Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 20

A Dead Fairy

Today I arrived unexpectedly at Diou-djen-dji, in the midst of burning noonday heat. At the foot of the stairs lay Chrysanthème’s wooden shoes and her sandals of varnished leather.

In our rooms, upstairs, all was open to the air; bamboo blinds hung on the sunny side, and through their transparency came warm air and golden threads of light. Today the flowers Chrysanthème had placed in the bronze vases were lotus, and as I entered, my eyes fell upon their wide rosy cups.

According to her usual custom, Chrysanthème was lying flat on the floor enjoying her daily siesta.

What a singular originality these bouquets of Chrysanthème always have: a something, difficult to define, a Japanese slightness, an artificial grace which we never should succeed in imparting to them.

She was sleeping, face down, upon the mats, her high headdress and tortoise-shell pins standing out boldly from the rest of the horizontal figure. The train of her tunic appeared to prolong her delicate little body, like the tail of a bird; her arms were stretched crosswise, the sleeves spread out like wings, and her long guitar lay beside her.

She looked like a dead fairy; still more did she resemble some great blue dragon-fly, which, having alighted on that spot, some unkind hand had pinned to the floor.

Madame Prune, who had come upstairs after me, always officious and eager, manifested by her gestures her sentiments of indignation on beholding the careless reception accorded by Chrysanthème to her lord and master, and advanced to wake her.

“Pray do nothing of the kind, my good Madame Prune; you don’t know how much I prefer her like that!” I had left my shoes below, according to custom, beside the little shoes and sandals; and I entered on the tips of my toes, very, very, softly to sit awhile on the veranda.

What a pity this little Chrysanthème can not always be asleep; she is really extremely decorative seen in this manner — and like this, at least, she does not bore me. Who knows what may be passing in that little head and heart! If I only had the means of finding out! But strange to say, since we have kept house together, instead of advancing in my study of the Japanese language, I have neglected it, so much have I felt the impossibility of ever interesting myself in the subject.

Seated upon my veranda, my eyes wandered over the temples and cemeteries spread at my feet, over the woods and the green mountains, over Nagasaki lying bathed in the sunlight. The cicalas were chirping their loudest, the strident noise trembling feverishly in the hot air. All was calm, full of light and full of heat.

Nevertheless, to my taste, it is not yet enough so! What, then, can have changed upon the earth? The burning noondays of summer, such as I can recall in days gone by, were more brilliant, more full of sunshine; Nature seemed to me in those days more powerful, more terrible. One would say this was only a pale copy of all that I knew in early years — a copy in which something is wanting. Sadly do I ask myself — Is the splendor of the summer only this? Was it only this? or is it the fault of my eyes, and as time goes on shall I behold everything around me fading still more?

Behind me comes a faint and melancholy strain of music — melancholy enough to make one shiver — and shrill, shrill as the song of the grasshoppers, it began to make itself heard, very softly at first, then growing louder and rising in the silence of the noonday like the diminutive wail of some poor Japanese soul in pain and anguish; it was Chrysanthème and her guitar awaking together.

It pleased me that the idea should have occurred to her to greet me with music, instead of eagerly hastening to wish me good-morning. At no time have I ever given myself the trouble to pretend the slightest affection for her, and a certain coldness even has grown up between us, especially when we are alone. But to-day I turn to her with a smile, and wave my hand for her to continue. “Go on, it amuses me to listen to your quaint little impromptu.” It is singular that the music of this essentially merry people should be so plaintive. But undoubtedly that which Chrysanthème is playing at this moment is worth listening to. Whence can it have come to her? What unutterable dreams, forever hidden from me, surge beneath her ivory brow, when she plays or sings in this manner?

Suddenly I hear some one tapping three times, with a harsh and bony finger, against one of the steps of our stairs, and in our doorway appears an idiot, clad in a suit of gray tweed, who bows low. “Come in, come in, Monsieur Kangourou. You come just in the nick of time! I was actually becoming enthusiastic over your country!”

M. Kangourou brought a little laundry bill, which he wished respectfully to hand to me, with a profound bend of the whole body, the correct pose of the hands on the knees, and a long, snake-like hiss.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57