Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Queen Pedauque by Anatole France

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

I conducted him to my master's bedside and we left him alone with
the dying.

An hour later he came out again and said:

"I can assure you that M. Jérôme Coignard dies in admirable
sentiments of piety and humility. At his request, and in
consideration of his fervour, I'll give him the viaticum. During the
time necessary for putting on my holy garments, you, Madame
Coquebert, will do me the favour to send to the vestry the boy who
serves me at mass every morning and make the room ready for the
reception of God."

Madame Coquebert swept the room, put a white coverlet on the bed,
placed a little table at the bedside, and covered it with a cloth;
she put two candlesticks on the table and lit the candles, and an
earthenware bowl wherein a sprig of box swam in the holy water.

Soon we heard the tinkling of the little bell, saw the cross coming
in, carried by a child, and the priest clad in white carrying the
holy vessels. Jahel, M. d'Anquetil, Madame Coquebert and I fell on
our knees.

"_Pax huic domui_," said the priest.

"_Et omnibus habiantibus in en_," replied the servitor.

Then the vicar took holy water and sprayed it over the patient and
the bed.

A moment longer he meditated and then he said with much solemnity:

"My son, have you no declaration to make?"

"Yes, sir," said M. Abbe Coignard, with a firm voice, "I forgive my

Then the priest gave him the holy wafer:

"_Ecce Agnus Dei, qui tollit peccata mundi._"

My good master replied with a sigh:

"May I speak to my Lord, I who am naught but dust and ashes? How can
I dare to come unto you, I who do not feel any good in me to give me
courage? How can I introduce you into me, after having so often
wounded your eyes full of kindness?"

And the Abbe Coignard received the holy viaticum in profound
silence, interrupted by our sobs and by the great noise Madame
Coquebert made blowing her nose.

After having received, my good master made me a sign to come near
him, and said with a feeble but distinct voice:

"Jacques Tournebroche, my son, reject, along with the example I gave
you, the maxims which I may have proposed to you during my period of
lifelong folly. Be in fear of women and of books for the softness
and pride accords the little ones a clearer intelligence than the
wise one takes in them. Be humble of heart and spirit. God can give
them. 'Tis He who gives all science. My boy, do not listen to those
who, like me, subtilise on the good and the evil. Do not be taken in
by the beauty and acuteness of their discourses, for the kingdom of
God does not consist of words but of virtue."

He remained quiet, exhausted. I took his hand, lying on the sheet,
and covered it with kisses and tears. I told him that he was our
master, our friend, our father, and that I could not live without

And for long hours I remained waiting at the foot of his bed.

He passed so peaceful a night that I conceived a quite desperate
hope. In this state he remained part of the following day. But
towards the evening he became agitated and pronounced words so
indistinctly that they remained a secret between God and himself.

At midnight he fell into a kind of swoon, and nothing could be heard
but the slight scratching of his finger nails on the sheet. He no
longer knew me.

About two o'clock the death rattle began. The hoarse and rapid
breathing which came from his breast was loud enough to be heard far
away in the village street, and my ears were so full of it that I
fancied I heard it long after that unhappy day. At daybreak he made
a sign with his hand which we could not understand, and sighed long
and deeply. It was his last. His features took in death a majesty
worthy of the genius that had animated him, and the loss of which
will never be repaired.


Funeral and Epitaph

The Vicar of Vallars prepared a worthy funeral for M. Jerome
Coignard. He chanted the death mass and gave the benediction.

My good master was carried to the graveyard close by the church; and
M. d'Anquetil offered supper at Gaulard's to all the people who had
assisted at the funeral. They drank new wine and sang Burgundian

Afterwards I went with M. d'Anquetil to the vicar to thank him for
his good offices.

"Ah!" he said, "that priest has given us a grand consolation by his
edifying end. I have seldom seen a Christian die in such admirable
sentiments, and I think it fit to fix his memory by a suitable
inscription on his tombstone. Both of you, gentlemen, are learned
enough to do that successfully, and I engage myself to have the
epitaph of the defunct engraved on a large white stone, in the
manner and style wherein you compose it. But remember, in making the
stone speak, to make it proclaim nothing but the praise of God."

I begged of him to believe that I should apply all my zeal to this
work, and M. d'Anquetil promised to give the matter a gallant and
graceful turn.

"I will," he said, "try to write French verse in the style of M.

"That's right!" said the vicar. "But are you not curious to look at
my winepress? The wine will be good this year, and I have made
enough for my own and my servants' use. Alas! save for the
_fleurebers_ we should have had far more."

After supper M. d'Anquetil called for ink, and began the composition
of his French verses. But he soon became impatient and threw up in
the air the pen, ink and paper.

"Tournebroche," he said, "I've made two verses only, and I am not
quite sure that they are good. They run as follows:

'Ci-dessus git monsieur Coignard
II faut bien mourir tot ou tard.'"

I replied that the best of it was, that he had noi written a third

And I passed the night composing the following epitaph in Latin:

D. O. M.









which may be translated:

In the hope of a happy eternity

Formerly a very eloquent professor of eloquence
At the college of Beauvais
Very zealous librarian to the Bishop of Seez
Author of a fine translation of Zosimus the Panopolitan
Which he unhappily left unfinished
When overtaken by his premature death
He was stabbed on the road to Lyons
In the 52nd year of his age
By the very villainous hand of a Jew
And thus perished the victim of a descendant of the murderer
Of Jesus Christ

He was an agreeable companion
Of a learned conversation
Of an elevated genius
Abounding in cheerful speech and in good maxims
And praising God in his works
He preserved amid the storms of life an unshakable faith
In his truly Christian humility
More attentive to the salvation of his soul
Than to the vain and erroneous opinions of men
It was by living without honour in this world
That he walked towards eternal glory


Farewell to Jahel-Dispersal of the Party

Three days after the demise of my good master, M. d'Anquetil decided
to continue his journey. The carriage had been repaired. He gave the
postboys the order to be ready on the following morning. His company
had never been agreeable to me; in the state of sorrow I was in, it
became odious. I could not bear the idea of following him and Jahel.
I resolved to look for employment at Tournus or at Macon, and to
remain hidden till the storm had calmed down sufficiently to enable
me to return to Paris, where I was sure to be received with
outstretched arms by my dear parents. I imparted my intention to M.
d'Anquetil, and excused myself for not accompanying him any farther.
He tried to retain me with a gracefulness I was not prepared for,
but soon willingly gave me leave to go where I wished. With Jahel
the matter was more difficult, but, being naturally reasonable, she
accepted the reasons I had for leaving her.

On the night before my departure, while M. d'Anquetil drank and
played cards with the barber-surgeon, Jahel and I went to the market
place to get a breath of air. It was embalmed by the scent of herbs
and full of the song of crickets.

"What a night!" I said to Jahel. "The year cannot produce another
like it, and perhaps all my life long I shall never see one so

The flower-decked village graveyard extended before our eyes its
motionless turf, and the moonlight whitened the scattered graves on
the dark grass. The same thought came to both of us to say a last
farewell to our friend. The place where he was put to eternal rest
was marked by a tear-sprinkled cross planted deep in the mellow
earth. The stone whereon the epitaph was to be engraved had not yet
been placed. We seated ourselves very close to the grave on the
grass, and there, by an insensible but natural inclination, we fell
into one another's arms without fearing to offend by our kisses the
memory of a friend whom deep wisdom had rendered indulgent to human

Suddenly, Jahel whispered in my ear, where her mouth was already

"I see M. d'Anquetil, who, from the top of the wall, looks eagerly
towards us."

"Can he see us in this shadow?" I asked.

"He certainly sees my white petticoat," she said; "it's enough, I
think, to tempt him to look for more."

I first thought to draw my sword, and was quite decided to defend
two existences, which were at this moment still very much mixed.
Jahel's calm surprised me, neither her movements nor her voice
showed any fear.

"Go," she said to me, "fly, and don't fear for me. It's a surprise I
have rather wished for. He began to get tired of me, and this
encounter is quite efficacious to reanimate his desires and season
his love. Go and leave the alone. The first moment will be hard, for
he is of a very violent disposition. He'll strike me, but after, t
shall be still dearer to him. Farewell!"

"Alas!" I exclaimed, "did you take me then, Jahel, for Nothing but
to sharpen the desires of my rival?"

"I wonder that you also want to quarrel with me. Go, I say!"

"What! leave you like this?"

"It's necessary. Farewell! He must not meet you here, I want to make
him jealous, but in a delicate manner. I Farewell! Farewell."

I had hardly gone a few steps between the labyrinth of tombstones
when M. d'Anquetil, having come forward to enable him to recognise
his mistress, began to shout and to curse loud enough to awaken the
village dead. I was anxious to tear Jahel away from his rage; I
thought he would kill her. I glided between the tombstones to her
assistance. But after a few minutes, observing them very closely, I
saw M. d'Anquetil pulling her out of the cemetery and leading her
towards Gaulard's inn with a remainder of fury she was easily
capable of calming, alone and without help.

I returned to my room after they had entered theirs I could not
sleep the whole of the night, and looking out at daybreak, through
an opening in the window curtains I saw them crossing the courtyard
apparently the best of friends.

Jahel's departure augmented my sorrow. I stretched myself full
length on my stomach on the floor of my room, and with my face in my
hands cried until the evening.


I am pardoned and return to Paris--Again at the _Queen
Pedauque_--I go as Assistant to M. Blaizot--Burning of the Castle
of Sablons--Death of Mosaide and of M. d'Asterac.

From now onwards my life loses the interest which events had lent
it, and my destiny, having again become in conformity with my
character, offers nothing but ordinary occurrences. If I should
prolong my memoirs my narrative would very soon become tiresome.
I'll bring it to a close with but few words. The Vicar of Vallars
gave me a letter of introduction to a wine merchant at Macon, with
whom I was employed for a couple of months, after which my father
wrote to me that he had arranged my affair and that I was free to
return to Paris.

I took coach immediately and travelled with some recruits. My heart
beat violently when I again saw the Rue Saint Jacques, the clock of
Saint Benoit le Betourne, the signboard of the _Three Virgins_
and the _Saint Catherine_ of M. Blaizot.

My mother cried when she saw me; I also cried, and we embraced and
cried together again.

My father came in haste from the _Little Bacchus_ and said with
a moving dignity:

"Jacquot, my son, I cannot and will not deny that I Was very angry
when I saw the constables enter the _Queen Pedauque_ in search
of you, or, in default of you, arresting me. They would not listen
to any sort of remonstrance, alleging that I could easily explain
myself after being taken to jail. They looked for you on a complaint
of M. de la Gueritude. I conceived a most horrible idea of your
disorders. But having been informed by letter that it was a question
only of some peccadillo I had no other thought but to see you again.
Many a time I consulted the landlord of the _Little Bacchus_ on
the means to hush up your affair. He always replied: 'Master
Leonard, go to the judge with a big bag full of crown pieces and he
will give you back your lad as white as snow.' But crown pieces are
scarce with us, and there is neither hen nor goose nor duck who lays
golden eggs in my house. At present I hardly get sufficient by my
poultry to pay the expenses of the roasting. By good luck, your
saintly and worthy mother had the good idea of going to the mother
of M. d'Anquetil whom we knew to be busy in favour of her son, who
was sought after at the same time as you were, and for the identical
affair. I am quite aware, my Jacquot, that you played the man about
town in company with a nobleman, and my head is too well placed not
to feel the honour which it reflects on our whole family. Mother
dressed as if she intended to go to mass; and Madame d'Anquetil
received her with kindness. Thy mother, Jacquot, is a holy woman,
but she has not the best of society manners, and at first she talked
without aim or reason. She said: 'Madame, at our age, besides God
Almighty nothing remains to us but our children.' That was not the
right thing to say to that great lady who still has her gallants."

"Hold your tongue, Leonard," exclaimed my mother. "The behaviour of
Madame d'Anquetil is unknown to you, and it appears that I spoke to
her in the right way, because she said to me: 'Don't be troubled,
Madame Menetrier; I will employ my influence in favour of your son;
be sure of my zeal.' And you know, Leonard, that we received before
the expiration of two months the assurance that our Jacquot could
return unmolested to Paris."

We supped with a good appetite. My father asked me if was my
intention to re-enter the service of M. d'Asterac. I replied that
after the lamented death of my kind master I did not wish to
encounter that cruel Mosaide in the house of a nobleman who paid his
servants with fine speeches and nothing else. My father very kindly
invited me to turn the spit as in former days,

"Latterly, Jacquot," he said, "I gave the place to Friar Ange, but
he did not do as well as Miraut or yourself. Don't you want to take
your old place at the corner of the fireside?"

My mother, plain and simple as she was, did not want common-sense
and said:

"M. Blaizot, the bookseller of the _Image of Saint Catherine_,
is in want of an assistant. This employment, Jacquot, ought to suit
you like a glove. Thy dispositions are sweet, thy manners are good,
and that's what's wanted to sell Bibles."

I went at once to M. Blaizot, who took me into his service.

My misfortunes had made me wise. I did not feel discouraged by the
humbleness of my employment, and I fulfilled my duties with
exactitude, handling the duster and broom to the satisfaction of my

One of my duties was to pay a visit to M. d'Asterac. I went to the
great alchemist on the last Sunday of November, after the midday
dinner. It's a long way from the Rue Saint Jacques to the Croix-des-
Sablons, and the almanac does not lie when it announces that in
November the days are short. "When I arrived at the Roule it was
quite dark, and a black haze covered the deserted road. And
sorrowful were my thoughts in the darkness.

"Alas," I said to myself, "it will soon be a full year since I first
walked on this road, in the snow, in company with my dear master,
who now rests in a small village in Burgundy encircled by vineyards.
He sleeps in the hope of eternal life. And it is but right to have
the same hope as a man as wise as he. God preserve me from ever
doubting of the immortality of the soul! But, one must confess to
oneself, all that is connected with a future existence and another
world is of those verities in which one believes without being moved
and which have neither taste nor savour of any kind, so that one
swallows them without perceiving it. As for me I find no consolation
in the idea of meeting again the Abbe Coignard in Paradise. Surely I
could not recognise him, and his speeches would not contain the
agreeableness which he derived from circumstances."

Occupied with these reflections, I saw before me a fierce light
covering one-half of the sky; the fog was reddened by it, and the
light palpitated in the centre. A heavy smoke mixed with the vapours
of the air. I at once became afraid that the fire had broken out at
the d'Asterac castle. I quickened my steps, and very soon
ascertained that my fears were but too well founded. I discovered
the calvary of the Sablons, an opaque black on a background of
flame, and I saw nearly all the windows of the castle flaring as for
a sinister feast. The little green door was broken in. Shadows
gesticulated in the park and murmured the horror they felt. They
were the inhabitants of the borough of Neuilly, who had come for
curiosity's sake and to bring help. Some threw water from a fire
engine on the burning edifice, making a fiery rain of sparks arise.
A thick volume of smoke rose over the castle. A shower of sparks and
of cinders fell round me, and I soon became aware that my garments
and my hands were blackened. With much mortification I thought that
all that burning dust in the air was the end of so many fine books
and precious manuscripts, which were the joy of my dear master, the
remains, perhaps, of Zosimus the Panopolitan, on which we had worked
together during the noblest hours of my life.

I had seen the Abbe Jerome Coignard die. Now, it was his soul, his
sparkling and sweet soul, which I fancied reduced to ashes together
with the queen of libraries. The wind strengthened the fire and the
flames roared like voracious beasts.

Questioning a man of Neuilly still blacker than myself, and wearing
only his vest, I asked him if M. d'Asterac and his people had been

"Nobody," he said, "has left the castle except an old Jew, who was
seen running laden with packages in the direction of the swamps. He
lived in the keeper's cottage on the river, and was hated for his
origin and for the crimes of which he was suspected. Children
pursued him. And in running away he fell into the Seine. He was
fished out when dead, pressing on his heart a cup and six golden
plates. You can see him on the river bank in his yellow gown. With
his eyes open he is horrible."

"Ah!" I replied, "his end is due to his crimes. But his death does
not give me back the best of masters whom he slew. Tell me again;
has nobody seen M. d'Asterac?"

At the very moment when I put the question I heard near me one of
the moving shadows cry out:

"Thereof is falling in!"

And now I recognised with unspeakable horror the great black form of
M. d'Asterac running along the gutters. The alchemist shouted with a
sounding voice:

"I rise on wings of flame up to the seat of life divine!"

So he said, and suddenly the roof fell in with a tremendous crash,
and the flames as high as mountains enveloped the friend of the


I become a Bookseller--I have many learned and witty Customers but
none to equal the Abbe Jerome Coignard, D. D., M. A,

There is no love will stand separation. The memory of Jahel,
smarting at first, was smoothed down little by little, and nothing
remained but a vague irritation, of which she was no longer the only

M. Blaizot aged quickly. He retired to Montrouge, to his cottage in
the fields, and sold me his shop against a life annuity. Having
become in his place the sworn bookseller of the _Image of Saint
Catherine_, I took with me my father and mother, whose cookshop
flourished no more. I liked my humble shop and took care to trim it
up. I nailed on the doors some old Venetian maps and some theses
ornamented with allegorical engravings, which made a decoration old
and odd no doubt, but pleasant to friends of good learning. My
knowledge, taking care to hide it cleverly, was not detrimental to
my trade. It would have been worse had I been a publisher like Marc-
Michel Rey, and obliged like him to gain my living at the expense of
the stupidity of the public.

I keep in stock, as they say, the classical authors, and that is a
merchandise in demand in that learned Rue Saint Jacques of which it
would please me one day to write an account of its antiquities and
celebrities. The first Parisian printer established his venerable
presses there. The Cramoisys, whom Guy Patin calls the kings of the
Rue Saint Jacques, published there the works of our historians.
Before the erection of the College of France, the king's readers,
Pierre Danes, Francois Votable, Ramus, gave their lectures there in
a shed which echoed with the quarrels between the street porters and
the washerwomen. And how can we forget Jean de Meung, who composed
in one of the little houses of this street the _Roman de la
Rose_? [Footnote: Jacques Tournebroche did not know that Francois
Villon also dwelt in the Rue Saint Jacques, at the Cloister Saint
Benoit, in a house called the _Porte Verte_. The pupil of M.
Jerome Coignard would no doubt have had great pleasure in recalling
the memory of that ancient poet, who, like himself, had known
various sorts of people.]

I have the whole house at my disposal: it is very old, and dates at
least from the time of the Goths, as may be seen by the wooden
joists crossed on the narrow front and by the mossy tiles. It has
but one window on each floor. The one on the first floor is all the
year round garnished with flowers, strings are attached, and all
sorts of climbers run up them in springtime. My good old mother
takes care of this.

It is the window of her room. She can be seen from the street,
reading her prayers in a book printed in big letters over the image
of Saint Catherine. Age, devotion and maternal pride have given her
a grand air, and to see her wax-coloured face under her high white
cap one could take his oath on her being a wealthy citizen's wife.

My father, in getting old, also acquired some dignity. As he likes
exercise and fresh air I employ him to carry books about town. First
I employed Friar Ange, but he begged of my customers, made them kiss
relics, stole their wine, caressed their servant girls, and left
one-half of my books in the gutters. I soon gave him the sack. But
my good mother, whom he makes believe that he is possessed of
secrets for gaining heaven, gives him soup and wine. He is not a bad
man, and in the end I became somewhat attached to him.

Several learned men and some wits frequent my shop And it is a great
advantage to my trade to be in daily contact with men of merit.
Among those who often come to look at new books and converse
familiarly among themselves there are historians as learned as
Tillemont, sacred orators the equals of Bossuet and Bourdaloue in
eloquence, comic and tragic poets, theologians who unite purity of
morals with solidity of doctrine, the esteemed authors of "Spanish"
novels, geometers and philosophers capable, like M. Descartes, of
measuring and weighing the universe. I admire them, I enjoy the
least of their words. But not one, to my thinking, is equal in
genius to my dear master, whom I had the misfortune to lose on the
road to Lyons; not one reminds me of that incomparable elegance of
thought, that sweet sublimity, that astonishing wealth of a soul
always expanding and flowering, like the urns of rivers represented
in marble in gardens; not one gives me that never-failing spring of
science and of morals, wherein I had the happiness to quench the
thirst of my youth, none give me more than a shadow of that grace,
that wisdom, that strength of thought which shone in M. Jérôme
Coignard. I hold him to be the most amiable spirit who has ever
flourished on the earth.

Book of the day: