CHAPTER III

LENTEN LOVES

One evening in Lent Rodolphe returned home early with the idea of working. But scarcely had he sat down at his table and dipped his pen in the ink than he was disturbed by a singular noise. Putting his ear to the treacherous partition that separated him from the next room, he listened, and plainly distinguished a dialogue broken by the sound of kisses and other amourous interruptions.

"The deuce," thought Rodolphe, glancing at his clock, "it is still early, and my neighbor is a Juliet who usually keeps her Romeo till long after the lark has sung. I cannot work tonight."

And taking his hat he went out. Handing in his key at the porter's lodge he found the porter's wife half clasped in the arms of a gallant. The poor woman was so flustered that it was five minutes before she could open the latch.

"In point of fact," though Rodolphe, "there are times when porters grow human again."

Passing through the door he found in its recess a sapper and a cook exchanging the luck-penny of love.

"Hang it," said Rodolphe, alluding to the warrior and his robust companion, "here are heretics who scarcely think that we are in Lent."

And he set out for the abode of one of his friends who lived in the neighborhood.

"If Marcel is at home," he said to himself, "we will pass the evening in abusing Colline. One must do something."

As he rapped vigorously, the door was partly opened, and a young man, simply clad in a shirt and an eye-glass, presented himself.

"I cannot receive you," said he to Rodolphe.

"Why not?" asked the latter.

"There," said Marcel, pointing to a feminine head that had just peeped out from behind a curtain, "there is my answer."

"It is not a pretty one," said Rodolphe, who had just had the door closed in his face. "Ah!" said he to himself when he got into the street, "what shall I do? Suppose I call on Colline, we could pass the time in abusing Marcel."

Passing along the Rue de l'Quest, usually dark and unfrequented, Rodolphe made out a shade walking up and down in melancholy fashion, and muttering in rhyme.

"Ho, ho!" said Rodolphe, "who is this animated sonnet loitering here? What, Colline!"

"What Rodolphe! Where are you going?"

"To your place."

"You won't find me there."

"What are you doing here?"

"Waiting."

"What are you waiting for?"

"Ah!" said Colline in a tone of raillery, "what can one be waiting for when one is twenty, when there are stars in the sky and songs in the air?"

"Speak in prose."

"I am waiting for a girl."

"Good night," said Rodolphe, who went on his way continuing his monologue. "What," said he, "is it St. Cupid's Day and cannot I take a step without running up against people in love? It is scandalously immoral. What are the police about?"

As the gardens of the Luxembourg were still open, Rodolphe passed into them to shorten his road. Amidst the deserted paths he often saw flitting before him, as though disturbed by his footsteps, couples mysteriously interlaced, and seeking, as a poet has remarked, the two-fold luxury of silence and shade.

"This," said Rodolphe, "is an evening borrowed from a romance." And yet overcome, despite himself, by a langourous charm, he sat down on a seat and gazed sentimentally at the moon.

In a short time he was wholly under the spell of a feverish hallucination. It seemed to him that the gods and heroes in marble who peopled the garden were quitting their pedestals to make love to the goddesses and heroines, their neighbors, and he distinctly heard the great Hercules recite a madrigal to the Vedella, whose tunic appeared to him to have grown singularly short.

From the seat he occupied he saw the swan of the fountain making its way towards a nymph of the vicinity.

"Good," thought Rodolphe , who accepted all this mythology, "There is Jupiter going to keep an appointment with Leda; provided always that the park keeper does not surprise them."

Then he leaned his forehead on his hand and plunged further into the flowery thickets of sentiment. But at this sweet moment of his dream Rodolphe was suddenly awakened by a park keeper, who came up and tapped him on the shoulder.

"It is closing time, sir," said he.

"That is lucky," thought Rodolphe. "If I had stayed here another five minutes I should have had more sentiment in my breast than is to be found on the banks of the Rhine or in Alphonse Karr's romances."

And he hastened from the gardens humming a sentimental ballad that was for him the Marseillaise of love.

Half an hour later, goodness knows how, he was at the Prado, seated before a glass of punch and talking with a tall fellow celebrated on account of his nose, which had the singular privilege of being aquiline when seen sideways, and a snub when viewed in front. It was a nose that was not devoid of sharpness, and had a sufficiency of gallant adventures to be in such a case to give good advice and be useful to its friend.

"So," said Alexander Schaunard, the man with the nose, "You are in love."

"Yes, my dear fellow, it seized on me, just now, suddenly, like a bad toothache in the heart."

"Pass me the tobacco," said Alexander.

"Fancy," continued Rodolphe, "for the last two hours I have met nothing but lovers, men and women in couples. I had the notion of going into the Luxembourg Gardens, where I saw all manner of phantasmagorias, that stirred my heart extraordinarily. Ellegies are bursting from me, I bleat and I coo; I am undergoing a metamorphosis, and am half lamb half turtle dove. Look at me a bit, I must have wool and feathers."

"What have you been drinking?" said Alexander impatiently, "you are chaffing me."

"I assure you that I am quite cool," replied Rodolphe. "That is to say, no. But I will announce to you that I must embrace something. You see, Alexander, it is not good for man to live alone, in short, you must help me to find a companion. We will stroll through the ballroom, and the first girl I point out to you, you must go and tell her that I love her."

"Why don't you go and tell her yourself?" replied Alexander in his magnificent nasal bass.

"Eh? my dear fellow," said Rodolphe. "I can assure you that I have quite forgot how one sets about saying that sort of thing. In all my love stories it has been my friends who have written the preface, and sometimes even the denouement; I never know how to begin."

"It is enough to know how to end," said Alexander, "but I understand you. I knew a girl who loved the oboe, perhaps you would suit her."

"Ah!" said Rodolphe. "I should like her to have white gloves and blue eyes."

"The deuce, blue eyes, I won't say no -- but gloves -- you know that we can't have everything at once. However, let us go into the aristocratic regions."

"There," said Rodolphe, as they entered the saloon favored by the fashionables of the place, "there is one who seems nice and quiet, " and he pointed out a young girl fairly well dressed who was seated in a corner.

"Very good," replied Alexander, "keep a little in the background, I am going to launch the fire-ship of passion for you. When it is necessary to put in an appearance I will call you."

For ten minutes Alexander conversed with the girl, who from time to time broke out in a joyous burst of laughter, and ended by casting towards Rodolphe a smiling glance which said plainly enough, "Come, your advocate has won the cause."

"Come," said Alexander, "the victory is ours, the little one is no doubt far from cruel, but put on an air of simplicity to begin with."

"You have no need to recommend me to do that."

"Then give me some tobacco," said Alexander, "and go and sit down beside her."

"Good heavens," said the young girl when Rodolphe had taken his place by her side, "how funny you friend is, his voice is like a trumpet."

"That is because he is a musician."

Two hours later Rodolphe and his companion halted in front of a house in the Rue St. Denis.

"It is here that I live," said the girl.

"Well, my dear Louise, when and where shall I see you again?"

"At your place at eight o'clock tomorrow evening."

"For sure?"

"Here is my pledge," replied Louise, holding up her rosy cheek to Rodolphe's, who eagerly tasted this ripe fruit of youth and health.

Rodolphe went home perfectly intoxicated.

"Ah!" said he, striding up and down his room, "it can't go off like that, I must write some verses."

The next morning his porter found in his room some thirty sheets of paper, at the top of which stretched in solitary majesty of line --

"Ah; love, oh! love, fair prince of youth."

That morning, contrary to his habits, Rodolphe had risen very early, and although he had slept very little, he got up at once.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "today is the great day. But then twelve hours to wait. How shall I fill up these twelve eternities?"

And as his glance fell on his desk he seemed to see his pen wriggle as though intending to say to him "Work."

"Ah! yes, work indeed! A fig for prose. I won't stop here, it reeks of ink."

He went off and settled himself in a cafe where he was sure not to meet any friends.

"They would see that I am in love," he thought, "and shape my ideal for me in advance."

After a very brief repast he was off to the railway station, and got into a train. Half an hour later he was in the woods of Ville d'Avray.

Rodolphe strolled about all day, let loose amongst rejuvenated nature, and only returned to Paris at nightfall.

After having put the temple which was to receive his idol in nature, Rodolphe arrayed himself for the occasion, greatly regretting not being able to dress in white.

From seven to eight o'clock he was a prey to the sharp fever of expectation. A slow torture, that recalled to him the old days and the old loves which had sweetened them. Then, according to habit, he already began to dream of an exalted passion, a love affair in ten volumes, a genuine lyric with moonlight, setting suns, meetings beneath the willows, jealousies, sighs and all the rest. He was like this every time chance brought a woman to his door, and not one had left him without bearing away any aureola about her head and a necklace of tears about her neck.

"They would prefer new boots or a bonnet," his friend remarked to him.

But Rodolphe persisted, and up to this time the numerous blunders he had made had not sufficed to cure him. He was always awaiting a woman who would consent to pose as an idol, an angel in a velvet gown, to whom he could at his leisure address sonnets written on willow leaves.

At length Rodolphe heard the "holy hour" strike, and as the last stroke sounded he fancied he saw the Cupid and Psyche surmounting his clock entwine their alabaster arms about one another. At the same moment two timid taps were given at the door.

Rodolphe went and opened it. It was Louise.

"You see I have kept my word," said she.

Rodolphe drew the curtain and lit a fresh candle.

During this operation the girl had removed her bonnet and shawl, which she went and placed on the bed. The dazzling whiteness of the sheets caused her to smile, and almost to blush.

Louise was rather pleasing than pretty; her fresh colored face presented an attractive blending of simplicity and archness. It was something like an outline of Greuze touched up by Gavarni. All her youthful attractions were cleverly set off by a toilette which, although very simple, attested in her that innate science of coquetry which all women possess from their first swaddling clothes to their bridal robe. Louise appeared besides to have made an especial study of the theory of attitudes, and assumed before Rodolphe, who examined her with the artistic eye, a number of seductive poses. Her neatly shod feet were of satisfactory smallness, even for a romantic lover smitten by Andalusian or Chinese miniatures. As to her hands, their softness attested idleness. In fact, for six months past she had no longer any reason to fear needle pricks. In short, Louise was one of those fickle birds of passage who from fancy, and often from necessity, make for a day, or rather a night, their nest in the garrets of the students' quarter, and remain there willingly for a few days, if one knows how to retain them by a whim or by some ribbons.

After having chatted for an hour with Louise, Rodolphe showed her, as an example, the group of Cupid and Psyche.

"Isn't it Paul and Virginia?"

"Yes," replied Rodolphe, who did not want to vex her at the outset by contradicting her.

"They are very well done," said Louise.

"Alas!" thought Rodolphe, gazing at her, "the poor child is not up to much as regards literature. I am sure that her only orthography is that of the heart. I must buy her a dictionary."

However, as Louise complained of her boots incommoding her, he obligingly helped her to unlace them.

All at once the light went out.

"Hallo!" exclaimed Rodolphe, "who has blown the candle out?"

A joyful burst of laughter replied to him.

A few days later Rodolphe met one of his friends in the street.

"What are you up to?" said the latter. "One no longer sees anything of you."

"I am studying the poetry of intimacy," replied Rodolphe.

The poor fellow spoke the truth. He sought from Louise more than the poor girl could give him. An oaten pipe, she had not the strains of a lyre. She spoke to, so to say, the jargon of love, and Rodolphe insisted upon speaking the classic language. Thus they scarcely understood each other.

A week later, at the same ball at which she had found Rodolphe, Louise met a fair young fellow, who danced with her several times, and at the close of the entertainment took her home with him.

He was a second year's student. He spoke the prore of pleasure very fluently, and had good eyes and a well-lined pocket.

Louise asked him for ink and paper, and wrote to Rodolphe a letter couched as follows: --

"Do not rekkon on me at all. I sende you a kiss for the last time. Good bye.

Louise."


As Rodolphe was reading this letter on reaching home in the evening, his light suddenly went out.

"Hallo!" said he, reflectively, "it is the candle I first lit on the evening that Louise came -- it was bound to finish with our union. If I had known I would have chosen a longer one," he added, in a tone of half annoyance, half of regret, and he placed his mistress' note in a drawer, which he sometimes styled the catacomb of his loves.

One day, being at Marcel's, Rodolphe picked up from the ground to light his pipe with, a scrap of paper on which he recognized his handwriting and the orthography of Louise.

"I have," said he to his friend, "an autograph of the same person, only there are two mistakes the less than in yours. Does not that prove that she loved me better than you?"

"That proves that you are a simpleton," replied Marcel. "White arms and shoulders have no need of grammar."


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