"The Magic Skin", by Honoré De Balzac

Dernière mise à jour : 9 févr. 2021






Honore De Balzac


The Magic Skin


(1831)



[Translation: Ellen Marriage]




P19



"Then the old man went on thus :


“Without compelling you to entreat me, without making you blush for it, and withoutgiving you so much as a French centime, a para from the Levant, a German heller, a Russian kopeck, a Scottish farthing, a single obolus or sestertius from the ancient world,or one piastre from the new, without offering you anything whatever in gold, silver, orcopper, notes or drafts, I will make you richer, more powerful, and of more consequencethan a constitutional king.”


The young man thought that the older was in his dotage, and waited in bewilderment without venturing to reply.


“Turn round,” said the merchant, suddenly catching up the lamp in order to light up the opposite wall.


“Look at that leathern skin,” he went on.


(...)


He held the lamp close to the talisman, which the young man held towards him, and pointed out some characters in laid in the surface of the wonderful skin, as if they had grown on the animal to which it once belonged.


“I must admit,” said the stranger, “that I have no idea how the letters could be engraved so deeply on the skin of a wild ass.”


And he turned quickly to the tables strewn with curiosities and seemed to look for something.


“What is it that you want ?” asked the old man.


“Something that will cut the leather, so that I can see whether the letters are printed or inlaid.”


The old man held out his stiletto. The stranger took it and tried to cut the skin above the lettering; but when he had removed a thin shaving of leather from them, the characters still appeared below, so clear and so exactly like the surface impression, that for a moment he was not sure that he had cut anything away after all.


“The craftsmen of the Levant have secrets known only to themselves,” he said, half in vexation, as he eyed the characters of this Oriental sentence. “Yes,” said the old man, “it is better to attribute it to man’s agency than to God’s.”


The mysterious words were thus arranged :



POSSESSING ME THOU SHALT POSSESS ALL THINGS.

BUT THY LIFE IS MINE, FOR GOD HAS SO WILLED IT.


WISH, AND THY WISHES SHALL BE FULFILLED;

BUT MEASURE THY DESIRES, ACCORDING

TO THE LIFE THAT IS IN THEE.


THIS IS THY LIFE,

WITH EACH WISH I MUST SHRINK

EVEN AS THY OWN DAYS.


WILT THOU HAVE ME ? TAKE ME.

GOD WILL HEARKEN UNTO THEE.

SO BE IT !



“So you read Sanskrit fluently,” said the old man. “You have been in Persia perhaps, or in Bengal ?”

“No, sir,” said the stranger, as he felt the emblematical skin curiously. It was almost as

rigid as a sheet