Schaunard and Marcel, who had been grinding away valiantly a whole morning, suddenly struck work.
"Thunder and lightning! It's hungry!" cried Schaunard. And he added carelessly, "Do we breakfast today?"
Marcel appeared much astonished at this very inopportune question.
"How long has it been the fashion to breakfast two days running?" he asked. "And yesterday was Thursday." He finished his reply by tracing with his mahl-stick the ecclesiastic ordinance:
"On Friday eat no meat,
Nor aught resembling it."
Schaunard, finding no answer, returned to his picture , which represented a plain inhabited by a red tree and a blue tree shaking branches; an evident allusion to the sweets of friendship, which had a very philosophical effect.
At this moment the porter knocked; he had brought a letter for Marcel.
"Three sous," said he.
"You are sure?" replied the artist. "Very well, you can owe it to us."
He shut the door in the man's face, and opened the letter. At the first line, he began to vault around the room like a rope-dancer and thundered out, at the top of his voice, this romantic ditty, which indicated with him the highest pitch of ecstasy:
"There were four juveniles in our street;
They fell so sick they could not eat;
They carried them to the hospital! --
Tal! Tal! Tal! Tal!"
"Oh yes!" said Schaunard, taking him up:
"They put all four into one big bed,
Two at the feet and two at the head."
"Think I don't know it?" Marcel continued:
"There came a sister of Charity --
Ty! Ty! tee! tee!"
"If you don't stop," said Schaunard, who suspected signs of mental alienation, "I'll play the allegro of my symphony on 'The Influence of Blue in the Arts.'" So saying, he approached the piano.
This menace had the effect of a drop of cold water in a boiling fluid. Marcel grew calm as if by magic. "Look there!" said he, passing the letter to his friend. It was an invitation to dine with a deputy, an enlightened patron of the arts in general and Marcel in particular, since the latter had taken the portrait of his country-house.
"For today," sighed Schaunard. "Unluckily the ticket is not good for two. But stay! Now I think of it, your deputy is of the government party; you cannot, you must not accept. You principles will not permit you to partake of the bread which has been watered by the tears of the people."
"Bah!" replied Marcel, "my deputy is a moderate radical; he voted against the government the other day. Beside, he is going to get me an order, and he has promised to introduce me in society. Moreover, this may be Friday as much as it likes; I am famished as Ugolino, and I mean to dine today. There now!"
"There are other difficulties," continued Schaunard, who could not help being a little jealous of the good fortune that had fallen to his friend's lot. "You can't dine out in a red flannel shirt and slippers."
"I shall borrow clothes of Rodolphe or Colline."
"Infatuated youth! Do you forget that this is the twentieth , and at this time of the month their wardrobe is up to the very top of the spout?"
"Between now and five o'clock this evening I shall find a dress-coat."
"I took three weeks to get one when I went to my cousin's wedding and that was in January."
"Well, then, I shall go as I am," said Marcel, with a theatrical stride. "It shall certainly never be said that a miserable question of etiquette hindered me from making my first step in society."
"Without boots," suggested his friend.
Marcel rushed out in a state of agitation impossible to describe. At the end of two hours he returned, loaded with a false collar.
"Hardly worth while to run so far for that," said Schaunard. "There was paper enough to make a dozen."
"But," cried Marcel, tearing his hair, "we must have some things - confound it!" And he commenced a thorough investigation of every corner of the two rooms. After an hour's search, he realized a costume thus composed:
A pair of plaid trousers, a gray hat, a red cravat, a blue waistcoat, two boots, one black glove, and one glove that had been white.
"That will make two black gloves on a pinch," said Schaunard. "You are going to look like the solar spectrum inn that dress. To be sure, a colourist such as you are --"
Marcel was trying the boots. Alas! They are both for the same foot! The artist, in despair, perceived an old boot in a corner which had served as the receptacle of their empty bladders. He seized upon it.
From Garrick to Syllable," said his jesting comrade, "One square-toed and the other round."
"I am going to varnish them and it won't show."
"A good idea! Now you only want the dress-coat."
"Oh!" cried Marcel, biting his fists:
"To have one would I give ten years of life,
And this right hand, I tell thee."
They heard another knock at the door. Marcel opened it.
"Monsieur Schaunard?" inquired a stranger, halting on the threshold.
"At your service," replied the painter, inviting him in.
The stranger had one of those honest faces which typify the provincial.
"Sir," said he. "My cousin has often spoke to me of your talent for portrait painting, and being on the point of making a voyage to the colonies, whither I am deputed by the sugar refiners of the city of Nantes, I wish to leave my family something to remember me by. That is why I am come to see you."
"Holy Providence!" ejaculated Schaunard. "Marcel, a seat for Monsieur --"
"Blacheron," said the new-comer, "Blancheron of Nantes, delegate of the sugar interest, Ex-Mayor, Captain of the National Guard, and author of a pamphlet on the sugar question."
"I am highly honoured at having been chosen by you," said the artist, with a low reverence to the delegate of the refiners. "How do you wish to have your portrait taken?"
"In miniature," replied Blacheron, "like that," and he pointed to a portrait in oil, for the delegate was one of that class with whom everything smaller than the side of a house is miniature. Schaunard had the measure of his man immediately, especially when the other added that he wished to be painted with the best colours.
"I never use any other," said the artist. "How large do you wish it to be?"
"About so big," answered the other, pointing to a kit-cat. "How much will it be?"
"Sixty francs with the hands, fifty without."
"The deuce it will! My cousin talked of thirty francs."
"It depends on the season. Colours are much dearer at some times of the year than at others."
"Bless me! It's just like sugar!"
"Fifty francs then be it."
"You are wrong there; for ten francs more you will have your hands, and I will put in them your pamphlet on the sugar question, which will have a very good effect."
"By Jove, you are right!"
"Thunder and lightning!" said Schaunard to himself, "if he goes on so, I shall burst, and hurt him with one of the pieces."
"Did you see?" whispered Marcel.
"He has a black coat."
"I take. Let me manage."
"Well," quoth the delegate, "when do we begin? There is no time to lose, for I sail soon.
"I have to take a little trip myself the day after tomorrow; so, if you please, we will begin at once. One good sitting will help us along some way."
"But it will soon be night, and you can't paint by candle light."
"My room is arranged so that we can work at all hours in it. If you will take off your coat, and put yourself in position, we will commence."
"Take off my coat! What for?"
"You told me that you intend this portrait for your family."
"Well, then, you ought to be represented in your at-home dress-- in your dressing gown. It is the custom to be so."
"But I haven't any dressing gown here."
"But I have. The case is provided for," quoth Schaunard, presenting to his sitter a very ragged garment, so ornamented with paint-marks that the honest provincial hesitated about setting into it.
"A very odd dress," said he.
"And very valuable. A Turkish vizier gave it to Horace Vernet, and he gave it to me when he had done with it. I am a pupil of his.
"Are you a pupil of Vernet's?"
"I am proud to be," said the artist. "Wretch that I am!" he muttered to himself, "I deny my gods and masters!"
"You have reason to be proud, my young friend," replied the delegate donning the dressing-gown with the illustrious origin.
"Hang up Monsieur Blancheron's coat in the wardrobe," said Schaunard to his friend, with a significant wink.
"Ain't he too good?" whispered Marcel as he pounced on his prey, and nodded towards Blancheron. "If you could only keep a piece of him."
"I'll try; but do you dress yourself, and cut. Come back by ten; I will keep him till then. Above all, bring me something in your pocket."
"I'll bring you a pineapple," said Marcel as he evaporated.
He dressed himself hastily; the dress-coat fit him like a glove. Then he went out by the second door of the studio.
Schaunard set himself to work. When it was fairly night, Monsieur Blancheron heard the clock strike six, and remembered that he had not dined. He informed Schaunard of the fact.
"I am in the same position," said the other, "But to oblige you, I will go without today, though I had an invitation in the Fanbourg St. Germain. But we can't break off now, it might spoil the resemblance." And he painted away harder than ever. "By the way," said he, suddenly," we can dine without breaking off. There is a capital restaurant downstairs, which will send us up anything we like." And Schaunard awaited the effect of his trial of plurals.
"I accept your idea," said Blancheron, "an in return, I hope you will do me the honor of keeping me company at table.
Schaunard bowed. "Really," said he to himself, "this is a fine fellow -- a very god-send. Will you order the dinner?" he asked his Amphitryon.
"You will oblige me by taking that trouble," replied the other, politely.
"So much the worse for you, my boy," said the painter as he pitched down the stairs, four steps at a time. Marching up to the counter, he wrote out a bill of fare that made the Vatel of the establishment turn pale.
"Claret! Who's to pay for it?"
"Probably not I," said Schaunard, "but an uncle of mine that you will find up there, a very good judge. So, do your best, and let us have dinner in half an hour, served on your porcelin."
At eight o'clock, Monsieur Blancheron felt the necessity of pouring into a friend's ear his idea on the sugar question, and accordingly recited his pamphlet to Schaunard, who accompanied him on the piano.
At ten, they danced the galop together.
At eleven, they swore never to separate, and to make wills in each other's favor.
At twelve, Marcel returned, and found them locked in a mutual embrace, and dissolved in tears. The floor was half an inch deep in fluid -- either from that cause or the liquor that had been spilt. He stumbled against the table, and remarked the splendid relics of the sumptuous feast. He tried the bottles, they were utterly empty. He attempted to rouse Schaunard, but the later menaced him with speedy death, if he tore him from his friend Blancheron, of whom he was making a pillow.
"Ungrateful wretch!" said Marcel, taking out of his pocket a handful of nuts, "when I had brought him some dinner!"