From Tales of Humour, Anonymous, London: Burns and Oates; New York: Benzigers; undated (c. 1890); pp. 39-77.
“Known throughout the universe, and in a thousand other places.”
SCRIBE. — The Philtre.
IN the beginning of the month of May, in the year 1667, Louis the XIVth resolved to execute a project which he had contemplated for some time; this was the seizure of the Catholic Low Countries. He had persuaded himself that those provinces belonged to him in the right of his wife, who was born an infanta of Spain, and by a claim of succession that it would take some trouble to explain, but which gave a certain appearance of justice to his pretensions. He marched, then, upon Flanders, at the head of thirty thousand men, accompanied by the queen and all his Court. As not one of the towns made any defence, the conquest took the appearance of an excursion of pleasure. Turenne entered Charleroi on the 20th of June; while the gates of Douay, Tournay, Oudenarde, and Courtrai opened to the king at the first summons. Louis hastened to celebrate this unexpected success by a series of brilliant entertainments. The astonished inhabitants scarcely knew 42 who they were really to look upon as their sovereign; but the Court spent a great deal of money, and they were satisfied.
In the midst of these events, a courier in heavy boots, arriving at a gallop, stopped and rung without dismounting at a green door, the entrance of a respectable house; situated about a hundred paces from the precincts of Courtrai, upon the road to Tournay. A servant, about thirty years of age, dressed in a black surtout with yellow chain lace, and large red breeches, with claret-coloured stockings, immediately appeared. This was Chicot, with whom we are about to become acquainted.
“Is not this the residence of Doctor Peperkouk?” inquired the Courier.
“I believe so,” answered Chicot. “you mean the Green Doctor of the country.”
“So much the better if he is green,” said the Courier, who did not understand the country phrase for a herb doctor. “A green doctor must be better than a faded one — is he at home?”
“He is at home, and he is not at home!”
“It appears, you are wits at Courtrai,” said the Courier. “Now, understand I come from the camp; and am sent by Monseigneur the Duke d’Aumont.”
“That is another thing. A duke! You are very welcome; if the doctor is not in the house, he is in the cellar.”
The Courier thought these details rather strange about a celebrated physician.
“What is he doing in the cellar?” said he.
“Preparing his medicines!” answered Chicot. “We make them by the tons, and distribute them in demi-johns, in bottles, in pots, and pitchers.
“It seems, then,” said the Courier, “that the physicians at Courtrai have different habits from those at Paris? But please inform the Doctor that I am 43 waiting, and that Monseigneur the Duke d’Aumont desires his services. He pays like a prince.”
“If he pays like a prince, that is good indeed,” said Chicot. “But leave your saddle; you will drink a cup while I give a feed to your horse.” After having given this invitation, Chicot ran to the door of the cellar, and cried out, “Doctor Peperkouk, the Duke d’Aumont, whom I do not know from Adam, wants you in the camp of the king of France, lying between Tournay and Courtrai. He is ill.”
Nobody answered; and Chicot, accustomed to the habits of his master, went and took a bag holding a peck measure, which he filled with oats, and fastened with packthread behind the ears of the horse. Then he conducted the Courier into a little parlour, furnished with shelves, on which were ranged jars and phials. Upon the table was placed a pitcher of the brown beer of Lille, a new loaf, and a plate of butter.
“Take some refreshment,” said Chicot to the messenger, “I have attended to your horse.” Then he continued, “Is it with any sickness occasioned by the neighbourhood that your duke is attacked, that he sends for Doctor Peperkouk? Are there no famous physicians in the camp of the king of France?”
“On the contrary,” answered the Courier, “the first physicians in Paris are there, but they take a long time in effecting their cures, and Monseigneur has heard your doctor spoken of as being wonderfully successful in a very short time; besides, the two best physicians that we have are both ill themselves, one with the jaundice, and the other with the gout!”
“What, the physicians ill!” cried Chicot; “that is famous. And what is the matter with your duke? What is he like? What is a duke like?”
“Like!” cried the Courier; “why, like any other man, to be sure.”44
“Hold, hold!” cried Chicot; “why I thought that dukes and kings had ten fingers to each hand.”
“How innocent these Flemings are!” exclaimed the Courier; then he added, “As to the illness of Monseigneur the Duke d’Aumont, no one knows what it is.”
“Oh, is it so very bad?” cried Chicot; “Neptune would not hide himself at the bottom of the sea if he were handsome. But if you cannot tell about this villanous sickness, Meinherr Peperkouk cannot take the remedies with him.”
“What, does he carry his medicines about with him?” said the Courier. “Well, that is very convenient.”
At this moment the door of the cellar was heard to shut, and a tall, slender, active man, dressed in a grey coat, with a girdle of red leather, made his appearance. This was Doctor Peperkouk. He was in reality about sixty years of age, but he did not look fifty; his moustachios were not yet grey. His whole bearing was distinguished by a consciousness of his own importance, united with shrewdness and good humour; his bald forehead made his face appear long; he himself attributed this baldness to study, which was not improbably its cause.
He was mostly successful in his cures, because he never hesitated; besides he had, it was said, a fortunate hand. He was but a green physician; that is to say, a country or herb-doctor, not acquainted with a word of Latin, nor had he studied at any university; but he had instructed himself in a practical manner in the best method of extracting teeth, practising surgery with a skilful, light hand, and adroitly dressing wounds; while he did not disdain even to extend his skill to the diseases of animals. Such a man in these days would not have the right to practise the healing art, since physicians are not asked whether 45 they can cure, but whether they have studied according to certain rules. Nevertheless, Doctor Peperkouk practised only in the country. The village politeness, which bestowed on him the title of Doctor, flattered him extremely; his great ambition, indeed, was to obtain an official confirmation of that title; but he was only laughed at wherever he sought this distinction.
We may add, that he was good, humane, and credulous; and was, altogether, by no means a person to excite ridicule. In order to make his present position understood, we must explain that the courier of the Duke d’Aumont had been sent for the learned Doctor Servais Verbroeck, of Courtrai, who was renowned for his skill as a physician. On his road, the messenger, who was not accustomed to Flemish names, inquired the Doctor’s address, bungling his name in all kinds of strange fashions, but always adding, by way of ornament, that he was the most famous physician of the country.
“It must be Doctor Peperkouk that you want!” said a woman of whom he had been inquiring; for the peasants knew only of him. She then gave the Doctor’s address, with great precision, and the Courier, by dint of repeating it over and over again, arrived, as we have seen, in the presence of Chicot.
The Doctor, on his part, concealing the delight he felt at being called upon to prescribe for a Duke, saluted the messenger with rural dignity.
“You have at the camp,” he said, “an illustrious person who is indisposed.”
“Monseigneur the Duke d’Aumont, commander-in-chief of his Majesty’s armies, and no less,” answered the Courier.
“And his physicians,” interposed Chicot, “have got the jaundice, and the gout, — they have been drinking too much!”46
A smile which had in it some expression of sarcasm, played about the lips of the Doctor; nevertheless, as he did not yet distinctly understand that the Duke d’Aumont had done him the honour of sending for him, he inquired, “What is it that His Excellency wishes?”
“He wishes your immediate attendance, Monsieur le Docteur,” said the Courier; “he will explain his complaint to you on your arrival; his physicians proposed a course of treatment which would occupy six months; and some one has told him that you will cure him in a fortnight. Come, then, Monsieur le Docteur, the Duke is looking for you impatiently.”
A little peasant girl, out of breath with running, at this moment made her appearance; she came to say that her father, a poor weaver, had crushed his wrist.
“This is a case more urgent than the other, “said the Doctor; “we must go at once to the abode of this poor man, who cannot wait, and from thence I will follow you to his Majesty’s camp;” then he added, “Chicot, bring me the pony — be quick; and saddle the apothecary,” (it was thus he called the donkey who usually carried his medicines,) “with his panniers,” repeating at the same time a list of medicines with which he was to fill them.
All was ready in a few minutes, and the party set out; the Courier riding beside the Doctor, followed by Chicot on foot, leading the “apothecary.” The green doctor said nothing; he thought of nothing the whole way but that, if he should be fortunate enough to cure some of the king’s people, he might then really acquire the dignity he so much coveted.
“With that title by authority,” said he to himself, “I should be able to practise everywhere in the teeth of the other doctors. That would be glorious!”
A little further on he entered a hamlet, each 47 inhabitant of which hastened to the door to greet him with kindly words; he stopped at the cottage of the weaver, who at sight of him seemed to forget half his sufferings; he examined the crushed wrist, took from Chicot a plaster, over which he spread a little oil, and then applying it to the injured part, bound it firmly but gently with thread; then he said, —
“It is done; you will keep on that dressing for nine days, but the day after to-morrow you will be able, with care, to work; I hope the pain will by that time have ceased.”
The peasant coloured as he inquired in an embarrassed tone the doctor’s fee.
“You know,” replied the green physician, “that from people who have to work for the support of their families, for these things I ask nothing but a prayer, which perhaps you will offer for me to St. Casmo, the good patron of physicians.”
On quitting the cottage, the doctor turned his steps towards the camp. The sentinels, and the foremost groups of soldiers, amused by the appearance of the herb doctor and his attendant, began, amid bursts of laughter, to make jests upon him; but the Courier imposed silence by taking the part of a herald, and crying out as they crossed the lines, — “The physician of Monseigneur the Duke d’Aumont.”
By the respect which was shown him at the mention of that name, the Doctor was more than ever convinced that he had to prescribed for a most august person. Chicot, proud and joyful, approached his master.
“Here is a famous chance, Doctor,” he whispered; “profit by it, and do not forget the proverb, ‘The opportunity makes the lord.’ ”
Presently they reached the splendid tent of the Duke d’Aumont.48
“The Doctor,” cried the messenger; and the Doctor was forthwith ushered in.”
“I have heard of your great renown, Doctor,” said the Duke; “if you can cure me of this indisposition you may reckon upon my patronage.”
“Were I as sure of obtaining my diploma at last as I am of being able to cure both you and your physicians, my Lord, I should care for nothing more.”
“What! do they refuse you your diploma?” exclaimed the Duke; “that is inconceivable; but these learned bodies are like the rest of the world. Well, when you have cured me you may safely say that you will be named Doctor by public decree, as I shall consider myself bound to present you to the king himself. If, however, your remedies are so infallible as they are said to be, why do you keep them a secret?”
“I do not refuse the knowledge of them to any one, my Lord,” answered the Doctor; “last year I gave the very prescription which I am about to use for you to a young man, who has gained a great reputation by it in Holland.”
The Doctor took his medicines from the hands of Chicot, and administered them to the Duke d’Aumont, who, anxious to be cured and having the most perfect confidence in the Doctor, whom he took for the learned Verbroeck, submitted himself heroically to his remedies. As soon as he had received all necessary attention, he begged the skilful stranger to go and see his two physicians. Peperkouk was immediately introduced to them, and found their manners much more polite than those of the doctors of Courtrai and Tournay; for as they likewise took him for Verbroeck, they called him Doctor, and treated him as an equal. It was then with much pleasure that he administered to him who was suffering under 49 a violent attack of jaundice, which he had himself treated with juice of carrots, a bottle of syrup of the willow bark, infused in white wine, with a little honey to temper the bitterness.* To the other, who was afflicted with the gout, he gave the demi-john from the red cask, full of the juice of certain plants, the selection of which is now unknown; and after having prescribed the manner of making the lotions and bandages, he left the two medical men, quite satisfied that they would not refuse him their suffrages when he came to solicit the Duke d’Aumont to perform his promise.
Four days after, however, the true Doctor Verbroeck arrived in the camp, having been sent for by an officer who was suffering from an illness similar to that which had attacked the Duke d’Aumont, and the mistake immediately became known. The two physicians were however quite cured, and the gossip of the time said that they were very sorry for it, when they ascertained that they owed their cure to a mere country empiric. The Duke d’Aumont, who was also perfectly restored to health, laughed heartly at the fortunate mistake, which was the more amusing, as the officer who had sent for Doctor Verbroeck, when he also understood the matter, would be prescribed for, to the great scandal of the graduated physicians, only by Doctor Peperkouk.
The Duke d’Aumont received the green physician very gaily, and counted him down a hundred louis; then he said, — “My poor Doctor, here is a provoking affair, the king has this morning gone to the siege of Lille, and I must myself join him, therefore it will not just now be possible for me to present you as I promised; but when we return, come to St. Germains, 50 where the court will then be, and I will keep my word.”
While the Doctor bowed, highly pleased, though he was not avaricious, with the princely treatment of the Duke d’Aumont, his Highness turned towards the two physicians, and said to them in a tone of raillery, “Well, gentleman, have you no thanks also for this skilful man, who has restored you to health?”
The physician who had had the jaundice, without replying to the cordial salutation of him to whom he had been so polite when he took him for a professional brother, merely asked, “How much do we owe you?”
“Between fellow professionals,” said the Doctor with simplicity, “fees are not expected.”
“We do not look upon you as our colleague,” returned the other in an offensive manner.
The Green Doctor coloured.
“Let them talk,” whispered Chicot; “remember the proverb, ‘He who tries to wash the blackamoor white will waste his soap.’ ”
“What is your assistant saying?” inquired the Duke.
“I say, my Lord,” answered Chicot with vivacity, “that these gentlemen are jealous. The Doctor, my master, goes straightforward; one can but enter by the door or the chimney.”
“Or by the window, you would say,” remarked the Duke.
“Truly, in the houses which have windows, my Lord,” answered Chicot; “but in my father’s house at Rameignies-chin, where I was born, there are no windows. The Doctor comes in honestly by the door.”
“There are mere idle words,” interrupted the gouty physician; “what do we owe you for the drugs?”
“If you are determined to pay for them,” answered 51 Peperkouk coldly, “estimate the remedies by their result, and give the value of them to the poor.”
He then bowed to the Duke, saying, “My Lord, I am at your command.”
“I shall expect you then, doctor, at St. Germains,” answered the Duke d’Aumont.
“There!” said Chicot, “the apothecary is calling us;” he then likewise bowed to the Duke d’Aumont, passed the two physicians without notice, and followed his master.
On reaching home, the country practitioner acknowledged to Chicot that the two Parisians had not behaved better than the physicians of Courtrai; that he was much annoyed, and would only be satisfied when he had obtained his diploma as a doctor.
The doctor now resumed his usual laborious life: one fine evening, however, in the spring of the following year, he said to his faithful attendant, —
“I can bear it no longer; I shall set out to-morrow; you shall go with me, Chicot, and you shall see the Court of Louis the Fourteenth.”
DOCTOR PEPERKOUK had never read Don Quixote; if he had been acquainted with the renowned history of the celebrated knight of La Mancha, he would doubtless have avoided the whimsical [attendance] with which he set out on his journey. Tall and meagre, 52 and mounted upon a sorry horse, he was followed by his squire commodiously seated on the “Apothecary.” It is true that he carried his remedies in two baskets placed before the saddle of the ass, like a saddle-bow, and that he resembled Sancho Panza only in this respect, that he was fond of proverbs, which, moreover, he sometimes spoiled.
“Chicot,” said the Doctor, as they advanced upon the road to Lille, “I entertain great hopes of our journey. I shall at last obtain that title which has been denied to me. A patent of the King of France must be worth as much as a patent of Leyden. Our return shall be a triumphant one. Besides, I shall endeavour, by some good cures on my way, to mark our progress with honour, and make use of the remedies which we carry. Unhappily, this journey must only last a fortnight, as I shall be wanted by the sick at Courtrai and Tournay.”
“Master,” answered Chicot, “one cannot do everything at once; you are not Michael Morin, who drove the dogs out of the courtyard, rung the bells, and swept the church all at one time. If we course two hares at one time, we have no chance of catching three.”
“Let us catch one, Chicot, and that a good one,” said the Doctor.
The conversation ceased at this point, and by dinner time the Doctor and his attendant entered Lille, where a great market was held. A trifling incident, which we should pass over were it not connected with our story, stopped them in the Place d’Armes. There were in the square two operators, who were drawing teeth and selling antidotes, pills, and balsam. In the youngest, who was a youth of good mien and shrewd countenance, the Doctor recognised the person to whom he had disclosed the secret of his famous remedy, but he was not at first observed by him. 53 While launching out into extraordinary praises of his drugs, Little John, which was the name of the young operator, appeared struck by the sight of the mountebank, who had established himself about a hundred paces off. This last-named person was advanced in years, wore an oriental costume, spoke with emphasis, was grave and impassible, and could not sell his bottles and phials fast enough, while nobody bought of poor Little John. Suddenly Little John quitted his stand, ran to the old man, threw himself on his knees, and cried — “Oh, my father, have I found you at last?”
“What is all this?” said the Oriental.
“Good people!” said Little John with vivacity, “help me to soften a father whose resentment I have deserved by my follies. It is my father, who, notwithstanding my repentance, has shut me out from his forgiveness for six years.”
“Why, thou audacious rogue,” said the old man. “I do not know you.”
“Always the same language,” said Little John, affecting to weep. “My father, will you never yield towards me?”
“Retire, vile impostor,” said the old mountebank.
“Gentlemen,” continued Little John, “he has been indeed good to me; he has not concealed from me any of his secrets: my balsam is the same as his; my pills are the same; I am fain thus to bear witness to his goodness: he quarrelled with me only on account of a wonderful ointment, the composition of which was revealed to me by the greatest doctor in the world, and the receipt for which, I own it to my shame, I refused to share with my father.”
“We shall see, brazen-face,” cried the old man, stamping with rage.
“But now,” said the young man, “all that I know, my father, shall be yours; you are aware how 54 deeply I repent. Oh, open your arms that I may embrace you!”
The Oriental mountebank would still have made an indignant denial, but the crowd, even the women, cried and began to hiss the pitiless father, who was compelled to quit the place, and the young empiric sold all his drugs.
An hour afterwards he entered the hotel Joan of Arc, in the street of the Butchers, where he found Doctor Peperkouk at table with Chicot. He made a profound bow to the Doctor, who returned the salute with his customary good humour.
“I congratulate you,” he said, “on having found your father again.”
“He is no more my father than I am yours,” answered Little John; “but he took away all my customers and I had recourse to a stratagem. We go to Douay to-morrow; if you come there, Doctor, you shall see another trick.”
Already, in fact, the young operator had driven his rival, more artful but less intrepid, to a compromise with him; and the next day, in the square of the Hotel de Ville at Douay, the two sellers of antidotes established themselves within sight of each other.
“Good people,” began the old man, “you see before me my most mortal enemy. I am an honest gentleman, and I swear to you that this other is the greatest cheat in existence. Meanwhile, as I present myself here only for the relief of the public, I shall always tell the truth, even at my own expense. Distrust the pills of that young man, for they are composed of drugs so strong, that I would not venture even to give them to the stone horse over the great gate of your church. But as to his balsam, I cannot on my conscience deny its excellence; it is indeed an admirable remedy for all sorts of exterior hurts. I should be unjust if I said otherwise; 55 and from this disinterestedness on my part you may judge of my sincerity!”
Little John, on the other hand, in as style more extravagant and impudent, played the opposite part of the programme. He attached his rival; said he deserved worse than hanging for selling such balsam; but praised his pills, as an infallible remedy for internal maladies, adding that he was constrained to make this admission from a regard for truth. By means of this trick the old man sold all his pills, and the young one all his balsam.
“This is a sharp rogue, who will soon make his fortune,” said Doctor Peperkouk. He did not at the moment foresee that he would himself soon be made an associate of that very rogue.
After leaving Douay, he spent the third night of his journey at Arras. On his way from that city to Amiens he proposed to make a long halt, and stayed so long after dinner, to rest his horse and his ass, that he was overtaken by the night on the 29th of April, a good hour’s journey from Doulens. As he entered a little wood, closely followed by the faithful Chicot, three armed men, with disguised faces, drew up across the road, and bade him dismount from his horse.
The Doctor was not armed, and he very quickly obeyed their commands, the trembling Chicot following his example; for an encounter with robbers was what neither he nor his master was at all prepared for. Meanwhile one of the bandits took the horse by the bridle, the second searched and robbed the Doctor, and the third took possession of Chicot’s little purse, who on his part had scarce breath left even to implore them not to injure him. In his excessive fright, he let go the bridle of his beast, and the ass turning round, took to flight along the road by which he had come, carrying with him the baskets of medicines. 56 The animal apothecary had not run two hundred paces before he began to bray with all his might, and was answered, evidently at no great distance, by a voice which resembled his own. This circumstance revealed the direction which the intelligent ass had taken, and thereby disconcerted the robbers, as it gave them notice of the approach of other travellers. Having pillaged the Doctor and his attendant, the three thieves contented themselves with the horse, which they led away with them, after having made the two travellers lie down with their faces to the earth, threatening that they would fire at them if they so much as dared to lift up their heads.
The bandits had not left them ten minutes, when they heard the voices of two travellers approach, who seemed in high spirits, but neither the Doctor nor Chicot ventured to move; when all at once the apothecary ass stopped beside his prostrate rider, and leaned his head over him.
“Why, here are our men!” cried a voice, which the Doctor and Chicot knew immediately to be that of Little John; “I thought,” he continued, “that this ass belonged to Doctor Peperkouk!”
The Green Doctor, recognising the voice of his pupil, ventured to lift up his head.
“Is it you, Little John?” he said; “you have come in good time. We have been robbed!”
“So I perceive,” said Little John, “and that the thieves have even taken your horse; but the ass with the medicines has escaped them. So matters might have been worse: if they have taken away your purse, I have some good money still in mine; and in the midst of your disaster, I have at any rate the satisfaction of thinking, that in my turn I may be happy enough to render you some assistance. Rise, then, Doctor, and fear nothing; I am armed, and have with me a trusty companion!”57
He pointed, as he spoke, to a youth of good appearance, whom he had engaged to accompany him to the fairs.
“And a companion who is worth something!” cried the other, who then spoke in four different tones of voice, so that the hearers might, in the obscurity of the night, have readily supposed that there were four different speakers.
“He is a jester,” said Little John, “who will divert your thoughts from your troubles. Besides, I have to introduce to you an ass, which I bought at Douay; he will make a good companion to yours. Come, let us set out; we can all four of us easily manage the remaining league of our journey on foot.”
The proposal, so good-humouredly made, was frankly accepted. Chicot, well satisfied, led his ass; Balourdet, the new servant of Little John, conducted the other; and the young mountebank, taking the arm of the Doctor, who still trembled a little, they commenced their journey.
The silence, which lasted several minutes, was broken by Little John, who announced to Peperkouk, his intention of changing his name into Flemish, to give himself a foreign appearance as he travelled through France; “therefore,” he said, “in future, my dear friend, instead of Little John, I will be called Cort-Jan.”
“Very good!” answered the Doctor, who then relapsed into silence. A moment after he uttered a deep sigh.
“I am very sorry, Cort-Jan,” he said, “to be an expense to you; those wretches have not left me a single piece.”
“I have enough for myself and you too, Doctor, if you are not going far,” answered Cort-Jan.
“I am going to St. Germains,” returned the Doctor.58
“To the Court!” exclaimed Cort-Jan; “ah, I heard that you prescribed for his Majesty!”
“Not for his Majesty, Cort-Jan!” answered the Doctor, “but for the Duke d’Aumont and his physicians; and I am going to St. Germains to obtain my title of Doctor upon a parchment signed by the King of France!”
“Well! it is a fine country, and we shall not want for money!” said Cort-Jan with a resolute air; “the day after to-morrow we shall spend in the great city of Amiens: it is the first of May, the fair of St. Acheul; and we shall have abundant receipts!”
“But, Cort-Jan,” reiterated the Doctor; “it will grieve me to take your money.”
“But you forget, Doctor,” said Cort-Jan, “you are rich; you have there in the panniers of the ‘Apothecary,’ remedies which are rather different to my drugs. Ah, when I come to think of it, this rencounter with you is a piece of good-luck for me; you will see how we shall make money, and that it is I who will be indebted to you; and then Chicot can help us in the show.”
“If I knew but how!” replied poor Chicot.
“Nothing is easier,” answered Cort-Jan; “how would you do, Chicot, if you wanted to carry water in a sieve?”
“Not at all,” replied Balourdet gravely; “wait until it is frozen!”
The Doctor and Chicot appeared confounded by the reply.
(We only give these somewhat grotesque details to show that those are in error who suppose that puns and quolibets are inventions of modern times.)
“I wager, Chicot,” said Cort-Jan, “that you do not know the quadrature of the circle.”59
“No more do I,” said the Doctor.
“It is a windmill, of which the sails in repose form a square, and in action a circle.”
“What is the difference,” continued Cort-Jan, between a judge and a stair?”
“It is,” replied Balourdet, “that the one causes you to lift the hand, the other the foot.”
“Well, Chicot,” said Cort-Jan, “tell us the difference between a woman and a lock?”
“Can we compare,” replied Chicot, “a woman — a good mother of a family, who occupies herself with her husband and her children, to a lock which is often all covered with rust? —a creature of God, to a piece of man’s handiwork?”
“Well said, Chicot, you are quite eloquent, and will soon make a splendid exhibitor. But at present, we are not seeking comparisons, but differences.”
“And the difference,” said Balourdet, “is, that a lock is full of vis,† while a woman is full of virtues.”
“Ah, that is true!” said Chicot. “Well, if this is to be the way, tell me how many cods’ tails it requires to go round the cathedral of Tournay?”
“It only requires one,” rejoined Cort-Jan, “provided it be long enough: but, pray, in what does his Majesty Louis XIV. differ from a cook?”
“They differ,” said Balourdet, “in that the first is a potentat, and the second is a tâte-en-pot (taster of the pot).”
“In what does our great warrior, M. de Turenne, differ from a mill?”
“M. de Turenne makes you know tactics; the mill, on the contrary tic-tacs.”
“You are really witty people,” said Chicot; “but tell me what most resembles half of a cheese?”60
“That I know not,” replied Cort-Jan.
“Nor I,” added Balourdet.
“Why, it is the other half, to be sure!” said the Doctor, laughing, for he was now beginning to enjoy the sport.
“Can you count, Chicot?” said he.
“Well, then, if from a dozen you take away six, how many remain?”
“Why not? there do not remain seven, I hope.”
“You must understand. You tell me that two and two make four; but I say not always, for two knives and two forks do not make either four knives or four forks. In the question I have put, I suppose that there are on one of these trees twelve pigeons. I take my gun and fire, and six fall dead. Of the dozen, how many remain?”
“No; the shot has brought down six; but the others, of course have been frightened and fled. So, when one has shot six out of the dozen, none will remain.”
With such like witticisms and repartees, used for the purpose of attracting customers to their booth, the time passed away cheerfully until the party had reached Doulens. Arrived there, Cort-Jan conducted them to the best inn which the town contained, and ordered an excellent supper, trusting that the sense of quiet and comfort would somewhat console the Doctor for his misfortune, and, moreover, prepare him for the impudent proposition which he contemplated making him.
IT was on the first of May, 1668, at two o’clock in the afternoon, that upon a green of the faubourg of Amiens, where the fair was held, it visitors particularly noticed amongst the tents of the foreign traders, a pretty stall, before which was raised, about seven feet from the ground, a kind of stage. Two performers, stationed there to attract the curious, played on the flute and the tambourine. Behind them, a folding screen gave the stage the appearance of a miniature theatre, on which the spectators might expect to see a comedy performed. The two musicians now retired in order to change their dresses, and in their stead appeared a young man, with a bold countenance, who sounded a trumpet in a high key, and looked with an air of triumph on the numerous audience which had gathered round. He then retired in his turn, and the former musicians reappeared, attired in the costume of the sixteenth century, with caps like those worn by the Croats, and with a fantastic style of accoutrement, such as cannot well be described, and is only to be seen at a fair.
These two persons were in fact no other than our friends Chicot and Balourdet. Stationing themselves at either end of the state, they began to march up and down; it took but three steps to accomplish that purpose. They then began the following dialogue, which has been preserved, while many better things in history have been lost. Chicot ran up against Balourdet.
“Look before you!” said the latter.62
“I have heard that voice somewhere,” said Chicot.
“And I think I know you,’ said Balourdet.
“I hear that you are out of place,” said Chicot; “how will you like a master?”
“I always like my master,’ said Balourdet, “if they don’t like me.”
“Well, let us hear what you can do,” said Chicot. “How are you called?”
“I never call myself; I leave others to call me,” answered Balourdet.
“And what do others call you?” was the next query.
“Whatever they like,” answered Balourdet, “provided they do not call me too late for supper.”
“I ask, what is your name?” said Chicot.
“The same as my father’s!” was the reply.
“And what was your father’s name?”
“The same as mine.”
“And what were both your names?”
“The same as each other!”
Then Chicot, affecting a great fury, threatened the other with five-and-twenty strokes from the flat of a sabre, if he did not reply; and Balourdet, giving his name, they passed through the burlesque of a soldier’s exercise; then Cort-Jan, considering that a crowd sufficient for his purpose had collected, abruptly interposed between the two buffoons, and addressed the audience in the following terms: —
“Ladies and Gentlemen, — The trifling entertainment which has for a moment diverted you, will give place to things the most extraordinary and curious, which is hall myself have the honour to exhibit. I beg, without pretence or delay, to announce the illustrious Doctor Pilferer, a native of Memphis, a pyrotechnic doctor, and professor of chiromancy, of high repute in the four quarters of the world, and many places beside, who has visited this country at 63 the request of various persons of the highest rank. After having studied in all the academies of Europe, in order to obtain perfection in the vulgar sciences, such as algebra, mineralogy, trigonometry, hydraulics, and astronomy, he traversed the learned world, and even domesticated himself among half the civilized nations, in order to become conversant with the occult sciences, philosophical and transcendental, such as the cabalistic art, alchemy, necromancy, judicial astrology, arboriculture, and divination.
“It is a trifle for him to have studied in sixty-two universities, and to have visited a hundred and ten kingdoms, to have consulted the Mogul sorcerers, and the Lapland magicians. He has made voyages round the world, in order to gather from the great book of nature; from the glaciers of the north, and the polar regions, and from the burning deserts of the torrid zone. He has traversed both hemispheres, and sojourned for six years in Asia, with some Indian magicians, who taught him the art of appeasing the tempest; of saving oneself from a wreck by sliding over the waters in elastic shoes; and of curing all sorts of sickness!”
Here Cort-Jan stopped a moment purely to take a breath, but he was a little startled by seeing suddenly beside him the man who, not without much trouble, he had prevailed upon to becomes his accomplice. It was the honest Doctor Peperkouk. He was muffled up in a large Asiatic robe of flowered stuff. His appearance excited the mirth of the people; he appeared very angry, and opened his mouth to speak, but his voice was lost in the tumult made by a mountebank on the next show, who cried out as follows: —
“Enter, gentlemen; enter, and see within the man without a rival, who swallows a glass of water without chewing it, who with the strength of his 64 wrist can break a bundle of matches; who is so strong that he can stand upon one foot when he is not standing on the other, and who stands upon both his feet when he is not sitting down, or on his knees, or in bed. Enter, ladies, the sight is magnificent, and not dear; the first places are a louis, the second a pistole. Enter, ladies; take your tickets; there is good accommodation everywhere; the benches are stuffed with peach kernels, and garnished with tenter-hooks!”
The anger of the Doctor was redoubled at each word of this mountebank, who had the insolence, every time he mentioned his man without a rival, to point at the green physician.
As soon as the obtrusive master of this opposition show had offered his various monsters to the public admiration, the Doctor impatiently seized the opportunity of speaking, his anger in the meantime, having somewhat cooled.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I am an enemy of fraud and lying. We shall not show here the dragon with seven heads, nor the flying serpents; we do not possess the shoes of Magog, which were big enough for boots, nor the nail of Nebuchadnezzar, twenty-eight inches long, nor the jaw-bone of Geoffry, with the great teeth, nor the tail of the horse of the four sons of Aymon.
The good Doctor thus commenced by taking a little vengeance on his neighbour; then he went on: — “We should be ashamed to deceive you; that which we announce is not a chimera, a mythological fable, nor a mere invention; it is the treasure which all men seek, the treasure of health. It is also proper, gentlemen, that I should declare my disapproval of the exaggerations in which Cort-Jan has indulged; they are mere impositions; I am not Doctor Pilferer, I am Doctor Peperkouk.”65
As soon as Cort-Jan perceived in what style his victim was disposed to deal with the affair, he stopped his mouth by crying out, “It is very true, gentlemen, and if I allowed myself to give this great man the title of Doctor Pilferer, I only echoed the opinion of all the sovereigns who know him, of all the sages who honor him, of all the academics that revere him. But let us respect his modesty, that excellent companion to virtue, and content ourselves with stating that he can cure every disease to the number of seventeen hundred and seventy-seven, with which the human frame is afflicted. We are but his humble servants; but whatever may be the disease under which you suffer, fevers, weakness, tooth-ache, broken bones, or sickness of any kind, be sure that he can immediately relieve you. You can enter, ladies and gentlemen; you have only to pay for the medicines, the advice and the prescriptions are gratuitous.”
As he ceased speaking Cort-Jan took the arm of the Doctor and made him go down.
Of all serious things the bodily health is the only one which is much thought of by the masses, and a simultaneous movement was made by the crowd to throng over the threshold of the tent, to which the Doctor had been brought by Cort-Jan, to play the part of a foreign practitioner.
Within the tent sat the Doctor, attired in the fantastic costume we have described, and having before him upon a table the instruments for extracting teeth, the surgical knives, and lancets, and all the baggage of the “Apothecary,” ranged in little jars carefully labelled. Cort-Jan had persuaded him that by these means, besides having the pleasure of effecting many cures, he would be able to collect enough money to buy a black dress and appear in a proper style at the Court of Louis the XIVth. On 66 his part he had required that all trickery should be avoided, and we have seen how he defeated it. He had consented, without any apparent reason, sine he did not conceal his name, to assume a foreign habit. His three companions meantime had told such wonders of his skill at the inns and in the public places, that the tent was presently filled with persons who came to consult him.
His good-humoured, his firmness and precision had a great effect. His skill in the art of extracting teeth, the care with which he dressed their wounds, astonished the people, whose medical advisers were greatly inferior to those of the present day, which is saying a great deal. The quickness with which he prescribed was so much admired that the tent remained full till it was dark, and a heap of money rose before him. The same good fortune attended him on the following day, without announcement, and without appeal. He was not able to leave till the 4th of May, when he carried away with him more money than he had lost in his encounter with the robbers. He was proud of being so highly appreciated; but, nevertheless, bade his three companions keep the secret of the cures which he had effected.
He now took his departure for the Court at St. Germains, which he reached on the 7th of May, with the hope of labouring there as successfully as he had done at the fair of Amiens.
EVERYTHING is not achieved by reaching the entrance of the Court. Though we may know a powerful lord of that court, and are sure that he will receive us favourably, we must obtain admission to him. Doctor Peperkouk soon found this difficult. The day after his joyous entrance into St. Germains, where he announced in a tone of importance, that he had come to see Monseigneur the Duke d’Aumont, and to be presented to his Majesty, he put on a new black coat to please Chicot, who fancied that mourning to a physician was as indispensable as conscience to a miller. After having thus attired himself, the doctor inquired for the residence to the Duke d’Aumont. The host taking him for some country gentleman very politely directed him to the Duke’s hotel, where the servants told him that their master was at Court in attendance on his Majesty.
“So much the better,” said the Doctor to himself; “he can the more conveniently present me to the king.”
Thereupon he hastened back to his lodgings to improve his toilette, and trim his moustaches. He was a coxcomb for the first time in his life. He took with him Cort-Jan and Chicot, in order to assume an air of importance, and then set out for the chateau of St. Germains.
“It is an imposing abode,” he said when he beheld it. “I, however, prefer my little dwelling in the Faubourg. But come on, there must be sick 68 people in this fine place, as well as in the cottages of Courtrai and Tournay.”
In his simplicity he spoke to one whose only reply was a rough command to “Stand off.”
“Does he think that I want to swallow the chateau?” said the astonished Doctor; nevertheless, retreating in order to consult Chicot.
“The sentinels expect a password,” said he. “We must speak to the porter.”
After having made a détour from the esplanade, the Doctor found the door of entrance.
“What do you want?” said the Swiss, stopping him.
“I want to speak with Monseigneur the Duke d’Aumont.”
“No one can pass here without an order. Who are you?” said the Swiss.
“I am the Duke’s country physician,” answered the Doctor.
“Well, if you wish to see him, as he has no need of you at Court, you have better write to him,” returned the Swiss, insolently turning his back upon the Doctor, who looked at Chicot in amazement.
“If this is the Court fashion of politeness,” said the latter, “I think we have had enough of it.”
The Doctor then looked at Cort-Jan, who shaking his head, acknowledged he knew not what they were to do. They therefore returned to the inn, where Balourdet was employing his time in coining fresh puns.
The Doctor now set about writing a letter to the Duke, which he made very brief, merely confining himself to the announcement of his arrival, according to his Excellency’s permission. He then folded it up, without giving it that elegant appearance which ought to characterise letters destined for persons of rank, and then again took his way to the 69 castle. He wanted to leave it with the Swiss, but the latte did not treat the Doctor more politely than before, and he at last told him that he must take his letter to the hotel d’Aumont.
The poor Doctor thereupon returned, much annoyed, to the hotel, and presented his letter, with many injunctions as to its importance, to a tall lacquey, who did not answer him a word, and shut the door in his face.
“The letter will no doubt be properly delivered to the Duke, and we must wait for the answer,” said the Doctor to his friends.
The next day, however, and the day after that passed away without bringing an answer to the letter. The affair was a mystery to the poor Doctor. He was not aware that people of distinction to whom a great many letters are sent, do not read them, and that very often the servants fail even to deliver them.
Independently, too, of the annoyance of this delay, the poor Doctor felt ill at ease, amid the tumult and noise of that small town, thronged with officers and courtiers, who remarking his provincial appearance, would point at him and inquire, “Who is that walking skeleton?”
He wrote a second letter, and despatched it by Balourdet, who by letting loose some of his insolent pleasantries upon the domestics, was received somewhat less drily than his master. Eight days more passed without an answer; and in the meantime the money which had been obtained at the fair of Amiens was running low; neither the Doctor nor his companions earned anything, and he began to lose his patience, while he at the same time cursed the insolent and exclusive manners of the Court.
Every day he heard people talking of the Duke d’Aumont, and though near he could not get the chance of seeing him. He placed himself on the road, 70 where there was a hunting party, and upon the walks frequented by the courtiers. He had seen the Duke, and yet not been able to approach him. The host at the inn, to whom the Doctor’s prolonged stay was of course very agreeable, tried to keep up his courage by telling him his time would come. Had it not been for his dread of the sneers he should encounter at Courtrai, the good Doctor would have gone back as he came. But he had so seriously spoken of the certainty of obtaining the title of Doctor, that he could not endure the thought of having made a vain boast.
On the sixteenth day of their sojourn at St. Germains, the Doctor was sitting alone and in low spirits, when Chicot entered with a merry countenance. He had been out on a voyage of discovery, to learn who were the friends of the porter at the palace, for he knew that as much sometimes depends upon the influences of inferiors as on that of their masters.
“A chance, a chance!” he cried; “the porter’s son is very ill.”
“What if he be ill?” answered the Doctor, not understanding the drift of his assistant; “do you think they have not got any medical men here?”
“Certainly they have,” answered Chicot; “but they are only physicians, and they propose that the finger should be amputated. You would not do that, Doctor, and there is the difference. The father and mother are distracted; the youth is employed in the king’s wardrobe, and the operation would endanger his place, and you know he that loses his place loses his bread.”
“But what is the matter with his finger, that they propose to amputate it?” said the Doctor. “I will wager it is only a whitlow.”
“Exactly so,” answered Chicot.71
“Let us go there,” said the Doctor.
“Time presses,” said Chicot, ‘for it is now ten o’clock, and a surgeon is to be there at eleven.”
“Let me go first,” said Cort-Jan, “and make known the skill of the Doctor; the porter’s lodge is the road to the Court.”
Balourdet meanwhile was left quite to himself, and becoming very impatient, went off to the hotel d’Aumont, where stationing himself boldly before the servants to whom he had given the letter, “My lads,” said he, “I would not be in your shoes for a trifle. The celebrated Doctor Peperkouk, first professor, first physician, and first dentist of the University of Leyden, of the University of Lorraine, and of all the learned Universities; that great man, whom my Lord the Duke d’Aumont invited first from Flanders, has been here several days. I, myself, delivered to you the letter which announced his arrival to your Lord, who has not received it; and Doctor Peperkouk is very angry, and talks of leaving St. Germains to-morrow. I only tell you that.”
Balourdet then went away, without saying another word; the servant who had charge of the letters, having as usual mislaid some of them, ran to the castle, sought his master, and said boldly, “My Lord, I remitted to you a letter from an illustrious Flemish doctor, who has come here upon your invitation.”
“Is it Doctor Peperkouk?” inquired the Duke, laughing; for he had not forgotten the name.
“The same, my Lord,” answered the servant.
The Duke d’Aumont then called his secretary, who had not seen the letters; and as there was not time to find out with whom the carelessness rested, he sent an officer to fetch the Doctor, saying he was a person whom he wished to present to his Majesty.72
It must be admitted that the Duke had chiefly in his mind a waggish intention of amusing the King.
Meantime Doctor Peperkouk, preceded by his brave Cort-Jan, who by his praises had secured for him an eager reception, had been introduced to the sick person.
The young man was in extreme pain, and his mother was weeping at the thought of the proposed amputation. Cool and collected, the Green Doctor examined the whitlow, which, according to the medical term, was ripe; then, turning to the mother of the youth, he bade her fetch him a new-laid egg.
The good woman paused for a moment, and was about to ask for what purpose he required an egg; then recollecting herself, and thinking that in so serious a moment a great physician would ask for nothing without a purpose, she ran to the hen-house, and brought one in.
The Doctor took the egg, and opening it at the large end, he bade the patient put the affected finger within the shell, and hold it there till the egg was cooked.
“Till the egg is cooked!” cried the Swiss; “why, there is no fire!”
“Perhaps the whitlow may be the fire!” said the Doctor, with a grave smile.
The young man obeyed his orders; and in a few minutes the pain of the finger became sensibly relieved. In about a quarter of an hour, in fact, the egg appeared as if it had been subjected to the fire, and the finger, when withdrawn from it, appeared so far cured that it required only a slight dressing, which the Doctor applied, amid the blessings of the whole family.
Meanwhile, the surgeon who had come to perform the operation, was by no means pleased to find that he was not wanted. The officer who had been sent 73 by the Duke d’Aumont in search of the Doctor, passed by a moment after, and observing some little tumult in the porter’s lodge, he went in, to ask if they could tell him where to find Doctor Peperkouk, whom the Duke d’Aumont was going to present to the king.
“He is here,” answered Cort-Jan; and then every one present launched out in praises of the wonderful cure which the Doctor had just performed. The Doctor blushed with modesty and joy; he found that he had attained his object, he scarce knew how; for the successful result of the operation could not yet be known at the Court.
He made his way through the crowd which had collected, and followed the officer, leaving in the lodge Cort-Jan and Chicot, who were treated with refreshments and every attention.
The Duke d’Aumont was surprised that his doctor was so soon found, but the officer related what had happened.
“Here, then, as well as in Flanders, Doctor,” said the Duke, “I see that you will have no want of titles to beat our physicians. How long is it since you arrived?”
“Sixteen days, my Lord,” answered the Doctor.
“And you have written to me?” said the Duke. Then when Peperkouk replied that he had sent two letters, he exclaimed, “My servants are very careless; but at last I see you. His Majesty has heard of you already; he knows what cures you effected in the camp, and has often rallied his two physicians because they were unwilling to acknowledge you as one of their profession. Tell me your hotel, Doctor; I am going to announce you to his Majesty, and you shall be presented to-morrow; I will let you know the hour this evening.”
The Duke had scarce ceased speaking, when one of the valets entered, with a terrified air.
“My Lord!” said he, “his Majesty, in lighting 74 some wax to seal a private letter, has burned his hand seriously; every one is looking for the physicians, and nobody can find them!”
“Come with me, Doctor,” said the Duke, hastily, and the Doctor followed him, without hesitation.
Louis the Fourteenth, in the extremity of pain from the burn, did not notice the man who examined his hand, and Peperkouk, who was very tall, having knelt on one knee, the better to look at the burn, got credit for practising the etiquette of the Court.
“Not ill done!” said the Duke smiling; “not ill done,” repeated the courtiers.
The honest herb doctor, however, was satisfied with finding himself in the presence of Louis the Fourteenth. Without any timidity he examined the burn, which was somewhat severe. The lighted wax had fallen upon the king’s lace ruffles and set them on fire, and before they could be extinguished, they had caused a burn about an inch long: he perceived with joy that neither nerve nor muscle was injured, and that the skin only was burnt.
“Have you some ice?”
All present wondered what he wanted with ice.
“We have no ice at hand,” answered one of the footmen, “but here are some iced fruits.” As he spoke he pointed to a little table covered with a collation. Among other dishes the Doctor perceived some iced gooseberries. Was it experience, forethought, or chance that guided him? He took a large spoonful, covered the burn with it, and bound it in such a manner that it was not affected by the movements of the hand. The pain ceased so instantaneously, that the king, as if he had only then come to himself, cast his eyes upon the Doctor, and looked surprised, seeing a strange face.
“Sire,” said the Duke d’Aumont, “this is Doctor 75 Peperkouk;” and he then explained the accident of the presentation.
“Doctor,” said the king, “we are very glad to see you; we know you already through our cousin d’Aumont, and we are aware by experience that your merit has not been exaggerated, since the pain of the burn is gone. You are a wonderful man. — Monsieur de Mesgrigny,” added the king, turning to one of the lords in waiting, “tell them, if you please, to give the Doctor a purse with a thousand gold louis.”
The Doctor bowed profoundly. The Court physicians then made their appearance, but the herb doctor had rendered their services unnecessary. They were surprised and mortified to see in the presence of the king, that Flemish practitioner whom they had laughed at, and styled a quack. They were astonished at what he had done, but they took care not to adopt his remedies, which effected a cure too quickly; in this their successors have too faithfully imitated them. As to the method of relieving the pain of the burn, which operated like enchantment on the hand of Louis the Fourteenth, it was employed again fifteen years ago by a pastrycook of Paris, and then, as on the former occasion, the physicians took care to oppose it, though its success was certain and infallible.
Doctor Peperkouk returned in raptures to his inn; the Duke d’Aumont had promised him the patent of a physician. Cort-Jan and Chicot accompanied him in triumph. Balourdet already knew what had passed; nothing was talked of in the little town but the celebrated doctor who had cured the king; and that man whom nobody would have noticed two hours before, was overwhelmed with visits and invitations. The purse with the thousand louis royally augmented his finances, and he readily acknowledged to himself, that Louis the Fourteenth was a great 76 king. The next morning he received a packet from the Court, which he immediately opened; it contained a parchment, on which was written as follows: —
“Louis, by the Grace of God: To all those who shall see these presents, be it known that the Sieur Jeremy Peperkouk, physician of Courtrai, having successfully prescribed for us, and for various persons of our Court, we will and command of our full power, certain knowledge and royal authority, that in all districts, cities, and towns of our dominions, the said Jeremy Peperkouk shall be recognised as we recognise him, a doctor of physic and surgery; and that he is empowered to practise as such wherever he pleases, without let or hindrance from any person, and without dispute of the said title of Doctor due to his merits. Such is our good pleasure.
“Given at St. Germain-en-Laye,
“The 24th May, 1668,
Thus it was that Louis the Fourteenth set practical talent on a level with examinations and academical degrees, consulting both reason and justice.
The Doctor leaped for joy, a very unusual manifestation with him. He bought a horse on the same day, and at the dawn of the morrow, without waiting for anything else, set out for his own country; for he was anxious about his poor patients. He took with him Cort-Jan and Balourdet, who had determined not to quit him; besides, he owed to Balourdet, whose stratagem he had learned, a debt of gratitude; and with regard to Cort-Jan, he proposed him for his successor.
Preceded by Chicot, who announced the success of his master, the herb doctor returned home triumphant. His patients were overjoyed to learn that Doctor Peperkouk had received his diploma.77
The reputation of this singular man increased every day. On the 13th of June he received a letter from the Duke d’Aumont, expressing the surprise of that nobleman at his sudden departure from St. Germains, and the wish of the king that he should return thither. The Doctor, in his reply, stated that he owed his services to his country, and wished to die there, but that he should be ever grateful to his Majesty, and hold himself at his command, as well as that of the Duke d’Aumont.
He never separated from the associates whom he had met with on his journey, and was a hundred and three years old with he died in 1710.
Of his three companions, Balourdet alone had preceded him to the grave. Cort-Jan and Chicot practised his system with success, but they were not doctors. As for Chicot, he ridiculed the idea, saying he was not one of your fine gentlemen, who cared for great ceremonies, and high-sounding titles.
* The medical prescriptions of Doctor Peperkouk, which are here exactly given, are reported in the supplement to the Analecta Joh. Henrici, Ursini. Frankfort, 1728. 8vo.
† Vis — the windings of a lock, pronounced the same as vices, on which the joke turns.
* An anonymous translation of the French tale number XIII, “Le docteur Péperkouk,” in Légendes des origines, by Jacques-Albin-Simon Collin de Plancy, Fourth Edition, Henri Plon: Paris, 1864; pp. 125-173.