Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 23

A Fantastic Funeral

Below, in the town, a street-singer had established herself in a little thoroughfare; people had gathered around her to listen to her singing, and we three — that is, Yves, Chrysanthème, and I— who happened to be passing, stopped also.

She was quite young, rather fat, and fairly pretty, and she strummed her guitar and sang, rolling her eyes fiercely, like a virtuoso executing feats of difficulty. She lowered her head, stuck her chin into her neck, in order to draw deeper notes from the furthermost recesses of her body; and succeeded in bringing forth a great, hoarse voice — a voice that might have belonged to an aged frog, a ventriloquist’s voice, coming whence it would be impossible to say (this is the best stage manner, the last touch of art, in the interpretation of tragic pieces).

Yves cast an indignant glance upon her.

“Good gracious,” said he, “she has the voice of a —— ” (words failed him, in his astonishment) “the voice of a — a monster!”

And he looked at me, almost frightened by this little being, and desirous to know what I thought of it.

Yves was out of temper on this occasion, because I had induced him to come out in a straw hat with a turned-up brim, which did not please him.

“That hat suits you remarkably well, Yves, I assure you,” I said.

“Oh, indeed! You say so, you. For my part, I think it looks like a magpie’s nest!”

As a fortunate diversion from the singer and the hat, here comes a cortege, advancing toward us from the end of the street, something remarkably like a funeral. Bonzes march in front, dressed in robes of black gauze, having much the appearance of Catholic priests; the principal object of interest of the procession, the corpse, comes last, laid in a sort of little closed palanquin, which is daintily pretty. This is followed by a band of mousmes, hiding their laughing faces beneath a kind of veil, and carrying in vases of the sacred shape the artificial lotus with silver petals indispensable at a funeral; then come fine ladies, on foot, smirking and stifling a wish to laugh, beneath parasols on which are painted, in the gayest colors, butterflies and storks.

Now they are quite close to us, we must stand back to give them room. Chrysanthème all at once assumes a suitable air of gravity, and Yves bares his head, taking off the magpie’s nest.

Yes, it is true, it is death that is passing!

I had almost lost sight of the fact, so little does this procession recall it.

The procession will climb high above Nagasaki, into the heart of the green mountain covered with tombs. There the poor fellow will be laid at rest, with his palanquin above him, and his vases and his flowers of silvered paper. Well, at least he will lie in a charming spot commanding a lovely view.

Then they will return half laughing, half snivelling, and tomorrow no one will think of it again.

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