What’s the matter? said Alex. I haven’t been sleeping, said Blurtso. Why not? said Alex. I keep thinking of Lizzy. Lizzy? said Alex. Yes, said Blurtso, a donkey I saw on campus. What’s so special about Lizzy? I’m not sure, said Blurtso, there’s just something about her… I think I’d give anything just to brush against her. Really? said Alex. Yes, said Blurtso, and it’s driving me mad. Like in the poem, said Alex. The poem? said Blurtso. Sure, said Alex, the sonnet by Shakespeare: “By day my limbs, by night my mind for thee and myself, no quiet find.” Yes, said Blurtso, that’s it. Shakespeare sure knew donkeys.
I am mortified, said Blurtso. What? said Alex. Poor Jane, said Blurtso, and poor Mister Bingley. Who? said Alex. I never saw a more promising inclination, said Blurtso, he had grown quite inattentive toward other people, and is not general incivility the very essence of love? What? said Alex. I am mortified, said Blurtso, I am humbled, I am grieved, and hope against hope that Wickam and Lydia will be married. I have been so ungenerous to Mister Darcy, and now we owe the restoration of everything to him. What on earth are you talking about? said Alex. And what’s that book you’re reading? It’s Pride and Prejudice, said Blurtso, by Jane Austen. Oh, said Alex. You are too generous to trifle with me, said Blurtso, if you will take another cup of tea, please, tell me at once. Another cup? said Alex. Why yes, I shall accept your offer, with gratitude and pleasure.
“Another day,” thought Blurtseau, “and another night. The king is dead, and those who killed the king are dead, and Napoleon consolidates his power while those who would kill him wait in the wings. And the once-full moon that illuminated my vainglorious victory now wanes with a warbling light. Tomorrow the fighting will begin anew, the British, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian, Sardinian, Greek generals… and all the world spins with the bones of the living and the bones of the dead, so many dead, those who pursued a borrowed or inherited dream, white bones in the soil, white bones in the surf of the sea, bones as white as the flickering tail of the waning moon, sparking and submerging among the breakers, flickering water reflection of fleeting sun echoed upon half-eaten moon, half-eaten moon half-eclipsed by the globe it now reflects down upon… half-eaten glow that grows dimmer each day… until the moon, the day, the night, and all our blood-urgent exploits fall dark upon the darkness of the sea, and vanish in the low laving sound of the waves eating the rocks with their dance of disintegration.
“And when the moon goes black, the stars will mark my path to Montecristo where Echo, alone on her island, watches the same silver flicker on a different surface of the same sea. And the light that flickered in her heart? Has it fallen prey to the same dance of deterioration? Will I find the moon already extinguished in the sea of her breast? Eclipsed by the vainglorious sphere that was my haste to depart? The misguided course of this star-crossed corsaire pursuing a sinking star? Yesterday’s hero is the dark side of the earth facing the dark side of the moon, is darkness double, two-faced night’s faceless faces, an echo of existence which touches no ear, a shout across an infinite expanse, an unreciprocated smile, a source without destination, a word from the heart that never arrives.”
“My heart is an echo of the disintegration
of the heart of the universe
that penetrates and disintegrates my own heart.”
That’s far enough, said Blurtso, drawing a line on the ground with the edge of his hoof. The sand was dry and sun-baked and he had to scrape the surface several times before the mark was visible. That’s far enough, he repeated, and the others remained on their side of the line. Blurtso remained on his side as well, looking up at the others then looking down at the ground. The sun that had baked the ground was hot and began to bake Blurtso and continued to bake the ground. One by one the others walked away. Then there was only Blurtso, the sun, and the ground…
Ooops, said Blurtso, as he let his hoof slip across the line he had drawn in the sand. Ooops, he said, as another hoof crossed, followed by his haunches, his rump, and his stumpy little tail. Ooops, he said, turning and sweeping the line with his boxing-glove nose, then stamping and stomping and tromping until there was no mark left at all. Very good, thought Blurtso, as he surveyed his work and considered his new-found freedom. Freedom? he thought, looking in the direction where the others had gone. Wait for me! he cried, scampering off to join them.
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!”