Ostracized by an inhospitable proprietor, Rodolphe had for some time been leading a life compared with which the existence of a cloud is rather stationary. He practiced assiduously the arts of going to bed without supper, and supping without going to bed. He often dined with Duke Humphrey, and generally slept at the sign of a clear sky. Still, amid all these crosses and troubles, two things never forsook him; his good humor and the manuscript of "The Avenger," a drama which had gone the rounds of all the theaters in Paris.
One day Rodolphe, who had been jugged for some slight choreographic extravagances, stumbled upon an uncle of his, one Monetti, a stove maker and smokey chimney doctor, and sargeant of the National Guard, whom he had not seen for an age. Touched by his nephew's misfortunes, Uncle Monetti promised to ameliorate his position. We shall see how, if the reader is not afraid of mounting six stories.
Take note of the banister, then, and follow. Up we go! Whew! One hundred and twenty-five steps! Here we are at last. One more step, and we are in the room; one more yet, and we should be out of it again. It's little, but high up, with the advantages of good air and a fine prospect.
The furniture is composed of two French stoves, several German ditto, some ovens on the economic plan, (especially if you never make fire in them,) a dozen stove pipes, some red clay, some sheet iron, and a whole host of heating apparatus. We may mention, to complete the inventory, a hammock suspended from two nails inserted in the wall, a three-legged garden chair, a candlestick adorned with its bobeche, and some other similar objects of elegant art. As to the second room -- that is to say, the balcony -- two dwarf cypresses, in pots, make a park of it for fine weather.
At the moment of our entry, the occupant of the premises, a young man, dressed like a Turk of the Comic Opera, is finishing a repast, in which he shamelessly violates the law of the Prophet. Witness a bone that was once a ham, and a bottle that has been full of wine. His meal over, the young Turk streches himself on the floor in true Eastern style, and begins carelessly to smoke a narghile. While abandoning himself to this Asiatic luxury, he passes his hand from time to time over the back of a magnificent Newfoundland dog, who would doubtless respond to its caresses where he not also in terra cotta, to match the rest of the furniture.
Suddenly a noise was heard in the entry, and the door opened, admitting a person who, without saying a word, marched straight to one of the stoves, which served the purpose of a secretary, opened the stove-door, and drew out a bundle of papers.
"Hallo!" cried the newcomer, after examining the manuscript attentively, "the chapter on ventilators not finished yet!"
"Allow me to observe, uncle," replied the Turk, "the chapter on ventilators is one of the most interesting in your book, and requires to be studied with care. I am studying it.
"But you miserable fellow, you are always saying that same thing. And the chapter on stoves -- where are you in that?"
"The stoves are going on well, but, by the way, uncle, if you could give me a little wood, it wouldn't hurt me. It is a little Siberia here. I am so cold, that I make a thermometer go down below zero by just looking at it."
"What! you've used up one faggot already?"
"Allow me to remark again, uncle, there are different kinds of faggots, and yours was the very smallest kind."
"I'll send you an economic log -- that keeps the heat."
"Exactly, and doesn't give any."
"Well," said the uncle as he went off, "you shall have a little faggot, and I must have my chapter on stoves for tomorrow."
"When I have fire, that will inspire me," answered the Turk as he heard himself locked in.
Were we making a tragedy, this would be the time to bring in a confidant. Noureddin or Osman he should be called, and he should advance towards our hero with an air at the same time discreet and patronizing,
To console him for his reverses,
By means of these three verses:
'What saddening grief, my Lord, assails you now?
Why sits this pallor on your noble brow?
Does Allah lend your plans no helping hand?
Or cruel Ali, with severe command,
Remove to other shores the beauteous dame,
Who charmed your eyes and set your heart on flame!'
But we are not making a tragedy, so we must do without our confidant, though he would be very convenient.
Our hero is not what he appears to be. The turban does not make the Turk. This young man is our friend Rodolphe, entertained by his uncle, for whom he is drawing up a manual of "The Perfect Chimney Constructor" In fact, Monsieur Monetti, an enthusiast for his art, had consecrated his days to this science of chimneys. One day he formed the idea of drawing up, for the benefit of posterity, a theoretic code of the principles of that art, in the practice of which he so excelled, and he had chosen his nephew, as we have seen, to frame the substance of his ideas in an intelligible form. Rodolphe was found in board, lodging, and other contingencies, and at the completion of the manual was to receive a recompense of three hundred francs.
In the beginning, to encourage his nephew, Monetti had generously made him an advance of fifty francs. But Rodolphe, who had not seen so much silver together for nearly a year, half crazy, in company with his money, stayed out three days, and on the fourth came home alone! Thereupon the uncle, who was in haste to have his "Manual" finished inasmuch as he hoped to get a patent for it, dreading some new diversion on his nephew's part, determined to make him work by preventing him from going out. To this end he carried off his garments, and left him instead the disguise under which we have seen him. Nevertheless, the famous "Manual" continued to make very slow progress, for Rodolphe had no genius whatever for this kind of literature. The uncle avenged himself for this lazy indifference on the great subject of chimneys by making his nephew undergo a host of annoyances. Sometimes he cut short his commons, and frequently stopped the supply of tobacco.
One Sunday, after having sweated blood and ink upon the great chapter of ventilators, Rodolphe broke the pen, which was burning his fingers, and went out to walk -- in his "park." As if on purpose to plague him, and excite his envy the more, he could not cast a single look about him without perceiving the figure of a smoker on every window.
On the gilt balcony of a new house opposite, an exquisite in his dressing gown was biting off the end of an aristocratic "Pantellas" cigar. A story above, an artist was sending before him an odorous cloud of Turkish tobacco from his amber-mouthed pipe. At the window of a brasserie, a fat German was crowning a foaming tankard, and emitting, with the regularity of a machine, the dense puffs that escaped from his meershaum. On the other side, a group of workmen were singing as they passed on their way to the barriers, their "throat-scorchers" between their teeth. Finally, all the other pedestrians visible in the street were smoking.
"Woe is me!" sighed Rodolphe, "except myself and my uncle's chimneys, all creation is smoking at this hour!" And he rested his forehead on the bar of the balcony, and thought how dreary life was.
Suddenly, a burst of long and musical laughter parted under his feet. Rodolphe bent forward a little, to discover the source of this volley of gaiety, and perceived that he had been perceived by the tenant of the story beneath him, Mademoiselle Sidonia, of the Luxembourg Theater. The young lady advanced to the front of her balcony, rolling between her fingers, with the dexterity of a Spaniard, a paper-full of light-colored tobacco, which she took from a bag of embroidered velvet.
"What a sweet cigar girl it is!" murmured Rodolphe, in an ecstacy of contemplation.
"Who is this Ali Baba?" thought Mademoiselle Sidonia on her part. And she meditated on a pretext for engaging in conversation with Rodolphe, who was himself trying to do the very same.
"Bless me!" cried the lady, as if talking to herself, "what a bore! I've no matches!"
"Allow me to offer you some, mademoiselle," said Rodolphe, letting fall on the balcony two or three lucifers rolled up in paper.
"A thousand thanks," replied Sidonia, lighting her cigarette.
"Pray, mademoiselle," continued Rodolphe, "in exchange for the trifling service which my good angel has permitted me to render you, may I ask you to do me a favor?"
"Asking already," thought the actress, as she regarded Rodolphe with more attention. "They say these Turks are fickle, but very agreeable. Speak sir," she continued, raising her head towards the young man, "what do you wish?"
"The charity of a little tobacco, mademoiselle, only one pipe. I have not smoked for two whole days."
"Most willingly, but how? Will you take the trouble to come downstairs?"
"Alas! I can't! I am shut up here, but am still free to employ a very simple means. He fastened his pipe to a string, and let it glide down to her balcony, where Sidonia filled it profusely herself. Rodolphe then proceeded, with much ease and deliberation, to remount his pipe, which arrived without accident. "Ah, mademoiselle!" he exclaimed, "how much better this pipe would have seemed, if I could have lighted it at your eyes!"
It was at least the hundredth edition of this amiable pleasantry, but Sidonia found it superb for all that, and thought herself bound to reply, "You flatter me."
"I assure you, mademoiselle, in right-down earnest, I think you handsomer than all the Three Graces together."
"Decidedly, Ali Baba is very polite," thought Sidonia. "Are you really a Turk?" she asked Rodolphe.
"Not by profession," he replied, "but by necessity. I am a dramatic author."
"I am an artist," she replied, then added, "My dear sir and neighbor, will you do me the honor to dine and spend the evening with me?"
"Alas!" answered Rodolphe, "though your invitation is like opening heaven to me, it is impossible to accept it. As I had the honor to tell you, I am shut up here by my uncle, Monsieur Monetti, stove-maker and chimney doctor, whose secretary I am now.
"You shall dine with me for all that," replied Sidonia. "Listen, I shall re-enter my room, and tap on the ceiling. Look where I strike and you will find the traces of a trap which used to be there, and has since been fastened up. Find the means of removing the piece of wood which closes the hole, and then, although we are each in our own room, we shall be as good as together."
Rodolphe went to work at once. In five minutes a communication was established between the two rooms.
"It is a very little hole," said he, "but there will always be room enough to pass you my heart."
"Now," said Sidonia, "we will go to dinner. Set your table, and I will pass you the dishes."
Rodolphe let down his turban by a string, and bought it back laden with eatables, then the poet and the actress proceeded to dine -- on their respective floors. Rodolphe devoured the pie with his teeth, and Sidonia with his eyes.
"Thanks to you, mademoiselle," he said, when their repast was finished, "my stomach is satisfied. Can you not also satisfy the void of my heart, which has been so long empty?"
"Poor fellow!" said Sidonia, and climbing on a piece of furniture, she lifted up her hand to Rodolphe's lips, who gloved it with kisses.
"What a pity," he exclaimed, "you can't do as St. Denis, who had the privilege of carrying his head in his hands!"
To the dinner succeeded a sentimental literary conversation. Rodolphe spoke of "The Avenger," and Sidonia asked him to read it. Leaning over the hole, he began declaiming his drama to the actress, who, to hear better, had put her arm chair on the top of a chest of drawers. She pronounced "The Avenger" a masterpiece, and having some influence at the theater, promised Rodolphe to get his piece received.
But at the most interesting moment a step was heard in the entry, about as light as that of the Commander's ghost in "Don Juan." It was Uncle Monetti. Rodolphe had only just time to shut the trap.
"Here," said Monetti to his nephew, "this letter has been running after you for a month."
"Uncle! Uncle!" cried Rodolphe, 'I am rich at last! This letter informs me that I have gained a prize of three hundred francs, given by an academy of floral games. Quick! my coat and my things! Let me go to gather my laurels. They await me at the Capitol!"
"And my chapter on ventilators?" said Monetti, coldly.
"I like that! Give me my things, I tell you; I can't go out so!"
"You shall go out when my 'Manual" is finished," quoth the uncle, shutting up his nephew under lock and key.
Rodolphe, when left alone, did not hesitate on the course to take. He transformed his quilt into a knotted rope, which he fastened firmly to his own balcony, and in spite of the risk, descended by this extempore ladder upon Mademoiselle Sidonia's.
"Who is there?" she cried, on hearing Rodolphe knock at her window.
"Hush!" he replied, "open!"
"What do you want? Who are you?"
"Can you ask? I am the author of 'The Avenger,' come to look for my heart, which I dropped through the trap into your room."
"Rash youth!" said the actress, "you might have killed yourself!"
"Listen, Sidonia," continued Rodolphe, showing her the letter he just received. "You see, wealth and glory smile on me, let love do the same!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The following morning, by means of a masculine disguise, which Sidonia procured for him, Rodolphe was enabled to escape from his uncle's lodging. He ran to the secretary of the academy of floral games, to receive a crown of gold sweetbrier, worth three hundred francs, which lived
"-- as live roses the fairest --
The space of a day."
A month after, Monsieur Monetti was invited by his nephew to assist at the first representation of "The Avenger." Thanks to the talent of Mademoiselle Sidonia, the piece had a run of seventeen nights, and brought in forty francs to its author.
Some time later -- it was in the warm season -- Rodolphe lodged in the Avenue St. Cloud, third tree as you go out of the Bois de Boulogne, on the fifth branch.