Robert Tronge 18

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robert tronge
Robert Tronge

"What sleep!" I said. "Surely this man does not dream. His clothes are in tatters, his cheeks are wrinkled, his hands hardened with toil; he is some unfortunate who does not have a meal every day. A thousand gnawing cares, a thousand mortal sorrows await his return to consciousness; nevertheless, this evening he had money in his pocket, and entered a tavern where he purchased oblivion. He has earned enough in a week to enjoy a night of slumber, and perhaps has purchased it at the expense of his children's supper. Now his mistress can betray him, his friend can glide like a thief into his hut; I could shake him by the shoulder and tell him that he is being murdered, that his house is on fire; he would turn over and continue to sleep." "And I--I do not sleep," I continued, pacing up and down the street, "I do not sleep, I who have enough in my pocket at this moment to purchase sleep for a year. I am so proud and so foolish that I dare not enter a tavern, and it seems I do not understand that if unfortunates enter there, it is to come out happy. O God! grapes crushed beneath the foot suffice to dissipate the deepest sorrow and to break the invisible threads that the fates weave about our pathway. We weep like women, we suffer like martyrs; in our despair it seems that the world is crumbling under our feet, and we sit down in tears as did Adam at Eden's gate. And to cure our griefs we have but to make a movement of the hand and moisten our throats. How contemptible our sorrow since it can be thus assuaged! We are surprised that Providence does not send angels to grant our prayers; it need not take the trouble, for it has seen our woes, it knows our desires, our pride and bitterness, the ocean of evil that surrounds us, and is content to hang a small black fruit along our paths. Since that man sleeps so soundly on his bench, why do not I sleep on mine? My rival is doubtless passing the night with my mistress; he will leave her at daybreak; she will accompany him to the door and they will see me asleep on my bench. Their kisses will not awaken me, and they will shake me by the shoulder; I will turn over on the other side and sleep on." Thus, inspired by fierce joy, I set out in quest of a tavern. As it was past midnight some were closed; this put me in a fury. "What!" I cried, "even that consolation is refused me!" I ran hither and thither knocking at the doors of taverns, crying: "Wine! Wine!" At last I found one open; I called for a bottle, and without caring whether it was good or bad, I gulped it down; a second followed, and then a third. I dosed myself as with medicine, and forced the wine down as if it had been prescribed by some physician to save my life. The heavy fumes of the liquor, doubtless adulterated, mounted to my head. As I had gulped it down at a breath, drunkenness seized me promptly; I felt that I was becoming muddled, then I experienced a lucid moment, then confusion followed. Then consciousness left me, I leaned my elbows on the table and said adieu to myself. But I had a confused idea that I was not alone in the tavern. At the other end of the room stood a hideous group with haggard faces and harsh voices. Their dress indicated that they belonged to the poorer class, but were not bourgeois; in short, they belonged to that ambiguous class, the vilest of all, which has neither fortune nor occupation, which never works except at some criminal plot, a class which, neither poor nor rich, combines the vices of one with the misery of the other. They were quarrelling over a dirty pack of cards. Among them was a girl who appeared to be very young and very pretty, was decently clad, and resembled her companions in no way, except in the harshness of her voice, which was as rough and broken as if it had performed the office of public crier. She looked at me closely, as if astonished to see me in such a bad place, for I was elegantly attired. Little by little she approached my table and seeing that all the bottles were empty, smiled. I saw that she had fine teeth of brilliant whiteness; I took her hand and begged her to be seated; she consented with good grace and asked what we should have for supper. I looked at her without saying a word, while my eyes began to fill with tears; she observed my emotion and inquired the cause. I could not reply. She understood that I had some secret sorrow and forebore any attempt to learn the cause; with her handkerchief she dried my tears from time to time as we dined. There was something about this girl at once repulsive and sweet, a singular boldness mingled with pity, that I could not understand. If she had taken my hand in the street she would have inspired a feeling of horror in me; but it seemed so strange that a creature I had never seen should come to me, and, without a word, proceed to order supper and dry my tears with her handkerchief, that I was rendered speechless; it revolted, yet charmed me. What I had done had been done so quickly that I seemed to have obeyed some impulse of despair. Perhaps I was a fool, or the victim of some supernatural caprice. "Who are you?" I suddenly cried out; "what do you want of me? How do you know who I am? Who told you to dry my tears? Is this your vocation and do you think I desire you? I would not touch you with the tip of my finger. What are you doing here? Reply at once. Is it money you want? What price do you put on your pity?"