It may be, perhaps, remembered how the painter Marcel sold the Jew Medici his famous picture of "The Passage of the Red Sea," which was destined to serve as the sign of a provision dealer's. On the morrow of this sale, which had been followed by a luxurious dinner stood by the Jew to the Bohemians as a clincher to the bargain, Marcel, Schaunard, Colline, and Rodolphe woke up very late. Still bewildered by the fumes of their intoxication of the day before, at first they no longer remembered what had taken place, and as noon rung out from a neighboring steeple, they all looked at one another with a melancholy smile.
"There goes the bell that piously summons humanity to refresh itself." said Marcel.
"In point of fact," replied Rodolphe, "it is the solemn hour when honest folk enter their dining-room."
"We must try and become honest folk," murmured Colline, whose patron saint was Saint Appetite.
"Ah, milk jug of my nursery! -- ah! Four square meals of my childhood, what has become of you?" said Schaunard. "What has become of you?" he repeated, to a soft and melancholy tune.
"To think that at this hour there are in Paris more than a hundred thousand chops on the gridiron," said Marcel.
"And as many steaks," added Rodolphe.
By an ironical contrast, while the four friends were putting to one another the terrible daily problem of how to get their breakfast, the waiters of a restaurant on the lower floor of the house kept shouting out the customers' orders.
"Will those scoundrels never be quiet?" said Marcel. "Every word is like the stroke of a pick, hollowing out my stomach."
"The wind is in the north," said Colline, gravely, pointing to a weathercock on a neighboring roof. "We shall not breakfast today, the elements are opposed to it."
"How so?" inquired Marcel.
"It is an atmospheric phenomenon I have noted," said the philosopher. "A wind from the north almost always means abstinence, as one from the south usually means pleasure and good cheer. It is what philosophy calls a warning from above."
Gustave Colline's fasting jokes were savage ones.
At that moment Schaunard, who had plunged one of his hands into the abyss that served him as a pocket, withdrew it with a yell of pain.
"Help, there is something in my coat!" he cried, trying to free his hand, nipped fast in the claws of a live lobster.
To the cry he had uttered another one replied. It came from Marcel, who, mechanically putting his hand into his pocket, had there discovered a silver mine that he had forgotten -- that is to say, the hundred and fifty francs which Medici had given him the day before in payment for "The Passage of the Red Sea."
Memory returned at the same moment to the Bohemians.
"Bow down, gentlemen," said Marcel, spreading out on the table a pile of five-franc pieces, amongst which glittered some new louis.
"One would think they were alive," said Colline.
"Sweet sounds!" said Schaunard, chinking the gold pieces together.
"How pretty these medals are!" said Rodolphe. "One would take them for fragments of sunshine. If I were a king I would have no other small change, and would have them stamped with my mistress's portrait."
"To think that there is a country where there are mere pebbles," said Schaunard. "The Americans used to give four of them for two sous. I had an ancestor who went to America. He was interred by the savages in their stomachs. It was a misfortune for the family."
"Ah, but where does this animal come from?" enquired Marcel, looking at the lobster which had began to crawl about the room.
"I remember," said Schaunard, "that yesterday I took a turn in Medicis' kitchen, I suppose the reptile accidentally fell into my pocket; these creatures are very short-sighted. Since I have got it," added he, "I should like to keep it. I will tame it and paint it red, it will look livelier. I am sad since Phemie's departure; it will be a companion to me."
"Gentlemen," exclaimed Colline, "notice, I beg of you, that the weathercock has gone round to the south, we shall breakfast."
"I should think so," said Marcel, taking up a gold piece, "here is something we will cook with plenty of sauce."
They proceeded to a long and serious discussion on the bill of fare. Each dish was the subject of an argument and a vote. Omelette soufflé, proposed by Schaunard, was anxiously rejected, as were white wines, against which Marcel delivered an oration that brought out his aenophilistic knowledge.
"The first duty of wine is to be red," exclaimed he, "don't talk to me about your white wines."
"But," said Schaunard, "Champagne--"
"Bah! A fashionable cider! An epileptic licorice-water. I would give all the cellars of Epernay and Ai for a single Burgundian cask. Besides, we have neither grisettes to seduce, nor a vaudeville to write. I vote against Champagne."
The program once agreed upon, Schaunard and Colline went to the neighboring restaurant to order the repast.
"Suppose we have some fire," said Marcel.
"As a matter of fact," said Rodolphe, "we should not be doing wrong, the thermometer has been inviting us to it for some time past. Let us have some fire and astonish the fireplace."
He ran out on the landing and called to Colline to have some wood sent in. A few minutes later Schaunard and Colline came up again, followed by a charcoal dealer bearing a heavy bundle of firewood.
As Marcel was looking in a drawer for some spare paper to light the fire, he came by chance across a letter, the handwriting of which made him start, and which he began to read unseen by his friends.
It was a letter in pencil, written by Musette when she was living with Marcel and dated day for day a year ago. It only contained these words: --
"My dear love,
Do not be uneasy about me, I shall be in shortly. I have gone out to warm myself a bit by walking, it is freezing indoors and the wood seller has cut off credit. I broke up the last two rungs of the chair, but they did not burn long enough to cook an egg by. Besides, the wind comes in through the window as if it were at home, and whispers a great deal of bad advice which it would vex you if I were to listen to. I prefer to go out a bit; I shall take a look at the shops. They say that there is some velvet at ten francs a yard. It is incredible, I must see it. I shall be back for dinner.
"Poor girl," said Marcel, putting the letter in his pocket. And he remained for a short time pensive, his head resting on his hands.
At this period the Bohemians had been for some time in a state of widowhood, with the exception of Colline, whose sweetheart, however, had still remained invisible and anonymous.
Phemie herself, Schaunard's amiable companion, had met with a simple soul who had offered her his heart, a suite of mahogany furniture, and a ring with his hair -- red hair -- in it. However, a fortnight after these gifts, Phemie's lover wanted to take back his heart and his furniture, because he noticed on looking at his mistress's hands that she wore a ring set with hair, but black hair this time, and dared to suspect her of infidelity.
Yet Phemie had not ceased to be virtuous, only as her friends had chaffed her several times about her ring with red hair, she had had it dyed black. The gentleman was so pleased that he bought Phemie a silk dress; it was the first she had ever had. The day she put it on for the first time the poor girl exclaimed:
"Now I can die happy."
As to Musette, she had once more become almost an official personage, and Marcel had not met her for three or four months. As to Mimi, Rodolphe had not heard her even mentioned, save by himself when alone.
"Hallo!" suddenly exclaimed Rodolphe, seeing Marcel squatting dreamily beside the hearth. "Won't the fire light?"
"There you are," said the painter, setting light to the wood, which began to crackle and flame.
While his friends were sharpening their appetites by getting ready the feast, Marcel had again isolated himself in a corner and was putting the letter he had just found by chance away with some souvenirs that Musette had left him. All at once he remembered the address of a woman who was the intimate friend of his old love.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, loud enough to be overheard. "I know where to find her."
"Find what?" asked Rodolphe. "What are you up to?" he added, seeing the artist getting ready to write.
"Nothing, only an urgent letter I had forgotten," replied Marcel, and he wrote: --
"My dear girl,
I have wealth in my desk, an apoplectic stroke of fortune. We have a big feed simmering, generous wines, and have lit fires like respectable citizens. You should only just see it, as you used to say. Come and pass an hour with us. You will find Rodolphe, Colline and Schaunard. You shall sing to us at dessert, for dessert will not be wanting. While we are there we shall probably remain at table for a week. So do not be afraid of being too late. It is so long since I heard you laugh. Rodolphe will compose madrigals to you, and we will drink all manner of things to our dead and gone loves, with liberty to resuscitate them. Between people like ourselves -- the last kiss is never the last. Ah! If it had not been so cold last year you might not have left me. You jilted me for a faggot and because you were afraid of having red hands; you were right. I am no more vexed with you over it this time than over the others, but come and warm yourself while there is a fire. With as many kisses as you like,
This letter finished, Marcel wrote another to Madame Sidonie, Musette's friend, begging her to forward the one enclosed in it. Then he went downstairs to the porter to get him to take the letters. As he was paying him beforehand, the porter noticed a gold coin in the painter's hand, and before starting on his errand went up to inform the landlord, with whom Marcel was behind with his rent.
` "Sir," said he, quite out of breath, "the artist on the sixth floor has money. You know the tall fellow who laughs in my face when I take him his bill?"
"Yes," said the landlord, "the one who had the imprudence to borrow money of me to pay me something on account with. He is under notice to quit."
"Yes sir. But he is rolling in gold today. I caught sight of it just now. He is giving a party. It is a good time--"
"You are right," said the landlord. "I will go up and see for myself by-and-by."
Madame Sidonie, who was at home when Marcel's letter was brought, sent on her maid at once with the one intended for Musette.
The latter was then residing in a charming suite of rooms in the Chaussee d'Antin. At the moment Marcel's letter was handed to her, she had company, and, indeed, was going to give a grand dinner party that evening.
"Here is a miracle," she exclaimed, laughing like a mad thing.
"What is it?" asked a handsome young fellow, as stiff as a statuette.
"It is an invitation to dinner," replied the girl. "How well it falls out."
"How badly," said the young man.
"Why so?" asked Musette.
"What, do you think of going?"
"I should think so. Arrange things as you please."
"But, my dear, it is not becoming. You can go another time."
"Ah, that is very good, another time. It is an old acquaintance, Marcel, who invites me to dinner, and that is sufficiently extraordinary for me to go and have a look at it. Another time! But real dinners in that house are as rare as eclipses."
"What, you would break your pledge to us to go and see this individual," said the young man, "and you tell me so--"
"Whom do you want me to tell it to, then? To the Grand Turk? It does not concern him."
"This is strange frankness."
"You know very well that I do nothing like other people."
"But what would you think of me if I let you go, knowing where you are going to? Think a bit, Musette, it is very unbecoming both to you and myself; you must ask this young fellow to excuse you--"
My dear Monsieur Maurice," said Mademoiselle Musette, in very firm tones, "you knew me before you took up with me, you knew that I was full of whims and fancies, and that no living soul can boast of ever having made me give one up."
"Ask of me whatever you like," said Maurice, "but this! There are fancies and fancies."
"Maurice, I shall go and see Marcel. I am going," she added, putting on her bonnet. "You may leave me if you like, but it is stronger than I am; he is the best fellow in the world, and the only one I have ever loved. If his head had been gold he would have melted it down to give me rings. Poor fellow," said she, showing the letter, "see, as soon as he has a little fire, he invites me to come and warm myself. Ah, if he had not been so idle, and if there had not been so much velvet and silk in the shops! I was very happy with him, he had the gift of making me feel; and it is he who gave me the name of Musette on account of my songs. At any rate, going to see him you may be sure that I shall return to you...unless you shut your door in my face."
"You could not more frankly acknowledge that you do not love me," said the young man.
"Come, my dear Maurice, you are too sensible a man for us to begin a serious argument on that point," rejoined Musette. "You keep me like a fine horse in your stable -- and I like you because I love luxury, noise, glitter, and festivity, and that sort of thing; do not let us go in for sentiment, it would be useless and ridiculous."
"At least let me come with you."
"But you would not enjoy yourself at all," said Musette, "and would hinder us from enjoying ourselves. Remember that he will necessarily kiss me."
"Musette," said Maurice. "Have you often found such accommodating people as myself?"
"Viscount," replied Musette, "one day when I was driving in the Champs Elysees with Lord _____, I met Marcel and his friend Rodolphe, both on foot, both ill dressed, muddy as water-dogs, and smoking pipes. I had not seen Marcel for three months, and it seemed to me as if my heart was going to jump out of the carriage window. I stopped the carriage, and for half an hour I chatted with Marcel before the whole of Paris, filing past in its carriages. Marcel offered me a sou bunch of violets that I fastened in my waistband. When he took leave of me, Lord _____ wanted to call him back to invite him to dinner with us. I kissed him for that. That is my way, my dear Monsieur Maurice, if it does not suit you you should say so at once, and I will take my slippers and my nightcap."
"It is sometimes a good thing to be poor then," said Vicomte Maurice, with a look of envious sadness.
"No, not at all," said Musette. "If Marcel had been rich I should never have left him."
"Go, then," said the young fellow, shaking her by the hand. "You have put your new dress on," he added, "it becomes you splendidly."
"That is so," said Musette. "It is a kind of presentiment I had this morning. Marcel will have the first fruits of it. Goodbye, I am off to taste a little of the bread of gaiety."
Musette was that day wearing a charming toilette. Never had the poem of her youth and beauty been set off by a more seductive binding. Besides, Musette had the instinctive genius of taste. On coming into the world, the first thing she had looked about for had been a looking glass to settle herself in her swaddling clothes by, and before being christened she had already been guilty of the sin of coquetry. At the time when her position was of the humblest, when she was reduced to cotton print frocks, little white caps and kid shoes, she wore in charming style this poor and simple uniform of the grisettes, those pretty girls, half bees, half grasshoppers, who sang at their work all week, only asked God for a little sunshine on Sunday, loved with all their heart, and sometimes threw themselves out of a window.
A breed that is now lost, thanks to the present generation of young fellows, a corrupted and at the same time corrupting race, but, above everything, vain, foolish and brutal. For the sake of uttering spiteful paradoxes, they chaffed these poor girls about their hands, disfigured by the sacred scars of toil, and as a consequence these soon no longer earned even enough to buy almond paste. By degrees they succeeded in inoculating them with their own foolishness and vanity, and then the grisette disappeared. It was then that the lorette sprung up. A hybrid breed of impertinent creatures of mediocre beauty, half flesh, half paint, whose boudoir is a shop in which they sell bits of their heart like slices of roast beef. The majority of these girls who dishonor pleasure, and are the shame of modern gallantry, are not always equal in intelligence to the very birds whose feathers they wear in their bonnets. If by chance they happen to feel, not love nor even a caprice, but a common place desire, it is for some counter jumping mountebank, whom the crowd surrounds and applauds at public balls, and whom the papers, courtiers of all that is ridiculous, render celebrated by their puffs. Although she was obliged to live in this circle Musette had neither its manners nor its ways, she had not the servile cupidity of those creatures who can only read Cocker and only write in figures. She was an intelligent and witty girl, and some drops of the blood of Mansu in her veins and, rebellious to all yokes, she had never been able to help yielding to a fancy, whatever might be the consequences.
Marcel was really the only man she had ever loved. He was at any rate the only one for whose sake she had really suffered, and it had needed all the stubbornness of the instincts that attracted her to all that glittered and jingled to make her leave him. She was twenty, and for her luxury was almost a matter of existence. She might do without it for a time, but she could not give it up completely. Knowing her inconstancy, she had never consented to padlock her heart with an oath of fidelity. She had been ardently loved by many young fellows for whom she had herself felt a strong fancy, and she had always acted towards them with far-sighted probity; the engagements into which she entered were simple, frank and rustic as the love-making of Moliere's peasants. "You want me and I should like you too, shake hands on it and let us enjoy ourselves." A dozen times if she had liked Musette could have secured a good position, which is termed a future, but she did not believe in the future and professed the scepticism of Figaro respecting it.
"Tomorrow," she sometimes remarked, "is an absurdity of the almanac, it is a daily pretext that men have invented in order to put off their business today. Tomorrow may be an earthquake. Today, at any rate, we are on solid ground."
One day a gentleman with whom she had stayed nearly six months, and who had become wildly in love with her, seriously proposed marriage. Musette burst out laughing in his face at this offer.
"I imprison my liberty in the bonds of matrimony? Never," said she.
"But I pass my time in trembling with fear of losing you."
"It would be worse if I were your wife. Do not let us speak about that any more. Besides, I am not free," she added, thinking no doubt of Marcel.
Thus she passed her youth, her mind caught by every straw blown by the breeze of fancy, causing the happiness of a great many and almost happy herself. Vicomte Maurice, under whose protection she then was, had a great deal of difficulty in accustoming himself to her untamable disposition, intoxicated with freedom, and it was with jealous impatience that he awaited the return of Musette after having seen her start off to Marcel's.
"Will she stay there?" he kept asking himself all the evening.
"Poor Maurice," said Musette to herself on her side. "He thinks it rather hard. Bah! Young men must go through their training."
Then her mind turning suddenly to other things, she began to think of Marcel to whom she was going, and while running over the recollections reawakened by the name of her erst adorer, asked herself by what miracle the table had been spread at his dwelling. She re-read, as she went along, the letter that the artist had written to her, and could not help feeling somewhat saddened by it. But this only lasted a moment. Musette thought aright, that it was less than ever an occasion for grieving, and at that moment a strong wind spring up she exclaimed:
"It is funny, even if I did not want to go to Marcel's, this wind would blow me there."
And she went on hurriedly, happy as a bird returning to its first nest.
All at once snow began to fall heavy. Musette looked for a cab. She could not see one. As she happened to be in the very street in which dwelt her friend Madame Sidonie, the same who had sent on Marcel's letter to her, Musette decided to run in for a few minutes until the weather cleared up sufficiently to enable her to continue her journey.
When Musette entered Madame Sidonie's rooms she found a gathering there. They were going on with a game of lansquenet that had lasted three days.
"Do not disturb yourselves," said Musette. "I have only just popped in for a moment."
"You got Marcel's letter all right?" whispered Madame Sidonie to her.
"Yes, thanks," replied Musette. "I am going to his place, he has asked me to dinner. Will you come with me? You would enjoy yourself."
"No, I can't," said Madame Sidonie, pointing to the card table. "Think of my rent."
"There are six louis," said the banker.
"I'll go two of them," exclaimed Madame Sidonie.
"I am not proud, I'll start at two," replied the banker, who had already dealt several times. "King and ace. I am done for," he continued, dealing the cards. "I am done for, all the kings are out."
"No politics," said a journalist.
"And the ace is the foe of my family," continued the banker, who then turned up another king. "Long live the king! My dear Sidonie, hand me over two louis."
"Put them down," said Sidonie, vexed at her loss.
"That makes four hundred francs you owe me, little one," said the banker. "You would run it up to a thousand. I pass the deal."
Sidonie and Musette were chatting together in a low tone. The game went on.
At about the same time the Bohemians were sitting down to table. During the whole of the repast Marcel seemed uneasy. Everytime a step sounded on the stairs he started.
"What is the matter?" asked Rodolphe of him. "One would think you were expecting someone. Are we not all here?"
But at a look from the artist the poet understood his friend's preoccupation.
"True," he thought, "we are not all here."
Marcel's look meant Musette, Rodolphe's answering glance, Mimi.
"We lack ladies," said Schaunard, all at once.
"Confound it," yelled Colline, "will you hold your tongue with your libertine reflections. It was agreed that we should not speak of love, it turns the sauces.
And the friends continued to drink fuller bumpers, whilst without the snow still fell, and on the hearth the logs flamed brightly, scattering sparks like fireworks.
Just as Rodolphe was thundering out a song which he had found at the bottom of his glass, there came several knocks at the door. Marcel, torpid from incipient drunkenness, leaped up from his chair, and ran to open it. Musette was not there.
A gentleman appeared on the threshold; he was not only bad looking, but his dressing gown was wretchedly made. In his hand he held a slip of paper.
"I am glad to see you so comfortable," he said, looking at the table on which were the remains of a magnificent leg of mutton.
"The landlord!" cried Rodolphe. "Let us receive him with the honors due to his position!" and he commenced beating on his plate with his knife and fork.
Colline handed him a chair, and Marcel cried:
"Come, Schaunard! Pass us a clean glass. You are just in time," he continued to the landlord, "we were going to drink to your health. My friend there, Monsieur Colline, was saying some touching things about you. As you are present, he will begin over again, out of compliment to you. Do begin again, Colline."
"Excuse me, gentlemen," said the landlord, "I don't wish to trouble you, but ---" and he unfolded the paper which he had in his hand.
"What's the document?" asked Marcel.
The landlord, who had cast an inquisitive glance around the room, perceived some gold on the chimney piece.
"It is your receipt," he said hastily, "which I had the honor of sending you once already."
"My faithful memory recalls the circumstance," replied the artist. "It was on Friday, the eighth of the month, at a quarter past twelve."
"It is signed, you see, in due form, "said the landlord, "and if it is agreeable to you---"
"I was intending to call upon you," interrupted Marcel. "I have a great deal to talk to you about."
"At your service."
"Oblige me by taking something," continued the painter, forcing a glass of wine on the landlord. "Now, sir," he continued, "you sent me lately a little paper, with a picture of a lady and a pair of scales on it. It was signed Godard."
"The lawyer's name."
"He writes a very bad hand; I had to get my friend here, who understands all sorts of hieroglyphics and foreign languages " -- and he pointed to Colline -- "to translate it for me."
"It was a notice to quit; a precautionary measure, according to the rule in such cases."
"Exactly. Now I wanted to have a talk with you about this very notice, for which I should like to substitute a lease. This house suits me. The staircase is clean, the street gay, and some of my friends live near; in short, a thousand reasons attach me to these premises."
"But," and the landlord unfolded his receipt again, "there is that last quarter's rent to pay."
"We shall pay it, sir. Such is our fixed intention."
Nevertheless, the landlord kept his eye glued to the money on the mantelpiece and such was the steady pertinacity of his gaze that the coins seemed to move towards him of themselves.
"I am happy to have come at a time when, without inconveniencing yourself, you can settle this little affair," he said, again producing his receipt to Marcel, who, not being able to parry the assault, again avoided it.
"You have some property in the provinces, I think," he said.
"Very little, very little. A small house and farm in Burgundy; very trifling returns; the tenants pay so badly, and therefore," he added, pushing forward his receipt again, "this small sum comes just in time. Sixty francs, you know."
"Yes," said Marcel, going to the mantelpiece and taking up three pieces of gold. "Sixty, sixty it is," and he placed the money on the table just out of the landlord's reach.
"At last," thought the latter. His countenance lighted up, and he too laid down his receipt on the table.
Schaunard, Colline, and Rodolphe looked anxiously on.
"Well, sir," quoth Marcel, "since you are a Burgundian, you will not be sorry to see a countryman of yours." He opened a bottle of old Macon, and poured out a bumper.
"Ah, perfect!" said the landlord. "Really, I never tasted better."
"An uncle of mine who lives there, sends me a hamper or two occasionally."
The landlord rose, and was stretching out his hand towards the money, when Marcel stopped him again.
"You will not refuse another glass?" said he, pouring one out.
The landlord did not refuse. He drank the second glass, and was once more attempting to possess himself of the money, when Marcel called out:
"Stop! I have an idea. I am rather rich just now, for me. My uncle in Burgundy has sent me something over my usual allowance. Now I may spend this money too fast. Youth has so many temptations, you know. Therefore, if it is all the same to you, I will pay a quarter in advance." He took sixty francs in silver and added them to the three louis which were on the table.
"Then I will give you a receipt for the present quarter," said the landlord. "I have some blank ones in my pocketbook. I will fill it up and date it ahead. After all," thought he, devouring the hundred and twenty francs with his eyes, "this tenant is not so bad."
Meanwhile, the other three Bohemians, not understanding Marcel's diplomacy, remained utterly stupefied.
"But this chimney smokes, which is very disagreeable."
"Why didn't you tell me before? I will send the workmen in tomorrow," answered the landlord, not wishing to be behind-hand in this contest of good offices. He filled up the second receipt, pushed the two over to Marcel, and stretched out his hand once more towards the heap of money. "You don't know how timely this sum comes in," he continued, "I have to pay some bills for repairs, and was really quite short of cash."
"Very sorry to have made you wait."
"Oh, it's no matter now! Permit me" -- and out went his hand again.
"Permit me," said Marcel. "We haven't finished with this yet. You know the old saying, 'when the wine is drawn--'" and he filled the landlord's glass a third time.
"One must drink it," remarked the other, and he did so.
"Exactly," said the artist, with a wink at his friends, who now understood what he was after.
The landlord's eyes began to twinkle strangely. He wriggled on his chair, began to talk loosely, in all senses of the word, and promised Marcel fabulous repairs and embellishments.
"Bring up the big guns," said the artist aside to the poet. Rodolphe passed along a bottle of rum.
After the first glass the landlord sang a ditty, which absolutely made Schaunard blush.
After the second, he lamented his conjugal infelicity. His wife's name being Helen, he compared himself to Menelaus.
After the third, he had an attack of philosophy, and threw up such aphorisms as these:
"Life is a river."
"Happiness depends not on wealth."
"Man is a transitory creature."
"Love is a pleasant feeling."
Finally, he made Schaunard his confidant, and related to him how he had "Put into mahogany" a damsel named Euphemia. Of this young person and her loving simplicity he drew so detailed a portrait, that Schaunard began to be assailed by a fearful suspicion, which suspicion was reduced to a certainty when the landlord showed him a letter.
"Cruel woman!" cried the musician, as he beheld the signature. "It is like a dagger in my heart."
"What is the matter!" exclaimed the Bohemians, astonished at this language.
"See," said Schaunard, "this letter is from Phemie. See the blot that serves her for a signature."
And he handed round the letter of his ex-mistress, which began with the words, "My dear old pet."
"I am her dear old pet," said the landlord, vainly trying to rise from his chair.
"Good," said Marcel, who was watching him. "He has cast anchor."
"Phemie, cruel Phemie," murmured Schaunard. "You have wounded me deeply."
"I have furnished a little apartment for her at 12, Rue Coquenard," said the landlord. "Pretty, very pretty. It cost me lots of money. But such love is beyond price and I have twenty thousand francs a year. She asks me for money in her letter. Poor little dear, she shall have this," and he stretched out his hand for the money -- "hallo! Where is it?" he added in astonishment feeling on the table. The money had disappeared.
"It is impossible for a moral man to become an accomplice in such wickedness," said Marcel. "My conscience forbids me to pay money to this old profligate. I shall not pay my rent, but my conscience will at any rate be clear. What morals, and in a bald headed man too."
By this time the landlord was completely gone, and talked at random to the bottles. He had been there nearly two hours, when his wife, alarmed at his prolonged absence, sent the maid after him. On seeing her master in such a state, she set up a shriek, and asked, "what are they doing to him?"
"Nothing," answered Marcel. "He came a few minutes ago to ask for the rent. As we had no money we begged for time."
"But he's been and got drunk." said the servant.
"Very likely," replied Rodolphe. "Most of that was done before he came here. He told us that he had been arranging his cellar."
"And he had so completely lost his head," added Colline, "that he wanted to leave the receipt without the money."
"Give these to his wife," said Marcel, handing over the receipts. "We are honest folk, and do not wish to take advantage of his condition."
"Good heavens! What will madame say?" exclaimed the maid, leading, or rather dragging off her master, who had a very imperfect idea of the use of his legs.
"So much for him!" ejaculated Marcel.
"He has smelt money," said Rodolphe. "He will come again tomorrow."
"When he does, I will threaten to tell his wife about Phemie and he will give us time enough."
When the landlord had been got outside, the four friends went on smoking and drinking. Marcel alone retained a glimmer of lucidity in his intoxication. From time to time, at the slightest sound on the staircase, he ran and opened the door. But those who were coming up always halted at one of the lower landings, and then the artist would slowly return to his place by the fireside. Midnight struck, and Musette had not come.
"After all," thought Marcel, "perhaps she was not in when my letter arrived. She will find it when she gets home tonight, and she will come tomorrow. We shall still have a fire. It is impossible for her not to come. Tomorrow."
And he fell asleep by the fire.
At the very moment that Marcel fell asleep dreaming of her, Mademoiselle Musette was leaving the residence of her friend Madame Sidonie, where she had been staying up till then. Musette was not alone, a young man accompanied her. A carriage was waiting at the door. They got into it and went off at full speed.
The game at lansquenet was still going on in Madame Sidonie's room.
"Where is Musette?" said someone all at once.
"Where is young Seraphin?" said another.
Madame Sidonie began to laugh.
"They had just gone off together," said she. "It is a funny story. What a strange being Musette is. Just fancy...." And she informed the company how Musette, after almost quarreling with Vicomte Maurice and starting off to find Marcel, had stepped in there by chance and met with young Seraphin.
"I suspected something was up," she continued. "I had an eye on them all the evening. He is very sharp, that youngster. In short, they have gone off on the quiet, and it would take a sharp one to catch them up. All the same, it is very funny when one thinks how fond Musette is of her Marcel."
"If she is so fond of him, what is the use of Seraphin, almost a lad, and who had never had a mistress?" said a young fellow.
"She wants to teach him to read, perhaps," said the journalist, who was very stupid when he had been losing.
"All the same," said Sidonie, "what does she want with Seraphin when she is in love with Marcel? That is what gets over me."
For five days the Bohemians went on leading the happiest life in the world without stirring out. They remained at table from morning till night. An admired disorder reigned in the room which was filled with a Pantagruelic atmosphere. On a regular bed of oyster shells reposed an army of empty bottles of every size and shape. The table was laden with fragments of every description, and a forest of wood blazed in the fireplace.
On the sixth day Colline, who was director of ceremonies, drew up, as was his wont every morning, the bill of fare for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper, and submitted it to the approval of his friends, who each initialed it in token of approbation.
But when Colline opened the drawer that served as a cashbox, in order to take the money necessary for the day's consumption, he started back and became as pale as Banquo's ghost.
"What is the matter?" inquired the others, carelessly.
"The matter is that there are only thirty sous left," replied the philosopher.
"The deuce. That will cause some modification in our bill of fare. Well, thirty sous carefully laid out --. All the same it will be difficult to run to truffles," said the others.
A few minutes later the table was spread. There were three dishes most symmetrically arranged -- a dish of herrings, a dish of potatoes, and a dish of cheese.
On the hearth smoldered two little brands as big as one's fist.
Snow was still falling without.
The four Bohemians sat down to table and gravely unfolded their napkins.
"It is strange," said Marcel, "this herring has a flavor of pheasant."
"That is due to the way in which I cooked it," replied Colline. "The herring has never been properly appreciated."
At that moment a joyous song rose on the staircase, and a knock came at the door. Marcel, who had not been able to help shuddering, ran to open it.
Musette threw her arms round his neck and held him in an embrace for five minutes. Marcel felt her tremble in his arms.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"I am cold," said Musette, mechanically drawing near the fireplace.
"Ah!" said Marcel. "And we had such a rattling good fire."
"Yes," said Musette, glancing at the remains of the five days' festivity, "I have come too late."
"Why?" said Marcel.
"Why?" said Musette, blushing slightly.
She sat down on Marcel's knee. She was still shivering, and her hands were blue.
"You were not free, then," whispered Marcel.
"I, not free!" exclaimed the girl. "Ah Marcel! If I were seated amongst the stars in Paradise and you made me a sign to come down to you I should do so. I, not free!"
She began to shiver again.
"There are five chairs here," said Rodolphe, "which is an odd number, without reckoning that the fifth is of a ridiculous shape."
And breaking the chair against the wall, he threw the fragments into the fireplace. The fire suddenly burst forth again in a bright and merry flame, then making a sign to Colline and Schaunard, the poet took them off with him.
"Where are you going?" asked Marcel.
"To buy some tobacco," they replied.
"At Havana," added Schaunard, with a sign of intelligence to Marcel, who thanked him with a look.
"Why did you not come sooner?" he asked Musette when they were alone together.
"It is true, I am rather behindhand."
"Five days to cross the Pont Neuf. You must have gone round by the Pyrenees?"
Musette bowed her head and was silent.
"Ah, naughty girl," said the artist, sadly tapping his hand lightly on his mistress' breast, "what have you got inside here?"
"You know very well," she retorted quickly.
"But what have you been doing since I wrote to you?"
"Do not question me," said Musette, kissing him several times. "Do not ask me anything, but let me warm myself beside you. You see I put on my best dress to come. Poor Maurice, he could not understand it when I set off to come here, but it was stronger than myself, so I started. The fire is nice," she added, holding out her little hand to the flames, "I will stay with you till tomorrow if you like."
"It will be very cold here," said Marcel, "and we have nothing for dinner. You have come too late," he repeated.
"Ah, bah!" said Musette. "It will be all the more like old times."
Rodolphe, Colline, and Schaunard, took twenty-four hours to get their tobacco. When they returned to the house Marcel was alone.
After an absence of six days Vicomte Maurice saw Musette return.
He did not in any way reproach her, and only asked her why she seemed sad.
"I quarreled with Marcel," said she. "We parted badly."
"And yet, who knows," said Maurice. "But you will again return to him."
"What would you?" asked Musette. "I need to breathe the air of that life from time to time. My life is like a song, each of my loves is a verse, but Marcel is the refrain."