(Essentials of European Literature)

Jacques Menetrier’s mother was a long-suffering, plain woman and his father, a merry cook. The father spent several hours each night at a nearby tavern in the company of Jeannette, the hurdy-gurdy woman, and Catherine, the lace maker. Both ladies helped him relive his lusty youth.

When Jacques was six years old, he was stationed all day long in the chimney corner to turn the spitted roasts. His time was not altogether wasted, however, for he learned his letters at the same time from a beggar Capuchin, Brother Ange. The good Brother Ange ate well at the common table in return for his services, and in secret he sighed for Catherine.

After a drunken brawl, Brother Ange was imprisoned, and Maitre Jerome Coignard, a Greek and Latin scholar, became Jacques’s tutor. As he grew to young manhood, he progressed rapidly under the scholar’s teachings.

Jeannette, complaisant with all, initiated Jacques into the mysteries of love, but, perversely, Jacques was attracted to Catherine, who made fun of Jacques’s beardless chin and refused to take him seriously. Jacques and his father were greatly discomfited when she ran away with Brother Ange.

One evening, a tall, gaunt philosopher entered abruptly, crying that he saw a salamander in the fireplace. Vigorously stirring the ashes, he asked the company if they saw anything. Only Jacques thought he saw the outlines of a beautiful woman in the smoke. The philosopher was much pleased with Jacques’s discernment.

When Monsieur d’Astarac, their strange visitor, learned that the Maitre Jerome could read Greek easily, he arranged to have the abbot and Jacques come to live with him.

At the ruined estate of the philosopher, the two friends were astonished by the rich library. In spite of crumbling walls and overgrown grounds, d’Astarac was evidently wealthy as well as learned. Maitre Jerome was set to work translating the ancient works of Zosimus the Panopolitan, with Jacques as his helper. According to d’Astarac, the only other inhabitant of the estate was Mosaide, a learned Jew over a hundred years old. The Jew lived mysteriously withdrawn in a separate cottage, where he worked on old Hebrew manuscripts.

After several tranquil months, Jacques went for an evening walk into Paris. Brother Ange came up and whispered that a lady was eagerly awaiting him in her carriage. At the rendezvous, Jacques found Catherine seated in an elegant coach. Astonished at her magnificence, Jacques learned that she was now the mistress of de la Gueritaude, a tax collector. Then they kissed fervently and made an appointment for later that night.

The house where Catherine lived was in disturbance when Jacques arrived. She, half-dressed, was shrieking at the door, and lackeys were pursuing Brother Ange with spears. De la Gueritaude had surprised her with her monk. Jacques comforted Catherine ardently, but when de la Gueritaude returned, he rudely shoved Jacques into the street and slammed the door.


(The entire section is 1234 words.)