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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 bury itself."
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 rivals.
"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 obvious causes.
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 dying men.
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 their verdict.
"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 young doctor.
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The Magic Skin -by- Honore de Balzac