CHAPTER XXI

Romeo and Juliet

Attired like a fashion plate out of his paper, the "Scarf of Iris," with new gloves, polished boots, freshly shaven face, curled hair, waxed moustache, stick in hand, glass in eye, smiling, youthful, altogether nice looking, in such guise our friend, the poet Rodolphe, might have been seen one November evening on the boulevard waiting for a cab to take him home.

Rodolphe waiting for a cab? What cataclysm had then taken place in his existence?

At the very hour that the transformed poet was twirling his moustache, chewing the end of an enormous regalia, and charming the fair sex, one of his friends was also passing down the boulevard. It was the philosopher, Gustave Colline. Rodolphe saw him coming, and at once recognized him; as indeed, who would not who had once seen him? Colline as usual was laden with a dozen volumes. Clad in that immortal hazel overcoat, the durability of which makes one believe that it must have been built by the Romans, and with his head covered by his famous broad brimmed hat, a dome of beaver, beneath which buzzed a swarm of hyperphysical dreams, and which was nicknamed Mambrino's Helmet of Modern Philosophy, Gustave Colline was walking slowly along, chewing the cud of the preface of a book that had already been in the press for the last three months -- in his imagination. As he advanced towards the spot where Rodolphe was standing, Colline thought for a moment that he recognized him, but the supreme elegance displayed by the poet threw the philosopher into a state of doubt and uncertainty.

"Rodolphe with gloves and a walking stick. Chimera! Utopia! Mental aberration! Rodolphe curled and oiled; he who has not so much as Father Time. What could I be thinking of? Besides, at this present moment my unfortunate friend is engaged in lamentations, and is composing melancholy verses upon the departure of Mademoiselle Mimi, who, I hear, has thrown him over. Well, for my part, I too, regret the loss of that young woman. She was a dab hand at making coffee, which is the beverage of serious minds. But I trust that Rodolphe will console himself, and soon get another Kettle-holder."

Colline was so delighted with his wretched joke, that he would willingly have applauded it, had not the stern voice of philosophy woke up within him, and put an energetic stop to this perversion of wit.

However, as he halted close to Rodolphe, Colline was forced to yield to evidence. It was certainly Rodolphe, curled, gloved, and with a cane. It was impossible, but it was true.

"Eh! Eh! By Jove!" said Colline. "I am not mistaken. It is you, I am certain."

"So am I," replied Rodolphe.

Colline began to look at his friend, imparting to his countenance the expression pictorially made use of by M. Lebrun, the king's partner in ordinary, to express surprise. But all at once he noted two strange articles with which Rodolphe was laden -- firstly, a rope ladder, and secondly, a cage, in which some kind of a bird was fluttering. At this sight, Gustave Colline's physiognomy expressed a sentiment which Monsieur Lebrun, the king's painter in ordinary, forgot to depict in his picture of "The Passions."

"Come," said Rodolphe to his friend, "I see very plainly the curiosity of your mind peeping out through the window of your eyes; and I am going to satisfy it, only, let us quit the public thoroughfare. It is cold enough here to freeze your questions and my answers."

And they both went into a cafe.

Colline's eyes remained riveted on the rope ladder as well as the cage, in which the bird, thawed by the atmosphere of the cafe, began to sing in a language unknown to Colline, who was, however, a polyglottist.

"Well then," said the philosopher pointing to the rope ladder, "what is that?"

"A connecting link between my love and me," replied Rodolphe, in lute like accents.

"And that?" asked Colline, pointing to the bird.

"That," said the poet, whose voice grew soft as the summer breeze, "is a clock."

"Tell me without parables -- in vile prose, but truly."

"Very well. Have your read Shakespeare?"

"Have I read him? 'To be or not to be?' He was a great philosopher. Yes, I have read him."

"Do your remember Romeo and Juliet?"

"Do I remember?" said Colline, and he began to recite:

"Wilt thou begone? It is not yet day,
It was the nightingale, and not the lark."

"I should rather think I remember. But what then?"

"What!" said Rodolphe, pointing to the ladder and the bird. "You do not understand! This is the story: I am in love, my dear fellow, in love with a girl named Juliet."

"Well, what then?" said Colline impatiently.

"This. My new idol being named Juliet, I have hit on a plan. It is to go through Shakespeare's play with her. In the first place, my name is no longer Rodolphe, but Romeo Montague, and you will oblige me by not calling me otherwise. Besides, in order that everyone may know it, I have had some new visiting cards engraved. But that is not all. I shall profit by the fact that we are not in Carnival time to wear a velvet doublet and a sword."

"To kill Tybalt with?" said Colline.

"Exactly," continued Rodolphe. "Finally, this ladder that you see is to enable me to visit my mistress, who, as it happens, has a balcony."

"But the bird, the bird?" said the obstinate Colline.

"Why, this bird, which is a pigeon, is to play the part of the nightingale, and indicate every morning the precise moment when, as I am about to leave her loved arms, my mistress will throw them about my neck and repeat to me in her sweet tones the balcony scene, 'It is not yet near day,' that is to say, 'It is not yet eleven, the streets are muddy, do not go yet, we are comfortable here.' In order to perfect the imitation, I will try to get a nurse, and place her under the orders of my beloved and I hope that the almanac will be kind enough to grant me a little moonlight now and then, when I scale my Juliet's balcony. What do you say to my project, philosopher?"

"It is very fine," said Colline, "but could you also explain to me the mysteries of this splendid outer covering that rendered you unrecognizable? You have become rich, then?"

Rodolphe did not reply, but made a sign to one of the waiters, and carelessly threw down a louis, saying:

"Take for what we have had."

Then he tapped his waistcoat pocket, which gave forth a jingling sound.

"Have you got a bell in your pocket, for it to jingle as loud as that?"

"Only a few louis."

"Louis! In gold?" said Colline, in a voice choked with wonderment. "Let me see what they are like."

After which the two friends parted, Colline to go and relate the opulent ways and new loves of Rodolphe, and the latter to return home.

This took place during the week that had followed the second rupture between Rodolphe and Mademoiselle Mimi. The poet, when he had broken off with his mistress, felt a need of change of air and surroundings, and accompanied by his friend Marcel, he left the gloomy lodging house, the landlord of which saw both him and Marcel depart without overmuch regret. Both, as we have said, sought quarters elsewhere, and hired two rooms in the same house and on the same floor. The room chosen by Rodolphe was incomparably more comfortable than any he had inhabited up till then. There were articles of furniture almost imposing, above all a sofa covered with red stuff, that was intended to imitate velvet, and did not.

There were also on the mantelpiece two china vases, painted with flowers, between an elaborate clock, with fearful ornamentation. Rodolphe put the vases in a cupboard, and when the landlord came to wind up the clock, begged him to do nothing of the kind.

"I am willing to leave the clock on the mantel shelf," said he, "but only as an object of art. It points to midnight -- a good hour; let it stick to it. The day it marks five minutes past I will move. A clock," continued Rodolphe, who had never been able to submit to the imperious tyranny of the dial, "is a domestic foe who implacably reckons up to your existence hour by hour and minute by minute, and says to you every moment, 'Here is a fraction of your life gone.' I could not sleep in peace in a room in which there was one of these instruments of torture, in the vicinity of which carelessness and reverie are impossible. A clock, the hands of which stretch to your bed and prick yours whilst you are still plunged in the soft delights of your first awakening. A clock, whose voice cries to you, 'Ting, ting, ting; it is the hour for business. Leave your charming dream, escape from the caresses of your visions, and sometimes of realities. Put on your hat and boots. It is cold, it rains, but go about your business. It is time -- ting, ting.' It is quite enough already to have an almanac. Let my clock remain paralyzed, or ---."

Whilst delivering this monologue he was examining his new dwelling, and felt himself moved by the secret uneasiness which one almost always feels when going into a fresh lodging.

"I have noticed," he reflected, "that the places we inhabit exercise a mysterious influence upon our thoughts, and consequently upon our actions. This room is cold and silent as a tomb. If ever mirth reigns here it will be brought in from without, and even then it will not be for long, for laughter will die away without echoes under this low ceiling, cold and white as a snowy sky. Alas! What will my life be like within these four walls?"

However, a few days later this room, erst so sad, was full of light, and rang with joyous sounds, it was the house warming, and numerous bottles explained the lively humor of the guests. Rodolphe allowed himself to be won upon by the contagious good humor of his guests. Isolated in a corner with a young woman who had come there by chance, and whom he had taken possession of, the poet was sonnetteering with her with tongue and hands. Towards the close of the festivities he had obtained a rendezvous for the next day.

"Well!" said he to himself when he was alone, "the evening hasn't been such a bad one. My stay here hasn't begun amiss."

The next day Mademoiselle Juliet called at the appointed hour. The evening was spent only in explanations. Juliet had learned the recent rupture of Rodolphe with the blue eyed girl whom he had so dearly loved; she knew that after having already left her once before Rodolphe had taken her back, and she was afraid of being the victim of a similar reawakening of love.

"You see," said she, with a pretty little pout, "I don't at all care about playing a ridiculous part. I warn you that I am very forward, and once mistress here," and she underlined by a look the meaning she gave to the word, "I remain, and do not give up my place."

Rodolphe summoned all his eloquence to the rescue to convince her that her fears were without foundation, and the girl, having on her side a willingness to be convinced, they ended by coming to an understanding. Only they were no longer at an understanding when midnight struck, for Rodolphe wanted Juliet to stay, and she insisted on going.

"No," she said to him as he persisted in trying to persuade her. "Why be in such a hurry? We shall always arrive in time at what we want to, provided you do not halt on the way. I will return tomorrow."

And she returned thus every evening for a week, to go away in the same way when midnight struck.

This delay did not annoy Rodolphe very much. In matters of love, and even of mere fancy, he was one of that school of travelers who prolong their journey and render it picturesque. The little sentimental preface had for its result to lead on Rodolphe at the outset further than he meant to go. And it was no doubt to lead him to that point at which fancy, ripened by the resistance opposed to it, begins to resemble love, that Mademoiselle Juliet had made use of this stratagem.

At each fresh visit that she paid to Rodolphe, Juliet remarked a more pronounced tone of sincerity in what he said. He felt when she was a little behindhand in keeping her appointment an impatience that delighted her, and he even wrote her letters the language of which was enough to give her hopes that she would speedily become his legitimate mistress.

When Marcel, who was his confidant, once caught sight of one of Rodolphe's epistles, he said to him:

"Is it an exercise of style, or do you really think what you have said here?"

"Yes, I really think it," replied Rodolphe, "and I am even a bit astonished at it: but it is so. I was a week back in a very sad state of mind. The solitude and silence that had so abruptly succeeded the storms and tempests of my old household alarmed me terribly, but Juliet arrived almost at the moment. I heard the sounds of twenty year old laughter ring in my ears. I had before me a rosy face, eyes beaming with smiles, a mouth overflowing with kisses, and I have quietly allowed myself to glide down the hill of fancy that might perhaps lead me on to love. I love to love."

However, Rodolphe was not long in perceiving that it only depended upon himself to bring this little romance to a crisis, and it was than that he had the notion of copying from Shakespeare the scene of the love of Romeo and Juliet. His future mistress had deemed the notion amusing, and agreed to share in the jest.

It was the very evening that the rendezvous was appointed for that Rodolphe met the philosopher Colline, just as he had bought the rope ladder that was to aid him to scale Juliet's balcony. The birdseller to whom he had applied not having a nightingale, Rodolphe replaced it by a pigeon, which he was assured sang every morning at daybreak.

Returned home, the poet reflected that to ascend a rope ladder was not an easy matter, and that it would be a good thing to rehearse the balcony scene, if he would not in addition to the chances of a fall, run the risk of appearing awkward and ridiculous in the eyes of her who was awaiting him. Having fastened his ladder to two nails firmly driven into the ceiling, Rodolphe employed the two hours remaining to him in practicing gymnastics, and after an infinite number of attempts, succeeded in managing after a fashion to get up half a score of rungs.

"Come, that is all right," he said to himself, "I am now sure of my affair and besides, if I stuck half way, 'love would lend me his wings.'"

And laden with his ladder and his pigeon cage, he set out for the abode of Juliet, who lived near. Her room looked into a little garden, and had indeed a balcony. But the room was on the ground floor, and the balcony could be stepped over as easily as possible.

Hence Rodolphe was completely crushed when he perceived this local arrangement, which put to naught his poetical project of an escalade.

"All the same," said he to Juliet, "we can go through the episode of the balcony. Here is a bird that will arouse us tomorrow with his melodious notes, and warn us of the exact moment when we are to part from one another in despair."

And Rodolphe hung up the cage beside the fireplace.

The next day at five in the morning the pigeon was exact to time, and filled the room with a prolonged cooing that would have awakened the two lovers -- if they had gone to sleep.

"Well," said Juliet, "this is the moment to go into the balcony and bid one another despairing farewells -- what do you think of it?"

"The pigeon is too fast," said Rodolphe. "It is November, and the sun does not rise till noon."

"All the same," said Juliet, "I am going to get up."

"Why?"

"I feel quite empty, and I will not hide from you the fact that I could very well eat a mouthfull."

"The agreement that prevails in our sympathies is astonishing. I am awfully hungry too," said Rodolphe, also rising and hurriedly slipping on his clothes.

Juliet had already lit a fire, and was looking in her sideboard to see whether she could find anything. Rodolphe helped her in this search.

"Hullo," said he, "onions."

"And some bacon," said Juliet.

"Some butter."

"Bread."

Alas! That was all.

During the search the pigeon, a careless optimist, was singing on its perch.

Romeo looked at Juliet, Juliet looked at Romeo, and both looked at the pigeon.

They did not say anything, but the fate of the pigeon-clock was settled. Even if he had appealed it would have been useless, hunger is such a cruel counsellor.

Rodolphe had lit some charcoal, and was turning bacon in the spluttering butter with a solemn air.

Juliet was peeling onions in a melancholy attitude.

The pigeon was still singing, it was the song of the swan.

To these lamentations was joined the spluttering of the butter in the stew pan.

Five minutes later the butter was still pluttering, but the pigeon sang no longer.

Romeo and Juliet grilled their clock.

"He had a nice voice," said Juliet sitting down to table.

"He is very tender," said Rodolphe, carving his alarum, nicely browned.

The two lovers looked at one another, and each surprised a tear in the other's eye.

Hypocrites, it was the onions that made them weep.


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