THE QUEEN PEDAUQUE
Translated by JOS. A. V. STRITZKO
Introduction by JAMES BRANCH CABELL
I. Why I recount the singular Occurrences of my Life
II. My Home at the Queen Pedauque Cookshop—I turn the Spit and learn to read—Entry of Abbe Jerome Coignard
III. The Story of the Abbe's Life
IV. The Pupil of M. Jerome Coignard—I receive Lessons in Latin, Greek and Life
V. My Nineteenth Birthday—Its Celebration and the Entrance of M. d'Asterac
VI. Arrival at the Castle of M. d'Asterac and Interview with the Cabalist
VII. Dinner and Thoughts on Food
VIII. The Library and its Contents
IX. At Work on Zosimus the Panopolitan—I visit my Home and hear Gossip about M. d'Asterac
X. I see Catherine with Friar Ange and reflect—The Liking of Nymphs for Satyrs—An Alarm of Fire—M. d'Asterac in his Laboratory
XI. The Advent of Spring and its Effects—We visit Mosaide
XII. I take a Walk and meet Mademoiselle Catherine
XIII. Taken by M. d'Asterac to the Isle of Swans I listen to his Discourse on Creation and Salamanders
XIV. Visit to Mademoiselle Catherine—The Row in the Street and my Dismissal
XV. In the Library with M. Jerome Coignard—A Conversation on Morals—Taken to M. d'Asterac's Study-Salamanders again— The Solar Powder—A Visit and its Consequences
XVI. Jahel comes to my Room—What the Abbe saw on the Stairs—His Encounter with Mosaide
XVII. Outside Mademoiselle Catherine's House—We are invited in by M. d'Anquetil—The Supper—The Visit of the Owner and the horrible Consequences
XVIII. Our return—We smuggle M. d'Anquetil in—M. d'Asterac on Jealousy—M. Jerome Coignard in Trouble-What happened while I was in the Laboratory—Jahel persuaded to elope
XIX. Our last Dinner at M. d'Asterac's Table—Conversation of M. Jerome Coignard and M. d'Asterac—A Message from Home—Catherine in the Spittel—We are wanted for Murder-Our Flight—Jahel causes me much Misery—Account of the Journey-The Abbe Coignard on Towns—Jahel's Midnight Visit—We are followed—The Accident —M. Jerome Coignard is stabbed
XX. Illness of M. Jerome Coignard
XXI. Death of M. Jerome Coignard
XXII. Funeral and Epitaph
XXIII. Farewell to Jahel—Dispersal of the Party.
XXIV. I am pardoned and return to Paris—Again at the Queen Pedauque—I go as Assistant to M. Blaizot—Burning of the Castle of Sablons—Death of Mosaide and of M. d'Asterac.
XXV. I become a Bookseller—I have many learned and witty Customers but none to equal the Abbe Jerome Coignard, D.D., M. A
What one first notes about The Queen Pedauque is the fact that in this ironic and subtle book is presented a story which, curiously enough, is remarkable for its entire innocence of subtlety and irony. Abridge the "plot" into a synopsis, and you will find your digest to be what is manifestly the outline of a straightforward, plumed romance by the elder Dumas.
Indeed, Dumas would have handled the "strange surprising adventures" of Jacques Tournebroche to a nicety, if only Dumas had ever thought to have his collaborators write this brisk tale, wherein d'Astarac and Tournebroche and Mosaide display, even now, a noticeable something in common with the Balsamo and Gilbert and Althotas of the Memoires d'un Medecin. One foresees, to be sure, that, with the twin-girthed Creole for guide, M. Jerome Coignard would have waddled into immortality not quite as we know him, but with somewhat more of a fraternal resemblance to the Dom Gorenflot of La Dame de Monsoreau; and that the blood of the abbe's death-wound could never have bedewed the book's final pages, in the teeth of Dumas' economic unwillingness ever to despatch any character who was "good for" a sequel.
And one thinks rather kindlily of The Queen Pedauque as Dumas would have equipped it... Yes, in reading here, it is the most facile and least avoidable of mental exercises to prefigure how excellently Dumas would have contrived this book,—somewhat as in the reading of Mr. Joseph Conrad's novels a many of us are haunted by the sense that the Conrad "story" is, in its essential beams and stanchions, the sort of thing which W. Clark Russell used to put together, in a rather different way, for our illicit perusal. Whereby I only mean that such seafaring was illicit in those aureate days when, Cleveland being consul for the second time, your geography figured as the screen of fictive reading-matter during school-hours.
One need not say that there is no question, in either case, of "imitation," far less of "plagiarism"; nor need one, surely, point out the impossibility of anybody's ever mistaking the present book for a novel by Alexandre Dumas. Ere Homer's eyesight began not to be what it had been, the fact was noted by the observant Chian, that very few sane architects commence an edifice by planting and rearing the oaks which are to compose its beams and stanchions. You take over all such supplies ready hewn, and choose by preference time- seasoned timber. Since Homer's prime a host of other great creative writers have recognised this axiom when they too began to build: and "originality" has by ordinary been, like chess and democracy, a Mecca for little minds.
Besides, there is the vast difference that M. Anatole France has introduced into the Dumas theatre some preeminently un-Dumas-like stage-business: the characters, between assignations and combats, toy amorously with ideas. That is the difference which at a stroke dissevers them from any helter-skelter character in Dumas as utterly as from any of our clearest thinkers in office.
It is this toying, this series of mental amourettes, which incommunicably "makes the difference" in almost all the volumes of M. France familiar to me, but our affair is with this one story. Now in this vivid book we have our fill of color and animation and gallant strangenesses, and a stir of characters who impress us as living with a poignancy unmastered as yet by anybody's associates in flesh and blood. We have, in brief, all that Dumas could ever offer, here utilised not to make drama but background, all being woven into a bright undulating tapestry behind an erudite and battered figure,— a figure of odd medleys, in which the erudition is combined with much of Autolycus, and the unkemptness with something of a Kempis. For what one remembers of The Queen Pedauque is l'Abbe Jerome Coignard; and what one remembers, ultimately, about Coignard is not his crowded career, however opulent in larcenous and lectual escapades and fisticuffs and broached wineflasks; but his religious meditations, wherein a merry heart does, quite actually, go all the way.
Coignard I take to be a peculiarly rare type of man (there is no female of this species), the type that is genuinely interested in religion. He stands apart. He halves little with the staid majority of us, who sociably contract our sacred tenets from our neighbors like a sort of theological measles. He halves nothing whatever with our more earnest-minded juniors who—perennially discovering that all religions thus far put to the test of nominal practice have, whatever their paradisial entree, resulted in a deplorable earthly hash—perennially run yelping into the shrill agnosticism which believes only that one's neighbors should not be permitted to believe in anything.
The creed of Coignard is more urbane. "Always bear in mind that a sound intelligence rejects everything that is contrary to reason, except in matters of faith, where it is necessary to believe blindly." Your opinions are thus all-important, your physical conduct is largely a matter of taste, in a philosophy which ranks affairs of the mind immeasurably above the gross accidents of matter. Indeed, man can win to heaven only through repentance, and the initial step toward repentance is to do something to repent of. There is no flaw in this logic, and in its clear lighting such abrogations of parochial and transitory human laws as may be suggested by reason and the consciousness that nobody is looking, take on the aspect of divinely appointed duties.
Some dullard may here object that M. France—attestedly, indeed, since he remains unjailed-cannot himself believe all this, and that it is with an ironic glitter in his ink he has recorded these dicta. To which the obvious answer would be that M. France (again like all great creative writers) is an ephemeral and negligible person beside his durable puppets; and that, moreover, to reason thus is, it may be precipitately, to disparage the plumage of birds on the ground that an egg has no feathers... Whatever M. France may believe, our concern is here with the conviction of M. Coignard that his religion is all-important and all-significant. And it is curious to observe how unerringly the abbe's thoughts aspire, from no matter what remote and low-lying starting-point, to the loftiest niceties of religion and the high thin atmosphere of ethics. Sauce spilt upon the good man's collar is but a reminder of the influence of clothes upon our moral being, and of how terrifyingly is the destiny of each person's soul dependent upon such trifles; a glass of light white wine leads not, as we are nowadays taught to believe, to instant ruin, but to edifying considerations of the life and glory of St. Peter; and a pack of cards suggests, straightway, intransigent fine points of martyrology. Always this churchman's thoughts deflect to the most interesting of themes, to the relationship between God and His children, and what familiary etiquette may be necessary to preserve the relationship unstrained. These problems alone engross Coignard unfailingly, even when the philosopher has had the ill luck to fall simultaneously into drunkenness and a public fountain, and retains so notably his composure between the opposed assaults of fluidic unfriends.
What, though, is found the outcome of this philosophy, appears a question to be answered with wariness of empiricism. None can deny that Coignard says when he lies dying: "My son, reject, along with the example I gave you, the maxims which I may have proposed to you during my period of lifelong folly. Do not listen to those who, like myself, subtilise over good and evil." Yet this is just one low- spirited moment, as set against the preceding fifty-two high-hearted years. And the utterance wrung forth by this moment is, after all, merely that sentiment which seems the inevitable bedfellow of the moribund,—"Were I to have my life over again, I would live differently." The sentiment is familiar and venerable, but its truthfulness has not yet been attested.
To the considerate, therefore, it may appear expedient to dismiss Coignard's trite winding-up of a half-century of splendid talking, as just the infelicitous outcropping, in the dying man's enfeebled condition, of an hereditary foible. And when moralising would approach an admonitory forefinger to the point that Coignard's manner of living brought him to die haphazardly, among preoccupied strangers at a casual wayside inn, you do, there is no questioning it, recall that a more generally applauded manner of living has been known to result in a more competently arranged-for demise, under the best churchly and legal auspices, through the rigors of crucifixion.
So it becomes the part of wisdom to waive these mundane riddles, and to consider instead the justice of Coignard's fine epitaph, wherein we read that "living without worldly honors, he earned for himself eternal glory." The statement may (with St. Peter keeping the gate) have been challenged in paradise, but in literature at all events the unhonored life of Jerome Coignard has clothed him with glory of tolerably longeval looking texture. It is true that this might also be said of Iago and Tartuffe, but then we have Balzac's word for it that merely to be celebrated is not enough. Rather is the highest human desideratum twofold,—D'etre celebre et d'etre aime. And that much Coignard promises to be for a long while.
James Branch Cabell
Dumbarton Grange, July, 1921,
THE QUEEN PEDAUQUE
Why I recount the singular Occurrences of my Life
I intend to give an account of some odd occurrences in my life. Some have been exquisite, some queer Recollecting them, I am myself in doubt if I have not dreamed them. I have known a Gascon cabalist, of whom I could not say that he was wise, because he perished miserably, but he delivered sublime discourses to me, on a certain night on the Isle of Swans, speeches [Footnote: The original manuscript, written in a fine hand, of the eighteenth century, bears the sub-heading "Vie et Opinions de M. l'Abbe Jerome Coignard" [The Editor].] I was happy enough to keep in my memory, and careful enough to put into writing. Those speeches referred to magic and to occult sciences, with which people were very much infatuated in my days.
Everyone speaks of naught else but Rosicrucian mysteries.[Footnote: This writing dates from the second half of the eighteenth century [The Editor]]. Besides I do not myself expect to gain great honour by these revelations. Some will say that everything is of my own invention, and that it is not the true doctrine, others that I only said what one had already known. I own that I am not very learned in cabalistic lore, my master having perished at the beginning of my initiation. But, little as I have learned of his craft, it makes me vehemently suspect that all of it is illusion, deception and vanity.
I think it quite sufficient to repudiate magic with all my strength, because it is contrary to religion. But still I believe myself to be obliged to explain concerning one point of this false science, so that none may judge me to be more ignorant than I really am. I know that cabalists generally think that Sylphs, Salamanders, Elves, Gnomes and Gnomides are born with a soul perishable like their bodies and that they acquire immortality by intercourse with the magicians. [Footnote: This opinion is especially supported in a little book of the Abbe Montfaucon de Villars, "Le Comte de Gabalis au Entretiens sur les sciences secretes et mysterieuses suivant les principes des anciens mages ou sages cabbalistes," of which several editions are extant. I only mention the one published at Amsterdam (Jacques Le Jeune, 1700, 18mo, with engravings), which contains a second part not included in the original edition [The Editor]] On the contrary my cabalist taught me that eternal life does not fall to the lot of any creature, earthly or aerial. I follow his sentiment without presuming myself to judge it.
He was in the habit of saying that the Elves kill those who reveal their mysteries, and he attributes the death of M. l'Abbe Coignard, who was murdered on the Lyons road, to the vengeance of those spirits. But I know very well that this much lamented death had a more natural cause. I shall speak freely of the air and fire spirits. One has to run some risk in life and that with Elves is an extremely small one.
I have zealously gathered the words of my good teacher M. l'Abbe Jerome Coignard, who perished as I have said. He was a man full of knowledge and godliness. Could his soul have been less troubled he would have been the equal in virtue of M. l'Abbe Rollin, whom he far surpassed in extent of knowledge and penetration of intellect.
He had at least the advantage over M. Rollin that he had not fallen into Jansenism during the agitation of a troubled life, because the soundness of his mind was not to be shaken by the violence of reckless doctrines, and before Him I can attest to the purity of his faith. He had a wide knowledge of the world, obtained by the frequentation of all sorts of companies. This experience would have served him well with the Roman histories he, like M. Rollin, would doubtless have composed should he have had time and leisure, and if his life could have been better matched to his genius. What I shall relate of this excellent man will be the ornament of these memoirs. And like Aulus Gellius, who culled the most beautiful sayings of the philosophers into his "Attic Nights," and him who put the best fables of the Greeks into the "Metamorphoses," I will do a bee's work and gather exquisite honey. But I do not flatter myself to be the rival of those two great authors, because I draw all my wealth from my own life's recollections and not from an abundance of reading. What I furnish out of my own stock is good faith. Whenever some curious person shall read my memoirs he will easily recognise that a candid soul alone could express itself in language so plain and unaffected. Where and with whomsoever I have lived I have always been considered to be entirely artless. These writings cannot but confirm it after my death.
My Home at the Queen Pedauque Cookshop—I turn the Spit and learn to read—Entry of Abbe Jerome Coignard.
My name is Elme Laurent Jacques Menetrier. My father, Leonard Menetrier, kept a cookshop at the sign of Queen Pedauque, who, as everyone knows, wag web-footed like the geese and ducks.
His penthouse was opposite Saint Benoit le Betourne between Mistress Gilles the haberdasher at the Three Virgins and M. Blaizot, the bookseller at the sign of Saint Catherine, not far from the Little Bacchus, the gate of which, decorated with vine branches, was at the corner of the Rue des Cordiers. He loved me very much, and when, after supper, I lay in my little bed, he took my hand in his, lifted one after the other of my fingers, beginning with the thumb, and said:
"This one has killed him, this one has plucked him, this one has fricasseed him and that one has eaten him, and the little Riquiqui had nothing at all. Sauce, sauce, sauce," he used to add, tickling the hollow of my hand with my own little finger.
And mightily he laughed, and I laughed too, dropping off to sleep, and my mother used to affirm that the smile still remained on my lips on the following morning.
My father was a good cookshop-keeper and feared God. For this he carried on holidays the banner of the Cooks' Guild, on which a fine- looking St Laurence was embroidered, with his grill and a golden palm. He used to say to me:
"Jacquot, thy mother is a holy and worthy woman."
He liked to repeat this sentence frequently. True, my mother went to church every Sunday with a prayer-book printed in big type. She could hardly read small print, which, as she said, drew the eyes out of her head.
My father used to pass an hour or two nightly at the tavern of the Little Bacchus; there also Jeannetae the hurdy-gurdy player and Catherine the lacemaker were regular frequenters. And every time he returned home somewhat later than usual he said in a soft voice, while pulling his cotton night-cap on:
"Barbe, sleep in peace; as I have just said to the limping cutler: 'You are a holy and worthy woman.'"
I was six years old when, one day, readjusting his apron, with him always a sign of resolution, he said to me:
"Miraut, our good dog, has turned my roasting-spit during these last fourteen years. I have nothing to reproach him with. He is a good servant, who has never stolen the smallest morsel of turkey or goose. He was always satisfied to lick the roaster as his wage. But he is getting old. His legs are getting stiff; he can't see, and is no more good to turn the handle. Jacquot, my boy, it is your duty to take his place. With some thought and some practice, you certainly will succeed in doing as well as he."
Miraut listened to these words and wagged his tail as a sign of approbation. My father continued:
"Now then, seated on this stool, you'll turn the spit. But to form your mind you'll con your horn-book, and when, afterwards, you are able to read type, you'll learn by heart some grammar or morality book, or those fine maxims of the Old and New Testaments. And that because the knowledge of God and the distinction between good and evil are also necessary in a working position, certainly of but trifling importance but honest as mine is, and which was my father's and also will be yours, please God."
And from this very day on, sitting from morn till night, at the corner of the fireplace, I turned the spit, the open horn-book on my knees. A good Capuchin friar, who with his bag came a-begging to my father, taught me how to spell. He did so the more willingly as my father, who had a consideration for knowledge, paid for his lesson with a savoury morsel of roast turkey and a large glass of wine, so liberally that by-and-by the little friar, aware that I was able to form syllables and words tolerably well, brought me a fine "Life of St Margaret," wherewith he taught me to read fluently.
On a certain day, having as usual laid his wallet on the counter, he sat down at my side, and, warming his naked feet on the hot ashes of the fireplace, he made me recite for the hundredth time:
"Pucelle sage, nette et fine, Aide des femmes en gesine Ayez pitie de nous."
At this moment a man of rather burly stature and withal of noble appearance, clad in the ecclesiastical habit, entered the shop and shouted out with an ample voice:
"Hello! host, serve me a good portion!" With grey hair, he still looked full of health and strength. His mouth was laughing and his eyes were sprightly, his cheeks were somewhat heavy and his three chins dropped majestically on a neckband which, maybe by sympathy, had become as greasy as the throat it enveloped.
My father, courteous by profession, lifted his cap and bowing said:
"If your reverence will be so good as to warm yourself near the fire, I'll soon serve you with what you desire."
Without any further preamble the priest took a seat near the fire by the side of the Capuchin friar.
Hearing the good friar reading aloud:
"Pucelle sage, nette et fine, Aide des femnies en gesine,"
he clapped his hands and said:
"Oh, the rare bird! The unique man! A Capuchin who is able to read! Eh, little friar, what is your name?"
"Friar Ange, an unworthy Capuchin," replied my teacher.
My mother, hearing the voices from the upper room descended to the shop, attracted by curiosity.
The priest greeted her with an already familiar politeness and said:
"That is really wonderful, mistress; Friar Ange is a Capuchin and knows how to read."
"He is able to read all sorts of writing," replied my mother.
And going near the friar, she recognised the prayer of St Margaret by the picture representing the maiden martyr with a holy-water sprinkler in her hand.
"This prayer," she added, "is difficult to read because the words of it are very small and hardly divided, but happily it is quite sufficient, when in labour-pains, to apply it like a plaster on the place where the most pain is felt and it operates just as well, and rather better, than when it is recited. I had the proof of it, sir, when my son Jacquot was born, who is here present."
"Do not doubt about it, my good dame," said Friar Ange. "The orison of St Margaret is sovereign for what you mentioned, but under the special condition that the Capuchins get their Maundy."
In saying so, Friar Ange emptied the goblet of wine which my mother had filled up for him and, throwing his wallet over his shoulder, went off in the direction of the Little Bacchus.
My father served a quarter of fowl to the priest, who took out of his pocket a piece of bread, a flagon of wine and a knife, the copper handle of which represented the late king on a column in the costume of a Roman emperor, and began to have his supper.
But having hardly taken the first morsel in his mouth he turned round on my father and asked for some salt, rather surprised that no salt cellar had been presented to him offhand.
"So did the ancients use it," he said, "they offered salt as a sign of hospitality. They also placed salt cellars in the temples on the tablecloths of the gods."
My father presented him with some bay salt out of the wooden shoe which was hung on the mantelpiece. The priest took what he wanted of it and said:
"The ancients considered salt to be a necessary seasoning of all repasts, and held it in so high esteem that they metaphorically called salt the wit which gives flavour to conversation."
"Ah!" said my father, "high as the ancients may have valued it, the excise of our days puts it still higher."
My mother, listening the while she knitted a woollen stocking, was glad to say a word:
"It must be believed that salt is a good thing, because the priests put a grain of it on the tongues of the babies held over the christening font. When my Jacques felt the salt on his tongue he made a grimace; as tiny as he was he already had some sense. I speak, Sir Priest, of my son Jacques here present."
The priest looked on me and said:
"Now he is already a grown-up boy. Modesty is painted on his features and he reads the 'Life of St Margaret' with attention."
"Oh!" exclaimed my mother, "he also reads the prayer for chilblains and that of 'St Hubert,' which Friar Ange has given him, and the history of that fellow who has been devoured, in the Saint Marcel suburb, by several devils for having blasphemed the holy name of our Lord."
My father looked admiringly on me, and then he murmured into the priest's ear that I learned anything I wanted to know with a native and natural facility.
"Wherefore," replied the priest, "you must form him to become a man of letters, which to be, is one of the honours of mankind, the consolation of human life and a remedy against all evils, actually against those of love, as it is affirmed by the poet Theocritus."
"Simple cook as I am," was my father's reply, "I hold knowledge in high esteem, and am quite willing to believe that it also is, as your reverence says, a remedy for love. But I do not think that it is a remedy against hunger."
"Well, perhaps it is not a sovereign ointment," replied the priest; "but it gives some solace, like a sweet balm, although somewhat imperfect."
As he spoke Catherine the lacemaker appeared on the threshold, with her bonnet sideways over her ear and her neckerchief very much creased. Seeing her, my mother frowned and let slip three meshes of her knitting.
"Monsieur Menetrier," said Catherine to my father, "come and say a word to the sergeants of the watch. If you do not, they doubtless will lock up Friar Ange. The good friar came to the Little Bacchus, where he drank two or three pots without paying for them, so as not to go contrary to the rules of St Francis, he said. But the worst of it is, that he, seeing me in company under the arbour, came near me to teach me a new prayer. I told him it was not the right moment to do so, and he insisting on it, the limping cutler, who was sitting by me, tore his beard rather roughly. Friar Ange threw himself on the cutler, who fell to the ground, and by his fall upset the table and pitchers.
"The taverner, running up, seeing the table knocked over, the wine spilt, and Friar Ange with one foot on the cutler's head, swinging a stool with which he struck anyone approaching him, this vile taverner swore like a real devil and called for the watch. Monsieur Menetrier, do come at once and take the little friar out of the watch's clutches. He is a holy man, and quite excusable in this affair."
My father was inclined to oblige Catherine, but for this once the lacemaker's words had not the effect she expected. He said plainly that he could not find any excuse for the Capuchin, and that he wished him to get a good punishment by bread and water in the darkest corner of the cellars of the convent, of which he was the shame and disgrace.
He warmed up in talking:
"A drunkard and a dissipated fellow, to whom I give daily good wine and good morsels and who goes to the tavern to play the deuce with some ill-famed creatures, depraved enough to prefer the company of a hawking cutler and a Capuchin friar to that of honest sworn tradesmen of the quarter. Fie! fie!"
Therewith he suddenly stopped his scoldings and looked sideways on my mother, who, standing up at the entry to the staircase, pushed her knitting needles with sharp little strokes.
Catherine, surprised by this unfriendly reception, said drily:
"Then you don't want to say a good word to the taverner and the sergeant?"
"If you wish it, I'll tell them to take the cutler and the friar."
"But," she replied, and laughed, "the cutler is your friend."
"Less mine than yours," said my father sharply. "A ragamuffin and a humbug, who hops about——"
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "that's true, really true, that he hops. He hops, hops, hops!"
And she left the shop, shaking with laughter.
My father turned round to the priest, who was picking a bone:
"It is as I had the honour to say to your reverence! For each reading and writing lesson that Capuchin friar gives to my child, I pay him with a goblet of wine and a fine piece of meat, hare, rabbit, goose, or a tender poulet or a capon. He is a drunkard and evil liver!"
"Don't doubt about that," said the priest.
"But if ever he dares to come over my threshold again, I'll drive him out with a broomstick."
"And you'll do well by it," said the priest; "that Capuchin is an ass, and he taught your son rather to bray than to talk. You'll act wisely by throwing into the fire that 'Life of St Catherine,' that prayer for the cure of chilblains and that history of the bugbear, with which that monk poisoned your son's mind. For the same price you paid for Friar Ange's lessons, I'll give him my own; I'll teach him Latin and Greek, and French also, that language which Voiture and Balzac have brought to perfection. And in such way, by a luck doubly singular and favourable, this Jacquot Tournebroche will become learned and I shall eat every day,"
"Agreed!" said my father. "Barbara, bring two goblets. No business is concluded without the contracting parties having a drink together as a token of agreement. We will drink here. I'll never in my life put my legs into the Little Bacchus again, so repugnant have that cutler and that monk become to me."
The priest rose and, putting his hands on the back of his chair, said in a slow and serious manner:
"Before all, I thank God, the Creator and Conserver of all things, for having guided me into this hospitable house. It is He alone who governs us and we are compelled to recognise His providence in all matters human, notwithstanding that it is foolhardy and sometimes incongruous to follow Him too closely. Because being universal He is to be found in all sorts of encounters, sublime by the conduct which He keeps, but obscene or ridiculous for the part man takes in it and which is the only part where they appear to us. And therefore one must not shout, in the manner of Capuchin monks and goody-goody women, that God is to be seen in every trifle. Let us praise the Lord; pray to Him to enlighten me in the teachings I'll give to that child, and for the rest let us rely on His holy will, without searching to understand it in all its details."
And raising his goblet, he drank deeply.
"This wine," he said, "infilters into the economy of the human body a sweet and salutary warmth. It is a liquor worthy to be sung at Teos and at the Temple by the princes of bacchic poets, Anacreon and Chaulieu. I will anoint with it the lips of my young disciple."
He held the goblet under my chin and exclaimed:
"Bees of the Academy, come, come and place yourselves in harmonious swarms on the mouth of Jacobus Tournebroche, henceforth consecrated to the Muses."
"Oh! Sir Priest," said my mother, "it is a truth that wine attracts the bees, particularly sweet wine. But it is not to be wished that those nefarious flies should place themselves on the mouth of my Jacquot, as their sting is cruel. One day in biting into a peach a bee stung me on the tongue, and I had to suffer fiendish pains. They would be calmed only by a little earth, mixed up with spittle, which Friar Ange put into my mouth in reciting the prayer of St Comis."
The priest gave her to understand that he spoke of bees in an allegorical sense only. And my father said reproachfully: "Barbe, you're a holy and worthy woman, but many a time I have noticed that you have a peevish liking to throw yourself thoughtlessly into serious conversation like a dog into a game of skittles."
"Maybe," replied my mother. "But had you followed my counsels better, Leonard, you would have done better. I may not know all the sorts of bees, but I know how to manage a home and understand the good manners a man of a certain age ought to practise, who is the father of a family and standard-bearer of his guild."
My father scratched his ear, and poured some wine for the priest, who said with a sigh:
"Certainly, in our days, knowledge is not as much honoured in our kingdom of France, as it had been by the Romans, although degenerated at the time when rhetoric brought Eugenius to the Emperor's throne. It is not a rarity in our century to find a clever man in a garret without fire or candle. Exemplum ut talpa—I am an example."
Thereafter he gave us a narration of his life, which I'll report just as it came out of his own mouth—that is, as near it as the weakness of my age allowed me to hear distinctly and hereafter keep in my memory. I believe I have been able to restore it after the confidences he gave me at a later time, when he honoured me with his friendship.
The Story of the Abbe's Life
"As you see me," he said, "or rather as you do not see me, young, slender, with ardent eyes and black hair, I was a teacher of liberal arts at the College of Beauvais under Messrs Dugue, Guerin, Coffin and Baffier. I had been ordained, and expected to make a big name in letters. But a woman upset my hopes. Her name was Nicole Pigoreau and she kept a bookseller's shop at the Golden Bible on the square near the college. I went there frequently to thumb the books she received from Holland and also those bipontic editions illustrated with notes, comments and commentaries of great erudition. I was amiable and Mistress Pigoreau became aware of it, which was my misfortune.
"She had been pretty, and still knew how to be pleasing. Her eyes spoke. One day the Cicero, Livy, Plato and the Aristotle, Thucydides, Polybius and Varro, the Epictetus, Seneca, Boethius and Cassiodorus, the Homer, AEschylus. Sophocles, Euripides, Plautus and Terence, the Diodorus of Sicily and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, St John Chrysostom and St Basil, St Jerome and St Augustine, Erasmus, Saumaise, Turnebe and Scaliger, St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure, Bossuet dragging Ferri with him, Lenain, Godefroy, Mezeray, Maimbourg, Fabricius, Father Lelong and Father Pitou, all the poets, all the historians, all the fathers, all the doctors, all the theologians, all the humanists, all the compilers, assembled high and low on the walls, became witnesses to our kisses.
"'I could not resist you,' she said to me; 'don't conceive a bad opinion of me.'
"She expressed her love for me in singular raptures. Once she made me try on neck and wrist bands of fine lace, and finding them suit me well she insisted on my accepting them. I did not want to. But on her becoming irritated by my refusal, which she considered an offence against love, I finally consented to accept them, afraid to offend her.
"My good fortune lasted till I was to be replaced by an officer. I became spiteful over it, and in the ardour of avenging myself I informed the College Regents that I did not go any longer to the Golden Bible, for fear of seeing there expositions rather offensive to the modesty of a young clerical. To say the truth, I had not to congratulate myself on this contrivance. Madame Pigoreau, becoming aware of my sayings, publicly accused me of having robbed her of a set of lace neck and wrist bands. Her false complaint reached the ears of the College Regents, who had my boxes searched; therein was found the garment, a matter of considerable value. I was expelled from college and had, like Hippolyte and Bellerophon, to put up with the wiles and wickedness of woman.
"Finding myself in the streets with my few rags and my copybooks, I ran great risk of starving, when, dressed in my clerical suit, I recommended myself to a Huguenot gentleman, who employed me as secretary and dictated to me libels on our religion."
"Ah!" exclaimed my father, "that was wrong of your reverence. An honest man ought not to lend his hand to such abominations. And as far as I am concerned, although ignorant, and of a working condition, I cannot bear the smell of Colas' cow."
"You're quite right, my host," continued the priest. "It is the worst point in my life. The very one I am most sorry for. But my man was a Calvinist. He employed me to write against Lutherans and Socinians only; these he could not stand at all, and, I assure you, he compelled me to treat them worse than ever it was done at the Sorbonne."
"Amen," said my father. "Lambs graze together while wolves devour one the other."
The priest continued his narrative:
"Besides, I did not remain for long with that gentleman, who made more fuss about the letters of Ulric von Hutten than of the harangues of Demosthenes, and in whose house water was the only drink. Afterwards I followed various callings, but all without success. I became a pedlar, a strolling player, a monk, a valet, and at last, by resuming my clerical garb, I became secretary to the Bishop of Seez and edited the catalogue of the precious MSS. contained in his library. This catalogue consists of two volumes in folio, which were placed in his gallery, bound in red morocco, with his crest on and the edges gilded. I venture to say it was a good work.
"It would have depended on myself alone to get old and grey in studies and peace with the right reverend prelate, but I became enamoured of the waiting-maid of the bailiff's lady. Do not blame me severely. Dark she was, buxom, vivacious, fresh. St Pacomus himself would have loved her. One day she took a seat in the stage coach to travel to Paris in quest of luck. I followed her. But I did not succeed as well as she did. On her recommendation I entered the service of Mistress de Saint Ernest, an opera dancer, who, aware of my talents, ordered me to write after her dictation a lampoon on Mademoiselle Davilliers, against whom she had some grievance. I was a pretty good secretary, and well deserved the fifty crowns she had promised me. The book was printed at Amsterdam by Marc-Michel Key, with an allegoric frontispiece, and Mademoiselle Davilliers received the first copy of it just when she went on the stage to sing the great aria of Armida.
"Anger made her voice hoarse and shaky. She sang false and was hooted. Her song ended, she ran as she was, in powder and hoop petticoats, to the Intendant of the Privy Purse, who could not refuse her anything. She fell on her knees before him, shed abundant tears and shouted for vengeance. And soon it became known that the blow was struck by Mistress de Saint Ernest.
"Questioned, hard pressed, sharply threatened, she denounced me as the author, and I was put into the Bastille, where I remained four years. There I found some consolation in reading Boethius and Cassiodorus.
"Since then I have kept a public scrivener's stall at the Cemetery of the Saints Innocent, and lend to servant girls in love a pen, which should rather have described the illustrious men of Rome and commented on the writings of the holy fathers. I earn two farthings for every love letter, and it is a trade by which I rather die than live. But I do not forget that Epictetus was a slave and Pyrrho a gardener.
"Just now, unexpectedly, I have been paid a whole crown for an anonymous letter. I have not had anything to eat for two days. Therefore I at once looked out for a cook-shop. From outside in the street I perceived your illuminated sign and the fire of your chimney throwing joyful flaming lights on the windows. On your threshold I smelt delicious odours. I came in, and now, my dear host, you have the history of my life."
"I have become aware that it is the life of a good man," said my father, "and with the exception of Colas' cow there is hardly anything to complain of. Give me your hand! We are friends, what's your name?"
"Jerome Coignard, doctor of divinity, master of arts."
The Pupil of M. Jerome Coignard—I receive Lessons in Latin Greek and Life.
The marvellous in the affairs of mankind is the concatenation of effects and causes. M. Jerome Coignard was quite right in saying: "To consider that strange following of bounds and rebounds wherein our destinies clash, one is obliged to recognise that God in His perfection is in want neither of mind nor of imagination nor comic force; on the contrary He excels in imbroglio as in everything else, and if after having inspired Moses, David and the Prophets He had thought it worth while to inspire M. le Sage or the interluders of a fair, He would dictate to them the most entertaining harlequinade." And in a similar way it occurred that I became a Latinist because Friar Ange was taken by the watch and put into ecclesiastical penance for having knocked down a cutler under the arbour of the Little Bacchus. M. Jerome Coignard kept his promise. He gave me lessons and, finding me tractable and intelligent, he took pleasure in instructing me in the ancient languages.
In but a few years he made me a tolerably good Latinist.
In memory of him I have conceived a gratitude which will not come to an end but with my life. The obligation I am under to him is easily to be conceived when I say that he neglected nothing to shape my heart and soul, together with my intellect. He recited to me the "Maxims of Epictetus," the "Homilies of St Basil" and the "Consolations of Boethius." By beautiful extracts he opened to me the philosophy of the Stoics, but he did not make it appear in its sublimity without showing its inferiority to Christian philosophy. He was a subtle theologian and a good Catholic. His faith remained whole on the ruins of his most beloved illusions, of his most cherished hopes. His weaknesses, his errors, his faults, none of which he ever tried to dissemble or to colour, have never shaken his confidence in the Divine goodness. And to know him well, it must be known that he took care of his eternal salvation on occasions when, to all appearance, he cared the least about it. He imbued me with the principles of an enlightened piety. He also endeavoured to attach me to virtue as such, and to render it to me, so to say, homely and familiar by examples drawn from the life of Zeno.
To make me acquainted with the dangers of vice, he went for arguments to the nearest fountain-head, confessing to me that by having loved wine and women too much, he had lost the honour of taking the professor's chair of a college in long gown and square cap.
To these rare merits he joined constancy and assiduity, and he gave his lessons with an exactitude hardly to be expected of a man given as he was to the freaks of a strolling life, and always carried away by a luck less doctoral than picaresque. This zeal was the effect of his kindness and also of his liking of that good St James's Street, where he found occasion to satisfy equally the appetites of his body and intellect. After having given me, during a succulent repast, some profitable lesson, he indulged in a stroll to the Little Bacchus and the Image of St Catherine, finding in that narrow piece of ground that which was his paradise—fresh wine and books.
He became a constant visitor of M. Blaizot the bookseller, who received him well, notwithstanding that he only used to thumb the books without ever making the smallest purchase. And it was quite marvellous to see my good teacher in the most remote part of the shop, his nose closely buried in some little book recently arrived from Holland, suddenly raising his head to discourse, as it might happen, with the same abundant and laughing knowledge, on the plans of an universal monarchy attributed to the late king, or, it may be, to the aventures galantes of a financier with a ballet girl. M. Blaizot was never tired of listening to him. This M. Blaizot was a little old man, dry and neat, in flea-coloured coat and breeches and grey woollen stockings. I admired him very much, and could not think of anything more glorious than, like him, to sell books at the Image of St Catherine.
One recollection of mine gave to M. Blaizot's shop quite a mysterious charm. It was there, I was still very young, I saw for the first time the nude figure of a female. I can see her now. It was an Eve in an illustrated Bible. Her stomach was rather big, her legs were rather short, and she held converse with a serpent in a Dutch landscape. The proprietor of this engraving inspired me with a consideration which grew afterwards when I took, thanks to M. Coignard, a great liking for books.
At the age of sixteen I knew Latin pretty well, and also a little Greek. My good teacher said to my father:
"Do you not think, my dear host, that it is rather an indecency to let a young Ciceronian go about dressed as a scullion?"
"I never thought of it," replied my father.
"It is true," said mother, "that it would be suitable to give our son a dimity vest. He is of an agreeable appearance, has good manners and is well taught. He will do honour to his dress."
For a moment my father remained thoughtful and then he asked if it would be quite suitable for a cook to wear a dimity vest. But M. Coignard reminded him that, being suckled by the Muses, I would never become a cook, and that the time was not far off when I should wear a clerical neckband.
My father sighed, thinking that never would I be the banner-bearer of the Guild of Parisian Cooks, and my mother became quite glittering with pleasure and pride at the idea of her son belonging to the Church.
The first effect my dimity vest produced was to give me a certain confidence in myself, and to encourage me to get a more complete idea of women than the one I had from the Eve of M. Blaizot. I reasonably thought first on Jeannette the hurdy-gurdy player, and on Catherine the lacemaker, both of whom I saw pass our shop twenty times a day, showing when it rained, a fine ankle and a tiny foot, the toes of which turned from one stone to the other. Jeannette was not so pretty as Catherine. She was somewhat older and less well dressed. She came from Savoy and did her hair en marmotte, with a checked kerchief covering her head. But her merit was, not to stick to ceremony and to understand what was wanted of her without being spoken to. This character agreed well with my timidity. One evening under the porch of St Benoit le Betourne, where there are stone seats all round, she taught me what till then I had not known, but which she had known for a long time.
But I was not so grateful to her as it should have been my duty to be, and thought of nothing else but to bring the science she had taught me to others, prettier ones. As an excuse for my ingratitude I ought to say that Jeannette the hurdy-gurdy player did not value her lessons any higher than I did myself, and that she willingly gave them to every ragamuffin of the district.
Catherine was of more reserved manners. I stood in awe of her and did not dare to tell her how pretty I considered her to be. She made me doubly uncomfortable by making game of me and not losing a single occasion of jeering at me. She teased me by reproaching my chin for being hairless. I blushed over it and wished to be swallowed by the earth. On seeing her I affected a sullen mien and chagrin. I pretended to scorn her. But she was really too pretty for my scorn to be true.
My Nineteenth Birthday—Its Celebration and the Entrance of M. d'Asterac.
On that night, the night of Epiphany and the nineteenth anniversary of my birth, the sky poured down with the melting snow a cold ill- humour, penetrating to the bone, while an icy wind made the signboard of the Queen Pedauque grate, a clear fire, perfumed by goose grease, sparkled in the shop and the soup steamed in the tureen on the table; round which M. Jerome Coignard, my father and myself were seated. My mother, as was her habit, stood behind her husband's chair, ready to serve him. He had already filled the priest's dish when, through the suddenly open door, we saw Friar Ange, very pale, the nose red, the beard soaked. In his surprise my father elevated the soup ladle up to the smoked beams of the ceiling.
My father's surprise was easily explained. Friar Ange, after his fight with the cutler, had at first disappeared for a lapse of six months, and now two whole years had passed without his giving any sign of life. On a certain day in spring he went off with a donkey laden with relics, and, worse still, he had taken with him Catherine dressed as a nun. Nobody knew what had become of them, but there was a rumour at the Little Bacchus that the little friar and the little sister had had some sort of difference with the authorities between Tours and Orleans. Without forgetting that one of the vicars of St Benoit shouted everywhere, and like one possessed, that that rascal of a Capuchin had stolen his donkey.
"What," exclaimed my father, "this rogue does not lie in a dungeon? There is then no more justice in this kingdom."
But Friar Ange recited the Benedicite and made the sign of the cross over the soup-tureen.
"Hola!" continued my father. "Peace to all cant, my beautiful monk! Confess that you have passed in an ecclesiastical prison at least one of the two years that your Beelzebub-face has not been seen in our parish. James Street has been more honest for your absence and the whole quarter of the town more respectable. Look on that fine Olibrius, who goes into the fields with the donkey of someone and the girl of everyone."
"Maybe," replied Friar Ange, eyes on the ground and hands in his sleeves. "Maybe, Master Leonard, you have Catherine in mind. I have had the happiness to convert her to a better life, so much and so well that she ardently wished to follow me, and the relics I was carrying, and to go with me on some nice pilgrimage, especially to the Black Virgin of Chartres! I consented under the condition that she clad herself in ecclesiastical dress, which she did without a murmur."
"Hold your tongue!" replied my father, "you are a dissipated fellow. You have no respect for your cloth. Return to where you came from and look, if you please, in the street, if Queen Pedauque is suffering from chilblains."
But my mother made the friar a sign to sit down under the chimney- mantel, which he softly did.
"One has to forgive much to Capuchins," said the abbe, "because they sin without malice."
My father begged of M. Coignard not to speak any more of the breed, the name alone of which burnt his ears.
"Master Leonard," said the priest, "philosophy conducts the soul to clemency. As far as I am concerned I willingly give absolution to knaves, rogues and rascals and all the wretched. And more, I owe no grudge to good people, though in their case there is much insolence. And if, Master Leonard, like myself, you should have been familiar with respectable people, you would know that they are not a rap better than the others, and are often of a less agreeable companionship. I have been seated at the third table of the Bishop of Seez and two attendants, both clad in black, were at my sides: constraint and weariness."
"It must be acknowledged," said my mother, "that the servants of his Grace had some queer names. Why did he not call them Champagne, Olive or Frontin as is usual?"
The priest continued:
"It's true, certain persons get easily accustomed to the inconveniences to be borne by living with the great. There was at the second table of the bishop a very polite canon who kept on ceremony till his last moment. When the news of his bodily decline reached the bishop he went to his room and found him dying. 'Alas,' said the canon, 'I beg your Grace's pardon to be obliged to die before your eyes.' 'Do, do! Don't mind me,' said the bishop with the utmost kindness."
At this moment my mother brought the roast and put it on the table with a movement of homely gravity which caused my father some emotion; with his mouth full he shouted:
"Barbe, you're a holy and worthy woman."
"Mistress," said my dear teacher, "is as a fact to be compared to the strong women of the scripture. She is a godly wife."
"Thank God!" said my mother, "I have never been a traitor to the faithfulness I owe unto Leonard Menetrier, my husband, and I reckon well, now that the most difficult part is passed, not to fail him till my last hour is come. I wish he would keep his faith to me as I keep mine to him."
"Madam, when first I looked on you I could see you to be an honest woman," replied the priest, "because I have experienced near you a quietude more connected with heaven than with this world."
My mother, who was simple-minded, but not stupid, understood very well what he wanted to say, and replied that if he had known her twenty years ago, he would have found her to be quite another than she had become in this cookshop, where her good looks had vanished with the fire of the spit and the fumes of the dishes. And as she was touched she mentioned that the baker at Auneau had found her to be so much to his liking that he had offered her cakes every time she passed his shop. "Besides," she added angrily, "there is neither girl nor woman ugly enough to be incapable of doing wrong if she had a fancy to do it."
"This good woman is right," said my father. "I remember when I was a prentice at the cookshop of the Royal Goose near the Gate of St Denis, my master, who was then the banner-bearer of the guild, as I myself am to-day, said to me: 'I'll never be a cuckold, my wife is too ugly.' This saying gave me the idea to attempt what he thought to be impossible. I succeeded at my first attempt, one morning when he went to La Vallee. He spoke the truth, his wife was very ugly, but high spirited and grateful."
At this anecdote my mother broke out and said that such things ought not to be told by a father to his wife and son, if he wanted to have their respect.
M. Jerome Coignard, seeing her become red with anger, changed the conversation with kindly meant ability. He addressed himself abruptly to Friar Ange, who, hands in his sleeves, sat humbly at the corner of the fireside:
"Little friar, what kind of relics did you carry on the second vicar's donkey's back in company with Sister Catherine? Was it your small clothes you gave the devotees to kiss, in the manner of some grey friars, of whom Henry Estienne has narrated the adventures?"
"Ah! your reverence," meekly said Friar Ange with the expression of a martyr suffering for truth, "it was not my small clothes, it was a foot of St Eustache."
"I should have taken my oath on it, if it would not be a sin to do so," exclaimed the priest, brandishing the drumstick of a fowl. "Those Capuchins turn out saints utterly ignored by good authors, who work on ecclesiastical history. Neither Tillemont nor Fleury speak of that St Eustache to whom a church is consecrated, very wrongly, at Paris, when so many saints recognised by writers well deserving to be believed, are still waiting for a similar honour. The 'Life of St Eustache' is a tissue of ridiculous fables; the same is the case of that of St Catherine, who has never existed except in the imagination of some wicked Byzantine monk. But I do not want to attack her too hardly, as he is the patroness of men of letters, and serves as a signboard to the bookshop of that good M. Blaizot, which is the most delectable abode in this world."
"I also had," continued quickly the little friar, "a rib of St Mary the Egyptian."
"Ah! Ah!'" shouted the priest, throwing the chicken bone across the room, "concerning this one, I do consider her to be very, very holy, as during her lifetime she gave a fine example of humility."
"You know, madam," he said and took mother's sleeve, "that St Mary the Egyptian, going on pilgrimage to the sepulchre of our Lord, was stopped by a deep flowing river, and not possessing a single farthing to pay for the passage on the ferry-boat she offered to the boatmen her own body as a payment. What do you say to that, my good mistress?"
First of all my mother asked if the story was quite true. After she had been assured that the matter had been printed in a book and painted on a stained window in the Church of La Jussienne she believed it.
"I think," she said, "that one has to be as holy as she was to do the like without committing a sin. I must say that I should not like to do it."
"As far as I am concerned," said the priest, "I approve of the conduct of that saint, quite in accord with the most subtle doctors. It is a lesson for honest women stubborn in too much pride of their haughty virtue. Thinking well over it there is some sensuality in prizing too highly the flesh and guarding excessively what one ought to despise. There are some matrons to be met with who believe they have a treasure and who visibly exaggerate the interest God and the angels may have in them. They believe themselves to be a kind of natural Holy Sacrament. St Mary the Egyptian was a better judge. Pretty and divinely shaped as she was, she considered that it would be all too proud of her flesh to stop in the course of a holy pilgrimage for a paltry indifferent reason which is no more than a piece of mortification and far from being a precious jewel. She humbled herself, madam, and entered by using so admirable a humility the road of penitence, where she accomplished marvellous works."
"Your reverence," said my mother, "I do not understand you. You are too learned for me."
"That grand saint." said Friar Ange, "is painted in a state of nature in the chapel of my convent, and by the grace of God all her body is covered with long and thick hair. Reproductions of this picture have been printed, and I'll bring you a fully blessed one, my dear madam."
Tenderly touched, my mother passed the soup-tureen to him, behind the back of my teacher. And the holy friar, seated on the cinder board, silently soaked his bread in the savoury liquid.
"Now is the moment," said my father, "to uncork one of those bottles which I keep in reserve for the great feasts, which are Christmas, Twelfth Night, and St Laurence's Day. Nothing is more agreeable than to drink a good wine quietly at home secure of unwelcome intruders."
Hardly had these words been uttered when the door was opened and a tall man in black entered the shop in a squall of snow and wind exclaiming:
"A Salamander! A Salamander!"
And without taking notice of anyone he bent over the grate, rummaging in the cinders with the end of his walking stick, very much to the detriment of Friar Ange, who coughed fit to give up the ghost, swallowing the ashes and coal-dust thrown into his soup plate. And the man in black still continued to rummage in the fire, shouting, "A Salamander! I see a Salamander!" while the stirred-up flames made the shadow of his bodily form tremble on the ceiling like a large bird of prey.
My father was surprised and rather annoyed by the manners of the visitor. But he knew how to restrain himself. And so he rose, his napkin under his arm, and went to the fireplace, bending to the hearth, both his fists on his thighs.
When he had sufficiently considered the disordered fireplace, and Friar Ange covered with ashes, he said:
"Your lordship will excuse me. I cannot see anything but this paltry monk, and no Salamander.
"Besides," my father went on, "I have but little regret over it. I have it from hearsay that it is an ugly beast, hairy and horned, with big claws."
"What an error!" replied the man in black. "Salamanders resemble women, or, to speak precisely, nymphs, and they are perfectly beautiful! But I feel myself rather a simpleton to ask you if you're able to see this one. One has to be a philosopher to see a Salamander, and I do not think philosophers could be found in this kitchen."
"You may be mistaken, sir," said the Abbe Coignard. "I am a Doctor of Divinity and Master of Arts. I have also studied the Greek and Latin moralists, whose maxims have strengthened my soul in the vicissitudes of my life, and I have particularly applied Boethius as an antidote for the evils of existence. And here near me is Jacobus Tournebroche, my disciple, who knows the sentences of Publius Syrus by heart."
The stranger turned his yellow eyes on the priest, eyes strangely marked over a nose like the beak of an eagle, and excused himself with more courtesy than his fierce mien led one to expect, for not having at once recognised a person of merit, and further he said:
"It is very likely that this Salamander has come for you or your pupil. I saw it very distinctly in passing along the street before this cookshop. She would appear better if the fire were fiercer; for this reason it is necessary to stir the fire vigorously when you believe A Salamander to be in it."
At the first movement the stranger made to rummage again in the fire, Friar Ange anxiously covered the soup-tureen with a flap of his frock and shut his eyes.
"Sir," said the Salamander-man, "allow your young pupil to approach the fireplace to say if he does not see something resembling a woman hovering over the flames."
At this very moment the smoke rising under the slab of the chimney bent itself with a peculiar gracefulness, and formed rotundities quite likely to be taken for well-arched loins by a rather strangely strained imagination. Therefore I did not tell an absolute lie by saying that, maybe, I saw something.
No sooner had I given this reply than the stranger, raising his huge arm, gave me a straight hander on the shoulder so powerful that I thought my collar-bone was broken. But at once he said to me, with a very sweet voice and a benevolent look:
"My child, I have been obliged to give you so strong an impression that you may never forget that you have seen a Salamander, which is a sign that your destiny is to become a learned man, perhaps a magician. Your face also made me surmise favourably of your intelligence."
"Sir," said my mother, "he learns anything he wants to know and he'll be a priest if it pleases our Lord."
M. Jerome Coignard added that I had profited in a certain way by his lessons, and my father asked the stranger if his lordship would not be disposed to eat a morsel.
"I am not in want of anything," said the stranger, "and it's easy for me to go without any food for a year or longer because of a certain elixir the composition of which is known only to the philosophical. This faculty is not confined to myself alone, it is the common property of all wise men, and it is known that the illustrious Cardan went without food during several years without being incommoded by it. On the contrary his mind became singularly vivacious. But still I'll eat what it pleases you to offer me, simply to please you."
And he took a seat at our little table without any ceremony. At once Friar Ange also noiselessly pushed his stool between mine and that of my teacher and sat on it to receive his portion of the partridge pie my mother was dishing up.
The philosopher having thrown his cape over the back of his seat, we could see that he wore diamond buttons on his coat. He remained thoughtful. The shadow of his nose fell on his mouth and his hollow cheeks went deep into his jaws. His gloomy humour took possession of the whole company. No other noise was audible but the one made by the little friar munching his pie.
Suddenly the philosopher said:
"The more I think it over, the more I am convinced that yonder Salamander came for this lad." And he pointed his knife at me.
"Sir," I replied, "if the Salamanders are really as you say, this one honours me very much, and I am truly obliged to her. But, to say the truth, I have rather guessed than seen her, and this first encounter has only awakened my curiosity without giving me full satisfaction."
Unable to speak at his ease, my good teacher was suffocating. Suddenly, breaking out very loud, he said to the philosopher:
"Sir, I am fifty-one years old, a master of arts and a doctor of divinity. I have read all the Greek and Latin authors, who have not been annihilated either by time's injury or by man's malice, and I have never seen a Salamander, wherefrom I conclude that no such thing exists."
"Excuse me," said Friar Ange, half suffocated by partridge pie and half by dismay; "excuse me! Unhappily some Salamanders do exist and a learned Jesuit father, whose name I have forgotten, has discoursed on their apparition. I myself have seen, at a place called St Claude, at a cottager's, a Salamander in a fireplace close to a kettle. She had a cat's head, a toad's body and the tail of a fish. I threw a handful of holy water on the beast, and it at once disappeared in the air, with a frightful noise like sudden frying and I was enveloped in acrid fumes, which very nearly burnt my eyes out. And what I say is so true that for at least a whole week my beard smelt of burning, which proves better than anything else the maliciousness of the beast."
"You want to make game of us, little friar," said the abbe. "Your toad with a cat's head is no more real than the Nymph of that gentleman, and it is quite a disgusting invention."
The philosopher began to laugh, and said Friar Ange had not seen the wise man's Salamander. When the Nymphs of the fire meet with a Capuchin they turn their back on him.
"Oh! Oh!" said my father, bursting out laughing, "the back of a Nymph is still too good for a Capuchin."
And being in a good humour, he sent a mighty slice of the pie to the little friar.
My mother placed the roast in the middle of the table, and took advantage of it to ask if the Salamanders are good Christians, of which she had her doubts, as she had never heard that the inhabitants of fire praised the Lord.
"Madam," replied my teacher, "several theologians of the Society of Jesus have recognised the existence of a people of incubus and succubus who are not properly demons, because they do not let themselves be routed by an aspersion of holy water and who do not belong to the Church Triumphant; glorified spirits would never have attempted, as has been the case at Perouse, to seduce the wife of a baker. But if you wish for my opinion, they are rather the dirty imaginations of a sneak than the views of a doctor.
"You must hate and bewail that sons of the Church, born in light, could conceive of the world and of God a less sublime idea than that formed by a Plato or a Cicero in the night of ignorance and of paganism. God is less absent, I dare say, from the Dream of Scipio than from those black tractates of demonology the authors of which call themselves Christians and Catholics."
"Sir," replied the priest, "I found a very old MS. of Cicero spoke with effluence and facility, but he was but a commonplace intellect, and not very learned in holy sciences. Have you ever heard of Hermes Trismegistus and of the Emerald Table?"
"Sir," replied the priest, "I found a very old MS. of the Emerald Table in the library of the Bishop of Seez, and I should have marvelled over it one day or another, but for the chamber-maid of the bailiff's lady who went to Paris to make her fortune and who made me ride in the coach with her. There was no witchcraft used, Sir Philospher, and I only succumbed to natural charms:
'Non facit hoc verbis; facie tenerisque lacertis Devovet et flavis nostra puella comis.'"
"That's a new proof," said the philosopher, "women are great enemies of science, and the wise man ought to keep himself aloof from them."
"In legitimate marriage also?" inquired my father.
"Especially in legitimate marriage," replied the philosopher.
"Alas!" my father continued to question, "what remains to your poor wise men when they feel disposed for a little fun?"
The philosopher replied:
"There remains for them the Salamanders."
At these words Friar Ange raised a frightened nose over his plate and murmured:
"Don't speak like that, my good sir; in the name of all the saints of my order, do not speak like that! And do not forget that the Salamander is naught but the devil, who assumes, as everyone knows, the most divergent forms, pleasant now and then when he succeeds in disguising his natural ugliness, hideous sometimes when he shows his true constitution."
"Take care on your part, Friar Ange," replied the philosopher, "and as you're afraid of the devil, don't offend him too much and do not excite him against you by inconsiderate tittle-tattle. You know that this old Adversary, this powerful Contradictor, has kept, in the spiritual world, such a power, that God Almighty Himself reckons with him. I'll say more, God, who was in fear of him, made him His business man. Be on your guard, little friar, the two understand one another."
In listening to this speech, the poor Capuchin thought he heard and saw the devil himself, whom the stranger resembled, pretty near, by his fiery eyes, his hooked nose, his black complexion and his long and thin body. His soul, already astonished, became engulfed in a kind of holy terror, feeling on him the claws of the Malignant, he began to tremble in all his limbs, hastily put in his wide pockets all the decent eatables he could get hold of, rose gently and reached the door by backward steps, muttering exorcisms all the while.
The philosopher did not take any notice of this. He took from his pocket a little book covered with horny parchment, which he opened and presented to my dear teacher and myself. It contained an old Greek text, full of abbreviations and ligatures which at first gave me the effect of an illegible scrawl. But M. Coignard, having put on his barnacles and placed the book at the necessary distance, began to read the characters easily; they looked more like balls of thread that had been unrolled by a kitten than the simple and quiet letters of my St John Chrysostom, out of which I studied the language of Plato and the New Testament. Having come to the end of his reading he said:
"Sir, this passage is to be translated as: Those of the Egyptians who are well informed study first the writings called epistolographia, then the hieratic, of which the hierogrammatists make use, and finally the hieroglyphics."
And then taking off his barnacles and shaking them triumphantly he continued:
"Ah! Ah! Master Philosopher, I am not to be taken as a greenhorn. This is an extract of the fifth book of the Stromata, the author of which, Clement of Alexandria, is not mentioned in the martyrology, for different reasons, which His Holiness Benedict XI. has indicated, the principal of which is, that this Father was often erroneous in matters of faith. It may be supposed that this exclusion was not sensibly felt by him, if one takes into consideration what philosophical estrangement had during his lifetime inspired this martyr. He gave preference to exile and took care to save his persecutors a crime, because he was a very honest man. His style of writing was not elegant; his genius was lively, his morals were pure, even austere. He had a very pronounced liking for allegories and for lettuces."
The philosopher extended his arm, which seemed to me to be remarkably elongated as it reached right over the whole of the table, to take back the little book from the hands of my learned tutor.
"It is sufficient," he said, pushing the Stromata back into his pocket. "I see, reverend sir, that you understand Greek, You have well translated this passage, at least in a vulgar and literal sense. I intend to make your and your pupil's fortune; I'll employ both of you to translate at my house the Greek texts I have received from Egypt."
And turning towards my father, he continued:
"I think, Master Cook, you will consent to let me have your son to make him a learned man and a great one. Should it be too much for your fatherly love to give him entirely to me, I would pay out of my own pocket for a scullion as his substitute in your cookshop."
"As your lordship understands it like that," replied my father, "I shall not prevent you doing good to my son."
"Always under the condition," said my mother, "that it is not to be at the expense of his soul. You'll have to affirm on your oath to me that you are a good Christian."
"Barbe," said my father, "you are a holy and worthy woman, but you oblige me to make my excuses to this gentleman for your want of politeness, which is caused less, to say the truth, by the natural disposition, which is a good one, than by your neglected education."
"Let the good woman have her say," remarked the philosopher, "and let her be reassured; I am a very religious man."
"That's right!" exclaimed my mother. "One has to worship the holy name of God."
"I worship all His names, my good lady. He has more than one. He is called Adonai, Tetragrammaton, Jehovah, Otheres, Athanatos and Schyros. And there are many more names."
"I did not know," said my mother. "But what you say, sir, does not surprise me; I have remarked that people of condition have always more names than the lower people. I am a native of Auneau, near the town of Chartres, and I was but a child when the lord of our village left this world for another. I remember very well when the herald proclaimed the demise of the late lord, he gave him nearly as many names as you find in the All Saints litany. I willingly believe that God has more names than the Lord of Auneau had, as His condition is a much higher one. Learned people are very happy to know them all. and if you will advance my son Jacques in this knowledge I shall, my dear sir, be very much obliged to you."
"Well, the matter is understood," said the philosopher, "and you, reverend sir, I trust it will please you to translate from the Greek, for salary, let it be understood."
My good tutor, who was collecting all this while the few thoughts in his brain which were not already desperately mixed up with the fumes of wine, refilled his goblet, rose and said:
"Sir Philosopher, I heartily accept your generous offer. You are one of the splendid mortals; it is an honour, sir, for me to be yours. If there are two kinds of furniture I hold in high esteem, they are the bed and the table. The table, filled up by turns with erudite books and succulent dishes, serves as support to the nourishment both of body and spirit; the bed propitious for sweet repose as well as for cruel love. He certainly was a divine fellow who gave to the sons of Deucalion bed and table. If I find with you, sir, those two precious pieces of furniture, I'll follow your name, as that of my benefactor, with immortal praise, and I'll celebrate you in Greek and Latin verses of all sorts of metres."
So he said, and drank deeply.
"That's well," replied the philosopher. "I'll expect both of you to- morrow morning at my house. You will follow the road to St Germain till you come to the Cross of the Sablons, from that cross you'll count one hundred paces, going westward, and you'll find a small green door in a garden wall. You'll use the knocker which represents a veiled figure having a finger in her mouth. An old follower will open the door to you; you'll ask to see M. d'Asterac."
"My son," said my good tutor, pulling my coat sleeve, "put all that in your memory, put cross, knocker, and the rest, so that we'll be able to find, to-morrow, the enchanted door. And you, Sir Maecenas——"
But the philosopher was gone. No one had seen him leaving.
Arrival at the Castle of M. d'Asterac and Interview with the Cabalist.
On the following day at an early hour we walked, my tutor and I, on the St Germain road. The snow which covered the earth under the russet light of the sky, rendered the atmosphere dull and heavy. The road was deserted. We walked in wide furrows between the walls of orchards, tottering fences and low houses, the windows of which looked suspiciously on us. And, after having left behind two or three tumbledown huts built of clay and straw, we saw in the middle of a disconsolate heath the Cross of the Sablons. At fifty paces farther commenced a very large park, closed in by a ruined wall, wherein was the little door, and on it the knocker representing a horrible-looking figure with a finger in her mouth. We recognised it easily as the one the philosopher had described, and used the knocker.
After some rather considerable time, an old servant opened it and made us a sign to follow him across the untidy park. Statues of nymphs, who must have seen the boyhood of the late king, secreted under tree ivy their gloominess and mutilations. At the end of an alley, the sloughs of which were covered with snow, stood a castle of stone and brick, as morose as the one of Madrid, which, oddly covered by a high slate roof, looked like the castle of the Sleeping Beauty in the wood.
Following the silent valet, M. Coignard whispered to me:
"I confess, my son, that this lodging has no smiling appearance. It shows the ruggedness wherein the customs of Frenchmen were still immured in the time of King Henry IV., and it drives the soul to gloom and nearly to melancholy by the state of forlornness in which unhappily it has been left. How much sweeter it would be to climb the enchanted hillocks of Tusculum with the hope of hearing Cicero discourse of virtue, under the firs and pines of his villa so dear to the philosopher! And have you not observed, my boy, that all along yonder road neither taverns nor hostels are to be met with, and that it would be necessary to cross the bridge and go up the hill to the Bergeres to get a drink of fresh wine? There is thereabout a hostel of the Red Horse, where, if I remember well, Madame de St Ernest took me once to dinner in the company of her monkey and her lover. You can't imagine, Tournebroche, how excellent the victuals are there. The Red Horse is as well known for its morning dinners as for the abundance of horses and carriages which it has on hire. I convinced myself of it when I followed to the stables a certain wench who seemed to be rather pretty. But she was not; it would be a truer saying to call her ugly. But I illuminated her with the colours of my longings. Such is the condition of men when left to themselves; they err wretchedly. We are all abused by empty images; we go in chase of dreams and embrace shadows. In God alone is truth and stability."
Meanwhile we ascended, behind the old servant, the disjointed flight of steps.
"Alas!" said my tutor, "I begin to regret your father's cookshop, where we ate such good morsels while explaining Quintilian."
After having scaled the first flight of large stone stairs, we were introduced into a saloon, where M. d'Asterac was occupied with writing near a big fire, in the midst of Egyptian coffins of human form raised against the walls, their lids painted with sacred figures and golden faces with long glossy eyes.
Politely M. d'Asterac invited us to be seated and said:
"Gentlemen, I expected you. And as you have both kindly consented to do me the favour of staying with me, I beg of you to consider this house as your own. You'll be occupied in translating Greek texts I have brought back with me from Egypt. I have no doubt you will do your best to accomplish this task when you know that it is connected with the work I have undertaken, to discover the lost science by which man will be re-established in his original power over the elements. I have no intention of raising the veil of nature and showing you Isis in her dazzling nudity; but I will entrust you with the object of my studies without fear that you'll betray the mystery, because I have confidence in your integrity and also in the power I have to guess and to forestall all that may be attempted against me and to dispose for my vengeance of secret and terrible forces. From the defaults of a fidelity, of which I do not doubt; my power, gentlemen, assures me of your silence.
"Know then that man came out of Jehovah's hands with that perfect knowledge he has since lost. He was very powerful and very wise when he was created, that's to be seen in the books of Moses. But it's necessary to understand them. Before all it is clear that Jehovah is not God, but a grand Demon, because he has created this world. The idea of a God both perfect and creative is but a reverie of a barbarity worthy of a Welshman or a Saxon. As little polished as one's mind may be one cannot admit that a perfect being tags anything to his own perfection, be it a hazelnut. That's common sense; God has no understanding, as he is endless how could he understand? He does not create, because he ignores time and space, which are conditions indispensable to all constructions. Moses was too good a philosopher to teach that the world was created by God. He took Jehovah for what he really is—for a powerful Demon, or if he is to be called anything, for the Demiurgos.
"It follows that Jehovah, creating man, gave him knowledge of the visible and the invisible world. The fall of Adam and Eve, which I'll explain to you another day, had not fully destroyed that knowledge of the first man and the first woman, who passed their teachings on to their children. Those teachings, on which the domination of nature relies, have been consigned to the book of Enoch. The Egyptian priests have kept the tradition which they fixed with mysterious signs on the walls of the temples and the coffins of the dead. Moses, brought up in the sanctuary of Memphis, was one of the initiated. His books, numbering five, perhaps six, contain like very precious archives the treasures of divine knowledge. You'll discover there the most beautiful secrets if you have cleared them of the interpolations which dishonour them; one scorns the literal and coarse sense, to attach oneself to the most subtle. I have penetrated to the largest part, as it will appear to you also later on. Meanwhile, the truth, kept like virgins in the temples of Egypt, passed to the wizards of Alexandria, who enriched them still more and crowned them with all the pure gold bequeathed to Greece by Pythagoras and his disciples, with whom the forces of the air conversed familiarly. Wherefore, gentlemen, it is convenient to explore the books of the Hebrews, the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians and those treatises of the Greeks which are called Gnostic precisely because they possessed knowledge. I reserve for myself, as is quite equitable, the most arduous part of this extensive work. I apply myself to decipher those hieroglyphics which the Egyptians used to inscribe in the temples of their gods and on the graves of their priests. Having brought over from Egypt a great number of those inscriptions, I fathom their sense by means of a key I was able to discover with Clement of Alexandria.
"The Rabbi Mosaide, who lives in retirement with me, works on the re-establishment of the true sense of the Pentateuch. He is an old man very well versed in magic, who has lived seventeen years shut up in the crypt of the Great Pyramid, where he read the books of Toth. Concerning yourselves, gentlemen, I intend to employ your knowledge, in reading the Alexandrian MSS. which I have collected myself in great numbers. There you'll find, no doubt, some marvellous secrets, and I do not doubt that with the help of these three sources of light-the Egyptian, the Hebrew and the Greek—I'll soon acquire the means I still want, to command absolutely nature, visible as well as invisible. Believe me I shall know how to reward your services by making you in some way participators of my power.
"I do not speak to you of a more vulgar means to recognise them. At the point I have reached in my philosophical labours, money is for me but a trifle."
Arrived at this part of M. d'Asterac's discourse my good tutor interrupted by saying:
"Sir, I'll not conceal from you that this very money, which seems to be a trifle to you, is for myself a smarting anxiety, because I have experienced that it is not easy to earn some and remain an honest man or even otherwise. Therefore I should be thankful for the assurance you would kindly give on that subject."
M. d'Asterac, with a movement which seemed to remove an invisible object, gave M. Jerome Coignard the wished-for assurance; for myself, curious as I was of all I saw, I did not wish for anything better than to enter into a new life.
At his master's call, the old servant who had opened the door to us appeared in the study.
"Gentlemen," said our host, "I give you your liberty till dinner at noon. Meanwhile I should be very much obliged to you for ascending to the rooms I have had prepared for you, and let me know that there is nothing wanting for your comfort. Criton will conduct you."
Having assured himself that we were following him, silent Criton went out and began to ascend the stairs. He went up to the roof timbers, then, having taken some steps down a long passage, he indicated to us two very clean rooms where fires sparkled. I could never have believed that a castle as shattered on the outside, the front of which showed nothing but cracked walls and dark windows, was as habitable in some of its inner parts. My first care was to know where I was. Our rooms looked on the fields, the view from them embraced the marshy slopes of the Seine, extending up to the Calvary of Mont Valerien. Eyeing our furniture, I could see, laid out on my bed, a grey coat, breeches to match and a sword. On the carpet were buckle shoes neatly coupled, the heels joined and the points separated just as if they had of themselves the sentiment of a fine deportment.
I augured favourably of the liberality of our master, To do him honour, I dressed very carefully and spread abundantly on my hair the powder a box full of which I found on a small table. And very welcome were the laced shirt and white stockings I discovered in one of the drawers of the chest.
Having put on shirt, stockings, breeches, vest and coat, I walked up and down my room with hat under the arm, hand on the guard of my sword, thinking all the time on the looking-glass, and regretting that Catherine, the lace-maker, could not see me in such finery.
In this way I was occupied for a little while, when M. Jerome Coignard came into my room with a new neckband and very respectable clerical garb.
"Tournebroche," he exclaimed, "is it you, my boy? Never forget that you owe these fine clothes to the knowledge I have given you. They fit a humanist like yourself, as who says humanities says also elegance. But look on me and say if I have a good mien. In this dress I consider myself to be a very honest man. This M. d'Asterac seems to be tolerably magnificent. It's a pity he's mad. Wise he is in one way, as he calls his valet Criton, which means judge. And it's very true that our valets are the witnesses of all our actions. When Lord Verulam, Chancellor of England, whose philosophy I esteem but little, entered the great hall to be tried, his lackeys, who were clad with an opulence by which the copiousness of the Chancellor's household could be judged, rose to render him due honour. Lord Verulam said to them: 'Sit down, your rising is my falling.' As a fact, those knaves, by their extravagance, had pushed him to ruin and compelled him to do things for which he was indicted as a peculator. Tournebroche, my boy, always remember this misfortune of Lord Verulam, Chancellor of England and author of the 'Novum Organum.' But to return to that Sire d'Asterac, in whose service we are; it is a great pity that he is a sorcerer and given to cursed science. You know, my boy, I pride myself on my delicacy in matters of faith I find it hard to serve a cabalist who turns our Holy Scriptures upside down under the pretext to understand them better that way. However, if he is, as his name and speech indicate, a Gascon nobleman, we have nothing to be afraid of. A Gascon may make a contract with the devil and you may be sure that the devil will be done."