I had taken to traveling. The landscape in which I found myself was of irresistible grandeur and nobility. At that moment something from it must have crossed over into my soul. My thoughts fluttered up, light as air; vulgar passions, such as hate, such as profane love, now appeared to me distant as clouds drifting through the abysses under my feet. My soul seemed to me as vast and as pure as the dome of the sky encircling me; memories of earthly things came to my heart weakened, diminished, like a scarcely perceptible sound of cowbells from far away, very far away, from the slope of some other mountain. Over the little motionless lake, dark from its immense depth, passed sometimes the shadow of a cloud, like the reflection of an aerial giant sailing the sky. And I recall how this sensation, solemn and extraordinary, occasioned by grand, perfectly silent, movement, filled me with a mixture of joy and fear. In short, I felt, thanks to the rapturous beauty around me, in perfect peace with myself and with the universe; I believe, in fact, that in my perfect beatitude, totally oblivious to any earthly evil, I no longer found so ridiculous those declarations that man is born good; — at which point, unappeasable matter renewing its demands, I thought to relieve my fatigue and allay the appetite induced by my long climb. I took from my pocket a hunk of bread, a leather cup and the flask of a certain elixir pharmacists in those days sold to tourists, to mix at such moments with melted snow. Tranquilly I broke my bread, when a light sound made me raise my eyes. Before me stood a small creature in rags, dark, dishevelled, whose hollow eyes, wild and imploring, devoured my bread. And I heard him sigh, in a low raucous voice, the word: cake! I had to laugh, hearing the term with which he sought to dignify my more or less white bread and I cut a hefty slice to offer him. Slowly he came nearer, his eyes never leaving the coveted object; then seizing the slice with his hand, jumped back, as if afraid my offer were not sincere or had been already taken back.
But at that moment, he was knocked over by another little savage, springing from I don’t know where, and so perfectly like the first that they could be supposed twins. Together they rolled on the ground, disputing the precious acquisition, neither one willing, obviously, to sacrifice a half to his brother. The first, exasperated, grabbed the other by his hair; who in turn clamped his teeth on the first one’s ear, spitting out a bloody bit of it along with a superb dialect oath. The rightful possessor of the cake then tried to dig his nails into the ursurper’s eyes while the other put all he had into strangling his opponent with one hand while, with the other, slipping the contested article into his pocket. But revived by desperation, the conquered made a comeback and brought his conqueror down by ramming his head into the other’s stomach. Useless to describe further this hideous fight which lasted in fact longer than seemed possible from their childish frames. The cake traveled hand to hand and changed pocket to pocket moment by moment; but, alas, changed also in volume; and when finally, exhausted, panting, bloody, they stopped because they could fight no more, there was no longer, actually, anything to fight about; the bread had disappeared, scattered in crumbs like the grains of sand it fell among.
For me, this spectacle darkened the landscape, completely gone the calm joy that had enlivened my soul before seeing these little men. I remained sad for some time, saying to myself over and over, “So there exists a superb land where bread is called cake, a delicacy so rare as to cause strictly fratricidal war!”