Apart from several special, unclassified volumes, modern or dateless, certain works on the Cabbala, medicine and botany, certain odd tomes containing undiscoverable Christian poetry, and the anthology of the minor Latin poets of Wernsdorf; apart from Meursius, the manual of classical erotology of Forberg, and the diaconals used by confessors, which he dusted at rare intervals, his Latin library ended at the beginning of the tenth century.
And, in fact, the curiosity, the complicated naivete of the Christian language had also foundered. The balderdash of philosophers and scholars, the logomachy of the Middle Ages, thenceforth held absolute sway. The sooty mass of chronicles and historical books and cartularies accumulated, and the stammering grace, the often exquisite awkwardness of the monks, placing the poetic remains of antiquity in a ragout, were dead. The fabrications of verbs and purified essences, of substantives breathing of incense, of bizarre adjectives, coarsely carved from gold, with the barbarous and charming taste of Gothic jewels, were destroyed. The old editions, beloved by Des Esseintes, here ended; and with a formidable leap of centuries, the books on his shelves went straight to the French language of the present century.
The afternoon was drawing to its close when a carriage halted in front of the Fontenay house. Since Des Esseintes received no visitors, and since the postman never even ventured into these uninhabited parts, having no occasion to deliver any papers, magazines or letters, the servants hesitated before opening the door. Then, as the bell was rung furiously again, they peered through the peep-hole cut into the wall, and perceived a man, concealed, from neck to waist, behind an immense gold buckler.
They informed their master, who was breakfasting.
“Ask him in,” he said, for he recalled having given his address to a lapidary for the delivery of a purchase.
The man bowed and deposited the buckler on the pinewood floor of the dining room. It oscillated and wavered, revealing the serpentine head of a tortoise which, suddenly terrified, retreated into its shell.
This tortoise was a fancy which had seized Des Esseintes some time before his departure from Paris. Examining an Oriental rug, one day, in reflected light, and following the silver gleams which fell on its web of plum violet and alladin yellow, it suddenly occurred to him how much it would be improved if he could place on it some object whose deep color might enhance the vividness of its tints.
Possessed by this idea, he had been strolling aimlessly along the streets, when suddenly he found himself gazing at the very object of his wishes. There, in a shop window on the Palais Royal, lay a huge tortoise in a large basin. He had purchased it. Then he had sat a long time, with eyes half-shut, studying the effect.