It was the nineteenth of March, 184--. Should Rodolphe reach the age of Methuselah, he will never forget the date; for it was on that day, at three in the afternoon, that our friend issued from a banker's where he had just received five hundred francs in current and sounding specie.
The first use Rodolphe made of this slice of Peru which had fallen into his pocket was not to pay his debts, inasmuch as he had sworn to himself to practice economy and go to no extra expense. He had a fixed idea on this subject, and declared that before thinking of superfluities, one ought to provide for necessaries. Therefore it was that he paid none of his creditors, and bought a Turkish pipe which he had long coveted.
Armed with this purchase, he directed his steps towards the lodging of his friend Marcel, who had for some time given him shelter. As he entered Marcel's studio, Rodolphe's pockets rang like a village-steeple on a grand holiday. On hearing this unusual sound, Marcel supposed it was one of his neighbors, a great speculator, counting his profits on 'Change, and muttered, There's that impertinent fellow next door beginning his music again! If this is to go on, I shall give notice to the landlord. It's impossible to work with such a noise. It tempts one to quit one's condition of poor artist and turn robber, forty times over." So, never suspecting that it was his friend Rodolphe changed into a Croesus, Marcel again set to work on his "Passage of the Red Sea," which had been on his easel nearly three years.
Rodolphe, who had not yet spoken, meditating an experiment which he was about to make on his friend, said to himself, "We shall laugh in a minute. Won't it be fun?" and he let fall a five-franc piece on the floor.
Marcel raised his eyes and looked at Rodolphe, who was as grave as an article in the "Revue des deux Mondes." Then he picked up the piece of money with a well-satisfied air, and made a courteous salute to it; for, vagabond artist as he was, he understood the usages of society, and was very civil to strangers. Knowing, moreover, that Rodolphe had gone out to look for money, Marcel, seeing that his friend had succeeded in his operations, contented himself with admiring the result, without inquiring by what means it had been obtained. Accordingly, he went to work again without speaking, and finished drowning an Egyptian in the waves of the Red Sea. As he was terminating this homicide, Rodolphe let fall another piece, laughing in his sleeve at the face the painter was going to make.
At the sonorous sound of the metal, Marcel bounded up as if he had received an electric shock, and cried, "What! Number two!"
A third piece rolled on the floor, then another, then one more; finally a whole quadrille of five-franc pieces were dancing in the room.
Marcel began to show evident signs of mental alienation; and Rodolphe laughed like the pit of a Parisian theatre at the first representation of a very tragical tragedy. Suddenly, and without any warning, he plunged both hands into his pockets, and the money rushed out in a supernatural steeple-chase. It was an inundation of Pactolus; it was Jupiter entering Danae's chamber.
Marcel remained silent, motionless, with a fixed stare; his astonishment was gradually operating upon him a transformation similar to that which the untimely curiosity of Lott's wife brought upon her: by the time that Rodolphe had thrown his last hundred francs on the floor, the painter was petrified all down one side of his body.
Rodolphe laughed and laughed. Compared with his stormy mirth, the thunder of an orchestra of sax-horns would have been no more than the crying of a child at the breast.
Stunned, strangled, stupefied by his emotions, Marcel thought himself in a dream. To drive away the nightmare, he bit his finger till he brought blood, and almost made himself scream with pain. He then perceived that, though trampling upon money, he was perfectly awake. Like a personage in a tragedy, he ejaculated:
"Can I believe my eyes?" and then seizing Rodolphe's hand, he added, "Explain me this mystery."
"Did I explain it 'twould be one no more."
"This gold is the fruit of the sweat of my brow," said Rodolphe, picking up the money and arranging it on the table. He then went a few steps and looked respectfully at the five hundred francs ranged in heaps, thinking to himself, "Now then, my dreams will be realized!"
"There cannot be much less than six thousand francs there," thought Marcel to himself, as he regarded the silver which trembled on the table. "I've an idea! I shall ask Rodolphe to buy my 'Passage of the Red Sea.'"
All at once Rodolphe put himself into a theatrical attitude, and, with great solemnity of voice and gesture, addressed the artist:
"Listen to me, Marcel: the fortune which has dazzled your eyes is not the product of vile maneuvers; I have not sold my pen; I am rich, but honest. This gold, bestowed by a generous hand, I have sworn to use in laboriously acquiring a serious position -- such as a virtuous man should occupy. Labor is the most scared of duties --."
"And the horse, the noblest of animals," interrupted Marcel.
"Bah! where did you get that sermon? Been through a course of good sense, no doubt."
"Interrupt me not," replied Rodolphe, "and truce to your railleries. They will be blunted against the buckler of invulnerable resolution in which I am from this moment clad."
That will do for prologue. Now the conclusion."
"This is my design. No longer embarrassed about the material wants of life, I am going seriously to work. First of all, I renounce my vagabond existence: I shall dress like other people, set up a black coat, and go to evening parties. If you are willing to follow in my footsteps, we will continue to live together but you must adopt my program. The strictest economy will preside over our life. By proper management we have before us three months' work without any preoccupation. But we must be economical."
"My dear fellow," said Marcel, "economy is a science only practicable for rich people. You and I, therefore, are ignorant of its first elements. However, by making an outlay of six francs we can have the works of Monsieur Jean-Baptiste Say, a very distinguished economist, who will perhaps teach us how to practice the art. Hallo! You have a Turkish pipe there!"
"Yes, I bought it for twenty-five francs."
"How is that! You talk of economy, and give twenty-five francs for a pipe!"
"And this is an economy. I used to break a two-sous pipe every day, and at the end of the year that came to a great deal more."
"True, I should never have thought of that."
They heard a neighboring clock strike six."
"Let us have dinner at once," said Rodolphe. "I mean to begin from tonight. Talking of dinner, it occurs to me that we lose much valuable time every day in cooking ours; now time is money, so we must economize it. From this day we will dine out."
"Yes," said Marcel, "there is a capital restaurant twenty steps off. It's rather dear, but not far to go, so we shall gain in time what we lose in money."
"We will go there today," said Rodolphe, "but tomorrow or next day we will adopt a still more economical plan. Instead of going to the restaurant, we will hire a cook."
"No, no," put in Marcel, "we will hire a servant to be cook and everything. Just see the immense advantages which will result from it. First of all, our rooms will be always in order; he will clean our boots, go of errands, wash my brushes; I will even try and give him a taste of the fine arts, and make him grind colors. In this way, we shall save at least six hours a day."
Five minutes after, the two friends were installed in one of the little rooms of the restaurant, and continuing their schemes of economy.
"We must get an intelligent lad," said Rodolphe, "if he has a sprinkling of spelling, I will teach him to write articles, and make an editor of him."
"That will be his resource for his old age," said Marcel, adding up the bill. "Well, this is dear, rather! Fifteen francs! We used both to dine for a franc and a half."
"Yes," replied Rodolphe, "but then we dined so badly that we were obliged to sup at night. So, on the whole, it is an economy."
"You always have the best of the argument," muttered the convinced artist. "Shall we work tonight?"
"No, indeed! I shall go to see my uncle. He is a good fellow, and will give me good advice when I tell him my new position. And you, Marcel?"
"I shall go to Medicis to ask him if he has any restorations of pictures to give me. By the way, give me five francs."
"To cross the Pont des Arts."
"Two sous to cross a bridge when you can go over another for nothing! That is a useless expense; and, though an inconsiderable one, is a violation of our rule."
"I am wrong, to be sure," said Marcel. "I will take a cab and go by the Pont Neuf."
So the two friends quitted each other in opposite directions, but somehow the different roads brought them to the same place, and they didn't go home till morning.
Two days after, Rodolphe and Marcel were completely metamorphosed. Dressed like two bridegrooms of the best society, they were so elegant, and neat, and shining, that they hardly recognized each other when they met in the street. Still their system of economy was in full blast, though it was not without much difficulty that their "organization of labor" had been realized. They had taken a servant; a big fellow thirty-four years old, of Swiss descent, and about as clever as an average donkey.
But Baptiste was not born to be a servant; he had a soul above his business; and if one of his masters gave him a parcel to carry, he blushed with indignation, and sent it by porter. However, he had some merits; for instance, he could hash hare well and his first profession having been that of distiller, he passed much of his time -- or his masters', rather -- in trying to invent a new kind of liniment; he also succeeded in the preparation of lamp-black. But where he was unrivalled was in smoking Marcel's cigars and lighting them with Rodolphe's manuscripts.
One day Marcel wanted to put Baptiste into costume, and make him sit for Pharaoh in his "Passage of the Red Sea." To this proposition Baptiste replied by a flat refusal, and demanded his wages.
"Very well," said Marcel, "I will settle with you tonight."
When Rodolphe returned, his friends declared that they must send away Baptiste. "He is of no use to us at all."
"No, indeed -- only an ornament, and not much of that."
"And equally lazy."
"We must turn him off."
"Still, he has some good points. He hashes hare very well."
"And the lamp-black! He is a very Raphael for that."
"Yes, but that's all he is good for. We lose time arguing with him."
"He keeps us from working."
"He is the cause of my 'Passage' not being finished in time for the Exhibition. He wouldn't sit for Pharaoh."
"Thanks to him, I couldn't finish my article in time. He wouldn't go to the public library and hunt up the notes I wanted."
"He is ruining us."
"Decidedly we can't keep him."
"Send him away then! But we must pay him."
"That we'll do. Give me the money, and I will settle accounts with him."
"Money! But it is not I who keeps the purse, but you."
"Not at all! It is you who are charged with the financial department."
"But I assure you," said Marcel, "I have no money."
"Can there be no more? It is impossible! We can't have spent five hundred francs in eight days, especially living with the most rigid economy as we have done, and confining ourselves to absolute necessaries: [absolute superfluities, he should have said]. We must look over our accounts; and we shall find where the mistake is."
"Yes, but we shan't find where the money is. However, let us see the account-book, at any rate."
And this is the way they kept their accounts which had been begun under the auspices of Saint Economy:
"March 19. Received 500 francs. Paid, a Turkish pipe, 25 fr.; dinner, 15 fr.; sundries, 40 fr."
"What are those sundries?" asked Rodolphe of Marcel, who was reading.
"You know very well," replied the other, "that night when we didn't go home till morning. We saved fuel and candles by that."
"'March 20. Breakfast, 1 fr. 50 c.; tobacco, 20 c.; dinner, 2 fr.; an opera glass, 2 fr. 50 c.' -- that goes to your account. What did you want a glass for? You see perfectly well."
"You know I had to give an account of the Exhibition in the 'Scarf of Iris.' It is impossible to criticize paintings without a glass. The expense is quite legitimate. Well? --"
"A bamboo cane --"
"Ah, that goes to your account," said Rodolphe. "You didn't want a cane."
"That was all we spent the 20th," was Marcel's only answer. "The 21st we breakfasted out, dined out, and supped out."
"We ought not to have spent much that day."
"Not much, in fact -- hardly thirty francs."
"But what for?"
"I don't know; it's marked sundries."
"Vague and treacherous heading!"
"'21st. (The day that Baptiste came.) 5 francs to him on account of his wages. 50 centimes to the organ man.'"
"23rd. Nothing set down. 24th, ditto. Two good days!"
"'25th. Baptiste, on account, 3 fr.' It seems to me we give him money very often," said Marcel, by way of reflection.
"There will be less owing to him," said Rodolphe. "Go on!"
"'26th. Sundries, useful in an artistic point of view, 36 fr.'"
"What did we buy that was useful? I don't recollect. What can it have been?"
"You don't remember! The day we went to the top of Notre Dame for a bird's-eye view of Paris."
"But it costs only eight sous to go up the tower."
"Yes, but then we went to dine at Saint Germain after we came down."
"Clear as mud!"
"27th. Nothing to set down."
"Good! There's economy for you."
"'28th. Baptiste, on account, 6 fr.'"
"Now this time I am sure we owe Baptiste nothing more. Perhaps he is even in our debt. We must see."
"29th. Nothing set down, except the beginning of an article on 'Social Morals.'"
"30th. Ah! We had company at dinner -- heavy expenses the 30th, 55 fr. 31st. -- that's today -- we have spent nothing yet. You see," continued Marcel, "the account has been kept very carefully, and the total does not reach five hundred francs."
"Then there ought to be money in the drawer."
"We can see," said Marcel, opening it.
"Yes, a spider."
"A spider in the morning
Of sorrow is a warning."
"Where the deuce has all the money gone?" exclaimed Marcel, totally upset at the sight of the empty drawer.
"Very simple," replied Rodolphe. "Baptiste has had it all."
"Stop a minute!" cried Marcel, rummaging in the drawer, where he perceived a paper. "The bill for last quarter's rent!"
"How did it come there?"
"And paid, too," added Marcel. "You paid the landlord, then!"
"Me! Come now!" said Rodolphe.
"But what means --"
"But I assure you --"
"Oh, what can be this mystery?" sang the two in chorus to the final air of "The White Lady."
Baptiste, who loved music, came running in at once. Marcel showed him the paper.
"Ah, yes," said Baptiste carelessly, "I forgot to tell you. The landlord came this morning while you were out. I paid him, to save him the trouble of coming back."
"Where did you find the money?"
"I took it out of the open drawer. I thought, sir, you had left it open on purpose, and forgot to tell me to pay him, so I did just as if you had told me."
"Baptiste!" said Marcel, in a white heat, "you have gone beyond your orders. From this day you cease to form part of our household. Take off your livery!"
Baptiste took off the glazed leather cap which composed his livery, and handed it to Marcel.
"Very well," said the latter, "now you may go."
"And my wages?"
"Wages? You scamp! You have had fourteen francs in a little more than a week. What do you do with so much money? Do you keep a dancer?"
A rope dancer?" suggested Rodolphe.
"Than I am to be left," said the unhappy domestic, "without a covering for my head!"
"Take your livery," said Marcel, moved in spite of himself, and he restored the cap to Baptiste.
"Yet it is that wretch who has wrecked our fortunes," said Rodolphe, seeing poor Baptiste go out. "Where shall we dine today?"
"We shall know tomorrow," replied Marcel.