him along," we cried, tickled at the idea of a garçon
de marchand de vins being a musician as well.
"Jean," he called out, "venez faire un peu de musique pour
ces dames et messieurs."
An extremely good looking young fellow of about twenty
appeared in his shirt sleeves. After a little ironical and
jocular persuading on our part, for it seemed to us too
funny for words, and he must have known we were laughing at
him, he sat down to the instrument. I shall never forget the
look on the faces of my companions as soon as he commenced.
He was a born musician — a positive genius. We all looked at
each other and stood spellbound. The joke, if any, was on
his side now. Without faltering, and yet in the most modest
manner, he played a most complicated morceau by Chopin, a
piece one would have expected to hear at a concert. When he
had finished there was a great outburst of genuine applause.
Our fun at his expense was changed to amazement, and we
crowded round him, all anxious to know how and where he had
managed to attain his marvelous ability; and learned to our
surprise that he was quite self-taught. He told us that he
hoped one day to get into the Conservatoire of Music if he
could manage to save up sufficient money. From this moment
he was the center of attraction, to the ladies particularly
— and he played and played to their hearts' content, for his
repertoire appeared limitless.
The patron meanwhile stood by with an air of pride.
"What did I tell you!" he exclaimed. "I knew I was not
Some of us had a talk with him aside, and he told us the
young fellow — who was not a Parisian — had only been with
him a short time; that he had a good reference when he came,
but beyond that he knew nothing about him. Then, turning to
the rest of the party, he made the good-humored but curious
suggestion that as he was about to close we might like to
take the musician with us and show him a bit of the
Quartier, as he was new to Paris. We could not well refuse
after having been thus entertained, so we got him to come
along; and when he had put on his coat and hat he looked a
very gentle-manly and well-bred young fellow, and we almost
got jealous of the attentions the ladies lavished on him. A
few days later I was passing the wine shop and noticed the
patron standing at the door; when he saw me he called out
laughingly, "What have you done with my garçon?"
I stopped to ask what he meant — when, to my surprise, he
informed me that he had not seen the garçon since the
evening we had taken him away with us. I assured him I knew
nothing whatever of his whereabouts, and was much astonished
at his mysterious disappearance. That evening I learned that
one of our friends had been so much impressed with the
extraordinary talent of the youth, that he had interested
himself on his behalf, and forthwith gave him an
introduction to one of the leading men of the Conservatoire;
his career, therefore, as a garçon de café was
ended, for he had been taken up by a rich man, and would be
able in future to carry out his cherished desire to study
music seriously. This is a great many years ago. The
erstwhile garçon de café is now one of the
greatest pianists of the world.
That Christmas was very lively. On one occasion a lot of us
had dined together and had gone on to the Élysee
Montmartre later, as there was a fête on. We were all
in great spirits, and went round afterwards and finished up
the evening, or rather what was left of the night, at a
friend's studio close by in the Rue Bochard de Saron. There
was quite a little crowd of us, and several pretty models
also. We had invited ourselves, as we knew there was a
piano. Our friend had told us he had nothing to offer us in
the shape of refreshment — probably to put us off, as it was
a bit late even for the Quartier — but we were not to be got
rid of so easily. We all armed ourselves with bottles of
wine, saucisses, cheese, fruit and bread, which we bought at
the café — all that one could want for an impromptu
supper; after which we formed up in mock military formation
on the Boulevard, someone took command, then to the
accompaniment of a cheery march, which we sang in chorus, we
all stepped out in grand style.
I have often thought since how absolutely impossible such
goings-on would have been in staid old London — even in the
most artistic quarter — five or six years ago; only fancy
such a procession at three in the morning in, let us say, St
John's Wood. One can imagine the dénouement, and
where it would have taken place. But in those days in
Montmartre the police seldom interfered with artists, unless
it was for some very flagrant breach of the regulations. And
singing or, rather, making a noise at night, was not
considered a very serious offence, especially during the
festive season. The ebullition of youth did not suffer much
restriction at the hands of the law, therefore, so long as
it did not go too far.
Well, we got to the studio, and fixed up quite an imposing
supper table with what we had brought with us in the way of
food and liquid. It made quite a great display. We then
discovered, however, the reason for our friend's reticence
in inviting us to his studio for the supper, as he suddenly
remembered that he had broken his only glass that afternoon,
and had no plates or knives and forks. Everything was down
in the country — so he said. This was a bit of a shock; but
a la guerre comme à la guerre, and we were preparing
to "pig it" when someone exclaimed "Eureka," and pointed to
the pottery and swords and bayonets decorating the walls. In
spite of our host's protests that they were thick with the
dust of ages, down they came; the girls wiped them on a
towel, and with an old china bowl as a loving-cup we sat
down to the banquet. It was indeed an artistic arrangement,
the swords and bayonets serving as knives and forks, a sheet
as a tablecloth, and towels as napkins.
We were a boisterous and merry crew, and very soon the girls
were somewhat in a state of dishabille. I may here mention
that I was always a bit of a ventriloquist; and whilst we
were in the midst of the banquet, and the studio resounding
with laughter, it suddenly occurred to me to knock loudly on
the entrance-door, which was immediately at my back. This
was easily done with the hilt of a sword which I held behind
me; no one noticed my movement.
Immediately the din ceased.
"What's that?" the women whispered, nervously arranging
their disordered attire.
I again knocked in a peremptory manner.
Our host held up his hand to enjoin our keeping silent; then
Everyone naturally looked towards the door, not knowing what
was going to happen next, for it was no friendly knock I had
given. I turned also — which, of course, hid any movement of
"I am the Commissaire of Police; open in the name of the
law," I called out, making my. voice appear to come from
outside, and then looked round to see the effect of my joke.
It was magical, and surpassed anything of the kind I had
ever attempted before. I could not have believed it possible
for people to be taken in so completely. Consternation was
on every face. Our friend whispered hurriedly:
"Let's gather up all the things; he must not see I've been
having a party. And you girls had better go and hide
somewhere in my room or in the kitchen. Someone has
evidently been to the police station and made a complaint
about the row at this time of night. I was afraid it would
I could hardly keep my countenance, but I managed to give
another and still louder knock — and called out:
"Allons, ouvrez je vous dis."
At this the girls nearly went into hysterics, and made a
wild scramble for the inner room; and the men hastily
collected the remains of the feast. They all seemed to lose
their heads — for why, I couldn't make out, for a moment's
reflection would have convinced them that we were not
breaking the law by having an impromptu supper-party with
some models in a studio.
Emboldened by the success of my joke, I called out in a
brave tone to the imaginary Commissaire: " ll right; don't
be angry, Monsieur. I am going to open the door directly";
and was about to suit the action to my words when to my
further amazement, my friend, who was a very powerful chap,
rushed forward, and seizing me roughly by the arms, held me
back, saying in a voice harsh with excitement:
"Are you mad? Do you want to get us all into trouble? You
mustn't open the door till the girls are out of the way!"
I pretended to struggle with him; at the same time calling
out again loudly to the Commissaire that I was going to open
the door, but my comrade would not let me. This time a heavy
hand was placed over my mouth to prevent me saying more. I
felt it was time to conclude my entertainment, or I might
get hurt. I wrenched myself free, and, roaring with
laughter, told them that it was only a little joke of mine.
"A joke," they all repeated — and the girls peeped in at the
door on hearing the word "plaisanterie." "Where does the
joke come in? Please don't make a fool of yourself; we don't
want to get into the hands of the police if you do."
Never had I dreamed that my humble effort could have been so
successful. It was only with the greatest difficulty that I
convinced them that there really was no one outside. It was
the funniest joke I ever attempted — and for a long while
after it was talked about, and I was continually being
called upon to speak to strangers who had got lost up the
chimney, or locked in dark cellars, and couldn't get out.
All our joking did not, however, always end so happily. On
one occasion there might have been an unpleasantness if not
tragedy. It came about this wise.
Several of us were in the Nouvelle Athènes one
evening when someone, who was reading a paper, remarked that
there appeared to be quite an epidemic of dueling in Paris
at the time. One read of duels in the papers every day.
"It's all an advertisement," said someone else; "no one ever
gets hurt, or very seldom at any rate."
This led to a lively discussion on the easy way a man could
gain a reputation for being a duelist and a man of great
"It's the simplest thing in the world; you've only got to
arrange everything carefully and systematically beforehand —
a public insult, exchange of cards, appointment of seconds,
meeting arranged, then two shots fired at the regulation
distance but with blank cartridge — and honneur est
satisfaite. The adversaries shake hands and go off with
their seconds to a nice little lunch somewhere — and all the
papers would speak about the affaire."
The idea struck us all as being so original and fraught with
such possibilities that someone suggested what a splendid
joke it would be to have a duel in our own set. The idea was
taken up with enthusiasm; and we started to arrange the
details for it to come off that evening. It was settled that
we should draw lots to decide who were to be the principals.
Every part in connection with the duel was written on small
pieces of paper, put into a hat, and we agreed to abide by
the result. I drew one of the " seconds," someone else "the
doctor," and so on. The principals turned out to be two
burly fellows who would look very impressive in their role.
When this was done, a long discussion ensued as to the most
effective and theatrical way of bringing about the spoof
result. This was somewhat difficult to decide on, but at
length it was settled that the two principals should be
sitting playing picquet in a café and a quarrel
should occur between them; we would all interfere, and then
suddenly one of them would spring up and pretend to smack
the other across the mouth, whereupon he would instantly
produce his card and hand it across the table, saying that
his seconds would wait on his aggressor the following day.
It worked out capitally; we had a dress rehearsal there and
then — and were so elated at its realism that we decided to
carry it out at once; and one of our party, a journalist,
promised to send an account of the "incident" at once to the
papers, so as to prepare the public for a bloodthirsty duel.
I forgot to mention that the man who had drawn the paper
which assigned to him the part of the insulted party was a
somewhat peppery and very conceited individual, just the
sort of chap who would be likely to get into trouble.
Well, off we started for the cafe, where the preliminary
proceedings in the way of the smack in the face and exchange
of cards were to take place.
We had chosen one some little distance away — in order to
run no risk of meeting anyone likely to know us. As we went
along we rehearsed our various parts. At last we arrived at
the café, and just as we were going in the "insulted"
party, who had been very silent as we came along, suddenly
stopped us and said, "Let's clearly understand what I've got
to do — so as not to make any mistake."
"Well, it's very easy to remember," replied his "aggressor."
"You call me a sacré couillon or anything worse than
that if you can think of anything; I jump up and smack you
across the mouth and you then pull out your card and hand it
"After I've hit you back?"
"Of course not — you don't hit me at all; that's part of the
compact that leads to the duel."
"Oh, don't I? Well, I'm not going to let you hit me without
returning it, compact or no compact — so I warn you. I'll
hand you my card afterwards."
That duel was off.
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