A CHAIR ON THE BOULEVARD
By LEONARD MERRICK
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY A. NEIL LYONS
I THE TRAGEDY OF A COMIC SONG
II TRICOTRIN ENTERTAINS
III THE FATAL FLOROZONDE
IV THE OPPORTUNITY OF PETITPAS
V THE CAFE OF THE BROKEN HEART
VI THE DRESS CLOTHES OF MONSIEUR POMPONNET
VII THE SUICIDES IN THE RUE SOMBRE
VIII THE CONSPIRACY FOR CLAUDINE
IX THE DOLL IN THE PINK SILK DRESS
X THE LAST EFFECT
XI AN INVITATION TO DINNER
XII THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS
XIII THE FAIRY POODLE
XV A MIRACLE IN MONTMARTRE
XVI THE DANGER OF BEING A TWIN
XVII HERCULES AND APHRODITE
XVIII "PARDON, YOU ARE MADEMOISELLE GIRARD!"
XIX HOW TRICOTRIN SAW LONDON
XX THE INFIDELITY OF MONSIEUR NOULENS
These disjointed thoughts about one of Leonard Merrick's most articulate books must begin with a personal confession.
For many years I walked about this earth avoiding the works of Leonard Merrick, as other men might have avoided an onion. This insane aversion was created in my mind chiefly by admirers of what is called the "cheerful" note in fiction. Such people are completely agreed in pronouncing Mr. Merrick to be a pessimistic writer. I hate pessimistic writers.
Years ago, when I was of an age when the mind responds acutely to exterior impressions, some well-meaning uncle, or other fool, gave me a pessimistic book to read. This was a work of fiction which the British Public had hailed as a masterpiece of humour. It represented, with an utter fury of pessimism, the spiritual inadequacies of—but why go into details.
Now, I have to confess that for a long time I did Mr. Merrick the extraordinary injustice of believing him to be the author of that popular masterpiece.
The mistake, though intellectually unpardonable, may perhaps be condoned on other grounds. By virtue of that process of thought which we call the "association of ideas," I naturally connected Mr. Merrick with this work of super-pessimism; my friends being so confirmed in their belief that he was a super-pessimist.
But by virtue of a fortunate accident, I at last got the truth about Mr. Merrick. This event arose from the action of a right-minded butcher, who, having exhausted his stock of The Pigeon-Fancier's Gazette, sent me my weekly supply of dog-bones wrapped about with Leonard Merrick.
These dog-bones happened to reach my house at a moment when no other kind of literary nutriment was to be had. Having nothing better to read I read the dog-bone wrappers. Thus, by dog-bones, was I brought to Merrick: the most jolly, amusing, and optimistic of all spiritual friends.
The book to which these utterances are prefixed is to my mind one of the few really amusing books which have been published in England during my lifetime. But, then, I think that all of Mr. Merrick's books are amusing: even his "earnest" books, such as The Actor-Manager, When Love Flies out o' the Window, or The Position of Peggy Harper.
It is, of course, true that such novels as these are unlikely to be found congenial by those persons who derive entertainment from fiction like my uncle's present. On the other hand, there are people in the world with a capacity for being amused by psychological inquiry. To such people I would say: "Don't miss Merrick." The extraordinary cheerfulness of Mr. Merrick's philosophy is a fact which will impress itself upon all folk who are able to take a really cheerful view of life.
All of Mr. Merrick's sermons—I do not hesitate to call his novels "sermons," because no decent novel can be anything else—all his sermons, I say, point to this conclusion: that people who go out deliberately to look for happiness, to kick for it, and fight for it, or who try to buy it with money, will miss happiness; this being a state of heart—a mere outgrowth, more often to be found by a careless and self-forgetful vagrant than by the deliberate and self-conscious seeker. A cheerful doctrine this. Not only cheerful, but self-evidently true. How right it is, and how cheerful it is, to think that while philosophers and clergymen strut about this world looking out, and smelling out, for its prime experiences, more careless and less celebrated men are continually finding such things, without effort, without care, in irregular and unconsecrated places.
In novel after novel, Mr. Merrick has preached the same good-humoured, cheerful doctrine: the doctrine of anti-fat. He asks us to believe—he makes us believe—that a man (or woman) is not merely virtuous, but merely sane, who exchanges the fats of fulfilment for the little lean pleasures of honourable hope and high endeavour. Oh wise, oh witty Mr. Merrick!
Mr. Merrick has not, to my knowledge, written one novel in which his hero is represented as having achieved complacency. Mr. Merrick's heroes all undergo the very human experience of "hitting a snag." They are none of them represented as enjoying this experience; but none of them whimper and none of them "rat."
If anybody could prove to me that Mr. Merrick had ever invented a hero who submitted tamely to tame success, to fat prosperity; or who had stepped, were it ever so lightly, into the dirty morass of accepted comfort, then would I cheerfully admit to anybody that Leonard Merrick is a Pessimistic Writer. But until this proof be forthcoming, I stick to my opinion: I stick to the conviction that Mr. Merrick is the gayest, cheer fullest, and most courageous of living humorists.
This opinion is a general opinion, applicable to Mr. Merrick's general work. This morning, however, I am asked to narrow my field of view: to contemplate not so much Mr. Merrick at large as Mr. Merrick in particular: to look at Mr. Merrick in his relationship to this one particular book: A Chair on the Boulevard.
Now, if I say, as I have said, that Mr. Merrick is cheerful in his capacity of solemn novelist, what am I to say of Mr. Merrick in his lighter aspect, that of a writer of feuilletons? Addressing myself to an imaginary audience of Magazine Enthusiasts, I ask them to tell me whether, judged even by comparison with their favourite fiction, some of the stories to be found in this volume are not exquisitely amusing?
The first story in the book—that which Mr. Merrick calls "The Tragedy of a Comic Song"—is in my view the funniest story of this century: but I don't ask or expect the Magazine Enthusiast to share this view or to endorse that judgment. "The Tragedy of a Comic Song" is essentially one of those productions in which the reader is expected to collaborate. The author has deliberately contrived certain voids of narrative; and his reader is expected to populate these anecdotal wastes. This is asking more than it is fair to ask of a Magazine Enthusiast. No genuine Magazine reader cares for the elusive or allusive style in fiction. "The Tragedy of a Comic Song" won't do for Bouverie Street, however well and completely it may do for me.
But there are other stories in this book. There is that screaming farce called "The Suicides in the Rue Sombre." Now, then, you Magazine zealots, speak up and tell me truly: is there anything too difficult for you in this? If so, the psychology of what is called "public taste" becomes a subject not suited to public discussion.
The foregoing remarks and considerations apply equally to such stories as "The Dress Clothes of M. Pomponnet" and "Tricotrin Entertains." There are other stories which delight me, as, for example, "Little- Flower-of-the-Wood": but this jerks us back again to the essential Mr. Merrick: he who demands collaboration.
There are, again, other stories, and yet others; but to write down all their titles here would be merely to transcribe the index page of the book. Neither the reader nor I can afford to waste our time like that.
I have said nothing about the technical qualities of Mr. Merrick's work. I don't intend to do so. It has long been a conceit of mine to believe that professional vendors of letterpress should reserve their mutual discussions of technique for technical occasions, such as those when men of like mind and occupation sit at table, with a bottle between them.
I am convinced that Mr. Merrick is a very great and gifted man, deeply skilled in his profession. I can bring forth arguments and proofs to support this conviction; but I fail utterly to see why I should do so. To people who have a sense of that which is sincere and fresh in fiction, these facts will be apparent. To them my arguments and illustrations would be profitless. As for those honest persons to whom the excellencies of Merrick are not apparent, I can only think that nothing which I or any other man could say would render them obvious. "Happiness is in ourselves," as the Vicar remarked to the donkey who was pulling the lawn-mower.
Good luck, Leonard Merrick, and good cheer! I shout my greeting to you across the ripples of that inky lake which is our common fishery.
A. NEIL LYONS.
A CHAIR ON THE BOULEVARD
THE TRAGEDY OF A COMIC SONG
I like to monopolise a table in a restaurant, unless a friend is with me, so I resented the young man's presence. Besides, he had a melancholy face. If it hadn't been for the piano-organ, I don't suppose I should have spoken to him. As the organ that was afflicting Lisle Street began to volley a comic song of a day that was dead, he started.
"That tune!" he murmured in French. If I did not deceive myself, tears sprang to his eyes.
I was curious. Certainly, on both sides of the Channel, we had long ago had more than enough of the tune—no self-respecting organ-grinder rattled it now. That the young Frenchman should wince at the tune I understood. But that he should weep!
I smiled sympathetically. "We suffered from it over here as well," I remarked.
"I did not know," he said, in English that reproved my French, "it was sung in London also—'Partant pour le Moulin'?"
"Under another name," I told him, "it was an epidemic."
Clearly, the organ had stirred distressing memories in him, for though we fell to chatting, I could see that he neither talked nor dined with any relish. As luck would have it, too, the instrument of torture resumed its repertoire well within hearing, and when "Partant pour le Moulin" was reached again, he clasped his head.
"You find it so painful?" I inquired.
"Painful?" he exclaimed. "Monsieur, it is my 'istory, that comic tune! It is to me romance, tragedy, ruin. Will you hear? Wait! I shall range my ideas. Listen:"
* * * * *
It is Paris, at Montmartre—we are before the door of a laundress. A girl approaches. Her gaze is troubled, she frowns a little. What ails her? I shall tell you: the laundress has refused to deliver her washing until her bill is paid. And the girl cannot pay it—not till Saturday— and she has need of things to put on. It is a moment of anxiety.
She opens the door. Some minutes pass. The girl reappears, holding under her arm a little parcel. Good! she has triumphed. In coming out she sees a young man, pale, abstracted, who stands before the shop. He does not attempt to enter. He stands motionless, regarding the window with an air forlorn.
"Ah," she says to herself, "here is another customer who cannot pay his bill!"
But wait a little. After 'alf an hour what happens? She sees the young man again! This time he stands before a modest restaurant. Does he go in? No, again no! He regards the window sorrowfully. He sighs. The dejection of his attitude would melt a stone.
"Poor boy," she thought; "he cannot pay for a dinner either!"
The affair is not finished. How the summer day is beautiful—she will do some footing! Figure yourself that once more she perceives the young man. Now it is before the mont-de-piete, the pawnbroker's. She watches him attentively. Here, at least, he will enter, she does not doubt. She is wrong. It is the same thing—he regards, he laments, he turns away!
"Oh, mon Dieu," she said. "Nothing remains to him to pawn even!"
It is too strong! She addressed him:
But, when she has said "Monsieur," there is the question how she shall continue. Now the young man regards the girl instead of the pawnbroker's. Her features are pretty—or "pretty well"; her costume has been made by herself, but it is not bad; and she has chic—above all she has chic. He asks:
"What can I have the pleasure to do for you?"
Remark that she is bohemian, and he also.
The conversation was like this:
"Monsieur, three times this morning I have seen you. It was impossible that I resist speaking. You have grief?"
"Frightful!" he said.
"Perhaps," she added timidly, "you have hunger also?"
"A hunger insupportable, mademoiselle!"
"I myself am extremely hard up, monsieur, but will you permit that I offer you what I can?"
"Angel!" the young man exclaimed. "There must be wings under your coat. But I beg of you not to fly yet. I shall tell you the reason of my grief. If you will do me the honour to seat yourself at the cafe opposite, we shall be able to talk more pleasantly."
This appeared strange enough, this invitation from a young man who she had supposed was starving; but wait a little! Her amazement increased when, to pay for the wine he had ordered, her companion threw on to the table a bank-note with a gesture absolutely careless.
She was in danger of distrusting her eyes.
"Is it a dream?" she cried. "Is it a vision from the Thousand and One Nights, or is it really a bank-note?"
"Mademoiselle, it is the mess of pottage," the young man answered gloomily. "It is the cause of my sadness: for that miserable money, and more that is to come, I have sold my birthright."
She was on a ship—no, what is it, your expression?—"at sea"!
"I am a poet," he explained; "but perhaps you may not know my work; I am not celebrated. I am Tricotrin, mademoiselle—Gustave Tricotrin, at your feet! For years I have written, aided by ambition, and an uncle who manufactures silk in Lyons. Well, the time is arrived when he is monstrous, this uncle. He says to me, 'Gustave, this cannot last—you make no living, you make nothing but debts. (My tragedies he ignores.) Either you must be a poet who makes money, or you must be a partner who makes silk,' How could I defy him?—he holds the purse. It was unavoidable that I stooped. He has given me a sum to satisfy my creditors, and Monday I depart for Lyons. In the meantime, I take tender farewells of the familiar scenes I shall perhaps never behold again."
"How I have been mistaken!" she exclaimed. And then: "But the hunger you confessed?"
"Of the soul, mademoiselle," said the poet—"the most bitter!"
"And you have no difficulties with the laundress?"
"None," he groaned. "But in the bright days of poverty that have fled for ever, I have had many difficulties with her. This morning I reconstituted the situation—I imagined myself without a sou, and without a collar."
"The little restaurant," she questioned, "where I saw you dining on the odour?"
"I figured fondly to myself that I was ravenous and that I dared not enter. It was sublime."
"There imagination restored to me the vanished moments when I have mounted with suspense, and my least deplorable suit of clothes." His emotion was profound. "It is my youth to which I am bidding adieu!" he cried. "It is more than that—it is my aspirations and my renown!"
"But you have said that you have no renown," she reminded him.
"So much the more painful," said the young man; "the hussy we could not win is always the fairest—I part from renown even more despairingly than from youth."
She felt an amusement, an interest. But soon it was the turn of him to feel an interest—the interest that had consequences so important, so 'eart-breaking, so fatales! He had demanded of her, most naturally, her history, and this she related to him in a style dramatic. Myself, I have not the style dramatic, though I avow to you I admire that.
"We are in a provincial town," she said to the young man, "we are in Rouen—the workroom of a modiste. Have no embarrassment, monsieur Tricotrin, you, at least, are invisible to the girls who sew! They sew all day and talk little—already they are tristes, resigned. Among them sits one who is different—one passionate, ambitious—a girl who burns to be divette, singer, who is devoured by longings for applause, fashion, wealth. She has made the acquaintance of a little pastrycook. He has become fascinated, they are affianced. In a month she will be married."
The young man, Tricotrin, well understood that the girl she described was herself.
"What does she consider while she sits sewing?" she continued. "That the pastrycook loves her, that he is generous, that she will do her most to be to him a good wife? Not at all. Far from that! She considers, on the contrary, that she was a fool to promise him; she considers how she shall escape—from him, from Rouen, from her ennui— she seeks to fly to Paris. Alas! she has no money, not a franc. And she sews—always she sews in the dull room—and her spirit rebels."
"Good!" said the poet. "It is a capital first instalment."
"The time goes on. There remains only a week to the marriage morning. The little home is prepared, the little pastrycook is full of joy. Alors, one evening they go out; for her the sole attraction in the town is the hall of varieties. Yes, it is third class, it is not great things; however, it is the only one in Rouen. He purchases two tickets. What a misfortune—it is the last temptation to her! They stroll back; she takes his arm—under the moon, under the stars; but she sees only the lamps of Paris!—she sees only that he can say nothing she cares to hear!"
"Ah, unhappy man!" murmured the poet.
"They sit at a cafe table, and he talks, the fiance, of the bliss that is to come to them. She attends to not a word, not a syllable. While she smiles, she questions herself, frenzied, how she can escape. She has commanded a sirop. As she lifts her glass to the syphon, her gaze falls on the ring she wears—the ring of their betrothal. 'To the future, cher ange!' says the fiance. 'To the future, vieux cheri!' she says. And she laughs in her heart—for she resolves to sell the ring!"
Tricotrin had become absolutely enthralled.
"She obtained for the ring forty-five francs the next day—and for the little pastrycook all is finished. She wrote him a letter—'Good-bye.' He has lost his reason. Mad with despair, he has flung himself before an electric car, and is killed.... It is strange," she added to the poet, who regarded her with consternation, "that I did not think sooner of the ring that was always on my finger, n'est-ce-pas? It may be that never before had I felt so furious an impulse to desert him. It may be also—that there was no ring and no pastrycook!" And she broke into peals of laughter.
"Ah, mon Dieu," exclaimed the young man, "but you are enchanting! Let us go to breakfast—you are the kindred soul I have looked for all my life. By-the-bye, I may as well know your name?"
Then, monsieur, this poor girl who had trembled before her laundress, she told him a name which was going, in a while, to crowd the Ambassadeurs and be famous through all Paris—a name which was to mean caprices, folly, extravagance the most wilful and reckless. She answered—and it said nothing yet—"My name is Paulette Fleury."
* * * * *
The piano-organ stopped short, as if it knew the Frenchman had reached a crisis in his narrative. He folded his arms and nodded impressively.
"Voila! Monsieur, I 'ave introduced you to Paulette Fleury! It was her beginning."
He offered me a cigarette, and frowned, lost in thought, at the lady who was chopping bread behind the counter.
"Listen," he resumed.
* * * * *
They have breakfasted; they have fed the sparrows around their chairs, and they have strolled under the green trees in the sunshine. She was singing then at a little cafe-concert the most obscure. It is arranged, before they part, that in the evening he shall go to applaud her.
He had a friend, young also, a composer, named Nicolas Pitou. I cannot express to you the devotion that existed between them. Pitou was employed at a publisher's, but the publisher paid him not much better than his art. The comrades have shared everything: the loans from the mont-de-piete, the attic, and the dreams. In Montmartre it was said "Tricotrin and Pitou" as one says "Orestes and Pylades." It is beautiful such affection, hein? Listen!
Tricotrin has recounted to his friend his meeting with Paulette, and when the hour for the concert is arrived, Pitou accompanied him. The musician, however, was, perhaps, the more sedate. He has gone with little expectation; his interest was not high.
What a surprise he has had! He has found her an actress—an artist to the ends of the fingers. Tricotrin was astonished also. The two friends, the poet and the composer, said "Mon Dieu!" They regarded the one the other. They said "Mon Dieu!" again. Soon Pitou has requested of Tricotrin an introduction. It is agreed. Tricotrin has presented his friend, and invited the chanteuse to drink a bock—a glass of beer.... A propos, you take a liqueur, monsieur, yes? What liqueur you take? Sst, garcon!... Well, you conjecture, no doubt, what I shall say? Before the bock was finished, they were in love with her—both!
At the door of her lodging, Paulette has given to each a pressure of the hand, and said gently, "Till to-morrow."
"I worship her!" Tricotrin told Pitou.
"I have found my ideal!" Pitou answered Tricotrin.
It is superb, such friendship, hein?
In the mind of the poet who had accomplished tragedies majestic—in the mind of the composer, the most classical in Montmartre—there had been born a new ambition: it was to write a comic song for Paulette Fleury!
It appears to you droll, perhaps? Monsieur, to her lover, the humblest divette is more than Patti. In all the world there can be no joy so thrilling as to hear the music of one's brain sung by the woman one adores—unless it be to hear the woman one adores give forth one's verse. I believe it has been accepted as a fact, this; nevertheless it is true.
Yes, already the idea had come to them, and Paulette was well pleased when they told her of it. Oh, she knew they loved her, both, and with both she coquetted. But with their intention she did not coquet; as to that she was in earnest. Every day they discussed it with enthusiasm— they were to write a song that should make for her a furore.
What happened? I shall tell you. Monday, when Tricotrin was to depart for Lyons, he informed his uncle that he will not go. No less than that! His uncle was furious—I do not blame him—but naturally Tricotrin has argued, "If I am to create for Paulette her great chance, I must remain in Paris to study Paulette! I cannot create in an atmosphere of commerce. I require the Montmartrois, the boulevards, the inspiration of her presence." Isn't it?
And Pitou—whose very soul had been enraptured in his leisure by a fugue he was composing—Pitou would have no more of it. He allowed the fugue to grow dusty, while day and night he thought always of refrains that ran "Zim-la-zim-la zim-boum-boum!" Constantly they conferred, the comrades. They told the one the other how they loved her; and then they beat their heads, and besought of Providence a fine idea for the comic song.
It was their thought supreme. The silk manufacturer has washed his 'ands of Tricotrin, but he has not cared—there remained to him still one of the bank-notes. As for Pitou, who neglected everything except to find his melody for Paulette, the publisher has given him the sack. Their acquaintances ridiculed the sacrifices made for her. But, monsieur, when a man loves truly, to make a sacrifice for the woman is to make a present to himself.
Nevertheless I avow to you that they fretted because of her coquetry. One hour it seemed that Pitou had gained her heart; the next her encouragement has been all to Tricotrin. Sometimes they have said to her:
"Paulette, it is true we are as Orestes and Pylades, but there can be only one King of Eden at the time. Is it Orestes, or Pylades that you mean to crown?"
Then she would laugh and reply:
"How can I say? I like you both so much I can never make up my mind which to like best."
It was not satisfactory.
And always she added. "In the meantime, where is the song?"
Ah, the song, that song, how they have sought it!—on the Butte, and in the Bois, and round the Halles. Often they have tramped Paris till daybreak, meditating the great chance for Paulette. And at last the poet has discovered it: for each verse a different phase of life, but through it all, the pursuit of gaiety, the fever of the dance—the gaiety of youth, the gaiety of dotage, the gaiety of despair! It should be the song of the pleasure-seekers—the voices of Paris when the lamps are lit.
Monsieur, if we sat 'ere in the restaurant until it closed, I could not describe to you how passionately Tricotrin, the devoted Tricotrin, worked for her. He has studied her without cease; he has studied her attitudes, her expressions. He has taken his lyric as if it were material and cut it to her figure; he has taken it as if it were plaster, and moulded it upon her mannerisms. There was not a moue that she made, not a pretty trick that she had, not a word that she liked to sing for which he did not provide an opportunity. At the last line, when the pen fell from his fingers, he shouted to Pitou, "Comrade, be brave—I have won her!"
And Pitou? Monsieur, if we sat 'ere till they prepared the tables for dejeuner to-morrow, I could not describe to you how passionately Pitou, the devoted Pitou, worked that she might have a grand popularity by his music. At dawn, when he has found that strepitoso passage, which is the hurrying of the feet, he wakened the poet and cried, "Mon ami, I pity you—she is mine!" It was the souls of two men when it was finished, that comic song they made for her! It was the song the organ has ground out—"Partant pour le Moulin."
And then they rehearsed it, the three of them, over and over, inventing always new effects. And then the night for the song is arrived. It has rained all day, and they have walked together in the rain—the singer, and the men who loved her, both—to the little cafe-concert where she would appear.
They tremble in the room, among the crowd, Pitou and Tricotrin; they are agitated. There are others who sing—it says nothing to them. In the room, in the Future, there is only Paulette!
It is very hot in the cafe-concert, and there is too much noise. At last they ask her: "Is she nervous?" She shakes her head: "Mais non!" She smiles to them.
Attend! It is her turn. Ouf; but it is hot in the cafe-concert, and there is too much noise! She mounts the platform. The audience are careless; it continues, the jingle of the glasses, the hum of talk. She begins. Beneath the table Tricotrin has gripped the hand of Pitou.
Wait! Regard the crowd that look at her! The glasses are silent, now, hein? The talk has stopped. To a great actress is come her chance. There is not too much noise in the cafe-concert!
But, when she finished! What an uproar! Never will she forget it. A thousand times she has told the story, how it was written—the song— and how it made her famous. Before two weeks she was the attraction of the Ambassadeurs, and all Paris has raved of Paulette Fleury.
Tricotrin and Pitou were mad with joy. Certainly Paris did not rave of Pitou nor Tricotrin—there have not been many that remembered who wrote the song; and it earned no money for them, either, because it was hers —the gift of their love. Still, they were enraptured. To both of them she owed equally, and more than ever it was a question which would be the happy man.
Listen! When they are gone to call on her one afternoon she was not at 'ome. What had happened? I shall tell you. There was a noodle, rich— what you call a "Johnnie in the Stalls"—who became infatuated with her at the Ambassadeurs. He whistled "Partant pour le Moulin" all the days, and went to hear it all the nights. Well, she was not at 'ome because she had married him. Absolutely they were married! Her lovers have been told it at the door.
What a moment! Figure yourself what they have suffered, both! They had worshipped her, they had made sacrifices for her, they had created for her her grand success; and, as a consequence of that song, she was the wife of the "Johnnie in the Stalls"!
* * * * *
Far down the street, but yet distinct, the organ revived the tune again. My Frenchman shuddered, and got up.
"I cannot support it," he murmured. "You understand? The associations are too pathetic."
"They must be harrowing," I said. "Before you go, there is one thing I should like to ask you, if I may. Have I had the honour of meeting monsieur Tricotrin, or monsieur Pitou?"
He stroked his hat, and gazed at me in sad surprise. "Ah, but neither, monsieur," he groaned. "The associations are much more 'arrowing than that—I was the 'Johnnie in the Stalls'!"
One night when Pitou went home, an unaccustomed perfume floated to meet him on the stairs. He climbed them in amazement.
"If we lived in an age of miracles I should conclude that Tricotrin was smoking a cigar," he said to himself. "What can it be?"
The pair occupied a garret in the rue des Trois Freres at this time, where their window, in sore need of repairs, commanded an unrivalled view of the dirty steps descending to the passage des Abbesses. To-night, behold Tricotrin pacing the garret with dignity, between his lips an Havannah that could have cost no less than a franc. The composer rubbed his eyes.
"Have they made you an Academician?" he stammered. "Or has your uncle, the silk manufacturer, died and left you his business?"
"My friend," replied the poet, "prepare yourself forthwith for 'a New and Powerful Serial of the Most Absorbing Interest'! I am no longer the young man who went out this evening—I am a celebrity."
"I thought," said the composer, "that it couldn't be you when I saw the cigar."
"Figure yourself," continued Tricotrin, "that at nine o'clock I was wandering on the Grand Boulevard with a thirst that could have consumed a brewery. I might mention that I had also empty pockets, but—"
"It would be to pad the powerful Serial shamelessly," said Pitou: "there are things that one takes for granted."
"At the corner of the place de l'Opera a fellow passed me whom I knew and yet did not know; I could not recall where it was we had met. I turned and followed him, racking my brains the while. Suddenly I remembered—"
"Pardon me," interrupted the composer, "but I have read Bel-Ami myself. Oh, it is quite evident that you are a celebrity—you have already forgotten how to be original!"
"There is a resemblance, it is true," admitted Tricotrin. "However, Maupassant had no copyright in the place de l'Opera. I say that I remembered the man; I had known him when he was in the advertisement business in Lyons. Well, we have supped together; he is in a position to do me a service—he will ask an editor to publish an Interview with me!"
"An Interview?" exclaimed Pitou. "You are to be Interviewed? Ah, no, my poor friend, too much meat has unhinged your reason! Go to sleep—you will be hungry and sane again to-morrow."
"It will startle some of them, hein? 'Gustave Tricotrin at Home'—in the illustrated edition of Le Demi-Mot?"
"Illustrated?" gasped Pitou. He looked round the attic. "Did I understand you to say 'illustrated'?"
"Well, well," said Tricotrin, "we shall move the beds! And, when the concierge nods, perhaps we can borrow the palm from the portals. With a palm and an amiable photographer, an air of splendour is easily arrived at. I should like a screen—we will raise one from a studio in the rue Ravignan. Mon Dieu! with a palm and a screen I foresee the most opulent effects. 'A Corner of the Study'—we can put the screen in front of the washhand-stand, and litter the table with manuscripts—you will admit that we have a sufficiency of manuscripts?—no one will know that they have all been rejected. Also, a painter in the rue Ravignan might lend us a few of his failures—'Before you go, let me show you my pictures,' said monsieur Tricotrin: 'I am an ardent collector'!"
In Montmartre the sight of two "types" shifting household gods makes no sensation—the sails of the remaining windmills still revolve. On the day that it had its likeness taken, the attic was temporarily transformed. At least a score of unappreciated masterpieces concealed the dilapidation of the walls; the broken window was decorated with an Eastern fabric that had been a cherished "property" of half the ateliers in Paris; the poet himself—with the palm drooping gracefully above his head—mused in a massive chair, in which Solomon had been pronouncing judgment until 12:15, when the poet had called for it. The appearance of exhaustion observed by admirers of the poet's portrait was due to the chair's appalling weight. As he staggered under it up the steps of the passage des Abbesses, the young man had feared he would expire on the threshold of his fame.
However, the photographer proved as resourceful as could be desired, and perhaps the most striking feature of the illustration was the spaciousness of the apartment in which monsieur Tricotrin was presented to readers of Le Demi-Mot. The name of the thoroughfare was not obtruded.
With what pride was that issue of the journal regarded in the rue des Trois Freres!
"Aha!" cried Tricotrin, who in moments persuaded himself that he really occupied such noble quarters, "those who repudiated me in the days of my struggles will be a little repentant now, hein? Stone Heart will discover that I was not wrong in relying on my genius!"
"I assume," said Pitou, "that 'Stone Heart' is your newest pet-name for the silk-manufacturing uncle?"
"You catch my meaning precisely. I propose to send a copy of the paper to Lyons, with the Interview artistically bordered by laurels; I cannot draw laurels myself, but there are plenty of persons who can. We will find someone to do it when we palter with starvation at the Cafe du Bel Avenir this evening—or perhaps we had better fast at the Lucullus Junior, instead; there is occasionally some ink in the bottle there. I shall put the address in the margin—my uncle will not know where it is, and on the grounds of euphony I have no fault to find with it. It would not surprise me if I received an affectionate letter and a bank-note in reply—the perversity of human nature delights in generosities to the prosperous."
"It is a fact," said Pitou. "That human nature!"
"Who knows?—he may even renew the allowance that he used to make me!"
"Upon my word, more unlikely things have happened," Pitou conceded.
"Mon Dieu, Nicolas, we shall again have enough to eat!"
"Ah, visionary!" exclaimed Pitou; "are there no bounds to your imagination?"
Now, the perversity to which the poet referred did inspire monsieur Rigaud, of Lyons, to loosen his purse-strings. He wrote that he rejoiced to learn that Gustave was beginning to make his way, and enclosed a present of two hundred and fifty francs. More, after an avuncular preamble which the poet skipped—having a literary hatred of digression in the works of others—he even hinted that the allowance might be resumed.
What a banquet there was in bohemia! How the glasses jingled afterwards in La Lune Rousse, and oh, the beautiful hats that Germaine and Marcelle displayed on the next fine Sunday! Even when the last ripples of the splash were stilled, the comrades swaggered gallantly on the boulevard Rochechouart, for by any post might not the first instalment of that allowance arrive?
Weeks passed; and Tricotrin began to say, "It looks to me as if we needed another Interview!"
And then came a letter which was no less cordial than its predecessor, but which stunned the unfortunate recipient like a warrant for his execution. Monsieur Rigaud stated that business would bring him to Paris on the following evening and that he anticipated the pleasure of visiting his nephew; he trusted that his dear Gustave would meet him at the station. The poet and composer stared at each other with bloodless faces.
"You must call at his hotel instead," faltered Pitou at last.
"But you may be sure he will wish to see my elegant abode."
"'It is in the hands of the decorators. How unfortunate!'"
"He would propose to offer them suggestions; he is a born suggester."
"'Fever is raging in the house—a most infectious fever'; we will ask a medical student to give us one."
"It would not explain my lodging in a slum meanwhile."
"Well, let us admit that there is nothing to be done; you will have to own up!"
"Are you insane? It is improvident youths like you, who come to lament their wasted lives. If I could receive him this once as he expects to be received, we cannot doubt that it would mean an income of two thousand francs to me. Prosperity dangles before us—shall I fail to clutch it? Mon Dieu, what a catastrophe, his coming to Paris! Why cannot he conduct his business in Lyons? Is there not enough money in the city of Lyons to satisfy him? O grasper! what greed! Nicolas, my more than brother, if it were night when I took him to a sumptuous apartment, he might not notice the name of the street—I could talk brilliantly as we turned the corner. Also I could scintillate as I led him away. He would never know that it was not the rue des Trois Freres."
"You are right," agreed Pitou; "but which is the pauper in our social circle whose sumptuous apartment you propose to acquire?"
"One must consider," said Tricotrin. "Obviously, I am compelled to entertain in somebody's; fortunately, I have two days to find it in. I shall now go forth!"
It was a genial morning, and the first person he accosted in the rue Ravignan was Goujaud, painting in the patch of garden before the studios. "Tell me, Goujaud," exclaimed the poet, "have you any gilded acquaintance who would permit me the use of his apartment for two hours to-morrow evening?"
Goujaud reflected for some seconds, with his head to one side. "I have never done anything so fine as this before," he observed; "regard the atmosphere of it!"
"It is execrable!" replied Tricotrin, and went next door to Flamant. "My old one," he explained, "I have urgent need of a regal apartment for two hours to-morrow—have you a wealthy friend who would accommodate me?"
"You may beautify your bedroom with all my possessions," returned Flamant heartily. "I have a stuffed parrot that is most decorative, but I have not a friend that is wealthy."
"You express yourself like a First Course for the Foreigner," said Tricotrin, much annoyed. "Devil take your stuffed parrot!"
The heat of the sun increased towards midday, and drops began to trickle under the young man's hat. By four o'clock he had called upon sixty-two persons, exclusive of Sanquereau, whom he had been unable to wake. He bethought himself of Lajeunie, the novelist; but Lajeunie could offer him nothing more serviceable than a pass for the Elysee- Montmartre. "Now how is it possible that I spend my life among such imbeciles?" groaned the unhappy poet; "one offers me a parrot, and another a pass for a dancing-hall! Can I assure my uncle, who is a married man, and produces silk in vast quantities, that I reside in a dancing-hall? Besides, we know those passes—they are available only for ladies."
"It is true that you could not get in by it," assented Lajeunie, "but I give it to you freely. Take it, my poor fellow! Though it may appear inadequate to the occasion, who knows but what it will prove to be the basis of a fortune?"
"You are as crazy as the stories you write," said Tricotrin, "Still, it can go in my pocket." And he made, exhausted, for a bench in the place Dancourt, where he apostrophised his fate.
Thus occupied, he fell asleep; and presently a young woman sauntered from the sidewalk across the square. In the shady little place Dancourt is the little white Theatre Montmartre, and she first perused the play-bill, and then contemplated the sleeping poet. It may have been that she found something attractive in his bearing, or it may have been that ragamuffins sprawled elsewhere; but, having determined to wait awhile, she selected the bench on which he reposed, and forthwith woke him.
"Now this is nice!" he exclaimed, realising his lapse with a start.
"Oh, monsieur!" said she, blushing.
"Pardon; I referred to my having dozed when every moment is of consequence," he explained. "And yet," he went on ruefully, "upon my soul, I cannot conjecture where I shall go next!"
Her response was so sympathetic that it tempted him to remain a little longer, and in five minutes she was recounting her own perplexities. It transpired that she was a lady's-maid with a holiday, and the problem before her was whether to spend her money on a theatre, or on a ball.
"Now that is a question which is disposed of instantly," said Tricotrin, "You shall spend your money on a theatre, and go to a ball as well." And out fluttered the pink pass presented to him by Lajeunie.
The girl's tongue was as lively as her gratitude. She was, she told him, maid to the famous Colette Aubray, who had gone unattended that afternoon to visit the owner of a villa in the country, where she would stay until the next day but one. "So you see, monsieur, we poor servants are left alone in the flat to amuse ourselves as best we can!"
"Mon Dieu!" ejaculated Tricotrin, and added mentally, "It was decidedly the good kind fairies that pointed to this bench!"
He proceeded to pay the young woman such ardent attentions that she assumed he meant to accompany her to the ball, and her disappointment was extreme when he had to own that the state of his finances forbade it. "All I can suggest, my dear Leonie," he concluded, "is that I shall be your escort when you leave. It is abominable that you must have other partners in the meantime, but I feel that you will be constant to me in your thoughts. I shall have much to tell you—I shall whisper a secret in your ear; for, incredible as it may sound, my sweet child, you alone in Paris have the power to save me!"
"Oh, monsieur!" faltered the admiring lady's-maid, "it has always been my great ambition to save a young man, especially a young man who used such lovely language. I am sure, by the way you talk, that you must be a poet!"
"Extraordinary," mused Tricotrin, "that all the world recognises me as a poet, excepting when it reads my poetry!" And this led him to reflect that he must sell some of it, in order to provide refreshment for Leonie before he begged her aid. Accordingly, he arranged to meet her when the ball finished, and limped back to the attic, where he made up a choice assortment of his wares.
He had resolved to try the office of Le Demi-Mot; but his reception there was cold. "You should not presume on our good nature," demurred the Editor; "only last month we had an article on you, saying that you were highly talented, and now you ask us to publish your work besides. There must be a limit to such things."
He examined the collection, nevertheless, with a depreciatory countenance, and offered ten francs for three of the finest specimens. "From Le Demi-Mot I would counsel you to accept low terms," he said, with engaging interest, "on account of the prestige you, derive from appearing in it."
"In truth it is a noble thing, prestige," admitted Tricotrin; "but, monsieur, I have never known a man able to make a meal of it when he was starving, or to warm himself before it when he was without a fire. Still—though it is a jumble-sale price—let them go!"
"Payment will be made in due course," said the Editor, and became immersed in correspondence.
Tricotrin paled to the lips, and the next five minutes were terrible; indeed, he did not doubt that he would have to limp elsewhere. At last he cried, "Well, let us say seven francs, cash! Seven francs in one's fist are worth ten in due course." And thus the bargain was concluded.
"It was well for Hercules that none of his labours was the extraction of payment from an editor!" panted the poet on the doorstep. But he was now enabled to fete the lady's-maid in grand style, and—not to be outdone in generosity—she placed mademoiselle Aubray's flat at his disposal directly he asked for it.
"You have accomplished a miracle!" averred Pitou, in the small hours, when he heard the news.
Tricotrin waved a careless hand. "To a man of resource all things are possible!" he murmured.
The next evening the silk manufacturer was warmly embraced on the platform, and not a little surprised to learn that his nephew expected a visit at once. However, the young man's consternation was so profound when objections were made that, in the end, they were withdrawn. Tricotrin directed the driver after monsieur Rigaud was in the cab, and, on their reaching the courtyard, there was Leonie, all frills, ready to carry the handbag.
"Your servant?" inquired monsieur Rigaud, with some disapproval, as they went upstairs; "she is rather fancifully dressed, hein?"
"Is it so?" answered Tricotrin. "Perhaps a bachelor is not sufficiently observant in these matters. Still, she is an attentive domestic. Take off your things, my dear uncle, and make yourself at home. What joy it gives me to see you here!"
"Mon Dieu," exclaimed the silk manufacturer, looking about him, "you have a place fit for a prince! It must have cost a pretty penny."
"Between ourselves," said Tricotrin, "I often reproach myself for what I spent on it; I could make very good use to-day of some of the money I squandered."
"What curtains!" murmured monsieur Rigaud, fingering the silk enraptured. "The quality is superb! What may they have charged you for these curtains?"
"It was years ago—upon my word I do not remember," drawled Tricotrin, who had no idea whether he ought to say five hundred francs, or five thousand. "Also, you must not think I have bought everything you see— many of the pictures and bronzes are presents from admirers of my work. It is gratifying, hein?"
"I—I—To confess the truth, we had not heard of your triumphs," admitted monsieur Rigaud; "I did not dream you were so successful."
"Ah, it is in a very modest way," Tricotrin replied. "I am not a millionaire, I assure you! On the contrary, it is often difficult to make both ends meet—although," he added hurriedly, "I live with the utmost economy, my uncle. The days of my thoughtlessness are past. A man should save, a man should provide for the future."
At this moment he was astonished to see Leonie open the door and announce that dinner was served. She had been even better than her word.
"Dinner?" cried monsieur Rigaud. "Ah, now I understand why you were so dejected when I would not come!"
"Bah, it will be a very simple meal," said his nephew, "but after a journey one must eat. Let us go in." He was turning the wrong way, but Leonie's eye saved him.
"Come," he proceeded, taking his seat, "some soup—some good soup! What will you drink, my uncle?"
"On the sideboard I see champagne," chuckled monsieur Rigaud; "you treat the old man well, you rogue!"
"Hah," said Tricotrin, who had not observed it, "the cellar, I own, is an extravagance of mine! Alone, I drink only mineral waters, or a little claret, much diluted; but to my dearest friends I must give the dearest wines. Leonie, champagne!" It was a capital dinner, and the cigars and cigarettes that Leonie put on the table with the coffee were of the highest excellence. Agreeable conversation whiled away some hours, and Tricotrin began to look for his uncle to get up. But it was raining smartly, and monsieur Rigaud was reluctant to bestir himself. Another hour lagged by, and at last Tricotrin faltered:
"I fear I must beg you to excuse me for leaving you, my uncle; it is most annoying, but I am compelled to go out. The fact is, I have consented to collaborate with Capus, and he is so eccentric, this dear Alfred—we shall be at work all night."
"Go, my good Gustave," said his uncle readily; "and, as I am very tired, if you have no objection, I will occupy your bed."
Tricotrin's jaw dropped, and it was by a supreme effort that he stammered how pleased the arrangement would make him. To intensify the fix, Leonie and the cook had disappeared—doubtless to the mansarde in which they slept—and he was left to cope with the catastrophe alone. However, having switched on the lights, he conducted the elderly gentleman to an enticing apartment. He wished him an affectionate "good-night," and after promising to wake him early, made for home, leaving the manufacturer sleepily surveying the room's imperial splendour.
"What magnificence!" soliloquised monsieur Rigaud. "What toilet articles!" He got into bed. "What a coverlet—there must be twenty thousand francs on top of me!"
He had not slumbered under them long when he was aroused by such a commotion that he feared for the action of his heart. Blinking in the glare, he perceived Leonie in scanty attire, distracted on her knees— and, by the bedside, a beautiful lady in a travelling cloak, raging with the air of a lioness.
"Go away!" quavered the manufacturer. "What is the meaning of this intrusion?"
"Intrusion?" raved the lady. "That is what you will explain, monsieur! How comes it that you are in my bed?"
"Yours?" ejaculated monsieur Rigaud. "What is it you say? You are making a grave error, for which you will apologise, madame!"
"Ah, hold me back," pleaded the lady, throwing up her eyes, "hold me back or I shall assault him!" She flung to Leonie. "Wretched girl, you shall pay for this! Not content with lavishing my champagne and my friend's cigars on your lover, you must put him to recuperate in my room!"
"Oh!" gasped the manufacturer, and hid his head under the priceless coverlet. "Such an imputation is unpardonable," he roared, reappearing. "I am monsieur Rigaud, of Lyons; the flat belongs to my nephew, monsieur Tricotrin; I request you to retire!"
"Imbecile!" screamed the lady; "the flat belongs to me—Colette Aubray. And your presence may ruin me—I expect a visitor on most important business! He has not my self-control; if he finds you here he will most certainly send you a challenge. He is the best swordsman in Paris! I advise you to believe me, for you have just five minutes to save your life!"
"Monsieur," wailed Leonie, "you have been deceived!" And, between her sobs, she confessed the circumstances, which he heard with the greatest difficulty, owing to the chattering of his teeth.
The rain was descending in cataracts when monsieur Rigaud got outside, but though the trams and the trains had both stopped running, and cabs were as dear as radium, his fury was so tempestuous that nothing could deter him from reaching the poet's real abode. His attack on the front door warned Tricotrin and Pitou what had happened, and they raised themselves, blanched, from their pillows, to receive his curses. It was impossible to reason with him, and he launched the most frightful denunciation at his nephew for an hour, when the abatement of the downpour permitted him to depart. More, at noon, who should arrive but Leonie in tears! She had been dismissed from her employment, and came to beg the poet to intercede for her.
"What calamities!" groaned Tricotrin. "How fruitless are man's noblest endeavours without the favouring breeze! I shall drown myself at eight o'clock. However, I will readily plead for you first, if your mistress will receive me."
By the maid's advice he presented himself late in the day, and when he had cooled his heels in the salon for some time, a lady entered, who was of such ravishing appearance that his head swam.
"Monsieur Tricotrin?" she inquired haughtily. "I have heard your name from your uncle, monsieur. Are you here to visit my servant?"
"Mademoiselle," he faltered, "I am here to throw myself on your mercy. At eight o'clock I have decided to commit suicide, for I am ruined. The only hope left me is to win your pardon before I die."
"I suppose your uncle has disowned you?" she said. "Naturally! It was a pretty situation to put him in. How would you care to be in it yourself?"
"Alas, mademoiselle," sighed Tricotrin, "there are situations to which a poor poet may not aspire!"
After regarding him silently she exclaimed, "I cannot understand what a boy with eyes like yours saw in Leonie?"
"Merely good nature and a means to an end, believe me! If you would ease my last moments, reinstate her in your service. Do not let me drown with the knowledge that another is suffering for my fault! Mademoiselle, I entreat you—take her back!"
"And why should I ease your last moments?" she demurred.
"Because I have no right to ask it; because I have no defence for my sin towards you; because you would be justified in trampling on me—and to pardon would be sublime!"
"You are very eloquent for my maid," returned the lady.
He shook his head. "Ah, no—I fear I am pleading for myself. For, if you reinstate the girl, it will prove that you forgive the man—and I want your forgiveness so much!" He fell at her feet.
"Does your engagement for eight o'clock press, monsieur?" murmured the lady, smiling. "If you could dine here again to-night, I might relent by degrees."
"And she is adorable!" he told Pitou. "I passed the most delicious evening of my life!" "It is fortunate," observed Pitou, "for that, and your uncle's undying enmity, are all you have obtained by your imposture. Remember that the evening cost two thousand francs a year!"
"Ah, misanthrope," cried Tricotrin radiantly, "there must be a crumpled roseleaf in every Eden!"
THE FATAL FLOROZONDE
Before Pitou, the composer, left for the Hague, he called on Theophile de Fronsac, the poet. La Voix Parisienne had lately appointed de Fronsac to its staff, on condition that he contributed no poetry.
"Good-evening," said de Fronsac. "Mon Dieu! what shall I write about?"
"Write about my music," said Pitou, whose compositions had been rejected in every arrondissement of Paris.
"Let us talk sanely," demurred de Fronsac. "My causerie is half a column short. Tell me something interesting."
"Woman!" replied Pitou.
De Fronsac flicked his cigarette ash. "You remind me," he said, "how much I need a love affair; my sensibilities should be stimulated. To continue to write with fervour I require to adore again."
"It is very easy to adore," observed Pitou.
"Not at forty," lamented the other; "especially to a man in Class A. Don't forget, my young friend, that I have loved and been loved persistently for twenty-three years. I cannot adore a repetition, and it is impossible for me to discover a new type."
"All of which I understand," said Pitou, "excepting 'Class A.'"
"There are three kinds of men," explained the poet. "Class A are the men to whom women inevitably surrender. Class B consists of those whom they trust by instinct and confide in on the second day; these men acquire an extensive knowledge of the sex—but they always fall short of winning the women for themselves. Class C women think of merely as 'the others'—they do not count; eventually they marry, and try to persuade their wives that they were devils of fellows when they were young. However, such reflections will not assist me to finish my causerie, for I wrote them all last week."
"Talking of women," remarked Pitou, "a little blonde has come to live opposite our lodging. So far we have only bowed from our windows, but I have christened her 'Lynette,' and Tricotrin has made a poem about her. It is pathetic. The last verse—the others are not written yet—goes:
"'O window I watched in the days that are dead, Are you watched by a lover to-day? Are glimpses caught now of another blonde head By a youth who lives over the way? Does she repeat words that Lynette's lips have said— And does he say what I used to say?'"
"What is the answer?" asked de Fronsac. "Is it a conundrum? In any case it is a poor substitute for a half a column of prose in La Voix. How on earth am I to arrive at the bottom of the page? If I am short in my copy, I shall be short in my rent; if I am short in my rent, I shall be put out of doors; if I am put out of doors, I shall die of exposure. And much good it will do me that they erect a statue to me in the next generation! Upon my word, I would stand a dinner—at the two-franc place where you may eat all you can hold—if you could give me a subject."
"It happens," said Pitou, "that I can give you a very strange one. As I am going to a foreign land, I have been to the country to bid farewell to my parents; I came across an extraordinary girl."
"One who disliked presents?" inquired de Fronsac.
"I am not jesting. She is a dancer in a travelling circus. The flare and the drum wooed me one night, and I went in. As a circus, well, you may imagine—a tent in a fair. My fauteuil was a plank, and the orchestra surpassed the worst tortures of the Inquisition. And then, after the decrepit horses, and a mangy lion, a girl came into the ring, with the most marvellous eyes I have ever seen in a human face. They are green eyes, with golden lights in them."
"Really?" murmured the poet. "I have never been loved by a girl who had green eyes with golden lights in them."
"I am glad you have never been loved by this one," returned the composer gravely; "she has a curious history. All her lovers, without exception, have committed suicide."
"What?" said de Fronsac, staring.
"It is very queer. One of them had just inherited a hundred thousand francs—he hanged himself. Another, an author from Italy, took poison, while all Rome was reading his novel. To be infatuated by her is harmless enough, but to win her is invariably fatal within a few weeks. Some time ago she attached herself to one of the troupe, and soon afterwards he discovered she was deceiving him. He resolved to shoot her. He pointed a pistol at her breast. She simply laughed—and looked at him. He turned the pistol on himself, and blew his brains out!"
De Fronsac had already written: "Here is the extraordinary history of a girl whom I discovered in a fair." The next moment:
"But you repeat a rumour," he objected. "La Voix Parisienne has a reputation; odd as the fact may appear to you, people read it. If this is published in La Voix it will attract attention. Soon she will be promoted from a tent in a fair to a stage in Paris. Well, what happens? You tell me she is beautiful, so she will have hundreds of admirers. Among the hundreds there will be one she favours. And then? Unless he committed suicide in a few weeks, the paper would be proved a liar. I should not be able to sleep of nights for fear he would not kill himself."
"My dear," exclaimed Pitou with emotion, "would I add to your anxieties? Rather than you should be disturbed by anybody's living, let us dismiss the subject, and the dinner, and talk of my new Symphony. On the other hand, I fail to see that the paper's reputation is your affair—it is not your wife; and I am more than usually empty to-day."
"Your argument is sound," said de Fronsac. "Besides, the Editor refuses my poetry." And he wrote without cessation for ten minutes.
The two-franc table-d'hote excelled itself that evening, and Pitou did ample justice to the menu.
Behold how capricious is the jade, Fame! The poet whose verses had left him obscure, accomplished in ten minutes a paragraph that fascinated all Paris. On the morrow people pointed it out to one another; the morning after, other journals referred to it; in the afternoon the Editor of La Voix Parisienne was importuned with questions. No one believed the story to be true, but not a soul could help wondering if it might be so.
When a day or two had passed, Pitou received from de Fronsac a note which ran:
"Send to me at once, I entreat thee, the name of that girl, and say where she can be found. The managers of three variety theatres of the first class have sought me out and are eager to engage her."
"Decidedly," said Pitou, "I have mistaken my vocation—I ought to have been a novelist!" And he replied:
"The girl whose eyes suggested the story to me is called on the programmes 'Florozonde.' For the rest, I know nothing, except that thou didst offer a dinner and I was hungry."
However, when he had written this, he destroyed it.
"Though I am unappreciated myself, and shall probably conclude in the Morgue," he mused, "that is no excuse for my withholding prosperity from others. Doubtless the poor girl would rejoice to appear at three variety theatres of the first class, or even at one of them." He answered simply:
"Her name is 'Florozonde'; she will be found in a circus at Chartres"— and nearly suffocated with laughter.
Then a little later the papers announced that Mlle. Florozonde—whose love by a strange series of coincidences had always proved fatal—would be seen at La Coupole. Posters bearing the name of "Florozonde"—yellow on black—invaded the boulevards. Her portrait caused crowds to assemble, and "That girl who, they say, deals death, that Florozonde!" was to be heard as constantly as ragtime.
By now Pitou was at the Hague, his necessities having driven him into the employment of a Parisian who had opened a shop there for the sale of music and French pianos. When he read the Paris papers, Pitou trembled so violently that the onlookers thought he must have ague. Hilarity struggled with envy in his breast. "Ma foi!" he would say to himself, "it seems that my destiny is to create successes for others. Here am I, exiled, and condemned to play cadenzas all day in a piano warehouse, while she whom I invented, dances jubilant in Paris. I do not doubt that she breakfasts at Armenonville, and dines at Paillard's."
And it was a fact that Florozonde was the fashion. As regards her eyes, at any rate, the young man had not exaggerated more than was to be forgiven in an artist; her eyes were superb, supernatural; and now that the spangled finery of a fair was replaced by the most triumphant of audacities—now that a circus band had been exchanged for the orchestra of La Coupole—she danced as she had not danced before. You say that a gorgeous costume cannot improve a woman's dancing? Let a woman realise that you improve her appearance, and you improve everything that she can do!
Nevertheless one does not pretend that it was owing to her talent, or her costume, or the weird melody proposed by the chef d'orchestre, that she became the rage. Not at all. That was due to her reputation. Sceptics might smile and murmur the French for "Rats!" but, again, nobody could say positively that the tragedies had not occurred. And above all, there were the eyes—it was conceded that a woman with eyes like that ought to be abnormal. La Coupole was thronged every night, and the stage doorkeeper grew rich, so numerous were the daring spirits, coquetting with death, who tendered notes inviting the Fatal One to supper.
Somehow the suppers were rather dreary. The cause may have been that the guest was handicapped by circumstances—to be good company without discarding the fatal air was extremely difficult; also the cause may have been that the daring spirits felt their courage forsake them in a tete-a-tete; but it is certain that once when Florozonde drove home in the small hours to the tattered aunt who lived on her, she exclaimed violently that, "All this silly fake was giving her the hump, and that she wished she were 'on the road' again, with a jolly good fellow who was not afraid of her!"
Then the tattered aunt cooed to her, reminding her that little ducklings had run to her already roasted, and adding that she (the tattered aunt) had never heard of equal luck in all the years she had been in the show business.
"Ah, zut!" cried Florozonde. "It does not please me to be treated as if I had scarlet fever. If I lean towards a man, he turns pale."
"Life is good," said her aunt philosophically, "and men have no wish to die for the sake of an embrace—remember your reputation! II faut souffrir pour etre fatale. Look at your salary, sweetie—and you have had nothing to do but hold your tongue! Ah, was anything ever heard like it? A miracle of le bon Dieu!"
"It was monsieur de Fronsac, the journalist, who started it," said Florozonde. "I supposed he had made it up, to give me a lift; but, ma foi, I think he half believes it, too! What can have put it in his head? I have a mind to ask him the next time he comes behind."
"What a madness!" exclaimed the old woman; "you might queer your pitch! Never, never perform a trick with a confederate when you can work alone; that is one of the first rules of life. If he thinks it is true, so much the better. Now get to bed, lovey, and think of pleasant things—what did you have for supper?"
Florozonde was correct in her surmise—de Fronsac did half believe it, and de Fronsac was accordingly much perturbed. Consider his dilemma! The nature of his pursuits had demanded a love affair, and he had endeavoured conscientiously to comply, for the man was nothing if not an artist. But, as he had said to Pitou, he had loved so much, and so many, that the thing was practically impossible for him, He was like the pastrycook's boy who is habituated and bilious. Then suddenly a new type, which he had despaired of finding, was displayed. His curiosity awoke; and, fascinated in the first instance by her ghastly reputation, he was fascinated gradually by her physical charms. Again he found himself enslaved by a woman—and the woman, who owed her fame to his services, was clearly appreciative. But he had a strong objection to committing suicide.
His eagerness for her love was only equalled by his dread of what might happen if she gave it to him. Alternately he yearned, and shuddered, On Monday he cried, "Idiot, to be frightened by such blague!" and on Tuesday he told himself, "All the same, there may be something in it!" It was thus tortured that he paid his respects to Florozonde at the theatre on the evening after she complained to her aunt. She was in her dressing-room, making ready to go.
"You have danced divinely," he said to her. "There is no longer a programme at La Coupole—there is only 'Florozonde.'"
She smiled the mysterious smile that she was cultivating. "What have you been doing with yourself, monsieur? I have not seen you all the week."
De Fronsac sighed expressively. "At my age one has the wisdom to avoid temptation."
"May it not be rather unkind to temptation?" she suggested, raising her marvellous eyes.
De Fronsac drew a step back. "Also I have had a great deal to do," he added formally; "I am a busy man. For example, much as I should like to converse with you now.—" But his resolution forsook him and he was unable to say that he had looked in only for a minute.
"Much as you would like to converse with me—?" questioned Florozonde.
"I ought, by rights, to be seated at my desk," he concluded lamely.
"I am pleased that you are not seated at your desk," she said.
"Because?" murmured de Fronsac, with unspeakable emotions.
"Because I have never thanked you enough for your interest in me, and I want to tell you that I remember." She gave him her hand. He held it, battling with terror.
"Mademoiselle," he returned tremulously, "when I wrote the causerie you refer to, my interest in you was purely the interest of a journalist, so for that I do not deserve your thanks. But since I have had the honour to meet you I have experienced an interest altogether different; the interest of a man, of a—a—" Here his teeth chattered, and he paused.
"Of a what?" she asked softly, with a dreamy air.
"Of a friend," he muttered. A gust of fear had made the "friend" an iceberg. But her clasp tightened.
"I am glad," she said. "Ah, you have been good to me, monsieur! And if, in spite of everything, I am sometimes sad, I am, at least, never ungrateful."
"You are sad?" faltered the vacillating victim. "Why?"
Her bosom rose. "Is success all a woman wants?"
"Ah!" exclaimed de Fronsac, in an impassioned quaver, "is that not life? To all of us there is the unattainable—to you, to me!"
"To you?" she murmured. Her eyes were transcendental. Admiration and alarm tore him in halves.
"In truth," he gasped, "I am the most miserable of men! What is genius, what is fame, when one is lonely and unloved?"
She moved impetuously closer—so close that the perfume of her hair intoxicated him. His heart seemed to knock against his ribs, and he felt the perspiration burst out on his brow. For an instant he hesitated—on the edge of his grave, he thought. Then he dropped her hand, and backed from her. "But why should I bore you with my griefs?" he stammered. "Au revoir, mademoiselle!"
Outside the stage door he gave thanks for his self-control. Also, pale with the crisis, he registered an oath not to approach her again.
Meanwhile the expatriated Pitou had remained disconsolate. Though the people at the Hague spoke French, they said foreign things to him in it. He missed Montmartre—the interests of home. While he waxed eloquent to customers on the tone of pianos, or the excellence of rival composers' melodies, he was envying Florozonde in Paris. Florozonde, whom he had created, obsessed the young man. In the evening he read about her at Van der Pyl's; on Sundays, when the train carried him to drink beer at Scheveningen, he read about her in the Kurhaus. And then the unexpected happened. In this way:
Pitou was discharged.
Few things could have surprised him more, and, to tell the truth, few things could have troubled him less. "It is better to starve in Paris than grow fat in Holland," he observed. He jingled his capital in his trouser-pocket, in fancy savoured his dinner cooking at the Cafe du Bel Avenir, and sped from the piano shop as if it had been on fire.
The clock pointed to a quarter to six as Nicolas Pitou, composer, emerged from the gare du Nord, and lightly swinging the valise that contained his wardrobe, proceeded to the rue des Trois Freres. Never had it looked dirtier, or sweeter. He threw himself on Tricotrin's neck; embraced the concierge—which took her breath away, since she was ill-favoured and most disagreeable; fared sumptuously for one franc fifty at the Cafe du Bel Avenir—where he narrated adventures abroad that surpassed de Rougemont's; and went to La Coupole.
And there, jostled by the crowd, the poor fellow looked across the theatre at the triumphant woman he had invented—and fell in love with her.
One would have said there was more than the width of a theatre between them—one would have said the distance was interminable. Who in the audience could suspect that Florozonde would have been unknown but for a boy in the Promenoir?
Yes, he fell in love—with her beauty, her grace—perhaps also with the circumstances. The theatre rang with plaudits; the curtain hid her; and he went out, dizzy with romance. He could not hope to speak to her to-night, but he was curious to see her when she left. He decided that on the morrow he would call upon de Fronsac, whom she doubtless knew now, and ask him for an introduction. Promising himself this, he reached the stage door—where de Fronsac, with trembling limbs, stood giving thanks for his self-control.
"My friend!" cried Pitou enthusiastically, "how rejoiced I am to meet you!" and nearly wrung his hand off.
"Aie! Gently!" expostulated de Fronsac, writhing. "Aie, aie! I did not know you loved me so much. So you are back from Sweden, hein?"
"Yes. I have not been there, but why should we argue about geography? What were you doing as I came up—reciting your poems? By the way, I have a favour to ask; I want you to introduce me to Florozonde."
"Never!" answered the poet firmly; "I have too much affection for you— I have just resolved not to see her again myself. Besides, I thought you knew her in the circus?"
"I never spoke to her there—I simply admired her from the plank. Come, take me inside, and present me!"
"It is impossible," persisted de Fronsac; "I tell you I will not venture near her any more. Also, she is coming out—that is her coupe that you see waiting."
She came out as he spoke, and, affecting not to recognise him, moved rapidly towards the carriage. But this would not do for Pitou at all. "Mademoiselle!" he exclaimed, sweeping his hat nearly to the pavement.
"Yes, well?" she said sharply, turning.
"I have just begged my friend de Fronsac to present me to you, and he feared you might not pardon his presumption. May I implore you to pardon mine?"
She smiled. There was the instant in which neither the man nor the woman knows who will speak next, nor what is to be said—the instant on which destinies hang. Pitou seized it.
"Mademoiselle, I returned to France only this evening. All the journey my thought was—to see you as soon as I arrived!"
"Your friend," she said, with a scornful glance towards de Fronsac, who sauntered gracefully away, "would warn you that you are rash."
"I am not afraid of his warning."
"Are you not afraid of me?"
"Afraid only that you will banish me too soon."
"Mon Dieu! then you must be the bravest man in Paris," she said.
"At any rate I am the luckiest for the moment."
It was a delightful change to Florozonde to meet a man who was not alarmed by her; and it pleased her to show de Fronsac that his cowardice had not left her inconsolable. She laughed loud enough for him to hear.
"I ought not to be affording you the luck," she answered. "I have friends waiting for me at the Cafe de Paris." "I expected some such blow," said Pitou. "And how can I suppose you will disappoint your friends in order to sup with me at the Cafe du Bel Avenir instead?"
"The Cafe du—?" She was puzzled.
"I do not know it."
"Nor would your coachman. We should walk there—and our supper would cost three francs, wine included."
"Is it an invitation?"
"It is a prayer."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Nicolas Pitou,"
"What do you do in it?"
"Hunger, and make music."
"Take me to the Bel Avenir," she said, and sent the carriage away.
De Fronsac, looking back as they departed, was distressed to see the young man risking his life.
At the Bel Avenir their entrance made a sensation. She removed her cloak, and Pitou arranged it over two chairs. Then she threw her gloves out of the way, in the bread-basket; and the waiter and the proprietress, and all the family, did homage to her toilette.
"Who would have supposed?" she smiled, and her smile forgot to be mysterious.
"That the restaurant would be so proud?"
"That I should be supping with you in it! Tell me, you had no hope of this on your journey? It was true about your journey, hein?"
"Ah, really! No, how could I hope? I went round after your dance simply to see you closer; and then I met de Fronsac, and then—"
"And then you were very cheeky. Answer! Why do I interest you? Because of what they say of me?"
"Because you are so beautiful. Answer! Why did you come to supper with me? To annoy some other fellow?"
"Because you were not frightened of me. Are you sure you are not frightened? Oh, remember, remember your horrible fate if I should like you too much!"
"It would be a thumping advertisement for you," said Pitou. "Let me urge you to try to secure it."
"Reckless boy!" she laughed, "Pour out some more wine. Ah, it is good, this! it is like old times. The strings of onions on the dear, dirty walls, and the serviettes that are so nice and damp! It was in restaurants like this, if my salary was paid, I used to sup on fete days."
"And if it was not paid?"
"I supped in imagination. My dear, I have had a cigarette for a supper, and the grass for a bed. I have tramped by the caravan while the stars faded, and breakfasted on the drum in the tent. And you—on a bench in the Champs Elysees, hein?"
"It has occurred."
"And you watched the sun rise, and made music, and wished you could rise, too? I must hear your music some day. You shall write me a dance. Is it agreed?"
"The contract is already stamped," said Pitou.
"I am glad I met you—it is the best supper I have had in Paris. Why are you calculating the expenses on the back of the bill of fare?"
"I am not. I am composing your dance," said Pitou. "Don't speak for a minute, it will be sublime! Also it will be a souvenir when you have gone."
But she did not go for a long while. It was late when they left the Cafe du Bel Avenir, still talking—and there was always more to say. By this time Pitou did not merely love her beauty—he adored the woman. As for Florozonde, she no longer merely loved his courage—she approved the man.
Listen: he was young, fervid, and an artist; his proposal was made before they reached her doorstep, and she consented!
Their attachment was the talk of the town, and everybody waited to hear that Pitou had killed himself. His name was widely known at last. But weeks and months went by; Florozonde's protracted season came to an end; and still he looked radiantly well. Pitou was the most unpopular man in Paris.
In the rue Dauphine, one day, he met de Fronsac.
"So you are still alive!" snarled the poet.
"Never better," declared Pitou. "It turns out," he added confidentially, "there was nothing in that story—it was all fudge."
"Evidently! I must congratulate you," said de Fronsac, looking bomb-shells.
THE OPPORTUNITY OF PETITPAS
In Bordeaux, on the 21st of December, monsieur Petitpas, a clerk with bohemian yearnings, packed his portmanteau for a week's holiday. In Paris, on the same date, monsieur Tricotrin, poet and pauper, was commissioned by the Editor of Le Demi-Mot to convert a rough translation into literary French. These two disparate incidents were destined by Fate—always mysterious in her workings—to be united in a narrative for the present volume.
Three evenings later the poet's concierge climbed the stairs and rapped peremptorily at the door.
"Well?" cried Tricotrin, raising bloodshot eyes from the manuscript; "who disturbs me now? Come in!"
"I have come in," panted madame Dubois, who had not waited for his invitation, "and I am here to tell you, monsieur, that you cannot be allowed to groan in this agonised fashion. Your lamentations can be heard even in the basement."
"Is it in my agreement, madame, that I shall not groan if I am so disposed?" inquired the poet haughtily.
"There are things tacitly understood. It is enough that you are in arrears with your rent, without your doing your best to drive away the other tenants. For two days they have all complained that it would be less disturbing to reside in a hospital."
"Well, they have my permission to remove there," said Tricotrin. "Now that the matter is settled, let me get on with my work!" And with the groan of a soul in Hades, he perused another line.
"There you go again!" expostulated the woman angrily, "It is not to be endured, monsieur. What is the matter with you, for goodness' sake?"
"With me, madame, there is nothing the matter; the fault lies with an infernal Spanish novel. A misguided editor has commissioned me to rewrite it from a translation made by a foreigner. How can I avoid groans when I read his rot? Miranda exclaims, 'May heaven confound you, bandit!' And the fiance of the ingenue addresses her as 'Angel of this house!'"
"Well, at least groan quietly," begged the concierge; "do not bellow your sufferings to the cellar."
"To oblige you I will be as Spartan as I can," agreed Tricotrin. "Now I have lost my place in the masterpiece. Ah, here we are! 'I feel she brings bad tidings—she wears a disastrous mien.' It is sprightly dialogue! If the hundred and fifty francs were not essential to keep a roof over my head, I would send the Editor a challenge for offering me the job."
Perspiration bespangled the young man's brow as he continued his task. When another hour had worn by he thirsted to do the foreign translator a bodily injury, and so intense was his exasperation that, by way of interlude, he placed the manuscript on the floor and jumped on it. But the climax was reached in Chapter XXVII; under the provocation of the love scene in Chapter XXVII frenzy mastered him, and with a yell of torture he hurled the whole novel through the window, and burst into hysterical tears.
The novel, which was of considerable bulk, descended on the landlord, who was just approaching the house to collect his dues.
"What does it mean," gasped monsieur Gouge, when he had recovered his equilibrium, and his hat; "what does it mean that I cannot approach my own property without being assaulted with a ton of paper? Who has dared to throw such a thing from a window?"
"Monsieur," stammered the concierge, "I do not doubt that it was the top-floor poet; he has been behaving like a lunatic for days."
"Aha, the top-floor poet?" snorted monsieur Gouge. "I shall soon dispose of him!" And Tricotrin's tears were scarcely dried when bang came another knock at his door.
"So, monsieur," exclaimed the landlord, with fine satire, "your poems are of small account, it appears, since you use them as missiles? The value you put upon your scribbling does not encourage me to wait for my rent!"
"Mine?" faltered Tricotrin, casting an indignant glance at the muddy manuscript restored to him; "you accuse me of having perpetrated that atrocity? Oh, this is too much! I have a reputation to preserve, monsieur, and I swear by all the Immortals that it was no work of mine."
"Did you not throw it?"
"Throw it? Yes, assuredly I threw it. But I did not write it."
"Morbleu! what do I care who wrote it?" roared monsieur Gouge, purple with spleen. "Does its authorship improve the condition of my hat? My grievance is its arrival on my head, not its literary quality. Let me tell you that you expose yourself to actions at law, pitching weights like this from a respectable house into a public street."
"I should plead insanity," said Tricotrin; "twenty-seven chapters of that novel, translated into a Spaniard's French, would suffice to people an asylum. Nevertheless, if it arrived on your hat, I owe you an apology."
"You also owe me two hundred francs!" shouted the other, "and I have shown you more patience than you deserve. Well, my folly is finished! You settle up, or you get out, right off!"
"Have you reflected that it is Christmas Eve—do we live in a melodrama, that I should wander homeless on Christmas Eve? Seriously, you cannot expect a man of taste to lend himself to so hackneyed a situation? Besides, I share this apartment with the composer monsieur Nicolas Pitou. Consider how poignant he would find the room's associations if he returned to dwell here alone!"
"Monsieur Pitou will not be admitted when he returns—there is not a pin to choose between the pair of you. You hand me the two hundred francs, or you go this minute—and I shall detain your wardrobe till you pay. Where is it?"
"It is divided between my person and a shelf at the pawnbroker's," explained the poet; "but I have a soiled collar in the left-hand corner drawer. However, I can offer you more valuable security for this trifling debt than you would dare to ask; the bureau is full of pearls —metrical, but beyond price. I beg your tenderest care of them, especially my tragedy in seven acts. Do not play jinks with the contents of that bureau, or Posterity will gibbet you and the name of 'Gouge' will one day be execrated throughout France. Garbage, farewell!"
"Here, take your shaving paper with you!" cried monsieur Gouge, flinging the Spanish novel down the stairs. And the next moment the man of letters stood dejected on the pavement, with the fatal manuscript under his arm.
"Ah, Miranda, Miranda, thou little knowest what mischief thou hast done!" he murmured, unconsciously plagiarising. "She brought bad tidings indeed, with her disastrous mien," he added. "What is to become of me now?"
The moon, to which he had naturally addressed this query, made no answer; and, fingering the sou in his trouser-pocket, he trudged in the direction of the rue Ravignan. "The situation would look well in print," he reflected, "but the load under my arm should, dramatically, be a bundle of my own poems. Doubtless the matter will be put right by my biographer. I wonder if I can get half a bed from Goujaud?"
Encouraged by the thought of the painter's hospitality, he proceeded to the studio; but he was informed in sour tones that monsieur Goujaud would not sleep there that night.
"So much the better," he remarked, "for I can have all his bed, instead of half of it! Believe me, I shall put you to no trouble, madame."
"I believe it fully," answered the woman, "for you will not come inside—not monsieur Goujaud, nor you, nor any other of his vagabond friends. So, there!"
"Ah, is that how the wind blows—the fellow has not paid his rent?" said Tricotrin. "How disgraceful of him, to be sure! Fortunately Sanquereau lives in the next house."
He pulled the bell there forthwith, and the peal had scarcely sounded when Sanquereau rushed to the door, crying, "Welcome, my Beautiful!"
"Mon Dieu, what worthless acquaintances I possess!" moaned the unhappy poet. "Since you are expecting your Beautiful I need not go into details."
"What on earth did you want?" muttered Sanquereau, crestfallen.
"I came to tell you the latest Stop Press news—Goujaud's landlord has turned him out and I have no bed to lie on. Au revoir!"
After another apostrophe to the heavens, "That inane moon, which makes no response, is beginning to get on my nerves," he soliloquised. "Let me see now! There is certainly master Criqueboeuf, but it is a long journey to the quartier Latin, and when I get there his social engagements may annoy me as keenly as Sanquereau's. It appears to me I am likely to try the open-air cure to-night. In the meanwhile I may as well find Miranda a seat and think things over."
Accordingly he bent his steps to the place Dancourt, and having deposited the incubus beside him, stretched his limbs on a bench beneath a tree. His attitude, and his luxuriant locks, to say nothing of his melancholy aspect, rendered him a noticeable figure in the little square, and monsieur Petitpas, from Bordeaux, under the awning of the cafe opposite, stood regarding him with enthusiasm.
"Upon my word of honour," mused Petitpas, rubbing his hands, "I believe I see a Genius in the dumps! At last I behold the Paris of my dreams. If I have read my Murger to any purpose, I am on the verge of an epoch. What a delightful adventure!"
Taking out his Marylands, Petitpas sauntered towards the bench with a great show of carelessness, and made a pretence of feeling in his pockets for a match. "Tschut!" he exclaimed; then, affecting to observe Tricotrin for the first time, "May I beg you to oblige me with a light, monsieur?" he asked deferentially. A puff of wind provided an excuse for sitting down to guard the flame; and the next moment the Genius had accepted a cigarette, and acknowledged that the weather was mild for the time of year.
Excitement thrilled Petitpas. How often, after business hours, he had perused his well-thumbed copy of La Vie de Boheme and in fancy consorted with the gay descendants of Rodolphe and Marcel; how often he had regretted secretly that he, himself, did not woo a Muse and jest at want in a garret, instead of totting up figures, and eating three meals a day in comfort! And now positively one of the fascinating beings of his imagination lolled by his side! The little clerk on a holiday longed to play the generous comrade. In his purse he had a couple of louis, designed for sight-seeing, and, with a rush of emotion, he pictured himself squandering five or six francs in half an hour and startling the artist by his prodigality.
"If I am not mistaken, I have the honour to address an author, monsieur?" he ventured.
"Your instincts have not misled you," replied the poet; "I am Tricotrin, monsieur—Gustave Tricotrin. The name, however, is to be found, as yet, on no statues."
"My own name," said the clerk, "is Adolphe Petitpas. I am a stranger in Paris, and I count myself fortunate indeed to have made monsieur Tricotrin's acquaintance so soon."
"He expresses himself with some discretion, this person," reflected Tricotrin. "And his cigarette was certainly providential!"
"To meet an author has always been an ambition of mine," Petitpas continued; "I dare to say that I have the artistic temperament, though circumstances have condemned me to commercial pursuits. You have no idea how enviable the literary life appears to me, monsieur!"
"Its privileges are perhaps more monotonous than you suppose," drawled the homeless poet. "Also, I had to work for many years before I attained my present position."
"This noble book, for instance," began the clerk, laying a reverent hand on the abominable manuscript.
"Hein?" exclaimed its victim, starting.
"To have written this noble book must be a joy compared with which my own prosperity is valueless."
"The damned thing is no work of mine," cried Tricotrin; "and if we are to avoid a quarrel, I will ask you not to accuse me of it! A joy, indeed? In that block of drivel you view the cause of my deepest misfortunes."
"A thousand apologies!" stammered his companion; "my inference was hasty. But what you say interests me beyond words. This manuscript, of seeming innocence, is the cause of misfortunes? May I crave an enormous favour; may I beg you to regard me as a friend and give me your confidence?"
"I see no reason why I should refuse it," answered Tricotrin, on whom the boast of "prosperity" had made a deep impression. "You must know, then, that this ineptitude, inflicted on me by an eccentric editor for translation, drove me to madness, and not an hour ago I cast it from my window in disgust. It is a novel entirely devoid of taste and tact, and it had the clumsiness to alight on my landlord's head. Being a man of small nature, he retaliated by demanding his rent."