Wednesday, April 3, 2013

a stroke of fortune

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

for previous tales of jacques click here and here.

jacques was content with his small income and had little contact with his relations, most of whom lived on or near the family's ancient estate on the coast of brittany.

most of the family who lived in brittany, and some of them who, like jacques, had repaired to paris and other larger cities, spent the greater portion of their brief existences on this earth in endless disputes regarding the division of the family inheritance. many of these disputes concerned the attempts of various uncles to provide for their natural children, or by the attempts of the natural children and their mothers to be provided for.

jacques had always been pained and bored by these disputes - he was pained and bored by most human endeavors - and took as little notice of them as possible.

now word reached him that his uncle gustave-laurent - a personage he had no memory of - had died. for reasons jacques could not have comprehended even had he wished to try, this event had released a portion of the inheritance to be distributed evenly among all surviving family members. a modest enough sum, thus divided, but for jacques an unexpected little windfall.

this gratified him, as much as he could be gratified by anything, and he decided to celebrate.

when he arrived the next morning at madame geraldine's establishment - that is, the next morning after securing the new funds at his bank - he began by ordering a cognac. his usual procedure was to order absinthes in the morning and early afternoon and schnapps as the day wore into night.

babette, the jolly barmaid who was now in her third week in madame geraldine's employ, took immediate notice of this.

"a cognac, monsieur? that is not like you." and she emitted her hearty laugh. "what a revolution! what next? we shall have to look out the window, will we not, madame, to see if the earth is still flat. " and she laughed again.

mildly flustered, jacques explained that he was simply celebrating his new good fortune, and gave a brief account of it and its cause.

like most persons, of all classes and nations, babette regarded any amount of wealth beyond what she possessed herself as unlimited and inexhaustible riches.

she had regarded jacques as a gentleman of some modest means - he did not work, and wore clothes with no holes in them - but she now saw him in a new light .

babette did not intend to work behind a zinc counter forever. nor did she look forward to taking to the streets, or to marrying a poor but honest working man, even one that did not beat her. a gentleman such as jacques, or one of madame geraldine's other regulars, with some independent income but soft and apparently malleable to a woman like herself, was her idea of a good catch. and if the good catch happened to drink himself to death and leave her his fortune - why, that was surely not a process difficult to hasten, was it?

so on this rainy morning babette began to seriously marshal her forces for her conquest of jacques. such other customers as arrived, even the regulars, were quickly served and left to their thoughts.

madame geraldine, from her post by the fire, did not mind, as business was slow, and watched babette's performance with some amusement. at one point she even laughed - for the first time in seven or eight years.

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