CHAPTER VII

My first love affair — Rose — Excursion to Meudon — Robinson — Fontenay aux Roses — A friture at Suresnes — La Grenouillère — Amusing incident in a restaurant — Practical joke in a studio — I leave for London — Farewell dinner with Rose — A last letter — End of my first love affair

It was about this time that there came to pass something which had a considerable influence on my life for the next few months, and as a faithful chronicler of those Bohemian days I must confess that what I am about to narrate was my first love affair. Up till then the little "aventures" I had had in common with all other students were not sufficiently serious to be worthy of being recorded. This one, however, was of quite a different character, as will be seen.

It came about this wise. Stott and I had broken out in a new place; in other words we had wandered afield and had struck a new restaurant for dinner, near the Boulevard St Michel, which was a bit away from our usual quarter.

I was feeding there one evening when a very good-looking girl came in by herself. This in itself had rien d'extraordinaire; but she appealed to me at once, for she seemed quite a cut above the usual run of girls who came to cafés and restaurants unaccompanied, and I remember the thought struck me what a pity it was that she should have to go to a restaurant like this alone. But she seemed perfectly self-possessed, and evidently was an old habituée of the place, as the patron and waiters knew her. She took the only seat vacant, which, fortunately for me, was at the table adjoining mine.

In the crowded restaurants of the Quartier, where everyone at meal times was seated in such close proximity that one could scarcely move, there was no difficulty in getting on speaking terms with your neighbors; so a lady coming in alone could not object to being spoken to casually — cela n'engageait à rien. An opportunity soon presented itself for me to make a few remarks, and before she had got on far with her dinner we were chatting away as though we had known each other some time. I was not long in discovering that she really was very different to what one would have expected to meet in so simple a place, as she was a première in a magasin de modes in the Rue des Écoles, which accounted for her chic appearance; and then as we got more and more friendly in the free-and-easy manner of the Quartier, she confided to me that the reason she came there by herself to dine was because she felt very lonely and unhappy, as a great friend of hers had gone to South America and wasn't coming back again. Then, of course, I told her that I also felt very lonely, and that I only wished I could be lucky enough to have an amie as pretty and nice as she was, and nothing would induce me to leave her to go to South America.

Rose

It will be seen from this that we were getting on rapidly — and the amusing part of it was that it all developed in the most matter-of-fact, casual sort of way; but in these adventures the unexpected is indeed always the most delightful. When she left we had arranged to meet again the following evening, and this chance meeting gradually led to our seeing each other frequently — then from frequently to every evening, and — till at last, as may have been expected, the inevitable happened, and one day Rose and I were more than ordinary amis.

The weather was particularly delightful in the May of that year, and I felt sorely tempted to leave the studio and take my paint-box and get away from the stuffy Quartier to the sylvan retreats of Meudon or Robinson. Amongst the many fascinations of student life in Paris these impromptu excursions are the most delightful; they have been described by poets and novelists from time immemorial — but you've got to be young and have a pretty girl hanging on your arm, as well as a keen sense of the romantic, to thoroughly enjoy them. Then you don't notice the toughness of the bifteck, the sourness of the vin ordinaire, or the coarseness of the tablecloth — all is Elysium when she says it is the loveliest time she has ever spent in her life, and you are the only boy she has ever really loved (and one believes it); then the food is excellent, and the wine nectar, and the linen is the finest damask, and, well, it's the old, old story over and over again. So Rose got a day off and we went one lovely hot morning to Robinson, and spent the happiest day imaginable, and I made a sketch of her in the woods, and we rode on donkeys and déjeunéd and dined and spooned in the quaint little arbors built up in the trees; and we got back to Paris late in the evening, tired out but feeling, so we told each other, that we had had the time of our lives — and I was more in love with her than ever. Those were indeed days to be remembered.


On other occasions we explored Fontenay aux Roses, or Meudon — sometimes also Suresnes, where we knew a place where we could get a good friture avec un excellent petit piccolo. Then sometimes on Sunday, when I could find an excuse to get out of spending the day en famille, we would go to Bougival, where there was mixed bathing in a place called La Grenouillère, and screaming fun to watch. It was all very delightful.

Many of these little country "restaurants" were of a very primitive character — which added not a little to their charm in our eyes. I remember one in particular which we had taken quite a liking to, as the patron and his wife always went out of their way to give us a hearty welcome, and what was more to the point, generally something extra special for lunch or dinner, as the case might be. This led to a somewhat amusing little incident on one occasion. We were lunching there and as a hors-d'œuvre there was a dish of fine shrimps of the variety known as crevettes roses de Dieppe. We were busily engaged peeling and eating them when the patronne came along and was chatting with us, as was her wont, when she made the remark in her motherly way that we didn't understand taking the shells off the shrimps. "I will show you how we do it where I come from," she added, and suiting the action to her words, she picked up one and deftly removed the shell by some peculiar twist of her finger nails. It was certainly very smartly done and seemed very simple, but try as we would we couldn't accomplish it ourselves; so she good naturedly offered to do the rest for us. In vain we protested, for her hands and nails were begrimed with housework. Of course she didn't understand the reason for our scruples. I still remember the look on Rose's face, but not liking to offend her, as she was doing it out of pure kindness, we had to accept her proffered assistance, and we ate the lot. I never see shrimps even now without thinking of the incident.

And I Was More In Love...

During the whole time Rose and I were camarades I don't think we had a wry word — of course the fact of her being employed during the day was a great factor, as I had noticed that nearly all the tiffs between the étudiants and their amies arose from their seeing too much of each other. Rose was always known amongst my student friends as l'amie de Price, and wherever I went she of course accompanied me; and this reminds me of a funny joke we once had at her expense, and into the spirit of which she entered as heartily as all of us. We were invited to lunch one Sunday at a friend's studio — for his fête or something. There were six of us, three men and three demoiselles. It was, of course, very Bohemian, and we all helped to get in and to prepare the lunch. Rose was as busy as any of them, as she was a real little house-wife and loved it. When all was ready and we were about to sit down to table I went into the cabinet de toilette to wash my hands, when I noticed she had left her rings on the washstand. An idea immediately struck me, and calling for my friend, our host, I asked him to make some excuse to get Rose to leave the table for a moment and go into the kitchen; then I quickly went to where she had been sitting, and taking out some of the crumbs of the piece of bread by her plate I put the rings inside and replaced the crumbs, so that the bread did not look as if it had been touched. Well, we were all seated and about to commence when suddenly she jumped up, looking as white as a ghost, exclaiming, "Mon Dieu, I've lost my rings."

We all asked where she could have left them; it couldn't be in the studio. However, we all pretended to look for them— in the kitchen, the bedroom, everywhere. There was no help for it, we said, but to go on with lunch and trust to her having left them at home; but she was not to be reassured so easily, and for some minutes I thought she would burst out crying, in which case I should have had to tell her of the trick. However, she gradually calmed down and we proceeded with the hors-d'œuvre — while we all waited to see what would happen. At last she took up the piece of bread and broke it in halves. The cry of astonishment and the look of childish amazement on her face when she saw her rings buried in the crumbs was the funniest thing I think I've ever seen. I don't remember a more successful practical joke, nor one more appreciated. The studio fairly echoed with the shrieks of laughter that followed, whilst she came round to me and put her arm round my neck and kissed me, whilst she whispered "Méchant blagueur vas."

And so that summer gradually passed by, and in the atelier they began to talk about leaving Paris for the vacances, and of la peinture en plein air, and there was a restless roving spirit over us all, for the weather was perfect, and it almost seemed a sin to coop oneself up in the atelier when one might be out in the open, painting from nature. Stott and I had sketched all there was to sketch round Bas Meudon and the neighborhood, and began to talk about Brittany and the sea, when I received a letter from my guardian which necessitated my going over to London at once. There was no help for it; someone had forged a cheque on our little estate. The thief had been caught and I must go over and give evidence. It would mean being away some little time. Rose was very upset at the idea of my leaving, as we had never been apart for six months now, and had looked forward to our spending part of the vacances together — but she was too intelligent to show any annoyance.

"Puis qu'il faut que tu y ailles il n'y a rien à dire," she said in a broken voice.

The night before I left we had a little farewell dinner all alone, with a bottle of vin superieur, and I felt a lump in my throat the whole time, I remember; perhaps it was an intuitive feeling that this was to be our last meal together. But I did my best to be cheerful, and talked about all we would do when I came back; and the tears ran down her cheeks, and then I broke down also — so it was not a very lively repast.

I went away early next morning, and Rose came to the station to see me off. I was away longer than I expected to be. We corresponded regularly for some time, and she told me all she was doing and how much she missed me; and then there was a stop. No letter for more than a week. I did not know what to think — so at last I sent a telegram — "Why no letter, very anxious." Then at last came news — " Écrivant aujourd'hui," so I had to bear my soul in patience till her letter arrived. I rushed to my room to read it quietly. To my astonishment it informed me that some- thing très imprévue had happened: her old friend who had left her to go to South America had written from the Argentine to ask her to come out and marry him — that he had a lovely home to offer her, and had enclosed a banker's draft to pay her trousseau and expenses out, and that he expected a cable from her to say when she would start. "What could she do but accept?" she asked me. She had been thinking it over and had come to the conclusion, and her mother agreed with her, that it was the best thing that could happen to her, since she knew I did not want to get married; so she was leaving that day by the paquebot from Bordeaux for Buenos Aires." Tu reviendras à Paris," she ended her letter, "et tu te remettras à travailler ferme et tu penseras peut-être quelque-fois à ta petite amie Rose qui t'a bien aimé. Adieu."

She gave no address to which I could write.

So that was the end of my first love story, and curiously enough also of the only liaison I had the whole time I lived in Paris. I had many petites amours after that, but I never came across another girl like Rose.



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