"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.