La Peau de chagrin/1855/Chapter 1 – Wikisource

2Q==The free library. THE SKIN OF GRIEF.


Towards the end of last October, a home contractors young man entered the Palais-Royal just as the gambling houses were opening, in accordance with the law that protects an essentially taxable passion. Without much hesitation, he climbed the stairs of the tripot designated under the name of number 36.

“Sir, your hat, please?” A pale little old man crouched in the shadows, protected by a barricade, cried to him in a dry, rumbling voice, and who suddenly stood up, showing a figure cast on a vile type.

When you enter a gambling house, the law begins by stripping you of your hat. Is it an evangelical and providential parable? Is it not rather a way of concluding an infernal contract with you by demanding I do not know what pledge? Would it be to force you to keep a respectful maintenance in front of those who will earn your money? Is it the police lurking in all the social sewers who want to know the name of your hatter or yours, if you have it written on the headdress? Is it finally to take the measure of your skull and draw up an instructive statistic on the brain capacity of the players? On this point the administration remains completely silent. But, know it well, as soon as you have taken a step towards the green carpet, already your hat does not belong to you any more than you belong to yourself: you are at the game, you, your fortune, your headdress, your cane and your coat. When you leave, the Game will show you, by an atrocious epigram in action, that it still leaves you something by returning your luggage. If, however, you have a new hairstyle, you will learn the hard way that you have to make a player’s costume. The astonishment shown by the stranger when he received a numbered card in exchange for his hat, the edges of which fortunately were lightly peeled, indicated enough a soul still innocent. The little old man, who no doubt had languished from an early age in the boiling pleasures of the players’ lives, glanced at him dull and without warmth, in which a philosopher would have seen the miseries of the hospital, the vagrancy of the ruined people, the reports of a crowd of asphyxiations, the forced labor in perpetuity, the expatriations to Guazacoalco. This man, whose long white face was nourished only by d’Arcet’s gelatinous soups, presented the pale image of passion reduced to its simplest end. In his wrinkles there were traces of old tortures, he had to play his meager stipends on the very day he received them; Like the rosses on whom the lashes no longer have a hold, nothing made him tremble; The dull groans of the players who came out ruined, their mute imprecations, their dazed looks, always found him insensitive. It was the Game incarnate. If the young man had contemplated this sad Cerberus, perhaps he would have said to himself: There is only a deck of cards left in that heart! The stranger did not listen to this living advice, placed there doubtless by Providence, as it has put disgust at the door of all bad places; He resolutely entered the room where the sound of gold exerted a dazzling fascination on the senses in full lust. This young man was probably driven there by the most logical of all J.-J.’s eloquent sentences. Rousseau, and of whom, I believe, here is the sad thought: Yes, I conceive that a man should go to the Game; but it is when between him and death he sees only his last shield.