The Mummy's Foot and other stories

The Mummy's Foot and other stories

by Theophile Gautier

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I had entered, in an idle mood, the shop of one of those curiosity-
venders, who are called marchands de bric-a-brac in that Parisian
argot which is so perfectly unintelligible elsewhere in France.

You have doubtless glanced occasionally through the windows of some of
these shops, which have become so numerous now that it is fashionable
to buy antiquated furniture, and that every petty stock-broker thinks
he must have his chambre au moyen age.

There is one thing there which clings alike to the shop of the dealer
in old iron, the wareroom of the tapestry-maker, the laboratory of the
chemist, and the studio of the painter:--in all those gloomy dens
where a furtive daylight filters in through the window-shutters, the
most manifestly ancient thing is dust;--the cobwebs are more authentic
than the guimp laces; and the old pear-tree furniture on exhibition is
actually younger than the mahogany which arrived but yesterday from

The warehouse of my bric-a-brac dealer was a veritable Capharnaum; all
ages and all nations seemed to have made their rendezvous there; an
Etruscan lamp of red clay stood upon a Boule cabinet, with ebony
panels, brightly striped by lines of inlaid brass; a duchess of the
court of Louis XV nonchalantly extended her fawn-like feet under a
massive table of the time of Louis XIII with heavy spiral supports of
oak, and carven designs of chimeras and foliage intermingled.

Upon the denticulated shelves of several sideboards glittered immense
Japanese dishes with red and blue designs relieved by gilded hatching;
side by side with enameled works by Bernard Palissy, representing
serpents, frogs, and lizards in relief.

From disemboweled cabinets escaped cascades of silver-lustrous Chinese
silks and waves of tinsel, which an oblique sunbeam shot through with
luminous beads; while portraits of every era, in frames more or less
tarnished, smiled through their yellow varnish.

The striped breastplate of a damascened suit of Milanese armor
glittered in one corner; Loves and Nymphs of porcelain; Chinese
Grotesques, vases of celadon and crackle-ware; Saxon and old Souvres
cups encumbered the shelves and nooks of the apartment.

The dealer followed me closely through the tortuous way contrived
between the piles of furniture; warding off with his hands the
hazardous sweep of my coat-skirts; watching my elbows with the uneasy
attention of an antiquarian and a usurer.

It was a singular face that of the merchant:--an immense skull,
polished like a knee, and surrounded by a thin aureole of white hair,
which brought out the clear salmon tint of his complexion all the more
strikingly, lent him a false aspect of patriarchal bonhomie,
counteracted, however, by the scintillation of two little yellow eyes
which trembled in their orbits like two louis-d'or upon quicksilver.
The curve of his nose presented an aquiline silhouette, which
suggested the Oriental or Jewish type. His hands--thin, slender, full
of nerves which projected like strings upon the finger-board of a
violin, and armed with claws like those on the terminations of bats'
wings--shook with senile trembling; but those convulsively agitated
hands became firmer than steel pincers or lobsters' claws when they
lifted any precious article--an onyx cup, a Venetian glass, or a dish
of Bohemian crystal. This strange old man had an aspect so thoroughly
rabbinical and cabalistic that he would have been burnt on the mere
testimony of his face three centuries ago.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013703063
Publisher: WDS Publishing
Publication date: 01/18/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 135 KB

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