One morning - it was the eighth of April - Alexander Schaunard, who cultivated the two liberal arts of painting and music, was rudely awakened by the peal of a neighbouring cock, which served him for an alarm.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Schaunard, "my feathered clock goes too fast: it cannot possibly be to-day yet!" So saying, he leaped precipitately out of a piece of furniture of his own ingenious contrivance, which, sustaining the part of bed by night, (sustaining it badly enough too,) did duty by day for all the rest of the furniture which was absent by reason of the severe cold for which the past winter had been noted.
To protect himself against the biting north-wind, Schaunard slipped on in haste a pink satin petticoat with spangled stars, which served him for dressing-gown. This gay garment had been left at the artist's lodging, one masked-ball night, by a foile, who was fool enough to let herself be entrapped by the deceitful promises of Schaunard when, disguised as a marquis, he rattled in his pocket a seducingly sonorous dozen of crowns - theatrical money punched out of a lead plate and borrowed of a property-man. Having thus made his home toilette, the artist proceeded to open his blind and window. A solar ray, like an arrow of light, flashed suddenly into the room, and compelled him to open his eyes that were still veiled by the mists of sleep. At the same moment the clock of a neighbouring church struck five.
"It is the Morn herself!" muttered Schaunard; "astonishing, but" - and he consulted an almanac nailed to the wall - "not the less a mistake. The results of science affirm that at this season of the year the sun ought not to rise till half-past five: it is only five o'clock, and there he is! A culpable excess of zeal! The luminary is wrong; I shall have to make a complaint to the longitude-office. However, I must begin to be a little anxious. To-day is the day after yesterday, certainly; and since yesterday was the seventh, unless old Saturn goes backward, it must be the eighth of April to-day. And if I may believe this paper," continued Schaunard, going to read an official notice-to-quit posted on the wall, "to-day, therefore, at twelve precisely, I ought to have evacuated the premises, and paid into the hands of my landlord, Monsieur Bernard, the sum of seventy-five francs for three quarters' rent due, which he demands of me in very bad handwriting. I had hoped - as I always do - that Providence would take the responsibility of discharging this debt, but it seems it hasn't had time. Well, I have six hours before me yet. By making good use of them, perhaps - to work! to work!"
He was preparing to put on an overcoat, originally of a long-haired, woolly fabric, but now completely bald from age, when suddenly, as if bitten by a tarantula, he began to execute around the room a polka of his own composition, which at the public balls had often caused him to be honoured with the particular attention of the police.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "it is surprising how the morning air gives one ideas! It strikes me that I am on the scent of my air, Let's see." And, half-dressed as he was, Schaunard seated himself at his piano. After having waked the sleeping instrument by a terrific hurly-burly of notes, he began, talking to himself all the while, to hunt over the keys for the tune he had long been seeking.
"Do, sol, mi, do la , si, do re. Bah! it's as false as Judas, that re!" and he struck violently on the doubtful note. "We must represent adroitly the grief of a young person picking to pieces a white daisy over a blue lake. There's an idea that's not in its infancy! However, since it is fashion, and you couldn't find a music publisher who would dare to publish a ballad without a blue lake in it, we must go with the fashion. Do, sol, mi, do, la, si, do, re! That's not so bad; it gives a fair idea of a daisy, especially to people well up in botany. La, si, do, re. Confound that re! Now to make the blue lake intelligible. We should have something moist, azure, moonlight - for the moon comes in too; here it is; don't let's forget the swan. Fa, mi, la, sol," continued Schaunard, rattling over the keys. "Lastly, an adieu of the young girl, who determines to throw herself into the blue lake, to rejoin her beloved who is buried under the snow. The catastrophe is not very perspicuous, but decidedly interesting. We must have something tender, melancholy. It's coming, it's coming! Here are a dozen bars crying like Magdalens, enough to split one's heart - Brr, brr!" and Schaunard shivered in his spangled petticoat, "if it could only split one's wood! There's a beam in my alcove which bothers me a good deal when I have company at dinner. I should like to make a fire with it - la, la, re, mi - for I feel my inspiration coming to me through the medium of a cold in the head. So much the worse, but it can't be helped. Let us continue to drown our young girl;" and while his fingers assailed the trembling keys, Schaunard, with sparkling eyes and straining ears, gave chase to the melody which, like an impalpable sylph, hovered amid the sonorous mist which the vibrations of the instrument seemed to let loose in the room.
"Now let us see," he continued, "how my music will fit into my poet's words;" and he hummed, in voice the reverse of agreeable, this fragment of verse of the patent comic-opera sort:
"The fair and youthful maiden,
As she flung her mantle by,
Threw a glance with sorrow laden
Up to the starry sky
And in the azure waters
Of the silver-waved lake -
"How is that?" he exclaimed, in transports of just indignation; "the azure waters of a silver lake! I didn't see that. This poet is an idiot. I'll bet he never saw a lake, or silver either. A stupid ballad too, in every way; the length of the lines cramps the music. For the future I shall compose my verses myself; and without waiting, since I feel in the humour, I shall manufacture some couplets to adapt my melody to."
So saying, and taking his head between his hands, he assumed the grave attitude of a man who is having relations with the Muses. After a few minutes of this sacred intercourse, he had produced one of those strings of nonsense-verses which the libretti-makers call, not without reason, monsters, and which they improvise very readily as a ground-work for the composer's inspiration. Only Schaunard's were no nonsense-verses, but very good sense, expressing with sufficient clearness the inquietude awakened in his mind by the rude arrival of that date, the eighth of April.
Thus they ran:
"Eight and eight make sixteen just,
Put down six and carry one:
My poor soul would be at rest
Could I only find some one,
Some honest poor relation,
Who'd eight hundred francs advance,
To pay each obligation,
Whenever I've a chance."
"And ere the clock on the last and fatal morning
Should sound mid-day,
To old Bernard, like a man who needs no warning,
To old Bernard, like a man who needs no warning,
To old Bernard, like a man who needs no warning,
My rent I'd pay!"
"The duece!" exclaimed Schaunard, reading over his composition, "one and some one - those rhymes are poor enough, but I have no time to make them richer. Now let us try how the notes will unite with the syllables." And in his peculiarly frightful nasal tone he recommenced the execution of his ballad. Satisfied with the result he had just obtained, Schaunard congratulated himself with an exultant grimace, which mounted over his nose like a circumflex accent whenever he had occasion to be pleased with himself. But this triumphant happiness was destined to have no long duration. Eleven o'clock resounded from the neighbouring steeple. Every stroke diffused itself through the room in mocking sounds which seemed to say to the unlucky Schaunard, "Are you ready?"
The artist bounded on his chair. "The time flies like a bird!" he exclaimed. "I have but three-quarters of an hour left to find my seventy-five francs and my new lodging. I shall never get them; that would be too much like magic. Let me see: I give myself five minutes to find out how to obtain them;" and burying his head between his knees, he descended into the depths of reflection.
The five minutes elapsed, and Schaunard raised his head without having found anything which resembled seventy-five francs.
"Decidedly, I have but one way of getting out of this, which is simply to go away. It is fine weather and my friend Monsieur Chance may be walking in the sun. He must give me hospitality till I have found the means of squaring off with Monsieur Bernard."
Having stuffed into the cellar-like pockets of his overcoat all the articles they would hold, Schaunard tied up some linen in a handkerchief, and took an affectionate farewell of his home. While crossing the court, he was suddenly stopped by the porter, who seemed to be on the watch for him.
"Hollo! Monsieur Schaunard," cried he, blocking up the artist's way, "don't you remember that this is the eighth of April?"
"Eight and eight make sixteen just,
Put down six and carry one,"
hummed Schaunard. "I don't remember anything else."
"You are a little behind-hand then with your moving," said the porter; "it is half-past eleven, and the new tenant to whom your room has been let may come any minute. You must make haste."
"Let me pass, then," replied Schaunard; I am going after a cart."
"No doubt, but before moving there is a little formality to be gone through. I have orders not to let you take away a hair unless you pay the three quarters due. Are you ready?"
"Why, of course," said Schaunard, making a step forward.
"Well come into my lodge then, and I will give you your receipt."
"I shall take it when I come back."
"But why not at once?" persisted the porter.
"I am going to a money changer's. I have no change."
"Ah, you are going to get change!" replied the other, not at all at his ease. "Then I will take care of that little parcel under your arm, which might be in your way."
"Monsieur Porter," exclaimed the artist, with a dignified air, "you mistrust me, perhaps! Do you think I am carrying away my furniture in a handkerchief?"
"Excuse me," answered the porter, dropping his tone a little, "but such are my orders. Monsieur Bernard has expressly charged me not to let you take away a hair before you have paid."
"But look, will you?" said Schaunard, opening his bundle, "these are not hairs, they are shirts, and I am taking them to my washerwoman, who lives next door to the money changer's twenty steps off."
"That alters the case," said the porter, after he had examined the contents of the bundle. "Would it be impolite, Monsieur Schaunard, to inquire your new address?"
"Rue de Rivoli!" replied the artist, and having once got outside the gate, he made off as fast as possible.
"Rue de Rivoli!" muttered the porter, scratching his nose, "it's very odd they should have let him lodgings in the Rue de Rivoli, and never come here to ask about him. Very odd, that. At any rate, he can't carry off his furniture without paying. If only the new tenant don't come moving in just as Monsieur Schaunard is moving out! That would make a nice mess! Well, sure enough," he exclaimed, suddenly putting his head out of his little window, "here he comes, the new tenant!"
In fact, a young man in a white hat, followed by a porter who did not seem over-burdened by the weight of his load, had just entered the court. "Is my room ready?" he demanded of the house-porter, who had stepped out to meet him.
"Not yet, sir, but it will be in a moment. The person who occupies it has gone after a cart for his things. Meanwhile, sir, you may put your furniture in the court."
"I am afraid it's going to rain," replied the young man, chewing a bouquet of violets which he held in his mouth, "My furniture might be spoiled. My friend," continued he, turning to the man who was behind him, with something on a trunk which the porter could not exactly make out, "put that down and go back to my old lodging to fetch the remaining valuables."
The man ranged along the wall several frames six or seven feet high, folded together, and apparently being capable of being extended.
"Look here," said the new-comer to his follower, half opening one of the screens and showing him a rent in the canvas, "what an accident! You have cracked my grand Venetian glass. Take more care on your second trip, especially with my library.
"What does he mean by his Venetian glass?" muttered the porter, walking up and down with an uneasy air before the frames ranged against the wall. "I don't see any glass. Some joke, no doubt. I only see a screen. We shall see, at any rate, what he will bring next trip."
"Is your tenant not going to make room for me soon?" inquired the young man. "it is half-past twelve, and I want to move in."
"He won't be much longer," answered the porter, "but there is no harm done yet, since your furniture has not come," added he, with a stress on the concluding words.
As the young man was about to reply, a dragoon entered the court.
"Is this Monsieur Bernard's?" he asked, drawing a letter from a huge leather portfolio which swung at his side.
"He lives here," replied the porter.
"Here is a letter for him," said the dragoon; "give me a receipt," and he handed to the porter a bulletin of despatches which the latter entered his lodge to sign.
"Excuse me for leaving you alone," said he to the young man who was stalking impatiently about the court, "but this is a letter from the Minister to my landlord, and I am going to take it up to him."
Monsieur Bernard was just beginning to shave when the porter knocked at his door.
"What do you want, Durand?"
"Sir," replied the other, lifting his cap, "a soldier has just brought this for you. It comes from the Ministry." And he handed to Monsieur Bernard the letter, the envelope of which bore the stamp of the War Department.
"Heavens!" exclaimed Monsieur Bernard, in such agitation that he all but cut himself. "From the Minister of War! I am sure it is my nomination as Knight of the Legion of Honour, which I have long solicited. At last they have done justice to my good conduct. Here, Durand," said he, fumbling in his waistcoat-pocket, "here are five francs to drink to my health. Stay! I haven't my purse about me. Wait, and I will give you the money in a moment."
The porter was so overcome by this stunning fit of generosity, which was not at all in accordance with his landlord's ordinary habits, that he absolutely put on his cap again.
But Monsieur Bernard, who at any other time would have severely reprimanded this infraction of the laws of social hierarchy, appeared not to notice it. He put on his spectacles, broke the seal of the envelope with the respectful anxiety of a vizier receiving a sultan's firman, and began to read the dispatch. At the first line a frightful grimace ploughed his fat, monk-like cheeks with crimson furrows, and his little eyes flashed sparks that seemed ready to set fire to his bushy wig. In fact, all his features were so turned upside-down that you would have said his countenance had just suffered a shock of face-quake.
For these were the contents of the letter bearing the ministerial stamp, brought by a dragoon-orderly, and for which Durand had given the government a receipt:
"Friend landlord: Politeness - who, according to ancient mythology, is the grandmother of good manners - compels me to inform you that I am under the cruel necessity of not conforming to the prevalent custom of paying rent - prevalent especially when the rent is due. Up to this morning I had cherished the hope of being able to celebrate this fair day by the payments of my three quarters. Vain chimera, bitter illusion! While I was slumbering on the pillow of confidence, ill-luck - what the Greeks call ananke - was scattering my hopes. The returns on which I counted - times are so bad! - have failed, and of the considerable sums which I was to receive I have only realised three francs, which were lent me, and I will not insult you by the offer of them. Better days will come for our dear country and for me. Doubt it not, sir! When they come, I shall fly to inform you of their arrival, and to withdraw from your lodgings the precious objects which I leave there, putting them under your protection and that of the law, which hinders you from selling them before the expiration of a year, in case you should be disposed to try to do so with the object of obtaining the sum for which you stand credited in the ledger of my honesty. I commend to your special care my piano, and also the large frame containing sixty locks of hair whose different colours run through the whole gamut of capillary shades; the scissors of love have stolen them from the forehead of the Graces."
"Therefore, dear sir, and landlord, you may dispose of the roof under which I have dwelt. I grant you full authority, and have hereto set my hand and seal."
On finishing this letter, (which the artist had written at the desk of a friend who was a clerk in the War Office,) Monsieur Bernard indignantly crushed it in his hand, and as his glance fell on old Durand, who was waiting for the promised gratification, he roughly demanded what he was doing.
"For the present, on account of the good news," stammered the porter.
"Get out, you scoundrel! Do you presume to speak to me with your cap on?"
"But, sir --"
"Don't you answer me! Get out! No, stay there! We shall go up to the room of that scamp of an artist who has run off without paying."
"What! Monsieur Schaunard?" ejaculated the porter.
"Yes," cried the landlord with increasing fury, "and if he has carried away the smallest article, I send you off, straight off!"
"But it can't be," murmured the poor porter, "Monsieur Schaunard has not run away. He has gone to get change to pay you, and order a cart for his furniture."
"A cart for his furniture!" exclaimed the other, "run! I'm sure he has it here. He laid a trap to get you away from your lodge, fool that you are!"
"Fool that I am! Heaven help me!" cried the porter, all in a tremble before the thundering wrath of his superior, who hurried him down the stairs. When they arrived in the court the porter was hailed by the young man in the white hat.
"Come now! Am I not soon going to be in possession of my lodging? Is this the eighth of April? Did I hire a room here and pay you a deposit to bind the bargain? Yes or no?"
"Excuse me, sir," interposed the landlord, "I am at your service. Durand, I will talk to the gentleman myself. Run up there, that scamp Schaunard has come back to pack up. If you find him, shut him in, and then come down again and run for the police."
Old Durand vanished up the staircase.
"Excuse me, sir," continued the landlord, with a bow to the young man now left alone with him, "to whom have I the honour of speaking?"
"Your new tenant. I have hired a room in the sixth story of this house, and am beginning to be tired of waiting for my lodging to become vacant."
"I am very sorry indeed," replied Monsieur Bernard, "there has been a little difficulty with one of my tenants, the one whom you are to replace."
"Sir," cried old Durand from a window at the very top of the house, "Monsieur Schaunard is not here, but his room - stupid! - I mean he has carried nothing away, not a hair, sir!"
"Very well, come down," replied the landlord. "Have a little patience, I beg of you," he continued to the young man. "My porter will bring down to the cellar the furniture in the room of my defaulting tenant, and you may take possession in half an hour. Beside, your furniture has not come yet."
"But it has," answered the young man quietly.
Monsieur Bernard looked around, and saw only the large screens which had already mystified his porter.
"How is this?" he muttered. "I don't see anything."
"Behold!" replied the youth, unfolding the leaves of the frame, and displaying to the view of the astonished landlord a magnificent interior of a palace, with jasper columns, bas-reliefs, and paintings of old masters.
"But your furniture?" demanded Monsieur Bernard.
"Here it is," replied the young man, pointing to the splendid furniture painted in the palace, which he had bought at a sale of second-hand theatrical decorations.
"I hope you have some more serious furniture than this," said the landlord. "You know I must have security for my rent."
"The deuce! Is a palace not sufficient security for the rent of a garret?"
"No sir, I want real chairs and tables in solid mahogany."
"Alas! Neither gold nor mahogany makes us happy, as for the ancient poet well says. And I can't bear mahogany; it's too common a wood. Everybody has it."
"But surely sir, you must have some sort of furniture."
"No, it takes up too much room. You are stuck full of chairs,
have no place to sit down."
"But at any rate, you have a bed. What do you sleep on?"
"On a good conscience, sir."
"Excuse me, one more question," said the landlord, "What is your profession?"
At this very moment the young man's porter, returning on his second trip, entered the court. Among the articles with which his truck was loaded, an easel occupied a conspicuous position.
"Sir! Sir!!" shrieked old Durance, pointing out the easel to his landlord, "it's a painter!"
"I was sure he was an artist!" exclaimed the landlord in his turn, the hair of his wig standing up in affright, "a painter!! And you never inquired after this person," he continued to his porter, "you didn't know what he did!"
"He gave me five francs arrest," answered the poor fellow, "how could I suspect --"
"When you have finished," put in the stranger --
"Sir," replied Monsieur Bernard, mounting his spectacles with great decision, "since you have no furniture, you can't come in. The law authorizes me to refuse a tenant who brings no security."
"And my word, then?"
"You word is not furniture, you must go somewhere else. Durance will give you back your earnest money."
"Oh dear!" exclaimed the porter, in consternation, "I've put it in the Savings' Bank."
"But consider sir," objected the young man. "I can't find another lodging in a moment! At least grant me hospitality for a day."
"Go to a hotel!" replied Monsieur Bernard. "By the way," added he, struck with a sudden idea, "if you like, I can let you a furnished room, the one you were to occupy, which has the furniture of my defaulting tenant in it. Only you know that when rooms are let this way, you pay in advance."
"Well," said the artist, finding he could do no better, "I should like to know what you are going to ask me for your hole."
"It is a very comfortable lodging, and the rent will be twenty-five francs a month, considering the circumstances, paid in advance."
"You have said that already, the expression does not deserve being repeated," said the young man, feeling in his pocket. "Have you change for five hundred francs?"
"I beg your pardon," quoth the astonished landlord.
"Five hundred, half a thousand; did you never see one before?" continued the artist, shaking the bank-note in the faces of the landlord and porter, who fairly lost their balance at the sight.
"You shall have it in a moment, sir," said the now respectful owner of the house, "there will only be twenty francs to take out, for Durand will return your deposit."
"He may keep it," replied the artist, "on condition of coming every morning to tell me the day of the week and month, the quarter of the moon, the weather it is going to be, and the form of government we are under."
Old Durand described an angle of ninety degrees forward.
"Yes, my good fellow, you shall serve me for almanac. Meanwhile, help my porter to bring the things in."
"I shall send you your receipt immediately," said the landlord, and that very night the painter Marcel was installed in the lodging of the fugitive Schaunard. During this time the aforesaid Schaunard was beating his roll-call, as he styled it, through the city.
Schaunard had carried the art of borrowing to the perfection of a science. Foreseeing the possible necessity of having to spoil the foreigners, he had learned how to ask for five francs in every language of the world. He had thoroughly studied all the stratagems which specie employs to escape those who are hunting for it, and knew, better than a pilot knows the hours of the tide, at what periods it was high or low water; that is to say, on what days his friends and acquaintances were accustomed to be in funds. Accordingly, there were houses where his appearance of a morning made people say, not "Here is Monsieur Schaunard," but "This is the first or the fifteenth." To facilitate, and at the same time equalize this species of tax which he was going to levy, when compelled by necessity, from those who were able to pay it to him, Schaunard had drawn up by districts and streets an alphabetical table containing the names of all his acquaintances. Opposite each name was inscribed the maximum of the sum which the party's finances authorized the artist to borrow of him, the time when he was flush, and his dinner hour, as well as his usual bill of fare. Beside this table, he kept a book, in perfect order, on which he entered the sums lent him, down to the smallest fraction; for he would never burden himself beyond a certain amount which was within the fortune of a country relative, whose heir-apparent he was. As soon as he owed one person twenty francs, he closed the account and paid him off, even if obliged to borrow for the purpose of those to whom he owed less. In this way he always kept up a certain credit which he called his floating debt, and as people knew that he was accustomed to repay as soon as his means permitted him, those who could accommodate him were very ready to do so.
But on the present occasion, from eleven in the morning, when he had started to try and collect the seventy-five francs requisite, up to six in the afternoon, he had only raised three francs, contributed by three letters (M., V., and R.) of his famous list. All the rest of the alphabet, having, like himself, their quarter to pay, had adjourned his claim indefinitely.
The clock of his stomach sounded the dinner-hour. He was then at the Maine barrier, where letter U lived. Schaunard mounted to letter U's room, where he had a knife and fork, when there were such articles on the premises.
"Where are you going, sir?" asked the porter, stopping him before he had completed his ascent.
"To Monsieur U," replied the artist.
"Out too. They told me to say to a friend who was coming to see them this evening, that they were gone out to dine. In fact, if you are the gentleman they expected, this is the address they left." It was a scrap of paper on which his friend U. had written. "We are gone to dine with Schaunard, No. __, Rue de __. Come for us there."
"Well," said he, going away, "accident does make queer farces sometimes," Then remembering that there was a little tavern near by, where had had more than one procured a meal at a not unreasonable rate, he directed his steps to this establishment, situated in the adjoining road, and known among the lowest class of artistdom as "Mother Cadet's." It is a drinking-house which is also an eating-house, and its ordinary customers are carters of the Orleans railway, singing-ladies of Mont Parnesse, and juvenile "leads" from the Bobino theatre. During the warm season the students of the numerous painters' studios which border on the Luxembourg, the unappreciated aand unedited men of the letters, the writers of leaders in mysterious newspapers, throng to dine at "Mother Cadet's," which is famous for its rabbit stew, its veritable sour-crout, and a miled white wine which smacks of flint.
Schaunard sat down in the grove; for so at "Mother Cadet's" they called the scattered foliage of two or three rickety trees whose sickly boughs had been trained into a sort of arbor.
"Hang the expense!" said Schaunard to himself, "I have to have a good blow-out, a regular Belthazzar's feast in private life," and without more ado, he ordered a bowl of soup, half a plate of sour-crout, and two half stews, having observed that you get more for two halves than one whole one.
This extensive order attracted the attention of a young person in white with a head-dress of orange flowers and ballshoes; a veil of sham imitation lace streamed down her shoulders, which she had no special reason to be proud of. She was a prima donna of the Mont Parnasse theatre, the greenroom of which opens into Mother Cadet's kitchen; she had come to take a meal between two acts of Lucia, and was at that moment finishing with a small cup of coffee her dinner, composed exclusively of an artichoke seasoned with oil and vinegar.
"Two stews! Duece take it!" said she, in an aside to the girl who acted as waiter at the establishment. "That young man feeds himself well. How much do I owe, Adele?"
"Artichoke four, coffee four, bread one, that makes nine sous."
"There they are," said the singer and off she went humming:
"This affection Heaven has given."
"Why she is giving us the la!" exclaimed a mysterious personage half hidden behind a rampart of old books, who was seated at the same table with Schaunard.
"Giving it!" replied the other, "keeping it, I should say. Just imagine!" he added, pointing to the vinegar on the plate from which Lucia had been eating her artichoke, "pickling that falsetto of hers!"
"It is a strong acid, to be sure," added the personage who had first spoken. "They make some at Orleans which has deservedly a great reputation."
Schaunard carefully examined this individual, who was thus fishing for a conversation with him. The fixed stare of his large blue eyes, which always seemed looking for something, gave his features the character of happy tranquility which is common among theological students. His face had a uniform tint of old ivory, except his cheeks, which had a coat, as it were of brickdust. His mouth seemed to have been sketched by a student in the rudiments of drawing, whose elbow had been jogged while he was tracing it. His lips , which pouted almost like a negro's, disclosed teeth not unlike a stag-hound's and his double-chin reposed itself upon a white cravat, one of whose points threatened the stars, while the other was ready to pierce the ground. A torrent of light hair escaped from under the enormous brim of his well-worn felt-hat. He wore a hazel-coloured overcoat with a large cape, worn thread-bare and rough as a grater; from its yawning pockets peeped bundles of manuscripts and pamphlets. The enjoyment of his sour-crout, which he devoured with numerous and audible marks of approbation, rendered him heedless of the scrutiny to which he was subjected, but did not prevent him from continuing to read an old book open before him, in which he made marginal notes from time to time with a pencil that he carried behind his ear.
"Hullo!" cried Schaunard suddenly, making his glass ring with his knife, "my stew!"
"Sir," said the girl, running up plate in hand , "there is none left, here is the last, and this gentleman has ordered it." Therewith she deposited the dish before the man with the books.
"The deuce!" cried Schaunard. There was such an air of melancholy disappointment in his ejaculation, that the possessor of the books was moved to the soul by it. He broke down the pile of old works which formed a barrier between him and Schaunard, and putting the dish in the centre of the table, said, in his sweetest tones:
"Might I be so bold as to beg you, sir, to share this with me?"
"Sir," replied the artist, "I could not think of depriving you of it."
"Then will you deprive me of the pleasure of being agreeable to you?"
"If you insist, sir," and Schaunard held out his plate.
"Permit me not to give you the head," said the stranger.
"Really sir, I cannot allow you," Schaunard began, but on taking back his plate he perceived that the other had given him the very piece which he implied he would keep for himself.
"What is he playing off his politeness on me for?" he muttered to himself.
"If the head is the most noble part of man," said the stranger, "it is the least agreeable part of the rabbit. There are many persons who cannot bear it. I happen to like it very much, however."
"If so," said Schaunard, "I regret exceedingly that you robbed yourself for me."
"How? Excuse me," quoth he of the books, "I kept the head, as I had the honor of observing to you."
"Allow me," rejoined Schaunard, thrusting his plate under his nose, "what part do you call that?"
"Good heavens!" cried the stranger, "what do I see? Another head? It is a bicephalous rabbit!"
"Buy what?" said Schaunard.
"Cephalous - comes from the Greek. In fact, Baffon (who used to wear ruffles) cites some cases of this monstrosity. On the whole, I am not sorry to have eaten a phenomenon."
Thanks to this incident, the conversation was definitely established. Schaunard, not willing to be behindhand in courtesy, called for an extra quart of wine. The hero of the books called for a third. Schaunard treated to salad, the other to dessert. At eight o'clock there were six empty bottles on the table. As they talked, their natural frankness, assisted by their libations, had urged them to interchange biographies, and they knew each other as well as if they had always lived together. He of the books, after hearing the confidential disclosures of Schaunard, had informed him that his name was Gustave Colline; he was a philosopher by profession, and got his living by giving lessons in rhetoric, mathematics and several other ics.
What little money he picked up by his profession was spent in buying books. His hazel-coloured coat was known to all the stall keepers on the quay from the Pont de la Concorde to the Pont Saint Michel. What he did with these books, so numerous that no man's lifetime would have been long enough to read them, nobody knew, least of all, himself. But this hobby of his amounted to monomania: when he came home at night without bringing a musty quarto with him, he would repeat the saying of Titus, "I have lost a day." His enticing manners, his language, which was a mosaic of every possible style, and the fearful puns which embellished his conversation, completely won Schaunard, who demanded on the spot permission of Colline to add his name to those on the famous list already mentioned.
They left Mother Cadet's at nine o'clock at night, both fairly primed, and with the gait of men who have been engaged in close conversation with sundry bottles.
Colline offered to stand coffee, and Schaunard accepted on condition that he should be allowed to pay for the accompanying nips of liquor. They turned into a cafe in the Rue Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, and bearing on its sign the name of Momus, god of play and pleasure.
At the moment they entered a lively argument broke out between two of the frequenters of the place. One of them was a young fellow whose face was hidden by a dense thicket of beard of several distinct shades. By way of a balance to this wealth of hair on his chin, a precocious baldness had despoiled his forehead, which was as bare as a billiard ball. He vainly strove to conceal the nakedness of the land by brushing forward a tuft of hairs so scanty that they could almost be counted. He wore a black coat worn at the elbows, and revealing whenever he raised his arms too high a ventilator under the armpits. His trousers might have once been black, but his boots, which had never been new, seemed to have already gone round the world two or three times on the feet of the Wandering Jew.
Schaunard noticed that his new friend Colline and the young fellow with the big beard nodded to one another.
"You know the gentleman?" said he to the philosopher.
"Not exactly," replied the latter, "but I meet him sometimes at the National Library. I believe that he is a literary man."
"He wears the garb of one, at any rate," said Schaunard.
The individual with whom this young fellow was arguing was a man of forty, foredoomed, by a big head wedged between his shoulders without any break in the shape of a neck, to the thunderstroke of apoplexy. Idiocy was written in capital letters on his low forehead, surmounted by a little black skull-cap. His name was Monsieur Mouton, and he was a clerk at the town hall of the 4th Arrondissement, where he acted as registrar of deaths.
"Monsieur Rodolphe," exclaimed he, in the squeaky tones of a eunuch, shaking the young fellow by a button of his coat which he had laid hold of. "Do you want to know my opinion? Well, all your newspapers are of no use whatsoever. Come now, let us put a supposititious case. I am the father of a family, am I not? Good. I go to the cafe for a game at dominoes? Follow my argument now."
"Go on," said Rodolphe.
"Well," continued Daddy Mouton, punctuating each of his sentences by a blow with his fist which made the jugs and glasses on the table rattle again. "Well, I come across the papers. What do I see? One which says black when the other says white, and so on and so on. What is all that to me? I am the father of a family who goes to the cafe --"
"For a game at dominoes," said Rodolphe.
"Every evening," continued Monsieur Mouton. "Well, to put a case - you understand?"
"Exactly," observed Rodolphe.
"I read an article which is not according to my views. That puts me in a rage, and I fret my heart out, because you see, Monsieur Rodolphe, newspapers are all lies. Yes, lies," he screeched in his shrillest falsetto, "and the journalists are robbers."
"But, Monsieur Mouton --"
"Yes, brigands," continued the clerk. "They are the cause of all our misfortunes; they brought about the Revolution and its paper money, witness Murat."
"Excuse me," said Rodolphe, "you mean Marat."
"No, no," resumed Monsieur Mouton, "Murat, for I saw his funeral when I was quite a child --"
"But I assure you --"
"They even brought you a piece at the Circus about him, so there."
"Exactly," said Rodolphe, "that was Murat."
"Well what else have I been saying for an hour past?" exclaimed the obstinate Mouton. "Murat, who used to work in a cellar, eh? Well, to put a case. Were not the Bourbons right to guillotine him, since he had played the traitor?"
"Guillotine who? Play the traitor to whom?" cried Rodolphe, button-holing Monsieur Mouton in turn.
"No, no, Monsieur Mouton. Murat, let us understand one another, hang it all!"
"Precisely, Marat, a scoundrel. He betrayed the Emperor in 1815. That is why I say all the papers are alike," continued Monsieur Mouton, returning to the original theme of what he called an explanation. "Do you know what I should like, Monsieur Rodolphe? Well, to put a case. I should like a good paper. Ah! not too large and not stuffed with phrases."
"You are exacting," interrupted Rodolphe , "a newspaper without phrases."
"Yes, certainly. Follow my idea?"
"I am trying to."
"A paper which should simply give the state of the King's health and of the crops. For after all, what is the use of all your papers that no one can understand? To put a case. I am at the town hall, am I not? I keep my books; very good. Well, it is just as if someone came to me and said, 'Monsieur Mouton, you enter the deaths - well, do this, do that.' What do you mean by this and that? Well, it is the same thing with newspapers," he wound up with.
"Evidently," said a neighbor who had understood.
And Monsieur Mouton having received the congratulations of some of the other frequenters of the cafe who shared his opinion, resumed his game at dominoes.
"I have taught him his place," said he, indicating Rodolphe, who had returned to the same table at which Schaunard and Colline were seated.
"What a blockhead!" said Rodolphe to the two young fellows.
"He has a fine head, with his eyelids like the hood of a cabriolet, and his eyes like glass marbles," said Schaunard, pulling out a wonderfully coloured pipe.
"By Jupiter, sir," said Rodolphe, "that is a very pretty pipe of yours."
"Oh! I have a much finer one I wear in society," replied Schaunard, carelessly, "Pass me some tobacco, Colline."
"Hullo!" said the philosopher, "I have none left."
"Allow me to offer you some," observed Rodolphe, pulling a packet of tobacco out of his pocket and placing it on the table.
To this civility Colline thought it his duty to respond by an offer of glasses round.
Rodolphe accepted. The conversation turned on literature. Rodolphe, questioned as to the profession already revealed by his garb, confessed his relation with the Muses, and stood a second round of drinks. As the waiter was going off with the bottle Schaunard requested him to be good enough to forget it. He had heard the silvery tinkle of a couple of five-franc pieces in one of Colline's pockets. Rodolphe had soon reached the same level of expansiveness as the two friends, and poured out his confidences in turn.
They would no doubt have passed the night at the cafe if they had not been requested to leave. They had not gone ten steps, which had taken them a quarter of an hour to accomplish, before they were surprised by a violent downpour. Colline and Rodolphe lived at opposite ends of Paris, one on the Ile Saint Louis, and the other at Montmartre.
Schaunard, who had wholly forgotten that he was without a residence, offered them hospitality.
"Come to my place," said he, "I live close by, we will pass the night in discussing literature and art.
"You shall play and Rodolphe will recite some of his verses to us," said Colline.
"Right you are," said Schaunard, "life is short, and we must enjoy ourselves whilst we can."
Arriving at the house, which Schaunard had some difficulty in recognizing, he sat down for a moment on a corner-post waiting for Rodolphe and Colline, who had gone into a wineshop that was still open to obtain the primary element of a supper. When they came back, Schaunard rapped several times at the door, for he vaguely recollected that the porter had a habit of keeping him waiting. The door at length opened, and old Durand, half aroused from his first sleep, and no longer recalling that Schaunard had ceased to be his tenant, did not disturb himself when the latter called out his name to him.
When they had all three gained the top of the stairs, the ascent of which had been as lengthy as it was difficult, Schaunard, who was the foremost, uttered a cry of astonishment at finding the key in the keyhole of his door.
"What is the matter?" asked Rodolphe.
"I cannot make it out," muttered the other. "I find the key in the door, though I took it away with me this morning. Ah! we shall see. I put it in my pocket. Why, confound it, here it is still!" he exclaimed, displaying a key. "This is witchcraft."
"Phantasmagoria," said Colline.
"Fancy," added Rodolphe.
"But," resumed Schaunard, whose voice betrayed a commencement of alarm, "do you hear that?"
"My piano, which is playing of its own accord do la mi re do, la si sol re. Scoundrel of a re, it is still false."
"But it cannot be in your room," said Rodolphe, and he added in a whisper to Colline, against whom he was leaning heavily, "he is tight."
"So I think. In the first place, it is not a piano at all, it is a flute."
"But you are screwed too, my dear fellow," observed the poet to the philosopher, who had sat down on the landing, "it is a violin."
"A vio--, pooh! I say, Schaunard," hiccupped Colline, pulling his friend by the legs, "here is a joke, this gentleman makes out that it is a vio--"
"Hang it all," exclaimed Schaunard in the height of terror, "it is magic."
"Phantasma-goria," howled Colline, letting fall one of the bottles he held by his hand.
"Fancy," yelled Rodolphe in turn.
In the midst of this uproar the room door suddenly opened, and an individual holding a triple-branched candlestick in which pink candles were burning, appeared on the threshold.
"What do you want, gentlemen?" asked he, bowing courteously to the three friends.
"Good heavens, what am I about? I have made a mistake, this is not my room," said Schaunard.
"Sir," added Colline and Rodolphe, simultaneously, addressing the person who had opened the door, "be good enough to excuse our friend, he is as drunk as three fiddlers."
Suddenly a gleam of lucidity flashed through Schaunard's intoxication, he read on his door these words written in chalk:
"I have called three times for my New Year's gift - PHEMIE."
"But it is all right, it is all right, I am indeed at home," he exclaimed, "here is the visiting card Phemie left me on New Year's Day; it is really my door."
"Good heavens, sir," said Rodolphe, "I am truly bewildered."
"Believe me, sir," added Colline, "that for my part, I am an active partner in my friend's confusion."
The young fellow who had opened the door could not help laughing.
"If you come into my room for a moment," he replied, "no doubt your friend, as soon as he has looked around, will see his mistake."
And the poet and philosopher each taking Schaunard by an arm, led him into the room, or rather the palace of Marcel, whom no doubt our readers have recognized.
Schaunard cast his eyes vaguely around him, murmuring, "It is astonishing how my dwelling is embellished!"
"Well, are you satisfied now?" asked Colline.
But Schaunard having noticed the piano had gone to it, and was playing scales.
"Here, you fellows, listen to this," said he, striking the notes, "this is something like, the animal has recognized his master, si la sol, fa mi re. Ah! wretched re, you are always the same. I told you it was my instrument."
"He insists on it," said Colline to Rodolphe.
"He insists on it," repeated Rodolphe to Marcel.
"And that," added Schaunard, pointing to the star-adorned petticoat that was lying on a chair, "it is not an adornment of mine, perhaps? Ah!"
And he looked Marcel straight in the face.
"And this," continued he, unfastening from the wall the notice to quit already spoken of.
And he began to read, "Therefore Monsieur Schaunard is hereby required to give up possession of the said premises, and to leave them in tenantable repair, before noon on the eighth day of April. As witness the present formal notice to quit, the cost of which is five francs." "Ha! ha! so I am not the Monsieur Schaunard to whom formal notice to quit is given at a cost of five francs? And these, again," he continued, recognizing his slippers on Marcel's feet, "are not those my papouches, the gift of a beloved hand? It is your turn, sir," said he to Marcel, "to explain your presence amongst my household goods."
"Gentlemen," replied Marcel, addressing himself more especially to Colline and Rodolphe, "this gentleman," and he pointed to Schaunard, "is at home, I admit."
"Ah!" exclaimed Schaunard, "that's lucky."
"But," continued Marcel, "I am at home too."
"But, sir," broke in Rodolphe, "if our friend recognizes--"
"Yes," said Colline, "if our friend--"
"And if on your side you recall that--," added Rodolphe, "how is it that--"
"Yes," replied his echo Colline, "how is it that--"
"Have the kindness to sit down, gentlemen," replied Marcel, "and I will explain the mystery to you."
"If we were to liquify the explanation?" risked Colline.
"Over a mouthful of something," added Rodolphe.
The four young fellows sat down to table and attacked a piece of cold veal which the wine-shop keeper had let them have.
Marcel then explained what had taken place in the morning between himself and the landlord when he had come to move in.
"Then," observed Rodolphe, "this gentleman is quite right, and we are in his place?"
"You are at home," said Marcel politely.
But it was a tremendous task to make Schaunard understand what had taken place. A comical incident served to further complicate the situation. Schaunard, when looking for something in a sideboard, found the change of the five hundred franc note that Marcel had handed to Monsieur Bernard that morning.
"Ah! I was quite sure," he exclaimed, "that Fortune would not desert me. I remember now that I went out this morning to run after her. On account of its being quarter-day she must have looked in during my absence. We crossed one another on the way, that it is. How right I was to leave the key in my drawer!"
"Delightful madness!" murmured Rodolphe, looking at Schaunard, who was building up the money in equal piles.
"A dream, a falsehood, such is life," added the philosopher.
An hour later they had all four fallen asleep.
The next day they woke up at noon, and at first seemed very much surprised to find themselves together. Schaunard, Colline, and Rodolphe did not appear to recognize one another, and addressed one another as "sir." Marcel had to remind them that they had come together the evening before.
At that moment old Durand entered the room.
"Sir," said he to Marcel, "it is the month of April, eighteen hundred and forty, there is mud in the streets, and His Majesty Louis-Philippe is still King of France and Navarre. What!" exclaimed the porter on seeing his former tenant, "Monsieur Schaunard, how did you come here?"
"By the telegraph," replied Schaunard.
"Ah!" replied the porter, "you are still a joker--"
"Durand," said Marcel, "I do not like subordinates mingling in conversation with me, go to the nearest restaurant and have a breakfast for four sent up. Here is the bill of fare, " he added, handing him a slip of paper on which he had written it. "Go."
"Gentlemen," continued Marcel, addressing the three young fellows, "you invited me to supper last night, allow me to offer you a breakfast this morning, not in my room, but in ours," he added, holding out his hand to Schaunard.
"Oh! no," said Schaunard sentimentally, "let us never leave one another."
"That's right, we are very comfortable here," added Colline.
"To leave you for a moment," continued Rodolphe. "Tomorrow the 'Scarf of Iris,' a fashion paper of which I am editor, appears, and I must go and correct my proofs; I will be back in an hour."
"The deuce!" said Colline, "that reminds me that I have a lesson to give to an Indian prince who has come to Paris to learn Arabic."
"Go tomorrow," said Marcel.
"Oh, no!" said the philosopher, "the prince is to pay me today. And then I must acknowledge to you that this auspicious day would be spoilt for me if I did not take a stroll amongst the bookstalls."
"But will you come back?" said Schaunard.
"With the swiftness of an arrow launched by a steady hand," replied the philosopher, who loved eccentric imagery.
And he went out with Rodolphe.
"In point of fact," said Schaunard when left alone with Marcel, "instead of lolling on the sybarite's pillow, suppose I was to go out to seek some gold to appease the cupidity of Monsieur Bernard?"
"Then," said Marcel uneasily, "you still mean to move?"
"Hang it," replied Schaunard, "I must, since I have received a formal notice to quit, at a cost of five francs."
"But," said Marcel, "if you move, shall you take your furniture with you?"
"I have that idea. I will not leave a hair, as Monsieur Bernard says."
"The deuce! That will be very awkward for me," said Marcel, "since I have hired your room furnished."
"There now, that's so," replied Schaunard. "Ah! bah," he added in a melancholy tone, "there is nothing to prove that I shall find my thousand francs today, tomorrow, or even later on."
"Stop a bit," exclaimed Marcel, "I have an idea."
"This is the state of things. Legally, this lodging is mine, since I have paid a month in advance."
The lodging, yes, but as to the furniture, if I pay, I can legally take it away, and if it were possible I would even take it away illegally."
"So that," continued Marcel, "you have furniture and no lodging, and I have lodging and no furniture."
"That is the position," observed Schaunard.
"This lodging suits me," said Marcel.
"And for my part is has never suited me better," said Schaunard.
"Well then, we can settle this business," resumed Marcel, "stay with me, I will apply house-room, and you shall supply the furniture."
"And the rent?" said Schaunard.
"Since I have some money just now I will pay it, it will be your turn next time. Think about it."
"I never think about anything, above all accepting a suggestion which suits me. Carried unanimously, in point of fact, Painting and Music are sisters."
"Sisters-in-law," observed Marcel.
At that moment Colline and Rodolphe, who had met one another, came in.
Marcel and Schaunard informed them of their partnership.
"Gentlemen," said Rodolphe, tapping his waistcoat pocket, "I am ready to stand dinner all round."
"That is just what I was going to have the honour of proposing," said Colline, taking out a gold coin which he stuck in his eye like a glass. "My prince gave me this to buy an Arabic grammar, which I have just paid six sous ready cash for."
"I," said Rodolphe, "have got the cashier of the 'Scarf of Iris' to advance me thirty francs under the pretext that I wanted it to get vaccinated."
"It is general pay-day then?" said Schaunard, "there is only myself unable to stand anything. It is humiliating."
"Meanwhile," said Rodolphe, "I maintain my offer of a dinner."
"So do I," said Colline.
"Very well," said Rodolphe, "we will toss up which shall settle the bill."
"No," said Schaunard, "I have something far better than that to offer you as a way of getting over the difficulty."
"Let us have it."
"Rodolphe shall pay for dinner, and Colline shall stand supper."
"That is what I call Solomonic jurisprudence," exclaimed the philosopher.
"It is worse than Camacho's wedding," added Marcel.
The dinner took place at a Provencal restaurant in the Rue Dauphine, celebrated for its literary waiters and its "Ayoli." As it was necessary to leave room for the supper, they ate and drank in moderation. The acquaintance, begun the evening before between Colline and Schaunard and later on with Marcel, became more intimate; each of the young fellows hoisted the flag of his artistic opinions, and all four recognized that they had like courage and similar hopes. Talking and arguing they perceived that their sympathies were akin, that they had all the same knack in that chaff which amuses without hurting, and that the virtues of youth had not left a vacant spot in their heart, easily stirred by the sight of the narration of anything noble. All four starting from the same mark to reach the same goal, they thought that there was something more than chance in their meeting, and that it might after all be Providence who thus joined their hands and whispered in their ears the evangelic motto, which should be the sole charter of humanity, "Love one another."
At the end of the repast, which closed in somewhat grave mood, Rodolphe rose to propose a toast to the future, and Colline replied in a short speech that was not taken from any book, had no pretension to style, and was merely couched in the good old dialect of simplicity, making that which is so badly delivered so well understood.
"What a donkey this philosopher is!" murmured Schaunard, whose face was buried in his glass, "here is he obliging me to put water in my wine."
After dinner they went to take coffee at the Cafe Momus, where they had already spent the preceding evening. It was from that day that the establishment in question became uninhabitable by its other frequenters.
After coffee and nips of liqueurs the Bohemian clan, definitely founded, returned to Marcel's lodging, which took the name of Schaunard's Elysium. Whilst Colline went to order the supper he had promised, the others bought squibs, crackers and other pyrotechnic materials, and before sitting down to table they let off from the windows a magnificent display of fireworks which turned the whole house topsy-turvey, and during which the four friends shouted at the top of their voices--
"Let us celebrate this happy day."
The next morning they again found themselves all four together but without seeming astonished this time. Before each going about his business they went together and breakfasted frugally at the Cafe Momus, where they made an appointment for the evening and where for a long time they were seen to return daily.
Such are the chief personages who will reappear in the episodes of which this volume is made up, a volume which is not a romance and has no other pretension than that set forth on its title-page, for the "Bohemians of the Latin Quarter" is only a series of social studies, the heroes of which belong to a class badly judged till now, whose greatest crime is lack of order, and who can even plead in excuse that this very lack of order is a necessity of the life they lead.