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List Of Contents | Contents of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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Tradition said that this house with the pointed gables was inhabited, in
the time of Henry III., by a councilor of state whom Queen Catherine
came, some say to visit, and others to strangle.  However that may be,
the good lady must have stepped with a circumspect foot over the
threshold of this building.

After the councilor had died - whether by strangulation or naturally is
of no consequence - the house had been sold, then abandoned, and lastly
isolated from the other houses of the street.  Towards the middle of the
reign of Louis XIII. only, an Italian named Cropoli, escaped from the
kitchens of the Marechal d'Ancre, came and took possession of this
house.  There he established a little hostelry, in which was fabricated a
macaroni so delicious that people came from miles round to fetch it or
eat it.

So famous had the house become for it, that when Mary de Medici was a
prisoner, as we know, in the castle of Blois, she once sent for some.

It was precisely on the day she had escaped by the famous window.  The
dish of macaroni was left upon the table, only just tasted by the royal
mouth.

This double favor, of a strangulation and a macaroni, conferred upon the
triangular house, gave poor Cropoli a fancy to grace his hostelry with a
pompous title.  But his quality of an Italian was no recommendation in
these times, and his small, well-concealed fortune forbade attracting too
much attention.

When he found himself about to die, which happened in 1643, just after
the death of Louis XIII., he called to him his son, a young cook of great
promise, and with tears in his eyes, he recommended him to preserve
carefully the secret of the macaroni, to Frenchify his name, and at
length, when the political horizon should be cleared from the clouds
which obscured it - this was practiced then as in our day, to order of
the nearest smith a handsome sign, upon which a famous painter, whom he
named, should design two queens' portraits, with these words as a legend:
"TO THE MEDICI."

The worthy Cropoli, after these recommendations, had only sufficient time
to point out to his young successor a chimney, under the slab of which he
had hidden a thousand ten-franc pieces, and then expired.

Cropoli the younger, like a man of good heart, supported the loss with
resignation, and the gain without insolence.  He began by accustoming the
public to sound the final i of his name so little, that by the aid of
general complaisance, he was soon called nothing but M. Cropole, which is
quite a French name.  He then married, having had in his eye a little
French girl, from whose parents he extorted a reasonable dowry by showing
them what there was beneath the slab of the chimney.

These two points accomplished, he went in search of the painter who was
to paint the sign; and he was soon found.  He was an old Italian, a rival
of the Raphaels and the Caracci, but an unfortunate rival.  He said he
was of the Venetian school, doubtless from his fondness for color.  His
works, of which he had never sold one, attracted the eye at a distance of
a hundred paces; but they so formidably displeased the citizens, that he
had finished by painting no more.

He boasted of having painted a bath-room for Madame la Marechale d'Ancre,
and mourned over this chamber having been burnt at the time of the
marechal's disaster.

Cropoli, in his character of a compatriot, was indulgent towards
Pittrino, which was the name of the artist.  Perhaps he had seen the
famous pictures of the bath-room.  Be this as it may, he held in such
esteem, we may say in such friendship, the famous Pittrino, that he took
him in his own house.

Pittrino, grateful, and fed with macaroni, set about propagating the
reputation of this national dish, and from the time of its founder, he
had rendered, with his indefatigable tongue, signal services to the house
of Cropoli.

As he grew old he attached himself to the son as he had done to the
father, and by degrees became a kind of over-looker of a house in which
his remarkable integrity, his acknowledged sobriety, and a thousand other
virtues useless to enumerate, gave him an eternal place by the fireside,
with a right of inspection over the domestics.  Besides this, it was he
who tasted the macaroni, to maintain the pure flavor of the ancient
tradition; and it must be allowed that he never permitted a grain of
pepper too much, or an atom of parmesan too little.  His joy was at its
height on that day when called upon to share the secret of Cropoli the
younger, and to paint the famous sign.

He was seen at once rummaging with ardor in an old box, in which he found
some brushes, a little gnawed by the rats, but still passable; some
linseed-oil in a bottle, and a palette which had formerly belonged to
Bronzino, that _dieu de la pittoure_, as the ultramontane artist, in his
ever young enthusiasm, always called him.

Pittrino was puffed up with all the joy of a rehabilitation.

He did as Raphael had done- he changed his style, and painted, in the
fashion of Albani, two goddesses rather than two queens.  These
illustrious ladies appeared so lovely on the sign, - they presented to
the astonished eyes such an assemblage of lilies and roses, the
enchanting result of the changes of style in Pittrino - they assumed the
_poses_ of sirens so Anacreontically - that the principal _echevin_, when
admitted to view this capital piece in the _salle_ of Cropole, at once
declared that these ladies were too handsome, of too animated a beauty,
to figure as a sign in the eyes of passers-by.

To Pittrino he added, "His royal highness, Monsieur, who often comes into
our city, will not be much pleased to see his illustrious mother so
slightly clothed, and he will send you to the _oubliettes_ of the state;
for, remember, the heart of that glorious prince is not always tender.
You must efface either the two sirens or the legend, without which I
forbid the exhibition of the sign.  I say this for your sake, Master
Cropole, as well for yours, Signor Pittrino."

What answer could be made to this?  It was necessary to thank the
_echevin_ for his kindness, which Cropole did.  But Pittrino remained
downcast and said he felt assured of what was about to happen.

The visitor was scarcely gone when Cropole, crossing his arms, said:
"Well, master, what is to be done?"

"We must efface the legend," said Pittrino, in a melancholy tone.  "I
have some excellent ivory-black; it will be done in a moment, and we
will replace the Medici by the nymphs or the sirens, whichever you
prefer."

"No," said Cropole, "the will of my father must be carried out.  My
father considered - "

"He considered the figures of the most importance," said Pittrino.

"He thought most of the legend," said Cropole.

"The proof of the importance in which he held the figures," said
Pittrino, "is that he desired they should be likenesses, and they are so."

"Yes; but if they had not been so, who would have recognized them without
the legend?  At the present day even, when the memory of the Blaisois
begins to be faint with regard to these two celebrated persons, who would
recognize Catherine and Mary without the words '_To the Medici_'?"

"But the figures?" said Pittrino, in despair; for he felt that young
Cropole was right.  "I should not like to lose the fruit of my labor."

"And I should not wish you to be thrown into prison, and myself into the
_oubliettes_."

"Let us efface 'Medici'," said Pittrino, supplicatingly.

"No," replied Cropole, firmly.  "I have got an idea, a sublime idea 
your picture shall appear, and my legend likewise.  Does not 'Medici'
mean doctor, or physician, in Italian?"

"Yes, in the plural."

"Well, then, you shall order another sign-frame of the smith; you shall
paint six physicians, and write underneath '_Aux Medici_' which makes a
very pretty play upon words."

"Six physicians! impossible!  And the composition?" cried Pittrino.

"That is your business - but so it shall be - I insist upon it - it must
be so - my macaroni is burning."

This reasoning was peremptory - Pittrino obeyed.  He composed the sign of
six physicians, with the legend; the _echevin_ applauded and authorized
it.

The sign produced an extravagant success in the city, which proves that
poetry has always been in the wrong, before citizens, as Pittrino said.

Cropole, to make amends to his painter-in-ordinary, hung up the nymphs of
the preceding sign in his bedroom, which made Madame Cropole blush every
time she looked at it, when she was undressing at night.

This is the way in which the pointed-gable house got a sign; and this is
how the hostelry of the Medici, making a fortune, was found to be
enlarged by a quarter, as we have described.  And this is how there was
at Blois a hostelry of that name, and had for a painter-in-ordinary
Master Pittrino.


Chapter VI:
The Unknown.

Thus founded and recommended by its sign, the hostelry of Master Cropole
held its way steadily on towards a solid prosperity.

It was not an immense fortune that Cropole had in perspective; but he
might hope to double the thousand louis d'or left by his father, to make
another thousand louis by the sale of his house and stock, and at length
to live happily like a retired citizen.

Cropole was anxious for gain, and was half-crazy with joy at the news of
the arrival of Louis XIV.

Himself, his wife, Pittrino, and two cooks, immediately laid hands upon
all the inhabitants of the dove-cote, the poultry-yard, and the
rabbit-hutches; so that as many lamentations and cries resounded in the
yards of the hostelry of the Medici as were formerly heard in Rama.

Cropole had, at the time, but one single traveler in his house.

This was a man of scarcely thirty years of age, handsome, tall, austere,
or rather melancholy, in all his gestures and looks.

He was dressed in black velvet with jet trimmings; a white collar, as
plain as that of the severest Puritan, set off the whiteness of his
youthful neck; a small dark-colored mustache scarcely covered his curled,
disdainful lip.

He spoke to people looking them full in the face, without affectation,

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