Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 33

A Generous Husband

Displaying many affectations, M. Sucre dips the tip of his delicate paint-brush in India-ink and traces a pair of charming storks on a pretty sheet of rice-paper, offering them to me in the most courteous manner, as a souvenir of himself. I have put them in my cabin on board, and when I look at them, I fancy I can see M. Sucre tracing them with an airy touch and with elegant facility.

The saucer in which he mixes his ink is in itself a little gem. It is chiselled out of a piece of jade, and represents a tiny lake with a carved border imitating rockwork. On this border is a little mamma toad, also in jade, advancing as if to bathe in the little lake in which M. Sucre carefully keeps a few drops of very dark liquid. The mamma toad has four little baby toads, in jade, one perched on her head, the other three playing about under her.

M. Sucre has painted many a stork in the course of his lifetime, and he really excels in reproducing groups and duets, if one may so express it, of this bird. Few Japanese possess the art of interpreting this subject in a manner at once so rapid and so tasteful; first he draws the two beaks, then the four claws, then the backs, the feathers, dash, dash, dash — with a dozen strokes of his clever brush, held in his daintily posed hand, it is done, and always perfectly well done!

M. Kangourou relates, without seeing anything wrong in it whatever, that formerly this talent was of great service to M. Sucre. It appears that Madame Prune — how shall I say such a thing, and, who could guess it now, on beholding so devout and sedate an old lady, with eyebrows so scrupulously shaven? — however, it appears that Madame Prune used to receive a great many visits from gentlemen — gentlemen who always came alone — which led to some gossip. Therefore, when Madame Prune was engaged with one visitor, if a new arrival made his appearance, the ingenious husband, to induce him to wait patiently, and to wile away the time in the anteroom, immediately offered to paint him some storks in a variety of attitudes.

And this is why, in Nagasaki, all the Japanese gentlemen of a certain age have in their collections two or three of these little pictures, for which they are indebted to the delicate and original talent of M. Sucre!

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