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Atlantida

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #120 on: April 01, 2009, 01:21:41 pm »

them; then, casting a peevish glance at us, he struck a copper gong.

The portiere was raised again. A huge white Targa entered. I seemed to recognize him as one of the genii of the cave. 1

"Ferradji," angrily demanded the little officer of the Department of Education, "why were these gentlemen brought into the library?"

The Targa bowed respectfully.

"Cegheir-ben-Cheikh came back sooner than we expected," he replied, "and last night the embalmers had not yet finished. They brought them here in the meantime," and he pointed to us.

"Very well, you may go," snapped the little man. Ferradji backed toward the door. On the threshold, he stopped and spoke again:

"I was to remind you, sir, that dinner is served." "All right. Go along."

And the little man seated himself at the desk and began to finger the papers feverishly.

I do not know why, but a mad feeling of exasperation seized me. I walked toward him.

"Sir," I said, "my friend and I do not know where we are nor who you are. We can see only that you


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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #121 on: April 01, 2009, 01:21:55 pm »

are French, since you are wearing one of the highest honorary decorations of our country. You may have made the same observation on your part," I added, indicating the slender red ribbon which I wore on my vest.

He looked at me in contemptuous surprise. "Well, sir?"

"Well, sir, the negro who just went out pronounced the name of Cegheir-ben-Cheikh, the name of a brigand, a bandit, one of the assassins of Colonel Flatters. Are you acquainted with that detail, sir?"

The little man surveyed me coldly and shrugged his shoulders.

"Certainly. But what difference do you suppose that makes to me?"

"What!" I cried, beside myself with rage. "Who are you, anyway?"

"Sir," said the little old man with comical dignity, turning to Morhange, "I call you to witness the strange manners of your companion. I am here in my own house and I do not allow . . ."

"You must excuse my comrade, sir," said Morhange, stepping forward. "He is not a man of letters, as you are. These young lieutenants are hot-headed, you know. And besides, you can understand why both of us are not as calm as might be desired."

I was furious and on the point of disavowing these strangely humble words of Morhange. But a glance

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #122 on: April 01, 2009, 01:22:10 pm »

showed me that there was as much irony as surprise in his expression.

"I know indeed that most officers are brutes," grumbled the little old man. "But that is no reason. . ."

"I am only an officer myself," Morhange went on, in an even humbler tone, "and if ever I have been sensible to the intellectual inferiority of that class, I assure you that it was just now in glancing—I beg your pardon for having taken the liberty to do so in glancing over the learned pages which you devote to the passionate story of Medusa, according to Procles of Carthage, cited by Pausanias."

A laughable surprise spread over the features of the little old man. He hastily wiped his spectacles. "What!" he finally cried.

"It is indeed unfortunate, in this matter," Morhange continued imperturbably, "that we are not in possession of the curious dissertation devoted to this burning question by Statius Sebosus, a work which we know only through Pliny and which . . ."

"You know Statius Sebosus?"

"And which my master, the geographer Berlioux . . ."

"You knew Berlioux—you were his pupil?" stammered the little man with the decoration.

"I have had that honor," replied Morhange, very coldly.

"But, but, sir, then you have heard mentioned, you

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #123 on: April 01, 2009, 01:22:23 pm »

are familiar with the question, the problem of Atlantis?"

"Indeed I am not unacquainted with the works of Lagneau, Ploix, Arbois de Jubainville," said Morhange frigidly.

"My God!" The little man was going through extraordinary contortions. "Sir—Captain, how happy I am, how many excuses. . . ."

Just then, the portiére was raised. Ferradji appeared again.

"Sir, they want me to tell you that unless you come, they will begin without you."

"I am coming, I am coming. Say, Ferradji, that we will be there in a moment. Why, sir, if I had foreseen . . . It is extraordinary . . . to find an officer who knows Proclés of Carthage and Arbois de Jubainville. Again . . . But I must introduce myself. I am Etienne Le Mesge, Fellow of the University."

"Captain Morhange," said my companion. I stepped forward in my turn.

"Lieutenant de Saint-Avit. It is a fact, sir, that I am very likely to confuse Arbois of Carthage with Proclés de Jubainville. Later, I shall have to see about filling up those gaps. But just now, I should like to know where we are, if we are free, and if not, what occult power holds us. You have the appearance, sir, of being sufficiently at home in this house to be able to enlighten us upon this point,

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #124 on: April 01, 2009, 01:22:35 pm »

which I must confess, I weakly consider of the first importance."

M. Le Mesge looked at me. A rather malevolent smile twitched the corners of his mouth. He opened his lips. . . .

A gong sounded impatiently.

"In good time, gentlemen, I will tell you. I will explain everything. . . . But now you see that we must hurry. It is time for lunch and our fellow diners will get tired of waiting."

"Our fellow diners?"

"There are two of them," M. Le Mesge explained. "We three constitute the European personnel of the house, that is, the fixed personnel," he seemed to feel obliged to add, with his disquieting smile. "Two strange fellows, gentlemen, with whom, doubtless, you will care to have as little to do as possible. One is a churchman, narrow-minded, though a Protestant. The other is a man of the world gone astray, an old fool."

"Pardon," I said, "but it must have been he whom I heard last night. He was gambling: with you and the minister, doubtless?"

M. Le Mesge made a gesture of offended dignity.

"The idea! With me, sir? It is with the Tuareg that he plays. He teaches them every game imaginable. There, that is he who is striking the gong to hurry us up. It is half past nine, and the Salle de Trente et Quarante opens at ten o'clock. Let us

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #125 on: April 01, 2009, 01:22:46 pm »

hurry. I suppose that anyway you will not be averse to a little refreshment."

"Indeed we shall not refuse," Morhange replied.

We followed M. Le Mesge along a long winding corridor with frequent steps. The passage was dark. But at intervals rose-colored night lights and incense burners were placed in niches cut into the solid rock. The passionate Oriental scents perfumed the darkness and contrasted strangely with the cold air of the snowy peaks.

From time to time, a white Targa, mute and expressionless as a phantom, would pass us and we would hear the clatter of his slippers die away behind us.

M. Le Mesge stopped before a heavy door covered with the same pale metal which I had noticed on the walls of the library. He opened it and stood aside to let us pass.

Although the dining room which we entered had little in common with European dining rooms, I have known many which might have envied its comfort. Like the library, it was lighted by a great window. But I noticed that it had an outside exposure, while that of the library overlooked the garden in the center of the crown of mountains.

No center table and none of those barbaric pieces of furniture that we call chairs. But a great number of buffet tables of gilded wood, like those of Venice, heavy hangings of dull and subdued colors, and cushions,

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« Reply #126 on: April 01, 2009, 01:22:57 pm »

Tuareg or Tunisian. In the center was a huge mat on which a feast was placed in finely woven baskets among silver pitchers and copper basins filled with perfumed water. The sight of it filled me with childish satisfaction.

M. Le Mesge stepped forward and introduced us to the two persons who already had taken their places on the mat.

"Mr. Spardek," he said; and by that simple phrase I understood how far our host placed himself above vain human titles.

The Reverend Mr. Spardek, of Manchester, bowed reservedly and asked our permission to keep on his tall, wide-brimmed hat. He was a dry, cold man, tall and thin. He ate in pious sadness, enormously.

"Monsieur Bielowsky," said M. Le Mesge, introducing us to the second guest.

"Count Casimir Bielowsky, Hetman of Jitomir," the latter corrected with perfect good humor as he stood up to shake hands.

I felt at once a certain liking for the Hetman of Jitomir who was a perfect example of an old beau. His chocolate-coloured hair was parted in the center (later I found out that the Hetman dyed it with a concoction of khol) . He had magnificent whiskers, also chocolate-coloured, in the style of the Emperor Francis Joseph. His nose was undeniably a little red, but so fine, so aristocratic. His hands were

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #127 on: April 01, 2009, 01:23:13 pm »

marvelous. It took some thought to place the date of the style of the count's costume, bottle green with yellow facings, ornamented with a huge seal of silver and enamel. The recollection of a portrait of the Duke de Morny made me decide on 1860 or 1862; and the further chapters of this story will show that I was not far wrong.

The count made me sit down beside him. One of his first questions was to demand if I ever cut fives. 1

"That depends on how I feel," I replied.

"Well said. I have not done so since 1866. I swore off. A row. The devil of a party. One day at Walewski's. I cut fives. Naturally I wasn't worrying any. The other had a four. 'Idiot!' cried the little Baron de Chaux Gisseux who was laying staggering sums on my table. I hurled a bottle of champagne at his head. He ducked. It was Marshal Baillant who got the bottle. A scene! The matter was fixed up because we were both Free Masons. The Emperor made me promise not to cut fives again. I have kept my promise. But there are moments when it is hard. . . ."

He added in a voice steeped in melancholy:

"Try a little of this Ahaggar, 1880. Excellent vintage. It is I, Lieutenant, who instructed these people in the uses of the juice of the vine. The vine of the palm trees is very good when it is properly fermented, but it gets insipid in the long run."


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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #128 on: April 01, 2009, 01:23:23 pm »

It was powerful, that Ahaggar 1880. We sipped it from large silver goblets. It was fresh as Rhine wine, dry as the wine of the Hermitage. And then, suddenly, it brought back recollections of the burning wines of Portugal; it seemed sweet, fruity, an admirable wine, I tell you.

That wine crowned the most perfect of luncheons. There were few meats, to be sure; but those few were remarkably seasoned. Profusion of cakes, pancakes served with honey, fragrant fritters, cheese-cakes of sour milk and dates. And everywhere, in great enamel platters or wicker jars, fruit, masses of fruit, figs, dates, pistachios, jujubes, pomegranates, apricots, huge bunches of grapes, larger than those which bent the shoulders of the Hebrews in the land of Canaan, heavy watermelons cut in two, showing their moist, red pulp and their rows of black seeds.

I had scarcely finished one of these beautiful iced fruits, when M. Le Mesge rose.

"Gentlemen, if you are ready," he said to Morhange and me.

"Get away from that old dotard as soon as you can," whispered the Hetman of Jitomir to me. "The party of Trente et Quarante will begin soon. You shall see. You shall see. We go it even harder than at Cora Pearl's."

"Gentlemen," repeated M. Le Mesge in his dry tone.

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« Reply #129 on: April 01, 2009, 01:23:44 pm »

We followed him. When the three of us were back again in the library, he said, addressing me:

"You, sir, asked a little while ago what occult power holds you here. Your manner was threatening, and I should have refused to comply had it not been for your friend, whose knowledge enables him to appreciate better than you the value of the revelations I am about to make to you."

He touched a spring in the side of the wall. A cupboard appeared, stuffed with books. He took one.

"You are both of you," continued M. Le Mesge, "in the power of a woman. This woman, the sultaness, the queen, the absolute sovereign of Ahaggar, is called Antinea. Don't start, M. Morhange, you will soon understand."

He opened the book and read this sentence:

"'I must warn you before I take up the subject matter: do not be surprised to hear me call the barbarians by Greek names.'

'What is that book?" stammered Morhange, whose pallor terrified me.

"This book," M. Le Mesge replied very slowly, weighing his words, with an extraordinary expression of triumph, "is the greatest, the most beautiful, the most secret, of the dialogues of Plato; it is the Critias of Atlantis."

"The Critias? But it is unfinished," murmured Morhange.

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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #130 on: April 01, 2009, 01:24:05 pm »

"It is unfinished in France, in Europe, everywhere else," said M. Le Mesge, "but it is finished here. Look for yourself at this copy."

"But what connection," repeated Morhange, while his eyes traveled avidly over the pages, "what connection can there be between this dialogue, complete,—yes, it seems to me complete—what connection with this woman, Antinea? Why should it be in her possession?"

"Because," replied the little man imperturbably, "this book is her patent of nobility, her Almanach de Gotha, in a sense, do you understand? Because it established her prodigious genealogy: because she is. . ."

"Because she is?" repeated Morhange.

"Because she is the grand daughter of Neptune, the last descendant of the Atlantides."


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Footnotes
119:1 The negro serfs among the Tuareg are generally called "white Tuareg." While the nobles are clad in blue cotton robes, the serfs wear white robes, hence their name of "white Tuareg." See, in this connection, Duveyrier: les Tuareg du Nord, page 292. (Note by M. Leroux.)

126:1 Tirer à cinq, a card game played only for very high stakes.



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Crystal Thielkien
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« Reply #131 on: April 01, 2009, 01:24:38 pm »

p. 130

CHAPTER IX
ATLANTIS
M. Le Mesge looked at Morhange triumphantly. It was evident that he addressed himself exclusively to Morhange, considering him alone worthy of his confidences.

"There have been many, sir," he said, "both French and foreign officers who have been brought here at the caprice of our sovereign, Antinea. You are the first to be honored by my disclosures. But you were the pupil of Berlioux, and I owe so much to the memory of that great man that it seems to me I may do him homage by imparting to one of his disciples the unique results of my private research."

He struck the bell. Ferradji appeared.

"Coffee for these gentlemen," ordered M. Le Mesge.

He handed us a box, gorgeously decorated in the most flaming colors, full of Egyptian cigarettes.

"I never smoke," he explained. "But Antinea sometimes comes here. These are her cigarettes. Help yourselves, gentlemen."

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« Reply #132 on: April 01, 2009, 01:24:52 pm »

I have always had a horror of that pale tobacco which gives a barber of the Rue de la Michodière the illusion of oriental voluptuousness. But, in their way, these musk-scented cigarettes were not bad, and it was a long time since I had used up my stock of Caporal.

"Here are the back numbers of Le Vie Parisienne," said M. Le Mesge to me. "Amuse yourself with them, if you like, while I talk to your friend."

"Sir," I replied brusquely, "it is true that I never studied with Berlioux. Nevertheless, you must allow me to listen to your conversation: I shall hope to find something in it to amuse me."

"As you wish," said the little old man.

We settled ourselves comfortably. M. Le Mesge sat down before the desk, shot his cuffs, and commenced as follows:

"However much, gentlemen, I prize complete objectivity in matters of erudition, I cannot utterly detach my own history from that of the last descendant of Clito and Neptune.

"I am the creation of my own efforts. From my childhood, the prodigious impulse given to the science of history by the nineteenth century has affected me. I saw where my way led. I have followed it, in spite of everything.

"In spite of everything, everything—I mean it literally. With no other resources than my own work and merit, I was received as Fellow of History

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« Reply #133 on: April 01, 2009, 01:25:06 pm »

and Geography at the examination of 1880. A great examination! Among the thirteen who were accepted there were names which have since become illustrious: Julian, Bourgeois, Auerbach. . . . I do not envy my colleagues on the summits of their official honors; I read their works with commiseration; and the pitiful errors to which they are condemned by the insufficiency of their documents would amply counterbalance my chagrin and fill me with ironic joy, had I not been raised long since above the satisfaction of self-love.

"When I was Professor at the Lycée du Parc at Lyons. I knew Berlioux and followed eagerly his works on African History. I had, at that time, a very original idea for my doctor's thesis. I was going to establish a parallel between the Berber heroine of the seventh century, who struggled against the Arab invader, Kahena, and the French heroine, Joan of Arc, who struggled against the English invader. I proposed to the Faculté des Lettres at Paris this title for my thesis: Joan of Arc and the Tuareg. This simple announcement gave rise to a perfect outcry in learned circles, a furor of ridicule. My friends warned me discreetly. I refused to believe them. Finally I was forced to believe when my rector summoned me before him and, after manifesting an astonishing interest in my health, asked whether I should object to taking two years’ leave on half pay. I refused indignantly. The rector did not insist;

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« Reply #134 on: April 01, 2009, 01:25:22 pm »

but fifteen days later, a ministerial decree, with no other legal procedure, assigned me to one of the most insignificant and remote Lycées of France, at Mont-de-Marsan.

"Realize my exasperation and you will excuse the excesses to which I delivered myself in that strange country. What is there to do in Landes, if you neither eat nor drink? I did both violently. My pay melted away in fois gras, in woodcocks, in fine wines. The result came quickly enough: in less than a year my joints began to crack like the over-oiled axle of a bicycle that has gone a long way upon a dusty track. A sharp attack of gout nailed me to my bed. Fortunately, in that blessed country, the cure is in reach of the suffering. So I departed to Dax, at vacation time, to try the waters.

"I rented a room on the bank of the Adour, overlooking the Promenade des Baignots. A charwoman took care of it for me. She worked also for an old gentleman, a retired Examining Magistrate, President of the Roger-Ducos Society, which was a vague scientific backwater, in which the scholars of the neighborhood applied themselves with prodigious incompetence to the most whimsical subjects. One afternoon I stayed in my room on account of a very heavy rain. The good woman was energetically polishing the copper latch of my door. She used a paste called Tripoli, which she spread upon a paper and rubbed and rubbed. . . . The peculiar

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