This is what had happened: Van Gogh went back to the house and immediately cut off his ear, very close to his head. It must have taken him some time to stanch the flow of blood, for next day a number of wet towels lay on the stone floor of the two ground-floor rooms. The blood had soiled both rooms and the little stairway which led up to our bedroom. When he was well enough to go out, with a Basque beret pulled way down over his head, he went straight to a house where, if you can’t find a girl from your hometown, you can at least find someone to talk to, and he gave his ear, carefully washed, and sealed in an envelope, to the man on duty. “Here,” he said, “in remembrance of me.” Then he fled, went home and to bed, and fell asleep; but first he took the trouble of closing the shutters and placing a lighted lamp on a table near the window.
Within ten minutes the whole street reserved for prostitutes was in an uproar and people gossiped about what had happened.
I was far from suspecting any of this when I reached the doorstep of our house, and the man in the bowler hat said to me point-blank and very harshly: “Well, sir, what have you done to your comrade?”
“I don’t know . . .”
“But you do . . . you know perfectly well . . . he is dead.”
I would not wish such an instant on anyone, and it took me several minutes before I could think and overcome the pounding of my heart.
I was choking with anger, indignation, and pain, and also the shame of all those people’s eyes tearing into me. I stammered, “Very well, sir, let us go upstairs and discuss it up there.”
Vincent lay curled up in bed, completely covered by the sheet, and appeared lifeless. Gently, very gently I touched his body; its warmth assured me he was alive. I felt as if all my intelligence and energy had been given a new lease on life.
In a near-whisper I said to the chief of police; “Sir, kindly wake this man up as carefully as you know how, and if he asks for me, tell him I’ve left for Paris; the sight of me could be fatal to him.”
I must say that from that moment on, the chief of police was as polite as could be and wise enough to send for a doctor and a carriage.
As soon as he was awake, Vincent inquired after his comrade, asked for his pipe and tobacco, and even thought of asking for the box that was downstairs and contained our money. Doubtless, he suspected me-I who was already armed against all suffering!
Vincent was taken to the hospital and there his mind immediately began to wander again. All the rest is already known to people who can be interested by it and there would be no point in discussing it but for the extreme suffering of a man in a madhouse who regained his reason every month enough to understand his condition and, in a frenzy, paint those admirable pictures of his.
The last letter I received was written from Auvers, near Pontoise. He told me he had hoped to be sufficiently cured to come and join me in Brittany, but that today he was forced to recognize that a cure was impossible. “Dear Master” (the only time he ever used that word), “it is more worthy, after having known you and caused you some sorrow, to die in a sound state of mind than in a degrading state.”
And he shot himself in the belly, and it was not until several hours later that, lying in his bed and smoking his pipe, he died, with his mind fully alert, with love for his art, without hatred for mankind.
Paul Gauguin, Excerpt from Avant et Apres