Impressions Africa

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    Impressionsof Africa

    Raymond Roussel

    Translated by Rayner Heppenstall

    and Lindy Foord



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    ONEWORLD CLASSICS LTDLondon House243-253 Lower Mortlake RoadRichmondSurrey TW9 2LLUnited

    Impressions of Africarst published in French as Impressions dAfrique in 1910This translation rst published by Calder & Boyars Ltd in 1966This translation rst published by Oneworld Classics Ltd in 2011Translation Lindy Foord and Rayner Heppenstall, 1966, 1983, 2001, 2011Cover image Getty Images

    Printed in Great Britain By CPI Antony Rowe

    ISBN : 978-1-84749-168-8

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form orby any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or other-wise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. This book issold subject to the condition that it shall not be resold, lent, hired out orotherwise circulated without the express prior consent of the publisher.

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    Impressions of Africa 1Notes 242

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    Impressionsof Africa

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    of him were two stakes, each xed to one corner of the platform andjoined by a long slack string which sagged under the weight of threeobjects, hanging in a row and clearly displayed like lottery prizes.The rst of these objects was nothing more nor less than a bowlerhat with the French word PINCE* printed in white capitals onits black crown; the next one was a dark-grey suede glove with thepalm turned outwards and a large C lightly marked on it withchalk; lastly there dangled from the string a ne sheet of parchment,covered with strange hieroglyphs and bearing as a heading a rathercrude drawing of ve gures, deliberately made to look absurd by

    their general posture and exaggerated features.Nar was a prisoner on his pedestal, his right foot held in a mesh of

    thick cords which formed an effective noose, rmly anchored to thesolid platform; like a living statue he performed slow, regular motions,rapidly murmuring strings of words he had learnt by heart. All hisattention was concentrated on a fragile pyramid, constructed fromthree sheets of bark, fastened together, which rested on a speciallyshaped stand in front of him; the base, which was turned towardshim and tilted perceptibly, served as a loom; within his reach, onan extension to the stand, lay a supply of fruit husks, coated witha greyish vegetable substance, similar in appearance to the cocoonsof larvae on the point of hatching into chrysalides. Taking a frag-ment of one of these delicate shells between two ngers, the youngman slowly drew his hand towards him, to create an elastic thread,similar to the gossamer which drapes itself about the woods in spring.

    With these invisible laments he wove a fabric, as ne and intricateas the work of a fairy, for his hands moved with unrivalled dexterity,crossing, knotting, intertwining the dream-like threads a thousanddifferent ways to merge in a graceful design. The phrases he recitedto himself helped to regulate his precise, delicate movements; theslightest mistake would have hopelessly endangered the whole workand, without the automatic guidance of certain formulae, memorizedword for word, Nar could never have accomplished his task.

    Below him, to the right, other pyramids stood near the edge of thepedestal, with their apices pointing backwards so that it was pos-sible to appreciate the full effect of the completed work; the base,placed upright and clearly visible, was delicately indicated by an

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    almost non-existent tissue, ner than a spiders web. At the back of each pyramid a red ower, attached by the stem, drew the attentionirresistibly beyond the scarcely perceptible veil of the fairy fabric.

    Not far from the stage of the Incomparables, to the right of theactor, two posts, four or ve feet apart, supported an apparatus inmotion; from the nearer of the two jutted a pivot, around which astrip of yellowish parchment was tightly wound; nailed rmly tothe farther post to form a platform, a small square board served asa base for a vertical cylinder, which was being turned slowly by a

    clockwork motor.The yellowish band, unfurling in a single coil which stretched, un-

    broken, across the space between, wrapped itself round the cylinder,so that as it rotated on its axis, it drew the parchment continuouslytowards itself and away from the distant pivot, which was therebyforced to participate in the gyratory motion.

    A succession of crude drawings of groups of savage warriors, invarious poses, followed each other across the parchment: one col-umn appeared to run at breakneck speed in pursuit of a retreatingenemy; another lay in ambush, behind a bank, patiently awaiting theright moment to appear; here, two armies, equal in number, foughtercely man to man; there, fresh troops charged forward with greatstrides to ing themselves into the distant fray. As the reel continuedto unwind, countless new and amazing strategies appeared, thanksto the innite multiplicity of the effects obtained.

    Opposite me, at the other end of the esplanade, extended a sort of altar, with several steps leading up to it, covered with a soft carpet; acoat of white paint, veined with bluish lines, gave the whole structurefrom a distance the appearance of marble.

    On the sacred table, which consisted of a long board, tted half-way up the erection and hidden under a white cloth, could be seena rectangle of parchment, dotted with hieroglyphics, standing nextto a massive cruet, lled with oil. Beside it, a larger sheet bore thistitle in careful Gothic script: Reigning House of Ponukele-Drelshkaf ;beneath the heading a round portrait, a delicately coloured miniature,represented two Spanish girls of thirteen or fourteen, wearing on

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    their heads the national mantilla twin sisters, to judge by the closeresemblance between their faces; at rst glance, the picture seemedto be an integral part of the document; but closer scrutiny revealeda narrow strip of transparent muslin which, adhering both to theperiphery of the painted disc and to the surface of the stiff vellum,joined as perfectly as possible the two objects, which were in factindependent of each other; on the left-hand side of the double efgy,the name SUAN was written in widely spaced capitals; underneath,the paper was covered with a genealogical table comprised of twodistinct branches, issuing in parallel descent from the two beautiful

    Spaniards who formed the top of the tree; one branch ended in theword Extinction, in letters almost as prominent as those of theheading and clearly meant for brutal effect; the other, on the contrary,a little shorter than its companion, seemed to defy the future by theabsence of any nal line.

    Near the altar, to the right of it, grew a gigantic palm of remark-able foliage which testied to its great age; a board, fastened to itstrunk, bore the commemorative phrase: Restoration of the Emperor Talu VII to the Throne of his Fathers.In the shelter of the palm, onone side, a stake had been driven into the earth and on its squaretop had been placed a soft-boiled egg.

    To the left, at an equal distance from the altar, a tall plant, oldand withering, offered a sad contrast to the splendid palm; it wasa rubber tree which had no more sap and was almost rotten. Astretcher, made of branches, lay in its shade, bearing the recumbent

    corpse of the Negro king Yaour IX, wearing the traditional costumeof Marguerite in Faust,* a pink woollen gown from which hung ashort alms purse and a thick golden wig with long plaits which fellover his shoulders and came halfway down to his knees.

    On my left, with its back to the row of sycamores, and facing the redtheatre, stood a stone-coloured building which looked like a modelin miniature of the Paris Bourse. *

    Between this building and the north-west angle of the esplanadestood a row of life-size statues.

    The rst of these represented a man, mortally wounded by aweapon plunged into his heart. His two hands clutched instinctively

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    at the wound, while his knees buckled under the weight of his bodyas it was ung backwards, on the point of collapse. The statue wasblack, and at rst glance looked as though it had been carved out of a single block; but closer study gradually distinguished thousandsof grooves, running in every direction, though generally forminggroups of parallel lines. The work was in fact constructed entirelyfrom innumerable corset whalebones, cut and bent to suit the shapeof the moulding. Flat-headed nails, presumably with the points bentinwards, joined these pliant slats which were arranged side by sidewith such skill that not the slightest gap was left between them. The

    face itself, with all the details of its sad and agonized expression, wasmade simply out of broken fragments, carefully adjusted to reproducefaithfully the line of the nose, the lips, the arched eyebrows and theeyeballs. The shaft of the weapon, thrust deep into the heart of thedying man, gave some idea of the difculty overcome, thanks to theelegant handle, in which could be detected the outline of two or threewhalebones, cut into short lengths and bent into rings. The muscularbody, the clenched arms, the sinewy legs half-bent, all seemed tothrob and suffer, as a result of the striking and realistic contoursinto which the uniform dark strips had been moulded.

    The feet of the statue rested on a very simple conveyance, consist-ing of a low platform and four wheels, fashioned from more blackwhalebones ingeniously put together. Two narrow rails, made outof some coarse, reddish gelatinous substance, which was in factcalves marrow, ran across a surface of blackened wood and, by

    their shape if not by their colour, gave an accurate impression of a railway line; on these the four immobile wheels tted withoutcrushing them.

    The oor, thus equipped for carriages, formed the upper surfaceof a wooden pedestal, black all over, on whose facing side the fol-lowing inscription might be read in white: Death of Saridakis, theHelot.* Underneath, in the same snow-white letters, could be seenthis diagram, half in Greek, half in French, with a slender bracket:

    DUEL *

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    Next to the helot was the bust of a thinker with puckered brow,who wore an expression of intense and fruitful meditation. On theplinth was the name:


    Then came a sculptured group, which featured a stirring scene. Aman on horseback, with the erce face of a myrmidon of the law,appeared to be questioning a nun, who was standing before thedoor of her convent. In the background, in low relief, other men

    at arms, mounted on ery horses, awaited an order from theirleader. On the base, the title, engraved in hollow letters, Sister Perpetuas Lie , was followed by the question: Is this where thefugitives are hiding?

    Further along, a strange guration, accompanied by these wordsof explanation: The Regent Bowing before Louis XV , showed Philipof Orleans respectfully stooping in front of the child king, while he,about ten years of age, maintained an attitude full of natural andunconscious majesty. *

    In contrast with the helot, the bust and the two larger groupslooked as though they were made of terracotta.

    Norbert Montalescot, calm and watchful, walked among hisworks, keeping a specially close eye on the helot, whose fragilitymade it particularly vulnerable to a careless knock from somepasser-by.

    Beyond the last statue stood a small cabin without a door; its fourwalls, all of the same dimensions, were made of thick black canvas,which no doubt produced total darkness inside. The roof, whichsloped gently on one side, was oddly made from book pages, yellowwith age and cut into the shape of tiles; the text, in quite large print,and wholly in English, was faded, and sometimes quite effaced, butthe top of certain pages remained legible and bore the title The Fair Maid of Perth,* still distinct. In the middle of the roof could be seenthe outline of a judas window, tightly closed, which, instead of glass,was made of the same pages, discoloured by age and use. The wholeof this thin covering must have diffused below a dim, yellowish light,full of softness and repose.

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    A chord, recalling the tone of brass, but very much fainter, soundedat regular intervals from the cabin, giving the exact sensation of amusical breathing.

    Directly opposite Nar, a tombstone, placed in line with the stock ex-change, served as a stand for the various parts of a Zouave * uniform.A gun and cartridge pouches had been placed with these militaryeffects, to all appearances with the pious intention of perpetuatingthe dead mans memory.

    Standing upright behind the funeral slab was a hoarding cov-

    ered in black material, which presented to the viewer a seriesof twelve watercolours, arranged symmetrically, in four rows of three. The resemblance between the characters suggested that thepictures were concerned with some dramatic narrative. Aboveeach image, by way of a title, one could read certain words,traced with a brush.

    In the rst painting a non-commissioned ofcer and a fair-hairedwoman in ashy clothes were lounging in the back of a luxuriousvictoria; the words Flora and Sergeant Major Lcurousummarilyidentied the couple.

    Next came The Performance of Daedalus, represented by a largestage on which a singer in Grecian draperies appeared to be singingat the top of his voice; in the front of a box the sergeant major couldbe seen, sitting beside Flora, who was gazing through her operaglasses at the performer.

    In The Consultation an old woman, clad in a loose cloak, wasdrawing Floras attention to a celestial planisphere, pinned to thewall, and pointing imperiously with her index nger to the constel-lation of Cancer.

    The Secret Correspondence, which began a new row of sketches,showed the woman in the cloak offering Flora one of those specialgrids which are necessary to decipher certain cryptograms and whichconsist of a single card with oddly placed perforations.

    The setting of The Signal was the terrace of an almost emptycaf, in front of which a dark-haired Zouave, sitting at a table onhis own, was indicating to the waiter a great bell, being rung in anearby church; underneath was written this brief dialogue: Waiter,

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    what is that bell ringing for? Its for Benediction. Right, bringme a plate of meat scraps.

    The Sergeant Majors Jealousy depicted a barracks yard, whereLcurou, with four ngers of his right hand raised, seemed to befuriously scolding the Zouave who had appeared in the previouspicture; with the scene went this brutal piece of military jargon:Four days jankers! *

    At the top of the third row was The Rebellious Bravo , which intro-duced into the plot a Zouave with very fair hair, who was refusing toobey some command of Lcurous, and whose simple reply No!

    was written underneath the watercolour.The Guilty Man Dies, which was underlined by the order Fire!

    showed a ring squad, who, at the sergeant majors command, wereaiming at the heart of the fair-haired Zouave.

    In The Moneylender , the woman in the cloak reappeared holdingout several banknotes to Flora, who sat at a desk, apparently signingsome sort of receipt.

    The last row began with Police at the Gambling Den.This timeFlora was throwing herself into space from a large balcony, behindwhich, through an open window, could be seen a large gaming table,surrounded by players in great dismay at the untimely arrival of anumber of men in black.

    The last picture but one, entitled The Morgue , showed in theforeground the corpse of a woman, lying on a slab, behind glass.Behind, a silver chatelaine hung conspicuously, weighed down by a

    valuable watch.Finally, The Fatal Blow terminated the series with a nocturnal

    scene; in the shadows, the dark-complexioned Zouave could beseen slapping Sergeant Major Lcurous face, while in the distance,outlined against a forest of masts, a noticeboard, lit by a powerfulstreet lamp, bore these two words: Bougie Harbour.*

    Behind me, making a pair with the altar, stood a dark rectangularshed of small dimensions, whose front wall consisted of a ne gratingof thin wooden bars, painted black; four prisoners, two men and twowomen of native origin, wandered silently round this tiny prison; abovethe bars, the words Cellswas set out in letters of a reddish colour.

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    By my side stood the large group of passengers from the Lyn-ceus , who stood waiting for the appearance of the promisedprocession.


    P RESENTLY , THE SOUND OF feet was heard; all heads turned to theleft, and from the south-east corner of the esplanade a strangeand stately procession could be seen approaching.

    At its head, the thirty-six sons of the Emperor, arranged in sixcolumns according to height, formed a black phalanx, representingall ages from three to fteen. Fogar, the oldest of them all, who wasamong the tallest in the rear, carried in his arms an immense woodencube which had been turned into a gaming dice by being whitewashedall over and marked with round hollows, painted black. At a signfrom Rao, a native responsible for supervising the formation of theprocession, the troop of children began to walk, with slow steps,along the side of the esplanade on which the stock exchange stood.

    After them, in a captivating group, came the sovereigns ten wives,graceful Ponukelian women, distinguished for charm and beauty.

    Finally, the Emperor Talu VII appeared, curiously dressed as a music-hall singer, in a blue dress with a low neckline, falling at the back intoa long train, on which the number 472 was clearly printed in blackgures. His black face, full of savage energy, was not without a certain

    character, contrasting as it did with his feminine wig of magnicentgolden hair, which had been carefully waved. He led by the hand hisdaughter Sirdah, a slender child of eighteen, whose squinting eyeswere veiled by white specks of albugo, * and on whose brow showed ared birthmark in the shape of a tiny corset, circled with yellow rays.

    Behind him marched the Ponukelian troops, splendid warriorswith ebony skins, heavily armed beneath their trappings of feathersand amulets.

    The column advanced slowly, in the same direction as the children.As they passed in front of the Zouaves tomb, Sirdah, who had

    doubtless been counting her steps, suddenly went up to the gravestoneand, with her lips, gently impressed on it a long kiss of the purest

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    tenderness. This pious duty accomplished, the blind girl affectionatelytook her fathers hand again.

    As they drew near to the extremity of the esplanade, the Emperorssons, directed by Rao, turned right to proceed along the north sideof the vast quadrangle. When they reached the opposite corner, theychanged course a second time and came back towards us, while theprocession, constantly fed at its source by numerous cohorts, fol-lowed close in their tracks.

    Finally, the last black warriors having made their entry at the

    same time as the advance guard of children reached the south end,Rao had a space cleared in front of the altar, and all the newcomersmassed in good order along the two sides, their faces turned towardsthe centre of the square.

    On all sides, a Negro crowd, composed of the population of Ejur,had assembled behind the sycamores to participate in this excitingspectacle.

    Still keeping in their six lines, the Emperors sons reached the centreof the esplanade and came to a halt opposite the altar.

    Rao took the huge dice from Fogars arms and swung it several timesbefore throwing it into the air with all his might; the enormous cube,almost two-feet square, went spinning up into the air, a white massecked with black, then described a sharp curve and, rolling alongthe ground, came to a standstill. At a glance, Rao read the number two on the upper face, then, going up to the submissive phalanx,pointed with his nger to the second row, who alone remained wherethey were; the rest of the group picked up the dice and ran to jointhe crowd of warriors.

    Talu, with slow strides, then joined the elect whom chance hadchosen to serve as his pages. Soon, amidst a profound silence, theEmperor advanced majestically towards the altar, escorted by theprivileged children, willingly bearing the train of his dress.

    After mounting the steps which led to the sparsely furnished table,Talu signed to Rao to approach with the heavy coronation robe,which he was holding in both hands, inside out. Bending down, theEmperor slipped his head and arms through three openings cut in

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    the centre of the cloth and, as the large folds fell into place, theypresently enveloped him down to his feet.

    Thus arrayed, the monarch turned proudly to the assembly as if to enable everyone to look at his new costume.

    The rich, silky material was decorated with a large map of Africa,showing the principal lakes, rivers and mountains.

    The pale yellow of the land stood out clearly against the gradu-ated blue of the sea, which extended in every direction as far as thegeneral shape of the garment required.

    Fine silver lines streaked the oceans surface, in graceful zigzag

    curves to suggest, schematically, the rise and fall of the waves.Only the southern half of the continent was visible between the

    Emperors neck and his ankles.On the west side, a black spot, with the name Ejur beside it,

    was situated near the mouth of a river whose source, some distanceto the east, issued from a mountain mass.

    On both sides of the vast watercourse, a huge red area representedthe states belonging to the all-powerful Talu.

    As a form of attery, the designer of the garment had indenitelyextended this impressive territory, which submitted to the rule of a single sceptre and whose boundaries were, in any case, largelyundetermined; the brilliant carmine stretched to the southernmostpoint, where the words Cape of Good Hope were set out in largeblack letters.

    After a moment, Talu turned back to the altar. On his back, the

    other side of the stole showed the northern half of Africa, upsidedown against the same maritime background.

    The solemn moment was drawing near.In a loud voice, the monarch began to read the native text, writ-

    ten in hieroglyphics on the sheet of parchment which stood in themiddle of the narrow table.

    It was a kind of bull, whereby Talu, already Emperor of Ponuke-le, by virtue of his religious powers consecrated himself King of Drelshkaf.

    Having delivered the proclamation, the sovereign took the cruetwhich was intended to represent the Holy Ampulla * and, turning

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    There was a moment of impressive climax, during which theharsh, deafening sounds marked the rhythm of a diabolic saraband;the feverish ballerinas, dishevelled and racked by their terriblebelching as if by blows, crossed and followed one another, andtwisted themselves in every sort of contortion, as if overcome bya vertiginous delirium.

    Then gradually everything grew calm and, after a long diminuendo,the ballet ended in an apotheosis, accompanied by a sustained nalchord which gradually faded into silence.

    Soon the young women, still shaken by delayed hiccups, returned

    with slow steps to their original places.

    During the performance of the Luen Shetuz, Rao had gone over tothe southern corner of the esplanade to release from their prison agroup consisting of a woman and two men of Negro origin.

    Now only one recluse still wandered about behind the heavy grating.Rao, pushing his way through our midst, led the three newcomers,

    with their hands tied in front of them, to the spot where the groundhad been trampled by the dance.

    An anguished silence weighed on the whole assembly, who weremoved to pity by the prospect of the tortures the trio in fetters wereabout to undergo.

    Rao took from his belt a huge axe, whose blade, well sharpened,was fashioned out of a strange wood, as hard as iron.

    A number of slaves had joined him to assist him in his role of

    executioner.Supported by them, the traitor Gaz Duh was ordered to kneel,

    with his head bent, while the other two condemned persons remainedmotionless.

    Rao brandished his axe with both hands and struck the traitorsneck three times. With the last blow, his head rolled to the ground.

    The spot remained unstained by any crimson splashes, on accountof the curious wooden blade which, as it cut through the esh, hadthe effect of immediately congealing the blood, and absorbed eventhe rst drops whose loss could not be avoided.

    Where they had been severed, the head and trunk presented thesolid, scarlet appearance characteristic of butchers meat.

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    One was reminded, in spite of oneself, of those dummies used byconjurers, which, having been cleverly substituted for the live assistantby means of some piece of furniture with a false bottom, are neatlycut up on the stage into slabs, prepared in advance with simulatedbloodstains. Here, the fact that the corpse was real made the compactredness, usually due to the art of the brush, uncommonly disturbing.

    The slaves bore Gaz Duhs remains away, together with the faintlystained axe.

    They soon returned, to place before Rao a burning brazier, in whichwere being heated the points of two long iron rods, tted into heavy

    wooden hafts.Rao took from the hands of a slave a parchment scroll which he

    spread open; it was the false certicate of Sirdahs death, drawn upby Mossem some time previously.

    With the aid of an enormous palm branch, one of the Negroes kepton stirring the re, which burnt erce and bright.

    Putting one knee to the ground behind the condemned man, andholding the parchment in his left hand, Rao snatched one of the glow-ing rods from the brazier and applied the point of it to one heel of the man in front of him.

    The esh sizzled and Mossem, gripped by the slaves, writhed withpain.

    The inexorable Rao continued his task. It was the actual text of theparchment that he copied painstakingly on the forgers foot.

    From time to time, he returned the rod he was using to the re and

    took out its fellow, glowing from the live coals.When the left sole was completely covered with hieroglyphs, Rao

    continued the operation on the right foot, still using alternately thetwo points of red-hot iron, which were quick to cool.

    Mossem, stiing his mufed howls, made violent efforts to escapethe torture.

    When, at last, the false act had been copied down to the last sign,Rao, getting to his feet, ordered the slaves to release Mossem, whowas seized with dreadful convulsions and expired before our eyes,overcome by his long agony.

    The corpse was removed, together with the parchment and the brazier.

    * * *

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    Returning to their posts, the slaves seized hold of Rul, a Ponukelianwoman of remarkable beauty, and the only survivor of the wretchedtrio. The condemned woman, in whose hair could be seen long goldpins, arranged in a star, wore, over her loincloth, a red velvet corset,slightly torn; the garment offered a striking resemblance to the queermark on Sirdahs forehead.

    Kneeling to face in the same direction as Mossem, the proud Rulmade vain attempts at desperate resistance.

    Rao took one of the gold pins from her hair and applied the pointat right angles to his victims back, choosing a circle of skin, on her

    right side, which was visible through the rst eyelet of her corset,whose lacing was knotted and frayed; then, with a slow, steady thrust,he drove the slender shaft deep into her esh.

    At the sound of the cries provoked by this terrible injection, Sirdah,recognizing the voice of her mother, threw herself at Talus feet toimplore his sovereign mercy.

    Immediately, as if to receive new commands, Rao turned to theEmperor, who with a gesture of conrmation, ordered him to con-tinue the torture.

    Another pin, taken from the black tresses, was planted in the sec-ond eyelet, and, little by little, the entire row bristled with glitteringgold spikes. The operation was repeated on the left side until, nally,all the hair tumbled down and the round lace holes had been lled,one after another.

    A moment before, the unfortunate woman had ceased to cry out;

    one of the points piercing her heart had brought about her death.The body was swiftly seized, and disappeared like the two others.

    Raising the speechless and agonized Sirdah to her feet, Talu made hisway towards the line of statues near the stock exchange. The war-riors stood back to make room, and our group immediately joinedthe Emperor; he then made a sign to Norbert, who, going up to thelittle cabin, called to his sister in a loud voice.

    Soon the judas window in the roof was slowly raised to open out-wards, pushed by the slender hand of Louise Montalescot, and as sheappeared through the gaping aperture she seemed to be mountingstep by step up a ladder.

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    Suddenly she stopped, with the upper part of her body emergingthrough the window, and turned to face us. She was very beautifulin her ofcers costume, with her long fair curls escaping freely froma close-tting forage cap, tilted over one ear.

    Her blue dolman, which clung tightly to her splendid gure, wasdecorated on the right side with a shining gold shoulder knot; itwas from the aglets of this that proceeded the discreet chord whichwe had heard until then through the walls of the cabin and whichwas actually produced by the young womans breathing, by meansof a surgical connection, linking the base of the lung and the ar-

    rangement of coiled braids, which served to camouage a numberof separate sounding tubes. The gilt tags, hanging from the shoulderknot like graceful, elongated weights, were hollow and tted insidewith vibrating plates. At each contraction of the lung, a part of theair expelled passed through the multiple pipes and, setting the platesin motion, produced a harmonious resonance.

    A tame magpie perched, motionless, on the charming prisonersshoulder.

    Suddenly, Louise noticed the corpse of Yaour, still stretched out inhis Grecian costume, under the shade of the decaying rubber tree.A violent emotion was portrayed on her features and, covering hereyes with her hands, she wept hysterically, her bosom shaken withterrible sobs which set in motion the chords of her shoulder tagsand increased their sound.

    Talu, growing impatient, uttered a few unintelligible words in a

    severe tone which brought the unhappy girl to her senses.Curbing her sorrow and distress, she held out her right hand to

    the magpie, whose two feet landed with alacrity on the index ngershe hastily extended.

    With a sweeping gesture, Louise stretched out her arm to hurl thebird into the air, and, taking ight, it swooped down, to land on thesand in front of the statue of the helot.

    Two openings, scarcely perceptible, and more than a yard apart,were cut in the side of the pedestal facing the audience, at groundlevel.

    The magpie approached the further opening and thrust his beakinto it sharply, to release some internal spring.

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    Immediately the carriageable platform started to tip slowly, atthe left sinking down upon the pedestal to rise on the right aboveits habitual level.

    Its equilibrium thus disturbed, the vehicle bearing the tragic statuemoved gently along the gelatinous rails, which now lay at a consider-able slope. Each of the four wheels of black whalebone was protectedagainst any chance of derailment by an inner rim, which projectedslightly below the frame, thus maintaining it rmly on the line.

    Reaching the bottom of the short incline, the trolley was stoppedshort by the side of the pedestal.

    In the few seconds which the ride had taken, the magpie hoppedacross to the other opening into the depths of which its beak van-ished sharply.

    After another release action, the see-saw motion was effected inreverse. The vehicle was gradually raised, then, pulled by its ownweight, rolled to the right without any motor, on the silent line, andstruck against the opposite side of the pedestal, the edge of whichnow in turn acted as a buffer.

    These backward and forward motions were repeated several times,thanks to the manoeuvres of the magpie, which came and went cease-lessly from one opening to the other. The helots statue remained xedto the vehicle and followed all its movements. The whole contraptionwas of such lightness that the rails, in spite of their insubstantiality,showed no signs of attening or breaking.

    Talu watched with wonder the success of the hazardous experiment

    which he had conceived himself, without believing it to be workable.

    The magpie ended this performance of its own accord and, with afew aps of its wings, reached the bust of Immanuel Kant; on topof the stand, to the left, was a little perch on which the bird landed.

    Immediately, a strong light illuminated the skull from within, andthe casing, which was excessively thin, became completely transpar-ent from the line of the eyebrows upwards.

    One divined the presence of countless reectors, placed facing inevery direction inside the head. So great was the violence with whichthe bright rays, representing the res of genius, escaped from theirincandescent source.

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    Repeatedly the magpie took ight, to return immediately to itsperch, thus constantly extinguishing and relighting the cranialdome, which alone burnt with a thousand lights, while the face,the ears and the nape of the neck remained in darkness. Each timethe birds weight was applied to the lever, it seemed as though sometranscendent idea was born in the thinkers brain, as it blazed sud-denly with light.

    Abandoning the bust, the bird swooped down upon the large ped-estal devoted to the group of myrmidons of the law; here again the

    ferreting beak, introduced this time into a narrow, vertical pipe, setin action some invisible and delicate mechanism.

    To the question Is this where the fugitives are hiding? the nun,posted before her convent, persistently replied No, shaking herhead from right to left after each deep peck of the winged creature,who looked as though he was scratching for food.

    Finally, the magpie touched the platform, smooth as a woodenoor, on which stood the last two statues; the place chosen by theintelligent creature was a small disc, which gave half an inch beneathits light pressure.

    At the same moment, the Regent bowed lower before Louis XV,whom that courtesy left impassive.

    Hopping on the spot, the bird provided a succession of ceremoni-ous greetings, then uttered back to its mistresss shoulder.

    After casting a long glance towards Yaour, Louise went back down

    into the interior of her cabin and closed the skylight at once, as if ina hurry to return to some mysterious task.


    THE FIRST PART OF THE PERFORMANCE had come to an end, and thefestivities of the Incomparables could now begin.

    First, however, the stock exchange was to open for the last time.The black warriors stood back further to clear the entrance to

    the miniature Bourse, around which the passengers of the Lynceus gathered in groups.

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    Five stockbrokers, namely the associate bankers Hounseld andCerjat assisted by their three clerks, took their places at ve tablesunder the colonnade of the building, and began repeating aloudendless rhymed orders which the passengers placed with them.

    The stocks were designated by the actual names of the Incompa-rables, each one represented by a hundred shares, which rose or fellaccording to the personal forecasts of the gamblers on the outcomeof the competition. All transactions were settled with ready money,in the form of banknotes or hard cash.

    For a quarter of an hour without respite, the ve agents shouted

    out deplorable alexandrines which the speculators hastily impro-vised, with a copious use of tags, according to the uctuations of the market prices.

    At length Hounseld and Cerjat rose to indicate the close of business, then, followed by their three clerks, came down to mingle,as we did, with the crowd of speculators, who reassembled in theiroriginal position, with their backs to the prison.

    The black warriors fell back into their rst formation, still leavingthe immediate surroundings of the Bourse clear, at Raos injunction,in order to afford us a passage.

    The gala performance then began.First the four Bucharessas brothers made their appearance, each

    wearing an acrobats costume of pink jersey and black velvet shorts.The two eldest brothers, Hector and Tommy, both adolescents

    full of supple strength, each carried six dark rubber balls in a strongdrum; they walked away in opposite directions, then, turning roundto face each other, halted at two points a considerable distance apart.

    Suddenly, uttering a little cry by way of a signal, Hector, who wasstanding in front of our group, used his drum to bat his six ballshigh into the air, one after the other.

    At that same moment, Tommy, who was standing at the foot of the altar, had launched all his rubber projectiles in succession withthe help of the taut circle of parchment he held in his left hand, sothat they crossed his brothers in mid-air.

    Having accomplished this rst move, each of the jugglers beganto return one by one the balls his partner had thrown, effecting an

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    exchange which was then prolonged without interruption. The drumsvibrated simultaneously and the twelve projectiles formed a sort of wide arch, in constant motion.

    Thanks to the exact similarity of their actions, as well as to aclose physical resemblance, the two brothers, one of whom wasleft-handed, gave the illusion of a single image reected in a mirror.

    For several minutes, the feat was performed with mathematicalprecision. Finally, at another signal, each player caught half theprojectiles in the hollow underside of his drum and the two-wayplay ceased abruptly.

    Immediately, Marius Bucharessas, a lively-looking lad of ten, ranforward, and his brothers, meanwhile, withdrew into the background.

    The child was carrying in his arms, on his shoulders, and even onhis head, a collection of small cats, all wearing red or green ribbons.

    With the point of his heel he drew two lines in the sand, twelve orfteen yards apart, parallel with the side where the Bourse stood,and the cats, jumping to the ground of their own accord, took uptheir positions in two teams of equal numbers behind these allottedboundaries. Thus, with the greenribbons on one side, and the red ribbons on the other, they lined up, facing each other, without anyconfusion.

    At a sign from Marius, the graceful felines began a lively gameof prisoners base.

    To engage, one of the greens went up to the reds camp and with

    the tip of his claws slightly bared, touched the paw which one of his adversaries held out, three times; the last time he ran away fast,hotly pursued by the red, in an effort to catch him.

    Just then, another green rushed at the pursuer, who, having beenforced to turn back, was soon supported by one of his own side, whocaught up with the second green and compelled him to ee in turn.

    The same move was repeated several times, until the moment whenone of the reds, having managed to hit a green with his paw, gave atriumphant miaow.

    The game stopped and the green who had been captured went overto enemy territory and, taking three steps towards his own camp,stood quite still.

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    The cat to whom credit for the capture was due went up to thegreens and opened again, by giving three sharp taps to the extendedpaw which one of the enemy eagerly proffered.

    This lively and enthralling game continued without any infringe-ment of the rules. From time to time, the prisoners who, gathered insymmetrical rows, saw their numbers reduced when one of them wasrescued by a deft partner who managed to touch him. Any memberwho was agile enough to reach the opposite camp without hindrancebecame impregnable for as long as he remained beyond the line hehad succeeded in crossing.

    Finally, the crowd of greens taken prisoner grew so numerousthat Marius, in imperious tones, declared the red team the winners.

    The cats ran back to the boy without delay and climbed up hisbody to resume the places they had occupied on entering.

    As Marius retired, he was replaced by Bob, the last of the brothers,a delightful, golden-haired boy of four, with big blue eyes and longcurls.

    With extraordinary accomplishment and talent, a miracle of pre-cociousness, the charming infant began a series of imitations whichhe accompanied with expressive gestures; the different sounds of atrain getting up speed, the cries of domestic animals, a saw gratingon a freestone, the sharp pop of a champagne cork, the gurgling of liquid as it is poured out of a bottle, the fanfare of hunting horns,a violin solo and the plaintive notes of a cello, all these comprised

    an astounding repertoire which, to anyone who shut his eyes for amoment, afforded a complete illusion of reality.

    The infant prodigy took his leave of the crowd to go and join Marius,Hector and Tommy.

    Shortly after, the four brothers stood aside to make room for theirsister Stella, a beautiful girl of fourteen, who appeared, dressed asFortune, standing upright upon a wheel which revolved continuouslybeneath her feet.

    The girl began to turn in every direction, spinning the narrowhoop with the soles of her feet, by skipping up and down withoutinterruption.

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    In her hand she held an enormous cornet, deep and coiled, fromwhich, like a shower of gold coins, there suddenly tumbled light,bright paper money, which produced no metallic sound as it oatedslowly down to earth.

    The louis, double louis and large hundred-franc pieces left a glit-tering trail behind the pretty cyclist who, with a smile on her lips,achieved wonders of balance and velocity without ever setting footto the ground.

    Like some conjurers cornucopia, from which owers of everyspecies pour in an endless stream, the stock of coins seemed in-

    exhaustible. Stella had only to shake the cornet gently to sow herriches, which lay scattered thick and uneven on the ground, andwere crushed in places by the wheel as it revolved in its wanderingcourse.

    After much twisting and turning this way and that, the young girlvanished like a fairy, shedding her pseudo-metal coins up to the lastmoment.

    All eyes then turned towards Balbet, the marksman, who had justtaken from the Zouaves tomb the cartridge pouches, which werenow strung about his hips, and the weapon, which was in fact a Grasrie* of a very old make.

    Walking rapidly to the right, the famous champion, the object of everyones attention, stopped in front of our group and carefullyselected his position, facing the north side of the square.

    Directly opposite him, a long way off, under the commemorativepalm tree, stood the square post with the soft-boiled egg on top of it.

    Further away still, the natives, who were watching curiously frombehind the row of sycamores, at a sign from Rao stood back to leavea wide space.

    Balbet loaded his gun, then, raising it to his shoulder with care,slowly took aim and red.

    The bullet, grazing the top of the egg, removed part of the whiteso that the yellow was exposed.

    Several shots red in quick succession completed the task thusbegun, little by little the albuminous coating was shot away to uncoverthe inner content, which still remained intact.