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- The Queen Pedauque - 30/43 -
yours. But do not be surprised by her forgetting the alchemist. It is not sufficient to possess a woman to impress on her soul a profound and durable mark. Souls are almost impenetrable, a fact showing the cruel emptiness of love. The wise man ought to say to himself, I am nothing in the nothingness which that creature is. To hope that you could leave a remembrance in a woman's heart is equivalent to trying to impress a seal on running water. And therefore let us never nurse the wish to establish ourselves in what is fleeting and let us attach ourselves to that which never dies."
"After all," I said, "Jahel is locked and bolted up, and one may rely on the vigilance of her guardian."
"My son, this very evening she has to join us at the _Red Horse_. Twilight is favourable to evasions, abductions, stealthy movements and underhand actions. We have to trust to the cunning of that girl. As to you, be sure to attend at the Circus of the Bergères in the dusk. You know M. d'Anquetil is not patient, and it quite the man to start without you."
When he gave me this counsel, the luncheon bell sounded.
"Have you by chance," he said to me, "a needle and thread? My garments are torn at more than one place, and I should like to repair them as much as possible before going to luncheon. Especially my breeches do not leave me without some apprehension. They are so much torn that, should I not promptly mend them, I run the risk of losing them altogether."
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
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