Friday, February 8, 2013

Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist - Chapter 1 (In Contemporary American English)

Available in NOOK and KINDLE


I — Jacques and His Master reach a tough inn

Just how did they meet? By chance, like everyone else. What are their names? What does it matter? Where did they come from? From the nearest place. Where were they going to? Does anyone know where they are going? What did they say? The master said nothing, and Jacques was saying that his captain used to say that everything that happens to us —good and evil— here below was written up above.
MASTER: That is so deep.
JACQUES: The captain added that each shot bullet from a gun had someone’s name on it. 
MASTER: And he was right ...
(After a short pause, Jacques exclaimed): To hell with the innkeeper and his inn!
MASTER: Why damn one’s neighbor to the devil?
JACQUES: Because while I was getting drunk with bad wine, I forgot to water our horses. My father saw that and got furious. I nodded my head and he hit me hard with a stick across my shoulders. It happens that a regiment was passing on its way to Camp Fontenoy, so out of spite I enlisted, and we arrived just as the battle started...
MASTER: And you got the bullet with your name on it?
JACQUES: You got it: a shot in the knee. God knows the good and bad adventures that gunshot brought to me. They’re stringed together like the links of a bracelet. If it wasn’t for this shot, for example, I do not think I would have fallen in love with my life, nor had a limp.
MASTER: Have you been in love?
JACQUES: Have I ever!
MASTER: And all on account of that gunshot?
JACQUES: Yes, on account of that.
MASTER: You never said a word of this before.
JACQUES: That’s right.
MASTER: And why not?
JACQUES: That’s something that cannot be said either sooner or later.
MASTER: Are we at the point to learn about these love affairs?
JACQUES: Who knows?
MASTER: In any case, get started ...
Jacques began his love stories. It was past noon: the weather was heavy, and his master fell asleep. Night overtook them in the fields, where they got lost. In a terrible rage the master rained with his horsewhip ferocious lashes on his valet, the poor devil crying out every time: "This one was written up above—to be sure..."
You see, reader, that it is fair to me that to me to have you wait a year, two years, or three years for the story of Jacques’ loves, and by separating him from his master and making each run all the risks that I see fit. What’s to prevent me from marrying the master and his being cuckolded? Or sending Jacques to the islands?  And drive his master there? Or bring them both to France on the same ship? It is easy to make fairy tales! But I will let them both get off with a bad night’s sleep, and you reader: with this delay.
Dawn broke. Right then they remounted their horses and continued on their way. And where did they go? This is the second time you asked this question, and for the second time I say to you: What is it to you? If I start telling about the journey, then it is goodbye to Jacques’ love stories ... They went some time in silence. When everyone both had somewhat recovered from their foul mood, the master said to his servant, Well, Jacques, where were we with your love stories?
JACQUES: We were, I believe, to the defeat of the enemy. With everyone running away and being chased—it was total chaos. I remained on the battlefield, buried under a pile of dead and wounded bodies.  The next day I was dumped on a cart long with a dozen others be taken to one of our hospitals. Ah! Sir, I do not imagine any wound can be more painful than an injury to the knee.  
MASTER: Come on, Jacques, you jest.
JACQUES: No, by God, sir, I’m not joking! There are —I do not know how many bones, tendons and other things called I do not know what...
Some sort of peasant—with a girl on his saddle—was following them, having overheard them said: "The gentleman is right ..."
Not being clear whom “the gentleman” was meant for, both the master and Jacques disliked that. Jacques said to the indiscreet speaker: "Why don’t you mind your own business?”
“I am minding my own business. I am a surgeon, at your service—I’ll show you how …”
The woman he was carrying on his crupper begged him: "Doctor, let’s go on our way, and let these gentlemen alone—they don’t want a demonstration.”
“No,” replied the surgeon, I want to show them, and I will demonstrate..."
Turning around to demonstrate, he shoved the woman, making her lose her balance so that she was thrown to the ground, one foot caught in his coat, her petticoats spilled on her head. Jacques down, releasing the foot of this poor creature while pulling her petticoats back down. I do not know if he pulled the petticoats down first, or released the foot next; but to judge the state of the woman by her screams, she was badly hurt.
And the master said to the surgeon: "This is what happens when you demonstrate!"
And the surgeon: "This is what happens when people don’t want a demonstration! ..."
Jacques said to the dropped or picked up woman: "Take it easy my dear, this is neither your fault nor the fault of the doctor, nor mine, nor that of my master: it was written up above that today, on this road, at this exact hour, the doctor would become a chatterbox, and that my master and I would become rough—with you getting a lump on the head while showing us your ass."
What could I make of this adventure if I took a fancy to drive you to despair! I could make this woman a heroine; I could make all the peasants run. I could include all sorts of stories of love and struggle; well—didn’t Jacques and his master notice that the peasant girl had a nice little body? Love doesn’t always wait for a seductive opportunity. Why shouldn’t Jacques love again for a second time? Why shouldn’t he be on a second time his master’s rival, and even his favorite rival?
Is it the case that it had already happened?
Always questions! You do not want that Jacques continues the story of his love—then? Once and for all, do tell me: would that please you or not?
If it does, then let’s put back the peasant girl behind the surgeon, and let them go on their way, so that we can return to our two travelers.
This time Jacques spoke first, saying to his master:
That’s the way the world turns … You, who’s never been hurt in his life and who has no idea of what a shot in the knee is like—tell me; a man who’s had his shot and had to walk with a limp for the last twenty years...
MASTER: You could be right. But that impertinent surgeon sent you and your companions in that cart, away from the hospital, far from being cured, and far from falling in love.
JACQUES: Whatever you like to think, the pain in my knee pain was huge, becoming even more unbearable with the roughness of the ride in that wagon, and the bumpy roads, so that at every bump I screamed…  
MASTER: Because it was written up above that you would scream?  
JACQUES: Of course! I was hemorrhaging and would have been a dead man if our cart —the last of the column— had not stopped in front of a cottage. I asked to get down, and they put me on the ground. A young woman at the door scurried into the cottage, returning almost immediately with a glass and a bottle of wine. I drank one or two glasses in a hurry.
The wagons in front of ours moved on.
They were about to put me back into the wagon with all my companions, when latching on to a woman’s clothing and everything else around me, I vowed I would not get back in there: if I was going to  the, I wanted to the right on the spot—not two miles farther.  
No sooner did I say these words that I passed out. When I came to I saw that I was undressed and lying in a bed that by a corner of the cottage, with a peasant, the master of the house, his wife, the same who had rescued me, and some small Children—all around me. The woman had dipped the corner of her apron in vinegar and was rubbing me in the nose and temples.
MASTER: Ah! You scoundrel! You bandit! You traitor! I can see what’s coming.
JACQUES: My master, you see nothing.
MASTER: This the woman you’re going to fall in love with—no?
JACQUES: And if I were to fall in love with her, what could you say about that? Isn’t one free to fall in love or not? And if one is free—is one free to act as if one wasn’t? If the thing had been written up above, what you are about to say to me now I would already have said to myself. I would have slapped my own face, I would have knocked my head against the wall; I would have pulled out my hair, and it would have been no more or less so, and my benefactor would have been cuckolded.
MASTER: But if one follows your logic there can be no remorse for any crime.
JACQUES: That objection has bothered me more than once, but still though reluctantly, I always come back to what my Captain used to say: “Everything which happens to us in this world—good or bad—is written up above...”
Do you, Sir, know any way of erasing this writing?
Can I be anything other besides myself, and being me, could I act otherwise than I do?
Can I be myself and somebody else?
Ever since I have been in this world—has there ever been one single instant when it has not been so?
Preach as much as you want. Your reasons may perhaps be good, but if it is written within me or up above that I will find them bad, what can I do about it?
MASTER: I am wondering whether your benefactor would have been cuckolded because it was written up above or whether it was written up above because you cuckolded your benefactor.
JACQUES: The two were written side by side. Everything was written at the same time, like a great scroll which is unrolled little by little.
You can imagine, Reader, how far I might take this conversation on a topic which has been talked about and written about so much for the last two thousand years without getting one step further forward. If you are not grateful to me for what I am telling you, be very grateful for what I am not telling you.
While our two theologians were arguing though listening to each other, as can happen in theology, nightfall was falling. They were coming to a part of the country which not only was unsafe at the best of times, but even more unsafe when bad administration and misery had endlessly multiplied the number of criminals.
They stopped at the shoddiest of inns.
Two bunks were made up for them in a room made of partitions which were gaping on all sides. When they asked for something to eat, they were brought pond water, black bread and sour wine. The innkeeper, his wife, their children and the valets all appeared rather sinister. They could hear coming from the room next to them the raucous laughter and rowdy merriment of a dozen or so brigands who having arrived there before them had requisi­tioned all the victuals.
Jacques was happy enough.
But his master was not. He was walking his worries up and down, while his valet consumed a few pieces of black bread and swallowed a few glasses of the sour wine, grimacing. Then they heard a knocking on their door. It was a valet who had been persuaded by their insolent and dangerous neighbors to bring our two travelers all the bones of a fowl they had eaten on one of their plates. Indignant, Jacques took his master’s pistols.
“Where are you going?”
”Leave me alone.”
“Where are you going, I’m asking you!”
“To face that scum.”
“Don’t you know there are a dozen of them?”
“Were there one hundred, the number doesn’t matter if it is written up above that there are not enough of them.”
“May the devil take you and your impertinent speech!...”
Jacques dodged his master and went into the cut-throats’ room, a cocked pistol in each hand.
“Quickly, lie down,” he ordered. “The first one who moves gets his brains blown out...”
Jacques’ demeanor and tone were so convincing that these rascals, who valued their lives just as much as honest people do, got up from the table without saying a word, got undressed and went to bed. His master, uncertain of how this little adventure would end, was waiting for him, shaking. Jacques returned loaded up with these people’s clothes, having taken possession of them in case they were tempted to get up again. Then he put out their light, double-locking their door, the key of which he was carrying on one of his pistols.
“Now, Sir,” he said to his master, “all we have to do is to barricade ourselves in by pushing our beds against the door and then we can sleep in peace.” And he set about moving the beds; coolly he picked up recounting to his master the details of his expedition.
MASTER: Jacques, what kind of devil of a man are you? Do you really believe?...
JACQUES: I neither believe nor disbelieve.
MASTER: What if they had refused to go to bed?
JACQUES: That was impossible.
MASTER: Why is that?
JACQUES: Because they didn’t do it.
MASTER: What if they get up again?
JACQUES: So much the worse or so much the better.
MASTER: If... if... if... and...
JACQUES: If... if the sea was boiling, there would be, as the saying goes, an awful lot of cooked fish. What the devil, Sir, just now you thought that I was running a great risk, but nothing could have been more wrong. Now you are thinking yourself to be in great danger, but nothing, perhaps, could be more wrong again. Everyone in this inn is afraid of everyone else, which proves we are all idiots...
And while blabbering, there he was: undressed, in bed, and soon fast asleep. His master, eating in his turn a piece of black bread, and drinking a glass of bad wine, was listening all around him and looking at Jacques, who was snoring—said to himself: “What kind of devil of a man is that?”
Following his valet’s example, the master also stretched himself out on his bunk but didn’t sleep quite peacefully. As soon as day broke Jacques felt a hand pushing him. It was the hand of his master, who was calling him softly.
MASTER: Jacques? Jacques?
MASTER: It’s daylight.
JACQUES: Very likely.
MASTER: Get up then.
MASTER: So we can get out of here right away.
MASTER: Because we’re not safe here.
JACQUES: Who knows? And who knows if we’ll be better off somewhere else?
MASTER: Jacques?
JACQUES: Well—Jacques, Jacques…you’re the devil of a man.
MASTER: What kind of devil of a man are you? Jacques, my friend, I beg you.
Rubbing his eyes and yawning several times, Jacques stretched out his arms, got up, dressed without hurrying, pushed back the beds, went out of the bedroom, went downstairs, went to the stable, saddled and bridled the horses, woke up the innkeeper, who was still asleep, paid the bill, kept the keys to the two bedrooms—and there they were gone.
The master wanted to get away at a fast trot, Jacques wanted to go at walking pace, still following his system. When they were quite a good way from their miserable resting-place the master, hearing something jangling in Jacques’ pocket, asked him what it was. Jacques told him it was the two keys to the bedrooms.
MASTER: Why didn’t you give them back?
JACQUES: Because they’ll have to break down two doors—our neighbors—to release them from captivity and ours, too, to get back their clothes, and that will give us some time.
MASTER: Very good, Jacques, but why gain time?
JACQUES: Why? My God, I don’t know.
MASTER: And if you want to gain time, why go as slowly as you are going?
JACQUES: Because without knowing what is written up above, none of us knows what we want or what we are doing, and we follow our whims which we call reason, or our reason which is often nothing but a dangerous whim which sometimes turns out well, sometimes badly.
My Captain used to believe that prudence is a supposition in which experience justifies us interpreting the situations in which we find ourselves as the cause of certain effects which are to be desired or feared in the future.
MASTER: And did you understand any part of that?
JACQUES: Of course. I had little by little grown used to his way of speaking. But who, he used to ask; can ever boast of having enough experience? Has even he who flatters himself on being the most experienced of men never been fooled? And then, what man is there who is wise of correctly sizing up the circumstances in which he finds himself?
The calculations which we make in our heads, and the one recorded on the register up above are two very different calculations.
Do we control Destiny or does Destiny which controls us? How many wisely conceived projects have failed and will fail in the future! How many foolish projects have succeeded and will succeed! That is what my Captain kept repeating to me after the capture of Berg-op-Zoom and Port-Mahon, adding that prudence in no way assured us of success but consoled us and excused us in failure.
And so on the eve of any action he would sleep as well in his tent as in barracks and he would go into battle as if to a dancing party. And you might well have said of him: “What kind of devil of a man!..”
MASTER: Could you tell me what a foolish man is, and what is a wise man?
JACQUES: Why not? ... A foolish man ... wait a moment... is an unhappy man. And therefore a happy man is a wise man.
MASTER: And what is a happy man or an unhappy man?
JACQUES: Well, that one’s easy. A happy man is someone whose happi­ness is written up above, and therefore someone whose unhappiness is written up above is an unhappy man.             
MASTER: And who is up there that writes out this good and bad fortune up above?
JACQUES: And who created the great scroll on which everything is written? A captain friend of my own Captain would have given a pretty penny to know that. But my Captain wouldn’t have paid a cent, nor would I, for what good would it do me? Would I manage to avoid the hole where I am destined to break my neck?
MASTER: I think so.
JACQUES: Well—not me, because there would have to be an incorrect line on the great scroll which contains the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In that case it would have to be written on the scroll that Jacques would break his neck on such a day and Jacques would not break his neck. Can you imagine for a moment that it could happen, whoever made the great scroll?
MASTER: Many things one could say about that...
At this point they heard a lot of noise and shouting coming from some distance behind them. Looking round they saw a band of men armed with sticks and forks coming towards them as fast as they could run. It was the people from the inn and their servants and the brigands. You can believe that in the morning they broke down their doors since they didn’t have the keys, and that these brigands thought that our travelers had taken off with their possessions. That is what Jacques thought, saying between his teeth: “Damn the keys and damn the fantasy or reasons that made me take them. Damn prudence, etc. etc.!”
You may believe that this little army will fall upon Jacques and his master, that there will be a bloody fight, blows with sticks and pistol shots, and if I wanted to I could make all of these things happen, but then it would be goodbye to the truth of the story and goodbye to the story of Jacques’ loves.
Our two travelers were not followed since I do not know what happened in the inn after they left. They carried on their way still going without knowing where they were heading, although they knew more or less where they wanted to go, relieving their boredom and fatigue by silence and conversation, as is the custom of those who walk, and sometimes of those, who are sitting down.
It is quite obvious that I am not writing a novel since I am neglecting those things which a novelist would not fail to use. The reader who takes what I write for the truth might perhaps be less wrong than the reader who takes it for a fiction.
This time it was the master who spoke first, starting with the usual refrain: “Well now, Jacques, how about the story of your loves?”
JACQUES: I don’t remember where I left off. I’ve been interrupted so many times that I would do just as well to start all over again.
MASTER: No, no—when you had come to after passing out at the door of the inn you found yourself in bed surrounded by the people who lived there.
JACQUES: Very good. The urgent thing was to get hold of a surgeon and there wasn’t one within less than a mile. Putting one of his children on a horse, the peasant sent him off to the nearest one. Meanwhile the peasant’s wife had heated up some table wine, torn up one of her husband’s old shirts, and cleaned my knee, covering with compresses and then wrapped it in linen. They put a few pieces of sugar they had saved from the ants into part of the wine which had been used for the bandage, and I drank it down.
Next they told me to be patient. It was late.
The family sat down to table and had supper. Supper was finished and the child had still not come back and there was no surgeon. The father became angry, and being a naturally ill-tempered man, he sulked at his wife, finding nothing to his liking. In a rage he sent the other children to bed. His wife sat down on a wooden seat and took up her spindle. He paced up and down and as he was pacing up and down he tried to pick an argument on any pretext.
“If you’d gone to the mill like I told you to...” and he finished the sentence shaking his head in the direction of my bed.
“I’ll go tomorrow.”
“Today—you should have gone like I told you to... And what about the straw left on the floor of the barn? What are you waiting for to pick them up?”
“It will be done tomorrow.”
“But what is left is almost finished and you’d have done much better to pick them up today like I told you to... And that heap of barley that’s rotting in the loft? I’ll bet you didn’t think to turn it?”
“The children did it.”
“You should have done it yourself. If you had been up in your loft you wouldn’t have been at the door...”
At that moment a surgeon arrived, and then a second surgeon, and a third, with the little boy from the inn.
MASTER: And there you were with as many surgeons as there are hats on Saint Roch.[i]
JACQUES: The first surgeon was away when the little boy arrived at his house, but his wife had passed word to the second and the third had come back with the little boy.
“Good evening, friends, what are you doing here?” said the first to the others.
Having come as quickly as they could, they were hot and thirsty. They sat down around the table which still had the table-cloth on it. The wife went down to the cellar and came up again with a bottle. The husband was muttering under his breath: “What the devil was she doing at the door?”
They drank, chatted about the illnesses of the neighborhood, and started listing all the people they were treating. I started complaining. They said: “We’ll be with you in a moment.”
After the first bottle they asked for a second, on account, for my treatment, then a third, then a fourth, still on account, for my treatment. And with every bottle, the husband returned to his first cry: “What the devil was she doing at the door?”
What a scene anybody else would have composed with these three surgeons: of their conversation on the fourth bottle, of the multitude of their marvelous cures, of the impatience of Jacques and the bad temper of their host, of what our country Aesculapiuses had to say as they clustered round Jacques’ knee, of their different opinions; one claiming that Jacques would be dead unless they made haste and amputated the leg; the other that they should remove the bullet and the piece of cloth that went in with it to save the poor devil’s leg.
In the meantime, you may imagine Jacques sitting up in bed and looking at his leg pitifully, saying goodbye to it, like one of our generals was seen being treated by surgeons Dufouart and Louis. The third surgeon would have sat around gawping so much that a quarrel broke out between them and words then led to blows.
I will spare you all of these things which you can find in novels, in comedies of antiquity, and in society. When I heard the host yelling about his wife, “What the devil was she doing at the door?” I was reminded of Moliere’s Harpagon when he says, referring to his son: “What was he doing in that galley?” And I admit that it is not enough for a thing simply to be true, it must be amusing as well. And that is why people will always say: “What was he doing in that galley?” while my peasant’s phrase, “What was she doing at the door?” will never become a proverb.
Jacques did not show the same reserve towards his master as I am showing to you, not omitting the smallest detail even though he risked sending him to sleep for a second time. If it was not the cleverest it was at least the most robust of the three surgeons who remained in control of the patient.
Aren’t you going to take out lancets in front of our eyes, I can just hear you asking me, start cutting his flesh, make his blood run and show us a surgical operation? Would that be in good taste in your opinion?...
Come, let’s pass over the operation. But you must at least allow Jacques to say to his master, as he did: “Ah, Sir, it’s a terrible job to put a shattered knee back together again.”
And allow his master to reply as before: “Come, come, Jacques, you’re joking.”
But the one thing I would not keep from you for all the gold in the world is this: hardly had Jacques’ master made this impertinent reply when his horse stumbled and fell, the man’s knee coming into violent contact with a pointed stone—and there he was shouting at the top of his voice: “I’m dying! My knee is shattered!”
Although Jacques, who was the nicest lad you could imagine, and was quite fond of his master, I would very much like to know what was at the bottom of his heart. If not in the first moment, at least when he had assured himself that his master’s fall would not have any serious consequences, and whether he was able to resist a bit of secret joy at an accident that would teach his master what it was to have an injury to the knee. And, Reader, there is another thing which I would like you to tell me: whether his master would not have preferred to have been injured even a little more seriously any place other than the knee or in other words, whether he was not more sensitive to shame than to pain?
Having recovered a little from his fall and his pain, the master got back into his saddle and spurred his horse five or six times, which made the beast take off like greased lightning. Jacques’ mount followed suit since there existed between the two horses the same intimacy as between their riders. They were two pairs of friends.
When the two panting horses had slowed to their normal pace Jacques said to his master: “Well, Sir, what do you think, now?”
MASTER: About what?
JACQUES: An injury to the knee.
MASTER: I agree with you. It is one of the most painful injuries.
JACQUES: When it’s your knee—right?
MASTER: No, no, yours, mine, all the knees in the world.
JACQUES: Master, master, you obviously haven’t thought about this at all. We only ever feel sorry for ourselves, believe me.
MASTER: That’s nonsense.
JACQUES: Ah, if only I could speak the way I think, but it was written up above that I would have things in my head for which the words would not come to me.
Here Jacques got into some very subtle philosophical ideas which might also be very true. He was trying to convince his master that the word pain does not refer to any real idea and only begins to signify anything at the moment when it recalls in our memory a sensation which we have already experienced. His master asked him if he had ever given birth.
“No,” replied Jacques.
“Do you think that giving birth is a painful experience?”
“Do you feel sorry for women in childbirth?”
“Very much so.”
“So you sometimes feel sorry for people other man yourself?”
“I feel sorry for anyone who wrings his hands, pulls out his hair and screams because I know from experience that one does not do that unless one is suffering. But as for the particular pain of a woman giving birth, I cannot sympathize with that because I don’t know what it is—thank God. But to come back to a pain with which we are both more familiar: the story of my knee which has now become yours as well because of your fall...”
MASTER: No, Jacques, the story of your loves which have become mine as well through my own past sorrows.
JACQUES: So there I was, bandaged up and feeling somewhat better. The surgeon had gone and my hosts had retired and gone to bed. All that separated their room from mine was a lattice-work partition covered with grey paper on which they had stuck a few colored pictures. I couldn’t sleep, hearing only the wife saying to her husband: “Leave me alone, I don’t feel like it. That poor wretch dying at our door...”
“Woman, you can tell me all that after we....”
“No, I’m not going to. If you don’t stop it I’m getting up. Do you think I can enjoy that the way I’m feeling now?”
“Oh, if you’re playing hard to get—you are a fool.”
“I’m not playing hard to get, it’s just that you’re sometimes so hard ... it’s just... it’s just...”
After quite a short pause the husband began to speak: “Wife, admit that at the moment, owing to your misplaced compassion, you have put us in an embarrassing situation which is almost impossible to get out of. It’s a bad year and we’ve only just got enough for ourselves and the children. Grain is so dear! There’s no wine! Even that wouldn’t be so bad if there were work to be found. But the rich are cutting back and the poor are unemployed. For every day’s work there are four without. Nobody pays what they owe. Creditors are so rapacious it makes one despair and this is the moment you choose to give shelter to someone we’ve never set eyes on before, a stranger who will stay here as long as it pleases God, and that surgeon who will be in no hurry to cure him because these surgeons make illnesses last as long as they can. And this man that hasn’t got even a penny and who will double, or triple our expenses. Now, woman, how are you going to get rid of this man? Well, speak, woman, give me an explanation.”
“How can anyone talk to you?”
“You say that I’m bad-tempered, that I scold you? Well, who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t scold? Only a little wine is left in the cellar. God knows the rate it’s going! And those surgeons drank more this evening than we and the children would have done in a week. And who will pay the surgeon; they come for nothing as you well know?”
“Oh, that is all nicely put. And because we’re in extreme poverty, you’re going to give me another child, as if we don’t have enough already.”
“Oh no—I’m not.”
“Oh yes, you are. I’m sure I’m getting pregnant.”
That’s what you say every time.”
“And I’ve never been wrong: my ear hurts me afterwards, and I can feel it itching worse than ever.”
“Your ear doesn’t know what it’s talking about.”
“Don’t touch me! Leave my ear alone! Leave it, man, have you gone mad? You’ll regret it.”
“No, no. I haven’t done it with you since midsummer day.”
“And you’ll do it and the result will be that... and then in a month’s time you’ll be mad with me as if it were my entire fault.”
“No, no.”
“And in nine months from now it’ll be even worse.”
“No, no.”
“Well, you’ve asked for it.”
“Yes, yes.”
“And you’ll remember this time. You won’t say the things you said all the other times.”
“Yes, yes.”
And so he changed from “No, no” to “Yes, yes”, this man furious with his wife for having given way to a feeling of humanity.
MASTER: That’s what I thought.
JACQUES: It is certain that the husband wasn’t very logical but he was young and his wife was pretty. People never make so many children as when times are hard.
MASTER: Nothing breeds like paupers.
JACQUES: One more child is nothing to them. Charity is what feeds them. What’s more it’s the only pleasure which doesn’t cost anything. At night they console themselves without expense for the troubles of the day...
However, the man’s reflections were none the less true. While I was thinking this to myself I felt a violent pain in my knee and I cried out: “Ah! My kneel”
And the husband cried out: “Ah! My wife!”
And the wife cried out: “Ah! My husband! But what about that man who is here?”
“What about him?”
“Perhaps he heard us.”
“What if he did?”
Tomorrow I won’t be able to look at him.”
“Well, why not? Aren’t you my wife? Am I not your husband? Does a husband have a wife or a wife has a husband for nothing?”
“Ah! Ah!”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“My ear...”
“What’s wrong with your ear?”
“It’s worse than ever.”
“Go to sleep. It’ll wear off.”
“I can’t Oh! My ear! Oh! My ear!”
“Your ear, your ear, that’s easily said...”
I won’t tell you what happened between them next, but after the wife had repeated the words “My ear, my ear” several times in a low hushed voice, she finished up babbling in interrupted syllables “he... he... aaah” and after “he ... he... aah”, I don’t know what, which together with the silence which followed led me to believe that her ear had gotten better one way or another, it doesn’t matter how, and that gave me pleasure, and her too.
MASTER: Jacques, put your hand on your conscience and swear to me that it wasn’t this woman you fell in love with.
JACQUES: I swear it.
MASTER: So much the worse for you.
JACQUES: So much the worse or so much the better. Could it be that you believe that women with ears like hers are willing listeners?
MASTER: I think that is written up above.
JACQUES: I think that it is written lower down that they never listen for long to one man and that they are all more or less inclined on occasion to lend an ear to someone else.
MASTER: Possibly.
And there they got started on an endless quarrel about women. One claiming they were good, the other wicked, and they were both right; one saying they were stupid, the other clever, and they were both right; one that they were unfaithful, the other faithful, and they were both right; one that they were mean, the other generous, and they were both right; one that they were beautiful, the other ugly, and they were both right; one talkative, the other discreet; one open, the other deceitful; one ignorant, the other enlightened; one moral, the other immoral; one foolish, the otherwise; one big, the other small. And they were both right.
While engaged in this discussion —and they could have travelled around the entire world without either pausing or agreeing— they were caught up in a storm which forced them to seek shelter.
Where? Where?
Reader, your curiosity is so annoying. What the devil does it have to do with you? If I told you it was Pontoise or Saint-Germain or Loreto or Compostella, would you be any the wiser? If you insist I will tell you that they made their way towards... yes, why not?... towards a huge chateau, on whose facade were inscribed the words:
“I belong to nobody and I belong to everybody. You were here before you entered and you will still be here after you have left.”
Did they go into this chateau?
No, because either the inscription was a lie, or they were there before they went in.
Well, did they manage to leave, at least?
No, because either the inscription was a lie, or they were still there after they left.
Just what did they do there?
Jacques said whatever it was written up above that he would say and his master whatever he liked. And they were both right.
What kind of people did they find there? A mixture.
What did they say?
A few truths and a lot of lies.
Were there intelligent men there?
Where are there not some? And damned questioners, whom they avoided like the plague. The thing that most shocked Jacques and his master while they were walking about...
So they were walking—yes?
They did nothing but that, except when they were sitting down or sleeping. What shocked Jacques and his master most was to find about twenty scoundrels there who had taken over all the most luxurious rooms, staying almost all the time crowded together and pretending, in agains all customary right and the true meaning of the chateau’s inscription, that the chateau had been bequeathed to them lock, stock and barrel, and with the help of a certain number of pricks in their pay they had brought round to this view a great number of other pricks, also in their pay, who were quite prepared for the smallest sum of money to hang or kill the first man who dared contradict them. Nevertheless, in the days of Jacques and his master people sometimes dared.
With impunity?
That depended.
You are going to say that I am amusing myself and that because I do not know what to do with my two travelers any more, I am throwing myself into allegory, which is the usual recourse of sterile minds. For you I will sacrifice my allegory and all the riches I could draw from it and I will agree with whatever you want, but on condition that you don’t bother me any more about where Jacques and his master spent last night.
They may have reached a big town and spent the night with whores, or they may have stayed the night with an old friend who gave them the best he could, or they may have taken shelter in a Franciscan monastery where they were badly lodged and badly fed all for the love of God. They may have been welcomed into the house of a great man where they lacked everything that was necessary to them, but surrounded by everything that was superfluous, or the next morning they may have left a large inn where they paid dearly for a bad supper served on silver platters, and a bad night spent in beds with damask curtains and damp creased sheets, or they may have received hospitality from some village priest on a thin stipend who ran round his parishioners’ poultry yards picking up the means to make an omelet and a chicken fricassee, or they may have got drunk on excellent wine, eaten far too much and got the appropriate bout of indigestion in a rich Benedic­tine abbey.
Despite the fact that all of these events might appear equally feasible to you, Jacques was not of this opinion. The only event possible was the one that was written up above. What is, however, true, is that though they had started out from whatever location you would have them start out from, they had gone no farther than twenty paces from when the master said to Jacques, after, of course, taking his pinch of snuff: “Well then, Jacques, the story of your loves?”
Instead of replying Jacques cried out: The devil with the story of my loves! I’ve gone and left...”
MASTER: What have you left?
Instead of answering him Jacques turned out all of his pockets and then searched himself all over without success. He had left the purse for their journey under the head of his bed and he had no sooner admitted this to his master than he cried out: “To the devil with the story of your loves! I’ve gone and left my watch back there hanging on the chimney!”
Jacques needed no encouragement, but turned his horse about, and because he was never in a hurry started slowly back to...
The huge chateau?
No, no. Out of all the different places, possible or impossible, which I have listed above, choose the one which best suits the present circumstances.
Meanwhile his master continued on his way. But now, with the master and the servant separated from each other, I don’t know which of the two I would rather follow. If you want to follow Jacques, take care. The search for the purse and the watch could become so long and so complicated that it might take him a long time before he meets up again with his master who is the sole confidant of the story of his loves, and then it would be goodbye to the story of Jacques’ loves.
If, however, leaving Jacques to go alone in search of the purse and the watch, you choose to keep his master company, you are being polite but you will be very bored. You do not know that type of person yet. He has very few ideas in his head at all. If he happens to say something sensible, it is from memory or inspiration. He has got eyes like you and me but most of the time you cannot be sure he is actually seeing anything. He does not exactly sleep, but he is never really awake either. He just exists simply because it is what he usually does.
Our automaton carried straight on ahead, turning round from time to time, to see if Jacques was coming.
He got down from his horse and walked for a while on foot.
Then he remounted, went about a quarter of a mile, got down again and sat on the ground with his horse’s reins looped under his arm and his head in his hands. When he got tired of that position, he got up and peered into the distance to see if he could see Jacques.
No Jacques.
Then he got impatient and without really knowing whether he was talking or not he said: “The wretch, the dog, the rascal, where is he? What is he doing? How could it take anyone so long to recover a watch and a purse? I’ll beat you black and blue. Oh! That’s for sure: I’ll beat you black and blue.”
Looking for his own watch in his pocket, he found that it wasn’t there, and that was the last straw: without his watch, without his snuff-box, and without Jacques he didn’t know what to do. These were the three mainstays of his life which was spent in taking snuff, looking at the time, and questioning Jacques, which he did in every possible combination. Deprived of his watch he was reduced to his snuff-box, which he kept opening and shutting every minute, like I do when I am bored. The amount of snuff left in my snuff-box at night is in direct proportion to the amusement or in indirect proportion to the boredom of my day. I beg you, Reader, to familiarize yourself with this language which is taken from geometry, because I find it precise and shall use it often.
Well then, have you had enough of the master? As the valet is not coming to you, would you rather we went to him? Poor Jacques! At the very moment we were speaking of him Jacques was sorrowfully meditating: “So it was written up above that in the same day I’d be arrested as a highwayman, be on the verge of being taken to prison accused of having seduced a girl.”
On his slow way back to... the chateau? No, the place where they had spent the previous night, he passed by one of those itinerant peddlers known as “porteballes,” who called out to him: “Sir—gentleman: garters, belts, watch-straps, snuff-boxes in the utmost good taste, all genuine, rings, fob-seals, a watch, Sir, a fine watch with engraving, double action, good as new.”

[i] Saint Roch was the patron saint of victims of the plague. He was depicted as having sores or boils.

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