Oh! my friend Rodolphe, what has happened to change you thus? Am I to believe the rumors that are current, and that this misfortune has broken down to such a degree your robust philosophy? How can I, the historian in ordinary of your Bohemian epic, so full of joyous bursts of laughter, narrate in a sufficiently melancholy tone the painful adventure which casts a veil over your constant gaiety, and suddenly checks the ringing flow of your paradoxes?
Oh! Rodolphe, my friend, I admit that the evil is serious, but there, really it is not worthwhile throwing oneself into the water about it. So I invite you to bury the past as soon as possible. Shun above all the solitude peopled with phantoms who would help to render your regrets eternal. Shun the silence where the echoes of recollection would still be full of your past joys and sorrows. Cast boldly to all the winds of forgetfulness the name you have so fondly cherished, and with it all that still remains to you of her who bore it. Curls pressed by lips mad with desire, a Venice flask in which there still lurks a remainder of perfume, which at this moment it would be more dangerous for you to breathe than all the poisons in the world. To the fire with the flowers, the flowers of gauze, silk and velvet, the white geraniums, the anemones empurpled by the blood of Adonis, the blue forget-me-nots and all those charming bouquets that she put together in the far off days of your brief happiness. Then I loved her too, your Mimi, and saw no danger in your loving her. But follow my advice -- to the fire with the ribbons, the pretty pink, blue, and yellow ribbons which she wore round her neck to attract the eye; to the fire with the lace, the caps, the veils and all the coquettish trifles with which she bedecked herself to go lovemaking with Monsieur Cesar, Monsieur Jerome, Monsieur Charles, or any other gallant in the calendar, whilst you were awaiting her at your window, shivering from the wintry blast. To the fire, Rodolphe, and without pity, with all that belonged to her and could still speak to you of her; to the fire with the love letters. Ah! here is one of them, and your tears have bedewed it like a fountain. Oh! my unhappy friend!
"As you have not come in, I am going out to call on my aunt. I have taken what money there was for a cab."
That evening, oh! Rodolphe, you had, do you not recollect, to go without your dinner, and you called on me and let off a volley of jests which fully attested your tranquillity of mind. For you believed Lucille was at her aunt's, and if I had not told you that she was with Monsieur Cesar or with and actor of the Montparnasse Theater, you would have cut my throat! To the fire, too, with this other note, which has all the laconic affection of the first.
"I am gone out to order some boots, you must find the money for me to go and fetch them tomorrow."
Ah! my friend, those boots have danced many quadrilles in which you did not figure as a partner. To the flames with all these remembrances and to the winds with their ashes.
But in the first place, oh Rodolphe! for the love of humanity and the reputation of "The Scarf of Iris" and "The Beaver," resume the reins of good taste that you have egotistically dropped during your sufferings, or else horrible things may happen for which you will be responsible. We may go back to leg-of-mutton sleeves and frilled trousers, and some fine day see hats come into fashion which would afflict the universe and call down the wrath of heaven.
And now the moment is come to relate the loves of our friend Rodolphe and Mimi. It was just as he was turned four and twenty that Rodolphe was suddenly smitten with the passion that had such an influence upon his life. At the time he met Mimi he was leading that broken and fantastic existence that we have tried to describe in the preceding chapters of this book. He was certainly one of the gayest endurers of poverty in the world of Bohemia. When in course of the day he had made a poor dinner and a smart remark, he walked more proudly in his black coat (pleading for help through every gaping seam) along the pavement that often promised to be his only resting place for the night, than an emperor in his purple robe. In the group amongst whom Rodolphe lived, they affected, after a fashion common enough amongst some young fellows, to treat love as a thing of luxury, a pretext for jesting. Gustave Colline, who had for a long time past been in intimate relations with a waistcoat maker, whom he was rendering deformed in mind and body by obliging her to sit day and night copying the manuscripts of his philosophical works, asserted that love was a kind of purgative, good to take at the beginning of each season in order to get rid of humors. Amidst all these false sceptics Rodolphe was the only one who dared to talk of love with some reverence, and when they had the misfortune to let him harp on this string, he would go on for an hour plaintively wurbling elegies on the happiness of being loved, the deep blue of the peaceful lake, the song of the breeze, the harmony of the stars, &c., &c. This mania had caused him to be nicknamed the harmonica by Schaunard. Marcel had also made on this subject a very neat remark when, alluding to the Teutonically sentimental tirades of Rodolphe and to his premature calvity, he called him the bald forget-me-not. The real truth was this. Rodolphe then seriously believed he had done with all things of youth and love; he insolently chanted a De profundis over his heart, which he thought dead when it was only silent, yet still ready to awake, still accessible to joy, and more susceptible than ever to all the sweet pangs that he no longer hoped for, and that were now driving him to despair. You would have it, Rodolphe, and we shall not pity you, for the disease from which you are suffering is one of those we long for most, above all when we know that we are cured of it forever.
Rodolphe then met Mimi, whom he had formerly known when she was the mistress of one of his friends; and he made her his own. There was at first a great outcry amongst Rodolphe's friends when they learned of this union, but as Mademoiselle Mimi was very taking, not at all prudish, and could stand tobacco smoke and literary conversations without a headache, they became accustomed to her and and treated her as a comrade. Mimi was a charming girl, and especially adapted for both the plastic and poetical sympathies of Rodolphe. She was twenty two years of age, small, delicate, and arch. He face seemed the first sketch of an aristocratic conntenance, but her features, extremely fine in outline, and as it were, softly lit up by the light of her clear blue eyes, wore, at certain moments of weariness or ill-humor, an expression of almost savage brutality, in which a physiologist would perhaps have recognized the indication of profound egotism or great insensibility. But hers was usually a charming head, with a fresh and youthful smile and glances either tender or full of imperious coquetry. The blood of youth flowed warm and rapid in her veins, and imparted rosy tints to her transparent skin of camellia-like whiteness. This unhealthy beauty captivated Rodolphe, and he often during the night spent hours in covering with kisses the pale forehead of his slumbering mistress, whose humid and weary eyes shone half-closed beneath the curtain of her magnificent brown hair. But what contributed above all to make Rodolphe madly in love with Mademoiselle Mimi were her hands, which in spite of household cares, she managed to keep as white as those of the Goddess of Idleness. However, these hands so frail, so tiny, so soft to the lips; these child-like hands in which Rodolphe had placed his once more awakened heart; these white hands of Mademoiselle Mimi were soon to rend that heart with their rosy nails.
At the end of a month Rodolphe began to perceive that he was wedded to a thunderstorm, and that his mistress had one great fault. She was a "gadabout," as they say, and spent a great part of her time amongst the kept women of the neighborhood, whose acquaintance she had made. The result that Rodolphe had feared, when he perceived the relations contracted by his mistress, soon took place. The variable opulence of some of her new friends caused a forest of ambitious ideas to spring up in the mind of Mademoiselle Mimi, who up until then had only had modest tastes, and was content with the necessaries of life that Rodolphe did his best to procure for her. Mimi began to dream of silks, velvets, and lace. And, despite Rodolphe's prohibition, she continued to frequent these women, who were all of one mind in persuading her to break off with the Bohemian who could not even give her a hundred and fifty francs to buy a stuff dress.
"Pretty as you are," said her advisers, "you can easily secure a better position. You have only to look for it."
And Mademoiselle Mimi began to look. A witness of her frequent absences, clumsily accounted for, Rodolphe entered upon the painful track of suspicion. But as soon as he felt himself on the trail of some proof of infidelity, he eagerly drew a bandage over his eyes in order to see nothing. However, a strange, jealous, fantastic, quarrelsome love which the girl did not understand, because she then only felt for Rodolphe that lukewarm attachment resulting from habit. Besides, half of her heart had already been expended over her first love, and the other half was till full of the remembrance of her first lover.
Eight months passed by in this fashion, good and evil days alternating. During this period Rodolphe was a score of times on the point of separating from Mademoiselle Mimi, who had for him all the clumsy cruelties of the woman who does not love. Properly speaking, this life had become a hell for both. But Rodolphe had grown accustomed to these daily struggles, and dreaded nothing so much as a cessation of this state of things; for he felt that with it would cease forever the fever and agitations of youth that he had not felt for so long. And then, if everything must be told, there were hours in which Mademoiselle Mimi knew how to make Rodolphe forget all the suspicions that were tearing at his heart. There were moments when she caused him to bend like a child at her knee beneath the charm of her blue eyes -- the poet to whom she had given back his lost poetry -- the young man to whom she had restored his youth, and who, thanks to her, was once more beneath love's equator. Two or three times a month, amidst these stormy quarrels, Rodolphe and Mimi halted with one accord at the verdant oasis of a night of love, and for whole hours would give himself up to addressing her in that charming yet absurd language that passion improvises in its hour of delirium. Mimi listened calmly at first, rather astonished than moved, but, in the end, the enthusiastic eloquence of Rodolphe, by turns tender, lively, and melancholy, won on her by degrees. She felt the ice of indifference that numbed her heart melt at the contact of the love; she would throw herself on Rodolphe's breast, and tell him by kisses all that she was unable to tell him in words. And dawn surprised them thus enlaced together -- eyes fixed on eyes, hands clasped in hands -- whilst their moist and burning lips were still murmuring that immortal word "that for five thousand years has lingered nightly on lovers' lips."
But the next day the most futile pretext brought about a quarrel, and love alarmed fled again for some time.
In the end, however, Rodolphe perceived that if he did not take care the white hands of Mademoiselle Mimi would lead him to an abyss in which he would leave his future and his youth. For a moment stern reason spoke in him more strongly than love, and he convinced himself by strong arguments, backed up by proofs, that his mistress did not love him. He went so far as to say to himself, that the hours of love she granted him were nothing but a mere sensual caprice such as married women feel for their husbands when they long for a cashmere shawl or a new dress, or when their lover is away, in accordance with the proverb that half a loaf is better than no bread. In short, Rodolphe could forgive his mistress everything except not being loved. He therefore took a supreme resolution, and announced to Mademoiselle Mimi that she would have to look out for another lover. Mimi began to laugh and to utter bravados. In the end, seeing that Rodolphe was firm in his resolve, and greeted her with extreme calmness when she returned home after a day and a night spent out of the house, she began to grow a little uneasy in face of this firmness, to which she was not accustomed. She was then charming for two or three days. But her lover did not go back on what he had said, and contented himself with asking whether she had found anyone.
"I have not even looked," she replied.
However, she had looked, and even before Rodolphe had advised her to do so. In a fortnight she had made two essays. One of her friends had helped her, and had at first procured her the acquaintance of a very tender youth, who had unfolded before Mimi's eyes a horizon of Indian cashmeres and suites of furniture in rosewood. But in the opinion of Mimi herself this young schoolboy, who might be very good at algebra, was not very advanced in the art of love, and as she did not like undertaking education, she left her amorous novice on the lurch, with his cashmeres still browsing on the plains of Tibet, and his rosewood furniture still growing in the forests of the New World.
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 hew 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 by-gone 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 re-awakening 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 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 Rodolpne, "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?"