Outside Mademoiselle Catherine’s House — We are invited in by M. d’Anquetil — The Supper — The Visit of the Owner and the horrible Consequences.
That evening my tutor and I happened to be in the Rue du Bac, and as it was rather warm M. Jerome Coignard said to me:
“Jacques Tournebroche, my son, would it be agreeable to you to turn to the left, into the Rue de Grenelle, in quest of a tavern — that’s to say, to some place where we could get a pot of wine for two sous? I am rather short of cash, my boy, and strongly suppose you to be no better off. M. d’Asterac, who possibly can make gold, does not give any to his secretaries and servants, as we well know, to our cost, you and I. He leaves us in a lamentable state. I have never a penny in my pocket, and it will become necessary to remedy that evil by industry and artifice. It is a fine thing to bear poverty with an even mind, like Epictetus of glorious memory. But it is an exercise I am tired of and which has become tedious by habit. I feel it is high time for a change of virtue, and to insinuate myself into the possession of wealth without being possessed by it, which certainly is the noblest state to be reached by the soul of a philosopher. I shall feel myself obliged, very soon, to earn profits of some kind to show that my sagacity has not failed me during my prosperity. I am in search of the means to reach such an issue; my mind is occupied by it, Tournebroche.”
And as my dear tutor spoke with a noble distinction of that matter, we came near the pretty dwelling wherein M. de la Gueritude had lodged Mademoiselle Catherine. “You’ll recognise it, she had said to me, by the roses on the balcony.” There was not light enough to see the roses, but I fancied I could smell them. Advancing a few yards I saw her at the window watering flowers. She recognised me, laughed, and threw me kisses with her chubby little hand. Upon that a hand passing through the open window slapped her cheek. In her surprise she let the water jug slip out of her hand, it fell down into the street, at a hair’s breadth from my tutor’s head. The slapped beauty disappeared from the window, and the ear-boxer appeared; he leaned out and shouted:
“Thank God, sir, you are not the Capuchin. I cannot stand seeing my mistress throw kisses to that stinking beast, who continually prowls under this window. For once I have not to blush at her choice. You look quite an honest man, and I believe I have seen you before. Do me the honour to come up. Within a supper is prepared. You’ll do me a real favour to partake of it, as well as the abbé, who has just had a pot of water thrown over his head, and shakes himself like a wetted dog. After supper we’ll have a game of cards, and at daybreak we’ll go hence to cut one another’s throats. But that will be purely and simply an act of civility and only to do you honour, sir, for, in truth, that girl is not worth the thrust of a sword. She is a hussy. I’ll never see her any more.”
I recognised in the speaker, the Monsieur d’Anquetil whom I had seen a short time ago excite his followers so vehemently to spike Friar Ange. Now he spoke with courtesy and treated me as a gentleman. I understood all the favour he conferred on me by his consent to cut my throat. Nor was my dear tutor less sensible of so much urbanity, and after having shaken himself he said to me:
“Jacques Tournebroche, my son, we cannot say nay to such a gracious invitation.”
Already two lackeys had come down bearing torches. They led us to a room where a collation had been prepared on a table lit up by wax candles burning in two silver candelabra. M. d’Anquetil invited us to be seated, and my good master tied his napkin round his throat. He already had a thrush on his fork when heart-rending sobs were to be heard.
“Don’t take any notice of yonder noise,” said M. d’Anquetil, “it’s only Catherine, whom I have locked in that room.”
“Ah! sir; you must forgive her,” said my kind-hearted tutor, looking sadly on the gold-brown toasted little bird on his fork. “The pleasantest meat tastes bitter when seasoned with tears and moans. Could you have the heart to let a woman cry? Reprieve this one, I beg of you! Is she then so blamable for having thrown a kiss to my young pupil, who was her neighbour and companion in the days of their common mediocrity, at a time when this pretty girl’s charms were only famous under the vine arbour of the Little Bacchus? It was but an innocent action, as much so as a human, and particularly a woman’s, action can ever be innocent, and altogether free of the original stain. Allow me also to say, sir, that jealousy is a Gothic sentiment, a sad reminder of barbaric customs, which has no business to survive in a delicate, well-born soul.”
“Monsieur l’Abbé,” inquired M. d’Anquetil, “on what grounds do you presume me to be jealous? I am not! But I cannot stand a woman mocking me.”
“We are playthings of the winds,” said my tutor, and sighed. “Everything laughs at us, the sky, the stars, rain and shadow, zephyr and light and woman. Let Catherine sup with us. She is pretty and will enliven our table. Whatever she may have done, that kiss and the rest, do not render her the less pleasant to look at. The infidelities of women do not spoil their beauty. Nature, pleased to adorn them, is indifferent to their faults; follow her, and forgive Catherine.”
I seconded my tutor’s entreaties, and M. d’Anquetil consented to free the prisoner. He went to the door of the room from whence the cries came, unlocked it, and called Catherine, whose only reply was to redouble her wailing.
“Gentlemen,” her lover said to us, “there she is lying flat on her belly, her head plunged in the pillows, and at every sob raising her rump ridiculously. Look at that. It is for such we take so much trouble and commit so many absurdities! Catherine, come to supper.”
But Catherine did not move, and continued to cry. He pulled her by the arm, by the waist. She resisted. He became more pressing, and said caressingly:
“Come, darling, get up.”
But she was stubborn, would not change place, and stuck there, holding to pillows and mattress.
At last her lover lost patience, swore, and shouted rudely:
“Get up, slut!”
At once she got up, and, smiling amid her tears, took his arm and came with him to the dining-room, looking the very picture of a happy victim.
She sat down between M. d’Anquetil and me, her head inclined on the shoulder of her lover the while her foot felt for mine under the table.
“Gentlemen,” said our host, “forgive my vivacity, an impulse I cannot regret, because it gives me the honour to entertain you at this place. To say the truth, I cannot endure all the whims of this pretty girl, and I have been very suspicious since I surprised her with her Capuchin.”
“My dear friend,” Catherine said, pressing at the sama time her foot on mine, “your jealousy goes astray. You should know that my only liking is for M. Jacques.”
“She jests,” said M. d’Anquetil.
“Do not doubt of it,” said I. “It is quite evident that she loves you, and you alone.”
“Without flattering myself,” he replied, “I have somehow attracted her attachment. But she is coquettish and fickle.”
“Give me something to drink,” said the abbe.
M. d’Anquetil passed him the demijohn and exclaimed:
“By gad! abbé, you who belong to the Church, you’ll tell us why women love Capuchins.”
M. Coignard wiped his lips and said:
“The reason is that Capuchins love humbly, and never refuse anything. Another reason is that neither reflection nor courtesy weakens their natural instincts. Sir, yours is a generous wine.”
“You do me too much honour,” replied M. d’Anquetil. “It is M. de la Guéritude’s. I have taken his mistress. I may as well take his bottles.”
“Nothing is more equitable,” said my tutor. “I see, with pleasure, that you rise above prejudices.”
“Do not praise me, abbe, more than I deserve. My birth renders easy to me what may be difficult for the vulgar. A commoner is compelled to have some restraint in all his doings. He is tied down to rigid probity; but a gentleman enjoys the honour of fighting for his king and his pleasure, and does not need to encumber himself with foolish trifles. I have seen active service under M. de Villars, and in the War of Succession, and have also run the risk of being killed without any reason in the battle of Parma. The least you can do is to leave me free to lick my servants, to balk my creditors, and take, if it please me, the wives of my friends — likewise their mistresses.”
“You speak nobly,” said my good master, “and you are careful to maintain the prerogatives of the nobility.”
“I have not,” replied M. d’Anquetil, “those scruples which intimidate the crowd of ordinary men, and which I consider good only to stop the timorous and restrain the wretched.”
“Well spoken!” said my tutor.
“I do not believe in virtue,” replied the other.
“You’re right,” said my master again. “With his quite peculiar shape, the human animal could not be virtuous without being somewhat deformed. Look, for an example, on this pretty girl supping with us; on her beautiful bosom, her marvellously rounded form, and the rest. In what part of her enchanting body could she lodge a grain of virtue? There is no room for it; everything is so firm, so juicy, solid, and plump! Virtue, like the raven, nests in ruins. Her dwellings are the cavities and wrinkles of the human body. I myself, sir, who, since my childhood, have meditated over the austere principles of religion and philosophy, could not insinuate into myself a minimum of virtue otherwise than by means of constitutional flaws produced by sufferings and age. And ever more I absorbed less virtue than pride. In doing so I got into the habit of addressing to the Divine Creator of this world the following prayer: ‘My Lord, preserve me from virtue if it is to lead me from godliness.’ Ah! godliness; this it is possible and necessary to attain. That is our decent ending. May we reach it some day! In the meantime, give me something to drink.”
“I’ll confess,” said M. d’Anquetil, “that I do not believe in a God.”
“Now, for once, sir, I must blame you,” said the abbé “One must believe in God, and all the truths of our holy religion.”
M. d’Anquetil protested.
“You make game of us, abbé, and take us to be worse ninnies than we really are. As I have said, I do not believe either in God or devil, and I never go to Mass — the king’s Mass alone excepted. The sermons of the priests are stories for old women, bearable, perhaps, in such times as when my grandmother saw the Abbé de Choisy, dressed as a woman, distribute the holy bread at the Church of Saint Jacques du Haut Pas. In those times there may have been religion; today there is none, thank God!”
“By all the Saints and all the devils, don’t speak like that, my friend,” exclaimed Catherine. “As sure as that pie stands on this table God exists! And if you want a proof of it, let me say, that when, last year, on a certain day, I was in direful distress and penury, I went, on the advice of Friar Ange, to burn a wax candle in the Church of the Capuchins, and on the following I met M. de la Guéritude at the promenade, who gave me this house, with all the furniture it contains, the cellar full of wine, some of which we enjoy to-night, and sufficient money to live honestly.”
“Fie! fie!” said M. d’Anquetil, “the idiot makes God Almighty interfere in dirty affairs. This shocks and wounds one’s feelings, even if one is an atheist.”
“My dear sir,” said my good tutor, “it is a great deal better to compromise God in dirty business, as does that simple-minded girl, than, as you do, to chase Him out of the world He has created. If He has not expressly sent that burly contractor to Catherine, His creature, He at least suffered her to meet him. We are ignorant of His ways, and what this simpleton says contains more truth, maybe mixed and alloyed with blasphemy, than all the vain words a reprobate draws out of the emptiness of his heart. Nothing is more despicable than the libertinism of mind that the youth of our days make a show of. Your words make me shiver. Am I to reply to them by proofs out of the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the fathers? Shall I make you hear God speaking to the patriarchs and to the prophets: Si locutus est Abraham et semini ejus in saecula? Shall I spread out before you the traditions of the Church? Invoke against you the authority of both Testaments? Blind you with Christ’s miracles, and His words as miraculous as His deeds? No! I will not arm myself with those holy weapons. I fear too much to pollute them in such a fight, which is not at all solemn. In her prudence the Church warns us not to risk turning edification into a scandal. Therefore I will not speak, sir, of that wherewith I have been fed on the steps of sanctuaries. But, without violating the chaste modesty of my soul, and without exposing to profanation the sacred mysteries, I’ll show you God overawing human reason, I’ll show you it by the philosophy of pagans, and by the tittle-tattle of ungodly persons. Yes, sir, I’ll make you avow that you recognise Him, against your own free will. Much as you want to pretend He does not exist you cannot but agree that, if a certain order prevails in this world, such order is divine — flows out of the spring and fountain of all order.”
“I agree,” replied M. d’Anquetil, reclining in his armchair and fondling his finely shaped calves.
“Therefore, take care,” said my good tutor. “When you say that God does not exist what else are you doing but linking thought, directing reason, and manifesting in your innermost soul, the principle of all thought, and all reason, which is God? Is it possible only to attempt to establish that He is not, without illuminating, by the most paltry reasoning, which still is reasoning, some remains of the harmony He has established in the universe?”
“Abbé,” replied M. d’Anquetil, “you are a humorous sophist. It is well known in our days that this world is the work of chance, and it is superfluous to speak of a providence, since natural philosophers have discovered, by means of their telescopes, that winged frogs are living on the moon.”
“Well, sir,” replied my good master, “I am in no way angry that winged frogs are living on the moon; such kind of marsh-birds are very worthy inhabitants of a world which has not been sanctified by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. True, we only know the minor part of the universe, and it is quite possible, as M. d’Asterac says — who is a bit of a fool — that this earth is no more than a spot of mud in the infinity of worlds. Maybe the astronomer Copernicus was not altogether dreaming when he taught that, mathematically, the earth is not the centre of creation. I have also read that an Italian of the name of Galileo, who died miserably, shared Copernicus’ opinion, and in our days we see little M. de Fontenelle entertaining the same ideas. But all this is but a vain imagination, fit only to unhinge weak minds. What does it matter if the physical world is larger or smaller, of one shape or another? It is quite sufficient that it can be duly considered only by intelligence and reason for God to be manifest therein.
“If a wise man’s meditations could be of some use to you, sir, I will inform you how such proof of God’s existence, better than the proof of St. Anselm, and quite independent of that resulting from Revelation, appeared to me suddenly in unclouded limpidity. It was at Séez, five and twenty years ago when I was the bishop’s librarian. The gallery windows opened on a courtyard where, every morning, I saw a kitchen wench clean the saucepans. She was young, tall, sturdy. A slight down, shadowlike, over her lips lent irritating and proud gracefulness to her countenance. Her entangled hair, meagre bosom, and long, naked arms were worthy of an Adonis or a Diana. She was of a boyish beauty. I loved her for it, loved her strong, red hands. All in all that girl evoked in me a longing as rude and brutal as herself. You know how imperious such longings are. I made her understand by sign and word. Without the slightest hesitation she quickly let me know that my longings were not stronger than hers, and appointed the very next night for a meeting, to take place in the loft, where she slept on the hay, by gracious permission of the bishop, whose saucepans she cleaned. Impatiently I waited for the night. When at last her shadow covered the earth I climbed, by means of a ladder, to the loft, where the girl expected me. My first thought was to embrace her, my second to admire the links which brought me into her arms. For, sir, a young ecclesiastic — a kitchen wench — a ladder — a bundle of hay. What a train! What regulation! What a concourse of preestablished harmonies! What a concatenation of cause and effect! What a proof of God’s existence! I was strangely struck by it, and mightily glad I am to be able to add this profane demonstration to the reasons furnished by theology, which are, however, amply sufficient.”
“Abbé,” said Catherine, “the only weak point in your story is that the girl had a meagre bosom. A woman without breasts is like a bed without pillows. But don’t you know, d’Anquetil, what we might do?”
“Yes,” said he, “play a game of ombre, which is played by three.”
“If you will,” she said. “But, dear, have the pipes brought in. Nothing is pleasanter than to smoke a pipe of tobacco when drinking wine.”
A lackey brought the cards and pipes, which we lit. Soon the room was full of dense smoke, wherein our host and the Abbé Coignard played gravely at piquet.
Luck followed my dear tutor up to the moment when M. d’Anquetil, fancying he saw him for the third time score fifty-five when he had only made forty points, called him a Greek, a villainous trickster, a Knight of Transylvania, and threw a bottle at his head, which broke on the table, flooding it with wine.
“Well, sir,” said the abbé, “you’ll have to take the trouble to open another bottle: we are thirsty.”
“With pleasure,” replied M. d’Anquetil. “But, abbé, know that a gentleman does not mark points he has not made, and does not cheat at cards except at the king’s card-table, round which all sorts of people are assembled, to whom one owes nothing. On any other table it is a vile action. Abbé, say, do you want to be looked on as an adventurer?”
“It is remarkable,” said my good tutor, “that you blame at cards or dice a practice so much commended in the art of war, politics and trade; in each of these people glorify themselves by correcting the injuries of fortune. It is not that I do not pique myself on honesty when playing at cards. Thank God, I always play straight, and you must have been dreaming, sir, when you fancied I had marked points I did not make. Had it been otherwise, I would appeal to the example given by the blessed Bishop of Geneva, who did not scruple to cheat at cards. But I cannot defend myself against the reflection that at play men are much more sensitive than in serious business, and that they employ the whole of their probity at the backgammon board, where it incommodes them but indifferently, whereas they put it entirely in the background in a battle or a treaty of peace, where it would be troublesome. Polyænus, sir, has written, in the Greek language a book on Stratagems, wherein is shown to what excess deceit is pushed by the great leaders.”
“Abbé,” said M. d’Anquetil, “I have not read your Polyænus, and do not think I ever shall read him. But like every true gentleman, I have been to the wars. I have served the king for eighteen months. It is the noblest of all professions. I’ll tell you exactly what war is. I may tell the secret of it, as nobody is present to listen but yourself, some bottles, yonder gentleman whom I intend to kill very shortly, and that girl, who begins to undress herself.”
“Yes,” said Catherine, “I undress, and will keep only my chemise on, because I feel too hot.”
“Well then,” M. d’Anquetil continued, “whatever may be printed of it in the gazettes, war consists, above all things, of stealing the pigs and chickens of peasants. Soldiers in the fields have no other occupation.”
“You are right,” said M. Coignard, “and in days of yore it was the saying in Gaul that the soldier’s best friend was Madame Marauding. But I beg of you not to kill my pupil, Jacques Tournebroche.”
“Ouf!” exclaimed Catherine, arranging the lace of her chemise on her bosom. “Now I feel easier.”
“Abbé,” replied M. d’Anquetil, “honour compels me to do it.”
But my kind-hearted tutor went on:
“Sir, Jacques Tournebroche is very useful to me for the translation, I have undertaken, of Zosimus the Panopolitan. I would give you many thanks not to fight him before the finishing touch has been given to that grand work.”
“To the deuce with your Zosimus,” said M. d’Anquetil. “To the deuce with him! Do you hear, abbé! I’ll send him to the deuce, as a king would do with his first mistress.”
And he sang:
“Pour dresser un jeune courrier Et l’affermir sur l’étrier Il lui fallait une routière Laire lan laire.”
“What’s that Zosimus?”
“Zosimus, sir, Zosimus of Panopolis, was a learned Greek, who flourished at Alexandria in the third century of the Christian era, and wrote treatises on the spagyric art.”
“Do you fancy it matters to me? Why do you translate it?
“Battons le fer quand il est chaud Dit-elle, en faisant sonner haut Le nom de sultan première Laire lan laire.”
“Sir,” said my dear tutor, “I quite agree with you; there is no practical utility in it, and by it the course of the world will not be changed in the slightest. But making clearer by annotations and comments this treatise, which that Greek compiled for his sister Theosebia —”
Catherine interrupted him by singing in a high-pitched voice:
“Je veux en dépit des jaloux Qu’on fasse duc mon epoux Lasse de le voir secretairev Laire lan laire.”
And my tutor continued:
“— I contribute to the treasure of knowledge gathered by erudite men, and bring forward one stone of my own for a monument to true history, which is a better one than the chronicles of war and treaties; for, sir, the nobility of man —”
Catherine continued to sing:
“Je sais bien qu’on murmurera Que Paris nous chansonnera Mais tant pis pour le sot vulgaire Laire lan laire.”
And my dear tutor went on:
“— is thought. And concerning that, it is not indifferent to know what idea the Egyptians had formed of the nature of metals and the qualities of the primitive substance.”
The Abbé Jerôme Coignard, having come to the end of his discourse, emptied a big glass of wine, while Catherine sang:
“Par l’épée ou par le fourreau Devenir due est toujours beau Il n’importe le maniére Laire lan laire.”
“Abbé,” said M. d’Anquetil, “you do not drink, and in spite of such abstinence you lose your reason. In Italy, during the War of Succession, I was under the orders of a brigadier who translated Polybius. But he was an idiot. Why translate Zosimus?”
“If you want my true reason,” replied the abbé, “because I find some sensuality in it.”
“That’s something like!” protested M. d’Anquetil. “But in what can M. Tournebroche, who at this moment is caressing my mistress, assist you?”
“With the knowledge of Greek I have given him.”
M. d’Anquetil turned round to me and said:
“What, sir, you know Greek! You are not then a gentleman?”
“No, sir,” I replied, “I am not. My father is the banner-bearer of the Guild of Parisian Cooks.”
“Well, under such conditions it is impossible for me to kill you. Kindly accept my excuses. But, abbé, you don’t drink. You imposed upon me. I believed you to be a real good tippler, and wished you to become my chaplain as soon as I could set up my own establishment.”
However, M. Coignard did drink all that the bottle contained, and Catherine, inclining to me, whispered in my ear:
“Jacques, I feel that I shall never love anyone but you.”
These words, spoken by a really fine woman clad in no other wrapper than a chemise, troubled me to the extreme. Catherine ended by fuddling me entirely, by making me drink out of her own glass, an action passing unobserved in the confusion of a supper which had overheated the heads of us all.
M. d’Anquetil knocked off the neck of a bottle on the corner of the table and filled our bumpers; from this moment on, I cannot give a reliable account of what was said and done around me. One incident I remember: Catherine treacherously emptying her glass into her lover’s neck, between the nape and the collar of his coat; and M. d’Anquetil retorting by pouring the contents of two or three bottles over the girl. Wearing nothing beyond her chemise, it changed Catherine into a kind of mythological figure of a humid species like nymphs and naiads. She cried herself into a rage and twisted in convulsions.
At that very moment, in the silence of the night, we heard knocks at the house door. We became suddenly motionless and dumb, like people bewitched.
The knocks soon redoubled in strength and frequency. M. d’Anquetil was the first to break the silence by questioning himself aloud, swearing horribly the while, who the deuce the pesterers could be. My good tutor, to whom the most ordinary circumstances often inspired admirable maxims, rose and said with unction and gravity:
“What does it matter whose hand knocks so violently at closed doors for a vulgar, perhaps ridiculous, reason? Do not let us seek to know, and consider them as knocking on the door of our hardened and corrupted souls. At each knock let us say to ourselves: This one is to give us notice to amend and think on the salvation we neglect in the turmoil of our pleasures, that other one is to remind us of eternity. In that way we shall draw the utmost profit out of an incident which, after all, is as paltry as it is frivolous.”
“You’re humorous, abbé,” said M. d’Anquetil; “to judge by the sturdiness of their knocks, they’ll burst the door open.”
And as a fact the knocker resounded like thunder.
“They are robbers,” exclaimed the soaked girl. “Jesus! We shall be massacred; it is our chastisement for having sent away the little friar. Many times I have told you. M. d’Anquetil, that misfortune comes to houses from which a Capuchin has been driven.’
“Hear the stupid!” replied M. d’Anquetil. “That damned monk makes her believe any imbecility he chooses to dish her up. Thieves would be more polite, or at least more discreet. I rather think it is the watch.”
“The watch! Worse and worse,” said Catherine.
“Bah!” M. d’Anquetil exclaimed, “we’ll lick them.”
My dear tutor took the precaution to put one bottle in one of his pockets, and as an equipoise another bottle in the other pocket. The house shook all over from the furious knocks. M. d’Anquetil, whose military qualities were aroused by the knocker’s onslaught, after reconnoitring, exclaimed:
“Ah! Ah! Ah! Do you know who knocks? It is M. de la Gueritude with his full-bottomed periwig and two big flunkeys carrying lighted torches.”
“That’s not possible,” said Catherine, “at this very moment he is in bed with his old woman.”
“Then it is his ghost,” said M. d’Anquetil. “And the ghost also wears his periwig, which is so ridiculous that any self-respecting spectre would refuse to copy it.”
“Do you speak the truth, and not jeer at me?” asked Catherine.” Is it really M. de la Guéritude?”
“It’s himself, Catherine, if I may believe my own eyes’
“Then I am lost!” exclaimed the poor girl. “Women are indeed unhappy! They are never left in peace. What will become of me? Would you not hide, gentlemen, in some of the cupboards?”
“That could be done,” said M. Jerome Coignard, “as far as we are concerned, but how are we to hide all those empty bottles, mostly smashed, or at least broken necked; the remains of that demijohn M. d’Anquetil threw at me; that tablecloth; those plates, candelabra and mademoiselle’s chemise, which in its soaked state is nothing but a transparent veil encircling her beauty?”
“It is true,” said Catherine, “yonder idiot has drenched my chemise, and I am catching cold. But listen. Perhaps M. d’Anquetil could hide in the top room, and I would make the abbé my uncle and Jacques my brother.”
“No good at all,” said M. d’Anquetil. “I’ll go myself and kindly ask M. de la Gueritude to have supper with us.”
We urged him, all of us — my tutor, Catherine and I— to keep quiet; we entreated him, hung on his neck. It was useless. He got hold of a candelabra and descended the stairs. Trembling we followed him. He unlocked the door. M. de la Guéritude was there, exactly as M. d’Anquetil had described him, with his periwig, between two flunkeys bearing torches. M. d’Anquetil saluted with the utmost correctness and said:
“Accord us the favour to come in, sir. You’ll find some persons as amiable as singular. Tournebroche, to whom Mam’selle Catherine throws kisses from the window, and a priest who believes in God.”
Wherewith he bowed respectfully.
M. de la Gueritude was of the dry sort, very tall, and little inclined to the enjoyment of a joke. That of M. d’Anquetil provoked him strongly, and his anger rose when he saw my good tutor, one bottle in hand and two peeping out of his pockets, and by the look of Catherine with her wet chemise sticking to her body.
“Young man,” he said in an icy fit of passion to M. d’Anquetil, “I have the honour to know your father, of whom I will inquire, not later than tomorrow, the name of the town to which the king shall send you to meditate over the shame of your behaviour and impertinence. That worthy nobleman, to whom I have lent some money I do not reclaim, can refuse me nothing. And our well-beloved Prince, who is in precisely the same position as your father, has always a kindness for me. Consider it a matter done. I have settled, thank God, others more difficult. Now as to that lady yonder, of whom neither repentance nor improvement can be expected. I’ll say tomorrow before noon, two words to the Lieutenant of Police, whom I know to be well disposed, to send her to the spittel. I have nothing else to say to you. This house is my property, I have paid for it and I intend to enter when I like.” Then, turning to his flunkeys, and pointing out my tutor and myself with his walking stick, he said:
“Throw these two drunkards out.”
M. Jérome Coignard was commonly of an exemplary forbearance, and he used to say that he owed his gentleness to the vicissitudes of life; chance having treated him as the sea treats the pebbles — that is, polishing them by means of the rolling of flood and ebb. He could easily stand insults, as much by Christian spirit as by philosophy. But what helped him best thereto was his deep-rooted contempt of mankind, not excepting himself. However, for once he lost all measure and forgot all prudence.
“Hold your tongue, vile publican,” he shouted and brandished a bottle like a crowbar. “If yonder rascals dare to approach me I’ll smash their heads, to teach them respect for my cloth, which proves in an ample way my sacred calling.”
In the faint glimmer of the torches, shiny from sweat, his eyes starting out of their sockets, his coat unbuttoned, and his big belly half out of his breeches, he looked a fellow not easy to be got rid of. The lackeys hesitated.
“Out with him, out with him,” shouted M. de la Guéritude; “out with this bag of wine! Can’t you see that all you have to do is to push him in the gutter, where he’ll remain till the scavengers throw him into the dustcart? I would throw him out myself were I not afraid to pollute my clothes.”
My good tutor flew into a passion, and shouted in a voice worthy to sound in a church:
“You odious money-monger, infamous partisan, barbarous evildoer, you pretend this house to be yours? So that everyone may know it belongs to you, inscribe on the door the gospel word Aceldema, which in our language means Bloodmoney. And then we’ll let the master enter his dwelling. Thief, robber, murderer, write with the piece of charcoal I throw in your face, write with your own filthy hand, on the floor, your title deed. Bloodmoney of the widow and orphans, bloodmoney of the just. Aceldema. If not, out with you, man of quantities! We’ll remain.”
M. de la Gueritude had never in his life heard anything of this sort, and thought he had to deal with a madman, as one might easily suppose, and, more for defence than attack, he raised his big stick. My good tutor, out of his senses, threw a bottle at the head of the contractor, who fell headlong on the floor, howling, “He has killed me!” And as he was swimming in red wine he really looked as though murdered. Both the flunkeys wanted to throw themselves on the murderer, and one of them, a burly fellow, tried to grasp him, when M. Coignard gave the fellow such a butt that he rolled in the stream beside the financier.
Unluckily he rose quickly, and, arming himself with a still burning torch, jumped into the passage, where bad luck awaited him. My good master was no longer there; he had taken to his heels. But M. d’Anquetil was still there with Catherine, and he it was who received the burning torch on his forehead, an outrage he could not stand. He drew his sword, and drove it to the hilt in the unlucky knave’s stomach, teaching him, at his own expense, how fatal it may be to attack a gentleman. Now M. Coignard had not got twenty yards away from the house when the other lackey, a tall fellow, with the limbs of a daddy-longlegs, ran after him, shouting for the guard.
“Stop him! Stop him!” The footman ran faster than the abbé, and we could see him, at the corner of the Rue Saint Guillaume, extending his arms to catch M. Coignard by the collar of his gown. But my dear tutor, who had more than one trick, veering abruptly, got behind the fellow, tripped him up, and sent him on to a stone post, where he got his head broken. It was done before M. d’Anquetil and I, running to the abbé‘s assistance, could reach him. We could not leave M. Coignard in this pressing danger.
“Abbe,” said M. d’Anquetil, “give me your hand. You’re a gallant man.”
“I really cannot help thinking,” my good master replied, “that I have been somewhat murderously inclined; but I am not cruel enough to be proud of it. I am quite satisfied so long as I am not reproached too vehemently. Such violence does not lie in my habits, and as you can see, sir, I am better fitted to lecture from the chair of a college on belles-lettres than I am to fight with lackeys at the corner of a street.”
“Oh!” replied M. d’Anquetil, “that’s not the worst of the whole business. I fully believe you have knocked the Farmer-general on the head.”
“Is it true?” questioned the abbé.
“As true as that I have perforated with my sword yonder scoundrel’s tripes.”
“Under such circumstances we ought to ask pardon of God, to whom alone we are responsible for the blood shed by us, and secondly to hasten to the nearest fountain, there to wash ourselves, because I perceive that my nose is bleeding.”
“Right you are, abbé,” said M. d’Anquetil; “for the blackguard now dying in the gutter has cut my forehead. What an impertinence!”
“Forgive him,” said the abbé, “as you wish to be forgiven yourself.”
At the place where the Rue de Bac loses itself in the fields, we fortunately found along the wall of a hospital a little bronze Triton, shooting a spirt of water into a stone tub. We stopped to wash and drink, for our throats were dry.
“What have we done,” said my master, “and how could I have lost my temper, usually so peaceable? True men must not be judged by their deeds, which depend on circumstances, but rather, on the example of God our Father, by their secret thoughts and their deepest intentions.”
“And Catherine,” I asked, “what has become of her through this horrible adventure?”
“I left her,” was M. d’Anquetil’s answer, “breathing into the mouth of her financier, to revive him. But she had better save her breath. I know La Gueritude. He is pitiless. He’ll send her to the spittel, perhaps to America. I am sorry for her. She was a fine girl. I did not love her, but she was mad after me. And, an extraordinary state of things, I am now without a mistress.”
“Don’t bother,” said my good tutor. “You’ll soon find another, not different, or hardly differing in essentials, from her. What you look for in a woman, as it appears to me, is common to all females.”
“It is clear,” said M. d’Anquetil, “that we are in danger: I of being sent to the Bastille, you, abbé, together with your pupil, Tournebroche, who certainly has not killed anybody, of being hanged.”
“That’s but too true,” said my good master. “We have to look out for safety. Perhaps it will be necessary to leave Paris, where, no doubt, we shall be wanted; and even to fly to Holland. Alas! I foresee that there I shall write lampoons for ballet girls with that same hand which has been employed to annotate right amply the alchemistic treatises of Zosimus the Panopolitan.”
“Listen to me, abbé,” said M. d’Anquetil, “I have a friend who will hide us at his country seat for any length of time. He lives within four miles of Lyons, in a country horrid and wild, where nothing is to be seen but poplars, grass and woods. There we must go. There we’ll wait till the storm is over. We’ll pass the time hunting and shooting. But we must at once find a post-chaise or, better still, a travelling coach.”
“I know where to get that,” said the abbé. “At the Red Horse hotel, at the Circus of the Bergères, you can have good horses, as well as all sorts of vehicles. I made the acquaintance of the landlord at the time I was secretary to Madame de Saint Ernest. He liked to oblige people of quality. I am not quite sure if he is still alive, but he ought to have a son like himself. Have you money?”
“I have with me a rather large sum,” replied M. d’Anquetil, “and I am glad of it, as I cannot dream of going home, where the constables will not fail to be on the lookout to arrest and conduct me to the Chatelet. I forgot my servants, whom I left in Catherine’s house, and I do not know what has become of them. I thrashed them, and never paid their wages, and withal I am not sure of their fidelity. In whom can you have confidence? Let’s be off at once for the Circus of the Bergères.”
“Sir,” said the abbé, “I’ll make you a proposal, hoping it may be agreeable to you. We are living, Tournebroche and I, in an alchemistic and ramshackle castle at the Cross of the Sablons, where we can easily stay for a dozen hours without being seen by anyone. There we will take you and wait quietly till our carriage is ready. The advantage is that the Sablons is very near the Circus of the Bergères.”
M. d’Anquetil had nothing against the abbé‘s proposal, and so we resolved in front of the Triton, who blew the water out of his fat cheeks, to go first to the Cross of the Sablons, and to hire, later on, at the Red Horse hotel, a travelling coach for our journey to Lyons.
“I want to inform you, gentlemen,” said my dear tutor, “that of the three bottles I took care to carry with me, one was broken on the head of M. de la Guéritude, another one was smashed in my pocket during my flight. They are both regretted. The third, against all hope, has been preserved. Here it is!”
Pulling it out of his pocket, he placed it on the edge of the fountain.
“That’s well,” sail M, d’Anquetil. “You have some wine, I have dice and cards in my pocket. We can play.”
“It is true,” said my good master, “that is a pleasant pastime. A pack of cards is a book of adventure, of the kind called romances. It is so far superior to other books of a similar kind that it can be made and read at the same time, and that it is not necessary to have brains to make it, nor knowledge of reading to read it. It is a marvellous work, also, in that it offers a regular and new sense every time its pages are shuffled. It is a contrivance never to be too much admired, because out of mathematical principles it extracts thousands on thousands of curious combinations, and so many singular affinities that it is believed, contrary to all truth, that in it are discoverable the secrets of hearts, the mystery of destinies and the arcanum of the future. What I have said is particularly applicable to the tarot of the Bohemians, which is the finest of all games, piquet not excepted. The invention of cards must be ascribed to the ancients, and as far as I am concerned — I have, to speak candidly, no kind of documentary evidence for my assertion — I believe them to be of Chaldean origin. But in their present appearance the piquet cards cannot be traced further back than to King Charles VII., if what is said in a learned essay, that I remember to have read at Séez, is true, that the queen of hearts is an emblematical likeness of the beautiful Agnes Sorel, and that the queen of spades is, under the name of Pallas, no other than that Jeanne Dulys, better known as Joan of Arc, who by her bravery re-established the business of the French monarchy and was afterwards boiled to death by the English, in a cauldron, shown for two farthings at Rouen, where I have seen it in passing through that city. Certain historians pretend that she was burnt alive at the stake. It is to be read in the works of Nicole Gilles and in Pasquier that St Catherine and St Margaret appeared to her. Certainly it was not God who sent these saints to her, because there is no person of any learning and solid piety who does not know that Margaret and Catherine were invented by Byzantine monks, whose abundant and barbarous imaginations have altogether muddled up the martyrology. It is a ridiculous impiety to pretend that God made two saints who never existed appear to Jeanne Dulys. However, the ancient chroniclers were not afraid to publish it. Why have they not said that God sent to the Maid of Orleans the fair Yseult, Mélusine, Berthe the Bigfooted, and all the other heroines of the romances of chivalry the existence of whom is not more fabulous that that of the two virgins, Catherine and Margaret? M. de Valois, in the last century, rose with full reason against these clumsy fables, as much opposed to religion as error is to truth. It is desirable that an ecclesiastic learned in history undertook to show the distinction between real saints and saints such as Margaret, Luce or Lucie, Eustache, and perhaps Saint George, about whom I have my doubts.
“If on a future day I should be able to retire to some beautiful abbey, possessing a rich library, I will devote to this task the remainder of a life, half worn out in frightful tempests and frequent shipwrecks. I am longing for a harbour of refuge, and I have the desire and the taste for a chaste repose suitable to my age and profession.”
While M. Coignard was holding this memorable discourse, M. d’Anquetil, without listening to the abbé‘s words, was seated on the edge of the fountain, shuffling the cards and swearing like a trooper, because it was too dark to play a game of piquet.
“You are right,” said my good master; “it is a bad light, and I am somewhat displeased over it, less because I cannot play cards than because I have a desire to read a few pages of the ‘Consolations’ of Boethius, of which I always carry a small edition, so as to have it handy when something unfortunate overcomes me, as has been the case this day. It is a cruel disgrace, sir, for a man of my calling to be a homicide, and liable at any moment to be locked up in one of the ecclesiastical prisons. I feel that a single page of that admirable book would strengthen my heart, crushed by the very idea of the officer.”
Having spoken, he let himself gently slide over the edge of the basin, so deep that the best part of his body went into the water. But not taking the slightest notice, and hardly feeling it, he took the Boethius out of his pocket — it was really there — and putting his spectacles on, wherein one glass only remained, and that one cracked in three places, he looked in the little book for the page most appropriate for his present situation. He doubtless would have found it, and extracted from it new strength, if the rotten state of his barnacles, the tears that came into his eyes, and the feeble light which came from the sky, had permitted him to search for it. Very soon he had to confess that he was unable to see a wink, and became angry with the moon, who showed her pointed sickle on the edge of a cloud. He reproached her and heaped bitter invectives on her. He shouted:
“Luminary obscene, mischievous and libidinous, you never tire of illuminating men’s wickedness, and you deny a ray of your light to him who searches for virtuous maxims!”
“The more so, abbé, as this bitch of a moon gives just light enough to find our way along the streets, and not sufficient to play a game of piquet. Let’s go at once to the castle you spoke of, where I have to slip in without being seen.”
That was good advice, and after we had drunk the wine to the last drop we took the road, all three of us, to the Cross of the Sablons. I walked with M. d’Anquetil. My good tutor, hindered by the water his breeches had soaked in, followed us, crying, moaning and disgusted.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08