CHAPTER XXIII

YOUTH IS FLEETING

A year after Mimi's death Rodolphe and Marcel, who had not quitted one another, celebrated by a festival their entrance into the official world. Marcel, who had at length secured admission to the annual exhibition of pictures, had had two paintings hung, one of which had been bought by a rich Englishman, formerly Musette's protector. With the product of this sale, and also of a Government order, Marcel had partly paid off his past debts. He had furnished decent rooms, and had a real studio. Almost at the same time Schaunard and Rodolphe came before the public who bestow fame and fortune -- the one with an album of airs that were sung at all the concerts, and which gave him the commencement of a reputation; the other with a book that occupied the critics for a month. As to Barbemuche he had long since given up Bohemianism. Gustave Colline had inherited money and made a good marriage. He gave evening parties with music and light refreshments.

One evening Rodolphe, seated in his own armchair with his feet on his own rug, saw Marcel come in quite flurried.

"You do not know what has just happened to me," said he.

"No," replied the poet. "I know that I have been to your place, that you were at home, and that you would not answer the door."

"Yes, I heard you. But guess who was with me."

"How do I know?"

"Musette, who burst upon me last evening like a bombshell, got up as a debardeur."

"Musette! You have once more found Musette!" said Rodolphe, in a tone of regret.

"Do not be alarmed. Hostilities were not resumed. Musette came to pass with me her last night of Bohemianism."

"What?"

"She is going to be married."

"Bah!" said Rodolphe. "Who is the victim?"

"A postmaster who was her last lover's guardian; a queer sort of fellow, it would seem. Musette said to him, 'My dear sir, before definitely giving you my hand and going to the registrar's I want to drink my last glass of Champagne, dance my last quadrille, and embrace for the last time my lover, Marcel, who is now a gentleman, like everybody else is seems.' And for a week the dear creature has been looking for me. Hence it was that she burst upon me last evening, just at the moment I was thinking of her. Ah, my friend! Altogether we had a sad night of it. It was not at all the same thing it used to be, not at all. We were like some wretched copy of a masterpiece? I have even written on the subject of this last separation a little ballad which I will whine out to you if you will allow me," and Marcel began to chant the following verses: --

I saw a swallow yesterday,
He brought Spring's promise to the air;
"Remember her," he seemed to say,
"Who loved you when she'd time to spare;"
And all the day I sate before
The almanac of yonder year,
When I did nothing but adore,
And you were pleased to hold me dear.

But do not think my love is dead,
Or to forget you I begin.

If you sought entry to my shed
My heart would leap to let you in:
Since at your name it trembles still --
Muse of oblivious fantasy! --
Return and share, if share you will,
Joy's consecrated bread with me.

The decorations of the nest
Which saw our mutual ardor burn,
Already seem to wear their best
At the mere hope of return.
Come, see if you can recognize
Things your departure reft of glee,
The bed, the glass of extra size,
In which you often drank for me.

You shall resume the plain white gown
You used to look so nice in, then;
On Sunday we can still run down
To wander in the woods again.
Beneath the bower, at evening,
Again we'll drink the liquid bright
In which your song would dip its wing
Before in air it took to flight.

Musette, who has at last confessed
The carnival of life was gone,
Came back, one morning, to the nest
Whence, like a wild bird, she had flown:
But, while I kissed the fugitive,
My heart no more emotion knew,
For, she had ceased, for me, to live,
And "You," she said, "no more are you."

"Heart of my heart!" I answered, "Go!
We cannot call the dead love back;
Best let it lie, interred, below
The tombstone of the almanac
Perhaps a spirit that remembers
The happy time it notes for me
May find some day among its embers
Of a lost Paradise the key."

"Well," said Marcel, when he had finished, "you may feel reassured now, my love for Musette is dead and buried here," he added ironically, indicating the manuscript of the poem.

"Poor lad," said Rodolphe, "your wit is fighting a duel with your heart, take care it does not kill it."

"That is already lifeless," replied the painter, "we are done for, old fellow, we are dead and buried. Youth is fleeting! Where are you going to dine this evening?"

"If you like," said Rodolphe, "we will go and dine for twelve sous at our old restaurant in the Rue du Four, where they have plates of huge crockery, and where we used to feel so hungry when we had done dinner."

"No," replied Marcel, "I am quite willing to look back at that past, but it must be through the medium of a bottle of good wine and sitting in a comfortable armchair. What would you, I am corrupted. I only care for what is good!"

THE END


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