The schoolboy was soon replaced by a Breton gentleman, with whom Mimi was soon rapidly smitten, and she had no need to pray long before becoming his nominal countess.
Despite his mistress's protestations, Rodolphe had wind of some intrigue. He wanted to know exactly how matters stood, and one morning, after a night during which Mademoiselle Mimi had not returned, hastened to the place where he suspected her to be. There he was able to strike home at his heart with one of those proofs to which one must give credence in spite of oneself. He saw Mademoiselle Mimi, with two eyes encircled with an aureola of satisfied voluptuousness, leaving the residence in which she had acquired her title of nobility, on the arm of her new lord and master, who, to tell the truth, appeared far less proud of her new conquest than Paris after the rape of Helen.
On seeing her lover appear, Mademoiselle Mimi seemed somewhat surprised. She came up to him, and for five minutes they talked very quietly together. They then parted, each on their separate way. Their separation was agreed upon.
Rodolphe returned home, and spent the day in packing up all the things belonging to his mistress.
During the day that followed his divorce, he received the visit of several friends, and announced to them what had happened. Every one congratulated him on this event as on a piece of great good fortune.
"We will aid you, oh poet!" said one of those who had been the most frequent spectator of the annoyances Mademoiselle Mimi had made Rodolphe undergo, "we will help you to free your heart from the clutches of this evil creature. In a little while you will be cured, and quite ready to rove with another Mimi along the green lanes of Aulnay and Fontenay-aux-Roses."
Rodolphe swore that he had forever done with regrets and despair. He even let himself be led away to the Bal Mabille, when his dilapidated get-up did scant honor to "The Scarf of Iris," his editorship of which procured him free admission to this garden of elegance and pleasure. There Rodolphe met some fresh friends, with whom he began to drink. He related to them his woes an unheard of luxury of imaginative style, and for an hour was perfectly dazzling with liveliness and go. "Alas!" said the painter Marcel, as he listened to the flood of irony pouring from his friend's lips, "Rodolphe is too lively, far too lively."
"He is charming," replied a young woman to whom Rodolphe had just offered a bouquet, "and although he is very badly got up I would willingly compromise myself by dancing with him if he would invite me."
Two seconds later Rodolphe, who had overheard her, was at her feet, enveloping his invitation in a speech, scented with all the musk and benjamin of a gallantry at eighty degrees Richelieu. The lady was confounded by the language sparkling with dazzling adjectives and phrases modelled on those in vogue during the Regency, and the invitation was accepted.
Rodolphe was as ignorant of the elements of dancing as of the rule of three. But he was impelled by an extraordinary audacity. He did not hesitate, but improvised a dance unknown to all bygone choreography. It was a step the originality of which obtained an incredible success, and that has been celebrated under the title of "regrets and sighs." It was all very well for the three thousand jets of gas to blink at him, Rodolphe went on at it all the same, and continued to pour out a flood of novel madrigals to his partner.
"Well," said Marcel, "this is incredible. Rodolphe reminds me of a drunken man rolling amongst broken glass."
"At any rate he has got hold of a deuced fine woman," said another, seeing Rodolphe about to leave with his partner.
"Won't you say good night?" cried Marcel after him.
Rodolphe came back to the artist and held out his hand, it was cold and damp as a wet stone.
Rodolphe's companion was a strapping Normandy wench, whose native rusticity had promptly acquired an aristocratic tinge amidst the elegancies of Parisian luxury and an idle life. She was styled Madame Seraphine, and was for the time being mistress of an incarnate rheumatism in the shape of a peer of France, who gave her fifty louis a month, which she shared with a counter-jumper who gave her nothing but hard knocks. Rodolphe had pleased her, she hoped that he would not think of giving her anything, and took him off home with her.
"Lucille," said she to her waiting maid, "I am not at home to anyone." And passing into her bedroom, she came out ten minutes later, in a special costume. She found Rodolphe dumb and motionless, for since he had come in he had been plunged, despite himself, into a gloom full of silent sobs.
"Why you no longer look at me or speak to me!" said the astonished Seraphine.
"Come," said Rodolphe to himself, lifting his head. "Let us look at her, but only for the sake of art."
"And then what a sight met his eyes," as Raoul says in "The Huguenots."
Seraphine was admirable beautiful. Her splendid figure, cleverly set off by the cut of her solitary garment, showed itself provocatively through the half-transparent material. All the imperious fever of desire woke afresh in Rodolphe's veins. A warm mist mounted to his brain. He looked at Seraphine otherwise than from a purely aesthetic point of view and took the pretty girl's hands in his own. They were divine hands, and might have been wrought by the purest chisels of Grecian statuary. Rodolphe felt these admirable hands tremble in his own, and feeling less and less of an art critic, he drew towards him Seraphine, whose face was already tinged with that flush which is the aurora of voluptuousness.
"This creature is a true instrument of pleasure, a real Stradivarius of love, and one on which I would willingly play a tune," thought Rodolphe, as he heard the fair creature's heart beating a hurried charge in a very distinct fashion.
At that moment there was a violent ring at the door of the rooms.
"Lucile, Lucile," cried Seraphine to the waiting maid, "do not let anyone in, say I am not home yet."
At the name of Lucile uttered twice, Rodolphe rose.
"I do not wish to incommode you in any way, madame," said he. "Besides, I must take my leave, it is late and I live a long way off. Good evening."
"What! You are going?" exclaimed Seraphine, augmenting the fire of her glances. "Why, why should you go? I am free, you can stay."
"Impossible," replied Rodolphe, "I am expecting one of my relatives who is coming from Terra del Fuego this evening, and he would disinherit me if he did not find me waiting to receive him. Good evening, madame."
And he quitted the room hurriedly. The servant went to light him out. Rodolphe accidentally cast his eye on her. She was a delicate looking girl, with slow movements; her extremely pale face offered a charming contrast to her dark and naturally curling hair, whilst her blue eyes resembled two sickly stars.
"Oh phantom!" exclaimed Rodolphe, shrinking from one who bore the name and the face of his mistress. "Away, what would you with me?" And he rushed down the stairs.
"Why, madame," said the lady's maid, returning to her mistress's room. "The young fellow is mad."
"Say rather that he is a fool," claimed the exasperated Seraphine. "Oh!" she continued, "this will teach me to show kindness. If only that brute of a Leon had the sense to drop in now!"
Leon was the gentleman whose love carried a whip.
Rodolphe ran home without waiting to take breath. Going upstairs he found his carroty-haired cat giving vent to piteous mewings. For two nights already it has thus been vainly summoning its faithless love, an agora Manon Lescaut, who had started on a campaign of gallantry on the house-tops adjacent.
"Poor beast," said Rodolphe, "you have been deceived. Your Mimi has jilted you like mine has jilted me. Bah! Let us console ourselves. You see, my poor fellow, the hearts of women and she-cats are abysses that neither men nor toms will ever fathom."
When he entered his room, although it was fearfully hot, Rodolphe seemed to feel a cloak of ice about his shoulders. It was the chill of solitude, that terrible nocturnal solitude that nothing disturbs. He lit his candle and then perceived the ravaged room. The gaping drawers in the furniture showed empty, and from floor to ceiling sadness filled the little room that seemed to Rodolphe vaster than a desert. Stepping forward he struck his foot against the parcels containing the things belonging to Mademoiselle Mimi, and he felt an impulse of joy to find that she had not yet come to fetch them as she had told him in the morning she would do. Rodolphe felt that, despite all his struggles, the moment of reaction was at hand, and readily divined that a cruel night was to expiate all the bitter mirth that he had dispensed in the course of the evening. However, he hoped that his body, worn out with fatigue, would sink to sleep before the reawakening of the sorrows so long pent back in his heart.
As he approached the couch, and on drawing back the curtains saw the bed that had not been disturbed for two days, the pillows placed side by side, beneath one of which still peeped out the trimming of a woman's night cap, Rodolphe felt his heart gripped in the pitiless vice of that desolate grief that cannot burst forth. He fell at the foot of the bed, buried his face in his hands, and, after having cast a glance round the desolate room, exclaimed:
"Oh! Little Mimi, joy of my home, is it really true that you are gone, that I have driven you away, and that I shall never see you again, my God. Oh! Pretty brown curly head that has slept so long on this spot, will you never come back to sleep here again? Oh! Little white hands with the blue veins, little white hands to whom I had affianced my lips, have you too received my last kiss?"
And Rodolphe, in delirious intoxication, plunged his head amongst the pillows, still impregnated with the perfume of his love's hair. From the depth of the alcove he seemed to see emerge the ghosts of the sweet nights he had passed with his young mistress. He heard clear and sonorous, amidst the nocturnal silence, the open-hearted laugh of Mademoiselle Mimi, and he thought of the charming and contagious gaiety with which she had been able so many times to make him forget all the troubles and all the hardships of their hazardous existence.
Throughout the night he kept passing in review the eight months that he had just spent with this girl, who had never loved him perhaps, but whose tender lies had restored to Rodolphe's heart its youth and virility.
Dawn surprised him at the moment when, conquered by fatigue, he had just closed his eyes, red from the tears shed during the night. A doleful and terrible vigil, yet such a one as even the most sneering and sceptical amongst us may find in the depths of their past.
When his friends called on him in the morning they were alarmed at the sight of Rodolphe, whose face bore the traces of all the anguish that had awaited him during his vigil in the Gethsemane of love.
"Good!" said Marcel, "I was sure of it; it is his mirth of yesterday that has turned in his heart. Things must not go on like this."
And in concert with two or three comrades he began a series of privately indiscreet revelations respecting Mademoiselle Mimi, every word of which pierced like a thorn in Rodolphe's heart. His friends "proved" to him that all the time his mistress had tricked him like a simpleton at home and abroad, and that this fair creature, pale as the angel of phthisis, was a casket filled with evil sentiments and ferocious instincts.
One and another they thus took it in turns at the task they had set themselves, which was to bring Rodolphe to that point at which soured love turns to contempt; but this object was only half attained. The poet's despair turned to wrath. He threw himself in a rage upon the packages which he had done up the day before, and after having put on one side all the objects that his mistress had in her possession when she came to him, kept all those he had given her during their union, that is to say, by far the greater number, and, above all, the articles connected with the toilette to which Mademoiselle Mimi was attached by all the fibers of a coquetry that had of late become insatiable.
Mademoiselle Mimi called in course of the next day to take away her things. Rodolphe was at home and alone. It needed all his powers of self esteem to keep him from throwing himself upon his mistress's neck. He gave her a reception full of silent insult, and Mademoiselle Mimi replied by those cold and keen scoffs that drive the weakest and most timid to show their teeth. In face of the contempt with which his mistress flagellated him with insolent hardihood, Rodolphe's anger broke out fearfully and brutally. For a moment Mimi, white with terror, asked herself whether she would escape from his hands alive. At the cries she uttered some neighbors rushed in and dragged her out of Rodolphe's room.
Two days later a female friend of Mimi came to ask Rodolphe whether he would give up the things he had kept.
"No," he replied.
And he got his mistress's messenger to talk about her. She informed him that Mimi was in a very unfortunate condition, and that she would soon find herself without a lodging.
"And the lover of whom she is so fond?"
"Oh!" replied Amelie, the friend in question, "the young fellow has no intention of taking her for his mistress. He has been keeping another for a long time past, and he does not seem to trouble much about Mimi, who is living at my expense, which causes me a great deal of embarrassment."
"Let her do as she can," said Rodolphe. "She would have it,—it is no affair of mine."
And he began to sing madrigals to Mademoiselle Amelie, and persuaded her that she was the prettiest woman in the world.
Amelie informed Mimi of her interview with Rodolphe.
"What did he say? What is he doing? Did he speak to you about me?" asked Mimi.
"Not at all; you are already forgotten, my dear. Rodolphe has a fresh mistress, and he has bought her a superb outfit, for he has received a great deal of money, and is himself dressed like a prince. He is a very amiable fellow, and said a lot of nice things to me."
"I know what all that means," thought Mimi.
Every day Mademoiselle Amelie called to see Rodolphe on some pretext or other, and however much the latter tried he could not help speaking of Mimi to her.
"She is very lively," replied her friend, "and does not seem to trouble herself about her position. Besides she declares that she will come back to you whenever she chooses, without making any advances and merely for the sake of vexing your friends."
"Very good," said Rodolphe, "let her come and we shall see."
And he began to pay court to Amelie, who went off to tell everything to Mimi, and to assure her that Rodolphe was very much in love with herself.
"He kissed me again on the hand and the neck; see it is quite red," said she. "He wants to take me to a dance tomorrow."
"My dear friend," said Mimi, rather vexed, "I see what you are driving at, to make me believe that Rodolphe is in love with you and thinks no more about me. But you are wasting your time both for him and me."
The fact was that Rodolphe only showed himself amiable towards Amelie to get her to call on him the oftener, and to have the opportunity of speaking to her about his mistress. But with a Machiavelism that had perhaps its object, and whilst perceiving very well that Rodolphe still loved Mimi, and that the latter was not indisposed to rejoin him, Amelie strove, by ingeniously inventive reports, to fend off everything that might serve to draw the pair together again.
The day on which she was to go to the ball Amelie called in the morning to ask Rodolphe whether the engagement still held good.
"Yes," he replied, "I do not want to miss the opportunity of being the cavalier of the most beautiful woman of the day."
Amelie assumed the coquettish air that she had put on the occasion of her solitary appearance at a suburban theater as fourth chambermaid, and promised to be ready that evening.
"By the way," said Rodolphe, "tell Mademoiselle Mimi that if she will be guilty of an infidelity to her lover in my favor, and come and pass a night with me, I will give her up all her things."
Amelie executed Rodolphe's commission, and gave to his words quite another meaning than that which she had guessed they bore.
"Your Rodolphe is a rather base fellow," said she to Mimi. "His proposal is infamous. He wishes by this step to make you descend to the rank of the vilest creatures, and if you go to him not only will he not give you your things, but he will show you up as a jest to all his comrades. It is a plot arranged amongst them."
"I will not go," said Mimi, and as she saw Amelie engaged in preparing her toilette, she asked her whether she was going to the ball.
"Yes," replied the other.
"Yes, he is to wait for me this evening twenty yards or so from here."
"I wish you joy," said Mimi, and seeing the hour of the appointment approach, she hurried off to Mademoiselle Amelie's lover, and informed him that the latter was engaged in a little scheme to deceive him with her own old lover.
The gentleman, jealous as a tiger and brutal to boot, called at once on Mademoiselle Amelie, and announced that he would like her to spend the evening in his company.
At eight o'clock Mimi flew to the spot at which Rodolphe was to meet Amelie. She saw her lover pacing up and down after the fashion of a man waiting for some one, and twice passed close to him without daring to address him. Rodolphe was very well dressed that evening, and the violent crises through which he had passed during the week had imparted great character on his face. Mimi was singularly moved. At length she made up her mind to speak to him. Rodolphe received her without anger, and asked how she was, after which he inquired as to the motive that had brought her to him, in mild voice, in which there was an effort to check a note of sadness.
"It is bad news that I come to bring you. Mademoiselle Amelie cannot come to the ball with you. Her lover is keeping her."
"I shall go to the ball alone, then."
Here Mademoiselle Mimi feigned to stumble, and leaned against Rodolphe's shoulder. He took her arm and proposed to escort her home.
"No," said Mimi. "I am living with Amelie, and as her lover is there I cannot go in until he has left."
"Listen to me, then," said the poet. "I made a proposal to you today through Mademoiselle Amelie. Did she transmit it to you?"
"Yes," said Mimi, "but in terms which, even after what has happened, I could not credit. No, Rodolphe, I could not believe that, despite all that you might have to reproach me with, you thought me so worthless as to accept such a bargain."
"You did not understand me, or the message has been badly conveyed to you. My offer holds good," said Rodolphe. "It is nine o'clock. You still have three hours for reflection. The door will be unlocked until midnight. Good night. Farewell, or—till we meet again."
"Farewell, then," said Mimi, in trembling tones.
And they separated. Rodolphe went home and threw himself, without undressing, upon his bed. At half past eleven, Mademoiselle Mimi entered his room.
"I have come to ask your hospitality," said she. "Amelie's lover has stayed with her, and I cannot get in."
They talked together until three in the morning—an explanatory conversation which grew gradually more familiar.
At four o'clock their candle went out. Rodolphe wanted to light another.
"No," said Mimi, "it is not worth the trouble. It is quite time to go to bed."
Five minutes later her pretty brown curly head had once more resumed its place on the pillow, and in a voice full of affection she invited Rodolphe's lips to feast on her little white hand with their blue veins, the pearly pallor of which vied with the whiteness of the sheets. Rodolphe did not light the candle.
In the morning Rodolphe got up first, and pointing out several packages to Mimi, said to her, very gently, "There is what belongs to you. You can take it away. I keep my word."
"Oh!" said Mimi. "I am very tired, you see, and I cannot carry all these heavy parcels away at once. I would rather call again."
And when she was dressed she only took a collar and a pair of cuffs.
"I will take away the rest by degrees," she added, smiling.
"Come," said Rodolphe, "take away all or take away none, and let there be an end of it."
"Let it, on the contrary, begin again, and, above all, let it last," said Mimi, kissing Rodolphe.
After breakfasting together they started off for a day in the country. Crossing the Luxembourg gardens Rodolphe met a great poet who had always received him with charming kindness. Out of respect for the conventionalities Rodolphe was about to pretend not to see him but the poet did not give him time, and passing by him greeted him with a friendly gesture and his companion with a smile.
"Who is that gentleman?" asked Mimi.
Rodolphe answered her by mentioning a name which made her blush with pleasure and pride.
"Oh!" said Rodolphe. "Our meeting with the poet who has sung of love so well is a good omen, and will bring luck to our reconciliation."
"I do love you," said Mimi, squeezing his hand, although they were in the midst of the crowd.
"Alas!" thought Rodolphe. "Which is better; to allow oneself always to be deceived through believing, or never to believe for fear of always being deceived?"
We have told how the painter Marcel made the acquaintance of Mademoiselle Musette. United one morning by the ministry of caprice, the registrar of the district, they had fancied, as often happens, that their union did not extend to their hearts. But one evening when, after a violent quarrel, they resolved to leave one another on the spot, they perceived that their hands, which they had joined in a farewell clasp, would no longer quit one another. Almost in spite of themselves fancy had become love. Both, half laughingly, acknowledged it.
"This is very serious. What has happened to us?" said Marcel. "What the deuce have we been up to?"
"Oh!" replied Musette. "We must have been clumsy over it. We did not take enough precautions."
"What is the matter?" asked Rodolphe, who had become Marcel's neighbor, entering the room.
"The matter is," replied Marcel, "that this lady and myself have just made a pretty discovery. We are in love with one another. We must have been attacked by the complaint whilst asleep."
"Oh oh! I don't think that it was whilst you were asleep," observed Rodolphe. "But what proves that you are in love with one another? Possibly you exaggerate the danger."
"We cannot bear one another," said Marcel.
"And we cannot leave one another," added Musette.
"There, my children, your business is plain. Each has tried to play cunning, and both have lost. It is the story of Mimi and myself. We shall soon have run through two almanacs quarrelling day and night. It is by that system that marriages are rendered eternal. Wed a 'yes' to a 'no,' and you obtain the union of Philemon and Baucis. Your domestic interior will soon match mine, and if Schaunard and Phemie come and live in the house, as they have threatened, our trio of establishments will render it a very pleasant place of residence."
At that moment Gustave Colline came in. He was informed of the accident that had befallen Musette and Marcel.
"Well, philosopher," said the latter, "what do you think of this?"
Colline rubbed the hat that served him for a roof, and murmured, "I felt sure of it beforehand. Love is a game of chance. He who plays at bowls may expect rubbers. It is not good for man to live alone."
That evening, on returning home, Rodolphe said to Mimi—
"There is something new. Musette dotes on Marcel, and will not leave him."
"Poor girl!" replied Mimi. "She who has such a good appetite, too."
"And on his side, Marcel is hard and fast in love with Musette."
"Poor fellow!" said Mimi. "He who is so jealous."
"That is true," observed Rodolphe. "He and I are pupils of Othello."
Shortly afterwards the households of Rodolphe and Marcel were reinforced by the household of Schaunard, the musician, moving into the house with Phemie Teinturiere.
From that day all the other inhabitants slept upon a volcano, and at quarter day sent in a unanimous notice of their intention to move to the landlord.
Indeed, hardly a day passed without a storm breaking out in one of these households. Now it was Mimi and Rodolphe who, no longer having strength to speak, continued their conversation with the aid of such missiles as came under their hands. But more frequently it was Schaunard addressing a few observations to the melancholy Phemie with the end of a walking stick. As to Marcel and Musette, their arguments were carried on in private sittings; they took at least the precaution to close their doors and windows.
If by chance peace reigned in the three households, the other lodgers were not the less victims of this temporary concord. The indiscretion of partition walls allowed all the secrets of Bohemian family life to transpire, and initiated them, in spite of themselves, into all its mysteries. Thus more than one neighbor preferred the casus belli to the ratification of treaties of peace.
It was, in truth, a singular life that was led for six months. The most loyal fraternity was practiced without any fuss in this circle, in which everything was for all, and good or evil fortune shared.
There were in the month certain days of splendor, when no one would have gone out without gloves—days of enjoyment, when dinner lasted all day long. There were others when one would have almost gone to Court without boots; Lenten days, when, after going without breakfast in common, they failed to dine together, or managed by economic combination to furnish forth one of those repasts at which plates and knives were "resting," as Mademoiselle Mimi put it, in theatrical parlance.
But the wonderful thing is that this partnership, in which there were three young and pretty women, no shadow of discord was found amongst the men. They often yielded to the most futile fancies of their mistresses, but not one of them would have hesitated for a moment between the mistress and the friend.
Love is born above all from spontaneity—it is an improvisation. Friendship, on the contrary, is, so to say, built up. It is a sentiment that progresses with circumspection. It is the egoism of the mind, whilst love is the egoism of the heart.
The Bohemians had known one another for six years. This long period of time spent in a daily intimacy had, without altering the well-defined individuality of each, brought about between them a concord of ideas—a unity which they would not have found elsewhere. They had manners that were their own, a tongue amongst themselves to which strangers would not have been able to find the key. Those who did not know them very well called their freedom of manner cynicism. It was however, only frankness. With minds impatient of imposed control, they all hated what was false, and despised what was low. Accused of exaggerated vanity, they replied by proudly unfurling the program of their ambition, and, conscious of their worth, held no false estimate of themselves.
During the number of years that they had followed the same life together, though often placed in rivalry by the necessities of their profession, they had never let go one another's hands, and had passed without heeding them over personal questions of self-esteem whenever an attempt had been made to raise these between them in order to disunite them. Besides, they each esteemed one another at their right worth, and pride, which is the counter poison of envy, preserved them from all petty professional jealousy.
However, after six months of life in common, an epidemic of divorce suddenly seized on the various households.
Schaunard opened the ball. One day he perceived that Phemie Teinturiere had one knee better shaped than the other, and as his was an austere purism as regards plastics, he sent Phemie about her business, giving her as a souvenir the cane with which he had addressed such frequent remarks to her. Then he went back to live with a relative who offered him free quarters.
A fortnight later Mimi left Rodolphe to step into the carriage of the young Vicomte Paul, the ex-pupil of Carolus Barbemuche, who had promised her dresses to her heart's desire.
After Mimi it was Musette who went off, and returned with a grand flourish of trumpets amongst the aristocracy of the world of gallantry which she had left to follow Marcel.
This separation took place without quarrel, shock or premeditation. Born of a fancy that had become love, this union was broken off by another fancy.
One evening during the carnival, at the masked ball at the Opera, whither she had gone with Marcel, Mimi, Musette had for her vis-a-vis in a quadrille a young man who had formerly courted her. They recognized one another, and, whilst dancing exchanged a few words. Unintentionally, perhaps, whilst informing the young man of her present condition in life, she may have dropped a word of regret as to her past one. At any rate, at the end of the quadrille Musette made a mistake, and instead of giving her hand to Marcel, who was her partner, give it to her vis-a-vis, who led her off, and disappeared with her in the crowd.
Marcel looked for her, feeling somewhat uneasy. In an hour's time he found her on the young man's arm; she was coming out of the Cafe de l'Opera, humming a tune. On catching sight of Marcel, who had stationed himself in a corner with folded arms, she made him a sign of farewell, saying—"I shall be back."
"That is to say, 'Do not expect me,'" translated Marcel.
He was jealous but logical, and knew Musette, hence he did not wait for her, but went home with a full heart and an empty stomach. He looked into the cupboard to see whether there were not a few scraps to eat, and perceived a bit of stale bread as hard as granite and a skeleton-like red herring.
"I cannot fight against truffles," he thought. "At any rate, Musette will have some supper."
And after passing his handkerchief over his eyes under pretext of wiping his nose, he went to bed.
Two days later Musette woke up in a boudoir with rose-covered hangings. A blue brougham was at her door, and all the fairies of fashion had been summoned to lay their wonders at her feet. Musette was charming, and her youth seemed yet further rejuvenated in this elegant setting. Then she began her old life again, was present at every festivity, and re-conquered her celebrity. She was spoken of everywhere—in the lobbies of the Bourse, and even at the parliamentary refreshment bars. As to her new lover, Monsieur Alexis, he was a charming young fellow. He often complained to Musette of her being somewhat frivolous and inattentive when he spoke to her of his love. Then Musette would look at him laughingly, and say—
"What would you have, my dear fellow? I stayed six months with a man who fed me on salad and soup without butter, who dressed me in a cotton gown, and usually took me to the Odeon because he was not well off. As love costs nothing, and as I was wildly in love with this monster, we expended a great deal of it together. I have scarcely anything but its crumbs left. Pick them up, I do no hinder you. Besides, I have not deceived you about it; if ribbons were not so dear I should still be with my painter. As to my heart, since I have worn an eighty franc corset I do not hear it, and I am very much afraid that I have left it in one of Marcel's drawers."
The disappearance of the three Bohemian households was the occasion of a festival in the house they had inhabited. As a token of rejoicing the landlord gave a grand dinner, and the lodgers lit up their windows.
Rodolphe and Marcel went to live together. Each had taken a new idol whose name they were not exactly acquainted with. Sometimes it happened that one spoke of Musette and the other of Mimi, and then they had a whole evening of it. They recalled to one another their old life, the songs of Musette and the songs of Mimi, nights passed without sleep, idle mornings, and dinners only partaken of in dreams. One by one they hummed over in these recolletive ducts all the bygone hours, and they usually wound up by saying that after all they were still happy to find themselves together, their feet on the fender, stirring the December log, smoking their pipes, and having as a pretext for open conversation between them that which they whispered to themselves when alone—that they had dearly loved these beings who had vanished, bearing away with them a part of their youth, and that perhaps they loved them still.
One evening when passing along the Boulevard, Marcel perceived a few paces ahead of him a young lady who, in alighting from a cab, exposed the lower part of a white stocking of admirable shape. The very driver himself devoured with his eyes this charming gratification in excess of his fare.
"By Jove," said Marcel. "That is a neat leg, I should like to offer it my arm. Come, now, how shall I manage to accord it? Ha! I have it—it is a fairly novel plan. Excuse me, madame," continued he, approaching the fair unknown, whose face at the outset he could not at first get a full view of, "but you have not by chance found my handkerchief?"
"Yes, sir," replied the young lady, "here it is." And she placed in Marcel's hand a handkerchief she had been holding in her own.
The artist rolled into an abyss of astonishment.
But all at once a burst of laughter full in his face recalled him to himself. By this joyous outbreak he recognized his old love.
It was Mademoiselle Musette.
"Ah!" she exclaimed. "Monsieur Marcel in quest of gallant adventures. What do you think of this one, eh? It does not lack fun."
"I think it endurable," replied Marcel.
"Where are you going so late in this region?" asked Musette.
"I am going into that edifice," said the artist, pointing to a little theater where he was on the free list.
"For the sake of art?"
"No, for the sake of Laura."
"Who is Laura?" continued Musette, whose eyes shot forth notes of interrogation.
Marcel kept up the tone.
"She is a chimera whom I am pursuing, and who plays here."
And he pretended to pull out an imaginary shirt frill.
"You are very witty this evening," said Musette.
"And you very curious," observed Marcel.
"Do no speak so loud, everyone can hear us, and they will take us for two lovers quarrelling."
"It would not be the first time that that happened," said Marcel.
Musette read a challenge in this sentence, and quickly replied, "And it will not perhaps be the last, eh?"
Her words were plain, they whizzed past Marcel's ear like a bullet.
"Splendors of heaven," said he, looking up at the stars, "you are witness that it is not I who opened fire. Quick, my armor."
From that moment the firing began.
It was now only a question of finding some appropriate pretext to bring about an agreement between these two fancies that had just woke up again so lively.
As they walked along, Musette kept looking at Marcel, and Marcel kept looking at Musette. They did not speak, but their eyes, those plenipotentiaries of the heart, often met. After a quarter of an hour's diplomacy this congress of glances had tacitly settled the matter. There was nothing to be done save to ratify it.
The interrupted conversation was renewed.
"Candidly now," said Musette to Marcel, "where were you going just now?"
"I told you, to see Laura."
"Is she pretty?"
"Her mouth is a nest of smiles."
"Oh! I know all that sort of thing."
"But you yourself," said Marcel, "whence came you on the wings of this four-wheeler?"
"I came back from the railway station where I had been to see off Alexis, who is going on a visit to his family."
"What sort of man is Alexis?"
In turn Musette sketched a charming portrait of her present lover. Whilst walking along Marcel and Musette continued thus on the open Boulevard the comedy of reawakening love. With the same simplicity, in turn tender and jesting, they went verse by verse through that immortal ode in which Horace and Lydia extol with such grace the charms of their new loves, and end by adding a postscript to their old ones. As they reached the corner of the street a rather strong picket of soldiers suddenly issued from it.
Musette struck an attitude of alarm, and clutching hold of Marcel's arm said, "Ah! Good heavens! Look there, soldiers; there is going to be another revolution. Let us bolt off, I am awfully afraid. See me indoors."
"But where shall we go?" asked Marcel.
"To my place," said Musette. "You shall see how nice it is. I invite you to supper. We will talk politics."
"No," replied Marcel, who thought of Monsieur Alexis. "I will not go to your place, despite your offer of a supper. I do not like to drink my wine out of another's glass."
Musette was silent in face of this refusal. Then through the mist of her recollections she saw the poor home of the artist, for Marcel had not become a millionaire. She had an idea, and profiting by meeting another picket she manifested fresh alarm.
"They are going to fight," she exclaimed. "I shall never dare go home. Marcel, my dear fellow, take me to one of my lady friends, who must be living in your neighborhood."
As they were crossing the Pont Neuf Musette broke into a laugh.
"What is it?" asked Marcel.
"Nothing," replied Musette, "only I remember that my friend has moved. She is living at Batignolles."
On seeing Marcel and Musette arrive arm in arm Rodolphe was not astonished.
"It is always so," said he, "with these badly buried loves."
The Passage of the Red Sea
For five or six years Marcel had worked at the famous painting which (he said) represented the Passage of the Red Sea; and for five or six years, this masterpiece of color had been obstinately refused by the jury. In fact, by dint of going and returning so many times from the artist's study to the Exhibition, and from the Exhibition to the study, the picture knew the road to the Louvre well enough to have gone thither of itself, if it had been put on wheels. Marcel, who had repainted the canvas ten times over, from top to bottom, attributed to personal hostility on the part of the jury the ostracism which annually repulsed him from the large saloon; nevertheless he was not totally discouraged by the obstinate rejection which greeted him at every Exhibition. He was comfortably established in the persuasion that his picture was, on a somewhat smaller scale, the pendant required by "The Marriage of Cana," that gigantic masterpiece whose astonishing brilliancy the dust of three centuries has not been able to tarnish. Accordingly, every year at the epoch of the Exhibition, Marcel sent his great work to the jury of examiners; only, to deceive them, he would change some details of his picture, and the title of it, without disturbing the general composition.
Thus, it came before the jury once, under the name of "The Passage of the Rubicon," but Pharaoh, badly disguised under the mantle of Caeser, was recognized and rejected with all the honors due him. Next year, Marcel threw a coat of white over the foreground, to imitate snow, planted a fir tree in one corner, and dressing an Egyptian like a grenadier of the Imperial Guard, christened his picture, "The Passage of the Beresina."
But the jury had wiped its glasses that day, and were not to be duped by this new stratagem. It recognized the pertinacious picture by a thundering big pie-bald horse that was prancing on top of a wave of the Red Sea. The skin of this horse served Marcel for all his experiments in coloring; he used to call it, familiarly, his "synoptic table of fine tones," because it reproduced the most varied combinations of color, with the different plays of light and shade. Once again, however, the jury could not find black balls enough to refuse "The Passage of Beresina."
"Very well," said Marcel, "I thought so! Next year, I shall send it under the title of 'The Passage of the Panoramas.'"
"They're going to be jolly caught—caught!"
sang Schaunard to a new air of his own composition; a terrible air, like a gamut of thunder-claps, the accompaniment whereof was a terror to all pianos within hearing.
"How can they refuse it, without all the vermilion of my Red Sea mounting to their cheeks, and covering them with the blush of shame?" ejaculated the artist, as he gazed on his picture. "When I think that there is five hundred francs' worth of color there, and at least a million of genius, without counting my lovely youth, now as bald as my old hat! But they shan't get the better of me! Till my dying day, I will send them my picture. It shall be engraved on their memories."
"The surest way of ever having it engraved," said Colline, in a plaintive tone, and then added to himself, "very neat, that; I shall repeat it in society!"
Marcel continued his imprecations, which Schaunard continued to put to music.
"Ah they won't admit me! The government pays them, lodges them, and gives them decorations, on purpose to refuse me once a year; every first of March! I see their idea! I see it clearly! They want to make me burn my brushes. They hope that when my Red Sea is refused, I will throw myself out of the window of despair. But they little know the heart of man, if they think to take me thus. I will not wait for the opening of the Exhibition. From today, my work shall be a picture of Damocles, eternally suspended over their existence. I will send it once a week to each of them, at his home in the bosom of his family; in the very heart of his private life. It shall trouble their domestic joys; they shall find their roasts burnt, their wines sour, and their wives bitter! They will grow mad rapidly, and go to the Institute in strait-waistcoats. Ha! Ha! The thought consoles me."
Some days later, when Marcel had already forgotten his terrible plans of vengeance against his persecutors, he received a visit from Father Medicis. So the club called a Jew, named Salomon, who at that time was well known to all the vagabond of art and literature, and had continual transactions with them. Father Medicis traded in all sorts of trumpery. He sold complete sets of furniture from twelve francs up to five thousand; he bought everything, and knew how to dispose of it again, at a profit. Proudhon's bank of exchange was nothing in comparison with the system practiced by Medicis, who possessed the genius of traffic to a degree at which the ablest of his religion had never before arrived. His shop was a fairy region where you found anything you wished for. Every product of nature, every creation of art; whatever issued from the bowels of the earth or the head of man, was an object of commerce for him. His business included everything; literally everything that exists; he even trafficked in the ideal. He bought ideas to sell or speculate in them. Known to all literary men and all artists, intimate with the palette and familiar with the desk, he was the very Asmodeus of the arts. He would sell you cigars for a column of your newspaper, slippers for a sonnet, fresh fish for paradoxes; he would talk, for so much an hour, with the people who furnished fashionable gossip to the journals. He would procure you places for the debates in the Chambers, and invitations to parties. He lodged wandering artistlings by the day, week, or month, taking for pay, copies of the pictures in the Louvre. The green room had no mysteries for him. He would get your pieces into the theater, or yourself into the boudoir of an actress. He had a copy of the "Almanac of Twenty Five Thousand Addresses" in his head, and knew the names, residences, and secrets of all celebrities, even those who were not celebrated.
A few pages copied from his waste book, will give a better idea of the universality of his operations than the most copious explanation could.
"March 20, 184—."
"Sold to M. L——, antiquary, the compass which Archimedes used at the siege of Syracuse. 75 fr.
Bought of M. V——, journalist, the entire works, uncut, of M. X——, Member of the Academy. 10 fr.
Sold to the same, a criticism of the complete works of M. X——, of the Academy. 30 fr.
Bought of M. R——, literary man, a critical article on the complete works of M. Y——, of the Academy. 10 fr., plus half a cwt. of charcoal and 4 lbs. of coffee.
Sold to M. Y——, of the Academy, a laudatory review (twelve columns) of his complete works. 250 fr.
Sold to M. G——, a porcelain vase which had belonged to Madame Dubarry. 18 fr.
Bought of little D——, her hair. 15 fr.
Bought of M. B——, a lot of articles on Society, and the last three mistakes in spelling made by the Prefect of the Seine. 6 fr, plus a pair of Naples shoes.
Sold to Mdlle. O——, a flaxen head of hair. 120 fr.
Bought of M. M——, historical painter, a series of humorous designs. 25 fr.
Informed M. Ferdinand the time when Mme. la Baronne de T—— goes to mass, and let him for the day the little room in the Faubourg Montmartre: together 30 fr.
Bought of M. J——, artist, a portrait of M. Isidore as Apollo. 6 fr.
Sold to Mdlle R—— a pair of lobsters and six pair of gloves. 36 fr. Received 3 fr.
For the same, procured a credit of six months with Mme. Z——, dressmaker. (Price not settled.)
Procured for Mme. Z——, dressmaker, the custom of Mdlle. R——. Received for this three yards of velvet, and three yards of lace.
Bought of M. R——, literary man, a claim of 120 fr. against the——newspaper. 5 fr., plus 2 lbs. of tobacco.
Sold M. Ferdinand two love letters. 12 fr.
Sold M. Isidore his portrait as Apollo. 30 fr.
Bought of M. M——, a cwt. and a half of his work, entitled 'Submarine Revolutions.' 15 fr.
Lent Mme la Comtesse de G—— a service of Dresden china. 20 fr.
Bought of M. G——, journalist, fifty-two lines in his article of town talk. 100 fr., plus a set of chimney ornaments.
Sold to Messrs. O—— and Co., fifty-two lines in the town talk of the——. 300 fr., plus two sets of chimney ornaments.
Let to Mdlle. S. G—— a bed and a brougham for the day (nothing). See Mdlle. S. G——'s account in private ledger, folios 26 and 27.
Bought of M. Gustave C—- a treatise on the flax and linen trade. 50 fr., and a rare edition of Josephus.
Sold Mdlle. S. G—— a complete set of new furniture. 5000 fr.
For the same, paid an apothecary's bill. 75 fr.
For the same, paid a milkman's bill. 3 fr. 85 c."
Those quotations show what an extensive range the operations of the Jew Medici covered. It may be added, that although some articles of his commerce were decidedly illicit, he had never got himself into any trouble.
The Jew comprehended, on his entrance, that he had come at a favorable time. In fact, the four friends were at that moment in council, under the auspices of a ferocious appetite, discussing the grave question of meat and drink. It was a Sunday at the end of the month—sinister day.
The arrival of Medicis was therefore hailed by a joyous chorus, for they knew that he was too saving of his time to spend it in visits of polite ceremony; his presence announced business.
"Good evening, gentlemen!" said the Jew. "How are you all?"
"Colline!" said Rodolphe, who was studying the horizontal line at full length on his bed. "Do the hospitable. Give our guest a chair; a guest is sacred. I salute Abraham in you," added he.
Colline took an arm chair about as soft as iron, and shoved it towards the Jew, saying:
"Suppose, for once, you were Cinna, (you are a great sinner, you know), and take this seat."
"Oh, oh, oh!" shouted the others, looking at the floor to see if it would not open and swallow up the philosopher. Meanwhile the Jew let himself fall into the arm chair, and was just going to cry out at its hardness, when he remembered that it was one which he himself had sold to Colline for a deputy's speech. As the Jew sat down, his pockets re-echoed with a silvery sound; melodious symphony, which threw the four friends into a reverie of delight.
"The accompaniment seems pretty," said Rodolphe aside to Marcel. "Now for the air!"
"Monsieur Marcel," said Medicis, "I have merely come to make your fortune; that is to say, I offer you a superb opportunity of making your entry into the artistic world. Art, you know, is a barren route, of which glory is the oasis."
"Father Medicis," cried Marcel, on the tenter-hooks of impatience, "in the name of your revered patron, St. Fifty-percent, be brief!"
"Here it is," continued Medicis, "a rich amateur, who is collecting a gallery destined to make the tour of Europe, has charged me to procure him a series of remarkable works. I come to offer you admission into this museum—in a word, to buy your 'Passage of the Red Sea.'"
"Money down?" asked Marcel.
"Specie," replied the Jew, making the orchestra pockets strike up.
"Do you accept this serious offer?" asked Colline.
"Of course I do!" shouted Rodolphe, "don't you see, you wretch, that he is talking of 'tin'? Is there nothing sacred for you, atheist that you are?"
Colline mounted on a table and assumed the attitude of Harpocrates, the God of Silence.
"Push on, Medicis!" said Marcel, exhibiting his picture. "I wish to leave you the honor of fixing the price of this work, which is above all price."
The Jew placed on the table a hundred and fifty francs in new coin.
"Well, what more?" said Marcel, "that's only the prologue."
"Monsieur Marcel," replied the Jew, "you know that my first offer is my last. I shall add nothing. Reflect, a hundred and fifty francs; that is a sum, it is!"
"A very small sum," said the artist. "There is that much worth of cobalt in my Pharaoh's robe. Make it a round sum, at any rate! Square it off; say two hundred!"
"I won't add a sou!" said Medicis. "But I stand dinner for the company, wine to any extent."
"Going, going, going!" shouted Colline, with three blows of his fist on the table, "no one speaks?—gone!"
"Well it's a bargain!" said Marcel.
"I will send for the picture tomorrow," said the Jew, "and now, gentlemen, to dinner!"
The four friends descended the staircase, singing the chorus of "The Huguenots"—"A table! A table!"
Medicis treated the Bohemians in a really magnificent way, and gave them their choice of a number of dishes, which until then were completely unknown to them. Henceforward hot lobster ceased to be a myth with Schaunard, who contracted a passion for it that bordered on delirium. The four friends departed from the gorgeous banquet as drunk as a vintage-day. Marcel's intoxication was near having the most deplorable consequences. In passing by his tailor's, at two in the morning, he absolutely wanted to wake up his creditor, and pay him the hundred and fifty francs on account. A ray of reason which flashed across the mind of Colline, stopped the artist on the border of this precipice.
A week after, Marcel discovered in what gallery his picture had been placed. While passing through the Faubourg St. Honore, he stopped in the midst of a group which seemed to regard with curiosity a sign that was being put up over a shop door. The sign was neither more nor less than Marcel's picture, which Medicis had sold to a grocer. Only "the Passage of the Red Sea" had undergone one more alteration, and been given one more new name. It had received the addition of a steamboat and was called "the Harbor of Marseilles." The curious bystanders were bestowing on it a flattering ovation. Marcel returned home in ecstacy at his triumph, muttering to himself, Vox populi, voz Dei.
The Toilette of the Graces
Mademoiselle Mimi, who was accustomed to sleep far into the day, woke up one morning at ten o'clock, and was greatly surprised not to find Rodolphe beside her, nor even in the room. The preceding night, before falling to sleep, she had, however, seen him at his desk, preparing to spend the night over a piece of literary work which had been ordered of him, and in the completion of which Mimi was especially interested. In fact, the poet had given his companion hopes that out of the fruit of his labors he would purchase a certain summer gown, that she had noticed one day at the "Deux Magots," a famous drapery establishment, to the window of which Mimi's coquetry used very frequently to pay its devotions. Hence, ever since the work in question had been begun, Mimi had been greatly interested in its progress. She would often come up to Rodolphe whilst he was writing, and leaning her head on his shoulder would say to him in serious tones—
"Well, is my dress getting on?"
"There is already enough for a sleeve, so be easy," replied Rodolphe.
One night having heard Rodolphe snap his fingers, which usually meant that he was satisfied with his work, Mimi suddenly sat up in bed and passing her head through the curtains said, "Is my dress finished?"
"There," replied Rodolphe, showing her four large sheets of paper, covered with closely written lines. "I have just finished the body."
"How nice," said Mimi. "Then there is only the skirt now left to do. How many pages like that are wanted for the skirt?"
"That depends; but as you are not tall, with ten pages of fifty lines each, and eight words to the line, we can get a decent skirt."
"I am not very tall, it is true," said Mimi seriously, "but it must not look as if we had skimped the stuff. Dresses are worn full, and I should like nice large folds so that it may rustle as I walk."
"Very good," replied Rodolphe, seriously. "I will squeeze another word in each line and we shall manage the rustling." Mimi fell asleep again quite satisfied.
As she had been guilty of the imprudence of speaking of the nice dress that Rodolphe was engaged in making for her to Mademoiselles Musette and Phemie, these two young persons had not failed to inform Messieurs Marcel and Schaunard of their friend's generosity towards his mistress, and these confidences had been followed by unequivocal challenges to follow the example set by the poet.
"That is to say," added Mademoiselle Musette, pulling Marcel's moustache, "that if things go on like this a week longer I shall be obliged to borrow a pair of your trousers to go out in."
"I am owed eleven francs by a good house," replied Marcel. "If I get it in I will devote it to buying you a fashionable fig leaf."
"And I," said Phemie to Schaunard, "my gown is in ribbons."
Schaunard took three sous from his pocket and gave them to his mistress, saying, "Here is enough to buy a needle and thread with. Mend your gown, that will instruct and amuse you at the same time, utile dulci."
Nevertheless, in a council kept very secret, Marcel and Schaunard agreed with Rodolphe that each of them should endeavor to satisfy the justifiable coquetry of their mistresses.
"These poor girls," said Rodolphe, "a trifle suffices to adorn them, but then they must have this trifle. Latterly fine arts and literature have been flourishing; we are earning almost as much as street porters."
"It is true that I ought not to complain," broke in Marcel. "The fine arts are in a most healthy condition, one might believe oneself under the sway of Leo the Tenth."
"In point of fact," said Rodolphe. "Musette tells me that for the last week you have started off every morning and do not get home till about eight in the evening. Have you really got something to do?"
"My dear fellow, a superb job that Medicis got me. I am painting at the Ave Maria barracks. Eight grenadiers have ordered their portraits at six francs a head taken all round, likenesses guaranteed for a year, like a watch. I hope to get the whole regiment. I had the idea, on my own part, of decking out Musette when Medicis pays me, for it is with him I do business and not my models."
"As to me," observed Schaunard carelessly, "although it may not look like it, I have two hundred francs lying idle."
"The deuce, let us stir them up," said Rodolphe.
"In two or three days I count on drawing them," replied Schaunard. "I do not conceal from you that on doing so I intend to give a free rein to some of my passions. There is, above all, at the second hand clothes shop close by a nankeen jacket and a hunting horn, that have for a long time caught my eye. I shall certainly present myself with them."
"But," added Marcel and Rodolphe together, "where do you hope to draw this amount of capital from?"
"Hearken gentlemen," said Schaunard, putting on a serious air, and sitting down between his two friends, "we must not hide from one another that before becoming members of the Institute and ratepayers, we have still a great deal of rye bread to eat, and that daily bread is hard to get. On the other hand, we are not alone; as heaven has created us sensitive to love, each of us has chosen to share his lot."
"Which is little," interrupted Marcel.
"But," continued Schaunard, "whilst living with the strictest economy, it is difficult when one has nothing to put anything on one side, above all if one's appetite is always larger than one's plate."
"What are you driving at?" asked Rodolphe.
"This," resumed Schaunard, "that in our present situation we should all be wrong to play the haughty when a chance offers itself, even outside our art, of putting a figure in front of the cypher that constitutes our capital."
"Well!" said Marcel, "which of us can you reproach with playing the haughty. Great painter as I shall be some day, have I not consented to devote my brush to the pictorial reproduction of French soldiers, who pay me out of their scanty pocket money? It seems to me that I am not afraid to descend the ladder of my future greatness."
"And I," said Rodolphe, "do not you know that for the past fortnight I have been writing a medico-chirurgical epic for a celebrated dentist, who has hired my inspiration at fifteen sous the dozen lines, about half the price of oysters? However, I do not blush; rather than let my muse remain idle, I would willingly put a railway guide into verse. When one has a lyre it is meant to be made use of. And then Mimi has a burning thirst for boots."
"Then," said Schaunard, "you will not be offended with me when you know the source of that Pactolus, the overflowing of which I am awaiting."
The following is the history of Schaunard's two hundred francs:—
About a fortnight before he had gone into the shop of a music publisher who had promised to procure him amongst his customers' pupils for pianoforte lessons or pianofortes to tune.
"By Jove!" said the publisher, on seeing him enter the shop, "you are just in time. A gentleman has been here who wants a pianist; he is an Englishman, and will probably pay well. Are you really a good one?"
Schaunard reflected that a modest air might injure him in the publisher's estimation. Indeed, a modest musician, and especially a modest pianist, is a rare creation. Accordingly, he replied boldly:
"I am a first rate one; if I only had a lung gone, long hair and a black coat, I should be famous as the sun in the heavens; and instead of asking me eight hundred francs to engrave my composition 'The Death of the Damsel,' you would come on your knees to offer me three thousand for it on a silver plate."
The person whose address Schaunard took was an Englishman, named Birne. The musician was first received by a servant in blue, who handed him over to a servant in green, who passed him on to a servant in black, who introduced him into a drawing room, where he found himself face to face with a Briton coiled up in an attitude which made him resemble Hamlet mediating on human nothingness. Schaunard was about to explain the reason of his presence, when a sudden volley of shrill cries cut short his speech. These horrid and ear piercing sounds proceeded from a parrot hung out on the balcony of the story below.
"Oh! That beast, that beast!" exclaimed the Englishman, with a bound on his arm chair, "it will kill me."
Thereupon the bird began to repeat its vocabulary, much more extensive than that of ordinary Pollies; and Schaunard stood stupefied when he heard the animal, prompted by a female voice, reciting the speech of Theramenes with all the professional intonations.
This parrot was the favorite of an actress who was then a great favorite herself, and very much the rage—in her own boudoir. She was one of those women who, no one knows why, was quoted at fancy prices on the 'Change of dissipation, and whose names are inscribed on the bills of fare of young noblemen's suppers, where they form the living dessert. It gives a Christian standing now-a-days to be seen with one of these Pagans, who often have nothing of antiquity about them except their age. When they are handsome, there is no such great harm after all; the worst one risks is to sleep on straw in return for making them sleep on rosewood. But when their beauty is bought by the ounce at the perfumer's, and will not stand three drops of water on a rag; then their wit consists in a couplet of a farce, and their talent lies in the hand of the claqueur, it is hard indeed to understand how respectable men with good names, ordinary sense, and decent coats, can let themselves be carried away by a common place passion for these most mercenary creatures.
The actress in question was one of these belles of the day. She called herself Delores, and professed to be a Spaniard, although she was born in that Parisian Andalusia known as the Rue Coquenard. From there to the Rue de Provence is about ten minute's walk, but it had cost her seven years to make the transit. Her prosperity had begun with the decline of her personal charms. She had a horse the day when her first false tooth was inserted, and a pair the day of her second. Now she was living at a great rate, lodging in a palace, driving four horses on holidays, and giving balls to which all Paris came—the "all Paris" of these ladies—that is to say, that collection of lazy seekers after jokes and scandal; the "all Paris" that plays lansquenet; the sluggards of head and hand, who kill their own time and other people's; the writers who turn literary men to get some use out of the feather which nature placed on their backs; the bullies of the revel, the clipped and sweated gentlemen, the chevaliers of doubtful orders, all the vagabonds of kid-glove-dom, that come from God knows where, and go back tither again some day; all the marked and remarked notorieties; all those daughters of Eve who retail what they once sold wholesale; all that race of beings, corrupt from their cradle to their coffin, whom one sees on first nights at the theater, with Golconda on foreheads and Thibet on their shoulders, and for whom, notwithstanding, bloom the first violets of spring and the first passions of youth—all this world which the chronicles of gossip call "all Paris," was received by Delores who owned the parrot aforesaid.
This bird, celebrated for its oratorical talents among all the neighbors, had gradually become the terror of the nearest. Hung out on the balcony, it made a pulpit of its perch and spouted interminable harangues from morning to night. It had learned certain parliamentary topics from some political friends of the mistress, and was very strong on the sugar question. It knew all the actress's repertory by heart, and declaimed it well enough to have been her substitute, in case of indisposition. Moreover, as she was rather polyglot in her flirtations, and received visitors from all parts of the world, the parrot spoke all languages, and would sometimes let out a lingua Franca of oaths enough to shock the sailors to whom "Vert-Vert" owed his profitable education. The company of this bird, which might be instructive and amusing for ten minutes, became a positive torture when prolonged. The neighbors had often complained; the actress insolently disregarded their complaints. Two or three other tenants of the house, respectable fathers of families, indignant at the scandalous state of morals into which they were initiated by the indiscretions of the parrot, had given warning to the landlord. But the actress had got on his weak side; whoever might go, she stayed.
The Englishman whose sitting room Schaunard now entered, had suffered with patience for three months. One day he concealed his fury, which was ready to explode, under a full dress suit and sent in his card to Mademoiselle Dolores.
When she beheld him enter, arrayed almost as he would have been to present himself before Queen Victoria, she at first thought it must be Hoffmann, in his part of Lord Spleen; and wishing to be civil to a fellow artist, she offered him some breakfast.
The Englishman understood French. He had learned it in twenty five lessons from a Spanish refugee. Accordingly he replied:
"I accept your invitation on condition of our eating this disagreeable bird," and he pointed to the cage of the parrot, who, having smelled an Englishman, saluted him by whistling "God Save the King."
Dolores thought her neighbor was quizzing her, and was beginning to get angry, when Mr. Birne added:
"As I am very rich, I will buy the animal. Put your price on it."
Dolores answered that she valued the bird, and liked it, and would not wish to see it pass into the hands of another.
"Oh, it's not in my hands I want to put it," replied the Englishman, "But under my feet—so—," and he pointed to the heels of his boots.
Dolores shuddered with indignation and would probably have broken out, when she perceived on the Englishman's finger a ring, the diamond of which represented an income of twenty five hundred francs. The discovery was like a shower bath to her rage. She reflected that it might be imprudent to quarrel with a man who carried fifty thousand francs on his little finger.
"Well, sir," she said, "as poor Coco annoys you, I will put him in a back room, where you cannot hear him."
The Englishman made a gesture of satisfaction.
"However," added he, pointing once more to his boots, "I should have preferred—."
"Don't be afraid. Where I mean to put him it will be impossible for him to trouble milord."
"Oh! I am not a lord; only an esquire."
With that, Mr. Birne was retiring, after a very low bow, when Delores, who never neglected her interests, took up a small pocket from a work table and said:
"Tonight sir, is my benefit at the theater. I am to play in three pieces. Will you allow me to offer you some box tickets? The price has been but very slightly raised." And she put a dozen boxes into the Briton's hand.
"After showing myself so prompt to oblige him," thought she, "he cannot refuse, if he is a gentleman, and if he sees me play in my pink costume, who knows? He is very ugly, to be sure, and very sad looking, but he might furnish me the means of going to England without being sea sick."
The Englishman having taken the tickets, had their purport explained to him a second time. He then asked the price.
"The boxes are sixty francs each, and there are ten there, but no hurry," said added, seeing the Englishman take out his pocketbook. "I hope that as we are neighbors, this is not the last time I shall have the honor of a visit from you."
"I do not like to run up bills," replied Mr. Birne and drawing from the pocketbook a thousand franc note, he laid it on the table and slid the tickets into his pockets.
"I will give you change," said Dolores, opening a little drawer.
"Never mind," said the Englishman, "the rest will do for a drink," and he went off leaving Dolores thunder struck at his last words.
"For a drink!" she exclaimed. "What a clown! I will send him back his money."
But her neighbor's rudeness had only irritated the epidermis of her vanity; reflection calmed her. She thought that a thousand francs made a very nice "pile," after all, and that she had already put up with impertinences at a cheaper rate.
"Bah!" she said to herself. "It won't do to be so proud. No one was by, and this is my washerwoman's mouth. And this Englishman speaks so badly, perhaps he only means to pay me a compliment."
So she pocketed her bank note joyfully.
But that night after the theater she returned home furious. Mr. Birne had made no use of the tickets, and the ten boxes had remained vacant.
Thus on appearing on the stage, the unfortunate beneficiaire read on the countenances of her lady friends, the delight they felt at seeing the house so badly filled. She even heard an actress of her acquaintance say to another, as she pointed to the empty boxes, "Poor Dolores, she has only planted one stage box."
"True, the boxes are scarcely occupied," was the rejoinder.
"The stalls, too, are empty."
"Well, when they see her name on the bill, it acts on the house like an air pump."
"Hence, what an idea to put up the price of the seats!"
"A fine benefit. I will bet that the takings would not fill a money box or the foot of a stocking."
"Ah! There she is in her famous red velvet costume."
"She looks like a lobster."
"How much did you make out of your last benefit?" said another actress to her companion.
"The house was full, my dear, and it was a first night; chairs in the gangway were worth a louis. But I only got six francs; my milliner had all the rest. If I was not afraid of chilblains, I would go to Saint Petersburg."
"What, you are not yet thirty, and are already thinking of doing your Russia?"
"What would you have?" said the other, and she added, "and you, is your benefit soon coming on?"
"In a fortnight, I have already three thousand francs worth of tickets taken, without counting my young fellows from Saint Cyr."
"Hallo, the stalls are going out."
"It is because Dolores is singing."
In fact, Dolores, as red in the face as her costume, was warbling her verses with a vinegary voice. Just as she was getting though it with difficulty, two bouquets fell at her feet, thrown by two actresses, her dear friends, who advanced to the front of their box, exclaiming—:
The fury of the latter may be readily imagined. Thus, on returning home, although it was the middle of the night, she opened the window and woke up Coco, who woke up the honest Mr. Birne, who had dropped off to sleep on the faith of her promise.
From that day war was declared between the actress and the Englishman; a war to the knife, without truce or repose, the parties engaged in which recoiled before no expense or trouble. The parrot took finishing lessons in English and abused his neighbor all day in it, and in his shrillest falsetto. It was something awful. Dolores suffered from it herself, but she hoped that one day or other Mr. Birne would give warning. It was on that she had set her heart. The Englishman, on his part, began by establishing a school of drummers in his drawing room, but the police interfered. He then set up a pistol gallery; his servants riddled fifty cards a day. Again the commissary of police interposed, showing him an article in the municipal code, which forbids the usage of firearms indoors. Mr. Birne stopped firing, but a week after, Dolores found it was raining in her room. The landlord went to visit Mr. Birne, and found him taking saltwater baths in his drawing room. This room, which was very large, had been lined all round with sheets of metal, and had had all the doors fastened up. Into this extempore pond some hundred pails of water were poured, and a few tons of salt were added to them. It was a small edition of the sea. Nothing was lacking, not even fishes. Mr. Birne bathed there everyday, descending into it by an opening made in the upper panel of the center door. Before long an ancient and fish-like smell pervaded the neighborhood, and Dolores had half an inch of water in her bedroom.
The landlord grew furious and threatened Mr. Birne with an action for damages done to his property.
"Have I not a right," asked the Englishman, "to bathe in my rooms?"
"Not in that way, sir."
"Very well, if I have no right to, I won't," said the Briton, full of respect for the laws of the country in which he lived. "It's a pity; I enjoyed it very much."
That very night he had his ocean drained off. It was full time: there was already an oyster bed forming on the floor.
However, Mr. Birne had not given up the contest. He was only seeking some legal means of continuing his singular warfare, which was "nuts" to all the Paris loungers, for the adventure had been blazed about in the lobbies of the theaters and other public places. Dolores felt equally bound to come triumphant out of the contest. Not a few bets were made upon it.
It was then that Mr. Birne thought of the piano as an instrument of warfare. It was not so bad an idea, the most disagreeable of instruments being well capable of contending against the most disagreeable of birds. As soon as this lucky thought occurred to him, he hastened to put it into execution, hired a piano, and inquired for a pianist. The pianist, it will be remembered, was our friend Schaunard. The Englishman recounted to him his sufferings from the parrot, and what he had already done to come to terms with the actress.
"But milord," said Schaunard, "there is a sure way to rid yourself of this creature—parsley. The chemists are unanimous in declaring that this culinary plant is prussic acid to such birds. Chop up a little parsley, and shake it out of the window on Coco's cage, and the creature will die as certainly as if Pope Alexander VI had invited it to dinner."
"I thought of that myself," said the Englishman, "but the beast is taken good care of. The piano is surer."
Schaunard looked at the other without catching his meaning at once.
"See here," resumed the Englishman, "the actress and her animal always sleep till twelve. Follow my reasoning—"
"Go on. I am at the heels of it."
"I intend to disturb their sleep. The law of the country authorizes me to make music from morning to night. Do you understand?"
"But that will not be so disagreeable to her, if she hears me play the piano all day—for nothing, too. I am a first-rate hand, if I only had a lung gone—."
"Exactly, but I don't want you to make good music. You must only strike on your instrument thus," trying a scale, "and always the same thing without pity, only one scale. I understand medicine a little; that drives people mad. They will both go mad; that is what I look for. Come, Mr. Musician, to work at once. You shall be well paid."
"And so," said Schaunard, who had recounted the above details to his friends, "this is what I have been doing for the last fortnight. One scale continually from seven in the morning till dark. It is not exactly serious art. But then the Englishman pays me two hundred francs a month for my noise; it would be cutting one's throat to refuse such a windfall. I accepted, and in two or three days I take my first month's money."
It was after those mutual confidences that the three friends agreed amongst themselves to profit by the general accession of wealth to give their mistresses the spring outfit that the coquetry of each of them had been wishing for so long. It was further agreed that whoever pocketed his money first should wait for the others, so that the purchases should be made at the same time, and that Mademoiselle Mimi, Musette, and Phemie should enjoy the pleasure of casting their old skins, as Schaunard put it, together.
Well, two or three days after this council Rodolphe came in first; his dental poem had been paid for; it weighed in eighty francs. The next day Marcel drew from Medicis the price of eighteen corporal's likenesses, at six francs each.
Marcel and Rodolphe had all the difficulty in the world to hide their good fortune.
"It seems to me that I sweat gold," said the poet.
"It is the same with me," said Marcel. "If Schaunard delays much longer, it would be impossible for me to continue to play the part of the anonymous Croesus."
But the very next morning saw Schaunard arrive, splendidly attired in a bright yellow nankeen jacket.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Phemie, dazzled on seeing her lover so elegantly got up, "where did you find that jacket?"
"I found it amongst my papers," replied the musician, making a sign to his two friends to follow him. "I have drawn the coin," said he, when they were alone. "Behold it," and he displayed a handful of gold.
"Well," exclaimed Marcel, "forward, let us sack the shops. How happy Musette will be."
"How pleased Mimi will be," added Rodolphe. "Come, are you coming Schaunard?"
"Allow me to reflect," replied the musician. "In decking out these ladies with the thousand caprices of fashion, we shall perhaps be guilty of a mistake. Think on it. Are you not afraid that when they resemble the engravings in 'The Scarf of Iris,' these splendors will exercise a deplorable influence upon their characters, and does it suit young fellows like us to behave towards women as if we were aged and wrinkled dotards? It is not that I hesitate about sacrificing fifteen or eighteen francs to dress Phemie; but I tremble. When she has a new bonnet she will not even recognize me, perhaps. She looks so well with only a flower in her hair. What do you think about it, philosopher?" broke off Schaunard, addressing Colline, who had come in within the last few minutes.
"Ingratitude is the offspring of kindness," observed the philosopher.
"On the other hand," continued Schaunard, "when your mistresses are well dressed, what sort of figure will you cut beside them in your dilapidated costumes? You will look like their waiting maids. I do not speak for myself," he broke off, drawing himself up in his nankeen jacket, "for thank heaven, I could go anywhere now."
However, despite the spirit of opposition shown by Schaunard, it was once more agreed that the next day all the shops of the neighborhood should be ransacked to the advantage of the ladies.
And, indeed, the next day, at the very moment that we have seen, at the beginning of this chapter, Mademoiselle Mimi wakes up very much astonished at Rodolphe's absence, the poet and his two friends were ascending the stairs, accompanied by a shopman from the Deux Magots and a milliner with specimens. Schaunard, who had bought the famous hunting horn, marched before them playing the overture to "The Caravan."
Musette and Phemie, summoned by Mimi, who was living on the lower floor, descended the stairs with the swiftness of avalanches on hearing the news that the bonnets and dresses had been brought for them. Seeing this poor wealth spread out before them, the three women went almost mad with joy. Mimi was seized with a fit of hysterical laughter, and skipped about like a kid, waving a barege scarf. Musette threw her arms around Marcel's neck, with a little green boot in each hand, which she smote together like cymbals. Phemie looked at Schaunard and sobbed. She could only say, "Oh Alexander, Alexander!"
"There is no danger of her refusing the presents of Artaxerxes," murmured Colline the philosopher.
After the first outbursts of joy were over, when the choices had been made and the bills settled, Rodolphe announced to the three girls that they would have to make arrangements to try on their new things the next morning.
"We will go into the country," said he.
"A fine thing to make a fuss of," exclaimed Musette. "It is not the first time that I have bought, cut out, sewn together, and worn a dress the same day. Besides, we have the night before us, too. We shall be ready, shall we not, ladies?"
"Oh yes! We shall be ready," exclaimed Mimi and Phemie together.
They at once set to work, and for sixteen hours did not lay aside scissors or needle.
The next day was the first of May. The Easter bells had rung in the resurrection of spring a few days before, and she had come eager and joyful. She came, as the German ballad says, light-hearted as the young lover who is going to plant a maypole before the window of his betrothed. She painted the sky blue, the trees green, and all things in bright colors. She aroused the torpid sun, who was sleeping in his bed of mists, his head resting on the snow leaden clouds that served him as a pillow, and cried to him, "Hi! Hi! My friend, time is up, and I am here; quick to work. Put on your fine dress of fresh rays without further delay, and show yourself at once on your balcony to announce my arrival."
Upon which the sun had indeed set out, and was marching along as proud and haughty as some great lord of the court. The swallows, returned from their Eastern pilgrimage, filled the air with their flight, the may whitened the bushes, the violets scented the woods, in which the birds were leaving their nests each with a roll of music under its wings. It was spring indeed, the true spring of poets and lovers, and not the spring of the almanac maker—an ugly spring with a red nose and frozen fingers, which still keeps poor folk shivering at the chimney corner when the last ashes of the last log have long since burnt out. The balmy breeze swept through the transparent atmosphere and scattered throughout the city the first scent of the surrounding country. The rays of the sun, bright and warm, tapped at the windows. To the invalid they cried, "open, we are health," and at the garret of the young girl bending towards her mirror, innocent first love of the most innocent, they said, "open darling, that we may light up your beauty. We are the messengers of fine weather. You can now put on your cotton frock and your straw hat, and lace your smart boots; the groves in which folk foot it are decked with bright new flowers, and the violins are tuning for the Sunday dance. Good morning, my dear!"
When the angelus rang out from the neighboring church, the three hard working coquettes, who had had scarcely time to sleep a few hours, were already before their looking glasses, giving their final glance at their new attire.
They were all three charming, dressed alike, and wearing on their faces the same glow of satisfaction imparted by the realization of a long cherished wish.
Musette was, above all, dazzlingly beautiful.
"I have never felt so happy," said she to Marcel. "It seems to me that God has put into this hour all the happiness of my life, and I am afraid that there will be no more left me. Ah bah! When there is no more left, there will still be some more. We have the receipt for making it," she added, gaily kissing him.
As to Phemie, one thing vexed her.
"I am very fond of green grass and the little birds," said she, "but in the country one never meets anyone, and there will be no one to see my pretty bonnet and my nice dress. Suppose we went into the country on the Boulevards?"
At eight in the morning the whole street was in commotion, due to the blasts from Schaunard's horn giving the signal to start. All the neighbors were at their windows to see the Bohemians go by. Colline, who was of the party, brought up the rear, carrying the ladies' parasols. An hour later the whole of the joyous band were scattered about the fields at Fontenay-aux-Roses.
When they returned home, very late at night, Colline, who during the day had discharged the duties of treasurer, stated that they had omitted to spend six francs, and placed this balance on the table.
"What shall we do with it?" asked Marcel.
"Suppose we invest it in Government stock," said Schaunard.
Among the true Bohemians of the real Bohemia I used to know one, named Jacques D. He was a sculptor, and gave promise of great talent. But poverty did not give him time to fulfill this promise. He died of debility in March, 184-, at the Saint Louis Hospital, on bed No. 14 in the Sainte Victoria ward.
I made the acquaintance of Jacques at the hospital, when I was detained there myself by a long illness. Jacques had, as I have said, the makings of a great talent, and yet he was quite unassuming about it. During the two months I spent in his company, and during which he felt himself cradled in the arms of Death, I never once heard him complain or give himself up to those lamentations which render the unappreciated artist so ridiculous. He died without attitudinizing. His death brings to my mind, too, one of the most horrible scenes I ever saw in that caravanserai of human sufferings. His father, informed of the event, came to reclaim the body, and for a long time haggled over giving the thirty-six francs demanded by the hospital authorities. He also haggled over the funeral service, and so persistently that they ended by knocking off six francs. At the moment of putting the corpse into the coffin, the male nurse took off the hospital sheet, and asked one of the deceased's friends who was there for money for a shroud. The poor devil, who had not a sou, went to Jacques' father, who got into a fearful rage, and asked when they would finish bothering him.
The sister of charity, who was present at this horrible discussion, cast a glance at the corpse, and uttered these simple and feeling words:
"Oh! sir, you cannot have him buried like that, poor fellow, it is so cold. Give him at least a shirt, that he may not arrive quite naked before his God."
The father gave five francs to the friend to get a shirt, but recommended him to go to a wardrobe shop in the Rue Grace-aux-Belles, where they sold second-hand linen.
"It will be cheaper there," said he.
This cruelty on the part of Jacques' father was explained to me later on. He was furious because his son had chosen an artistic career, and his anger remained unappeased even in the presence of a coffin.
But I am not very far from Mademoiselle Francine and her muff. I will return to them. Mademoiselle Francine was the first and only mistress of Jacques, who did not die very old, for he was scarcely three and twenty when his father would have had him laid naked in the earth. The story of his love was told me by Jacques himself when he was No. 14 and I was No. 16 in the Sainte Victoire ward—an ugly spot to die in.
Ah reader! Before I begin this story, which would be a touching one if I could tell it as it was told to me by my friend Jacques, let me take a pull or two at the old clay pipe he gave me on the day that the doctor forbade its use by him. Yet at night, when the male nurse was asleep, my friend Jacques would borrow his pipe with a little tobacco from me. It is so wearisome at night in those vast wards, when one suffers and cannot sleep.
"Only two or three whiffs," he would say, and I would let him have it; and Sister Sainte-Genevieve did not seem to notice the smoke when she made her round. Ah, good sister! How kind you were, and how beautiful you looked, too, when you came to sprinkle us with holy water. We could see you approaching, walking slowly along the gloomy aisles, draped in your white veil, which fell in such graceful folds, and which our friend Jacques admired so much. Ah kind sister! You were the Beatrice of that Inferno. So sweet were your consolations that we were always complaining in order to be consoled by you. If my friend Jacques had not died one snowy day he would have carved you a nice little Virgin Mary to put in your cell, good Sister Sainte-Genevieve.
Well, and the muff? I do not see anything of the muff.
Another Reader: And Mademoiselle Francine, where about is she, then?
First Reader: This story is not very lively.
Second Reader: We shall see further on.
I really beg your pardon, gentlemen, it is my friend Jacques' pipe that has led me away into these digressions. But, besides, I am not pledged to make you laugh. Times are not always gay in Bohemia.
Jacques and Francine had met in a house in the Rue de la Tour-d'Auvergne, into which they had both moved at the same time at the April quarter.
The artist and the young girl were a week without entering on those neighborly relations which are almost always forced on one when dwelling on the same floor. However, without having exchanged a word, they were already acquainted with one another. Francine knew that her neighbor was a poor devil of an artist, and Jacques had learned that his was a little seamstress who had quitted her family to escape the ill-usage of a stepmother. She accomplished miracles of economy to make both ends meet, and, as she had never known pleasure, had no longing for it. This is how the pair came under the common law of partition walls. One evening in April, Jacques came home worn out with fatigue, fasting since morning, and profoundly sad with one of those vague sadnesses which have no precise cause, and which seize on you anywhere and at all times; a kind of apoplexy of the heart to which poor wretches living alone are especially subject. Jacques, who felt stifling in his narrow room, opened the window to breathe a little. The evening was a fine one, and the setting sun displayed its melancholy splendors above the hills of Montmartre. Jacques remained pensively at his window listening to the winged chorus of spring harmony which added to his sadness. Seeing a raven fly by uttering a croak, he thought of the days when ravens brought food to Elijah, the pious recluse, and reflected that these birds were no longer so charitable. Then, not being able to stand it any longer, he closed his window, drew the curtain, and, as he had not the wherewithal to buy oil for his lamp, lit a resin taper that he had brought back from a trip to the Grande-Chartreuse. Sadder than ever he filled his pipe.
"Luckily, I still have enough tobacco to hide the pistol," murmured he, and he began to smoke.
My friend Jacques must have been very sad that evening to think about hiding the pistol. It was his supreme resource on great crises, and was usually pretty successful. The plan was as follows. Jacques smoked tobacco on which he used to sprinkle a few drops of laudanum, and he would smoke until the cloud of smoke from his pipe became thick enough to veil from him all the objects in his little room, and, above all, a pistol hanging on the wall. It was a matter of half a score pipes. By the time the pistol was wholly invisible it almost always happened that the smoke and the laudanum combined would send Jacques off to sleep, and it also often happened that his sadness left him at the commencement of his dreams.
But on this particular evening he had used up all his tobacco; the pistol was completely hidden, and yet Jacques was still bitterly sad. That evening, on the contrary Mademoiselle Francine was extremely light-hearted when she came home, and like Jacques' sadness, her light-heartedness was without cause. It was one of those joys that come from heaven, and that God scatters amongst good hearts. So Mademoiselle Francine was in a good temper, and sang to herself as she came upstairs. But as she was going to open her door a puff of wind, coming through the open staircase window, suddenly blew out her candle.
"Oh, what a nuisance!" exclaimed the girl, "six flights of stairs to go down and up again."
But, noticing the light coming from under Jacques' door, the instinct of idleness grafted on a feeling of curiosity, advised her to go and ask the artist for a light. "It is a service daily rendered among neighbors," thought she, "and there is nothing compromising about it."
She tapped twice, therefore, at the door, and Jacques opened it, somewhat surprised at this late visit. But scarcely had she taken a step into the room than the smoke that filled it suddenly choked her, and, before she was able to speak a word, she sank fainting into a chair, dropping her candle and her room door key onto the ground. It was midnight, and everyone in the house was asleep. Jacques thought it better not to call for help. He was afraid, in the first place, of compromising his neighbor. He contented himself, therefore, with opening the window to let in a little fresh air, and, after having sprinkled a few drops of water on the girl's face, saw her open her eyes and by degrees come to herself. When, at the end of five minutes' time, she had wholly recovered consciousness, Francine explained the motive that had brought her into the artist's room, and made many excuses for what had happened.