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The Magic Skin by Honore de Balzac

Part 6 out of 6

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intoxication of the moment.

As Raphael's death-pale face showed itself in the doorway, a sudden
outcry broke out, as vehement as the blaze of this improvised banquet.
The voices, perfumes, and lights, the exquisite beauty of the women,
produced their effect upon his senses, and awakened his desires.
Delightful music, from unseen players in the next room, drowned the
excited tumult in a torrent of harmony--the whole strange vision was

Raphael felt a caressing pressure on is own hand, a woman's white,
youthful arms were stretched out to grasp him, and the hand was
Aquilina's. He knew now that this scene was not a fantastic illusion
like the fleeting pictures of his disordered dreams; he uttered a
dreadful cry, slammed the door, and dealt his heartbroken old servant
a blow in the face.

"Monster!" he cried, "so you have sworn to kill me!" and trembling at
the risks he had just now run, he summoned all his energies, reached
his room, took a powerful sleeping draught, and went to bed.

"The devil!" cried Jonathan, recovering himself. "And M. Bianchon most
certainly told me to divert his mind."

It was close upon midnight. By that time, owing to one of those
physical caprices that are the marvel and the despair of science,
Raphael, in his slumber, became radiant with beauty. A bright color
glowed on his pale cheeks. There was an almost girlish grace about the
forehead in which his genius was revealed. Life seemed to bloom on the
quiet face that lay there at rest. His sleep was sound; a light, even
breath was drawn in between red lips; he was smiling--he had passed no
doubt through the gate of dreams into a noble life. Was he a
centenarian now? Did his grandchildren come to wish him length of
days? Or, on a rustic bench set in the sun and under the trees, was he
scanning, like the prophet on the mountain heights, a promised land, a
far-off time of blessing.

"Here you are!"

The words, uttered in silver tones, dispelled the shadowy faces of his
dreams. He saw Pauline, in the lamplight, sitting upon the bed;
Pauline grown fairer yet through sorrow and separation. Raphael
remained bewildered by the sight of her face, white as the petals of
some water flower, and the shadow of her long, dark hair about it
seemed to make it whiter still. Her tears had left a gleaming trace
upon her cheeks, and hung there yet, ready to fall at the least
movement. She looked like an angel fallen from the skies, or a spirit
that a breath might waft away, as she sat there all in white, with her
head bowed, scarcely creasing the quilt beneath her weight.

"Ah, I have forgotten everything!" she cried, as Raphael opened his
eyes. "I have no voice left except to tell you, 'I am yours.' There is
nothing in my heart but love. Angel of my life, you have never been so
beautiful before! Your eyes are blazing---- But come, I can guess it
all. You have been in search of health without me; you were afraid of

"Go! go! leave me," Raphael muttered at last. "Why do you not go? If
you stay, I shall die. Do you want to see me die?"

"Die?" she echoed. "Can you die without me? Die? But you are young;
and I love you! Die?" she asked, in a deep, hollow voice. She seized
his hands with a frenzied movement. "Cold!" she wailed. "Is it all an

Raphael drew the little bit of skin from under his pillow; it was as
tiny and as fragile as a periwinkle petal. He showed it to her.

"Pauline!" he said, "fair image of my fair life, let us say good-bye?"

"Good-bye?" she echoed, looking surprised.

"Yes. This is a talisman that grants me all my wishes, and that
represents my span of life. See here, this is all that remains of it.
If you look at me any longer, I shall die----"

The young girl thought that Valentin had grown lightheaded; she took
the talisman and went to fetch the lamp. By its tremulous light which
she shed over Raphael and the talisman, she scanned her lover's face
and the last morsel of the magic skin. As Pauline stood there, in all
the beauty of love and terror, Raphael was no longer able to control
his thoughts; memories of tender scenes, and of passionate and fevered
joys, overwhelmed the soul that had so long lain dormant within him,
and kindled a fire not quite extinct.

"Pauline! Pauline! Come to me----"

A dreadful cry came from the girl's throat, her eyes dilated with
horror, her eyebrows were distorted and drawn apart by an unspeakable
anguish; she read in Raphael's eyes the vehement desire in which she
had once exulted, but as it grew she felt a light movement in her
hand, and the skin contracted. She did not stop to think; she fled
into the next room, and locked the door.

"Pauline! Pauline!" cried the dying man, as he rushed after her; "I
love you, I adore you, I want you, Pauline! I wish to die in your

With unnatural strength, the last effort of ebbing life, he broke down
the door, and saw his mistress writhing upon a sofa. Pauline had
vainly tried to pierce her heart, and now thought to find a rapid
death by strangling herself with her shawl.

"If I die, he will live," she said, trying to tighten the knot that
she had made.

In her struggle with death her hair hung loose, her shoulders were
bare, her clothing was disordered, her eyes were bathed in tears, her
face was flushed and drawn with the horror of despair; yet as her
exceeding beauty met Raphael's intoxicated eyes, his delirium grew. He
sprang towards her like a bird of prey, tore away the shawl, and tried
to take her in his arms.

The dying man sought for words to express the wish that was consuming
his strength; but no sounds would come except the choking death-rattle
in his chest. Each breath he drew sounded hollower than the last, and
seemed to come from his very entrails. At the last moment, no longer
able to utter a sound, he set his teeth in Pauline's breast. Jonathan
appeared, terrified by the cries he had heard, and tried to tear away
the dead body from the grasp of the girl who was crouching with it in
a corner.

"What do you want?" she asked. "He is mine, I have killed him. Did I
not foresee how it would be?"


"And what became of Pauline?"

"Pauline? Ah! Do you sometimes spend a pleasant winter evening by your
own fireside, and give yourself up luxuriously to memories of love or
youth, while you watch the glow of the fire where the logs of oak are
burning? Here, the fire outlines a sort of chessboard in red squares,
there it has a sheen like velvet; little blue flames start up and
flicker and play about in the glowing depths of the brasier. A
mysterious artist comes and adapts that flame to his own ends; by a
secret of his own he draws a visionary face in the midst of those
flaming violet and crimson hues, a face with unimaginable delicate
outlines, a fleeting apparition which no chance will ever bring back
again. It is a woman's face, her hair is blown back by the wind, her
features speak of a rapture of delight; she breathes fire in the midst
of the fire. She smiles, she dies, you will never see her any more.
Farewell, flower of the flame! Farewell, essence incomplete and
unforeseen, come too early or too late to make the spark of some
glorious diamond."

"But, Pauline?"

"You do not see, then? I will begin again. Make way! make way! She
comes, she is here, the queen of illusions, a woman fleeting as a
kiss, a woman bright as lightning, issuing in a blaze like lightning
from the sky, a being uncreated, of spirit and love alone. She has
wrapped her shadowy form in flame, or perhaps the flame betokens that
she exists but for a moment. The pure outlines of her shape tell you
that she comes from heaven. Is she not radiant as an angel? Can you
not hear the beating of her wings in space? She sinks down beside you
more lightly than a bird, and you are entranced by her awful eyes;
there is a magical power in her light breathing that draws your lips
to hers; she flies and you follow; you feel the earth beneath you no
longer. If you could but once touch that form of snow with your eager,
deluded hands, once twine the golden hair round your fingers, place
one kiss on those shining eyes! There is an intoxicating vapor around,
and the spell of a siren music is upon you. Every nerve in you is
quivering; you are filled with pain and longing. O joy for which there
is no name! You have touched the woman's lips, and you are awakened at
once by a horrible pang. Oh! ah! yes, you have struck your head
against the corner of the bedpost, you have been clasping its brown
mahogany sides, and chilly gilt ornaments; embracing a piece of metal,
a brazen Cupid."

"But how about Pauline, sir?"

"What, again? Listen. One lovely morning at Tours a young man, who
held the hand of a pretty woman in his, went on board the Ville
d'Angers. Thus united they both looked and wondered long at a white
form that rose elusively out of the mists above the broad waters of
the Loire, like some child of the sun and the river, or some freak of
air and cloud. This translucent form was a sylph or a naiad by turns;
she hovered in the air like a word that haunts the memory, which seeks
in vain to grasp it; she glided among the islands, she nodded her head
here and there among the tall poplar trees; then she grew to a giant's
height; she shook out the countless folds of her drapery to the light;
she shot light from the aureole that the sun had litten about her
face; she hovered above the slopes of the hills and their little
hamlets, and seemed to bar the passage of the boat before the Chateau
d'Usse. You might have thought that La dame des belles cousines sought
to protect her country from modern intrusion."

"Well, well, I understand. So it went with Pauline. But how about

"Oh! Foedora, you are sure to meet with her! She was at the Bouffons
last night, and she will go to the Opera this evening, and if you like
to take it so, she is Society."


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Melmoth Reconciled

Bianchon, Horace
Father Goriot
The Atheist's Mass
Cesar Birotteau
The Commission in Lunacy
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Secrets of a Princess
The Government Clerks
A Study of Woman
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Seamy Side of History
A Second Home
A Prince of Bohemia
Letters of Two Brides
The Muse of the Department
The Imaginary Mistress
The Middle Classes
Cousin Betty
The Country Parson
In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following:
Another Study of Woman
La Grande Breteche

Canalis, Constant-Cyr-Melchior, Baron de
Letters of Two Brides
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Modeste Mignon
Another Study of Woman
A Start in Life
The Unconscious Humorists
The Member for Arcis

Dudley, Lady Arabella
The Lily of the Valley
The Ball at Sceaux
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
Letters of Two Brides

Melmoth Reconciled

A Study of Woman

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Daughter of Eve
Cousin Betty
The Unconscious Humorists

Navarreins, Duc de
A Bachelor's Establishment
Colonel Chabert
The Muse of the Department
The Thirteen
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Peasantry
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Country Parson
The Gondreville Mystery
The Secrets of a Princess
Cousin Betty

Rastignac, Eugene de
Father Goriot
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Interdiction
A Study of Woman
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Gondreville Mystery
The Firm of Nucingen
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
The Unconscious Humorists

Taillefer, Jean-Frederic
The Firm of Nucingen
Father Goriot
The Red Inn

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