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Some Reminiscences

Chapter 7
Can the transports of first love be calmed, checked, turned to a cold suspicion of the
future by a grave quotation from a work on Political Economy? I ask--is it conceivable?
Is it possible? Would it be right? With my feet on the very shores of the sea and about to
embrace my blue-eyed dream, what could a good- natured warning as to spoiling one's
life mean to my youthful passion? It was the most unexpected and the last too of the
many warnings I had received. It sounded to me very bizarre--and, uttered as it was in the
very presence of my enchantress, like the voice of folly, the voice of ignorance. But I was
not so callous or so stupid as not to recognise there also the voice of kindness. And then
the vagueness of the warning--because what can be the meaning of the phrase: to spoil
one's life?--arrested one's attention by its air of wise profundity. At any rate, as I have
said before, the words of la belle Madame Delestang made me thoughtful for a whole
evening. I tried to understand and tried in vain, not having any notion of life as an
enterprise that could be mismanaged. But I left off being thoughtful shortly before
midnight, at which hour, haunted by no ghosts of the past and by no visions of the future,
I walked down the quay of the Vieux Port to join the pilot-boat of my friends. I knew
where she would be waiting for her crew, in the little bit of a canal behind the Fort at the
entrance of the harbour. The deserted quays looked very white and dry in the moonlight
and as if frost- bound in the sharp air of that December night. A prowler or two slunk by
noiselessly; a custom-house guard, soldier-like, a sword by his side, paced close under
the bowsprits of the long row of ships moored bows on opposite the long, slightly curved,
continuous flat wall of the tall houses that seemed to be one immense abandoned building
with innumerable windows shuttered closely. Only here and there a small dingy cafe for
sailors cast a yellow gleam on the bluish sheen of the flagstones. Passing by, one heard a
deep murmur of voices inside--nothing more. How quiet everything was at the end of the
quays on the last night on which I went out for a service cruise as a guest of the
Marseilles pilots! Not a footstep, except my own, not a sigh, not a whispering echo of the
usual revelry going on in the narrow unspeakable lanes of the Old Town reached my ear--
and suddenly, with a terrific jingling rattle of iron and glass, the omnibus of the Jolliette
on its last journey swung round the corner of the dead wall which faces across the paved
road the characteristic angular mass of the Fort St. Jean. Three horses trotted abreast with
the clatter of hoofs on the granite setts, and the yellow, uproarious machine jolted
violently behind them, fantastic, lighted up, perfectly empty and with the driver
apparently asleep on his swaying perch above that amazing racket. I flattened myself
against the wall and gasped. It was a stunning experience. Then after staggering on a few
paces in the shadow of the Fort casting a darkness more intense than that of a clouded
night upon the canal, I saw the tiny light of a lantern standing on the quay, and became
aware of muffled figures making towards it from various directions. Pilots of the Third
Company hastening to embark. Too sleepy to be talkative they step on board in silence.
But a few low grunts and an enormous yawn are heard. Somebody even ejaculates: "Ah!
Coquin de sort!" and sighs wearily at his hard fate.
 
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