BY: ALPHONSE DAUDET
Once, there was a man with a golden brain; yes, Madame, a brain made entirely from gold. At birth, the doctors thought he wouldn’t survive long, so heavy was his head and so oversized his skull. However, he did live and he thrived in the sunshine like a lovely olive tree. Except that his huge head went everywhere with him and it was pitiful to see him bumping into all the furniture as he walked about the house….
All too often, he would fall down. One day, he fell from the top flight of some marble steps and just happened to catch his head on one. His head rang like an ingot. It could have killed him, but when he got up, there was nothing wrong except there was a small wound with two or three traces of congealed gold in his blond locks. That was how his parents learned that their child had a brain of pure gold.
* * * * *
It was kept a close secret, and the poor little thing himself suspected nothing. Sometimes he would ask why he wasn’t allowed to go outside to play with the other boys in the street.
“Someone would steal from you, my treasure!” his mother told him…. Then the little lad, being terrified of being robbed, made no complaint as he went back to playing alone and dragging himself sadly from room to room….It wasn’t until he was eighteen years old that his parents told him of this monstrous gift from fate. Since they had nurtured him and fed him all his life, they told him that it was about time he paid them back with some of his gold. The child didn’t hesitate; he would do it that right then–but how?
The legend didn’t tell him. He pulled out a nut sized piece of gold from his skull and placed it proudly onto his mother’s lap…. Then, dazzled by the riches within his head, he became maddened by desire and drunk with power. So, he left the family home, and went out into the world to squander his treasure.
* * * * *
By the way he was living his life–royally–and spreading his gold around–lavishly–you would have thought his brain inexhaustible. And yet it did become exhausted–as could be seen by the dullness in his eyes and his pinched cheeks.
Finally, one morning, after a night of wild debauchery, the wretched boy, alone amongst the debris of the festivities and the dimming chandeliers, became terrified about the enormous hole appearing in his ingot of a brain. It was time to stop. From then on, he was like a new man. The man with the golden brain went far away to live alone and work with his hands. He became suspicious and timid like a miser, turning his back on temptation, and trying to forget the fatal riches that he no longer wanted…. Unfortunately, a friend, who knew of his secret, had followed him. One night, the poor man was suddenly woken up by an excruciating pain in his head. He jumped up frantically and caught sight of the friend running away in the moonlight with something under his coat…. Another piece of brain had been stolen!
* * * * *
Sometime later, the man with the golden brain fell in love, and this time, too, it came out very badly….
He fell deeply in love with a petite, blond woman, who loved him a lot, too, but who loved fripperies, white feathers, and pretty, gold-tinged, tassels bobbling along the full length of her boots, even more. In the hands of this cute little creature–half bird, half doll–the gold pieces just melted away at her pleasure. She indulged every known whim, and he could never bring himself to say no to her. He even kept back the awful truth about his fortune to the very end, for fear of upsetting her.
–Are we really rich then? She would ask.
The poor man could only answer:
–Oh, yes… very rich!
And he would smile lovingly at her, who was unknowingly eating away at his head. Yet, sometimes fear took hold of him, and he had a craving to hang on to what little he’d left, but then the little woman bounded up to him and said:
–Husband, you are so rich! Buy me something really expensive….
And so, he brought her something really expensive.
Things continued like that for two years. Then, one morning, the young wife died, like a bird, no one knew why. Her funeral was paid for in gold, or at least with what was left of it. The widower arranged a lovely burial for his dear, departed wife. Peals of bells, substantial coaches done out in black, with plumed horses, and silver tears in the velvet drapery; nothing was too good for her. After all, what did the gold matter now?
He gave some to the church, some to the pallbearers, and some to the everlasting-flower sellers. Oh yes, he spread it around alright, without stopping to count the cost…. By the time he left the cemetery, he had practically nothing left of his wonderful brain, only a few particles on the outside of his skull.
Then he was seen going out into the streets like someone lost, his hands stretched out in front of him, and stumbling like a drunkard. In the evening, as the shops lit up, he stopped in front of a large window with a well-lit, grand display of material and finery. He stood and glared for a long time at two blue satin bootees trimmed with swan down. “I know someone who will be very pleased with those bootees,” he smiled to himself, and, in denial of his young wife’s death, went straight in to buy them.
The shopkeeper, who was in the back, heard a great scream. She rushed out to help and jumped back in fear as she saw a man standing propped up against the counter and staring blankly at her. In one hand he had the blue bootees with swan down trimmings, and in the other was offering her some bloodied, gold scrapings in the end of his nails. But in that very moment he fell and the shopkeeper saw that he was dead, lying on the ground.
Such, madam, is the story of the man with the golden brain.
* * * * *
Despite its air of fantasy, this story is true from start to finish…. Throughout the world there are unfortunate people who are condemned to live by their brains, and pay in that finest of gold, blood and sweat and tears, for the least thing in life. It brings them pain every day, and then, once they tire of their suffering….