THE FALCONER'S SON
THERE WAS, around the year 1663, a few hundred steps from Saint-Omer, a little well-built house whose door opened on the grand highway of Paris. A hedge alive with hawthorn and elderberry surrounded a garden where were seen a profusion of flowers, goats and children. A half-dozen hens with their chirping chicks in a corner among the cabbages and strawberries; two or three beehives, grouped under peach trees, turned their fragrant cones towards the sun, all abuzzing with bees, and here and there, on the branches of great pear trees loaded with fruit, softly murmured a few beautiful pigeons beating wings around their companion.
The little house had a fresh and smiling appearance which rejoiced the heart; the climbing vines and hop carpeted the walls; seven or eight windows irregularly pierced through, and all wide open to the midday, seemed to look upon the country with geniality; a thin trickle of smoke trembled on the chimney top, where drooped the flexible stems of Pellitory-of-the-Wall, and at some hours of the day as one passed in front of the little house, one heard the joyous cries of children mixed with the rooster's song. Among these children who came from all the corners of the suburbs, there were three who belonged to Guillaume Grinedal, the master of the house: Jacques, Claudine and Pierre.
Guillaume Grinedal, or the father Guillaume, as he was familiarly called, was truly the best falconer that ever existed in the Artois. During the regency of the queen Anne of Austria, the lord of Assonville, his master, ruined by the wars, was forced to sell his lands; but, before quitting the country, wanting to reward the faithfulness of his old servant, gifted him with the little house and the garden. The old Grinedal, refusing to serve new masters, retired to this home, where he lived from the fruit of a few works and his savings. Become widower, the father Guillaume no longer thought of anything but his children, whom he raised as well as his means allowed him and the most honestly in the world. As long as they were little, the children lived as free as butterflies, rolling in the herbs in the summer, skating on the ice in the winter, and running bare-headed in the sun, rain or wind. Then arrived the time for studies, which consisted of reading from a great book on the knees of old man Grinedal, and of writing on a slate, which did not stop them from the leisure of picking strawberries in the woods and crayfish in the streams.
Jacques, the eldest of the family, was, at seventeen or eighteen years, a big boy who seemed more than twenty. He was not a bigmouth, but he acted with an extreme boldness and resolution as soon as he thought himself within his rights. His strength made him the fear of all the students in the suburbs and outskirts, as his straightness made him loved. He was taken willingly as judge in all the children's quarrels; Jacques rendered his decision, applied it as needed with a few good punches, and everyone came out content. When there was a dispute and battles for cherries or some humming top, as soon as they saw Jacques arrive, the most tumultuous children quieted and the weakest drew themselves up; Jacques separated the combatants, made them state the causes of the debacle, distributed a piece of advice to the ones and a smack to the others, adjudicated the object in question and set each side in agreement with a game of bowling.
It sometimes happened that he addresses those who were bigger and stronger than him; but the fear of being beaten did not stop him. Ten times struck down, he got back up ten times; vanquished the one day, he continued the next, and such was the authority of his courage applied on the sentiment of his innate justice, that he always won in the end. But this little determined boy, who would not have backed down before ten of the king's soldiers, was troubled and stammering before a little girl who could well be four years younger than him. The mere presence of miss Suzanne de Malzonvilliers sufficed to stop him in the middle of his most violent exercises. As soon as he saw her, he...
Jacques benefited especially from this teaching; since he had a just and persevering mind, he pounded at things until he understood. He would often be found near the fields, bare-headed, feet in clogs and book in hand, and he would not let go until it was lodged in his head. Only one thing could divert him from this occupation, the pleasure that he tasted upon seeing his father handle the old weapons that were brought to him from the four corners of the city and from the neighbouring castles for refurbishing. Guillaume Grinedal was the best arquebusier in the canton; it was an art that he had learned during his days as a master falconer at Mr. d'Assonville's, and which would have brought him much money had he exercised it in the spirit of profit. But, in his condition, he acted as an artist, wanting nothing else but the fair salary for his work, which he always estimated lower than it was worth. Jacques would often entertain himself with helping him, and when he had furnished a hauberk or a few swords, he would consider himself the happiest boy in the country, provided however that Miss de Malzonvilliers gave him his daily smile at daybreak. When Suzanne walked in the falconer's garden in the company of the children and the domestic animals that lived there on good terms, she offered, with Jacques that strangest contrast that one could see. Jacques was big, strong, vigourous. His black eyes, full of firmness and sparkle, shone under a forehead browned by tanning and all laden with heavy curls of blonde hair.