The Rhetoric of Death

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Authors: Judith Rock
a small fiddle, a violon du poche , and dusted it with the skirt of his jacket. Beauchamps took the fiddle, tucked it under his chin, nodded sharply at the dancers, and began to play. All dancing masters were, of necessity, musicians, but Beauchamps was nearly as accomplished a musician as he was a dancer. But the stage remained empty and the music stopped.
    â€œPhilippe Douté!” Beauchamps thundered, looking furiously around the room.
    The cast and Charles looked, too, but Philippe was nowhere to be seen. Heels rapping like hammer blows on the bare wooden floor, Beauchamps strode to an open window and stuck his head out.
    â€œPhilippe! Where are you? Get in here and dance before I use your guts for fiddle strings!”
    â€œUm—he was by an open window when you came in, Maître Beauchamps,” a small, slight blond boy said. “Looking out. And then—he stepped over the sill while everyone was bowing to you. He went toward the latrine. Perhaps he isn’t feeling well.” The boy put a hand discreetly on his belly.
    The dancing master rolled his eyes at Charles. “Maître du Luc, will you be so good as to see if Hercules is in the privy?”
    Charles was nearly at the door before he realized that he didn’t know where the latrine was, but Jacques Douté caught up with him and pointed to the southeast corner of the courtyard.
    â€œThrough the arch there, on the left behind the screen of rose bushes, Maître du Luc.” The wind whined across the court and whipped Charles’s cassock around his legs. Behind him, the fiddle began again as Beauchamps drove Hercules’s suite to the Hesperides without its leader. Overhead, clouds scudded past in a sky more like November than July. Half hoping that Philippe really was ill rather than playing the fool, Charles hurried through the arch Jacques had pointed out and into a smaller courtyard. Skirting the hedge of old roses, he stopped in the doorway of the long, low, wooden latrine building.
    â€œPhilippe Douté? Are you here? Are you ill?”
    Birds fluttered in and out of the latrine’s low eaves, but nothing else disturbed the dark, malodorous quiet. Charles took a few steps inside and was peering along the row of seats when unseen hands shoved him hard between the shoulders. He crashed to his knees and heard someone pound away across the gravel court. Charles scrambled up. Jouvancy’s nephew or not, he thought grimly, this time Philippe Douté would get what was coming to him. A flash of yellow disappeared through a second narrow arch, and Charles followed it into a yet smaller courtyard, which was empty and surrounded on three sides by outbuildings. Its fourth side was a high wall with a wooden gate. The sound of running feet was loud beyond it.
    â€œPhilippe! Don’t be an idiot, come back!”
    The gate was locked. Cursing his old wound, Charles jumped for the top of the wall, hauled himself up with his good arm until he could get a leg over, and dropped into the narrow cobbled way that ran behind the college. The boy was out of sight, but his running echoed between the walls that hemmed both sides of the lane. Charles’s long legs ate up the distance. And where the lane turned sharply left, he caught another flash of yellow and a glimpse of black hair. He put on a burst of speed and emerged into the rue St. Jacques, only to flatten himself against a building as a carriage flew past inches from his nose. Dodging the end of a ratcatcher’s pole hung with pungent evidence of the catcher’s skill, he darted into the street. A panting, leather-aproned man pushing a bundle-laden handcart stopped beside him and lowered the cart’s handles to the ground for a rest. Intent on the hunt, Charles vaulted onto the cart so he could see over the crowd.
    â€œWhat are you doing, you crazy priest?” The man pulled angrily on Charles’s cassock. “Get off my cart!”

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