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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

At once I recognised Clarimonde


"My son," said he, "it is my duty to warn you that your feet are on the brink of an abyss; take heed of falling. Satan's hands reach far, and the grave is not always a faithful gaoler. Clarimonde's tombstone should be sealed with a triple seal, for it is not, say they, the first time she has died. May God watch over you." Saying this, Serapion slowly went out, and I saw him no more. I soon recovered completely, and returned to my usual occupations; and though I never forgot the memory of Clarimonde and the words of the father, nothing extraordinary for a time occurred to confirm in any way his ill-omened forebodings, so that I began to believe that his apprehensions and my own terror were unfounded. But one night I had a dream. Scarcely had I fallen asleep when I heard my bed-curtains drawn, the rings grating sharply on the rods. I raised myself abruptly on my elbow and saw before me the shadowy figure of a woman. At once I recognised Clarimonde. She carried in her hand a small lamp of the shape of those which are placed in tombs, and the light of it gave to her tapering fingers a rosy transparency which, with gradually fainter tints, prolonged itself till it was lost in the milky whiteness of her naked arm. The only garment she had on was the linen shroud which covered her on her death-bed, and she tried to hold up its folds on her breast as if shame-stricken
at her scanty clothing. But her little hand was not equal to the task; and so white was she that the lamplight failed to make distinction between the colour of the drapery and the hue of the flesh. Wrapped in this fine tissue, she was more like an antique marble statue of a bather than a live woman. Dead or alive, woman or statue, shadow or body, her beauty was unchangeable, but the green flash of her eyes was somewhat dulled, and her mouth, so red of old, was now tinted only with a faint rose-tint like that of her cheeks. The blue flowerets in her hair were withered and had lost almost all their petals; yet she was still all charming--so charming that, despite the strangeness of the adventure and the unexplained fashion of her entrance, no thought of fear occurred to me. She placed the lamp on the table and seated herself on the foot of my bed; then, bending towards me, she spoke in the soft and silvery voice that I have heard from none but her. "I have kept you waiting long, dear Romuald, and you must have thought that I had forgotten you. But I come from very far--from a place whence no traveller has yet returned. There is neither sun nor moon, nor aught but space and shadow; no road is there, nor pathway to guide the foot, nor air to uphold the wing; and yet here am I, for love is stronger than death, and is his master at the last. Ah! what sad faces, what sights of terror, I have met! With what pains has my soul, regaining this world by force of will, found again my body and reinstalled itself! With what effort have I lifted the heavy slab they laid upon me, even to the bruising of my poor feeble hands! Kiss them, dear love, and they will be cured." She placed one by one the cold palms of her little hands against my mouth, and I kissed them again and again, while she watched me with her smile of ineffable content. I at once forgot Serapion's advice, I forgot my sacred office; I succumbed without resistance at the first summons, I did not even attempt to repulse the tempter.


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