In the language of this exquisitely polite people, terms of abuse are totally wanting; when very angry, one is obliged to be satisfied with using the thou, mark of inferiority and the familiar conjugation, habitual towards those of low birth. Seating myself on the table used for weddings, in the midst of all the flurried little policemen, I open the conversation in the following terms:
“In order that thou shouldest leave me in peace in the suburb I am inhabiting, what bribe must I offer thee, set of little beings more contemptible than any mere street porter?”
Great and mute scandal, silent consternation, and low bows greet my words.
“Certainly,” they at last reply, my honorable person shall not be molested, indeed they ask for nothing better. Only, in order to subscribe to the laws of the country, I ought to have come here and given my name and that of the young person that—with whom—
“Oh! that is going too far! I came here on purpose, contemptible creatures, not three weeks ago!”
Then taking up myself the civil register, and turning over the pages rapidly, I found my signature and beside it the little hieroglyphics drawn by Chrysantheme:
“There, set of idiots, look at that!”
Arrival of a very high functionary,—a ridiculous little old fellow in a black coat, who from his office has been listening to the row:
“What is the matter? What is it? What is this annoyance put upon the French officers?”
I politely state my case to this personage, who cannot make apologies and promises enough. The little agents prostrate themselves on all fours, sink into the earth; and we leave them, cold and dignified, without returning their bows.
M. Sucre and Madame Prune can now make their minds easy, they will not be disturbed again.
The prolonged stay of the Triomphante in the dock, and the distance of our home from town, have been my pretext these last two or three days for not going up to Diou-djen-dji to see Chrysantheme.
It is dreary work though in these docks. With the early dawn a legion of little Japanese workmen invade us, bringing their dinners in baskets and gourds like the working-men in our arsenals, but with a needy, shabby appearance, and a ferreting, hurried manner which reminds one of rats. Silently they slip under the keel, at the bottom of the hold, in all the holes, sawing, nailing, repairing.
The heat is intense in this spot, overshadowed by the rocks and tangled masses of foliage.
At two o’clock, in the broad sunlight, we have a new and far prettier kind of invasion: that of the beetles and butterflies.
Butterflies as wonderful as those on the fans. Some all black, giddily dash up against us, so light and airy that they seem merely a pair of quivering wings fastened together without any body.