I looked at Clara. Divinely calm and pretty, naked in a transparent tunic of yellow silk, she was languidly stretched out on a tiger skin.[*] Her head lay among the cushions, and with her hands, loaded with rings, she played with a long wisp of her flowing hair. A Lao dog slept beside her, its muzzle on her thigh and a paw on her breast.[+]
“It was horrible, my dear! Annie died ... died of that frightful scourge called elephantiasis ... Never have I wept so much, I assure you. I loved her so much – so much! And she was so beautiful!”
“But how did it happen?” I stammered.
“One night when we were returning from the river, Annie complained of violent pains in the head and loins, and the next day her body was all covered with little purple spots. Her skin, rosier and finer than the althaea flower, was hardening – thickening, swelling, and became an ashy grey. Great tumors and monstrous tubercles arose. It was something frightful[#] ...”
Terror sealed my lips. I looked at Clara, unable to utter a word. “I learned from her Chinese housekeeper,” Clara continued, “a really curious detail, which fascinates me. You know how much Annie loved pearls. You remember the almost physical joy, the carnal ecstasy, with which she adorned herself with them.[~] Well, when she was sick that passion became a mania with her ... a fury, like love! All day long she loved to touch them, caress them and kiss them; she made cushions of them, necklaces, capes, cloaks. Then this extraordinary thing happened; the pearls died on her skin: first they tarnished, little by little ... little by little they grew dim, and no light was reflected in their luster any more and, in a few days, tainted by the disease, they changed into tiny balls of ash. They were dead, dead like people, my darling. Did you know that pearls had souls? I think it’s fascinating and delicious. Since then, I think about it every day.”[$]
[O. Mirbeau, Le Jardin des supplices, pp. 143-46]
tiger – dog – elephant – & pearl