CHAPTER VIII

THE COST OF A FIVE FRANC PIECE

One Saturday evening, at a time when he had not yet gone into housekeeping with Mademoiselle Mimi, who will shortly make her appearance, Rodolphe made the acquaintance at the table d'hote he frequented of a ladies' wardrobe keeper, named Mademoiselle Laure. Having learned that he was editor of "The Scarf of Iris" and of "The Beaver," two fashion papers, the milliner, in hope of getting her goods puffed, commenced a series of significant provocations. To these provocations Rodolphe replied by a pyrotechnical display of madrigals, sufficient to make Benserade, Voiture, and all other dealers in the fireworks of gallantry jealous; and at the end of the dinner, Mademoiselle Laure, having learned that he was a poet, gave him clearly to understand that she was not indisposed to accept him as her Petrarch. She even, without circumlocution, made an appointment with him for the next day.

"By Jove," said Rodolphe to himself, as he saw Mademoiselle Laure home, "this is certainly a very amiable young person. She seems to me to have a good grammar and a tolerably extensive wardrobe. I am quite disposed to make her happy."

On reaching the door of her house, Mademoiselle Laure relinquished Rodolphe's arm, thanking him for the trouble he had taken in accompanying her to such a remote locality.

"Oh! madame," replied Rodolphe, bowing to the ground, "I should like you to have lived at Moscow or the islands of the Sound, in order to have had the pleasure of being your escort the longer."

"That would be rather far," said Laure, affectedly.

"We could have gone by way of the Boulevards, madame," said Rodolphe. "Allow me to kiss you hand in the shape of your cheek," he added, kissing his companion on the lips before Laure could make any resistance.

"Oh sir!" she exclaimed, "you go too fast."

"It is to reach my destination sooner," said Rodolphe. "In love, the first stages should be ridden at a gallop."

"What a funny fellow," though the milliner, as she entered her dwelling.

"A pretty girl," said Rodolphe, as he walked away.

Returning home, he went to bed at once, and had the most delightful dreams. He saw himself at balls, theaters, and public promenades with Mademoiselle Laure on his arm, clad in dresses more magnificent than those of the girl with the ass's skin of the fairy tale.

The next morning at eleven o'clock, according to habit, Rodolphe got up. His first thought was for Mademoiselle Laure.

"She is a very well mannered woman," he murmured, "I feel sure that she was brought up at Saint Denis. I shall at length realize the happiness of having a mistress who is not pitted with the samll-pox. Decidedly I will make sacrifices for her. I will go and draw my screw at 'The Scarf of Iris.' I will buy some gloves, and I will take Laure to dinner at a restaurant where table napkins are in use. My coat is not up to much," said he as he dressed himself, "but, bah! black is good wear."

And he went out to go to the office of "The Scarf of Iris."

Crossing the street he came across an omnibus, on the side of which was pasted a bill, with the words, "Display of Fountains at Versailles, today, Sunday."

A thunderbolt falling at Rodolphe's feet would not have produced aa deeper impression upon him than the sight of this bill.

"Today, Sunday! I had forgotten it," he exclaimed. "I shall not be able to get any money. Today, Sunday!!! All the spare coin in Paris is on its way to Versailles."

However, impelled by one of those fabulous hopes to which a man always clings, Rodolphe hurried to the office of the paper, reckoning that some happy chance might have taken the cashier there.

Monsieur Boniface had, indeed, looked in for a moment, but had left at once.

"For Versailles," said the office messenger to Rodolphe.

"Come," said Rodolphe, "it is all over!...But let me see," he thought, "my appointment is for this evening. It is noon, so I have five hours to find five francs in -- twenty sous an hour, like the horses in the Bois du Boulogne. Forward."

As he found himself in a neighborhood where the journalist, whom he styled the influential critic, resided, Rodolphe thought of having a try at him.

"I am sure to find him in," said he, as he ascended the stairs, "it is the day he writes his criticism -- there is no fear of his being out. I will borrow five francs of him."

"Hallo! it's you, is it?" said the journalist, on seeing Rodolphe. "You come at the right moment. I have a slight service to ask of you."

"How lucky it falls out," thought the editor of "The Scarf of Iris."

"Were you at the Odeon Theater last night?"

"I am always at the Odeon."

"You have seen the new piece, then?"

"Who else would have seen it? I am the Odeon audience."

"That is true," said the critic, "you are one of the caryatides of the theater. It is even rumored that it is you who finds the money for its subvention. Well, that is what I want of you, a summary of the plot of the new piece."

"That is easy, I have the memory of a creditor."

"Whom is this piece by?" asked the critic of Rodolphe, whilst the latter was writing.

"A gentleman."

"It cannot be up to much."

"Well, it is not as strong as a Turk."

"Then it cannot be very robust. The Turks, you see, have usurped a reputation for strength. Besides, there are no longer any Turks except at masked balls and in the Champs-Elysees where they sell dates. One of my friends knows the East and he assures me that all the natives of it were born in the Rue Coquenard."

"That is smart," said Rodolphe.

"You think so?" observed the critic, "I will put it in my article."

"Here is my analysis of the piece, it is to the point," resumed Rodolphe.

"Yes, but it is short."

"By putting in dashes and developing your critical opinion it will fill some space."

"I have scarcely time, my dear fellow, and then my critical opinion will not fill enough space either."

"You can stick in an adjective at every third word."

"Cannot you tail on to your analysis a little, or rather a long criticism of the piece, eh?" asked the critic.

"Humph," said Rodolphe. "I have certainly some opinions upon tragedy, but I have printed them three times in 'The Beaver' and 'The Scarf of Iris.'"

"No matter, how many lines do your opinions fill?"

"Forty lines."

"The deuce, you have strong opinions. Well, lend me your forty lines."

"Good," thought Rodolphe, "if I turn out twenty francs' worth of copy for him he cannot refuse me five. I must warn you," said he to the critic, "that my opinions are not quite novel. They are rather worn at the elbows. Before printing them I yelled them in every cafe in Paris, there is not a waiter who does not know them by heart."

"What does that matter to me? You surely do not know me. Is there anything new in the world except virtue?"

"Here you are," said Rodolphe, as he finished.

"Thunder and tempests, there is still nearly a column wanting. How is this chasm to be filled?" exclaimed the critic. "Since you are here supply me with some paradoxes."

"I have not any about me," said Rodolphe, "though I can lend you some. Only they are not mine, I bought them for half a franc from one of my friends who was in distress. They have seen very little use as yet."

"Very good," said the critic.

"Ah!" said Rodolphe to himself, setting to write again. "I shall certainly ask him for ten francs, just now paradoxes are as dear as partridges." And he wrote some thirty lines containing nonsense about pianos, goldfish and Rhine wine, which was called toilet wine just as we speak of toilet vinegar.

"It is very good," said the critic. "Now do me the favor to add that the place where one meets more honest folk than anywhere else is the galleys."

"Why?"

"To fill a couple of lines. Good, now it is finished," said the influential critic, summoning his servant to take the article to the printers.

"And now," thought Rodolphe, "let us strike home." And he gravely proposed his request.

"Ah! my dear fellow," said the critic, "I have not a sou in the place. Lolette ruins me in pommade, and just now she stripped me of my last copper to go to Versailles and see the Nereids and the brazen monsters spout forth the floods."

"To Versailles. But it is an epidemic!" exclaimed Rodolphe.

"But why do you want money?"

"That is my story," replied Rodolphe, "I have at five this evening an appointment with a lady, a very well bred lady who never goes out save in an omnibus. I wish to unite my fortunes with hers for a few days, and it appears to me the right thing to enable her to take the pleasures of this life. For dinner, dances, &c., &c., I must have five francs, and if I do not find them French literature is dishonoured in my person."

"Why don't you borrow the sum of the lady herself?" exclaimed the critic.

"The first time of meeting, it is hardly possible. Only you can get me out of this fix."

"By all the mummies of Egypt I give you my word of honor that I have not enough to buy a sou pipe. However, I have some books that you can sell."

"Impossible today, Mother Mansut's, Lebigre's, and all the shops on the quays and in the Rue Saint Jacques are closed. What books are they? Volumes of poetry with a portrait of the author in spectacles? But such things never sell."

"Unless the author is criminally convicted," said the critic. "Wait a bit, here are some romances and some concert tickets. By setting about it skillfully you may, perhaps, make money of them."

"I would rather have something else, a pair of trowsers, for instance."

"Come," said the critic, "take this copy of Bossuet and this plaster cast of Monsieur Odilon Barrot. On my word of honor, it is the widow's mite."

"I see that you are doing your best," said Rodolphe. "I will take away these treasures, but if I get thirty sous out of them I shall regard it as the thirteenth labor of Hercules."

After having covered about four leagues Rodolphe, by the aid of an eloquence of which he had the secret on great occasions, succeeded in getting his washerwoman to lend him two francs on the volumes of poetry, the romances and the bust of Monsieur Barrot.

"Come," said he, as he recrossed the Seine, "here is the sauce, now I must find the dish itself. Suppose I go to my uncle."

Half an hour later he was at his Uncle Monetti's, who read upon his nephew's face what was the matter. Hence he put himself on guard and forestalled any request by a series of complaints, such as:

"Times are hard, bread is dear, debtors do not pay up, rents are terribly high, commerce decaying, &c., &c.," all the hypocritical litany of shopkeepers.

"Would you believe it," said the uncle, "that I have been forced to borrow money from my shopman to meet a bill?"

"You should have sent to me," said Rodolphe. "I would have lent it you, I received two hundred francs three days ago."

"Thanks, my lad," said the uncle, "but you have need of your fortune. Ah! whilst you are here, you might, you who write such a good hand, copy out some bills for me that I want to send out."

"My five francs are going to cost me dear," said Rodolphe to himself, setting about the task, which he condensed.

"My dear uncle," said he to Monetti, "I know how fond you are of music and I have brought you some concert tickets."

"You are very kind, my boy. Will you stay to dinner?"

"Thanks, uncle, but I am expected at dinner in the Faubourg Saint Germain, indeed, I am rather put out about it for I have not time to run home and get the money to buy gloves."

"You have no gloves, shall I lend you mine?" said his uncle.

"Thanks, we do not take the same size, only you would greatly oblige me by the loan of --"

"Twenty nine sous to buy a pair? Certainly, my boy, here you are. When one goes into society one should be well dressed. Better be envied than pitied, as your aunt used to say. Come, I see you are getting on in the world, so much the better. I would have given you more," he went on, "but it is all I have in the till. I should have to go upstairs and I cannot leave the shop, customers drop in every moment."

"You were saying that business was not flourishing?"

Uncle Monetti pretended not to hear, and said to his nephew who was pocketing the twenty nine sous:

"Do not be in a hurry about repayment."

"What a screw," said Rodolphe, bolting. "Ah!" he continued, "there are still thirty one sous lacking. Where am I to find them? I know, let's be off to the crossroads of Providence."

This was the name bestowed by Rodolphe on the most central point in Paris, that is to say, the Palais Royal, a spot where it is almost impossible to remain ten minutes without meeting ten people of one's acquaintance, creditors above all. Rodolphe therefore went and stationed himself at the entrance to the Palais Royal. This time Providence was long in coming. At last Rodolphe caught sight of it. Providence had a white hat, a green coat, and a gold headed cane -- a well dressed Providence.

It was a rich and obliging fellow, although a phalansterian.

"I am delighted to see you," said he to Rodolphe, "come and walk a little way with me; we can have a talk."

"So I am to have the infliction of the phalanstere," murmured Rodolphe, suffering himself to be led away from the wearer of the white hat, who, indeed, phalanstered him to the utmost.

As they drew near the Pont des Arts Rodolphe said to his companion --

"I must leave you, not having sufficient to pay the toll."

"Nonsense," said the other, catching hold of Rodolphe and throwing two sous to the toll keeper.

"This is the right moment," thought the editor of "The Scarf of Iris," as they crossed the bridge. Arrived at the further end in front of the clock of the Institute, Rodolphe stopped short, pointed to the dial with a despairing gesture, and exclaimed: --

"Confound it all, a quarter to five! I am done for."

"What is the matter?" cried his astonished friend.

"The matter is," said Rodolphe, "that, thanks to your dragging me here in spite of myself, I have missed an appointment."

"An important one?"

"I should think so; money that I was to call for at five o'clock at --Batignolles. I shall never be able to get there. Hang it; what am I to do?"

"Why," said the phalansterian, "nothing is simpler; come home with me and I will lend you some."

"Impossible, you live at Montrouge, and I have business at six o'clock at the Chaussee d'Antin. Confound it."

"I have a trifle about me," said Providence, timidly, "but it is very little."

"If I had enough to take a cab I might get to Batignolles in time."

"Here is the contents of my purse, my dear fellow, thirty one sous."

"Give it to me at once, that I may bolt," said Rodolphe, who had just heard five o'clock strike, and who hastened off to keep his appointment.

"It has been hard to get," said he, counting out his money. "A hundred sous exactly. At last I am supplied, and Laure will see that she has to do with a man who knows how to do things properly. I won't take a centime home this evening. We must rehabilitate literature, and prove that its votaries only need money to be wealthy."

Rodolphe found Mademoiselle Laure at the trysting place.

"Good," said he, "for punctuality she is a feminine chronometer."

He spent the evening with her, and bravely melted down his five francs in the crucible of prodigality. Mademoiselle Laure was charmed with his manners, and was good enough only to notice that Rodolphe had not escorted her home at the moment when he was ushering her into his own room.

I am committing a fault," said she. "Do not make me repent of it by the ingratitude which is characteristic of your sex."

"Madame," said Rodolphe, "I am known for my constancy. It is such that all my friends are astonished at my fidelity, and have nicknamed me the General Bertrand of Love."


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