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- The Queen Pedauque - 43/43 -
dinner. It's a long way from the Rue Saint Jacques to the Croix-des- Sablons, and the almanac does not lie when it announces that in November the days are short. "When I arrived at the Roule it was quite dark, and a black haze covered the deserted road. And sorrowful were my thoughts in the darkness.
"Alas," I said to myself, "it will soon be a full year since I first walked on this road, in the snow, in company with my dear master, who now rests in a small village in Burgundy encircled by vineyards. He sleeps in the hope of eternal life. And it is but right to have the same hope as a man as wise as he. God preserve me from ever doubting of the immortality of the soul! But, one must confess to oneself, all that is connected with a future existence and another world is of those verities in which one believes without being moved and which have neither taste nor savour of any kind, so that one swallows them without perceiving it. As for me I find no consolation in the idea of meeting again the Abbe Coignard in Paradise. Surely I could not recognise him, and his speeches would not contain the agreeableness which he derived from circumstances."
Occupied with these reflections, I saw before me a fierce light covering one-half of the sky; the fog was reddened by it, and the light palpitated in the centre. A heavy smoke mixed with the vapours of the air. I at once became afraid that the fire had broken out at the d'Asterac castle. I quickened my steps, and very soon ascertained that my fears were but too well founded. I discovered the calvary of the Sablons, an opaque black on a background of flame, and I saw nearly all the windows of the castle flaring as for a sinister feast. The little green door was broken in. Shadows gesticulated in the park and murmured the horror they felt. They were the inhabitants of the borough of Neuilly, who had come for curiosity's sake and to bring help. Some threw water from a fire engine on the burning edifice, making a fiery rain of sparks arise. A thick volume of smoke rose over the castle. A shower of sparks and of cinders fell round me, and I soon became aware that my garments and my hands were blackened. With much mortification I thought that all that burning dust in the air was the end of so many fine books and precious manuscripts, which were the joy of my dear master, the remains, perhaps, of Zosimus the Panopolitan, on which we had worked together during the noblest hours of my life.
I had seen the Abbe Jerome Coignard die. Now, it was his soul, his sparkling and sweet soul, which I fancied reduced to ashes together with the queen of libraries. The wind strengthened the fire and the flames roared like voracious beasts.
Questioning a man of Neuilly still blacker than myself, and wearing only his vest, I asked him if M. d'Asterac and his people had been saved.
"Nobody," he said, "has left the castle except an old Jew, who was seen running laden with packages in the direction of the swamps. He lived in the keeper's cottage on the river, and was hated for his origin and for the crimes of which he was suspected. Children pursued him. And in running away he fell into the Seine. He was fished out when dead, pressing on his heart a cup and six golden plates. You can see him on the river bank in his yellow gown. With his eyes open he is horrible."
"Ah!" I replied, "his end is due to his crimes. But his death does not give me back the best of masters whom he slew. Tell me again; has nobody seen M. d'Asterac?"
At the very moment when I put the question I heard near me one of the moving shadows cry out:
"Thereof is falling in!"
And now I recognised with unspeakable horror the great black form of M. d'Asterac running along the gutters. The alchemist shouted with a sounding voice:
"I rise on wings of flame up to the seat of life divine!"
So he said, and suddenly the roof fell in with a tremendous crash, and the flames as high as mountains enveloped the friend of the Salamanders.
I become a Bookseller--I have many learned and witty Customers but none to equal the Abbe Jerome Coignard, D. D., M. A,
There is no love will stand separation. The memory of Jahel, smarting at first, was smoothed down little by little, and nothing remained but a vague irritation, of which she was no longer the only object.
M. Blaizot aged quickly. He retired to Montrouge, to his cottage in the fields, and sold me his shop against a life annuity. Having become in his place the sworn bookseller of the _Image of Saint Catherine_, I took with me my father and mother, whose cookshop flourished no more. I liked my humble shop and took care to trim it up. I nailed on the doors some old Venetian maps and some theses ornamented with allegorical engravings, which made a decoration old and odd no doubt, but pleasant to friends of good learning. My knowledge, taking care to hide it cleverly, was not detrimental to my trade. It would have been worse had I been a publisher like Marc- Michel Rey, and obliged like him to gain my living at the expense of the stupidity of the public.
I keep in stock, as they say, the classical authors, and that is a merchandise in demand in that learned Rue Saint Jacques of which it would please me one day to write an account of its antiquities and celebrities. The first Parisian printer established his venerable presses there. The Cramoisys, whom Guy Patin calls the kings of the Rue Saint Jacques, published there the works of our historians. Before the erection of the College of France, the king's readers, Pierre Danes, Francois Votable, Ramus, gave their lectures there in a shed which echoed with the quarrels between the street porters and the washerwomen. And how can we forget Jean de Meung, who composed in one of the little houses of this street the _Roman de la Rose_? [Footnote: Jacques Tournebroche did not know that Francois Villon also dwelt in the Rue Saint Jacques, at the Cloister Saint Benoit, in a house called the _Porte Verte_. The pupil of M. Jerome Coignard would no doubt have had great pleasure in recalling the memory of that ancient poet, who, like himself, had known various sorts of people.]
I have the whole house at my disposal: it is very old, and dates at least from the time of the Goths, as may be seen by the wooden joists crossed on the narrow front and by the mossy tiles. It has but one window on each floor. The one on the first floor is all the year round garnished with flowers, strings are attached, and all sorts of climbers run up them in springtime. My good old mother takes care of this.
It is the window of her room. She can be seen from the street, reading her prayers in a book printed in big letters over the image of Saint Catherine. Age, devotion and maternal pride have given her a grand air, and to see her wax-coloured face under her high white cap one could take his oath on her being a wealthy citizen's wife.
My father, in getting old, also acquired some dignity. As he likes exercise and fresh air I employ him to carry books about town. First I employed Friar Ange, but he begged of my customers, made them kiss relics, stole their wine, caressed their servant girls, and left one-half of my books in the gutters. I soon gave him the sack. But my good mother, whom he makes believe that he is possessed of secrets for gaining heaven, gives him soup and wine. He is not a bad man, and in the end I became somewhat attached to him.
Several learned men and some wits frequent my shop And it is a great advantage to my trade to be in daily contact with men of merit. Among those who often come to look at new books and converse familiarly among themselves there are historians as learned as Tillemont, sacred orators the equals of Bossuet and Bourdaloue in eloquence, comic and tragic poets, theologians who unite purity of morals with solidity of doctrine, the esteemed authors of "Spanish" novels, geometers and philosophers capable, like M. Descartes, of measuring and weighing the universe. I admire them, I enjoy the least of their words. But not one, to my thinking, is equal in genius to my dear master, whom I had the misfortune to lose on the road to Lyons; not one reminds me of that incomparable elegance of thought, that sweet sublimity, that astonishing wealth of a soul always expanding and flowering, like the urns of rivers represented in marble in gardens; not one gives me that never-failing spring of science and of morals, wherein I had the happiness to quench the thirst of my youth, none give me more than a shadow of that grace, that wisdom, that strength of thought which shone in M. Jérôme Coignard. I hold him to be the most amiable spirit who has ever flourished on the earth.
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