The days came and went, and the weeks and months, and despite the rigor of his studies, Blurtseau’s mind wandered. In a real sense, he felt he was being torn in two. On one hand was his life as a warrior, defending his homeland and rising against injustice, and on the other was his growing love for culture and the arts, and for simple things. He reveled in the rhymed worlds of Dante and Petrarch, and the playful mischief of Boccaccio, and his thoughts often turned to Echo and the wisdom of her island. But it was too early to give up the physical rapture that had honed his body into a flawless fighting machine, a machine that fought without forethought, spontaneously parrying with a perfect balance of give and take. Yet now, had his instincts been altered? His equilibrium become unbalanced? Was he incapable of action without thought, without considering consequences beyond borders? Was this the price he paid for the loss of ignorance? For the joys of compassion? And as for his future, what did it mean? Fame and fortune now seemed empty next to a life of art, or a life of shared simplicity. Becoming a Renaissance donkey was not turning him into a harmonious whole, as he had hoped and expected, but was tearing him to pieces as the parts of himself vied, one against the others, for preeminence and control. And then there was his irrepressible sentimentality, as he continued to long for distant days with Pableau, Josette, and Echo.
“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.”
Whew! said Blurtso, this sun is hot! I wonder if it is dangerous? I wonder if it will make me collapse? I wonder if it will make me collapse on my side or collapse in a heap? I wonder if I will know I have collapsed? I wonder if my nose will make puffs of dust in the sand? I wonder if the dust will make me choke? I wonder if I will know I have collapsed and am choking and making puffs of dust in the sand? Whew! said Blurtso, this sun is hot!
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.
These look delicious! said Blurtso to the cook who had just made a batch of scones. Mmm, said Blurtso, biting into the steaming pillow that was dripping with honey. The cook frowned, and continued to frown as Blurtso enjoyed the scone. I think I’ll have another, said Blurtso, biting into a second steaming pillow and letting the honey trickle down his throat. The cook scowled with a glance of hatred and fury. That calls for another, said Blurtso, taking and eating a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. And on it went, Blurtso eating and the cook scowling, until Blurtso reached the last scone which he plopped into his mouth and finished in one bite. Mmmm, said Blurtso, licking the honey off his mouth and hooves. Fine! shouted the cook, picking up the empty plate and throwing it against the wall. Now, what will you give me?! What will I give you? said Blurtso, still licking the honey from his hooves… I will give you the understanding that your reluctance to share, is more selfish than my insistence to take.