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"What have you suffered to make you think like this?" asked Raphael.
"I myself have been forsaken for an inheritance," she said, striking an attitude that displayed all her charms; "and yet I had worked night and day to keep my lover! I am not to be gulled by any smile or vow, and I have set myself to make one long entertainment of my life."
"But does not happiness come from the soul within?" cried Raphael.
"It may be so," Aquilina answered; "but is it nothing to be conscious of admiration and flattery; to triumph over other women, even over the most virtuous, humiliating them before our beauty and our splendor? Not only so; one day of our life is worth ten years of a bourgeoise existence, and so it is all summed up."
"Is not a woman hateful without virtue?" Emile said to Raphael.
Euphrasia's glance was like a viper's, as she said, with an irony in her voice that cannot be rendered:
"Virtue! we leave that to deformity and to ugly women. What would the poor things be without it?"
"Hush, be quiet," Emile broke in. "Don't talk about something you have never known."
"That I have never known!" Euphrasia answered. "You give yourself for life to some person you abominate; you must bring up children who will neglect you, who wound your very heart, and you must say, 'Thank you!' for it; and these are the virtues you prescribe to woman. And that is not enough. By way of requiting her self-denial, you must come and add to her sorrows by trying to lead her astray; and though you are rebuffed, she is compromised. A nice life! How far better to keep one's freedom, to follow one's inclinations in love, and die young!"
"Have you no fear of the price to be paid some day for all this?"
"Even then," she said, "instead of mingling pleasures and troubles, my life will consist of two separate parts--a youth of happiness is secure, and there may come a hazy, uncertain old age, during which I can suffer at my leisure."
"She has never loved," came in the deep tones of Aquilina's voice. "She never went a hundred leagues to drink in one look and a denial with untold raptures. She has not hung her own life on a thread, nor tried to stab more than one man to save her sovereign lord, her king, her divinity. . . . Love, for her, meant a fascinating colonel."
"Here she is with her La Rochelle," Euphrasia made answer. "Love comes like the wind, no one knows whence. And, for that matter, if one of those brutes had once fallen in love with you, you would hold sensible men in horror."
"Brutes are put out of the question by the Code," said the tall, sarcastic Aquilina.
"I thought you had more kindness for the army," laughed Euphrasia.
"How happy they are in their power of dethroning their reason in this way," Raphael exclaimed.
"Happy?" asked Aquilina, with dreadful look, and a smile full of pity and terror. "Ah, you do not know what it is to be condemned to a life of pleasure, with your dead hidden in your heart. . . ."
A moment's consideration of the rooms was like a foretaste of Milton's Pandemonium. The faces of those still capable of drinking wore a hideous blue tint, from burning draughts of punch. Mad dances were kept up with wild energy; excited laughter and outcries broke out like the explosion of fireworks. The boudoir and a small adjoining room were strewn like a battlefield with the insensible and incapable. Wine, pleasure, and dispute had heated the atmosphere. Wine and love, delirium and unconsciousness possessed them, and were written upon all faces, upon the furniture; were expressed by the surrounding disorder, and brought light films over the vision of those assembled, so that the air seemed full of intoxicating vapor. A glittering dust arose, as in the luminous paths made by a ray of sunlight, the most bizarre forms flitted through it, grotesque struggles were seen athwart it. Groups of interlaced figures blended with the white marbles, the noble masterpieces of sculpture that adorned the rooms.
Though the two friends yet preserved a sort of fallacious clearness in their ideas and voices, a feeble appearance and faint thrill of animation, it was yet almost impossible to distinguish what was real among the fantastic absurdities before them, or what foundation there was for the impossible pictures that passed unceasingly before their weary eyes. The strangest phenomena of dreams beset them, the lowering heavens, the fervid sweetness caught by faces in our visions, and unheard-of agility under a load of chains,--all these so vividly, that they took the pranks of the orgy about them for the freaks of some nightmare in which all movement is silent, and cries never reach the ear. The valet de chambre succeeded just then, after some little difficulty, in drawing his master into the ante-chamber to whisper to him:
"The neighbors are all at their windows, complaining of the racket, sir."
"If noise alarms them, why don't they lay down straw before their doors?" was Taillefer's rejoinder.
Raphael's sudden burst of laughter was so unseasonable and abrupt, that his friend demanded the reason of his unseemly hilarity.
"You will hardly understand me," he replied. "In the first place, I must admit that you stopped me on the Quai Voltaire just as I was about to throw myself into the Seine, and you would like to know, no doubt, my motives for dying. And when I proceed to tell you that by an almost miraculous chance the most poetic memorials of the material world had but just then been summed up for me as a symbolical interpretation of human wisdom; whilst at this minute the remains of all the intellectual treasures ravaged by us at table are comprised in these two women, the living and authentic types of folly, would you be any the wiser? Our profound apathy towards men and things supplied the half-tones in a crudely contrasted picture of two theories of life so diametrically opposed. If you were not drunk, you might perhaps catch a gleam of philosophy in this."
"And if you had not both feet on that fascinating Aquilina, whose heavy breathing suggests an analogy with the sounds of a storm about to burst," replied Emile, absently engaged in the harmless amusement of winding and unwinding Euphrasia's hair, "you would be ashamed of your inebriated garrulity. Both your systems can be packed in a phrase, and reduced to a single idea. The mere routine of living brings a stupid kind of wisdom with it, by blunting our intelligence with work; and on the other hand, a life passed in the limbo of the abstract or in the abysses of the moral world, produces a sort of wisdom run mad. The conditions may be summed up in brief; we may extinguish emotion, and so live to old age, or we may choose to die young as martyrs to contending passions. And yet this decree is at variance with the temperaments with which we were endowed by the bitter jester who modeled all creatures."
"Idiot!" Raphael burst in. "Go on epitomizing yourself after that fashion, and you will fill volumes. If I attempted to formulate those two ideas clearly, I might as well say that man is corrupted by the exercise of his wits, and purified by ignorance. You are calling the whole fabric of society to account. But whether we live with the wise or perish with the fool, isn't the result the same sooner or later? And have not the prime constituents of the quintessence of both systems been before expressed in a couple of words--Carymary, Carymara."
"You make me doubt the existence of a God, for your stupidity is greater than His power," said Emile. "Our beloved Rabelais summed it all up in a shorter word than your 'Carymary, Carymara'; from his Peut-etre Montaigne derived his own Que sais-je? After all, this last word of moral science is scarcely more than the cry of Pyrrhus set betwixt good and evil, or Buridan's ass between the two measures of oats. But let this everlasting question alone, resolved to-day by a 'Yes' and a 'No.' What experience did you look to find by a jump into the Seine? Were you jealous of the hydraulic machine on the Pont Notre Dame?"
"Ah, if you but knew my history!"
"Pooh," said Emile; "I did not think you could be so commonplace; that remark is hackneyed. Don't you know that every one of us claims to have suffered as no other ever did?"
"Ah!" Raphael sighed.
"What a mountebank art thou with thy 'Ah'! Look here, now. Does some disease of the mind or body, by contracting your muscles, bring back of a morning the wild horses that tear you in pieces at night, as with Damiens once upon a time? Were you driven to sup off your own dog in a garret, uncooked and without salt? Have your children ever cried, 'I am hungry'? Have you sold your mistress' hair to hazard the money at play? Have you ever drawn a sham bill of exchange on a fictitious uncle at a sham address, and feared lest you should not be in time to take it up? Come now, I am attending! If you were going to drown yourself for some woman, or by way of a protest, or out of sheer dulness, I disown you. Make your confession, and no lies! I don't at all want a historical memoir. And, above all things, be as concise as your clouded intellect permits; I am as critical as a professor, and as sleepy as a woman at her vespers."
"You silly fool!" said Raphael. "When has not suffering been keener for a more susceptible nature? Some day when science has attained to a pitch that enables us to study the natural history of hearts, when they are named and classified in genera, sub-genera, and families; into crustaceae, fossils, saurians, infusoria, or whatever it is, then, my dear fellow, it will be ascertained that there are natures as tender and fragile as flowers, that are broken by the slight bruises that some stony hearts do not even feel----"
"For pity's sake, spare me thy exordium," said Emile, as, half plaintive, half amused, he took Raphael's hand.
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The Magic Skin -by- Honore de Balzac