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pastissiers'? Book-shelves are rare in kitchens, and the little book must have been continually moved from pillar to post. Besides, it is unlikely that copies for kitchen use would be strongly bound in morocco. The very printing and paper of the book sufficiently indicate the use to which its producers at least expected it to be put. So the little ‘French pastrycook' gradually disappeared. Those for whose benefit it had been written would soon learn its secrets by heart and confide them verbally to their apprentices; and it would not be long ere the tattered and greasy booklet found its way into the dustbin.
Of all the rarae aves sought by book-collectors this little volume is perhaps the most widely known. That copies may still exist in this country is shown to be possible by the fact (recorded by Willems) that one was sold at an auction in Belfast. Another was found at Brighton, and occasionally one appears in the London salerooms, as we have shown. It requires little imagination to picture merchants and travellers, whose paths led through the Low Countries at that time, slipping copies into their pockets or holsters for use in the household across the water. Many a courtly exile during the Protectorate, glancing through the bookshops of Amsterdam, must have chanced upon the little volume as a gift for wife or daughter.
Numbers, also, must have found their way to France. Some years ago we happened to stay at an ancient hostel in Rouen. From the outside the building was everything that could possibly be desired by bibliophile or antiquary. It was situated in one of those quaint narrow back streets that lead towards the Place Henri Quatre; and the courtyard was so small as scarcely to allow a baker's cart to turn round in it. Like many of the houses in this ancient town, its crookedness was such that it seemed impossible for it to remain standing much longer. We confess that as we ascended the staircase, which seemed to sway as we avoided the broken treads, misgivings arose within us. But the sight of the bedroom we were to occupy, furnished with such furniture and such a bed, all spotlessly clean and polished, sent us into the seventh heaven of delight. Here we could read and write undisturbed for as long as we chose to stay. Surely pleasant surprises must be in store for us in every way in such surroundings as these!
It was not long before we got one.
Will Monsieur require anything to be cooked for him to-night ? ' inquired our trim hostess.
It was rather late and we were disinclined to seek a restaurant. Besides, we were anxious to explore our lodging before it got too dark. An omelette would be delicious, provided she could make one properly.
* Eggs, perhaps, and tea, with bread and butter'—could she turn the eggs into an omelette ?
Why certainly, with a merry laugh, 'of course—I can prepare eggs in more than sixty ways.
To say that we started would be to put it mildly. A certain title-page instantly rose before our eyes. There was only one way in which anybody could possibly learn to cook eggs in sixty different ways, and that was by studying the ‘Pastissier François. Without the slightest doubt our hostess possessed a copy, and we were at last to look upon the tiny volume that we had sought for so long. But as she seemed so proud of her achievement, could she be induced to part with the precious tome? These and many other kindred thoughts passed rapidly through our mind as we repeated slowly 'en plus de soixante façons ?'
She laughed again. Ah yes, but she couldn't repeat them d'abord, she would have to refer to her book.
We had difficulty in controlling our voice sufficiently to inquire what her book was.
Oh, it was just a little book which her mother had given her, a little book of la cuisine. Could we see it? Why certainly, but it could not possibly interest monsieur, it was only a common little book, and dirty.
Ah, as usual it would be soiled, perhaps badly,
for it was evidently still in constant use ; but so long as it were complete we might possibly be able to clean it. What delightful thoughts and anticipations passed through our mind as the hostess slowly descended the rickety stairs to fetch her treasure! At last we had found it, and just in the very sort of house and town where we had always expected to come across it. Well, well, if you make up your mind to have a thing and search eagerly enough for it, you are bound to obtain it in the long run.
Then another thought entered our mind : how much should we offer her for it? Probably she would not part with it unless we named a sum which she could not resist; yet if the sum were at all large she might suspect the book's value and refuse. Ten francs, twenty-five, a hundred ? While we were deliberating this important point she was ascending the stairs. Should we turn our back to her, shut our eyes, and tell her to place the volume on the middle of the table, then suddenly turn about and gloat upon the little treasure ?
Before we could make up our mind she came in and we got our second surprise that day. It was not as pleasant as the first, for in her hands she held a thick octavo volume bound in shiny black leather. Heavens! ... a large-paper copy? . . . No, no, impossible. ...
'Le voici, m'sieu.'
Our feelings almost overcame us, and we opened the dirty manuscript volume mechanically, feebly muttering 'très intéressant.' She watched us closely, and from that moment considered us slightly mad. However, the book certainly did contain sixty-two recipes for cooking eggs as well as receipts for making fancy pastry and cakes. Whether it was copied out of the ‘ Pastissier 'we know not; but certain it is that our hostess had no knowledge of, nor had ever seen, that volume.
There must be many book-treasures lying hid in all these ancient towns of Northern France, towns also that lie far off the restless tourist's track, small country towns in which the majority of the houses are slipshod timbered relics of a bygone age. No striking or unusual feature can they offer to the curious, and so for the most part they are dismissed in brief by the guide book. Yet there is many an aged building in Brittany where old books do still lie hid, as we know from the library of a friend who lives in Finisterre. St. Brieuc, Guingamp, Morlaix, Quimper, even Brest, all these must harbour long-forgotten books.
But there are other towns which no power on earth shall force us to disclose. One there is far off the beaten track, where the houses, painted with bright colours, lean all askew, supporting each other and sometimes almost toppling across the narrow winding streets. So that, entering it, one seems to have stepped suddenly into some