Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 8

The Necessary Veil

When night comes on, we light two hanging lamps of religious symbolism, which burn till daylight, before our gilded idol.

We sleep on the floor, on a thin cotton mattress, which is unfolded and laid out over our white matting. Chrysanthème’s pillow is a little wooden block, cut so as to fit exactly the nape of her neck, without disturbing the elaborate head-dress, which must never be taken down; the pretty black hair I shall probably never see undone. My pillow, a Chinese model, is a kind of little square drum covered over with serpent-skin.

We sleep under a gauze mosquito-net of sombre greenish-blue, dark as the shades of night, stretched out on an orange-colored ribbon. (These are the traditional colors, and all respectable families of Nagasaki possess a similar net.) It envelops us like a tent; the mosquitoes and the night-moths whirl around it.

This sounds very pretty, and written down looks very well. In reality, however, it is not so; something, I know not what, is lacking, and everything is very paltry. In other lands, in the delightful isles of Oceania, in the old, lifeless quarters of Stamboul, it seemed as if mere words could never express all I felt, and I struggled vainly against my own inability to render, in human language, the penetrating charm surrounding me.

Here, on the contrary, words exact and truthful in themselves seem always too thrilling, too great for the subject; seem to embellish it unduly. I feel as if I were acting, for my own benefit, some wretchedly trivial and third-rate comedy; and whenever I try to consider my home in a serious spirit, the scoffing figure of M. Kangourou rises before me — the matrimonial agent, to whom I am indebted for my happiness.

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