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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

But he put Xailoun in a safer place


But

next day again the venerable Lokman passed by, and _he_ saw that the tree was a upas tree and the sleepers were dead. And he understood it all, and he passed his hand through his beard and fell on his face, and gave glory to God. And then he buried the three covetous ones in separate graves under the upas itself. But he put Xailoun in a safer place, that his friends might come and do right to him; and he buried the kardouon apart on a little slope facing the sun, such as lizards love, and near Xailoun. And, lastly, having stroked his beard again, he buried the treasure too. But he was very old: and he was very weary when he had finished this, and God took him.

And on the seventh day there came an angel and promised Xailoun Paradise, and made a mark on his tomb with a feather from his own wing. And he kissed the forehead of Lokman and made him rise from the dead, and took him to the seventh heaven itself. And this is the history of the angel. It all happened ages ago, and though the name of Lokman has lived always through them, so has the shadow of the upas tree.

And this is the history of the world.

Only a child's goody-goody tale? Possibly. But for my part I know no better philosophy and, at least as Nodier told it, not much better literature.

[Sidenote: Minors.]

_Baptiste Montauban_ and _La Combe de l'Homme

mort_ are, though scarcely shorter than _Le Songe d'Or_, slighter. The first is a pathetic but not quite consummate story of "love and madness" in a much better sense than that in which Nodier's eccentric employer, Sir Herbert Croft, used the words as his title for the history of Parson Hackman and Miss Ray.[86] The second ("combe," the omission of which from the official French dictionaries Nodier characteristically denounces, is our own "combe"--a deep valley; from, I suppose, the Celtic Cwm; and pronounced by Devonshire folk in a manner which no other Englishman, born east of the line between the mouths of the Parret and the Axe, can master) is a good but not supreme _diablerie_ of a not uncommon kind. _La Neuvaine de la Chandeleur_ is longer, and from some points of view the most pathetic of all. A young man, hearing some girls talk of a much-elaborated ceremony like those of Hallowe'en in Scotland and of St. Agnes' Eve in Keats, by which (in this case) _both_ sexes can see their fated lovers, tries it, and discerns, in dream or vision, his ideal as well as his fate. She turns out to be an actual girl whom he has never seen, but whom both his father and her father--old friends--earnestly desire that he should marry. He travels to her home, is enthusiastically greeted, and finds her even more bewitching than her wraith or whatever it is to be called. But she is evidently in bad health, and dies the same night of aneurism. Not guested in the house, but trysted in the morning, he goes there, and seeing preparations in the street for a funeral, asks of some one, being only half alarmed, "_Qui est mort?_" The answer is, "Mademoiselle Cecile Savernier."

Had these words terminated the story it would have been nearly perfect. Two more pages of the luckless lover's progress to resignation from despair and projected suicide seem to me to blunt the poignancy.

[Sidenote: _La Fee aux Miettes._]

In fact, acknowledging most humbly that I could not write even the worst and shortest of Nodier's stories, I am bound to say that I think he was not to be trusted with a long one. _La Fee aux Miettes_ is at once an awful and a delightful example. The story of the mad shipwright Michel, who fell in love with the old dwarf beggar--so unlike her of Bednal Green or King Cophetua's love--at the church door of Avranches; who followed her to Greenock and got inextricably mixed between her and the Queen of Sheba; who for some time passed his nights in making love to Belkis and his days in attending to the wisdom of the Fairy of the Crumbs (she always brought him his breakfast after the Sabaean Nights); who at last identified the two in one final rapture, after seeking for a Singing Mandrake; and who spent the rest (if not, indeed, the whole) of his days in the Glasgow Lunatic Asylum;--is at times so ineffably charming that one is almost afraid oneself to repeat the refrain--


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