Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 10

Nocturnal Terrors

July 13th.

Last night, as we reposed under the Japanese roof of Diou-djen-dji — the thin old wooden roof scorched by a hundred years of sunshine, vibrating at the least sound, like the stretched-out parchment of a tomtom — in the silence which prevails at two o’clock in the morning, we heard overhead a sound like a regular wild huntsman’s chase passing at full gallop.

“Nidzoumi!” (“The mice!") said Chrysanthème.

Suddenly the word brings back to my mind yet another phrase, spoken in a very different language, in a country far away from here: “Setchan!” a word heard elsewhere, a word that has likewise been whispered in my ear by a woman’s voice, under similar circumstances, in a moment of nocturnal terror —“Setchan!” It was during one of our first nights at Stamboul spent under the mysterious roof of Eyoub, when danger surrounded us on all sides; a noise on the steps of the black staircase had made us tremble, and she also, my dear little Turkish companion, had said to me in her beloved language, “Setchan!” (“the mice!").

At that fond recollection, a thrill of sweet memories coursed through my veins; it was as if I had been startled out of a long ten years’ sleep; I looked down upon the doll beside me with a sort of hatred, wondering why I was there, and I arose, with almost a feeling of remorse, to escape from that blue gauze net.

I stepped out upon the veranda, and there I paused, gazing into the depths of the starlit night. Beneath me Nagasaki lay asleep, wrapped in a soft, light slumber, hushed by the murmuring sound of a thousand insects in the moonlight, and fairy-like with its roseate hues. Then, turning my head, I saw behind me the gilded idol with our lamps burning in front of it; the idol smiling the impassive smile of Buddha; and its presence seemed to cast around it something, I know not what, strange and incomprehensible. Never until now had I slept under the eye of such a god.

In the midst of the calm and silence of the night, I strove to recall my poignant impressions of Stamboul; but, alas, I strove in vain, they would not return to me in this strange, far-off world. Through the transparent blue gauze appeared my little Japanese, as she lay in her sombre night-robe with all the fantastic grace of her country, the nape of her neck resting on its wooden block, and her hair arranged in large, shiny bows. Her amber-tinted arms, pretty and delicate, emerged, bare up to the shoulders, from her wide sleeves.

“What can those mice on the roof have done to him?” thought Chrysanthème. Of course she could not understand. In a coaxing manner, like a playful kitten, she glanced at me with her half-closed eyes, inquiring why I did not come back to sleep — and I returned to my place by her side.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36