Part 4 out of 6
had laid hold upon me at the brink of my father's grave. I looked upon
this as an evil omen. I seemed to see the shade of my mother, and to
hear her voice. What power was it that made my own name ring vaguely
in my ears, in spite of the clamor of bells?
"The money paid down for my island, when all my debts were discharged,
left me in possession of two thousand francs. I could now have
returned to the scholar's tranquil life, it is true; I could have gone
back to my garret after having gained an experience of life, with my
head filled with the results of extensive observation, and with a
certain sort of reputation attaching to me. But Foedora's hold upon
her victim was not relaxed. We often met. I compelled her admirers to
sound my name in her ears, by dint of astonishing them with my
cleverness and success, with my horses and equipages. It all found her
impassive and uninterested; so did an ugly phrase of Rastignac's, 'He
is killing himself for you.'
"I charged the world at large with my revenge, but I was not happy.
While I was fathoming the miry depths of life, I only recognized the
more keenly at all times the happiness of reciprocal affection; it was
a shadow that I followed through all that befell me in my
extravagance, and in my wildest moments. It was my misfortune to be
deceived in my fairest beliefs, to be punished by ingratitude for
benefiting others, and to receive uncounted pleasures as the reward of
my errors--a sinister doctrine, but a true one for the prodigal!
"The contagious leprosy of Foedora's vanity had taken hold of me at
last. I probed my soul, and found it cankered and rotten. I bore the
marks of the devil's claw upon my forehead. It was impossible to me
thenceforward to do without the incessant agitation of a life fraught
with danger at every moment, or to dispense with the execrable
refinements of luxury. If I had possessed millions, I should still
have gambled, reveled, and racketed about. I wished never to be alone
with myself, and I must have false friends and courtesans, wine and
good cheer to distract me. The ties that attach a man to family life
had been permanently broken for me. I had become a galley-slave of
pleasure, and must accomplish my destiny of suicide. During the last
days of my prosperity, I spent every night in the most incredible
excesses; but every morning death cast me back upon life again. I
would have taken a conflagration with as little concern as any man
with a life annuity. However, I at last found myself alone with a
twenty-franc piece; I bethought me then of Rastignac's luck----
"Eh, eh!----" Raphael exclaimed, interrupting himself, as he
remembered the talisman and drew it from his pocket. Perhaps he was
wearied by the long day's strain, and had no more strength left
wherewith to pilot his head through the seas of wine and punch; or
perhaps, exasperated by this symbol of his own existence, the torrent
of his own eloquence gradually overwhelmed him. Raphael became excited
and elated and like one completely deprived of reason.
"The devil take death!" he shouted, brandishing the skin; "I mean to
live! I am rich, I have every virtue; nothing will withstand me. Who
would not be generous, when everything is in his power? Aha! Aha! I
wished for two hundred thousand livres a year, and I shall have them.
Bow down before me, all of you, wallowing on the carpets like swine in
the mire! You all belong to me--a precious property truly! I am rich;
I could buy you all, even the deputy snoring over there. Scum of
society, give me your benediction! I am the Pope."
Raphael's vociferations had been hitherto drowned by a thorough-bass
of snores, but now they became suddenly audible. Most of the sleepers
started up with a cry, saw the cause of the disturbance on his feet,
tottering uncertainly, and cursed him in concert for a drunken
"Silence!" shouted Raphael. "Back to your kennels, you dogs! Emile, I
have riches, I will give you Havana cigars!"
"I am listening," the poet replied. "Death or Foedora! On with you!
That silky Foedora deceived you. Women are all daughters of Eve. There
is nothing dramatic about that rigmarole of yours."
"Ah, but you were sleeping, slyboots."
"No--'Death or Foedora!'--I have it!"
"Wake up!" Raphael shouted, beating Emile with the piece of shagreen
as if he meant to draw electric fluid out of it.
"TONNERRE!" said Emile, springing up and flinging his arms round
Raphael; "my friend, remember the sort of women you are with."
"I am a millionaire!"
"If you are not a millionaire, you are most certainly drunk."
"Drunk with power. I can kill you!--Silence! I am Nero! I am
"But, Raphael, we are in queer company, and you ought to keep quiet
for the sake of your own dignity."
"My life has been silent too long. I mean to have my revenge now on
the world at large. I will not amuse myself by squandering paltry
five-franc pieces; I will reproduce and sum up my epoch by absorbing
human lives, human minds, and human souls. There are the treasures of
pestilence--that is no paltry kind of wealth, is it? I will wrestle
with fevers--yellow, blue, or green--with whole armies, with gibbets.
I can possess Foedora--Yet no, I do not want Foedora; she is a
disease; I am dying of Foedora. I want to forget Foedora."
"If you keep on calling out like this, I shall take you into the
"Do you see this skin? It is Solomon's will. Solomon belongs to me--a
little varlet of a king! Arabia is mine, Arabia Petraea to boot; and
the universe, and you too, if I choose. If I choose-- Ah! be careful.
I can buy up all our journalist's shop; you shall be my valet. You
shall be my valet, you shall manage my newspaper. Valet! VALET, that
is to say, free from aches and pains, because he has no brains."
At the word, Emile carried Raphael off into the dining-room.
"All right," he remarked; "yes, my friend, I am your valet. But you
are about to be editor-in-chief of a newspaper; so be quiet, and
behave properly, for my sake. Have you no regard for me?"
"Regard for you! You shall have Havana cigars, with this bit of
shagreen: always with this skin, this supreme bit of shagreen. It is a
cure for corns, and efficacious remedy. Do you suffer? I will remove
"Never have I known you so senseless----"
"Senseless, my friend? Not at all. This skin contracts whenever I form
a wish--'tis a paradox. There is a Brahmin underneath it! The Brahmin
must be a droll fellow, for our desires, look you, are bound to
"I tell you----"
"Yes, yes, very true, I am quite of your opinion--our desires
"The skin, I tell you."
"You don't believe me. I know you, my friend; you are as full of lies
as a new-made king."
"How can you expect me to follow your drunken maunderings?"
"I will bet you I can prove it. Let us measure it----"
"Goodness! he will never get off to sleep," exclaimed Emile, as he
watched Raphael rummaging busily in the dining-room.
Thanks to the peculiar clearness with which external objects are
sometimes projected on an inebriated brain, in sharp contrast to its
own obscure imaginings, Valentin found an inkstand and a table-napkin,
with the quickness of a monkey, repeating all the time:
"Let us measure it! Let us measure it!"
"All right," said Emile; "let us measure it!"
The two friends spread out the table-napkin and laid the Magic Skin
upon it. As Emile's hand appeared to be steadier than Raphael's, he
drew a line with pen and ink round the talisman, while his friend
"I wished for an income of two hundred thousand livres, didn't I?
Well, when that comes, you will observe a mighty diminution of my
"Yes--now go to sleep. Shall I make you comfortable on that sofa? Now
then, are you all right?"
"Yes, my nursling of the press. You shall amuse me; you shall drive
the flies away from me. The friend of adversity should be the friend
of prosperity. So I will give you some Hava--na--cig----"
"Come, now, sleep. Sleep off your gold, you millionaire!"
"You! sleep off your paragraphs! Good-night! Say good-night to
Nebuchadnezzar!--Love! Wine! France!--glory and tr--treas----"
Very soon the snorings of the two friends were added to the music with
which the rooms resounded--an ineffectual concert! The lights went out
one by one, their crystal sconces cracking in the final flare. Night
threw dark shadows over this prolonged revelry, in which Raphael's
narrative had been a second orgy of speech, of words without ideas, of
ideas for which words had often been lacking.
Towards noon, next day, the fair Aquilina bestirred herself. She
yawned wearily. She had slept with her head upon a painted velvet
footstool, and her cheeks were mottled over by contact with the
surface. Her movement awoke Euphrasia, who suddenly sprang up with a
hoarse cry; her pretty face, that had been so fresh and fair in the
evening, was sallow now and pallid; she looked like a candidate for
the hospital. The rest awoke also by degrees, with portentous
groanings, to feel themselves over in every stiffened limb, and to
experience the infinite varieties of weariness that weighed upon them.
A servant came in to throw back the shutters and open the windows.
There they all stood, brought back to consciousness by the warm rays
of sunlight that shone upon the sleepers' heads. Their movements
during slumber had disordered the elaborately arranged hair and
toilettes of the women. They presented a ghastly spectacle in the
bright daylight. Their hair fell ungracefully about them; their eyes,
lately so brilliant, were heavy and dim; the expression of their faces
was entirely changed. The sickly hues, which daylight brings out so
strongly, were frightful. An olive tint had crept over the lymphatic
faces, so fair and soft when in repose; the dainty red lips were grown
pale and dry, and bore tokens of the degradation of excess. Each
disowned his mistress of the night before; the women looked wan and
discolored, like flowers trampled under foot by a passing procession.
The men who scorned them looked even more horrible. Those human faces
would have made you shudder. The hollow eyes with the dark circles
round them seemed to see nothing; they were dull with wine and
stupefied with heavy slumbers that had been exhausting rather than
refreshing. There was an indescribable ferocious and stolid bestiality
about these haggard faces, where bare physical appetite appeared shorn
of all the poetical illusion with which the intellect invests it. Even
these fearless champions, accustomed to measure themselves with
excess, were struck with horror at this awakening of vice, stripped of
its disguises, at being confronted thus with sin, the skeleton in
rags, lifeless and hollow, bereft of the sophistries of the intellect
and the enchantments of luxury. Artists and courtesans scrutinized in
silence and with haggard glances the surrounding disorder, the rooms
where everything had been laid waste, at the havoc wrought by heated
Demoniac laughter broke out when Taillefer, catching the smothered
murmurs of his guests, tried to greet them with a grin. His darkly
flushed, perspiring countenance loomed upon this pandemonium, like the
image of a crime that knows no remorse (see L'Auberge Rouge). The
picture was complete. A picture of a foul life in the midst of luxury,
a hideous mixture of the pomp and squalor of humanity; an awakening
after the frenzy of Debauch has crushed and squeezed all the fruits of
life in her strong hands, till nothing but unsightly refuse is left to
her, and lies in which she believes no longer. You might have thought
of Death gloating over a family stricken with the plague.
The sweet scents and dazzling lights, the mirth and the excitement
were all no more; disgust with its nauseous sensations and searching
philosophy was there instead. The sun shone in like truth, the pure
outer air was like virtue; in contrast with the heated atmosphere,
heavy with the fumes of the previous night of revelry.
Accustomed as they were to their life, many of the girls thought of
other days and other wakings; pure and innocent days when they looked
out and saw the roses and honeysuckle about the casement, and the
fresh countryside without enraptured by the glad music of the skylark;
while earth lay in mists, lighted by the dawn, and in all the
glittering radiance of dew. Others imagined the family breakfast, the
father and children round the table, the innocent laughter, the
unspeakable charm that pervaded it all, the simple hearts and their
meal as simple.
An artist mused upon his quiet studio, on his statue in its severe
beauty, and the graceful model who was waiting for him. A young man
recollected a lawsuit on which the fortunes of a family hung, and an
important transaction that needed his presence. The scholar regretted
his study and that noble work that called for him. Emile appeared just
then as smiling, blooming, and fresh as the smartest assistant in a
"You are all as ugly as bailiffs. You won't be fit for anything
to-day, so this day is lost, and I vote for breakfast."
At this Taillefer went out to give some orders. The women went
languidly up to the mirrors to set their toilettes in order. Each one
shook herself. The wilder sort lectured the steadier ones. The
courtesans made fun of those who looked unable to continue the
boisterous festivity; but these wan forms revived all at once, stood
in groups, and talked and smiled. Some servants quickly and adroitly
set the furniture and everything else in its place, and a magnificent
breakfast was got ready.
The guests hurried into the dining-room. Everything there bore
indelible marks of yesterday's excess, it is true, but there were at
any rate some traces of ordinary, rational existence, such traces as
may be found in a sick man's dying struggles. And so the revelry was
laid away and buried, like carnival of a Shrove Tuesday, by masks
wearied out with dancing, drunk with drunkenness, and quite ready to
be persuaded of the pleasures of lassitude, lest they should be forced
to admit their exhaustion.
As soon as these bold spirits surrounded the capitalist's breakfast-
table, Cardot appeared. He had left the rest to make a night of it
after the dinner, and finished the evening after his own fashion in
the retirement of domestic life. Just now a sweet smile wandered over
his features. He seemed to have a presentiment that there would be
some inheritance to sample and divide, involving inventories and
engrossing; an inheritance rich in fees and deeds to draw up, and
something as juicy as the trembling fillet of beef in which their host
had just plunged his knife.
"Oh, ho! we are to have breakfast in the presence of a notary," cried
"You have come here just at the right time," said the banker,
indicating the breakfast; "you can jot down the numbers, and initial
off all the dishes."
"There is no will to make here, but contracts of marriage there may
be, perhaps," said the scholar, who had made a satisfactory
arrangement for the first time in twelve months.
"One moment," cried Cardot, fairly deafened by a chorus of wretched
jokes. "I came here on serious business. I am bringing six millions
for one of you." (Dead silence.) "Monsieur," he went on, turning to
Raphael, who at the moment was unceremoniously wiping his eyes on a
corner of the table-napkin, "was not your mother a Mlle. O'Flaharty?"
"Yes," said Raphael mechanically enough; "Barbara Marie."
"Have you your certificate of birth about you," Cardot went on, "and
Mme. de Valentin's as well?"
"I believe so."
"Very well then, monsieur; you are the sole heir of Major O'Flaharty,
who died in August 1828 at Calcutta."
"An incalcuttable fortune," said the critic.
"The Major having bequeathed several amounts to public institutions in
his will, the French Government sent in a claim for the remainder to
the East India Company," the notary continued. "The estate is clear
and ready to be transferred at this moment. I have been looking in
vain for the heirs and assigns of Mlle. Barbara Marie O'Flaharty for a
fortnight past, when yesterday at dinner----"
Just then Raphael suddenly staggered to his feet; he looked like a man
who has just received a blow. Acclamation took the form of silence,
for stifled envy had been the first feeling in every breast, and all
eyes devoured him like flames. Then a murmur rose, and grew like the
voice of a discontented audience, or the first mutterings of a riot,
as everybody made some comment on this news of great wealth brought by
This abrupt subservience of fate brought Raphael thoroughly to his
senses. He immediately spread out the table-napkin with which he had
lately taken the measure of the piece of shagreen. He heeded nothing
as he laid the talisman upon it, and shuddered involuntarily at the
sight of a slight difference between the present size of the skin and
the outline traced upon the linen.
"Why, what is the matter with him?' Taillefer cried. "He comes by his
fortune very cheaply."
"Soutiens-le Chatillon!" said Bixiou to Emile. "The joy will kill
A ghastly white hue overspread every line of the wan features of the
heir-at-law. His face was drawn, every outline grew haggard; the
hollows in his livid countenance grew deeper, and his eyes were fixed
and staring. He was facing Death.
The opulent banker, surrounded by faded women, and faces with satiety
written on them, the enjoyment that had reached the pitch of agony,
was a living illustration of his own life.
Raphael looked thrice at the talisman, which lay passively within the
merciless outlines on the table-napkin; he tried not to believe it,
but his incredulity vanished utterly before the light of an inner
presentiment. The whole world was his; he could have all things, but
the will to possess them was utterly extinct. Like a traveler in the
midst of the desert, with but a little water left to quench his
thirst, he must measure his life by the draughts he took of it. He saw
what every desire of his must cost him in the days of his life. He
believed in the powers of the Magic Skin at last, he listened to every
breath he drew; he felt ill already; he asked himself:
"Am I not consumptive? Did not my mother die of a lung complaint?"
"Aha, Raphael! what fun you will have! What will you give me?" asked
"Here's to the death of his uncle, Major O'Flaharty! There is a man
"He will be a peer of France."
"Pooh! what is a peer of France since July?" said the amateur critic.
"Are you going to take a box at the Bouffons?"
"You are going to treat us all, I hope?" put in Bixiou.
"A man of his sort will be sure to do things in style," said Emile.
The hurrah set up by the jovial assembly rang in Valentin's ears, but
he could not grasp the sense of a single word. Vague thoughts crossed
him of the Breton peasant's life of mechanical labor, without a wish
of any kind; he pictured him burdened with a family, tilling the soil,
living on buckwheat meal, drinking cider out of a pitcher, believing
in the Virgin and the King, taking the sacrament at Easter, dancing of
a Sunday on the green sward, and understanding never a word of the
rector's sermon. The actual scene that lay before him, the gilded
furniture, the courtesans, the feast itself, and the surrounding
splendors, seemed to catch him by the throat and made him cough.
"Do you wish for some asparagus?" the banker cried.
"I WISH FOR NOTHING!" thundered Raphael.
"Bravo!" Taillefer exclaimed; "you understand your position; a fortune
confers the privilege of being impertinent. You are one of us.
Gentlemen, let us drink to the might of gold! M. Valentin here, six
times a millionaire, has become a power. He is a king, like all the
rich; everything is at his disposal, everything lies under his feet.
From this time forth the axiom that 'all Frenchmen are alike in the
eyes of the law,' is for him a fib at the head of the Constitutional
Charter. He is not going to obey the law--the law is going to obey
him. There are neither scaffolds nor executioners for millionaires."
"Yes, there are," said Raphael; "they are their own executioners."
"Here is another victim of prejudices!" cried the banker.
"Let us drink!" Raphael said, putting the talisman into his pocket.
"What are you doing?" said Emile, checking his movement. "Gentlemen,"
he added, addressing the company, who were rather taken aback by
Raphael's behavior, "you must know that our friend Valentin here--what
am I saying?--I mean my Lord Marquis de Valentin--is in the possession
of a secret for obtaining wealth. His wishes are fulfilled as soon as
he knows them. He will make us all rich together, or he is a flunkey,
and devoid of all decent feeling."
"Oh, Raphael dear, I should like a set of pearl ornaments!" Euphrasia
"If he has any gratitude in him, he will give me a couple of carriages
with fast steppers," said Aquilina.
"Wish for a hundred thousand a year for me!"
"Pay my debts!"
"Send an apoplexy to my uncle, the old stick!"
"Ten thousand a year in the funds, and I'll cry quits with you,
"Deeds of gift and no mistake," was the notary's comment.
"He ought, at least, to rid me of the gout!"
"Lower the funds!" shouted the banker.
These phrases flew about like the last discharge of rockets at the end
of a display of fireworks; and were uttered, perhaps, more in earnest
than in jest.
"My good friend," Emile said solemnly, "I shall be quite satisfied
with an income of two hundred thousand livres. Please to set about it
"Do you not know the cost, Emile?" asked Raphael.
"A nice excuse!" the poet cried; "ought we not to sacrifice ourselves
for our friends?"
"I have almost a mind to wish that you all were dead," Valentin made
answer, with a dark, inscrutable look at his boon companions.
"Dying people are frightfully cruel," said Emile, laughing. "You are
rich now," he went on gravely; "very well, I will give you two months
at most before you grow vilely selfish. You are so dense already that
you cannot understand a joke. You have only to go a little further to
believe in your Magic Skin."
Raphael kept silent, fearing the banter of the company; but he drank
immoderately, trying to drown in intoxication the recollection of his
In the early days of December an old man of some seventy years of age
pursued his way along the Rue de Varenne, in spite of the falling
rain. He peered up at the door of each house, trying to discover the
address of the Marquis Raphael de Valentin, in a simple, childlike
fashion, and with the abstracted look peculiar to philosophers. His
face plainly showed traces of a struggle between a heavy mortification
and an authoritative nature; his long, gray hair hung in disorder
about a face like a piece of parchment shriveling in the fire. If a
painter had come upon this curious character, he would, no doubt, have
transferred him to his sketchbook on his return, a thin, bony figure,
clad in black, and have inscribed beneath it: "Classical poet in
search of a rhyme." When he had identified the number that had been
given to him, this reincarnation of Rollin knocked meekly at the door
of a splendid mansion.
"Is Monsieur Raphael in?" the worthy man inquired of the Swiss in
"My Lord the Marquis sees nobody," said the servant, swallowing a huge
morsel that he had just dipped in a large bowl of coffee.
"There is his carriage," said the elderly stranger, pointing to a fine
equipage that stood under the wooden canopy that sheltered the steps
before the house, in place of a striped linen awning. "He is going
out; I will wait for him."
"Then you might wait here till to-morrow morning, old boy," said the
Swiss. "A carriage is always waiting for monsieur. Please to go away.
If I were to let any stranger come into the house without orders, I
should lose an income of six hundred francs."
A tall old man, in a costume not unlike that of a subordinate in the
Civil Service, came out of the vestibule and hurried part of the way
down the steps, while he made a survey of the astonished elderly
applicant for admission.
"What is more, here is M. Jonathan," the Swiss remarked; "speak to
Fellow-feeling of some kind, or curiosity, brought the two old men
together in a central space in the great entrance-court. A few blades
of grass were growing in the crevices of the pavement; a terrible
silence reigned in that great house. The sight of Jonathan's face
would have made you long to understand the mystery that brooded over
it, and that was announced by the smallest trifles about the
When Raphael inherited his uncle's vast estate, his first care had
been to seek out the old and devoted servitor of whose affection he
knew that he was secure. Jonathan had wept tears of joy at the sight
of his young master, of whom he thought he had taken a final farewell;
and when the marquis exalted him to the high office of steward, his
happiness could not be surpassed. So old Jonathan became an
intermediary power between Raphael and the world at large. He was the
absolute disposer of his master's fortune, the blind instrument of an
unknown will, and a sixth sense, as it were, by which the emotions of
life were communicated to Raphael.
"I should like to speak with M. Raphael, sir," said the elderly person
to Jonathan, as he climbed up the steps some way, into a shelter from
"To speak with my Lord the Marquis?" the steward cried. "He scarcely
speaks even to me, his foster-father!"
"But I am likewise his foster-father," said the old man. "If your wife
was his foster-mother, I fed him myself with the milk of the Muses. He
is my nursling, my child, carus alumnus! I formed his mind, cultivated
his understanding, developed his genius, and, I venture to say it, to
my own honor and glory. Is he not one of the most remarkable men of
our epoch? He was one of my pupils in two lower forms, and in
rhetoric. I am his professor."
"Ah, sir, then you are M. Porriquet?"
"Exactly, sir, but----"
"Hush! hush!" Jonathan called to two underlings, whose voices broke
the monastic silence that shrouded the house.
"But is the Marquis ill, sir?" the professor continued.
"My dear sir," Jonathan replied, "Heaven only knows what is the matter
with my master. You see, there are not a couple of houses like ours
anywhere in Paris. Do you understand? Not two houses. Faith, that
there are not. My Lord the Marquis had this hotel purchased for him;
it formerly belonged to a duke and a peer of France; then he spent
three hundred thousand francs over furnishing it. That's a good deal,
you know, three hundred thousand francs! But every room in the house
is a perfect wonder. 'Good,' said I to myself when I saw this
magnificence; 'it is just like it used to be in the time of my lord,
his late grandfather; and the young marquis is going to entertain all
Paris and the Court!' Nothing of the kind! My lord refused to see any
one whatever. 'Tis a funny life that he leads, M. Porriquet, you
understand. An inconciliable life. He rises every day at the same
time. I am the only person, you see, that may enter his room. I open
all the shutters at seven o'clock, summer or winter. It is all
arranged very oddly. As I come in I say to him:
" 'You must get up and dress, my Lord Marquis.'
"Then he rises and dresses himself. I have to give him his dressing-
gown, and it is always after the same pattern, and of the same
material. I am obliged to replace it when it can be used no longer,
simply to save him the trouble of asking for a new one. A queer fancy!
As a matter of fact, he has a thousand francs to spend every day, and
he does as he pleases, the dear child. And besides, I am so fond of
him that if he gave me a box on the ear on one side, I should hold out
the other to him! The most difficult things he will tell me to do, and
yet I do them, you know! He gives me a lot of trifles to attend to,
that I am well set to work! He reads the newspapers, doesn't he? Well,
my instructions are to put them always in the same place, on the same
table. I always go at the same hour and shave him myself; and don't I
tremble! The cook would forfeit the annuity of a thousand crowns that
he is to come into after my lord's death, if breakfast is not served
inconciliably at ten o'clock precisely. The menus are drawn up for the
whole year round, day after day. My Lord the Marquis has not a thing
to wish for. He has strawberries whenever there are any, and he has
the earliest mackerel to be had in Paris. The programme is printed
every morning. He knows his dinner by rote. In the next place, he
dresses himself at the same hour, in the same clothes, the same linen,
that I always put on the same chair, you understand? I have to see
that he always has the same cloth; and if it should happen that his
coat came to grief (a mere supposition), I should have to replace it
by another without saying a word about it to him. If it is fine, I go
in and say to my master:
" 'You ought to go out, sir.'
"He says Yes, or No. If he has a notion that he will go out, he
doesn't wait for his horses; they are always ready harnessed; the
coachman stops there inconciliably, whip in hand, just as you see him
out there. In the evening, after dinner, my master goes one day to the
Opera, the other to the Ital----no, he hasn't yet gone to the
Italiens, though, for I could not find a box for him until yesterday.
Then he comes in at eleven o'clock precisely, to go to bed. At any
time in the day when he has nothing to do, he reads--he is always
reading, you see--it is a notion he has. My instructions are to read
the Journal de la Librairie before he sees it, and to buy new books,
so that he finds them on his chimney-piece on the very day that they
are published. I have orders to go into his room every hour or so, to
look after the fire and everything else, and to see that he wants
nothing. He gave me a little book, sir, to learn off by heart, with
all my duties written in it--a regular catechism! In summer I have to
keep a cool and even temperature with blocks of ice and at all seasons
to put fresh flowers all about. He is rich! He has a thousand francs
to spend every day; he can indulge his fancies! And he hadn't even
necessaries for so long, poor child! He doesn't annoy anybody; he is
as good as gold; he never opens his mouth, for instance; the house and
garden are absolutely silent. In short, my master has not a single
wish left; everything comes in the twinkling of an eye, if he raises
his hand, and INSTANTER. Quite right, too. If servants are not looked
after, everything falls into confusion. You would never believe the
lengths he goes about things. His rooms are all--what do you call
it?--er--er--en suite. Very well; just suppose, now, that he opens his
room door or the door of his study; presto! all the other doors fly
open of themselves by a patent contrivance; and then he can go from
one end of the house to the other and not find a single door shut;
which is all very nice and pleasant and convenient for us great folk!
But, on my word, it cost us a lot of money! And, after all, M.
Porriquet, he said to me at last:
" 'Jonathan, you will look after me as if I were a baby in long
clothes,' Yes, sir, 'long clothes!' those were his very words. 'You
will think of all my requirements for me.' I am the master, so to
speak, and he is the servant, you understand? The reason of it? Ah, my
word, that is just what nobody on earth knows but himself and God
Almighty. It is quite inconciliable!"
"He is writing a poem!" exclaimed the old professor.
"You think he is writing a poem, sir? It's a very absorbing affair,
then! But, you know, I don't think he is. He wants to vergetate. Only
yesterday he was looking at a tulip while he was dressing, and he said
" 'There is my own life--I am vergetating, my poor Jonathan.' Now,
some of them insist that that is monomania. It is inconciliable!"
"All this makes it very clear to me, Jonathan," the professor
answered, with a magisterial solemnity that greatly impressed the old
servant, "that your master is absorbed in a great work. He is deep in
vast meditations, and has no wish to be distracted by the petty
preoccupations of ordinary life. A man of genius forgets everything
among his intellectual labors. One day the famous Newton----"
"Newton?--oh, ah! I don't know the name," said Jonathan.
"Newton, a great geometrician," Porriquet went on, "once sat for
twenty-four hours leaning his elbow on the table; when he emerged from
his musings, he was a day out in his reckoning, just as if he had been
sleeping. I will go to see him, dear lad; I may perhaps be of some use
"Not for a moment!" Jonathan cried. "Not though you were King of
France--I mean the real old one. You could not go in unless you forced
the doors open and walked over my body. But I will go and tell him you
are here, M. Porriquet, and I will put it to him like this, 'Ought he
to come up?' And he will say Yes or No. I never say, 'Do you wish?' or
'Will you?' or 'Do you want?' Those words are scratched out of the
dictionary. He let out at me once with a 'Do you want to kill me?' he
was so very angry."
Jonathan left the old schoolmaster in the vestibule, signing to him to
come no further, and soon returned with a favorable answer. He led the
old gentleman through one magnificent room after another, where every
door stood open. At last Porriquet beheld his pupil at some distance
seated beside the fire.
Raphael was reading the paper. He sat in an armchair wrapped in a
dressing-gown with some large pattern on it. The intense melancholy
that preyed upon him could be discerned in his languid posture and
feeble frame; it was depicted on his brow and white face; he looked
like some plant bleached by darkness. There was a kind of effeminate
grace about him; the fancies peculiar to wealthy invalids were also
noticeable. His hands were soft and white, like a pretty woman's; he
wore his fair hair, now grown scanty, curled about his temples with a
refinement of vanity.
The Greek cap that he wore was pulled to one side by the weight of its
tassel; too heavy for the light material of which it was made. He had
let the paper-knife fall at his feet, a malachite blade with gold
mounting, which he had used to cut the leaves of the book. The amber
mouthpiece of a magnificent Indian hookah lay on his knee; the
enameled coils lay like a serpent in the room, but he had forgotten to
draw out its fresh perfume. And yet there was a complete contradiction
between the general feebleness of his young frame and the blue eyes,
where all his vitality seemed to dwell; an extraordinary intelligence
seemed to look out from them and to grasp everything at once.
That expression was painful to see. Some would have read despair in
it, and others some inner conflict terrible as remorse. It was the
inscrutable glance of helplessness that must perforce consign its
desires to the depths of its own heart; or of a miser enjoying in
imagination all the pleasures that his money could procure for him,
while he declines to lessen his hoard; the look of a bound Prometheus,
of the fallen Napoleon of 1815, when he learned at the Elysee the
strategical blunder that his enemies had made, and asked for twenty-
four hours of command in vain; or rather it was the same look that
Raphael had turned upon the Seine, or upon his last piece of gold at
the gaming-table only a few months ago.
He was submitting his intelligence and his will to the homely common-
sense of an old peasant whom fifty years of domestic service had
scarcely civilized. He had given up all the rights of life in order to
live; he had despoiled his soul of all the romance that lies in a
wish; and almost rejoiced at thus becoming a sort of automaton. The
better to struggle with the cruel power that he had challenged, he had
followed Origen's example, and had maimed and chastened his
The day after he had seen the diminution of the Magic Skin, at his
sudden accession of wealth, he happened to be at his notary's house. A
well-known physician had told them quite seriously, at dessert, how a
Swiss attacked by consumption had cured himself. The man had never
spoken a word for ten years, and had compelled himself to draw six
breaths only, every minute, in the close atmosphere of a cow-house,
adhering all the time to a regimen of exceedingly light diet. "I will
be like that man," thought Raphael to himself. He wanted life at any
price, and so he led the life of a machine in the midst of all the
luxury around him.
The old professor confronted this youthful corpse and shuddered; there
seemed something unnatural about the meagre, enfeebled frame. In the
Marquis, with his eager eyes and careworn forehead, he could hardly
recognize the fresh-cheeked and rosy pupil with the active limbs, whom
he remembered. If the worthy classicist, sage critic, and general
preserver of the traditions of correct taste had read Byron, he would
have thought that he had come on a Manfred when he looked to find
"Good day, pere Porriquet," said Raphael, pressing the old
schoolmaster's frozen fingers in his own damp ones; "how are you?"
"I am very well," replied the other, alarmed by the touch of that
feverish hand. "But how about you?"
"Oh, I am hoping to keep myself in health."
"You are engaged in some great work, no doubt?"
"No," Raphael answered. "Exegi monumemtum, pere Porriquet; I have
contributed an important page to science, and have now bidden her
farewell for ever. I scarcely know where my manuscript is."
"The style is no doubt correct?" queried the schoolmaster. "You, I
hope, would never have adopted the barbarous language of the new
school, which fancies it has worked such wonders by discovering
"My work treats of physiology pure and simple."
"Oh, then, there is no more to be said," the schoolmaster answered.
"Grammar must yield to the exigencies of discovery. Nevertheless,
young man, a lucid and harmonious style--the diction of Massillon, of
M. de Buffon, of the great Racine--a classical style, in short, can
never spoil anything----But, my friend," the schoolmaster interrupted
himself, "I was forgetting the object of my visit, which concerns my
Too late Raphael recalled to mind the verbose eloquence and elegant
circumlocutions which in a long professorial career had grown habitual
to his old tutor, and almost regretted that he had admitted him; but
just as he was about to wish to see him safely outside, he promptly
suppressed his secret desire with a stealthy glance at the Magic Skin.
It hung there before him, fastened down upon some white material,
surrounded by a red line accurately traced about its prophetic
outlines. Since that fatal carouse, Raphael had stifled every least
whim, and had lived so as not to cause the slightest movement in the
terrible talisman. The Magic Skin was like a tiger with which he must
live without exciting its ferocity. He bore patiently, therefore, with
the old schoolmaster's prolixity.
Porriquet spent an hour in telling him about the persecutions directed
against him ever since the Revolution of July. The worthy man, having
a liking for strong governments, had expressed the patriotic wish that
grocers should be left to their counters, statesmen to the management
of public business, advocates to the Palais de Justice, and peers of
France to the Luxembourg; but one of the popularity-seeking ministers
of the Citizen King had ousted him from his chair, on an accusation of
Carlism, and the old man now found himself without pension or post,
and with no bread to eat. As he played the part of guardian angel to a
poor nephew, for whose schooling at Saint Sulpice he was paying, he
came less on his own account than for his adopted child's sake, to
entreat his former pupil's interest with the new minister. He did not
ask to be reinstated, but only for a position at the head of some
QRaphael had fallen a victim to unconquerable drowsiness by the time
that the worthy man's monotonous voice ceased to sound in his ears.
Civility had compelled him to look at the pale and unmoving eyes of
the deliberate and tedious old narrator, till he himself had reached
stupefaction, magnetized in an inexplicable way by the power of
"Well, my dear pere Porriquet," he said, not very certain what the
question was to which he was replying, "but I can do nothing for you,
nothing at all. I WISH VERY HEARTILY that you may succeed----"
All at once, without seeing the change wrought on the old man's sallow
and wrinkled brow by these conventional phrases, full of indifference
and selfishness, Raphael sprang to his feet like a startled roebuck.
He saw a thin white line between the black piece of hide and the red
tracing about it, and gave a cry so fearful that the poor professor
was frightened by it.
"Old fool! Go!" he cried. "You will be appointed as headmaster!
Couldn't you have asked me for an annuity of a thousand crowns rather
than a murderous wish? Your visit would have cost me nothing. There
are a hundred thousand situations to be had in France, but I have only
one life. A man's life is worth more than all the situations in the
"This is your doing, double-distilled idiot! What made you suggest
that I should see M. Porriquet?" and he pointed to the old man, who
was petrified with fright. "Did I put myself in your hands for you to
tear me in pieces? You have just shortened my life by ten years!
Another blunder of this kind, and you will lay me where I have laid my
father. Would I not far rather have possessed the beautiful Foedora?
And I have obliged that old hulk instead--that rag of humanity! I had
money enough for him. And, moreover, if all the Porriquets in the
world were dying of hunger, what is that to me?"
Raphael's face was white with anger; a slight froth marked his
trembling lips; there was a savage gleam in his eyes. The two elders
shook with terror in his presence like two children at the sight of a
snake. The young man fell back in his armchair, a kind of reaction
took place in him, the tears flowed fast from his angry eyes.
"Oh, my life!" he cried, "that fair life of mine. Never to know a
kindly thought again, to love no more; nothing is left to me!"
He turned to the professor and went on in a gentle voice--"The harm is
done, my old friend. Your services have been well repaid; and my
misfortune has at any rate contributed to the welfare of a good and
His tones betrayed so much feeling that the almost unintelligible
words drew tears from the two old men, such tears as are shed over
some pathetic song in a foreign tongue.
"He is epileptic," muttered Porriquet.
"I understand your kind intentions, my friend," Raphael answered
gently. "You would make excuses for me. Ill-health cannot be helped,
but ingratitude is a grievous fault. Leave me now," he added. "To-
morrow or the next day, or possibly to-night, you will receive your
appointment; Resistance has triumphed over Motion. Farewell."
The old schoolmaster went away, full of keen apprehension as to
Valentin's sanity. A thrill of horror ran through him; there had been
something supernatural, he thought, in the scene he had passed
through. He could hardly believe his own impressions, and questioned
them like one awakened from a painful dream.
"Now attend to me, Jonathan," said the young man to his old servant.
"Try to understand the charge confided to you."
"Yes, my Lord Marquis."
"I am as a man outlawed from humanity."
"Yes, my Lord Marquis."
"All the pleasures of life disport themselves round my bed of death,
and dance about me like fair women; but if I beckon to them, I must
die. Death always confronts me. You must be the barrier between the
world and me."
"Yes, my Lord Marquis," said the old servant, wiping the drops of
perspiration from his wrinkled forehead. "But if you don't wish to see
pretty women, how will you manage at the Italiens this evening? An
English family is returning to London, and I have taken their box for
the rest of the season, and it is in a splendid position--superb; in
the first row.
Raphael, deep in his own deep musings, paid no attention to him.
Do you see that splendid equipage, a brougham painted a dark brown
color, but with the arms of an ancient and noble family shining from
the panels? As it rolls past, all the shop-girls admire it, and look
longingly at the yellow satin lining, the rugs from la Savonnerie, the
daintiness and freshness of every detail, the silken cushions and
tightly-fitting glass windows. Two liveried footmen are mounted behind
this aristocratic carriage; and within, a head lies back among the
silken cushions, the feverish face and hollow eyes of Raphael,
melancholy and sad. Emblem of the doom of wealth! He flies across
Paris like a rocket, and reaches the peristyle of the Theatre Favart.
The passers-by make way for him; the two footmen help him to alight,
an envious crowd looking on the while.
"What has that fellow done to be so rich?" asks a poor law-student,
who cannot listen to the magical music of Rossini for lack of a five-
Raphael walked slowly along the gangway; he expected no enjoyment from
these pleasures he had once coveted so eagerly. In the interval before
the second act of Semiramide he walked up and down in the lobby, and
along the corridors, leaving his box, which he had not yet entered, to
look after itself. The instinct of property was dead within him
already. Like all invalids, he thought of nothing but his own
sufferings. He was leaning against the chimney-piece in the greenroom.
A group had gathered about it of dandies, young and old, of ministers,
of peers without peerages, and peerages without peers, for so the
Revolution of July had ordered matters. Among a host of adventurers
and journalists, in fact, Raphael beheld a strange, unearthly figure a
few paces away among the crowd. He went towards this grotesque object
to see it better, half-closing his eyes with exceeding
"What a wonderful bit of painting!" he said to himself. The stranger's
hair and eyebrows and a Mazarin tuft on the chin had been dyed black,
but the result was a spurious, glossy, purple tint that varied its
hues according to the light; the hair had been too white, no doubt, to
take the preparation. Anxiety and cunning were depicted in the narrow,
insignificant face, with its wrinkles incrusted by thick layers of red
and white paint. This red enamel, lacking on some portions of his
face, strongly brought out his natural feebleness and livid hues. It
was impossible not to smile at this visage with the protuberant
forehead and pointed chin, a face not unlike those grotesque wooden
figures that German herdsmen carve in their spare moments.
An attentive observer looking from Raphael to this elderly Adonis
would have remarked a young man's eyes set in a mask of age, in the
case of the Marquis, and in the other case the dim eyes of age peering
forth from behind a mask of youth. Valentin tried to recollect when
and where he had seen this little old man before. He was thin,
fastidiously cravatted, booted and spurred like one-and-twenty; he
crossed his arms and clinked his spurs as if he possessed all the
wanton energy of youth. He seemed to move about without constraint or
difficulty. He had carefully buttoned up his fashionable coat, which
disguised his powerful, elderly frame, and gave him the appearance of
an antiquated coxcomb who still follows the fashions.
For Raphael this animated puppet possessed all the interest of an
apparition. He gazed at it as if it had been some smoke-begrimed
Rembrandt, recently restored and newly framed. This idea found him a
clue to the truth among his confused recollections; he recognized the
dealer in antiquities, the man to whom he owed his calamities!
A noiseless laugh broke just then from the fantastical personage,
straightening the line of his lips that stretched across a row of
artificial teeth. That laugh brought out, for Raphael's heated fancy,
a strong resemblance between the man before him and the type of head
that painters have assigned to Goethe's Mephistopheles. A crowd of
superstitious thoughts entered Raphael's sceptical mind; he was
convinced of the powers of the devil and of all the sorcerer's
enchantments embodied in mediaeval tradition, and since worked up by
poets. Shrinking in horror from the destiny of Faust, he prayed for
the protection of Heaven with all the ardent faith of a dying man in
God and the Virgin. A clear, bright radiance seemed to give him a
glimpse of the heaven of Michael Angelo or of Raphael of Urbino: a
venerable white-bearded man, a beautiful woman seated in an aureole
above the clouds and winged cherub heads. Now he had grasped and
received the meaning of those imaginative, almost human creations;
they seemed to explain what had happened to him, to leave him yet one
But when the greenroom of the Italiens returned upon his sight he
beheld, not the Virgin, but a very handsome young person. The
execrable Euphrasia, in all the splendor of her toilette, with its
orient pearls, had come thither, impatient for her ardent, elderly
admirer. She was insolently exhibiting herself with her defiant face
and glittering eyes to an envious crowd of stockbrokers, a visible
testimony to the inexhaustible wealth that the old dealer permitted
her to squander.
Raphael recollected the mocking wish with which he had accepted the
old man's luckless gift, and tasted all the sweets of revenge when he
beheld the spectacle of sublime wisdom fallen to such a depth as this,
wisdom for which such humiliation had seemed a thing impossible. The
centenarian greeted Euphrasia with a ghastly smile, receiving her
honeyed words in reply. He offered her his emaciated arm, and went
twice or thrice round the greenroom with her; the envious glances and
compliments with which the crowd received his mistress delighted him;
he did not see the scornful smiles, nor hear the caustic comments to
which he gave rise.
"In what cemetery did this young ghoul unearth that corpse of hers?"
asked a dandy of the Romantic faction.
Euphrasia began to smile. The speaker was a slender, fair-haired
youth, with bright blue eyes, and a moustache. His short dress coat,
hat tilted over one ear, and sharp tongue, all denoted the species.
"How many old men," said Raphael to himself, "bring an upright,
virtuous, and hard-working life to a close in folly! His feet are cold
already, and he is making love."
"Well, sir," exclaimed Valentin, stopping the merchant's progress,
while he stared hard at Euphrasia, "have you quite forgotten the
stringent maxims of your philosophy?"
"Ah, I am as happy now as a young man," said the other, in a cracked
voice. "I used to look at existence from a wrong standpoint. One hour
of love has a whole life in it."
The playgoers heard the bell ring, and left the greenroom to take
their places again. Raphael and the old merchant separated. As he
entered his box, the Marquis saw Foedora sitting exactly opposite to
him on the other side of the theatre. The Countess had probably only
just come, for she was just flinging off her scarf to leave her throat
uncovered, and was occupied with going through all the indescribable
manoeuvres of a coquette arranging herself. All eyes were turned upon
her. A young peer of France had come with her; she asked him for the
lorgnette she had given him to carry. Raphael knew the despotism to
which his successor had resigned himself, in her gestures, and in the
way she treated her companion. He was also under the spell no doubt,
another dupe beating with all the might of a real affection against
the woman's cold calculations, enduring all the tortures from which
Valentin had luckily freed himself.
Foedora's face lighted up with indescribable joy. After directing her
lorgnette upon every box in turn, to make a rapid survey of all the
dresses, she was conscious that by her toilette and her beauty she had
eclipsed the loveliest and best-dressed women in Paris. She laughed to
show her white teeth; her head with its wreath of flowers was never
still, in her quest of admiration. Her glances went from one box to
another, as she diverted herself with the awkward way in which a
Russian princess wore her bonnet, or over the utter failure of a
bonnet with which a banker's daughter had disfigured herself.
All at once she met Raphael's steady gaze and turned pale, aghast at
the intolerable contempt in her rejected lover's eyes. Not one of her
exiled suitors had failed to own her power over them; Valentin alone
was proof against her attractions. A power that can be defied with
impunity is drawing to its end. This axiom is as deeply engraved on
the heart of woman as in the minds of kings. In Raphael, therefore,
Foedora saw the deathblow of her influence and her ability to please.
An epigram of his, made at the Opera the day before, was already known
in the salons of Paris. The biting edge of that terrible speech had
already given the Countess an incurable wound. We know how to
cauterize a wound, but we know of no treatment as yet for the stab of
a phrase. As every other woman in the house looked by turns at her and
at the Marquis, Foedora would have consigned them all to the
oubliettes of some Bastille; for in spite of her capacity for
dissimulation, her discomfiture was discerned by her rivals. Her
unfailing consolation had slipped from her at last. The delicious
thought, "I am the most beautiful," the thought that at all times had
soothed every mortification, had turned into a lie.
At the opening of the second act a woman took up her position not very
far from Raphael, in a box that had been empty hitherto. A murmur of
admiration went up from the whole house. In that sea of human faces
there was a movement of every living wave; all eyes were turned upon
the stranger lady. The applause of young and old was so prolonged,
that when the orchestra began, the musicians turned to the audience to
request silence, and then they themselves joined in the plaudits and
swelled the confusion. Excited talk began in every box, every woman
equipped herself with an opera glass, elderly men grew young again,
and polished the glasses of their lorgnettes with their gloves. The
enthusiasm subsided by degrees, the stage echoed with the voices of
the singers, and order reigned as before. The aristocratic section,
ashamed of having yielded to a spontaneous feeling, again assumed
their wonted politely frigid manner. The well-to-do dislike to be
astonished at anything; at the first sight of a beautiful thing it
becomes their duty to discover the defect in it which absolves them
from admiring it,--the feeling of all ordinary minds. Yet a few still
remained motionless and heedless of the music, artlessly absorbed in
the delight of watching Raphael's neighbor.
Valentin noticed Taillefer's mean, obnoxious countenance by Aquilina's
side in a lower box, and received an approving smirk from him. Then he
saw Emile, who seemed to say from where he stood in the orchestra,
"Just look at that lovely creature there, close beside you!" Lastly,
he saw Rastignac, with Mme. de Nucingen and her daughter, twisting his
gloves like a man in despair, because he was tethered to his place,
and could not leave it to go any nearer to the unknown fair divinity.
Raphael's life depended upon a covenant that he had made with himself,
and had hitherto kept sacred. He would give no special heed to any
woman whatever; and the better to guard against temptation, he used a
cunningly contrived opera-glass which destroyed the harmony of the
fairest features by hideous distortions. He had not recovered from the
terror that had seized on him in the morning when, at a mere
expression of civility, the Magic Skin had contracted so abruptly. So
Raphael was determined not to turn his face in the direction of his
neighbor. He sat imperturbable as a duchess with his back against the
corner of the box, thereby shutting out half of his neighbor's view of
the stage, appearing to disregard her, and even to be unaware that a
pretty woman sat there just behind him.
His neighbor copied Valentin's position exactly; she leaned her elbow
on the edge of her box and turned her face in three-quarter profile
upon the singers on the stage, as if she were sitting to a painter.
These two people looked like two estranged lovers still sulking, still
turning their backs upon each other, who will go into each other's
arms at the first tender word.
Now and again his neighbor's ostrich feathers or her hair came in
contact with Raphael's head, giving him a pleasurable thrill, against
which he sternly fought. In a little while he felt the touch of the
soft frill of lace that went round her dress; he could hear the
gracious sounds of the folds of her dress itself, light rustling
noises full of enchantment; he could even feel her movements as she
breathed; with the gentle stir thus imparted to her form and to her
draperies, it seemed to Raphael that all her being was suddenly
communicated to him in an electric spark. The lace and tulle that
caressed him imparted the delicious warmth of her bare, white
shoulders. By a freak in the ordering of things, these two creatures,
kept apart by social conventions, with the abysses of death between
them, breathed together and perhaps thought of one another. Finally,
the subtle perfume of aloes completed the work of Raphael's
intoxication. Opposition heated his imagination, and his fancy, become
the wilder for the limits imposed upon it, sketched a woman for him in
outlines of fire. He turned abruptly, the stranger made a similar
movement, startled no doubt at being brought in contact with a
stranger; and they remained face to face, each with the same thought.
Each surveyed the other, both of them petrified with astonishment.
Raphael noticed Pauline's daintily simple costume. A woman's
experienced eyes would have discerned and admired the outlines beneath
the modest gauze folds of her bodice and the lily whiteness of her
throat. And then her more than mortal clearness of soul, her maidenly
modesty, her graceful bearing, all were unchanged. Her sleeve was
quivering with agitation, for the beating of her heart was shaking her
"Come to the Hotel de Saint-Quentin to-morrow for your papers," she
said. "I will be there at noon. Be punctual."
She rose hastily, and disappeared. Raphael thought of following
Pauline, feared to compromise her, and stayed. He looked at Foedora;
she seemed to him positively ugly. Unable to understand a single
phrase of the music, and feeling stifled in the theatre, he went out,
and returned home with a full heart.
"Jonathan," he said to the old servant, as soon as he lay in bed,
"give me half a drop of laudanum on a piece of sugar, and don't wake
me to-morrow till twenty minutes to twelve."
"I want Pauline to love me!" he cried next morning, looking at the
talisman the while in unspeakable anguish.
The skin did not move in the least; it seemed to have lost its power
to shrink; doubtless it could not fulfil a wish fulfilled already.
"Ah!" exclaimed Raphael, feeling as if a mantle of lead had fallen
away, which he had worn ever since the day when the talisman had been
given to him; "so you are playing me false, you are not obeying me,
the pact is broken! I am free; I shall live. Then was it all a
wretched joke?" But he did not dare to believe in his own thought as
he uttered it.
He dressed himself as simply as had formerly been his wont, and set
out on foot for his old lodging, trying to go back in fancy to the
happy days when he abandoned himself without peril to vehement
desires, the days when he had not yet condemned all human enjoyment.
As he walked he beheld Pauline--not the Pauline of the Hotel Saint-
Quentin, but the Pauline of last evening. Here was the accomplished
mistress he had so often dreamed of, the intelligent young girl with
the loving nature and artistic temperament, who understood poets, who
understood poetry, and lived in luxurious surroundings. Here, in
short, was Foedora, gifted with a great soul; or Pauline become a
countess, and twice a millionaire, as Foedora had been. When he
reached the worn threshold, and stood upon the broken step at the
door, where in the old days he had had so many desperate thoughts, an
old woman came out of the room within and spoke to him.
"You are M. Raphael de Valentin, are you not?"
"Yes, good mother," he replied.
"You know your old room then," she replied; "you are expected up
"Does Mme. Gaudin still own the house?" Raphael asked.
"Oh no, sir. Mme. Gaudin is a baroness now. She lives in a fine house
of her own on the other side of the river. Her husband has come back.
My goodness, he brought back thousands and thousands. They say she
could buy up all the Quartier Saint-Jacques if she liked. She gave me
her basement room for nothing, and the remainder of her lease. Ah,
she's a kind woman all the same; she is no more proud to-day than she
Raphael hurried up the staircase to his garret; as he reached the last
few steps he heard the sounds of a piano. Pauline was there, simply
dressed in a cotton gown, but the way that it was made, like the
gloves, hat, and shawl that she had thrown carelessly upon the bed,
revealed a change of fortune.
"Ah, there you are!" cried Pauline, turning her head, and rising with
Raphael went to sit beside her, flushed, confused, and happy; he
looked at her in silence.
"Why did you leave us then?" she asked, dropping her eyes as the flush
deepened on his face. "What became of you?"
"Ah, I have been very miserable, Pauline; I am very miserable still."
"Alas!" she said, filled with pitying tenderness. "I guessed your fate
yesterday when I saw you so well dressed, and apparently so wealthy;
but in reality? Eh, M. Raphael, is it as it always used to be with
Valentin could not restrain the tears that sprang to his eyes.
"Pauline," he exclaimed, "I----"
He went no further, love sparkled in his eyes, and his emotion
overflowed his face.
"Oh, he loves me! he loves me!" cried Pauline.
Raphael felt himself unable to say one word; he bent his head. The
young girl took his hand at this; she pressed it as she said, half
sobbing and half laughing:--
"Rich, rich, happy and rich! Your Pauline is rich. But I? Oh, I ought
to be very poor to-day. I have said, times without number, that I
would give all the wealth upon this earth for those words, 'He loves
me!' O my Raphael! I have millions. You like luxury, you will be glad;
but you must love me and my heart besides, for there is so much love
for you in my heart. You don't know? My father has come back. I am a
wealthy heiress. Both he and my mother leave me completely free to
decide my own fate. I am free--do you understand?"
Seized with a kind of frenzy, Raphael grasped Pauline's hands and
kissed them eagerly and vehemently, with an almost convulsive caress.
Pauline drew her hands away, laid them on Raphael's shoulders, and
drew him towards her. They understood one another--in that close
embrace, in the unalloyed and sacred fervor of that one kiss without
an afterthought--the first kiss by which two souls take possession of
"Ah, I will not leave you any more," said Pauline, falling back in her
chair. "I do not know how I come to be so bold!" she added, blushing.
"Bold, my Pauline? Do not fear it. It is love, love true and deep and
everlasting like my own, is it not?"
"Speak!" she cried. "Go on speaking, so long your lips have been dumb
"Then you have loved me all along?"
"Loved you? MON DIEU! How often I have wept here, setting your room
straight, and grieving for your poverty and my own. I would have sold
myself to the evil one to spare you one vexation! You are MY Raphael
to-day, really my own Raphael, with that handsome head of yours, and
your heart is mine too; yes, that above all, your heart--O wealth
inexhaustible! Well, where was I?" she went on after a pause. "Oh yes!
We have three, four, or five millions, I believe. If I were poor, I
should perhaps desire to bear your name, to be acknowledged as your
wife; but as it is, I would give up the whole world for you, I would
be your servant still, now and always. Why, Raphael, if I give you my
fortune, my heart, myself to-day, I do no more than I did that day
when I put a certain five-franc piece in the drawer there," and she
pointed to the table. "Oh, how your exultation hurt me then!"
"Oh, why are you rich?" Raphael cried; "why is there no vanity in you?
I can do nothing for you."
He wrung his hands in despair and happiness and love.
"When you are the Marquise de Valentin, I know that the title and the
fortune for thee, heavenly soul, will not be worth----"
"One hair of your head," she cried.
"I have millions too. But what is wealth to either of us now? There is
my life--ah, that I can offer, take it."
"Your love, Raphael, your love is all the world to me. Are your
thoughts of me? I am the happiest of the happy!"
"Can any one overhear us?" asked Raphael.
"Nobody," she replied, and a mischievous gesture escaped her.
"Come, then!" cried Valentin, holding out his arms.
She sprang upon his knees and clasped her arms about his neck.
"Kiss me!" she cried, "after all the pain you have given me; to blot
out the memory of the grief that your joys have caused me; and for the
sake of the nights that I spent in painting hand-screens----"
"Those hand-screens of yours?"
"Now that we are rich, my darling, I can tell you all about it. Poor
boy! how easy it is to delude a clever man! Could you have had white
waistcoats and clean shirts twice a week for three francs every month
to the laundress? Why, you used to drink twice as much milk as your
money would have paid for. I deceived you all round--over firing, oil,
and even money. O Raphael mine, don't have me for your wife, I am far
too cunning!" she said laughing.
"But how did you manage?"
"I used to work till two o'clock in the morning; I gave my mother half
the money made by my screens, and the other half went to you."
They looked at one another for a moment, both bewildered by love and
"Some day we shall have to pay for this happiness by some terrible
sorrow," cried Raphael.
"Perhaps you are married?" said Pauline. "Oh, I will not give you up
to any other woman."
"I am free, my beloved."
"Free!" she repeated. "Free, and mine!"
She slipped down upon her knees, clasped her hands, and looked at
Raphael in an enthusiasm of devotion.
"I am afraid I shall go mad. How handsome you are!" she went on,
passing her fingers through her lover's fair hair. "How stupid your
Countess Foedora is! How pleased I was yesterday with the homage they
all paid to me! SHE has never been applauded. Dear, when I felt your
arm against my back, I heard a vague voice within me that cried, 'He
is there!' and I turned round and saw you. I fled, for I longed so to
throw my arms about you before them all."
"How happy you are--you can speak!" Raphael exclaimed. "My heart is
overwhelmed; I would weep, but I cannot. Do not draw your hand away. I
could stay here looking at you like this for the rest of my life, I
think; happy and content."
"O my love, say that once more!"
"Ah, what are words?" answered Valentin, letting a hot tear fall on
Pauline's hands. "Some time I will try to tell you of my love; just
now I can only feel it."
"You," she said, "with your lofty soul and your great genius, with
that heart of yours that I know so well; are you really mine, as I am
"For ever and ever, my sweet creature," said Raphael in an uncertain
voice. "You shall be my wife, my protecting angel. My griefs have
always been dispelled by your presence, and my courage revived; that
angelic smile now on your lips has purified me, so to speak. A new
life seems about to begin for me. The cruel past and my wretched
follies are hardly more to me than evil dreams. At your side I breathe
an atmosphere of happiness, and I am pure. Be with me always," he
added, pressing her solemnly to his beating heart.
"Death may come when it will," said Pauline in ecstasy; "I have
Happy he who shall divine their joy, for he must have experienced it.
"I wish that no one might enter this dear garret again, my Raphael,"
said Pauline, after two hours of silence.
"We must have the door walled up, put bars across the window, and buy
the house," the Marquis answered.
"Yes, we will," she said. Then a moment later she added: "Our search
for your manuscripts has been a little lost sight of," and they both
laughed like children.
"Pshaw! I don't care a jot for the whole circle of the sciences,"
"Ah, sir, and how about glory?"
"I glory in you alone."
"You used to be very miserable as you made these little scratches and
scrawls," she said, turning the papers over.
"Oh yes, I am your Pauline--and what then?"
"Where are you living now?"
"In the Rue Saint Lazare. And you?"
"In the Rue de Varenne."
"What a long way apart we shall be until----" She stopped, and looked
at her lover with a mischievous and coquettish expression.
"But at the most we need only be separated for a fortnight," Raphael
"Really! we are to be married in a fortnight?" and she jumped for joy
like a child.
"I am an unnatural daughter!" she went on. "I give no more thought to
my father or my mother, or to anything in the world. Poor love, you
don't know that my father is very ill? He returned from the Indies in
very bad health. He nearly died at Havre, where we went to find him.
Good heavens!" she cried, looking at her watch; "it is three o'clock
already! I ought to be back again when he wakes at four. I am mistress
of the house at home; my mother does everything that I wish, and my
father worships me; but I will not abuse their kindness, that would be
wrong. My poor father! He would have me go to the Italiens yesterday.
You will come to see him to-morrow, will you not?"
"Will Madame la Marquise de Valentin honor me by taking my arm?"
"I am going to take the key of this room away with me," she said.
"Isn't our treasure-house a palace?"
"One more kiss, Pauline."
"A thousand, MON DIEU!" she said, looking at Raphael. "Will it always
be like this? I feel as if I were dreaming."
They went slowly down the stairs together, step for step, with arms
closely linked, trembling both of them beneath their load of joy. Each
pressing close to the other's side, like a pair of doves, they reached
the Place de la Sorbonne, where Pauline's carriage was waiting.
"I want to go home with you," she said. "I want to see your own room
and your study, and to sit at the table where you work. It will be
like old times," she said, blushing.
She spoke to the servant. "Joseph, before returning home I am going to
the Rue de Varenne. It is a quarter-past three now, and I must be back
by four o'clock. George must hurry the horses." And so in a few
moments the lovers came to Valentin's abode.
"How glad I am to have seen all this for myself!" Pauline cried,
creasing the silken bed-curtains in Raphael's room between her
fingers. "As I go to sleep, I shall be here in thought. I shall
imagine your dear head on the pillow there. Raphael, tell me, did no
one advise you about the furniture of your hotel?"
"No one whatever."
"Really? It was not a woman who----"
"Oh, I know I am fearfully jealous. You have good taste. I will have a
bed like yours to-morrow."
Quite beside himself with happiness, Raphael caught Pauline in his
"Oh, my father!" she said; "my father----"
"I will take you back to him," cried Valentin, "for I want to be away
from you as little as possible."
"How loving you are! I did not venture to suggest it----"
"Are you not my life?"
It would be tedious to set down accurately the charming prattle of the
lovers, for tones and looks and gestures that cannot be rendered alone
gave it significance. Valentin went back with Pauline to her own door,
and returned with as much happiness in his heart as mortal man can
When he was seated in his armchair beside the fire, thinking over the
sudden and complete way in which his wishes had been fulfilled, a cold
shiver went through him, as if the blade of a dagger had been plunged
into his breast--he thought of the Magic Skin, and saw that it had
shrunk a little. He uttered the most tremendous of French oaths,
without any of the Jesuitical reservations made by the Abbess of
Andouillettes, leant his head against the back of the chair, and sat
motionless, fixing his unseeing eyes upon the bracket of the curtain
"Good God!" he cried; "every wish! Every desire of mine! Poor
He took a pair of compasses and measured the extent of existence that
the morning had cost him.
"I have scarcely enough for two months!" he said.
A cold sweat broke out over him; moved by an ungovernable spasm of
rage, he seized the Magic Skin, exclaiming:
"I am a perfect fool!"
He rushed out of the house and across the garden, and flung the
talisman down a well.
"Vogue la galere," cried he. "The devil take all this nonsense."
So Raphael gave himself up to the happiness of being beloved, and led
with Pauline the life of heart and heart. Difficulties which it would
be somewhat tedious to describe had delayed their marriage, which was
to take place early in March. Each was sure of the other; their
affection had been tried, and happiness had taught them how strong it
was. Never has love made two souls, two natures, so absolutely one.
The more they came to know of each other, the more they loved. On
either side there was the same hesitating delicacy, the same
transports of joy such as angels know; there were no clouds in their
heaven; the will of either was the other's law.
Wealthy as they both were, they had not a caprice which they could not
gratify, and for that reason had no caprices. A refined taste, a
feeling for beauty and poetry, was instinct in the soul of the bride;
her lover's smile was more to her than all the pearls of Ormuz. She
disdained feminine finery; a muslin dress and flowers formed her most
Pauline and Raphael shunned every one else, for solitude was
abundantly beautiful to them. The idlers at the Opera, or at the
Italiens, saw this charming and unconventional pair evening after
evening. Some gossip went the round of the salons at first, but the
harmless lovers were soon forgotten in the course of events which took
place in Paris; their marriage was announced at length to excuse them
in the eyes of the prudish; and as it happened, their servants did not
babble; so their bliss did not draw down upon them any very severe
One morning towards the end of February, at the time when the
brightening days bring a belief in the nearness of the joys of spring,
Pauline and Raphael were breakfasting together in a small
conservatory, a kind of drawing-room filled with flowers, on a level
with the garden. The mild rays of the pale winter sunlight, breaking
through the thicket of exotic plants, warmed the air somewhat. The
vivid contrast made by the varieties of foliage, the colors of the
masses of flowering shrubs, the freaks of light and shadow, gladdened
the eyes. While all the rest of Paris still sought warmth from its
melancholy hearth, these two were laughing in a bower of camellias,
lilacs, and blossoming heath. Their happy faces rose above lilies of
the valley, narcissus blooms, and Bengal roses. A mat of plaited
African grass, variegated like a carpet, lay beneath their feet in
this luxurious conservatory. The walls, covered with a green linen
material, bore no traces of damp. The surfaces of the rustic wooden
furniture shone with cleanliness. A kitten, attracted by the odor of
milk, had established itself upon the table; it allowed Pauline to
bedabble it in coffee; she was playing merrily with it, taking away
the cream that she had just allowed the kitten to sniff at, so as to
exercise its patience, and keep up the contest. She burst out laughing
at every antic, and by the comical remarks she constantly made, she
hindered Raphael from perusing the paper; he had dropped it a dozen
times already. This morning picture seemed to overflow with
inexpressible gladness, like everything that is natural and genuine.
Raphael, still pretending to read his paper, furtively watched Pauline
with the cat--his Pauline, in the dressing-gown that hung carelessly
about her; his Pauline, with her hair loose on her shoulders, with a
tiny, white, blue-veined foot peeping out of a velvet slipper. It was
pleasant to see her in this negligent dress; she was delightful as
some fanciful picture by Westall; half-girl, half-woman, as she seemed
to be, or perhaps more of a girl than a woman, there was no alloy in
the happiness she enjoyed, and of love she knew as yet only its first
ecstasy. When Raphael, absorbed in happy musing, had forgotten the
existence of the newspaper, Pauline flew upon it, crumpled it up into
a ball, and threw it out into the garden; the kitten sprang after the
rotating object, which spun round and round, as politics are wont to
do. This childish scene recalled Raphael to himself. He would have
gone on reading, and felt for the sheet he no longer possessed. Joyous
laughter rang out like the song of a bird, one peal leading to
"I am quite jealous of the paper," she said, as she wiped away the
tears that her childlike merriment had brought into her eyes. "Now, is
it not a heinous offence," she went on, as she became a woman all at
once, "to read Russian proclamations in my presence, and to attend to
the prosings of the Emperor Nicholas rather than to looks and words of
"I was not reading, my dear angel; I was looking at you."
Just then the gravel walk outside the conservatory rang with the sound
of the gardener's heavily nailed boots.
"I beg your pardon, my Lord Marquis--and yours, too, madame--if I am
intruding, but I have brought you a curiosity the like of which I
never set eyes on. Drawing a bucket of water just now, with due
respect, I got out this strange salt-water plant. Here it is. It must
be thoroughly used to water, anyhow, for it isn't saturated or even
damp at all. It is as dry as a piece of wood, and has not swelled a
bit. As my Lord Marquis certainly knows a great deal more about things
than I do, I thought I ought to bring it, and that it would interest
Therewith the gardener showed Raphael the inexorable piece of skin;
there were barely six square inches of it left.
"Thanks, Vaniere," Raphael said. "The thing is very curious."
"What is the matter with you, my angel; you are growing quite white!"
"You can go, Vaniere."
"Your voice frightens me," the girl went on; "it is so strangely
altered. What is it? How are you feeling? Where is the pain? You are
in pain!--Jonathan! here! call a doctor!" she cried.
"Hush, my Pauline," Raphael answered, as he regained composure. "Let
us get up and go. Some flower here has a scent that is too much for
me. It is that verbena, perhaps."
Pauline flew upon the innocent plant, seized it by the stalk, and
flung it out into the garden; then, with all the might of the love
between them, she clasped Raphael in a close embrace, and with
languishing coquetry raised her red lips to his for a kiss.
"Dear angel," she cried, "when I saw you turn so white, I understood
that I could not live on without you; your life is my life too. Lay
your hand on my back, Raphael mine; I feel a chill like death. The
feeling of cold is there yet. Your lips are burning. How is your hand?
--Cold as ice," she added.
"Mad girl!" exclaimed Raphael.
"Why that tear? Let me drink it."
"O Pauline, Pauline, you love me far too much!"
"There is something very extraordinary going on in your mind, Raphael!
Do not dissimulate. I shall very soon find out your secret. Give that
to me," she went on, taking the Magic Skin.
"You are my executioner!" the young man exclaimed, glancing in horror
at the talisman.
"How changed your voice is!" cried Pauline, as she dropped the fatal
symbol of destiny.
"Do you love me?" he asked.
"Do I love you? Is there any doubt?"
"Then, leave me, go away!"
The poor child went.
"So!" cried Raphael, when he was alone. "In an enlightened age, when
we have found out that diamonds are a crystallized form of charcoal,
at a time when everything is made clear, when the police would hale a
new Messiah before the magistrates, and submit his miracles to the
Academie des Sciences--in an epoch when we no longer believe in
anything but a notary's signature--that I, forsooth, should believe in
a sort of Mene, Tekel, Upharsin! No, by Heaven, I will not believe
that the Supreme Being would take pleasure in torturing a harmless
creature.--Let us see the learned about it."
Between the Halle des Vins, with its extensive assembly of barrels,
and the Salpetriere, that extensive seminary of drunkenness, lies a
small pond, which Raphael soon reached. All sorts of ducks of rare
varieties were there disporting themselves; their colored markings
shone in the sun like the glass in cathedral windows. Every kind of
duck in the world was represented, quacking, dabbling, and moving
about--a kind of parliament of ducks assembled against its will, but
luckily without either charter or political principles, living in
complete immunity from sportsmen, under the eyes of any naturalist
that chanced to see them.
"That is M. Lavrille," said one of the keepers to Raphael, who had
asked for that high priest of zoology.
The Marquis saw a short man buried in profound reflections, caused by
the appearance of a pair of ducks. The man of science was middle-aged;
he had a pleasant face, made pleasanter still by a kindly expression,
but an absorption in scientific ideas engrossed his whole person. His
peruke was strangely turned up, by being constantly raised to scratch
his head; so that a line of white hair was left plainly visible, a
witness to an enthusiasm for investigation, which, like every other
strong passion, so withdraws us from mundane considerations, that we
lose all consciousness of the "I" within us. Raphael, the student and
man of science, looked respectfully at the naturalist, who devoted his
nights to enlarging the limits of human knowledge, and whose very
errors reflected glory upon France; but a she-coxcomb would have
laughed, no doubt, at the break of continuity between the breeches and
striped waistcoat worn by the man of learning; the interval, moreover,
was modestly filled by a shirt which had been considerably creased,
for he stooped and raised himself by turns, as his zoological
After the first interchange of civilities, Raphael thought it
necessary to pay M. Lavrille a banal compliment upon his ducks.
"Oh, we are well off for ducks," the naturalist replied. "The genus,
moreover, as you doubtless know, is the most prolific in the order of
palmipeds. It begins with the swan and ends with the zin-zin duck,
comprising in all one hundred and thirty-seven very distinct
varieties, each having its own name, habits, country, and character,
and every one no more like another than a white man is like a negro.
Really, sir, when we dine off a duck, we have no notion for the most
part of the vast extent----"
He interrupted himself as he saw a small pretty duck come up to the
surface of the pond.
"There you see the cravatted swan, a poor native of Canada; he has
come a very long way to show us his brown and gray plumage and his
little black cravat! Look, he is preening himself. That one is the
famous eider duck that provides the down, the eider-down under which
our fine ladies sleep; isn't it pretty? Who would not admire the
little pinkish white breast and the green beak? I have just been a
witness, sir," he went on, "to a marriage that I had long despaired of
bringing about; they have paired rather auspiciously, and I shall
await the results very eagerly. This will be a hundred and thirty-
eighth species, I flatter myself, to which, perhaps, my name will be
given. That is the newly matched pair," he said, pointing out two of
the ducks; "one of them is a laughing goose (anas albifrons), and the
other the great whistling duck, Buffon's anas ruffina. I have
hesitated a long while between the whistling duck, the duck with white
eyebrows, and the shoveler duck (anas clypeata). Stay, that is the
shoveler--that fat, brownish black rascal, with the greenish neck and
that coquettish iridescence on it. But the whistling duck was a
crested one, sir, and you will understand that I deliberated no
longer. We only lack the variegated black-capped duck now. These
gentlemen here, unanimously claim that that variety of duck is only a
repetition of the curve-beaked teal, but for my own part,"--and the
gesture he made was worth seeing. It expressed at once the modesty and
pride of a man of science; the pride full of obstinacy, and the
modesty well tempered with assurance.
"I don't think it is," he added. "You see, my dear sir, that we are
not amusing ourselves here. I am engaged at this moment upon a
monograph on the genus duck. But I am at your disposal."
While they went towards a rather pleasant house in the Rue du Buffon,
Raphael submitted the skin to M. Lavrille's inspection.
"I know the product," said the man of science, when he had turned his
magnifying glass upon the talisman. "It used to be used for covering
boxes. The shagreen is very old. They prefer to use skate's skin
nowadays for making sheaths. This, as you are doubtless aware, is the
hide of the raja sephen, a Red Sea fish."
"But this, sir, since you are so exceedingly good----"
"This," the man of science interrupted, as he resumed, "this is quite
another thing; between these two shagreens, sir, there is a difference
just as wide as between sea and land, or fish and flesh. The fish's
skin is harder, however, than the skin of the land animal. This," he
said, as he indicated the talisman, "is, as you doubtless know, one of
the most curious of zoological products."
"But to proceed----" said Raphael.
"This," replied the man of science, as he flung himself down into his
armchair, "is an ass' skin, sir."
"Yes, I know," said the young man.
"A very rare variety of ass found in Persia," the naturalist
continued, "the onager of the ancients, equus asinus, the koulan of
the Tartars; Pallas went out there to observe it, and has made it
known to science, for as a matter of fact the animal for a long time
was believed to be mythical. It is mentioned, as you know, in Holy
Scripture; Moses forbade that it should be coupled with its own
species, and the onager is yet more famous for the prostitutions of
which it was the object, and which are often mentioned by the prophets
of the Bible. Pallas, as you know doubtless, states in his Act.
Petrop. tome II., that these bizarre excesses are still devoutly
believed in among the Persians and the Nogais as a sovereign remedy
for lumbago and sciatic gout. We poor Parisians scarcely believe that.
The Museum has no example of the onager.
"What a magnificent animal!" he continued. "It is full of mystery; its
eyes are provided with a sort of burnished covering, to which the
Orientals attribute the powers of fascination; it has a glossier and
finer coat than our handsomest horses possess, striped with more or
less tawny bands, very much like the zebra's hide. There is something
pliant and silky about its hair, which is sleek to the touch. Its
powers of sight vie in precision and accuracy with those of man; it is
rather larger than our largest domestic donkeys, and is possessed of
extraordinary courage. If it is surprised by any chance, it defends
itself against the most dangerous wild beasts with remarkable success;
the rapidity of its movements can only be compared with the flight of
birds; an onager, sir, would run the best Arab or Persian horses to
death. According to the father of the conscientious Doctor Niebuhr,
whose recent loss we are deploring, as you doubtless know, the
ordinary average pace of one of these wonderful creatures would be
seven thousand geometric feet per hour. Our own degenerate race of
donkeys can give no idea of the ass in his pride and independence. He
is active and spirited in his demeanor; he is cunning and sagacious;
there is grace about the outlines of his head; every movement is full
of attractive charm. In the East he is the king of beasts. Turkish and
Persian superstition even credits him with a mysterious origin; and
when stories of the prowess attributed to him are told in Thibet or in
Tartary, the speakers mingle Solomon's name with that of this noble
animal. A tame onager, in short, is worth an enormous amount; it is
well-nigh impossible to catch them among the mountains, where they
leap like roebucks, and seem as if they could fly like birds. Our myth
of the winged horse, our Pegasus, had its origin doubtless in these
countries, where the shepherds could see the onager springing from one
rock to another. In Persia they breed asses for the saddle, a cross
between a tamed onager and a she-ass, and they paint them red,
following immemorial tradition. Perhaps it was this custom that gave
rise to our own proverb, 'Surely as a red donkey.' At some period when
natural history was much neglected in France, I think a traveler must
have brought over one of these strange beasts that endures servitude
with such impatience. Hence the adage. The skin that you have laid
before me is the skin of an onager. Opinions differ as to the origin
of the name. Some claim that Chagri is a Turkish word; others insist
that Chagri must be the name of the place where this animal product
underwent the chemical process of preparation so clearly described by
Pallas, to which the peculiar graining that we admire is due;
Martellens has written to me saying that Chaagri is a river----"
"I thank you, sir, for the information that you have given me; it
would furnish an admirable footnote for some Dom Calmet or other, if
such erudite hermits yet exist; but I have had the honor of pointing
out to you that this scrap was in the first instance quite as large as
that map," said Raphael, indicating an open atlas to Lavrille; "but it
has shrunk visibly in three months' time----"
"Quite so," said the man of science. "I understand. The remains of any
substance primarily organic are naturally subject to a process of
decay. It is quite easy to understand, and its progress depends upon
atmospherical conditions. Even metals contract and expand appreciably,
for engineers have remarked somewhat considerable interstices between
great blocks of stone originally clamped together with iron bars. The
field of science is boundless, but human life is very short, so that
we do not claim to be acquainted with all the phenomena of nature."
"Pardon the question that I am about to ask you, sir," Raphael began,
half embarrassed, "but are you quite sure that this piece of skin is
subject to the ordinary laws of zoology, and that it can be
"Certainly----oh, bother!----" muttered M. Lavrille, trying to stretch
the talisman. "But if you, sir, will go to see Planchette," he added,
"the celebrated professor of mechanics, he will certainly discover
some method of acting upon this skin, of softening and expanding it."
"Ah, sir, you are the preserver of my life," and Raphael took leave of
the learned naturalist and hurried off to Planchette, leaving the
worthy Lavrille in his study, all among the bottles and dried plants
that filled it up.
Quite unconsciously Raphael brought away with him from this visit, all
of science that man can grasp, a terminology to wit. Lavrille, the
worthy man, was very much like Sancho Panza giving to Don Quixote the
history of the goats; he was entertaining himself by making out a list
of animals and ticking them off. Even now that his life was nearing
its end, he was scarcely acquainted with a mere fraction of the
countless numbers of the great tribes that God has scattered, for some
unknown end, throughout the ocean of worlds.
Raphael was well pleased. "I shall keep my ass well in hand," cried
he. Sterne had said before his day, "Let us take care of our ass, if
we wish to live to old age." But it is such a fantastic brute!
Planchette was a tall, thin man, a poet of a surety, lost in one
continual thought, and always employed in gazing into the bottomless
abyss of Motion. Commonplace minds accuse these lofty intellects of
madness; they form a misinterpreted race apart that lives in a
wonderful carelessness of luxuries or other people's notions. They
will spend whole days at a stretch, smoking a cigar that has gone out,
and enter a drawing-room with the buttons on their garments not in
every case formally wedded to the button-holes. Some day or other,
after a long time spent in measuring space, or in accumulating Xs
under Aa-Gg, they succeed in analyzing some natural law, and resolve
it into its elemental principles, and all on a sudden the crowd gapes
at a new machine; or it is a handcart perhaps that overwhelms us with
astonishment by the apt simplicity of its construction. The modest man
of science smiles at his admirers, and remarks, "What is that
invention of mine? Nothing whatever. Man cannot create a force; he can
but direct it; and science consists in learning from nature."
The mechanician was standing bolt upright, planted on both feet, like
some victim dropped straight from the gibbet, when Raphael broke in
upon him. He was intently watching an agate ball that rolled over a
sun-dial, and awaited its final settlement. The worthy man had
received neither pension nor decoration; he had not known how to make
the right use of his ability for calculation. He was happy in his life
spent on the watch for a discovery; he had no thought either of
reputation, of the outer world, nor even of himself, and led the life
of science for the sake of science.
"It is inexplicable," he exclaimed. "Ah, your servant, sir," he went
on, becoming aware of Raphael's existence. "How is your mother? You
must go and see my wife."
"And I also could have lived thus," thought Raphael, as he recalled
the learned man from his meditations by asking of him how to produce
any effect on the talisman, which he placed before him.
"Although my credulity must amuse you, sir," so the Marquis ended, "I
will conceal nothing from you. That skin seems to me to be endowed
with an insuperable power of resistance."
"People of fashion, sir, always treat science rather superciliously,"
said Planchette. "They all talk to us pretty much as the incroyable
did when he brought some ladies to see Lalande just after an eclipse,
and remarked, 'Be so good as to begin it over again!' What effect do
you want to produce? The object of the science of mechanics is either
the application or the neutralization of the laws of motion. As for
motion pure and simple, I tell you humbly, that we cannot possibly
define it. That disposed of, unvarying phenomena have been observed
which accompany the actions of solids and fluids. If we set up the
conditions by which these phenomena are brought to pass, we can
transport bodies or communicate locomotive power to them at a
predetermined rate of speed. We can project them, divide them up in a
few or an infinite number of pieces, accordingly as we break them or
grind them to powder; we can twist bodies or make them rotate, modify,
compress, expand, or extend them. The whole science, sir, rests upon a
"You see this ball," he went on; "here it lies upon this slab. Now, it
is over there. What name shall we give to what has taken place, so
natural from a physical point of view, so amazing from a moral?
Movement, locomotion, changing of place? What prodigious vanity lurks
underneath the words. Does a name solve the difficulty? Yet it is the
whole of our science for all that. Our machines either make direct use
of this agency, this fact, or they convert it. This trifling
phenomenon, applied to large masses, would send Paris flying. We can
increase speed by an expenditure of force, and augment the force by an
increase of speed. But what are speed and force? Our science is as
powerless to tell us that as to create motion. Any movement whatever
is an immense power, and man does not create power of any kind.
Everything is movement, thought itself is a movement, upon movement
nature is based. Death is a movement whose limitations are little
known. If God is eternal, be sure that He moves perpetually; perhaps
God is movement. That is why movement, like God is inexplicable,
unfathomable, unlimited, incomprehensible, intangible. Who has ever
touched, comprehended, or measured movement? We feel its effects
without seeing it; we can even deny them as we can deny the existence
of a God. Where is it? Where is it not? Whence comes it? What is its
source? What is its end? It surrounds us, it intrudes upon us, and yet
escapes us. It is evident as a fact, obscure as an abstraction; it is
at once effect and cause. It requires space, even as we, and what is
space? Movement alone recalls it to us; without movement, space is but
an empty meaningless word. Like space, like creation, like the
infinite, movement is an insoluble problem which confounds human
reason; man will never conceive it, whatever else he may be permitted
"Between each point in space occupied in succession by that ball,"
continued the man of science, "there is an abyss confronting human
reason, an abyss into which Pascal fell. In order to produce any
effect upon an unknown substance, we ought first of all to study that
substance; to know whether, in accordance with its nature, it will be
broken by the force of a blow, or whether it will withstand it; if it
breaks in pieces, and you have no wish to split it up, we shall not
achieve the end proposed. If you want to compress it, a uniform
impulse must be communicated to all the particles of the substance, so
as to diminish the interval that separates them in an equal degree. If
you wish to expand it, we should try to bring a uniform eccentric
force to bear on every molecule; for unless we conform accurately to
this law, we shall have breaches in continuity. The modes of motion,
sir, are infinite, and no limit exists to combinations of movement.
Upon what effect have you determined?"
"I want any kind of pressure that is strong enough to expand the skin
indefinitely," began Raphael, quite of out patience.
"Substance is finite," the mathematician put in, "and therefore will
not admit of indefinite expansion, but pressure will necessarily
increase the extent of surface at the expense of the thickness, which
will be diminished until the point is reached when the material gives
"Bring about that result, sir," Raphael cried, "and you will have
"Then I should rob you of your money," replied the other, phlegmatic
as a Dutchman. "I am going to show you, in a word or two, that a
machine can be made that is fit to crush Providence itself in pieces
like a fly. It would reduce a man to the conditions of a piece of
waste paper; a man--boots and spurs, hat and cravat, trinkets and
gold, and all----"
"What a fearful machine!"
"Instead of flinging their brats into the water, the Chinese ought to
make them useful in this way," the man of science went on, without
reflecting on the regard man has for his progeny.
Quite absorbed by his idea, Planchette took an empty flower-pot, with