Leon learned to his cost, that a good conscience and a good bed are not enough to insure a good sleep. He was bedded like a sybarite, innocent as an Arcadian shepherd, and, moreover, tired as a soldier after a forced march; nevertheless a dull sleeplessness weighed upon him until morning. In vain he tossed into every possible position, as if to shift the burden from one shoulder on to the other. He did not close his eyes until he had seen the first glimmering of dawn silver the chinks of his shutters.
He lulled himself to sleep thinking of Clementine; an obliging dream soon showed him the image of her he loved. He saw her in bridal costume, in the chapel of the imperial chateau. She was leaning on the arm of the elder M. Renault, who had put spurs on in honor of the ceremony. Leon followed, having given his arm to Mlle. Sambucco; the ancient maiden was decorated with the insignia of the Legion of Honor. On approaching the altar, the bridegroom noticed that his father’s legs were as thin as broomsticks, and, when he was about expressing his astonishment, M. Renault turned around and said to him: “They are thin because they are desiccated; but they are not deformed.” While he was giving this explanation, his face altered, his features changed, he shot out a black moustache, and grew terribly like the Colonel. The ceremony began. The choir was filled with tardigrades and rotifers as large as men and dressed like choristers: they intoned, in solemn measure, a hymn of the German composer, Meiser, which began thus:
The vital principle
Is a gratuitous hypothesis!
The poetry and the music appeared admirable to Leon; he was trying to impress them on his memory when the officiating priest advanced toward him with two gold rings on a silver salver. This priest was a colonel of cuirassiers in full uniform. Leon asked himself when and where he had met him. It was on the previous evening before Clementine’s door. The cuirassier murmured these words: “The race of colonels has vastly degenerated since 1813.” He heaved a profound sigh, and the nave of the chapel, which was a ship-of-the-line, was driven over the water at a speed of forty knots. Leon tranquilly took the little gold ring and prepared to place it on Clementine’s finger, but he perceived that the hand of his betrothed was dried up; the nails alone had retained their natural freshness. He was frightened and fled across the church, which he found filled with colonels of every age and variety. The crowd was so dense that the most unheard-of efforts failed to penetrate it. He escapes at last, but hears behind him the hurried steps of a man who tries to catch him. He doubles his speed, he throws himself on all-fours, he gallops, he neighs, the trees on the way seem to fly behind him, he no longer touches the earth. But the enemy comes up faster than the wind; Leon hears the sound of his steps, his spurs jingle; he catches up with Leon, seizes him by the mane, flings himself with a bound upon his back, and goads him with the spur. Leon rears; the rider bends over toward his ear and says, stroking him with his whip: “I am not heavy to carry:— thirty pounds of colonel.” The unhappy lover of Mlle. Clementine makes a violent effort and springs sideways; the Colonel falls and draws his sword. Leon loses no time; he puts himself on guard and fights, but almost instantly feels the Colonel’s sword enter his heart to the hilt. The chill of the blade spreads further and further, and ends by freezing Leon from head to foot. The Colonel draws nearer and says, smiling: “The main-spring is broken; the little animal is dead.” He puts the body in the walnut box, which is too short and too narrow. Cramped on every side, Leon struggles, strains and wakes himself up, worn out with fatigue and half smothered between the bed and the wall.
He quickly jumped into his slippers and eagerly raised the windows and pushed open the shutters. “He made light, and saw that it was good,” as is elsewhere written. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Brrroum! He shook off the recollections of his dream as a wet dog shakes off drops of water. The famous London chronometer told him that it was nine o’clock. A cup of chocolate, served by Gothon, helped not a little to untangle his ideas. On proceeding with his toilet, in a very bright, cheerful and convenient dressing-room, he reconciled himself to the realities of life. “Everything considered,” he said to himself, combing out his yellow beard, “nothing but happiness has come to me. Here I am in my native country, with my family and in a pretty house which is our own. My father and mother are both well, and, for myself, I revel in the most luxuriant health. Our fortune is moderate, but so are our tastes, and we shall never feel the want of anything. Our friends received me yesterday with open arms; and as for enemies we have none. The prettiest girl in Fontainebleau is willing to become my wife; I can marry her in less than three weeks if I see fit to hurry things a little. Clementine did not meet me as if I were of no interest to her; far from it. Her lovely eyes smiled upon me last night with the most tender regard. It is true that she wept at the end, that’s too certain. That is my only vexation, my only anxiety, the sole cause of that foolish dream I had last night. She did weep, but why? Because I was beast enough to regale her with a lecture, and that, too, about a mummy. All right! I’ll have the mummy buried; I’ll hold back my dissertations, and nothing else in the world will come to disturb our happiness.”
He went down stairs, humming an air from the Nozze. M. and Mme. Renault, who were not accustomed to going to bed after midnight, were still asleep. On going into the laboratory, he saw that the triple box of the Colonel was closed. Gothon had placed a little wooden cross and a sprig of consecrated box on the cover. “We may as well begin masses for his soul,” he murmured between his teeth, with a smile that might have been a little sceptical. At the same time he noticed that Clementine, in her agitation, had forgotten the presents he had brought her. He made a bundle of them, looked at his watch, and concluded that there would be no indiscretion in straining a point to go to Mlle. Sambucco’s .
The much-to-be-respected aunt was an early riser, as they generally are in the rural districts, and had, in fact, already gone out to church, and Clementine was gardening near the house. She ran to her lover without thinking of throwing down the little rake she held in her hand, and with the sweetest smile in the world, held up her pretty rosy cheeks which were a little moist and flushed by the pleasant warmth of pleasure and exercise.
“Aren’t you put out with me?” said she. “I was very ridiculous last night. My aunt has scolded me in the bargain. And I forgot to take the pretty things you brought me from among the savages! But it was not from lack of appreciation. I am so happy to see that you have always thought of me as I have thought of you! I could have sent for them to-day, but I am pleasantly anticipated. My heart told me that you would come yourself.”
“Your heart knew me, dear Clementine.”
“It would be very unfortunate if it did not know its owner.”
“How good you are, and how much I love you!”
“Oh! I, too, dear Leon, I love you dearly.”
She stood the rake against a tree, and hung upon the arm of her intended husband with that supple and languishing grace, the secret of which the creoles possess.
“Come this way” said she, “so that I can show you all the improvements we have made in the garden.”
Leon admired everything she wanted him to. The fact is that he had eyes for nothing but her. The grotto of Polyphemus and the cave of Cæcus would have appeared to him pleasanter than the gardens of Armida, if Clementine’s little red jacket had been promenading in them.
He asked her if she did not feel some regret in leaving so charming a retreat, and one which she had embellished with so much care.
“Why?” asked she, without thinking to blush. “We will not go far off, and, besides, won’t we come here every day?”
The coming marriage was a thing so well settled, that it had not even been spoken of on the previous evening. Nothing remained to be done but to publish the bans and fix the date. Clementine, simple and honest heart, expressed herself without any false modesty concerning an event so entirely expected, so natural and so agreeable. She had expressed her tastes to Mme. Renault in the arrangement of the new apartments, and chosen the hangings herself; and she no longer made any ceremony in talking with her intended of the happy life in common which was about beginning for them, of the people they would invite to the marriage ceremony, of the wedding calls to be made afterwards, of the day which should be appropriated for receptions and of the time they would devote to each other’s society and to work. She inquired in regard to the occupation which Leon intended to make for himself, and the hours which, of preference, he would give to study. This excellent little woman would have been ashamed to bear the name of a sloth, and unhappy in passing her days with an idler. She promised Leon in advance, to respect his work as a sacred thing. On her part she thoroughly intended to make her time also of use, and not to live with folded arms. At the start she would take charge of the housekeeping, under the direction of Madame Renault, who was beginning to find it a little burdensome. And then would she not soon have children to care for, bring up and educate? This was a noble and useful pleasure which she did not intend to share with any one. Nevertheless she would send her sons to college, in order to fit them for living in the world, and to teach them early those principles of justice and equality which are the foundation of every good manly character. Leon let her talk on, only interrupting her to agree with her: for these two young people who had been educated and brought up with the same ideas, saw everything with the same eyes. Education had created this pleasant harmony rather than Love.
“Do you know” said Clementine, “that I felt an awful palpitation of the heart when I entered the room where you were yesterday?”
“If you think that my heart beat less violently than yours —”
“Oh! but it was a different thing with me: I was afraid.”
“I was afraid that I should not find you the same as I had seen you in my thoughts. Remember that it had been three years since we bid each other good bye. I remembered distinctly what you were when you went away, and, with imagination helping memory a little, I had reconstructed my Leon entire. But if you had no longer resembled him! What would have become of me in the presence of a new Leon, when I had formed the pleasant habit of loving the other?”
“You make me tremble. But your first greeting reassured me in advance.”
“Tut, sir! Don’t speak of that first greeting, or you will make me blush a second time. Let us speak rather of that poor colonel who made me shed so many tears. How is he getting along this morning?”
“I forgot to inquire after his health, but if you want me to —”
“It’s useless. You can announce to him a visit from me to-day. It is absolutely necessary that I should see him this noon.”
“You would be very sensible to give up this fancy. Why expose yourself again to such painful emotions?”
“The fancy is stronger than I am. Seriously, dear Leon, the old fellow attracts me.”
“Why ‘old fellow?’ He has the appearance of a man who died when from twenty-five to thirty years of age.”
“Are you very sure that he is dead? I said ‘old fellow’ because of a dream I had last night.”
“Ha! You too?”
“Yes. You remember how agitated I was on leaving you, and, moreover, I had been scolded by my aunt. And, too, I had been thinking of terrible sights — my poor mother lying on her death-bed. In fact, my spirits were quite broken down.”
“Poor dear little heart!”
“Nevertheless, as I did not want to think about anything any more, I went to bed quickly, and shut my eyes with all my might, so tightly, indeed, that I put myself to sleep. It was not long before I saw the colonel. He was lying as I saw him in his triple coffin, but he had long white hair and a most benign and venerable appearance. He begged us to put him in consecrated ground, and we carried him, you and I, to the Fontainebleau cemetery. On reaching my mother’s tomb we saw that the stone was displaced. My mother, in a white robe, was moved so as to make a place beside her, and she seemed waiting for the colonel. But every time we attempted to lay him down, the coffin left our hands and rested suspended in the air, as if it had no weight. I could distinguish the poor old man’s features, for his triple coffin had become as transparent as the alabaster lamp burning near the ceiling of my chamber. He was sad, and his broken ear bled freely. All at once he escaped from our hands, the coffin vanished, and I saw nothing but him, pale as a statue, and tall as the tallest oaks of the bas-Breau. His golden epaulettes spread out and became wings, and he raised himself to heaven, holding over us both hands as if in blessing. I woke up all in tears, but I have not told my dream to my aunt, for she would have scolded me again.”
“No one ought to be scolded but me, Clementine dear. It is my fault that your gentle slumbers are troubled by visions of the other world. But all this will be stopped soon: to-day I am going to seek a definite receptacle for the Colonel.”
Last updated Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 15:08