A long time ago, in a small town in France, there lived a wealthy textile merchant. Phillippe sold cloth to the people in this town, and it was well-known that he had the very finest cloth – silks, velvets, lace, wool, and cotton. He was a respected man who gave generous amounts of money to the community. Phillipe, however, was not a learned man, so for his only daughter Camille he wanted a young man who would be eager to learn the textile business, but would also be a scholar.
One day, Phillipe went to the university and spoke to the headmaster who headed the school.
“Hello sir,” said the merchant. “I have come for a very special reason. I would like to find a good husband for my daughter Camille – someone who will continue to study but will also want to work with me and learn my business.”
As the headmaster listened, he stroked his gray beard. Then his face brightened and he replied, almost to himself, “Jacque – of course, Jacque.” Then he turned to Phillipe and said, “There is a young man here who comes from a nearby village. He sings with a sweet voice that brings light to the heavens and joy to the heart. He walks in the garden and listens to the melodies of the birds, and then he composes melodies by interweaving the songs of the birds. It is well-known that each creature has a song of its own but, as the psalms say, ‘God’s children make melodies out of all of their individual songs in order to bring them to the Lord.’ When Jacque sings a melody, everyone listens at first, but then the students join in. They sing for hours, and their voices are truly filled with spiritual fervor. But the voice that is heard above them all is that of Jacque. He often says the joy of the world is more complete with a new melody. He is a poor boy, however, and he will welcome the opportunity to be a part of your family, Phillipe.”
And so, Phillipe and the headmaster shook hands and agreed that Jacque and Phillipe were to meet that very day. Jacque was called in, and Phillipe looked him over – as if he were a piece of merchandise to be bought and sold. He looked at Jacque’s straight black hair, his beard, his thin short frame, his long slender fingers, and his large black eyes.
Jacque’s cheeks were flushed as he stammered a “B-bonjour.” After telling Jacque why he had come to the university, the headmaster asked if Jacque had anything to say. Jacque looked down at the floor and said nothing, but gave a nod of agreement to what he had heard.
Then Phillipe said to Jacque, “I would like to send you on a journey to buy some cloth in the city. I will give you 100 francs and for that money you will bring back enough good satin for the wedding coats.”
Again Jacque nodded in agreement, took the 100 francs and put the money in his pocket, feeling a little scared at the whole idea of becoming a merchant and leaving the university. But he decided that he would leave on his journey early the next morning.
Early the following day, Jacque prepared to leave. Since he had not been given money to hire a carriage and driver, he began walking to the city, which was quite distant. He took some food with him so he would not have to stop at an inn for food, especially since he had no extra money.
After walking for several hours, Jacque saw an orchard with a stream nearby. He washed his hands and then sat down under an apple tree in the orchard to rest. When he had recited the blessings, Jacque ate some bread and cheese and drank some wine for his midday meal. As he was reciting the grace, he heard a melody that was hauntingly beautiful. Jacque could not move; he did not want to miss a single note. He held his breath and hoped the melody would not stop.
Recognizing the sound as that of a shepherd’s flute, Jacque gathered his bundle and started to walk in the direction of the music. His heart beat faster, and he felt the delicious excitement of hearing a melody that touches one’s soul. Jacque started to run, and then he saw, in a clearing on the other side of a stone wall – a shepherd. The shepherd sat on a rock, playing the lilting melody, and he continued to play until the end of the melody. Then the shepherd rose and started walking in the clearing, with eyes and ears only for his flock, which obeyed his every gesture and whistle. Jacque, breathlessly running up to the shepherd, wide-eyed, gesturing wildly, and barely getting the words out in an order that made sense, begged the shepherd to teach him the melody. The shepherd agreed, but added, with a mischievous smile, “I will gladly teach you this melody for 50 francs.”
Jacque nodded his head in a wide up-and-down arc, indicating agreement, and at the same time reached into his pocket for 50 francs. The shepherd, with a surprised expression on his face, accepted the money and taught the tune to Jacque. After that, they parted.
As he continued his journey to the city, Jacque kept singing the melody over and over so that he would not forget it.
Toward evening, Jacque grew tired and hungry. He sat down in a field to eat and to spend the night. Again he recited his blessings and started his meal of bread and cheese and wine – when he heard another melody played on a shepherd’s flute.
As he listened to the lively, rhythmic melody, Jacque felt excited – full of joy and fervor. He must learn this melody, too. So he quickly recited the grace, as he ran toward the music.
When he found the shepherd, Jacque pleaded with him to teach him this melody. The shepherd gladly agreed, then added, “But I want 50 francs as payment for the melody.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Jacque reached into his pocket for the remaining 50 francs. The shepherd taught him the melody and they parted.
“How wonderful,” thought Jacque, as he sang both melodies together for the first time.
“How these melodies are both part of one tapestry. It seems as though they were woven on the same loom, as part of the same cloth! CLOTH? CLOTH?”
Suddenly, Jacque remembered that he no longer had the 100 francs given him by his prospective father-in-law to buy cloth in the city for the wedding coats.
After a moment he said to himself, “Since I no longer have the money, I cannot buy the cloth. Since I no longer have the 100 francs and cannot buy the cloth, I have no reason to go into the city. In that case, I can now return home.”
Jacque didn’t care about cloth. Instead, he felt strangely happy, for now he had two melodies that belonged together like hand in glove. He suddenly felt happier than ever, for now he had a wedding gift that was better than cloth. It was priceless and more worthy for a wedding. It was something he could share with everyone. Jacque could not wait to sing the melody to his prospective father-in-law. Surely he would see how wisely Jacque had spent the 100 francs.
Forgetting how tired he was and how late it was, Jacque started to go home. As he walked, he sang first one melody, then the other, and together they blended into one complete melody. With each note, he danced a little and ran toward his town with joy in his heart.
It was the middle of the night when Jacque arrived in town. Instead of going to the university to sleep – for how could he sleep? – he went directly to the home of Phillipe and knocked loudly on the door, forgetting – or rather not caring – that everyone was asleep.
A sleepy voice called out, ‘Who is there?” Instead of answering, Jacque began to sing the first melody.
In a few minutes, everyone in the house had come to the windows to see who was singing. For who wakes up people in the middle of the night and sings – unless he is crazy or drunk?
When Phillipe himself came to the window and saw it was Jacque, he understood that he had not gone to the city. But what did this strange behavior mean? Phillipe did not open the door, but said to himself, “In the morning I shall go to the university and see the headmaster. But one thing is certain – this Jacque is not for my daughter.”
After a while, Jacque realized that no one was going to open the door. He decided to return to the university instead, still singing the melody over and over. What did he care that they didn’t open the door? “I will teach the melody to my friends at the university and they will surely appreciate it. Besides, I have plenty of time to get married – and perhaps to a girl whose father is a lover of song.”
Adapted from a story by Penninnah Schram