At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque, by Anatole France

Chapter 23

Farewell to Jahel–Dispersal of the Party

Three days after the demise of my good master, M. d’Anquetil decided to continue his journey. The carriage had been repaired. He gave the postboys the order to be ready on the following morning. His company had never been agreeable to me; in the state of sorrow I was in, it became odious. I could not bear the idea of following him and Jahel. I resolved to look for employment at Tournus or at Macon, and to remain hidden till the storm had calmed down sufficiently to enable me to return to Paris, where I was sure to be received with outstretched arms by my dear parents. I imparted my intention to M. d’Anquetil, and excused myself for not accompanying him any farther. He tried to retain me with a gracefulness I was not prepared for, but soon willingly gave me leave to go where I wished. With Jahel the matter was more difficult, but, being naturally reasonable, she accepted the reasons I had for leaving her.

On the night before my departure, while M. d’Anquetil drank and played cards with the barber-surgeon, Jahel and I went to the market place to get a breath of air. It was embalmed by the scent of herbs and full of the song of crickets.

“What a night!” I said to Jahel. “The year cannot produce another like it, and perhaps all my life long I shall never see one so sweet.”

The flower-decked village graveyard extended before our eyes its motionless turf, and the moonlight whitened the scattered graves on the dark grass. The same thought came to both of us to say a last farewell to our friend. The place where he was put to eternal rest was marked by a tear-sprinkled cross planted deep in the mellow earth. The stone whereon the epitaph was to be engraved had not yet been placed. We seated ourselves very close to the grave on the grass, and there, by an insensible but natural inclination, we fell into one another’s arms without fearing to offend by our kisses the memory of a friend whom deep wisdom had rendered indulgent to human weakness.

Suddenly, Jahel whispered in my ear, where her mouth was already placed:

“I see M. d’Anquetil, who, from the top of the wall, looks eagerly towards us.”

“Can he see us in this shadow?” I asked.

“He certainly sees my white petticoat,” she said; “it’s enough, I think, to tempt him to look for more.”

I first thought to draw my sword, and was quite decided to defend two existences, which were at this moment still very much mixed. Jahel’s calm surprised me, neither her movements nor her voice showed any fear.

“Go,” she said to me, “fly, and don’t fear for me. It’s a surprise I have rather wished for. He began to get tired of me, and this encounter is quite efficacious to reanimate his desires and season his love. Go and leave the alone. The first moment will be hard, for he is of a very violent disposition. He’ll strike me, but after, t shall be still dearer to him. Farewell!”

“Alas!” I exclaimed, “did you take me then, Jahel, for Nothing but to sharpen the desires of my rival?”

“I wonder that you also want to quarrel with me. Go, I say!”

“What! leave you like this?”

“It’s necessary. Farewell! He must not meet you here, I want to make him jealous, but in a delicate manner. I Farewell! Farewell.”

I had hardly gone a few steps between the labyrinth of tombstones when M. d’Anquetil, having come forward to enable him to recognise his mistress, began to shout and to curse loud enough to awaken the village dead. I was anxious to tear Jahel away from his rage; I thought he would kill her. I glided between the tombstones to her assistance. But after a few minutes, observing them very closely, I saw M. d’Anquetil pulling her out of the cemetery and leading her towards Gaulard’s inn with a remainder of fury she was easily capable of calming, alone and without help.

I returned to my room after they had entered theirs I could not sleep the whole of the night, and looking out at daybreak, through an opening in the window curtains I saw them crossing the courtyard apparently the best of friends.

Jahel’s departure augmented my sorrow. I stretched myself full length on my stomach on the floor of my room, and with my face in my hands cried until the evening.

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