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“She has paid a piece of eight for her place," cried Ursus, with enthusiasm.
At this moment the hotel-keeper entered the Green Box, and, passing his arm out of the window at the back of it, opened the loophole in the wall, of which we have already spoken, which gave a view of the field, and which stood level with the window, and then made a silent sign to Ursus to look out. A carriage, feathered with plumed lackeys carrying torches, and magnificently appointed, went off at a fast trot.
Ursus took the piece of gold in his forefinger and thumb respectfully, and, showing it to Master Nicless, said,
“ It is a goddess."
Then, his eyes falling on the carriage about to turn the corner of the field, and on the imperial on which the valet's torches illumined a coronet of gold with light strawberry leaves, he cried,
“ It is more. It is a duchess."
The carriage disappeared. The noise of the wheels died in the distance.
Ursus remained some extatic moments, holding the gold piece between his finger and thumb.
Then he placed it on the table, and, still contemplating it, began to talk of “Madam."
The innkeeper replied to him.
It was a duchess. Yes. They knew that to be her title. But her name? Of that he was ignorant. Master Nicless had been close to the carriage, and seen the coat of arms and the footmen covered with lace. The coachman had a wig which might belong to the Lord Chancellor.
The carriage was of that rare form called, in Spain, coche-tumbon, a splendid variety, which has a top like a tomb, making a magnificent support for a coronet.
The page was a miniature of a man, so small that he could sit on the step of the carriage behind with the footman.
They employed those pretty creatures to carry the trains of ladies. They also carried their messages. And have you remarked the plumed cap of this page? How grand it is! You pay a fine if you wear those plumes without the right of doing so.
Master Nicless had observed the lady quite near. A kind of queen. So much wealth implies beauty. The skin is whiter, the eye more proud, the gait more noble, and grace more insolent. Nothing can equal the elegant impertinence of those hands which never labour.
Master Nicless recounted this magnificence of the white skin with
the blue veins, the neck, the shoulders, the arms, the touch of paint everywhere ; those pearl earrings, that head-dress powdered with gold ; that profusion of stones, those rubies, those diamonds.
“Less brilliant than her eyes,” murmured Ursus.
“And do you know," said the tavern-keeper, “what is the most wonderful of all ? "
“What?" said Ursus.
“In the first place," said Master Nicless, "there is no king at present. We do not live under a king. Guess who got into the carriage with this duchess.”
“Jupiter,” said Ursus.
There was a pause of astonishment, during which the low voice of Dea might be heard to say,
“ Cannot this woman be hindered from coming ?”
SYMPTOMS OF POISONING.
The apparition did not come back. She returned not to the theatre, but she returned in the memory of Gwynplaine. Gwynplaine was, to a certain degree, troubled. It seemed to him that for the first time in his life he had seen a woman.
He had made a first stumble in dreams. We should beware of the nature of the reveries that fasten on us. Reverie has the mystery and subtlety of an odour. It is to thought what perfume is to tuberose. It is at times the expansion of a venomous idea, and it penetrates like a vapour,
You may poison yourself with reveries, as with flowers. A maddening suicide, exquisite and malign.
The suicide of the soul is an evil thought. In that is poison.
Reverie attracts, cajoles, lures, entwines, and then makes you its accomplice. It makes you bear half in the trickeries it plays on conscience. It charms; then it corrupts you.
One may say of reverie as of play, one begins by being a dupe, and ends by being a cheat.
He had never before seen a woman. He had seen the shadow in all the women of the people, and he had seen the soul in Dea.
He had just seen woman's reality.
A warm and living skin, under which one feels that passionate blood must circulate ; an outline having the precision of marble and the undulation of the wave; a high and impassive mien, mingling refusal with attraction, and summing itself up in its own glory. The colour of her hair was like the reflection from a furnace. A gallantry of adornment producing in herself and in others a tremor of voluptuousness. An ineradicable coquetry. The charm of impenetrability, temptation seasoned by the glimpse of perdition, a promise to the senses and a menace to the mind; a double anxiety, one of which is desire, and the other fear. He had just seen that. He had just seen a woman. He had seen more and less than a woman. He had seen a female.
And at the same time an Olympian. The female of a god.
O mocking destiny! The soul, that celestial essence, he possessed; he held it in his hand. It was Dea. Sex, that terrestrial emboliment, he perceived in the depth of heaven. It was that woman.
A goddess !
What a precipice! Dreamland itself dissolved before such an abyss.
Was he about to commit the folly of dreaming of this unknown beauty?
He wrestled with himself.
He recalled all that Ursus had said of those high stations which are almost royal. The wanderings of the philosopher, which had seemed to him so useless, had become for him landmarks on which to rest his meditation. We have often in memory a very thin layer
of forgetfulness which occasionally allows us all at once to see what is below it. His fancy ran on that august world, the peerage, to which this woman belonged, inexorably placed above the inferior world, the common people, of which he was one.
And was he even one of the people? Was he not, as a mountebank, below the lowest of the low? For the first time since he had arrived at the age of reflection, he felt vaguely his heart contracted by a sense of his baseness, which we now call abasement. The paintings and the catalogues of Ursus, his lyrical inventories, his dithyrambics of castles, of parks, of fountains, and of colonnades; his catalogues of riches and of power, revived in the memory of Gwynplaine with the solidity of a reality mingled with mists.
He was possessed with the image of this zenith. That a man should be a lord !-that seemed to him chimerical. It was so, however. What an incredible thing! There were lords ! But were they of flesh and blood, like ourselves ? That was doubtful. He felt himself at the bottom of darkness, with a wall round him, and he perceived in the far distance above his head, in the opening of the pit, in the depth of which he was, the dazzling pell-mell of azure, of figures, and of rays, of which Olympus consists. In the midst of this glory the duchess shone out resplendent.
He felt for this woman an inexpressible uncanny longing, complicated by a conviction of impossibility. All this poignant contradiction returned to his mind again and again, notwithstanding his efforts. He saw near to him, even within his reach, in close and tangible reality, the soul; and in the unattainable—in the depth of the ideal—the flesh. None of these thoughts reached him in a precise form. There was vapour within him that changed, at each instant, its form, and floated into another. Its darkness was intense. Luckily, he did not form even in dreams any idea of ascension towards the height of the duchess.
The vibration of such ladders as those, if on any occasion we put our foot upon them, may well remain for ever in our brains. We think we mount to Olympus, and we reach Bedlam.
Besides, was he likely ever again to see this woman? Probably not. To fall in love with a meteor that passes from the horizon, -even madness reaches not that point.
To make loving eyes at a star, literally speaking, might be understood. She is seen again-she re-appears, she is fixed. But could anyone be enamoured of a flash of lightning ?
Dreams came and went within him. The majestic and loveable idol at the back of the box had made a luminous impression in the
diffusion of his ideas, but it had faded. He thought, and he thought not of it. He thought of other things, and returned to it. It rocked about in his brain,-nothing more. It hindered his sleep for several nights. Sleeplessness is as full of dreams as sleep.
It is almost impossible to express in their exact limits the ab. stract evolutions which occur in the brain. The inconvenience of words is that they have more of form than ideas.
All ideas are mingled in their boundary lines, words are not. certain diffused phase of the soul ever escapes words. Expression has its frontiers, thought has none.
The dark immensity of our secret souls is such that what passed in Gwynplaine scarcely touched Dea, even in his thought. Dea was kept sacred in the centre of his mind; nothing could approach her.
Notwithstanding these contradictions belong to the human soul, within him there was a contest. Did he know it? Scarcely.
Before the tribunal of his conscience he owned to a conflict of desires, in the neighbourhood of possible danger. We all have these weak points. This would have been clear to Ursus; but for Gwynplaine it was not.
Two instincts-one the ideal, the other sexual—fought within him. There are, then, such contests taking place between the white and black angel on the edge of the abyss.
At length the black angel fell headlong one day. At once Gwynplaine thought no longer of the unknown woman.
The combat between two principles,—the duel between his earthly and his heavenly nature—had passed away into the darkness of his mind, and had sunk to a depth in which he could perceive it but confusedly. One thing was certain, that he never for a moment had ceased to adore Dea.
He had been attacked by a violent disorder, his blood had been fevered ; but that was over. Dea only dwelt in him.
Gwynplaine would have been much astonished had any one told him that Dea had ever been, even for a moment, in danger; and in a week or two the phantom which had seemed to menace these two souls had faded.
In Gwynplaine there existed no longer anything but his heart, the hearth, and his love, the fire.
And, moreover, we have said, “the duchess" did not return.
Ursus found this very natural. The lady of the gold quadruple is a phenomenon. She entered, paid, and vanished. It would be too delightful for her to return.
As to Dea, she made no allusion to this woman who had passed