantly in an ocean of gold, and seemed to illuminate with the
beams from its eyes the pale, gray atmosphere that filtered through
the narrow Gothic windows. Everything about him faded away; there was
an absolute void; the square-jawed Englishman, the red-haired English
woman, the violet-robed beadle---he saw them no more.

The sight of that face was to Tiburce a revelation from on high;
scales fell from his eyes, he found himself face to face with his
secret dream, with his unavowed hope; the intangible image which he
had pursued with all the ardor of an amorous imagination, and of which
he had been able to espy only the profile or the ravishing fold of a
dress; the capricious and untamed chimera, always ready to unfold its
restless wings, was there before him, fleeing no more, motionless in
the splendor of its beauty. The great master had copied in his own
heart the anticipated and longed-for mistress; it seemed to him that
he himself had painted the picture; the hand of genius had drawn
unerringly and with broad strokes of the brush, what was only
confusedly sketched in his mind, and had garbed in gorgeous colors his
undefined fancy for the unknown. He recognized that race, and yet he
had never seen it.

He stood there, mute, absorbed, as insensible as a man in a cataleptic
fit, not moving an eyelid and plunging his eyes into the boundless
glance of the great penitent.

A foot of the Christ, white with a bloodless whiteness, as pure and
lifeless as a consecrated wafer, hovered with all the inert
listlessness of death over the saint's white shoulder, an ivory
footstool placed there by the sublime artist to enable the divine
corpse to descend from the tree of redemption. Tiburce felt jealous of
the Christ. For such a blessed privilege he would gladly have endured
the Passion. The bluish pallor of the flesh hardly reassured him. He
was deeply wounded, too, because the Magdalen did not turn towards him
her melting, glistening eye, wherein the light bestowed its diamonds
and grief its pearls. The dolorous and impassioned persistence of that
glance, which wrapped the beloved body in a winding-sheet of love,
seemed to him humiliating, and eminently unjust to him, Tiburce. He
would have rejoiced if the most imperceptible gesture had given him to
understand that she was touched by his love; he had already forgotten
that he was standing before a painting, so quick is passion to
attribute its own ardor even to objects incapable of feeling it.
Pygmalion must have been astonished, as if it were a most
extraordinary thing, that his statue did not return caress for caress;
Tiburce was no less shocked by the coldness of his painted sweetheart.

Kneeling in her robe of green satin, with its ample and swelling
folds, she continued to gaze upon the Christ with an expression of
grief-stricken concupiscence, like a mistress who seeks to surfeit
herself with the features of an adored face which she is never to see
again; her hair fell over her shoulders, a luminous fringe; a sunbeam,
straying in by chance, heightened the warm whiteness of her linen and
of her arms of gilded marble; in the wavering light her breast seemed
to swell and throb with an appearance of life; the tears in her eyes
melted, and flowed like human tears.

Tiburce thought that she was about to rise and step down from the
picture.

Suddenly there was darkness: the vision vanished.

The English visitors had withdrawn, after observing: "Very well; a
pretty picture"; and the beadle, annoyed by Tiburce's prolonged
contemplation, had closed the shutters, and was demanding the usual
fee. Tiburce gave him all that he had in his pocket; lovers are
generous to duennas; the Antwerpian beadle was the Magdalen's duenna,
and Tiburce, already looking forward to another interview, was
interested in obtaining his favorable consideration.

The colossal St. Christopher, and the hermit carrying a lantern,
painted on the exterior of the shutters, albeit very remarkable works,
were far from consoling Tiburce for the closing of that dazzling
tabernacle, whence the genius of Rubens sparkles like a monstrance
laden with precious stones.

He left the church, carrying in his heart the barbed arrow of an
impossible love; he had at last fallen in with the passion that he
sought, but he was punished where he had sinned: he had become too
fond of painting, he was doomed to love a picture. Nature, neglected
for art, revenged herself in barbarous fashion; the most timid lover
in the presence of the most virtuous of women, always retains a secret
hope in a corner of his heart; as for Tiburce, he was sure of his
mistress's resistance and he was perfectly well aware that he would
never be happy; so that his passion was a genuine passion, a wild,
insensate passion, capable of anything; it was especially remarkable
for its disinterestedness.

Do not make too merry over Tiburce's love; how many men do we see
deeply enamored of women whom they have never seen except in a box at
the theater, to whom--they have never spoken, and even the sound of
whose voice they do not know! Are such men much more reasonable than
our hero, and are their impalpable idols to be compared with the
Magdalen at Antwerp?

Tiburce walked the streets with a proud and mysterious air, like a
gallant returning from a first assignation. The intensity of his
sensations surprised him agreeably--he who had never lived except in
the brain felt the beating of his heart. It was a novel sensation; and
so he abandoned himself without reserve to the charms of that
unfamiliar impression; a real woman would not have touched him so
deeply. An artificial man can be moved only by an artificial thing;
there is a harmony between them; the true would create a discord. As
we have said, Tiburce had read much, seen much, thought much, and felt
very little; his fancies were simply brain fancies; in him passion
rarely went below the cravat. But this time he was really in love,
just like a student of rhetoric; the dazzling image of the Magdalen
floated before his eyes in luminous spots, as if he had been looking
at the sun; the slightest fold, the most imperceptible detail stood
out clearly in his memory; the picture was always present before him.
He tried in all seriousness to devise some means to impart life to
that insensible beauty and to induce her to come forth from her frame;
he thought of Prometheus, who kindled the fire of heaven in order to
give a soul to his lifeless work; of Pygmalion, who succeeded in
finding a way to move and warm a block of marble; he had an idea of
plunging into the bottomless ocean of the occult sciences, in order to
discover a charm sufficiently powerful to give life and substance to
that vain appearance. He raved, he was mad: he was in love, you see.

Have you not yourself, without reaching that pitch of excitement, been
invaded by a feeling of indescribable melancholy in a gallery of old
masters, while thinking of the vanished beauties represented by their
pictures? Would not one be glad to infuse life into all those pale and
silent faces which seem to muse sadly against the greenish ultra-
marine or the coal-black which forms the background? Those eyes, whose
vital spark gleams more brightly beneath the veil of age, were copied
from those of a young princess or a lovely courtesan, of whom naught
remains, not even a single grain of dust; those lips, half parted in a
painted smile, recall real smiles forever fled. What a pity, in truth,
that the women of Raphael, of Correggio, and of Titian are but
impalpable shades! And why have not the models, like their portraits,
received the privilege of immortality? The harem of the most
voluptuous sultan would be a small matter compared with that which one
might form with the odalisques of painting, and it is really to be
regretted that so much beauty is lost.

Tiburce went every day to the cathedral, and lost himself in
contemplation of his beloved Magdalen; and he returned to the hotel
each evening, more in love, more depressed, and more insane than ever.
More than one noble heart, even without caring for pictures, has known
the sufferings of our friend, when trying to breathe his soul into
some lifeless idol, who had only the outward phantom of life, and
realized the passion she inspired no more than a colored figure.

With the aid of powerful glasses our lover scrutinized his inamorata
even in the most imperceptible details. He admired the fineness of the
flesh, the solidity and suppleness of the coloring, the energy of the
brush, the vigor of the drawings, as another would admire the velvety
softness of the skin, the whiteness and the beautiful coloring of a
living mistress. On the pretext of examining the work at closer range,
he obtained a ladder from his friend, the beadle, and, all aquiver
with love, he dared to rest a presumptuous hand on the Magdalen's
shoulder. He was greatly surprised to feel, instead of the satin-like
softness of a woman's flesh, a hard, rough surface like a file, with
hollows and ridges everywhere, due to the impetuosity of the impulsive
painter's brush. This discovery greatly depressed Tiburce, but, as
soon as he had descended to the floor again, his illusion returned.

He passed more than a fortnight thus, in a state of transcendental
enthusiasm, wildly stretching out his arms to his chimera, imploring
Heaven to perform a miracle. In his lucid moments he resigned himself
to the alternative of seeking throughout the city some type
approaching his ideal; but his search resulted in nothing, for one
does not find readily on streets and public promenades such a diamond
of beauty.

One evening, however, he met again, at the corner of Mei'r Square, the
charming blue glance we have previously mentioned; this time the
vision disappeared less quickly, and Tiburce had time to see a lovely
face framed by rich clusters of fair hair, and an artless smile
playing about the freshest lips in the world. She quickened her
pace when she realized that she was followed, but Tiburce, keeping at a
distance, saw her stop in front of a respectable old Flemish house, of
poor but decent aspect. As there was some delay in admitting her, she
turned for an instant, doubtless in obedience to a vague instinct of
feminine coquetry, to see if the stranger had been discouraged by the
long walk she had compelled him to take. Tiburce as if enlightened by
a sudden gleam of light, saw that she bore a striking resemblance to--
the Magdalen.



CHAPTER III RESEMBLANCE



THE house which the slender figure had entered had an air of Flemish
simplicity altogether patriarchal. It was painted a faded rose-color,
with narrow white lines to represent the joints of the stones. The
gable, denticulated like the steps of a staircase; the roof with its
round windows surrounded by scrollwork; the impost, representing, with
Gothic artlessness, the story of Noah derided by his sons; the stork's
nest, and the pigeons making their toilet in the sun, made it a
perfect example of its type; you would have said that it was one of
those factories so common in the pictures of Van der Heyden and of
Teniers.

A few stalks of hops softened with their playful greenery the too
severe and too methodical aspect of the house as a whole. The lower
windows were provided with round bars, and over the two lower panes
were squares of muslin embroidered with great bunches of flowers after
the Brussels fashion; in the space left empty by the swelling of the
iron bars were china pots containing a few pale carnations of sickly
aspect, despite the evident care the owner took of them, for their
drooping heads were supported by playing-cards and a complicated
system of tiny scaffolding of twigs of osier. Tiburce observed this
detail, which indicated a chaste and restrained life, a whole poem of
youth and beauty.

As, after two hours of waiting, he had not seen the fair Magdalen with
the blue eyes come forth, he sagely concluded that she must live
there; which was true. All that he had left to do was to learn her
name, her position in society, to become acquainted with her, and to
win her love; mere trifles, in very truth. A professional Lovelace
would not have been delayed five minutes; but honest Tiburce was not a
Lovelace; on the contrary, he was bold in thought, but timid in
action; no one was less clever than he at passing from the general to
the particular, and in love affairs he had a most pressing need of a
truthworthy Pandarus to extol his perfections and to arrange his
rendezvous. Once under way, he did not lack eloquence; he declaimed
the languorous harangue with due self-possession, and played the lover
at least as well as a provincial jeune premier; but, unlike Petit-
Jean, the clog's lawyer, the part that he was least expert at was the
beginning.

We are bound to admit, therefore, that worthy Tiburce swam in a sea of
uncertainty, devising a thousand stratagems more ingenious than those
of Polybius, to gain access to his divinity. As he found nothing
suitable, he conceived the idea, like Don Cleofas in the Diable
Boiteux, of setting fire to the house, in order to have an opportunity
to rescue his darling from the flames and thus to prove to her his
courage and his devotion; but he reflected that a fireman, more
accustomed than he to roam about on burning rafters, might supplant
him; and, moreover, that the method of making a pretty girl's
acquaintance was forbidden by the Code.

Awaiting a better inspiration, he engraved very clearly on his brain
the location of the house, noted the name of the street, and returned
to his hotel, reasonably content, for he had imagined that he saw
vaguely outlined behind the embroidered muslin at the window the
graceful silhouette of the unknown, and a tiny hand put aside a corner
of the transparent fabric, doubtless to make sure of his virtuous
persistence in standing sentry, without hope of being relieved, at the
corner of a lonely street in Antwerp. Was this mere conceit on the
part of Tiburce, and was his bonne fortune one of those common to
nearsighted men, who mistake linen hanging in the window for the scarf
of Juliet leaning over toward Romeo, and pots of flowers for
princesses in gowns of gold brocade? However that may have been, he
went away in high spirits, looking upon himself as one of the most
triumphant of gallants. The hostess of the Arms of Brabant and her
black maidservant were surprised at the airs of Hamilcar and of a
drum-major which he assumed. He lighted his cigar in the most
determined fashion, crossed his legs, and began to dandle his slipper
on his toes with the superb nonchalance of a mortal who utterly
despises all creation, and who is blessed with joys unknown to the
ordinary run of mankind; he had at last found the blonde. Jason was no
happier when he took the marvelous 


CHAP. from the enchanted tree.

Our hero was in the best of all possible situations: a genuine Havana
cigar in his mouth, slippers on his feet, a bottle of Rhine wine on
his table, with the newspapers of the past week and a pretty little
pirated edition of the poems of Alfred de Musset.

He could drink a glass, or even two, of Tokay, read Namouna, or an
account of the latest ballet; there is no reason, therefore, why we
should not leave him alone for a few moments; we have given him enough
to dispel his ennui, assuming that a lover can ever suffer from ennui.
We will return without him---for he is not the sort of a man to open
the doors for us--to the little house on Rue Kipdorp, and we will act
as introducers, we will show you what there is behind the embroidered
muslin of the lower windows; for, as our first piece of information,
we will tell you that the heroine of this tale lived on the ground
floor and her name was Gretchen; a name which, albeit not so
euphonious as Ethelwina, or Azalia, seemed sufficiently sweet to
German or Dutch ears.

Enter, after carefully wiping your feet, for Flemish cleanliness
reigns despotically here. In Flanders, people wash their faces only
once a week, but by way of compensation the floors are scalded
and scraped to the quick twice a day. The floor in the hall, like
those in the rest of the house, is made of pine boards, whose natural
color is retained, the long, pale veins and the star-like knots being
hidden by no varnish; it is sprinkled with a light coating of sea-sand,
carefully sifted, the grains of which hold the feet and prevent the
slipping so frequent in our salons, where one skates rather than
walks. Gretchen's bedroom is at the right, behind that door painted a
modest gray, whose copper knob, scoured with pumice, shines as if it
were of gold; rub your feet once more upon this mat of rushes; the
emperor himself might not enter with muddy feet.

Observe an instant this placid and peaceful interior; there is nothing
to attract the eye; everything is calm, sober, restrained; the chamber
of Marguerite herself produces no more virginal impression; it is the
serenity of innocence which presides over all these petty details so
fascinatingly neat.

The brown walls, with an oaken wainscoting waist-high, have no other
ornament than a Madonna in colored plaster, dressed in real fabrics
like a doll, with satin shoes, a wreath of rushes, a necklace of
colored glass, and two small vases of artificial flowers in front of
her. At the rear of the room, in the corner most in the shadow, stands
a four-posted bed of antique shape, with curtains of green serge and
valances with pinked edges and a hem of yellow lace. By the pillow, a
figure of the Christ, the lower part of the cross forming a holy-water
vessel, stretches His ivory arms above the chaste maiden's slumbers.

A chest which glistens like a mirror, so diligently is it rubbed; a
table with twisted legs standing near the window, and covered with
spools, skeins of silk, and all the paraphernalia of lacework; a huge,
upholstered easy-chair, three or four high-backed, chairs of the style
of Louis XIII, such as we see in the engravings of Abraham Bosse,
composed the furnishing, almost puritanical in its simplicity.

We must add, however, that Gretchen, innocent as she was, had indulged
in the luxury of a Venetian mirror, with beveled edges, surrounded by
a frame of ebony encrusted with copper. To be sure, to sanctify that
profane object, a twig of blessed boxwood was stuck in the frame.

Imagine Gretchen sitting in the great upholstered easy-chair, with her
feet upon a stool embroidered by herself, entangling and disentangling
with her fairy fingers the almost imperceptible network of a piece of
lace just begun; her pretty head leaning over her work is lighted from
below by a thousand frolicsome reflections which brighten with fresh
and vapory tints the transparent shadow in which she is bathed; a
delicate bloom of youth softens the somewhat too Dutch ruddiness of
her cheeks, whose freshness the half-light cannot impair; the
daylight, admitted sparingly through the upper panes, touches only the
top of her brow, and makes the little wisps of hair that rebel against
the restraint of the comb gleam like golden tendrils. Cause a sudden
ray of sunlight to play upon the cornice and upon the chest, sprinkle
dots of gold over the rounded sides of the pewter pots, make the
Christ a little yellower; retouch with a deeper shadow the stiff,
straight folds of the serge curtains; darken the modernized pallor of
the window-glass; stand old Barbara, armed with her broom, at the end
of the room, concentrate all the light upon the maiden's head and
hands, and you will have a Flemish painting of the best period, which
Terburg or Gaspard Netscher would not refuse to sign.

What a contrast between that interior, so clean and neat and so easily
understood, and the bedroom of a young Frenchwoman, always filled with
clothes, with music-paper, with unfinished water-colors; where every
article is out of its place; where tumbled dresses hang on the backs
of chairs; and where the household cat tears with her claws the novel
carelessly left on the floor! How clear and crystalline is the water
in which that half-withered rose stands! How white that linen, how
clear and transparent that glassware! Not a particle of dust in the
air, not a rug out of place.

Metzu, who painted in a summer-house situated in thecenter of a lake,
in order to preserve the integrity of his colors, might have worked
without annoyance in Gretchen's bedroom. The iron back of the
fireplace shines like a silver bas-relief.

At this point a sudden apprehension seizes us; is she really the
heroine suited to our hero? Is Gretchen really Tiburce's ideal? Is not
all this very minute, very commonplace, very practical? is it not
rather the Dutch than the Flemish type, and do you really believe
that Ruben's models were built like her? Was it not rather merry
gossips, highly-colored, abounding in flesh, of robust health, and
careless and vulgar manners, whose commonplace reality the painter's
genius has idealized? The great masters often play us such tricks. Of
an indifferent site they make a lovely landscape; of an ugly
maidservant, a Venus; they do not copy what they see, but what they
desire.

And yet Gretchen, although daintier and more refined, really bore a
striking resemblance to the Magdalen of Antwerp Cathedral, and
Tiburce's imagination might well rest upon her without going astray.
It would have been hard for him to find a more magnificent body for
the phantom of his painted mistress. You desire, doubtless, now that
you know Gretchen and her bedroom, the bird and its nest, as well as
we ourselves do, to have some details concerning her life and her
social position. Her history was as simple as possible: Gretchen was
the daughter of small tradespeople who had been unfortunate, and she
had been an orphan for several years; she lived with Barbara, a
devoted old servant, upon a small income, the remains of her father's
property, and upon the proceeds of her work; as Gretchen made her own
dresses and her laces, as she was looked upon by the Flemings as a
prodigy of prudence and neatness, she was able, although a simple
working-girl, to dress with a certain elegance, and to differ little
from the daughters of citizens of the middle class; her linen was
fine, her caps were always notable for their whiteness; her boots were
the best made in the city; for--we trust that this detail will not
displease Tiburce--we must admit that Gretchen had the foot of a
Spanish countess, and shod herself to correspond. She was a well-
educated girl; she knew how to read, could write well, knew all
possible stitches in embroidery, had no rival on earth in needlework,
and did not play the piano. Let us add that she had by way of
compensation an admirable talent for cooking pear-tarts, carp au bleu,
and cake; for she prided herself on her culinary skill, like all good
housekeepers, and knew how to prepare a thousand little delicacies
after her own recipes.

These details will seem without doubt far from aristocratic, but our
heroine is neither a princess of diplomacy nor a charming woman of
thirty, nor a fashionable singer; she is a simple working-girl of Rue
Kipdorp, near the ramparts, Antwerp; but as, in our eyes, women have
no real distinction save their beauty, Gretchen is the equal of a
duchess who is entitled to sit in the king's presence, and we look
upon her sixteen years as sixteen quarterings of nobility.

What was the state of Gretchen's heart? The state of her heart was
most satisfactory; she had never loved anything but coffee-colored
turtle-doves, gold-fish, and other absolutely innocent small
creatures, which could not cause the most savagely jealous lover a
moment's anxiety. Every Sunday she went to hear high mass at the
Jesuits' church, modestly wrapped in her hood and attended by Barbara
carrying her book; then she went home and turned over the leaves of a
Bible, "in which God the Father was represented in the costume of an
emperor," and of which the wood-engravings aroused her admiration for
the thousandth time. If the weather was fine, she went out to Lillo
fort, or to the Head of Flanders, with a girl of her own age, also a
lace-worker. During the week she seldom went out, except to deliver
her work; and Barbara undertook that duty most of the time. A girl of
sixteen years who has never thought of love would be an improbable
character in a warmer climate; but the atmosphere of Flanders, made
heavy by the sickly exhalations from the canals, contains very few
aphrodisiac molecules; the flowers are backward there, and when they
come are thick and pulpy; their odors, laden with moisture, resemble
the odors of decoctions of aromatic herbs; the fruits are watery; the
earth and the sky, saturated with moisture, send back and forth the
vapors which they cannot absorb, and which the sun tries in vain to
drink with its pale lips; the women who live in this bath of mist have
no difficulty in being virtuous, for, according to Byron, that rascal
of a sun is a great seducer and has made more conquests than Don Juan.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Gretchen, in such a moral
atmosphere, was a perfect stranger to all ideas of love, even under
the form of marriage, a legal and permissible form if such there be.
She has read no bad novels, nor even any good ones; she had not any
male relatives, cousins or second cousins. Lucky Tiburce! Moreover,
the sailors with their short, colored pipes, the captains of the East-
Indiamen who strolled about the city during their brief time on shore,
and the dignified merchants who went to the Bourse, revolving figures
in the wrinkles of their foreheads, and who cast their fleeting
shadows into Gretchen's sanctum as they walked by the house, were not
at all calculated to inflame the imagination.

Let us admit, however, that, despite her maidenly ignorance, the
lace-worker had remarked Tiburce as a well-turned cavalier with regular
features; she had seen him several times at the cathedral, in rapt
contemplation before the Descent from the Cross, and attributed his
ecstatic attitude to an excessive piety most edifying in so young a
man. As she whirled her bobbins about, she thought of the stranger of
Meiír Square, and abandoned herself to innocent reverie. One day
even, under the influence of that thought, she rose, and unconscious
of her own act, went to her mirror, which she consulted for a long
while; she looked at herself full-faced, in profile, in all possible
lights, and discovered--what was quite true--that her complexion was
more silky than a sheet of rice or camellia paper; that she had blue
eyes of a marvelous limpidity, charming teeth in a mouth as red as a
peach, and fair hair of the loveliest shade. She noticed for the first
time her youthful charm and her beauty; she took the white rose which
stood in the pretty glass, placed it in her hair, and smiled to see
how that simple flower embellished her; coquetry was born and love
would soon follow it.

But it is a long time since we left Tiburce; what had he been doing at
the Arms of Brabant, while we furnished this information concerning
the lace-worker? He had written upon a very fine sheet of paper what
was probably a declaration of love, unless it was a challenge; for
several other sheets, besmeared and marred by erasures, which lay on
the floor, proved that it was a document very difficult to draw up,
and of great importance. After finishing it, he took his cloak and
bent his steps once more toward Rue Kipdorp.

Gretchen's lamp, a star of peace and toil, shone softly behind the
glass, and the shadow of the girl as she leaned over her work was cast
upon the transparent muslin. Tiburce, more excited than a robber about
to turn the key of a treasure-chest, drew near the window with the
step of a wolf, passed his hand through the bars, and buried in the
soft earth of the vase of carnations the corner of his letter thrice
folded, hoping that Gretchen could not fail to see it when she opened
her window in the morning to water her flowers. That done, he withdrew
with a step as light as if the soles of his boots were covered with
felt.



CHAPTER IV A CERTIFICATE OF BEAUTY



THE fresh blue light of the morning paled the sickly yellow of the
lanterns, which were almost burned out; the Scheldt streamed like a
sweating horse, and the daylight was beginning to filter through the
rents in the mist, when Gretchen's window opened. Gretchen's eyes were
still swimming in languor, and the mark left on her delicate cheek by
a fold of the pillow showed that she had slept without moving in her
little virginal bed, that profound sleep of which youth alone has the
secret. She was anxious to see how her dear carnations had passed the
night, and had hastily wrapped herself in the first garment that came
to hand; that graceful and modest deshabille became her wondrously;
and if the idea of a goddess can be reconciled with a little cap of
Flanders, linen embellished with lace, and a dressing-sack of white
dimity, we will venture to say that she had the aspect of Aurora
opening the gates of the East; this comparison is perhaps a little too
majestic for a lace-worker who is about to water a garden contained in
two porcelain pots; but surely Aurora was less fresh and rosy,
especially the Aurora of Flanders, whose eyes are always a little
dull.

Gretchen, armed with a large pitcher, prepared to water her
carnations, and Tiburce's ardent declaration came very near being
drowned beneath a moral deluge of cold water; luckily the white paper
caught Gretchen's eye; she disinterred the letter and was greatly
surprised when she saw the contents. There were only two sentences,
one in French, the other in German; the French sentence was composed
of two words, "je t'aime;" the German of three, "ich liebe dich;"
which means exactly the same thing--"I love you." Tiburce had provided
for the possibility that Gretchen would understand only her mother
tongue; he was, as you see, a consummately prudent person.

Really, it was well worth while to besmear more paper than Malherbe
ever used to compose a stanza, and to drink, on the pretext of
exciting the imagination, a bottle of excellent Tokay, in order to
arrive at that ingenious and novel thought. But, despite its apparent
simplicity, Tiburce's letter was perhaps a masterpiece of libertinism,
unless it was mere folly, which is possible. However, was it not a
master-stroke to let fall thus, like a drop of melted lead, into the
midst of that tranquillity of mind that single phrase, "I love you?"
And was not its fall certain to produce, as on the surface of a lake,
an infinite number of radiations and concentric circles?

In truth, what do all the most ardent love-letters contain? What
remains of all the bombast of passion when one pricks it with the pin
of reason? All the eloquence of Saint-Preux reduces itself to a
phrase; and Tiburce had really attained great profundity by
concentrating in that brief sentence the flowery rhetoric of his first
drafts.

He did not sign it; indeed, what information would his name have
given? He was a stranger in the city, he did not know Gretchen's name,
and, to tell the truth, cared very little about it. The affair was
more romantic, more mysterious thus; the least fertile imagination
might build thereupon twenty octavo volumes more or less probable. Was
he a sylph, a pure spirit, a lovelorn angel, a handsome officer, a
banker's son, a young nobleman, a peer of England with an income of a
million, a Russian feudal lord, with a name ending in "off," many
roubles, and a multitude of fur collars? Such were the serious
questions which that laconically eloquent letter must inevitably
raise. The familiar form of address, which is used only to Divinity,
betrayed a violence of passion which Tiburce was very far from
feeling, but which might produce the best effect upon the girl's mind,
as exaggeration always seems more natural to a woman than the truth.888

Gretchen did not hesitate an instant to believe the young man of Mei'r
Square to be the author of the note; women never err in such matters;
they have a wonderful instinct, a scent, which takes the place of
familiarity with the world and knowledge of the passions. The most
virtuous of them knows more than Don Juan with his list.

We have described our heroine as a very artless, very ignorant, and
very respectable young woman; we must confess, however, that she did
not feel the virtuous indignation which a woman ought to feel who
receives a note written in two languages and containing such a decided
incongruity. She felt rather a thrill of pleasure, and a faint pink
flush passed over her face. That letter was to her like a certificate
of beauty; it reassured her concerning herself, and gave her a
definite rank; it was the first glance that had ever penetrated her
modest obscurity; the small proportions of her fortune prevented her
being sought in marriage. Thus far she had been considered simply as a
child, Tiburce consecrated her a young woman; she felt for him such
gratitude as the pearl must feel for the diver who discovers it in its
coarse shell beneath the dark cloak of the ocean.

This first impression passed, Gretchen experienced a sensation well
known to all those who have been brought up strictly, and who never
have had a secret; the letter embarrassed her like a block of marble;
she did not know what to do with it. Her room seemed to her not to
have enough dark corners, enough impenetrable hiding places, in which
to conceal it from all eyes. She put it in the chest behind a pile of
linen; but after a few moments she took it out again; the letter
blazed through the boards of the wardrobe like Doctor Faust's
microcosm in Rembrandt's etching. Gretchen looked for another, safer
place; Barbara might need napkins or sheets and might find it. She
took a chair, stood upon it, and placed the letter on the canopy of
her bed; the paper burned her hands like a piece of red-hot iron.

Barbara entered to arrange the room. Gretchen, affecting the most
indifferent air imaginable, took her usual seat and resumed her work
of the day before; but at every step that Barbara took toward the bed,
she fell into a horrible fright; the arteries in her temples throbbed,
the sweat of anguish stood upon her forehead, her fingers became
entangled in the threads, and it seemed to her that an invisible hand
was grasping her heart. Barbara seemed to her to have an uneasy,
suspicious expression which was not customary with her. At last the
old woman went out, with a basket on her arm, to do her marketing.
Poor Gretchen breathed freely again, and took down her letter, which
she put in her pocket; but soon it made her itch; the creaking of the
paper terrified her, and she put it in her breast; for that is where a
woman puts everything that embarrasses her. The waist of a dress is a
cupboard without a key, an arsenal filled with flowers, locks of hair,
lockets, and sentimental epistles; a sort of letter box, in which one
mails all the correspondence of the heart.

But why did Gretchen not burn that insignificant scrap of paper which
caused her such keen terror? In the first place, Gretchen had never in
her life experienced such poignant emotion; she was terrified and
enchanted at once. And then, pray tell us why lovers persist in not
destroying letters which may lead later to their detection and
perdition? It is because a letter is a visible soul; because passion
has passed through that paltry sheet with its electric fluid, and has
imparted life to it. To burn a letter is to commit a moral murder; in
the ashes of a destroyed correspondence there are always some
particles of two hearts.

So Gretchen kept her letter in the folds of her dress, beside a little
gold crucifix, which was greatly surprised to find itself in close
proximity to a love-letter.

Like a shrewd young man, Tiburce left his declaration time to work. He
played the dead man and did not again appear in Rue Kipdorp. Gretchen
was beginning to be alarmed, when one fine morning she perceived in
the bars of her window a superb bouquet of exotic flowers. Tiburce had
passed that way; that was his visiting-card.

The bouquet afforded much pleasure to the young working-girl, who had
become accustomed to the thought of Tiburce, and whose self-esteem
was secretly hurt by the small amount of zeal which he had shown after
such an ardent beginning; she took the bunch of flowers, filled with
water one of her pretty Saxon vases with a raised blue design, untied
the stalks and put them in water, in order to keep them longer. On
this occasion she told the first lie of her life, informing Barbara
that the bouquet was a present from a lady to whom she had carried
some lace, and who knew her liking for flowers.

During the day Tiburce came to cool his heels in front of the house,
on the pretext of making a drawing of some odd bit of architecture; he
remained for a long while, working with a blunt pencil on a piece of
wretched vellum. Gretchen played the dead in her turn; not a fold
stirred, not a window opened; the house seemed asleep. Entrenched in a
corner, she was able by means of the mirror in her work-box to watch
Tiburce at her ease. She saw that he was tall, well-built, with an air
of distinction in his whole person, regular features, a soft and
melting eye, and a melancholy expression, which touched her deeply,
accustomed as she was to the rubicund health of Brabantine faces.
Moreover, Tiburce, although he was neither a lion nor a dandy, did not
lack natural refinement, and must have appeared an ultra-fashionable
to a young girl so innocent as Gretchen; on Boulevard de Gand he would
have seemed hardly up-to-date, on Rue Kipdorp he was magnificent.

In the middle of the night, Gretchen, obeying an adorable childish
impulse, rose and went barefooted to look at her bouquet; she buried
her face in the flowers, and kissed Tiburce on the red lips of a
magnificent dahlia; she thrust her head passionately into the
multicolored waves of that bath of flowers, inhaling with long breaths
intoxicating perfume, breathing with full nostrils, until she felt her
heart melt and her eyes grow moist. When she stood erect, her cheeks
glistened with pearly drops, and her fascinating little nose, smeared
as prettily as possible with the golden dust from the stamens, was a
lovely shade of yellow. She wiped it laughingly, returned to bed and
to sleep; as you may imagine, she saw Tiburce in all her dreams.

In all this what had become of the Magdalen of the Descent from the
Cross? She still reigned without a rival in our young enthusiast's
heart; she had the advantage over the loveliest living woman of being
impossible; with her there was no disillusionment, no satiety; she did
not break the spell by commonplace or absurd phrases; she was always
there, motionless, adhering religiously to the sovereign lines within
which the great master had confined her; sure of being beautiful to
all eternity; and relating to the world in her silent language the
dream of a sublime genius.

The little lace-worker of Rue Kipdorp was truly a charming creature;
but how far were her arms from having that undulating and supple
contour, that potent energy, all enveloped with grace! how juvenile
was the slender curve of her shoulders! and how pale the shade of her
hair beside those strange, rich tones with which Rubens had warmed the
rippling locks of the placid sinner! Such was the language which
Tiburce used to himself as he walked upon the Quay of the Scheldt.

However, seeing that he made little progress in his love affair with
the painting, he reasoned with himself most sensibly concerning his
monumental folly. He returned to Gretchen, not without a long-drawn
sigh of regret; he did not love her, but at all events she reminded
him of his dream, as a daughter reminds one of an adored mother who is
dead. We will not dwell on the details of this little intrigue, for
everyone can easily imagine them. Chance, that great procurer,
afforded our two lovers a very natural opportunity to speak.

Gretchen had gone as usual to the Head of Flanders on the other side
of the Scheldt with her young friend. They had run after butterflies,
made wreaths of blue-bottles, and rolled about on the straw in the
mills, so long that night had come and the ferryman had made his last
trip, unperceived by them. They were standing there, both decidedly
perturbed, with one foot in the water, shouting with all the strength
of their little silvery voices for him to come back and get them; but
the playful breeze carried their shouts away, and there was no reply
save the soft splashing of the waves on the sand. Luckily, Tiburce was
drifting about in a small sailboat; he heard them and offered to take
them across; an offer which the friend eagerly accepted, despite Gret-
chen's embarrassed air and her flushed cheeks. Tiburce escorted her
home and took care to organize a boating party for the following
Sunday, with the assent of Barbara, whom his assiduous attendance at
the churches and his devotion to the picture of the Descent from the
Cross had very favorably disposed.

Tiburce met with no great resistance on Gretchen's part. She was so
pure that she did not defend herself, because she did not know that
she was attacked; and besides, she loved Tiburce; for although he
talked very jocosely and expressed himself upon all subjects with
ironical heedlessness, she divined that he was unhappy, and a woman's
instinct is to console: grief attracts them as a mirror attracts the
lark.

Although the young Frenchman was most attentive to her and treated her
with extreme courtesy, she felt that she did not possess his heart
entirely, and that there were corners in his mind to which she never
penetrated. Some hidden thought of superior moment seemed to engross
him and it was evident that he made frequent journeys into an unknown
world; his fancy, borne away by the involuntary flappings of its
wings, lost its footing constantly and beat against the ceiling,
seeking, like a captive bird, some issue through which to dart forth
into the blue sky. Often, he scrutinized her with extraordinary
earnestness for hours at a time, sometimes with a satisfied
expression, and again with an air of dissatisfaction. That look was
not the look of a lover. Gretchen could not understand such behavior,
but as she was sure of Tiburce's loyalty, she was not alarmed.

Tiburce, on the pretext that Gretchen's name was hard to pronounce,
had christened her Magdalen, a substitution which she had gladly
accepted, feeling a secret pleasure in having her lover call her by a
different and mysterious name, as if she were to him another woman. He
still made frequent visits to the cathedral, teasing his mania by
impotent contemplations; and on those days Gretchen paid the penalty
for the harsh treatment of the Magdalen; the real had to pay for the
ideal. He was cross, bored, tiresome, which the honest creature
ascribed to irritated nerves or too persistent reading.

Nevertheless, Gretchen was a charming girl, who deserved to be loved
on her own account. Not in all the divisions of Flanders, in Brabant
or Hainault, could you find a whiter and fresher skin and hair of a
lovelier shade; her hand was at once plump and slender, with nails
like agate,--a genuine princess's hand; and--a rare perfection in the
country of Rubens--a small foot.

Ah! Tiburce, Tiburce, who longed to hold in your arms a real ideal,
and to kiss your chimera on the mouth, beware! Chimeras, despite their
rounded throats, their swan's wings, and their sparkling smiles, have
sharp teeth and tearing claws. The evil creatures will pump the pure
blood from your heart, and leave you dryer and more hollow than a
sponge; avoid that unbridled ambition, do not try to make marble
statues descend from their pedestals, and do not address your
supplications to dumb canvasses; all your painters and your poets were
afflicted with the same disease that you have; they tried to make
creations of their own in the midst of God's creation. With marble,
with colors, with the rhythm of verses, they translated and defined
their dream of beauty; their works are not the portraits of their
mistresses, but of the mistresses they longed for and you would seek
in vain their models on earth. Go and buy another bouquet for
Gretchen, who is a sweet and lovely maiden; drop your dead women and
your phantoms, and try to live with the people of this world.



CHAPTER V TO PARIS!



YES, Tiburce, though it will surprise you greatly to learn it,
Gretchen is vastly superior to you. She has never read the poets, and
does not even know the names of Homer and Virgil; the lamentations of
the Wandering Jew, of Henriette and Damon, printed on wood and
roughly-colored, compose all of her literature, except the Latin in
her mass-book, which she spells out conscientiously every Sunday;
Virginie knew little more in the solitude of her paradise of magnolias
and roses.

You are, it is true, thoroughly posted in literary affairs. You are
profoundly versed in esthetics, esoterics, plastics, architectonics,
and poetics; Marphurius and Pancratius had not a finer list of
acquirements in ics. From Orpheus and Lycophron down to M. de Lamartineís last volume, you have devoured everything that is composed of
meters, of rimed lines, and of strophes cast in every possible mold;
no romance has escaped you. You have traversed from end to end the
vast world of the imagination; you know all the painters from Andrea
Rico of Crete, and Bizzamano, down to Messieurs Ingres and Delacroix;
you have studied beauty at its purest sources; the bas-reliefs of the
friezes of the Parthenon, the Etruscan vases, the hieratic sculptures
of Egypt, Greek art and Roman art, the Gothic and the Renaissance; you
have searched and analyzed everything; you have become a sort of
jockey of Beauty, whose advice painters take when they desire to
select a model, as one consults a groom concerning the purchase of a
horse. Certainly no one is more familiar than you with the physical
side of woman; you are as expert as an Athenian sculptor on that
point; but poetry has engrossed you so much that you have suppressed
nature, the world, and life. Your mistresses have been to you simply
pictures more or less satisfying; your love for the beauty and
attractive ones was in the proportion of a Titian to a Coucher or a
Vanloo; but you have never wondered whether anything real throbbed and
vibrated beneath that exterior. Although you have a kind heart, grief
and joy seem to you like two grimaces which disturb the tranquillity
of the outlines; woman is in your eyes a warm statue.

Ah! unhappy child, throw your books into the fire, tear your
engraving, shatter your plaster casts, forget Raphael, forget Homer,
forget Phidias, since you have not the courage to take a pencil, a
pen, or a modeling-tool; of what use is this sterile admiration to
you? what will be the end of these insane impulses? Do you demand more
of life than it can give you? Great geniuses alone are entitled not to
be content with creation. They can go and look the Sphinx squarely in
the face, for they solve its riddles. But you are not a great genius;
be simple of heart, love those who love you, and, as Jean Paul says,
do not ask for moonlight, or for a gondola on Lake Mag'giore, or for a
rendezvous at Isola Bella.

Become a philanthropic advocate or a concierge; limit your ambition to
becoming a voter and a corporal in your company; have what in the
world is called a trade; become an honest citizen. At these words no
doubt your long hair will stand erect in horror, for you have the same
scorn for the simple bourgeois that the German student professes for
the Philistine, the soldier for the civilian, and the Brahma for the
Pariah. You crush with ineffable disdain every worthy tradesman who
prefers a vaudeville song to a tercet of Dante, and the muslin of
fashionable portrait-painters to a sketch by Michelangelo. Such a man
is in your eyes below the brute, and yet there are plain citizens
whose minds--and they have minds--are rich with poetic feeling, who
are capable of love and devotion, and who experience emotions of which
you are incapable, yet whose brain has annihilated the heart.

Look at Gretchen, who has done nothing but water carnations and make
lace all her life; she is a thousand times more poetic than you,
monsieur l'artiste, as they say nowadays; she believes, she hopes, she
smiles, and weeps; a word from you brings sunshine or rain to her
lovely face; she sits there in her great upholstered arm-chair, beside
her window, in a melancholy light, at work upon her usual task; but
how her young brain labors! how fast her imagination travels! how many
castles in Spain she builds and throws down! See her blush and turn
pale, turn hot and cold, like the amorous maiden of the ancient ode;
her lace drops from her hands, she has heard on the brick sidewalk a
step which she distinguishes among a thousand, with all the acuteness
which passion gives to the senses; although you arrive at the
appointed time, she has been waiting for you a long while. All day you
have been her sole preoccupation; she has asked herself: "Where is he
now?--What is he doing?--Is he thinking of me as I am thinking of
him?---Perhaps he is ill; yesterday he seemed to me paler than usual,
and he had a distressed and preoccupied expression when he left me;
can anything have happened to him? Has he received unpleasant news
from Paris?"--and all those questions which love propounds to itself
in its sublime disquietude.

That poor child, with her great loving heart, has displaced the center
of her existence, she no longer lives except in you and through you.
By virtue of the wonderful mystery of the incarnation of love, her
soul inhabits your body, her spirit descends upon you and visits you;
she would throw herself in front of the sword which should threaten
your breast; the blow that should reach you would cause her death; and
yet you have taken her up simply as a plaything, to use her as a
manikin for your ideal. To merit such a wealth of love, you have
darted a few glances at her, given her a few bouquets, and declaimed
in a passionate tone the commonplaces of romance. A more earnest lover
would have failed perhaps; for, alas! to inspire love, it is not
necessary to feel it oneself. You have deliberately disturbed for all
time the limpidity of that modest existence. Upon my word, Master
Tiburce, adorer of the blonde type and contemner of the bourgeois, you
have done a cruel thing; we regret to be obliged to tell you so.

Gretchen was not happy; she divined an invisible rival between herself
and her lover and jealousy seized her; she watched Tiburce's
movements, and saw that he went only to his hotel, the Arms of
Brabant, and to the cathedral on Mei'r Square. She was reassured.

"What is the matter with you," she asked him once, "that you are
always looking at the figure of the Magdalen supporting the Saviour's
body in the picture of the Descent from the Cross?"

"Because she looks like you," Tiburce replied.

Gretchen blushed with pleasure and ran to the mirror to verify the
accuracy of the comparison; she saw that she had the unctuous and
glowing eyes, the fair hair, the arched forehead, the general shape of
the saint's face.

"So that is the reason that you call me Magdalen and not Gretchen, or
Marguerite, which is my real name?"

"Precisely so," replied Tiburce, with an embarrassed air.

"I would never have believed that I was so lovely," said Gretchen;
"and it makes me very happy, for you will love me better for it."

Serenity returned for some time to the maiden's heart, and we must
confess that Tiburce made virtuous efforts to combat his insane
passion. The fear of becoming a monomaniac came to his mind; and to
cut short that obsession he determined to return to Paris.

Before starting, he went to pay one last visit to the cathedral, and
his friend the beadle opened the shutters of the Descent from the
Cross for him.

The Magdalen seemed to him more sad and disconsolate than usual; great
tears rolled down her pallid cheeks, her mouth was contracted by a
spasm ofgrief, a bluish circle surrounded her melting eyes, the
sunbeam had left her hair, and there was, in her whole attitude, an
expression of despair and prostration; one would have said that she no
longer believed in the resurrection of her beloved Lord. In truth, the
Christ was that day of such a sallow, greenish hue that it was
difficult to imagine that life could ever return to His decomposing
flesh. All the other people in the picture seemed to share that
feeling; their eyes were dull, their expressions mournful, and their
halos gave forth only a leaden gleam; the livid hue of death had
invaded that canvas formerly so warm and full of life.

Tiburce was deeply touched by the expression of supreme melancholy
upon the Magdalen's face, and his resolution to depart was shaken. He
preferred to attribute it to a secret sympathy rather than to a
caprice of the light. The weather was dull, the rain cut the sky with
slender threads, and a ray of daylight, drenched with water and mist,
forced its way with difficulty through the glass, streaming and beaten
by the wing of the squall; that reason was much too plausible to be
admitted by Tiburce.

"Ah!" he said to himself in an undertone, quoting a verse of one of
our young poets, "'How I would love thee tomorrow if thou wert
living!'--Why art thou only an impalpable ghost attached for ever to
the meshes of this canvas and held captive by this thin layer of
varnish? Why art thou the phantom of life, without the power to live?
What does it profit thee to be lovely, noble, and great, to have in
thine eyes the flame of earthly love and of divine love, and about thy
head the resplendent halo of repentance, being simply a little oil and
paint spread on canvas in a certain way? Oh! lovely adored one, turn
toward me for an instant that glance, at once so soft and so dazzling;
sinner, take pity upon an insane passion, thou, to whom love opened
the gates of Heaven; descend from that frame, stand erect in thy long,
green satin skirt; for it is a long while that thou hast knelt before
the sublime scaffold; these holy women will guard the body without
thee and will suffice for the death vigil. Come, Magdalen, come! thou
hast not emptied all thy jars of perfume at the feet of the Divine
Master! there must remain enough of nard and cinnamon in the bottom of
thy onyx jar to renew the luster of thy hair, dimmed by the ashes of
repentance. Thou shalt have, as of yore, strings of pearls, negro
pages, and coverlets of the purple of Sidon. Come, Magdalen, although
thou hast been two thousand years dead, I have enough of youth and
ardor to reanimate thy dust. Ah! specter of beauty, let me but hold
thee in my arms one instant, then let me die!"

A stifled sigh, as faint and soft as the wail of a dove mortally
wounded, echoed sadly in the air. Tiburce thought that the Magdalen
had answered him.

It was Gretchen, who, hidden behind a pillar, had seen all, heard all,
understood all. Something had broken in her heart; she was not loved.

That evening Tiburce came to see her; he was pale and depressed.
Gretchen was as white as wax. The excitement of the morning had driven
the color from her cheeks, like the powder from the wings of a
butterfly.

"I start for Paris tomorrow; will you come with me?"

"To Paris or elsewhere; wherever you please," replied Gretchen, in
whom every shred of will-power seemed extinct; "shall I not be unhappy
everywhere?"

Tiburce flashed a keen and searching glance at her.

"Come tomorrow morning; I will be ready; I have given you my heart and
my life. Dispose of your servant."

She went with Tiburce to the Arms of Brabant, to assist him to make
his preparations for departure; she packed his books, his linen, and
his pictures, then she returned to her little room on Rue Kipdorp; she
did not undress, but threw herself fully dressed upon her bed.

An unconquerable depression had seized upon her soul; everything about
her seemed sad: the bouquets were withered in their blue glass vases;
the lamps flickered and cast a dim and intermittent light; the ivory
Christ bent His head in despair upon His breast; and the blessed
boxwood assumed the aspect of a cypress dipped in lustral water.

The little Virgin from her little recess watched her in surprise with
her enamel eyes; and the storm, pressing his knee against the window-
pane, made the lead partitions groan and creak.

The heaviest furniture, the most unimportant utensils, wore an
expression of intelligence and compassion; they cracked dolorously and
gave forth mournful sounds. The easy-chair held out its long,
unoccupied arms; the hop-vine on the trellis passed its little green
hand familiarly through a broken pane; the kettle complained and wept
among the ashes; the curtains of the bed fell in more lifeless and
more distressed folds; the whole room seemed to understand that it was
about to lose its young mistress. Gretchen called her old servant, who
wept bitterly; she handed her her keys and the certificates of her
little income, then opened the cage of her two-coffee-colored turtle-
doves and set them free.

The next morning she was on her way to Paris with Tiburce.



CHAPTER VI FROM THE CANVAS



TIBURCE'S apartment greatly surprised the young Antwerp maiden,
accustomed to Flemish strictness and method. That mixture of luxury
and heedlessness upset all her ideas. For instance, a crimson velvet
cover was thrown upon a wretched broken table; magnificent candelabra
of the most ornate style, which would not have been out of place in
the boudoir of a king's mistress, were supplied with paltry bobdches
of common glass, which the candles, burning down to the very bottom,
had burst; a china vase of beautiful material and workmanship and of
great value had received a kick in the side, and its splintered
fragments were held together by iron wire; exceedingly rare engravings
were fastened to the wall by pins; a Greek cap was on the head of an
antique Venus, and a multitude of incongruous objects, such as Turkish
pipes, narghiles, daggers, yataghans, Chinese shoes, and Indian
slippers, encumbered the chairs and what-nots.

The painstaking Gretchen had no rest until all this was cleaned,
neatly hung, and labeled; like God who made the world from chaos, she
made of that medley a delightful apartment. Tiburce, who was accustomed
to its confusion and who knew perfectly where things ought not to be,
had difficulty at first in recognizing his surroundings; but he ended
by becoming used to it. The objects which he disarranged returned to
their places as if by magic. He realized for the first time what
comfort meant. Like all imaginative people, he neglected details. The
door of his bedroom was gilded and covered with arabesques, but it had
no weather-strips; like the genuine savage that he was, he loved
splendor and not well-being; he would have worn, like the Orientals,
waistcoats of gold brocade lined with toweling.

And yet, although he seemed to enjoy this more human and more
reasonable mode of life, he was often sad and distraught; he would
remain whole days upon his divan, flanked by two piles of cushions,
with eyes closed and hands hanging, and not utter a word; Gretchen
dared not question him, she was so afraid of his reply. The scene in
the cathedral had remained engraved upon her memory, in painful and
ineffaceable strokes.

He continued to think of the Magdalen at Antwerp; absence made her
more beautiful in his sight; he saw her before him like a luminous
apparition. An imaginary sunlight riddled her hair with rays of gold,
her dress had the transparency of an emerald, her shoulders gleamed
like Parian marble. Her tears had dried, and youth shone in all its
bloom upon the down of her rosy cheeks; she seemed entirely consoled
for the death of the Christ; whose bluish white foot she supported
heedlessly, while she turned her face towards her earthly lover. The
rigid outlines of sanctity were softened and had become undulating and
supple; the sinner reappeared in the person of the penitent; her
neckerchief floated more freely, her skirt swelled out in alluring and
worldly folds, her arms were amorously outstretched, as if ready to
seize a victim of love. The great saint had become a courtesan, and
had transformed herself into a temptress. In a more credulous age
Tiburce would have seen therein some underhand machination of him who
goes prowling about, "seeking whom he may devour"; he would have
believed that the devil's claw was upon his shoulder and that he was
bewitched in due form.

How did it happen that Tiburce, beloved by a charming young girl,
simple of heart, and endowed with intelligence, possessed of beauty,
youth, innocence, all the real gifts which come from God, and which no
one can acquire, persisted in pursuing a mad chimera, an impossible
dream; and how could that mind, so keen and powerful, have arrived at
such a degree of aberration? Such things are seen every day; have we
not, each one of us in our respective spheres, been loved obscurely by
some humble heart, while we sought more exalted loves? Have not we
trodden under foot a pale violet with its timid perfume, while
striding along with lowered eyes toward a cold and gleaming star which
cast its ironic glance upon us from the depths of infinity? Has not
the abyss its magnetism and the impossible its fascination?

One day Tiburce entered Gretchen's chamber carrying a bundle; he took
from it a skirt and waist of green satin, made after the antique
style, a chemisette of a shape long out of fashion, and a string of
huge pearls. He requested Gretchen to put on those garments, which
could not fail to be most becoming to her, and to keep them in the
house; he told her by way of explanation that he was very fond of.
sixteenth-century costumes, and that by falling in with that fancy of
his she would confer very great pleasure upon him. You will readily
believe that a young girl did not need to be asked twice to try on a
new gown; she was soon dressed, and when she entered the salon,
Tiburce could not withhold a cry of surprise and admiration. He found
something to criticize, however, in the head-dress, and, releasing the
hair from the teeth of the comb, he spread it out in great curls over
Gretchen's shoulders, like the Magdalen's hair in the Descent from the
Cross. That done, he gave a different twist to some folds of the
skirt, loosened the laces of the waist, rumpled the neckerchief, which
was too stiff and starchy, and, stepping back a few feet, contemplated
his work.

Doubtless you have seen what are called living pictures, at some
special performance. The most beautiful actresses are selected, and
dressed and posed in such wise as to reproduce some familiar painting.
Tiburce had achieved a masterpiece of that sort; you would have said
that it was a bit cut from Ruben's canvas.

Gretchen made a movement.

"Don't stir, you will spoil the pose; you are so lovely thus!" cried
Tiburce in a tone of entreaty.

The poor girl obeyed and remained motionless for several minutes. When
she turned, Tiburce saw that her face was bathed in tears.

He realized that she knew all.

Gretchen's tears flowed silently down her cheeks, without contraction
of the features, without effort, like pearls overflowing from the too
full cup of her eyes, lovely azure flowers of divine limpidity; grief
could not mar the harmony of her face, and her tears were lovelier
than another woman's smile.

Gretchen wiped them away with the back of her hand, and leaning upon
the arm of a chair, she said in a voice tremulous and melting with
emotion:

"Oh, how you have made me suffer, Tiburce! Jealousy of a new sort
wrung my heart; although I had no rival, I was betrayed none the less;
you loved a painted woman; she possessed your thoughts, your dreams;
she alone seemed fair to you, who saw only her in all the world;
plunged in that mad contemplation, you did not even see that I had
wept. And I believed for an instant that you loved me, whereas I was
simply a duplicate, a counterfeit of your passion! I know well that in
your eyes I am only an ignorant little girl who speaks French with a
German accent that makes you laugh; my face pleases you as a reminder
of your imaginary mistress; you see in me a pretty manikin which you
drape according to your fancy; but I tell you the manikin suffers and
loves you."

Tiburce tried to draw her to his heart, but she released herself and
continued:

"You talked to me enchantingly of love, you taught me that I was
lovely and charming to look upon, you pressed my hands and declared
that no fairy had smaller ones; you said of my hair that it was more
precious than a prince's golden cloak, and of my eyes that the angels
came down from Heaven to look at themselves in them, and that they
stayed so long that they were late in returning and were scolded by
the good Lord; and all this in a sweet and penetrating voice, with an
accent of truth that would have deceived those more experienced than
I. Alas! my resemblance to the Magdalen in the picture kindled your
imagination and gave you that artificial eloquence; she answered you
through my mouth; I gave her the life that she lacks, and I served to
complete your illusion. If I have given you a few moments of
happiness, I forgive you for making me play this part. After all, it
is not your fault if you do not know how to love, if the impossible
alone attracts you, if you long only for that which you cannot attain.
You are ambitious to love, you are deceived concerning yourself, you
will never love. You must have perfection, the ideal and poesy--all
those things which do not exist. Instead of loving in a woman the
love that she has for you, of being grateful to her for her devotion
and for the gift of her heart, you look to see if she resembles that
plaster Venus in your study. Woe to her if the outline of her brow has
not the desired curve! You are concerned about the grain of her skin,
the shade of her hair, the fineness of her wrists and her ankles, but
never about her heart. You are not a lover, poor Tiburce, you are
simply a painter. What you have taken for passion is simply admiration
for shape and beauty; you were in love with the talent of Rubens, not
with the Magdalen; your vocation of painter stirred vaguely within you
and produced those frantic outbursts which you could not control.
Thence came all the degradation of your fantasy. I have discovered
this, because I love you. Love is a woman's genius, her mind is not
engrossed in selfish contemplation! Since I have been here I have
turned over your books, I have read your poets, I have become almost a
scholar. The veil has fallen from my eyes. I have discovered many
things that I should never have suspected. Thus I have been able to
read clearly in your heart. You used to draw--take up your pencils
again. You must place your dreams upon canvas, and all this great
agitation will calm down of itself. If I cannot be your mistress, I
will at all events be your model."

She rang and told the servant to bring an easel, canvas, colors, and
brushes.

When the servant had prepared everything, the chaste girl suddenly let
her garments fall to the floor with sublime immodesty, and raising her
hair, like Aphrodite come forth from the sea, stood in the bright
light.

"Am I not as lovely as your Venus of Milo?" she asked with a sweet
little pout.

After two hours, the face was already alive and half protruding from
the canvas; in a week it was finished. It was not a perfect picture,
however; but an exquisite touch of refinement and of purity, a
wonderful softness of tone, and the noble simplicity of the
arrangement made it noteworthy, especially to connoisseurs. That
slender white and fair-haired figure, standing forth in an
unconstrained attitude against the twofold azure of the sky and the
sea, and presenting herself to the world nude and smiling, had a
reflection of antique poesy and recalled the best periods of Greek
sculpture.

Tiburce had already forgotten the Magdalen of Antwerp.

"Well!" said Gretchen, "are you satisfied with your model?"

"When would you like to publish our banns?" was Tiburce's reply.

"I shall be the wife of a great painter," she said, throwing her arms
about her lover's neck; "but do not forget, monsieur, that it was I
who discovered your genius, that priceless jewel---I, little Gretchen
of Rue Kipdorp!"




LA MORTE AMOUREUSE



CHAPTER I. A STRANGE STORY



BROTHER, you ask me if I have ever loved. Yes. My story is a strange
and terrible one; and though I am sixty-six years of age, I scarcely
dare even now to disturb the ashes of that memory. To you I can refuse
nothing; but I should not relate such a tale to any less experienced
mind. So strange were the circumstances of my story, that I can
scarcely believe myself to have ever actually been a party to them.
For more than three years I remained the victim of a most singular and
diabolical illusion. Poor country priest though I was, I led every
night in a dream---would to God it had been all a dream!---a most
worldly life, a damning life, a life of a Sardanapalus. One single
look too freely cast upon a woman well-nigh caused me to lose my soul;
but finally by the grace of God and the assistance of my patron saint,
I succeeded in casting out the evil spirit that possessed me. My daily
life was long interwoven with a nocturnal life of a totally different
character. By day I was a priest of the Lord, occupied with prayer and
sacred things; by night, from the instant that I closed my eyes I
became a young nobleman, a fine connoisseur in women, dogs, and
horses; gambling, drinking, and blaspheming; and when I awoke at early
daybreak, it seemed to me, on the other hand, that I had been
sleeping, and had only dreamed that I was a priest. Of this
somnambulistic life there now remains to me only the recollection of
certain scenes and words which I cannot banish from my memory; but
although I never actually left the walls of my presbytery, one would
think to hear me speak that I were a man who, weary of all worldly
pleasures, had become a religious, seeking to end a tempestuous life
in the service of God, rather than an humble seminarist who has grown
old in this obscure curacy, situated in the depths of the woods and
even isolated from the life of the century.

Yes, I have loved as none in the world ever loved--with an insensate
and furious passion--so violent that I am astonished it did not cause
my heart to burst asunder. Ah, what nights--what nights!

From my earliest childhood I had felt a vocation to the priesthood, so
that all my studies were directed with that idea in view. Up to the
age of twenty-four my life had been only a prolonged novitiate. Having
completed my course of theology, I successively received all the minor
orders, and my superiors judged me worthy, despite my youth, to pass
the last awful degree. My ordination was fixed for Easter week.

I had never gone into the world. My world was confined by the walls of
the college and the seminary. I knew in a vague sort of a way that
there was something called Woman, but I never permitted my thoughts to
dwell on such a subject, and I lived in a state of perfect innocence.
Twice a year only I saw my infirm and aged mother, and in those visits
were comprised my sole relations with the outer world.

I regretted nothing; I felt not the least hesitation at taking the
last irrevocable step; I was filled with joy and impatience. Never did
a betrothed lover count the slow hours with more feverish ardor; I
slept only to dream that I was saying mass; I believed there could be
nothing in the world more delightful than to be a priest; I would have
refused to be a king or a poet in preference. My ambition could
conceive of no loftier aim.

I tell you this in order to show you that what happened to me could
not have happened in the natural order of things, and to enable you to
understand that I was the victim of an inexplicable fascination.

At last the great day came. I walked to the church with a step so
light that I fancied myself sustained in air, or that I had wings upon
my shoulders. I believed myself an angel, and wondered at the somber
and thoughtful faces of my companions, for there were several of us. I
had passed all the night in prayer, and was in a condition well-nigh
bordering on ecstasy. The bishop, a venerable old man, seemed to me
God the Father leaning over his Eternity, and I beheld Heaven through
the vault of the temple.

You well know the details of that ceremony--the benediction, the
communion under both forms, the anointing of the palms of the hands
with the Oil of Catechumens, and then the holy sacrifice offered in
concert with the bishop.

Ah, truly spake Job when he declared that the imprudent man is one who
hath not made a covenant with his eyes! I accidentally lifted my head,
which until then I had kept down, and beheld before me, so close that
it seemed that I could have touched her--although she was actually a
considerable distance from me and on the further side of the sanctuary
railing--a young woman of extraordinary beauty, and attired with royal
magnificence. It seemed as though scales had suddenly fallen from my
eyes. I felt like a blind man who unexpectedly recovers his sight. The
bishop, so radiantly glorious but an instant before, suddenly vanished
away, the tapers paled upon their golden candlesticks like stars in
the dawn, and a vast darkness seemed to fill the whole church. The
charming creature appeared in bright relief against the background of
that darkness, like some angelic revelation. She seemed herself
radiant, and radiating light rather than receiving it.

I lowered my eyelids, firmly resolved not to again open them, that I
might not be influenced by external objects, for distraction had
gradually taken possession of me until I hardly knew what I was doing.

In another minute, nevertheless, I reopened my eyes, for through my
eyelashes I still beheld her, all sparkling with prismatic colors, and
surrounded with such a purple penumbra as one beholds in gazing at the
sun.

Oh, how beautiful she was! The greatest painters, who followed ideal
beauty into heaven itself, and thence brought back to earth the true
portrait of the Madonna, never in their delineations even approached
that wildly beautiful reality which I saw before me. Neither the
verses of the poet nor the palette of the artist could convey any
conception of her. She was rather tall, with a form and bearing of a
goddess. Her hair, of a soft blonde hue, was parted in the midst and
flowed back over her temples in two rivers of rippling gold; she
seemed a diademed queen. Her forehead, bluish-white in its
transparency, extended its calm breadth above the arches of her
eyebrows, which by a strange singularity were almost black, and
admirably relieved the effect of sea-green eyes of unsustainable
vivacity and brilliancy. What eyes! With a single flash they could
have decided a man's destiny. They had a life, a limpidity, an ardor,
a humid light which I have never seen in human eyes; they shot forth
rays like arrows, which I could distinctly see enter my heart. I know
not if the fire which illumined them came from heaven or from hell,
but assuredly it came from one or the other. That woman was either an
angel or a demon, perhaps both. Assuredly she never sprang from the
flank of Eve, our common mother. Teeth of the most lustrous pearl
gleamed in her ruddy smile, and at every inflection of her lips little
dimples appeared in the satiny rose of her adorable cheeks. There was
a delicacy and pride in the regal outline of her nostrils bespeaking
noble blood. Agate gleams played over the smooth lustrous skin of her
half-bare shoulders, and strings of great blonde pearls---almost equal
to her neck in beauty of color--descended upon her bosom. From time to
time she elevated her head with the undulating grace of a startled
serpent or peacock, thereby imparting a quivering motion to the high
lace ruff which surrounded it like a silver trellis-work.

She wore a robe of orange-red velvet, and from her wide ermine-lined
sleeves there peeped forth patrician hands of infinite delicacy, and
so ideally transparent that, like the fingers of Aurora, they
permitted the light to shine through them.

All these details I can recollect at this moment as plainly as though
they were of yesterday, for notwithstanding I was greatly troubled at
the time, nothing escaped me; the faintest touch of shading, the
little dark speck at the point of the chin, the imperceptible down at
the corners of the lips, the velvety floss upon the brow, the
quivering shadows of the eyelashes upon the cheeks--I could notice
everything with astonishing lucidity of perception.

And gazing, I felt opening within me gates that had until then
remained closed; vents long obstructed became all clear, permitting
glimpses of unfamiliar perspectives within; life suddenly made itself
visible to me under a totally novel aspect. I felt as though I had
just been born into a new world and a new order of things. A frightful
anguish commenced to torture my heart as with red-hot pincers. Every
successive minute seemed to me at once but a second and yet a century.
Meanwhile the ceremony was proceeding, and I shortly found myself
transported far from that world of which my newly born desires were
furiously besieging the entrance. Nevertheless I answered "Yes" when I
wished to say "No," though all within me protested against the
violence done to my soul by my tongue. Some occult power seemed to
force the words from my throat against my will. Thus it is, perhaps,
that so many young girls walk to the altar firmly resolved to refuse
in a startling manner the husband imposed upon them, and that yet not
one ever fulfils her intention. Thus it is, doubtless, that so many
poor novices take the veil, though they have resolved to tear it into
shreds at the moment when called upon to utter the vows. One dares not
thus cause so great a scandal to all present, nor deceive the
expectation of so many people. All those eyes, all those wills seem to
weigh down upon you like a cope of lead; and, moreover, measures have
been so well taken, everything has been so thoroughly arranged
beforehand and after a fashion so evidently irrevocable, that the will
yields to the weight of circumstances and utterly breaks down.

As the ceremony proceeded the features of the fair unknown changed
their expression. Her look had at first been one of caressing
tenderness; it changed to an air of disdain and of mortification, as
though at not having been able to make itself understood.

With an effort of will sufficient to have uprooted a mountain, I
strove to cry out that I would not be a priest, but I could not speak;
my tongue seemed nailed to my palate, and I found it impossible to
express my will by the least syllable of negation. Though fully awake,
I felt like one under the influence of a nightmare, who vainly strives
to shriek out the one word upon which life depends.

She seemed conscious of the martyrdom I was undergoing, and, as though
to encourage me, she gave me a look replete with divinest promise. Her
eyes were a poem; their every glance was a song.

She said to me:

"If thou wilt be mine, I shall make thee happier than God Himself in
His paradise. The angels themselves will be jealous of thee. Tear off
that funeral shroud in which thou art about to wrap thyself. I am
Beauty, I am Youth, I am Life. Come to me! Together we shall be Love.
Can Jehovah offer thee aught in exchange? Our lives will flow on like
a dream, in one eternal kiss.

"Fling forth the wine of that chalice, and thou art free. I will
conduct thee to the Unknown Isles. Thou shalt sleep in my bosom upon a
bed of massy gold under a silver pavilion, for I love thee and would
take thee away from thy God, before whom so many noble hearts pour
forth floods of love which never reach even the steps of His throne!"

These words seemed to float to my ears in a rhythm of infinite
sweetness, for her look was actually sonorous, and the utterances of
her eyes were reechoed in the depths of my heart as though living lips
had breathed them into my life. I felt myself willing to renounce God,
and yet my tongue mechanically fulfilled all the formalities of the
ceremony. The fair one gave me another look, so beseeching, so
despairing the keen blades seemed to pierce my heart, and I felt my
bosom transfixed by more swords than those of Our Lady of Sorrows.



CHAPTER II. ROOT IMPERISHABLE



ALL was consummated: I had become a priest.

Never was deeper anguish painted on human face than upon hers. The
maiden who beholds her affianced lover suddenly fall dead at her side,
the mother bending over the empty cradle of her child, Eve seated at
the threshold of the gate of Paradise, the miser who finds a stone
substituted for his stolen treasure, the poet who accidentally permits
the only manuscript of his finest work to fall into the fire, could
not wear a look so despairing, so inconsolable. All the blood had
abandoned her charming face, leaving it whiter than marble; her
beautiful arms hung lifelessly on either side of her body as though
their muscles had suddenly relaxed, and she sought the support of a
pillar, for her yielding limbs almost betrayed her. As for myself, I
staggered toward the door of the church, livid as death, my forehead
bathed with a sweat bloodier than that of Calvary; I felt as though I
were being strangled; the vault seemed to have flattened down upon my
shoulders, and it seemed to me that my head alone sustained the whole
weight of the dome.

As I was about to cross the threshhold a hand suddenly caught mine--a
woman's hand! I had never till then touched the hand of any woman. It
was cold as a serpent's skin, and yet its impress remained upon my
wrist, burnt there as though branded by a glowing iron. It was she.
"Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done?" she exclaimed in a
low voice, and immediately disappeared in the crowd.

The aged bishop passed by. He cast a severe and scrutinizing look upon
me. My face presented the wildest aspect imaginable; I blushed and
turned pale alternately; dazzling lights flashed before my eyes. A
companion took pity on me. He seized my arm and led me out. I could
not possibly have found my way back to the seminary unassisted. At the
corner of a street, while the young priest's attention was momentarily
turned in another direction, a negro page, fantastically garbed,
approached me, and without pausing on his way slipped into my hand a
little pocket-book with gold-embroidered corners, at the same time
giving me a sign to hide it. I concealed it in my sleeve, and there
kept it until I found myself alone in my cell. Then I opened the
clasp. There were only two leaves within, bearing the words,
"Clarimonde. At the Concini Palace." So little acquainted was I at
that time with the things of this world that I had never heard of
Clarimonde, celebrated as she was, and I had no idea as to where the
Concini Palace was situated. I hazarded a thousand conjectures, each
more extravagant than the last; but, in truth, I cared little whether
she were a great lady or a courtesan, so that I could but see her once
more.

My love, although the growth of a single hour, had taken imperishable
root. I did not even dream of attempting to tear it up, so fully was I
convinced such a thing would be impossible. That woman had completely
taken possession of me. One look from her had sufficed to change my
very nature. She had breathed her will into my life, and I no longer
lived in myself, but in her and for her. I gave myself up to a
thousand extravagancies. I kissed the place upon my hand which she had
touched, and I repeated her name over and over again for hours in
succession. I only needed to close my eyes in order to see her
distinctly as though she were actually present; and I reiterated to
myself the words she had uttered in my ear at the church porch:
"Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done?" I comprehended at
last the full horror of my situation, and the funereal and awful
restraints of the state into which I had just entered became clearly
revealed to me. To be a priest!--that is, to be chaste, to never love,
to observe no distinction of sex or age, to turn from the sight of all
beauty, to put out one's own eyes, to hide forever crouching in the
chill shadows of some church or cloister, to visit none but the dying,
to watch by unknown corpses, and ever bear about with one the black
soutane as a garb of mourning for one's self, so that your very dress
might serve as a pall for your coffin.

And I felt life rising within me like a subterranean lake, expanding
and overflowing; my blood leaped fiercely through my arteries; my
long-restrained youth suddenly burst into active being, like the aloe
which blooms but once in a hundred years, and then bursts into blossom
with a clap of thunder.

What could I do in order to see Clarimonde once more? I had no pretext
to offer for desiring to leave the seminary, not knowing any person in
the city. I would not even be able to remain there but a short time,
and was only waiting my assignment to the curacy which I must
thereafter occupy. I tried to remove the bars of the window; but it
was at a fearful height from the ground, and I found that as I had no
ladder it would be useless to think of escaping thus. And,
furthermore, I could descend thence only by night in any event, and
afterward how should I be able to find my way through the inextricable
labyrinth of streets? All these difficulties, which to many would have
appeared altogether insignificant, were gigantic to me, a poor
seminarist who had fallen in love only the day before for the first
time, without experience, without money, without attire.

"Ah!" cried I to myself in my blindness, "were I not a priest I could
have seen her every day; I might have been her lover, her spouse.
Instead of being wrapped in this dismal shroud of mine I would have
had garments of silk and velvet, golden chains, a sword, and fair
plumes like other handsome young cavaliers. My hair, instead of being
dishonored by the tonsure, would flow down upon my neck in waving
curls; I would have a fine waxed mustache; I would be a gallant." But
one hour passed before an altar, a few hastily articulated words, had
forever cut me off from the number of the living, and I had myself
sealed down the stone of my own tomb; I had with my own hand bolted
the gate of my prison!

I went to the window. The sky was beautifully blue; the trees had
donned their spring robes; nature seemed to be making parade of an
ironical joy. The Place was filled with people, some going, others
coming; young beaux and young beauties were sauntering in couples
toward the groves and gardens; merry youths passed by, cheerily
trolling refrains of drinking songs--it was all a picture of vivacity,
life, animation, gayety, which formed a bitter contrast with my
mourning and my solitude. On the steps of the gate sat a young mother
playing with her child. She kissed its little rosy mouth still im-
pearled with drops of milk, and performed, in order to amuse it, a
thousand divine little puerilities such as only mothers know how to
invent. The father standing at a little distance smiled gently upon
the charming group, and with folded arms seemed to hug his joy to his
heart. I could not endure that spectacle. I closed the window with
violence, and flung myself on my bed, my heart filled with frightful
hate and jealousy, and gnawed my fingers and my bedcovers like a tiger
that has passed ten days without food.

I know not how long I remained in this condition, but at last, while
writhing on the bed in a fit of spasmodic fury, I suddenly perceived
the Abbe Serapion, who was standing erect in the centre of the room,
watching me attentively. Filled with shame of myself, I let my head
fall upon my breast and covered my face with my hands.

"Romuald, my friend, something very extraordinary is transpiring
within you," observed Serapion, after a few moments' silence; "your
conduct is altogether inexplicable. You--always so quiet, so pious, so
gentle--you to rage in your cell like a wild beast! Take heed,
brother--do not listen to the suggestions of the devil. The Evil
Spirit, furious that you have consecrated yourself forever to the
Lord, is prowling around you like a ravening wolf and making a last
effort to obtain possession of you. Instead of allowing yourself to be
conquered, my dear Romuald, make to yourself a cuirass of prayers, a
buckler of mortifications, and combat the enemy like a valiant man;
you will then assuredly overcome him. Virtue must be proved by
temptation, and gold comes forth purer from the hands of the assayer.
Fear not. Never allow yourself to become discouraged. The most
watchful and steadfast souls are at moments liable to such temptation.
Pray, fast, meditate, and the Evil Spirit will depart from you."

The words of the Abbe Serapion restored me to myself, and I became a
little more calm. "I came," he continued, "to tell you that you have
been appointed to the curacy of C--. The priest who had charge of it
has just died, and Monseigneur the Bishop has ordered me to have you
installed there at once. Be ready, therefore, to start to-morrow." I
responded with an inclination of the head, and the Abbe retired. I
opened my missal and commenced reading some prayers, but the letters
became confused and blurred under my eyes, the thread of the ideas
entangled itself hopelessly in my brain, and the volume at last fell
from my hands without my being aware of it.

To leave to-morrow without having been able to see her again, to add
yet another barrier to the many already interposed between us, to lose
forever all hope of being able to meet her, except, indeed, through a
miracle! Even to write her, alas! would be impossible, for by whom
could I despatch my letter? With my sacred character of priest, to
whom could I dare unbosom myself, in whom could I confide? I became a
prey to the bitterest anxiety.

Then suddenly recurred to me the words of the Abbe Serapion regarding
the artifices of the devil; and the strange character of the
adventure, the supernatural beauty of Clarimonde, the phosphoric light
of her eyes, the burning imprint of her hand, the agony into which she
had thrown me, the sudden change wrought within me when all my piety
vanished in a single instant--these and other things clearly testified
to the work of the Evil One, and perhaps that satiny hand was but the
glove which concealed his claws. Filled with terror at these fancies,
I again picked up the missal which had slipped from my knees and
fallen upon the floor, and once more gave myself up to prayer.



CHAPTER III SEA-GREEN EYES



NEXT morning Serapion came to take me away. Two mules freighted with
our miserable valises awaited us at the gate. He mounted one, and I
the other as well as I knew how.

As we passed along the streets of the city, I gazed attentively at all
the windows and balconies in the hope of seeing Clarimonde, but it was
yet early in the morning, and the city had hardly opened its eyes.
Mine sought to penetrate the blinds and window-curtains of all the
palaces before which we were passing. Serapion doubtless attributed
this curiosity to my admiration of the architecture, for he slackened
the pace of his animal in order to give me time to look around me. At
last we passed the city gates and commenced to mount the hill beyond.
When we arrived at its summit I turned to take a last look at the
place where Clarimonde dwelt. The shadow of a great cloud hung, over
all the city; the contrasting colors of its blue and red roofs were
lost in the uniform half-tint, through which here and there floated
upward, like white flakes of foam, the smoke of freshly kindled fires.
By a singular optical effect one edifice, which surpassed in height
all the neighboring buildings that were still dimly veiled by the
vapors, towered up, fair and lustrous with the gilding of a solitary
beam of sunlight---although actually more than a league away it seemed
quite near. The smallest details of its architecture were plainly
distinguishable--the turrets, the platforms, the window-casements, and
even the swallow-tailed weather-vanes.

"What is that palace I see over there, all lighted up by the sun?" I
asked Serapion. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and having looked in
the direction indicated, replied: "It is the ancient palace which the
Prince Concini has given to the courtesan Clarimonde. Awful things are
done there!"

At that instant, I know not yet whether it was a reality or an
illusion, I fancied I saw gliding along the terrace a shapely white
figure, which gleamed for a moment in passing and as quickly vanished.
It was Clarimonde.

Oh, did she know that at that very hour, all feverish and restless--
from the height of the rugged road which separated me from her and
which, alas! I could never more descend--I was directing my eyes upon
the palace where she dwelt, and which a mocking beam of sunlight
seemed to bring nigh to me, as though inviting me to enter therein as
its lord? Undoubtedly she must have known it, for her soul was too
sympathetically united with mine not to have felt its least emotional
thrill, and that subtle sympathy it must have been which prompted her
to climb---although clad only in her night-dress---to the summit of
the terrace, amid the icy dews of the morning.

The shadow gained the palace, and the scene became to the eye only a
motionless ocean of roofs and gables, amid which one mountainous
undulation was distinctly visible. Serapion urged his mule forward, my
own at once followed at the same gait, and a sharp angle in the road
at last hid the city of S--forever from my eyes, as I was destined
never to return thither. At the close of a weary three-days' journey
through dismal country fields, we caught sight of the cock upon the
steeple of the church which I was to take charge of, peeping above the
trees, and after having followed some winding roads fringed with
thatched cottages and little gardens, we found ourselves in front of
the facade, which certainly possessed few features of magnificence. A
porch ornamented with some mouldings, and two or three pillars rudely
hewn from sandstone; a tiled roof with counterforts of the same
sandstone as the pillars--that was all. To the left lay the cemetery
overgrown with high weeds, and having a great iron cross rising up in
its centre; to the right stood the presbytery, under the shadow of the
church. It was a house of the most extreme simplicity and frigid
cleanliness. We entered the enclosure. A few chickens were picking up
some oats scattered upon the ground; accustomed, seemingly, to the
black habit of ecclesiastics, they showed no fear of our presence and
scarcely troubled themselves to get out of our way. A hoarse, wheezy
barking fell upon our ears, and we saw an aged dog running toward us.

It was my predecessor's dog. He had dull bleared eyes, grizzled hair,
and every mark of the greatest age to which a dog can possibly attain.
I patted him gently, and he proceeded at once to march along beside me
with an air of satisfaction unspeakable. A very old woman, who had
been the housekeeper of the former cure, also came to meet us, and
after having invited me into a little back parlor, asked whether I 
intended to retain her. I replied that I would take care of her, and the
dog, and the chickens, and all the furniture her master had bequeathed
her at his death. At this she became fairly transported with joy, and
the Abbe Serapion at once paid her the price which she asked for her
little property.

As soon as my installation was over, the Abbe Serapion returned to the
seminary. I was, therefore, left alone, with no one but myself to look
to for aid or counsel. The thought of Clarimonde again began to haunt
me, and in spite of all my endeavors to banish it, I always found it
present in my meditations. One evening while promenading in my little
garden along the walks bordered with box-plants, I fancied that I saw
through the elm-trees the figure of a woman, who followed my every
movement, and that I beheld two sea-green eyes gleaming through the
foliage; but it was only an illusion, and on going round to the other
side of the garden, I could find nothing except a footprint on the
sanded walk--a footprint so small that it seemed to have been made by
the foot of a child. The garden was enclosed by very high walls. I
searched every nook and corner of it, but could discover no one there.
I have never succeeded in fully accounting for this circumstance,
which, after all, was nothing compared with the strange things which
happened to me afterward.

For a whole year I lived thus, filling all the duties of my calling
with the most scrupulous exactitude, praying and fasting, exhorting
and lending ghostly aid to the sick, and bestowing alms even to the
extent of frequently depriving myself of the very necessaries of life.

But I felt a great aridness within me, and the sources of grace seemed
closed against me. I never found that happiness which should spring
from the fulfillment of a holy mission: my thoughts were far away, and
the words of Clarimonde were ever upon my lips like an involuntary
refrain. Oh, brother, meditate well on this! Through having but once
lifted my eyes to look upon a woman, through one fault apparently so
venial, I have for years remained a victim to the most miserable
agonies, and the happiness of my life has been destroyed forever.

I will not longer dwell upon those defeats, or on those inward
victories invariably followed by yet more terrible falls, but will at
once proceed to the facts of my story. One night my doorbell was long
and violently rung. The aged housekeeper arose and opened to the
stranger, and the figure of a man, whose complexion was deeply
bronzed, and who was richly clad in a foreign costume, with a poniard
at his girdle, appeared under the rays of Barbara's lantern. Her first
impulse was one of terror, but the stranger reassured her, and stated
that he desired to see me at once on matters relating to my holy
calling. Barbara invited him upstairs, where I was on the point of
retiring. The stranger told me that his mistress, a very noble lady,
was lying at the point of death, and desired to see a priest. I
replied that I was prepared to follow him, took with me the sacred
articles necessary for extreme unction, and descended in all haste.
Two horses black as the night itself stood without the gate, pawing
the ground with impatience, and veiling their chests with long streams
of smoky vapor exhaled from their nostrils. He held the stirrup and
aided me to mount upon one; then, merely laying his hand upon the
pummel of the saddle, he vaulted on the other, pressed the animal's
sides with his knees, and loosened rein. The horse bounded forward with
the velocity of an arrow. Mine, of which the stranger held the bridle,
also started off at a swift gallop, keeping up with his companion. We
devoured the road. The ground flowed backward beneath us in a long
streaked line of pale gray, and the black silhouettes of the trees
seemed fleeing by us on either side like an army in rout. We passed
through a forest so profoundly gloomy that I felt my flesh creep in
the chill darkness with superstitious fear. The showers of bright
sparks which flew from the stony road under the [ironshod] feet of our
horses remained glowing in our wake like a fiery trail; and had any
one at that hour of the night beheld us both---my guide and myself--he
must have taken us for two spectres riding upon nightmares. Witch-
fires ever and anon flitted across the road before us, and the night-
birds shrieked fearsomely in the depth of the woods beyond, where we
beheld at intervals glow the phosphorescent eyes of wildcats. The
manes of the horses became more and more dishevelled, the sweat
streamed over their flanks, and their breath came through their
nostrils hard and fast. But when he found them slacking pace, the
guide reanimated them by uttering a strange, guttural, unearthly cry,
and the gallop recommenced with fury. At last the whirlwind race
ceased; a huge black mass pierced through with many bright points of
light suddenly rose before us, the hoofs of our horses echoed louder
upon a great vaulted archway which darkly yawned between two enormous
towers. Some great excitement evidently reigned in the castle.
Servants with torches were crossing the courtyard in every direction,
and above, lights were ascending and descending from landing to
landing. I obtained a confused glimpse of vast masses of
architecture--columns, arcades, flights of steps, stairways--a royal
voluptuousness and elfin magnificence of construction worthy of
fairyland. A negro page--the same who had before brought me the tablet
from Clarimonde, and whom I instantly recognized--approached to aid me
in dismounting, and the major-domo, attired in black velvet with a
gold chain about his neck, advanced to meet me, supporting himself
upon an ivory cane. Large tears were falling from his eyes and
streaming over his cheeks and white beard. "Too late!" he cried,
sorrowfully shaking his venerable head. "Too late, sir priest! But if
you have not been able to save the soul, come at least and watch by
the poor body."

He took my arm and conducted me to the death chamber. I wept not less
bitterly than he, for I had learned that the dead one was none other
than that Clarimonde whom I had so deeply and so wildly loved. A prie-
dieu stood at the foot of the bed; a bluish flame flickering in a
bonze patera filled all the room with a wan, deceptive light, here and
there bringing out in the darkness at intervals some projection of
furniture or cornice. In a chiselled urn upon the table there was a
faded white rose, whose leaves--excepting one that still held--had all
fallen, like odorous tears, to the foot of the vase. A broken black
mask, a fan, and disguises of every variety, which were lying on the
arm-chairs, bore witness that death had entered suddenly and
unannounced into that sumptuous dwelling. Without daring to cast my
eyes upon the bed, I knelt down and commenced to repeat the Psalms for
the Dead, with exceeding fervor, thanking God that he had placed the
tomb between me and the memory of this woman, so that I might
thereafter be able to utter her name in my prayers as a name forever
sanctified by death. But my fervor gradually weakened, and I fell
insensibly into a reverie. That chamber bore no semblance to a chamber
of death. In lieu of the fetid and cadaverous odors which I had been
accustomed to breathe during such funereal vigils, a languorous vapor
of Oriental perfume---I know not what amorous odor of woman--softly
floated through the tepid air. That pale light seemed rather a
twilight gloom contrived for voluptuous pleasure than a substitute for
the yellow-flickering watch tapers which shine by the side of corpses.
I thought upon the strange destiny which enabled me to meet Clarimonde
again at the very moment when she was lost to me forever, and a sigh
of regretful anguish escaped from my breast. Then it seemed to me that
some one behind me had also sighed, and I turned round to look. It was
only an echo. But in that moment my eyes fell upon the bed of death
which they had till then avoided. The red damask curtains, decorated
with large flowers worked in embroidery, and looped up with gold
bullion, permitted me to behold the fair dead, lying at full length,
with hands joined upon her bosom. She was covered with a linen
wrapping of dazzling whiteness, which formed a strong contrast with
the gloomy purple of the hangings, and was of so fine a texture that
it concealed nothing of her body's charming form, and allowed the eye
to follow those beautiful outlines---undulating like the neck of a
swan---which even death had not robbed of their supple grace. She
seemed an alabaster statue executed by some skilful sculptor to place
upon the tomb of a queen, or rather, perhaps, like a slumbering maiden
over whom the silent snow had woven a spotless veil.

I could no longer maintain my constrained attitude of prayer. The air
of the alcove intoxicated me, that febrile perfume of half-faded roses
penetrated my very brain, and I commenced to pace restlessly up and
down the chamber, pausing at each turn before the bier to contemplate
the graceful corpse lying beneath the transparency of its shroud. Wild
fancies came thronging to my brain. I thought to myself that she might
not, perhaps, be really dead; that she might only have feigned death
for the purpose of bringing me to her castle, and then declaring her
love. At one time I even thought I saw her foot move under the
whiteness of the coverings, and slightly disarrange the long, straight
folds of the winding-sheet.

And then I asked myself: "Is this indeed Clarimonde? What proof have I
that it is she? Might not that black page have passed into the service
of some other lady? Surely, I must be going mad to torture and afflict
myself thus!" But my heart answered with a fierce throbbing: "It is
she; it is she indeed!" I approached the bed again, and fixed my eyes
with redoubled attention upon the object of my incertitude. Ah, must I
confess it? That exquisite perfection of bodily form, although
purified and made sacred by the shadow of death, affected me more
voluptuously than it should have done, and that repose so closely
resembled slumber that one might well have mistaken it for such. I
forgot that I had come there to perform a funeral ceremony; I fancied
myself a young bridegroom entering the chamber of the bride, who all
modestly hides her fair face, and through coyness seeks to keep
herself wholly veiled. Heartbroken with grief, yet wild with hope,
shuddering at once with fear and pleasure, I bent over her and grasped
the corner of the sheet. I lifted it back, holding my breath all the
while through fear of waking her. My arteries throbbed with such
violence that I felt them hiss through my temples, and the sweat
poured from my forehead in streams, as though I had lifted a mighty
slab of marble. There, indeed, lay Clarimonde, even as I had seen her
at the church on the day of my ordination. She was not less charming
than then. With her, death seemed but a last coquetry. The pallor of
her cheeks, the less brilliant carnation of her lips, her long
eyelashes lowered and relieving their dark fringe against that white
skin, lent her an unspeakably seductive aspect of melancholy chastity
and metal suffering; her long loose hair, still intertwined with some
little blue flowers, made a shining pillow for her head, and veiled
the nudity of her shoulders with its thick ringlets; her beautiful
hands, purer, more diaphanous than the Host, were crossed on her bosom
in an attitude of pious rest and silent prayer, which served to
counteract all that might have proven otherwise too alluring--even
after death--in the exquisite roundness and ivory polish of her bare
arms from which the pearl bracelets had not yet been removed. I
remained long in mute contemplation, and the more I gazed, the less
could I persuade myself that life had really abandoned that beautiful
body forever. I do not know whether it was an illusion or a reflection
of the lamplight, but it seemed to me that the blood was again
commencing to circulate under that lifeless pallor, although she
remained all motionless. I laid my hand lightly on her arm; it was
cold, but not colder than her hand on the day when it touched mine at
the portals of the church. I resumed my position, bending my face
above her, and bathing her cheeks with the warm dew of my tears. Ah,
what bitter feelings of despair and helplessness, what agonies
unutterable did I endure in that long watch! Vainly did I wish that I
could have gathered all my life into one mass that I might give it all
to her, and breathe into her chill remains the flame which devoured
me. The night advanced, and feeling the moment of eternal separation
approach, I could not deny myself the last sad sweet pleasure of
imprinting a kiss upon the dead lips of her who had been my only
love... Oh, miracle! A faint breath mingled itself with my breath, and
the mouth of Clarimonde responded to the passionate pressure of mine.
Her eyes unclosed, and lighted up with something of their former
brilliancy; she uttered a long sigh, and uncrossing her arms, passed
them around my neck with a look of ineffable delight. "Ah, it is thou,
Romuald!" she murmured in a voice languishingly sweet as the last
vibrations of a harp. "What ailed thee, dearest? I waited so long for
thee that I am dead; but we are now betrothed; I can see thee and
visit thee. Adieu, Romuald, adieu! I love thee. That is all I wished
to tell thee, and I give thee back the life which thy kiss for a
moment recalled. We shall soon meet again."

Her head fell back, but her arms yet encircled me, as though to retain
me still. A furious whirlwind suddenly burst in the window, and
entered the chamber. The last remaining leaf of the white rose for a
moment palpitated at the extremity of the stalk like a butterfly's
wing, then it detached itself and flew forth through the open
casement, bearing with it the soul of Clarimonde. The lamp was
extinguished, and I fell insensible upon the bosom of the beautiful
dead.



CHAPTER IV A VICTIM



WHEN I came to myself again I was lying on the bed in my little room
at the presbytery, and the old dog of the former cure was licking my
hand which had been hanging down outside of the covers. Barbara, all
trembling with age and anxiety, was busying herself about the room,
opening and shutting drawers, and emptying powders into glasses. On
seeing me open my eyes, the old woman uttered a cry of joy, the dog
yelped and wagged his tail, but I was still so weak that I could not
speak a single word or make the slightest motion. Afterward I learned
that I had lain thus for three days, giving no evidence of life beyond
the faintest respiration. Those three days do not reckon in my life,
nor could I ever imagine whither my spirit had departed during those
three days; I have no recollection of aught relating to them. Barbara
told me that the same coppery-complexioned man who came to seek me on
the night of my departure from the presbytery, had brought me back the
next morning in a close litter, and departed immediately afterward.
When I became able to collect my scattered thoughts, I reviewed within
my mind all the circumstances of that fateful night. At first I
thought I had been the victim of some magical illusion, but ere long
the recollection of other circumstances, real and palpable in
themselves, came to forbid that supposition. I could not believe that
I had been dreaming, since Barbara as well as myself had seen the
strange man with his two black horses, and described with exactness
every detail of his figure and apparel. Nevertheless it appeared that
none knew of any castle in the neighborhood answering to the
description of that in which I had again found Clarimonde.

One morning I found the Abbe Serapion in my room. Barbara had advised
him that I was ill, and he had come with all speed to see me. Although
this haste on his part testified to an affectionate interest in me,
yet his visit did not cause me the pleasure which it should have done.
The Abbe Serapion had something penetrating and inquisitorial in his
gaze which made me feel very ill at ease. His presence filled me with
embarrassment and a sense of guilt. At the first glance he divined my
interior trouble, and I hated him for his clairvoyance. While he
inquired after my health in hypocritically honeyed accents, he
constantly kept his two great yellow lion-eyes fixed upon me, and
plunged his look into my soul like a sounding lead. Then he asked me
how I directed my parish, if I was happy in it, how I passed the
leisure hours allowed me in the intervals of pastoral duty, whether I
had become acquainted with many of the inhabitants of the place, what
was my favorite reading, and a thousand other such questions. I
answered these inquiries as briefly as possible, and he, without ever
waiting for my answers, passed rapidly from one subject of query to
another. That conversation had evidently no connection with what he
actually wished to say. At last, without any premonition, but as
though repeating a piece of news which he had recalled on the instant,
and feared might otherwise be forgotten subsequently, he suddenly
said, in a clear vibrant voice, which rang in my ears like the
trumpets of the Last Judgment:

"The great courtesan Clarimonde died a few days ago, at the close of
an orgie which lasted eight days and eight nights. It was something
infernally splendid. The abominations of the banquets of Belshazzar
and Cleopatra were reenacted there. Good God, what age are we living
in? The guests were served by swarthy slaves who spoke an unknown
tongue, and who seemed to me to be veritable demons. The livery of the
very least among them would have served for the gala-dress of an
emperor. There have always been very strange stories told of this
Clarimonde, and all her lovers came to a violent or miserable end.
They used to say that she was a ghoul, a female vampire; but I believe
she was none other than Beelzebub himself."

He ceased to speak and commenced to regard me more attentively than
ever, as though to observe the effect of his words on me. I could not
refrain from starting when I heard him utter the name of Clarimonde,
and this news of her death, in addition to the pain it caused me by
reason of its coincidence with the nocturnal scenes I had witnessed,
filled me with an agony and terror which my face betrayed, despite my
utmost--endeavors to appear composed. Serapion fixed an anxious and
severe look upon me, and then observed: "My son, I must warn you that
you are standing with foot raised upon the brink of an abyss; take
heed lest you fall therein. Satan's claws are long, and tombs are not
always true to their trust. The tombstone of Clarimonde should be
sealed down with a triple seal, for, if report be true, it is not the
first time she has died. May God watch over you, Romuald!"

And with these words the Abbe walked slowly to the door. I did not see
him again at that time, for he left for S-----almost immediately.

I became completely restored to health and resumed my accustomed
duties. The memory of Clarimonde and the words of the old Abbe were
constantly in my mind; nevertheless no extraordinary event had
occurred to verify the funereal predictions of Serapion, and I had
commenced to believe that his fears and my own terrors were over-
exaggerated, when one night I had a strange dream. I had hardly fallen
asleep when I heard my bed-curtains drawn apart, as their rings slided
back upon the curtain rod with a sharp sound. I rose up quickly upon
my elbow, and beheld the shadow of a woman standing erect before me. I
recognized Clarimonde immediately. She bore in her hand a little lamp,
shaped like those which are placed in tombs, and its light lent her
fingers a rosy transparency, which extended itself by lessening
degrees even to the opaque and milky whiteness of her bare arm. Her
only garment was the linen winding-sheet which had shrouded her when
lying upon the bed of death. She sought to gather its folds over her
bosom as though ashamed of being so scantily clad, but her little hand
was not equal to the task. She was so white that the color of the
drapery blended with that of her flesh under the pallid rays of the
lamp. Enveloped with this subtle tissue which betrayed all the
contours of her body, she seemed rather the marble statue of some fair
antique bather than a woman endowed with life. But dead or living,
statue or woman, shadow or body, her beauty was still the same, only
that the green light of her eyes was less brilliant, and her mouth,
once so warmly crimson, was only tinted with a faint tender rosy-ness[rosiness],
like that of her cheeks. The little blue flowers which I had noticed
entwined in her hair were withered and dry, and had lost nearly all
their leaves, but this did not prevent her from being charming--so
charming that notwithstanding the strange character of the adventure,
and the unexplainable manner in which she had entered my room, I felt
not even for a moment the least fear.

She placed the lamp on the table and seated herself at the foot of my
bed; then bending toward me, she said, in that voice at once silvery
clear and yet velvety in its sweet softness, such as I never heard
from any lips save hers:

"I have kept thee long in waiting, dear Romuald, and it must have
seemed to thee that I had forgotten thee. But I come from afar off,
very far off, and from a land whence no other has ever yet returned.
There is neither sun nor moon in that land whence I come: all is but
space and shadow; there is neither road nor pathway: no earth for the
foot, no air for the wing; and nevertheless behold me here, for Love
is stronger than Death and must conquer him in the end. Oh what sad
faces and fearful things I have seen on my way hither! What difficulty
my soul, returned to earth through the power of will alone, has had in
finding its body and reinstating itself therein! What terrible efforts
I had to make ere I could lift the ponderous slab with which they had
covered me! See, the palms of my poor hands are all bruised! Kiss
them, sweet love, that they may be healed!" She laid the cold palms of
her hands upon my mouth, one after the other. I kissed them, indeed,
many times, and she the while watched me with a smile of ineffable
affection.

I confess to my shame that I had entirely forgotten the advice of the
Abbe Serapion and the sacred office wherewith I had been invested. I
had fallen without resistance, and at the first assault. I had not
even made the least effort to repel the tempter. The fresh coolness of
Clarimonde skin penetrated my own, and I felt voluptuous tremors pass
over my whole body. Poor child! in spite of all I saw afterward, I can
hardly yet believe she was a demon; at least she had no appearance of
being such, and never did Satan so skilfully conceal his claws and
horns. She had drawn her feet up beneath her, and squatted down on the
edge of the couch in an attitude full of negligent coquetry. From time
to time she passed her little hand through my hair and twisted it into
curls, as though trying how a new style of wearing it would become my
face. I abandoned myself to her hands with the most guilty pleasure,
while she accompanied her gentle play with the prettiest prattle. The
most remarkable fact was that I felt no astonishment whatever at so
extraordinary an adventure, and as in dreams one finds no difficulty
in accepting the most fantastic events as simple facts, so all these
circumstances seemed to me perfectly natural in themselves.

"I loved thee long ere I saw thee, dear Romuald, and sought thee
everywhere. Thou wast my dream, and I first saw thee in the church at
the fatal moment. I said at once, 'It is he!' I gave thee a look into
which I threw all the love I ever had, all the love I now have, all
the love I shall ever have for thee--a look that would have damned a
cardinal or brought a king to his knees at my feet in view of all his
court. Thou remainedst unmoved, preferring thy God to me!

"Ah, how jealous I am of that God whom thou didst love and still
lovest more than me!

"Woe is me, unhappy one that I am! I can never have thy heart all to
myself, I whom thou didst recall to life with a kiss--dead Clarimonde,
who for thy sake bursts asunder the gates of the tomb, and comes to
consecrate to thee a life which she has resumed only to make thee
happy!"

All her words were accompanied with the most impassioned caresses,
which bewildered my sense and my reason to such an extent, that I did
not fear to utter a frightful blasphemy for the sake of consoling her,
and to declare that I loved her as much as God.

Her eyes rekindled and shone like chrysoprases. "In truth?--in very
truth?--as much as God!" she cried, flinging her beautiful arms around
me. "Since it is so, thou wilt come with me; thou wilt follow me
whithersoever I desire. Thou wilt cast away thy ugly black habit. Thou
shalt be the proudest and most envied of cavaliers; thou shalt be my
lover! To be the acknowledged lover of Clarimonde, who has refused
even a Pope; that will be something to feel proud of! Ah, the fair,
unspeakably happy existence, the beautiful golden life we shall live
together! And when shall we depart, my fair sir?"

"To-morrow! To-morrow!" I cried in my delirium.

"To-morrow, then, so let it be!" she answered. "In the meanwhile I
shall have opportunity to change my toilet, for this is a little too
light and in nowise suited for a voyage. I must also forthwith notify
all my friends who believe me dead, and mourn for me as deeply as they
are capable of doing The money, the dresses, the carriages--all will be
ready. I shall call for thee at this same hour. Adieu, dear heart!"
And she lightly touched my forehead with her lips. The lamp went out,
the curtains closed again, and all became dark; a leaden, dreamless
sleep fell on me and held me unconscious until the morning following.



CHAPTER V. SERAPION'S MATTOCK



I AWOKE later than usual, and the recollection of this singular
adventure troubled me during the whole day. I finally persuaded myself
that it was a mere vapor of my heated imagination. Nevertheless its
sensations had been so vivid that it was difficult to persuade myself
that they were not real, and it was not without some presentiment of
what was going to happen that I got into bed at last, after having
prayed God to drive far from me all thoughts of evil, and to protect
the chastity of my slumber.

I soon fell into a deep sleep, and my dream was continued. The
curtains again parted, and I beheld Clarimonde, not as on the former
occasion, pale in her pale winding-sheet, with the violets of death
upon her cheeks, but gay, sprightly, jaunty, in a superb traveling
dress of green velvet, trimmed with gold lace, and looped up on either
side to allow a glimpse of satin petticoat. Her blonde hair escaped in
thick ringlets from beneath a broad black felt hat, decorated with
white feathers whimsically twisted into various shapes. In one hand
she held a little riding whip terminated by a golden whistle. She
tapped me lightly with it, and exclaimed: "Well, my fine sleeper, is
this the way you make your preparations? I thought I would find you up
and dressed. Arise quickly, we have no time to lose."

I leaped out of bed at once.

"Come, dress yourself, and let us go," she continued, pointing to a
little package she had brought with her. "The horses are becoming
impatient of delay and champing their bits at the door. We ought to
have been by this time at least ten leagues distant from here."

I dressed myself hurriedly, and she handed me the articles of apparel
herself one by one, bursting into laughter from time to time at my
awkwardness, as she explained to me the use of a garment when I had
made a mistake. She hurriedly arranged my hair, and this done, held up
before me a little pocket mirror of Venetian crystal, rimmed with
silver filigree-work, and playfully asked: "How dost find thyself now?
Wilt engage me for thy valet de chambre?"

I was no longer the same person, and I could not even recognize
myself. I resembled my former self no more than a finished statue
resembles a block of stone. My old face seemed but a coarse daub of
the one reflected in the mirror. I was handsome, and my vanity was
sensibly tickled by the metamorphosis. That elegant apparel, that
richly embroidered vest had made of me a totally different personage,
and I marvelled at the power of transformation owned by a few yards of
cloth cut after a certain pattern. The spirit of my costume penetrated
my very skin, and within ten minutes more I had become something of a
coxcomb.

In order to feel more at ease in my new attire, I took several turns
up and down the room. Clarimonde watched me with an air of maternal
pleasure, and appeared well satisfied with her work. "Come, enough of
this child's-play! Let us start, Romuald, dear. We have far to go, and
we may not get there in time." She took my hand and led me forth. All
the doors opened before her at a touch, and we passed by the dog
without awaking him.

At the gate we found Margheritone waiting, the same swarthy groom who
had once before been my escort. He held the bridles of three horses,
all black like those which bore us to the castle--one for me, one for
him, one for Clarimonde. Those horses must have been Spanish genets
born of mares fecundated by a zephyr, for they were fleet as the wind
itself, and the moon, which had just risen at our departure to light
us on the way, rolled over the sky like a wheel detached from her own
chariot. We beheld her on the right leaping from tree to tree, and
putting herself out of breath in the effort to keep up with us. Soon
we came upon a level plain where, hard by a clump of trees, a carriage
with four vigorous horses awaited us. We entered it, and the
postilions urged their animals into a mad gallop. I had one arm around
Clarimonde's waist, and one of her hands clasped in mine; her head
leaned upon my shoulder, and I felt her bosom, half bare, lightly
pressing against my arm. I had never known such intense happiness. In
that hour I had forgotten everything, and I no more remembered having
ever been a priest than I remembered what I had been doing in my
mother's womb, so great was the fascination which the evil spirit
exerted upon me. From that night my nature seemed in some sort to have
become halved, and there were two men within me, neither of whom knew
the other. At one moment I believed myself a priest who dreamed
nightly that he was a gentleman, at another that I was a gentleman who
dreamed he was a priest. I could no longer distinguish the dream from
the reality, nor could I discover where the reality began or where
ended the dream. The exquisite young lord and libertine railed at the
priest, the priest loathed the dissolute habits of the young lord. Two
spirals entangled and confounded the one with the other, yet never
touching, would afford a fair representation of this bucolic[bicephalic] life
which I lived. Despite the strange character of my condition, I do not
believe that I ever inclined, even for a moment, to madness. I always
retained with extreme vividness all the perceptions of my two lives.
Only there was one absurd fact which I could not explain to myself--
namely, that the consciousness of the same individuality existed in
two men so opposite in character. It was an anomaly for which I could
not account--whether I believed myself to be the cure of the little
village of C--, or Il Signor Romualdo, the titled lover of Clarimonde.
Be that as it may, I lived, at least I believed that I lived, in
Venice. I have never been able to discover rightly how much of
illusion and how much of reality there was in this fantastic
adventure. We dwelt in a great palace on the Canaleio, filled with
frescoes and statues, and containing two Titians in the noblest style
of the great master, which were hung in Clarimonde's chamber. It was a
palace well worthy of a king. We had each our gondola, our barcarolli
in family livery, our music hall, and our special poet. Clarimonde
always lived upon a magnificent scale; there was something of
Cleopatra in her nature. As for me, I had the retinue of a prince's
son, and I was regarded with as much reverential respect as though I
had been of the family of one of the twelve Apostles or the four
Evangelists of the Most Serene Republic. I would not have turned aside
to allow even the Doge to pass, and I do not believe that since Satan
fell from heaven, any creature was ever prouder or more insolent than
I. I went to the Ridotto, and played with a luck which seemed
absolutely infernal. I received the best of all society--the sons of
ruined families, women of the theatre, shrewd knaves, parasites,
hectoring swashbucklers. But notwithstanding the dissipation of such a
life, I always remained faithful to Clarimonde. I loved her wildly.
She would have excited satiety itself, and chained inconstancy. To
have Clarimonde was to have twenty mistresses; aye, to possess all
women; so mobile, so varied of aspect, so fresh in new charms was she
all in herself---a very chameleon of a woman, in sooth. She made you
commit with her the infidelity you would have committed with another,
by donning to perfection the character, the attraction, the style of
beauty of the woman who appeared to please you. She returned my love a
hundred-fold, and it was in vain that the young patricians and even
the Ancients of the Council of Ten made her the most magnificent
proposals. A Foscari even went so far as to offer to espouse her. She
rejected all his overtures. Of gold she had enough. She wished no
longer for anything but love---a love youthful, pure, evoked by
herself, and which should be a first and last passion. I would have
been perfectly happy but for a cursed nightmare which recurred every
night, and in which I believed myself to be a poor village cure,
practicing mortification and penance for my excesses during the day.
Reassured by my constant association with her, I never thought further
of the strange manner in which I had become acquainted with
Clarimonde. But the words of the Abbe Serapion concerning her recurred
often to my memory, and never ceased to cause me uneasiness.

For some time the health of Clarimonde had not been so good as usual;
her complexion grew paler day by day. The physicians who were summoned
could not comprehend the nature of her malady and knew not how to
treat it. They all prescribed some insignificant remedies, and never
called a second time. Her paleness, nevertheless, visibly increased,
and she became colder and colder, until she seemed almost as white and
dead as upon that memorable night in the unknown castle. I grieved
with anguish unspeakable to behold her thus slowly perishing; and she,
touched by my agony, smiled upon me sweetly and sadly with the fateful
smile of those who feel that they must die.

One morning I was seated at her bedside, and breakfasting from a
little table placed close at hand, so that I might not be obliged to
leave her for a single instant. In the act of cutting some fruit I
accidentally inflicted rather a deep gash on my finger. The blood
immediately gushed forth in a little purple jet, and a few drops
spurted upon Clarimonde. Her eyes flashed, her face suddenly assumed
an expression of savage and ferocious joy such as I had never before
observed in her. She leaped out of her bed with animal agility--the
agility, as it were, of an ape or a cat--and sprang upon my wound,
which she commenced to suck with an air of unutterable pleasure. She
swallowed the blood in little mouthfuls, slowly and carefully, like a
connoisseur tasting a wine from Xeres or Syracuse. Gradually her
eyelids half closed, and the pupils of her green eyes became oblong
instead of round. From time to time she paused in order to kiss my
hand, then she would recommence to press her lips to the lips of the
wound in order to coax forth a few more ruddy drops. When she found
that the blood would no longer come, she arose with eyes liquid and
brilliant, rosier than a May dawn; her face full and fresh, her hand
warm and moist--in fine, more beautiful than ever, and in the most
perfect health.

"I shall not die! I shall not die!" she cried, clinging to my neck,
half mad with joy. "I can love thee yet for a long time. My life is
thine, and all that is of me comes from thee. A few drops of thy rich
and noble blood, more precious and more potent than all the elixirs of
the earth, have given me back life."

This scene long haunted my memory, and inspired me with strange doubts
in regard to Clarimonde; and the same evening, when slumber had
transported me to my presbytery, I beheld the Abbe Serapion, graver
and more anxious of aspect than ever. He gazed attentively at me, and
sorrowfully exclaimed: "Not content with losing your soul, you now
desire also to lose your body. Wretched young man, into how terrible a
plight have you fallen!" The tone in which he uttered these words
powerfully affected me, but in spite of its vividness even that
impression was soon dissipated, and a thousand other cares erased it
from my mind. At last one evening, while looking into a mirror whose
traitorous position she had not taken into account, I saw Clarimonde
in the act of emptying a powder into the cup of spiced wine which she
had long been in the habit of preparing after our repasts. I took the
cup, feigned to carry it to my lips, and then placed it on the nearest
article of furniture as though intending to finish it at my leisure.
Taking advantage of a moment when the fair one's back was turned, I
threw the contents under the table, after which I retired to my
chamber and went to bed, fully resolved not to sleep, but to watch and
discover what should come of all this mystery. I did not have to wait
long. Clarimonde entered in her night-dress, and having removed her
apparel, crept into bed and lay down beside me. When she felt assured
that I was asleep, she bared my arm, and drawing a gold pin from her
hair, commenced to murmur in a low voice:

"One drop, only one drop! One ruby at the end of my needle! Since thou
lovest me yet, I must not die! ... Ah, poor love! His beautiful blood,
so brightly purple, I must drink it. Sleep, my only treasure! Sleep,
my god, my child! I will do thee no harm; I will only take of thy life
what I must to keep my own from being forever extinguished. But that I
love thee so much, I could well resolve to have other lovers whose
veins I could drain; but since I have known thee all other men have
become hateful to me. ... Ah, the beautiful arm! How round it is! How
white it is! How shall I ever dare to prick this pretty blue vein!"
And while thus murmuring to herself she wept, and I felt her tears
raining on my arm as she clasped it with her hands. At last she took
the resolve, slightly punctured me with her pin, and commenced to suck
up the blood which oozed from the place. Although she swallowed only a
few drops, the fear of weakening me soon seized her, and she
carefully tied a little band around my arm, afterward rubbing the
wound with an unguent which immediately cicatrized it.

Further doubts were impossible. The Abbe Serapion was right.
Notwithstanding this positive knowledge, however, I could not cease to
love Clarimonde, and I would gladly of my own accord have given her
all the blood she required to sustain her factitious life. Moreover, I
felt but little fear of her. The woman seemed to plead with me for
the vampire, and what I had already heard and seen sufficed to
reassure me completely. In those days I had plenteous veins, which
would not have been so easily exhausted as at present; and I would not
have thought of bargaining for my blood, drop by drop. I would rather
have opened myself the veins of my arm and said to her: "Drink, and
may my love infiltrate itself throughout thy body together with my
blood!" I carefully avoided ever making the least reference to the
narcotic drink she had prepared for me, or to the incident of the pin,
and we lived in the most perfect harmony.

Yet my priestly scruples commenced to torment me more than ever, and I
was at a loss to imagine what new penance I could invent in order to
mortify and subdue my flesh. Although these visions were involuntary,
and though I did not actually participate in anything relating to
them, I could not dare to touch the body of Christ with hands so
impure and a mind defiled by such debauches whether real or imaginary.
In the effort to avoid falling under the influence of these wearisome
hallucinations, I strove to prevent myself from being overcome by
sleep. I held my eyelids open with my fingers, and stood for hours
together leaning upright against the wall, fighting sleep with all my
might; but the dust of drowsiness invariably gathered upon my eyes at
last, and finding all resistance useless, I would have to let my arms
fall in the extremity of despairing weariness, and the current of
slumber would again bear me away to the perfidious shores. Serapion
addressed me with the most vehement exhortations, severely reproaching
me for my softness and want of fervor. Finally, one day when I was
more wretched than usual, he said to me: "There is but one way by
which you can obtain relief from this continual torment, and though it
is an extreme measure it must be made use of; violent diseases require
violent remedies. I know where Clarimonde is buried. It is necessary
that we shall disinter her remains, and that you shall behold in how
pitiable a state the object of your love is. Then you will no longer
be tempted to lose your soul for the sake of an unclean corpse
devoured by worms, and ready to crumble into dust. That will assuredly
restore you to yourself." For my part, I was so tired of this double
life that I at once consented, desiring to ascertain beyond a doubt
whether a priest or a gentleman had been the victim of delusion. I had
become fully resolved either to kill one of the two men within me for
the benefit of the other, or else to kill both, for so terrible an
existence could not last long and be endured. The Abbe Serapion
provided himself with a mattock, a lever, and a lantern, and at
midnight we wended our way to the cemetery of---, the location and
place of which were perfectly familiar to him. After having directed
the rays of the dark lantern upon the inscriptions of several tombs,
we came at last upon a great slab, half concealed by huge weeds and
devoured by mosses and parasitic plants, whereupon we deciphered the
opening lines of the epitaph:

Here lies Clarimonde

Who was famed in her life-time

As the fairest of women.

"It is here without a doubt," muttered Serapion, and placing his
lantern on the ground, he forced the point of the lever under the edge
of the stone and commenced to raise it. The stone yielded, and he
proceeded to work with the mattock. Darker and more silent than the
night itself, I stood by and watched him do it, while he, bending over
his dismal toil, streamed with sweat, panted, and his hard-coming
breath seemed to have the harsh tone of a death rattle. It was a weird
scene, and had any persons from without beheld us, they would
assuredly have taken us rather for profane wretches and shroud-
stealers than for priests of God. There was something grim and fierce
in Serapion's zeal which lent him the air of a demon rather than of an
apostle or an angel, and his great aquiline face, with all its stern
features brought out in strong relief by the lantern-light, had
something fearsome in it which enhanced the unpleasant fancy. I felt
an icy sweat come out upon my forehead in huge beads, and my hair
stood up with a hideous fear. Within the depths of my own heart I felt
that the act of the austere Serapion was an abominable sacrilege; and
I could have prayed that a triangle of fire would issue from the
entrails of the dark clouds, heavily rolling above us, to reduce him
to cinders. The owls which had been nestling in the cypress-trees,
startled by the gleam of the lantern, flew against it from time to
time, striking their dusty wings against its panes, and uttering
plaintive cries of lamentation; wild foxes yelped in the far darkness,
and a thousand sinister noises detached themselves from the silence.
At last Serapion's mattock struck the coffin itself, making its planks
reecho with a deep sonorous sound, with that terrible sound
nothingness utters when stricken. He wrenched apart and tore up the
lid, and I beheld Clarimonde, pallid as a figure of marble, with hands
joined; her white winding-sheet made but one fold from her head to her
feet. A little crimson drop sparkled like a speck of dew at one corner
of her colorless mouth. Serapion, at this spectacle, burst into fury:
"Ah, thou art here, demon! Impure courtesan! Drinker of blood and
gold!" And he flung holy water upon the corpse and the coffin, over
which he traced the sign of the cross withies sprinkler. Poor
Clarimonde had no sooner been touched by the blessed spray than her
beautiful body crumbled into dust, and became only a shapeless and
frightful mass of cinders and half-calcined bones.

"Behold your mistress, my Lord Romuald!" cried the inexorable priest,
as he pointed to these sad remains. "Will you be easily tempted after
this to promenade on the Lido or at Fusina with your beauty?" I
covered my face with my hands, a vast ruin had taken place within me.
I returned to my presbytery, and the noble Lord Romuald, the lover of
Clarimonde, separated himself from the poor priest with whom he had
kept such strange company so long. But once only, the following night,
I saw Clarimonde. She said to me, as she had said the first time at
the portals of the church: "Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou
done? Wherefore have hearkened to that imbecile priest? Wert thou not
happy? And what harm had I ever done thee that thou shouldst violate
my poor tomb, and lay bare the miseries of my nothingness? All
communication between our souls and our bodies is henceforth forever
broken. Adieu! Thou wilt yet regret me!" She vanished in air as smoke,
and I never saw her more.

Alas! she spoke truly indeed. I have regretted her more than once, and
I regret her still. My soul's peace has been very dearly bought. The
love of God was not too much to replace such a love as hers. And this,
brother, is the story of my youth. Never gaze upon a woman, and walk
abroad only with eyes ever fixed upon the ground; for however chaste
and watchful one may be, the error of a single moment is enough to
make one lose eternity.



THE END




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