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Text - "Beyond the Black Waters" Guy de Maupassant


As may be imagined, the dinner which was soon afterwards partaken of by the family was anything but a cheerful meal. For the first time Io sat opposite to her husband gloomy and silent, scarcely touching the food before her. "Are you not well, my love?" asked Oscar anxiously. "I ought not to have suffered you to walk to church in the heat." "It did me no harm; it was my own will to walk," replied Io coldly. Oscar gave an uneasy, questioning glance. Io did not choose to meet it. "I don't want his pity," she said to herself. There was a long, dreary pause, which only Thud filled up by a vigorous onslaught on the mutton. He had almost satisfied his appetite, and was beginning, in nautical phrase, to get his talking-tackle on board, when the circle was joined by Pinfold. "Ha! ha! happy to catch you just at dinner-time. I hope our friend Thud has left something for me!" cried the jovial doctor, as he laid down his sun-hat and umbrella, and wiped his heated forehead. Then, advancing to the table, Pinfold greeted his god-daughter in very paternal fashion. The doctor considered himself to be a privileged person, one who need never wait for an invitation, being always certain to find a welcome. Mr. Coldstream intensely disliked the intrusion, and the vulgar familiarity of his guest. Oscar had been on civil terms with Pinfold during his first sojourn at Moulmein, but intimate he never had been. The two men had nothing in common between them: the mirth of the one had been refined wit, like a sparkle over deep waters; the fun of the other had the coarse scent of the oil-fed torch. But Oscar resolved to show no sign of dislike towards one whom his wife regarded as her oldest friend; Pinfold should always have a seat at the table of her who had sat on his knee when she was a little rosy-cheeked child. Oscar would endure the doctor's society, and not betray, even by a look, that he found that it required some self-command to do so. "Why, my dear," said Pinfold, addressing himself to Io, "you don't look well; you are losing your roses!" "I am quite well. Please sit down, dear Dr. Pinny. I am afraid that the meat is a little cold." "I must come rather earlier next time," said the doctor, taking a seat. - "Well, Thud, what new discoveries have you been making in science? - A little more fat, Coldstream, if you please." "I've been directing my attention to the moon," said Thud sententiously, laying down the knife and fork which he had been diligently plying. "No doubt the moon is flattered by the attention shown to her. Ha! ha! ha! I am not surprised at your thoughts being turned in a lunatic direction. How often have you seen the new moon rise in the east?" "Often," replied Thud, looking surprised at the question. "Clever dog! you have then seen what no one else ever saw!" cried the doctor. "You don't mean to say that the moon ever rises in the west!" cried Thucydides Thorn, which set the doctor off laughing again. When he had recovered his gravity, Pinfold resumed his questioning. "May I ask what discoveries you have made in the lunatic direction?" "I've made no decided discoveries yet," replied Thud; "but a theory is gradually developing itself in my brain." "Ah! that brain. It will have some day to be put into spirits and deposited in a museum!" cried the doctor. "I've no objection," said the young philosopher, who was rather gratified by the idea; "but it must be after I'm dead." This gave the doctor another uproarious fit of mirth, which almost occasioned a choke. "Now for your theory," he cried, as soon as he had recovered his breath. "I can't talk whilst you laugh so," said Thud. "Come, I've had my laugh out; I want to hear your original views regarding our satellite," said Pinfold. "Some philosophers declare that the moon has no atmosphere," began Thud, as if commencing a lecture. "That is, I believe, pretty generally acknowledged," observed Coldstream. "Most powerful telescopes have been brought to bear upon the moon, and no trace of atmosphere has been discovered." "Not on the surface, I grant you," said Thud sententiously. "What I maintain is that the atmosphere is under the surface, so that no telescope can reveal it. I have an idea," Thud glanced up towards the ceiling, as if the idea were floating somewhere above the heads of his hearers. "I've a notion that the moon is full of air, something like a balloon, and that as that air expands by the action of heat, or contracts, the moon assumes the shape of the orb or crescent." Again the doctor gave way to his mirth. "You would make out the queen of night to be a kind of big bladder-ball! O Thucydides Thorn, when will you leave off playing at ninepins! You put up your wooden theories to let us have the fun of knocking them down." "It is I who knock down old wooden theories like ninepins," said Thud, blinking like an offended owl. "I am aiming after something original and new. We learn by finding out the mistakes of our elders. Every generation stands on the heads of the last." The doctor threw himself back on his chair, half convulsed with laughter. "A difficult kind of intellectual gymnastics," he cried. "Of course, at the top of the philosophical pyramid will stand - Mr. Thucydides Thorn." The doctor glanced at Io, expecting to see her join in his mirth, but her grave, pale face reflected no spark of amusement. "I say, Coldstream, you'll have to put your wife under my care," said the doctor abruptly; "she has neither appetite for her food nor spirit for a joke." "I am a little uneasy about her," began Oscar, but the doctor rather rudely cut him short. "You'd better be more than a little uneasy; I never saw her look so ill and pale in my life." "I have a slight headache," said Io, rising. It was very unpleasant to her to have attention called to her looks, so she made an excuse for retiring which was at least a true one. Pinfold followed his god-daughter as far as the door of her room, to put a few questions and feel her pulse. He then returned to the dining-room, where he found Oscar alone, and looking exceedingly anxious. A terrible dread had arisen in the mind of Coldstream that he was to be chastised through the sufferings of his young wife. "I can't find out that there's anything particular the matter with Io," said Pinfold, resuming his seat; "but she's out of spirits. And no wonder: flowers always lose their colour if kept in the darkness of a cellar. My pretty god-child needs more light, more sunshine, more cheerful society. She - by nature full of fun, the merriest, most lively of girls cannot keep up her spirits whilst she never sees a smile on the face of her husband." Pinfold had resolved on getting to the bottom of the mystery of Mr. Coldstream's melancholy; the doctor had often revolved in his mind how to approach so delicate a subject, and now, seeing the evil affecting his favourite's happiness, the old man resolved on throwing false delicacy aside. Coldstream had to endure close questioning, and bore it as he might have done the pain of an operation, only lancet and knife would not have inflicted suffering so acute to a sensitive nature. To Pinfold's questions Oscar returned short, straightforward replies. As he had perceived that the chaplain had suspected him of freethinking, so he was perfectly aware that the doctor doubted his sanity, and Oscar determined to lay that question to rest. No, none of his family had ever been mentally afflicted; he himself had never been in youth subject to depression; he had never been bitten by dog or fox. "Then why are you so changed, so gloomy?" asked Pinfold. "Any pecuniary trouble? Perhaps you have fallen into debt?" Coldstream shook his head. "I have neither lent nor borrowed; I have no anxiety connected with money." "Then what is on your mind?" asked the baffled inquisitor. "That question hardly lies within the province of a medical man," said Coldstream rather sternly, for patience had been strained to the utmost point. Even Pinfold saw that he had gone too far. Rising, he concluded the disagreeable interview with a few emphatic injunctions: "I'm going to send Io a tonic, but her best tonic would be a more cheerful home. You must amuse her and make her happy. You can do more for your wife's health, mark me, Coldstream, than the whole college of physicians can do."

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