CHAPTER VIII

I return to Paris — Looking for new quarters — The Rue de la Rochefoucauld — Buying furniture — The Baronne d'Ange — First night in my new room — Curious incident-— The restaurant in the Rue Vivienne — Eugénie — A rendezvous — A disappointment — My first sale of a picture — The petit rentier — I am commissioned to paint a portrait — A worrying sitter

Paris seemed very cheerless and I felt very lonely on my return. I had decided to give up my room in the Rue de Seine; so put up for a day or two at the Hôtel d'Isly in the Rue Jacob. But the Quartier had no longer an attraction for me, for do what I would the recollection of Rose and the delightful times we had spent there kept haunting me; so I decided to find a room up Montmartre way, where several friends had studios.

After the usual worrying search, this time without the assistance of my friend, Monsieur Thomas, I settled on a small, unfurnished chambre de garçon and cabinet de toilette in the Rue de la Rochefoucauld. It was a bit far from the École, but the walk of a morning would do me no harm, and it was not far from Julians when I left off of an afternoon, as I had decided not to continue the Cours Yvon. The rent was only three hundred francs a year, and five francs a month for the concierge to do my ménage, so it could not be considered excessive; but I had to buy furniture, and that was a bit of a drawback. Still, I felt that sooner or later I should have to do this, as it was too extravagant living in a maison meublée, so I started buying the bare necessaries of a bachelor's room — a bed, table, two chairs, une armoire à glace, and a washstand. I could not well do with less. Then there were the unavoidable little extras — a bit of carpet, la vaisselle, curtains, sheets, towels, and an ornament or two; so by the time I had bought all these I had expended the modest sum my guardian had advanced me towards my putting myself dans mes meubles, and I recollect that it was with a certain amount of excusable pride that I arranged my little home, for it was the first time I had had anything in the shape of furniture of my own — so me voilà établi.

My humble apartment was on the third floor of an old house at the angle of the Rue de la Rochefoucauld and the Rue Pigalle, which I believe had formerly been the residence of Victor Hugo; when I went to live there it was chiefly famous as the residence of the Baronne d'Ange, a well-known cocotte of that time, who kept an establishment in the Rue St Georges. She occupied a spacious pavilion at the back of my house, and it was from here she used to drive to the Bois during the season in a showy caléche, with a pair of horses resplendent with silver trappings — and with a black groom seated alongside her. This gave No. 66 a certain cachet in the neighborhood. The house was particularly well kept, and, being an old mansion, was quite out of the common — so it was rather fortunate to get a room there.

I remember, though, I had rather a shock the first night I slept there. It came about like this. My room with three others was on the landing at the top of the house. There was nothing whatever to indicate any communication between the rooms — otherwise I should not have taken it, as I have a horror of communicating doors such as one finds in all hotels on the continent. To me there is nothing more unpleasant than the absence of privacy such doors convey, however much they may be hidden by furniture or curtains. My room appeared to have just ordinary walls, so I was satisfied. I went to bed with a feeling of satisfaction of being in my own sheets, and had fallen asleep when I was awakened by the curious feeling of someone being in my room. I sat up in bed and listened, when, to my intense annoyance and disgust, I discovered that the wall alongside my bed was not solid, although it had every appearance of being so, but was a door covered skillfully with canvas and paper. My neighbor's bed was only separated from mine by the very thinnest of partitions.

The voices which had woke me up proceeded from his room, and he was not alone — a female voice betrayed the fact; that they were not a married couple was also evident from their conversation. At first it was somewhat interesting and amusing to listen to the exchange of confidences which followed on what had evidently been but a rencontre du hasard, and the subsequent ébats d'amour, but when this continued till the small hours of the morning, to the detriment of my night's rest, I began to feel seriously upset — not merely because I had to get up early, but by reason of knowing that unless I could contrive something to stop it there would be no privacy for me either at any time.

The question was, what to do for the moment. To knock at the wall and call out "Assez" would never do. I should have only been inviting unpleasantness — as he was chez lui, and therefore at liberty to do as he pleased; so I decided to grin and bear it, and think out a solution the following day.

"C'est un peu désagréable j'en conviens mais l'on finit par s y habituer," said the concierge with a grin when I complained about it next day; however, she sent her husband up to see what could be done, and we found that by shifting my bed and putting the wardrobe in its place the sound was deadened to a certain extent, but all the time I lived there I had an unpleasant feeling that my neighbor knew as much of my petites fredaines as I did of his.

My visit to England had but increased my enthusiasm for my work and my life in Paris. The very air of France seemed to have an effect akin to champagne on my temperament — an impression the years have never effaced. I returned, therefore, to my studies with a renewed energy, and every morning saw me marching down the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette at half-past seven, for it now being in the autumn, the atelier started an hour later than in the summer; and after déjeuner I would go on to Julians and paint there all the afternoon. And mentioning déjeuner recalls to mind a little incident that was rather amusing in its way.

There was a little restaurant close to the Palais Royal in the Rue Vivienne on the way to Julians — which someone had discovered, and where several of us used to go to lunch of a day. It was of course an inexpensive place, otherwise we shouldn't have gone there, cela va sans dire; still it had some sort of outward pretension. I remember they used to have all sorts of quaint things hanging at the door occasionally, such as a chamois, a deer, or mayhap a wild boar, such delicacies as one would expect to find in a first-class restaurant. This outside sort of larder gave a certain cachet to the place which had attracted us, although one soon found out that these delicacies were never on the menu; they were probably only hired, and placed outside to attract customers.

Another attraction, however, that really existed, as we were not long in discovering, was an extremely pretty waitress. I can still picture her in my mind. She was dressed in a dainty sort of costume, with cap not unlike that of a London waitress, but worn with that chic which is the attribute of the Parisienne. She had light-colored wavy hair, blue eyes, and lovely teeth, which she never missed an opportunity of showing; altogether, in the opinion of our crowd, she was "simply stunning," and her name was Eugénie. That we annexed her table permanently for lunch soon followed, as was only to be expected.

We were always a very merry party, all young artists, and probably a contrast in her mind to the usual of the restaurant — which mainly consisted of shop assistants from the neighborhood. Well, it was not long before a sort of tacit and friendly rivalry sprung up between us. Each of us laid himself out, as it were, to outshine the other — the result being that the lunches developed into a constant interchange of wit and repartee, and all for the benefit of Eugénie (Nini, for short), who was evidently much amused thereat. Of course it goes without saying that there was but one idea underlying all this competition, and that was to get Nini as one's chère amie.

For some little while the honors were equally divided, and not one of us had succeeded in making a rendezvous with her outside. Well, one day I turned up for lunch very much later than usual, and the restaurant was almost empty — all my friends had been and gone. I had Nini all to myself, and you may be sure I did not lose my chance, and by the time I had finished she had promised to meet me that evening after her work was over. I remember how elated I felt all that afternoon, though I took care not to let any of the fellows know of my good-fortune. I intended to let them see me walk in with her in nonchalant manner to the café where we usually met of an evening, and to nod to them en passant, as though it was quite a usual occurrence our being out together.

I was at the rendezvous punctually, as may be imagined. It was at a corner of the Place de la Bourse, a very quiet neighborhood at night. There was only one person in sight when I arrived, a very ordinary-looking female dressed in the nondescript garb of the French ouvrière — neither smart nor shabby, but just one of hundreds one passes in the street without noticing, though her hat might have attracted attention, for it was simply ludicrous. On seeing me, she gave a little run in my direction, exclaiming joyfully, "Oh que je suis contente de vous voir arriver — je pensais etre en retard."

I was dumbfounded. This could not be our Eugénie — the delightful little person we had all been raving about for days past — this graceless, ill-dressed wench. I could hardly believe my eyes; and she evidently noticed my surprise, for she remarked with a giggle which still further jarred on my nerves, "Vous ne me reconnaissez plus dans mon costume de travail."

I made some sort of lame protest, whilst rapidly cogitating as to the best way to get away from her, as I felt it was quite out of the question being seen with such a scarecrow. I would not dare to take her to even the smallest café in case I met someone I knew — I should be chaffed out of my life if I did. Necessity is the mother of invention.

An idea occurred to me, and without a moment's hesitation I said, "Something imprévue has occurred since I saw you at déjeuner; one of our friends, suddenly taken ill, wants to see me urgently, so I must go off at once. I should have let you know by telegram, but thought it better to wait and see you and explain personally. You really must forgive me if I run off immediately, as I'm already late. We must arrange for another evening, if you will, Nini," I added with hypocritical earnestness.

She was naturally disappointed, but there was nothing to be said under the circumstance.

"C'est très malheureux," was her remark, "mais ce sera pour un autre soir."

His Appearance...

I was so delighted at the success of my ruse that I actually snatched a kiss before hurrying off. I never went to lunch in the Rue Vivienne again; as I explained to my friends, it doesn't do to stick to the same place too long — one wants to vary one's cuisine. They may have thought a lot, but they said nothing.

It was about this time that I first sold a picture — not for a very big sum, but still it was a sale — and it came about in a very curious and unexpected fashion. There was a middle-aged, prosperous-looking man who used to come and work occasionally at Julians as a sort of amateur student; we nicknamed him the "petit rentier " — as in fact he was. He and I somehow, in spite of the difference of our ages, became very pally, and he eventually joined our little group. He was not an excessively amusing chap, but his appearance of intense respectability gave tone henceforth to our table at the café. One day he turned up at my room to look at an ambitious little painting I was just completing. I forget the subject now, but I remember that to my surprise he said, "I like it very much, and if you will paint me in it I will give you two hundred francs for it when it's finished."

I didn't require much persuasion to accept his magnificent offer — so he came and sat for me and the work was completed, and to my great satisfaction I pocketed two crisp hundred-franc notes, and he took away the canvas under his arm, genuinely pleased with the bargain, I believe. Well, he turned out quite an art patron for me after this deal with him — for one day shortly after he came to me with an offer from a friend of his, a businessman, who wanted his wife's portrait painted, and would give me five hundred francs for it if I cared to undertake it. Again no hesitation on my part; so it was arranged that I should do the painting at their appartement in the Rue Bergère. I well remember this, my first serious attempt at portraiture. The lady was a stout Jewess — of not unprepossessing appearance, but extremely vain — and it was only with the greatest difficulty that I dissuaded her from wearing all her lace and family jewels; not that I thought they were unbecoming, but because I felt that I had bargained to paint her portrait only, not her domestic wealth as well. So she eventually fell in with my suggestion, and consented to being depicted as I wished.

Oh! the bother and annoyance before I completed that portrait. Perhaps it was because I was only a youngster that she thought my time was of no account, for she would make appointments and put them off at a moment's notice, or not feel equal to sitting when I got to the house, and all manner of excuses; till at last I felt that if ever I finished the portrait I should have really well earned the five hundred francs. However, it was at length finished and her husband and the family seemed to like it — at any rate, I was paid; that was all that concerned me. I did not want any more commissions for portraits for a time after that first experience; it was a positive relief to feel myself free once more — as I had been at her beck and call for weeks.



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