The Elixir of the Reverend Father Gaucher

‘Sip this, my friend. It would make a dumb man eloquent,’ said the minister of Graveson, as he poured out drop by drop, in measured cadence, a thimbleful of the most exquisite nectar that ever gladdened the inner man.

‘It is the Elixir of Father Gaucher, the glory, the stimulant divine of our Heaven-blessed Provence. It is made at the Convent of the Prémontré Canons, two leagues from your Mill. The finest of the much- vaunted chartreuses is but small beer in comparison. This Elixir has a history, too piquant, you may think, for the lips of a reverend churchman, but, M. Daudet, even saints have their off-days.’

Then leaning back in his arm-chair, in the snug dining-room of the Parsonage, hung with dainty curtains and with pictures of the Passion, the Abbé commenced the story of the Elixir, apocryphal in parts, and spiced here and there with a dash of profanity in the style of Erasmus and Charles d’Assouci.

‘Twenty years ago the Canons of Prémontré, or the White Fathers as we call them in Provence, had fallen on evil days. The convent was tumbling about their ears. The outer walls and the Tower of St. Pacôme were crumbling in pieces. Grass grew in the cloisters, the pillars were cracking, the saints were wasting away in their niches. Not a window, not a door was intact. The wind from the Rhône swept through the courtyards and the chapels, as it sweeps across the waste of Camargue, extinguishing the tapers, breaking the leaded panes, and spattering the holy water. But the most depressing feature of all was the silent clock-tower, tenantless as a deserted dove-cot. No silver convent-bell summoned the Fathers to matins, only the painful parody of almond-wood castanets.

‘Oh, poverty-stricken Fathers! I can vividly recall your piteous procession on Corpus Christi Day. Your threadbare cloaks, your pale faces and dejected mien, your frames emaciated with the hermit fare of citrons and water-melons. And your worthy Abbé, the last of the train, his head bent, all too painfully conscious of his tarnished cross and moth-eaten mitre. The sisters wept as the monks filed past, but the coarse, lusty banner-bearers sneered at their miserable plight. Monks, like starlings, grow lean when there’s not enough to go round, so, no longer able to keep body and soul together, there seemed no alternative but to quit the Convent and wander forth into the world in search of new pastures.

‘One day, when the situation was being discussed by the Chapter, word was brought to the Prior that Brother Gaucher could disclose an infallible specific for poverty and woe, and was waiting outside for an audience.

‘Brother Gaucher, I must tell you, was the cow-herd at the Convent, if the term could be applied to one whose duty consisted in tending two emaciated cows as they cropped the scanty herbage growing in the chinks of the flag-stones of the establishment. He had been brought up by a roving, half-witted woman of Baux, who called herself his aunt. When he was twelve years old the monks took him into the Convent. He was despised as a brainless clod, fit only to drive cattle, and capable, intellectually, only of mumbling the Paternoster in his native patois. Though physically robust, he never rebelled against his superiors, and kissed the rod of contempt with the exemplary meekness of a Christian. Sometimes, however, he saw visions and dreamt dreams. “One of Brother Gaucher’s visions will be a diversion,” thought the Chapter, so he was ushered in.

‘An outburst of derisive merriment greeted his entrance, so grotesque were his unwieldy bulk, his uncouth gestures, his clownish gait. In making obeisance he nearly tripped himself up backwards. But the clown had a sense of humour as fumbling with his beads he naïvely remarked:

‘ “May it please your Reverences! It’s an old saying, but it’s a true saying, that the emptiest vessels make the most noise. I’ve been turning over and over my clod of a pate, and at last drops out a treasure. You know my old Aunt Bégon who took care of me when I was a youngster? Peace to her soul, poor body! But the old hussy could sing a comic song after a sip of her Elixir! Well, the body was always on the tramp, and knew the taste of every stimulating herb on the mountain-side better than the most wide- awake old Corsican blackbird. And she knew how to keep a good thing to herself. Well, after many a year of wandering, picking, tasting, and mixing, she lighted on a concoction of the choicest piquancy.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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