We are, indeed, a very small group, lost now in the immensity of the colossal acclivity as we move onwards, lighted partly by the wan moon on high, partly by the red lanterns we hold in our hands, ever floating at the end of their long sticks.
A deep silence reigns in the precincts of the temple, the sound of the insects even is hushed as we ascend higher. A sort of reverence, a kind of religious fear steals over us, and, at the same moment, a delicious coolness suddenly pervades the air, and passes over us.
On entering the courtyard above, we feel a little daunted. Here we find the horse in jade, and the china turrets. The enclosing walls make it the more gloomy, and our arrival seems to disturb I know not what mysterious council held between the spirits of the air and the visible symbols that are there, chimeras and monsters lit up by the blue rays of the moon.
We turn to the left, and go through the terraced gardens, to reach the tea-house “of the Toads,” which this evening is our goal; we find it shut up—expected as much—closed and dark, at this hour! We drum all together on the door; in the most coaxing tones we call by name the waiting-maids we know so well: Mdlle. Transparente, Mdlle. Etoile, Mdlle. Roseematinale, and Mdlle. Marguerite-reine. Not an answer. Goodbye perfumed sherbets and frosted beans!
In front of the little archery-house, our mousmes suddenly start on one side, terrified, and declaring that there is a dead body on the ground. Yes, indeed, someone is lying there. We cautiously examine the place by the light of our red balloons, carefully held out at arm’s length for fear of this dead man; it is only the marksman, he who on the 14th of July chose such magnificent arrows for Chrysantheme; and he sleeps, good man, with his chignon somewhat dishevelled, a sound sleep, which it would be cruel to disturb.
Let us go to the end of the terrace, contemplate the roadstead at our feet, and then return home. To-night the harbor looks only like a dark and sinister rent, which the moonbeams cannot fathom,—a yawning crevasse opening into the very bowels of the earth, at the bottom of which lie faint and small glimmers, an assembly of glow-worms in a ditch—the lights of the different vessels lying at anchor.
It is the middle of the night, somewhere about two in the morning. Our night-lamps are burning still, a little dimly, in front of our peaceful idols. Chrysantheme wakes me suddenly, and I turn to look at her: she has raised herself on one arm, and her face expresses the most intense terror; she makes me a sign, without daring to speak, that someone is near, or something, creeping up to us. What ill-timed visit is this? A feeling of fear gains possession of me also. I have a rapid impression of some immense unknown danger, in this isolated spot, in this strange country of which I do not even yet comprehend the inhabitants and the mysteries. It must be something very frightful, to hold her there, rooted to the spot, half dead with fright, she who does comprehend all these things.