At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque, by Anatole France

Chapter 12

I take a Walk and visit Mademoiselle Catherine

In that year the summer was radiant, and I had a longing to go walking. One day, strolling under the trees of the Cours-la-Reine with two little crowns I had found that very morning in the pocket of my breeches, and which were the first by which my goldmaker had shown his munificence, I sat down at the door of a small coffee-house, at a table so small that it was quite appropriate to my solitude and modesty. Then I began to think of the oddness of my destiny, while at my side some musketeers were drinking Spanish wine with girls of the town. I was not quite sure that Croix-desSablons, M. d’Asterac, Mosaïde, the papyrus of Zosimus and my fine clothes were not dreams, out of which I should wake to find myself clad in the dimity vest, back again turning the spit at the Queen Pédauque.

I came out of my reverie on feeling my sleeve pulled, and saw standing before me Friar Ange, his face nearly hidden by his beard and cowl.

“Monsieur Jacques Ménétrier,” he said in a very low voice, “a lady, who wishes you well, expects you in her carriage on the highway, between the river and the Porte de la Conférence.”

My heart began to beat violently. Afraid and charmed by this adventure, I went at once to the place indicated by the Capuchin, but at a quiet pace, which seemed to me to be more becoming. Arrived at the embankment I saw a carriage and a tiny hand on the door.

This door was opened at my coming, and very much surprised I was to find inside the coach Mam’selle Catherine, dressed in pink satin, her head covered with a hood of black lace, underneath which her fair hair seemed to sport.

Confused I remained standing on the step.

“Come in,” she said, “and sit down near me. Shut the door if you please; you must not be seen. Just now in passing on the Cours I saw you sitting at the café. Immediately I had you fetched by the good friar, whom I had attached to me for the Lenten exercises, and whom I have kept since, because, in whatever position one may be, it is necessary to have piety. You looked very well, M. Jacques, sitting before your little table, your sword across your thighs and with the sad look of a man of quality. I have always been friendly disposed towards you and I am not of that kind of women who in their prosperity disregard their former friends.”

“Eh! What? Mam’selle Catherine,” I exclaimed, “this coach, these lackeys, this satin dress ——”

“They are the outcome,” she replied, “of the kindness of M. de la Guéritude, who is of the best set and one of the richest financiers. He has lent money to the king. He is an excellent friend whom, for all the world, I should not wish to offend. But he is not as amiable as you, M. Jacques. He has also given me a little house at Grenelle, which I will show you from the cellar to the garret. M. Jacques, I am mighty glad to see you on the road to fortune. Real merit is always discovered. You’ll see my bedroom, which is copied from that of Mademoiselle Davilliers. It is covered all over with looking-glass and there are lots of grotesque figures. How is the old fellow your father? Between ourselves, he somewhat neglects his wife and his cook-shop. It is very wrong of a man in his position. But let us speak of yourself.”

“Let us speak of you, Mam’selle Catherine,” said I. “You are so very pretty and it is a great pity you love the Capuchin.” Nothing could be said against a government contractor.

“Oh!” she said, “do not reproach me with Friar Ange. I have him for my salvation only and if I would give a rival to M. de la Guéritude it would be ——”

“Would be?”

“Don’t ask me, M. Jacques; you’re an ungrateful man, for you know that I always singled you out, but you do not care about me.”

“Quite the contrary, Mam’selle Catherine. I smarted under your mockery. You sneered at my beardless chin. Many a time you have told me that I am but a ninny.”

“And that was true, M. Jacques, truer than you believed it to be. Why could you not see that I had a liking for you?”

“Why, Catherine, you are so pretty as to make one fear. I did not dare to look at you. And one day I clearly Law that you were thoroughly offended with me.”

“I had every reason for it, M. Jacques; you took that Savoyard in preference to me, that scum of the Port Saint Nicolas.”

“Ah! be quite sure, Catherine, that I did not do so by wish or inclination, but only because she found ways and means energetic enough to vanquish my timidity.”

“Oh! my friend, you may believe me, as I am the elder of us two, timidity is a great sin against love. But did you not see that that beggar had holes in her stockings and a seam of filth and mud, half-an-ell high, on the bottom of her petticoat?”

“I saw it, Catherine.”

“Have you not seen, Jacques, how badly she is made and that really she is skinny?”

“I saw it, Catherine.”

“And withal you loved that Savoyard she-monkey, you who have a white skin and distinguished manners!”

“I cannot understand it myself, Catherine. It must have been that at that moment my imagination was full of you. And it was your image only gave me the pluck and strength you reproach me with today. Imagine yourself, Catherine, my rapture to press you in my arms, yourself or only a girl who resembled you a little. Because I loved you desperately.”

She took my hand and sighed, and in a tone of sadness I continued to say:

“Yes, I did love you, Catherine, and I could still love you except for that disgusting monk.”

She cried out:

“What a suspicion! You offend me. It is a folly.”

“Then you do not love the Capuchin?”

“Fie!”

As I did not consider it to be any use to press the subject further, I took her round the waist, we embraced, our lips met and all my being seemed to melt in voluptuousness.

After a short moment of luxurious confusion, she disentangled herself, her cheeks rosy, her eyes moistened, her lips half separated. It is from that day that I knew how much a woman is embellished and adorned by a kiss lovingly pressed on her mouth. Mine had made roses of the sweetest hue bloom on Catherine’s cheeks and strewn into the flowery blue of her eyes drops of diamantine dew.

“You are a baby,” she said, readjusting her hood. “Go! you cannot remain a moment longer. M. de la Guéritude will be here at once. He loves me with an impatience which continually runs ahead of the meeting time.”

Reading in my face how upset I was by this saying she spoke again with a quick vivacity:

“Listen, Jacques, he returns every night at nine to his old woman, who shrewish by age, cannot bear his infidelities since she herself is unable to pay him in the same coin and has become awfully jealous. Come to-night at half-past nine. I’ll receive you. My house is at the corner of the Rue du Bac. You’ll recognise it by its three windows on every floor and by its balcony covered with roses; you know I always did like flowers. Good-bye till to-night.”

Caressingly she pushed me back, hardly able to hide the wish to keep me with her, then placing one finger over her mouth she whispered again:

“Till to-night.”

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:53