The Rhetoric of Death

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Authors: Judith Rock
overbalanced and landed in a passing group of students wearing short scholar’s gowns. “Did you see a boy in a yellow shirt run past just now?” he asked breathlessly.
    Smiling unpleasantly, the students closed around him and looked him insolently up and down. Charles added the short gowns to the hostile faces and came up with the unwelcome answer that these were University of Paris students. Though new to the city, he was well aware that its university hated Jesuits in general and Louis le Grand in particular, deploring its influence, its progressive humanist theology, its modern teaching methods, its ballet and drama. Most of all, the university hated the Jesuit college’s enjoyment of so much tantalizing property just across the street.
    â€œWhy do you want this boy in a yellow shirt, Jesuit?” one of the students drawled, recognizing the distinctive Jesuit cassock, which wrapped to the side instead of buttoning. “Good luck to him, he’s well away from your lies.”
    â€œAnd what are you doing out without your priest hat?” another taunted.
    Charles whirled as the second speaker plucked off his skullcap from behind and tossed it to one of his friends, who threw it into the gutter in the middle of the street. Hands twitching with the urge to thrash the lot of them, Charles planted his feet and locked eyes with each boy in turn. They seemed to register his height and breadth of shoulder for the first time and drew closer together.
    â€œPerhaps you didn’t hear me, messieurs ,” Charles said pleasantly. “Did any of you see a boy in a yellow shirt just now?”
    They shook their heads.
    â€œThen I thank you for your help, messieurs ,” Charles said, sounding as though they were all in someone’s salon and still showing his teeth in what might be taken for a smile by the unwary.
    The boys walked quickly away, casting apprehensive glances over their shoulders. Charles went to see if his new skullcap was salvageable. It was true that he shouldn’t be in the street without his hat, but he hadn’t planned on chasing a runaway Hercules out into Paris. Sadly, he surveyed his new skullcap, which rested like a funerary offering on a very dead cat and definitely was not salvageable. He left it where it was and started back to the college, zig-zagging through the traffic and peering down side streets and into shops in case Philippe was hiding somewhere. He guessed, though, that the boy was long gone, absorbed into the melee of the streets.
    The cacophony that was Paris traffic—voices, feet, hooves, rattling wheels, barking dogs—beat against Charles’s ears as he walked. Everyone and everything shared the square-cobbled pavement and shouting matches erupted constantly, everyone being certain that the bon Dieu had put the next open foot of pavement there for him or her alone. Charles wove his way among the high-wheeled, painted carriages, students in short gowns, white-, black-, and brown-robed clerics on foot and on mules, professors lost in private fogs of thought, coiffed and basket-laden serving girls, the scavenging dogs, ragged street porters with loaded wooden carrying frames on their backs, and bewigged gentlemen whose ice-white linen gleamed against the jewel colors of their skirted coats as they swept iron-tipped canes before them to clear a path. Over it all, bawling street vendors cried everything from “brooms, brooms,” to “Portugal, Portugal,” which sounded so warmly exotic but meant shriveled little oranges.
    Charles wondered why on earth Philippe had run. Running away from the college was not a light offense. Nor was shoving a professor to the ground in the process, though now that his temper had cooled, Charles didn’t intend to report that. But even without that black mark, Philippe had almost certainly lost his place in the ballet, if not in the college. Charles had seen him watching the classroom windows

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