The Masked Ball: Alexandre Dumas. Anastasia Klimchynskaya, translator.

I had said that I wasn’t at home to anyone; one of my friends forced himself in despite my orders. My servant announced M. Antony R…I caught sight of the corner of a black frock-coat behind Joseph’s livery; it was probable that the man wearing the frock-coat had seen me; it was impossible to hide.

“All right, let him enter!” I said out loud. “Let him go to the devil!” I muttered quietly.

When one is working, only the woman one loves can disturb one with impunity, for she is always at least partly responsible for what one is creating.

I walked toward him, with the half gloomy expression of an author interrupted in one of those moments when interruption is most feared. I saw that he was so pale and undone that the first words I addressed to him were the following:

“What is it? What has happened?”

“Oh! Let me catch my breath,” he said, “and I will tell you everything; besides, it might all be a dream, or perhaps I am mad.”

He threw himself on an armchair and let his head fall to his hands.

I looked at him with astonishment; his hair was wet with the rain; his boots, his knees and his pants were covered in mud. I went to the window; I saw his servant and his carriage at the door; I understood nothing of the matter.

He saw my surprise.

“I was at Père Lachaise cemetery,” he said.

“At ten in the morning?”

“I was there at seven…the damned masked ball!”

I hadn’t any idea what a masked ball and Père Lachaise had to do with each other; however, I came to terms with my confusion for the moment. Turning my back to the fireplace, I occupied myself with rolling a cigar between my fingers with the composure and patience of a Spaniard.

When the cigar had reached the point of perfection, I held it out to Antony, who I knew was usually quite sensible to such attention.

He made a sign of gratitude, but he pushed my hand away.

I bent over to light the cigar myself; Antony stopped me.

“Alexandre,” he said to me, “listen to me, I beg you.”

“But you have been here a quarter of an hour and you haven’t said a thing!”

“Oh! It’s such a strange adventure!”

I got up again, put down my cigar and crossed my arms like a resigned man; I was only beginning to believe, as he did, that he could very well have gone mad.

“You remember the ball at the Opera, where I met you?” he said after an instant of silence.
“The last one, with at least two hundred people present?”

“That same one. I left you with the intention of going to the ball at les Varietés; I had heard that it was a curiosity in the midst of our curious era; you wanted to dissuade me from going there, but fatality pushed me there. Oh! Why were you not there to see it, an author with morals to portray? Why were Hoffmann and Callot not there to paint the picture, at once fantastical and ludicrous, which spread before my eyes? I had left the Opera feeling empty and sad only to find a crowded, joyous hall. Corridors, lodges, parterre, everything was filled with people. I made a round of the hall; twenty masks called me by my name and told me theirs. The greatest aristocratic and financial figures of our day were present, disguised ignobly as sparrows and clowns! They were all young people of good name, good heart and merit; and there, forgetting family, art, politics, they were recreating a soirée from the time of the Regency in the midst of our solemn and severe age! I had heard of it, and yet I hadn’t believed!

I climbed the stairs back up, and, leaning on a column and half hidden by it, I fixed my eyes on the moving flood of figures below me. These dominoes of every color, these multicolored costumes, these grotesque disguises constituted a spectacle that resembled nothing human. The music started playing. Oh! And then..! These strange creatures started moving at the sound of the orchestra, whose harmonies reached me mingled with cries, laughs and shouts; these figures clung to each other’s hands, arms, necks; a long circle formed itself, beginning with a circular movement, the dancers tapping their feet, making the dust, whose tiny particles were rendered visible by the bright chandeliers, spurt into the air; turning in their growing speed with bizarre postures, obscene gestures and shouts full of debauchery: turning further and further, their heads thrown back as if they were drunk, shouting like women who had been lost, with more delirium than joy, more rage than pleasure, resembling a chain of damned accomplishing their infernal penitence under the whip of demons. It was happening before my eyes, in front of me.

I felt the breeze of their passing. Each one of those who knew me threw words at me that made me blush. All this noise, hum, confusion and music were in my head just as in the hall! I didn’t know if what I had before my eyes was dream or reality; I was coming to ask myself whether it was I who was mad and they who were reasonable; I felt a strange temptation to throw myself into the midst of this pandemonium, like Faust throwing himself into the Sabbath. I felt that, if I were to do so, I would make gests and postures like theirs, shout like them, laugh like them. Oh! It was only a step from there to madness. I was terrified and I threw myself outside the hall, followed to the door by shouts that resembled groans of love that escape from the cavern of wild beasts.

I had stopped for an instant under the portico to compose myself; I did not want to chance stepping into the street in such a confused state of mind: I might not have found my way, or I might have thrown myself under the wheels of a carriage that I didn’t see. I felt like a drunken man who was beginning to find enough reason in his foggy mind to perceive his state and who, feeling his will but not his strength return, leans on a tree on a public promenade, his eyes fixed and lifeless.

At that moment a carriage stopped before the door and a woman descended, or, rather, threw herself, from it.

 

Translated from the French collection Souvenirs d’Antony.

About the Translator: Anastasia Klimchynskaya is a second-year studying Comparative Literature and minoring in Physics. She loves reading, writing, traveling, translation, and the works of Alexandre Dumas.

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