Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 28

A Doll’s Correspondence

Chrysanthème has brought but few things with her, knowing that our domestic life would probably be brief.

She has placed her gowns and her fine sashes in little closed recesses, hidden in one of the walls of our apartment (the north wall, the only one of the four which can not be taken to pieces). The doors of these niches are white paper panels; the standing shelves and inside partitions, consisting of light woodwork, are put together almost too finically and too ingeniously, giving rise to suspicions of secret drawers and conjuring tricks. We put there only things without any value, having a vague feeling that the cupboards themselves might spirit them away.

The box in which Chrysanthème stores away her gewgaws and letters, is one of the things that amuse me most; it is of English make, tin, and bears on its cover the colored representation of some manufactory in the neighborhood of London. Of course, it is as an exotic work of art, as a precious knickknack, that Chrysanthème prefers it to any of her other boxes in lacquer or inlaid work. It contains all that a mousme requires for her correspondence: Indian ink, a paintbrush, very thin, gray-tinted paper, cut up in long narrow strips, and odd-shaped envelopes, into which these strips are slipped (having been folded up in about thirty folds); the envelopes are ornamented with pictures of landscapes, fishes, crabs, or birds.

On some old letters addressed to her, I can make out the two characters that represent her name: Kikousan (“Chrysanthème, Madame”). And when I question her, she replies in Japanese, with an air of importance:

“My dear, they are letters from my woman friends.”

Oh, those friends of Chrysanthème, what funny little faces they have! That same box contains their portraits, their photographs stuck on visiting cards, which are printed on the back with the name of Uyeno, the fashionable photographer in Nagasaki — the little creatures fit only to figure daintily on painted fans, who have striven to assume a dignified attitude when once their necks have been placed in the head-rest, and they have been told: “Now, don’t move.”

It would really amuse me to read the letters of my mousme’s friends — and above all her replies!

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