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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Passion in the Desert
By Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850)
“THE SIGHT was fearful!” she exclaimed, as we left the menagerie of Monsieur Martin.  1
  She had been watching that daring speculator as he went through his wonderful performance in the den of the hyena.  2
  “How is it possible,” she continued, “to tame those animals so as to be certain that he can trust them?”  3
  “You think it a problem,” I answered, interrupting her, “and yet it is a natural fact.”  4
  “Oh!” she cried, an incredulous smile flickering on her lip.  5
  “Do you think that beasts are devoid of passions?” I asked. “Let me assure you that we teach them all the vices and virtues of our own state of civilization.”  6
  She looked at me in amazement.  7
  “The first time I saw Monsieur Martin,” I added, “I exclaimed, as you do, with surprise. I happened to be sitting beside an old soldier whose right leg was amputated, and whose appearance had attracted my notice as I entered the building. His face, stamped with the scars of battle, wore the undaunted look of a veteran of the wars of Napoleon. Moreover, the old hero had a frank and joyous manner which attracts me wherever I meet it. He was doubtless one of those old campaigners whom nothing can surprise, who find something to laugh at in the last contortions of a comrade, and will bury a friend or rifle his body gayly; challenging bullets with indifference; making short shrift for themselves or others; and fraternizing, as a usual thing, with the devil. After looking very attentively at the proprietor of the menagerie as he entered the den, my companion curled his lip with that expression of satirical contempt which well-informed men sometimes put on to mark the difference between themselves and dupes. As I uttered my exclamation of surprise at the coolness and courage of Monsieur Martin, the old soldier smiled, shook his head, and said with a knowing glance, ‘An old story!’  8
  “‘How do you mean an old story?’ I asked. ‘If you could explain the secret of this mysterious power, I should be greatly obliged to you.’  9
  “After a while, during which we became better acquainted, we went to dine at the first café we could find after leaving the menagerie. A bottle of champagne with our dessert brightened the old man’s recollections and made them singularly vivid. He related to me a circumstance in his early history which proved that he had ample cause to pronounce Monsieur Martin’s performance ‘an old story.’”  10
  When we reached her house, she was so persuasive and captivating, and made me so many pretty promises, that I consented to write down for her benefit the story told me by the old hero. On the following day I sent her this episode of a historical epic, which might be entitled, ‘The French in Egypt.’  11
AT the time of General Desaix’s expedition to Upper Egypt a Provençal soldier, who had fallen into the hands of the Maugrabins, was marched by those tireless Arabs across the desert which lies beyond the cataracts of the Nile. To put sufficient distance between themselves and the French army, the Maugrabins made a forced march and did not halt until after nightfall. They then camped about a well shaded with palm-trees, near which they had previously buried a stock of provisions. Not dreaming that the thought of escape could enter their captive’s mind, they merely bound his wrists, and lay down to sleep themselves, after eating a few dates and giving their horses a feed of barley. When the bold Provençal saw his enemies too soundly asleep to watch him, he used his teeth to pick up a scimitar, with which, steadying the blade by means of his knees, he contrived to cut through the cord which bound his hands, and thus recovered his liberty. He at once seized a carbine and a poniard, took the precaution to lay in a supply of dates, a small bag of barley, some powder and ball, buckled on the scimitar, mounted one of the horses, and spurred him in the direction where he supposed the French army to be. Impatient to meet the outposts, he pressed the horse, which was already wearied, so severely that the poor animal fell dead with his flanks torn, leaving the Frenchman alone in the midst of the desert.  12
  After marching for a long time through the sand with the dogged courage of an escaping galley-slave, the soldier was forced to halt, as darkness drew on: for his utter weariness compelled him to rest, though the exquisite sky of an eastern night might well have tempted him to continue the journey. Happily he had reached a slight elevation, at the top of which a few palm-trees shot upward, whose leafage, seen from a long distance against the sky, had helped to sustain his hopes. His fatigue was so great that he threw himself down on a block of granite, cut by Nature into the shape of a camp-bed, and slept heavily, without taking the least precaution to protect himself while asleep. He accepted the loss of his life as inevitable, and his last waking thought was one of regret for having left the Maugrabins, whose nomad life began to charm him now that he was far away from them and from every other hope of succor.  13
  He was awakened by the sun, whose pitiless beams falling vertically upon the granite rock produced an intolerable heat. The Provençal had ignorantly flung himself down in a contrary direction to the shadows thrown by the verdant and majestic fronds of the palm-trees. He gazed at these solitary monarchs and shuddered. They recalled to his mind the graceful shafts, crowned with long weaving leaves, which distinguish the Saracenic columns of the cathedral of Arles. The thought overcame him, and when, after counting the trees, he threw his eyes upon the scene around him, an agony of despair convulsed his soul. He saw a limitless ocean. The sombre sands of the desert stretched out till lost to sight in all directions; they glittered with dark lustre like a steel blade shining in the sun. He could not tell if it were an ocean or a chain of lakes that lay mirrored before him. A hot vapor swept in waves above the surface of this heaving continent. The sky had the Oriental glow of translucent purity, which disappoints because it leaves nothing for the imagination to desire. The heavens and the earth were both on fire. Silence added its awful and desolate majesty. Infinitude, immensity pressed down upon the soul on every side; not a cloud in the sky, not a breath in the air, not a rift on the breast of the sand, which was ruffled only with little ridges scarcely rising above its surface. Far as the eye could reach the horizon fell away into space, marked by a slender line, slim as the edge of a sabre,—like as in summer seas a thread of light parts this earth from the heaven it meets.  14
  The Provençal clasped the trunk of a palm-tree as if it were the body of a friend. Sheltered from the sun by its straight and slender shadow, he wept; and presently sitting down he remained motionless, contemplating with awful dread the implacable Nature stretched out before him. He cried aloud, as if to tempt the solitude to answer him. His voice, lost in the hollows of the hillock, sounded afar with a thin resonance that returned no echo; the echo came from the soldier’s heart. He was twenty-two years old, and he loaded his carbine.  15
  “Time enough!” he muttered, as he put the liberating weapon on the sand beneath him.  16
  Gazing by turns at the burnished blackness of the sand and the blue expanse of the sky, the soldier dreamed of France. He smelt in fancy the gutters of Paris; he remembered the towns through which he had passed, the faces of his comrades, and the most trifling incidents of his life. His southern imagination saw the pebbles of his own Provence in the undulating play of the heated air, as it seemed to roughen the far-reaching surface of the desert. Dreading the dangers of this cruel mirage, he went down the little hill on the side opposite to that by which he had gone up the night before. His joy was great when he discovered a natural grotto, formed by the immense blocks of granite which made a foundation for the rising ground. The remnants of a mat showed that the place had once been inhabited, and close to the entrance were a few palm-trees loaded with fruit. The instinct which binds men to life woke in his heart. He now hoped to live until some Maugrabin should pass that way; possibly he might even hear the roar of cannon, for Bonaparte was at that time overrunning Egypt. Encouraged by these thoughts, the Frenchman shook down a cluster of the ripe fruit under the weight of which the palms were bending; and as he tasted this unhoped-for manna, he thanked the former inhabitant of the grotto for the cultivation of the trees, which the rich and luscious flesh of the fruit amply attested. Like a true Provençal, he passed from the gloom of despair to a joy that was half insane. He ran back to the top of the hill, and busied himself for the rest of the day in cutting down one of the sterile trees which had been his shelter the night before.  17
  Some vague recollection made him think of the wild beasts of the desert, and foreseeing that they would come to drink at a spring which bubbled through the sand at the foot of the rock, he resolved to protect his hermitage by felling a tree across the entrance. Notwithstanding his eagerness, and the strength which the fear of being attacked while asleep gave to his muscles, he was unable to cut the palm-tree in pieces during the day; but he succeeded in bringing it down. Towards evening the king of the desert fell; and the noise of his fall, echoing far, was like a moan from the breast of Solitude. The soldier shuddered, as though he had heard a voice predicting evil. But, like an heir who does not long mourn a parent, he stripped from the beautiful tree the arching green fronds—its poetical adornment—and made a bed of them in his refuge. Then, tired with his work and by the heat of the day, he fell asleep beneath the red vault of the grotto.  18
  In the middle of the night his sleep was broken by a strange noise. He sat up; the deep silence that reigned everywhere enabled him to hear the alternating rhythm of a respiration whose savage vigor could not belong to a human being. A terrible fear, increased by the darkness, by the silence, by the rush of his waking fancies, numbed his heart. He felt the contraction of his hair, which rose on end as his eyes, dilating to their full strength, beheld through the darkness two faint amber lights. At first he thought them an optical delusion; but by degrees the clearness of the night enabled him to distinguish objects in the grotto, and he saw, within two feet of him, an enormous animal lying at rest.  19
  Was it a lion? Was it a tiger? Was it a crocodile? The Provençal had not enough education to know in what sub-species he ought to class the intruder; but his terror was all the greater because his ignorance made it vague. He endured the cruel trial of listening, of striving to catch the peculiarities of this breathing without losing one of its inflections, and without daring to make the slightest movement. A strong odor, like that exhaled by foxes, only far more pungent and penetrating, filled the grotto. When the soldier had tasted it, so to speak, by the nose, his fear became terror; he could no longer doubt the nature of the terrible companion whose royal lair he had taken for a bivouac. Before long, the reflection of the moon, as it sank to the horizon, lighted up the den and gleamed upon the shining, spotted skin of a panther.  20
  The lion of Egypt lay asleep, curled up like a dog, the peaceable possessor of a kennel at the gate of a mansion; its eyes, which had opened for a moment, were now closed; its head was turned towards the Frenchman. A hundred conflicting thoughts rushed through the mind of the panther’s prisoner. Should he kill it with a shot from his musket? But ere the thought was formed, he saw there was no room to take aim; the muzzle would have gone beyond the animal. Suppose he were to wake it? The fear kept him motionless. As he heard the beating of his heart through the dead silence, he cursed the strong pulsations of his vigorous blood, lest they should disturb the sleep which gave him time to think and plan for safety. Twice he put his hand on his scimitar, with the idea of striking off the head of his enemy; but the difficulty of cutting through the close-haired skin made him renounce the bold attempt. Suppose he missed his aim? It would, he knew, be certain death. He preferred the chances of a struggle, and resolved to await the dawn. It was not long in coming. As daylight broke, the Frenchman was able to examine the animal. Its muzzle was stained with blood. “It has eaten a good meal,” thought he, not caring whether the feast were human flesh or not; “it will not be hungry when it wakes.”  21
  It was a female. The fur on the belly and on the thighs was of sparkling whiteness. Several little spots like velvet made pretty bracelets round her paws. The muscular tail was also white, but it terminated with black rings. The fur of the back, yellow as dead gold and very soft and glossy, bore the characteristic spots, shaded like a full-blown rose, which distinguish the panther from all other species of felis. This terrible hostess lay tranquilly snoring, in an attitude as easy and graceful as that of a cat on the cushions of an ottoman. Her bloody paws, sinewy and well-armed, were stretched beyond her head, which lay upon them; and from her muzzle projected a few straight hairs called whiskers, which shimmered in the early light like silver wires.  22
  If he had seen her lying thus imprisoned in a cage, the Provençal would have admired the creature’s grace, and the strong contrasts of vivid color which gave to her robe an imperial splendor; but as it was, his sight was jaundiced by sinister forebodings. The presence of the panther, though she was still asleep, had the same effect upon his mind as the magnetic eyes of a snake produce, we are told, upon the nightingale. The soldier’s courage oozed away in presence of this silent peril, though he was a man who gathered nerve before the mouths of cannon belching grape-shot. And yet, ere long, a bold thought entered his mind, and checked the cold sweat which was rolling from his brow. Roused to action, as some men are when, driven face to face with death, they defy it and offer themselves to their doom, he saw a tragedy before him, and he resolved to play his part with honor to the last.  23
  “Yesterday,” he said, “the Arabs might have killed me.”  24
  Regarding himself as dead, he waited bravely, but with anxious curiosity, for the waking of his enemy. When the sun rose, the panther suddenly opened her eyes; then she stretched her paws violently, as if to unlimber them from the cramp of their position. Presently she yawned and showed the frightful armament of her teeth, and her cloven tongue, rough as a grater.  25
  “She is like a dainty woman,” thought the Frenchman, watching her as she rolled and turned on her side with an easy and coquettish movement. She licked the blood from her paws, and rubbed her head with a reiterated movement full of grace.  26
  “Well done! dress yourself prettily, my little woman,” said the Frenchman, who recovered his gayety as soon as he had recovered his courage. “We are going to bid each other good-morning;” and he felt for the short poniard which he had taken from the Maugrabins.  27
  At this instant the panther turned her head towards the Frenchman and looked at him fixedly, without moving. The rigidity of her metallic eyes and their insupportable clearness made the Provençal shudder. The beast moved towards him; he looked at her caressingly, with a soothing glance by which he hoped to magnetize her. He let her come quite close to him before he stirred; then with a touch as gentle and loving as he might have used to a pretty woman, he slid his hand along her spine from the head to the flanks, scratching with his nails the flexible vertebræ which divide the yellow back of a panther. The creature drew up her tail voluptuously, her eyes softened, and when for the third time the Frenchman bestowed this self-interested caress, she gave vent to a purr like that with which a cat expresses pleasure: but it issued from a throat so deep and powerful that the sound echoed through the grotto like the last chords of an organ rolling along the roof of a church. The Provençal, perceiving the value of his caresses, redoubled them until they had completely soothed and lulled the imperious courtesan.  28
  When he felt that he had subdued the ferocity of his capricious companion, whose hunger had so fortunately been appeased the night before, he rose to leave the grotto. The panther let him go; but as soon as he reached the top of the little hill she bounded after him with the lightness of a bird hopping from branch to branch, and rubbed against his legs, arching her back with the gesture of a domestic cat. Then looking at her guest with an eye that was growing less inflexible, she uttered the savage cry which naturalists liken to the noise of a saw.  29
  “My lady is exacting,” cried the Frenchman, smiling. He began to play with her ears and stroke her belly, and at last he scratched her head firmly with his nails. Encouraged by success, he tickled her skull with the point of his dagger, looking for the right spot where to stab her; but the hardness of the bone made him pause, dreading failure.  30
  The sultana of the desert acknowledged the talents of her slave by lifting her head and swaying her neck to his caresses, betraying satisfaction by the tranquillity of her relaxed attitude. The Frenchman suddenly perceived that he could assassinate the fierce princess at a blow, if he struck her in the throat; and he had raised the weapon, when the panther, surfeited perhaps with his caresses, threw herself gracefully at his feet, glancing up at him with a look in which, despite her natural ferocity, a flicker of kindness could be seen. The poor Provençal, frustrated for the moment, ate his dates as he leaned against a palm-tree, casting from time to time an interrogating eye across the desert in the hope of discerning rescue from afar, and then lowering it upon his terrible companion, to watch the chances of her uncertain clemency. Each time that he threw away a date-stone the panther eyed the spot where it fell with an expression of keen distrust; and she examined the Frenchman with what might be called commercial prudence. The examination, however, seemed favorable, for when the man had finished his meagre meal she licked his shoes and wiped off the dust, which was caked into the folds of the leather, with her rough and powerful tongue.  31
  “How will it be when she is hungry?” thought the Provençal. In spite of the shudder which this reflection cost him, his attention was attracted by the symmetrical proportions of the animal, and he began to measure them with his eye. She was three feet in height to the shoulder, and four feet long, not including the tail. That powerful weapon, which was round as a club, measured three feet. The head, as large as that of a lioness, was remarkable for an expression of crafty intelligence; the cold cruelty of a tiger was its ruling trait, and yet it bore a vague resemblance to the face of an artful woman. As the soldier watched her, the countenance of this solitary queen shone with savage gayety like that of Nero in his cups: she had slaked her thirst for blood, and now wished for play. The Frenchman tried to come and go, and accustomed her to his movements. The panther left him free, as if contented to follow him with her eyes, seeming, however, less like a faithful dog watching his master’s movements with affection, than a huge Angora cat uneasy and suspicious of them. A few steps brought him to the spring, where he saw the carcass of his horse, which the panther had evidently carried there. Only two-thirds was eaten. The sight reassured the Frenchman; for it explained the absence of his terrible companion and the forbearance which she had shown to him while asleep.  32
  This first good luck encouraged the reckless soldier as he thought of the future. The wild idea of making a home with the panther until some chance of escape occurred entered his mind, and he resolved to try every means of taming her and of turning her good-will to account. With these thoughts he returned to her side, and noticed joyfully that she moved her tail with an almost imperceptible motion. He sat down beside her fearlessly, and they began to play with each other. He held her paws and her muzzle, twisted her ears, threw her over on her back, and stroked her soft warm flanks. She allowed him to do so; and when he began to smooth the fur of her paws, she carefully drew in her murderous claws, which were sharp and curved like a Damascus blade. The Frenchman kept one hand on his dagger, again watching his opportunity to plunge it into the belly of the too-confiding beast; but the fear that she might strangle him in her last convulsions once more stayed his hand. Moreover, he felt in his heart a foreboding of a remorse which warned him not to destroy a hitherto inoffensive creature. He even fancied that he had found a friend in the limitless desert. His mind turned back, involuntarily, to his first mistress, whom he had named in derision “Mignonne,” because her jealousy was so furious that throughout the whole period of their intercourse he lived in dread of the knife with which she threatened him. This recollection of his youth suggested the idea of teaching the young panther, whose soft agility and grace he now admired with less terror, to answer to the caressing name. Towards evening he had grown so familiar with his perilous position that he was half in love with its dangers, and his companion was so far tamed that she had caught the habit of turning to him when he called, in falsetto tones, “Mignonne!”  33
  As the sun went down Mignonne uttered at intervals a prolonged, deep, melancholy cry.  34
  “She is well brought up,” thought the gay soldier. “She says her prayers.” But the jest only came into his mind as he watched the peaceful attitude of his comrade.  35
  “Come, my pretty blonde, I will let you go to bed first,” he said, relying on the activity of his legs to get away as soon as she fell asleep, and trusting to find some other resting-place for the night. He waited anxiously for the right moment, and when it came he started vigorously in the direction of the Nile. But he had scarcely marched for half an hour through the sand before he heard the panther bounding after him, giving at intervals the saw-like cry which was more terrible to hear than the thud of her bounds.  36
  “Well, well!” he cried, “she must have fallen in love with me! Perhaps she has never met any one else. It is flattering to be her first love.”  37
  So thinking, he fell into one of the treacherous quicksands which deceive the inexperienced traveler in the desert, and from which there is seldom any escape. He felt he was sinking, and he uttered a cry of despair. The panther seized him by the collar with her teeth, and sprang vigorously backward, drawing him, like magic, from the sucking sand.  38
  “Ah, Mignonne!” cried the soldier, kissing her with enthusiasm, “we belong to each other now,—for life, for death! But play me no tricks,” he added, as he turned back the way he came.  39
  From that moment the desert was, as it were, peopled for him. It held a being to whom he could talk, and whose ferocity was now lulled into gentleness, although he could scarcely explain to himself the reasons for this extraordinary friendship. His anxiety to keep awake and on his guard succumbed to excessive weariness both of body and mind, and throwing himself down on the floor of the grotto he slept soundly. At his waking Mignonne was gone. He mounted the little hill to scan the horizon, and perceived her in the far distance returning with the long bounds peculiar to these animals, who are prevented from running by the extreme flexibility of their spinal column.  40
  Mignonne came home with bloody jaws, and received the tribute of caresses which her slave hastened to pay, all the while manifesting her pleasure by reiterated purring.  41
  Her eyes, now soft and gentle, rested kindly on the Provençal, who spoke to her lovingly as he would to a domestic animal.  42
  “Ah! Mademoiselle,—for you are an honest girl, are you not? You like to be petted, don’t you? Are you not ashamed of yourself? You have been eating a Maugrabin. Well, well! they are animals like the rest of you. But you are not to craunch up a Frenchman; remember that! If you do, I will not love you.”  43
  She played like a young dog with her master, and let him roll her over and pat and stroke her, and sometimes she would coax him to play by laying a paw upon his knee with a pretty soliciting gesture.  44
  Several days passed rapidly. This strange companionship revealed to the Provençal the sublime beauties of the desert. The alternations of hope and fear, the sufficiency of food, the presence of a creature who occupied his thoughts,—all this kept his mind alert, yet free: it was a life full of strange contrasts. Solitude revealed to him her secrets, and wrapped him with her charm. In the rising and the setting of the sun he saw splendors unknown to the world of men. He quivered as he listened to the soft whirring of the wings of a bird,—rare visitant!—or watched the blending of the fleeting clouds,—those changeful and many-tinted voyagers. In the waking hours of the night he studied the play of the moon upon the sandy ocean, where the strong simoom had rippled the surface into waves and ever-varying undulations. He lived in the Eastern day; he worshiped its marvelous glory. He rejoiced in the grandeur of the storms when they rolled across the vast plain, and tossed the sand upward till it looked like a dry red fog or a solid death-dealing vapor; and as the night came on he welcomed it with ecstasy, grateful for the blessed coolness of the light of the stars. His ears listened to the music of the skies. Solitude taught him the treasures of meditation. He spent hours in recalling trifles, and in comparing his past life with the weird present.  45
  He grew fondly attached to his panther; for he was a man who needed an affection. Whether it were that his own will, magnetically strong, had modified the nature of his savage princess, or that the wars then raging in the desert had provided her with an ample supply of food, it is certain that she showed no sign of attacking him, and became so tame that he soon felt no fear of her. He spent much of his time in sleeping; though with his mind awake, like a spider in its web, lest he should miss some deliverance that might chance to cross the sandy sphere marked out by the horizon. He had made his shirt into a banner and tied it to the top of a palm-tree which he had stripped of its leafage. Taking counsel of necessity, he kept the flag extended by fastening the corners with twigs and wedges; for the fitful wind might have failed to wave it at the moment when the longed-for succor came in sight.  46
  Nevertheless, there were long hours of gloom when hope forsook him; and then he played with his panther. He learned to know the different inflections of her voice and the meanings of her expressive glance; he studied the variegation of the spots which shaded the dead gold of her robe. Mignonne no longer growled when he caught the tuft of her dangerous tail and counted the black and white rings which glittered in the sunlight like a cluster of precious stones. He delighted in the soft lines of her lithe body, the whiteness of her belly, the grace of her charming head: but above all he loved to watch her as she gamboled at play. The agility and youthfulness of her movements were a constantly fresh surprise to him. He admired the suppleness of the flexible body as she bounded, crept, and glided, or clung to the trunk of palm-trees, or rolled over and over, crouching sometimes to the ground, and gathering herself together as she made ready for her vigorous spring. Yet, however vigorous the bound, however slippery the granite block on which she landed, she would stop short, motionless, at the one word “Mignonne.”  47
  One day, under a dazzling sun, a large bird hovered in the sky. The Provençal left his panther to watch the new guest. After a moment’s pause the neglected sultana uttered a low growl.  48
  “The devil take me! I believe she is jealous!” exclaimed the soldier, observing the rigid look which once more appeared in her metallic eyes. “The soul of Sophronie has got into her body!”  49
  The eagle disappeared in ether, and the Frenchman, recalled by the panther’s displeasure, admired afresh her rounded flanks and the perfect grace of her attitude. She was as pretty as a woman. The blonde brightness of her robe shaded, with delicate gradations, to the dead-white tones of her furry thighs; the vivid sunshine brought out the brilliancy of this living gold and its variegated brown spots with indescribable lustre. The panther and the Provençal gazed at each other with human comprehension. She trembled with delight—the coquettish creature!—as she felt the nails of her friend scratching the strong bones of her skull. Her eyes glittered like flashes of lightning, and then she closed them tightly.  50
  “She has a soul!” cried the soldier, watching the tranquil repose of this sovereign of the desert, golden as the sands, white as their pulsing light, solitary and burning as they.  51
“WELL,” she said, “I have read your defense of the beasts. But tell me what was the end of this friendship between two beings so formed to understand each other?”  52
  “Ah, exactly,” I replied. “It ended as all great passions end,—by a misunderstanding. Both sides imagine treachery, pride prevents an explanation, and the rupture comes about through obstinacy.”  53
  “Yes,” she said, “and sometimes a word, a look, an exclamation suffices. But tell me the end of the story.”  54
  “That is difficult,” I answered. “But I will give it to you in the words of the old veteran, as he finished the bottle of champagne and exclaimed:—  55
  “‘I don’t know how I could have hurt her, but she suddenly turned upon me as if in fury, and seized my thigh with her sharp teeth; and yet (as I afterwards remembered) not cruelly. I thought she meant to devour me, and I plunged my dagger into her throat. She rolled over with a cry that froze my soul; she looked at me in her death struggle, but without anger. I would have given all the world—my cross, which I had not then gained, all, everything—to have brought her back to life. It was as if I had murdered a friend, a human being. When the soldiers who saw my flag came to my rescue they found me weeping. Monsieur,’ he resumed, after a moment’s silence, ‘I went through the wars in Germany, Spain, Russia, France; I have marched my carcass well-nigh over all the world; but I have seen nothing comparable to the desert. Ah, it is grand! glorious!’  56
  “‘What were your feelings there?’ I asked.  57
  “‘They cannot be told, young man. Besides, I do not always regret my panther and my palm-tree oasis: I must be very sad for that. But I will tell you this: in the desert there is all—and yet nothing.’  58
  “‘Stay!—explain that.’  59
  “‘Well, then,’ he said, with a gesture of impatience, ‘God is there, and man is not.’”  60

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