Open main menu

Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/23

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
3
URSUS.

deceive you, any one's accent or pronunciation. He imitated voices so exactly that you believed you heard the people themselves. All alone he could simulate the murmur of a crowd; and this gave him a right to the title of Engastrimythos, which he took. He reproduced the notes of all kinds of birds,—as of the thrush, the wren, the pipit lark, otherwise called the grey cheeper, and the ring ousel,—all travellers like himself; so that at times, when the fancy struck him, he made you aware either of a public thoroughfare filled with the uproar of men, or of a meadow loud with the voices of beasts,—at one time stormy as a multitude, at another fresh and serene as the dawn. Such gifts, although rare, exist. In the last century a man called Touzel, who imitated the mingled utterances of men and animals, and who counterfeited all the cries of wild beasts, was attached to the person of Buffon,—to serve as a menagerie.

Ursus was sagacious, contradictory, odd, and inclined to the singular expositions which we call fables. He even pretended to believe in them; and this impudence was a part of his humour. He read people's hands; opened books at random and drew conclusions; told fortunes; taught that it is dangerous to meet a black mare, and still more dangerous, as you start on a journey, to hear yourself accosted by one who does not know whither you are going. He called himself a dealer in superstitions. He used to say: "There is one difference between me and the Archbishop of Canterbury: I avow what I am." Hence it was that the archbishop, justly indignant, summoned him before him one day; but Ursus cleverly disarmed his Grace by reciting a sermon he had composed upon Christmas-day, which the delighted archbishop learned by heart, and delivered from the pulpit as his own. In consideration thereof, the archbishop pardoned Ursus.