This took place some time after the union of the poet Rodolphe and Mademoiselle Mimi. For a week the whole of the Bohemian brotherhood were grievously perturbed by the disappearance of Rodolphe, who had suddenly become invisible. They had sought for him in all his customary haunts, and had everywhere been met by the same reply --
"We have not seen him for a week."
Gustave Colline above all was very uneasy, and for the following reason. A few days previously he had handed to Rodolphe a highly philosophical article, which the latter was to insert in the columns of "The Beaver," the organ of the hat trade, of which he was editor. Had this philosophical article burst upon the gaze of astonished Europe? Such was the query put to himself by the astonished Colline, and this anxiety will be understood when it is explained that the philosopher had never yet had the honor of appearing in print, and that he was consumed by the desire of seeing what effect would be produced by his prose in pica. To procure himself this gratification he had already expended six francs in visiting all the reading rooms of Paris without being able to find "The Beaver" in any one of them. Not being able to stand it any longer, Colline swore to himself that he would not take a moment's rest until he had laid hands on the undiscoverable editor of this paper.
Aided by chances which it would take too long to tell in detail, the philosopher was able to keep his word. Within two days he learned Rodolphe's abiding place and called on him there at six in the morning.
Rodolphe was then residing in a lodging house in a deserted street situated in the Faubourg Saint Germain, and was perched on the fifth floor because there was not a sixth. When Colline came to his door there was no key in the lock outside. He knocked for ten minutes without obtaining any answer from within; the din he made at this early hour attracted the attention of even the porter, who came to ask him to be quiet.
"You see very well that the gentleman is asleep," said he.
"That is why I want to wake him up," replied Colline, knocking again.
"He does not want to answer then," replied the porter, placing before Rodolphe's door a pair of patent leather boots and a pair of lady's boots that he had just cleaned.
"Wait a bit though," observed Colline, examining the masculine and feminine foot gear. "New patent leathers! I must have made a mistake; it cannot be here."
"Yes, by the way," said the porter, "whom do you want?"
"A woman's boots!" continued Colline, speaking to himself, and thinking of his friends austere manners, "yes, certainly I must have made a mistake. This is not Rodolphe's room."
"I beg your pardon, sir, it is."
"You must be making a mistake, my good man."
"What do you mean?"
"Decidedly you must be making a mistake," said Colline, pointing to the patent leather boots. "What are those?"
"Those are Monsieur Rodolphe's boots. What is there to be wondered at in that?"
"And these?" asked Colline, pointing to the lady's boots. "Are they Monsieur Rodolphe's too?"
"Those are his wife's," said the porter.
"His wife's!" exclaimed Colline in a tone of stupefaction. "Ah! The voluptuary, that is why he will not open the door."
"Well," said the porter, "he is free to do as he likes about that, sir. If you will leave me your name I will let him know you called."
"No," said Colline. "Now that I know where to find him I will call again."
And he at once went off to tell the important news to his friends.
Rodolphe's patent leathers were generally considered to be a fable due to Colline's wealth of imagination, and it was unanimously declared that his mistress was a paradox.
This paradox was, however, a truism, for that very evening Marcel received a letter collectively addressed to the whole of the set. It was as follows: --
"Monsieur and Madame Rodolphe, literati, beg you to favor them with your company at dinner tomorrow evening at five o'clock sharp."
"N.B. -- There will be plates."
"Gentlemen," said Marcel, when communicating the letter to his comrades, "the news is confirmed, Rodolphe has really a mistress; further he invites us to dinner, and the postscript promises crockery. I will not conceal from you that this last paragraph seems to me a lyrical exaggeration, but we shall see."
The following day at the hour named, Marcel, Gustave, Colline, and Alexander Schaunard, keen set as on the last day of Lent, went to Rodolphe's, whom they found playing with a sandy haired cat, whilst a young woman was laying the table.
"Gentlemen," said Rodolphe, shaking his friends' hands and indicating the young lady, "allow me to introduce you to the mistress of the household."
"You are the household, are you not?" said Colline, who had a mania for this kind of joke.
"Mimi," replied Rodolphe, "I present my best friends; now go and get the soup ready."
"Oh madame," said Alexander Schaunard, hastening towards Mimi, "you are as fresh as a wild flower."
After having satisfied himself that there were really plates on the table, Schaunard asked what they were going to have to eat. He even carried his curiosity so far as to lift up the covers of the stewpans in which the dinner was cooking. The presence of a lobster produced a lively impression upon him.
As to Colline, he had drawn Rodolphe aside to ask about his philosophical article.
"My dear fellow, it is at the printer's. 'The Beaver' appears next Thursday."
We give up the task of depicting the philosopher's delight.
"Gentlemen," said Rodolphe to his friends. "I ask your pardon for leaving you so long without any news of me, but I was spending my honeymoon." And he narrated the story of his union with the charming creature who had brought him as a dowry her eighteen years and a half, two porcelain cups, and a sandy haired cat named Mimi, like herself.
"Come, gentlemen," said Rodolphe, "we are going to celebrate my house warming. I forewarn you, though, that we are about to have merely a family repast; truffles will be replaced by frank cordiality."
Indeed, that amiable goddess did not cease to reign amongst the guests, who found, however, that the so-called frugal repast did not lack a certain amplitude. Rodolphe, indeed, had spread himself out. Colline called attention to the fact that the plates were changed, and declared aloud that Mademoiselle Mimi was worthy of the azure scarf with which the empresses of the cooking stove were adorned, a phrase which was Greek to the young girl, and which Rodolphe translated by telling her "that she would make a capital cordon bleu."
The appearance on the scene of the lobster caused universal admiration. Under the pretext that he had studied natural history, Schaunard suggested that he should carve it. He even profited by this circumstance to break a knife and to take the largest helping for himself, which excited general indignation. But Schaunard had no self respect, above all in the matter of lobsters, and as there was still a portion left, he had the audacity to put it on one side, saying that he would do for a model for a still life piece he had on hand.
Indulgent friendship feigned to believe this fiction, but fruit of immoderate gluttony.
As to Colline he reserved his sympathies for the dessert, and was even obstinate enough to cruelly refuse the share of a tipsy cake against a ticket of admission to the orangery of Versailles offered to him by Schaunard.
At this point conversation began to get lively. To three bottles with red seals succeeded three bottles with green seals, in the midst of which shortly appeared one which by its neck topped with a silver helmet, was recognized as belonging to the Royal Champagne Regiment -- a fantastic champagne vintaged by Saint Ouen, and sold in Paris at two francs the bottle as bankrupt's stock, so the vendor asserted.
But it is not the district that makes the wine, and our Bohemians accepted as the authentic growth of Ai the liquor that was served out to them in the appropriate glasses, and despite the scant degree of vivacity shown by the cork in popping from its prison, went into ecstacies over the excellence of the vintage on seeing the quality of the froth. Schaunard summoned up all his remaining self-possession to make a mistake regards glasses, and help himself to that of Colline, who kept gravely dipping his biscuit in the mustard pot as he explained to Mademoiselle Mimi the philosophical article that was to appear in "The Beaver." All at once he grew pale, and asked leave to go to the window and look at the sunset, although it was ten o'clock at night, and the sun had set long ago.
"It is a pity the Champagne is not iced," said Schaunard, again trying to substitute his empty glass for the full one of his neighbor, an attempt this time without success.
"Madame," observed Colline, who had ceased to take the fresh air, to Mimi, "Champagne is iced with ice. Ice is formed by the condensation of water, in Latin aqua. Water freezes at two degrees, and there are four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, and winter, which was the cause of the retreat from Moscow."
All at once Colline suddenly slapped Rodolphe on the shoulder, and in a thick voice that seemed to mash all the syllables together, said to him --
"Tomorrow is Thursday, is it not?"
"No," replied Rodolphe. "Tomorrow is Sunday."
"No, I tell you. Tomorrow is Sunday."
"Sunday!" said Colline, wagging his head, "not a bit of it, it is Thursday."
And he fell asleep, making a mold for a cast of his face in the cream cheese that was before him in his plate.
"What is he harping about Thursday?" observed Marcel.
"Ah, I have it!" said Rodolphe, who began to understand the persistency of the philosopher, tormented by a fixed idea, "it is on account of his article in 'The Beaver.' Listen, he is dreaming of it aloud."
"Good," said Schaunard. "He shall not have any coffee, eh, madame?"
"By the way," said Rodolphe, "pour out the coffee, Mimi."
The latter was about to rise, when Colline, who had recovered a little self possession, caught her around the waist and whispered confidentially in her ear:
"Madame, the coffee plant is a native of Arabia, where it was discovered by a goat. Its use expanded to Europe. Voltaire used to drink seventy cups a day. I like mine without sugar, but very hot."
"Good heavens! What a learned man!" thought Mimi as she brought the coffee and pipes.
However time was getting on, midnight had long since struck, and Rodolphe sought to make his guests understand that it was time for them to withdraw. Marcel, who retained all his senses, got up to go.
But Schaunard perceived that there was still some brandy in a bottle, and declared that it could not be midnight so long as there was any left. As to Colline, he was sitting astride his chair and murmuring in a low voice:
"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday."
"Hang it all," said Rodolphe, greatly embarrassed, "I cannot give them quarters here tonight; formerly it was all very well, but now it is another thing," he added, looking at Mimi, whose softly kindling eyes seemed to appeal for solitude for their two selves. "What is to be done? Give me a bit of advice, Marcel. Invent a trick to get rid of them."
"No, I won't invent," replied Marcel, "but I will imitate. I remember a play in which a sharp servant manages to get rid of three rascals as drunk as Silenus who are at his master's."
"I recollect it," said Rodolphe, "it is in 'Kean.' Indeed, the situation is the same."
"Well," said Marcel, "we will see if the stage holds the glass up to human nature. Stop a bit, we will begin with Schaunard. Here, I say, Schaunard."
"Eh? What is it?" replied the latter, who seemed to be floating in the elysium of mild intoxication.
"There is nothing more to drink here, and we are all thirsty."
"Yes," said Schaunard, "bottles are so small."
"Well," continued Marcel, "Rodolphe has decided that we shall pass the night here, but we must go and get something before the shops are shut."
"My grocer lives at the corner of the street," said Rodolphe. "Do you mind going there, Schaunard? You can fetch two bottles of rum, to be put down to me."
"Oh! yes, certainly," said Schaunard, making a mistake in his greatcoat and taking that of Colline, who was tracing figures on the table cloth with his knife.
"One," said Marcel, when Schaunard had gone. "Now let us tackle Colline, that will be a harder job. Ah! an idea. Hi, hi, Colline," he continued, shaking the philosopher.
"What? what? what is it?"
"Schaunard has just gone, and has taken your hazel overcoat by mistake."
Colline glanced round again, and perceived indeed in the place of his garment, Schaunard's little plaid overcoat. A sudden idea flashed across his mind and filled him with uneasiness. Colline, according to his custom, had been book-hunting during the day, and had bought for fifteen sous a Finnish grammar and a little novel of Nisard's entitled "The Milkwoman's Funeral." These two acquisitions were accompanied by seven or eight volumes of philosophy that he had always about him as an arsenal whence to draw reasons in case of an argument. The idea of this library being in the hands of Schaunard threw him into a cold perspiration.
"The wretch!" exclaimed Colline, "what did he take my greatcoat for?"
"It was by mistake."
"But my books. He may put them to some improper purpose."
"Do not be afraid, he will not read them," said Rodolphe.
"No, but I know him; he is capable of lighting his pipe with them."
"If you are uneasy you can catch him up," said Rodolphe. "He has only just this moment gone out, you will overtake him at the street door."
"Certainly I will overtake him," replied Colline, putting on his hat, the brim of which was so broad that tea for six people might have been served upon it.
"Two," said Marcel to Rodolphe, "now you are free. I am off, and I will tell the porter not to open the outer door if anyone knocks."
"Goodnight and thanks," said Rodolphe.
As he was showing his friend out Rodolphe heard on the staircase a prolonged mew, to which his carroty cat replied by another, whilst trying at the same time to slip out adroitly by the half-opened door.
"Poor Romeo!" said Rodolphe, "there is his Juliet calling him. Come, off with you," he added opening the door to the enamored beast, who made a single leap down the stairs into its lover's arms.
Left alone with his mistress, who standing before the glass was curling her hair in a charmingly provocative attitude, Rodolphe approached Mimi and passed his arms around her. Then, like a musician, who before commencing a piece, strikes a series of notes to assure himself of the capacity of the instrument, Rodolphe drew Mimi onto his knee, and printed on her shoulder a long and sonorous kiss, which imparted a sudden vibration to the frame of the youthful beauty.
The instrument was in tune.