perhaps badly, for it was evidently still in constant use; but so long as it were complete one might possibly be able to clean it. What delightful thoughts and anticipations passed through his mind as the hostess slowly descended the rickety stairs to fetch her treasure! At last he had found it, and just in the very sort of house and town where he had always expected to come across it. Well, well, if you make up your mind to have a thing and search eagerly enough for it, you are bound to obtain it in the long run.
Then another thought entered his mind: how much should he offer her for it? Probably she would not part with it unless he named a sum which she could not resist; yet if the sum were at all large she might suspect the book's value and refuse. Ten francs, twenty-five, a hundred? While he was deliberating this important point she was ascending the stairs. Should he turn his back to her, shut his eyes, and tell her to place the volume on the middle of the table, then suddenly turn about and gloat upon the little treasure?
Before he could make up his mind she came in and he got his second surprise that day. It was not as pleasant as the first, for in her hands she held a thick octavo volume bound in shiny black leather. Heavens! . . . a large-paper copy? . . . No, no, impossible. . . .
'Le voici, m'sieu.'
Our poor book-hunter's feelings almost overcame him, and he opened the dirty manuscript volume mechanically, feebly muttering 'très intéressant.' She watched him closely, and from that moment considered him slightly mad. However, the book certainly did contain sixty-two recipes for cooking eggs as well as receipts for making fancy pastry and cakes. Whether it was copied out of the 'Pastissier' I know not; but certain it is that the hostess had no knowledge of, nor had ever seen, that volume.
There must be many book-treasures lying hid in all these ancient towns of Northern France, towns also that lie far off the restless tourist's track, small country towns in which the majority of the houses are slipshod timbered relics of a bygone age. No striking or unusual feature can they offer to the curious, and so for the most part they are dismissed in brief by the guide book. Yet there is many an aged building in Brittany where old books do still lie hid, as our bookman knows from the library of a friend who lives in Finisterre. St. Brieuc, Guingamp, Morlaix, Quimper, even Brest, all these must harbour long-forgotten books.
But there are other towns which no power on earth shall force our book-hunter to disclose. One there is far off the beaten track, where the houses, painted with bright colours, lean all askew, supporting each other and sometimes almost toppling across the narrow winding streets. So that, entering it, one seems to have stepped suddenly into some such fairy town as exists in the pages of Grimm or Hans Andersen; and, half ashamed, one peers curiously at the dwellers in this goblin town, as though expecting to find that they have pointed ears and narrow elfin feet. They never seem to move about, and, sitting at almost every doorstep, watch one intently from weird nooks and crannies. Hurry and bustle are here unknown, and though they will reply to you in the best of French, yet to each other the townsfolk speak a strange and uncouth tongue.
Once, rambling in the narrow alleys about the ancient church, our book-hunter ventured through a gothic doorway along a broad passage that was guarded by a huge and ancient iron grille and presently he found himself in a small courtyard paved with moss-grown cobbles. About it was a timbered gallery, roofed, once doubtless level, now gently and gracefully undulating so that it seemed about to fall from off the wall to which it was attached. But the walls had also subsided with the gallery, so that the whole still showed a symmetry that was pleasing to the eye. Above the gallery and across the front of the building had been painted the legend hotel du lion d'or, and a dim weatherbeaten shield above the doorway still bore the trace of a rampant lion. It seemed a large building, judging by the number of its windows, far larger than its present-day custom could possibly warrant.
The place was curiously still, for the noise of carts and footsteps could never penetrate into that silent court, and it must have been many years since chaise or horseman clattered across its now mossy pavé. The stillness was almost uncanny, forbidding, and our book-hunter hesitated to cross the courtyard lest the sound of his footsteps should disturb the slumber of the ancient building. Presently a rat squealed somewhere along the gallery, and a voice called out sharply within. The spell was broken, and entering the house he called for a 'petit verre' preparatory to finding out something of the inn's history.
Yes, it was very old, and madame had been born in it; but now that she was left alone with Jeanne it was very lonely, and there was little custom. Did they have many travellers there? Oh no, not for a long time, the house was not easy to find, and as the old customers died none came to fill their places. But sometimes Messieurs So and So came in of an evening and took a 'petit verre,' and then the neighbours were very friendly, so it was not so bad.
So the hostess prattled on, only too pleased to impart the news of her little world to a newcomer from the greater one, while all the time fantastic visions rose before him. He pictured old hide-bound trunks that had been left behind by travellers who had never returned, trunks which, opened, would prove to contain priceless black-letter books: boxes, stored in attics and cellars and in concealed presses, which would contain ancient apparel with copies of the 'Pastissier' in the pockets: small travelling bags, tendered by needy scholars in lieu of payment, which he would find stuffed with rare Elzeviers: rusty iron-bound chests enclosing missals, books of hours and antiphonals: in short to such heights did his imagination soar that he resolved to sojourn there till he had explored the old house from attic to cellar.
Then a rat squealed again, near at hand. Oh yes, they were everywhere, ever since Monsieur Gautier rented the left wing of the house to store grain in; and they were so tame and so large that Madame was obliged to keep miou-miou in her bedroom every night.
That decided our book-hunter. Enthusiasm can be carried too far. Even the possibilities of a rich trover would not compensate for having rats running about one's bed at night. Moreover the vermin would surely have gnawed, if not devoured, any copies of the 'Pastissier' that might have been lying about, even if these were innocent of bacon-grease stains. And so consoling himself, he took another 'petit verre' and departed, casting more than one regretful glance backwards at the old Lion d'Or.