CHAPTER X

THE CAPE OF STORMS

In the opening month of each of the four seasons there are some terrible epochs, usually about the 1st and the 15th. Rodolphe, who could not witness the approach of one or the other of these two dates without alarm, nicknamed them the Cape of Storms. On these mornings it is not Aurora who opens the portals of the East, but creditors, landlords, bailiffs and their kidney. The day begins with a shower of bills and accounts and winds up with a hailstorm of protests. Dies irae .

Now one morning, it was the 15th of April, Rodolphe was peacefully slumbering -- and dreaming that one of his uncles had just bequeathed him a whole province in Peru, the feminine inhabitants included.

Whilst he was wallowing in this imaginary Pacolus, the sound of a key turing in the lock interrupted the heir presumptive just at the most dazzling point of his golden dream.

Rodolphe sat up in bed, his eyes and mind yet heavy with slumber, and looked about him.

He vaguely perceived standing in the middle of his room a man who had just entered.

This early visitor bore a bag slung at his back and a large pocket-book in his hand. He wore a cocked hat and a bluish-grey swallow-tailed coat and seemed very much out of breath from ascending the five flights of stairs. His manners were very affable and his steps sounded as sonorously as that of a money-changer's counter on the march.

Rodolphe was alarmed for a moment, and at the sight of the cocked hat and the coat thought that he had a police officer before him.

But the sight of the tolerably well filled bag made him perceive his mistake.

"Ah! I have it," thought he, "it is something on account of my inheritance, this man comes from the West Indies. But in that case why is he not black?"

And making a sign to the man, he said, pointing to the bag, "I know all about it. Put it down there. Thanks."

The man was a messenger of the Bank of France. He replied to Rodolphe's request by holding before his eyes a small strip of paper covered with writing and figures in various colored inks.

"You want a receipt," said Rodolphe. "That is right. Pass me the pen and ink. There, on the table."

"No, I have come to take money," replied the messenger. "An acceptance for a hundred and fifty francs. It is the 15th of April."

"Ah!" observed Rodolphe, examining the acceptance. "Pay to the order of ----- Birmann. It is my tailor. Alas," he added, in melancholy tones casting his eyes alternately upon a frock coat thrown on the bed and upon the acceptance, "causes depart but effects return. What, it is the 15th of April? It is extraordinary, I have not yet had any strawberries this year."

The messenger, weary of delay, left the room, saying to Rodolphe, "You have till four o'clock to pay."

"There is no time like the present," replied Rodolphe. "The humbug," he added regretfully, following the cocked hat with his eyes, "he has taken away his bag."

Rodolphe drew the curtains of his bed and tried to retrace the path to his inheritance, but he made a mistake on the road and proudly entered into a dream in which the manager of the Theatre Francais came hat in hand to ask him for a drama for his theater, and in which he, aware of the customary practice, asked for an advance. But at the very moment when the manager appeared to be willing to comply the sleeper was again half awakened by the entry of a fresh personage, another creature of the 15th.

It was Monsieur Benoit, landlord of the lodging house in which Rodolphe was residing. Monsieur Benoit was at once the landlord, the bootmaker and the money lender of his lodgers. On this morning he exhaled a frightful odor of bad brandy and overdue rent. He carried an empty bag in his hand.

"The deuce," thought Rodolphe, "this is not the manager of the Theater Francais, he would have a white cravat and the bag would be full."

"Good morning, Monsieur Rodolphe," said Monsieur Benoit, approaching the bed.

"Monsieur Benoit! Good morning. What has given me the pleasure of this visit?"

"I have come to remind you that it is the 15th of April."

"Already! How time flies, it is extraordinary, I must see about buying a pair of summer trousers. The 15th of April. Good heavens! I should never have thought of it but for you, Monsieur Benoit. What gratitude I owe you for this!"

"You also owe me a hundred and sixty-two francs," replied Monsieur Benoit, "and it is time this little account was settled."

"I am not in any absolute hurry -- do not put yourself out, Monsieur Benoit. I will give you time."

"But," said the landlord, "you have already put me off several times."

"In that case let us come to a settlement, Monsieur Benoit, let us come to a settlement, it is all the same to me today as tomorrow. Besides we are all mortal. Let us come to a settlement."

An amiable smile smoothed the landlord wrinkles and even his empty bag swelled with hope.

"What do I owe you?" asked Rodolphe.

"In the first place, we have three months' rent at twenty-five francs, that makes seventy-five francs."

"Errors excepted," said Rodolphe. "And then?"

"Then three pairs of boots at twenty francs."

"One moment, one moment, Monsieur Benoit, do not let us mix matters, this is no longer to do with the landlord but the bootmaker. I want a separate account. Accounts are a serious thing, we must not get muddled."

"Very good," said Monsieur Benoit, softened by the hope of at length writing "Paid" at the foot of his accounts. "Here is a special bill for the boots. Three pairs of boots at twenty francs, sixty francs."

Rodolphe cast a look of pity on a pair of worn out boots.

"Alas!" he thought, "they could not be worse if they had been worn by the Wandering Jew. Yet it was in running after Marie that they got so worn out. Go on, Monsieur Benoit."

"We were saying sixty francs," replied the latter. "Then money lent, twenty seven francs."

"Stop a bit, Monsieur Benoit. We agreed that each dog would have his kennel. It is as a friend that you lent me money. Therefore, if you please, let us quit the regions of bootmaking and enter those of confidence and friendship which require a separate account. How much does your friendship for me amount to?"

"Twenty seven francs."

"Twenty seven francs. You have purchased a friend cheaply, Monsieur Benoit. In short, we were saying, seventy five, sixty, and twenty seven. That makes altogether ---?"

"A hundred and sixty two francs," said Monsieur Benoit, presenting the three bills.

"A hundred and sixty two francs," observed Rodolphe, "it is extraordinary. What a fine thing arithmetic is. Well, Monsieur Benoit, now that the account is settled we can both rest easy, we know exactly how we stand. Next month I will ask you for a receipt, and as during this time the confidence and friendship you must entertain towards me can only increase, you can, in case it should become necessary, grant me a further delay. However, if the landlord and the bootmaker are inclined to be hasty, I would ask the friend to get them to listen to reason. It is extraordinary, Monsieur Benoit, but every time I think of your triple character as a landlord, a bootmaker, and a friend, I am tempted to believe in the Trinity."

Whilst listening to Rodolphe the landlord had turned at one and the same time red, green, white, and yellow, and at each fresh jest from his lodger that rainbow of anger grew deeper and deeper upon his face.

"Sir," said he, "I do not like to be made game of. I have waited long enough. I give you notice of quit, and unless you let me have some money this evening, I know what I shall have to do."

"Money! money! Am I asking you for money!" said Rodolphe. "Besides, if I had any, I should not give it to you. On a Friday, it would be unlucky."

Monsieur Benoit's wrath grew tempestuous, and if the furniture had not belonged to him he would no doubt have smashed some of it.

"You are forgetting your bag," cried Rodolphe after him. "What a business," murmured the young fellow, as he found himself alone. "I would rather tame lions. But," he continued, jumping out of bed and dressing hurriedly, "I cannot stay here. The invasion will continue. I must flee; I must even breakfast. Suppose I go and see Schaunard. I will ask him for some breakfast, and borrow a trifle. A hundred francs will be enough. Yes, I'm off to Schaunard's."

Going downstairs, Rodolphe met Monsieur Benoit, who had received further shocks from his other lodgers, as was attested by his empty bag.

"If any one asks for me, tell them I have gone into the country -- to the Alps," said Rodolphe. "Or stay, tell them that I no longer live here."

"I shall tell the truth," murmured Monsieur Benoit, in a very significant tone.

Schaunard was living at Montmartre. It was necessary to go right through Paris. This peregrination was one most dangerous to Rodolphe.

"Today," said he, "the streets are paved with creditors."

However, he did not go along by the outer Boulevards, as he had felt inclined to. A fanciful hope, on the contrary, urged him to follow the perilous itinerary of central Paris. Rodolphe thought that on a day when millions were going about the thoroughfares in the money-cases of bank messengers, it might happen that a thousand franc note, abandoned on the roadside, might lie awaiting its Good Samaritan. Thus he walked slowly along with his eyes on the ground. But he only found two pins.

After a two hours' walk he got to Schaunard's.

"Ah, it's you," said the latter.

"Yes, I have come to ask you for some breakfast."

"Ah, my dear fellow, you come at the wrong time. My mistress has just arrived, and I have not seen her for a fortnight. If you had only called ten minutes earlier."

"Well, have you got a hundred francs to lend me?"

"What! you too!" exclaimed Schaunard, in the height of astonishment. "You have come to ask me for money! You, in the ranks of my enemies!"

"I will pay you back on Monday."

"Or at the Greek Calends. My dear fellow, you surely forget what day it is. I can do nothing for you. But there is no reason to despair; the day is not yet over. You may still meet with Providence, who never gets up before noon."

"Ah!" replied Rodolphe, "Providence has too much to do looking after little birds. I will go and see Marcel."

Marcel was then residing in the Rue de Breda. Rodolphe found him in a very downcast mood, contemplating his great picture that was to represent the passage of the Red Sea.

"What is the matter?" asked Rodolphe, as he entered. "You seem quite in the dumps."

"Alas!" replied the painter, in allegorical language, "for the last fortnight it has been Holy Week."

"Red herrings and black radishes. Good, I remember."

Indeed, Rodolphe's memory was still salt with the remembrance of a time when he had been reduced to the exclusive consumption of the fish in question.

"The deuce," said he, "that is serious. I came to borrow a hundred francs of you."

"A hundred francs," said Marcel. "You are always in the clouds. The idea of coming and asking me for that mythological amount at a period when one is always under the equator of necessity. You must have been taking hashish."

"Alas!" said Rodolphe, "I have not been taking anything at all."

And he left his friend on the banks of the Red Sea.

From noon to four o'clock Rodolphe successively steered for every house of his acquaintance. He went through the forty eight districts of Paris, and covered about eight leagues, but without any success. The influence of the 15th of April made itself feel with equal severity everywhere. However, dinner time was drawing near. But it scarcely appeared that dinner was likely to follow its example, and it seemed to Rodolphe that he was on the raft of the wrecked Medusa.

As he was crossing the Pont Neuf an idea all at once occurred to him.

"Oh! oh!" said he to himself, retracing his steps, "the 15th of April. But I have an invitation to dinner for today."

And fumbling in his pocket, he drew out a printed ticket, running as follows:

_______________________________________________________
|                                                      |
|               Barriere de la Villette,               |
|                 Au Grand Vainqueur,                  |
|            Dining Room to seat 300 people.           |
|                                                      |
|                    ____________                      |
|                                                      |
|                 Anniversary Dinner                   |
|              In Honor of the Birth Of                |
|                                                      |
|              THE HUMANITARIAN MESSIAH                |
|                                                      |
|                   April 15, 184-                     |
|                                                      |
|                      _______                         |
|                     Admit One                        |
|     N.B.--Only half a bottle of wine per head        |
|______________________________________________________|


"I do not share the opinions of the disciples of this Messiah," said Rodolphe to himself, "but I will willingly share their repast." And with the swiftness of a bird he covered the distance separating him from the Barriere de la Villette.

When he reached the halls of the Grand Vainqueur, the crowd was enormous. The dining room, seating three hundred, was thronged with five hundred people. A vast horizon of veal and carrots spread itself before the eyes of Rodolphe.

At length they began to serve the soup.

As the guests were carrying their spoons to their lips, five or six people in plain clothes, and several police officers in uniform, pushed into the room, with a commissary of police at their head.

"Gentlemen," said the commissary, "by order of the authorities, this dinner cannot take place. I call upon you to withdraw."

"Oh!" said Rodolphe, retiring with everyone else. "Oh! what a fatality has spoiled my dinner."

He sadly resumed the road to his dwelling, and reached it at about eleven at night.

Monsieur Benoit was awaiting him.

"Ah! it is you," said the landlord. "Have you thought of what I told you this morning? Have you brought me any money?"

"I am to receive some tonight. I will give you some of it tomorrow morning," replied Rodolphe, looking for his key and his candlestick in their accustomed place. He did not find them.

"Monsieur Rodolphe," said the landlord, "I am very sorry, but I have let your room, and I have no other vacant now -- you must go somewhere else."

Rodolphe had a lofty soul, and a night in the open air did not alarm him. Besides, in the event of bad weather, he could sleep in a box at the Odeon Theater, as he had already done before. Only he claimed "his property" from Monsieur Benoit, the said property consisting of a bundle of papers.

"That is so," said the landlord. "I have no right to detain those things. They are in the bureau. Come up with me; if the person who has taken your room has not gone to bed, we can go in."

The room had been let during the day to a girl named Mimi, with whom Rodolphe had formerly began a love duet. They recognized one another at once. Rodolphe began to whisper to Mimi and tenderly squeezed her hand.

"See how it rains," said he, calling attention to the noise of the storm that had just broken overhead.

"Sir," said she, pointing to Rodolphe, "this is the gentleman I was expecting this evening."

"Oh!" said Monsieur Benoit, grinning on the wrong end of his face.

Whilst Mademoiselle Mimi was hurriedly getting ready an improvised supper, midnight struck.

"Ah!" said Rodolphe to himself, "the 15th of April is over. I have at length weathered my Cape of Storms. My dear Mimi," said the young man, taking the pretty girl in his arms and kissing her on the back of the neck, "it would have been impossible for you to have allowed me to be turned out of doors. You have the bump of hospitality."


Go to Chapter XI, A Bohemian Cafe

Return to Table of Contents

Return to BohemianLit.com Home Page