Friday, 27 February 2015

IX. Adventures of M. Deslon

Half of these were in Arthur John Butler's translation, but it would have been ridiculously short if I had just stuck to those that weren't.

Like my father, M. Deslon was a native of the Vosges, where his family was settled.
On the way back from Besançon, where he had obtained his doctorate in medicine, he found himself in a public coach with a young officer and a Capucin. As soon as the journey started, the officer started to mock the clergyman and harassed him for the whole day. M. Deslon had started to smile at some of his barbs, but soon they bored him, and in the end they disgusted him; finally, half a league away from the place where they would part, M. Deslon, having exhausted his patience, could remain silent no longer, and he told the Capucin:
“By God, Father, I have to say you are full of composure!”
“What,” the officer interjected, “does that mean you lack it?”
“Had I been the insulted one, this would have ended long ago!”
“Then there is no time to lose”, the officer replied, slapping him across the face.
They stopped the carriage. The two fighters stepped down, drew their swords, and in a matter of minutes, M. Deslon, who was both brave and agile and had just won a fencing prize in Besançon, inflicted a fatal wound. His opponent, who was enjoying his first furlough, was half a league away from his family home; he only arrived there to die, after declaring that he had been in the wrong and demanding that they do not sue M. Deslon. The unfortunate victor was appalled by this whole affair, and whenever he was reminded of it, he repeated: “After twelve hours of patience, I only had to wait for fifteen more minutes, and I will forever remain inconsolable that I could not endure it long enough.”
After finishing his provincial medicine studies with much distinction, M. Deslon pursued them in Paris; one of the courses he attended was M. Petit’s. One day as this learned anatomist demonstrated to his students that hanging provoked the most intense pleasure, M. Deslon, who had become one of M. Petit’s favourite pupils, asked:
“But, Monsieur, since you are by no means an enemy of delights, how come you have not yet experienced this one?”
“My friend,” M. Petit answered, “I save it for last.”
One day, M. Deslon persuaded my father to accompany him at an anatomy lecture; my father was ill for the rest of the day. He avenged himself by taking Deslon to watch Le Médecin malgré lui. It was a comical scene. Deslon was furious to see his honourable profession being thus satirised. With each line, he exclaimed: “What a load of nonsense!”, and with each exclamation, my father burst into laughter.
When my father got married, Deslon, as one of his witnesses, stood near him; he leant close to his ear and said: “My friend... my friend... it is still time, run!... For Heaven’s sake, run away!” And once my father said yes, he changed his mantra: “Ah! my poor friend,” he exclaimed, “now, hang yourself!”
Despite his regrets after his first duel, M. Deslon was about to fight another one in Paris. He had not provoked it, but his stubbornness and vehemence in this quarrel seemed to make reconciliation impossible. A few friends, having failed to appease him, at least got him to agree that the fight would be postponed to the next day and they went to see my father, who ran to Deslon’s place at once; but the doctor, having shut himself in, received nobody. Then my father wrote him a long letter which M. Deslon still quoted as a masterpiece of reason and strength of persuasion twenty-two years later; it ended with this conclusion: that in this circumstance, Deslon fighting the duel would only be thoughtless or cruel. This letter struck him, and the reflections it inspired him enabled him to resolve the dispute peacefully.
He was offered an appealing marriage with a beautiful young woman who seemed very much in love with him. Everything had been arranged, the date was set, but he happened to witness a quarrel between the bride and her governess; the young lady was in the wrong, but she grew stubborn, imperious and harsh. M. Deslon concluded that she lacked intelligence; seeing no possible happiness without this quality, he broke off the engagement. Despite both families’ attempts to sway him, he remained adamant, and the young lady died of despair.

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