List Of Contents | Contents of The Wandering Jew, V9, by Eugene Sue
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trumpets were heard, and repeated shouts proclaimed: "The Cholera
Masquerade!" The words announced one of those episodes combining
buffoonery with terror, which marked the period when the pestilence was
on the increase, though now they can with difficulty be credited.  If the
evidence of eyewitnesses did not agree in every particular with the
accounts given in the public papers of this masquerade, they might be
regarded as the ravings of some diseased brain, and not as the notice of
a fact which really occurred.

"The Masquerade of the Cholera" appeared, we say, in the square of Notre-
Dame, just as Morinval's carriage gained the quay, after disengaging
itself from the death-wagon.

[37] It is well-known that at the time of the cholera, such placards were
numerous in Paris, and were alternately attributed to opposite parties.
Among others, to the priests, many of the bishops having published
mandatory letters, or stated openly in the churches of their diocese,
that the Almighty had sent the cholera as a punishment to France for
having driven away its lawful sovereign, and assimilated the Catholic to
other forms of worship.

[38] It is notorious, that at this unhappy period several persons were
massacred, under a false accusation of poisoning the fountains, etc.



A stream of people, who preceded the masquerade, made a sudden irruption
through the arch into the square, uttering loud cheers as they advanced.
Children were also there, blowing horns, whilst some hooted and others

The quarryman, Ciboule, and their band, attracted by this new spectacle,
rushed tumultuously towards the arch.  Instead of the two eating-houses,
which now (1845) stand on either side of the Rue d'Arcole, there was then
only one, situated to the left of the vaulted passage, and much
celebrated amongst the joyous community of students, for the excellence
both of its cookery and its wines.  At the first blare of the trumpets,
sounded by the outriders in livery who preceded the masquerade, the
windows of the great room of the eating-house were thrown open, and
several waiters, with their napkins under their arms, leaned forward,
impatient to witness the arrival of the singular guests they were

At length, the grotesque procession made its appearance in the thick of
an immense uproar.  The train comprised a chariot, escorted by men and
women on horseback, clad in rich and elegant fancy dresses.  Most of
these maskers belonged to the middle and easy classes of society.  The
report had spread that masquerade was in preparation, for the purpose of
daring the cholera, and, by this joyous demonstration, to revive the
courage of the affrighted populace.  Immediately, artists, young men
about town, students, and so on, responded to the appeal, and though till
now unknown one to the other, they easily fraternized together.  Many
brought their mistresses, to complete the show.  A subscription had been
opened to defray the expenses, and, that morning, after a splendid
breakfast at the other end of Paris, the joyous troop had started bravely
on their march, to finish the day by a dinner in the square of Notre-

We say bravely, for it required a singular turn of mind, a rare firmness
of character, in young women, to traverse, in this fashion, a great city
plunged in consternation and terror--to fall in at every step with
litters loaded with the dying, and carriages filled with the dead--to
defy, as it were, in a spirit of strange pleasantry, the plague that was
detonating the Parisians.  It is certain that, in Paris alone, and there
only amongst a peculiar class, could such an idea have ever been
conceived or realized.  Two men, grotesquely disguised as postilions at a
funeral, with formidable false noses, rose-colored crape hat-bands and
large favors of roses and crape bows at their buttonholes, rode before
the vehicle.  Upon the platform of the car were groups of allegorical
personages, representing WINE, PLEASURE, LOVE, PLAY.  The mission of
these symbolical beings was, by means of jokes, sarcasms, and mockeries,
to plague the life out of Goodman Cholera, a sort of funeral and
burlesque Cassander, whom they ridiculed and made game of in a hundred
ways.  The moral of the play was this: "To brave Cholera in security, let
us drink, laugh, game, and make love!"

WINE was represented by a huge, lusty Silenus, thick-set, and with
swollen paunch, a crown of ivy on his brow, a panther's skin across his
shoulder, and in his hand a large gilt goblet, wreathed with flowers.
None other than Ninny Moulin, the famous moral and religious writer,
could have exhibited to the astonished and delighted spectators an ear of
so deep a scarlet, so majestic an abdomen, and a face of such triumphant
and majestic fulness.  Every moment, Ninny Moulin appeared to empty his
cup--after which he burst out laughing in the face of Goodman Cholera.
Goodman Cholera, a cadaverous pantaloon, was half-enveloped in a shroud;
his mask of greenish cardboard, with red, hollow eyes, seemed every
moment to grin as in mockery of death; from beneath his powdered peruke,
surmounted by a pyramidical cotton night-cap, appeared his neck and arm,
dyed of a bright green color; his lean hand, which shook almost always
with a feverish trembling (not feigned, but natural), rested upon a
crutch-handled cane; finally, as was becoming in a pantaloon, he wore red
stockings, with buckles at the knees, and high slippers of black beaver.
This grotesque representative of the cholera was Sleepinbuff.

Notwithstanding a slow and dangerous fever, caused by the excessive use
of brandy, and by constant debauchery, that was silently undermining his
constitution, Jacques Rennepont had been induced by Morok to join the
masquerade.  The brute-tamer himself, dressed as the King of Diamonds,
represented PLAY.  His forehead was adorned with a diadem of gilded
paper, his face was pale and impassible, and as his long, yellow beard
fell down the front of his parti-colored robe, Morok looked exactly the
character he personated.  From time to time, with an air of grave
mockery, he shook close to the eyes of Goodman Cholera a large bag full
of sounding counters, and on this bag were painted all sorts of playing-
cards.  A certain stiffness in the right arm showed that the lion-tamer
had not yet quite recovered from the effects of the wound which the
panther had inflicted before being stabbed by Djalma.

PLEASURE, who also represented Laughter, classically shook her rattle,
with its sonorous gilded bells, close to the ears of Goodman Cholera.
She was a quick, lively young girl, and her fine black hair was crowned
with a scarlet cap of liberty.  For Sleepinbuff's sake, she had taken the
place of the poor Bacchanal queen, who would not have failed to attend on
such an occasion--she, who had been so valiant and gay, when she bore her
part in a less philosophical, but not less amusing masquerade.  Another
pretty creature, Modeste Bornichoux, who served as a model to a painter
of renown (one of the cavaliers of the procession), was eminently
successful in her representation of LOVE.  He could not have had a more
charming face, and more graceful form.  Clad in a light blue spangled
tunic, with a blue and silver band across her chestnut hair, and little
transparent wings affixed to her white shoulders, she placed one
forefinger upon the other, and pointed with the prettiest impertinence at
Goodman Cholera.  Around the principal group, other maskers, more or less
grotesque in appearance, waved each a banner, an which were inscriptions
of a very anacreontic character, considering the circumstances:

"Down with the Cholera!" "Short and sweet!" "Laugh away, laugh always!"
"We'll collar the Cholera!" "Love forever!" "Wine forever!" "Come if you
dare, old terror!"

There was really such audacious gayety in this masquerade, that the
greater number of the spectators, at the moment when it crossed the
square, in the direction of the eating-house, where dinner was waiting,
applauded it loudly and repeatedly.  This sort of admiration, which
courage, however mad and blind, almost always inspires, appeared to
others (a small number, it must be confessed) a kind of defiance to the
wrath of heaven; and these received the procession with angry murmurs.
This extraordinary spectacle, and the different impressions it produced,
were too remote from all customary facts to admit of a just appreciation.
We hardly know if this daring bravado was deserving of praise or blame.

Besides, the appearance of those plagues, which from age to age decimate
the population of whole countries, has almost always been accompanied by
a sort of mental excitement, which none of those who have been spared by
the contagion can hope to escape.  It is a strange fever of the mind,
which sometimes rouses the most stupid prejudices and the most ferocious
passions, and sometimes inspires, on the contrary, the most magnificent
devotion, the most courageous actions--with some, driving the fear of
death to a point of the wildest terror--with others, exciting the
contempt of life to express itself in the most audacious bravadoes.
Caring little for the praise or blame it might deserve, the masquerade
arrived before the eating-house, and made its entry in the midst of
universal acclamations.  Everything seemed to combine to give full effect
to this strange scene, by the opposition of the most singular contrasts.
Thus the tavern, in which was to be held this extraordinary feast, being
situated at no great distance from the antique cathedral, and the gloomy
hospital, the religious anthems of the ancient temple, the cries of the
dying, and the bacchanalian songs of the banqueteers, must needs mingle,
and by turns drown one another.  The maskers now got down from their
chariot, and from their horses, and went to take their places at the
repast, which was waiting for them.  The actors in the masquerade are at
table in the great room of the tavern.  They are joyous, noisy, even
riotous.  Yet their gayety has a strange tone, peculiar to itself.

Sometimes, the most resolute involuntarily remember that their life is at
stake in this mad and audacious game with destiny.  That fatal thought is
rapid as the icy fever-shudder, which chills you in an instant;
therefore, from time to time, an abrupt silence, lasting indeed only for
a second, betrays these passing emotions which are almost immediately
effaced by new bursts of joyful acclamation, for each one says to
himself: "No weakness! my chum and my girl are looking at me!"

And all laugh, and knock glasses together, and challenge the next man,
and drink out of the glass of the nearest woman.  Jacques had taken off
the mask and peruke of Goodman Cholera.  His thin, leaden features, his
deadly paleness, the lurid brilliancy of his hollow eyes, showed the
incessant progress of the slow malady which was consuming this
unfortunate man, brought by excesses to the last extremity of weakness.
Though he felt the slow fire devouring his entrails, he concealed his
pain beneath a forced and nervous smile.

To the left of Jacques was Morok, whose fatal influence was ever on the
increase, and to his right the girl disguised as PLEASURE.  She was named
Mariette.  By her side sat Ninny Moulin, in all his majestic bulk, who
often pretended to be looking for his napkin under the table, in order to
have the opportunity of pressing the knees of his other neighbor,
Modeste, the representative of LOVE.  Most of the guests were grouped
according to their several tastes, each tender pair together, and the
bachelors where they could.  They had reached the second course, and the
excellence of the wine, the good cheer, the gay speeches, and even the
singularity of the occasion, had raised their spirits to a high degree of
excitement, as may be gathered from the extraordinary incidents of the
following scene.

[39]  We read in the Constitutionnel, Saturday March 31st, 1832: "The
Parisians readily conform to that part of the official instructions with
regard to the cholera, which prescribes, as a preservation from the
disease, not to be afraid, to amuse one's self, etc.  The pleasures of
Mid-Lent have been as brilliant and as mad as those of the carnival
itself.  For a long time past there had not been so many balls at this
period of the year.  Even the cholera has been made the subject of an
itinerant caricature."



Two or three times, without being remarked by the guests, one of the
waiters had come to whisper to his fellows, and point with expressive
gesture to the ceiling.  But his comrades had taken small account of his
observations or fears, not wishing, doubtless, to disturb the guests,
whose mad gayety seemed ever on the increase.

"Who can doubt now of the superiority of our manner of treating this
impertinent Cholera?  Has he dared even to touch our sacred battalion?"
said a magnificent mountebank-Turk, one of the standard-bearers of the

"Here is all the mystery," answered another.  "It is very simple.  Only
laugh in the face of the plague, and it will run away from you."

"And right enough too, for very stupid work it does," added a pretty
little Columbine, emptying her glass.

"You are right, my darling; it is intolerably stupid work," answered the
Clown belonging to the Columbine; "here you are very quiet, enjoying
life, and all on a sudden you die with an atrocious grimace.  Well! what
then?  Clever, isn't it?  I ask you, what does it prove?"

"It proves," replied an illustrious painter of the romantic school,
disguised like a Roman out of one of David's pictures, "it proves that
the Cholera is a wretched colorist, for he has nothing but a dirty green
on his pallet.  Evidently he is a pupil of Jacobus, that king of
classical painters, who are another species of plagues."

"And yet, master," added respectfully a pupil of the great painter, "I
have seen some cholera patients whose convulsions were rather fine, and
their dying looks first-rate!"

"Gentlemen," cried a sculptor of no less celebrity, "the question lies in
a nutshell.  The Cholera is a detestable colorist, but a good
draughtsman.  He shows you the skeleton in no time.  By heaven! how he
strips off the flesh!--Michael Angelo would be nothing to him."

"True," cried they all, with one voice; "the Cholera is a bad colorist,
but a good draughtsman."

"Moreover, gentlemen," added Ninny Moulin, with comic gravity, "this
plague brings with it a providential lesson, as the great Bossuet would
have said."

"The lesson! the lesson!"

"Yes, gentlemen; I seem to hear a voice from above, proclaiming: `Drink
of the best, empty your purse, and kiss your neighbor's wife; for your
hours are perhaps numbered, unhappy wretch!'"

So saying, the orthodox Silenus took advantage of a momentary absence of
mind on the part of Modeste, his neighbor, to imprint on the blooming
cheek of LOVE a long, loud kiss.  The example was contagious, and a storm
of kisses was mingled with bursts of laughter.

"Ha! blood and thunder!" cried the great painter as he gayly threatened

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