Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Panther Fight
By Eugène Sue (1804–1857)
From ‘The Wandering Jew’

THE PANTOMIME opening, by which was introduced the combat of Morok with the black panther, was so unmeaning that the majority of the audience paid no attention to it, reserving all their interest for the scene in which the lion-tamer was to make his appearance.  1
  This indifference of the public explains the curiosity excited in the theatre by the arrival of Faringhea and Djalma; a curiosity which expressed itself (as at this day, when uncommon foreigners appear in public) by a slight murmur and general movement amongst the crowd. The sprightly, pretty face of Rose-Pompon—always charming, in spite of her singularly staring dress, in style so ridiculous for such a theatre, and her light and familiar manner towards the handsome Indian who accompanied her—increased and animated the general surprise; for at this moment Rose-Pompon, yielding without reserve to a movement of teasing coquetry, had held up, as we have already stated, her large bunch of roses to Djalma. But the prince, at sight of the landscape which reminded him of his country, instead of appearing sensible to this pretty provocation, remained for some minutes as in a dream, with his eyes fixed upon the stage. Then Rose-Pompon began to beat time on the front of the box with her bouquet, whilst the somewhat too visible movement of her pretty shoulders showed that this devoted dancer was thinking of fast-life dances, as the orchestra struck up a more lively strain.  2
  Placed directly opposite the box in which Faringhea, Djalma, and Rose-Pompon had just taken their seats, Lady Morinval soon perceived the arrival of these two personages, and particularly the eccentric coquetries of Rose-Pompon. Immediately the young marchioness, leaning over towards Mademoiselle de Cardoville, who was still absorbed in memories ineffable, said to her, laughing, “My dear, the most amusing part of the performance is not upon the stage. Look just opposite.”  3
  “Just opposite?” repeated Adrienne mechanically; and turning towards Lady Morinval with an air of surprise, she glanced in the direction pointed out.  4
  She looked—what did she see?—Djalma seated by the side of a young woman, who was familiarly offering to his sense of smell the perfume of her bouquet. Amazed—struck almost literally to the heart, as by an electric shock, swift, sharp, and painful—Adrienne became deadly pale. From instinct, she shut her eyes for a second in order not to see—as men try to ward off the dagger, which, having once dealt the blow, threatens to strike again. Then suddenly, to this feeling of grief succeeded a reflection terrible both to her love and to her wounded pride.  5
  “Djalma is present with this woman, though he must have received my letter,” she said to herself, “wherein he was informed of the happiness that awaited him.”  6
  At the idea of so cruel an insult, a blush of shame and indignation displaced the paleness of Adrienne; who, overwhelmed by this sad reality, said to herself, “Rodin did not deceive me.”  7
  We abandon all idea of picturing the lightning-like rapidity of certain emotions, which in a moment may torture—may kill you in the space of a minute. Thus Adrienne was precipitated from the most radiant happiness to the lowest depths of an abyss of the most heart-rending grief, in less than a second; for a second had hardly elapsed before she replied to Lady Morinval: “What is there then so curious, opposite to us, my dear Julia?”  8
  This evasive question gave Adrienne time to recover her self-possession. Fortunately, thanks to the thick folds of hair which almost entirely concealed her cheeks, the rapid and sudden changes from pallor to blush escaped the notice of Lady Morinval, who gayly replied, “What, my dear, do you not perceive those East-Indians who have just entered the box immediately opposite to ours? There, just before us!”  9
  “Yes, I see them; but what then?” replied Adrienne in a firm tone.  10
  “And don’t you observe anything remarkable?” said the marchioness.  11
  “Don’t be too hard, ladies,” laughingly interposed the marquis: “we ought to allow the poor foreigners some little indulgence. They are ignorant of our manners and customs: were it not for that, they would never appear in the face of all Paris in such dubious company.”  12
  “Indeed,” said Adrienne, with a bitter smile: “their simplicity is touching; we must pity them.”  13
  “And unfortunately the girl is charming, spite of her low dress and bare arms,” said the marchioness; “she cannot be more than sixteen or seventeen at most. Look at her, my dear Adrienne; what a pity!”  14
  “It is one of your charitable days, my dear Julia,” answered Adrienne: “we are to pity the Indians, to pity this creature, and—pray, whom else are we to pity?”  15
  “We will not pity that handsome Indian in his red-and-gold turban,” said the marquis laughing; “for if this goes on, the girl with the cherry-colored ribbons will be giving him a kiss. See how she leans towards her sultan.”  16
  “They are very amusing,” said the marchioness, sharing the hilarity of her husband, and looking at Rose-Pompon through her glass; then she resumed in about a minute, addressing herself to Adrienne, “I am quite certain of one thing. Notwithstanding her giddy airs, that girl is very fond of her Indian. I just saw a look that expresses a great deal.”  17
  “Why so much penetration, my dear Julia?” said Adrienne mildly: “what interest have we in reading the heart of that girl?”  18
  “Why, if she loves her sultan, she is quite in the right,” said the marquis, looking through his opera-glass in turn; “for in my whole life I never saw a more handsome fellow than that Indian. I can only catch his side-face, but the profile is pure and fine as an antique cameo. Do you not think so?” added the marquis, leaning towards Adrienne. “Of course it is only as a matter of art that I permit myself to ask you the question.”  19
  “As a work of art,” answered Adrienne, “it is certainly very fine.”  20
  “But see!” said the marchioness: “how impertinent the little creature is! She is actually staring at us.”  21
  “Well!” said the marquis; “and she is actually laying her hand quite unceremoniously on her sultan’s shoulder—to make him share, no doubt, in her admiration of you ladies.”  22
  In fact, Djalma, until now occupied with the contemplation of the scene which reminded him of his country, had remained insensible to the enticements of Rose-Pompon, and had not yet perceived Adrienne.  23
  “Well now!” said Rose-Pompon, bustling herself about in front of the box, and continuing to stare at Mademoiselle de Cardoville,—for it was she and not the marchioness who now drew her attention: “that is something quite out of the common way,—a pretty woman with red hair; but such a sweet red, it must be owned. Look, Prince Charming!”  24
  And so saying, she tapped Djalma lightly on the shoulder: he started at these words, turned round, and for the first time perceived Mademoiselle de Cardoville.  25
  Though he had been almost prepared for this meeting, the prince was so violently affected by it that he was about involuntarily to rise, in a state of the utmost confusion; but he felt the iron hand of Faringhea laid heavily on his shoulder, and heard him whisper in Hindostanee, “Courage! and by to-morrow she will be at your feet.”  26
  As Djalma still struggled to rise, the half-caste added, to restrain him, “Just now she grew pale and red with jealousy. No weakness, or all is lost!”  27
  “So! there you are again, talking your dreadful gibberish,” said Rose-Pompon, turning round toward Faringhea. “First of all, it is not polite; and then the language is so odd, that one might suppose you were cracking nuts.”  28
  “I spoke of you to my master,” said the half-caste: “he is preparing a surprise for you.”  29
  “A surprise? oh! that is different. Only make haste—do you hear, Prince Charming!” added she, looking tenderly at Djalma.  30
  “My heart is breaking,” said Djalma, in a hollow voice to Faringhea, still using the language of India.  31
  “But to-morrow it will bound with joy and love,” answered the half-caste. “It is only by disdain that you can conquer a proud woman. To-morrow, I tell you, she will be trembling, confused, supplicating, at your feet!”  32
  “To-morrow she will hate me like death!” replied the prince mournfully.  33
  “Yes, were she now to see you weak and cowardly. It is now too late to draw back: look full at her, take the nosegay from this girl, and raise it to your lips. Instantly you will see yonder woman, proud as she is, grow pale and red, as just now. Then will you believe me?”  34
  Reduced by despair to make almost any attempt, and fascinated in spite of himself by the diabolical hints of Faringhea, Djalma looked for a second full at Mademoiselle de Cardoville; then with a trembling hand he took the bouquet from Rose-Pompon, and again looking at Adrienne, pressed it to his lips.  35
  Upon this insolent bravado, Mademoiselle de Cardoville could not restrain so sudden and visible a pang that the prince was struck by it.  36
  “She is yours,” said the half-caste to him. “Did you see, my lord, how she trembled with jealousy? Only have courage, and she is yours. She would soon prefer you to that handsome young man behind her—for it is he whom she has hitherto fancied herself in love with.”  37
  As if the half-caste had guessed the movement of rage and hatred which this revelation would excite in the heart of the prince, he hastily added, “Calmness and disdain! Is it not his turn now to hate you?”  38
  The prince restrained himself, and drew his hand across his forehead, which glowed with anger.  39
  “There now! what are you telling him that vexes him so?” said Rose-Pompon to Faringhea, with pouting lip. Then addressing Djalma, she continued, “Come, Prince Charming, as they say in the fairy tale,—give me back my flowers.”  40
  As she took the bouquet again, she added, “You have kissed it, and I could almost eat it.” Then with a sigh, and a passionate glance at Djalma, she said softly to herself, “That monster Ninny Moulin did not deceive me. All this is quite proper; I have not even that to reproach myself with.” And with her little white teeth she bit at a rosy nail of her right hand, from which she had just drawn the glove.  41
  It is hardly necessary to say that Adrienne’s letter had not been delivered to the prince, and that he had not gone to pass the day in the country with Marshal Simon. During the three days in which Montbron had not seen Djalma, Faringhea had persuaded him that by affecting another passion, he would bring Mademoiselle de Cardoville to terms. With regard to Djalma’s presence at the theatre, Rodin had learned from her maid Florine that her mistress was to go in the evening to the Porte-Saint-Martin. Before Djalma had recognized her, Adrienne, who felt her strength failing her, was on the point of quitting the theatre: the man whom she had hitherto placed so high, whom she had regarded as a hero and a demigod, and whom she had imagined plunged in such dreadful despair that, led by the most tender pity, she had written to him with simple frankness, that a sweet hope might calm his grief,—replied to a generous mark of sincerity and love by making himself a ridiculous spectacle with a creature unworthy of him.  42
  What incurable wounds for Adrienne’s pride! It mattered little whether Djalma knew or not that she would be a spectator of the indignity. But when she saw herself recognized by the prince, when he carried the insult so far as to look full at her, and at the same time raise to his lips the bouquet of the creature who accompanied him, Adrienne was seized with noble indignation, and felt sufficient courage to remain; instead of closing her eyes to evidence, she found a sort of barbarous pleasure in assisting at the agony and death of her pure and divine love. With head erect, proud and flashing eye, flushed cheek, and curling lip, she looked in her turn at the prince with disdainful steadiness. It was with a sardonic smile that she said to the marchioness, who, like many others of the spectators, was occupied with what was passing in the stage-box, “This revolting exhibition of savage manners is at least in accordance with the rest of the performance.”  43
  “Certainly,” said the marchioness; “and my dear uncle will have lost, perhaps, the most amusing part.”  44
  “Montbron?” said Adrienne hastily, with hardly repressed bitterness: “yes, he will regret not having seen all. I am impatient for his arrival. Is it not to him that I am indebted for this charming evening?”  45
  Perhaps Madame de Morinval would have remarked the expression of bitter irony that Adrienne could not altogether dissemble, if suddenly a hoarse and prolonged roar had not attracted her attention, as well as that of the rest of the audience, who had hitherto been quite indifferent to the scenes intended for an introduction to the appearance of Morok. Every eye was now turned instinctively towards the cavern, situated to the left of the stage, just below Mademoiselle de Cardoville’s box; a thrill of curiosity ran through the house.  46
  A second roar, deeper and more sonorous, and apparently expressive of more irritation than the first, now rose from the cave; the mouth of which was half hidden by artificial brambles, made so as to be easily put on one side. At this sound the Englishman stood up in his little box, leaned half over the front, and began to rub his hands with great energy; then remaining perfectly motionless, he fixed his large, green, glittering eyes on the mouth of the cavern.  47
  At these ferocious howlings, Djalma also had started, notwithstanding the frenzy of love, hate, and jealousy to which he was a prey. The sight of this forest, and the roarings of the panther, filled him with deep emotion; for they recalled the remembrance of his country, and of those great hunts which, like war, have their own terrible excitement. Had he suddenly heard the horns and gongs of his father’s army sounding to the charge, he could not have been transported with more savage ardor. And now deep growls, like distant thunder, almost drowned the roar of the panther. The lion and tiger, Judas and Cain, answered her from their dens at the back of the stage. On this frightful concert, with which his ears had been familiar in the midst of the solitudes of India, when he lay encamped for the purposes of the chase or of war, Djalma’s blood boiled in his veins. His eyes sparkled with a wild ardor. Leaning a little forward, with both hands pressed on the front of the box, his whole body trembled with a convulsive shudder. The audience, the theatre, Adrienne herself, no longer existed for him: he was in a forest of his own lands, tracking the tiger.  48
  Then there mingled with his beauty so intrepid and ferocious an expression, that Rose-Pompon looked at him with a sort of terror and passionate admiration. For the first time in her life, perhaps, her pretty blue eyes, generally so gay and mischievous, expressed a serious emotion. She could not explain what she felt; but her heart seemed tightened, and beat violently, as though some calamity were at hand.  49
  Yielding to a movement of involuntary fear, she seized Djalma by the arm, and said to him, “Do not stare so into that cavern; you frighten me.”  50
  Djalma did not hear what she said.  51
  “Here he is! here he is!” murmured the crowd, almost with one voice, as Morok appeared at the back of the stage.  52
  Dressed as we have described, Morok now carried in addition a bow and a long quiver full of arrows. He slowly descended the line of painted rocks, which came sloping down towards the centre of the stage. From time to time, he stopped as if to listen, and appeared to advance with caution. Looking from one side to the other, his eyes involuntarily encountered the large green eyes of the Englishman, whose box was close to the cavern. Instantly the lion-tamer’s countenance was contracted in so frightful a manner that Lady Morinval, who was examining him closely with the aid of an excellent glass, said hastily to Adrienne, “My dear, the man is afraid. Some misfortune will happen.”  53
  “How can accidents happen,” said Adrienne with a sardonic smile, “in the midst of this brilliant crowd, so well dressed and full of animation! Misfortunes here this evening! why, dear Julia, you do not think it. It is in darkness and solitude that misfortunes come,—never in the midst of a joyous crowd, and in all this blaze of light.”  54
  “Good gracious, Adrienne! take care!” cried the marchioness, unable to repress an exclamation of alarm, and seizing her arm as if to draw her closer: “do you not see it?” And with a trembling hand she pointed to the cavern’s mouth. Adrienne hastily bent forward, and looked in that direction. “Take care, do not lean forward so!” exclaimed Lady Morinval.  55
  “Your terrors are nonsensical, my dear,” said the marquis to his wife. “The panther is securely chained; and even were it to break its chain, which is impossible, we are beyond its reach.”  56
  A long murmur of trembling curiosity here ran through the house, and every eye was intently fixed on the cavern. From amongst the artificial brambles, which she abruptly pushed aside with her broad chest, the black panther suddenly appeared. Twice she stretched forth her flat head, illumined by yellow, flaming eyes; then, half opening her blood-red jaws, she uttered another roar, and exhibited two rows of formidable fangs. A double iron chain, and a collar also of iron, painted black, blended with the ebon shades of her hide, and with the darkness of the cavern. The illusion was complete, and the terrible animal seemed to be at liberty in her den.  57
  “Ladies,” said the marquis suddenly, “look at those Indians. Their emotion makes them superb!”  58
  In fact, the sight of the panther had raised the wild ardor of Djalma to its utmost pitch. His eyes sparkled in their pearly orbits like two black diamonds; his upper lip was curled convulsively with an expression of animal ferocity, as if he were in a violent paroxysm of rage.  59
  Faringhea, now leaning on the front of the box, was also greatly excited, by reason of a strange coincidence. “That black panther of so rare a breed,” thought he, “which I see here at Paris upon a stage, must be the very one that the Malay” (the Thug who had tattooed Djalma at Java during his sleep) “took quite young from his den, and sold to a European captain. Bowanee’s power is everywhere!” added the Thug, in his sanguinary superstition.  60
  “Do you not think,” resumed the marquis, addressing Adrienne, “that those Indians are really splendid in their present attitude?”  61
  “Perhaps they may have seen such a hunt in their own country,” said Adrienne, as if she would recall and brave the most cruel remembrances.  62
  “Adrienne,” said the marchioness suddenly, in an agitated voice, “the lion-tamer has now come nearer—is not his countenance fearful to look at? I tell you he is afraid.”  63
  “In truth,” observed the marquis, this time very seriously, “he is dreadfully pale, and seems to grow worse every minute, the nearer he approaches this side. It is said that were he to lose his presence of mind for a single moment, he would run the greatest danger.”  64
  “Oh! it would be horrible,” cried the marchioness, addressing Adrienne, “if he were wounded—there—under our eyes!”  65
  “Every wound does not kill,” replied her friend, with an accent of such cold indifference that the marchioness looked at her with surprise, and said to her, “My dear girl, what you say is cruel!”  66
  “It is the air of the place that acts on me,” answered Adrienne with an icy smile.  67
  “Look! look! the lion-tamer is about to shoot his arrow at the panther,” said the marquis suddenly. “No doubt he will next perform the hand-to-hand grapple.”  68
  Morok was at this moment in front of the stage, but he had yet to traverse its entire breadth to reach the cavern’s mouth. He stopped an instant, adjusted an arrow to the string, knelt down behind a mass of rock, took deliberate aim—and then the arrow hissed across the stage, and was lost in the depths of the cavern, into which the panther had retired, after showing for a moment her threatening head to the audience. Hardly had the arrow disappeared, than Death, purposely irritated by Goliath (who was invisible), sent forth a howl of rage, as if she had been really wounded. Morok’s actions became so expressive, he evinced so naturally his joy at having hit the wild beast, that a tempest of applause burst from every quarter of the house. Then throwing away his bow, he drew a dagger from his girdle, took it between his teeth, and began to crawl forward on hands and knees, as though he meant to surprise the wounded panther in his den. To render the illusion perfect, Death, again excited by Goliath, who struck him with an iron bar, sent forth frightful howlings from the depths of the cavern.  69
  The gloomy aspect of the forest, only half lighted with a reddish glare, was so effective, the howlings of the panther were so furious, the gestures, attitude, and countenance of Morok were so expressive of terror, that the audience, attentive and trembling, now maintained a profound silence. Every one held his breath; and a kind of shudder came over the spectators, as though they expected some horrible event. What gave such a fearful air of truth to the pantomime of Morok was that, as he approached the cavern step by step, he approached also the Englishman’s box. In spite of himself, the lion-tamer, fascinated by terror, could not take his eyes from the large green eyes of this man; and it seemed as if every one of the abrupt movements which he made in crawling along was produced by a species of magnetic attraction, caused by the fixed gaze of the fatal wagerer. Therefore the nearer Morok approached, the more ghastly and livid he became. At sight of this pantomime, which was no longer acting, but the real expression of intense fear, the deep and trembling silence which had reigned in the theatre was once more interrupted by cheers, with which were mingled the roarings of the panther, and the distant growls of the lion and tiger.  70
  The Englishman leaned almost out of his box, with a frightful sardonic smile on his lip; and with his large eyes still fixed, panted for breath. The perspiration ran down his bald red forehead, as if he had really expended an incredible amount of magnetic power in attracting Morok, whom he now saw close to the cavern entrance. The moment was decisive. Crouching down with his dagger in his hand, following with eye and gesture every movement of Death,—who, roaring furiously, and opening wide her enormous jaws, seemed determined to guard the entrance of her den,—Morok waited for the moment to rush upon her. There is such fascination in danger, that Adrienne shared in spite of herself the feeling of painful curiosity, mixed with terror, that thrilled through all the spectators. Leaning forward like the marchioness, and gazing upon this scene of fearful interest, the lady still held mechanically in her hand the Indian bouquet preserved since the morning. Suddenly Morok raised a wild shout, as he rushed towards Death; who answered this exclamation by a dreadful roar, and threw herself upon her master with so much fury that Adrienne, in alarm, believing the man lost, drew herself back, and covered her face with her hands. Her flowers slipped from her grasp, and falling upon the stage, rolled into the cavern in which Morok was struggling with the panther.  71
  Quick as lightning, supple and agile as a tiger, yielding to the intoxication of his love, and to the wild ardor excited in him by the roaring of the panther, Djalma sprang at one bound upon the stage, drew his dagger, and rushed into the cavern to recover Adrienne’s nosegay. At that instant Morok, being wounded, uttered a dreadful cry for help; the panther, rendered still more furious at sight of Djalma, made the most desperate efforts to break her chain. Unable to succeed in doing so, she rose upon her hind legs, in order to seize Djalma, then within reach of her sharp claws. It was only by bending down his head, throwing himself on his knees, and twice plunging his dagger into her belly with the rapidity of lightning, that Djalma escaped certain death. The panther gave a howl, and fell with her whole weight upon the prince. For a second, during which lasted her terrible agony, nothing was seen but a confused and convulsive mass of black limbs, and white garments stained with blood: and then Djalma rose, pale, bleeding—for he was wounded; and standing erect, his eye flashing with savage pride, his foot on the body of the panther, he held in his hand Adrienne’s bouquet, and cast towards her a glance which told the intensity of his love. Then only did Adrienne feel her strength fail her; for only superhuman courage had enabled her to watch all the terrible incidents of the struggle.  72

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