This latter, having doffed his helmet, exhibited a bald head, encircled by a border of black, curling hair, pretty long at the back of the head. By a remarkable Bacchic phenomenon, in proportion as intoxication gained upon him, a sort of zone, as purple as his jovial face, crept by degrees over his brow, till it obscured even the shining whiteness of his crown. Rose-Pompon, who knew the meaning of this symptom, pointed it out to the company, and exclaimed with a loud burst of laughter: “Take care, Ninny Moulin! the tide of the wine is coming in.”
“When it rises above his head he will be drowned,” added the Bacchanal Queen.
“Oh, Queen! don’t disturb me; I am meditating, answered Dumoulin, who was getting tipsy. He held in his hand, in the fashion of an antique goblet, a punch-bowl filled with wine, for he despised the ordinary glasses, because of their small size.
“Meditating,” echoed Rose-Pompon, “Ninny Moulin is meditating. Be attentive!”
“He is meditating; he must be ill then!”
“What is he meditating? an illegal dance?”
“A forbidden Anacreontic attitude?”
“Yes, I am meditating,” returned Dumoulin, gravely; “I am meditating upon wine, generally and in particular—wine, of which the immortal Bossuet”—Dumoulin had the very bad habit of quoting Bossuet when he was drunk—“of which the immortal Bossuet says (and he was a judge of good liquor): ’In wine is courage, strength joy, and spiritual fervor’—when one has any brains,” added Ninny Moulin, by way of parenthesis.
“Oh, my! how I adore your Bossuet!” said Rose-Pompon.
“As for my particular meditation, it concerns the question, whether the wine at the marriage of Cana was red or white. Sometimes I incline to one side, sometimes to the other—and sometimes to both at once.”
“That is going to the bottom of the question,” said Sleepinbuff.
“And, above all, to the bottom of the bottles,” added the Bacchanal Queen.
“As your majesty is pleased to observe; and already, by dint of reflection and research, I have made a great discovery—namely, that, if the wine at the marriage of Cana was red—”
“It couldn’t ‘a’ been white,” said Rose-Pompon, judiciously.
“And if I had arrived at the conviction that it was neither white nor red?” asked Dumoulin, with a magisterial air.
“That could only be when you had drunk till all was blue,” observed Sleepinbuff.
“The partner of the Queen says well. One may be too athirst for science; but never mind! From all my studies on this question, to which I have devoted my life—I shall await the end of my respectable career with the sense of having emptied tuns with a historical—theological—and archeological tone!”
It is impossible to describe the jovial grimace and tone with which Dumoulin pronounced and accentuated these last words, which provoked a general laugh.