Our last Dinner at M. d’Asterac’s Table — Conversation of M. Jerome Coignard and M. d’Asterac — A Message from Home — Catherine in the Spittel — We are wanted for Murder — Our Flight — Jahel causes me much Misery — Account of the Journey — The Abbe Coignard on Towns — Jahel’s Midnight Visit — We are followed — The Accident — M. Jerome Coignard is stabbed.
I took my accustomed place that day at the dining-table of the cabalist, oppressed by the idea that I sat down at it for the last time. Jahel’s treachery had saddened my soul. Alas! thought I, my most fervent wish had been to fly with her, a wish which looked like being granted, and was now fulfilled in a very cruel manner. Again and again I admired my beloved tutor’s wisdom who, on a day when I desired too vivaciously the success of some affair, answered with the following citation: “Et tributt eis petitionem eorum.“ My sorrows and anxieties spoilt my appetite, and I partook sparingly of the dishes served. However, my dear tutor had preserved the unalterable gracefulness of his soul.
He abounded in amiable discourse, and one might have said that he was one of those sages which Telemachus shows us conversing in the shades of the Elysian Fields, and not a man pursued as a murderer and reduced to a roving and miserable life. M. d’Asterac, believing that I had passed the night at the cookshop, kindly inquired after my parents, and, as he could not abstract himself for a single moment from his visions, said:
“When I speak of that cook as being your father it is quite understood that I express myself in a worldly sense, and not according to nature. Nothing proves, my son, that you have not been begot by a Sylph. It is the very thing I prefer to believe, in so far as your spirit, still delicate, shall grow in strength and beauty.”
“Oh, sir! don’t speak like that,’ replied my tutor, and smiled. “You oblige him to hide his spirit so as not to damage his mother’s good name. But if you knew her better you could not but think with me that she never had any intercourse with a Sylph; she is a good Christian who has never accomplished the work of the flesh with any other man than her husband, and who carries her virtue written distinctly on her features, very different from the mistress of that other cookshop, Madame Quonion, about whom they talked so much in Paris, as well as in the provinces, in the days of my youth. Have you never heard of her, sir? Her lover was M. Mariette, who later on became secretary to M. d’Angervilliers. He was a stout man, who left a jewel every time he visited his beloved; one day a Cross of Lorraine or a Holy Ghost; another day a watch or a chatelaine, or perhaps a handkerchief, a fan, a box. For her sake he rifled the jewellers and seamstresses of the fair of St Germain. He gave her so much that, finding his shop decorated like a shrine, the master-cook became suspicious that all that wealth could not have been honestly acquired. He watched her, and very soon surprised her with her lover. It must be said that the husband was but a jealous fellow. He flew into a temper, and gained nothing by it, but very much the reverse. For the amorous couple, plagued by his wrangling, swore to get rid of him. M. Mariette had no little influence. He got a lettre de cachet in the name of that unhappy Quonion. On a certain day the perfidious woman said to her husband:
“Take me, I beg of you, on Sunday next out to dinner somewhere in the country. I promise myself uncommon pleasure from such an excursion.”
“She became caressing and pressing, and the husband, flattered, agreed to all her demands. On the Sunday, he got with her into a paltry hackney coach to go to Porcherons. But they had hardly got to Roule when a posse of constables placed in readiness by Marietta arrested him, and took him to Bicetre, from whence he was sent to the Mississippi, where he still remains. Someone composed a song which finished thus:
‘Un mari sage et commode N’ouvre les yeux qu’a demi II vaut mieux etre a la mode, Que de voir Mississippi.’
And such is, doubtless, the most solid lesson to be derived from the example given by Quonion the cook.
“As to the story itself, it only needs to be narrated by a Petronius or by an Apuleius to equal the best Milesian fables. The moderns are inferior to the ancients in epic poetry and tragedy. But if we do not surpass the Greeks and Latins in story-telling it is net the fault of the ladies of Paris, who never cease enriching the material for tales by their ingenious and graceful inventions. You certainly know, sir, the stories of Boccaccio. I am sure that had that Florentine lived in our days in France he would make of Quonion’s misfortune one of his pleasantest tales. As far as I am myself concerned I have been reminded of it at this table for the sole purpose, and by the effect of contrast, to make the virtue of Madame Leonard Tournebroche shine. She is the honour of cookshops, of which Madame Quonion is the disgrace. Madame Tournebroche, I dare affirm it, has never abandoned those ordinary commonplace virtues the practice of which is recommended in marriage, which is the only contemptible one of the seven sacraments.”
“I do not deny it,” said M. d’Asterac. “But Mistress Tournebroche would be still more estimable if she should have had intercourse with a Sylph, as Semiramis had and Olympias and the mother of that grand pope Sylvester II.”
“Ah, sir,” said the Abbé Coignard, “you are always talking to us of Sylphs and Salamanders. Now, in simple good faith, have you ever seen any of them?”
“As clearly as I see you this very moment,” replied M. d’Asterac, “and certainly closer, at least as far as Salamanders are concerned.”
“That is not sufficient, my dear sir, to make me believe in their existence, which is against the teachings of the Church. For one may be seduced by illusions. The eyes, and all our senses, are messengers of error and couriers of lies. They delude us more than they teach us, and bring us but uncertain and fugitive images. Truth escapes them, because truth is eternal, and invisible like eternity.”
“Ah!” said M. d’Asterac, “I did not know you were so philosophical, nor of so subtle a mind.”
“That’s true,” replied my good master. “There are days on which my soul is heavier, and with preference attached to bed and table. But last night I broke a bottle on the head of an extortioner, and my mind is very much exalted over it. I feel myself capable of dissipating the phantoms which are haunting you, and to blow off all that mist. For after all, sir, these Sylphs are but vapours of your brain.”
M. d’Asterac stopped him with a kind gesture and said:
“I beg your pardon, abbé; do you believe in demons?”
“Without difficulty I can reply,” said my good master, “that I believe of demons all that is reported of them in the Scriptures, and that I reject as error and superstition all and every belief in spells, charms and exorcism. Saint Augustine teaches that when the Scriptures exhort us to resist the demons, it requires us to resist our passions and intemperate appetites. Nothing is more detestable than the deviltries wherewith the Capuchins frighten old women.”
“I see,” said M. d’Asterac, “you do your best to think as an honest man. You hate as much as I do myself the coarse superstitions of the monks. But, after all, you do believe in demons, and I have not had much trouble to make you avow it. Know, then, that they are no other than Sylphs and Salamanders, ignorance and fear have disfigured them in timid imaginations. But, as a fact, they are beautiful and virtuous. I will not lead you in the ways of the Salamanders, as I am not quite sure of the purity of your morals; but I can see no impediment, abbé, to a frequentation of the Sylphs, who inhabit the fields of air, and voluntarily approach man in a spirit of friendliness and affection, so that they have been rightly named helping genii. Far from driving us to perdition, as the theologians believe, who change them into devils, they protect and safeguard their terrestrial friends. I could make you acquainted with numberless examples of the help they give. But to be short I’ll repeat to you one single case which was told to me by Madame la Maréchale de Grancey herself. She was middle-aged, and a widow for several years, when, one night, in her bed, she received the visit of a Sylph, who said to her: ‘Madame, have a search made in the wardrobe of your deceased husband. In the pocket of a pair of his breeches a letter will be found, which, if it became known, would ruin M. des Roches, my good friend and yours. Find that letter and burn it.’
“The maréchale promised not to neglect this recommendation and inquired after news of the defunct maréchal from the Sylph, who, however, disappeared without giving any reply. On waking she summoned her women, and bade them look if some of the late maréchal’s garments remained in his wardrobe. The attendants reported that nothing was left, and that the lackeys had sold them all to old clothes dealers. Madame de Grancey insisted on her women trying to find at least one pair of breeches.
“Having searched in every corner they finally discovered a very old-fashioned pair of black satin, embroidered with carnations, and handed them to their mistress, who found a letter in one of the pockets, which contained more than would have been needed to incarcerate M. des Roches in one of the state prisons. She burned the letter at once, and so that gentleman was saved by his good friends the Sylph and the maréchale.
“Are such, I ask you, abbé, the manners of demons? But let me give you another startling hit on the matter, which will impress you more, and will I am sure go to the heart of a learned man such as yourself. It is doubtless known to you that the Academy of Dijon is rich in wits. One of them, whose name cannot be unknown to you, living in the last century, prepared with great labour an edition of Pindar. One night, worrying over five verses the sense of which he could not disentangle, so much was the text corrupt, he dozed off, quite despairing, at cockcrow. During his sleep, a Sylph, who wished him well, transported his spirit to Stockholm into the palace of Queen Christina, conducted him to the library, and took from one of the shelves a manuscript of Pindar’s showing him the difficult passage. The five verses were there, as well as two or three annotations which rendered them perfectly intelligible.
“In the violence of his contentment, our savant woke up, struck a light, and pencilled down the verses as they appeared to him in his sleep. After that he went to sleep again profoundly. On the following morning, thinking over his night’s adventure, he at once resolved to try to get a confirmation. M. Descartes happened at that very time to be in Sweden, reading to the queen on philosophy. Our Pindarist knew him, but was on still closer terms with M. Chanut, the Swedish ambassador in France. He wrote requesting him to forward a letter to M. Descartes, in which he asked him to be informed if there really was in the queen’s library at Stockholm a manuscript of Pindar containing the version he mentioned. M. Descartes, an extremely courteous man, replied to the academician of Dijon that, as a fact, her Majesty possessed a manuscript of Pindar, and that he had himself read there the verses, with the various readings contained in the letter.”
M. d’Asterac, who had been peeling an apple during his narration, looked at M. Coignard to enjoy the success of his discourse.
My dear tutor smiled and said:
“Ah, sir! I clearly see that I flattered myself with an idle hope, and that one cannot make you give up your vain imaginations. I confess with a good grace that you have shown us an ingenious Sylph, and that I actually wish for such an obliging secretary. His assistance would be particularly useful to me on two or three passages in Zosimus the Panopolitan which are very obscure. Could you not be so good as to give me the means to evoke, if necessary, some Sylph librarian as expert as that of Dijon?”
M. d’Asterac replied gravely:
“That’s a secret, abbé, that I will willingly unveil to you. But be warned that you would be a lost man should you communicate it to a profane person.”
“Don’t be uneasy,” said the abbé. “I have a strong desire to know so fine a secret, but I will not conceal from you that I do not expect any effect from it, as I do not believe in Sylphs. Instruct me, if you please.”
“You request me?” replied the cabalist. “Well, then, know that whenever you want the assistance of a Sylph, you have but to pronounce the simple word Agla, and the sons of the air will at once come to you. But understand, M. Abbé, that the word must be spoken by the heart as well as by the lips, and that faith alone gives it its virtue. Without faith it is nothing but a useless murmur. Pronounce it as I do at this moment, putting in it neither soul nor wish, it has, even in my own mouth, but a very slight power, and at the utmost some of the children of light, if they have heard it, glide into this room, the light shadows of light. I’ve divined rather than seen them on yonder curtain, and they have vanished when hardly visible. Neither you nor your pupil has suspected their presence. But had I pronounced that magic word with real fervour you would have seen them appear in all their splendour. They are of a charming beauty. Now, sir, I have entrusted you with a grand and useful secret. Let me say again, do not divulge it imprudently. And do not sneer at the example of the Abbé de Villars, who, for having revealed their secrets, was murdered by the Sylphs, on the road to Lyons.”
“On the Lyons road?” said my good tutor. “How strange!”
M. d’Asterac left us suddenly.
“I will now for the last time,” said the abbé, “visit that noble library where I have enjoyed such austere pleasures and which I shall never see again. Do not fail, Tournebroche, to be at nightfall at the Bergères Circus.”
I promised to be there; it was my intention to lock myself in my room for the purpose of writing to M. d’Asterac, and my dear parents, asking them to kindly excuse me for not taking personal leave of them, as I had to fly after an adventure wherein I was more unlucky than guilty.
When I reached the door of my room, I heard heavy snoring from within. Peeping in I saw M. d’Anquetil in my bed, sleeping, his sword at the bedside, playing cards strewn all over the quilt. For a moment I felt tempted to run him through with his own sword, but the temptation did not last, and I left him sleeping. Notwithstanding my grief I could not help laughing when I thought that Jahel, being locked and bolted in by Mosaide, could not rejoin him.
So I went to my tutor’s room, to write my letters, where I disturbed five or six rats, who had begun to make a meal off his Boethius, which had remained on the night table. I wrote to my mother and to M. d’Asterac, and I composed the most touching epistle to Jahel. My tears fell on this when I read it over for a second time. “Perhaps,” I said to myself, “the faithless girl will cry too, and her tears will mix with mine.”
Then, overwhelmed as I was by fatigue and sorrow, I threw myself on my tutor’s bed, and soon went off into a kind of semi-sleep, troubled by dreams, erotic and sinister. I was awakened by the taciturn Criton, who had entered the room and presented to me, on a silver salver, a sort of curling paper, whereon a few badly written words were scribbled in pencil. Someone expected me at once outside the castle. The note was signed “Friar Ange, unworthy Capuchin.” I went as quickly as I could, and found the little friar seated on the bank of a ditch in a state of pitiable dejection. Wanting strength to get up, he looked at me with his big dog’s eyes, nearly human and full of tears; his sighs moved his beard and chest. In a tone which really pained me he said:
“Alas! Monsieur Jacques, the hour of trial has come to Babylon, as it is said in the prophets. At the request of M. de la Guéritude, the Lieutenant of Police had Mam’selle Catherine taken by the constables to the spittel, from whence she’ll be sent to America by the next convoy. I was informed of it by Jeannette the hurdy-gurdy player, who saw Catherine brought in a cart to the spittel, as she left it herself after having been cured of an evil ailment by the surgeon’s art — at least I hope so, please God! And Catherine is to be transported, and no reprieve to be expected.”
And Friar Ange at this point in his discourse groaned and shed tears abundantly. After doing my best to console him I asked if he had nothing else to tell me.
“Alas! M. Jacques,” he replied. “I have intimated the essential, and the remainder floats in my head like the Spirit of God on the waters, without comparison if you please. The matter is dark altogether. Catherine’s misfortune has taken away my senses. It needed the necessity of giving you important news to bring me to the threshold of this cursed house, where you live in company with all sorts of devils, and it was with dismay, and after having recited the prayer of Saint Francis, that I ventured to knock at the door for the purpose of handing to a lackey the note I wrote to you. I do not know if you have been able to read it, as I have but little practice in forming letters, and the paper was not of the best to write on, but you see it is the honour of our holy order not to give way to the vanities of our century! Ah! Catherine at the spittel! Catherine in America! Is it not enough to break the hardest heart? Jeannette herself wept abundantly, and did so in spite of her jealousy of Catherine, who prevails over her in youth and beauty just as Saint Francis surpasses in holiness all the other blessed ones. Ah, M. Jacques! Catherine in America! Such are the strange ways of Providence. Alas! our holy religion is true, and King David was right in saying that we are like the grass of the field — is not Catherine at the spittel? The stones on which I am sitting are happier man I, notwithstanding that I wear the signs of a Christian and a monk. Catherine at the spittel!”
He sobbed again. I waited till the torrent of his sorrow had passed away, and then asked him if he had any news of my parents.
“M. Jacques,” he replied, “’tis they who have sent me to you, bearer of a pressing message. I must tell you that they are not very happy, through the fault of Master Léonard, your father, who passes in drinking and gambling all the days God has given him. And savoury fumes of roasting geese and fowls do not now arise to the signboard of Queen Pédauque swinging sadly in the damp wind which rusts it. Where are the times when the smell of your father’s cookshop perfumed the Rue Saint Jacques, from the Little Bacchus to the Three Maids? Since yonder sorcerer visited it, everything wastes away, beasts and men, in consequence of the spell he has thrown on it. And vengeance divine is manifest there since that fat Abbé Coignard made his entry, and I was cast out. It was the beginning of the evil, inaugurated by M. Coignard, who prides himself on the depths of his knowledge, and the distinction of his manners. Pride is the spring of all evil. Your pious mother was very wrong, M. Jacques, not to have been satisfied with such teaching as I charitably gave you, and which would have made you fit to superintend the cooking, to manage the larding, and to carry the banner of the guild after the demise, the funeral service and the obsequies of your worthy father, which cannot be very far off, as all life is transitory and he drinks to excess.”
It may be easily understood how sorely I was afflicted by this news. My tears and those of Friar Ange mixed freely together. However, I inquired after my mother.
Friar Ange replied:
“God, who afflicted Rachel in Rama, has sent to your mother, Monsieur Jacques, sundry tribulations for her good, and to chastise Master Léonard for the sin he committed by maliciously expelling, in my humble person, our Lord Jesus Christ from his cookshop. He has transferred most of the purchasers of poultry and pies to the daughter of Madame Quonion, who turns the spit at the other end of the Rue Saint Jacques. Your mother sees with sorrow that the other house is blessed at the cost of her own, and that her shop is now deserted to such a degree that, figuratively speaking, moss covers its threshold. She is sustained in her trials, firstly, by her devotion to Saint Francis; secondly, by the consideration of the progress of your worldly position, which enables you to wear a sword like a man of condition.
“But this second consolation has been much shaken by the constables calling this very morning at the cookshop to take you into custody, and carry you to the Bicetre Prison, to break stones for a year or two. It was Catherine who denounced you to M. de la Guéritude, but you must not blame her for it; she did her duty as a Christian by confessing the truth. She accused you and the Abbé Coignard of being M. d’Anquetil’s accomplices, and gave a faithful account of all the murder and bloodshed perpetrated in the course of that terrible night. Alas! her truthfulness was of no use; she was carried to the spittel. It’s downright horrible to think of it.”
At this point of his story, the little friar covered his face with his hands and sobbed and cried anew.
Night had come, and I was afraid to fail in my appointment. Pulling the little friar out of the ditch, I put him on his feet, and wished him to keep me company on my walk along the Saint Germain road to the Circus of the Bergères. He obeyed me willingly. Sadly walking by my side, he asked my assistance in disentangling the mixed-up threads of his thoughts. I put him back to where the constables came to search for me at the cookshop.
“As they could not find you,” he continued, “they wanted to take your father. Master Léonard pretended he did not know where you were hidden. Your mother said the same, and took her sacred oath on it. May God forgive her, Monsieur Jacques, as evidently she perjured herself. The constables began to get cross. Your father reasoned well with them, and took them to have a drink with him, after which they parted quite friendly. Meanwhile your mother went after me to the Three Maids, where I was soliciting alms according to the holy rules of my order. She sent me to you to warn you that immediate flight is your only safety, as the Lieutenant of Police would soon discover your retreat.”
Listening to this sad news, I walked with a quicker step, and we passed the bridge of Neuilly.
On the rather steep hill leading to the circus, the elms of which soon became visible, the little friar said with a dying voice:
“Your mother particularly asked me to warn you of the danger you are in, and handed to me a little bag she had secreted under her dress. I cannot find it,” he added, after having felt all over his body. “How do you expect me to find anything after losing Catherine? She was devoted to Saint Francis, and lavish of alms, and now they have treated her like a harlot, and will shave her head; it’s heartbreaking to think that she will look like a milliner’s doll, and be shipped in that state to America, where she runs the risk of dying by fever and being eaten by cannibal savages.”
When he ended this discourse with a sigh we had reached the circus. To the left, the inn of the Red Horse showed its roof over a double row of elms, its dormer windows with their pulleys, while under the foliage the gateway was to be seen wide open.
I slackened my walk, and the little friar sat down on the roots of a tree.
“Friar Ange,” I said to him, “you mentioned a satchel my dear mother handed you for me.”
“Quite right; she wished me so to do,” replied the little Capuchin, “and I have put it somewhere so safely that I cannot remember where, and you ought to know, Monsieur Jacques, that I could not have lost it for any other reason but from too much carefulness.”
I rather sharply said that I did not believe he had lost the satchel, and should he not find it at once I would search for it myself.
He understood and, sighing deeply, brought out from under his frock a little bag made of coloured calico, and handed it to me. It contained a crown piece and a medal with the effigy of the Black Virgin of Chartres, which I kissed fervently, shedding tears of tenderness and repentance. The little friar took out of his large pockets a parcel of coloured prints and prayers, badly illuminated, made a rapid selection, and gave me two or three of them, those he considered the most useful to pilgrims, travellers, and all wandering people, saying:
“They are blessed and of good effect against danger of death and sickness. You have only to recite the text printed on them, or to lay them on the skin of your body, I give them to you, M. Jacques, for the love of God. Do not forget to give me an alms. Keep in mind that I beg in the name of Saint Francis. He’ll protect you, without fail, if you assist the most unworthy of his sons, and that is precisely myself.”
Listening to his speech, I saw in the doubtful twilight a post-chaise and four come out of the gateway of the Red Horse inn, heard the whips cracking and the horses pawing the ground when the driver stopped on the highroad, close to the tree on the roots of which Friar Ange was sitting. It was not an ordinary post-chaise, but a very large, clumsy vehicle, having room to seat four, and a small coupe in front. I looked at it for a minute or two, when up the hill came M. d’Anquetil, with Jahel, carrying several parcels under her cloak and wearing a mob-cap. M. Coignard followed them, loaded with five or six books wrapped up in an old thesis. When they reached the carriage the post boys lowered the carriage steps, and my beautiful mistress, raising her skirt like a balloon, ascended into the carriage, pushed from behind by M. d’Anquetil.
I ran towards them and shouted:
“Stop, Jahel! Stop, sir!”
But the seducer only pushed the perfidious girl the more, and her charming rounded figure quickly disappeared. Preparing himself to climb after her, one foot on the steps, he looked at me with surprise.
“Oh! Monsieur Tournebroche! You would then take from me all my mistresses! Jahel after Catherine. Do you do it for a wager?”
But I did not hear what he said, and continued to call Jahel, the while Friar Ange, having risen from his seat under the elm-tree, came up to the carriage door, and offered to M. d’Anquetil pictures of Saint Roch, a prayer to be recited during the shoeing of a horse, another against fever, and asked him for charity with a mournful voice.
I should have stopped there the whole of the night, calling Jahel, if my good tutor had not got hold of me and pushed me inside the large compartment of the carriage, which he entered after me.
“Let them have the coupé by themselves,” he said to me, “and let us travel in the large compartment. I have been looking for you, Tournebroche, and, not to withhold anything from you, had quite made up my mind to depart without you when, happily, I discovered you in company with the Capuchin under yonder elm-tree. We could not delay any longer, as M. de la Guéritude has given sharp orders to look everywhere for us. He has a long arm, having lent money to the king.”
The carriage was moving on, but Friar Ange clung to the door, with hand outstretched, begging pitifully.
I sank into the cushions.
“Alas, sir,” I exclaimed, “did you not tell me that Jahel was locked in threefold?”
“My son,” replied my good master, “not too much confidence may be placed in women, who always play their tricks on the jealous and their locks. If the door is closed, they jump out of the window. You have no idea, my dear Tournebroche, of the cunning of women. The ancients have reported admirable examples of it, and many a one you’ll find in Apuleius, where they are sprinkled like salt in the ‘Metamorphoses.’ But the best example is given in an Arabian tale recently brought to Europe by M. Galand, and which I will tell you.
“Schariar, Sultan of Tartary, and his brother, Schahzenan, walked one day on the seashore, when they saw rise suddenly above the waves a black column, moving towards the shore. They recognised it as a genie of the most ferocious kind, in the form of an immensely tall giant, carrying on his head a glass case locked with four iron locks. Both were seized with dismay, so much so that they hid themselves in the fork of a tree standing near. The genie however came on shore, and brought the glass case to the tree where the two princes were hiding. Then he lay down and soon went to sleep. His outstretched legs reached the sea, and his breathing shook earth and heaven. During his terrifying repose the cover of the glass case rose by itself, and out of it came a woman with a majestic body and of the most perfect beauty. She raised her head —”
Here I interrupted his narrative, which I had hardly-listened to, and exclaimed:
“Ah! sir, what do you think Jahel and M. d’Anquetil are saying at this moment, all by themselves in the coupé?’
“I don’t know,” replied my dear tutor: “it’s their business, not ours. But let me finish the Arabian tale, which is full of sense. You’ve interrupted me inconsiderately, Tournebroche, at the very moment when the damsel, looking up, discovered the two princes in the tree. She made them a sign to come down; but desirous as they were to respond to the appeal of a person of so much beauty, they were afraid to approach so terrible a giant. Seeing that they hesitated she said to them in an undertone: ‘Come down at once, or I wake up the genie.’ Her resolute and resolved countenance made them understand that it was not a vain threat, and that the safest, as also the most pleasant, thing to do was to go down without delay, which they did as quietly as possible, so as not to wake the giant. The lady, taking their hands, led them somewhat farther away under the trees, and gave them to understand very clearly that she was ready at once to give herself to both. Gracefully they accepted the beauty’s offer, and as they were men of courage, fear did not spoil their enjoyment. Having obtained from both what she had wished for, and seeing that each of the two princes wore a ring, she asked them for their rings. Returning to the glass case where she lived, she took out of it a chaplet of rings, and showed it to the princes.
“Do you know what is the meaning of this chaplet of rings? They are those of all the men for whom I have had the same kindness as for you. Their number, all told, is ninety-eight. I keep them as souvenirs, for that same reason, and to complete the century I have asked for yours. And now today I have had a full hundred lovers, in spite of the vigilance and care of yonder giant, who never leaves me. He may lock me in the glass case as much as he likes, and hide me in the depths of the sea. I deceive him as often as I please.”
“That ingenious apologue,” added my good tutor, “shows you that the women of the Orient, who are shut up and cloistered, are as cunning as their sisters of the Occident, who are free of their movements. Whenever a woman wants something there is no husband, lover, father, uncle, or tutor able to prevent her carrying out her will. And therefore, my dear boy, you ought not to be surprised that to deceive that old Mordecai was but child’s play for Jahel, whose perverse spirit is made up of all the cuteness of our she-geldings and the perfidy of the Orient. I guess her to be as ardent in sensual pleasure, as greedy after gold and silver; altogether a worthy descendant of the race of Aholah and Aholibah.
“She is of an acid and mordant beauty, and I do not deny that somehow she excites me, although age, sublime meditations, and the miseries of an agitated life have sufficiently mortified in me the lust of the flesh. You’re suffering over the success of M. d’Anquetil’s adventure with her, wherefore I reckon that you feel much more than I do the sharp tooth of desire, and that jealousy is tearing you. And that’s the reason you blame an action, irregular certainly, contrary to vulgar propriety, but withal indifferent in character, or at least not adding much to the universal evil. Inwardly you condemn me for having had a part in it, and you fancy you defend the principle of chaste living when you do nothing except from the prompting of your passions. Such is the way, my dear boy, that we colour for the use of our own eyes our worst instincts. Human morals have no other origin. Confess, however, that it would have been a pity to leave such a fine girl for a single day longer with that old lunatic. Acknowledge that M. d’Anquetil, young and handsome, is a better mate for such a delicious creature, and resign yourself to accept what cannot be altered. Such wisdom is difficult to practise; but it would have been more difficult still, had your own mistress been taken from you. In such a case you’d feel the iron teeth torture your flesh, filling your soul with images odious and precise. This consideration, my boy, ought to ease your present sufferings. Besides, life is full of labour and pain. It is this which evokes in us the just hope of an eternal beatitude.”
Thus spoke my good tutor, while the elms of the king’s highway passed quickly before our eyes. I did not let him know that he irritated my griefs in trying to soothe them, and that he, without being aware of it, had laid his finger on my wound.
Our first stoppage was at Juvisy, where we arrived in the rain early in the morning. Entering the post inn I found Jahel in the corner of the fireplace, where five or six fowls were roasting on a spit. She was warming her feet, and showed part of a silken stocking, which was a great trouble to me, because it brought her leg to my mind. I seemed to see all the beauty of her satin skin, the down, and all other striking circumstances. M. d’Anquetil was leaning on the back of the chair whereon she was sitting, holding her cheeks with his hands. He called her his soul and his life, asked her if she was hungry, and on her saying yes, he went out to give the necessary orders.
Remaining alone with the unfaithful one I looked in her eyes, which reflected the flames of the fire.
“Ah! Jahel,” I exclaimed, “I am very unhappy; you have betrayed me, and you no longer love me.”
“Who says that I do not love you any more?” she asked, and looked at me with her velvety eyes of flame.
“Alas! mademoiselle, your conduct shows it sufficiently.”
“But, Jacques, could you envy the trousseau of Dutch linen and the godroon plate that the gentleman is to present me with! I only ask for your forbearance till he has fulfilled his promises, and after that you’ll see that I am still to you as I was at the Croix-desSablons.”
“And in the meantime, Jahel? Alas! he will enjoy your favours.”
“I feel,” she replied, “that that will be a trifle, and that nothing will efface the strength of the feeling you have inspired me with. Do not torment yourself with such mere nothings; they are only of value by your idea of them.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, “my idea of them is horrible, and I am really afraid that I shall not be able to survive your treachery.”
She looked at me with a somewhat mocking sympathy, and said with a smile:
“Believe me, my friend, neither of us will die of it. Think, Jacques, that I am in want of plate and linen. Be prudent, do not show the feelings that agitate you, and I promise to reward you for your discretion, later on.”
This hope softened somewhat my poignant grief. The innkeeper’s wife laid on the table the lavender-scented cloth, the pewter plates, goblets and pitchers. I was very hungry, and when M. d’Anquetil, in company with the abbé, re-entered the dining-hall, inviting us to eat a morsel with him, I willingly sat down between Jahel and my dear old tutor. We were afraid of being followed, so after having put away three omelets and a couple of spring chickens we resumed our journey. We resolved, seeing the danger of pursuit, to pass every halting place without stopping as far as Sens, where we decided to stay the night.
My imagination went horribly to that night at Sens, thinking that there Jahel’s treachery would be completed. And so much was I troubled by those but too legitimate apprehensions that I listened with but half an ear to the discourse of my good master, to whom every trifling incident of our journey suggested the most admirable reflections.
My jealous fears were not groundless. We alighted at the best inn at Sens, that paltry hostelry of The Armed Man. Supper hardly over, M. d’Anquetil took Jahel with him to his room, which was next to mine. You may believe that I could not enjoy a wink of sleep. Jumping out of bed at daybreak, I left my chamber of torture. I seated myself under the waggoner’s porch, where the postboys drank white wine and played the deuce with the servants. I remained there two or three hours contemplating my misery. The horses were already harnessed when Jahel appeared under the porch, shivering all over, under her black cloak. I could not bear the sight of her, and turned my moistened eyes away. She came to me, sat close to me on the stone, and told me sweetly not to be disconsolate, as what I thought monstrous was but a trifle; that one has to be reasonable; that I was too much a man of spirit to want a woman for myself alone; that if one wished for that one had to take a housekeeper without brains or beauty, and even then it was a big risk to run.
“And now, Jacques,” she added somewhat hurriedly, “I must leave you, and quickly; I can hear the steps of M. d’Anquetil descending the stairs.”
She pressed a hasty kiss on my burning lips, giving and prolonging it with the violent voluptuousness of fear, as the spurred boots of her sweetheart made the wooden steps of the stairs creak, and the intriguer was in fear of losing her Dutch linen trousseau and her godroon silver pot.
The postboy lowered the steps of the coupé, but M. d’Anquetil asked Jahel if it would not be more pleasant to travel all four together in the large compartment, and I recognised that that was the first effect of his intimacy with Jahel, and that the full satisfaction of his desires had left it less agreeable to be alone with her. My good old tutor had taken care to provide himself with five or six bottles of white wine from the cellar of The Armed Man, which he laid under the cushions, and which we drank to overcome the monotony of the journey.
At midday we arrived at Joigny, a neat and pretty town. Foreseeing that my ready money would be all used before we could arrive at the end of our journey, and finding the idea intolerable of letting M. d’Anquetil pay my part in the travelling expenses unless I was compelled to do so by the most unavoidable necessity, I resolved to sell a ring and a medallion, gifts from my mother, and went about the town in quest of a jeweller ready to buy them. I discovered one in the square opposite the church, who sold crosses and chains in a shop under the sign of The Good Faith. What was my astonishment to find in this very shop, before the counter, my good master, showing to the jeweller five or six little diamonds, and asking the shopman what price he would offer for those stones. I recognised them immediately as those which M. d’Asterac had shown us.
The jeweller examined the stones, and looking at the abbé from under his spectacles said:
“Sir, these stones would be of great value if they were genuine. But they are not, and no touchstone is needed to find that out. These are nothing but glass beads, good only for children to play with, or to be used in the crown of a village Holy Virgin, where they would have a charming effect.”
Having listened to that reply, M. Coignard picked up his diamonds and turned his back on the jeweller. In so doing he became aware of my presence, and looked rather confused over it. I brought my business to an end promptly, and meeting my dear old tutor at the shop door I mildly reproached him with the wrong he had done to himself, as well as to his companions, by taking these stones, which for his greater guilt might have been real.
“My son,” he replied, “God, to keep me innocent of crime, willed these stones to be false and a mere sham. I avow to you that I did wrong to take them. You seem sorry about it; it’s a leaf of my life’s book I should like to tear out, like some others not so neat and immaculate as they ought to be. I understand deeply all that is reprehensible in my conduct. But no man has a right to be entirely cast down when he is faulty, and just now, and in this special case, I think I ought to say of myself, in the words of an illustrious learned man: ‘Consider your great frailty, of which you make but too often a show; and withal it is for your salvation that such things should rise up in the road of your life. Not everything is lost for you if oftentimes you find yourself afflicted and rudely tempted; and if you succumb to temptation you’re a man, not a god; you’re flesh and blood, not an angel. How could you expect to remain always in a state of virtue when the angels in heaven and the first man in Eden could not remain faithful to virtue?’ Such are, my dear Tournebroche, the only conversations adapted to the present state of my soul. But, after this unhappy occurrence, which I do not wish to dwell on longer, is it not time to return to the inn, there to drink, in company with the postboys, who are simpleminded and of easy intercourse, one or more bottles of country wine?”
I quite agreed, and we soon reached the hostelry, where we found M. d’Anquetil, who, returning like ourselves from the town, had brought some playing cards. He played a game of piquet with my tutor, and when we resumed our journey they continued to play in the carriage. That rage for play which occupied my rival gave me occasion for an undisturbed conversation with Jahel, who liked very much to chat with me, since she was left to herself. Her talk had a kind of bitter sweetness for me. Reproaching her for her perfidy and unfaithfulness, I gave vent to my grief in feeble or violent complaints.
“Alas! Jahel!” I said, “the memory and the image of your tenderness, which made but lately my dearest delight, have become a cruel torture to me when I think that today you belong to another person, whereas formerly you were mine.”
“A woman does not behave equally to all men.”
And when I prolonged my lamentations and reproaches to excess she said:
“I am quite aware that I have caused you some pain. But that is no reason for you to plague me a hundred times a day with your useless moans.”
M. d’Anquetil when he lost was in a bad temper and molested Jahel, while she, anything but patient, threatened to write to her Uncle Mosaïde to come and fetch her back. These quarrels were at first rather pleasant to me, and gave me no small hopes; but after a repeated renewal of them I became rather anxious, as they were always followed by impetuous reconciliations, which exploded suddenly into kisses and lascivious whisperings. M. d’Anquetil could hardly bear my presence. He had on the other hand a vivid tenderness for my good tutor, which he well deserved for his always joyful humour and the incomparable elegance of his mind. They played and drank together with a daily growing sympathy. Knee to knee, so as to steady the table whereon they played cards they laughed, bantered, chaffed each other, and if occasionally they became angry, and threw the cards in one another’s face, and swore at each other with such oaths as would have made the boxers of Port Saint Nicolas or the bargemen of the Mail blush, M. d’Anquetil swore by God Almighty, the Holy Virgin and all the saints, that in all his life he had never met with a worse thief than the Abbé Coignard. Notwithstanding it remained clearly evident that he liked my good tutor; and it was a real pleasure, as soon as one of these quarrels had terminated, to listen to his laughter as he said:
“Abbé, you’ll be my almoner and play piquet with me. You’ll also have to hunt with us. In the remotest corner of the Perche we will look out for a horse strong enough to carry your weight, and you’ll get hunting clothes like the ones I saw worn by the Bishop of Uzès. It is, besides, high time you had a new suit of clothes; your breeches, abbé, hardly keep on your behind.”
Jahel also inclined towards the irresistible charm with which my dear tutor influenced all mankind. She made up her mind to repair, if possible, all the disorders of his dress. First she tore up one of her gowns and used the pieces to patch up the coat and breeches of my venerable friend; she also made him a present of a laced handkerchief to use as a band. My good tutor accepted these little presents with a dignity full of graciousness. More than once I had occasion to observe that he was a gallant when talking to women. He took a lively interest in them without ever showing the slightest indiscretion. He praised them with the science of a connoisseur, giving them counsels out of his long experience, diffusing over them the unlimited indulgence of a heart always ready to forgive any kind of human weakness, and withal, never omitted any occasion to make them understand the great and useful truths.
We arrived on the fourth day of our journey at Montbard, and alighted on a hill, from which we could overlook the whole town, which appeared in a small space as if it had been painted on canvas by a clever limner anxious to reproduce every detail.
“Look,” my dear old tutor said, “on these steeples, towers, roofs, which rise up out of the green. It is a town, and without actually searching for its history and name, it is well to contemplate it as the worthiest subject of meditation we may encounter on the surface of the world. As a fact any town furnishes material for speculations of the spirit. The postboys tell us that yonder is Montbard, a place utterly unknown to me. Nevertheless I am not afraid to affirm, by analogy, that the people living therein resemble ourselves, are egotistic cowards, perfidious gluttons, dissolute. Otherwise they could not be human beings and descendants of Adam, at once miserable and venerable, and in whom all our instincts, down to the most ignoble, have their august origin. The only possible doubtful matter with yonder people, is to know if they are more inclined to food or to procreation. But a doubt is hardly permissible; a philosopher will soundly opine that hunger is for these unhappy ones a more pressing necessity than love. In the greenness of my youth I believed that the human animal is before all things inclined to sexual intercourse. But that was a wanton error, as it is quite clear that human beings are more interested in conserving their own life than in giving life to others. Hunger is the axis of humanity; but after all, as it seems to be useless to discuss the matter any further, I’ll say, with your permission, that the life of mortals has two poles — hunger and love. And here it is that one has to open ears and soul! These hideous creatures who are born only to devour or to embrace furiously, one the other, live together under the sway of laws which precisely interdict their satisfying that double and fundamental concupiscence. These ingenious animals, having become citizens, voluntarily impose on themselves all sorts of privations; they respect the property of their neighbours, which is prodigious, if you take their avaricious nature into consideration; they observe the rules of modesty, which is an enormous hypocrisy, but generally consists in but seldom speaking of that of which they think without ceasing. Then, let’s be true and honest, gentlemen, when we look on a woman, we do not attach our thoughts to the beauties of her soul or the pleasantness of her spirit; when we approach her we have in view principally her natural form. And the amiable creatures know it so well that they have their dresses made by the fashionable dressmakers and take good care not only not to veil their charms, but to exaggerate them by all sorts of artifices. And Mademoiselle Jahel, who certainly is not a savage, would be distressed if, on her, art had gained the advantage over nature to such a degree as to prevent the fulness of her bosom and the roundness of her thighs being seen. And so it is that, since Adam’s fall, we see mankind hungry and incontinent. Why do they, when assembled in towns, impose on themselves privations of all kinds, and submit to a rule of life contrary to their own corrupted nature? It is said that they find it advantageous, and that they feel that their individual security depends on such restriction. But that would be to suppose them to have too much reasoning power, and, what’s more, a false reasoning, because it is absurd to save one’s life at the expense of all that makes it reasonable and valuable. It is further said that fear keeps them obedient, and it is true that prison, gallows and wheels are excellent assurers of submission to existing laws. But it is also certain that prejudice conspires with the laws, and it is not easy to see how compulsion could have been universally established. Laws are said to be the necessary conformity of things; but we have become aware that that conformity is contradictory to nature, and far from being necessary. Therefore, gentlemen, I’ll look for the source and origin of the laws not in man, but outside man, and I should think that, being strangers to mankind, they derive from God, who not only formed with His own mysterious hands earth and water, plants and animals, but the people also, and human society. I’m inclined to believe that the laws come direct from Him, from His first decalogue, and that they are inhuman because they are divine. It must be well understood that I here consider the codes in their principles and in their essence, without taking note of their ridiculous diversities and their pitiable complications. The details of customs and prescriptions, the written as well as the oral, are man’s work, and to be despised. But do not let us be afraid to recognise that the town is a divine institution. As a result, every government ought to be theocratic. One priest, famous for the part he took in the declaration of 1682, M. Bossuet, was not in error, when he wanted to form the rules of polity after the maxims of the Scriptures; and if he has pitiably failed in this endeavour, you have to accuse the weakness of his genius alone, which was too narrowly attached to examples taken from the books of Judges and Kings, without seeing that God, when He works on this world, proportions Himself to time and space, and knows the difference between Frenchmen and Israelites. The city established under His true and sole legitimate authority will not be the town of Joshua, Saul and David; it will rather be the town of the gospels, the town of the poor, where working-man and prostitute will not be humiliated by the Pharisee. Oh, sirs, how excellent it would be to extract from the Scriptures a polity more beautiful and more saintly than that which was extracted therefrom by that rocky and sterile M. Bossuet! What a city, more harmonious than that erected by the sounds of the lyre of Orpheus, could be built on the maxims of Jesus Christ, on the day when His priests, no more sold to emperors and kings, manifest themselves as the true princes of the people!”
While, standing round my good master, we listened to his discourse, we were, without noticing it, surrounded by a troop of beggars, who, limping, shivering, spitting, frightening the sparrows, shook their swellings and deformities, spreading evil smells and suffocating us with their blessings. They struggled passionately for some small silver pieces M. d’Anquetil threw among them, fell to the ground, and rolled in the dust.
“It’s painful to look on these people,” said Jahel with a sigh.
“‘That pity,” said M. Coignard, “suits you like a jewel, Mademoiselle Jahel; your sighs ornament your bosom heaving under them like a breath each of us would like to respire from your lips. But allow me to say that such tenderness, which is not less touching from being an interested one, troubles you inwardly by a comparison of yonder miserable beings with yourself, and by the instinctive idea that your young body touches, so to say, this hideous, ulcerated and mutilated flesh, as in truth it is bound and attached to them in as far as members of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In consequence you cannot look on such corruption of a human body without seeing it at the same time as a possibility of your own body. And these wretches have shown themselves to you like prophets, announcing that sickness and death are the lot of the family of Adam in this world. For this very reason you sighed, mademoiselle.
“As a fact, there is not the slightest reason to believe yonder ulcerated and verminous beggars less happy than kings and queens. It must not be said that they are poorer, if, as it appears, that farthing picked up by that crippled woman, and which she presses on her heart in frantic joy, seems to her more precious than a pearl collar is to the mistress of a prince-bishop of Cologne and Salzburg. To really understand our spiritual and true interests we should rather envy the life of that cripple who crawls towards us on his hands than that of the King of France or the Emperor of Germany, Being equal before God, they perhaps have peace in their hearts, which the other has not, and the invaluable treasure of innocence. But hold up your petticoats, mademoiselle, for fear that you introduce the vermin with which I see they are covered.”
Such was my good tutor’s speech, and we all listened willingly.
At the distance of three leagues from Montbard, one of the harnesses broke, and, the postboys having failed to bring rope with them, we were detained on the road, as the place of the accident was far from any human dwelling. My good master and M. d’Anquetil whiled away the time by playing and sympathetic quarrels, of which they had made a habit. While the young nobleman was surprised to see his opponent turn up the king oftener than seemed possible by the laws of chance, Jahel, full of emotion, asked me in a whisper if I could not see behind us a carriage in one of the turnings of the road. Looking back to the place she indicated, I could actually see a kind of Gothic vehicle of a ridiculous and strange form.
“Yonder carriage,” said Jahel, “stopped at the same moment as ours. That means that we are followed. I am curious to discover the features of the people travelling in that vehicle. I feel very uneasy about it. Does not one of the travellers wear a very narrow and high headgear? The carriage very much resembles the one in which my uncle brought me, when a child, to Paris after he had killed the Portuguese. It remained, I believe, in one of the coach-houses at the Castle of Sablons. It really seems to be the same, of horrible memory, because I remember my uncle in it, fuming with rage. You cannot conceive, Jacques, how violent his hate is. I myself had to bear his rage the day I came away. He locked me in my room and vomited the most horrible curses on the Abbé Coignard. I shiver when I think what his rage must have been when he found my room empty and the sheets still attached to the window by which I left to fly with you.”
“You ought to say with M. d’Anquetil.”
“How punctilious you are! Did we not depart together? Yonder carriage torments me, it is so much like my uncle’s.”
“Be sure, Jahel, that it’s the carriage of some honest Burgundian, who goes about his business and does not think of us.”
“You don’t know,” said Jahel. “I’m afraid.”
“You cannot fear, however, that your uncle could run after you in his state of decrepitude. He does not occupy himself with anything but cabala and Hebraic dreams.”
“You don’t know him,” she replied, and sighed. “He is occupied with naught but myself. He loves me as much as he hates the rest of the universe. He loves me in a manner —
“In a manner?”
“— In all the manners — in short he loves me.”
“Jahel, I shudder to hear you. Good heavens: that Mosaide loves you without that disinterestedness which is so admirable in an old man, and so well suited for an uncle? Tell me all, Jahel-all!”
“Oh! you can tell it better than I, Jacques.”
“I remain stupid. At his age, is it possible?”
“My dear friend, your skin is white, and your soul also. Everything astonishes you. That candour is your most striking charm. You’re deceived by anyone who wants to deceive you. They make you believe that Mosaide is a hundred and thirty years old; but he is hardly older than sixty. They told you that for years he lived in the Great Pyramid, but as a fact he has been a banker at Lisbon. And it depended only on me to pass in your eyes as a Salamander.”
“What, Jahel, do you tell me the truth? Your uncle —”
“Yes, and that is the secret of his jealousy. He believes the Abbé Coignard to be his rival. He disliked him instinctively, at first sight. But it is a great deal worse since he overheard a few words of the conversation I had with that good abbé in the thorn bush, and I’m sure he hates him now as the cause of my flight and my elopement. For, after all, I’ve been abducted, my friend; a fact that ought to enhance my worth in your eyes. I was certainly very ungrateful to leave so good an uncle. But I could not endure any longer the slavery he kept me in. And I also had an ardent wish to become rich, and it is very natural, is it not, to wish for all the good things when one is young and pretty? We have but one life, and that is short enough. No one has taught me all the fine lies about the immortality of the soul.”
“Alas! Jahel,” I exclaimed, in an ardour of love, provoked by her own coolness. “Alas! I did not want anything else with you at the Chateau des Sablons. What was wanting for your happiness?”
She made me a sign to show that M. d’Anquetil was observing us. The harness had been repaired and our carriage rolled on again along the road bordered on both sides by vineyards.
We stopped at Nuits to sup and to sleep. My dear tutor drank half-a-dozen bottles of Burgundy, which warmed up his eloquence marvellously. M. d’Anquetil kept him company, glass in hand, but to hold his own in conversation also was a thing of which this nobleman was not quite capable.
The meat was good, the beds were bad. M. Coignard slept in the lower chamber, under the stairs, in the same feather bed with the host and his wife, and all three thought they would be suffocated. M. d’Anquetil with Jahel took the upstairs room, where the bacon and the onions were suspended on hooks driven into the ceiling. I myself climbed by means of a ladder to a loft and stretched out on a bundle of straw. Being awakened by the moonlight, a ray of which fell into my eyes, I suddenly saw Jahel in her night-cap coming through the trap door. At a cry that I gave she put her finger to her lips.
“Hush!” she said to me, “Maurice is as drunk as a stevedore and a marquis. He sleeps the sleep of Noah.”
“Who is Maurice?” I inquired, rubbing my eyes.
“It’s Anquetil. Who did you think it was?”
“Nobody, but I did not know that his name was Maurice.”
“It’s not long that I knew it myself, but never mind.”
“You are right, Jahel, it’s of no importance.”
She was in her chemise, and the moonlight fell like drops of milk on her naked shoulders. She slipped down at my side, called me by the sweetest of names and by the most horrid of coarse names, in whispers sounding out of her lips like heavenly murmurs. And then she became dumb, and kissed me with the kisses she alone was able to give, and in comparison with which the caresses of any other woman were but an insipidity.
The constraint and the silence enhanced the furious tension of my nerves. Surprise, the joy of revenge, and, perhaps, a somewhat perverse jealousy inflamed my desires. The elastic firmness of her flesh and the supple violence of the movements wherewith she enveloped me demanded, promised, and deserved the most ardent caresses. We became aware, during that wonderful night, of voluptuousness the abyss of which borders on suffering.
When I came down to the innyard in the morning I met M. d’Anquetil, who, now that I had deceived him, appeared to me less odious than formerly. On his part he felt better inclined to me than he had yet done since we started on our travels. He talked familiarly to me, with sympathy and confidence; his only reproach was that I did not show to Jahel all the regard and attention she deserved, and did not give her the care an honest man ought to bestow on every woman.
“She complains,” he said, “of your want of civility. Take care, my dear Tournebroche; I should be sorry for a difference to arise between her and yourself. She’s a pretty girl, and loves me immensely.”
The carriage had rolled on for more than an hour when Jahel put her head out of the coach window and said to me:
“The other carriage has reappeared. I should like to discover the features of the two men who occupy it, but I cannot.”
I replied that at such a distance, and in the morning mist, it would be impossible to discern them.
“But,” she exclaimed, “those are not faces.”
“What else do you want them to be?” I questioned, and burst out laughing.
Now, in her turn, she inquired of me what silly idea had sprung into my brain to laugh so stupidly and said:
“They are not faces, they are masks. Yonder two men follow us and are masked.”
I informed M. d’Anquetil that seemingly an ugly carriage followed us. But he asked me to let him alone.
“If all the hundred thousand devils were on our track,” he exclaimed, “I should not care a rap for it as I have enough to do to look after that obese old abbé who plays his tricks with the cards in the most artful way, and who robs me of my money. I almost suspect, Tournebroche, you call my attention to yonder coach for the purpose of aiding and abetting that old sharper. Cannot a carriage be on the same road as ours without causing you anxiety?”
Jahel whispered to me:
“I predict, Jacques, that yonder carriage brings trouble for us. I have a presentiment of it, and my presentiments have never failed to come true.”
“Do you want to make me believe that you have the gift of prophecy?”
Gravely, she replied:
“Yes; I have.”
“What, you are a prophetess!” I cried, smiling. “Here is something strange!”
“You sneer and you doubt because you have never seen a prophetess so near at hand. How did you wish them to look?”
“I thought that they must be virgins.”
“That’s not necessary,” she replied, with assurance.
The threatening carriage had disappeared at a turning of the road. But Jahel’s uneasiness had, without his acknowledging it, impressed M. d’Anquetil, who ordered the postboys to hurry their horses, promising them extra good tips. And by an excess of care he passed to each of them a bottle of the wine that the abbé had placed in reserve in the bottom of the carriage.
The postillions made their horses feel the stimulus that the wine gave to them.
“You can calm yourself, Jahel,” said he; “at the speed we are going that antique coach, drawn by the horses of the Apocalypse, will never catch us.”
“We run like cats on hot bricks,” said the abbé.
“If only it would last!” said Jahel.
We saw the vineyards on our right disappear rapidly. On the left the River Saône ran slowly. Like a hurricane we passed the bridge of Tournus. The town itself rose on the other side of the river on a hill crowned by the walls of an abbey, proud as a fortress.
“That,” said the abbé, “is one of the numberless Benedictine abbeys which are strewn like so many gems on the robe of ecclesiastical Gaul. If it had pleased God that my destiny should match my character I should have lived an obscure life, gay and sweet, in one of these abodes. There is no other religious order I hold in such high esteem, for their doctrines as well as for their morals, as the Benedictines. They have admirable libraries. Happy he who wears their habit and follows their holy rules! It may be from the inconvenience I feel at this moment in being shaken to pieces in this carriage, which no doubt will very soon be upset by sinking into one of the many holes of this confounded road, or it may perhaps be the effect of age, which is the time for retreat and grave thinking; whatever be the cause I wish more ardently than ever to seat myself at a table in one of those venerable galleries, where books plenty and choice are assembled in quiet and silence. I prefer their entertainment to that of men, and my dearest wish is to wait, in the work of the spirit, for the hour in which it will please God to call me from this earth. I shall write history, and by preference that of the Romans at the decline of the Republic, because it is full of great actions and examples. I’ll divide my zeal between Cicero, Saint John Chrysostom and Boethius and my modest and fruitful life would resemble the garden of the old man of Tarentum.
“I have experienced different manners of living, and I think the best is to give oneself to study, to look on peacefully at the vicissitudes of men, and to prolong, by the spectacle of centuries and empires, the brevity of our days. But order and continuity are needed. And that’s the very thing that has always been wanting in my existence. If, as I hope, I am able to disentangle myself from the bad position I’m in just now, I’ll do my best to find an honourable and safe asylum in some learned abbey where bonnes lettres are held in honour and respect. I can see myself there already, enjoying the illustrious peace of science. Could I obtain the good offices of the Sylph assistants of whom that old fool d’Asterac speaks, and who appear, it is said, when they are invoked by the cabalistic name of AGLA—”
At the very moment my dear tutor spoke these words a violent shock brought down a rain of glass on our heads, in such confusion that I felt myself blinded, as well as suffocated under Jahel’s petticoats, while the abbe complained in a smothered voice that M. d’Anquetil’s sword had broken the remainder of his teeth, and over my head Jahel screamed fit to tear to pieces all the air of the Burgundian valleys. M. d’Anquetil, in rough, barrack-room style, promised to get the postboys hanged. When at last I was able to rise, he had already jumped out through a broken window. We followed him, my dear tutor and I, by the same exit, and then all three of us pulled Jahel out of the overturned vehicle. No harm had been done to her, and her first thought was to adjust her head-dress.
“Thank God!” said my tutor, “I have not suffered any other damage than the loss of a tooth, and that was neither whole nor white. Time had already effected its decay.” M. d’Anquetil, legs astride and arms akimbo, examined the carriage.
“The rascals,” he said, “have put it in a nice state. If the horses are got up they will break it all to pieces. Abbé, that carriage is no good for anything else but to play spillikins with.”
The horses had fallen topsy-turvy, one on the other, and were kicking furiously. In a heap of croups and legs and steaming bellies, one of the postboys was buried, his boots in the air. The other was spitting blood in the ditch, where he had been thrown. M. d’Anquetil shouted to them:
“Idiots! I really don’t know why I do not spit you on my sword.”
“Sir,” said Abbé Coignard, “would it not be better to get that poor fellow out of the midst of these horses wherein he is entangled?”
We all went to work with a will, and when the horses were freed and raised we were able to discover the extent of the damage done. One of the springs was broken, one of the wheels also, and one of the horses lame.
“Fetch a smith,” ordered M. d’Anquetil.
“There is no smith in the neighbourhood,” was the postboy’s reply.
“A mechanic of some kind.”
“There is none.”
“There is no saddler.”
We looked round. To the west the vineyards extended to the horizon their long peaceful lines. On the hill smoke came out of a chimney near a steeple. On the other side, the Saone, veiled by a light mist, lost itself slowly in the calm running of her flowing waters. The shadows of the poplars elongated themselves on the banks. The shrill cry of a bird pierced the deep silence.
“Where are we?” asked M. d’Anquetil.
“At two full leagues from Tournus,” replied the postillion, spitting blood, “and at least four leagues from Mâcon.”
And, extending his arm towards the smoking chimney:
“Up there, that village ought to be Vallars, but it’s not up to much.”
“Blast you!” roared M. d’Anquetil.
While the horses struggled we went near the carriage, which was lying sadly on its side.
The little postboy who had been taken out from the midst of the horses said:
“As to the spring, that could be mended by a strong piece of wood. It will only make the carriage shake you more. But there is the broken wheel! And, worst of all, my hat is under it, smashed to pieces.”
“Damn your hat!” said M. d’Anquetil.
“Your lordship may not be aware that it was quite new,” was the postboy’s meek reply.
“And the window glasses are broken!” sighed Jahel, seated on a portmanteau, at the side of the road.
“If it were but the glasses,” said M. Coignard, “a remedy could soon be found by lowering the blinds, but the bottles cannot be in the same state as the windows. I must look to it as soon as the coach can be raised. I am also in fear for my Boethius, which I had placed under the cushions with some other good books.”
“It does not matter,” said M. d’Anquetil. “I have the cards in my waistcoat pocket. But shall we not get any supper?”
“I had thought of it,” said the abbé. “It is not in vain that God has given to the use of men the animals who crowd the earth, the sky and the water. I am an excellent angler; the care necessary to allure the fish particularly suits my meditative mind, and the River Orne has seen me managing my line while meditating on the eternal verities. Do not trouble over your supper. If Mademoiselle Jahel will be good enough to give me one of the pins which keep her garments together I’ll soon make a hook of it, to enable me to fish in yonder river, and I flatter myself I shall return before nightfall laden with two or three carp, that we will grill over a brushwood fire.”
“I am quite aware,” said Jahel, “that we are reduced to somewhat of a savage state. But I could not give you a pin, abbé, without your giving me something in exchange for it; otherwise our friendship would be jeopardised. And that I do not want in any case.”
“Then I will make an advantageous exchange, mademoiselle: I’ll pay for your pin with a kiss.”
And, taking the pin out of Jahel’s hand, he kissed her on both cheeks with inconceivable courtesy, gracefulness and decency.
After having lost plenty of time, a reasonable step was at last taken. The big postillion, who no longer spat blood, was sent to Tournus on one of the horses to bring back with him a blacksmith; the other boy was ordered to light a fire, as the air became fresh, and a sharp wind was rising.
We discovered on the road, a hundred paces from the place of our breakdown, a cliff of soft stone, the foot of which was quarried in several places. We resolved to wait in one of those caves, warming ourselves until the return of the boy sent to Tournus. The second boy tied the three remaining horses to the trunk of a tree, near our cavern. The abbé, who had made a fishing rod with the branch of a willow-tree, some string, a cork and a pin, went a-fishing as much for his philosophical and meditative inclination as for the sake of bringing us back fish. M. d Anquetil, remaining with Jahel and me in the grotto, proposed a game of l’ombre, which is played by three, and which he said, being a Spanish game, was the very one for persons as adventurous as ourselves. And true it is that, in that quarry, in a deserted road, our little company would not have been unworthy to figure in some of the adventures of Don Quixote in which menials take such a strong interest. And so we played l’ombre. I committed a great many errors, and my impetuous partner got cross, when the noble and laughing face of my good tutor became visible at the light of our fire. He untied his handkerchief, and took out of it some four or five small fish, which he opened with his knife, decorated with the image of the late king, dressed as a Roman emperor, standing on a triumphal column; and cleaned them with dexterity, as if he had never lived anywhere else than in the midst of the fishwomen at the market. He excelled as much in trifles as in matters of the greatest importance. Arranging the fish on the embers, he said:
“I will tell you, in all confidence, that following the river in search of a favourable place for fishing, I perceived the apocalyptic coach which frightens Mademoiselle Jahel. It stopped somewhat behind our carriage. You ought to have seen it pass by while I was fishing, and mademoiselle’s soul ought to have been comforted by it.”
“We have not seen it,” replied Jahel.
“Then it may have moved on only after the night had become dark. But at least you heard it rumbling?”
“We have not,” said Jahel.
“It is then that this night is blind as well as deaf. It is not to be supposed that yonder coach, which had not a wheel broken, not a horse lamed, would have remained standing still on the road. What for?”
“Yes, what for?” said Jahel.
“Our supper,” said my good tutor, “reminds me of the simplicity of the repasts described in the Bible, where the pious traveller divided with an angel, on the bank of the river, the fishes of the Tigris. But we are in want of bread, salt and wine. I’ll try to take out of our coach the provisions put there, and look if by a fortunate chance some bottles have remained intact. There are occasions when glass remains whole but steel is broken. Tournebroche, my son, give me your steel; and you, mademoiselle, do not fail to turn the grilling fish. I’ll be back in a moment.”
He left. His somewhat heavy tread sounded in a de crescendo, and soon we could hear him no more.
“This very night,” said M. d’Anquetil, “reminds me of the night before the battle of Parma. You may be aware that I have served under Villars and been in the War of Succession. I was with the scouts. We could not see anything. That’s one of the best ruses of war. Men are sent out to reconnoitre the enemy who return without having reconnoitred anything. But reports are drawn up, after the battle, and then it is that the tacticians are triumphant. Thus, at nine o’clock at night, I was sent out scouting with twelve men —”
And he gave us a narrative of the War of Succession and of his amours in Italy; his story had lasted for well-nigh a quarter of an hour when he exclaimed:
“That rascal of an abbé does not come back. I bet he drinks all the wine which remained in the coach.”
Thinking that my dear tutor might possibly be embarrassed, I rose and went to help him. It was a moonless night, and if the sky was resplendent in the light of thousands of stars, the earth was clad in a darkness which my eyes, dazzled by the light of the flames, could not pierce.
Having walked about fifty steps on the black road. I heard a terrible cry, which did not sound as if coming from a human breast, a cry altogether unlike all cries I had heard before, a horrible cry. I ran in the direction from whence came this clamour of fatal distress. But fear and darkness checked my steps. Arrived at last at the place where our coach lay on the road, shapeless and enlarged by the night, I found my dear tutor seated on the side of the ditch, bent double. Trembling I asked him:
“What’s the matter? Why did you shout?”
“Yes; why did I shout?” he said, in a new and altered voice. “I did not know I had cried out. Tournebroche, did you not see a man? He struck me in the dark, very fiercely; he gave me a blow with his fist.”
“Come,” I said to him, “get up, my dear master.”
Having risen he fell back heavily on the ground.
I tried to raise him, and my hands became moist when I touched his breast.
“Bleeding? I’m a dead man. He has killed me. I thought that it was but a blow with the fist. But it’s a wound, and I feel that I shall never recover from it.”
“Who struck you, my dear tutor?”
“It was the Jew. I did not see him, but I know it was he. How can I know that it was the Jew, when I did not see him? Yes; how is it? What strange things! It’s not to be believed, is it, Tournebroche? I have the taste of death in my mouth, which cannot be defined. It was to be, my God! But why rather here than somewhere else? That’s the mystery! ’Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini — Domine exaudi orationem meam —’“
For a short time he prayed in a low voice, then:
“Tournebroche, my son,” he said to me, “take the two bottles I found in the coach and have placed here beside me. I can do no more. Tournebroche, where do you think the wound is? It’s in the back I suffer most, and it seems to me that life runs out by the legs. My spirits are going.”
Murmuring these words he fainted softly in my arms. I tried to carry him, but I had only strength enough to lay him lengthwise on the ground. Opening his shirt, I discovered the wound; it was in the breast; very small, and bleeding little. I tore my wristbands to pieces and laid them on the wound; I called out, shouted for help. Soon I thought I heard help coming from the side of Tournus, and I recognised M. d’Asterac. Unexpected as the meeting was, I did not actually feel surprised; too deeply was I the prey of the immense sorrow I felt holding in my arms, dying, that best of all masters.
“What’s the matter, my son?” asked the alchemist.
“Help me, sir,” I replied, “the Abbé Coignard is dying. Mosaide has killed him.”
“It is true,” said M. d’Asterac, “that Mosaide has come here in an old chariot in pursuit of his niece, and that I have accompanied him to exhort you, my son, to return to your employment with me. Since yesterday we came near your coach, which we saw break down just now in a rut. At that very moment Mosaide alighted from the carriage, and it may be that he wanted to take a walk, or perhaps he made himself invisible, as he can do. I have not seen him again. It is possible that he has already found his niece to curse her; such is the intention. But he has not killed M. Coignard. It is the Elves, my son, who have killed your master, to punish him for the disclosure of their secrets. Nothing is surer than that.”
“Ah! sir,” I exclaimed, “what does it matter, if it was the Jew or the Elves who killed him; we must assist him.”
“On the contrary, my son,” replied M. d’Asterac, “it is of the greatest importance. For should he have been stricken by a human hand it would be easy for me to cure him by magic operation; but having provoked the Elves he could never escape their infallible vengeance.”
As he spoke, M. d’Anquetil and Jahel, having heard my shouts, approached, with the postboy, who carried a lantern.
“What,” said Jahel, “is M. Coignard unwell?”
And kneeling close to my good tutor, she raised his head and made him inhale the smell of her salts.
“Mademoiselle,” I said to her, “you’re the cause of his death, which is the vengeance for your abduction. Mosaide has killed him.”
From my dying master she lifted up her face pale with horror and shining with tears.
“And you too,” she said, “believe that it’s easy to be a pretty girl without causing mischief?”
“Alas!” I replied, “what you say is but too true. But we have lost the best of men.”
At this moment Abbé Coignard sighed deeply, opened his eyes, called for his book of Boethius, and fainted again into unconsciousness.
The postboy thought it would be best to carry the wounded man to the village of Vallars, which was only half-a-league distant.
“I’ll go,” he said, “to fetch the steadiest of the horses which remain. We’ll tie the poor fellow securely on it, and lead it slowly ahead. I think him very ill. He looks exactly like the courier who was murdered at Saint Michel on the same road, at four stages from here, near Senecy, where my sweetheart lives. That poor devil moved his eyelids and turned up the whites of his eyes like a bad woman, saving your presence, gentlemen. And your abbé did the same when mam’selle tickled his nose with her bottle. It’s a bad sign with a wounded man; girls don’t die of it when they turn their eyes up in that fashion. Your lordships know it well. And there is some distance, thank God! between the little death and the great. But it’s the same turning up of the eyes . . . Remain, gentlemen, I’ll go and fetch the horse.”
“This rustic is amusing,” said M. d’Anquetil, “with his turned-up eyes and his bad women. I’ve seen in Italy soldiers who died on the battlefield with a fixed look and eyes starting out of their head. There are no rules for dying of a wound, actually not even in the military service, where exactitude is pushed to the extreme. But will you, Tournebroche, in default of a better qualified person, present me to yonder gentleman in black, who wears diamond studs, and whom I reckon to be M. d’Asterac?”
“Ah! sir,” I replied, “consider the presentation to be made. I have no other feelings but to assist my dear tutor.”
“Be it so!” said M. d’Anquetil.
And approaching M. d’Asterac:
“Sir, I have taken your mistress away: I’m ready to answer for my deed.”
“Sir,” replied M. d’Asterac. “Grace be to heaven! I have no connection with any woman, and do not understand what you mean.”
At this very moment the postboy returned with a horse. My dear tutor had slightly recovered. We lifted him up, all four of us, and put him with the greatest difficulty on the horse, where we tied him as securely as possible. And we went off. I held him on one side, M. d’Anquetil on the other. The postboy led the horse and carried the lantern. M. d’Asterac had returned to his carriage. All went well as long as we kept on the highroad; but when it became necessary to climb the small lanes of the vineyards, my dear master, slipping at every movement of the horse, lost the rest of his little strength, and fainted away again. We thought it best to take him off the horse and carry him in our arms. The postboy held him under the arms and I by the legs. The ascent was very rough, and I expected to fall at least four times with my living cross, on the stones of the path. At last the hill became easier. We entered a small lane bordered by bushes, and soon discovered on our left the first roofs of Vallars. We laid our burden softly on the turf, and for a moment took breath. Lifting up the abbe again, we carried him into the village.
A pink light appeared eastwards on the horizon. The morning star, in the pale sky, shone as white and peaceful as the moon, the light crescent of which paled away in the west The birds began to chirp; my master sighed heavily.
Jahel ran before us, knocking at the doors, in quest of a bed and a surgeon. Carrying baskets and panniers the vine-growers went grape-gathering. One of them said to Jahel that Gaulard on the market place lodges man and beast.
“As to the surgeon, Coquebert, you’ll see him yonder under the shaving plate which serves as his trade sign. He leaves his house to go to his vineyard.”
He was a very polite little man. He told us that he had a bed free in his house, as a short time ago his daughter had got married.
By his order, his wife, a stout dame wearing a white cap covered by a felt hat, put sheets on the bed in the lower chamber. She helped us to undress the Abbe Coignard and to put him to bed. And then she went out to fetch the vicar.
In the meanwhile M. Coquebert examined the wound
“You see,” I said, “it’s small, and bleeds but little.”
“That’s not good at all,” he replied, “and I do not like it, my dear young gentleman. I like a large wound which bleeds freely.”
“I see,” said M. d’Anquetil, “that for a leech and a village squirt your test is not a bad one. Nothing is worse than those little but deep wounds which look a mere nothing. Tell me of a nice cut across the face. It’s pleasant to look on, and heals in no time. But know, my good sir, that this wounded man is my chaplain, and plays piquet with me. Are you the man to put him on his legs again, notwithstanding your looks, which are rather those of a vet?”
“At your service,” replied the barber-surgeon, bowing profoundly. “But I also set broken bones and treat wounds. I’ll examine this one.”
“Make haste, sir,” I said.
“Patience!” he replied. “First of all the wound must be washed, and I must wait till the water gets warm.”
My good tutor, a little restored, said slowly, but with a fairly strong voice:
“Lamp in hand, he’ll visit the corners of Jerusalem, and what is hidden in darkness will be brought to light.”
“What do you mean, dear master?”
“Don’t, my son,” he replied; “I’m entertaining the sentiments fit for my state.”
“The water is hot,” the barber said to me. “Hold the basin close to the bed. I’ll wash the wound.”
And while he pressed on my tutor’s breast a sponge soaked in hot water, the vicar entered the room with Madame Coquebert. He had a basket and a pair of vine shears in his hand.
“Here is then the poor man,” said he. “I was going to my vineyard, but that of Jesus Christ has to be attended to first; my son,” he said as he approached the stricken abbé, “offer your wound to our Lord. Perhaps it’s not so serious as it’s thought to be. And for the rest, we must obey God’s will.”
Turning to the barber, he asked:
“Is it very urgent, M. Coquebert, or could I go to my vineyard? The white ones can wait; it’s not bad if they do get a little overripe, and a little rain would only produce more and better wine. But the red must be gathered at once.”
“You speak the truth, Monsieur le Cure,” M. Coquebert replied. “I’ve in my vineyard some grapes which cover themselves with a certain moisture, and which escape the sun only to perish by the rain.”
“Alas!” said the vicar, “humidity and drought are the two enemies of the vine-grower.”
“Nothing is truer,” said the barber, “but I’ll inspect the wound.”
Having said so he pushed one of his fingers into the wound.
“Ah! Torturer!” exclaimed the patient.
“Remember,” said the vicar, “that our Lord forgave His torturers.”
“They were not barbarous,” said the abbe.
“That’s a wicked word,” said the vicar.
“You must not torment a dying man for his jokes,” said my good master. “But I suffer horribly; that man assassinates me and I die twofold. The first time was by the hands of a Jew.”
“What does he mean?” asked the vicar.
“It is best, reverend sir,” said the barber, “not to trouble yourself about it. You must never want to hear the talk of a patient. They are only dreams.”
“Coquebert,” said the vicar, “you don’t speak well. Patients’ confessions must be listened to, and some Christians who never in all their lives said a good word may, at the end, pronounce words which open Paradise to them.”
“I spoke temporally only,” said the barber.
“Monsieur le Cure,” I said, “the Abbe Coignard, my good master, does not wander in his mind, and it is but too true that he has been murdered by a Jew of the name of Mosaide.”
“In that case,” replied the vicar, “he has to see a special favour of God, who willed that he perishes by the hand of a nephew of those who crucified His Son. The behaviour of Providence is always admirable. M. Coquebert, can I go to my vineyard?”
“You can, sir,” replied the barber. “The wound is not a good one, but yet not of the kind by which one dies at once. It’s one of those wounds which play with the wounded like a cat with a mouse, and with such play time may be gained.”
“That’s well,” said the vicar. “Let’s thank God, my son, that He lets you live, but life is precarious and transitory. One must always be ready to quit it.”
My good tutor replied earnestly:
“To be on the earth without being of it, to possess without being in possession, for the fashion of this world passes away.”
Picking up his shears and his basket, the vicar said:
“Better than by your cloak and shoes, which I see on yonder cupboard, I recognise by your speech that you belong to the Church and lead a holy life. Have you been ordained?”
“He is a priest,” I said, “a doctor of divinity and a professor of eloquence.”
“Of which diocese?” queried the vicar.
“Of Seez in Normandy, a suffragan of Rouen.”
“An important ecclesiastical province,” said the vicar, “but less important by antiquity and fame than the diocese of Reims, of which I am a priest.”
And he went away. M. Jerome Coignard passed the day easily. Jahel wanted to remain the night with him. At about eleven o’clock I left the house of M. Coquebert and went in search of a bed at the inn of M. Gaulard. I found M. d’Asterac in the market place. His shadow in the moonlight covered nearly all the surface. He laid his hands on my shoulder as he was wont to do, and said with his customary gravity:
“It’s time for me to assure you, my son, that I have accompanied Mosa’ide for nothing else than this. I see you cruelly tormented by the goblins. Those little spirits of the earth have attacked you, deceiving you with all sorts of phantasmagoria, seducing you by a thousand lies, and finally forcing you to fly from my house.”
“Alas! sir,” I replied, “it’s quite true that I left your house in apparent ingratitude, for which I beg your pardon. But I have been persecuted by the constables, and not by goblins. And my dear tutor has been murdered. That’s not a phantasmagoria.”
“Do not doubt,” the great man answered, “that the unhappy abbe has been mortally wounded by the Sylphs, whose secrets he has revealed. He has stolen from a sideboard some stones, which were the work of the Sylphs, and which they left unfinished, and still very different from diamonds in brilliancy as well as in purity.
“It was that avidity, and the indiscreet pronouncing of the name of Agla, which has angered them. You must know, my son, that it is impossible for philosophers to arrest the vengeance of this irascible people.
“I have heard from a supernatural voice, and also from Criton’s reports, of the sacrilegious larceny M. Coignard committed by which he flattered himself to find out the art by which Salamanders, Sylphs, and Gnomes ripen the morning dew and insensibly change it into crystals and diamonds.”
“Alas! sir, I assure you he thought of no such thing, and that it was that horrible Mosa’ide who stabbed him with a stiletto on the road.”
My words very much displeased M. d’Asterac, who urged me in the most pressing manner never to repeat them again.
“Mosaide,” he further said, “is a good enough cabalist to reach his enemies without going to the trouble of running after them. Know, my son, that, had he wanted to kill M. Coignard, he could have done it easily from his own room by a magic operation. I see that you’re still ignorant of the first elements of the science. The truth is that this learned man, informed by the faithful Criton of the flight of his niece, hired post-horses to rejoin her and eventually carry her back to his house, which he certainly would have done, had he discovered in the mind of that unhappy girl the slightest idea of regret and repentance. But, finding her corrupted by debauchery, he preferred to excommunicate and curse her by the globes, the wheels and the beasts of Ezekiel. That is precisely what he has done under my eyes in the calashr where he lives alone, so as not to partake of the bed and table of Christians.”
I kept mute, astonished by such dreams, but this extraordinary man talked to me with an eloquence which troubled me deeply.
“Why,” he said, “do you not let yourself be enlightened by the counsels of philosophers? What kind of wisdom do you oppose to mine? Consider that yours is less in quantity without differing in essence. To you as well as to me nature appears as an infinity of figures, which have to be recognised and classified, and which form a sequence of hieroglyphics. You can easily distinguish some of those signs to which you attach a sense, but you are too much inclined to be content with the vulgar and the literal, and you do not search enough for the ideal and the symbolic. And withal the world is comprehensible only as a symbol, and all you see in the universe is naught but an illuminated writing, which vulgar men spell without understanding it. Be afraid, my son, to imitate the universal bray in the style of the learned ones who congregate in the academies. Rather receive of me the key of all knowledge.”
For a moment he stopped speaking, and then continued in a more familiar tone:
“You are persecuted, my son, by enemies less terrible than Sylphs. And your Salamander will not have any difficulty in freeing you from the goblins as soon as you request her to do so. I repeat that I came here with Mosa’ide for no other purpose than to give you this good advice, and to press you to return to me and continue your work. I quite understand that you want to assist your unhappy master till the end. You have full license to do it. But afterwards do not fail to return to my house. Adieu! I’ll return this very night to Paris with that great Mosaide whom you have accused so unjustly.”
I promised him all he wanted, and crawled into my miserable bed, where I fell asleep, weighed down as I was by fatigue and suffering.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54