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- The Queen Pedauque - 1/43 -
THE QUEEN PEDAUQUE
Translated by JOS. A. V. STRITZKO
Introduction by JAMES BRANCH CABELL
I. Why I recount the singular Occurrences of my Life
II. My Home at the Queen Pedauque Cookshop--I turn the Spit and learn to read--Entry of Abbe Jerome Coignard
III. The Story of the Abbe's Life
IV. The Pupil of M. Jerome Coignard--I receive Lessons in Latin, Greek and Life
V. My Nineteenth Birthday--Its Celebration and the Entrance of M. d'Asterac
VI. Arrival at the Castle of M. d'Asterac and Interview with the Cabalist
VII. Dinner and Thoughts on Food
VIII. The Library and its Contents
IX. At Work on Zosimus the Panopolitan--I visit my Home and hear Gossip about M. d'Asterac
X. I see Catherine with Friar Ange and reflect--The Liking of Nymphs for Satyrs--An Alarm of Fire--M. d'Asterac in his Laboratory
XI. The Advent of Spring and its Effects--We visit Mosaide
XII. I take a Walk and meet Mademoiselle Catherine
XIII. Taken by M. d'Asterac to the Isle of Swans I listen to his Discourse on Creation and Salamanders
XIV. Visit to Mademoiselle Catherine--The Row in the Street and my Dismissal
XV. In the Library with M. Jerome Coignard--A Conversation on Morals--Taken to M. d'Asterac's Study-Salamanders again-- The Solar Powder--A Visit and its Consequences
XVI. Jahel comes to my Room--What the Abbe saw on the Stairs--His Encounter with Mosaide
XVII. Outside Mademoiselle Catherine's House--We are invited in by M. d'Anquetil--The Supper--The Visit of the Owner and the horrible Consequences
XVIII. Our return--We smuggle M. d'Anquetil in--M. d'Asterac on Jealousy--M. Jerome Coignard in Trouble-What happened while I was in the Laboratory--Jahel persuaded to elope
XIX. 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
XX. Illness of M. Jerome Coignard
XXI. Death of M. Jerome Coignard
XXII. Funeral and Epitaph
XXIII. Farewell to Jahel--Dispersal of the Party.
XXIV. I am pardoned and return to Paris--Again at the Queen Pedauque--I go as Assistant to M. Blaizot--Burning of the Castle of Sablons--Death of Mosaide and of M. d'Asterac.
XXV. I become a Bookseller--I have many learned and witty Customers but none to equal the Abbe Jerome Coignard, D.D., M. A
What one first notes about _The Queen Pedauque_ is the fact that in this ironic and subtle book is presented a story which, curiously enough, is remarkable for its entire innocence of subtlety and irony. Abridge the "plot" into a synopsis, and you will find your digest to be what is manifestly the outline of a straightforward, plumed romance by the elder Dumas.
Indeed, Dumas would have handled the "strange surprising adventures" of Jacques Tournebroche to a nicety, if only Dumas had ever thought to have his collaborators write this brisk tale, wherein d'Astarac and Tournebroche and Mosaide display, even now, a noticeable something in common with the Balsamo and Gilbert and Althotas of the _Memoires d'un Medecin_. One foresees, to be sure, that, with the twin-girthed Creole for guide, M. Jerome Coignard would have waddled into immortality not quite as we know him, but with somewhat more of a fraternal resemblance to the Dom Gorenflot of _La Dame de Monsoreau;_ and that the blood of the abbe's death-wound could never have bedewed the book's final pages, in the teeth of Dumas' economic unwillingness ever to despatch any character who was "good for" a sequel.
And one thinks rather kindlily of _The Queen Pedauque_ as Dumas would have equipped it... Yes, in reading here, it is the most facile and least avoidable of mental exercises to prefigure how excellently Dumas would have contrived this book,--somewhat as in the reading of Mr. Joseph Conrad's novels a many of us are haunted by the sense that the Conrad "story" is, in its essential beams and stanchions, the sort of thing which W. Clark Russell used to put together, in a rather different way, for our illicit perusal. Whereby I only mean that such seafaring was illicit in those aureate days when, Cleveland being consul for the second time, your geography figured as the screen of fictive reading-matter during school-hours.
One need not say that there is no question, in either case, of "imitation," far less of "plagiarism"; nor need one, surely, point out the impossibility of anybody's ever mistaking the present book for a novel by Alexandre Dumas. Ere Homer's eyesight began not to be what it had been, the fact was noted by the observant Chian, that very few sane architects commence an edifice by planting and rearing the oaks which are to compose its beams and stanchions. You take over all such supplies ready hewn, and choose by preference time- seasoned timber. Since Homer's prime a host of other great creative writers have recognised this axiom when they too began to build: and "originality" has by ordinary been, like chess and democracy, a Mecca for little minds.
Besides, there is the vast difference that M. Anatole France has introduced into the Dumas theatre some preeminently un-Dumas-like stage-business: the characters, between assignations and combats, toy amorously with ideas. That is the difference which at a stroke dissevers them from any helter-skelter character in Dumas as utterly as from any of our clearest thinkers in office.
It is this toying, this series of mental _amourettes_, which incommunicably "makes the difference" in almost all the volumes of M. France familiar to me, but our affair is with this one story. Now in this vivid book we have our fill of color and animation and gallant strangenesses, and a stir of characters who impress us as living with a poignancy unmastered as yet by anybody's associates in flesh and blood. We have, in brief, all that Dumas could ever offer, here utilised not to make drama but background, all being woven into a bright undulating tapestry behind an erudite and battered figure,-- a figure of odd medleys, in which the erudition is combined with much of Autolycus, and the unkemptness with something of à Kempis. For what one remembers of _The Queen Pédauque_ is l'Abbé Jérôme Coignard; and what one remembers, ultimately, about Coignard is not his crowded career, however opulent in larcenous and lectual escapades and fisticuffs and broached wineflasks; but his religious meditations, wherein a merry heart does, quite actually, go all the way.
Coignard I take to be a peculiarly rare type of man (there is no female of this species), the type that is genuinely interested in religion. He stands apart. He halves little with the staid majority of us, who sociably contract our sacred tenets from our neighbors like a sort of theological measles. He halves nothing whatever with our more earnest-minded juniors who--perennially discovering that all religions thus far put to the test of nominal practice have, whatever their paradisial _entrée_, resulted in a deplorable earthly hash--perennially run yelping into the shrill agnosticism which believes only that one's neighbors should not be permitted to believe in anything.
The creed of Coignard is more urbane. "Always bear in mind that a sound intelligence rejects everything that is contrary to reason, except in matters of faith, where it is necessary to believe blindly." Your opinions are thus all-important, your physical conduct is largely a matter of taste, in a philosophy which ranks affairs of the mind immeasurably above the gross accidents of matter. Indeed, man can win to heaven only through repentance, and the initial step toward repentance is to do something to repent of. There is no flaw in this logic, and in its clear lighting such abrogations of parochial and transitory human laws as may be suggested by reason and the consciousness that nobody is looking, take on the aspect of divinely appointed duties.
Some dullard may here object that M. France--attestedly, indeed, since he remains unjailed-cannot himself believe all this, and that it is with an ironic glitter in his ink he has recorded these dicta. To which the obvious answer would be that M. France (again like all great creative writers) is an ephemeral and negligible person beside his durable puppets; and that, moreover, to reason thus is, it may be precipitately, to disparage the plumage of birds on the ground that an egg has no feathers... Whatever M. France may believe, our concern is here with the conviction of M. Coignard that his religion
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