Some strange examples of Bohemianism — The hidden treasure — An unexpected meeting after several years — A pathetic story — The dead child — Another incident — A bad-tempered, jealous woman and a meek artist — The worm turns at last — A dramatic ending to collage — Perverted Bohemianism — The young student and the married woman — Ruin and disgrace — The usurers of the Quartier Latin — Their hunting-ground and their agents — The spider and the fly — Speculative risks of money-lenders — Cherchez la femme — Contrast between Paris and London — Student life

WHILST I was living in Montmartre I came across some strange examples of Bohemianism amongst the artists. Here is one, for instance, which I think would be hard to beat; anyhow, it proves, if nothing else, that truth is often more curious than fiction.

A painter I knew very well was living en ménage with a petite amie in a small studio on the Boulevard de Clichy. He was one of the lucky ones to this extent, that he had a small income of his own — very small, but sufficient to prevent him from starving. Still, he ad to be very careful indeed; otherwise he had great difficulty in getting through every quarter till his next remittance arrived. Occasionally, however, he was lucky enough to earn a little extra with a portrait or with a black-and-white drawing; and on these occasions, with the usual insouciance of the artist, he would have a "bust up" — "Il s'en payait pendant quelques jours," as he used to put it. And he and his amie would have a real good time whilst the unexpected funds lasted. It was no doubt stupid; but, as I have said, he could never actually starve whatever happened, so there was no particular reason for him to save money.

Well, it was shortly after one of these festive occasions and when the quarter was barely commenced, that he found himself "dans la puree la plus épaisse." It was Carnival time, and the money had simply melted away, and one morning, after an especially lurid night of revelry, he found himself confronted with a peremptory demand from his propriétaire for the rent of the studio without delay — and he had not got the wherewithal to meet it. As a rule, his landlord was not in a hurry for his money; but this time he was not inclined to be lenient. He had just received a letter from a rich uncle from whom he had expectations saying he would be in Paris shortly after, and that inspired confidence in the future; but the immediate present had to be dealt with — what should he do? His landlord, as he knew from experience, was one of those obdurate individuals who, when they take it into their heads to collect the rent due to them, know no delay; and it may here be mentioned that in France the law gives the landlord full power to evict, if he is so minded, within a few minutes of rent becoming due.

The concierge, who usually acts as his agent and collects the rent, waited patiently for a little while, and then said that unless the money was forthcoming by midday he would have to report to the landlord and an eviction would be put in. What was to be done ? My friend's first impulse was to rush out and endeavor to borrow the money from some of his pals — and started off at once on what turned out to be, as may be imagined, a futile expedition, as they were none of them much better situated than he was. He returned to the studio full of wild ideas of suicide, and so forth; for an eviction meant that all his worldly belongings must go.

He and his amie sat and gazed at each other in mute despair. This then was the end of their little love dream — to be turned into the street and with nowhere to go to for the sake of this paltry sum for the rent. Could nothing be done to avert the disaster? — For if it happened and his uncle arrived to find him in such a plight it was certain that all expectations in his will would be quashed. A strait-laced provincial such as he was would never forgive such a disgrace on the part of a nephew.

The time went by on wings, and it was already eleven o'clock; only one hour now separated them from the dreaded dénouement — yet they were no nearer getting the money than they were to the moon. His amie went and sat on his knee and affectionately placing her arm round his neck, kissed him tenderly and hinted at the sweetness of their dying together. Their tears mingled. Suddenly she gave a little shriek, and jumping up rushed to the corner of the studio, and with an exclamation of wild delight, held up a golden louis she had seen shining on the floor.

Here was indeed a bit of luck, for, at any rate, it was something towards the necessary sum; but how it had come there, for it was certainly unusual to find money lying on the floor of a studio. Who could have dropped it? No artist friend and no one likely to possess superfluous wealth had been there for days.

All of a sudden my friend gave a positive yell of delight. "We are saved," he called out, "saved."

"How?" asked his amie in an amazed tone.

"Yes, saved," he repeated excitedly, and embracing her joyfully. "There's enough not only to pay the rent, but to have a bit over — here in the studio."

"In the studio," she reiterated, with a thoroughly puzzled air.

"Yes, we've only got to look for it — it's here for the finding." Then he explained how some months previously he had had an unexpected slice of good-luck and had made several hundred francs, and was so elated at his sudden accession to wealth that the idea had occurred to him to lay by a certain amount against a rainy day; and as he had no place where he had considered the money would be quite safe, and where he could not get at it too easily, he had suddenly conceived the extraordinary idea of putting it in odd places haphazard about the studio, so that when he was hard up there would be a certain amount of sport in hunting for it. He had carried out his idea by shutting his eyes and throwing a louis here, a ten-franc piece there, and so on, till he had practically hidden a couple of hundreds francs in this way. As he did not employ a femme de ménage, and no one came into the studio but his amie, the floor, dirty though it was, was therefore under the circumstances a veritable mine of riches. The curious part of the affair was that he had completely forgotten the existence of this hoard until the louis had providentially turned up.

When the concierge returned shortly before midday for the rent, the look of astonishment on his face may be imagined when he found the pair on their hands and knees on the floor, covered with dirt, and groping here and there and everywhere in feverish haste amongst the rubbish with which the studio was littered. When, however, he learned the reason of it all his astonishment turned to amusement, and he good-naturedly offered to give them another hour or so to enable them to find the requisite amount, as it was still a few francs short; but even whilst he was speaking it turned up, and so "la situation êtait sauvée," as he put it.

Bohemianism in Paris, however, had often a pathetic aspect, and at times revealed depth of character that would perhaps have never been known to exist had the conditions of living been otherwise. This was more frequently noticeable in the women; possibly for the reason that with the men their life in the Quartier was but a passing stage, as it were, and seldom left any lasting impression. A pretty girl, a broken heart, were of but small import when the grande question of one's career was to the fore. I recollect a particularly touching incident in this connection.

I was dining one day at a large brasserie with a friend who had not long returned from the Colonies. He was a government engineer and many years my senior, but somehow in spite of the disparity of our ages we had become great pals, and frequently went about together. We had not long been seated when a waiter came up to my friend and told him that a lady at a table near us was trying to attract his attention. Naturally we both looked in her direction, and I saw a very pretty young woman smile towards my friend and wave her hand in greeting. To my surprise, on seeing her, he gave a sort of gasp as though he had received a shock, and although he stood up and genially returned her salutation, I could see he was deadly pale and looked terribly upset at the meeting. As the lady was dining with a gentleman whom he evidently did not know, there was of course no excuse for him to go across to her table. When he resumed his seat he gulped down a glass of water and muttered half aloud:

"Who would have thought of coming across her here after all these years?"

I said nothing, feeling it was best for him to tell me anything he cared to. I had no desire to intrude on his privacy. He was silent for some minutes, then turned to me and said:

"You must excuse me, mon vieux, for being so distrait, but it is plus fort que moi. I cannot help it; you cannot imagine all she was to me once, and to see her with another man upsets me beyond words, although it is many years since I last saw her."

"You were very fond of her then?" I remarked.

"Yes indeed; and I believe she cared more for me than anyone else in the world."

"Then how did you come to break it off?"

"Well, my father got to hear of my liaison and determined to end it, though I did not realize it then; so when my time was up at the École Polytechnique, he got me, through the influence of a friend at the Ministere, a mission d'étude de mines in the Sénêgal, and as I was absolutely dependent on my allowance I had no alternative but to accept. I was to be away for three years — with the possibility of a good Colonial post to follow. Marcelle, that's the name of the little girl over there, was naturally very upset, but was too good-hearted and sensible to wish to stand in the way of my getting on in my career; but — here was the trouble — she was in a certain condition, and I was far too fond of her to leave her in any doubt with regard to the future — so I arranged that she should receive a certain sum every month through a great friend of mine. She was not an extravagant girl, so there would be ample for her needs, whatever happened.

"Well, I went off, and was away in the interior several months, where no letters could reach me. At last I got back to the coast, and amongst a packet of correspondence were several from her, in which she told me how much she missed me — and hoped I would come back to her safely; and then another in which she wrote that our child had been born, but had only lived for three months, that after its death she had decided to go back to her parents in the country — that they had forgiven her everything; and she ended by wishing me good luck and so on. A long letter, brimming over with affection; but somehow I had an idea, on reading it, that there was something in her mind — something that the mere words did not express. I had heard of a woman's nature changing under certain conditions; and so it turned out in this instance, for that was the last letter I received from her, although I wrote time after time."

There was a long pause, and then he suddenly added, as though he had been recalling his souvenirs, "You have no idea, mon vieux, how one suffers when one is far away and in the wilds, and one is waiting for a letter from someone one loves and it never comes; the days drag on with maddening slowness — and then the mail again arrives and still there is nothing. One is so helpless, for what can one do? — nothing but hope on against hope. And so it was with me, and the years passed by with no further sign. She might have been dead for all I knew. And at last when I got leave and returned to France and Paris, my first idea was to seek her. I had been thinking it over for so many months in the long days in the bush — and was so looking forward to our meeting; but she had left no address, and I had no notion where her parents lived — except that it was somewhere near Chaumont, a very vague indication. Besides which I knew the name she went by at the theater was not her own. Well, the time passed by and my leave was up, and I went back to the coast for another spell, and stayed away two years; and here I am de retour — and we suddenly meet like this. Strange, is it not?"

I agreed with him that it certainly was very extraordinary after their affectionate relationship, and took a furtive glance towards the lady who had taken such a hold on his life. She was certainly very pretty and evidently a charming personality as well. Her companion was a young fellow almost of her own age, and appeared to be devoted to her; and that there had been no secret in her knowing my friend was evident by the manner in which he frankly looked in our direction. We had not yet finished our dinner when I saw them getting up to leave, and she beckoned to my companion to go over and speak to her. He went
with alacrity, his face beaming. I carefully refrained from looking at their meeting, as I did not wish to appear inquisitive; but I could not help noticing that her companion walked on so as to leave her alone.

My friend was not gone long, and when he returned to his seat I noticed his eyes were full of tears.

"It's all over," he said in a hoarse voice. "That's her husband with her — she's been married nearly three years. I asked her why she had not written again and she told me she had thought it best when the child died that our liaison should end, so that I should be quite free. Quite free!" he repeated bitterly, talking to himself. "Why should she have thought that — when I was always thinking of her? And then," he continued, turning to me, "she showed me a little locket she said she wears always, and in which is a lock of our child's hair. She was passionately devoted to her baby and was very ill after it died. I wanted her to come and see me now and again as old friends, but she refused — 'the past was buried' she told me significantly; and her husband is too good to her for her to wish to cause him pain — in fact he knew all about it, and had allowed her to speak to me, as he trusted her implicitly. She had felt she wanted to shake hands with me and tell me how pleased she was to hear I was back safely and doing so well in my work; but we must not speak to each other again. Nothing I could say would change her resolve. Then she said she must not keep her husband waiting, so must say good-bye and run away. Then just as she was going she came back and told me, in a low tone, with tears in her eyes: 'Do you know, dear, that if he had lived he would have been seven years old now; it was the anniversary of his death last week, and I came up to Paris specially so that I could go and put some flowers on his grave, as I have done every year, and as I shall always do.' "

His voice sunk to a hoarse whisper, thick with deep emotion, and I had to turn away to avoid letting him see how deeply his story had affected me also.

Of course it was somewhat exceptional to meet girls of this description, and I knew several men whose lives were simply little hells owing to the temperament of the women they had got inextricably mixed up with — one in particular who could scarcely call his soul his own. His maîtresse was extravagant to such a degree that although he was fairly well off he was always hard up, and had to have recourse to all sorts of shifts to get money to satisfy her wants principally. If she saw anything she took a fancy to, she was like a child crying for a toy; she must have it— otherwise there was a row, and he was all that was mean and contemptible, for she could come out under very slight provocation with language that would have shocked a dame des halles. Added to this, she was of so jealous a nature that she actually interfered with his work and forbade him to have models in his studio under any pretext. She would scratch his face at one moment, and then when she saw him bleeding would seize hold of him and devour him with kisses. She was what is aptly termed in France une femme impossible.

"She Was Of So Jealous A

I recollect lunching with him at his studio on one occasion, when there came a ring at the bell; immediately I could see her prick up her ears, so to speak — and when the femme de ménage called him out to see the visitor it was a sign for trouble. Although I endeavored to engage her in conversation whilst he was out of the room I could plainly see her thoughts were elsewhere. In her silly mind she was conjuring up all sorts of intrigues on his part; and after a few minutes she could contain herself no longer, but jumped up, regardless of the fact that it was positive rudeness to me, her guest, and bounced out of the room. She left the door open, so I could hear her calling out in a tone of suppressed rage:

"Emile, qui as-tu dans l'atelier, viens ici tout de suite?"

Scenting the approaching storm, my friend came out looking very sheepish — as well he might, at being spoken to like that when he had a business acquaintance with him. With a humility for which I felt he ought to have been kicked, he explained that he would only be engaged a few moments longer, and begging his chérie to excuse him; but she was not to be placated.

"Viens tout de suite — j'ai à te parler"

I could then hear the man who was with him saying significantly he would call again some other time when Monsieur was not engaged — and my friend had not the moral courage to detain him.

When we were again seated at the table the storm broke forth, and to my surprise, for I could see no cause for jealousy, or in fact any unpleasantness, his mistress flatly accused him of having the man call to arrange for him "to meet some young girls." "Tu ne penses qu'à cela?" she continued, working herself up into a fury.

There was, of course, not the slightest cause for all this scene. My friend was the last man in the world to have such thoughts or to dream of having anyone call on him she objected to; but it could not be expected that he should turn away business callers. But with her any pretext was sufficient to start a quarrel upon, and she had gradually ended by alienating even his most intimate friends; they used to say that it made them feel positively sick to see a man reduced to the condition of a mere worm under the heel of this woman.

I was one of the last of his friends to visit them — as somehow I exercised a sort of placating influence over her, and I was the only one she admitted she trusted with her amant. I believe she actually considered me as incapable of any penchant for the fair sex — so if I suggested taking him to the café for an aperitif without her she would graciously condescend to confide him to my care. "Avec vous au moins il n'y a pas de danger," she would say with a half-sneer which galled me beyond words, and I determined to get even with her. It was on these rare occasions when I got him alone that I used to try and instill a little pluck into him.

"What do you see in her that you stand all this continual nagging and rowing. She is no longer young or particularly good-looking; has she then some hidden charm that makes up for her awful character?" I once ventured to ask.

The poor fellow shrugged his shoulders weakly. "Que voulez-vous?" he replied. "We have got together somehow, and I suppose I must put up with it. I admit that Paula is a bit trying at times, but elle m'aime bien."

"Well," I replied, "if that's love, and that is the way to prove it, I would rather be without it."

The fact of the matter was that she completely terrorized him. She had frequently thrown out hints that if ever she even saw him speaking to another woman she would blind him with vitriol, and I verily believe she meant it. So he apparently resigned himself to his fate — for the time being, as will be seen.

Well, this terrible existence continued for many months, during which the creature got, if possible, even worse tempered; and at length became obsessed with the notion that everyone was conspiring to alienate her amant's affections from her — everyone except me bien entendu, for she still reposed blind confidence in me as an "impotent," scarcely worth considering. So I still continued to lunch or dine with them when I felt inclined. But I noticed a change coming over my friend; he was beginning to look drawn about the face and there was a strange look at times in his eyes when she started a scene — for we seldom sat down to a meal with any certainty of its ending pleasantly, however happily it may have been commenced.

When he and I went to the café for our aperitif we would always discuss the situation. There was really no other topic of conversation under the circumstances; and on one occasion I remember, after a particularly dreadful exhibition on her part, he wailed out plaintively to me, "Mon Dieu, comment cela va-t-il finir, que faut-t-il faire."

I gripped his arm and said, "Be a man — that's the only advice I can give you,"

He sat very still, as though wrapped in thought, for some time; then, as though he had come to a sudden resolve, he swallowed his aperitif, and turning to me said abruptly, and in a tone of voice I scarcely recognized, "Tu as raison, mon vieux — come or we shall be late for dinner."

When we reached the studio Paula met us at the door. I could see that she was still in one of her tantrums.

"A nice time to get back," she vociferated; "dinner has been ready for over half an hour and everything will be spoiled as usual. Why do you let him keep you out so long, Julius," she said, turning to me.

I protested that if there was any blame I would share it; but that we were not late at all, as I proved by my watch.

"There you see, ma chérie," said Emile in a pacific tone, "your clock must be wrong — I knew we were not late."

"Tais-toi et mettons nous à table; we'll speak about this afterwards," she replied in a threatening tone.

I endeavored to laugh it off — but felt very uncomfortable. We sat down to dinner and were taking our soup, when she suddenly turned to my friend and said, "I insist on knowing what detained you so long at the café. I suppose it was some woman of your numerous acquaintances. Come, out with it — let's know who she was," she continued, spoiling for a row.

My friend protested that there was no woman in the question; that we had merely taken our aperitifs together and had not spoken to a soul since we left her. But it was of no avail.

"You are telling me a lie, and you know it," she cried. "However, only let me catch you at any game of that sort and I'll show you up in a way you little suspect, mon ami. So I warn you." My friend said nothing, but I saw from the pallor that came over him that he was laboring under intense excitement.

She, however, saw nothing, but continued like a fury. "Will you reply to me, or will you not? Who was the woman you have just left.'' I insist on knowing her name."

No reply. There was none to make. This silence seemed only to exasperate her the more; the bad language then commenced, as it always did with her when she let herself go. My friend then, in a supernaturally calm voice, which in itself should have warned her, then said gently: "Ma chérie, I beg of you not to forget yourself; even if you ignore me, please remember that my friend is present."

At this remark all the floodgates of her devilish temper were opened.

"Ton ami, je mon f—— de tes amis comme je me f ——de toi sâle enfant de ——" Here followed an insult leveled at his mother of such a nature that I refrain from writing it. Its effect was as though she had put a light to a powder magazine. My friend jumped up as if he had received an electric shock, and with a look of hatred in his eyes I shall never forget, he fairly yelled at her "Sâle vache. You've gone too far this time," and without a moment's hesitation seized his glass of wine and flung it straight in her face. By a miraculous chance the glass itself missed her and smashed against the buffet behind; but she received the full contents all over her, and was almost blinded for a second.

"Get out of my place at once," he continued, fairly mad with rage, "or there will be murder done. I've put up with you and your damned temper long enough, so out you go at once — and to the devil. I give you five minutes to pack up and go. You hear me, you infernal b—— "

To my utter astonishment, for I was on tenter-hooks as to what she would do, she got up, and wiping her face and bodice she retreated slowly and backwards towards the door — her eyes fixed steadily meanwhile on my friend. She appeared to be completely stunned at his unexpected outburst of spirit after so many months of humility and weakness and giving in to her. She was like a wild animal that suddenly realizes it has got a master; all her spirit and temper were

We stood and waited; neither of us said a word. She reached the door, opened it with a mechanical sort of movement, and was gone. We heard her go into the bedroom and shut herself in; then we sat down and looked at each other, wondering what was going to happen next. Ten minutes or so passed, then the door of the bedroom was opened and we heard her call out to the concierge below, "Madame will you be so good as to call a cab for me and come and give me a hand with my portmanteau?" Then we heard luggage being taken downstairs, and the voice of the concierge asking if Madame was going away for long. "Yes," was the reply. "I am uncertain when I shall return." The outer door of the studio closed with a bang. As it did so, my friend who had been breathing heavily, jumped up calling out, "Paula, Paula, oh reviens," and would have rushed to the door and after her had I not stood in his way and held him back.

"I'm not going to let you make an imbecile of yourself," I cried. "You are well out of it at last, and you ought to think yourself very lucky to have got rid of such a woman."

He stood irresolute, undecided whether to attempt to force his way out. Then we heard the sound of the cab driving away. For a few seconds we neither of us moved, then to my utter amazement he let himself drop into a chair by the table, and burying his face on his arms he sobbed convulsively like a child. It was the inevitable reaction — for he had loved the woman once, but I felt it would do him no good giving way to it, so after a while I touched him on the shoulder and said as firmly as I could, "Come, buck up, old man, and let's go out and get some dinner, because I'm famished." With an effort he pulled himself together, and after a meal and a good bottle of wine, he was quite himself again and we discussed the event dispassionately. That he had nothing to fear from her I was convinced; he had given her a fright which she was not likely to forget in a hurry.

We returned to the studio late in the evening, as I had promised not to desert him that night, so would sleep on the sofa. We found that Paula had taken away everything belonging to her, even to her photograph. There was no sequel to the incident; for strange to relate from that day she disappeared as completely as if the earth had swallowed her up. Where she went to or what became of her was a complete mystery. As may be imagined, my friend evinced no desire to find another mistress after this experience. I lost sight of him for a time, and we did not meet again till one day some months later at the Salon. He rushed up to me and wrung my hand effusively. He was genuinely delighted to see me.

"I must present you to my wife," he said after the first greetings. "She knows ail about that affair of Paula," he told me as he led me to a settee where a buxom lady was seated.

"This is my old friend Price," he said, as he introduced me to her. " My saviour," he added with a laugh.

The lady shook me warmly by the hand and said graciously. "I need not tell you how pleased I am to meet you after all I know you did to help Emile to get rid of that dreadful creature."

I recollect another instance of what may be termed perverted Bohemianism, but which ended very differently to what I have just described. It conveys, however, an idea of another aspect of student life which invests it with a certain morbid interest.

A young étudiant fell in love with a married woman living in the Quartier, separated from her husband. She was many years older than her youthful amant, and had a child — a little girl eight years of age. His calf love developed into a veritable infatuation, and there was no limit to what he would do for her. She was a flashy woman, very fast, and with most extravagant ideas. Although she was fond of him in her way, she did not spare him or even attempt to dissuade him from spending all his extremely small allowance on her. Not the least curious part of his infatuation was the devotion he displayed for her child as well, and he became passionately attached to it. There was nothing he would not have done to give it pleasure, which naturally helped still further to increase the strain on his slender means.

There could be but one ending to such a state of affairs. Every sou he possessed gradually went; he neglected his studies, and at last was reduced to borrowing small sums to meet his daily expenses, which had increased by leaps and bounds since he was living en ménage. Then it got to his father's ears how he was living, as the money-lender had to be paid; so he came to Paris, made a great scene, paid the money-lender, and took the boy back with him to the country for a time, in the hope that by so doing he would make him forget his youthful infatuation.

After a few months of seclusion he allowed him to return to the Quartier to resume his studies, as he appeared to have become quite reconciled to his enforced separation; but it turned out that all this while the youth had been keeping up a correspondence with his enchantress, and no sooner was he back in Paris than they met and he resumed his interrupted love-making. For some time after this he lived at a pace which was bound to end in disaster. She was more exigeante than ever. Jewellery, expensive dinners, theaters, excursions, were the order of the day. To satisfy these endless demands of his maîtresse, he had to obtain money somehow, by fair means or foul; and as the money-lender was chary of advancing him any more after the scene with his father, he forged two names to two bills — one that of his father, the other that of a prominent tradesman in the town he came from — probably in the belief that when they were presented his father would again pay up rather than have a scandal — for by this time, it is almost needless to add, his finer senses were completely blunted, and, young as he was, he had begun to take to drink, and to mix with doubtful characters.

Well, to cut an unpleasant story short, in due course the bills were presented, and his distraught parent, thinking to save the family honor, met the one bearing his signature; but the tradesman whose name had also been forged had no such compunctions, and it passed into the hands of the police, and nothing could stop the subsequent legal proceedings — with the result that the embryo criminal was arrested and got three years' imprisonment.

What became of him afterwards, when he had completed his sentence, I never heard definitely; but there were rumors of his having been seen prowling at night round the Boulevard's exterieurs in a garb which left but little doubt as to his manner of existence. One thing, however, was certain, and that was that his maîtresse threw him over at the very first sign of trouble — although she was actually responsible for his downfall.

It came to me as somewhat of a surprise, how easy it apparently was for a young fellow to obtain money whilst he was a student and with only a very limited allowance. Of course I had heard that it was possible if one was in the know to obtain temporary financial assistance without having recourse to the Mont de Piéte, where the amount one could obtain would only be trifling; but to find that merely on a sort of note of hand sums running into quite a respectable figure were often handed over to students, who were still under age, was to me quite incomprehensible, and I sometimes wondered if I would be trusted likewise, but fortunately for me I never had occasion to ascertain.

The Quartier Latin in those days, as I soon learned, was infested with usurers of the worst type; and to my knowledge many a young étudiant's career was marred through his falling into the clutches of these human vampires. Of course this state of affairs may and probably does exist to this day, but I am only referring to my own time. I heard of many cases which would have been almost incredible had I not personally known of their absolute truth. The method with which these financiers carried out their operations was quite remarkable at times in its ingenuity, and no expense apparently was spared in order to obtain exact information as to the means of the parents or guardians of the prospective victims. Once this was obtained and verified carefully, it was merely a question of time when the fly would walk into the parlor of the spider. A mistake was seldom made. In the Rue Monsieur le Prince, Rue Cujas, and the Rue St Jacques especially, were always to be found obliging gentlemen who would advance money at any moment on note of hand only — without security, as it appeared to the guileless youth who was in temporary need of assistance.

At all the big cafés there were agents of these money-lenders who worked on commission, and who therefore made it their daily business to ascertain the names of those students who were going the pace. Not infrequently these commission agents were women, and who therefore had a better chance of knowing what was going on than a man would have, as it was a comparatively easy matter for a woman to make friends with the amie of the victim. The cabinets de toilette at the different restaurants were a favourite hunting-ground of these harpies, as the attendant generally knew all that was going on in the Quartier. If such and such a girl's friend was known to be hard-up, in spite of his having a good allowance from home, then it was only a question of how much his father would be good for if the son could be induced to start borrowing. Little did these happy-go-lucky youths guess how much was already known of their affairs when they eventually made their way to the bureau of one of these money-lenders.

In France there is a legal limit to the amount of interest that can be charged, but this could be easily overcome; as, for instance, if a young man was suddenly pressed, say for a thousand francs, what was there to prevent him out of pure gratitude for being helped out of his difficulties from giving a bill for fifteen hundred francs — payable on a certain date ? On the bill there would be no mention of the amount advanced, but merely what he owed. The odd five hundred francs might represent fifty per cent or more, but could not be disputed; he acknowledged owing a certain amount, that settled it.

As I have said, the patience and ingenuity displayed by the usurers and their agents were often quite remarkable — and frequently quite well acted. I heard of one case of a young fellow, whose family was very rich, getting hard up. He had no maîtresse attitrée through whom he could be induced to go to a money-lender, so one of the prettiest girls of the Boulevard St Michel was got at, and eventually worked for one of them. It took some time to bring off the coup, but the quarry was worth it, and it was done this way. She was clever enough to play up to him and get him to take her about a good deal; he was a generous, but extremely vain young fool, and she acted her part so well that he really believed he had found someone at last who loved him. Then at length came the eventful day. She arrived at his rooms in great trouble. She must have a certain sum by a certain hour to save her favorite brother who had done something foolish and would be arrested and go to prison if the money was not forthcoming. What could she do? She had not got it, so she had of course thought of her petit ami; he would help her out of her great trouble.

How could the ami, as a gentleman, avoid helping her, after the happy times they had spent together; but he was not in a position at the moment to do what she asked, however much he wanted to. He could not write home for the money as he had already overdrawn his allowance; how could he get the sum she required?

Had he no friend who would oblige him? she would ask — knowing very well he had not. No, he knew of no one. Then a sudden inspiration came to her — she remembered that one of her friends had also an ami who suddenly wanted a few hundred francs; and he was told of a gentleman who took a great interest in students who would let him have them if he was satisfied he was a man of honor, and he got the money quite easily of course, and paid it back when his allowance came. She would go and see her friend at once, and find out the name and address of this gentleman; and perhaps he would do the same this time also.

What could the victim do but consent to do his petite amie a good turn; and shortly after he was introduced to a very affable gentleman who was only too delighted to come to his assistance, and had put his coveted signature to a piece of paper which was but the forerunner of many more that were eventually taken up by his father, as had been conjectured would be the case. All this would seem a very roundabout method of getting hold of young spendthrifts, were it not, as I have pointed out, that in France it is only allowable by law to charge at a certain fixed amount for interest. In those days I believe it was only five per cent, but at any rate it was far too small to satisfy a money-lender, who was, of course, taking a speculative risk.

The great saving clause, however, in France with regard to all these transactions is that borrowing on a reversion "sur une succession" is absolutely illegal. So whatever expectations a young étudiant might have, the money-lender could not reckon on his claim being settled out of them. If he chose to lend him money on a bill it was therefore with the knowledge that if the father or guardian or whoever supplied the allowance refused to settle for the youth, he had lost his money — as he had no claim against a minor. It seems a pity that such a law has not existed in England, as many a family would have been protected against the misdeeds of sons who, whilst "sowing their wild oats," have squandered away fortunes.

It will be noted that in all these incidents it is always a case of cherchez la femme; as a matter of fact this is one of the chief characteristics of Bohemian life in Paris, and it is this eternal feminine that gives an element of romance to what would otherwise often present an unsavory aspect. In no single instance that I can recall which came to my notice was the usurer ever approached for the purpose of raising funds for anything but expenses incurred for a petite femme. Gambling debts such as one constantly hears of in an English University city were unknown in the Quartier Latin, or for the matter of that in Montmartre. Of course I only refer to the class of young fellows, students and so forth, with whom I came in contact. They had doubtless many weaknesses, but these were usually what one would expect in youth and early manhood, though devotion to the fair sex was the dominating feature always. Drinking was practically non-existent in my time, and it is probably the same to this day; for the light beer, coffee and harmless aperitifs, which are part and parcel of the daily life, can scarcely be considered as indulgence in liquor.

How different all this to the corresponding conditions of student life in England — where Bohemianism generally means living in dreary, frowsy lodgings with surroundings of such deadly monotony that one is forced to find relaxation in the only direction that presents itself; since there is no pleasant café life, and one cannot always afford a club — namely, the saloon bar, a public billiard-room, or, worst of all, in the card-playing which is the great curse of English student life.

Proceed To Next Chapter

Go To Table Of Contents

Return To Home Page