Part 5 out of 6
a hole in the bottom, and put it on the surface of the dial, then he
went to look for a little clay in a corner of the garden. Raphael
stood spellbound, like a child to whom his nurse is telling some
wonderful story. Planchette put the clay down upon the slab, drew a
pruning-knife from his pocket, cut two branches from an elder tree,
and began to clean them of pith by blowing through them, as if Raphael
had not been present.
"There are the rudiments of the apparatus," he said. Then he connected
one of the wooden pipes with the bottom of the flower-pot by way of a
clay joint, in such a way that the mouth of the elder stem was just
under the hole of the flower-pot; you might have compared it to a big
tobacco-pipe. He spread a bed of clay over the surface of the slab, in
a shovel-shaped mass, set down the flower-pot at the wider end of it,
and laid the pipe of the elder stem along the portion which
represented the handle of the shovel. Next he put a lump of clay at
the end of the elder stem and therein planted the other pipe, in an
upright position, forming a second elbow which connected it with the
first horizontal pipe in such a manner that the air, or any given
fluid in circulation, could flow through this improvised piece of
mechanism from the mouth of the vertical tube, along the intermediate
passages, and so into the large empty flower-pot.
"This apparatus, sir," he said to Raphael, with all the gravity of an
academician pronouncing his initiatory discourse, "is one of the great
Pascal's grandest claims upon our admiration."
"I don't understand."
The man of science smiled. He went up to a fruit-tree and took down a
little phial in which the druggist had sent him some liquid for
catching ants; he broke off the bottom and made a funnel of the top,
carefully fitting it to the mouth of the vertical hollowed stem that
he had set in the clay, and at the opposite end to the great
reservoir, represented by the flower-pot. Next, by means of a
watering-pot, he poured in sufficient water to rise to the same level
in the large vessel and in the tiny circular funnel at the end of the
Raphael was thinking of his piece of skin.
"Water is considered to-day, sir, to be an incompressible body," said
the mechanician; "never lose sight of that fundamental principle;
still it can be compressed, though only so very slightly that we
should regard its faculty for contracting as a zero. You see the
amount of surface presented by the water at the brim of the flower-
"Very good; now suppose that that surface is a thousand times larger
than the orifice of the elder stem through which I poured the liquid.
Here, I am taking the funnel away----"
"Well, then, if by any method whatever I increase the volume of that
quantity of water by pouring in yet more through the mouth of the
little tube; the water thus compelled to flow downwards would rise in
the reservoir, represented by the flower-pot, until it reached the
same level at either end."
"That is quite clear," cried Raphael.
"But there is this difference," the other went on. "Suppose that the
thin column of water poured into the little vertical tube there exerts
a force equal, say, to a pound weight, for instance, its action will
be punctually communicated to the great body of the liquid, and will
be transmitted to every part of the surface represented by the water
in the flower-pot so that at the surface there will be a thousand
columns of water, every one pressing upwards as if they were impelled
by a force equal to that which compels the liquid to descend in the
vertical tube; and of necessity they reproduce here," said Planchette,
indicating to Raphael the top of the flower-pot, "the force introduced
over there, a thousand-fold," and the man of science pointed out to
the marquis the upright wooden pipe set in the clay.
"That is quite simple," said Raphael.
Planchette smiled again.
"In other words," he went on, with the mathematician's natural
stubborn propensity for logic, "in order to resist the force of the
incoming water, it would be necessary to exert, upon every part of the
large surface, a force equal to that brought into action in the
vertical column, but with this difference--if the column of liquid is
a foot in height, the thousand little columns of the wide surface will
only have a very slight elevating power.
"Now," said Planchette, as he gave a fillip to his bits of stick, "let
us replace this funny little apparatus by steel tubes of suitable
strength and dimensions; and if you cover the liquid surface of the
reservoir with a strong sliding plate of metal, and if to this metal
plate you oppose another, solid enough and strong enough to resist any
test; if, furthermore, you give me the power of continually adding
water to the volume of liquid contents by means of the little vertical
tube, the object fixed between the two solid metal plates must of
necessity yield to the tremendous crushing force which indefinitely
compresses it. The method of continually pouring in water through a
little tube, like the manner of communicating force through the volume
of the liquid to a small metal plate, is an absurdly primitive
mechanical device. A brace of pistons and a few valves would do it
all. Do you perceive, my dear sir," he said taking Valentin by the
arm, "there is scarcely a substance in existence that would not be
compelled to dilate when fixed in between these two indefinitely
"What! the author of the Lettres provinciales invented it?" Raphael
"He and no other, sir. The science of mechanics knows no simpler nor
more beautiful contrivance. The opposite principle, the capacity of
expansion possessed by water, has brought the steam-engine into being.
But water will only expand up to a certain point, while its
incompressibility, being a force in a manner negative, is, of
"If this skin is expanded," said Raphael, "I promise you to erect a
colossal statue to Blaise Pascal; to found a prize of a hundred
thousand francs to be offered every ten years for the solution of the
grandest problem of mechanical science effected during the interval;
to find dowries for all your cousins and second cousins, and finally
to build an asylum on purpose for impoverished or insane
"That would be exceedingly useful," Planchette replied. "We will go to
Spieghalter to-morrow, sir," he continued, with the serenity of a man
living on a plane wholly intellectual. "That distinguished mechanic
has just completed, after my own designs, an improved mechanical
arrangement by which a child could get a thousand trusses of hay
inside his cap."
"Then good-bye till to-morrow."
"Till to-morrow, sir."
"Talk of mechanics!" cried Raphael; "isn't it the greatest of the
sciences? The other fellow with his onagers, classifications, ducks,
and species, and his phials full of bottled monstrosities, is at best
only fit for a billiard-marker in a saloon."
The next morning Raphael went off in great spirits to find Planchette,
and together they set out for the Rue de la Sante--auspicious
appellation! Arrived at Spieghalter's, the young man found himself in
a vast foundry; his eyes lighted upon a multitude of glowing and
roaring furnaces. There was a storm of sparks, a deluge of nails, an
ocean of pistons, vices, levers, valves, girders, files, and nuts; a
sea of melted metal, baulks of timber and bar-steel. Iron filings
filled your throat. There was iron in the atmosphere; the men were
covered with it; everything reeked of iron. The iron seemed to be a
living organism; it became a fluid, moved, and seemed to shape itself
intelligently after every fashion, to obey the worker's every caprice.
Through the uproar made by the bellows, the crescendo of the falling
hammers, and the shrill sounds of the lathes that drew groans from the
steel, Raphael passed into a large, clean, and airy place where he was
able to inspect at his leisure the great press that Planchette had
told him about. He admired the cast-iron beams, as one might call
them, and the twin bars of steel coupled together with indestructible
"If you were to give seven rapid turns to that crank," said
Spieghalter, pointing out a beam of polished steel, "you would make a
steel bar spurt out in thousands of jets, that would get into your
legs like needles."
"The deuce!" exclaimed Raphael.
Planchette himself slipped the piece of skin between the metal plates
of the all-powerful press; and, brimful of the certainty of a
scientific conviction, he worked the crank energetically.
"Lie flat, all of you; we are dead men!" thundered Spieghalter, as he
himself fell prone on the floor.
A hideous shrieking sound rang through the workshops. The water in the
machine had broken the chamber, and now spouted out in a jet of
incalculable force; luckily it went in the direction of an old
furnace, which was overthrown, enveloped and carried away by a
"Ha!" remarked Planchette serenely, "the piece of skin is as safe and
sound as my eye. There was a flaw in your reservoir somewhere, or a
crevice in the large tube----"
"No, no; I know my reservoir. The devil is in your contrivance, sir;
you can take it away," and the German pounced upon a smith's hammer,
flung the skin down on an anvil, and, with all the strength that rage
gives, dealt the talisman the most formidable blow that had ever
resounded through his workshops.
"There is not so much as a mark on it!" said Planchette, stroking the
perverse bit of skin.
The workmen hurried in. The foreman took the skin and buried it in the
glowing coal of a forge, while, in a semi-circle round the fire, they
all awaited the action of a huge pair of bellows. Raphael,
Spieghalter, and Professor Planchette stood in the midst of the grimy
expectant crowd. Raphael, looking round on faces dusted over with iron
filings, white eyes, greasy blackened clothing, and hairy chests,
could have fancied himself transported into the wild nocturnal world
of German ballad poetry. After the skin had been in the fire for ten
minutes, the foreman pulled it out with a pair of pincers.
"Hand it over to me," said Raphael.
The foreman held it out by way of a joke. The Marquis readily handled
it; it was cool and flexible between his fingers. An exclamation of
alarm went up; the workmen fled in terror. Valentin was left alone
with Planchette in the empty workshop.
"There is certainly something infernal in the thing!" cried Raphael,
in desperation. "Is no human power able to give me one more day of
"I made a mistake, sir," said the mathematician, with a penitent
expression; "we ought to have subjected that peculiar skin to the
action of a rolling machine. Where could my eyes have been when I
"It was I that asked for it," Raphael answered.
The mathematician heaved a sigh of relief, like a culprit acquitted by
a dozen jurors. Still, the strange problem afforded by the skin
interested him; he meditated a moment, and then remarked:
"This unknown material ought to be treated chemically by re-agents.
Let us call on Japhet--perhaps the chemist may have better luck than
Valentin urged his horse into a rapid trot, hoping to find the
chemist, the celebrated Japhet, in his laboratory.
"Well, old friend," Planchette began, seeing Japhet in his armchair,
examining a precipitate; "how goes chemistry?"
"Gone to sleep. Nothing new at all. The Academie, however, has
recognized the existence of salicine, but salicine, asparagine,
vauqueline, and digitaline are not really discoveries----"
"Since you cannot invent substances," said Raphael, "you are obliged
to fall back on inventing names."
"Most emphatically true, young man."
"Here," said Planchette, addressing the chemist, "try to analyze this
composition; if you can extract any element whatever from it, I
christen it diaboline beforehand, for we have just smashed a hydraulic
press in trying to compress it."
"Let's see! let's have a look at it!" cried the delighted chemist; "it
may, perhaps, be a fresh element."
"It is simply a piece of the skin of an ass, sir," said Raphael.
"Sir!" said the illustrious chemist sternly.
"I am not joking," the Marquis answered, laying the piece of skin
Baron Japhet applied the nervous fibres of his tongue to the skin; he
had skill in thus detecting salts, acids, alkalis, and gases. After
several experiments, he remarked:
"No taste whatever! Come, we will give it a little fluoric acid to
Subjected to the influence of this ready solvent of animal tissue, the
skin underwent no change whatsoever.
"It is not shagreen at all!" the chemist cried. "We will treat this
unknown mystery as a mineral, and try its mettle by dropping it in a
crucible where I have at this moment some red potash."
Japhet went out, and returned almost immediately.
"Allow me to cut away a bit of this strange substance, sir," he said
to Raphael; "it is so extraordinary----"
"A bit!" exclaimed Raphael; "not so much as a hair's-breadth. You may
try, though," he added, half banteringly, half sadly.
The chemist broke a razor in his desire to cut the skin; he tried to
break it by a powerful electric shock; next he submitted it to the
influence of a galvanic battery; but all the thunderbolts his science
wotted of fell harmless on the dreadful talisman.
It was seven o'clock in the evening. Planchette, Japhet, and Raphael,
unaware of the flight of time, were awaiting the outcome of a final
experiment. The Magic Skin emerged triumphant from a formidable
encounter in which it had been engaged with a considerable quantity of
chloride of nitrogen.
"It is all over with me," Raphael wailed. "It is the finger of God! I
shall die!----" and he left the two amazed scientific men.
"We must be very careful not to talk about this affair at the
Academie; our colleagues there would laugh at us," Planchette remarked
to the chemist, after a long pause, in which they looked at each other
without daring to communicate their thoughts. The learned pair looked
like two Christians who had issued from their tombs to find no God in
the heavens. Science had been powerless; acids, so much clear water;
red potash had been discredited; the galvanic battery and electric
shock had been a couple of playthings.
"A hydraulic press broken like a biscuit!" commented Planchette.
"I believe in the devil," said the Baron Japhet, after a moment's
"And I in God," replied Planchette.
Each spoke in character. The universe for a mechanician is a machine
that requires an operator; for chemistry--that fiendish employment of
decomposing all things--the world is a gas endowed with the power of
"We cannot deny the fact," the chemist replied.
"Pshaw! those gentlemen the doctrinaires have invented a nebulous
aphorism for our consolation--Stupid as a fact."
"Your aphorism," said the chemist, "seems to me as a fact very
They began to laugh, and went off to dine like folk for whom a miracle
is nothing more than a phenomenon.
Valentin reached his own house shivering with rage and consumed with
anger. He had no more faith in anything. Conflicting thoughts shifted
and surged to and fro in his brain, as is the case with every man
brought face to face with an inconceivable fact. He had readily
believed in some hidden flaw in Spieghalter's apparatus; he had not
been surprised by the incompetence and failure of science and of fire;
but the flexibility of the skin as he handled it, taken with its
stubbornness when all means of destruction that man possesses had been
brought to bear upon it in vain--these things terrified him. The
incontrovertible fact made him dizzy.
"I am mad," he muttered. "I have had no food since the morning, and
yet I am neither hungry nor thirsty, and there is a fire in my breast
that burns me."
He put back the skin in the frame where it had been enclosed but
lately, drew a line in red ink about the actual configuration of the
talisman, and seated himself in his armchair.
"Eight o'clock already!" he exclaimed. "To-day has gone like a dream."
He leaned his elbow on the arm of the chair, propped his head with his
left hand, and so remained, lost in secret dark reflections and
consuming thoughts that men condemned to die bear away with them.
"O Pauline!" he cried. "Poor child! there are gulfs that love can
never traverse, despite the strength of his wings."
Just then he very distinctly heard a smothered sigh, and knew by one
of the most tender privileges of passionate love that it was Pauline's
"That is my death warrant," he said to himself. "If she were there, I
should wish to die in her arms."
A burst of gleeful and hearty laughter made him turn his face towards
the bed; he saw Pauline's face through the transparent curtains,
smiling like a child for gladness over a successful piece of mischief.
Her pretty hair fell over her shoulders in countless curls; she looked
like a Bengal rose upon a pile of white roses.
"I cajoled Jonathan," said she. "Doesn't the bed belong to me, to me
who am your wife? Don't scold me, darling; I only wanted to surprise
you, to sleep beside you. Forgive me for my freak."
She sprang out of bed like a kitten, showed herself gleaming in her
lawn raiment, and sat down on Raphael's knee.
"Love, what gulf were you talking about?" she said, with an anxious
expression apparent upon her face.
"You hurt me," she answered. "There are some thoughts upon which we,
poor women that we are, cannot dwell; they are death to us. Is it
strength of love in us, or lack of courage? I cannot tell. Death does
not frighten me," she began again, laughingly. "To die with you, both
together, to-morrow morning, in one last embrace, would be joy. It
seems to me that even then I should have lived more than a hundred
years. What does the number of days matter if we have spent a whole
lifetime of peace and love in one night, in one hour?"
"You are right; Heaven is speaking through that pretty mouth of yours.
Grant that I may kiss you, and let us die," said Raphael.
"Then let us die," she said, laughing.
Towards nine o'clock in the morning the daylight streamed through the
chinks of the window shutters. Obscured somewhat by the muslin
curtains, it yet sufficed to show clearly the rich colors of the
carpet, the silks and furniture of the room, where the two lovers were
lying asleep. The gilding sparkled here and there. A ray of sunshine
fell and faded upon the soft down quilt that the freaks of live had
thrown to the ground. The outlines of Pauline's dress, hanging from a
cheval glass, appeared like a shadowy ghost. Her dainty shoes had been
left at a distance from the bed. A nightingale came to perch upon the
sill; its trills repeated over again, and the sounds of its wings
suddenly shaken out for flight, awoke Raphael.
"For me to die," he said, following out a thought begun in his dream,
"my organization, the mechanism of flesh and bone, that is quickened
by the will in me, and makes of me an individual MAN, must display
some perceptible disease. Doctors ought to understand the symptoms of
any attack on vitality, and could tell me whether I am sick or sound."
He gazed at his sleeping wife. She had stretched her head out to him,
expressing in this way even while she slept the anxious tenderness of
love. Pauline seemed to look at him as she lay with her face turned
towards him in an attitude as full of grace as a young child's, with
her pretty, half-opened mouth held out towards him, as she drew her
light, even breath. Her little pearly teeth seemed to heighten the
redness of the fresh lips with the smile hovering over them. The red
glow in her complexion was brighter, and its whiteness was, so to
speak, whiter still just then than in the most impassioned moments of
the waking day. In her unconstrained grace, as she lay, so full of
believing trust, the adorable attractions of childhood were added to
the enchantments of love.
Even the most unaffected women still obey certain social conventions,
which restrain the free expansion of the soul within them during their
waking hours; but slumber seems to give them back the spontaneity of
life which makes infancy lovely. Pauline blushed for nothing; she was
like one of those beloved and heavenly beings, in whom reason has not
yet put motives into their actions and mystery into their glances. Her
profile stood out in sharp relief against the fine cambric of the
pillows; there was a certain sprightliness about her loose hair in
confusion, mingled with the deep lace ruffles; but she was sleeping in
happiness, her long lashes were tightly pressed against her cheeks, as
if to secure her eyes from too strong a light, or to aid an effort of
her soul to recollect and to hold fast a bliss that had been perfect
but fleeting. Her tiny pink and white ear, framed by a lock of her
hair and outlined by a wrapping of Mechlin lace, would have made an
artist, a painter, an old man, wildly in love, and would perhaps have
restored a madman to his senses.
Is it not an ineffable bliss to behold the woman that you love,
sleeping, smiling in a peaceful dream beneath your protection, loving
you even in dreams, even at the point where the individual seems to
cease to exist, offering to you yet the mute lips that speak to you in
slumber of the latest kiss? Is it not indescribable happiness to see a
trusting woman, half-clad, but wrapped round in her love as by a cloak
--modesty in the midst of dishevelment--to see admiringly her
scattered clothing, the silken stocking hastily put off to please you
last evening, the unclasped girdle that implies a boundless faith in
you. A whole romance lies there in that girdle; the woman that it used
to protect exists no longer; she is yours, she has become YOU;
henceforward any betrayal of her is a blow dealt at yourself.
In this softened mood Raphael's eyes wandered over the room, now
filled with memories and love, and where the very daylight seemed to
take delightful hues. Then he turned his gaze at last upon the
outlines of the woman's form, upon youth and purity, and love that
even now had no thought that was not for him alone, above all things,
and longed to live for ever. As his eyes fell upon Pauline, her own
opened at once as if a ray of sunlight had lighted on them.
"Good-morning," she said, smiling. "How handsome you are, bad man!"
The grace of love and youth, of silence and dawn, shone in their
faces, making a divine picture, with the fleeting spell over it all
that belongs only to the earliest days of passion, just as simplicity
and artlessness are the peculiar possession of childhood. Alas! love's
springtide joys, like our own youthful laughter, must even take
flight, and live for us no longer save in memory; either for our
despair, or to shed some soothing fragrance over us, according to the
bent of our inmost thoughts.
"What made me wake you?" said Raphael. "It was so great a pleasure to
watch you sleeping that it brought tears to my eyes."
"And to mine, too," she answered. "I cried in the night while I
watched you sleeping, but not with happiness. Raphael, dear, pray
listen to me. Your breathing is labored while you sleep, and something
rattles in your chest that frightens me. You have a little dry cough
when you are asleep, exactly like my father's, who is dying of
phthisis. In those sounds from your lungs I recognized some of the
peculiar symptoms of that complaint. Then you are feverish; I know you
are; your hand was moist and burning----Darling, you are young," she
added with a shudder, "and you could still get over it if
unfortunately----But, no," she cried cheerfully, "there is no
'unfortunately,' the disease is contagious, so the doctors say."
She flung both arms about Raphael, drawing in his breath through one
of those kisses in which the soul reaches its end.
"I do not wish to live to old age," she said. "Let us both die young,
and go to heaven while flowers fill our hands."
"We always make such designs as those when we are well and strong,"
Raphael replied, burying his hands in Pauline's hair. But even then a
horrible fit of coughing came on, one of those deep ominous coughs
that seem to come from the depths of the tomb, a cough that leaves the
sufferer ghastly pale, trembling, and perspiring; with aching sides
and quivering nerves, with a feeling of weariness pervading the very
marrow of the spine, and unspeakable languor in every vein. Raphael
slowly laid himself down, pale, exhausted, and overcome, like a man
who has spent all the strength in him over one final effort. Pauline's
eyes, grown large with terror, were fixed upon him; she lay quite
motionless, pale, and silent.
"Let us commit no more follies, my angel," she said, trying not to let
Raphael see the dreadful forebodings that disturbed her. She covered
her face with her hands, for she saw Death before her--the hideous
skeleton. Raphael's face had grown as pale and livid as any skull
unearthed from a churchyard to assist the studies of some scientific
man. Pauline remembered the exclamation that had escaped from Valentin
the previous evening, and to herself she said:
"Yes, there are gulfs that love can never cross, and therein love must
On a March morning, some days after this wretched scene, Raphael found
himself seated in an armchair, placed in the window in the full light
of day. Four doctors stood round him, each in turn trying his pulse,
feeling him over, and questioning him with apparent interest. The
invalid sought to guess their thoughts, putting a construction on
every movement they made, and on the slightest contractions of their
brows. His last hope lay in this consultation. This court of appeal
was about to pronounce its decision--life or death.
Valentin had summoned the oracles of modern medicine, so that he might
have the last word of science. Thanks to his wealth and title, there
stood before him three embodied theories; human knowledge fluctuated
round the three points. Three of the doctors brought among them the
complete circle of medical philosophy; they represented the points of
conflict round which the battle raged, between Spiritualism, Analysis,
and goodness knows what in the way of mocking eclecticism.
The fourth doctor was Horace Bianchon, a man of science with a future
before him, the most distinguished man of the new school in medicine,
a discreet and unassuming representative of a studious generation that
is preparing to receive the inheritance of fifty years of experience
treasured up by the Ecole de Paris, a generation that perhaps will
erect the monument for the building of which the centuries behind us
have collected the different materials. As a personal friend of the
Marquis and of Rastignac, he had been in attendance on the former for
some days past, and was helping him to answer the inquiries of the
three professors, occasionally insisting somewhat upon those symptoms
which, in his opinion, pointed to pulmonary disease.
"You have been living at a great pace, leading a dissipated life, no
doubt, and you have devoted yourself largely to intellectual work?"
queried one of the three celebrated authorities, addressing Raphael.
He was a square-headed man, with a large frame and energetic
organization, which seemed to mark him out as superior to his two
"I made up my mind to kill myself with debauchery, after spending
three years over an extensive work, with which perhaps you may some
day occupy yourselves," Raphael replied.
The great doctor shook his head, and so displayed his satisfaction. "I
was sure of it," he seemed to say to himself. He was the illustrious
Brisset, the successor of Cabanis and Bichat, head of the Organic
School, a doctor popular with believers in material and positive
science, who see in man a complete individual, subject solely to the
laws of his own particular organization; and who consider that his
normal condition and abnormal states of disease can both be traced to
After this reply, Brisset looked, without speaking, at a middle-sized
person, whose darkly flushed countenance and glowing eyes seemed to
belong to some antique satyr; and who, leaning his back against the
corner of the embrasure, was studying Raphael, without saying a word.
Doctor Cameristus, a man of creeds and enthusiasms, the head of the
"Vitalists," a romantic champion of the esoteric doctrines of Van
Helmont, discerned a lofty informing principle in human life, a
mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon which mocks at the scalpel,
deceives the surgeon, eludes the drugs of the pharmacopoeia, the
formulae of algebra, the demonstrations of anatomy, and derides all
our efforts; a sort of invisible, intangible flame, which, obeying
some divinely appointed law, will often linger on in a body in our
opinion devoted to death, while it takes flight from an organization
well fitted for prolonged existence.
A bitter smile hovered upon the lips of the third doctor, Maugredie, a
man of acknowledged ability, but a Pyrrhonist and a scoffer, with the
scalpel for his one article of faith. He would consider, as a
concession to Brisset, that a man who, as a matter of fact, was
perfectly well was dead, and recognize with Cameristus that a man
might be living on after his apparent demise. He found something
sensible in every theory, and embraced none of them, claiming that the
best of all systems of medicine was to have none at all, and to stick
to facts. This Panurge of the Clinical Schools, the king of observers,
the great investigator, a great sceptic, the man of desperate
expedients, was scrutinizing the Magic Skin.
"I should very much like to be a witness of the coincidence of its
retrenchment with your wish," he said to the Marquis.
"Where is the use?" cried Brisset.
"Where is the use?" echoed Cameristus.
"Ah, you are both of the same mind," replied Maugredie.
"The contraction is perfectly simple," Brisset went on.
"It is supernatural," remarked Cameristus.
"In short," Maugredie made answer, with affected solemnity, and
handing the piece of skin to Raphael as he spoke, "the shriveling
faculty of the skin is a fact inexplicable, and yet quite natural,
which, ever since the world began, has been the despair of medicine
and of pretty women."
All Valentin's observation could discover no trace of a feeling for
his troubles in any of the three doctors. The three received every
answer in silence, scanned him unconcernedly, and interrogated him
unsympathetically. Politeness did not conceal their indifference;
whether deliberation or certainty was the cause, their words at any
rate came so seldom and so languidly, that at times Raphael thought
that their attention was wandering. From time to time Brisset, the
sole speaker, remarked, "Good! just so!" as Bianchon pointed out the
existence of each desperate symptom. Cameristus seemed to be deep in
meditation; Maugredie looked like a comic author, studying two queer
characters with a view to reproducing them faithfully upon the stage.
There was deep, unconcealed distress, and grave compassion in Horace
Bianchon's face. He had been a doctor for too short a time to be
untouched by suffering and unmoved by a deathbed; he had not learned
to keep back the sympathetic tears that obscure a man's clear vision
and prevent him from seizing like the general of an army, upon the
auspicious moment for victory, in utter disregard of the groans of
After spending about half an hour over taking in some sort the measure
of the patient and the complaint, much as a tailor measures a young
man for a coat when he orders his wedding outfit, the authorities
uttered several commonplaces, and even talked of politics. Then they
decided to go into Raphael's study to exchange their ideas and frame
"May I not be present during the discussion, gentlemen?" Valentin had
asked them, but Brisset and Maugredie protested against this, and, in
spite of their patient's entreaties, declined altogether to deliberate
in his presence.
Raphael gave way before their custom, thinking that he could slip into
a passage adjoining, whence he could easily overhear the medical
conference in which the three professors were about to engage.
"Permit me, gentlemen," said Brisset, as they entered, "to give you my
own opinion at once. I neither wish to force it upon you nor to have
it discussed. In the first place, it is unbiased, concise, and based
on an exact similarity that exists between one of my own patients and
the subject that we have been called in to examine; and, moreover, I
am expected at my hospital. The importance of the case that demands my
presence there will excuse me for speaking the first word. The subject
with which we are concerned has been exhausted in an equal degree by
intellectual labors--what did he set about, Horace?" he asked of the
"A 'Theory of the Will,' "
"The devil! but that's a big subject. He is exhausted, I say, by too
much brain-work, by irregular courses, and by the repeated use of too
powerful stimulants. Violent exertion of body and mind has demoralized
the whole system. It is easy, gentlemen, to recognize in the symptoms
of the face and body generally intense irritation of the stomach, an
affection of the great sympathetic nerve, acute sensibility of the
epigastric region, and contraction of the right and left
hypochondriac. You have noticed, too, the large size and prominence of
the liver. M. Bianchon has, besides, constantly watched the patient,
and he tells us that digestion is troublesome and difficult. Strictly
speaking, there is no stomach left, and so the man has disappeared.
The brain is atrophied because the man digests no longer. The
progressive deterioration wrought in the epigastric region, the seat
of vitality, has vitiated the whole system. Thence, by continuous
fevered vibrations, the disorder has reached the brain by means of the
nervous plexus, hence the excessive irritation in that organ. There is
monomania. The patient is burdened with a fixed idea. That piece of
skin really contracts, to his way of thinking; very likely it always
has been as we have seen it; but whether it contracts or no, that
thing is for him just like the fly that some Grand Vizier or other had
on his nose. If you put leeches at once on the epigastrium, and reduce
the irritation in that part, which is the very seat of man's life, and
if you diet the patient, the monomania will leave him. I will say no
more to Dr. Bianchon; he should be able to grasp the whole treatment
as well as the details. There may be, perhaps, some complication of
the disease--the bronchial tubes, possibly, may be also inflamed; but
I believe that treatment for the intestinal organs is very much more
important and necessary, and more urgently required than for the
lungs. Persistent study of abstract matters, and certain violent
passions, have induced serious disorders in that vital mechanism.
However, we are in time to set these conditions right. Nothing is too
seriously affected. You will easily get your friend round again," he
remarked to Bianchon.
"Our learned colleague is taking the effect for the cause," Cameristus
replied. "Yes, the changes that he has observed so keenly certainly
exist in the patient; but it is not the stomach that, by degrees, has
set up nervous action in the system, and so affected the brain, like a
hole in a window pane spreading cracks round about it. It took a blow
of some kind to make a hole in the window; who gave the blow? Do we
know that? Have we investigated the patient's case sufficiently? Are
we acquainted with all the events of his life?
"The vital principle, gentlemen," he continued, "the Archeus of Van
Helmont, is affected in his case--the very essence and centre of life
is attacked. The divine spark, the transitory intelligence which holds
the organism together, which is the source of the will, the
inspiration of life, has ceased to regulate the daily phenomena of the
mechanism and the functions of every organ; thence arise all the
complications which my learned colleague has so thoroughly
appreciated. The epigastric region does not affect the brain but the
brain affects the epigastric region. No," he went on, vigorously
slapping his chest, "no, I am not a stomach in the form of a man. No,
everything does not lie there. I do not feel that I have the courage
to say that if the epigastric region is in good order, everything else
is in a like condition----
"We cannot trace," he went on more mildly, "to one physical cause the
serious disturbances that supervene in this or that subject which has
been dangerously attacked, nor submit them to a uniform treatment. No
one man is like another. We have each peculiar organs, differently
affected, diversely nourished, adapted to perform different functions,
and to induce a condition necessary to the accomplishment of an order
of things which is unknown to us. The sublime will has so wrought that
a little portion of the great All is set within us to sustain the
phenomena of living; in every man it formulates itself distinctly,
making each, to all appearance, a separate individual, yet in one
point co-existent with the infinite cause. So we ought to make a
separate study of each subject, discover all about it, find out in
what its life consists, and wherein its power lies. From the softness
of a wet sponge to the hardness of pumice-stone there are infinite
fine degrees of difference. Man is just like that. Between the sponge-
like organizations of the lymphatic and the vigorous iron muscles of
such men as are destined for a long life, what a margin for errors for
the single inflexible system of a lowering treatment to commit; a
system that reduces the capacities of the human frame, which you
always conclude have been over-excited. Let us look for the origin of
the disease in the mental and not in the physical viscera. A doctor is
an inspired being, endowed by God with a special gift--the power to
read the secrets of vitality; just as the prophet has received the
eyes that foresee the future, the poet his faculty of evoking nature,
and the musician the power of arranging sounds in an harmonious order
that is possibly a copy of an ideal harmony on high."
"There is his everlasting system of medicine, arbitrary, monarchical,
and pious," muttered Brisset.
"Gentlemen," Maugredie broke in hastily, to distract attention from
Brisset's comment, "don't let us lose sight of the patient."
"What is the good of science?" Raphael moaned. "Here is my recovery
halting between a string of beads and a rosary of leeches, between
Dupuytren's bistoury and Prince Hohenlohe's prayer. There is Maugredie
suspending his judgment on the line that divides facts from words,
mind from matter. Man's 'it is,' and 'it is not,' is always on my
track; it is the Carymary Carymara of Rabelais for evermore: my
disorder is spiritual, Carymary, or material, Carymara. Shall I live?
They have no idea. Planchette was more straightforward with me, at any
rate, when he said, 'I do not know.' "
Just then Valentin heard Maugredie's voice.
"The patient suffers from monomania; very good, I am quite of that
opinion," he said, "but he has two hundred thousand a year;
monomaniacs of that kind are very uncommon. As for knowing whether his
epigastric region has affected his brain, or his brain his epigastric
region, we shall find that out, perhaps, whenever he dies. But to
resume. There is no disputing the fact that he is ill; some sort of
treatment he must have. Let us leave theories alone, and put leeches
on him, to counteract the nervous and intestinal irritation, as to the
existence of which we all agree; and let us send him to drink the
waters, in that way we shall act on both systems at once. If there
really is tubercular disease, we can hardly expect to save his life;
Raphael abruptly left the passage, and went back to his armchair. The
four doctors very soon came out of the study; Horace was the
"These gentlemen," he told him, "have unanimously agreed that leeches
must be applied to the stomach at once, and that both physical and
moral treatment are imperatively needed. In the first place, a
carefully prescribed rule of diet, so as to soothe the internal
irritation"--here Brisset signified his approval; "and in the second,
a hygienic regimen, to set your general condition right. We all,
therefore, recommend you to go to take the waters in Aix in Savoy; or,
if you like it better, at Mont Dore in Auvergne; the air and the
situation are both pleasanter in Savoy than in the Cantal, but you
will consult your own taste."
Here it was Cameristus who nodded assent.
"These gentlemen," Bianchon continued, "having recognized a slight
affection of the respiratory organs, are agreed as to the utility of
the previous course of treatment that I have prescribed. They think
that there will be no difficulty about restoring you to health, and
that everything depends upon a wise and alternate employment of these
various means. And----"
"And that is the cause of the milk in the cocoanut," said Raphael,
with a smile, as he led Horace into his study to pay the fees for this
"Their conclusions are logical," the young doctor replied. "Cameristus
feels, Brisset examines, Maugredie doubts. Has not man a soul, a body,
and an intelligence? One of these three elemental constituents always
influences us more or less strongly; there will always be the personal
element in human science. Believe me, Raphael, we effect no cures; we
only assist them. Another system--the use of mild remedies while
Nature exerts her powers--lies between the extremes of theory of
Brisset and Cameristus, but one ought to have known the patient for
some ten years or so to obtain a good result on these lines. Negation
lies at the back of all medicine, as in every other science. So
endeavor to live wholesomely; try a trip to Savoy; the best course is,
and always will be, to trust to Nature."
It was a month later, on a fine summer-like evening, that several
people, who were taking the waters at Aix, returned from the promenade
and met together in the salons of the Club. Raphael remained alone by
a window for a long time. His back was turned upon the gathering, and
he himself was deep in those involuntary musings in which thoughts
arise in succession and fade away, shaping themselves indistinctly,
passing over us like thin, almost colorless clouds. Melancholy is
sweet to us then, and delight is shadowy, for the soul is half asleep.
Valentin gave himself up to this life of sensations; he was steeping
himself in the warm, soft twilight, enjoying the pure air with the
scent of the hills in it, happy in that he felt no pain, and had
tranquilized his threatening Magic Skin at last. It grew cooler as the
red glow of the sunset faded on the mountain peaks; he shut the window
and left his place.
"Will you be so kind as not to close the windows, sir?" said an old
lady; "we are being stifled----"
The peculiarly sharp and jarring tones in which the phrase was uttered
grated on Raphael's ears; it fell on them like an indiscreet remark
let slip by some man in whose friendship we would fain believe, a word
which reveals unsuspected depths of selfishness and destroys some
pleasing sentimental illusion of ours. The Marquis glanced, with the
cool inscrutable expression of a diplomatist, at the old lady, called
a servant, and, when he came, curtly bade him:
"Open that window."
Great surprise was clearly expressed on all faces at the words. The
whole roomful began to whisper to each other, and turned their eyes
upon the invalid, as though he had given some serious offence.
Raphael, who had never quite managed to rid himself of the bashfulness
of his early youth, felt a momentary confusion; then he shook off his
torpor, exerted his faculties, and asked himself the meaning of this
A sudden and rapid impulse quickened his brain; the past weeks
appeared before him in a clear and definite vision; the reasons for
the feelings he inspired in others stood out for him in relief, like
the veins of some corpse which a naturalist, by some cunningly
contrived injection, has colored so as to show their least
He discerned himself in this fleeting picture; he followed out his own
life in it, thought by thought, day after day. He saw himself, not
without astonishment, an absent gloomy figure in the midst of these
lively folk, always musing over his own fate, always absorbed by his
own sufferings, seemingly impatient of the most harmless chat. He saw
how he had shunned the ephemeral intimacies that travelers are so
ready to establish--no doubt because they feel sure of never meeting
each other again--and how he had taken little heed of those about him.
He saw himself like the rocks without, unmoved by the caresses or the
stormy surgings of the waves.
Then, by a gift of insight seldom accorded, he read the thoughts of
all those about him. The light of a candle revealed the sardonic
profile and yellow cranium of an old man; he remembered now that he
had won from him, and had never proposed that the other should have
his revenge; a little further on he saw a pretty woman, whose lively
advances he had met with frigid coolness; there was not a face there
that did not reproach him with some wrong done, inexplicably to all
appearance, but the real offence in every case lay in some
mortification, some invisible hurt dealt to self-love. He had
unintentionally jarred on all the small susceptibilities of the circle
round about him.
His guests on various occasions, and those to whom he had lent his
horses, had taken offence at his luxurious ways; their ungraciousness
had been a surprise to him; he had spared them further humiliations of
that kind, and they had considered that he looked down upon them, and
had accused him of haughtiness ever since. He could read their inmost
thoughts as he fathomed their natures in this way. Society with its
polish and varnish grew loathsome to him. He was envied and hated for
his wealth and superior ability; his reserve baffled the inquisitive;
his humility seemed like haughtiness to these petty superficial
natures. He guessed the secret unpardonable crime which he had
committed against them; he had overstepped the limits of the
jurisdiction of their mediocrity. He had resisted their inquisitorial
tyranny; he could dispense with their society; and all of them,
therefore, had instinctively combined to make him feel their power,
and to take revenge upon this incipient royalty by submitting him to a
kind of ostracism, and so teaching him that they in their turn could
do without him.
Pity came over him, first of all, at this aspect of mankind, but very
soon he shuddered at the thought of the power that came thus, at will,
and flung aside for him the veil of flesh under which the moral nature
is hidden away. He closed his eyes, so as to see no more. A black
curtain was drawn all at once over this unlucky phantom show of truth;
but still he found himself in the terrible loneliness that surrounds
every power and dominion. Just then a violent fit of coughing seized
him. Far from receiving one single word--indifferent, and meaningless,
it is true, but still containing, among well-bred people brought
together by chance, at least some pretence of civil commiseration--he
now heard hostile ejaculations and muttered complaints. Society there
assembled disdained any pantomime on his account, perhaps because he
had gauged its real nature too well.
"His complaint is contagious."
"The president of the Club ought to forbid him to enter the salon."
"It is contrary to all rules and regulations to cough in that way!"
"When a man is as ill as that, he ought not to come to take the
"He will drive me away from the place."
Raphael rose and walked about the rooms to screen himself from their
unanimous execrations. He thought to find a shelter, and went up to a
young pretty lady who sat doing nothing, minded to address some pretty
speeches to her; but as he came towards her, she turned her back upon
him, and pretended to be watching the dancers. Raphael feared lest he
might have made use of the talisman already that evening; and feeling
that he had neither the wish nor the courage to break into the
conversation, he left the salon and took refuge in the billiard-room.
No one there greeted him, nobody spoke to him, no one sent so much as
a friendly glance in his direction. His turn of mind, naturally
meditative, had discovered instinctively the general grounds and
reasons for the aversion he inspired. This little world was obeying,
unconsciously perhaps, the sovereign law which rules over polite
society; its inexorable nature was becoming apparent in its entirety
to Raphael's eyes. A glance into the past showed it to him, as a type
completely realized in Foedora.
He would no more meet with sympathy here for his bodily ills than he
had received it at her hands for the distress in his heart. The
fashionable world expels every suffering creature from its midst, just
as the body of a man in robust health rejects any germ of disease. The
world holds suffering and misfortune in abhorrence; it dreads them
like the plague; it never hesitates between vice and trouble, for vice
is a luxury. Ill-fortune may possess a majesty of its own, but society
can belittle it and make it ridiculous by an epigram. Society draws
caricatures, and in this way flings in the teeth of fallen kings the
affronts which it fancies it has received from them; society, like the
Roman youth at the circus, never shows mercy to the fallen gladiator;
mockery and money are its vital necessities. "Death to the weak!" That
is the oath taken by this kind of Equestrian order, instituted in
their midst by all the nations of the world; everywhere it makes for
the elevation of the rich, and its motto is deeply graven in hearts
that wealth has turned to stone, or that have been reared in
Assemble a collection of school-boys together. That will give you a
society in miniature, a miniature which represents life more truly,
because it is so frank and artless; and in it you will always find
poor isolated beings, relegated to some place in the general
estimations between pity and contempt, on account of their weakness
and suffering. To these the Evangel promises heaven hereafter. Go
lower yet in the scale of organized creation. If some bird among its
fellows in the courtyard sickens, the others fall upon it with their
beaks, pluck out its feathers, and kill it. The whole world, in
accordance with its character of egotism, brings all its severity to
bear upon wretchedness that has the hardihood to spoil its
festivities, and to trouble its joys.
Any sufferer in mind or body, any helpless or poor man, is a pariah.
He had better remain in his solitude; if he crosses the boundary-line,
he will find winter everywhere; he will find freezing cold in other
men's looks, manners, words, and hearts; and lucky indeed is he if he
does not receive an insult where he expected that sympathy would be
expended upon him. Let the dying keep to their bed of neglect, and age
sit lonely by its fireside. Portionless maids, freeze and burn in your
solitary attics. If the world tolerates misery of any kind, it is to
turn it to account for its own purposes, to make some use of it,
saddle and bridle it, put a bit in its mouth, ride it about, and get
some fun out of it.
Crotchety spinsters, ladies' companions, put a cheerful face upon it,
endure the humors of your so-called benefactress, carry her lapdogs
for her; you have an English poodle for your rival, and you must seek
to understand the moods of your patroness, and amuse her, and--keep
silence about yourselves. As for you, unblushing parasite, uncrowned
king of unliveried servants, leave your real character at home, let
your digestion keep pace with your host's laugh when he laughs, mingle
your tears with his, and find his epigrams amusing; if you want to
relieve your mind about him, wait till he is ruined. That is the way
the world shows its respect for the unfortunate; it persecutes them,
or slays them in the dust.
Such thoughts as these welled up in Raphael's heart with the
suddenness of poetic inspiration. He looked around him, and felt the
influence of the forbidding gloom that society breathes out in order
to rid itself of the unfortunate; it nipped his soul more effectually
than the east wind grips the body in December. He locked his arms over
his chest, set his back against the wall, and fell into a deep
melancholy. He mused upon the meagre happiness that this depressing
way of living can give. What did it amount to? Amusement with no
pleasure in it, gaiety without gladness, joyless festivity, fevered
dreams empty of all delight, firewood or ashes on the hearth without a
spark of flame in them. When he raised his head, he found himself
alone, all the billiard players had gone.
"I have only to let them know my power to make them worship my
coughing fits," he said to himself, and wrapped himself against the
world in the cloak of his contempt.
Next day the resident doctor came to call upon him, and took an
anxious interest in his health. Raphael felt a thrill of joy at the
friendly words addressed to him. The doctor's face, to his thinking,
wore an expression that was kind and pleasant; the pale curls of his
wig seemed redolent of philanthropy; the square cut of his coat, the
loose folds of his trousers, his big Quaker-like shoes, everything
about him down to the powder shaken from his queue and dusted in a
circle upon his slightly stooping shoulders, revealed an apostolic
nature, and spoke of Christian charity and of the self-sacrifice of a
man, who, out of sheer devotion to his patients, had compelled himself
to learn to play whist and tric-trac so well that he never lost money
to any of them.
"My Lord Marquis," said he, after a long talk with Raphael, "I can
dispel your uneasiness beyond all doubt. I know your constitution well
enough by this time to assure you that the doctors in Paris, whose
great abilities I know, are mistaken as to the nature of your
complaint. You can live as long as Methuselah, my Lord Marquis,
accidents only excepted. Your lungs are as sound as a blacksmith's
bellows, your stomach would put an ostrich to the blush; but if you
persist in living at high altitude, you are running the risk of a
prompt interment in consecrated soil. A few words, my Lord Marquis,
will make my meaning clear to you.
"Chemistry," he began, "has shown us that man's breathing is a real
process of combustion, and the intensity of its action varies
according to the abundance or scarcity of the phlogistic element
stored up by the organism of each individual. In your case, the
phlogistic, or inflammatory element is abundant; if you will permit me
to put it so, you generate superfluous oxygen, possessing as you do
the inflammatory temperament of a man destined to experience strong
emotions. While you breath the keen, pure air that stimulates life in
men of lymphatic constitution, you are accelerating an expenditure of
vitality already too rapid. One of the conditions for existence for
you is the heavier atmosphere of the plains and valleys. Yes, the
vital air for a man consumed by his genius lies in the fertile
pasture-lands of Germany, at Toplitz or Baden-Baden. If England is not
obnoxious to you, its misty climate would reduce your fever; but the
situation of our baths, a thousand feet above the level of the
Mediterranean, is dangerous for you. That is my opinion at least," he
said, with a deprecatory gesture, "and I give it in opposition to our
interests, for, if you act upon it, we shall unfortunately lose you."
But for these closing words of his, the affable doctor's seeming good-
nature would have completely won Raphael over; but he was too
profoundly observant not to understand the meaning of the tone, the
look and gesture that accompanied that mild sarcasm, not to see that
the little man had been sent on this errand, no doubt, by a flock of
his rejoicing patients. The florid-looking idlers, tedious old women,
nomad English people, and fine ladies who had given their husbands the
slip, and were escorted hither by their lovers--one and all were in a
plot to drive away a wretched, feeble creature to die, who seemed
unable to hold out against a daily renewed persecution! Raphael
accepted the challenge, he foresaw some amusement to be derived from
"As you would be grieved at losing me," said he to the doctor, "I will
endeavor to avail myself of your good advice without leaving the
place. I will set about having a house built to-morrow, and the
atmosphere within it shall be regulated by your instructions."
The doctor understood the sarcastic smile that lurked about Raphael's
mouth, and took his leave without finding another word to say.
The Lake of Bourget lies seven hundred feet above the Mediterranean,
in a great hollow among the jagged peaks of the hills; it sparkles
there, the bluest drop of water in the world. From the summit of the
Cat's Tooth the lake below looks like a stray turquoise. This lovely
sheet of water is about twenty-seven miles round, and in some places
is nearly five hundred feet deep.
Under the cloudless sky, in your boat in the midst of the great
expanse of water, with only the sound of the oars in your ears, only
the vague outline of the hills on the horizon before you; you admire
the glittering snows of the French Maurienne; you pass, now by masses
of granite clad in the velvet of green turf or in low-growing shrubs,
now by pleasant sloping meadows; there is always a wilderness on the
one hand and fertile lands on the other, and both harmonies and
dissonances compose a scene for you where everything is at once small
and vast, and you feel yourself to be a poor onlooker at a great
banquet. The configuration of the mountains brings about misleading
optical conditions and illusions of perspective; a pine-tree a hundred
feet in height looks to be a mere weed; wide valleys look as narrow as
meadow paths. The lake is the only one where the confidences of heart
and heart can be exchanged. There one can live; there one can
meditate. Nowhere on earth will you find a closer understanding
between the water, the sky, the mountains, and the fields. There is a
balm there for all the agitations of life. The place keeps the secrets
of sorrow to itself, the sorrow that grows less beneath its soothing
influence; and to love, it gives a grave and meditative cast,
deepening passion and purifying it. A kiss there becomes something
great. But beyond all other things it is the lake for memories; it
aids them by lending to them the hues of its own waves; it is a mirror
in which everything is reflected. Only here, with this lovely
landscape all around him, could Raphael endure the burden laid upon
him; here he could remain as a languid dreamer, without a wish of his
He went out upon the lake after the doctor's visit, and was landed at
a lonely point on the pleasant slope where the village of Saint-
Innocent is situated. The view from this promontory, as one may call
it, comprises the heights of Bugey with the Rhone flowing at their
foot, and the end of the lake; but Raphael liked to look at the
opposite shore from thence, at the melancholy looking Abbey of Haute-
Combe, the burying-place of the Sardinian kings, who lie prostrate
there before the hills, like pilgrims come at last to their journey's
end. The silence of the landscape was broken by the even rhythm of the
strokes of the oar; it seemed to find a voice for the place, in
monotonous cadences like the chanting of monks. The Marquis was
surprised to find visitors to this usually lonely part of the lake;
and as he mused, he watched the people seated in the boat, and
recognized in the stern the elderly lady who had spoken so harshly to
him the evening before.
No one took any notice of Raphael as the boat passed, except the
elderly lady's companion, a poor old maid of noble family, who bowed
to him, and whom it seemed to him that he saw for the first time. A
few seconds later he had already forgotten the visitors, who had
rapidly disappeared behind the promontory, when he heard the
fluttering of a dress and the sound of light footsteps not far from
him. He turned about and saw the companion; and, guessing from her
embarrassed manner that she wished to speak with him, he walked
She was somewhere about thirty-six years of age, thin and tall,
reserved and prim, and, like all old maids, seemed puzzled to know
which way to look, an expression no longer in keeping with her
measured, springless, and hesitating steps. She was both young and old
at the same time, and, by a certain dignity in her carriage, showed
the high value which she set upon her charms and perfections. In
addition, her movements were all demure and discreet, like those of
women who are accustomed to take great care of themselves, no doubt
because they desire not to be cheated of love, their destined end.
"Your life is in danger, sir; do not come to the Club again!" she
said, stepping back a pace or two from Raphael, as if her reputation
had already been compromised.
"But, mademoiselle," said Raphael, smiling, "please explain yourself
more clearly, since you have condescended so far----"
"Ah," she answered, "unless I had had a very strong motive, I should
never have run the risk of offending the countess, for if she ever
came to know that I had warned you----"
"And who would tell her, mademoiselle?" cried Raphael.
"True," the old maid answered. She looked at him, quaking like an owl
out in the sunlight. "But think of yourself," she went on; "several
young men, who want to drive you away from the baths, have agreed to
pick a quarrel with you, and to force you into a duel."
The elderly lady's voice sounded in the distance.
"Mademoiselle," began the Marquis, "my gratitude----" But his
protectress had fled already; she had heard the voice of her mistress
squeaking afresh among the rocks.
"Poor girl! unhappiness always understands and helps the unhappy,"
Raphael thought, and sat himself down at the foot of a tree.
The key of every science is, beyond cavil, the mark of interrogation;
we owe most of our greatest discoveries to a WHY? and all the wisdom
in the world, perhaps, consists in asking WHEREFORE? in every
connection. But, on the other hand, this acquired prescience is the
ruin of our illusions.
So Valentin, having taken the old maid's kindly action for the text of
his wandering thoughts, without the deliberate promptings of
philosophy, must find it full of gall and wormwood.
"It is not at all extraordinary that a gentlewoman's gentlewoman
should take a fancy to me," said he to himself. "I am twenty-seven
years old, and I have a title and an income of two hundred thousand a
year. But that her mistress, who hates water like a rabid cat--for it
would be hard to give the palm to either in that matter--that her
mistress should have brought her here in a boat! Is not that very
strange and wonderful? Those two women came into Savoy to sleep like
marmots; they ask if day has dawned at noon; and to think that they
could get up this morning before eight o'clock, to take their chances
in running after me!"
Very soon the old maid and her elderly innocence became, in his eyes,
a fresh manifestation of that artificial, malicious little world. It
was a paltry device, a clumsy artifice, a piece of priest's or woman's
craft. Was the duel a myth, or did they merely want to frighten him?
But these petty creatures, impudent and teasing as flies, had
succeeded in wounding his vanity, in rousing his pride, and exciting
his curiosity. Unwilling to become their dupe, or to be taken for a
coward, and even diverted perhaps by the little drama, he went to the
Club that very evening.
He stood leaning against the marble chimney-piece, and stayed there
quietly in the middle of the principal saloon, doing his best to give
no one any advantage over him; but he scrutinized the faces about him,
and gave a certain vague offence to those assembled, by his
inspection. Like a dog aware of his strength, he awaited the contest
on his own ground, without necessary barking. Towards the end of the
evening he strolled into the cardroom, walking between the door and
another that opened into the billiard-room, throwing a glance from
time to time over a group of young men that had gathered there. He
heard his name mentioned after a turn or two. Although they lowered
their voices, Raphael easily guessed that he had become the topic of
their debate, and he ended by catching a phrase or two spoken aloud.
"I dare you to do it!"
"Let us make a bet on it!"
"Oh, he will do it."
Just as Valentin, curious to learn the matter of the wager, came up to
pay closer attention to what they were saying, a tall, strong, good-
looking young fellow, who, however, possessed the impertinent stare
peculiar to people who have material force at their back, came out of
"I am deputed, sir," he said coolly addressing the Marquis, "to make
you aware of something which you do not seem to know; your face and
person generally are a source of annoyance to every one here, and to
me in particular. You have too much politeness not to sacrifice
yourself to the public good, and I beg that you will not show yourself
in the Club again."
"This sort of joke has been perpetrated before, sir, in garrison towns
at the time of the Empire; but nowadays it is exceedingly bad form,"
said Raphael drily.
"I am not joking," the young man answered; "and I repeat it: your
health will be considerably the worse for a stay here; the heat and
light, the air of the saloon, and the company are all bad for your
"Where did you study medicine?" Raphael inquired.
"I took my bachelor's degree on Lepage's shooting-ground in Paris, and
was made a doctor at Cerizier's, the king of foils."
"There is one last degree left for you to take," said Valentin; "study
the ordinary rules of politeness, and you will be a perfect
The young men all came out of the billiard-room just then, some
disposed to laugh, some silent. The attention of other players was
drawn to the matter; they left their cards to watch a quarrel that
rejoiced their instincts. Raphael, alone among this hostile crowd, did
his best to keep cool, and not to put himself in any way in the wrong;
but his adversary having ventured a sarcasm containing an insult
couched in unusually keen language, he replied gravely:
"We cannot box men's ears, sir, in these days, but I am at a loss for
any word by which to stigmatize such cowardly behavior as yours."
"That's enough, that's enough. You can come to an explanation to-
morrow," several young men exclaimed, interposing between the two
Raphael left the room in the character of aggressor, after he had
accepted a proposal to meet near the Chateau de Bordeau, in a little
sloping meadow, not very far from the newly made road, by which the
man who came off victorious could reach Lyons. Raphael must now either
take to his bed or leave the baths. The visitors had gained their
point. At eight o'clock next morning his antagonist, followed by two
seconds and a surgeon, arrived first on the ground.
"We shall do very nicely here; glorious weather for a duel!" he cried
gaily, looking at the blue vault of sky above, at the waters of the
lake, and the rocks, without a single melancholy presentiment or doubt
of the issue. "If I wing him," he went on, "I shall send him to bed
for a month; eh, doctor?"
"At the very least," the surgeon replied; "but let that willow twig
alone, or you will weary your wrist, and then you will not fire
steadily. You might kill your man instead of wounding him."
The noise of a carriage was heard approaching.
"Here he is," said the seconds, who soon descried a caleche coming
along the road; it was drawn by four horses, and there were two
"What a queer proceeding!" said Valentin's antagonist; "here he comes
post-haste to be shot."
The slightest incident about a duel, as about a stake at cards, makes
an impression on the minds of those deeply concerned in the results of
the affair; so the young man awaited the arrival of the carriage with
a kind of uneasiness. It stopped in the road; old Jonathan laboriously
descended from it, in the first place, to assist Raphael to alight; he
supported him with his feeble arms, and showed him all the minute
attentions that a lover lavishes upon his mistress. Both became lost
to sight in the footpath that lay between the highroad and the field
where the duel was to take place; they were walking slowly, and did
not appear again for some time after. The four onlookers at this
strange spectacle felt deeply moved by the sight of Valentin as he
leaned on his servant's arm; he was wasted and pale; he limped as if
he had the gout, went with his head bowed down, and said not a word.
You might have taken them for a couple of old men, one broken with
years, the other worn out with thought; the elder bore his age visibly
written in his white hair, the younger was of no age.
"I have not slept all night, sir;" so Raphael greeted his antagonist.
The icy tone and terrible glance that went with the words made the
real aggressor shudder; he know that he was in the wrong, and felt in
secret ashamed of his behavior. There was something strange in
Raphael's bearing, tone, and gesture; the Marquis stopped, and every
one else was likewise silent. The uneasy and constrained feeling grew
to a height.
"There is yet time," he went on, "to offer me some slight apology; and
offer it you must, or you will die sir! You rely even now on your
dexterity, and do not shrink from an encounter in which you believe
all the advantage to be upon your side. Very good, sir; I am generous,
I am letting you know my superiority beforehand. I possess a terrible
power. I have only to wish to do so, and I can neutralize your skill,
dim your eyesight, make your hand and pulse unsteady, and even kill
you outright. I have no wish to be compelled to exercise my power; the
use of it costs me too dear. You would not be the only one to die. So
if you refuse to apologize to me, not matter what your experience in
murder, your ball will go into the waterfall there, and mine will
speed straight to your heart though I do not aim it at you."
Confused voices interrupted Raphael at this point. All the time that
he was speaking, the Marquis had kept his intolerably keen gaze fixed
upon his antagonist; now he drew himself up and showed an impassive
face, like that of a dangerous madman.
"Make him hold his tongue," the young man had said to one of his
seconds; "that voice of his is tearing the heart out of me."
"Say no more, sir; it is quite useless," cried the seconds and the
surgeon, addressing Raphael.
"Gentlemen, I am fulfilling a duty. Has this young gentleman any final
arrangements to make?"
"That is enough; that will do."
The Marquis remained standing steadily, never for a moment losing
sight of his antagonist; and the latter seemed, like a bird before a
snake, to be overwhelmed by a well-nigh magical power. He was
compelled to endure that homicidal gaze; he met and shunned it
"I am thirsty; give me some water----" he said again to the second.
"Are you nervous?"
"Yes," he answered. "There is a fascination about that man's glowing
"Will you apologize?"
"It is too late now."
The two antagonists were placed at fifteen paces' distance from each
other. Each of them had a brace of pistols at hand, and, according to
the programme prescribed for them, each was to fire twice when and how
he pleased, but after the signal had been given by the seconds.
"What are you doing, Charles?" exclaimed the young man who acted as
second to Raphael's antagonist; "you are putting in the ball before
"I am a dead man," he muttered, by way of answer; "you have put me
facing the sun----"
"The sun lies behind you," said Valentin sternly and solemnly, while
he coolly loaded his pistol without heeding the fact that the signal
had been given, or that his antagonist was carefully taking aim.
There was something so appalling in this supernatural unconcern, that
it affected even the two postilions, brought thither by a cruel
curiosity. Raphael was either trying his power or playing with it, for
he talked to Jonathan, and looked towards him as he received his
adversary's fire. Charles' bullet broke a branch of willow, and
ricocheted over the surface of the water; Raphael fired at random, and
shot his antagonist through the heart. He did not heed the young man
as he dropped; he hurriedly sought the Magic Skin to see what another
man's life had cost him. The talisman was no larger than a small oak-
"What are you gaping at, you postilions over there? Let us be off,"
said the Marquis.
That same evening he crossed the French border, immediately set out
for Auvergne, and reached the springs of Mont Dore. As he traveled,
there surged up in his heart, all at once, one of those thoughts that
come to us as a ray of sunlight pierces through the thick mists in
some dark valley--a sad enlightenment, a pitiless sagacity that lights
up the accomplished fact for us, that lays our errors bare, and leaves
us without excuse in our own eyes. It suddenly struck him that the
possession of power, no matter how enormous, did not bring with it the
knowledge how to use it. The sceptre is a plaything for a child, an
axe for a Richelieu, and for a Napoleon a lever by which to move the
world. Power leaves us just as it finds us; only great natures grow
greater by its means. Raphael had had everything in his power, and he
had done nothing.
At the springs of Mont Dore he came again in contact with a little
world of people, who invariably shunned him with the eager haste that
animals display when they scent afar off one of their own species
lying dead, and flee away. The dislike was mutual. His late adventure
had given him a deep distaste for society; his first care,
consequently, was to find a lodging at some distance from the
neighborhood of the springs. Instinctively he felt within him the need
of close contact with nature, of natural emotions, and of the
vegetative life into which we sink so gladly among the fields.
The day after he arrived he climbed the Pic de Sancy, not without
difficulty, and visited the higher valleys, the skyey nooks,
undiscovered lakes, and peasants' huts about Mont Dore, a country
whose stern and wild features are now beginning to tempt the brushes
of our artists, for sometimes wonderfully fresh and charming views are
to be found there, affording a strong contrast to the frowning brows
of those lonely hills.
Barely a league from the village Raphael discovered a nook where
nature seemed to have taken a pleasure in hiding away all her
treasures like some glad and mischievous child. At the first sight of
this unspoiled and picturesque retreat, he determined to take up his
abode in it. There, life must needs be peaceful, natural, and
fruitful, like the life of a plant.
Imagine for yourself an inverted cone of granite hollowed out on a
large scale, a sort of basin with its sides divided up by queer
winding paths. On one side lay level stretches with no growth upon
them, a bluish uniform surface, over which the rays of the sun fell as
upon a mirror; on the other lay cliffs split open by fissures and
frowning ravines; great blocks of lava hung suspended from them, while
the action of rain slowly prepared their impending fall; a few stunted
trees tormented by the wind, often crowned their summits; and here and
there in some sheltered angle of their ramparts a clump of chestnut-
trees grew tall as cedars, or some cavern in the yellowish rocks
showed the dark entrance into its depths, set about by flowers and
brambles, decked by a little strip of green turf.
At the bottom of this cup, which perhaps had been the crater of an
old-world volcano, lay a pool of water as pure and bright as a
diamond. Granite boulders lay around the deep basin, and willows,
mountain-ash trees, yellow-flag lilies, and numberless aromatic plants
bloomed about it, in a realm of meadow as fresh as an English bowling-
green. The fine soft grass was watered by the streams that trickled
through the fissures in the cliffs; the soil was continually enriched
by the deposits of loam which storms washed down from the heights
above. The pool might be some three acres in extent; its shape was
irregular, and the edges were scalloped like the hem of a dress; the
meadow might be an acre or two acres in extent. The cliffs and the
water approached and receded from each other; here and there, there
was scarcely width enough for the cows to pass between them.
After a certain height the plant life ceased. Aloft in air the granite
took upon itself the most fantastic shapes, and assumed those misty
tints that give to high mountains a dim resemblance to clouds in the
sky. The bare, bleak cliffs, with the fearful rents in their sides,
pictures of wild and barren desolation, contrasted strongly with the
pretty view of the valley; and so strange were the shapes they
assumed, that one of the cliffs had been called "The Capuchin,"
because it was so like a monk. Sometimes these sharp-pointed peaks,
these mighty masses of rock, and airy caverns were lighted up one by
one, according to the direction of the sun or the caprices of the
atmosphere; they caught gleams of gold, dyed themselves in purple;
took a tint of glowing rose-color, or turned dull and gray. Upon the
heights a drama of color was always to be seen, a play of ever-
shifting iridescent hues like those on a pigeon's breast.
Oftentimes at sunrise or at sunset a ray of bright sunlight would
penetrate between two sheer surfaces of lava, that might have been
split apart by a hatchet, to the very depths of that pleasant little
garden, where it would play in the waters of the pool, like a beam of
golden light which gleams through the chinks of a shutter into a room
in Spain, that has been carefully darkened for a siesta. When the sun
rose above the old crater that some antediluvian revolution had filled
with water, its rocky sides took warmer tones, the extinct volcano
glowed again, and its sudden heat quickened the sprouting seeds and
vegetation, gave color to the flowers, and ripened the fruits of this
forgotten corner of the earth.
As Raphael reached it, he noticed several cows grazing in the pasture-
land; and when he had taken a few steps towards the water, he saw a
little house built of granite and roofed with shingle in the spot
where the meadowland was at its widest. The roof of this little
cottage harmonized with everything about it; for it had long been
overgrown with ivy, moss, and flowers of no recent date. A thin smoke,
that did not scare the birds away, went up from the dilapidated
chimney. There was a great bench at the door between two huge honey-
suckle bushes, that were pink with blossom and full of scent. The
walls could scarcely be seen for branches of vine and sprays of rose
and jessamine that interlaced and grew entirely as chance and their
own will bade them; for the inmates of the cottage seemed to pay no
attention to the growth which adorned their house, and to take no care
of it, leaving to it the fresh capricious charm of nature.
Some clothes spread out on the gooseberry bushes were drying in the
sun. A cat was sitting on a machine for stripping hemp; beneath it lay
a newly scoured brass caldron, among a quantity of potato-parings. On
the other side of the house Raphael saw a sort of barricade of dead
thorn-bushes, meant no doubt to keep the poultry from scratching up
the vegetables and pot-herbs. It seemed like the end of the earth. The
dwelling was like some bird's-nest ingeniously set in a cranny of the
rocks, a clever and at the same time a careless bit of workmanship. A
simple and kindly nature lay round about it; its rusticity was
genuine, but there was a charm like that of poetry in it; for it grew
and throve at a thousand miles' distance from our elaborate and
conventional poetry. It was like none of our conceptions; it was a
spontaneous growth, a masterpiece due to chance.
As Raphael reached the place, the sunlight fell across it from right
to left, bringing out all the colors of its plants and trees; the
yellowish or gray bases of the crags, the different shades of the
green leaves, the masses of flowers, pink, blue, or white, the
climbing plants with their bell-like blossoms, and the shot velvet of
the mosses, the purple-tinted blooms of the heather,--everything was
either brought into relief or made fairer yet by the enchantment of
the light or by the contrasting shadows; and this was the case most of
all with the sheet of water, wherein the house, the trees, the granite
peaks, and the sky were all faithfully reflected. Everything had a
radiance of its own in this delightful picture, from the sparkling
mica-stone to the bleached tuft of grass hidden away in the soft
shadows; the spotted cow with its glossy hide, the delicate water-
plants that hung down over the pool like fringes in a nook where blue
or emerald colored insects were buzzing about, the roots of trees like
a sand-besprinkled shock of hair above grotesque faces in the flinty
rock surface,--all these things made a harmony for the eye.
The odor of the tepid water; the scent of the flowers, and the breath
of the caverns which filled the lonely place gave Raphael a sensation
that was almost enjoyment. Silence reigned in majesty over these
woods, which possibly are unknown to the tax-collector; but the
barking of a couple of dogs broke the stillness all at once; the cows
turned their heads towards the entrance of the valley, showing their
moist noses to Raphael, stared stupidly at him, and then fell to
browsing again. A goat and her kid, that seemed to hang on the side of
the crags in some magical fashion, capered and leapt to a slab of
granite near to Raphael, and stayed there a moment, as if to seek to
know who he was. The yapping of the dogs brought out a plump child,
who stood agape, and next came a white-haired old man of middle
height. Both of these two beings were in keeping with the
surroundings, the air, the flowers, and the dwelling. Health appeared
to overflow in this fertile region; old age and childhood thrived
there. There seemed to be, about all these types of existence, the
freedom and carelessness of the life of primitive times, a happiness
of use and wont that gave the lie to our philosophical platitudes, and
wrought a cure of all its swelling passions in the heart.
The old man belonged to the type of model dear to the masculine brush
of Schnetz. The countless wrinkles upon his brown face looked as if
they would be hard to the touch; the straight nose, the prominent
cheek-bones, streaked with red veins like a vine-leaf in autumn, the
angular features, all were characteristics of strength, even where
strength existed no longer. The hard hands, now that they toiled no
longer, had preserved their scanty white hair, his bearing was that of
an absolutely free man; it suggested the thought that, had he been an
Italian, he would have perhaps turned brigand, for the love of the
liberty so dear to him. The child was a regular mountaineer, with the
black eyes that can face the sun without flinching, a deeply tanned
complexion, and rough brown hair. His movements were like a bird's--
swift, decided, and unconstrained; his clothing was ragged; the white,
fair skin showed through the rents in his garments. There they both
stood in silence, side by side, both obeying the same impulse; in both
faces were clear tokens of an absolutely identical and idle life. The
old man had adopted the child's amusements, and the child had fallen
in with the old man's humor; there was a sort of tacit agreement
between two kinds of feebleness, between failing powers well-nigh
spent and powers just about to unfold themselves.
Very soon a woman who seemed to be about thirty years old appeared on
the threshold of the door, spinning as she came. She was an
Auvergnate, a high-colored, comfortable-looking, straightforward sort
of person, with white teeth; her cap and dress, the face, full figure,
and general appearance, were of the Auvergne peasant stamp. So was her
dialect; she was a thorough embodiment of her district; its
hardworking ways, its thrift, ignorance, and heartiness all met in
She greeted Raphael, and they began to talk. The dogs quieted down;
the old man went and sat on a bench in the sun; the child followed his
mother about wherever she went, listening without saying a word, and
staring at the stranger.
"You are not afraid to live here, good woman?"
"What should we be afraid of, sir? When we bolt the door, who ever
could get inside? Oh, no, we aren't afraid at all. And besides," she
said, as she brought the Marquis into the principal room in the house,
"what should thieves come to take from us here?"
She designated the room as she spoke; the smoke-blackened walls, with
some brilliant pictures in blue, red, and green, an "End of Credit," a
Crucifixion, and the "Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard" for their sole
ornament; the furniture here and there, the old wooden four-post
bedstead, the table with crooked legs, a few stools, the chest that
held the bread, the flitch that hung from the ceiling, a jar of salt,
a stove, and on the mantleshelf a few discolored yellow plaster
figures. As he went out again Raphael noticed a man half-way up the
crags, leaning on a hoe, and watching the house with interest.
"That's my man, sir," said the Auvergnate, unconsciously smiling in
peasant fashion; "he is at work up there."
"And that old man is your father?"
"Asking your pardon, sir, he is my man's grandfather. Such as you see
him, he is a hundred and two, and yet quite lately he walked over to
Clermont with our little chap! Oh, he has been a strong man in his
time; but he does nothing now but sleep and eat and drink. He amuses
himself with the little fellow. Sometimes the child trails him up the
hillsides, and he will just go up there along with him."
Valentin made up his mind immediately. He would live between this
child and old man, breathe the same air; eat their bread, drink the
same water, sleep with them, make the blood in his veins like theirs.
It was a dying man's fancy. For him the prime model, after which the
customary existence of the individual should be shaped, the real
formula for the life of a human being, the only true and possible
life, the life-ideal, was to become one of the oysters adhering to
this rock, to save his shell a day or two longer by paralyzing the
power of death. One profoundly selfish thought took possession of him,
and the whole universe was swallowed up and lost in it. For him the
universe existed no longer; the whole world had come to be within
himself. For the sick, the world begins at their pillow and ends at
the foot of the bed; and this countryside was Raphael's sick-bed.
Who has not, at some time or other in his life, watched the comings
and goings of an ant, slipped straws into a yellow slug's one
breathing-hole, studied the vagaries of a slender dragon-fly, pondered
admiringly over the countless veins in an oak-leaf, that bring the
colors of a rose window in some Gothic cathedral into contrast with
the reddish background? Who has not looked long in delight at the
effects of sun and rain on a roof of brown tiles, at the dewdrops, or
at the variously shaped petals of the flower-cups? Who has not sunk
into these idle, absorbing meditations on things without, that have no
conscious end, yet lead to some definite thought at last. Who, in
short, has not led a lazy life, the life of childhood, the life of the
savage without his labor? This life without a care or a wish Raphael
led for some days' space. He felt a distinct improvement in his
condition, a wonderful sense of ease, that quieted his apprehensions
and soothed his sufferings.
He would climb the crags, and then find a seat high up on some peak
whence he could see a vast expanse of distant country at a glance, and
he would spend whole days in this way, like a plant in the sun, or a
hare in its form. And at last, growing familiar with the appearances
of the plant-life about him, and of the changes in the sky, he
minutely noted the progress of everything working around him in the
water, on the earth, or in the air. He tried to share the secret
impulses of nature, sought by passive obedience to become a part of
it, and to lie within the conservative and despotic jurisdiction that
regulates instinctive existence. He no longer wished to steer his own
Just as criminals in olden times were safe from the pursuit of
justice, if they took refuge under the shadow of the altar, so Raphael
made an effort to slip into the sanctuary of life. He succeeded in
becoming an integral part of the great and mighty fruit-producing
organization; he had adapted himself to the inclemency of the air, and
had dwelt in every cave among the rocks. He had learned the ways and
habits of growth of every plant, had studied the laws of the
watercourses and their beds, and had come to know the animals; he was
at last so perfectly at one with this teeming earth, that he had in
some sort discerned its mysteries and caught the spirit of it.
The infinitely varied forms of every natural kingdom were, to his
thinking, only developments of one and the same substance, different
combinations brought about by the same impulse, endless emanations
from a measureless Being which was acting, thinking, moving, and
growing, and in harmony with which he longed to grow, to move, to
think, and act. He had fancifully blended his life with the life of
the crags; he had deliberately planted himself there. During the
earliest days of his sojourn in these pleasant surroundings, Valentin
tasted all the pleasures of childhood again, thanks to the strange
hallucination of apparent convalescence, which is not unlike the
pauses of delirium that nature mercifully provides for those in pain.
He went about making trifling discoveries, setting to work on endless
things, and finishing none of them; the evening's plans were quite
forgotten in the morning; he had no cares, he was happy; he thought
One morning he had lain in bed till noon, deep in the dreams between
sleep and waking, which give to realities a fantastic appearance, and
make the wildest fancies seem solid facts; while he was still
uncertain that he was not dreaming yet, he suddenly heard his hostess
giving a report of his health to Jonathan, for the first time.
Jonathan came to inquire after him daily, and the Auvergnate, thinking
no doubt that Valentin was still asleep, had not lowered the tones of
a voice developed in mountain air.
"No better and no worse," she said. "He coughed all last night again
fit to kill himself. Poor gentleman, he coughs and spits till it is
piteous. My husband and I often wonder to each other where he gets the
strength from to cough like that. It goes to your heart. What a cursed
complaint it is! He has no strength at all. I am always afraid I shall
find him dead in his bed some morning. He is every bit as pale as a
waxen Christ. DAME! I watch him while he dresses; his poor body is as
thin as a nail. And he does not feel well now; but no matter. It's all
the same; he wears himself out with running about as if he had health
and to spare. All the same, he is very brave, for he never complains
at all. But really he would be better under the earth than on it, for
he is enduring the agonies of Christ. I don't wish that myself, sir;
it is quite in our interests; but even if he didn't pay us what he
does, I should be just as fond of him; it is not our own interest that
is our motive.
"Ah, mon Dieu!" she continued, "Parisians are the people for these
dogs' diseases. Where did he catch it, now? Poor young man! And he is
so sure that he is going to get well! That fever just gnaws him, you
know; it eats him away; it will be the death of him. He has no notion
whatever of that; he does not know it, sir; he sees nothing----You
mustn't cry about him, M. Jonathan; you must remember that he will be
happy, and will not suffer any more. You ought to make a neuvaine for
him; I have seen wonderful cures come of the nine days' prayer, and I
would gladly pay for a wax taper to save such a gentle creature, so
good he is, a paschal lamb----"
As Raphael's voice had grown too weak to allow him to make himself
heard, he was compelled to listen to this horrible loquacity. His
irritation, however, drove him out of bed at length, and he appeared
upon the threshold.
"Old scoundrel!" he shouted to Jonathan; "do you mean to put me to
The peasant woman took him for a ghost, and fled.
"I forbid you to have any anxiety whatever about my health," Raphael
"Yes, my Lord Marquis," said the old servant, wiping away his tears.
"And for the future you had very much better not come here without my
Jonathan meant to be obedient, but in the look full of pity and
devotion that he gave the Marquis before he went, Raphael read his own
death-warrant. Utterly disheartened, brought all at once to a sense of
his real position, Valentin sat down on the threshold, locked his arms
across his chest, and bowed his head. Jonathan turned to his master in
alarm, with "My Lord----"
"Go away, go away," cried the invalid.
In the hours of the next morning, Raphael climbed the crags, and sat
down in a mossy cleft in the rocks, whence he could see the narrow
path along which the water for the dwelling was carried. At the base
of the hill he saw Jonathan in conversation with the Auvergnate. Some
malicious power interpreted for him all the woman's forebodings, and
filled the breeze and the silence with her ominous words. Thrilled
with horror, he took refuge among the highest summits of the
mountains, and stayed there till the evening; but yet he could not
drive away the gloomy presentiments awakened within him in such an
unfortunate manner by a cruel solicitude on his account.
The Auvergne peasant herself suddenly appeared before him like a
shadow in the dusk; a perverse freak of the poet within him found a
vague resemblance between her black and white striped petticoat and
the bony frame of a spectre.
"The damp is falling now, sir," said she. "If you stop out there, you
will go off just like rotten fruit. You must come in. It isn't healthy
to breathe the damp, and you have taken nothing since the morning,
"TONNERRE DE DIEU! old witch," he cried; "let me live after my own
fashion, I tell you, or I shall be off altogether. It is quite bad
enough to dig my grave every morning; you might let it alone in the
evenings at least----"
"Your grave, sir! I dig your grave!--and where may your grave be? I
want to see you as old as father there, and not in your grave by any
manner of means. The grave! that comes soon enough for us all; in the
"That is enough," said Raphael.
"Take my arm, sir."
The feeling of pity in others is very difficult for a man to bear, and
it is hardest of all when the pity is deserved. Hatred is a tonic--it
quickens life and stimulates revenge; but pity is death to us--it
makes our weakness weaker still. It is as if distress simpered
ingratiatingly at us; contempt lurks in the tenderness, or tenderness
in an affront. In the centenarian Raphael saw triumphant pity, a
wondering pity in the child's eyes, an officious pity in the woman,
and in her husband a pity that had an interested motive; but no matter
how the sentiment declared itself, death was always its import.
A poet makes a poem of everything; it is tragical or joyful, as things
happen to strike his imagination; his lofty soul rejects all half-
tones; he always prefers vivid and decided colors. In Raphael's soul
this compassion produced a terrible poem of mourning and melancholy.
When he had wished to live in close contact with nature, he had of
course forgotten how freely natural emotions are expressed. He would
think himself quite alone under a tree, whilst he struggled with an
obstinate coughing fit, a terrible combat from which he never issued
victorious without utter exhaustion afterwards; and then he would meet
the clear, bright eyes of the little boy, who occupied the post of
sentinel, like a savage in a bent of grass; the eyes scrutinized him
with a childish wonder, in which there was as much amusement as
pleasure, and an indescribable mixture of indifference and interest.
The awful BROTHER, YOU MUST DIE, of the Trappists seemed constantly
legible in the eyes of the peasants with whom Raphael was living; he
scarcely knew which he dreaded most, their unfettered talk or their
silence; their presence became torture.
One morning he saw two men in black prowling about in his
neighborhood, who furtively studied him and took observations. They
made as though they had come there for a stroll, and asked him a few
indifferent questions, to which he returned short answers. He
recognized them both. One was the cure and the other the doctor at the
springs; Jonathan had no doubt sent them, or the people in the house
had called them in, or the scent of an approaching death had drawn
them thither. He beheld his own funeral, heard the chanting of the
priests, and counted the tall wax candles; and all that lovely fertile
nature around him, in whose lap he had thought to find life once more,
he saw no longer, save through a veil of crape. Everything that but
lately had spoken of length of days to him, now prophesied a speedy
end. He set out the next day for Paris, not before he had been
inundated with cordial wishes, which the people of the house uttered
in melancholy and wistful tones for his benefit.
He traveled through the night, and awoke as they passed through one of
the pleasant valleys of the Bourbonnais. View after view swam before
his gaze, and passed rapidly away like the vague pictures of a dream.
Cruel nature spread herself out before his eyes with tantalizing
grace. Sometimes the Allier, a liquid shining ribbon, meandered
through the distant fertile landscape; then followed the steeples of
hamlets, hiding modestly in the depths of a ravine with its yellow
cliffs; sometimes, after the monotony of vineyards, the watermills of
a little valley would be suddenly seen; and everywhere there were
pleasant chateaux, hillside villages, roads with their fringes of
queenly poplars; and the Loire itself, at last, with its wide sheets
of water sparkling like diamonds amid its golden sands. Attractions
everywhere, without end! This nature, all astir with a life and
gladness like that of childhood, scarcely able to contain the impulses
and sap of June, possessed a fatal attraction for the darkened gaze of
the invalid. He drew the blinds of his carriage windows, and betook
himself again to slumber.
Towards evening, after they had passed Cesne, he was awakened by
lively music, and found himself confronted with a village fair. The
horses were changed near the marketplace. Whilst the postilions were
engaged in making the transfer, he saw the people dancing merrily,
pretty and attractive girls with flowers about them, excited youths,
and finally the jolly wine-flushed countenances of old peasants.
Children prattled, old women laughed and chatted; everything spoke in
one voice, and there was a holiday gaiety about everything, down to
their clothing and the tables that were set out. A cheerful expression
pervaded the square and the church, the roofs and windows; even the
very doorways of the village seemed likewise to be in holiday trim.
Raphael could not repress an angry exclamation, nor yet a wish to
silence the fiddles, annihilate the stir and bustle, stop the clamor,
and disperse the ill-timed festival; like a dying man, he felt unable
to endure the slightest sound, and he entered his carriage much
annoyed. When he looked out upon the square from the window, he saw
that all the happiness was scared away; the peasant women were in
flight, and the benches were deserted. Only a blind musician, on the
scaffolding of the orchestra, went on playing a shrill tune on his
clarionet. That piping of his, without dancers to it, and the solitary
old man himself, in the shadow of the lime-tree, with his curmudgeon's
face, scanty hair, and ragged clothing, was like a fantastic picture
of Raphael's wish. The heavy rain was pouring in torrents; it was one
of those thunderstorms that June brings about so rapidly, to cease as
suddenly. The thing was so natural, that, when Raphael had looked out
and seen some pale clouds driven over by a gust of wind, he did not
think of looking at the piece of skin. He lay back again in the corner
of his carriage, which was very soon rolling upon its way.
The next day found him back in his home again, in his own room, beside
his own fireside. He had had a large fire lighted; he felt cold.
Jonathan brought him some letters; they were all from Pauline. He
opened the first one without any eagerness, and unfolded it as if it
had been the gray-paper form of application for taxes made by the
revenue collector. He read the first sentence:
"Gone! This really is a flight, my Raphael. How is it? No one can tell
me where you are. And who should know if not I?"
He did not wish to learn any more. He calmly took up the letters and
threw them in the fire, watching with dull and lifeless eyes the
perfumed paper as it was twisted, shriveled, bent, and devoured by the
capricious flames. Fragments that fell among the ashes allowed him to
see the beginning of a sentence, or a half-burnt thought or word; he
took a pleasure in deciphering them--a sort of mechanical amusement.
"Sitting at your door--expected--Caprice--I obey--Rivals--I, never!--
thy Pauline--love--no more of Pauline?--If you had wished to leave me
for ever, you would not have deserted me--Love eternal--To die----"
The words caused him a sort of remorse; he seized the tongs, and
rescued a last fragment of the letter from the flames.
"I have murmured," so Pauline wrote, "but I have never complained, my
Raphael! If you have left me so far behind you, it was doubtless
because you wished to hide some heavy grief from me. Perhaps you will
kill me one of these days, but you are too good to torture me. So do
not go away from me like this. There! I can bear the worst of torment,
if only I am at your side. Any grief that you could cause me would not
be grief. There is far more love in my heart for you than I have ever
yet shown you. I can endure anything, except this weeping far away
from you, this ignorance of your----"
Raphael laid the scorched scrap on the mantelpiece, then all at once
he flung it into the fire. The bit of paper was too clearly a symbol
of his own love and luckless existence.
"Go and find M. Bianchon," he told Jonathan.
Horace came and found Raphael in bed.
"Can you prescribe a draught for me--some mild opiate which will
always keep me in a somnolent condition, a draught that will not be
injurious although taken constantly."
"Nothing is easier," the young doctor replied; "but you will have to
keep on your feet for a few hours daily, at any rate, so as to take
"A few hours!" Raphael broke in; "no, no! I only wish to be out of bed
for an hour at most."
"What is your object?" inquired Bianchon.
"To sleep; for so one keeps alive, at any rate," the patient answered.
"Let no one come in, not even Mlle. Pauline de Wistchnau!" he added to
Jonathan, as the doctor was writing out his prescription.
"Well, M. Horace, is there any hope?" the old servant asked, going as
far as the flight of steps before the door, with the young doctor.
"He may live for some time yet, or he may die to-night. The chances of
life and death are evenly balanced in his case. I can't understand it
at all," said the doctor, with a doubtful gesture. "His mind ought to
"Diverted! Ah, sir, you don't know him! He killed a man the other day
without a word!--Nothing can divert him!"
For some days Raphael lay plunged in the torpor of this artificial
sleep. Thanks to the material power that opium exerts over the
immaterial part of us, this man with the powerful and active
imagination reduced himself to the level of those sluggish forms of
animal life that lurk in the depths of forests, and take the form of
vegetable refuse, never stirring from their place to catch their easy
prey. He had darkened the very sun in heaven; the daylight never
entered his room. About eight o'clock in the evening he would leave
his bed, with no very clear consciousness of his own existence; he
would satisfy the claims of hunger and return to bed immediately. One
dull blighted hour after another only brought confused pictures and
appearances before him, and lights and shadows against a background of
darkness. He lay buried in deep silence; movement and intelligence
were completely annihilated for him. He woke later than usual one
evening, and found that his dinner was not ready. He rang for
"You can go," he said. "I have made you rich; you shall be happy in
your old age; but I will not let you muddle away my life any longer.
Miserable wretch! I am hungry--where is my dinner? How is it?--Answer
A satisfied smile stole over Jonathan's face. He took a candle that
lit up the great dark rooms of the mansion with its flickering light;
brought his master, who had again become an automaton, into a great
gallery, and flung a door suddenly open. Raphael was all at once
dazzled by a flood of light and amazed by an unheard-of scene.
His chandeliers had been filled with wax-lights; the rarest flowers
from his conservatory were carefully arranged about the room; the
table sparkled with silver, gold, crystal, and porcelain; a royal
banquet was spread--the odors of the tempting dishes tickled the
nervous fibres of the palate. There sat his friends; he saw them among
beautiful women in full evening dress, with bare necks and shoulders,
with flowers in their hair; fair women of every type, with sparkling
eyes, attractively and fancifully arrayed. One had adopted an Irish
jacket, which displayed the alluring outlines of her form; one wore
the "basquina" of Andalusia, with its wanton grace; here was a half-
clad Dian the huntress, there the costume of Mlle. de la Valliere,
amorous and coy; and all of them alike were given up to the