What are you going to do when you finish your novel? said Harlan. I don’t know, said Blurtso, I suppose I’ll have to buy a pipe and a tweed jacket.
“These chantillies are delicious!” said Blurtseau.
“Enjoy them while you can,” said Pableau, “they’re the last ones I’ll bake.”
“What?!” said Blurtseau.
“Yes,” said Zurrabela, “haven’t you heard? The British have taken Haiti and cut off the French sugar supply.”
“Can’t you get it somewhere else?” said Josette.
“I’m afraid not,” said Pableau, “90% of France’s sugar is imported from Saint Domingue, that is, Haiti, and the fraction that now remains is taken directly to Paris.”
“Quelle catastrophe!” cried Blurtseau.
“What can you do?” said Josette.
“Nothing,” said Zurrabela, “except discontinue pastries and bake only baguettes.”
“I’ve been thinking about your sugar problem,” said Claude, “and I have an idea.”
“Yes?” said Pableau.
“A friend of mine owns a fishing schooner, and he owes me a favor.”
“A favor?” said Zurrabela.
“Yes,” said Claude, “I saved his life in 1772, and he has agreed to lend me his boat for a short excursion.”
“An excursion?” said Blurtseau.
“Yes,” said Claude, “a sugar excursion.”
“What do you mean?” said Pableau.
“As you may know,” said Claude, “the British have been trying to befriend the Knights of Malta in order to gain an outpost in the Eastern Mediterranean, and they have been sending them shiploads of sugar and tea. The British ships depart from Gibraltar, skirt the North African coast, then cross to the coast of Italy, down to the Strait of Messina, and on to Malta. They sail within sight of land at all times, except when they cross from Africa to Italy, at which point they are momentarily vulnerable to a pirate attack.”
“A pirate attack?” said Josette.
“Arrrrgghhhh,” growled Blurtseau, “a pirate attack!”
“Arrrrgghhhh!” growled Pableau.
“Arrrrgghhhh!” growled Zurrabela.
“Arrrrgghhhh!” growled Claude, Josette, Blurtseau, Pableau and Zurrabela.
At this point in the story, said Blurtso, Blurtseau Lundif, reunited with Pableau in Roquebrune, France, questions the new course of his nation…
“I only want what is best for France,” said Blurtseau.
“What you want,” said Zurrabela, “is a reality that can be measured, a world that can be defined; not a process, but a paralysis.”
“I want a consistent process,” said Blurtseau, “one in which the principles of right and wrong are constant, and I can act with certainty.”
“But that is not a process,” said Zurrabela, “that’s a closed sphere that excludes all that lies beyond it, an imaginary world that denies the world at large. In all the battles you fought, on land and at sea, did it never occur to you that the enemies you faced believed that they were as ‘right’ and ‘justified’ in their beliefs as you were in yours? If you look closely, you will see that the dynamic that once took place beyond the borders of France, is now taking place within.”
“Yes,” said Blurtseau, “I see that, but I can’t tell which group is right, which group has the true interest of France at heart.”
“That,” said Zurrabela, “is for your countrymen to decide. It is the essence of democracy, and the responsibility that accompanies the future you seek. You can no longer be a follower, obeying as you would the lead of a king. Your country has set sail for a new world, a world whose challenges go beyond the question of national obedience, to the greatest challenge of all, that is, governing your self, coming to your own conclusions and acting on personal conviction. What is right? What is wrong? For France, for others, for me? These are the questions that each citizen must ask, the questions that your fellows are risking their lives to be able to ask.”
At this point in the story, said Blurtso, Blurtseau Lundif and his faithful First Mate, Pableau la Chanson, are hiding from French spies in Sagres, Portugal. Pableau, having recently fallen in love, has gone to Evora in search of a beautiful donkey he saw only one time in Sagres…
The day dawned damp and chilly, long after Pableau had risen from his water-logged straw to fire the bakery ovens. He had been toiling for hours when the first customers arrived, and by then the air in the shop was warm and dry, and even the cracks in the walls were thick with the scent of bread. Although it had been more than three months since his arrival, and though his excursion to the villa had been in vain, Pableau’s resolve remained firm, for despite his repeated failures he knew that the story of the boulanger in search of the hoof was making its way around town, and that notice of his existence would eventually fall upon the ears of the one he sought.
He was consoling himself with this hopeful, patient logic as he placed a fresh tray of chantillies in the pastry window, when a carriage suddenly appeared on the street, and before he could comprehend what was happening, he saw the most beautiful donkey in the world descend from the coach…
“Are you Pableau the baker?” she asked, when she had stepped inside.
“Yes,” said Pableau, “I am.”
“And you have been seeking me for over three months?”
“Yes,” said Pableau, “I have.”
“Having seen only my hoof? And having seen it on only three occasions?”
“Yes,” said Pableau.
“And you have been discovered in the garden of my quinta,” she said, “by my eyes and others’, skulking about the shrubberies?”
“That,” said Pableau, “I cannot say, for your eyes may well have seen me, but mine, sadly, did not see you. But yes, he continued, I was indeed on the grounds, for I bribed the gatekeeper to let me pass.”
“I see,” said Zurrabela, “and now, may I know what you expect of me?”
“I expect nothing,” said Pableau, “I only hope.”
“Hope?” said Zurrabela. “And what do you hope?”
“I hope,” said Pableau, “that yours is the heart I am seeking, and that mine is the heart you seek.”
“But,” said Zurrabela, “that hope is without reason, for you have sought only a hoof.”
“Yes,” said Pableau, “that is true, but I know my heart, and my heart knows reasons that reason knows not.”
“But how can you be sure,” said Zurrabela, “that I seek any heart at all?”
“I cannot be sure,” said Pableau, “I can only hope.”
“Yes,” said Zurrabela, “as you have said… may I know how long you will lodge in Évora?”
“Until my dreams are answered,” said Pableau, “or until they expire.”
To this last statement Zurrabela did not respond, but only gazed at the flour-covered donkey who had searched for her, tirelessly, having seen only a hoof. Pableau, too, remained silent, meeting her glance with one of his own, a glance that was open, unguarded, and fortified with conviction. Then Zurrabela made a motion to speak, but stopped, collected herself, and left the shop. Pableau remained inside, watching to see if she would make herself seen at the window of her coach, but she did not; instead he saw only what he already knew, an incomparable hoof, waving to the driver, in a gesture to depart.
As the weeks passed, Blurtseau continued to write, even when he received no reply…
Ma chère Soiselle, Again I pause to compose your daily note. And again I wait, but receive no reply. The days have become weeks, and the weeks have become months, and with each passing minute I pass a timeless eternity. You will not write. You will not be seen at your window. And the faithful messenger who delivers my notes, meets only the chambermaid at your door. I am adrift on a sea of doubt, and there is no shore in sight.
Respectfully, your supplicant and servant,
Blurtseau L’un d’If
and then one day, the reply arrived…
My dear Blurtseau, With heavy hoof I inscribe the sounds you have long feared to hear. I am gone. I have fled with the cousin of the King. I am his, and he is mine. Proximity has conquered distance. Despite the pain this will cause, I hope we can still remain friends.
Blurtseau Lundif could not believe what his eyes had read. It was as if he was deciphering a language he did not understand and his guess at its meaning was surely mistaken. He read the words again. And again. Finally, he realized the letter was not written in a foreign tongue, and he did comprehend its meaning, and Blurtsoiselle was indeed saying what her words were saying, and she had given her heart to another, and her affections, and her soul which had been the North Star guiding Blurtseau through his endless nights. And he was annihilated. “I must find Pableau!” he said out loud. “For if I do not find a pair of loving eyes to assure me I am alive, I will simply cease to exist.” And in his greatest moment of misfortune, fortune was near, and when he cried out, “I must find Pableau!”
Pableau—who had just returned from his morning errands—heard his friend’s cry and rushed to his side, saying, “Here I am my friend, here is your dear and trusted friend Pableau.” And those thirteen words were, for an annihilated soul on the edge of extinction, a silver thread which Blurtseau grasped with every fiber of his being, knowing that if he held on, and never let go, that the thread would slowly restore him to the world of the living. “My friend,” said Blurtseau, “I who have been reduced to ashes and rubble, and scarcely have a breath to offer, owe you the world.” And the two donkeys embraced, as if clutching to life itself, amidst the boulangerie smells of flour, yeast, and baking bread.
Moving with an agility uncommon to any creature who had just consumed a dozen pumpkin pies, Blurtseau leapt from a shrubbery, scaled the rear of the coach, and locked onto the luggage rack as the carriage sped off to Paris. “Blurtsoiselle,” he thought, “my heart has wings, and I am as light as a feather!”
Blurtseau’s heart was as light as a feather, but his stomach was as heavy as a stone, and he soon fell asleep atop the coach. Then, moments before reaching the cousin’s logement, he was thrown from the carriage.
When he awoke, he continued on hoof into the city… then he saw her.
The purest of pure, the sweetest of sweet, the tender and ravishing Blurtsoiselle! For a moment their eyes met… it was the moment he had dreamed of, the light that had sustained him, the breath that had filled his hours of exile, travel, and torment, it was… too much for his heart to bear, and he fell down hooves up and senseless in the gutter. Had he not been paralyzed and unconscious, he might have mistaken her glance for the most tender gaze that ever donkey gazed in the history of donkeys, as Blurtsoiselle looked down on our fallen hero whose mouth was slowly filling with the water that ran in the street. But the fearless corsaire saw not this gaze, nor did he see Blurtsoiselle fourteen hours later when he awoke, half-drowned and still shivering, in the Boulangerie of his faithful first mate, Pableau la Chanson.
Hmmm, thought Blurtso, what shall I write? Maybe a story? Maybe a tale? Maybe an epic tale, one of adventure and intrigue? Yes, an epic tale with a tragic hero… a brave and chivalrous donkey, a Renaissance donkey who sails the seas in search of fortune and fame… Hmmm, I’d better find a good opening line… yes… an opening line that makes it impossible not to read on… an irresistible line… yes, an irresistible line… Hmmm, thought Blurtso, thinking long and hard what to write… I’ve got it!…
“Blurtseau Lundif, the Renaissance donkey, thought long and hard what to write… but what words to address the King? What words indeed, from the pen of a renegade donkey exiled from happiness and home. Exiled, from the sight and embrace of the one who holds his heart, the purest of pure, the sweetest of sweet, the tender and ravishing Blurtsoiselle…”
“Qu’est-ce qu’on doit faire?!” shouted the cook, breaking into the galley. “Voilà qu’y viene le tempest!!”
“What shall we do?!” snapped Blurtseau, rising from the écrivan. “We shall do as always! We shall turn and face the storm!” No sooner had Blurtseau capped the inkwell and stored his pen than he heard the first wave crash on the foredeck.
“Mon Capitaine!” cried the First Mate. “Nous avons besoin de vous!”
The chaos and confusion ceased the moment the crew spied the tip of Blurtseau’s nose, and by the time his ears and eyes came on deck the sailors were in line and standing at attention. Blurtseau paused for a moment in the hurricane gale, staring into the eyes of his terrified crew, then he walked slowly and steadily to the prow where he turned and cried with a voice louder than the storm, “To your posts and ride out the wind!”