The mysterious monk
The illustrious wine shop of “Eve’s Apple” was situated in the University, at the corner of the Rue de la Rondelle and the Rue de la Bâtonnier. It was a very spacious and very low hail on the ground floor, with a vaulted ceiling whose central spring rested upon a huge pillar of wood painted yellow; tables everywhere, shining pewter jugs hanging on the walls, always a large number of drinkers, a plenty of wenches, a window on the street, a vine at the door, and over the door a flaring piece of sheet-iron, painted with an apple and a woman, rusted by the rain and turning with the wind on an iron pin. This species of weather-vane which looked upon the pavement was the signboard.
Night was falling; the square was dark; the wine-shop, full of candles, flamed afar like a forge in the gloom; the noise of glasses and feasting, of oaths and quarrels, which escaped through the broken panes, was audible. Through the mist which the warmth of the room spread over the window in front, a hundred confused figures could be seen swarming, and from time to time a burst of noisy laughter broke forth from it. The passers-by who were going about their business, slipped past this tumultuous window without glancing at it. Only at intervals did some little ragged boy raise himself on tiptoe as far as the ledge, and hurl into the drinking-shop, that ancient, jeering hoot, with which drunken men were then pursued: “Aux Houls, saouls, saouls, saouls!”
Nevertheless, one man paced imperturbably back and forth in front of the tavern, gazing at it incessantly, and going no further from it than a pikernan from his sentry-box. He was enveloped in a mantle to his very nose. This mantle he had just purchased of the old-clothes man, in the vicinity of the “Eve’s Apple,” no doubt to protect himself from the cold of the March evening, possibly also, to conceal his costume. From time to time he paused in front of the dim window with its leaden lattice, listened, looked, and stamped his foot.
At length the door of the dram-shop opened. This was what he appeared to be waiting for. Two boon companions came forth. The ray of light which escaped from the door crimsoned for a moment their jovial faces.
The man in the mantle went and stationed himself on the watch under a porch on the other side of the street.
“Corne et tonnerre!” said one of the comrades. “Seven o’clock is on the point of striking. ’Tis the hour of my appointed meeting.”
“I tell you,” repeated his companion, with a thick tongue, “that I don’t live in the Rue des Mauvaises Paroles, indignus qui inter mala verba habitat. I have a lodging in the Rue Jean-Pain-Mollet, in vico Johannis Pain-Mollet. You are more horned than a unicorn if you assert the contrary. Every one knows that he who once mounts astride a bear is never after afraid; but you have a nose turned to dainties like Saint-Jacques of the hospital.”
“Jehan, my friend, you are drunk,” said the other.
The other replied staggering, “It pleases you to say so, Phoebus; but it hath been proved that Plato had the profile of a hound.”
The reader has, no doubt, already recognized our two brave friends, the captain and the scholar. It appears that the man who was lying in wait for them had also recognized them, for he slowly followed all the zigzags that the scholar caused the captain to make, who being a more hardened drinker had retained all his self-possession. By listening to them attentively, the man in the mantle could catch in its entirety the following interesting conversation,—
“Corbacque! Do try to walk straight, master bachelor; you know that I must leave you. Here it is seven o’clock. I have an appointment with a woman.”
“Leave me then! I see stars and lances of fire. You are like the Chateau de Dampmartin, which is bursting with laughter.”
“By the warts of my grandmother, Jehan, you are raving with too much rabidness. By the way, Jehan, have you any money left?”
“Monsieur Rector, there is no mistake; the little butcher’s shop, parva boucheria.”
“Jehau! my friend Jehan! You know that I made an appointment with that little girl at the end of the Pont Saint-Michel, and I can only take her to the Falourdel’s, the old crone of the bridge, and that I must pay for a chamber. The old witch with a white moustache would not trust me. Jehan! for pity’s sake! Have we drunk up the whole of the curé’s purse? Have you not a single parisis left?”
“The consciousness of having spent the other hours well is a just and savory condiment for the table.”
“Belly and guts! a truce to your whimsical nonsense! Tell me, Jehan of the devil! have you any money left? Give it to me, bédieu!” or I will search you, were you as leprous as Job, and as scabby as Cæsar!”
“Monsieur, the Rue Galiache is a street which hath at one end the Rue de la Verrerie, and at the other the Rue de la Tixeranderie.”
“Well, yes! my good friend Jehan, my poor comrade, the Rue Galiache is good, very good. But in the name of heaven collect your wits. I must have a sou parisis, and the appointment is for seven o’clock.”
“Silence for the rondo, and attention to the refrain,—
“Quand les rats mangeront les cas, Le roi sera seigneur d’Arras; Quand la mer, qui est grande et lé(e Sera a la Saint-Jean gèle(e, On verrà, par-dessus la glace, Sortir ceux d’Arras de leur place.”
“Well, scholar of Antichrist, may you be strangled with the entrails of your mother!” exclaimed Phoebus, and he gave the drunken scholar a rough push; the latter slipped against the wall, and slid flabbily to the pavement of Philip Augustus. A remnant of fraternal pity, which never abandons the heart of a drinker, prompted Phoebus to roll Jehan with his foot upon one of those pillows of the poor, which Providence keeps in readiness at the corner of all the street posts of Paris, and which the rich blight with the name of “a rubbish-heap.” The captain adjusted Jehan’s head upon an inclined plane of cabbage-stumps, and on the very instant, the scholar fell to snoring in a magnificent bass. Meanwhile, all malice was not extinguished in the captain’s heart. “So much the worse if the devil’s cart picks you up on its passage!” he said to the poor, sleeping clerk; and he strode off.
The man in the mantle, who had not ceased to follow him, halted for a moment before the prostrate scholar, as though agitated by indecision; then, uttering a profound sigh, he also strode off in pursuit of the captain.
We, like them, will leave Jehan to slumber beneath the open sky, and will follow them also, if it pleases the reader.
On emerging into the Rue Saint-André-des-Arcs, Captain Phoebus perceived that some one was following him. On glancing sideways by chance, he perceived a sort of shadow crawling after him along the walls. He halted, it halted; he resumed his march, it resumed its march. This disturbed him not overmuch. “Ah, bah!” he said to himself, “I have not a sou.”
He paused in front of the College d’Autun. It was at this college that he had sketched out what he called his studies, and, through a scholar’s teasing habit which still lingered in him, he never passed the façade without inflicting on the statue of Cardinal Pierre Bertrand, sculptured to the right of the portal, the affront of which Priapus complains so bitterly in the satire of Horace, Olim truncus eram ficulnus. He had done this with so much unrelenting animosity that the inscription,Eduensis episcopus, had become almost effaced. Therefore, he halted before the statue according to his wont. The street was utterly deserted. At the moment when he was coolly retying his shoulder knots, with his nose in the air, he saw the shadow approaching him with slow steps, so slow that he had ample time to observe that this shadow wore a cloak and a hat. On arriving near him, it halted and remained more motionless than the statue of Cardinal Bertrand. Meanwhile, it riveted upon Phoebus two intent eyes, full of that vague light which issues in the night time from the pupils of a cat.
The captain was brave, and would have cared very little for a highwayman, with a rapier in his hand. But this walking statue, this petrified man, froze his blood. There were then in circulation, strange stories of a surly monk, a nocturnal prowler about the streets of Paris, and they recurred confusedly to his memory. He remained for several minutes in stupefaction, and finally broke the silence with a forced laugh.
“Monsieur, if you are a robber, as I hope you are, you produce upon me the effect of a heron attacking a nutshell. I am the son of a ruined family, my dear fellow. Try your hand near by here. In the chapel of this college there is some wood of the true cross set in silver.”
The hand of the shadow emerged from beneath its mantle and descended upon the arm of Phoebus with the grip of an eagle’s talon; at the same time the shadow spoke,—
“Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers!”
What, the devil!” said Phoebus, “you know my name!”
“I know not your name alone,” continued the man in the mantle, with his sepulchral voice. “You have a rendezvous this evening.”
“Yes,” replied Phoebus in amazement.
“At seven o’clock.”
“In a quarter of an hour.”
“At la Falourdel’s.”
“The lewd hag of the Pont Saint-Michel.”
“Of Saint Michel the archangel, as the Pater Noster saith.”
“Impious wretch!” muttered the spectre. “With a woman?”
“Confiteor,— I confess—.”
“Who is called—?”
“La Smeralda,” said Phoebus, gayly. All his heedlessness had gradually returned.
At this name, the shadow’s grasp shook the arm of Phoebus in a fury.
“Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers, thou liest!”
Any one who could have beheld at that moment the captain’s inflamed countenance, his leap backwards, so violent that he disengaged himself from the grip which held him, the proud air with which he clapped his hand on his swordhilt, and, in the presence of this wrath the gloomy immobility of the man in the cloak,— any one who could have beheld this would have been frightened. There was in it a touch of the combat of Don Juan and the statue.
“Christ and Satan!” exclaimed the captain. “That is a word which rarely strikes the ear of a Châteaupers! Thou wilt not dare repeat it.”
“Thou liest!” said the shadow coldly.
The captain gnashed his teeth. Surly monk, phantom, superstitions,— he had forgotten all at that moment. He no longer beheld anything but a man, and an insult.
“Ah! this is well!” he stammered, in a voice stifled with rage. He drew his sword, then stammering, for anger as well as fear makes a man tremble: “Here! On the spot! Come on! Swords! Swords! Blood on the pavement!”
But the other never stirred. When he beheld his adversary on guard and ready to parry,—
“Captain Phoebus,” he said, and his tone vibrated with bitterness, “you forget your appointment.”
The rages of men like Phoebus are milk-soups, whose ebullition is calmed by a drop of cold water. This simple remark caused the sword which glittered in the captain’s hand to be lowered.
“Captain,” pursued the man, “to-morrow, the day after to-morrow, a month hence, ten years hence, you will find me ready to cut your throat; but go first to your rendezvous.”
“In sooth,” said Phoebus, as though seeking to capitulate with himself, “these are two charming things to be encountered in a rendezvous,— a sword and a wench; but I do not see why I should miss the one for the sake of the other, when I can have both.”
He replaced his sword in its scabbard.
“Go to your rendezvous,” said the man.
“Monsieur,” replied Phoebus with some embarrassment, “many thanks for your courtesy. In fact, there will be ample time to-morrow for us to chop up father Adam’s doublet into slashes and buttonholes. I am obliged to you for allowing me to pass one more agreeable quarter of an hour. I certainly did hope to put you in the gutter, and still arrive in time for the fair one, especially as it has a better appearance to make the women wait a little in such cases. But you strike me as having the air of a gallant man, and it is safer to defer our affair until to-morrow. So I will betake myself to my rendezvous; it is for seven o’clock, as you know.” Here Phoebus scratched his ear. “Ah. Corne Dieu! I had forgotten! I haven’t a sou to discharge the price of the garret, and the old crone will insist on being paid in advance. She distrusts me.”
“Here is the wherewithal to pay.”
Phoebus felt the stranger’s cold hand slip into his a large piece of money. He could not refrain from taking the money and pressing the hand.
“Vrai Dieu!” he exclaimed, “you are a good fellow!”
“One condition,” said the man. “Prove to me that I have been wrong and that you were speaking the truth. Hide me in some corner whence I can see whether this woman is really the one whose name you uttered.”
“Oh!” replied Phoebus, “’tis all one to me. We will take, the Sainte-Marthe chamber; you can look at your ease from the kennel hard by.”
“Come then,” said the shadow.
“At your service,” said the captain, “I know not whether you are Messer Diavolus in person; but let us be good friends for this evening; to-morrow I will repay you all my debts, both of purse and sword.”
They set out again at a rapid pace. At the expiration of a few minutes, the sound of the river announced to them that they were on the Pont Saint-Michel, then loaded with houses.
“I will first show you the way,” said Phoebus to his companion, “I will then go in search of the fair one who is awaiting me near the Petit-Châtelet.”
His companion made no reply; he had not uttered a word since they had been walking side by side. Phoebus halted before a low door, and knocked roughly; a light made its appearance through the cracks of the door.
“Who is there?” cried a toothless voice.
“Corps-Dieu! Tête-Dieu! Ventre-Dieu!” replied the captain.
The door opened instantly, and allowed the new-corners to see an old woman and an old lamp, both of which trembled. The old woman was bent double, clad in tatters, with a shaking head, pierced with two small eyes, and coiffed with a dish clout; wrinkled everywhere, on hands and face and neck; her lips retreated under her gums, and about her mouth she had tufts of white hairs which gave her the whiskered look of a cat.
The interior of the den was no less dilapitated than she; there were chalk walls, blackened beams in the ceiling, a dismantled chimney-piece, spiders’ webs in all the corners, in the middle a staggering herd of tables and lame stools, a dirty child among the ashes, and at the back a staircase, or rather, a wooden ladder, which ended in a trap door in the ceiling.
On entering this lair, Phoebus’s mysterious companion raised his mantle to his very eyes. Meanwhile, the captain, swearing like a Saracen, hastened to “make the sun shine in a crown” as saith our admirable Régnier.
“The Sainte-Marthe chamber,” said he.
The old woman addressed him as monseigneur, and shut up the crown in a drawer. It was the coin which the man in the black mantle had given to Phoebus. While her back was turned, the bushy-headed and ragged little boy who was playing in the ashes, adroitly approached the drawer, abstracted the crown, and put in its place a dry leaf which he had plucked from a fagot.
The old crone made a sign to the two gentlemen, as she called them, to follow her, and mounted the ladder in advance of them. On arriving at the upper story, she set her lamp on a coffer, and, Phoebus, like a frequent visitor of the house, opened a door which opened on a dark hole. “Enter here, my dear fellow,” he said to his companion. The man in the mantle obeyed without a word in reply, the door closed upon him; he heard Phoebus bolt it, and a moment later descend the stairs again with the aged hag. The light had disappeared.