"and finally - " miss prue turned to jolene at her left elbow, and took a paper from the white hat. " you get - banal."
"banal? you mean i am supposed to make the book as banal as possible and i will get credit for that?'"
"interpret it as you wish."
"and whose style am i to write my banal book in?"
miss prue opened a paper from the black hat. "flaubert"
by jolene de joinville
illustrated by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq
special thanks to Prof. Dan Leo for his editing efforts
on a bright morning in may, in the year ---------- , a small crowd had gathered in front of the offices of m hobart, wholesaler of fine foods.
two sisters of the night, perhaps one step up from the lowest class. were engaging in spirited fisticuffs, and were being desultorily cheered on by some grocers boys, young gentlemen returning home after a long night, and other idlers of the sort habitually seen in the streets of the capital, in peace time.
georges groy, second clerk of m hobart wholesalers, was arriving for work only a few minutes early. he would have liked to put his thumbs in his vest and enjoy the proceedings, but he felt m hobart's eyes on him from the second story window and proceeded up the open stairwell and into the offices without breaking stride. but as he did he fleetingly caught the eye of one of the pugilists - an eye of palest green, in a face startlingly young, though heavily rouged.
"bit of a ruckus," groy remarked to m hobart on entering the office. adding with a smile, "some might be inclined to summon the police."
"not i," m hobart responded. "i have every confidence that they will arrive in their own good time. but i am glad to see that you have arrived on time, groy. the comtesse d'a-------- is disputing her bill. be so kind as to go over it, if you please. give it your most ruthless appraisal. "
"yes, monsieur." groy cleared his throat. "i had hoped to have a word with you this morning, if i might."
"certainly. after you have checked the comtesse d' a---------'s bill, bring it to me and after we have gone over it - you may have your word."
m hobart moved closer to the window after groy moved into the inner office. a policeman had indeed arrived to break up the fight and scatter the spectators.
"look here, madame coralie, this is the third time this month i have found you losing your temper! a woman of your mature years, you should be ashamed! we have been friends for a long time -" the spectators still backing away had a good laugh at the policeman's remark - " and i would hate to have to run you in. and as for you , mademoiselle, i don't recall seeing your smiling face in these parts before. you have papers, i presume?"
"i got papers," the girl replied sullenly.
"and would you do me the great honor of showing them to me?'"
the girl reached into a large purse slung on her shoulder and took out a piece of clean white paper.
the policeman raised his eyes as he took the paper. "a word to the wise, mademoiselle. keep your papers in your pocket, not your purse - you have a better chance of not getting them lost or stolen."
"nobody's stealing nothing from me."
"you see, jack," cried madame coralie. "what a greenhorn! and giving lip to her elders and betters, too! why don't you run her in just to teach her a lesson? look how shiny new her paper is!"
"indeed," agreed policeman jack. he glanced at the paper and handed it back to the girl. "what is your name, mademoiselle?"
"toquette, just like it says on the paper. if you could read it.'
jack ignored this sally and smiled at the girl. "i can't place your accent. do you mind if i ask where you hail from?"
"what's it to you?"
"i am just curious. we get visitors, and aspiring professionals, of all professions from the newest to the oldest, in this neighborhood, from all over the continent. i can tell most of them - i can't place yours."
"she probably lived in a cave somewhere," said madame coralie, from behind jack's back.
"i'm from asmodea."
"asmodea. i never heard of that province before."
"it ain't no province. it's a kingdom. the sovereign kingdom of asmodea."
"interesting. one learns new things every day." jack gave the girl a friendly smile. "and were you the queen of the kingdom?"
"no," the girl answered seriously. "but i knew the king."
"i am sure," put in madame coralie. "there was you, the king and some pigs. and you all slept in a tree at night to stay away from the wolves."
this got a laugh from the only spectator left. jack turned and saw a fresh faced young man leaning backwards with his hands on the lapels of his coat. despite his shabby dress he had the unmistakable air of a member of the highest aristocracy, and jack turned back to the girl.
"a few words of advice before i let you go. a little less paint , mademoiselle. you will save a few pennies on the paint, and show a fresher face to the world! smile, mademoiselle! trust me, it will put coins in that big purse of yours which looks a little flat at the moment. smile! it's a beautiful day! the war is over! make a few honest coins, and enjoy a coffee in one of the cafes. instead of fighting like a cat in the streets with poor madame coralie, who is - who is -"
"who is old enough to be my great grandmother, is that what you want to say?'
"let me at her, jack, let me at her!"
"coralie, please. who is just trying to make an honest living, as you are."
"may i go now?" asked the girl.
"yes, you may go. i look forward to seeing you again." jack smiled. "consider, mademoiselle. when you are in this neighborhood, you are in my neighborhood. i am only a humble servant of the city, and i tip my cap to the honest tradesmen whose business is the business of the neighborhood. but to the likes of you, mademoiselle, i am the lord god almighty. the lord god almighty! and i can be terrible in my wrath - terrible in my wrath, do you understand?
"yes." the girl turned away, with a trace of a smile.
"permit me." the shabbily dressed young man stepped forward, tipping his hat. "it is not every day one meets a princess from a mysterious kingdom." there was nothing mysterious about his accent - he was an englishman. "may i treat mademoiselle to a coffee? i know a lovely little spot in the next square."
"stay away from her, young fellow!" cried coralie. "you'll be pissing that coffee back out green, red and purple when she gets through with you!" but they moved away, ignoring her.
"too soft, jack, you were too soft with her. i don't think you scared her at all."
with a sigh, m hobart moved away from the second floor window.
little quinette was in the last seat on the right. "pick for me, please, miss."
"non-violent. and your author is stendhal."
"that's a pretty broad category," said dorine. "that's another pick i wouldn't mind."
"who are you, the roving commentator?" rosalind asked her. "is anybody asking for your opinions?
"i'll say whatever i please, thank you very much."
by quinette de quieroz
illustrated by rhoda penmarq
special thanks to Prof. Dan Leo for his editing efforts
the valley of o---------- had long been reputed to be the most peaceful in italy. for centuries its lack of natural wealth and its remoteness kept it from being fought over by princes, and its temperate climate - hardly subject to storms or severe winters - made it a favorite retreat of those same princes and their wealthy supporters, when they sought brief respite from the turmoils and dangers of power. indeed, the valley became in effect a neutral area where arms were laid down, quarrels set aside, and the fiercest enemies - even those embroiled in blood feuds of millennial duration - could side by side enjoy what the poet calls "the beautiful wine of peace."
the only dwellings in the valley, besides the castle and surrounding buildings belonging to the ancient duchy of o----------, were the country retreats of the aforementioned potentates, and the humble huts, scattered about the countryside, of the few shepherds and herdsmen who survived on the barren hills and plains. these herders plied their ancient craft almost year round, and for centuries it had been the chief delight, of the owners of the country estates, when taking their ease in the valley,
to observe from their verandahs and balconies the wanderings and frolickings of these unencumbered ones, and to compose poems and songs based on their observations.
this account, i am sure, brings a smile to the lips of the reader, accustomed as he or she may be to the frenzy of the modern world.
in any case, everything changed with the coming of the corsican.
from daphne, countess of v----------, to renaldo, marquis of y------------ :
i am safely ensconced in my rustic garden, my dear friend ... but for how long! you may perhaps be surprised to hear from me so soon after my arrival, when i have hardly had time to observe the latest follies of my distinguished neighbors. but change is in the air! the dust had hardly settled around the wheels of my carriage, and i had barely stepped down from it, than clovis, the rustic swain i pay to keep birds and animals and hopefully, brigands from my humble little house, rushed upon me, and in a torrent of words in his uncouth dialect , informed me of the basic outline of the facts i now propose to acquaint you with in a more coherent fashion...
it seems that mars has indeed invaded the domain of venus, at least, at this point, to tread on its toes, if not to fly in its face. even you, my dear friend, who so deliberately profess disinterest and annoyance in anything so much as hinting at politics and war, must be aware of the upheavals in the barbaric western hinterlands of the continent, culminating in the invasion of the ancient lands of empire by the savages from beyond the mountains. of course, some of our dearest and most refined friends have long had the fairest portions of their dominions among these uncouth ones - thinking - alas! - that they had tamed them.... (i blot a tear from my pages)... well, i see even at this distance that i am boring you.
in a word, recruiting parties from the corsican's army have invaded the valley and proposed carrying off our lovely shepherds and lusty swineherds to share in the glory in their ever expanding conquests. from what i can gather from poor clovis's barely coherent account - and his incoherence distresses me doubly, as i had taken such pains on my previous visits, to try to give him a veneer of civilized behavior - the duke of o---------- has so far resisted the efforts of the recruiter, with such poor means as he has at his disposal. i shall call on the duke tomorrow, to get a clearer understanding - and i greatly fear, perhaps news of such dreadful import that what i have already heard will seem but a joke...
this has given me a dreadful headache. i have so far presumed on the marquise of l--------'s friendship to decline her invitation to play whist this evening.
i shall write when i have more news. please, my dear, i implore you, write to me, even if you have nothing to say. no one can say nothing more prettily than you, when you have a mind to do so. and i need to hear something pretty.
"now you, miss." miss prue looked at dorine sternly, then softened her expression. "you wish to pick for yourself."
"yes, i do." dorine rose and approached the head of the table. she stuck her hand in the white hat, fumbled around in it and pulled out a paper. she slowly unfolded it.
"religious." she looked at it. "that might be the broadest category of them all."
dorine stuck her hand deep in the black hat. "and my author is - george sand."
"ah. happy now?"
"i'm not sure happy is the word. but thank you."
by dorine de santos
illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas
the familiar boundaries of europe were yet undreamed of, when this story commences.
the sun had not yet risen when a young woman, scarcely more than a child, emerged from a tiny hut sheltered among towering trees on the southern slope of a mountain in what is now southern central france.
a river was barely visible in the distance - the allier? the garonne? to the girl, it was "the river" as the mountainside was "the earth", the sky was "heaven" and the rain was "the rain".
heaven, earth, the river, the rain, and her flock - all she knew except when she drove the flock to the base of the mountain, to the little village, once a year, when the sheep were ready to be shorn.
since the death of the old woman, three - or was it four? - trips to the village ago - she had not seen another human on the mountain.
occasionally, when she drove the flock down to the river, she would see what appeared to be another human in the distance.
so it was with some surprise that she heard a voice behind her on the morning our story commences. she had not caught the words of the speaker, being unprepared for them. she turned and saw a tall man - the tallest she had ever seen - wrapped in a black cloak and standing in the shadow of the wide and ancient tree whose southernmost boughs sheltered her hut.
she immediately thought - this must be one of the "lords" that the old woman had told her of, but that she had never seen - only one of their castles, in the far distance, on the clearest of clear days.
the tall man spoke again. she had never heard such a voice or accent and had trouble understanding him. he seemed to be asking who she was.
"my name is gertrude."
"a rude name. are you a witch?"
"no. i do not know what a witch is."
"bah." the tall man looked around. "does no one live up here with you?"
"only the sheep."
"then you are surely a witch. how many thousand years old are you?'
"i do not know how old i am."
"do you know who i am?'
" a lord?"
the tall men gestured angrily. "i am not a lord! but i am a messenger - not of a lord but of the lord! i ask you again, do you know who i am?"
"i ask you a third time - do you know who i am?"
"i do not know who you are. i have never seen you before,"
"i am saint james! and i bring news - news of one who died for you!"
gertrude stared at him blankly.
"do you not understand? he was only a carpenter - a humble carpenter." st james' eyes fell on gertrude's hut. "something you may not be familiar with." he went on. "but do you know what he did? do you know what he did?"
"he died for you!"
"we all die. who are the rest of us dying for?"
"and then do you know what he did?'
"he rose from the dead!"
"then he did not really die, did he?"
"ah, ah, little blasphemer - i see the devils have taught you well." st james looked out over the valley. "i see i have much work to do - if you are a specimen of what i have to deal with. but some day - some day, this valley will be filled with churches - filled with churches with spires lifted to almighty god the father and his son who died to save wretches like you - and the churches and the fields will be filled with saved souls." he paused and looked at gertrude. "what do you think of that, little witch?"
she looked at him. "are you a traveler? have you traveled far?"
"indeed i have - from further away than you can ever dream of."
"one of my sheep has something wrong with her leg. she has trouble keeping up. do you know how to fix it?"
"i don't know anything about sheep. or pigs."
"i do not have pigs. only sheep."
"go ahead and mock me." the saint produced a thick walking stick from beneath his cape and shook it at the girl. " i should give you a good thrashing. perhaps even call on heaven to strike you with lightning." he looked down the valley. " but then - maybe the devils in your pigs would get loose and roam the earth."
"i have sheep. not pigs."
"enough of this." the saint turned and began to walk up the mountainside.
but after a dozen steps he turned. "wait! wait! i am only a poor traveler. can you spare me a bite to eat?"
gertrude stared up at him. "i have a little bit of bread. i baked it myself."
"thank you. thank you." leaning on his stick, the traveler retraced his steps. he attempted a smile.
gertrude went into her hut and returned with a small chunk of dark bread, which she handed to him. by this time more of the sheep had awakened and were making impatient noises in their little pen.
st james bit into the bread, and quickly spit it out. "faugh! faugh! oh! that is vile!" he took a little leather water bottle from his belt and quickly rinsed his mouth out. "faugh! what is that made from?"
"pine cones. pine needles."
"oh. how dare you give me such stuff ? me, who walked the shores of galilee with the lord? with the lord who came to save you! how dare you?"
"i eat it myself."
"witch! i put a curse on you for your insolence!" the saint looked around at the sky and the hills. "walk these hills forever, witch! forever! never depart from them until judgment day! never leave them until the skies are rent asunder!"
and with that, the saint started back up the hill. gertrude watched him until he disappeared over the top. the sheep were now making a great noise, and the skies were beginning to brighten.