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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Only the next night I again saw Clarimonde


and panted, his forced

and heavy breath sounding like the gasps of the dying. The sight was strange, and lookers-on would rather have taken us for tomb-breakers and robbers of the dead than for God's priests. The zeal of Serapion was of so harsh and savage a cast, that it gave him a look more of the demon than of the apostle or the angel, and his face, with its severe features deeply marked by the glimmer of the lantern, was hardly reassuring. A cold sweat gathered on my limbs and my hair stood on end. In my heart I held Serapion's deed to be an abominable sacrilege, and I could have wished that a flash of lightning might issue from the womb of the heavy clouds, which rolled low above our heads, and burn him to ashes. The owls perched about the cypress trees, and, disturbed by the lantern, came and flapped its panes heavily with their dusty wings, the foxes barked in the distance, and a thousand sinister echoes troubled the silence. At length Serapion's spade struck the coffin with the terrible hollow sound that nothingness returns to those who intrude on it. He lifted the lid, and I saw Clarimonde, as pale as marble, and with her hands joined; there was no fold in her snow-white shroud from head to foot; at the corner of her blanched lips there shone one little rosy drop. At the sight Serapion broke into fury. "Ah! fiend, foul harlot, drinker of gold and blood, we have found you!" said
he, and he scattered holy water over corpse and coffin, tracing the sign of the cross with his brush. No sooner had the blessed shower touched my Clarimonde than her fair body crumbled into dust, and became nought but a hideous mixture of ashes and half-burnt bones. "There, Signor Romuald," said the inexorable priest, pointing to the remains, "there is your mistress. Are you still tempted to escort her to the Lido or to Fusina?" I bowed my head; a mighty ruin had taken place within me. I returned to my parsonage, and Il Signor Romualdo, the lover of Clarimonde, said farewell for ever to the poor priest whose strange companion he had been so long. Only the next night I again saw Clarimonde. She said to me, as at first in the church porch, "Poor wretch, what have you done? Why did you listen to that frantic priest? Were you not happy? And what harm had I done you that you should violate my grave, and shamefully expose the misery of my nothingness? Henceforward all communication between us, soul and body, is broken. Farewell, you will regret me." She vanished in the air like a vapour, and I saw her no more.

Alas! she spoke too truly. I have regretted her again and again. I regret her still. The repose of my soul has indeed been dearly bought, and the love of God itself has not been too much to replace the gap left by hers. This, my brother, is the history of my youth. Never look at woman, and let your eyes as you walk be fixed upon the ground; for, pure and calm as you may be, a single moment is sufficient to make you lose your eternal peace.

[Sidenote: Criticism thereof.]

Now, though to see a thing in translation be always to see it "as in a glass darkly"; and though in this case the glass may be unduly flawed and clouded, my own critical faculties must not only now be unusually[199] enfeebled by age, but must always have been crippled by some strange affection, if certain things


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