The Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
Chapter LXVII. How D'Artagnan became Acquainted with a Poet, who had turned Printer for the Sake of Printing his own Verses.
Before taking his place at table, D'Artagnan acquired, as was his custom, all the information he could; but it is an axiom of curiosity, that every man who wishes to question well and fruitfully ought in the first place to lay himself open to questions. D'Artagnan sought, then, with his usual skill, a promising questioner in the hostelry of La Roche-Bernard. At the moment, there were in the house, on the first story, two travelers either preparing for supper, or at supper itself. D'Artagnan had seen their nags in the stable, and their equipages in the salle. One traveled with a lackey, undoubtedly a person of consideration; - two Perche mares, sleek, sound beasts, were suitable means of locomotion. The other, a little fellow, a traveler of meagre appearance, wearing a dusty surtout, dirty linen, and boots more worn by the pavement than the stirrup, had come from Nantes with a cart drawn by a horse so like Furet in color, that D'Artagnan might have gone a hundred miles without finding a better match. This cart contained divers large packets wrapped in pieces of old stuff.
"That traveler yonder," said D'Artagnan to himself, "is the man for my money. He will do, he suits me; I ought to do for him and suit him; M. Agnan, with the gray doublet and the rusty calotte, is not unworthy of supping with the gentleman of the old boots and still older horse."
This said, D'Artagnan called the host, and desired him to send his teal, tourteau, and cider up to the chamber of the gentleman of modest exterior. He himself climbed, a plate in his hand, the wooden staircase which led to the chamber, and began to knock at the door.
"Come in!" said the unknown. D'Artagnan entered, with a simper on his lips, his plate under his arm, his hat in one hand, his candle in the other.
"Excuse me, monsieur," said he, "I am as you are, a traveler; I know no one in the hotel, and I have the bad habit of losing my spirits when I eat alone; so that my repast appears a bad one to me, and does not nourish me. Your face, which I saw just now, when you came down to have some oysters opened, - your face pleased me much. Besides, I have observed you have a horse just like mine, and that the host, no doubt on account of that resemblance, has placed them side by side in the stable, where they appear to agree amazingly well together. I therefore, monsieur, do not see any reason why the masters should be separated when the horses are united. Accordingly, I am come to request the pleasure of being admitted to your table. My name is Agnan, at your service, monsieur, the unworthy steward of a rich seigneur, who wishes to purchase some salt-mines in this country, and sends me to examine his future acquisitions. In truth, monsieur, I should be well pleased if my countenance were as agreeable to you as yours is to me; for, upon my honor, I am quite at your service."
The stranger, whom D'Artagnan saw for the first time, - for before he had only caught a glimpse of him, - the stranger had black and brilliant eyes, a yellow complexion, a brow a little wrinkled by the weight of fifty years, bonhomie in his features collectively, but some cunning in his look.
"One would say," thought D'Artagnan, "that this merry fellow has never exercised more than the upper part of his head, his eyes, and his brain. He must be a man of science: his mouth, nose, and chin signify absolutely nothing."
"Monsieur," replied the latter, with whose mind and person we have been making so free, "you do me much honor; not that I am ever ennuye, for I have," added he, smiling, "a company which amuses me always: but, never mind that, I am happy to receive you." But when saying this, the man with the worn boots cast an uneasy look at his table, from which the oysters had disappeared, and upon which there was nothing left but a morsel of salt bacon.
"Monsieur," D'Artagnan hastened to say, "the host is bringing me up a pretty piece of roasted poultry and a superb tourteau." D'Artagnan had read in the look of his companion, however rapidly it disappeared, the fear of an attack by a parasite: he divined justly. At this opening, the features of the man of modest exterior relaxed; and, as if he had watched the moment for his entrance, as D'Artagnan spoke, the host appeared, bearing the announced dishes. The tourteau and the teal were added to the morsel of broiled bacon; D'Artagnan and his guest bowed, sat down opposite to each other, and, like two brothers, shared the bacon and the other dishes.
"Monsieur," said D'Artagnan, "you must confess that association is a wonderful thing."
"How so?" replied the stranger, with his mouth full.
"Well, I will tell you," replied D'Artagnan.
The stranger gave a short truce to the movement of his jaws, in order to hear the better.
"In the first place," continued D'Artagnan, "instead of one candle, which each of us had, we have two."
"That is true!" said the stranger, struck with the extreme lucidity of the observation.
"Then I see that you eat my tourteau in preference, whilst I, in preference, eat your bacon."
"That is true again."
"And then, in addition to being better lighted and eating what we prefer, I place the pleasure of your company."
"Truly, monsieur, you are very jovial," said the unknown, cheerfully.
"Yes, monsieur; jovial, as all people are who carry nothing on their minds, or, for that matter, in their heads. Oh! I can see it is quite another sort of thing with you," continued D'Artagnan; "I can read in your eyes all sorts of genius."
"Come, confess one thing."
"What is that?"
"That you are a learned man."
"Ma foi! monsieur."
"I am an author."
"There!" cried D'Artagnan, clapping his hands, "I knew I could not be deceived! It is a miracle!"
"Monsieur - "
"What, shall I have the honor of passing the evening in the society of an author, of a celebrated author, perhaps?"
"Oh!" said the unknown, blushing, "celebrated, monsieur, celebrated is not the word."
"Modest!" cried D'Artagnan, transported, "he is modest!" Then, turning towards the stranger, with a character of blunt bonhomie: "But tell me at least the name of your works, monsieur; for you will please to observe you have not told me your name, and I have been forced to divine your genius."
"My name is Jupenet, monsieur," said the author.
"A fine name! a grand name! upon my honor; and I do not know why - pardon me the mistake, if it be one - but surely I have heard that name somewhere."
"I have made verses," said the poet, modestly.
"Ah! that is it, then; I have heard them read."
"I must have seen it played."
The poet blushed again, and said: "I do not think that can be the case, for my verses have never been printed."
"Well, then, it must have been the tragedy which informed me of your name."
"You are again mistaken, for MM. the comedians of the Hotel de Bourgogne, would have nothing to do with it," said the poet, with a smile, the receipt for which certain sorts of pride alone knew the secret. D'Artagnan bit his lips. "Thus, then, you see, monsieur," continued the poet, "you are in error on my account, and that not being at all known to you, you have never heard tell of me."
"Ah! that confounds me. That name, Jupenet, appears to me, nevertheless, a fine name, and quite as worthy of being known as those of MM. Corneille, or Rotrou, or Garnier. I hope, monsieur, you will have the goodness to repeat to me a part of your tragedy presently, by way of dessert, for instance. That will be sugared roast meat, - mordioux! Ah! pardon me, monsieur, that was a little oath which escaped me, because it is a habit with my lord and master. I sometimes allow myself to usurp that little oath, as it seems in pretty good taste. I take this liberty only in his absence, please to observe, for you may understand that in his presence - but, in truth, monsieur, this cider is abominable; do you not think so? And besides, the pot is of such an irregular shape it will not stand on the table."
"Suppose we were to make it level?"
"To be sure; but with what?"
"With this knife."
"And the teal, with what shall we cut that up? Do you not, by chance, mean to touch the teal?"
"Well, then - "
And the poet rummaged in his pocket, and drew out a piece of brass, oblong, quadrangular, about a line in thickness, and an inch and a half in length. But scarcely had this little piece of brass seen the light, than the poet appeared to have committed an imprudence, and made a movement to put it back again in his pocket. D'Artagnan perceived this, for he was a man that nothing escaped. He stretched forth his hand towards the piece of brass: "Humph! that which you hold in your hand is pretty; will you allow me to look at it?"
"Certainly," said the poet, who appeared to have yielded too soon to a first impulse. "Certainly, you may look at it: but it will be in vain for you to look at it," added he, with a satisfied air; "if I were not to tell you its use, you would never guess it."
D'Artagnan had seized as an avowal the hesitation of the poet, and his eagerness to conceal the piece of brass which a first movement had induced him to take out of his pocket. His attention, therefore, once awakened on this point, he surrounded himself with a circumspection which gave him a superiority on all occasions. Besides, whatever M. Jupenet might say about it, by a simple inspection of the object, he perfectly well knew what it was. It was a character in printing.
"Can you guess, now, what this is?" continued the poet.
"No," said D'Artagnan, "no, ma foi!"
"Well, monsieur," said M. Jupenet, "this little piece of metal is a printing letter."
"Stop, stop, stop," said D'Artagnan, opening his eyes very innocently.
"Yes, monsieur, a capital; the first letter of my name."
"And this is a letter, is it?"
"Well, I will confess one thing to you."
"And what is that?"
"No, I will not, I was going to say something stupid."
"No, no," said Master Jupenet, with a patronizing air.
"Well, then, I cannot comprehend, if that is a letter, how you can make a word."
"Yes, a printed word."
"Oh, that's very easy."
"Let me see."
"Does it interest you?"
"Well, I will explain the thing to you. Attend."
"I am attending."
"This is it."
"I am looking." D'Artagnan, in fact, appeared absorbed in observations. Jupenet drew from his pocket seven or eight other pieces of brass smaller than the first.
"Ah, ah," said D'Artagnan.
"You have, then, a whole printing-office in your pocket. Peste! that is curious, indeed."
"Is it not?"
"Good God, what a number of things we learn by traveling."
"To your health!" said Jupenet, quite enchanted.
"To yours, mordioux, to yours. But - an instant - not in this cider. It is an abominable drink, unworthy of a man who quenches his thirst at the Hippocrene fountain - is not it so you call your fountain, you poets?"
"Yes, monsieur, our fountain is so called. That comes from two Greek words - hippos, which means a horse, and - "
"Monsieur," interrupted D'Artagnan, "you shall drink of a liquor which comes from one single French word, and is none the worse for that - from the word grape; this cider gives me the heartburn. Allow me to inquire of your host if there is not a good bottle of Beaugency, or of the Ceran growth, at the back of the large bins in his cellar."
The host, being sent for, immediately attended.
"Monsieur," interrupted the poet, "take care, we shall not have time to drink the wine, unless we make great haste, for I must take advantage of the tide to secure the boat."
"What boat?" asked D'Artagnan.
"Why the boat which sets out for Belle-Isle."
"Ah - for Belle-Isle," said the musketeer, "that is good."
"Bah! you will have plenty of time, monsieur," replied the hotelier, uncorking the bottle, "the boat will not leave this hour."
"But who will give me notice?" said the poet.
"Your fellow-traveler," replied the host.
"But I scarcely know him."
"When you hear him departing, it will be time for you to go."
"Is he going to Belle-Isle, likewise, then?"
"The traveler who has a lackey?" asked D'Artagnan. "He is some gentleman, no doubt?"
"I know nothing of him."
"What! - know nothing of him?"
"No, all I know is, that he is drinking the same wine as you."
"Peste! - that is a great honor for us," said D'Artagnan, filling his companion's glass, whilst the host went out.
"So," resumed the poet, returning to his dominant ideas, "you never saw any printing done?"
"Well, then, take the letters thus, which compose the word, you see: A B; ma foi! here is an R, two E E, then a G." And he assembled the letters with a swiftness and skill which did not escape the eye of D'Artagnan.
"Abrege," said he, as he ended.
"Good!" said D'Artagnan; "here are plenty of letters got together; but how are they kept so?" And he poured out a second glass for the poet. M. Jupenet smiled like a man who has an answer for everything; then he pulled out - still from his pocket - a little metal ruler, composed of two parts, like a carpenter's rule, against which he put together, and in a line, the characters, holding them under his left thumb.
"And what do you call that little metal ruler?" said D'Artagnan, "for, I suppose, all these things have names."
"This is called a composing-stick," said Jupenet; "it is by the aid of this stick that the lines are formed."
"Come, then, I was not mistaken in what I said; you have a press in your pocket," said D'Artagnan, laughing with an air of simplicity so stupid, that the poet was completely his dupe.
"No," replied he; "but I am too lazy to write, and when I have a verse in my head, I print it immediately. That is a labor spared."
"Mordioux!" thought D'Artagnan to himself, "this must be cleared up." And under a pretext, which did not embarrass the musketeer, who was fertile in expedients, he left the table, went downstairs, ran to the shed under which stood the poet's little cart, and poked the point of his poniard into the stuff which enveloped one of the packages, which he found full of types, like those which the poet had in his pocket.
"Humph!" said D'Artagnan, "I do not yet know whether M. Fouquet wishes to fortify Belle-Isle; but, at all events, here are some spiritual munitions for the castle." Then, enchanted with his rich discovery, he ran upstairs again, and resumed his place at the table.
D'Artagnan had learnt what he wished to know. He, however, remained, none the less, face to face with his partner, to the moment when they heard from the next room symptoms of a person's being about to go out. The printer was immediately on foot; he had given orders for his horse to be got ready. His carriage was waiting at the door. The second traveler got into his saddle, in the courtyard, with his lackey. D'Artagnan followed Jupenet to the door; he embarked his cart and horse on board the boat. As to the opulent traveler, he did the same with his two horses and servant. But all the wit D'Artagnan employed in endeavoring to find out his name was lost - he could learn nothing. Only he took such notice of his countenance, that it was impressed upon his mind forever. D'Artagnan had a great inclination to embark with the two travelers, but an interest more powerful than curiosity - that of success - repelled him from the shore, and brought him back again to the hostelry. He entered with a sigh, and went to bed directly in order to be ready early in the morning with fresh ideas and the sage counsel of sufficing sleep.