First published in Gil Blas in 1893, "La Fin de Don Juan" appeared in Bloy's Histoires Desobligeantes in 1894. The French text is available here.
"It's good to talk with a man who has only one head" - Jules Valles
“And the blackguard died just as he lived – surrounded by spoils! He didn’t even have the excuse of being a spendthrift, a wastrel. People used to say he was the best in the world when it came to investments. And to top it all off, he died without a single spot of illness, in full possession of his faculties – though he was as old as Mesuthelah! Seems a bit much, doesn’t it? I’m no schoolboy, suckled on the sayings of the old fathers, to say that he ought to have had the “hand of God” come down on him – but all the same, for the sake of fairness, one might wish his death-agonies had been a bit less sweet…”
Thus spoke a man affronted by the insolent glory of the Marquis de la Tour de Pise.
This infamous personnage had just breathed his last. For a while people had thought him immortal. A man born in happy Albion, from the beginning of the Emigration, when Louis XVI still had his head upon his shoulders, rumours flitted about that this dirty old man was about ninety years of age. Doubtless an unverifiable wonder, but one given credence by the enthusiasm of several quivering disciples who were themselves at least sixty.
The fact is that the Marquis Hector de la Tour de Pise shone like a monstrance. It was beyond doubt that queens had been shot through by love upon “visiting his chamber” and indeed a whole Persian seraglio still sobbed after him.
Long before that celebrated Beauvivier who comforts us, he was able to put up for sale his whole person, as well as his actions. From this stemmed his opulence. Until his final days, one could catch a glimpse of members of the noblest families stealing banknotes
This, at least, was the tale universally accepted of this heartbreaker, whose very trouser-buttons, mounted and hung from earrings, were regarded – at this present time – as inestimable treasures.
“My dear Monsieur,” responded the midwife, “You’re completely wrong! I admit, I was not at the death-bed of this particular wretch, but I can assure you that Ixion himself was not more cruelly punished. Imagine away – but you’ll never guess the horror that befell him! Now sit down upon this sofa, which is stretching out its arms towards you, and pay attention. I’m in a storytelling frame of mind this morning.”
“The Marquis Hector was a good-looking man, to be sure, and he had the air of a great lord, Even his most jealous naysayers couldn’t deny that much. He stood out so strongly from the common multitude that, whenever he made an appearance, it appeared that the whole world began to resemble him.
“But he would only be seen in public for a fee – like a circus freak. He would only consent to be put on view for considerable sums of money which, furthermore, he invested in the most serious enterprises. You know the type – he had a speculator’s flair even in the midst of the worst complications.
“But this was just a minor interest of his. In an age when all men are on display upon the sidewalks, almost without exception, a gentleman of financial acumen turning these kinds of tricks is nothing extraordinary. Whoredom and profit go well together.
“Moreover – do you even know what it was for which he had to atone? I think not. You think, like everyone else, that his existence was, more or less, like that of a vampire – occupied exclusively with his sins, oozing like a putrefying stream through almost a century, having never even looked into the eyes of those who toiled, those who suffered. Such a perspective, my good sir, is as banal as a sermon. No, his case is something all the more rare, all the more refined…
“No doubt you do me the honour of believing me concerned with professional discretion, as any first-class midwife ought of course to be. Well, let’s leave discretion to doctors, who have no other way of avoiding the galleys – well, most of the time.”
“Anyway, I had for a client this beautiful Hector, who married twice and who killed at least one of his two wives, without requiring that I help him in that work. No, he functioned entirely alone, to his delight, and never needed anyone else.
“I foolishly attended at the bedside of his first – and then the second, ten years afterwards, towards the end of the regime of Louis-Phillipe, just as I had delivered the children of soubrettes and prostitutes. The marquis had conspired to be alone with me under varying circumstances.
“The first time, we delivered between us a creature with the hooves of goats, without eyes, without a mouth, who had – where the nose should have been – only a kind of limp-hanging membrane…oh! I will not describe it to you, for I feel you are an impressionable man. And the Marquis La Tour de Pise, gifted with the cold-bloodedness of the death, took hold of the fetus before I could oppose him and offered it with kisses to the mother, who died two hours afterward.
“The second child of the Marquis had two heads upon a single, fused-together body, with barely any arms or legs to speak of – another copy of that initial, terrible image.
“This time, the mother could not see him. I rolled into my apron that tiny abomination and dashed from the room. I lost that noble lord as a client, but already I had guessed quite a bit, and I learned more still…
“You are persuaded, now,” continued that terrible matron, her voice booming with an eerie strength, “that I have spoken of both Crime and Punishment. Already for you the strings of the lyre of that harsh mistress Justice began to relax – like the gutstrings of a guitar in which thirty dogs have pissed. But you understand less than ever – do you hear?
“In our trade, one is always at the mouth of the sewer, and we see so much filth that at last it becomes difficult to surprise us. Yet – my lord – the man of whom we speak did astonish me – and astonishes me still, to the point of terror.
“If there were no more to the story than that which you have just heard, this man would be, nonetheless, only one wretched villain among so many others, and deserves only brief comment. But – I tell you again – there is something else, and the punishment will make you quake in your boots, if you are capable of understanding it.
“Have you made note of the strangeness of that identical phenomenon, reproducing itself after ten years’ interval, with two legitimate wives (married for their money, it goes without saying). I am convinced that, had he married again and again, he would always have produced the same result.
“To speak plainly, the Marquis was an IDOLATOR, a fanatical and devout idolator, inwardly re-configured to match the image of his God, and who could only reproduce such ugliness on the exterior of all his attempts at progeny.
“He worshipped at his home, in a chapel – lit by some strange power – that part of his own body which the priests of Cybele once held in such great honor. He had a cast of it made by a skilled workmen and the object, exposed upon a sort of tabernacle, received, each day, the observances of this cultic Korybantes – who was thought by all to be such a man of the world! – just as people swallowed up – hook, line and sinker – the notion that the charlatan Charcot was a real doctor! One never knows how many people are something other than that which they seem in the eyes of their contemporaries.
“This, my good sir, was his true crime, the supreme blasphemy – to those who know, for those who can see beyond the surface. Everything else flowed from this idolatry.
“And thus, now – the atonement which lasted for ten years, until the day of his death.
“Each night, this great and beautiful old man, whom the proudest had loved, and whom all the women on the prowl had come to know intimately, was invariably trapped in the shadows – until the last hour of his deeds.
“I knew his tastes – and the language that he used in bed – as foul as possible on the part of the woman, entirely degrading on his own, for he loved to play the role of a filthy client consumed by unspeakable desires.
“After some minutes – measured out by an infallible stopwatch – I heard it…
“The woman, leaning against the wall, stretched out first one and then the other foot, and the old man – sprawled out on the ground – took his time licking, groaning with ecstasy, the soles of her boots.
“This was the final requirement that his little God made of this conqueror – whom three generations of fools had deemed equal to Don Juan.”