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Leaves In The Life Of An Idler
by [?]

Leaf the First.

When a man whom you have every reason to believe not only the coolest, but the most unimpressible, of beings, suddenly turns white as a ghost and shivers with a nervous spasm, it is safe to suppose he is frightened. But when terror, turning into rage, changes one of the most attentive and respectful of servants into a madman, it is scarcely safe to suppose anything. As it was, I stared in mute amazement, and he glared at me as though I had struck him. While waiting for a light, I carelessly put my hand into a basket of hot-house vegetables. The small egg-plant I took up certainly did weigh twenty pounds, and when I attempted to lift the basket the handle bent double; but why this should frighten a man like Marcel, or provoke him to anger, is as inexplicable as it is surprising.

He is pacing up and down the hall in a state of the wildest excitement; and I, with man’s truest comfort,–tobacco,–am left to my meditations.

What combination of circumstances reduced him to a porter, I cannot for the life of me imagine. His hand is as soft as a woman’s; and his brow has a breadth of brain that would dignify a Senator. Notwithstanding the scrupulous deference in his tone, his manner possesses the quiet ease of a gentleman, to as great a degree as any I ever saw.

The utter incongruity of his appearance and position struck me the moment I laid eyes on him. He flourished his napkin with the dainty grace of a courtier; and when he lifted my luggage to his shoulder, I was on the point of apologizing. He makes my bed, polishes my shoes, performs with fidelity the most menial offices; and yet I cannot but look upon him as an equal. Poor devil! His cheek may burn with the bluest blood in France. What a pity the world is not moral!

There is something enchanting to me in smoking. It is like a rich cordial,–nerving every faculty to action. A draught from your Cabanas, the pulse quickens, the mind clears, and thought awakes, like a fine instrument under the magic touch of a master. The wind moans drearily without, the rain beats dismally against the windows, the fagots flicker blue-flamed and weird in the dark recesses of the chimney-place; but what care I? The white walls are lurid in the flare, the great bed stands out in the darkness like a grotesque engine of the Inquisition; but who suffers? Au troisieme, No. 30, Rue Lepelletier, was never noted for its comforts; but who would ask a repose more secure, a peace more perfect, than are enjoyed by the occupant of this rambling old house? Blessed be the earth that bears this solace for weary brains! Its very odor is pregnant with dreams of the Vuelta Abajo. You see the luxuriant foliage of the tropics, the dark-green waves curling on the coral beach, and the scarlet flamingoes that gather shell-fish in the marshes away off in the golden sunset. You hear the wild song of the Spanish fruit-man as he sculls his boat along the broken wharves, and are soothed into utter listlessness by the thousand perfumes that come off with the land-breeze. A taste of the fragrant vapor, you recline in the odorous orange darkness of a dream-land, languidly breathing the smoke from your hookah, and the lustrous leaves moving over you are bathed in the soft and melting sunshine. The day lingers luminously over far mountain-ranges, paling in brilliancy on the hill-side, where the blushing vine, bending with the clusters, is still enlivened by the song of the vintagers; and in the valley, where the grain sheds its gold under the sickle. You are lost in voluptuous reverie. You breathe the sunlight; intellect is thawed and mellowed; emotions take the place of thought; “your senses, sun-tranced, rise into the sphere of soul.” You feel the heart of humanity throbbing through all nature, and your own warms into quivering life.