“Well, well, Maître Claude, all this masons’ work costs me dearly. In the same measure as my house rises higher, my funds sink lower.”

“Oho! Have you not your revenues from the jail, and the provostship of the Palais de Justice, and the rents from all the houses, workshops, booths, and market-stalls within the circuit of Paris? That is surely an excellent milch cow.”

“My castellany of Poissy has not brought me in a sou this year.”

“But your toll dues at Triel, Saint-James, and Saint-Germain-en-Laye—they are always profitable?”

“Six times twenty livres only, and not even Paris money at that.”

“But you have your appointment as Councillor to the King—that means a fixed salary surely?”

“Yes, Colleague Claude, but that cursed Manor of Poligny, they make such a coil about, is not worth more to me than sixty gold crowns—taking one year with another.”

The compliments which Dom Claude thus addressed to Jacques Coictier were uttered in that tone of veiled, bitter, sardonic raillery, with that grievous, yet cruel, smile of a superior and unfortunate man, who seeks a moment’s distraction in playing on the gross vanity of the vulgarly prosperous man. The other was quite unconscious of it.

“By my soul!” said Claude at last, pressing his hand, “I rejoice to see you in such excellent health.”

“Thank you, Maître Claude.”

“Speaking of health,” cried Dom Claude, “how is your royal patient?”

“He does not pay his doctor sufficiently well,” said the physician with a side glance at his companion.

“Do you really think that, friend Coictier?” said the stranger.

These words, uttered in a tone of surprise and reproach, recalled the Archdeacon’s attention to the stranger’s presence, though, to tell the truth, he had never, from the moment he crossed the threshold, quite turned away from this unknown guest. Indeed, it required the thousand reasons Claude had for humouring the all-powerful physician of Louis XI to make him consent to receive him thus accompanied. Therefore, his expression was none of the friendliest when Jacques Coictier said to him:

“By-the-bye, Dom Claude, I have brought a colleague, who was most desirous of seeing one of whom he has heard so much.”

“Monsieur is a scholar?” asked the Archdeacon, fixing Coictier’s companion with a penetrating eye. But from under the brows of the stranger he met a glance not less keen or less suspicious than his own.

He was, so far as one could judge by the feeble rays of the lamp, a man of about sixty, of middle height, and apparently ailing and broken. His face, although the features were sufficiently commonplace, had something commanding and severe; his eye glittered under the deep arch of his brow like a beacon-light far down a cavern; and under the cap, pulled down almost to his nose, one divined instinctively the broad forehead of a genius.

He took upon himself to answer the archdeacon’s inquiry.

“Reverend sir,” said he in grave tones, “your fame has reached me, and I was desirous of consulting you. I am but a poor gentleman from the provinces who takes the shoes off his feet before entering the presence of the learned. I must acquaint you with my name: they call me Compère2


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