CHAPTER IX

I am introduced at the Café de la Rochefoucauld — The habitués of the café — Distinguished men one met there — A Whistler anecdote — Petites dames — Models— La Sagatore — La Belle Laure and her tragic ending — English girls at the café and a joke on one of them — A favorite with the ladies — A witty remark — Stray clients at the café — The end of the Café de la Rochefoucauld — Bohemianism and some curious predicaments — Humorous situation

Living in Montmartre meant, as I soon realized, an almost complete changement d'habitudes — especially after returning from work. Most of my friends lived some distance off, so it was a trifle lonely at first at the Rue de la Rochefoucauld, as may be imagined.

Stott had decided to remain in his beloved Quartier when in Paris, as he was away a good deal painting in Brittany and elsewhere, the open air having more charm for him than the atelier. I was sorry to see less of him, for from the very first day we met we had been very much en sympathie, and had become the greatest of chums. Moreover, I was a great admirer of his work. Still there was no help for it, as I could not persuade him to migrate with me.

The evenings especially were very dull, for the first week or so after I had moved in — as I knew nothing whatever of my new quarter.

One day, however, I walked back with an English chap who was also painting at Julians, and he asked me what became of me after leaving the atelier, that he never saw me. I told him how slow I found it, as I had not yet discovered the artists' haunts of the neighborhood.

"You don't mean to say you don't know the Cafe de la Rochefoucauld?" he asked.

I had to admit I didn't, so he took me there to dinner that evening, and I found myself at once in the midst of the most interesting coterie of Montmartre. Although quite a cheap place, déjeuner two francs, diner 2.50 vin compris, the Café de la Rochefoucauld was quite unique of its kind. It was a tiny little place where one would not have thought of going to au hasard — one might have passed it every day without noticing it; neither outwardly nor inwardly was it of any pretension. Its habitués made of it what it was, the cheeriest and most interesting rendezvous of the neighborhood.

But the Rochefoucauld was not a café in the ordinary sense of the word, as there were hundreds in Montmartre. It was an exclusive little artistic rendezvous frequented by some of the most distinguished and talented men in Paris at that time, and where one had to be introduced before one could become an habitué. One constantly met men there whose names are still famous, as for instance — Albert Wolff the brilliant and witty art critic, Gérome, in whose atelier I was, Gervex, Chartran, Carrier-Belleuse, Humbert, Cormon, Dupray, Degas, and last but not least. Whistler, whenever he was in Paris. The author of the "Gentle art of making enemies" was as famous in Paris as a bel esprit as he was as an artist, and I remember a story they used to tell which struck me as a rare specimen of his humor. One evening he was dining at a friend's house and the dinner was a very lively affair. During the evening the artist remembered he wanted to write a telegram or something — so was shown into a room on the floor above. Shortly afterwards a sound as of something falling down the stairs was heard; everyone rushed out to see what it was, and found the little man just picking himself up and looking very perturbed.

"Are you hurt?" they all exclaimed.

"Who was the architect of this house?" was the extraordinary reply they got.

Some name was given — I forget who.

"Damned teetotaller," Whistler ejaculated with a hiccup.

Old Goupil, the big picture-dealer of the Rue Chaptal, Gérome's father-in-law, also used to come there; he was the richest man of the crowd — yet was so mean that he never tipped the waiter more than a sou, and it was said would take home with him the sugar of his coffee. Then I must not forget Richard Tripp, the expert on the Barbizon School — "Timide" as he was nicknamed — why I don't know, except perhaps because he was the very reverse — one of the most popular men in Paris, who was the life of the café and without whom no escapade or festivity was complete; Walter Dowdeswell, who would drop in occasionally when over from London; and a cousin of mine, Charlie Jephson, who was on the Bourse. These are only a few of the names of men I can recollect for the moment, but they will suffice to convey some idea of the varied clientèle of the Café de la Rochefoucauld in those days. As may be imagined, I found it a great contrast to the students' haunts I had become accustomed to in the Quartier.

The ebullition of youth was still en evidence, as many young men were to be seen there; but it was somewhat sobered by the presence of those of more mature years — still there was a good deal of practical joking, but it was of a rather wittier description than that practiced by the youngsters of the École. Animated and amusing discussions would take place over dinner on subjects which were unknown in the Quartier. Altogether it was an indication that in appreciating this entourage one was beginning to take one's pleasures less boisterously — that the étudiant stage was passing.

It was Bohemia of a different type — as was also evidenced by the class of petites dames who were habitueés of the café; for amongst them were some of the most celebrated of the artists' models in Paris. Sagatore, "La Sagatore" as she was called, a very handsome Italian woman who sat for Gérome principally; Gabrielle, Ellen André, La Grande Louise, and La Belle Laure who sat chiefly for Humbert and Cormon, to mention only some who were famous for beauty of face and figure in those days. Most of the best-known models ended by "retiring" and going on the stage, or taking up business or getting married; or, still more frequently, finding rich amants.

The last I heard of La Sagatore, she was running a restaurant of her own and giving an excellent Italian cuisine, which she personally superintended. Ellen André became quite a well-known actress. I believe Gabrielle married a rich champagne merchant, and La Grande Louise made a big success as a music-hall singer.

La Belle Laure's butterfly career ended in a tragedy of so thrilling and extraordinary a character that even now I can recall every detail of it. She was, as I have said, one of the most beautiful of the models in Paris, and used to sit principally for "odalisques," which will convey some idea how lovely was her face and how exquisite her figure. In addition to these physical attractions, she was young, dressed with wonderful taste, and was the most amusing chatterbox imaginable. She had started in her career as a model with everything in her favor, and was not long before she captivated a rich and good-looking young fellow, a promising author, and became his mistress.

All went well for some months and we saw them continually at the Rochefoucauld, when there appeared on the scene an elderly engineer, a very distinguished man, but a sort of sneering Mephistopheles, with no respect at all for women. He was old enough to be her father; but to the astonishment of everyone La Belle Laure fell in love with him. What she saw in him was a mystery to us all, for he was, from a man's point of view, not particularly good-looking nor attractive as a personality; but the fact remained, and from this moment she became his ame damnée, as it were. As she herself expressed it plaintively on one occasion to a friend of hers, "I am his slave — body and soul — and I cannot explain why I care for him as I do — for he has no regard for me, and never misses an opportunity to make me jealous and unhappy."It was a totally incomprehensible state of affairs, for she was still the mistress of the young author who worshiped the ground she trod on, although he must have known what was going on — unless he was exceptionally dense or willfully blind. To give an example. On one occasion she was dining with him at the café when the other man looked in at the door and made a sign to her. She turned pale, and then making some excuse went out, to return in a few minutes in such a perturbed state that we all noticed it — but her amant said nothing.

What she suffered at the hands of the other man we could only guess from what she told us at times. It appeared that he used to enjoy making her jealous — would purposely let her see him with other women when he had asked her to meet him, and so forth. This continued for some time till at last it got on her mind and she began to look ill; then one day she did not turn up as usual at the café. We then learned, to our horror, that she had committed suicide by taking a poison she had obtained by soaking phosphorous matches in water. She did not die, however, immediately, but lingered for some hours — during which time everything that was possible was done to save her, but without avail. Then came the pathos of it all; at the last moment the poor girl clung desperately to life, all her old coquetry returned, and she wanted to live — but it was too late. Her amant, broken-hearted, nursed her, so they said, as tenderly as a sister of mercy. The man who was the cause of her mad deed pleaded hard to be allowed to see her, but her love had turned to implacable hatred.

"Never," she cried, "will I see him again — for he it is who caused me to do this."

The sequel to her death was equally tragic and extraordinary. A fortnight later the engineer committed suicide by shooting himself; it had got on his brain the girl having refused to see him before she died — and a fortnight after that the young author threw himself out of his window and killed himself. It seemed almost as if she had communicated to the two men the suggestion of suicide. Thus ended the most poignant romance of Bohemian life in Paris I ever heard of.

All the models who used to come to the café were girls who took their work seriously —with them it was strictly business all the time, and one soon realized that, if one had thought otherwise at first. Of course it must not be inferred from all this that there were only models at the café, for many men brought their petites amies, and two of the latter were quite amusing characters in their way. They were both Londoners, curiously enough, for one would scarcely have expected English girls in this out-of-the-way place. They were dancers at the Folies Bergères, and generally turned up for dinner before going to their work; they ended by becoming great favorites, which was somewhat remarkable, as neither of them could speak a word of French — indeed it was a matter of wonder how they managed to get about as they did. This entire ignorance of the language led to a rather funny joke a man at the cafe got up expressly for our benefit.

One of the two girls was very pretty — fair hair, nice teeth, good figure, blue eyes — a credit, in fact, to the Old Country, and a marked contrast to the swarthy type of French woman. To look at her you wouldn't have believed that butter would melt in her little mouth, and it was this artless appearance that prompted the joke. One night at dinner when she was trying to make herself understood, much to our amusement, someone who spoke English offered to teach her to speak French. As he was a good-looking fellow she accepted his offer. We thought no more of it, till to our amazement some few days later she came out with some of the most awful words in French it is possible to conceive. Her preceptor had taught her phrases, to express the simplest thoughts, that I would not dare to repeat here. If she wanted to say the most ordinary thing, such as, for instance, "Please pass me the mustard," or anything equally trivial, she used language that would have made a sailor's hair curl — and the worst of it was she had learned all this in utter innocence, believing it was a translation of what she would say in English. It may be imagined the expression of amazement on strangers' faces when they heard such words issuing from the pretty lips of this dainty English miss. It took a long time before she managed to unlearn all she had learned, and she was very chary of French words for a long while after she found out how she had been hoaxed.

Besides these two girls there were several others who use to come to lunch and dinner nearly every day. One often wondered what their lovers saw in them, for they were seldom attractive in appearance, and frequently well past their youthful days.

One Of The Girls...

I recollect there was a musician who had the reputation of being a great favorite with the ladies; he told me one day how charming his girl was, and that he would like me to see her — so we arranged to dine together, when, to my astonishment, after his glowing description, I saw quite a plain and homely female, of uncertain age, of the sort that one would pass in the street without looking at twice. "She must indeed have some hidden attraction for my friend to rave about her as he does," thought I.

The next time we met at the café he eagerly asked what I thought of her.

I replied evasively that she was very symathique, but not quite my type.

He instinctively gathered my meaning.

"She may not perhaps be beautiful in the face as beauty g0es," he retorted, "but you should see her feet, they are adorable."

This reminds me of a witty way I once heard of describing in a nice manner a plain-looking girl. "It is true she is not pretty, but she has a good heart and she loves her mother."

There were very seldom fresh faces to be seen at the café — so it was not the place in which to seek an "aventure"; as a matter of fact, the place had become, as it were, so exclusively the property of those who habitually frequented it, that if by any chance a stray client or a family party happened to come in it was immediately the signal for an outburst of language so awful, and stories so blue, that they had to leave.

The Café de la Rochefoucauld has long ceased to exist, and its last days were almost dramatically pathetic. For some time previous the proprietors had been struggling against misfortune, in the shape of the café no longer paying — competition, increase in cost of food, bad debts.

There were many old habitués who had owed money for months — almost years, who were unable to settle up, yet could not be turned away for fear the café should look too empty. The end was bound to come, and come it did, and with a crash one evening. The gas was cut off, the butcher and baker refused to deliver any more meat or bread, and the patron sadly announced that there was no dinner to serve. So determined, however, were we all not to go elsewhere if we could possibly help it, that we all went out and bought charcuterie and petits pains and butter and cheese and candles which we stuck in bottles. There was still plenty of wine in the cellar, so we managed a dinner of sorts, though it was a very cheerless one, as we all realized this was the last night of the old Café de la Rochefoucauld; and so it proved, for the next day the place was bolted and barred, and shortly afterwards sold up.

The Rochefoucauld was a Bohemian center in every sense of the word — Bohemianism that cannot exist nowadays, unhappily. It was very kindly and genuine; so long as a man was a good fellow and was introduced, as it were, into it, he was as welcome as any of the most distinguished of its habitués. There was no trace of snobbishness in the crowd, although talent certainly did inspire much respect; and I admit we youngsters were all very proud of the distinguished company one so often saw there. The possible possession of wealth carried no weight whatever, and, above all, no idle curiosity was ever evinced as to a man's means; nor were they discussed, unless he himself mentioned the subject.

As an instance of this, I recall a peculiar mystery surrounding one of the most genial of the men we constantly met. He was supposed to be a writer on the Press, but no one knew for what paper he worked; and since he vouchsafed no information on the subject he was not asked — suffice it he was a good chap, paid his whack, was always well-dressed, and was liked generally by the men and the women. The mystery lay in the fact that during all the years he had been coming to the Rochefoucauld no one had got to know anything about him, or where he lived even. He would generally be the last to leave the café, would sometimes walk a short distance with other men on their way home, then with a friendly good night leave them and disappear — no one knew where — till the following day. His secretiveness naturally excited comment, but no remarks were ever made before him on the subject. His life was indeed one of those enigmas which can only exist in Bohemia.

Bohemianism, however, as we understood it, was often very amusing in a way, and not infrequently brought about curious predicaments; and in this connection I recall rather a funny incident. One day a friend of ours, who had been away for some time painting in the country, turned up at the café for lunch, and announced his intention of passing the night in Paris, so as to spend a few hours with us and go to a café concert or somewhere and have a good time. He was a very jolly fellow, and under ordinary circumstances we should have been delighted; but he had come up from the country in such extraordinary attire that the idea of being seen with such a scarecrow was out of the question. We were not squeamish on the point of dress, but his get-up was the limit — even for Montmartre; his hat, coat, waistcoat, and boots looked as if they had been collected from a rubbish-heap. Still we didn't like to hurt his feelings by telling him so, as he might have been hard up and not able to afford anything better — when after lunch someone had the happy inspiration to suggest our rigging him up for the evening in, as he put it nicely, "a less countrified costume." After a little demur he accepted, so we managed to get him up somehow and arranged to dine at the Petit Riche in the Rue le Pelletier, and spend the evening on the Grands Boulevards. When we all met for our aperitif at the Café Cardinal he looked quite respectable as compared to when he arrived in the morning, and he seemed to realize it also.

They Were Dancers...
Then suddenly the humor of the situation struck us, and with one accord we all began to "rag" him, and during dinner we were continually getting at him — as, for instance, whilst he was eating his soup the man the coat and waistcoat belonged to said in a mock injured tone, "I say, old man, you might try to be a bit careful — you're dropping soup all down my waistcoat; you wouldn't do it if it was your own." Then someone else said, "Don't forget that's my collar you've got on — you'll pull it all out of shape if you twist your head about like that"; and other equally idiotic remarks — much to our own amusement and that of the people sitting near who could hear it all.

In the street after dinner we began chipping him about the boots. "You needn't walk in all the mud you can find, old fellow — please remember they are not your boots you've got on," and so forth — and so it went on all the evening. It was very funny, we thought, and we were roaring with laughter the whole time, and he took it all in very good part till at last, after many consommations at different cafés, he began to get a bit huffy at our persistent ragging, and threw out a hint that it was about time we stopped it.

This of course only had the effect of increasing our merriment. He then said some nasty things, and suddenly, as we were walking along the Boulevard de la Madeleine, he stopped, and to our surprise sat down on a seat and took off his boots, and then his coat and waistcoat and collar and tie, and flinging them with his hat on to the seat he exclaimed, "Here, take back your damned things, I won't wear them any longer. "In vain did we endeavor to appease his wrath — he absolutely refused to put them on again. Meanwhile a crowd began to collect, and we looked like being in for an unpleasant affair. "You've had your joke all the evening," he yelled, "now I'll have mine, and you won't get rid of me till I want to go — and you can do what you like with the clothes, I only wore them to oblige you."

Of course we couldn't leave the things on the seat, so in a very sheepish way we picked them up in silence — since it was evidently useless arguing with him. We then hailed a cab, thinking that the best thing to do was to get him home, but he wouldn't get in.

"Oh no, you are not going to get out of it like that — we are going to walk back," he said in a tone that meant mischief.

There was no help for it; we felt the best thing was to humor him, so we paid off the cabman and started walking down the Rue Caumartin — to the vast amusement of the people who had gathered round and who were following us. They evidently thought our companion was an escaped lunatic.

Well, to cut a long story short we managed to get him back to the hotel where he was staying — but only with great difficulty, as he wanted to stop on the way and fight us all; and it was with a feeling of relief that we saw the door close on him. As we talked the incident over at a café afterwards, we were all agreed that it was a bit of luck we hadn't lent him a pair of trousers.



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