The Impresario: an alphabet poem, in twenty-six parts, plus epilogue. The setting, a city of Normandie in the early fifteenth century.

 

Impresario One

Impresario and abstract figures, a crowd of fairgoers, surreal

 

The care he had taken of her in his first fascination

was a rebuke to him in later years

He feared love, to feel it, a twining tendril’s prod

Her trusting kindnesses make his heart go soft

His mind tainted, a sympathy unnatural

for property; a monstrosity can be bought

for the compensation of a few coins

And why ought it to have a name?

But he began to call her Regalus

As the gawpers would not guess her sex

Used by him, although she faithfully sought

To be of use.

His hunchback (such uninteresting freaks earn nothing)

Could undertake dictation of a letter;

Tortu, once thought an imbecile

But taught a fine hand, clerical

To adapt himself to speechlessness

He did not excuse it

in cyphers, written down…the impresario

Having considered the means by which he might learn her secret—

How she had been born clean; when the curse befell

How she’d come to beg from beggars, kept back

Even from the palings of the shantytown

How long had she lived there, dumb herself and wallowing in mud?

No, in time, under tutelage, she could tell him so

“Tell me this, Regalus…”

“Which is like a bird, returning to its nest?”

The dauphin with his flippered arms possessed

Of a rare, sweet tenor sings to her each saying of Tortu’s

She laughs. “My dear, the letter W”

This is progress, learning. Her thigh touches his

As side by side they share the driver’s bench

Her scabbed pink head and hair that grows in patches

Hid beneath a wayfarer’s woolen cap

Her gaiety on this fair day as their wagonload

Of odd attractions slows

A horde of belled and parti-colored travelers

Push handcarts on the road

impresario-2

 

Two

 

In his dreaming calculations lying wakeful

He recalls himself, in this bed built for a dying wife

Never so alive with fear for his charges

He had always paid the roustabouts

To guard the wagon, warned Tortu

Whose wise and solemn eyes obey

To take a crown and buy them cakes

To keep his creatures cloaked and masked

Until the day

Now answering in kind he follows clues

Wordless, the distance tightening

Until the rigid half-circle they’d sketched

Became a letter G

Through the seat of commerce with his spine contracted

By an unexpected terror of its shadowed lanes

He searched for symbols, charcoaled, and at length

Traced a pathway marked in cornerstones

Blacked atop with compass lines

Arrows pointing east

And when he came to a butcher’s stall

Where piglets hung like tally marks, in chords

He ducked behind and found a row of houses

Counted on his left an open courtyard

Counted on his right…one, two, three, four

She had swallowed a wasp on Saint Thomas’s day

Eleven months undelivered

A log of wood burst with a shocking report

Spewing sparks that caught fire among the rushes

A heated swarm escaped

The household in a frenzy as the maid

Had at that moment touched a goblet to her mistress’s lip

All is deathly calm now, the rooms unlit

A wine butt holds the offspring born

Turned inside-out

He has been shown this, cautiously the lid pried loose

“Yes”—his host with timorous courtesies, had laid

His board with a fair day’s bounty

“Yes,” he’d said to the impresario, “if I might not tempt the devil

By showing gold, I would reward you for this kindness.

You deliver me, no less

In taking her from my house.”

 

part three the impresario

Three

 

Regalus masked moves lithe through the torchlit throng

Pierre the Seer guides her, brusque in the distance he keeps

But cocksure in his speech, his purpose strong

She pities her poor Tortu and her small Dauphin

Like a mother, she has helped to dress and feed them

She cannot tell the number of her years

Nor what the sphere of water in a well

May teach her

Him she loves with a faith implicit

The master who has gone away

But to Regalus her tortured skin is grace

“For in whom will He make his glory manifest?”

The gentle Abbess, once her almoner, had said

“See, child, how the flower will always be . . . has always been

Our Maker’s Mystery couched in impossibility

Eden within a poppy-seed

Not so large as a grain of sand”

 

Thus Regalus feels she cannot suffer

Being of all women blessed

And knows one day, when scales are shed

She will sing exaltation

 

The wax-man is too fat to walk about

Out-bellows the bull in a basso voice

But peals chill harmony, high and deep

While Tortu cradles his lute and plucks

Striking her hip with a tambourine, Regalus dances

While the Dauphin sings

Pierre beats a drum, and a stranger comes to join them

At the fire, bearing a long, stringed box in the shape of

The letter I

She feels an unlooked-for joy

impresario four regalus

 

Four

 

Comes the impresario with a servant

Of his host shouldering mystery on a brancard

Lost staging pictures, lulled by the flare and death of flame

Fairgoers enticed, he sees them, made to long

For itching curiosity relieved

A glimpse inside

He stops, the way is thickening with bodies

Singing comes to his ears and the tattoo of a drum

The jingle of a girl in man’s garb rocking foot to foot

She has a lovely smile, he knows it

She smiles at Pierre the Seer

“And so, among your tricks, Pierre…”

The impresario cannot come nigh

This voice that wins his admiration

A troubadour’s with a psaltery

“Is mimicry…you slither through barred windows

Like a snake, gnaw thongs of leather like a rat…”

“I do.” The seer shows his teeth. “Among my talents have I also

The pitiless eye of a chicken hawk. I am like

the badger, fast in his sett, hissing at small dogs.”

He prolongs the letter S

“But most of all I am a man of prophecy. Your fate I’ll tell

at once…I need not fall into a trance, to read your stars, monsieur.

No, I think it would not be wise, for any man to close his eyes

In thy congenial company. My friends, have I ever told you…?”

The impresario rests his burden, from his glove slips

A coin of gold. The servant leaves. He rests on elbows

sheltering the wine butt, rests fingers on his dagger’s hilt

“Told…” Pierre the Seer looks aside. “Come, Regalus, be still.

Why they did not hang me when my first master I killed.”

She peeps from under her mask; he smiles again to see

Her eyes grow wide

part-five

 

Five

 

“My devoted young novice, all men are liars.”

“And you, chevalier, are the worst of sinners,

to call me by that name.”

“I am, I own it…yet, by faith, I shan’t die unredeemed,

dear Regalus. The false priest whom I served

Minting coin with his blasphemous arts

Pilgrims to Ste-Geneviève’s shrine he canvassed

Offering his pardon for their sins, thus:

‘My children, you must to the altar come clean

Know you the new-shriven soul doth tempt!

‘Tis bait for the Evil One; aye, we wake

To the fresh sun spotted and impure

For in dreams at night we have been lured

Will you tell an untruth in this holy place?’

But his heart could not be at ease.”

 

The psaltery player speaks: “Mark!…girl

Pierre the vessel, empty and sounding

From out its bowels

Miraculous sayings of a voice dredged from Hell

Angury by the angels compelled

No doubt you found a way, Pierre

No doubt the false priest sleeps

Rocked in the arms of a deathless Peace!”

“Let me draw from your side this bitter arrow, Boniface

Confess to me that you were born covetous.

With ten greedy fingers and a coxcomb’s pride.”

Pierre’s fingers make a letter O

Boniface, named by his foe, leaps up

He has jerked loose his bag, and gathered a stone

With a whip-slinger’s sinew he flings it

Poupée, the doll-woman, grosse tête bobbing, limbs

Thin and shrunken, screams and screams, and being

Her master’s pet, cradles tiny hands around his boot

 

Six

 

O, jealousy! Regalus in penance catches Pierre by the sleeve

For amid a burst of cries and laughter none had heard

The missile strike. Silent Tortu from errands of his own

Pads near to Regalus with a bleeding face

Pierre’s hand closes over hers, avec tendresse

“Boniface!” The impresario with Poupée clinging to his neck

Steps between them. “You are an unharmonious guest.

And as your aim is false, you must try another song.”

“Monsieur.” The troubadour bows. “You will not have it thought

you conspire with assassins. Please. Charity is a holy act, no doubt.

Allow them all to know what you have done.”

He turns and eyes Pierre, as do the others.

“My master,” answers he. “I was tasked with spotting marks;

that the priest, by halving his labor, might double his purse.

Yea, the sin beladen soul will find expression

in familiar habit, hesitation;

the guilty heart will speak the chosen phrase.

Why might not I, a man of worth, bestow false consolation?

It is a holy act, no doubt, to say: I know thee for a fornicator.

And you, madame, have lusted in your heart.

Dressed was I in robes of black, whispering my way

Midst pilgrims, blanching cheeks.

Perhaps I had been tardy, for they say

‘Tis a wise man knows himself…it was a lady

Discovered me my gift—she had made to faint

True, friends, I aver myself a villain, but not yet was I embittered

Not yet schooled in prison…I caught her in my arms

Contrite. Ah! But she played a ruse. When close to my ear

Whispered in her turn, “Good monsieur l’abbé, I pray thee

Shrive me here. I give you gold for your pains.”

Then merrily, for willingly enough, I did absolve her,

Went she on her way.”

 

A shaft of sun casts brilliancy upon a coat of arms above

The gated lane

The dawn has come

The V in virtus newly forged in flame

partseven

 

Seven

 

He lifts the doll-woman onto the wagon’s bed

At once her small feet prance a pirouette

The hunchback has been beaten in the town

He must ask his good servant to mark a likeness down

One whose fortune Pierre the Seer will uncloak

She stands clear for the wax-man, Regalus

He waddles, stately, pale as death, to sit upon his pallet

While the impresario, touching fingers

To her shoulder, ties the tent fly, murmurs

“Dress yourself, the time is nigh”

Tortu sinks and sits cross-legged

With osier basket, lute and reed

She flutters, drawn this way and that

And the impresario cocks his hat

 

“Humble yourselves before the Lord

Yea, denizens of the North, behold

Creation’s variety manifold

For today we dwell on earth as told

Tomorrow cast into the flames

Spare a coin

And the least most high, and the last be first

Spare a coin

Come, varlet and master

Inquisitor and doubter

The shepherd and the butcher

Come, sergeant and informer

Spare a coin

 

Now hark! Madame Poupée

Eye, mes amis, if you please

Her silver rings, like a lark she sings

And the prize is yours

Can you guess where it lies—

A riddle. Shall I shine for you

A candle? I make light of a heavy weight,

friends, and give to you Mont-Blanc…eh?

Voilà! The genius of the place

The magnificent Man of Wax!”

 

His hand describes an alpine view

In the shape of a letter M

He glances, having counted beats

A roar like Stentor’s rends the air

The townsfolk aaah and then applaud

The impresario coughs

regalus dancing at the bishop's fair impresario part eight

 

Eight

 

Tortu has done no wrong

He lays his lute upon the ground and plucks

A melancholic melody with his toes

A lilting air flutes o’er this, as serpentine

In play of arms and sway of hips

The Pythoness begins her dance

 

He cannot bring himself to it

His lips form the D of Delphi, there he falters

The impresario coughs once more and leaves her

Turning to his hearers strains to gather

to mind the Dauphin’s verses…she is not

A deformity, a creature

Scales reptilian peeling from her skin

It will surprise the Dauphin to hear himself

Called too soon.

 

He has done her a cruelty…many such

And cannot extricate a foot

She smiles still. Perhaps she smiles to please him.

But her eyes are bright with pain, as the impresario collects himself

And speaks again.

 

“Friends!

Mariners tell this tale

How the Sovereign of the Sea

When a man cast to the swells he hears

Importune piteously

Dispatches he to buoy him

If he deserve this grace

A messenger to guide him

To a warm and sheltering place”

impresario part nine

 

Nine

 

To a sheltering place

Like a sea bird flown

High where rays of sun make gentle

Winter’s violent froth and foam

He sees a lonely man below

Whose feet set on a cliff’s edge stumble

The fit passes, in commotion of known voices

Pierre can’t stop them crowding past the tent fly

One kicks at Tortu’s basket and a melée

Erupts as trufflers after coins go rooting

The Dauphin, helpless, shirtless, hugged by Regalus

She shames the impresario, her thoughtless heart

Wherein dwell only love and courage

Now he leaps

Atop the wagon’s bed

And seizing Poupée’s silver ring

Strikes a chiming note again and again

With his dagger’s blade

He had been warned

The words made diffident and softly pleading

“I know you for a gentleman, monsieur

I ask you nothing, what you do with her

This thing within the town is little known

I pray that it remain so.”

But…it is his living being savaged

It is the Bishop’s fair, he will be banished

A thing so wrong and yet a thing so small

Malign a soul already damned to Hell?

He knows the lid has not been nailed

And yet it does not yield

His blade snaps, springing free

Wrought with the jagged shape of a letter Z

The wine butt now half-breached and lid atilt

A vapor seems to rise

Such as from which might Oracle prophesy

part ten view of chateau and white cliffs

 

Ten

 

The keeper of his purse departs

A servile gratitude for this

answering of an urgent summons

The impresario feels

And feels enfolded in a fallen angel’s wings

Bearing the stench of cursedness; a humble plea

To all he meets for small respect. Merci.

He means to pay them each five coins of gold

Adieu, madame, adieu.

Mes pauvres, God defend you

Scattered to the four winds of the world.

“Tortu, I will not tarry

On the next ship leaving harbor I must be—”

On the stable wall of a desolate rogues’ retreat

Tortu in an agony of sorrow

Marks a letter N and from his throat

His master hears his first word spoken

“No!”

And Pierre, whom the impresario had told,

“Walk Regalus to the town and beg an audience

A convent there is dedicated to Sainte-Marguerite

The noble lady abbess, she will be so good…”

Comes back. “No, my friend, she will not be commanded.”

He holds the way against a probing arm

Another snakes about his waist, but unperturbed

Pierre tells his tale. “Your purse of gold is lighter now by half.

Discount the cost of passing through the gate

For I was stayed without, but to the warden’s house

The pious dame did order wine and bread

To salve my sinner’s conscience I must lay

Three coins beside my plate, the dowry paid

Then whistling on my way, while in my heart

Reciting ten Aves—Ah! I swear it—thus far gone

In thought I had not guessed my peril

A hand did seize me by the collar…”

 

Eleven

 

This fate invoked, Pierre avoids reprisal

Lays hand on Tortu’s arm in sad rapport

Doing so he slips aside and she

Her face washed clean of paint, still washed in tears

Yet seen through penitent’s eyes become unblemished

Returns to him not knowing by what fault

She has offended, and she does not care

The impresario won’t hear her call him master

He catches her before her knees strike earth

Catches her and draws her in embrace

“No,” she says, in answer, “no. You will never go without me.”

If he allows it…the linen of his shirt warmed by her breath

It would be comfort, charity beyond his worth

“Will you not have me, then?” she asks.

And the impresario tells her, “Yes.”

 

But at this, hooves thunder and harness bells ring

Guardsmen dismount with a clatter and clang

Their tabards carry the Bishop’s arms

Poignards sheathed at a nod and word

From the infamous lips of the Friar Gaspard

Whose counsels are always taken

So intimate has he made him

With his revered lord’s peccadilloes

This heretic’s bane makes a claim to have studied

By use of the bastannade, water, and rack

By fiery tongs and the H-shaped device

Proudly worn for a sign round his neck

The unconfessed sin Gaspard winnows

“Yes, say that a man were no felon

Say falsely he’d been accused…

But yet, let me have my way with him

My persuasions are never refused.”

Gaspard boasts that all men are guilty

No servant devout would deny it

“You! Hand over this fugitive to me

For the blasphemer’s sentence is death.”

Part Twelve.png

 

Twelve

 

The prisoner’s advocate begins to feel himself followed

It seems to him a certainty the footpad is that fellow

Who gives his name in fraudulent humility as Pierre

“Only that.” And loiters round the guardhouse.

The advocate turns on a heel, making the jailer’s victualer

Behind him stagger, dropping the joint

Wrenched from a boiling carcass, possibly of mutton

“No harm done, milord, no harm done,” the jailer’s man

mutters, taking it up at once, and smearing on his blouse

A swath of grease in the shape of a letter X

The advocate sees indeed

Two figures skulk in his train

“By my fortune!” He swears his strongest oath;

This wealth coined from trade in Tuscan terra cotta.

New elevated by fortuitous marriage to baronial rank

He is entitled to the sword he draws

And shows his stength of arm in balancing the point

At Pierre’s throat

“Begone from here, thou rogue!”

“Worthy lord…and you as well, my worthy jailer’s cur.

I dare not bow. Yet witness what I plainly state before your ears.

I mean to second your good promptings, good monsieur.

Shall I tell you your advice? You will trust me better.”

“Tell me…!” The merchant-baron lowers his sword

His sputter interrupted by the turnkey

“I cannot wake the prisoner!

…Pardon me.” He laces fingers at his waist, and bends his knee.

“I speak out of turn, monsieur le baron.

I apologize, if it please your excellence,

I shall begin again…” Clouting the turnkey on the shoulder,

the advocate presses past,

to enter the cell with a shake of the head. Pierre’s boy,

who had been silent, crosses before him like a shadow

And most extraordinary to the advocate’s eye

Kneels on the filthy floor of stone.

Throwing back his cowl he croons, “O, my poor love!”

Caressing the prisoner’s hand in his own

part-thirteen

 

Thirteen

 

Pierre, rocking back, raises his flask with a solemn, studied lack

Of impudence (although the features of his face

tend against him)

The baron, he notes, has an arrogant flare of nostril

and curl of upper lip, yet

He does not fully sneer in spurning this.

Saying merely, “Do your best. I have set the warden to mark

the hour, and when my time is done here, the prisoner

must call himself counselled.”

“However,” says Pierre. “He must know what is charged against him.”

“Precisely those things”—the baron’s eyes are, without a doubt,

most scornful—“to which he has confessed. I have seen the document.”

“Then, of course, as you have furnished me not one proof, but two,

I must believe my poor friend guilty. But, monsieur, I am an

ignorant, unschooled man. Would it not amuse you to enlighten me?”

“Testimony has been given…”

“By a man named Boniface…”

“Villain! Will you hear, or not? In any case, by two or three

Taken since the outrage at the fair, with suppurating sores…”

“Ah! They were first taken by the village whore.”

“Scoundrel! I leave you with a word.”

 

“Never weep,” Pierre tells Regalus, after the door bangs shut.

“The baron plays his role to spare the dignity of the court.

That it be not accused of killing out of hand.

As to the prisoner—see, he wakes!—he

will feel unequal to his counsellor’s word. But I will give it,

and urge on him a better choice.”

She wipes her eyes with a bloodstained sleeve,

Mouths the first consonant of her betrothed’s name, “Q—

The prisoner whispers, “What day is it now?

I think, at last, they have let me sleep.”

 

part-fourteen

Fourteen

 

“Now you recall I had been telling you

How the solicitations of my own Gaspard

Were not to be refused…I, most readily

Admitting everything, called down, mon frère

Heaven’s wrath on my own head

Did I omit a word or tell a lie

For as against the scaffold, this smiting seemed fair bargain

Alas, Our Father, who each day

Must hear a thousand dire prayers

Left this matter of my condemnation

In the hands of men

But I will tell you all that by and by.

I have been deputized, my friend—

Let me offer then, of chances, three

The baron would have you ask of our Most Reverend Lord B

To grant the trial by ordeal.

True, of all tosses, only this

Exonerates, and the advocate’s task is to attempt it.

And only then, if the ordeal be by water.

Innocence in death is something; indeed, it may be much…”

“Pierre, you make me tired.”

“Yes,” Regalus seconds the prisoner, “be quiet. And look, Pierre,

if there is any of that joint seems unbefouled.”

“No, Regalus, I want no food. Pierre, no consolation, no advice.”

He touches fingers to a swollen eye. “No, please, I am content with it.”

“You’ll hang…” This is offered testingly; the prisoner says again:

“Please. Regalus, you know I am to die. Therefore, you will no longer

Defy my wish to see you safe. Pierre…”

Pierre sees her chin quiver, and a light

Beyond refute that of defiance

Glint as a tear spills from her eye.

He says, “No, hear me, friend. You are to die

for some heretical offense, but…do you call yourself an unbeliever?”

The prisoner smiles so far as he is able,

And his smile is sour and sad.

“Yes, you remind me. I have only some short time ago

been branded with an oath.

My faith is perfect. Only I have a rite yet to receive…they may

withhold this.”

Pierre peers at him. “Wit, however, too, is combat.

You see where I am going.”

The prisoner sighs. Pierre persists.

“You have some fight in you.

Take the seer’s counsel, then—refuse the scaffold.

This rule by priests may nothing mean to one not ruled by God;

Yet the spark that meekly snuffs itself gives credence

To unholy law. Further,” he lifts a halting hand,

“we’ll weigh the other case.

If in piety do you hold regard for life, a gift no mortal can bestow;

Then you must try, and try again, and try unto the last.”

 

impresario part fifteen

Fifteen

 

Regalus and Pierre come upon the tail of a mounted entourage

Flanked, by her knights of the household, rides

On bearers’ shoulders, a lady in a litter

Footmen armed with cudgels seem to relish

No less than those well-distanced from their blows

The abject cringe of beggars venturing close

“Oh, she is very good,” breathes Regalus, as a white hand

Be-ringed with sapphire and ruby, flings coins that splash

Or sink in mud, in desperation trodden underfoot

Pierre enfolds her in his cloak and walks her face to face

To safety, sheltered overhead, beneath a sleeping loft

And with a wondering passion bends to look into her eyes.

“Regalus! Do you not suppose that you might as easily…as

Worthily, I say, occupy that seat?”

“Don’t speak me such a word! Don’t make some devil envy me!”

She flushes…and he lets her be. Here a hooded figure

Joins them, leading by the skirt another. Regalus embraces

One and then the next. “Tortu, it will be well, it will. Oh!”

She strokes the Dauphin’s dangling sleeve. “My poor Michel!”

“No, never trouble over me,” he answers.

“We have spent nothing of our master’s gold.

So then, if Pierre knows the man to bribe…”

“Let us,” Pierre cautions him, “go inside.”

This lower chamber serves the street

They find a bench on which to sit

At Pierre’s sign the pot-boy sloshes up

Leaving a U-shaped dribble midst the rushes

“No,” the seer says, “I know this game. Not his prisoners alone—

The jailer has his reputation under lock and key

And think you how it is that kings and queens

Betimes await the block and bide in towers

But rarely do their wealthy friends gain for them liberty.”

impresario part sixteen dauphin and tortu

Sixteen

 

“The gatekeeper, then, must be sweetened with a bribe

For such a one may at any time be called aside

He cannot leave a fire rage or fainting lady lie

So make fair claim to’ve been about his duties…

That, Pierre, is what you mean to say.”

“Yes!”

“No!”

But Tortu’s exclamation surprises Pierre no less

Than such a worldly observation

From the lips of Regalus

“No, money is a handy thing

And at those times it’s needed

I know of nothing better to the purpose.

We will keep ours.”

“Then,” she throws herself in eagerly again,

“Tell me what you’d have me do. For it is done.”

“Patience, love…yes, I beg you let me think aloud.

I do not tell you that I have no plan…”

“He doesn’t,” says the Dauphin, standing. “Regalus, Tortu…”

“The plan…” says Pierre, following; he then trots to the lead

Leaps the gate of a private yard, unlatches this;

Ushers the others before him, and brings his fist

Springing from a crouch to strike the jaw

Of the petty spy who’d trailed them from the alehouse.

“…is real enough.” He strolls to join his fellows.

“In those parts where it exists. I must now

Speak to you of Boniface. You have guessed, he is a

tolerable performer, but no troubadour.

No, my friends, he is an erstwhile Lollard, cast from his county

In disgrace.

Thus baited in the proper vein”—Pierre makes a hook of his finger

In the shape of a letter J—“To rise as he aspires

And play sweet justice’s champion

Our ex-knight will appear.”

Part Seventeen

 

Seventeen

 

“How long ago,” the seer begins

“Though not so many days have passed

And yet, how long ago it seems…” The Dauphin interrupts.

“Vraiment! For a great, tedious time, Pierre, you have been talking.

See, Tortu has gone to sleep!”

“My old master, him I’d told you of (Pierre disdains to answer this)

Unfaithful priest, had spied me at my sport.

I had fleeced his flock beforehand; his shearings fallen short.

Alors! There is no maddened mind so haunted

As that sees visions of others’ trickery—

I mean, the trickster schooled himself in nuance

But, my master did not merely watch me

I’d caught him, though he’d thought my eyes were closed,

Ferreting round my pallet

When in a frenzy sought my sack of gold

That I kept safe under the small of my back

He drew a knife…I know the sound it makes

And so I’d seized the old man by the throat

And so I came to stand, hands bound

And saw no mercy in the hangman’s hooded eyes

But this, my bon voyage, had drawn a lively crowd

They would have their fun…I vowed, friends, I’d have mine

Yes, I knew the art, I pointed with my chin

There stood a sturdy burgess of the town

Well…every married rich man’s vice is one

I made to fall into a fit and then

Spoke in a voice all windy like the tomb.”

“I dare suppose,” the Dauphin says, “a voice much like your own.”

“However, when by name I had assigned the sins of two or three

It came into my thoughts as had my good saint counselled me.

‘Speak not another word, Pierre.'”

He eyes the Dauphin; the Dauphin holds his tongue

“Ah!” I told my audience, “it fades.

And now, tant pis, some agony I cannot tell, awaits

That one whose name starts with the letter A.”

Part Eighteen

 

Eighteen

 

The vintner’s house still darkened

By a shade. And it, avenged or no—he sees it now

—will never loose its hold

A girl knocks begging for a room and offers gold

He has not spoken even to his servant

For many days

Yet seeing a daughter in her guileless eyes

Says, “No, my child, you have been ill-advised.

Put your purse away. I will send my own Marie…”

He falters, helpless murmurs, “…make appeal to the abbess.”

Regalus dares not look behind

Where Tortu holds her by the hand

But her angel keeps faith, rain finds its way

A deluge swamps the street, and by the hearth

A sudden drip, drip, drip falls splashing

“Tonight, perhaps,” he sighs, “you had best remain.”

“I have a friend. Will you be so good, monsieur,

As to make only a pallet on the floor?”

Pierre has gone to search for Boniface; the Dauphin for a word

Of the wax-man or Madame Poupée

And Regalus still, shamed to shrink, did cling to him

“No, trust in Pierre’s plan.” With a friendly scorn

Michel had touched his brow to hers.

“I was born this way, you know. I get along.

Now I leave you in the company of Tortu.”

 

And yet the plan…tonight she broods awake

Knots her beads into a Y to hold a promise

Was this the bed her love slept in, not long past?

Can he be well, or does he lie in agony,

Even as she thinks of him?

Afraid of all she dreams, Regalus ponders

A complexity…

“Who do you suppose Boniface hates,

for ransoming the seer into servitude?

The Kentishman is a creature of the Friar

A man who keeps his word, and pays his debts.

Thus of petitioners demands Gaspard no less.

(Pierre had laughed)

Allow that word to be

a hair’s breadth misintoned; allow that debt to fall

A denier short…the beggar may then dine

on his own liver. However—”

Regalus had stopped him with a brush of hands.

“Surely Boniface is not the man…?”

“Oh, yes. You grasp, for what it’s worth, my subtlety.

The place must be secured; none of our class may fill it.

But once secured, be sure the arms of Boniface

Will take the field to meet our man in combat.”

Part Nineteen

 

Nineteen

 

She rubs her cheeks and neck, not for cold

If the night feels chill, to her this trial seems welcome

She wishes she might bear the world’s pain

Enduring all, if by some alchemy

He might bide in warmth and tender sleep

She slips onto her knees, and bowing over

Clenched hands, prays, “Oh, God,

Why should I now receive this grace?

What is it that you want of me?”

She cannot feel a trace of blemished skin

Recalls how her good lady taught her this

“None in our world of sorrows, child, stands so low

She does not tower in fortune above a lesser.

Who never hope to touch a bishop’s robe,

may, by His love, touch the hand of a blessed sufferer.”

Yes, I have tried not to know what I know well

That combat’s issue must be one man’s death

Pierre’s face of irony so bitter, comes to her

She sees his willing heart noble beyond measure—

Understanding him at last

But it will not do

 

The vintner’s house offers no looking-glass

So by her shadow’s length at dawn she judges

The ruse will be enough, for that she must contrive

Is only to fall against a knife

And this, she tells herself, is not so much

Tortu speaks one of his rare words

She is aware, now wakeful, that some talk

had filled the hours of darkness.

“My daughter,” says the vintner, “I have one thing more

To confess. I had climbed the stairs, hoping to look upon

your face. You will forgive me. I found you on your knees.

Your servant tells me…”

“Ah, Tortu is my dear friend. Monsieur, I am myself a servant.”

“Tortu tells me I must ask, and so I do. What heartache

is it troubles you?”

He has schooled her in her alphabet. Tortu’s hand traces in air

Behind their host where he cannot see, a letter P

By this to mean, do as Pierre would have you

“Love.” Regalus takes a chair.

Impresario Part Twenty

 

Twenty

 

The hour demands chicanery

But Pierre’s mood weighs low his spirit

He perches on an oaken chest

Fine-carved in fingered leaves, knobbed round

With acorns…an uncomfortable seat

In a house of placid comforts

Too excellent withal for a humble man to contemplate

With ease, this room, but if his station

Cannot merit such, the dwelling is yet Gaspard’s.

Boniface, standing at the fire, grasping an iron heated by his stirring

Turns and speaks the thought Pierre had read.

“I ought this moment strike you dead. It would give me pleasure.”

“It would. But pains to your master. And as I can no longer

Call you Sir, but varlet merely, it must also be…”

He had anticipated this, untroubled ducks the swing.

“…that while you may be much to him, you are

nothing to me.”

“Swine!” Boniface seizes him by the collar.

“I loved the man I served,” Pierre chokes out.

“And then I grew to hate him.” His enemy stops twisting, utters

A phrase beginning with the letter F.

“And why so? I will let you tell me one more lie.”

“A woman,” Pierre says.

 

He has been holding court, the wax-man

The aubergiste wrings hands, for this strange guest

Is never to be budged, it seems…and where

Are those coins he’d promised?

Hid, his host must think, within some fold of loathsome flesh.

That has been the wax-man’s sport with him

The villain roars a greeting, seeing three come nigh

One breaks and throws fond arms around his neck

 

Twenty-One

 

A sturdy yeoman parts the throng, striding through

Escort to a queenly, doll-like dame

Poupée’s grown son with wonder eyes

The wax-man’s pallor, Regalus

Kneels and cradles in her hand, madame’s

Surprised, she asks, “How do you, child?”

The lifted face beneath the cowl, surprises her as well

As though the girl could spy the distant sun

And stood at cliffside staring at such light

As blinds a man

Regalus says, “Pray do you forgive me.”

“Well, but it is done. And yet I think that thou hast never sinned.”

“I have. Said a wicked thing of you, from jealousy, inside my head.”

“Ah…I have not that gift, my dear. I see what is before me.

I mean that skill to judge the hidden heart.

Nor would I take upon me, more than is my lot

…for judgment is the Lord’s,

so I’ve been taught. Content thyself.”

Pierre is seen to cross the threshold

Regalus rises to her feet

And finds he will not meet her eye

She stays, and wary

Sees his shoulders heave as with a sigh

“I would rather,” he says, approaching

And with an alien austerity, “have the girl outside.”

But as Tortu draws her by the hand

And as she remonstrates with foolish tears that course

In silence down her cheeks, the iron-strapped door

Swings gouging out an arc, a letter C

This new arrival will not let them pass

But bows to her in mocking ceremony

“After all, she has some beauty.”

He says this, musing, a speech before his god, perhaps

Then deigns to cast his confidence on Regalus

“Aye, girl, I will deliver thee. To an unworthy suitor.”

 

Twenty-Two

 

Pierre signs to his three companions, palm to palm

Closes this L like a trap door shutting on

A bird in hand…or tiger by the tail

They know their roles

The wax-man can grow no paler,

but glowers and drops his jaw

The Dauphin returns a thin, ironic smile

While Madame tosses her locks and says

“I refuse to be made afraid…garçon,”

Pierre shrugs. “I congratulate you.”

Boniface, as he steals upon them,

Finds the seer’s manner lofty,

Cold…he feels a thrill, his pride

Validated by this curtain raised

This unguarded show of truth

The rogue were wont to hide

He notes the Dauphin’s chin tremble

“Can we not all sup together?” Boniface enquires

Sweet-voiced

Pierre, for too long, holds himself

Arrested, back turned, but then smiles round

A smile Boniface deems unctuous and sly

“I dreamt…yes, let us sit.” Pierre sweeps clear the bench

“The demon that informs me shows me tokens.

A collar of pearls consumed by flame. A purse of gold

Lodged fast at the bottom of a well. A velvet cape in

marten’s fur trimmed, seen to cradle a death’s head’s grin.”

“And wisely, you advised your friends, to give these treasures over.”

An indifferent gesture of the hand. “No, like you

They scorn my humble castings. Neither will you, Boniface,

Care to know it, that two fortunes wait you,

Joy or lamentation, as you choose.”

Madame rises in a temper, fingering her jewels

“Worm! Before the witness of us all, and still

You ply your lying, swindling spiel!”

No sooner has she crossed before the hearth

Her son approaches, bent, to lay upon her shoulders

A cloak of fine-spun woolen stuff, when…tout à coup!

All eyes are blinded by a flash, a puff of smoke

A vile, sulphurous odor drives them choking to their feet

The yeoman’s haunted face they see, the empty cloak he holds

And on the floor a tiny shrunken skull, a pile of ash

And pearls

Part Twenty-Three

 

Twenty-Three

 

A laughing cadre of three…Pierre, the Dauphin

Enter with the ease of welcome guests

They, and the young man, Renald

Pass in chatter the vintner’s threshold

Pierre notes Tortu waits them by the hearth, alone.

Forcing a smile, he says, “Renald.

You must join our guild, and leave your fields to seed.

You showed a face last night…an actor’s turn

So grim as made me doubt my eyes.”

Flattered, as he has been many times, shy…and drunk

Madame’s son stumbles to his feet with thanks,

And bids them all bonne chance

Tortu cracks hazelnuts and tosses these

Into the Dauphin’s mouth

And when they have refreshed themselves, the Dauphin says,

“But, Pierre, you have made ashes of our master’s mermaid!

You will owe him…” His voice dies, on the R of recompense

He softly adds, “I wonder how he does?”

“I suppose”—Pierre says this instead—“again she is at her prayers.

Where is our host? I’ll beg his leave to stay with him ’til morn.

Tomorrow I must step into the lists…and then no more.”

“Pierre, walk out with me.”

Regalus speaks from the stairs.

 

“You understand,” she tells him. “You have gifts and I have none.

He has a will for you, yet unfulfilled…but as for me—

He has made his will known.”

“No, I don’t understand you. No,” he stops her speaking.

“I don’t know why you come with me, so trusting.

You take my hand, and so we part.

As from unwelcome wooers maidens must.

I find that He instructs me; that His mind is clear enough.

Devil take Pierre the Seer! Even you, sweet Regalus,

Will spare him not the pains of Hell.

Then farewell. You would be wise to take advice.

Was it not his wish for you?

That he would die…and know you safe.”

“Oh, Pierre…oh, I pity you, at least. I say to you, my dear

There is a thing above trust.

And I have prayed on it, as you have not. And if I die,

or if my love and I, should die together

That is just.”

Part Twenty-Four

 

Twenty-Four

 

Behind leathern masks are the fighters’ faces hid

To make livelier sport for the pleasure of the mob

For to lose the sight of an eye, or have a nose cut off

Cuts short the combat, those on tiptoes at the back

Do not strain themselves to witness a moment’s dispatch

And a fallen man who lies below their vantage

Bleed to death

The contestants are not armored, nor bear shields

That personage

In tunic and cape of or and gules, honors the house

As the rumor flies, of a prince of Anvers.

In his left hand holds a club, for the parrying of blows

In his right, a poignard, this his own, the gossips say

The hilt’s T hollowed round a splinter of the Cross

Yet this Boniface disappoints, his puniness draws rude noise

“Someone plays a joke”, the jeer begins to thunder

Voice added to voice

The prisoner is thrust through a gauntlet of spears

Loudly they boo, for he totters alike, and the weight of his weapons

Saps the sum of his might.

 

The impresario from the blackness of his cell

Comes pale into daylight, numb now to the bites

Of fleas and lice, haggard with fever that preys upon his eyes.

So he supposes.

Those that meet his own are not the troubadour’s

They are the eyes he’d begged of Heaven to gaze upon once more

The crowd is chanting, urging him to strike

Rather he sinks to fainting knees, his wish

This specter weeping over him in the guise of love

May bare its master’s claw and make an end

The Bishop’s guard holds back the throng.

Armed with bad eggs and wormy apples,

Mud balled round handfuls of loose pebbles,

They begin to hurl their missiles.

A breach parts the line and the mob runs riotPart Twenty-Five

 

Twenty-Five

 

Three long blasts and a short to summon

The captain of the Bishop’s horse

The foot-guard lustily bash heads

Gaspard’s men eagerly make arrest

For every fine collected is a feather for their nest

Tortu’s sturdy back unaided must draw the sledge

The wax-man’s mass umbrellaed

‘Neath a hat’s broad brim, plows as the boulder rolls

With heedless certainty, his voice its own authority

And Madame knows the upper hand belongs

More surely to the nimble than the strong

She darts through legs in combat stance

The Dauphin leaps and kicks, his acrobatics

Baffling to those who only fight with fists

And Pierre seizes cudgels in both hands

So the performers cordon off their fallen man

All the while, the horsemen drive their circling mounts

Swing swaths with lances, yawn in their saddles, speculate

In shouts to one another, upon the midday meal

A petitioner presses, urgent, towards the dais

“Good reverend sir, if it please you, hear my case!”

 

“All this,” the vintner speaks, as silence grows, “is harvest,

of that crop my own sin sowed. This one here,

if his life be spared, may fairly make demand of mine.

What, if a man induce another man to evil,

Is the crime? Who, with unworthy aim in mind,

do offer what he knows full well is food

to the poor man’s appetite, has not done the baser thing?

Both tempter, reverend lord, and miscreant!”

 

The Bishop, heir to the Herzogthum of K——

Has new acquired this office, a prince’s gratitude

For his father’s aid. He understands but some

Of what is said.

The vintner ushers forth the figure,

before the gasping women who remain

Of one small and vanquished fighter

With a gentle word unmasks her

Impresario (2)

 

Twenty-Six

 

“You will appreciate my dilemma.”

The Bishop says this to the wax-man

He has been pleased to find this one have Latin

For without the prompting of these matters grave

Had of his own to doubt the Friar Gaspard

Ought so to be relied on, with regard

To dispositions towards the Third Estate

“My verdict must be such as none presume

A laxity of law will now prevail, resting upon this precedent.

And if,” he sharply adds, although the wax-man does not speak,

“I cannot be persuaded such a course exists,

I must uphold the charges, and pronounce death.”

 

The impresario has been carried to the scullery

The girl among the servants here allowed

The wax-man’s brief is bolstered by researches

And on the strength of Pierre’s news he answers

“As to the charge which is blasphemy…which is,

a willful disrespect for Holy Writ; and the lesser charge

of wizardry, which you must drop for want of testimony…”

He looks up from his vellum, his place marked by Tortu’s

Most ornate E:

“My men cannot discover any claimants, and Gaspard

will not himself reveal names. Ergo…”

“You must expose some virtue in this man, albeit. He is loved,

it seems, and yet, I think, a mountebank…akin in nature to a thief.”

“On the contrary, I mean to prove he has no virtue. And nor do I, and nor do you.

 

But this offense is thrust aside; the Bishop lifts a shining eye,

For the saint of Aquino he calls his master

And clearing his throat, had spake the wax-man:

“I quote from the Summa Theologica. They receive honor from men by

way of reward, as from those who have nothing greater to offer—”

“We address virtue.” The Bishop nods.

 

“That virtue that resides in your honored court and in your office. While I, having no honor from men, have nothing I deem virtue either, although I have not the prisoner’s faults. I quote again:

 

Man is not to be loved for his own sake, but whatever is in man is to be loved for God’s sake.”

 

“You counter-propose me!” The Bishop rubs his hands, his loneliness in a foreign land, for once forgot. “The life of the body, being man’s great good, and these, this girl…and the other one…”

“Pierre.”

“…sacrificing this…intending to have done so…”

“…the worldly object of the act is not wherein it derives its holiness, yes.”

“That is something. But neither, I think, has sought counsel of a priest. Do they know what they do…or can they? Say that tomorrow, I am asked to judge the identical case…”

“Could there be such?”

The Bishop smiles. “There is a saying, friend. Nothing succeeds like success. I know what testimony I hear given. I am not an augurer, nor am I an angel. I am a man.”

“I take your point. I return you this. You have brought many a felon to judgment and never by so arduous a path. The vintner, even, truly has confessed—he would not bury the abortion in unconsecrated ground, for fear of those with morbid passions…but hoped my master’s taste for curiosities might spare him losing custom.”

“Before I have finished my contemplations, I will have broached with God this vintner’s question, this matter of abetting, if not instigating. Why,” the Bishop interrupts himself, “are you called the wax-man, now…can you not recall your name?”

“Ah, monsieur. Say that my name is Théophile. Once I was spared man’s ridicule; I dwelt in the cave of a holy eremite. Here my skin did never suffer daylight. Yet through his years of teaching me—for the hermit would in all things sacrifice—I had grown fat, as you see me today. My melancholic master summoned me; the eremite belonging to his family. I mean his living on their land was borne for piety.”

“And you were not dismayed to find yourself made this pitiable display? You and the others?”

“Well, as for misery, to each his own. Only the Dauphin and the girl were purchased. Pierre was ransomed, rather, I and Tortu the happier. Madame Poupée, who taught the girl to dance, cannot bear, she claims, an empty house.”

“And you remind me, God doth place His obstacles until His will be done.”

“I do. Indeed, you have already the guidance of His hand.”

Epilogue

 

(epilogue)

 

His showman’s eye, a gift . . . he’d called it that

Boasted how poignancy might mix with horror

This he’d known to parse and measure

What string to pluck for piety;

then touch a purse for charity

Urge strong men condescend

Stare and dig in pockets

Give sop to concupiscence

He’d weighed her like an alchemist, this girl

And had she known her worth was gold?

Or was it so

That which bears all takes no thought for self

“I cannot wiser judge, than echo Our Good Lord.

Does no one now accuse thee? Therefore, go and sin no more.”

The impresario finds he has no heart for chasing wealth

 

Regalus from Tortu has softly drawn

A voice she has the patience to attend

And when she sends the new Abbess her alms

Does sometimes pen a letter giving news

The news is of the eremite’s good works

For since the vintner’s daughter there was buried

Miracles attach to his old cell

The impresario, his wife, and faithful friend

At his father’s court now dwell

 

The Dauphin to the vintner’s has been ‘prenticed

Among his gifts had honed from fair to fair

Wit enough to play to vanities

Those flatteries the traffic deigns to bear

And at this chance, conducts himself with shrewdness

Doubling his forgiven master’s business

 

For Madame idleness remains a bore

Her son’s household too needy and too far

From city life, once more she casts her fortunes

This time with gypsies of a traveling band

And can be found performing on the strand

 

The wax-man at the Bishop’s table has grown fatter still

“You are a scholar, Théophile, I desire you accept

The freedom of my library.

Please remedy, indeed, its insufficiencies.

I shall acquire whatever you suggest.

I admit the sin of ambition, in this one respect.”

And now (though most content) the wax-man jokes he cannot

Exit.

 

In the stable yard of a desolate rogues’ retreat

A knight disgraced, hand-over-hand on hilt, blade to heaven

Swears an oath. “My God, if you grant me absolution

Grant me a fell hand, also, and a heart to dare

That for the honor of your Holy Name this weapon

Never miss its mark, though death take

He that bears it”

“I will be circumspect,” Pierre tells Boniface. “And offer then

To carry only your pack.”

 

If you enjoyed Impresario, you may like Haunt of Thieves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome! Questions?

%d bloggers like this: