Skip to main content

The Civilized, Chapter 21 - English Translation of Les Civilisés

the-civilized-chapter-21-english-translation-of-les-civiliss

English Text

Mr. Jacques de Fierce to Mrs. Sélysette Sylva

"If only, my beloved Sylva, I could send you a kiss every evening like the one I gave your forehead the day before this sad separation. Even this miserable comfort, the only thing which livens up my exile, is stolen from me - there are no mail ships for Saigon for many days to come, and the Cochinchinese courier left for Hong Kong before the arrival of the Bayard: I don't even know if you'll read this letter: when and how will it finally be able to reach you?

And will I get your letters for me? I crave them so! For me you are like the lighthouse which guided our ship along the coast of Hainan - without it, God know what sort of reefs and rocks our Bayard would have run aground on, and without you, I don't know where I would be in life. I can't even imagine, just the thought frightens me. I was a sick man, and you nursed me back to health... but if your care was ripped from me, I fear that the fever would creep back in.

Please, don't laugh at all these crazy things I say. When you're not here with me, I go a bit mad. My dear fiancée, do you know just how much I love you? You are the first woman, the first person, that I have truly loved: remember that I had no sister, no friend, that my mother never hugged me, that my father only paid attention to me when it came to choosing a distant school to send me away to. The heart that loves you is a virgin one, a heart that has never loved before: even if you're a saint and I'm a cynical moral, it's me among us two who is the less naive and jaded one: these very words that I write you, that I try to make glow with my love for you, were feelings that just yesterday were incomprehensible.

I'm writing to you from my cabin - blue now, as you like it - next to this portrait of you that I stole one day, and that I promise that I will give back to you, when I can have you yourself in exchange. For the time, and despite your displeasure, I can't bring myself to rob myself of this portrait - my talisman, my icon, everything that I still have of you. It's been seven days, already, since I left you behind! And how many more still stretch out until I will be with you once more...

It's becoming very clear that we're at Hong Kong because the English and us are having a spat, and that we're trying to patch things up with handshakes and balls. Who knows how many handshakes and balls will be necessary to bridge the divide. I don't want any part of it, and I lock myself up onboard like a sick man tired of the noise. Even still, I can't stay away from it all. Yesterday I had to be at the official visit to the English garrison's mess hall, and the Admiral Hawke's battleship prepared a huge party for that willingly or not I had to show up to. Yes, yesterday I went ashore for the first time, and I hope for the last, because the trip was heart wrenching.. Imagine yourself in my palanquin - here carriages are rarer than even Venice - ascending up to the high city through step streets. I had wanted to walk a bit to stretch my legs, and I had come upon this tiny path through a parc which is hoisted upon the side of the mountain, alongside a dry gully, a pathway so verdant and overgrown, so well hidden among the trees that you would think that it was a pathway to a fairy castle. It skirts the ravine, leaps over it sometimes on little mossy bridges, protected by rustic guardrails, the spires of the bridge fiving it the look of the gates of dilapidated abbeys, the guardrails made from crude earth, with yellow and green balustrades. It was all so silent, so mysterious, so narrow - all the more so since you knew, that on the other side of the hedge of pal trees and ferns, there was the immense harbor and its purring waves at the bottom of the mountain. On this path designed for two lovers, I felt all the more lonely and so far away from you than I had before - and so sad that tears swelled up in my eyes. The palanquin bearers thought that I was wiping my brow when I brushed them away with my handkerchief...

French Text

Scroll to Continue

Related Articles