Our Return — We smuggle M. d’Anquetil in-M. d’Asterac on Jealousy — M. Jérome Coignard in Trouble — What happened while I was in the Laboratory — Jahel persuaded to elope.
The morning light already pricked our jaded eyes when we reached the green door to the park. We had not to use the knocker, as some time ago the porter had given us the keys of his domain. It was agreed that my good tutor, with d’Anquetil, should cautiously advance in the shadow of the lane, and that I should remain behind on the lookout for the faithful Criton, and the kitchen boys who might perhaps see us coming along. This arrangement, which was nothing but reasonable, was to turn out rather badly for me. My two companions had gone up without being discovered, and reached my room, where we had decided to hide M. d’Anquetil until the moment of escape in the post-chaise, but as I was climbing the second flight of steps I met M. d’Asterac, in a red damask gown, carrying a silver candlestick. He put, as he habitually did, his hand on my shoulder.
“Hello! my son,” he said, “are you not very happy, having broken off all intercourse with women, and by that escaped all dangers of bad company? With the august maidens of the air you need not be in fear of quarrels, scuffles, injurious and violent rows which usually occur with creatures following a loose life. In your solitude, which delights the fairies, you enjoy a delicious peace.”
I thought at first that he mocked me. But I soon found out that nothing was further from his thoughts.
“I am pleased to have met you, my son,” he continued, “and will thank you to come with me to my studio for a moment.”
I followed him. He unlocked, with a key nearly an ell long, that confounded room where I had seen the glare of infernal fires. When we were inside the laboratory he asked me to kindly make up the smouldering fire. I threw some short logs into the furnace, where I don’t know what was steaming, exhaling a suffocating odour. While he was occupied with his black cookery, cupellating and matrassing, I remained seated on a settle, and, against my will, closed my eyes. He made me reopen them to admire a green earthenware vessel, with a glass top, which he had in his hand.
“You ought to know, my son,” he said, “that this subliming pot is called aludel. It contains a liquid to be looked at with the greatest attention, as it is nothing less than the mercury of the philosophers. Do not suppose that it is to keep its present dark colour for ever. Soon it will change to white and in that state will change all metals into silver. Hereafter, by my art and industry, it will turn red, and acquire the virtue of transmuting silver into gold. It certainly would be of advantage to you that, shut in this laboratory, you should not leave it before these sublime operations have fully taken place, a process which cannot require more than two or three months. But as to ask you to do so would perhaps be imposing too hard a restriction on your youth, be satisfied, for this time, to observe the preludes of the work, while putting, if you please, as much wood on the fire as possible.”
Having said that he returned to his phials and retorts, and I could not help thinking of the sad position wherein ill-luck and imprudence had placed me.
“Alas!” I said to myself, and threw logs into the fire, “at this very moment the constables are searching for my good tutor and myself; perhaps we shall have to go to prison, certainly we have to leave this castle. I have in default of money, at least board and an honourable position. I shall never again dare to stand before M. d’Asterac, who believes me to have passed the night in the silent voluptuousness of magic, which perhaps would have been better for me. Alas! I’ll never more see Mosaide’s niece, Mademoiselle Jahel, who at night-time woke me in my room in such a charming way. No doubt she will forget me. Perhaps she’ll love someone else, and bestow on him the same caresses as she gave to me.” The idea of such an infidelity became unbearable. But as the world goes, one has to be ready for anything.
“My son,” M. d’Asterac began to say again, “you do not sufficiently feed the athanor. I see that you are still not fully convinced of the excellency of fire, which is capable of ripening this mercury and transforming it into the wonderful fruit I expect to gather very soon. More wood! The fire, my son, is the superior element; I have told you enough, and now I’ll show you an example. On a very cold day last winter, visiting Mosaide in his lodge, I found him sitting, his feet on a warming pan. I observed that the subtle particles of fire escaping from the pan had power enough to inflate and lift up the folds of his gown, wherefrom I inferred, that had the fire been hotter, it would have raised Mosaide himself into the air, of which he is certainly worthy, and that, if it should be possible to close into some kind of a vessel a very large quantity of such fire particles, it would be possible to sail on the clouds as easily as we sail on the sea, and to visit the Salamanders in their aerial abodes, a problem I shall keep in mind. I do not despair of constructing such a fireship. But let us go back to our work of putting wood on the fire.”
He kept me for some time in the glow of the laboratory whence I wanted to escape as quickly as possible, to join Jahel, whom I was anxious to inform of my misfortune. At last he left me, and I thought myself free, a hope shortly to be disappointed by his return.
“It is rather mild this morning,” he said, “but the sky is somewhat cloudy. Would it please you to go for a walk in the park with me before returning to the translation of Zosimus the Panopolitan, which will be a great honour to you and your tutor if you finish it as you have begun?”
With much regret I followed him into the park, where he said to me:
“I am not sorry, my son, to be alone with you, to warn you, as it is high time to do, against a great danger by which you may be threatened one day; I reproach myself not to have thought of warning you before, as what I shall communicate to you is of the utmost consequence.”
And speaking in this way, he led me through the grand avenue which leads down to the marshes of the Seine, whence Rueil is to be seen and Mont Valerien with its calvary. It was his usual walk. The alley was practicable in spite of some dead trees which had fallen across it.
“It is important for you to know to what you expose yourself by betraying your Salamander. I do not want to interrogate you as to what intercourse you have had with that superhuman person I have been fortunate enough to make you acquainted with. I dare say you feel somewhat reluctant to discuss it. Possibly you deserve praise for that. If the Salamanders have not, m what concerns the discretion of their lovers, the same ideas that court ladies and tradeswomen have, it is not less true that it is the special quality of beautiful amours to be unutterable, and that it would profane a grand sentiment to spread it abroad.
“But your Salamander (of which I could easily find the name if I had any idle curiosity) has perhaps omitted to give you information about one of the most violent passions — jealousy; this character is common to them. Know well, my son, Salamanders are not to be betrayed without punishment awaiting you. Their vengeance on the perjurer is of the cruelest. The divine Paracelsus gives one example, which will suffice to inspire in you a salutary fear.
“There was in the German town of Staufen a spagyric philosopher who had, like yourself, connection with a Salamander. He was depraved enough to deceive her with a woman, certainly pretty, but not more beautiful than a woman can be. One evening, having supper with his new mistress in company with some friends, they saw a thigh of marvellous beauty shining over their heads. The Salamander exposed it to impress on them all, that she did not deserve the wrong inflicted by her lover; after that the outraged celestial struck down the unfaithful lover with apoplexy. The vulgar, who are made to be deceived, believed his to be a natural death; the initiated knew by whose hand he was slain. I owed you this advice, my son, and this example.”
They were less useful to me than M. d’Asterac thought. Listening to them I mused on other subjects of alarm. Without doubt my face must have betrayed the state of anxiety I was in; because the great cabalist, having looked at me, asked me if I was not afraid that an engagement, guarded by conditions so severe, would be troublesome to my youth.
“I am able to reassure you,” he added. “The jealousy of a Salamander is awakened only by rivalry with women, and to speak truly it is more resentment, indignation, disgust, than real jealousy. The souls of the Salamanders are too noble, their intelligence too subtle, to envy one another, and to give way to a sentiment pertaining to the barbarity wherein humanity is still half plunged. On the contrary they delight to share with their playmates the joys they taste beside a sage, and are pleased to bring to their lovers the most beautiful of their sisters. Very soon you’ll experience that, as a fact, they push politeness to the point I mentioned, and not a year, nay not six months, will pass before your room will be the trysting place of five or six daughters of the light, who will untie before you their sparkling girdles. Do not be afraid, my son, to answer their caresses. Your own fairy love will not take umbrage. How could she be offended, wise as she is? And on your side, do not get irritated if your Salamander leaves you for a moment to visit another philosopher. Consider that the proud jealousy men bring into the union of the sexes is but a savage sentiment, founded on the most ridiculous of illusions. It rests on the idea that a woman belongs to you because she has given herself to you, which is nothing but a play on words.”
While making this speech, M. d’Asterac had turned into the lane of the mandrakes, where we could see Mosaide’s cottage, half hidden by foliage, when suddenly an appalling voice burst upon us and made my heart beat faster — hoarse sounds, accompanied by a sharp gnashing, and on getting nearer the sounds seemed to be modulated, and each phrase ended in a sort of very feeble melody, which could not be listened to without shuddering.
Advancing a few paces we could, by listening closely, understand the sense of the strange words. The voice said:
“Hear the malediction with which Elisha cursed the insolent and mirthful children. Listen to the anathema Barak flung on Meros.
“I curse thee in the name of Archithuriel, who is also called the lord of battles, and holds the flaming sword. I doom thee to perdition in the name of Sardaliphonos, who presents to his master the flowers and garlands of merit offered by the children of Israel.
“Be cursed, hound! Anathema, swine!”
Looking from whence the voice came, we could see Mosaide on the threshold of his house, standing erect, his arms raised, his hands in the form of fangs, with nails crooked, appearing inflamed by the fiery light of the sun. His head was covered with his dirty tiara, and he was enveloped in his gorgeous gown, showing when flying open his meagre bow-legs in ragged breeches. He looked like some begging magician, immortal, and very old. His eyes glared, and he said:
“Be cursed in the name of all globes, be cursed in the name of all wheels, be cursed in the name of the mysterious beasts Ezekiel saw.”
Out he stretched his long arms, ending in claws, and continued:
“In the name of the globes, in the name of the wheels, in the name of the mysterious beasts, descend among those who are no more.”
We advanced a few paces between the half-grown trees to see the object over which Mosaide extended his arms and his anger, and discovered, to our great surprise, M. Jérome Coignard, hanging by a lapel of his gown on an evergreen thorn bush. The night’s disorder was visible all over his body; his collar and his shoes torn, his stockings smeared with mud, his shirt open, all reminded me of our common misadventures, and, worse than all, the swelling of his nose spoilt entirely the noble and smiling expression which never left his features.
I ran up to him and unhooked him so luckily off the thorns that only a small piece of his breeches stuck to them. Mosaide, having had his say, re-entered the cottage. As he wore only slippers I could observe that his legs fitted right into the middle of his feet, so that the heel stuck out behind pretty nearly as much as the forefoot in front, a singular deformation, rendering his walking uncouth, which otherwise would have been noble and full of dignity.
“Jacques Tournebroche! my dear boy,” said my tutor, with a sigh, “that Jew must be Isaac Laquedem in person, so to blaspheme in all languages. He vowed me to a death near and violent with an enormous abundance of metaphors, and he called me a pig in fourteen distinct languages, if I counted them correctly. I could believe him to be the Antichrist, and he does not want some of the signs by which that enemy of God is to be recognised. Under any circumstances he is a dirty Jew, and never has the wheel as a brand of infamy been exposed on the vestments of a worse or more rabid miscreant. As for himself, he not only deserves the wheel formerly attached to the garments of Jews, but also that other wheel on which scoundrels have their bones broken.”
And my good master, mightily angry in his turn, shook his fist in the direction where Mosaide had disappeared, and accused him of crucifying children and devouring the flesh of new-born babes.
M. d’Asterac went up to him and touched his breast with the ruby he used to wear on his finger.
“It is useful,” said the great cabalist, “to know the peculiar qualities of precious stones. Rubies soothe resentments, and you’ll soon see the Abbé Coignard regain his natural suavity.”
My dear tutor smiled already, less by virtue of the stone than by the influence of a philosophy which raised this admirable man above all human passions, for I feel it my duty to say, at the very moment my narrative becomes clouded and sad, that M. Jérome Coignard has given me examples of wisdom under circumstances in which it is but rarely met with.
We inquired the cause of the quarrel, but easily understood by the vagueness of his embarrassed replies that he did not intend to satisfy our curiosity. I surmised at once that Jahel was mixed up with it in some way, when I heard with the gnashing of Mosaide’s voice the grating of locks and bolts, and later on the noise, in the lodge, of a violent dispute between uncle and niece. When we tried again to bring my tutor to some explanation, he said:
“Hate for Christians is deeply rooted in every Jew’s heart, and yonder Mosaide is an execrable example of it. I fancy I discovered in his horrible yelpings some parts of the imprecations the Amsterdam synagogue vomited in the last century on a little Dutch Jew called Baruch or Benedict, but better known under the name of Spinoza, for having framed a philosophy which has been perfectly refuted, as soon as it was brought to public knowledge, by excellent theologians. But this old Mordecai has added to it, so it seems to me, many and much more horrible imprecations, and I confess to having somewhat resented them. For a moment I thought of escaping by flight this torrent of abuse, when to my dismay I found myself entangled in yonder thorn, and sticking to it by different parts of my clothes and skin so fast that I really expected to have to leave the one or the other behind me. I should still be there, in smarting agony, if Tournebroche, my dear pupil, had not freed me.”
“The thorns count for nothing,” said M. d’Asterac, “but I’m afraid, Monsieur l’Abbé, that you have trodden on a mandrake.”
“Mandrakes,” replied the abbé, “are certainly the least of my cares.”
“You’re wrong,” said M. d’Asterac. “It suffices to tread on a mandrake to become involved in a love crime, and perish by it miserably.”
“Ah! sir,” my dear tutor replied, “here are all sorts of dangers, and I become aware that it was necessary to be closely shut in between the eloquent walls of the ‘Asteracian,’ which is the queen of libraries. For having left it for a moment only, I get the beasts of Ezekiel thrown at my head, not to speak of anything else.”
“Would you kindly give me news of Zosimus the Panopolitan?” inquired M. d’Asterac.
“He goes on,” replied my master; “goes on nicely, though slowly at the moment.”
“Do not forget, abbé,” said the cabalist, “that possession of the greatest secrets is attached to the knowledge of those ancient texts.”
“I think of it, sir, with solicitude,” said the abbé.
M. d’Asterac, after this assurance, left us standing at the statue of the faun, who continued to play the flute without taking any notice of his head, fallen into the grass. He disappeared rapidly between the trees, looking for Salamanders.
My tutor linked his arm in mine with the air of one who can at last speak freely.
“Jacques Tournebroche, my son, I must not conceal from you that this very morning, in the attics of the castle, a rather peculiar chance meeting has taken place, while you were kept in the room of yonder mad fire-blower. I plainly heard him ask you to assist him for a moment in his cooking, which is a great deal less savoury and Christian than that of Master Leonard your father. Alas! when shall I be lucky enough to see again the cookshop of the Queen Pédauque and the bookshop of M. Blaizot, with the sign of Saint Catherine, where I enjoyed myself so heartily thumbing the books newly arrived from The Hague and Amsterdam!”
“Alas!” I exclaimed, the tears coming into my eyes, “when shall I return to it again? When shall I return to the Rue St Jacques again, where I was born, and see my dear parents, who’ll feel burning shame when they hear of our misfortunes? But do be so good, my dear tutor, as to explain that strange encounter you said you had this very morning, and also the events of the day.”
M. Jérome Coignard willingly consented to give me all the enlightenment I wished for. He did it in the following words:
“Know then, my dear boy, that I reached the upper storey of the castle without hindrance in company with M. d’Anquetil, whom I like well enough, although rude and uncultured. His mind is possessed neither of fine knowledge nor deep curiosity. But youth’s vivacity sparkleth pleasantly with him, and the ardour of his blood results in amusing sallies. He knows the world as well as he knows women, because he is above them, and without any kind of philosophy. It’s a great frankness on his part to call himself an atheist. His ungodliness is without malice, and will disappear with the exuberance of his sensuality. In his soul God has no other enemies than horses, cards and women. In the mind of a real libertine, like M. Bayle for example, truth has to meet more formidable and malicious adversaries. But, my dear boy, I give you a character sketch instead of the plain narrative you wish to have of me.
“I’ll satisfy you. Let’s see. Having arrived at the top storey of the castle in company with M. d’Anquetil, I made the young gentleman enter your room, and wished him, in accordance with the promise we made him at the Triton fountain, to use the room as his own. He did so willingly, undressed, and, keeping nothing on but his boots, went into your bed, the curtains of which he closed so as not to be incommoded by the bright morning light, and was not long before he was sound asleep.
“As to myself, my dear boy, having reached my room, tired as I was, I did not want to go to rest before I had looked up in my Boethius one or two sentences appropriate to my state of mind. I could not find the very one fit for it. It must not be forgotten that this great thinker had not had occasion to meditate on the disgrace of having broken the head of a Farmer-general with a bottle out of his own cellar. But I was able to pick up here and there, in his admirable treatise, some maxims applicable to present conjunctures. Having done so, I drew the night-cap over my eyes, recommended my soul to God, and quietly went to sleep. After what seemed to me, without being able to measure it, a very short space of time — be mindful, my son, that our actions are the only measure for time, which, if I may say so, is suspended for us by sleep — I felt my arm pulled, and heard a voice shouting in my ear: ‘Eh! Abbé! Eh! Abbé, wake up!’ Half dozing as I was, I believed it was a constable wanting to conduct me to the officer, and I deliberated with myself the easiest way in which I could break his head, and rapidly came to the conclusion that the candlestick would be the handiest weapon. It is unhappily, too true, my dear boy, that having once stepped aside from the road of kindness and equity, where the wise man walks with a firm and prudent step, one becomes compelled to sustain violence by violence and cruelty by cruelty, thereby proving that a first fault leads invariably to other faults — evil always follows evil done. One has to be reminded of this if one wants to fully understand the lives of the Roman emperors, of whom M. Crevier has given such an exact account. Those princes were not born more evilly disposed than other men. Caius, surnamed Caligula, was wanting neither in natural spirit nor in judgment, and was quite capable of friendship. Nero had an inborn liking for virtue, and his temperament disposed him towards all that is grand and sublime. Both of them were led by a first fault on the nefarious, villainous road whereon they walked to their miserable end. Their history is cleverly treated in M. Crevier’s book. I knew that remarkable writer when he was a teacher of literature and history at the College of Beauvais, as I might be teaching today, had my life not been crossed by a thousand impediments, and if the natural easiness of my spirit had not drawn me into the manifold snares laid in my way. M. Crevier, my boy, led a pure life; his morals were severe, and I have myself heard him say that a woman who had broken her conjugal vows was capable of the crimes of murder and incendiarism. I repeat this saying of his, to impress you with the saintly austerity of that model priest.
“But, once more, I digress, and I must hasten to return to my narrative. Well, as I have said, I thought a constable had come to arrest me, and I could see myself in one of the archbishop’s dungeons, when I opened my eyes and recognised the features and voice of M. d’Anquetil. ‘Abbé,’ said that young gentleman to me, ‘I have just had a singular adventure in Tournebroche’s room. During my sleep a woman entered my room, glided into my bed, and awoke me with a shower of caresses, tender epithets, sweet murmurings, and passionate kisses. I pushed the curtains back to see the features of my good luck. She was dark and had ardent eyes, one of the finest women I have ever held in my arms. But all at once she screamed and jumped out, violently angry, but not quick enough to prevent me catching her in the passage and pressing her closely in my arms. She began by striking me and scratching my face. After having lacerated it sufficiently to satisfy her outraged womanly honour, we began to explain ourselves. She was well pleased to learn that I am a gentleman, and none of the poorest, and sooner than I might have expected I ceased to be odious to her, and she began to be tender with me, when a scullion appeared in the passage; his appearance put her to flight at once.
“‘I am quite aware,’ said M. d’Anquetil, ‘that that admirable girl had come for another than myself; she must have entered the wrong room, and the surprise frightened her. I did my best to reassure her, and should doubtless have won her amity had not that sot of a scullion come between us.’
“I confirmed him in that supposition. We put our heads together to get an idea of the man for whom that beautiful woman had ventured on such an early morning visit, and were easily agreed that it could be no other but that old fool d’Asterac — you know, Tournebroche, I suspected him before — who awaits her intimacy in an adjoining room, if not, and without your knowledge, in your own. Are you not of the same opinion?”
“Nothing is more credible,” I replied.
“No doubt it is so. That sorcerer amuses himself when he talks to us of his Salamanders. The truth is, he caresses that amazingly pretty girl. He’s an impostor.”
I asked my tutor to favour me with the continuance of his narrative. He willingly complied and said:
“Well, my dear boy, I’ll briefly report the remainder of M. d’Anquetil’s discourse. I know very well that it’s rather commonplace, almost vulgar, to lay much stress on trifling circumstances. It is, on the contrary, some sort of duty to express them in the fewest possible words, to condense them carefully and reserve the tempting abundance of word-flow to moral instruction and exhortation, which may be hurled as the avalanches are hurled from the mountains. On this principle I shall have mentioned enough of M. d’Anquetil’s sayings when I have told you that he impressed on me that yonder young girl’s beauty, charms, and accomplishments are quite extraordinary. In the end he inquired of me if I knew her name and position. And I replied to him that, from his description of her, I was pretty sure that she was Rabbi Mosaide’s niece Jahel, whom by a lucky accident I had embraced one night on that very same staircase, with this difference only, that my luck occurred between the first and second flights of steps. ‘I hope and trust,’ said M. d’Anquetil, ‘that there may be other differences too, for, as far as I am concerned, I embraced her very closely. I am also sorry that, as you say, she is a Jewess, as, without believing in God, I feel that I should have liked better for her to be a Christian. But can anyone be sure of his own family? Who knows if she has not been kidnapped as a child? Jews and gypsies steal children daily. And we do not, as a rule, remember sufficiently that the Holy Virgin was born a Jewess. But let her be Jewess or not, she pleases me; I want her and shall have her!’ Such were that reckless youngster’s words. But allow me, my boy, to sit down on yonder moss-covered stone; last night’s work, my fights, my flight, too, have nearly broken my legs.”
He sat down, took his snuff-box out of his pocket, and looked quite disconsolate when he found it void of tobacco.
I took a seat at his side, agitated, crestfallen. Coignard’s discourse caused me acute pain. I cursed Fate for having given my place to a brute at the very moment when my beloved mistress had come to bring me her most passionate tenderness, expecting to find me in my bed, the while I had to throw logs of wood on the fire in the alchemist’s furnace. The but too probable inconstancy of Jahel tore my heart to pieces, and I could have wished that my dear tutor had been more discreet with my rival. So I took the liberty to reproach him mildly for his disclosure of Jahel’s name.
“Sir,” I said, “was it not somewhat imprudent to furnish such indications to a gentleman so luxurious and violent as M. d’Anquetil?”
M. Coignard seemed not to hear what I said, and continued his speech:
“My snuff-box has unfortunately opened itself in my pocket during the fight at Catherine’s house, and the tobacco it contained, mixed with the wine of the broken bottle, has formed a quite disgusting paste. I do not dare ask Criton to grind down a few leaves for me; the hard and cold features of that servant and judge inspire me with awe. I suffer from the want of snuff, as my nose is irksome in consequence of the shock I had last night, and I am quite disconcerted by my failure to satisfy the never-tiring wants of that nose of mine. I shall have to bear the misfortune quietly, till M. d’Anquetil may, perhaps, let me have a few grains out of his box. Now to return to that young gentleman, he said expressly to me: ‘I love that girl. Know, abbé, that I am resolved to take her with us in the post-chaise should I be compelled to stay here a week, a month, six months or longer; I will not go away without her.’ I represented all the dangers to him, which might occur through any delay in our departure. He said he did not care a rap for those dangers, less so as they were smaller for him than for us. ‘You, abbé, you and Tournebroche are both in danger of being hanged; my risk is the Bastille only, where I can get cards and girls, and whence my family could, and would, soon deliver me, as my father would interest some duchess or some ballet dancer in my doom, and my mother, devotee as she has become, could and would still get the assistance of one or other of the royal princes. It is irrevocably fixed; I take Jahel with me or I remain here. You and Tournebroche are at liberty to hire a post-chaise of your own.’
“The cruel boy knows but too well that we have not the means to do it. I tried to make him change his mind. I became pressing, unctuous, parental. It was no use, and I wasted on him an eloquence which, employed in the pulpit of a parish church, would have brought me a full reward in honour and coin. Alas! my dear boy, it seems to be written that none of my actions will ever produce any kind of savoury fruit, and for me ought to have been written the following words from Ecclesiastes:—’Quid habet am plius homo de universe labore suo, quo laborat sub sole?’ Far from bringing him to reason, my discourses strengthened the young nobleman’s obstinacy, and I cannot deny that he actually counted on me for the success of his desires, and pressed me to go to Jahel and induce her to fly with him, promising her the gift of a trousseau of Dutch linen, of plate, jewels and a handsome annuity.”
“Oh, sir!” I exclaimed, “this M. d’Anquetil is very insolent. What do you think will be Jahel’s reply to his propositions when she knows of them?”
“My boy, she knows by now, and I think she will accept them.”
“If such is the case,” I said, “then Mosaide must be warned.”
“That he is already,” replied my tutor. “You have just assisted at the outbreak of his rage.”
“What, sir?” said I, with much warmth, “you have informed yonder Jew of the disgrace awaiting his family! That’s nice of you! Allow me to embrace you. But, if so, Mosaide’s wrath threatened M. d’Anquetil, and not yourself?”
The abbé replied with an air of nobility and honesty, with a natural indulgence for human weaknesses, an obliging sweetness, and the imprudent kindness of an easy heart — by all of which men are often induced to do inconsiderate things and expose themselves to the severity of the futile judgments of mankind:
“I will not keep it a secret from you, my dear Tournebroche, that, giving way to the pressing solicitations of that young gentleman, I obligingly promised to go on his errand to Jahel and to neglect nothing to induce her to elope with him.”
“Alas!” I exclaimed, “you did, sir. I cannot fully tell how deeply your action wounds and affects me.”
“Tournebroche,” replied he sternly, “you speak like a Pharisee. One of the fathers, as amiable as he was austere, has said: ‘Turn your eyes on yourself and take care not to judge the doings of others. Judging others is an idle labour; usually one is erring, often sinning, by so doing, but by examining and judging oneself your labour will always be fruit-bearing.’ It is written, ‘Thou shalt not be afraid of the judgment of men,’ and the Apostle Paul said that he did not trouble himself about being judged by men. If I refer to some of the finest texts in morals it is to enlighten you, Tournebroche, to make you return to the humble and sweet modesty which suits you, and not to defend my innocence, when the multitude of my iniquities weighs on me and bears me down. It is difficult not to glide into sin, and proper not to fall into despondency at every step one takes on this earth, whereon everything participates, at one and the same time, in the original curse, and the redemption effected by the blood of the Son of God. I do not want to colour my faults, and I freely confess that the embassy I undertook at the request of M. d’Anquetil is an outcome of Eve’s downfall, and it was, to say it bluntly, one of the numberless consequences, on the wrong side, of the humble and painful sentiment which I now feel, and is drawn out of the desire and hope of my eternal welfare. You have to represent to yourself mankind balancing between damnation and redemption to understand me truly when I say that at the present hour I am sitting on the good end of the seesaw after having been this very morning on the wrong end. I freely avow that in passing through the mandrake lane, from whence Mosaide’s cottage is to be seen, I hid behind an ivy-thorn bush, waiting for Jahel to appear at her window. Very soon she came. I showed myself, and beckoned her to come down. She came as soon as she was able to escape her uncle’s vigilance. I gave her a brief report of the events of the night, of which she had not known. I informed her of M. d’Anquetil’s impetuous plans, and represented to her how important it was for her own interest, and for my and your safety, to make our escape sure by coming with us. I made the young nobleman’s promises glitter before her eyes and said to her: ‘If you consent to go with him to-night you’ll have a solid annuity, inscribed at the Hotel de Ville, and an outfit richer than any ballet dancer or Abbess of Panthémont may get, and a cupboard full of the finest silver.’ ‘He thinks me to be one of those creatures,” she said; ‘he is an impudent fellow.’ ‘He loves you,’ I replied; ‘you could not expect to be venerated?’ ‘I must have an olio pot,’ she said, ‘an olio pot, and the heaviest one. Did he mention the olio pot? Go, Monsieur Abbé, and tell him.’ ‘What shall I tell him?’ ‘That I am an honest girl.’ ‘And what else?’ ‘That he is very audacious!’ ‘Is that all, Jahel? Think on our safety!’ ‘Tell him that I shall not depart before he has given me his legally worded written promise for everything.’ ‘He’ll do it, consider it as done. ‘Oh, monsieur, I will not consent to anything if he does not consent to have lessons given me by M. Couperin; I want to study music.
“We had just reached this item of our negotiations when, unhappily, Mosaide surprised us, and without having overheard our conversation got the scent of its meaning.
“He called me at once a suborner, and heaped outrageous insults on me. Jahel went and hid herself in her own room, and I remained alone exposed to the fury of that God-killer, in the state you found me, and out of which you helped me, you dear boy! As a fact, I may say that the business had been concluded, the elopement assented to, our flight assured. The wheels and Ezekiel’s beasts are of no value against a heavy silver olio pot. I am only afraid that yonder old Mordecai has imprisoned his niece too securely.”
“I must avow,” I replied, without disguising my satisfaction, “that I heard a loud noise of keys and bolts at the very moment I freed you from the midst of the thorns. But is it really true, that Jahel agreed so quickly to your propositions, which have not been quite decorous, and which, for certain, you did not make with an easy heart? I am abashed; and, say, my good master, did she not speak of me, not mention my name, with a sigh or otherwise?”
“No, my boy, she did not pronounce your name, at least not in an audible way. Neither did I hear her mention the name of M. d’Asterac her lover, which ought to have been nearer to her feelings than yours. But do not be surprised by her forgetting the alchemist. It is not sufficient to possess a woman to impress on her soul a profound and durable mark. Souls are almost impenetrable, a fact showing the cruel emptiness of love. The wise man ought to say to himself, I am nothing in the nothingness which that creature is. To hope that you could leave a remembrance in a woman’s heart is equivalent to trying to impress a seal on running water. And therefore let us never nurse the wish to establish ourselves in what is fleeting and let us attach ourselves to that which never dies.”
“After all,” I said, “Jahel is locked and bolted up, and one may rely on the vigilance of her guardian.”
“My son, this very evening she has to join us at the Red Horse. Twilight is favourable to evasions, abductions, stealthy movements and underhand actions. We have to trust to the cunning of that girl. As to you, be sure to attend at the Circus of the Bergères in the dusk. You know M. d’Anquetil is not patient, and it quite the man to start without you.”
When he gave me this counsel, the luncheon bell sounded.
“Have you by chance,” he said to me, “a needle and thread? My garments are torn at more than one place, and I should like to repair them as much as possible before going to luncheon. Especially my breeches do not leave me without some apprehension. They are so much torn that, should I not promptly mend them, I run the risk of losing them altogether.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50