Part 2 out of 5
"True, I did," replied M. d'Asterac, "but that liquor is only good
for philosophers, and by that you may understand how restricted is
the use of it. It will be better not to mention it."
One doubt tormented me. I asked leave of our host to submit it to
him, certain that he would enlighten me at once. He allowed me to
speak and I said:
"Sir, those Salamanders, who you say are so beautiful, and of whom,
after your relation, I have conceived a charming idea, have they
unhappily spoiled their teeth by light drinking, as the shepherds at
Valais lost theirs by feeding only on milk diet? I confess I am
rather uneasy about it."
"My son," replied M. d'Asterac, "your curiosity pleases me and I
will satisfy it. The Salamanders have no teeth that we should call
such. But their gums are furnished with two ranges of pearls, very
white and very brilliant, lending to their smiles an inconceivable
gracefulness. You should know that these pearls are light-hardened."
I said to M. d'Asterac that I was glad it was so and he continued:
"Men's teeth are a sign of ferocity. Once people are properly fed,
their teeth will give way to some ornament similar to the pearls of
the Salamander. Then it will become incomprehensible that a lover
could, without horror and disgust, contemplate dogs' teeth in the
mouth of his beloved."
The Library and its Contents
After dinner our host conducted us to a vast gallery adjoining his
study; it was the library. There were to be seen ranged on oaken
shelves an innumerable army, or rather a grand assembly, of books in
duodecimo, in octavo, in quarto, in folio, clad in calf, sheep,
morocco leather, in parchment and in pigskin. The light fell through
six windows on this silent assembly extended from one end of the
hall to the other, all along the high walls. Large tables,
alternated with globes and astronomical apparatus, occupied the
middle of the gallery. M. d'Asterac told us to make choice of the
place most convenient for our work.
My dear tutor, his head high, with look and breath inhaled all these
books drivelling with joy.
"By Apollo!" he exclaimed, "what a splendid library! The Bishop of
Séez's, over rich in works of canonical law, is not to be compared
to this. There is no pleasanter abode in my opinion, actually the
Elysian Fields as described by Virgil. At first sight I can discover
such rare books and precious collections that I have my doubts, sir,
if any other private library prevails over this, which is inferior
in France only to the Mazarin and the Royal. I dare say, seeing all
these Greek and Latin MSS. closely pressed together in this single
corner, one may, after the Bodleian, the Ambrosian, the Laurentinian
and the Vatican also name, sir, the Asteracian. Without flattering
myself I may say that I smell truffles and books at a long distance
and I consider myself from now, to be the equal of Peiresc, of
Grolier and of Canevarius, who are the princes of bibliophiles."
"I consider myself to be over them," said M. d'Asterac quietly, "as
this library is a great deal more precious than all those you have
named. The King's Library is but an old bookshop in comparison with
mine--that is, if you do not consider the number of books only and
the quantity of blackened paper. Gabriel Naudé and your Abbé Bignon,
both librarians of fame, are, compared to me, indolent shepherds of
a vile herd of sheep-like books. I concede that the Benedictines are
diligent, but they have no high spirit and their libraries reveal
the mediocrity of the souls by whom they have been collected. My
gallery, sir, is not on the pattern of others. The works I have got
together form a whole which doubtless will procure me knowledge. My
library is gnostic, oecumenic and spiritual. If all the lines traced
on those numberless sheets of paper and parchment could enter in
good order into your brain, you, sir, would know all, could do all,
would be the master of Nature, the plasmator of things, you would
hold the whole world between the two fingers of your hand as I now
hold these grains of tobacco."
With these words he offered his snuff-box to my tutor.
"You are very polite," said M. Jérôme Coignard.
Letting his transported looks wander over the learned walls he
"Between these third and fourth windows are shelves bearing an
illustrious burden. There is the meeting place of Oriental MSS., who
seem to converse together. I see ten or twelve venerable ones under
shreds of purple and gold figured silks, their vestments. Like a
Byzantine emperor, some of them wear jewelled clasps on their
mantles, others are mailed in ivory plates."
"They are the writings of Jewish, Arabian and Persian cabalists,"
said M. d'Asterac. "You have just opened 'The Powerful Hand.' Close
to it you'll find 'The Open Table,' 'The Faithful Shepherd,' 'The
Fragments of the Temple' and 'The Light of Darkness.' One place is
empty, that of 'Slow Waters,' a precious treatise, which Mosaïde
studies at present. Mosaïde, as I have already said to you,
gentlemen, is in my house, occupied with the discovery of the
deepest secrets contained in the scriptures of the Hebrews, and,
over a century old as he is, the rabbi consents not to die, before
penetrating into the sense of all cabalistic symbols. I owe him much
gratitude, and beg of you gentlemen, when you see him, to show him
the same regard as I do myself.
"But let us pass that over and come to what is your special concern.
I thought of you, reverend sir, to transcribe and put into Latin
some Greek MSS. of inestimable value. I confide in your knowledge
and in your zeal, and have no doubt that your young disciple cannot
but be of great help to you."
And addressing me specially he said:
"Yes, my son, I lay great hopes on you. They are based for a large
part on the education you have received. For, you have been brought
up, so to say, in the flames, under the mantel of the chimney
haunted by Salamanders. That is a very considerable circumstance."
Without interrupting his speech, he took up an armful of MSS. and
deposited them on the table.
"This," he said, showing a roll of papyrus, "comes from Egypt. It is
a book of Zosimus the Panopolitan, which was thought to be lost and
which I found myself in a coffin of a priest of Serapis.
"And what you see here," he added, showing us some straps of glossy
and fibrous leaves on which Greek letters traced with a brush were
hardly visible, "are unheard-of revelations, due, one to Gophar the
Persian, the other to John, the arch-priest of Saint Evagia.
"I should be very glad if you would occupy yourselves with these
works before any others. Afterwards we will study together the MSS.
of Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemy, of Olympiodorus and Stephanus, which
I discovered at Ravenna, in a vault where they have been locked up
since the reign of that ignoramus Theodosius who has been surnamed
As soon as M. d'Asterac was gone, my tutor sat down over the papyrus
of Zosimus and, with the help of a magnifying glass commenced to
decipher it. I asked him if he was not surprised by what he had just
Without raising his head he replied:
"My dear boy, I have known too many kinds of persons and traversed
fortunes too various to be surprised at anything. This gentleman
seems to be demented, less because he really is so, but from his
thoughts differing in excess from those of the vulgar. But if one
listened to discourses commonly held in this world, there would be
found still less sense than in those of that philosopher. Left to
itself, the sublimest human reason builds its castles and temples in
the air and, truly, M. d'Asterac is a pretty good gatherer of
clouds. Truth is in God alone, never forget it, my boy. But this is
really the book 'Jmoreth' written by Zosimus the Panopolitan for his
sister Theosebia. What a glory and what a delight to read this
unique MS. rediscovered by a kind of prodigy! I'll give it my days
and night watches. How I pity, my boy, the ignorant fellows whom
idleness drives into debauchery! What a miserable life they lead!
What is a woman in comparison with an Alexandrian papyrus? Compare,
if you please, this noble library with the tavern of the _Little
Bacchus_ and the entertainment of this precious MS. with the
caresses given to a wench under the bower; and tell me, my boy,
where true contentment is to be found. For me, a companion of the
Muses, and admitted to the silent orgies of meditation of which the
rhetor of Madama speaks with so much eloquence, I thank God for
having made me a respectable man."
At Work on Zosimus the Panopolitan--I visit my Home and hear Gossip
about M. d'Asterac.
During all the next month or six weeks, M. Coignard applied himself,
day and night, just as he had promised, to the reading of Zosimus
the Panopolitan. During the meals we partook of at the table of M.
d'Asterac the conversation turned on the opinions of the gnostics
and on the knowledge of the ancient Egyptians. Being only an
ignorant scholar I was of little use to my good master. I did my
best by making such researches as he wanted me to make; I took no
little pleasure in it. Truly, we lived happily and quietly. At about
the seventh week, M. d'Asterac gave me leave to go and see my
parents at their cookshop. The shop appeared strangely smaller to
me. My mother was there alone and sad. She cried aloud on seeing me
fitted out like a prince.
"My Jacques," she said, "I am very happy!"
And she began to cry. We embraced, then wiping her eyes with a
corner of her canvas apron she said:
"Your father is at the _Little Bacchus_. Since you left he
often goes there; in your absence the house is less pleasant for
him. He'll be glad to see you again. But say, my Jacques, are you
satisfied with your new position? I regretted letting you go with
that nobleman; I even accused myself in confession to the third
vicar of giving preference to your bodily well-being over that of
your soul and not having thought of God in establishing you. The
third vicar reproved me kindly over it, and exhorted me to follow
the example of the pious women in the Scriptures, of whom he named
several to me; but there are names there that I'll never be able to
remember. He did not explain his meaning minutely as it was a
Saturday evening and the church was full of penitents."
I reassured my good mother as well as I could and told her that M.
d'Asterac made me work in Greek, which was the language in which the
New Testament was written; this pleased her, but she remained
"You'll never guess, my dear Jacquot," she said, "who spoke to me of
M. d'Asterac. It was Cadette Saint-Avit, the serving-woman of the
Rector of St Benoît. She comes from Gascony, and is a native of a
village called Laroque-Timbaut, quite near Saint Eulalie, of which
M. d'Asterac is the lord. You know that Cadette Saint-Avit is
elderly, as the waiting-woman of a rector ought to be. In her youth
she knew, in her country, the three Messieurs d'Asterac, one of whom
was captain of a man-of-war and has since been drowned. He was the
youngest. The second was colonel of a regiment, went to war and was
killed. The eldest, Hercules d'Asterac, is the sole survivor of the
three brothers. It is the same one in whose service you are for your
good, at least I hope so. He dressed magnificently in his youth, was
liberal in his manners but of a sombre humour. He kept aloof from
all public business and was not anxious to go into the king's
service, as his two brothers had done and found in it an honourable
end. He was accustomed to say that it was no glory to carry a sword
at one's side, that he did not know of a more ignoble thing than the
calling of arms, and that a village scavenger was, in his opinion,
high over a brigadier or a marshal of France. Those were his
sayings. I confess it does not seem to me either bad or malicious,
rather daring and whimsical. But in some way they must be blameable,
as Cadette Saint-Avit said that the rector of her parish considered
them to be contrary to the order established by God in this world
and opposed to that part of the Bible where God is given a name
which means Lord of Hosts, and that would be a great sin.
"This M. Hercules had so little sympathy with the court that he
refused to travel to Versailles to be presented to his Majesty
according to his birthright. He said, 'The king does not come to me
and I do not go to him,' and anyone of sense, my Jacquot, can
understand that such is not a natural saying."
My good mother looked inquiringly and anxiously at me and went on:
"What more I have to inform you about, my dear Jacquot, is still
less believable. However, Cadette Saint-Avit spoke of it as of a
certainty. And so I will tell you that M. Hercules d'Asterac, when
he lived on his estate, had no other care but to bottle the rays of
the sun. Cadette Saint-Avit does not know how he managed it, but she
is sure that after a time, in the flagons well corked and heated in
water baths, tiny little women took form, charming figures and
dressed like theatre princesses. You laugh, Jacquot; however, one
ought not to joke over such things when one can see the consequence.
It is a great sin to create in such a way creatures who cannot be
baptised and who never could have a part in the eternal blessings.
You cannot suppose that M. d'Asterac carried those grotesque figures
to a priest in their bottles to hold them over the christening font.
No godmother could have been found for them."
"But, my dear mamma," I replied, "the dolls of M. d'Asterac were not
in want of christening, they had no participation in original sin."
"I never thought of that," said my mother. "And Cadette Saint-Avit
herself did not mention it, although she was the servant of a
rector. Unhappily she left Gascony when quite young, came to France
and had no more news of M. d'Asterac, of his bottles and his
puppets. I sincerely hope, my dear Jacquot, that he renounced his
wicked works, which could not be accomplished without the help of
"Tell me, my dear mother, did Cadette Saint-Avit, the rector's
servant, see the bodies in the bottles with her own eyes?"
"No, my dear child; M. d'Asterac kept his dolls very secret and did
not show them to anybody. But she heard of them from a churchman of
the name of Fulgence, who haunted the castle, and swore he had seen
those little creatures step out of their glass prisons and dance a
minuet. And she had every reason to believe it. It is possible to
doubt of what one sees, but you cannot doubt the word of an honest
man, especially when he belongs to the Church. There is another
misfortune with such secret practices, they are extremely costly and
it is hard to imagine, as Cadette Saint-Avit said, what money M.
Hercules spent to procure all those bottles of different forms,
those furnaces and conjuring books wherewith he filled his castle.
But after the death of his brothers he became the richest gentleman
of his province, and while he dissipated his wealth in follies, his
good lands worked for him. Cadette Saint-Avit rates him, with all
his expenses, as still a very rich man."
These last words spoken, my father entered the shop. He embraced me
tenderly and confided to me that the house had lost half its
pleasantness in consequence of my departure and that of M. Jérôme
Coignard, who was honest and jovial. He complimented me on my dress
and gave me a lesson in deportment, assuring me that trade had
accustomed him to easy manners by the continuous obligation he was
under to greet his customers like gentlemen, if as a fact they were
only vile riff-raff. He gave me, as a precept, to round off the
elbows and to turn my toes outward and counselled me, beyond this,
to go and see Léandre at the fair of Saint Germain and to adjust
myself exactly on him.
We dined together with a good appetite, and we parted shedding
floods of tears. I loved them well, both of them, and what
principally made me cry was that, after an absence of six weeks
only, they had already become somewhat strange to me. And I verily
believe that their sadness was caused by the same sentiment.
I see Catherine with Friar Ange and reflect--The Liking of Nymphs
for Satyrs--An Alarm of Fire--M. d'Asterac in his Laboratory.
When I came out of the cookshop, the night was black. At the corner
of the Rue des Ecrivains I heard a fat and deep voice singing:
"Si ton honneur elle est perdue
La bell', c'est tu l'as bien voulu."
And soon I could see on the other side, whence the voice sounded,
Friar Ange, with wallet dangling on his shoulder, holding Catherine
the lacemaker round the waist, walking in the shadow with a wavering
and triumphal step, spouting the gutter water under his sandals in a
magnificent spirit of mire which seemed to celebrate his drunken
glory, as the basins of Versailles make their fountains play in
honour of the king. I put myself out of the way against the post in
the corner of a house door, so as not to be seen by them, which was
a needless precaution as they were too much occupied with one
another. With her head lying on the monk's shoulder, Catherine
laughed. A moonray trembled on her moist lips and in her eyes, like
the water sparkles in a fountain; and I went my way, with my soul
irritated and my heart oppressed, thinking on the provoking waist of
that fine girl pressed by the arm of a dirty Capuchin.
"Is it possible," I said to myself, "that such a pretty thing could
be in such ugly hands? And if Catherine despises me need she render
her despisal more cruel by the liking she has for that naughty Friar
This preference appeared singular to me and I conceived as much
surprise as disgust at it. But I was not the disciple of M. Jérôme
Coignard for nothing. This incomparable teacher had formed my mind
to meditate. I recalled to myself the satyrs one can see in gardens
carrying off nymphs, and reflected that if Catherine was made like a
nymph, those satyrs, at least as they are represented to us, are as
horrible as yonder Capuchin. And I concluded that I ought not to be
so very much astonished by what I had just seen. My vexation,
however, was not dissipated by my reason, doubtless because it had
not its source there. These meditations got me along through the
shadows of the night and the mud of the thaw to the road of Saint
Germain, where I met M. Jérôme Coignard, who was returning home to
the Cross of the Sablons after having supped in town.
"My boy," he said, "I have conversed of Zosimus and the gnostics at
the table of a very learned ecclesiastic, quite another Peiresc. The
wine was coarse and the fare but middling, but nectar and ambrosia
floated through the discourse."
Then my dear tutor spoke of the Panopolitan with an inconceivable
eloquence. Alas! I listened badly, thinking of that drop of
moonlight which had this very night fallen on the lips of Catherine
At last he came to a stop and I asked on what foundation the Greeks
had established the liking of the nymphs for satyrs. My teacher was
so widely learned that he was always ready to reply to all
questions. He told me:
"That liking is based on a natural sympathy. It is lively but not so
ardent as the liking of the satyrs for the nymphs, with which it
corresponds. The poets have observed this distinction very well.
Concerning it I'll narrate you a singular adventure I have read in a
MS. belonging to the library of the Bishop of Séez. It was (I still
have it before my eyes) a collection in folio, written in a good
hand of last century. This is the singular fact reported in it. A
Norman gentleman and his wife took part in a public entertainment,
disguised, he as a satyr, she as a nymph. By Ovid it is known with
what ardour the satyrs pursue the nymphs; that gentleman had read
the 'Metamorphoses.' He entered so well into the spirit of his
disguise that nine months after, his wife presented him with a baby
whose forehead was horned and whose feet were those of a buck. It is
not known what became of the father beyond that he had the common
end of all creatures, to wit, that he died, and that beside that
capriped he left another younger child, a Christian one and of human
form. This younger son went to law claiming that his brother should
not get a part of the deceased father's inheritance for the reason
that he did not belong to the species redeemed by the blood of Jesus
Christ. The Parliament of Normandy, sitting at Rouen, gave a verdict
in his favour, which was duly recorded."
I asked my teacher if it was possible that a disguise could have
such an effect on nature and if the shape of the child could follow
that of a garment. M. Jérôme Coignard advised me not to believe it.
"Jacques Tournebroche, my son," he said, "remember always that a
good mind repels all that is contrary to reason, except in matters
of faith, wherein it is convenient to believe implicitly. Thank God!
I have never erred about the dogmas of our very holy religion, and I
trust to find myself in the same disposition in the article of
Conversing in this manner we arrived at the castle. The roof seemed
in a red glow in the dark. Out of one in dark shadows. We heard the
roaring of the fire, like fiery rain under the dense smoke wherewith
the sky was veiled. We both believed the flames to be devouring the
building. My good tutor tore his hair and moaned:
"My Zosimus, my papyrus, my Greek MSS.! Help! Help! my Zosimus!"
Running up the great lane over puddles of water reflecting the glare
of the fire, we crossed the park buried in dark shadows. We heard
the roaring of the fire, which filled the sombre staircase. Two at a
time we ran up the steps, stopping now and again to listen whence
came that appalling noise.
It appeared to us to come from a corridor on the third floor where
we had never been. In that direction we fumbled our way, and seeing
through the slits of a door the red brightness, we knocked with all
our might on the panel. It opened at once.
M. d'Asterac, who opened the door, stood quietly before us. His long
black figure seemed to be enveloped in flaming air. He asked quietly
on what pressing business we were looking for him at so late an
hour. There was no conflagration but a terrible fire, burning in a
big furnace with reflectors, which as I have since learned are
called athanors. The whole of the rather large room was full of
glass bottles with long necks twined round glass tubes of a duck-
beak shape, retorts, resembling chubby cheeks out of which came
noses like trumpets, crucibles, cupels, matrasses, cucurbits and
vases of all forms.
My dear old tutor wiping his face shining like live coals said:
"Oh, sir, we were afraid that the castle was alight like straw.
Thank God, the library is not burning. But are you practising the
spagyric art, sir?"
"I do not want to conceal from you," said M. d'Asterac, "that I have
made great progress in it, but withal I have not found the theorem
capable of rendering my work perfect. At the moment you knocked at
the door I was picking up the Spirit of the World, and the Flower of
Heaven, which are the veritable Fountains of Youth. Have you some
understanding of alchemy, Monsieur Coignard?"
The abbé replied that he had got some notions of it from certain
books, but that he considered the practice of it to be pernicious
and contrary to religion. M. d'Asterac smiled and said:
"You are too knowing a man, M. Coignard, not to be acquainted with
the Flying Eagle, the Bird of Hermes, the Fowl of Hermogenes, the
Head of a Raven, the Green Lion and the Phoenix."
"I have been told," said my good master, "that by these names are
distinguished the philosopher's stone in its different states. But I
have doubts about the possibility of a transmutation of metals."
With the greatest confidence M. d'Asterac replied:
"Nothing is easier, my dear sir, than to bring your uncertainty to
He opened an old rickety chest standing in the wall and took out of
it a copper coin, bearing the effigy of the late king, and called
our attention to a round stain crossing the coin from side to side.
"That," he said, "is the effect of the stone, which has transmuted
the copper into silver, but that's only a trifle."
He went back to the chest and took out of it a sapphire the size of
an egg, an opal of marvellous dimensions and a handful of perfect
"Here are some of my doings," he said, "which are proof enough that
the spagyric art is not the dream of an empty brain."
At the bottom of the small wooden bowl lay five or six little
diamonds, of which M. d'Asterac made no mention. My tutor asked him
if they also were of his make, and, the alchemist having
"Sir," said the abbé, "I should counsel you to show the curious
those diamonds prior to the other stones by way of caution. If you
let them look first at the sapphire, opal and the emeralds, you run
the risk of a persecution for sorcery, because everyone will say
that the devil alone was capable of producing such stones. Just as
the devil alone could lead an easy life in the midst of these
furnaces, where one has to breathe flames. As far as I am concerned,
having stayed a single quarter of an hour, I am already half baked."
Letting us out, with a friendly smile M. d'Asterac spoke as follows:
"Well knowing what to think of the devil and the Other, I willingly
consent to speak of them with persons who believe in them. The devil
and the Other are, as it were, characters; one may speak of them
just as of Achilles and Thersites. Be assured, gentlemen, if the
devil is like what he is said to be, he does not live in so subtle
an element as fire. It is wholly wrong to place so villainous a
beast in the sun. But as I had the honour to say, Master
Tournebroche, to the Capuchin so dear to your mother, I reckon that
the Christians slander Satan and his demons. That in some unknown
world there may exist beings still worse than man is possible, but
hardly conceivable. Certainly, if such exist, they inhabit regions
deprived of light, and if they are burning, it would be in ice,
which, as a fact, causes the same smarting pain, and not in
illustrious flames among the fiery daughters of the stars. They
suffer because they are wicked, and wickedness is an evil; but they
can only suffer from chilblains. With regard to your Satan,
gentlemen, who is a horror for your theologians, I do not consider
him to be despicable, if I judge him by all you say of him, and,
should he peradventure exist, I would think him to be, not a nasty
beast, but a little Sylph, or at least a Gnome, and a metallurgist a
trifle mocking but very intelligent."
My tutor stopped his ears with his fingers and took to flight so as
not to hear anything more.
"What impiety, Tournebroche, my boy," he exclaimed, when we reached
the staircase. "What blasphemies! Have you felt all the odium in the
maxims of that philosopher? He pushes atheism to a joyous frenzy,
which makes me wonder. But this indeed renders him almost innocent,
for being apart from all belief, he cannot tear up the Holy Church
like those who remain attached to her by some half-severed, still
bleeding limb. Such, my son, are the Lutherans and the Calvinists,
who mortify the Church till a separation occurs. On the contrary,
atheists damn themselves alone, and one may dine with them without
committing a sin. That's to say, that we need not have any scruple
about living with M. d'Asterac, who believes neither in God nor
devil. But did you see, Tournebroche, my boy, the handful of little
diamonds at the bottom of the wooden bowl?--the number of which
apparently he did not know, and which seemed to be of pure water. I
have my doubts about the opal and the sapphires, but those diamonds
looked genuine." When we reached our chambers we wished each other a
The Advent of Spring and its Effects--We visit Mosaïde
Up till springtime my tutor and myself led a regular and secluded
life. All the mornings we were at work shut up in the gallery, and
came back here after dinner as if to the theatre. Not as M. Jérôme
Coignard used to say, to give ourselves in the manner of gentlemen
and valets a paltry spectacle, but to listen to the sublime, if
contradictory, dialogues of the ancient authors.
In this way the reading and translating of the Panopolitan advanced
quickly. I hardly contributed to it. Such kind of work was above my
knowledge and I had enough to do to learn the figure that the Greek
letters make on papyrus. Sometimes I assisted my tutor by consulting
the authors who could enlighten him in his researches, and foremost
Olympiodorus and Plotinus, with whom since then I have remained
familiar. The small services I was able to render him increased
considerably my self-esteem.
After a long sharp winter I was on the way to become a learned
person, when the spring broke in suddenly with her gallant equipage
of light, tender green and singing birds; the perfume of the lilacs
coming into the library windows caused me vague reveries, out of
which my tutor called me by saying:
"Jacquot Tournebroche, please climb up that ladder and tell me if
that rascal Manéthon does not mention a god Imhotep, who by his
contradictions tortures one like a devil."
And my good master filled his nose with tobacco and looked quite
On another occasion he said:
"My boy, it is remarkable how great an influence our garments have
on our moral state. Since my neckband has become spotted with
different sauces I have dropped upon it I feel a less honest man.
Now that you are dressed like a marquis, Tournebroche, does not the
desire tickle you to assist at the toilet of an opera girl, and to
put a roll of spurious gold pieces on a faro-table--in one word, do
you not feel yourself to be a man of quality? Do not take what I say
amiss, and remember that it is sufficient to give a coward a busby
to make him hasten to become a soldier and be knocked on the head in
the king's service. Tournebroche, our sentiments are composed of a
thousand things we cannot detect for their smallness, and the
destiny of our immortal soul depends sometimes on a puff too light
to bend a blade of grass. We are the toy of the winds. But pass me,
if you please, 'The Rudiments of Vossius,' the red edges of which I
see stand out under your left arm."
On this same day, after dinner at three o'clock, M. d'Asterac led
us, my teacher and myself, to walk in the park. He conducted us to
the west, where Rueil and Mont Valérien are visible. It was the
deepest and most desolate part. Ivy and grass, cropped by the
rabbits, covered the paths, now and then obstructed by large trunks
of dead trees. The marble statues on both sides of the way smiled,
unconscious of their ruin. A nymph, with her broken hand near her
mouth, made a sign to a shepherd to remain silent. A young faun, his
head fallen to the ground, still tried to put his flute to his lips.
And all these divine beings seemed to teach us to despise the
injuries inflicted by time and fortune. We followed the banks of a
canal where the rainwater nourished the tree frogs. Round a circus
rose sloping basins where pigeons went to drink. Arrived there we
went by a narrow pathway driven through a coppice.
"Walk with care," said M. d'Asterac. "This pathway is somewhat
dangerous, as it is lined by mandrakes which at night-time sing at
the foot of the trees. They hide in the earth. Take care not to put
your feet on them; you will get love sickness or thirst after
wealth, and would be lost, because the passions inspired by
mandrakes are unhappy."
I asked how it was possible to avoid the invisible danger. M.
d'Asterac replied that one could escape it by means of intuitive
divination, and in no other way.
"Besides," he added, "this pathway is fatal."
It went on in a direct line to a brick pavilion, hidden under ivy,
which no doubt had served in time gone by as a guard house. There
the park came to an end close to the monotonous marshes of the
"You see this pavilion," said M. d'Asterac; "in it lives the most
learned of men. Therein Mosaïde, one hundred and twenty years old,
penetrates, with majestic self-will, the mysteries of nature. He has
left Imbonatus and Bartoloni far behind. I wanted to honour myself,
gentlemen, by keeping under my roof the greatest cabalist since
Enoch, son of Cain. Religious scruples have prevented Mosaïde taking
his place at my table, which he supposes to be a Christian's, by
which he does me too much honour. You cannot conceive the violence
of hate, of this sage, of everything Christian. I had the greatest
difficulty to make him dwell in the pavilion, where he lives alone
with his niece, Jahel. Gentlemen, you shall not wait longer before
becoming acquainted with Mosaïde and I will at once present both of
you to this divine man."
And having thus spoken, M. d'Asterac pushed us inside the pavilion,
where between MSS. strewn all round was seated in a large arm-chair
an old man with piercing eyes, a hooked nose, and a couple of thin
streams of white beard growing from a receding chin; a velvet cap,
formed like an imperial crown, covered his bald skull, and his body,
of an inhuman emaciation, was wrapped up in an old gown of yellow
silk, resplendent but dirty.
Right piercing looks were turned on us, but he gave no sign that he
noticed our arrival. His face had an expression of painful
stubbornness, and he slowly rolled between his rigid fingers the
reed which served him for writing.
"Do not expect idle words from Mosaïde," said M. d'Asterac to us.
"For a long time this sage does not communicate with anyone but the
genii and myself. His discourses are sublime. As he will never
converse with you, gentlemen, I'll endeavour to give you in a few
words an idea of his merits. First he has penetrated into the
spiritual sense of the books of Moses, after that into the value of
the Hebrew characters, which depends on the order of the letters of
the alphabet. This order has been thrown into confusion from the
eleventh letter forward. Mosaïde has re-established it, which
Atrabis, Philo, Avicenne, Raymond Lully, P. de la Mirandola,
Reuchlin, Henry More and Robert Flydd have been unable to do.
Mosaïde knows the number of the gold which corresponds to Jehovah in
the world of spirits, and you must agree, gentlemen, that that is of
My dear tutor took his snuff-box in hand, presented it civilly to
us, took a pinch himself and said:
"Do you not believe, M. d'Asterac, that this sort of knowledge is
the very kind to bring one to the devil at the end of this transient
"After all, this sire Mosaïde plainly errs in his interpretation of
the Holy Scriptures. When our Lord expired on the cross for the
salvation of mankind the synagogue felt a bandage slip over her
eyes, she staggered like a drunken woman and the crown fell from her
head. Since then the interpretation of the Old Testament is confined
to the Catholic Church, to which in spite of my many iniquities I
At these words Mosaïde, like a goat god, smiled in a hideous manner,
and said to my dear tutor, in a slow and musty voice sounding as
from far away:
"The Masorah has not confided to thee her secrets and the Mischna
has not revealed to thee her mysteries."
"Mosaïde," continued M. d'Asterac, "not only interprets the books of
Moses but also that of Enoch, which is much more important, and
which has been rejected by the Christians, who were unable to
understand it; like the cock of the Arabian fable, who disdained the
pearl fallen in his grain. That book of Enoch, M. Abbé Coignard, is
the more precious because therein are to be seen the first talks the
daughters of man had with the Sylphs. You must understand that those
angels which as Enoch shows us had love connection with women were
Sylphs and Salamanders."
"I will so understand, sir," replied my good master, "not wishing to
gainsay you. But from what has been conserved of the book of Enoch,
which is clearly apocryphal, I suspect those angels to have been not
Sylphs but simply Phoenician merchants."
"And on what do you found," asked M. d'Asterac, "so singular an
"I found it, sir, on what is said in that very book that the angels
taught the women how to use bracelets and necklaces, to paint the
eyebrows and to employ all sorts of dyes. It is further said in the
same book, that the angels taught the daughters of men the peculiar
qualities of roots and trees, enchantments, and the art of observing
the stars. Truly, sir, have not those angels the appearance of
Syrians or Sidonians gone ashore on some half-deserted coast and
unpacking in the shadow of rocks their trumpery wares to tempt the
girls of the savage tribes? These traffickers gave them copper
necklaces, armlets and medicines in exchange for amber, frankincense
and furs. And they astonished these beautiful but ignorant creatures
by speaking to them of the stars with a knowledge acquired by
seafaring. That's clear, I think, and I should like to know in what
M. Mosaïde could contradict me."
Mosaïde kept mute and M. d'Asterac, smiling again, said:
"M. Coignard, you do not reason so badly, ignorant as you still are
of gnosticism and the Cabala. And what you say makes me think that
there may have been some metallurgistic and gold-working Gnomes
among the Sylphs who joined themselves in love with the daughters of
men. The Gnomes, and that is a fact, occupied themselves willingly
with the goldsmith's art, and it is probable that those ingenious
demons forged the bracelets you believe to have been of Phoenician
"But I warn you, you'll be at some disadvantage, sir, to compete
with Mosaïde in the knowledge of human antiquities. He has
rediscovered monuments which were believed to have been lost; among
others, the column of Seth and the oracles of Sambéthé the daughter
of Noah and the most ancient of the sybils."
"Oh!" exclaimed my tutor as he stamped on the powdery floor so that
a cloud of dust whirled up. "Oh! what dreams! It is too much, you
make fun of me! And M. Mosaïde cannot have so much foolery in his
head, under his large bonnet, resembling the crown of Charlemagne;
that column of Seth is a ridiculous invention of that shallow
Flavius Josephus, an absurd story by which nobody has been imposed
upon before you. And the predictions of Sambéthé, Noah's daughter, I
am really curious to know them; and M. Mosaïde, who seems to be
pretty sparing of his words, would oblige by uttering a few by words
of mouth, because it is not possible for him, I am quite pleased to
recognise it, to pronounce them by the more secret voice in which
the ancient sybils habitually gave their mysterious responses."
Mosaïde, who seemed to hear nothing, said suddenly:
"Noah's daughter has spoken; Sambéthé has said: 'The vain man who
laughs and mocks will not hear the voice which goes forth from the
seventh tabernacle, the infidel walketh miserably to his ruin.'"
After this oracular pronouncement all three of us took leave of
I take a Walk and visit Mademoiselle Catherine
In that year the summer was radiant, and I had a longing to go
walking. One day, strolling under the trees of the Cours-la-Reine
with two little crowns I had found that very morning in the pocket
of my breeches, and which were the first by which my goldmaker had
shown his munificence, I sat down at the door of a small coffee-
house, at a table so small that it was quite appropriate to my
solitude and modesty. Then I began to think of the oddness of my
destiny, while at my side some musketeers were drinking Spanish wine
with girls of the town. I was not quite sure that Croix-des-Sablons,
M. d'Asterac, Mosaïde, the papyrus of Zosimus and my fine clothes
were not dreams, out of which I should wake to find myself clad in
the dimity vest, back again turning the spit at the _Queen
I came out of my reverie on feeling my sleeve pulled, and saw
standing before me Friar Ange, his face nearly hidden by his beard
"Monsieur Jacques Ménétrier," he said in a very low voice, "a lady,
who wishes you well, expects you in her carriage on the highway,
between the river and the Porte de la Conférence."
My heart began to beat violently. Afraid and charmed by this
adventure, I went at once to the place indicated by the Capuchin,
but at a quiet pace, which seemed to me to be more becoming. Arrived
at the embankment I saw a carriage and a tiny hand on the door.
This door was opened at my coming, and very much surprised I was to
find inside the coach Mam'selle Catherine, dressed in pink satin,
her head covered with a hood of black lace, underneath which her
fair hair seemed to sport.
Confused I remained standing on the step.
"Come in," she said, "and sit down near me. Shut the door if you
please; you must not be seen. Just now in passing on the Cours I saw
you sitting at the café. Immediately I had you fetched by the good
friar, whom I had attached to me for the Lenten exercises, and whom
I have kept since, because, in whatever position one may be, it is
necessary to have piety. You looked very well, M. Jacques, sitting
before your little table, your sword across your thighs and with the
sad look of a man of quality. I have always been friendly disposed
towards you and I am not of that kind of women who in their
prosperity disregard their former friends."
"Eh! What? Mam'selle Catherine," I exclaimed, "this coach, these
lackeys, this satin dress----"
"They are the outcome," she replied, "of the kindness of M. de la
Guéritude, who is of the best set and one of the richest financiers.
He has lent money to the king. He is an excellent friend whom, for
all the world, I should not wish to offend. But he is not as amiable
as you, M. Jacques. He has also given me a little house at Grenelle,
which I will show you from the cellar to the garret. M. Jacques, I
am mighty glad to see you on the road to fortune. Real merit is
always discovered. You'll see my bedroom, which is copied from that
of Mademoiselle Davilliers. It is covered all over with looking-
glass and there are lots of grotesque figures. How is the old fellow
your father? Between ourselves, he somewhat neglects his wife and
his cook-shop. It is very wrong of a man in his position. But let us
speak of yourself."
"Let us speak of you, Mam'selle Catherine," said I. "You are so very
pretty and it is a great pity you love the Capuchin." Nothing could
be said against a government contractor.
"Oh!" she said, "do not reproach me with Friar Ange. I have him for
my salvation only and if I would give a rival to M. de la Guéritude
it would be----"
"Don't ask me, M. Jacques; you're an ungrateful man, for you know
that I always singled you out, but you do not care about me."
"Quite the contrary, Mam'selle Catherine. I smarted under your
mockery. You sneered at my beardless chin. Many a time you have told
me that I am but a ninny."
"And that was true, M. Jacques, truer than you believed it to be.
Why could you not see that I had a liking for you?"
"Why, Catherine, you are so pretty as to make one fear. I did not
dare to look at you. And one day I clearly Law that you were
thoroughly offended with me."
"I had every reason for it, M. Jacques; you took that Savoyard in
preference to me, that scum of the Port Saint Nicolas."
"Ah! be quite sure, Catherine, that I did not do so by wish or
inclination, but only because she found ways and means energetic
enough to vanquish my timidity."
"Oh! my friend, you may believe me, as I am the elder of us two,
timidity is a great sin against love. But did you not see that that
beggar had holes in her stockings and a seam of filth and mud, half-
an-ell high, on the bottom of her petticoat?"
"I saw it, Catherine."
"Have you not seen, Jacques, how badly she is made and that really
she is skinny?"
"I saw it, Catherine."
"And withal you loved that Savoyard she-monkey, you who have a white
skin and distinguished manners!"
"I cannot understand it myself, Catherine. It must have been that at
that moment my imagination was full of you. And it was your image
only gave me the pluck and strength you reproach me with to-day.
Imagine yourself, Catherine, my rapture to press you in my arms,
yourself or only a girl who resembled you a little. Because I loved
She took my hand and sighed, and in a tone of sadness I continued to
"Yes, I did love you, Catherine, and I could still love you except
for that disgusting monk."
She cried out:
"What a suspicion! You offend me. It is a folly."
"Then you do not love the Capuchin?"
As I did not consider it to be any use to press the subject further,
I took her round the waist, we embraced, our lips met and all my
being seemed to melt in voluptuousness.
After a short moment of luxurious confusion, she disentangled
herself, her cheeks rosy, her eyes moistened, her lips half
separated. It is from that day that I knew how much a woman is
embellished and adorned by a kiss lovingly pressed on her mouth.
Mine had made roses of the sweetest hue bloom on Catherine's cheeks
and strewn into the flowery blue of her eyes drops of diamantine
"You are a baby," she said, readjusting her hood. "Go! you cannot
remain a moment longer. M. de la Guéritude will be here at once. He
loves me with an impatience which continually runs ahead of the
Reading in my face how upset I was by this saying she spoke again
with a quick vivacity:
"Listen, Jacques, he returns every night at nine to his old woman,
who shrewish by age, cannot bear his infidelities since she herself
is unable to pay him in the same coin and has become awfully
jealous. Come to-night at half-past nine. I'll receive you. My house
is at the corner of the Rue du Bac. You'll recognise it by its three
windows on every floor and by its balcony covered with roses; you
know I always did like flowers. Good-bye till to-night."
Caressingly she pushed me back, hardly able to hide the wish to keep
me with her, then placing one finger over her mouth she whispered
Taken by M. d'Asterac to the Isle of Swans I listen to his Discourse
on Creation and Salamanders.
I really do not know how it was possible to tear myself out of
Catherine's arms. But it is a fact that in jumping out of her
carriage I nearly fell on M. d'Asterac, whose tall figure leant
against a tree on the roadside. Courteously I saluted him and showed
the surprise I felt at this pleasant encounter.
"Chance," he said, "lessens as knowledge grows; for me it is
suppressed. I knew, my son, that I had to meet you at this place. It
is necessary for me to have a conversation with you already too long
delayed. Let's go, if you please, in quest of solitude and quietness
required by what I wish to tell you. Do not become anxious. The
mysteries I desire to unveil before you are sublime, it is true, but
Having so spoken he conducted me to the bank of the Seine opposite
the Isle of Swans, which rose out of the middle of the river like a
ship built of foliage. There he made a sign to a ferryman, whose
boat brought us quickly to the green isle, frequented only by
invalids, who on fine days play there at bowls and drink their pint
of wine. Night lit her first stars in the sky and lent a humming
voice to the myriads of insects in the grass. The isle was deserted.
M. d'Asterac sat down on a wooden bench at the end of an alley of
walnut-trees, invited me to sit close to him and spoke:
"There are three sorts of people, my son, from whom the philosopher
has to hide his secrets. They are princes, because it would be
imprudent to enlarge their power; the ambitious, whose pitiless
genius must not be armed, and the debauchees, who would find in
hidden sciences the means to satiate their evil passions. But I can
talk freely to you, who are neither debauched--for I quite overlook
the error you nearly gave way to in the arms of yonder girl--nor
ambitious, having lived, till recently, contented to turn the
paternal spit. Therefore I may disclose to you the hidden laws of
"It must not be believed that life is limited by narrow rules
wherein it is manifested to the eyes of the profane. When they teach
that creation's object and end was man, your theologians and your
philosophers reason like the multiped of Versailles or the
Tuileries, who believe the humidity of the cellars is made for their
special use and that the remainder of the castle is uninhabitable.
The system of the world, as Canon Copernicus taught in the last
century, following the doctrines of Aristarchus of Samos and
Pythagorean philosophers, is doubtless known to you, as there have
actually been prepared some compendiums of them for the urchins of
village schools and dialogues abstracted from them for the use of
town children. You have seen at my house a kind of machine which
shows it distinctly by means of a kind of clockwork.
"Raise your eyes, my son, and you'll see over your head David's
chariot, drawn by Mizar and her two illustrious companions, circling
round the pole; Arcturus, Vega of the Lyre, the Virgin's Sword, the
Crown of Ariadne and its charming pearls. Those are suns. One single
look on that world will make it clear to you that the whole of
creation is the work of fire and that life, in its finest forms, is
fed on flames.
"And what are the planets? Drops of a mixture of mind, a little mire
and plenty of moisture. Behold the august choir of the stars, the
assembly of the suns; they equal or excel ours in magnitude and
power and after I have shown you on a clear winter's night, through
my telescope, Sirius, your eyes and soul will be dazzled.
"Do you in good faith believe that Sirius Altair, Regulus,
Aldebaran, all these suns are luminary only? Do you believe that
this old Phoebus, who incessantly forces into space, wherein we are
swimming, his inordinate surge of heat and light, has no other
function but to light the earth and some other paltry and
imperceptible planets? What a candle! A million times greater than
"I have to present to you first of all the idea that the universe is
composed of suns and that the planets which may be in it are less
than nothing. But as I foresee your wish to make an objection, I'll
reply to it beforehand. The suns, you want to say, put themselves
out in the course of centuries and by that also change into mud. No!
is my reply; they keep themselves alive by means of comets which
they attract and which fall on them. It is the dwelling of true
life. The planets and this our earth are but the abode of ghosts.
Such are the verities of which I have to convince you.
"Now that you understand, my son, that fire is the principal
element, you'll easier comprehend what I wish to teach you and which
is of greater importance than anything you may have learned up to
now, or was even known to Erasmus, Turnebe or Scaliger. I do not
speak of theologians like Quesnel or Bossuet who, between ourselves,
I consider as the lees of human spirit, and who have no better
understanding than a simple captain of guards. Don't let us hamper
ourselves by despising those brains comparable in volume, as well as
in construction, to wrens' eggs, but let us at once enter fully into
the object of our conference.
"Whilst those earth-born creatures do not surpass a degree of
perfection which, by beauty of form, has been attained by Antinoüs
and by Madame de Parabère, and at which they alone have arrived by
the faculty known to Democritus and myself; the beings formed by
fire enjoy a wisdom and an intelligence of which we cannot possibly
conceive the limit.
"Such is, my son, the nature of the glorious children of the suns;
they know the laws of the universe just as we know the rules of
chess, and the course of the stars does not trouble them any more
than the moves on the chessboard of the king and the other men
trouble us. Those genii create worlds in such spaces of the infinite
where none at present exist, and organise them at their will. It
distracts them momentarily from their principal business, which is
to unite among themselves in unspeakable love. Only last night I
turned my telescope on the Sign of the Virgin and saw on it a far-
away vortex of light. No doubt, my son, that was the still
unfinished work of one of those fire beings.
"Truly the universe has no other origin; far from being the effect
of a single will, it is the result of the sublime freaks of a great
many genii, recreating themselves by working on it each in his own
turn and on his own side. That's what explains the diversity, the
splendour and the imperfection. For the force and foresight of those
genii, immense as they were, had still their limits. I should
deceive you were I to say that a man, philosopher or magician, can
have familiar intercourse with them.
"None of them gave me a direct manifestation of himself, and what I
tell you of them is known to me by induction only, and by hearsay.
Certain as their existence is, I should not attempt to describe
their habits and their character. It is necessary to know when not
to know, my son, and I make it a point not to bring forward other
than perfectly well-observed facts.
"Let those genii, or rather demiurguses, abide in their glory, and
let us treat of illustrious beings who stand nearer to us. Here, my
son, is where one has to lend an open ear.
"If in speaking of the planets I have given vent to a feeling of
disdain, it was that I only took into consideration the solid
surface and shell of those little balls or tops and the animals who
sadly crawl on them. I should have spoken in quite another tone, if
in my mind I had included with the planets the air and the vapours
wherein they are enveloped. For the air is an element in no way of
lesser nobility than fire, whence it follows that the dignity and
importance of the planets is in the air wherein they are bathed.
Those clouds, soft vapours, puffs of wind, transparencies, blue
waves, moving islets of purple and gold which pass over our heads,
are the abode of adorable people. They are called Sylphs and
Salamanders, and are creatures infinitely amiable and lovely. It is
possible for us, and convenient, to form with them unions, the
delights of which are hardly conceivable.
"The Salamanders are such that in comparison with them the prettiest
person at court or in the city is but an ugly woman. They surrender
themselves willingly to philosophers. Doubtless you have heard of
that marvel by which M. Descartes was accompanied on his travels.
Some say that she was a natural daughter of his, that he took with
him everywhere; others think that she was an automaton manufactured
with inimitable art. As a fact she was a Salamander, whom that
clever man had taken as his lady love. He never left her. During a
voyage in the Dutch Sea he took her with him on board, shut in a box
of precious wood lined with the softest satin. The form of this box,
and the precaution with which M. Descartes took care of it, drew the
attention of the captain, who, while the philosopher was asleep,
raised the cover and discovered the Salamander. This ignorant, rude
fellow imagined that such a marvellous creature was the creation of
the devil. In his dismay, he threw it into the sea. But you will
easily believe that the beautiful little person was not drowned, and
that it was no trouble to her to rejoin M. Descartes. She remained
faithful to him during his natural life, and when he died she left
this world never more to return.
"I give you this example, chosen from many, to make you acquainted
with the loves between philosophers and Salamanders. These loves are
too sublime to be in need of contracts, and you will agree that the
ridiculous display usual at human weddings would be entirely out of
place at such unions. It would be indeed fine, if a proctor in a wig
and a fat priest put their noses together over it! That sort of
gentleman is good only to join vulgar man to woman. The marriages of
Salamanders and sages have witnesses more august. The aerial people
celebrate them in ships which, moved by celestial breath, glide,
their sterns crowned with roses, to the sound of harps, on invisible
waves. But do not believe that, not being entered in a dirty
register in a shabby vestry, they would be of little solidity and
could be easily torn asunder. They have for guarantors the spirits
who gambol on the clouds whence flashes the lightning and roars the
thunder. I reveal matters to you, my son, which be useful to you to
know, because I conclude from certain indications that your destiny
is the bed of a Salamander."
"Alas! monsieur," I exclaimed, "this destiny alarms me, and I have
nearly as many scruples as the Dutch captain who threw the lady love
of Descartes into the sea. I cannot help thinking these aerial dames
are demons. I should fear to lose my soul with them, for after all,
sir, such marriages are against nature and in opposition to the
divine law. Oh! why is not M. Jérôme Coignard, my good tutor,
present to hear you! I am sure he would strengthen me by his
valuable arguments against the delights of your Salamanders, sir,
and your eloquence."
"The Abbé Coignard," said M. d'Asterac, "is an admirable translator
of Greek. But you must not want anything from him beyond his books.
He has no philosophy. As far as you are in question, my son, you
reason with the infirmity of ignorance, and the weakness of your
arguments afflicts me. You say, those unions are against nature.
What do you know about it? What means have you to gain knowledge of
it? How is it possible to make a distinction between what is natural
and what is not? Is the universal Isis known enough to discriminate
between what is assisting her and what thwarts her? But to speak
better still; nothing thwarts her and everything assists her,
because nothing exists which does not enter into the functions of
her organs and does not follow the numberless attitudes of her body.
I beg of you to say, whence could enemies come to offend her?
Nothing acts against her nor outside of her; the forces which seem
to fight against her are nothing else but movements of her own life.
"The ignorant alone have assurance enough to decide if an action is
natural or not. Let's admit their illusions for a moment and their
prejudice, and let us feign to recognise the possibility of
committing acts against nature. These acts, are they for that reason
worse and condemnable? On this point I cannot but remember the
vulgar opinion of moralists who represent virtue as an effort over
instincts, as an enterprise on the inclinations we carry within us,
as a fight with the original man. They own themselves that virtue is
against nature, and going further on that opinion they cannot
condemn an action of whatever kind, for what is common to it and
"I have made this digression, my son, to call your attention to the
contemptible lightness of your reason. I should offend you by
believing you still have any doubts of the innocence of the sensual
intercourse men may have with Salamanders. Know then, now, that such
marriages, far from being interdicted by religious law, are
commanded by that law to the exclusion of all others I will give you
some conclusive evidence for it."
He stopped talking, took his snuff-box from his pocket, and filled
his nose with a pinch.
The night was densely dark. The moon shed her limpid light over the
river, and tremblingly enlaced with the reflections of the street
lamps. The flying ephemerides enveloped us like a vaporous eddy. The
shrill voice of insects rose into the world's silence. Such a
sweetness fell slowly down from the sky that it seemed as if milk
had been mixed with the sparkling of the stars.
M. d'Asterac spoke again:
"The Bible, my son, and especially the books of Moses, contains
grand and useful verities. Such an opinion may appear absurd and
unreasonable, in consequence of the treatment the theologians have
inflicted on what they call the Scriptures, and of which they have
made, by means of their commentaries, explications, and meditations,
a manual of errors, a library of absurdities, a magazine of foolery,
a cabinet of lies, a gallery of stupidities, a lyceum of ignorance,
a museum of silliness, and a repository of human imbecility and
wickedness. Know, my son, that at its origin it was a temple filled
with celestial radiance.
"I have been fortunate enough to re-establish it in its primal
splendour. Truth obliges me to acknowledge that Mosaïde has very
much assisted me with his deep comprehension of the language and the
alphabet of the Hebrews. But let us not lose sight of our principal
subject. Be informed from the outset, my son, that the sense of the
Bible is figurative, and that the capital error of the theologians
was to take it literally, whereas it is to be understood as
symbolical. Follow this truth in the whole course of my discourse.
"When Demiurge, who is commonly called Jehovah, and by many more
names, as all terms expressing quality or quantity are generally
applied to him, had, I do not want to say 'created' the world--for
such would be an absurdity--but had laid out a small corner of the
universe, as a dwelling place for Adam and Eve, there were some
subtle creatures in space, which Jehovah had not formed, was not
capable of forming. They were the work of several other demiurges,
older and more skillful. His craft was not beyond that of a very
clever potter, capable of kneading clay beings in the manner of
pots, such as we men are now. What I say is not to slight him,
because such work is still much beyond human power.
"But it became necessary to brand the inferior character of the work
of the seven days. Jehovah worked, not in and with fire, which alone
gives birth to the masterpieces of life, but with mud, out of which
he could not produce other than the work of a clever ceramist. We
are nothing, my son, but animated earthenware. Jehovah is not to be
reproached for having illusions over the quality of his work. If he
did find it well done in the first moment, and in the ardour of
composition, he did not take long to recognise his error, the Bible
is full of expressions of his discontent, which often becomes ill-
humour, sometimes actual rage.
"Never has artisan treated the objects of his industry with more
disgust and aversion. He intended to destroy them, and, in fact, did
drown the larger part. This deluge, the memory of which has been
conserved by Jews, Greeks and Chinese alike, gave a last deception
to the unhappy demiurges, who, aware of the uselessness and
ridiculousness of such violence, became discouraged, and fell into
an apathy, the progress of which has not been stopped from Noah's
time to our present day, wherein it is extreme. But I see I have
advanced too far. The inconvenience of these extensive subjects is
the impossibility of remaining within their limits.
"Our mind thrown into them resembles yonder sons of the suns, who
cross the whole of the universe in one single jump.
"Let us return to the earthly paradise, wherein the demiurge had
placed the two vases formed by his hand, Adam and Eve. They did not
live there alone, between the animals and plants. The spirits of the
air, created by the demiurges of the fire, were flowing over and
looking at them with a curiosity mixed with sympathy and pity. It
was exactly as Jehovah had foreseen. Let us hasten to say, to his
praise, he had relied on the genii of the fire, to whom we may now
give their true names of Elves and Salamanders, to ameliorate and
perfect his clay figures. In his prudence he may have said to
himself: 'My Adam and my Eve, opaque and cemented in clay, are in
want of air and light. I have failed to give them wings. But united
to Elves and Salamanders, the creations of a demiurge more powerful
and more subtle than myself, they will give birth to children,
equally originated by light and clay, and who in their turn will
have children still more luminous than themselves, till in the end
their issue will be equal in beauty to the sons and daughters of air
"It must be said he had neglected nothing to attract the eyes of
Sylphs and Salamanders in forming Adam and Eve. He had modelled the
woman in form of an amphora, with a harmony of curved lines quite
sufficient to make him recognised as the prince of geometers, and he
succeeded in amending the coarseness of the material by the
magnificent charm of the form. For modelling Adam he made use of a
less caressing, but more energetic, hand, forming his body with such
order, and in such perfect proportions, that, applied later by the
Greeks to their architecture, those same ordinances and measures
made the beauty of the temples.
"You see, my son, that Jehovah applied his best means to render his
creatures worthy of the aerial kisses he expected for them. I shall
not insist on the care he took with a view of making these unions
prolific. The harmony between the sexes is an ample proof of his
wisdom in this regard. And surely at the outset he had reason to
congratulate himself on his shrewdness and ability.
"I have said the Sylphs and Salamanders looked on Adam and Eve with
that curiosity, sympathy and tenderness which are the first
ingredients of love. They approached them, and fell into the clever
traps Jehovah had disposed and spread intentionally in the body and
on the belly of these two amphoræ.
"The first man and the first woman enjoyed during centuries the
delicious embraces of the genii of the air, which conserved them in
"Such was their lot, and such could still be ours. Why was it that
the parents of the human species, fatigued by celestial luxury,
should try to find criminal enjoyments with one another?
"But what could you expect, my son? Kneaded of clay they had a taste
for mud. Alas! they became acquainted with one another in the same
way as they had known the genii.
"And that was what the demiurge had expressly forbidden them.
Afraid, and with reason, that they would produce between them
children as clumsy as themselves, terrestrial and heavy, he forbade
them, under severest penalties, to approach each other. Such is the
sense of Eve's words: 'But of the fruit of the tree which is in the
midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither
shall ye touch it lest ye die.' For you well understand, my son,
that the apple which tempted wretched Eve was not the fruit of an
apple-tree; that was an allegory the sense of which I have explained
to you. Although imperfect, and sometimes violent and capricious,
Jehovah was too intelligent a demiurge to be offended about an apple
or a pomegranate. One has to be a bishop or a Capuchin to support
such extravagant imaginations. And the proof that the apple was what
I said, is that Eve was stricken by a punishment suitable to her
fault. She had not been told 'You will digest laboriously,' but it
was said to her 'You'll give birth in pain'; for logic sake what
connection can be established, I beg of you, between an apple and
difficult confinement? On the other hand, the suffering is correctly
applied if the fault has been such as I showed you.
"That is, my son, the truthful explanation of original sin. It will
teach you your duty, which is, to keep away from women. To follow
this bent is fatal. All children born by those means are imbecile
I was stupefied, and exclaimed:
"But, sir, could children be born in another way?"
"Happily, some are born in another way," was his reply; "a
considerable number by the union of men with genii of the air. And
such are intelligent and beautiful. By such means were born the
giants of whom Hesiod and Moses speak. Thus also Pythagoras was
born, to whose bodily formation his mother, a Salamander, had
contributed a thigh of pure gold. Such also Alexander the Great,
said to have been the son of Olympias and a serpent; Scipio
Africanus, Aristomenes of Messina, Julius Caesar, Porphyry, the
Emperor Julian, who re-established the oath of fire abolished by
Constantine the Apostate, Merlin the enchanter, child of a Sylph and
a nun daughter of Charlemagne; Saint Thomas Aquinas, Paracelsus and,
but recently, M. Van Helmont."
I promised M. d'Asterac, as such were the facts, that I would be
willing to lend myself to the friendship of a Salamander, if one
were to be found obliging enough to wish for me. He assured me that
I should meet not one but a score or more, between whom I should
have my free choice. And less by longing for the adventure than to
give him pleasure, I asked the philosopher how it is possible to
enter into communication with these aerial persons.
"Nothing easier," he replied. "All that's wanted is a glass ball,
the use of which I'll explain to you. I have always at home a pretty
good number of such balls, and in my study I'll very soon give you
all necessary enlightenment. But, for to-day, my son, enough is said
He rose, and walked in the direction of the ferry, where the
ferryman waited for us, lying outstretched on his back and snoring
at the moon. As soon as we had reached the opposite shore he quickly
went on, and was soon lost in the darkness.
Visit to Mademoiselle Catherine--The Row in the Street and my
A confused sentiment as of a dream remained with me after this long
conversation, but the thoughts of Catherine became keener. In
despite of the sublimities I had been listening to, I was overcome
by a powerful desire to see her, although I had not had any supper.
The ideas of philosophy had not sufficiently penetrated me to cause
anything like a disgust at that pretty girl. I was resolved to
follow my good fortune to its end before becoming the prey of one of
those beautiful furies of the air, who do not want any human rival.
My only fear was that Catherine, at so late an hour, had become
tired of waiting for me. So running along the river bank, and
passing the royal bridge at a gallop, I stormed into the Rue du Bac.
Within a single minute I had reached the Rue de Grenelle, where I
heard shouting mixed up with the clashing of swords. The noise came
out of the very house Catherine had described to me. In front of it,
on the pavement, shadows and lanterns were visible, and voices to be
"Help, Jesus! I'm being murdered!... fall on the Capuchin! Forward!
Spike him!... Jesus, Mary, help me!... Look on the pretty favourite
lover! On him! On him! Spike him, rascals, spike him hard!"
The windows of the adjoining houses were opened, heads in night-caps
Suddenly all this noise and bustle passed before me like a hunt in
the forest, and I recognised Friar Ange running away at such a speed
that his sandals hammered on his behind, while three long devils of
lackeys, armed like Swiss guards, followed him closely, larding him
with the points of their javelins. Their master, a young gentleman,
thick-set and ruddy-faced, continued to encourage them by voice and
gesture, just as he would have done with dogs:
"Fall on! Fall on! Spike! The beast is tough!"
As he came close to me, I said:
"Oh! sir, have you no pity?"
"Sir," he replied, "it's easily seen that yonder Capuchin has not
caressed your mistress, and you have not surprised madam, whom you
see here, in the arms of this stinking beast. One cannot say
anything about her financier, because one has manners. But a
Capuchin cannot be borne. Burn the brazen-faced hussy!"
And he showed me Catherine under the doorway, clad in nothing but a
chemise, her eyes glistening with tears, wringing her hands, more
beautiful than ever, and murmuring in a dying voice, which cut deep
into my soul:
"Don't kill him! It's Friar Ange, the little friar!"
The rascally lackeys returned, announcing that they had given up the
pursuit at the appearance of the watch, but not without driving half
a finger deep their pikes in the holy man's behind. The night-caps
vanished from the windows, which were closed again, and whilst the
young nobleman talked to his followers, I went up to Catherine,
whose tears began to dry in the pretty folds of her smile. She said
"The poor friar is safe, but I trembled for him. Men are terrible.
When they love you they will not listen to anything."
"Catherine," I said, with no slight grudge, "did you make me come
here for no other purpose than to listen to the quarrels of your
friends? Alas! I have no right to take part in them."
"You would have had, M. Jacques," she said, "you should have had, if
you had wanted."
"But," I continued, "you are the most courted lady in Paris. You
never mentioned yonder young gentleman."
"I had no occasion to think of him. He came quite unexpectedly."
"And he surprised you with Friar Ange?"
"He fancied he saw things which did not occur. He is hot-headed and
does not want to listen to any reason."
The half-opened chemise disclosed under transparent laces a breast
swollen like a beautiful fruit and adorned like a budding rose. I
took her in my arms and covered her bosom with kisses.
"Heavens!" she exclaimed, "in the street! Before M. d' Anquetil, who
"Who is M. d'Anquetil?"
"Pardi! he is the murderer of Friar Ange. Who else do you fancy he
"True, Catherine, no others are wanted. Your friends surround you in
"M. Jacques, do not insult me, if you please."
"I do not insult you, Catherine. I acknowledge your charms, to which
I should like to render the same homage that others do."
"M. Jacques, what you have now said smells odiously of the cookshop,
of that old codger who is your father."
"Not so very long ago, Mam'selle Catherine, you were mighty glad to
smell its cooking-stove."
"Fie! the villain! the mean rascal! He outrages a woman!"
And now she began to squeak and squeal, and M d'Anquetil left his
servants, came up to us, and pushed her into the house, calling her
a cheat and a rake, went into the passage behind her, and slammed
the door in my face.
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.
The thought of Catherine occupied my mind all the week following
that vexatious adventure. Her image glittered on the leaves of the
folios over which I bent in the library, close to my dear tutor; so
much so that Plotinus, Olympiodorus, Fabricius, Vossius spoke of
nothing else to me than a tiny damsel in a lace chemise. These
visions rendered me lazy. But, indulgent to others, as to himself,
M. Jerome Coignard had a kind smile for my trouble and distraction.
"Jacques Tournebroche," he said to me, one day, "are you not struck
by the variations in morals during the course of the centuries? The
books in this admirable Asteracian collection witness to the
uncertainties of mankind on this subject. If I reflect upon it, my
son, it is to put into your mind that solid and salutary idea that
no good morals are to be found outside religion, and that the maxims
of the philosophers, who pretend to institute a natural morality,
are nothing but whims and babblings of foolish trash. The
rationality of good morals is not to be found in nature, which in
itself is indifferent, ignorant of good or evil. It is in the divine
word, which is not to be trespassed against without after regret.
The laws of humanity are based on utility, and that can only be an
apparent and illusory utility, for nobody knows naturally what is
useful to mankind, nor what is really appropriate to them. And we
must not forget that our habits contain a good moiety of articles
which are of prejudice alone. Upheld by the menace of chastisement,
human laws may be eluded by cunning and dissimulation. Every man
capable of reflection stands above them. Really they are nothing but
"It is not the same thing, my boy, with laws divine. They are
indefeasible, unavoidable and lasting. Their absurdity is in
appearance only, and hides an inconceivable wisdom. If they wound
our reason, it is because they are superior to it, and agree with
the true issues of mankind, and not with the visible ends. It is
useful to observe them when one has the good luck to know them. Yet
I find no difficulty in confessing that the observance of those
laws, contained in the Decalogue and in the commandments of the
Church, is difficult at most times, even impossible without grace,
and that sometimes has to be waited for, because it is a duty to
hope. And therefore we are all miserable sinners.
"And that is where the dispositions of the Christian religion must
be admired, which founds salvation principally on repentance. It
must not be overlooked, my boy, that the greatest saints are
penitents, and, as repentance is proportioned to the sin, it is in
the greatest sinners that the material is found for the greatest
saints. I could illustrate this doctrine with scores of admirable
examples. But I have said enough to make you feel that the raw
material of sanctity is concupiscence, incontinencies, all
impurities of flesh and mind. After having collected the raw
material nothing signifies but to fashion it according it theologic
art and to model, so to say, a figure of penitence, which is a
matter of a few years, a few days, sometimes of a single moment
only, as is to be seen in the case of a perfect contrition. Jacques
Tournebroche, if you listen well to my sayings, you will not consume
yourself in miserable cares to become an honest man in a worldly
sense, and you'll exclusively study to satisfy divine justice."
I could not help feeling the elevated wisdom enshrined in the maxims
of my dear, good tutor; I was only afraid that these morals, should
they be exercised without discrimination, would carry man to a
disorderly life. I unfolded my doubts to M. Jerome Coignard, who
reassured me in the following terms:
"Jacobus Tournebroche, you do not take note of what I have just
expressly told you, to wit, that what you call disorder is only such
in the opinion of laymen and judges in law--ordinary and
ecclesiastical--and in its bearing on human laws, which are
arbitrary and transitory, and, in a word, to follow these laws is
the act of a silly soul. A sensible man does not pride himself on
acting according to the rules in force at the Châtelet and at the
"He is uneasy about his salvation, and does not think himself
dishonoured by going to heaven by indirect ways as followed by the
greatest saints. If the blessed Pélagie had not followed the same
profession by which Jeannette, the hurdy-gurdy player you know,
earned her living, under the portico of the Church of Saint Benoît
le Bétourné, that saint would not have been compelled to do full and
copious penitence; and it is extremely probable that, after having
lived in indifferent and banal chastity, she would not, at this very
moment speak of her, be playing the psaltery before the tabernacle
where the Holy of Holies reposes in his glory. Do you call disorder,
so fine a regulation of a predestinated life? Certainly not! Leave
such mean ways of speech to the Superintendent of Police, who after
his death will hardly find the smallest place behind the
unfortunates whom now he carries ignominiously to the spittel.
Beyond the loss of the soul and eternal damnation there can be no
other disorders, crimes or evils whatsoever in this perishable
world, where one and all is to be ruled and adjusted with regard to
a divine world. Confess, Tournebroche, my boy, that acts the most
reprehensible in the opinion of men can lead to a good end, and do
not try to reconcile the justice of men with the justice of God,
which alone is just, not in our sense but with finality. And now, my
boy, you'll greatly oblige me by looking into Vossius for the
signification of five or six rather obscure words which the
Panopolitan employs, and wherewith one has to do battle in the
darkness of that insidious manner which astonished even the willing
heart of Ajax, as reported by Homer, prince of poets and historians.
These ancient alchemists had a tough style. Manilius, may it not
displease M. d'Asterac, writes on the same subjects with more
Hardly had my tutor said these last words when a shadow arose
between him and myself. It was that of M. d'Asterac, or rather it
was M. d'Asterac himself, thin and black like a shadow.
It may be that he had not heard that talk, maybe he disdained it,
for certainly he did not show any kind of resentment. On the
contrary, he congratulated M. Jerome Coignard on his zeal and
knowledge, and further said that he relied on his enlightenment for
the achievement of the greatest work that man had ever attempted.
And turning to me he said:
"Be so good as to come for a moment to my study, where I intend to
make known to you a secret of consequence."
I went with him to the same room where he had first received us, my
tutor and myself, on the day we entered his service. I found there,
exactly as on that occasion, ranged along the walls, the ancient
Egyptians with golden faces. A glass globe of the size of a pumpkin
stood on a table. M. d'Asterac sank on a sofa, and signed to me to
take a seat near him, and having twice or thrice passed a hand
covered with jewels and amulets across his forehead said:
"My son, I do not wish to injure you by believing that, after our
conversation on the Isle of Swans, you still doubt of the existence
of Sylphs and Salamanders, who are as real as men and perhaps more
so, if one measures reality by the duration of the appearances by
which it is displayed, their existence being very much longer than
ours. Salamanders range from century to century in unalterable
youth; some of them have seen Noah, Moses and Pythagoras. The wealth
of their recollections and the freshness of their memory render
their conversation attractive to the utmost. It has been pretended
that they gain immortality in the arms of men, and that the hope of
never dying led them into the beds of the philosophers, But those
are fables unfit to seduce a reflecting mind. All union of sexes,
far from ensuring immortality to lovers, is a sign of death, and we
could not know love were we to live indefinitely. It could not be
otherwise with the Salamanders, who look in the arms of the wise for
nothing else but for one single kind of immortality--that is, of the
race. It is also the only one which can be reasonably expected. And,
much as I promise myself to prolong human life in a notable manner--
that is, to extend it over at least five or six centuries--I have
never flattered myself to assure it perpetuity. It would be insane
to want to go against the established rules of nature, Therefore, my
son, reject as a vain fable the idea of immortality to be sucked in
with a kiss. It is to the shame of more than one of the cabalists to
have ever conceived such an idea. But for all that it is quite
evident that Salamanders are inclined to man's love. You'll soon
experience it yourself. I have sufficiently prepared you for a visit
from them, and as, since the night of your initiation, you have not
had any impure intercourse with a woman you will obtain the reward
of your continency."
My natural candidness suffered by receiving praise which I had
merited against my own will, and I wished to confess to M. d'Asterac
my guilty thoughts. But he did not give me time to do so, and
continued with vivacity:
"Nothing now remains for me, my son, but to give you the key which
opens the empire of the genii. That is what I am going to do at
Rising he put a hand on the globe which covered one half of the
"This globe," he said, "is full of a solar powder which escapes
being visible to you by its own purity. It is much too delicate to
be seen by means of the coarse senses of men. So comes it, my son,
that the finest parts of the universe are concealed from our sight
and reveal themselves only to the learned, provided with apparatus
proper for this discovery. The rivers and the aerial landscapes, for
example, remain invisible, even as their aspect is a thousand times
richer and more variegated than the most beautiful terrestrial
"Know, then, that in this bowl is a solar powder superlatively
proper to exalt the fire we have within us. The effect of this
exaltation is imminent. It consists of a subtlety of the senses
allowing us to see and touch the aerial figures floating around us.
As soon as you have broken the seal which locks the aperture of this
globe, and inhaled the escaping solar powder, you will in this room
discover one or more creatures resembling women by the system of
curved outlines forming their bodies, but much more beautiful than
was ever any woman, and who are in fact Salamanders. No doubt the
one I saw last year in your father's cookshop will be the first one
to appear here to you, as she has a liking for you, and I strongly
counsel you to hasten to comply with her wishes. And now make
yourself easy in that arm-chair, open the globe, and gently inhale
the contents. Very soon you will see all I have announced to you
realised, point by point. I leave you. Good-bye."
And he disappeared in a manner which was strangely sudden. I
remained alone before that glass globe, hesitating to unlock it,
afraid lest some stupefying exhalation should escape from it. I
thought that perhaps M. d'Asterac had put in it, as an artifice,
some of those vapours which benumb those who inhale them and make
them dream of Salamanders. I was still not enough of a philosopher
to be desirous of becoming happy by such means. Possibly, I said to
myself, such vapours predispose to madness; and finally I became
defiant enough to think of going to the library to ask advice of M.
Jerome Coignard. But I soon became aware that such would be a
needless trouble; as soon as I began to speak to him of solar powder
and aerial genii he would start: "Jacques Tournebroche, remember, my
boy, that you must never put faith in absurdities, but bring home to
your reason all matters except those of our holy religion. Stuff and
nonsense all these globes and powders, with all the other follies of
the cabala and the spagyric art."
I imagined I could hear him talk like that in the interval between
two pinches of snuff, and I really did not know what to reply to
such a Christian speech. On the other hand, I thought in advance how
puzzled I should be to reply to M. d'Asterac when he inquired of me
after news of the Salamander. What could I say? How was I to avow my
reserve and my abstention without betraying my defiance and fear?
And after all, without being aware of it, I was curious to try the
adventure. I am not credulous. On the contrary I am marvellously
inclined to doubt, and by this inclination to brave common-sense, as
well as evidence and everything else. Of the strangest things that
may be told me, I say to myself, "Why not?" This "Why not?" wronged
my natural intelligence in sight of that globe. This "Why not?"
pushed me towards credulity, and it may be interesting to remark, on
this occasion, to believe in nothing means to believe in everything,
and that the mind is not to be kept too free and too vacant, for
fear that commodities of extravagant form and weight should enter by
a loophole, commodities of a kind which could not find room in minds
reasonably and tolerably well furnished with belief. And while, with
my hand on the wax seal, I remembered what my mother had narrated to
me of the magic bottle, my "Why not?" whispered to me that perhaps,
after all, aerial fairies may be visible through the dust of the
sun. But as soon as this idea, having entered into my mind, began to
become easy therein, I found it to be odd, absurd and grotesque.
Ideas, when they impose themselves, very soon become impudent. But
few are apt to be better than pleasant passers-by; and, decidedly,
this very one had somehow an air of madness. During the time I asked
myself, "Shall I open it?" "Shall I not?" the seal, which I had held
continuously between my pressing fingers, broke suddenly in my hand,
and the flagon was open.
I waited, I observed, I saw nothing, I felt nothing. And I was
disappointed, so much the hope of stepping out of nature is prone
and ready to glide into our souls! Nothing! Not even a vague or
confused illusion, an uncertain image! What I had foreseen occurred.
What a deception! I felt somewhat vexed. Reclined in my arm-chair I
vowed to myself, before all the black-haired Egyptians surrounding
me, to close my soul better in the future to the lies of the
cabalists; and once more recognised my dear teacher's wisdom and
resolved, like him, to be guided by reason in all matters not
connected with faith, Christian and Catholic. Expecting the visit of
a lady Salamander, what silliness! Is it possible that Salamanders
exist? But what is known about it, and "Why not?"
Since noon the air was heavy, now it became stifling. Rendered
torpid by long days of quietness and seclusion, I felt a weight on
my forehead and eyes. The approach of a thunderstorm lay heavy on
me. I let my arms hang down, and, with head thrown back, and eyes
closed, I glided into a doze full of golden Egyptians and lustful
shadows. In this uncertain state the sense of love alone was alive
in my body, like a fire in the night. How long it had lasted I could
not say, when I was awakened by a sound of light steps and the
rustling of a dress. I opened my eyes and gave a great shout.
A marvellous creature stood before me, clad in black satin, a lace
veil on her head--a dark woman with blue eyes, of resolute features
in a juvenile and pure skin, round cheeks and the mouth animated as
by an invisible kiss. The short skirt let little feet be seen,
dancing, jolly, spirited feet. She held herself upright, but was
round, somewhat thick-set, in her voluptuous perfection. Under the
black velvet ribbon round her throat a little square of her bosom
was visible, brown, but dazzling. She looked on me with an air of
curiosity. I have said already how sleep had rendered me amorous. I
rose quickly, and stepped forward.
"Excuse me," she said, "I am looking for M. d'Asterac."
I said to her:
"Madam, there is no M. d'Asterac. There is you and I. I expected
you. You are a Salamander. I have opened the crystal flagon. You
have come. You are mine."
I took her in my arms and covered with kisses all places my lips
could find uncovered by her dress.
She tore herself away and said:
"You are mad."
"That is quite natural," I replied. "Who in my place could remain
She lowered her eyes, blushed, and smiled. I fell at her feet.
"As M. d'Asterac is not here," she said, "I had better retire."
"Remain!" I cried, and bolted the door.
"Do you know if he will soon be back?"
"No, madam! He will not return for a long time. He left me alone
with the Salamanders. But I want one only, and that one is you."
I lifted her in my arms, carried her to the sofa, fell down on it
with her, and smothered her with kisses. I was out of my senses. She
screamed, I did not hear her; she pushed me back with outstretched
hands; her fingernails scratched me all over, and her vain defence
only excited my frenzy. I pressed, enlaced her, she fell back worn
out. Her mollified body gave way, she closed her eyes and soon, in
my triumph, her beautiful arms, reconciled, pressed me on her bosom.
Released, alas! from that delicious embrace, we looked at one
another with surprise. Occupied to get up again decently she put her
dress in order and remained silent.
"I love you," I said. "What is your name?"
I did not think her to be a Salamander, and to say the truth never
did think so.
"My name is Jahel," she said.
"What! you're the niece of Mosaïde?"
"Yes; but keep quiet. If he should know--"
"What would he do?"
"Oh! nothing to me--nothing. But to you the worst. He dislikes
"Oh! I? I dislike the Jews."
"Jahel, do you love me a little?"
"It seems to me, sir, that after what we have just now said to one
another, your question is an offence."
"True, mademoiselle, but I try to obtain forgiveness for a vivacity,
an ardour, which did not take the leisure to consult your
"Oh! monsieur, do not make yourself out to be more guilty than you
really are. All your violence, and all your passion, would not have
served you at all, had I not found you lovable. When I saw you
sleeping in that arm-chair, I liked your looks, waited for your
awakening--the rest you know."
As reply I gave her a kiss, she gave it me back, what a kiss! I
fancied fresh-gathered strawberries melting in my mouth. My desire
revived and passionately I pressed her on my heart.
"This time," she said, "be less hasty, and do not think only of
yourself. You must not be selfish in love. Young men do not
sufficiently know that. But we teach them."
And we immersed ourselves in an unfathomable depth of deliciousness.
After that the divine Jahel asked of me:
"Have you a comb? I look like a witch."
"Jahel," I answered, "I have no comb. I had expected a Salamander. I
"Adore me, dearest, but remain secret. You do not know Mosaïde."
"What, Jahel. Is he still so terrible as that, at the age of one
hundred and thirty years, of which he has lived sixty-five inside a
"I see, my friend, that stories of my uncle have been told you and
that you were simple enough to believe them. Nobody knows his age; I
myself am ignorant of it, but I have always known him as an old man.
I know only that he is robust and of uncommon strength. He has been
a banker at Lisbon, where he killed a Christian he surprised in the
arms of my Aunt Myriam. He took to flight, and carried me with him.
Since then he loves me with the tenderness of a mother. He tells me
things that are told to little children only, and he cries when he
sees me asleep."
"Do you live with him?"
"Yes, in the keeper's lodge, at the other end of the park."
"I know; you reach it by the lane where mandrakes are to be found.
How is it that I did not meet you before? By what sinister destiny,
living so near you, have I lived without seeing you? But what do I
say, lived? Is it to live without knowing you? Are you shut up in
"It is true I am somewhat of a recluse, and cannot go for walks as I
wish, to the shops, to theatres. Mosaïde's tenderness does not leave
me any liberty. He guards me jealously, and, besides six small gold
cups he brought with him from Lisbon, he loves but me on earth. As
he is much more attached to me than he was to my Aunt Myriam, he
would kill you, dear, with a better heart than he killed the
Portuguese. I warn you so, to impress the necessity of discretion on
you, and because it is not a consideration which could stop a brave
gentleman. Are you of a good family, my friend?"
"Alas! no; my father applies himself to a mechanic art, and has a
sort of trade."
"And he is not of any of the professions? Does not belong to the
banking world? No? It is a pity. Well. you're to be loved for
yourself. But speak the truth. Is M. d'Asterac to be back shortly?"
At this name and question a terrible doubt came in my mind. I
suspected the enchanting Jahel to have been sent by the cabalist to
play the part of a Salamander with me. I went so far as to excuse
her in my mind of being the nymph of that old fool. To obtain an
immediate explanation I bluntly and coarsely asked her if she was in
the habit of acting the Salamander in the castle.
"I don't understand you," she replied, looking at me with eyes full
of innocent surprise. "You speak like M. d'Asterac himself, and I
could believe you to be attacked by his mania also, if I had not
proved that you do not share the aversion to women that he has. He
cannot stand any female, and it is a real annoyance to me to see and
speak with him. Nevertheless I was looking for him when I found
The pleasure of being reassured made me again smother her with
She managed to let me see that she had black stockings which, over
the knees, were held up by garters ornamented with diamond buckles
and that sight brought back my mind to ideas pleasant to her.
Besides she entreated me on the welcome subject with much ability
and fervour, and I was aware that she became excited over the game
at the very moment I began to get fatigued from it, However I did my
best, and was fortunate enough to spare the beautiful girl a
disgrace which she did not deserve in the least. It seemed to me
that she was not discontented with me. She rose, very quietly, and
"Do you really not know if M. d'Asterac will soon be back? I confess
to you that I came to ask him for a small amount of that pension he
owes to my uncle, a trifle only. I very badly want it just now."
I took my purse out and handed her, with due excuses, the three
crowns it contained. It was all that remained of the too rare
liberalities of the cabalist who, professing to dislike money,
unluckily forgot to pay me my salary.
I asked Mademoiselle Jahel if I should not have the pleasure of
seeing her again.
"You will," she replied.
And we agreed that she should ascend at night-time to my room
whenever she could escape from the lodge, where she was pretty
nearly a prisoner.
"Take care to remember," I told her, "that my room is the fourth on
the right of the corridor and Abbé Coignard's the fifth. The others
give access to the lofts, where two or three scullions lodge, and
hundreds of rats."
She assured me that she would be very careful not to make a mistake,
and would scratch on my door and not on any other.
"Besides," she continued, "your Abbé Coignard seems to be a very
good man, and I am pretty sure that we have in no way to be afraid
of him. I looked at him, through a peephole, on the day he came with
you to visit my uncle! I thought him amiable, though I could not
hear what he said. Principally his nose I thought to be really
ingenious and capable. A man with such a nose ought to be full of
expedients and I very much wish to become acquainted with him. One
can but better one's mind by having intercourse with people of high
spirit. I am only sorry that my uncle was not pleased with his words
and scoffing humour. Mosaïde hates him, and of his capacity for hate
no Christian can form an idea."
"Mademoiselle," I replied, "Monsieur l'Abbé Jérôme Coignard is a
very learned man, and he has in addition philosophy and kindness. He
knows the world, and you are quite right in believing him to be a
good counsellor. I regulate myself fully after his advice. But, tell
me, did you see me also, on yonder day, at the lodge, through the
peephole you spoke of?"
"I saw you," she said to me, "and I will not hide from you that I
was pleased. But I must return to my uncle. Good-bye."
The same evening, after supper, M. d'Asterac did not fail to ask me
for news of the Salamander. His curiosity troubled me somewhat. My
answer was that the meeting had surpassed all my expectations, but
that I thought it my duty to confine myself to a discretion due to
such kind of adventures.
"That discretion, my son," he said, "is not of so much use in your
case as you represent. Salamanders do not want their amours to be
kept secret, they are not ashamed of them. One of those nymphs who
loves me does not know of a sweeter pastime than to engrave my
initials enlaced with hers on the bark of trees, as you can see for
yourself by examining the stems of five or six Scotch firs, the
exquisite tops of which you can see from yonder windows. But have
you not, my son, learned that that kind of amour, truly sublime, far
from leaving any fatigue behind, lends to the heart a new vigour? I
am sure that after what passed to-day you'll employ your night in
translating at least sixty pages of Zosimus the Panopolitan."
I confessed that on the contrary I felt very sleepy, which he