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- The Queen Pedauque - 4/43 -


"A drunkard and a dissipated fellow, to whom I give daily good wine and good morsels and who goes to the tavern to play the deuce with some ill-famed creatures, depraved enough to prefer the company of a hawking cutler and a Capuchin friar to that of honest sworn tradesmen of the quarter. Fie! fie!"

Therewith he suddenly stopped his scoldings and looked sideways on my mother, who, standing up at the entry to the staircase, pushed her knitting needles with sharp little strokes.

Catherine, surprised by this unfriendly reception, said drily:

"Then you don't want to say a good word to the taverner and the sergeant?"

"If you wish it, I'll tell them to take the cutler and the friar."

"But," she replied, and laughed, "the cutler is your friend."

"Less mine than yours," said my father sharply. "A ragamuffin and a humbug, who hops about----"

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "that's true, really true, that he hops. He hops, hops, hops!"

And she left the shop, shaking with laughter.

My father turned round to the priest, who was picking a bone:

"It is as I had the honour to say to your reverence! For each reading and writing lesson that Capuchin friar gives to my child, I pay him with a goblet of wine and a fine piece of meat, hare, rabbit, goose, or a tender poulet or a capon. He is a drunkard and evil liver!"

"Don't doubt about that," said the priest.

"But if ever he dares to come over my threshold again, I'll drive him out with a broomstick."

"And you'll do well by it," said the priest; "that Capuchin is an ass, and he taught your son rather to bray than to talk. You'll act wisely by throwing into the fire that 'Life of St Catherine,' that prayer for the cure of chilblains and that history of the bugbear, with which that monk poisoned your son's mind. For the same price you paid for Friar Ange's lessons, I'll give him my own; I'll teach him Latin and Greek, and French also, that language which Voiture and Balzac have brought to perfection. And in such way, by a luck doubly singular and favourable, this Jacquot Tournebroche will become learned and I shall eat every day,"

"Agreed!" said my father. "Barbara, bring two goblets. No business is concluded without the contracting parties having a drink together as a token of agreement. We will drink here. I'll never in my life put my legs into the _Little Bacchus_ again, so repugnant have that cutler and that monk become to me."

The priest rose and, putting his hands on the back of his chair, said in a slow and serious manner:

"Before all, I thank God, the Creator and Conserver of all things, for having guided me into this hospitable house. It is He alone who governs us and we are compelled to recognise His providence in all matters human, notwithstanding that it is foolhardy and sometimes incongruous to follow Him too closely. Because being universal He is to be found in all sorts of encounters, sublime by the conduct which He keeps, but obscene or ridiculous for the part man takes in it and which is the only part where they appear to us. And therefore one must not shout, in the manner of Capuchin monks and goody-goody women, that God is to be seen in every trifle. Let us praise the Lord; pray to Him to enlighten me in the teachings I'll give to that child, and for the rest let us rely on His holy will, without searching to understand it in all its details."

And raising his goblet, he drank deeply.

"This wine," he said, "infilters into the economy of the human body a sweet and salutary warmth. It is a liquor worthy to be sung at Teos and at the Temple by the princes of bacchic poets, Anacreon and Chaulieu. I will anoint with it the lips of my young disciple."

He held the goblet under my chin and exclaimed:

"Bees of the Academy, come, come and place yourselves in harmonious swarms on the mouth of Jacobus Tournebroche, henceforth consecrated to the Muses."

"Oh! Sir Priest," said my mother, "it is a truth that wine attracts the bees, particularly sweet wine. But it is not to be wished that those nefarious flies should place themselves on the mouth of my Jacquot, as their sting is cruel. One day in biting into a peach a bee stung me on the tongue, and I had to suffer fiendish pains. They would be calmed only by a little earth, mixed up with spittle, which Friar Ange put into my mouth in reciting the prayer of St Comis."

The priest gave her to understand that he spoke of bees in an allegorical sense only. And my father said reproachfully: "Barbe, you're a holy and worthy woman, but many a time I have noticed that you have a peevish liking to throw yourself thoughtlessly into serious conversation like a dog into a game of skittles."

"Maybe," replied my mother. "But had you followed my counsels better, Léonard, you would have done better. I may not know all the sorts of bees, but I know how to manage a home and understand the good manners a man of a certain age ought to practise, who is the father of a family and standard-bearer of his guild."

My father scratched his ear, and poured some wine for the priest, who said with a sigh:

"Certainly, in our days, knowledge is not as much honoured in our kingdom of France, as it had been by the Romans, although degenerated at the time when rhetoric brought Eugenius to the Emperor's throne. It is not a rarity in our century to find a clever man in a garret without fire or candle. _Exemplum ut talpa_--I am an example."

Thereafter he gave us a narration of his life, which I'll report just as it came out of his own mouth--that is, as near it as the weakness of my age allowed me to hear distinctly and hereafter keep in my memory. I believe I have been able to restore it after the confidences he gave me at a later time, when he honoured me with his friendship.

CHAPTER III

The Story of the Abbé's Life

"As you see me," he said, "or rather as you do not see me, young, slender, with ardent eyes and black hair, I was a teacher of liberal arts at the College of Beauvais under Messrs Dugué, Guérin, Coffin and Baffier. I had been ordained, and expected to make a big name in letters. But a woman upset my hopes. Her name was Nicole Pigoreau and she kept a bookseller's shop at the _Golden Bible_ on the square near the college. I went there frequently to thumb the books she received from Holland and also those bipontic editions illustrated with notes, comments and commentaries of great erudition. I was amiable and Mistress Pigoreau became aware of it, which was my misfortune.

"She had been pretty, and still knew how to be pleasing. Her eyes spoke. One day the Cicero, Livy, Plato and the Aristotle, Thucydides, Polybius and Varro, the Epictetus, Seneca, Boethius and Cassiodorus, the Homer, Æschylus. Sophocles, Euripides, Plautus and Terence, the Diodorus of Sicily and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, St John Chrysostom and St Basil, St Jerome and St Augustine, Erasmus, Saumaise, Turnebe and Scaliger, St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure, Bossuet dragging Ferri with him, Lenain, Godefroy, Mézeray, Maimbourg, Fabricius, Father Lelong and Father Pitou, all the poets, all the historians, all the fathers, all the doctors, all the theologians, all the humanists, all the compilers, assembled high and low on the walls, became witnesses to our kisses.

"'I could not resist you,' she said to me; 'don't conceive a bad opinion of me.'

"She expressed her love for me in singular raptures. Once she made me try on neck and wrist bands of fine lace, and finding them suit me well she insisted on my accepting them. I did not want to. But on her becoming irritated by my refusal, which she considered an offence against love, I finally consented to accept them, afraid to offend her.

"My good fortune lasted till I was to be replaced by an officer. I became spiteful over it, and in the ardour of avenging myself I informed the College Regents that I did not go any longer to the _Golden Bible_, for fear of seeing there expositions rather offensive to the modesty of a young clerical. To say the truth, I had not to congratulate myself on this contrivance. Madame Pigoreau, becoming aware of my sayings, publicly accused me of having robbed her of a set of lace neck and wrist bands. Her false complaint reached the ears of the College Regents, who had my boxes searched; therein was found the garment, a matter of considerable value. I was expelled from college and had, like Hippolyte and Bellerophon, to put up with the wiles and wickedness of woman.

"Finding myself in the streets with my few rags and my copybooks, I ran great risk of starving, when, dressed in my clerical suit, I recommended myself to a Huguenot gentleman, who employed me as secretary and dictated to me libels on our religion."

"Ah!" exclaimed my father, "that was wrong of your reverence. An honest man ought not to lend his hand to such abominations. And as far as I am concerned, although ignorant, and of a working condition, I cannot bear the smell of Colas' cow."

"You're quite right, my host," continued the priest. "It is the worst point in my life. The very one I am most sorry for. But my man was a Calvinist. He employed me to write against Lutherans and Socinians only; these he could not stand at all, and, I assure you, he compelled me to treat them worse than ever it was done at the Sorbonne."

"Amen," said my father. "Lambs graze together while wolves devour one the other."


The Queen Pedauque - 4/43

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