CHAPTER V

THE CARLOVINGIAN COIN

Towards the end of December the messengers of Bidault's agency were entrusted with the distribution of about a hundred copies of a letter of invitation, of which we certify that the following to be a true and genuine copy: --

"-----

M.M. Rodolphe and Marcel request the honor of your company on Saturday next, Christmas Eve. Fun!

P.S. Life is short!

PROGRAM OF THE ENTERTAINMENT
PART I



7 o'clock - Opening of the saloons. Brisk and witty conversation.

8. - Appearance of the talented authors of "The Mountain in Labor," comedy refused at the Odeon Theater.

 8:30. - M. Alexander Schaunard, the eminent virtuoso, will play his imitative symphony, "The Influence of Blue in Art," on the piano.

9. - First reading of the essay on the "Abolition of the penalty of tragedy."

9:30. - Philosophical and metaphysical argument between M. Colline, hyperphysical philosopher, and M. Schaunard. To avoid any collision between the two antagonists, they will both be securely fastened.

10. - M. Tristan, master of literature, will narrate his early loves, accompanied on the piano by M. Alexander Schaunard.

10:30. - Second reading of the essay on the "Abolition of the penalty of tragedy."

11. - Narration of a cassowary hunt by a foreign prince.

PART II

Midnight. - M. Marcel, historical painter, will execute with his eyes bandaged an impromptu sketch in chalk of the meeting of Voltaire and Napolean in the Elyssian Fields. M. Rodolphe will also improvise a parallel between the author of Zaire, and the victor of Austerlitz.

12:30. - M. Gustave Colline, in a decent undress, will give an imitation of the athletic games of the 4th Olympiad.

1. - Third reading of the essay on the "Abolition of the penalty of tragedy," and subscription on behalf of tragic authors who will one day find themselves out of employment.

2. - Commencement of games and organization of quadrilles to last until morning.

6. - Sunrise and final chorus.

During the whole of entertainment ventilators will be in action.

N.B. Anyone attempting to read or recite poetry will be summarily ejected and handed over to the police. The guests are equally requested not to help themselves to the candle ends."

Two days later, copies of this invitation were circulating among the lower depths of art and literature, and created a profound sensation.

There were, however, amongst the invited guests, some who cast doubt upon the splendor of the promises made by the two friends.

"I am very skeptical about it," said one of them. "I have sometimes gone to Rodolphe's Thursdays in the Rue de la Tour d'Auvergne, when one could only sit on anything morally, and where all one had to drink was a little filtered water in eclectic pottery."

"This time," said another, "it is really serious. Marcel has shown me the program of the fete, and the effect will be magical."

"Will there be any ladies?"

"Yes. Phemie Teinturiere has asked to be queen of the fete and Schaunard is to bring some ladies of position."

This is in brief the origin of this fete which caused such stupefaction in the Bohemian world across the water. For about a year past, Marcel and Rodolphe had announced this sumptuous gala which was always to take place "next Saturday," but painful circumstances had obliged their promise to extend over fifty-two weeks, so that they had come to pass of not being able to take a step without encountering some ironical remark from one of their friends, amongst whom there were some indiscreet enough to put forward energetic demand for its fulfillment. The matter beginning to assume the character of a plague, the two friends resolved to put an end to it by liquidating the undertaking into which they had entered. It was thus that they sent out the invitation given above.

"Now," said Rodolphe, "there is no drawing back. We have burnt our ships, and we have before us just a week to find the hundred francs that are indispensable to do the thing properly."

"Since we must have them, we shall," replied Marcel.

And with the insolent confidence which they had in luck, the two friends went to sleep, convinced that their hundred francs were already on the way, the way of impossibility.

However, as on the day before that appointed for the party, nothing as of yet had turned up, Rodolphe thought perhaps, be safer to give luck a helping hand, unless he were to be discredited forever, when the time came to light up. To facilitate matters the two friends progressively modified the sumptuosity of the program they had imposed upon themselves.

And proceeding from modification to modification, after having seriously reduced the item "cakes," and carefully revised and pruned down the item "liquors," the total cost was reduced to fifteen francs.

The problem was simplified, but not yet solved.

"Come, come," said Rodolphe, "we must now have recourse to strong measures, we cannot cry off this time."

"No, that is impossible," replied Marcel.

"How long is it since I have heard the story of the Battle of Studzianka?"

"About two months."

"Two months, good, that is a decent interval; my uncle will have no ground for grumbling. I will go tomorrow and hear his account of that engagement, that will be five francs for certain."

"I," said Marcel, "will go and sell a deserted manor house to old Medicis. That will make another five francs. If I have time enough to put in three towers and a mill, it will perhaps run to ten francs, and our budget will be complete."

And the two friends fell asleep dreaming that the Princess Belgiojoso begged them to change their reception day, in order not to rob her of her customary guests.

Awake at dawn, Marcel took a canvas and rapidly set to work to build up a deserted manor house, an article which he was in the habit of supplying to a broker of the Place de Carrousel. On his side, Rodolphe went to pay a visit to his Uncle Monetti, who shone in the story of the Retreat from Moscow, and to whom Rodolphe accorded five or six times in course of the year, when matters were really serious, the satisfaction of narrating his campaigns, in return for a small loan which the veteran stove maker did not refuse too obstinately when due enthusiasm was displayed in listening to his narrations.

About two o'clock, Marcel with hanging head and a canvas under his arm, met on the Place de Carrousel Rodolphe, who was returning from his uncle's, and whose bearing also presaged ill news.

"Well," asked Marcel, "did you succeed?"

"No, my uncle has gone to Versailles. And you?"

"That beast of a Medicis does not want any more ruined manor houses. He wants me to do him a Bombardment of Tangiers."

"Our reputations are ruined forever if we do not give this party," murmured Rodolphe. "What will my friend, the influential critic, think if I make him put on a white tie and yellow kids for nothing."

And both went back to the studio, a prey to great uneasiness.

At that moment the clock of a neighbor struck four.

"We have only three hours before us," said Rodolphe despondingly.

"But," said Marcel, going up to his friend, "are you quite sure, certain sure, that we have no money left anywhere hereabout? Eh?"

"Neither here, nor elsewhere. Where do you suppose it could come from?"

"If we looked under the furniture, in the stuffing of the arm chairs? They say that the emigrant noblemen used to hide their treasures in the days of Robespierre. Who can tell? Perhaps our arm chair belonged to an emigrant nobleman, and besides, it is so hard that the idea has often occurred to me that it must be stuffed with metal. Will you dissect it?

"This is mere comedy," replied Rodolphe, in a tone in which severity was mingled with indulgence.

Suddenly Marcel, who had gone on rummaging in every corner of the studio, uttered a loud cry of triumph.

"We are saved!" he exclaimed. "I was sure that there was money here. Behold!" and he showed Rodolphe a coin as large as a crown piece, and half eaten away by rust and verdigris.

It was a Carlovingian coin of some artistic value. The legend, happily intact, showed the date of Charlemagne's reign.

"That, that's worth thirty sous," said Rodolphe, with a contemptuous glance at his friend's find.

Thirty sous well employed will go a great wy," replied Marcel. "With twelve hundred men Bonaparte made ten thousand Austrians lay down their arms. Skill can replace numbers. I will go and swap the Carlovingian crown at Daddy Medicis'. Is there not anything else saleable here? Suppose I take the plaster cast of the tibia of Jaconowski, the Russian drum major."

"Take the tibia. But it is a nuisance, there will not be a single ornament left here."

During Marcel's absence, Rodolphe, his mind made up that that party should be given in any case, went in search of his friend Colline, the hyperphysical philosopher, who lived hard by.

"I have come," said he, "to ask you to do me a favor. As host I must positively have a black swallow-tail, and I have not got one; lend me yours."

"But," said Colline hesitating, "as a guest I shall want my black swallow-tail too."

"I will allow you to come in a frock coat."

"That won't do. You know very well I have never had a frock coat."

"Well, then, it can be settled in another way. If needs be, you need not come to my party, and can lend me your swallow-tail."

"That would be unpleasant. I am on the program, and must not be lacking."

"There are plenty of other things that will be lacking," said Rodolphe. "Lend me your black swallow-tail, and if you will come, come as you like; in your shirt sleeves, you will pass for a faithful servant."

"Oh no!" said Colline, blushing. "I will wear my great coat. But all the same, it is very unpleasant." And as he saw Rodolphe had already seized on the famous black swallow-tail, he called out to him, "Stop a bit. There are some odds and ends in the pockets."

Colline's swallow-tail deserves a word or two. In the first place it was of a decided blue, and it was from habit that Colline spoke of it as "my black swallow-tail." And as he was the only one of the band owning a dress coat, his friends were likewise in the habit of saying, when speaking of the philosopher's official garment, "Colline's black swallow-tail." In addition to this, this famous garment had a special cut, the oddest imaginable. The tails, very long, and attached to a very short waist, had two pockets, positive gulfs, in which Colline was accustomed to store some thirty of the volumes which he eternally carried about with him. This caused his friends to remark that during the time that the public libraries were closed, savants and literary men could go and refer to the skirts of Colline's swallow-tail -- a library always open.

That day, extraordinary to relate, Colline's swallow-tail only contained a quarto volume of Bayle, a treatise on the hyperphysical faculties in three volumes, a volume of Condillac, two of Swedenborg and Pope's "Essay on Man." When he had cleared his bookcase-garment, he allowed Rodolphe to clothe himself in it.

"Hallo!" said the latter, "the left pocket still feels very heavy; you have left something in it."

"Ah!" exclaimed Colline, "that is so. I forgot to empty the foreign languages pocket."

And he took out from this two Arabic grammars, a Malay dictionary, and a stock breeder's manual in Chinese, his favorite reading.

When Rodolphe returned home he found Marcel playing pitch-and-toss with three five franc pieces. At first Rodolphe refused his friend's proferred hand -- he thought some crime had been committed.

"Let us make haste, let us make haste," said Marcel, "we have the fifteen francs required. This is how it happened. I met an antiquary at Medicis'. When he saw the coin he was almost taken ill; it was the only one wanting in his cabinet. He had sent everywhere to get this vacancy filled up, and had lost all hope. Thus, when he had thoroughly examined my Carlovingian crown piece, he did not hesitate for a moment to offer me five francs for it. Medicis nudged me with his elbow; a look from him completed the business. He meant, 'share the profits of the sale, and I will bid against him.' We ran it up to thirty francs. I gave the Jew fifteen, and here are the rest. Now our guests may come; we are in a position to dazzle them. Hallo! You have got a swallow-tail!"

"Yes," said Rodolphe, "Colline's swallow-tail." And as he was feeling for his handkerchief, Rodolphe pulled out a small volume in a Tartar dialect, overlooked in the foreign literature pocket.

The two friends at once proceeded to make their preparations. The studio was set in order, a fire kindled in the stove, the stretcher of a picture, garnished with composite candles, suspended from the ceiling as a chandelier, and a writing table placed in the middle of the studio to serve as a rostrum for the orators. The solitary arm-chair, which was to be reserved for the influential critic, was placed in front of it, and upon a table were arranged all the books, romances, poems, pamphlets, &c., the authors of which were to honor the company with their presence.

In order to avoid any collision between members of the different schools of literature, the studio had been, moreover, divided into four compartments, at the entrance to each of which could be read, on four hurriedly manufactured placards, the inscriptions -- "Poets," "Prose Writers," "Classic School," and "Romantic School."

The ladies were to occupy a space reserved in the middle of the studio.

"Humph! Chairs are lacking," said Rodolphe.

"Oh!" remarked Marcel, "there are several on the landing, fastened along the wall. Suppose we were to gather them."

"Certainly, let us gather them by all means," said Rodolphe, starting off to seize on the chairs, which belonged to some neighbor.

Six o'clock struck: the two friends went off to a hasty dinner, and returned to light up the saloons. They were themselves dazzled by the result. At seven o'clock Schaunard arrived, accompanied by three ladies, who had forgotten their diamonds and their bonnets. One of them wore a red shawl with black spots. Schaunard pointed out this lady particularly to Rodolphe.

"She is a woman accustomed to the best society," said he, " an Englishwoman whom the fall of the Stuarts has driven into exile, she lives in a modest way by giving lessons in English. Her father was Lord Chancellor under Cromwell, she told me, so we must be polite with her. Don't be too familiar."

Numerous footsteps were heard on the stairs. It was the guests arriving. They seemed astonished to see a fire burning in the stove.

Rodolphe's swallow-tail went to greet the ladies, and kissed their hands with a grace worthy of the Regency. When there was a score of persons present, Schaunard asked whether it was not time for a round of drinks.

"Presently," said Marcel. "We are waiting for the arrival of the influential critic to set fire to the punch."

At eight o'clock the whole of the guests had arrived, and the execution of the program commenced. Each item was alternated with a round of drink of some kind, no one ever knew what.

Towards ten o'clock the white waistcoat of the influential critic made its appearance. He only stayed an hour, and was very sober in the consumption of refreshments.

At midnight, as there was no more wood, and it was very cold, the guests who were seated drew lots as to who should cast his chair into the fire.

By one o'clock every one was standing.

Amiable gaiety did not cease to reign amongst the guests. There were no accidents to be regretted, with the exception of a rent in the foreign languages pocket of Colline's swallow-tail and a smack in the face given by Schaunard to the daughter of Cromwell's Lord Chancellor.

This memorable evening was for a week the staple subject of gossip in the district, and Phemie Teinnturiere, who had been the queen of the fete, was accustomed to remark, when talking it over with her friends, --

"It was awfully fine. There were composite candles, my dear."


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