TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Variations in hyphenation, capitalization, and spelling have been retained as in the original. Minor printer errors have been amended without note. Obvious typos have been amended and are listed at the end of the text. Some illustrations have been relocated for better flow. Brief descriptions of illustrations without captions have been added in parentheses where appropriate.
THE REAL LATIN QUARTER
By F. BERKELEY SMITH
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY THE AUTHOR INTRODUCTION AND FRONTISPIECE BY F. HOPKINSON SMITH
FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY NEW YORK . NINETEEN HUNDRED AND ONE
Copyright, 1901 by Funk & Wagnalls Company
Registered at Stationers' Hall London, England
Printed in the United States of America
Published in November, 1901
Page Introduction 7
I. In the Rue Vaugirard 11
II. The Boulevard St. Michel 29
III. The "Bal Bullier" 52
IV. Bal des Quat'z' Arts 70
V. "A Dejeuner at Lavenue's" 93
VI. "At Marcel Legay's" 113
VII. "Pochard" 129
VIII. The Luxembourg Gardens 151
IX. "The Ragged Edge of the Quarter" 173
X. Exiled 194
"Cocher, drive to the rue Falguiere"—this in my best restaurant French.
The man with the varnished hat shrugged his shoulders, and raised his eyebrows in doubt. He evidently had never heard of the rue Falguiere. "Yes, rue Falguiere, the old rue des Fourneaux," I continued.
Cabby's face broke out into a smile. "Ah, oui, oui, le Quartier Latin."
And it was at the end of this crooked street, through a lane that led into a half court flanked by a row of studio buildings, and up one pair of dingy waxed steps, that I found a door bearing the name of the author of the following pages—his visiting card impaled on a tack. He was in his shirt-sleeves—the thermometer stood at 90 deg. outside—working at his desk, surrounded by half-finished sketches and manuscript.
The man himself I had met before—I had known him for years, in fact—but the surroundings were new to me. So too were his methods of work.
Nowadays when a man would write of the Siege of Peking or the relief of some South African town with the unpronounceable name, his habit is to rent a room on an up-town avenue, move in an inkstand and pad, and a collection of illustrated papers and encyclopedias. This writer on the rue Falguiere chose a different plan. He would come back year after year, and study his subject and compile his impressions of the Quarter in the very atmosphere of the place itself; within a stone's throw of the Luxembourg Gardens and the Pantheon; near the cafes and the Bullier; next door, if you please, to the public laundry where his washerwoman pays a few sous for the privilege of pounding his clothes into holes.
It all seemed very real to me, as I sat beside him and watched him at work. The method delighted me. I have similar ideas myself about the value of his kind of study in out-door sketching, compared with the labored work of the studio, and I have most positive opinions regarding the quality which comes of it.
If then the pages which here follow have in them any of the true inwardness of the life they are meant to portray, it is due, I feel sure, as much to the attitude of the author toward his subject, as much to his ability to seize, retain, and express these instantaneous impressions, these flash pictures caught on the spot, as to any other merit which they may possess.
Nothing can be made really real without it.
F. HOPKINSON SMITH.
Paris, August, 1901.
IN THE RUE VAUGIRARD
Like a dry brook, its cobblestone bed zigzagging past quaint shops and cafes, the rue Vaugirard finds its way through the heart of the Latin Quarter.
It is only one in a score of other busy little streets that intersect the Quartier Latin; but as I live on the rue Vaugirard, or rather just beside it, up an alley and in the corner of a picturesque old courtyard leading to the "Lavoir Gabriel," a somewhat angelic name for a huge, barn-like structure reeking in suds and steam, and noisy with gossiping washerwomen who pay a few sous a day there for the privilege of doing their washing—and as my studio windows (the big one with the north light, and the other one a narrow slit reaching from the floor to the high ceiling for the taking in of the big canvases one sees at the Salon—which are never sold) overlook both alley and court, I can see the life and bustle below.
This is not the Paris of Boulevards, ablaze with light and thronged with travelers of the world, nor of big hotels and chic restaurants without prices on the menus. In the latter the maitre d'hotel makes a mental inventory of you when you arrive; and before you have reached your coffee and cigar, or before madame has buttoned her gloves, this well-shaved, dignified personage has passed sentence on you, and you pay according to whatever he thinks you cannot afford. I knew a fellow once who ordered a peach in winter at one of these smart taverns, and was obliged to wire home for money the next day.
In the Quartier Latin the price is always such an important factor that it is marked plainly, and often the garcon will remind you of the cost of the dish you select in case you have not read aright, for in this true Bohemia one's daily fortune is the one necessity so often lacking that any error in regard to its expenditure is a serious matter.
In one of the well-known restaurants—here celebrated as a rendezvous for artists—a waiter, as he took a certain millionaire's order for asparagus, said: "Does monsieur know that asparagus costs five francs?"
At all times of the day and most of the night the rue Vaugirard is busy. During the morning, push-carts loaded with red gooseberries, green peas, fresh sardines, and mackerel, their sides shining like silver, line the curb in front of the small shops. Diminutive donkeys, harnessed to picturesque two-wheeled carts piled high with vegetables, twitch their long ears and doze in the shady corners of the street. The gutters, flushed with clear water, flash in the sunlight. Baskets full of red roses and white carnations, at a few sous the armful, brighten the cool shade of the alleys leading to courtyards of wild gardens, many of which are filled with odd collections of sculpture discarded from the ateliers.
Old women in linen caps and girls in felt slippers and leather-covered sabots, market baskets on arm, gossip in groups or hurry along the narrow sidewalk, stopping at the butcher's or the baker's to buy the dejeuner. Should you breakfast in your studio and do your own marketing, you will meet with enough politeness in the buying of a pate, an artichoke, and a bottle of vin ordinaire, to supply a court welcoming a distinguished guest.
Politeness is second nature to the Parisian—it is the key to one's daily life here, the oil that makes this finesse of civilization run smoothly.
"Bonjour, madame!" says the well-to-do proprietor of the tobacco-shop and cafe to an old woman buying a sou's worth of snuff.
"Bonjour, monsieur," replies the woman with a nod.
"Merci, madame," continues the fat patron as he drops the sou into his till.
"Merci, monsieur—merci!" and she secretes the package in her netted reticule, and hobbles out into the sunny street, while the patron attends to the wants of three draymen who have clambered down from their heavy carts for a friendly chat and a little vermouth. A polished zinc bar runs the length of the low-ceilinged room; a narrow, winding stairway in one corner leads to the living apartments above. Behind the bar shine three well-polished square mirrors, and ranged in front of these, each in its zinc rack, are the favorite beverages of the Quarter—anisette, absinthe, menthe, grenadine—each in zinc-stoppered bottles, like the ones in the barber-shops.
At the end of the little bar a cocher is having his morning tipple, the black brim of his yellow glazed hat resting on his coarse red ears. He is in his shirt-sleeves; coat slung over his shoulder, and whip in hand, he is on the way to get his horse and voiture for the day. To be even a cocher in Paris is considered a profession. If he dines at six-thirty and you hail him to take you as he rattles past, he will make his brief apologies to you without slackening his pace, and go on to his plat du jour and bottle of wine at his favorite rendezvous, dedicated to "The Faithful Cocher." An hour later he emerges, well fed, revives his knee-sprung horse, lights a fresh cigarette, cracks his whip like a package of torpedoes, and goes clattering off in search of a customer.
The shops along the rue Vaugirard are marvels of neatness. The butcher-shop, with its red front, is iron-barred like the lion's cage in the circus. Inside the cage are some choice specimens of filets, rounds of beef, death-masks of departed calves, cutlets, and chops in paper pantalettes. On each article is placed a brass sign with the current price thereon.
In Paris nothing is wasted. A placard outside the butcher's announces an "Occasion" consisting of a mule and a donkey, both of guaranteed "premiere qualite." And the butcher! A thick-set, powerfully built fellow, with blue-black hair, curly like a bull's and shining in pomade, with fierce mustache of the same dye, waxed to two formidable points like skewers. Dangling over his white apron, and suspended by a heavy chain about his waist, he carries the long steel spike which sharpens his knives. All this paraphernalia gives him a very fierce appearance, like the executioner in the play; but you will find him a mild, kindly man after all, who takes his absinthe slowly, with a fund of good humor after his day's work, and his family to Vincennes on Sundays.
The windows, too, of these little shops are studies in decoration. If it happens to be a problem in eggs, cheese, butter, and milk, all these are arranged artistically with fresh grape-leaves between the white rows of milk bottles and under the cheese; often the leaves form a nest for the white eggs (the fresh ones)—the hard-boiled ones are dyed a bright crimson. There are china hearts, too, filled with "Double Cream," and cream in little brown pots; Roquefort cheese and Camembert, Isijny, and Pont Leveque, and chopped spinach.
Delicatessen shops display galantines of chicken, the windows banked with shining cans of sardines and herrings from Dieppe; liver pates and creations in jelly; tiny sausages of doubtful stuffing, and occasional yellow ones like the odd fire-cracker of the pack.
Grocery shops, their interiors resembling the toy ones of our childhood, are brightened with cones of snowy sugar in blue paper jackets. The wooden drawers filled with spices. Here, too, one can get an excellent light wine for eight sous the bottle.
As the day begins, the early morning cries drift up from the street. At six the fishwomen with their push-carts go their rounds, each singing the beauties of her wares. "Voila les beaux maquereaux!" chants the sturdy vendor, her sabots clacking over the cobbles as she pushes the cart or stops and weighs a few sous' worth of fish to a passing purchaser.
The goat-boy, piping his oboe-like air, passes, the goats scrambling ahead alert to steal a carrot or a bite of cabbage from the nearest cart. And when these have passed, the little orgue de Barbarie plays its repertoire of quadrilles and waltzes under your window. It is a very sweet-toned organ, this little orgue de Barbarie, with a plaintive, apologetic tone, and a flute obbligato that would do credit to many a small orchestra. I know this small organ well—an old friend on dreary mornings, putting the laziest riser in a good humor for the day. The tunes are never changed, but they are all inoffensive and many of them pretty, and to the shrunken old man who grinds them out daily they are no doubt by this time all alike.
It is growing late and time for one's coffee. The little tobacco-shop and cafe around the corner I find an excellent place for cafe au lait. The coffee is delicious and made when one chooses to arrive, not stewed like soup, iridescent in color, and bitter with chicory, as one finds it in many of the small French hotels. Two crescents, flaky and hot from the bakery next door, and three generous pats of unsalted butter, complete this morning repast, and all for the modest sum of twelve sous, with three sous to the garcon who serves you, with which he is well pleased.
I have forgotten a companionable cat who each morning takes her seat on the long leather settee beside me and shares my crescents. The cats are considered important members of nearly every family in the Quarter. Big yellow and gray Angoras, small, alert tortoise-shell ones, tiger-like and of plainer breed and more intelligence, bask in the doorways or sleep on the marble-topped tables of the cafes.
"Qu'est-ce que tu veux, ma pauvre Mimi?" condoles Celeste, as she approaches the family feline.
"Mimi" stretches her full length, extending and retracting her claws, rolls on her back, turns her big yellow eyes to Celeste and mews. The next moment she is picked up and carried back into the house like a stray child.
At noon the streets seem deserted, except for the sound of occasional laughter and the rattle of dishes coming from the smaller restaurants as one passes. At this hour these places are full of workmen in white and blue blouses, and young girls from the neighboring factories. They are all laughing and talking together. A big fellow in a blue gingham blouse attempts to kiss the little milliner opposite him at table; she evades him, and, screaming with laughter, picks up her skirts and darts out of the restaurant and down the street, the big fellow close on her dainty heels. A second later he has overtaken her, and picking her up bodily in his strong arms carries her back to her seat, where he places her in her chair, the little milliner by this time quite out of breath with laughter and quite happy. This little episode affords plenty of amusement to the rest of the crowd; they wildly applaud the good-humored captor, who orders another litre of red wine for those present, and every one is merry.
The Parisian takes his hour for dejeuner, no matter what awaits him. It is the hour when lovers meet, too. Edmond, working in the atelier for the reproduction of Louis XVI furniture, meets Louise coming from her work on babies' caps in the rue des Saints-Peres at precisely twelve-ten on the corner of the rue Vaugirard and the Boulevard Montparnasse. Louise comes without her hat, her hair in an adorable coiffure, as neatly arranged as a Geisha's, her skirt held tightly to her hips, disclosing her small feet in low slippers. There is a golden rule, I believe, in the French catechism which says: "It is better, child, that thy hair be neatly dressed than that thou shouldst have a whole frock." And so Louise is content. The two breakfast on a ragout and a bottle of wine while they talk of going on Sunday to St. Cloud for the day—and so they must be economical this week. Yes, they will surely go to St. Cloud and spend all day in the woods. It is the second Sunday in the month, and the fountains will be playing. They will take their dejeuner with them. Louise will, of course, see to this, and Edmond will bring cigarettes enough for two, and the wine. Then, when the stars are out, they will take one of the "bateaux mouches" back to Paris.
Dear Paris—the Paris of youth, of love, and of romance!
* * * * *
The pulse of the Quarter begins really to beat at 6 P.M. At this hour the streets are alive with throngs of workmen—after their day's work, seeking their favorite cafes to enjoy their aperitifs with their comrades—and women hurrying back from their work, many to their homes and children, buying the dinner en route.
Henriette, who sews all day at one of the fashionable dressmakers' in the rue de la Paix, trips along over the Pont Neuf to her small room in the Quarter to put on her best dress and white kid slippers, for it is Bullier night and she is going to the ball with two friends of her cousin.
In the twilight, and from my studio window the swallows, like black cinders against the yellow sky, dart and swoop above the forest of chimney-pots and tiled and gabled roofs.
It is the hour to dine, and with this thought uppermost in every one's mind studio doors are slammed and night-keys tucked in pockets. And arm in arm the poet and the artist swing along to that evening Mecca of good Bohemians—the Boulevard St. Michel.
THE BOULEVARD ST. MICHEL
From the Place St. Michel, this ever gay and crowded boulevard ascends a long incline, up which the tired horses tug at the traces of the fiacres, and the big double-decked steam trams crawl, until they reach the Luxembourg Gardens,—and so on a level road as far as the Place de l'Observatoire. Within this length lies the life of the "Boul' Miche."
Nearly every highway has its popular side, and on the "Boul' Miche" it is the left one, coming up from the Seine. Here are the cafes, and from 5 P.M. until long past midnight, the life of the Quartier pours by them—students, soldiers, families, poets, artists, sculptors, wives, and sweethearts; bicycle girls, the modern grisette, the shop girl, and the model; fakirs, beggars, and vagrants. Yet the word vagrant is a misnomer in this city, where economy has reached a finesse that is marvelous. That fellow, in filth and rags, shuffling along, his eyes scrutinizing, like a hungry rat, every nook and corner under the cafe tables on the terrace, carries a stick spiked with a pin. The next instant, he has raked the butt of your discarded cigarette from beneath your feet with the dexterity of a croupier. The butt he adds to the collection in his filthy pocket, and shuffles on to the next cafe. It will go so far at least toward paying for his absinthe. He is hungry, but it is the absinthe for which he is working. He is a "marchand de megots"; it is his profession.
One finds every type of restaurant, tavern, and cafe along the "Boul' Miche." There are small restaurants whose plat du jour might be traced to some faithful steed finding a final oblivion in a brown sauce and onions—an important item in a course dinner, to be had with wine included for one franc fifty. There are brasseries too, gloomy by day and brilliant by night (dispensing good Munich beer in two shades, and German and French food), whose rich interiors in carved black oak, imitation gobelin, and stained glass are never half illumined until the lights are lit.
All day, when the sun blazes, and the awnings are down, sheltering those chatting on the terrace, the interiors of these brasseries appear dark and cavernous.
The clientele is somber too, and in keeping with the place; silent poets, long haired, pale, and always writing; serious-minded lawyers, lunching alone, and fat merchants who eat and drink methodically.
Then there are bizarre cafes, like the d'Harcourt, crowded at night with noisy women tawdry in ostrich plumes, cheap feather boas, and much rouge. The d'Harcourt at midnight is ablaze with light, but the crowd is common and you move on up the boulevard under the trees, past the shops full of Quartier fashions—velvet coats, with standing collars buttoning close under the chin; flamboyant black silk scarfs tied in a huge bow; queer broad-brimmed, black hats without which no "types" wardrobe is complete.
On the corner facing the square, and opposite the Luxembourg gate, is the Taverne du Pantheon. This is the most brilliant cafe and restaurant of the Quarter, forming a V with its long terrace, at the corner of the boulevard and the rue Soufflot, at the head of which towers the superb dome of the Pantheon.
It is 6 P.M. and the terrace, four rows deep with little round tables, is rapidly filling. The white-aproned garcons are hurrying about or squeezing past your table, as they take the various orders.
"Un demi! un!" shouts the garcon.
"Deux pernod nature, deux!" cries another, and presently the "Omnibus" in his black apron hurries to your table, holding between his knuckles, by their necks, half a dozen bottles of different aperitifs, for it is he who fills your glass.
It is the custom to do most of one's correspondence in these cafes. The garcon brings you a portfolio containing note-paper, a bottle of violet ink, an impossible pen that spatters, and a sheet of pink blotting-paper that does not absorb. With these and your aperitif, the place is yours as long as you choose to remain. No one will ask you to "move on" or pay the slightest attention to you.
Should you happen to be a cannibal chief from the South Seas, and dine in a green silk high hat and a necklace of your latest captive's teeth, you would occasion a passing glance perhaps, but you would not be a sensation.
Celeste would say to Henriette:
"Regarde ca, Henriette! est-il drole, ce sauvage?"
And Henriette would reply quite assuringly:
"Eh bien quoi! c'est pas si extraordinaire, il est peut-etre de Madagascar; il y en a beaucoup a Paris maintenant."
There is no phase of character, or eccentricity of dress, that Paris has not seen.
Nor will your waiter polish off the marble top of your table, with the hope that your ordinary sensibility will suggest another drink. It would be beneath his professional dignity as a good garcon de cafe. The two sous you have given him as a pourboire, he is well satisfied with, and expresses his contentment in a "merci, monsieur, merci," the final syllable ending in a little hiss, prolonged in proportion to his satisfaction. After this just formality, you will find him ready to see the point of a joke or discuss the current topics of the day. He is intelligent, independent, very polite, but never servile.
It is difficult now to find a vacant chair on the long terrace. A group of students are having a "Pernod," after a long day's work at the atelier. They finish their absinthe and then, arm in arm, start off to Madame Poivret's for dinner. It is cheap there; besides, the little "boite," with its dingy room and sawdust floor, is a favorite haunt of theirs, and the good old lady, with her credit slate, a friendly refuge in time of need.
At your left sits a girl in bicycle bloomers, yellow-tanned shoes, and short black socks pulled up snug to her sunburned calves. She has just ridden in from the Bois de Boulogne, and has scorched half the way back to meet her "officier" in pale blue. The two are deep in conversation. Farther on are four older men, accompanied by a pale, sweet-faced woman of thirty, her blue-black hair brought in a bandeau over her dainty ears. She is the model of the gray-haired man on the left, a man of perhaps fifty, with kindly intelligent eyes and strong, nervous, expressive hands—hands that know how to model a colossal Greek war-horse, plunging in battle, or create a nymph scarcely a foot high out of a lump of clay, so charmingly that the French Government has not only bought the nymph, but given him a little red ribbon for his pains.
He is telling the others of a spot he knows in Normandy, where one can paint—full of quaint farm-houses, with thatched roofs; picturesque roadsides, rich in foliage; bright waving fields, and cool green woods, and purling streams; quaint gardens, choked with lavender and roses and hollyhocks—and all this fair land running to the white sand of the beach, with the blue sea beyond. He will write to old Pere Jaqueline that they are all coming—it is just the place in which to pose a model "en plein air,"—and Suzanne, his model, being a Normande herself, grows enthusiastic at the thought of going down again to the sea. Long before she became a Parisienne, and when her beautiful hair was a tangled shock of curls, she used to go out in the big boats, with the fisherwomen—barefooted, brown, and happy. She tells them of those good days, and then they all go into the Taverne to dine, filled with the idea of the new trip, and dreaming of dinners under the trees, of "Tripes a la mode de Caen," Normandy cider, and a lot of new sketches besides.
Already the tables within are well filled. The long room, with its newer annex, is as brilliant as a jewel box—the walls rich in tiled panels suggesting the life of the Quarter, the woodwork in gold and light oak, the big panels of the rich gold ceiling exquisitely painted.
At one of the tables two very chic young women are dining with a young Frenchman, his hair and dress in close imitation of the Duc d'Orleans. These poses in dress are not uncommon.
A strikingly pretty woman, in a scarlet-spangled gown as red as her lips, is dining with a well-built, soldierly-looking man in black; they sit side by side as is the custom here.
The woman reminds one of a red lizard—a salamander—her "svelte" body seemingly boneless in its gown of clinging scales. Her hair is purple-black and freshly onduled; her skin as white as ivory. She has the habit of throwing back her small, well-posed head, while under their delicately penciled lids her gray eyes take in the room at a glance.
She is not of the Quarter, but the Taverne du Pantheon is a refuge for her at times, when she grows tired of Paillard's and Maxim's and her quarreling retinue.
"Let them howl on the other bank of the Seine," says this empress of the half-world to herself, "I dine with Raoul where I please."
And now one glittering, red arm with its small, heavily-jeweled hand glides toward Raoul's open cigarette case, and in withdrawing a cigarette she presses for a moment his big, strong hand as he holds near her polished nails the flaming match.
Her companion watches her as she smokes and talks—now and then he leans closer to her, squaring his broad shoulders and bending lower his strong, determined face, as he listens to her,—half-amused, replying to her questions leisurely, in short, crisp sentences. Suddenly she stamps one little foot savagely under the table, and, clenching her jeweled hands, breathes heavily. She is trembling with rage; the man at her side hunches his great shoulders, flicks the ashes from his cigarette, looks at her keenly for a moment, and then smiles. In a moment she is herself again, almost penitent; this little savage, half Roumanian, half Russian, has never known what it was to be ruled! She has seen men grow white when she has stamped her little foot, but this big Raoul, whom she loves—who once held a garrison with a handful of men—he does not tremble! she loves him for his devil-me-care indifference—and he enjoys her temper.
But the salamander remembers there are some whom she dominated, until they groveled like slaves at her feet; even the great Russian nobleman turned pale when she dictated to him archly and with the voice of an angel the price of his freedom.
"Poor fool! he shot himself the next day," mused the salamander.
Yes, and even the adamant old banker in Paris, crabbed, stern, unrelenting to his debtors—shivered in his boots and ended in signing away half his fortune to her, and moved his family into a permanent chateau in the country, where he keeps himself busy with his shooting and his books.
* * * * *
As it grows late, the taverne becomes more and more animated.
Every one is talking and having a good time. The room is bewildering in gay color, the hum of conversation is everywhere, and as there is a corresponding row of tables across the low, narrow room, friendly greetings and often conversations are kept up from one side to the other. The dinner, as it progresses, assumes the air of a big family party of good bohemians. The French do not bring their misery with them to the table. To dine is to enjoy oneself to the utmost; in fact the French people cover their disappointment, sadness, annoyances, great or petty troubles, under a masque of "blague," and have such an innate dislike of sympathy or ridicule that they avoid it by turning everything into "blague."
This veneer is misleading, for at heart the French are sad. Not to speak of their inmost feelings does not, on the other hand, prevent them at times from being most confidential. Often, the merest exchange of courtesies between those sharing the same compartment in a train, or a seat on a "bus," seems to be a sufficient introduction for your neighbor to tell you where he comes from, where he is going, whether he is married or single, whom his daughter married, and what regiment his son is in. These little confidences often end in his offering you half his bottle of wine and extending to you his cigarettes.
If you have finished dinner, you go out on the terrace for your coffee. The fakirs are passing up and down in front, selling their wares—little rabbits, wonderfully lifelike, that can jump along your table and sit on their hind legs, and wag their ears; toy snakes; small leaden pigs for good luck; and novelties of every description. Here one sees women with baskets of ecrivisse boiled scarlet; an acrobat tumbles on the pavement, and two men and a girl, as a marine, a soldier, and a vivandiere, in silvered faces and suits, pose in melodramatic attitudes. The vivandiere is rescued alternately from a speedy death by the marine and the soldier.
Presently a little old woman approaches, shriveled and smiling, in her faded furbelows now in rags. She sings in a piping voice and executes between the verses a tottering pas seul, her eyes ever smiling, as if she still saw over the glare of the footlights, in the haze beyond, the vast audience of by-gone days; smiling as if she still heard the big orchestra and saw the leader with his vibrant baton, watching her every movement. She is over seventy now, and was once a premier danseuse at the opera.
But you have not seen all of the Taverne du Pantheon yet. There is an "American Bar" downstairs; at least, so the sign reads at the top of a narrow stairway leading to a small, tavern-like room, with a sawdust floor, heavy deal tables, and wooden stools. In front of the bar are high stools that one climbs up on and has a lukewarm whisky soda, next to Yvonne and Marcelle, who are both singing the latest catch of the day at the top of their lungs, until they are howled at to keep still or are lifted bodily off their high stools by the big fellow in the "type" hat, who has just come in.
Before a long table at one end of the room is the crowd of American students singing in a chorus. The table is full now, for many have come from dinners at other cafes to join them. At one end, and acting as interlocutor for this impromptu minstrel show, presides one of the best fellows in the world. He rises solemnly, his genial round face wreathed in a subtle smile, and announces that he will sing, by earnest request, that popular ballad, "'Twas Summer and the Little Birds were Singing in the Trees."
There are some especially fine "barber chords" in this popular ditty, and the words are so touching that it is repeated over and over again. Then it is sung softly like the farmhand quartettes do in the rural melodrama outside the old homestead in harvest time. Oh! I tell you it's a truly rural octette. Listen to that exhibition bass voice of Jimmy Sands and that wandering tenor of Tommy Whiteing, and as the last chord dies away (over the fields presumably) a shout goes up:
"Out of sight," comes the general verdict from the crowd, and bang go a dozen beer glasses in unison on the heavy table.
"Oh, que c'est beau!" cries Mimi, leading the successful chorus in a new vocal number with Edmond's walking-stick; but this time it is a French song and the whole room is singing it, including our old friend, Monsieur Frank, the barkeeper, who is mixing one of his famous concoctions which are never twice quite alike, but are better than if they were.
The harmonic beauties of "'Twas Summer and the Little Birds were Singing in the Trees" are still inexhausted, but it sadly needs a piano accompaniment—with this it would be perfect; and so the whole crowd, including Yvonne, and Celeste, and Marcelle, and the two Frenchmen, and the girl in the bicycle clothes, start for Jack Thompson's studio in the rue des Fourneaux, where there is a piano that, even if the candles in the little Louis XVI brackets do burn low and spill down the keys, and the punch rusts the strings, it will still retain that beautiful, rich tone that every French upright, at seven francs a month, possesses.
THE "BAL BULLIER"
There are all types of "bals" in Paris. Over in Montmartre, on the Place Blanche, is the well-known "Moulin Rouge," a place suggestive, to those who have never seen it, of the quintessence of Parisian devil-me-care gaiety. You expect it to be like those clever pen-and-ink drawings of Grevin's, of the old Jardin Mabille in its palmiest days, brilliant with lights and beautiful women extravagantly gowned and bejeweled. You expect to see Frenchmen, too, in pot-hats, crowding in a circle about Fifine, who is dancing some mad can-can, half hidden in a swirl of point lace, her small, polished boots alternately poised above her dainty head. And when she has finished, you expect her to be carried off to supper at the Maison Doree by the big, fierce-looking Russian who has been watching her, and whose victoria, with its spanking team—black and glossy as satin—champing their silver bits outside, awaiting her pleasure.
But in all these anticipations you will be disappointed, for the famous Jardin Mabille is no more, and the ground where it once stood in the Champs Elysees is now built up with private residences. Fifine is gone, too—years ago—and most of the old gentlemen in pot-hats who used to watch her are buried or about to be. Few Frenchmen ever go to the "Moulin Rouge," but every American does on his first night in Paris, and emerges with enough cab fare to return him to his hotel, where he arrives with the positive conviction that the red mill, with its slowly revolving sails, lurid in crimson lights, was constructed especially for him. He remembers, too, his first impressions of Paris that very morning as his train rolled into the Gare St. Lazare. His aunt could wait until to-morrow to see the tomb of Napoleon, but he would see the "Moulin Rouge" first, and to be in ample time ordered dinner early in his expensive, morgue-like hotel.
I remember once, a few hours after my arrival in Paris, walking up the long hill to the Place Blanche at 2 P.M., under a blazing July sun, to see if they did not give a matinee at the "Moulin Rouge." The place was closed, it is needless to say, and the policeman I found pacing his beat outside, when I asked him what day they gave a matinee, put his thumbs in his sword belt, looked at me quizzically for a moment, and then roared. The "Moulin Rouge" is in full blast every night; in the day-time it is being aired.
Farther up in Montmartre, up a steep, cobbly hill, past quaint little shops and cafes, the hill becoming so steep that your cab horse finally refuses to climb further, and you get out and walk up to the "Moulin de la Galette." You find it a far different type of ball from the "Moulin Rouge," for it is not made for the stranger, and its clientele is composed of the rougher element of that quarter.
A few years ago the "Galette" was not the safest of places for a stranger to go to alone. Since then, however, this ancient granary and mill, that has served as a ball-room for so many years, has undergone a radical change in management; but it is still a cliquey place, full of a lot of habitues who regard a stranger as an intruder. Should you by accident step on Marcelle's dress or jostle her villainous-looking escort, you will be apt to get into a row, beginning with a mode of attack you are possibly ignorant of, for these "maquereaux" fight with their feet, having developed this "manly art" of self-defense to a point of dexterity more to be evaded than admired. And while Marcelle's escort, with a swinging kick, smashes your nose with his heel, his pals will take the opportunity to kick you in the back.
So, if you go to the "Galette," go with a Parisian or some of the students of the Quarter; but if you must go alone—keep your eyes on the band. It is a good band, too, and its chef d'orchestre, besides being a clever musical director, is a popular composer as well.
Go out from the ball-room into the tiny garden and up the ladder-like stairs to the rock above, crowned with the old windmill, and look over the iron railing. Far below you, swimming in a faint mist under the summer stars, all Paris lies glittering at your feet.
* * * * *
You will find the "Bal Bullier" of the Latin Quarter far different from the "bals" of Montmartre. It forms, with its "grand fete" on Thursday nights, a sort of social event of the week in this Quarter of Bohemians, just as the Friday afternoon promenade does in the Luxembourg garden.
If you dine at the Taverne du Pantheon on a Thursday night you will find that the taverne is half deserted by 10 o'clock, and that every one is leaving and walking up the "Boul' Miche" toward the "Bullier." Follow them, and as you reach the place l'Observatoire, and turn a sharp corner to the left, you will see the facade of this famous ball, illumined by a sizzling blue electric light over the entrance.
The facade, with its colored bas-reliefs of students and grisettes, reminds one of the proscenium of a toy theater. Back of this shallow wall bristle the tops of the trees in the garden adjoining the big ball-room, both of which are below the level of the street and are reached by a broad wooden stairway.
The "Bal Bullier" was founded in 1847; previous to this there existed the "Closerie des Lilas" on the Boulevard Montparnasse. You pass along with the line of waiting poets and artists, buy a green ticket for two francs at the little cubby-hole of a box-office, are divested of your stick by one of half a dozen white-capped matrons at the vestiaire, hand your ticket to an elderly gentleman in a silk hat and funereal clothes, at the top of the stairway sentineled by a guard of two soldiers, and the next instant you see the ball in full swing below you.
There is nothing disappointing about the "Bal Bullier." It is all you expected it to be, and more, too. Below you is a veritable whirlpool of girls and students—a vast sea of heads, and a dazzling display of colors and lights and animation. Little shrieks and screams fill your ears, as the orchestra crashes into the last page of a galop, quickening the pace until Yvonne's little feet slip and her cheeks glow, and her eyes grow bright, and half her pretty golden hair gets smashed over her impudent little nose. Then the galop is brought up with a quick finish.
"Bis! Bis! Bis! Encore!" comes from every quarter of the big room, and the conductor, with his traditional good-nature, begins again. He knows it is wiser to humor them, and off they go again, still faster, until all are out of breath and rush into the garden for a breath of cool air and a "citron glace."
And what a pretty garden it is!—full of beautiful trees and dotted with round iron tables, and laid out in white gravel walks, the garden sloping gently back to a fountain, and a grotto and an artificial cascade all in one, with a figure of Venus in the center, over which the water splashes and trickles. There is a green lattice proscenium, too, surrounding the fountain, illuminated with colored lights and outlined in tiny flames of gas, and grotto-like alcoves circling the garden, each with a table and room for two. The ball-room from the garden presents a brilliant contrast, as one looks down upon it from under the trees.
But the orchestra has given its signal—a short bugle call announcing a quadrille; and those in the garden are running down into the ball-room to hunt up their partners.
The "Bullier" orchestra will interest you; they play with a snap and fire and a tempo that is irresistible. They have played together so long that they have become known as the best of all the bal orchestras.
The leader, too, is interesting—tall and gaunt, with wild, deep-sunken eyes resembling those of an old eagle. Now and then he turns his head slowly as he leads, and rests these keen, penetrating orbs on the sea of dancers below him. Then, with baton raised above his head, he brings his orchestra into the wild finale of the quadrille—piccolos and clarinets, cymbals, bass viols, and violins—all in one mad race to the end, but so well trained that not a note is lost in the scramble—and they finish under the wire to a man, amid cheers from Mimi and Celeste and "encores" and "bis's" from every one else who has breath enough left to shout with.
Often after an annual dinner of one of the ateliers, the entire body of students will march into the "Bullier," three hundred strong, and take a good-natured possession of the place. There have been some serious demonstrations in the Quarter by the students, who can form a small army when combined. But as a rule you will find them a good-natured lot of fellows, who are out for all the humor and fun they can create at the least expense.
But in June, 1893, a serious demonstration by the students occurred, for these students can fight as well as dance. Senator Beranger, having read one morning in the "Courrier Francais" an account of the revelry and nudity of several of the best-known models of the Quarter at the "Quat'z' Arts" ball, brought a charge against the organizers of the ball, and several of the models, whose beauty unadorned had made them conspicuous on this most festive occasion. At the ensuing trial, several celebrated beauties and idols of the Latin Quarter were convicted and sentenced to a short term of imprisonment, and fined a hundred francs each. These sentences were, however, remitted, but the majority of the students would not have it thus, and wanted further satisfaction. A mass meeting was held by them in the Place de la Sorbonne. The police were in force there to stop any disturbance, and up to 10 o'clock at night the crowd was held in control.
It was a warm June night, and every student in the Quarter was keyed to a high state of excitement. Finally a great crowd of students formed in front of the Cafe d'Harcourt, opposite the Sorbonne; things were at fever heat; the police became rough; and in the row that ensued, somebody hurled one of the heavy stone match-safes from a cafe table at one of the policemen, who in his excitement picked it up and hurled it back into the crowd. It struck and injured fatally an innocent outsider, who was taken to the Charity Hospital, in the rue Jacob, and died there.
On the following Monday another mass meeting of students was held in the Place de la Sorbonne, who, after the meeting, formed in a body and marched to the Chamber of Deputies, crying: "Conspuez Dupuy," who was then president of the Chamber. A number of deputies came out on the portico and the terrace, and smilingly reviewed the demonstration, while the students hurled their anathemas at them, the leaders and men in the front rank of this howling mob trying to climb over the high railing in front of the terrace, and shouting that the police were responsible for the death of one of their comrades.
The Government, fearing further trouble and wishing to avoid any disturbance on the day of the funeral of the victim of the riot in the Place Sorbonne, deceived the public as to the hour when it would occur. This exasperated the students so that they began one of those demonstrations for which Paris is famous. By 3 P.M. the next day the Quartier Latin was in a state of siege—these poets and painters and sculptors and musicians tore up the rue Jacob and constructed barricades near the hospital where their comrade had died. They tore up the rue Bonaparte, too, at the Place St. Germain des Pres, and built barricades, composed of overturned omnibuses and tramcars and newspaper booths. They smashed windows and everything else in sight, to get even with the Government and the smiling deputies and the murderous police—and then the troops came, and the affair took a different turn. In three days thirty thousand troops were in Paris—principally cavalry, many of the regiments coming from as far away as the center of France.
With these and the police and the Garde Republicaine against them, the students melted away like a handful of snow in the sun; but the demonstrations continued spasmodically for two or three days longer, and the little crooked streets, like the rue du Four, were kept clear by the cavalry trotting abreast—in and out and dodging around corners—their black horse-tail plumes waving and helmets shining. It is sufficient to say that the vast army of artists and poets were routed to a man and driven back into the more peaceful atmosphere of their studios.
But the "Bullier" is closing and the crowd is pouring out into the cool air. I catch a glimpse of Yvonne with six students all in one fiacre, but Yvonne has been given the most comfortable place. They have put her in the hood, and the next instant they are rattling away to the Pantheon for supper.
If you walk down with the rest, you will pass dozens of jolly groups singing and romping and dancing along down the "Boul' Miche" to the taverne, for a bock and some ecrivisse. With youth, good humor, and a "louis," all the world seems gay!
BAL DES QUAT'Z' ARTS
Of all the balls in Paris, the annual "Bal des Quat'z' Arts" stands unique. This costume ball is given every year, in the spring, by the students of the different ateliers, each atelier vying with the others in creation of the various floats and corteges, and in the artistic effect and historical correctness of the costumes.
The first "Quat'z' Arts" ball was given in 1892. It was a primitive affair, compared with the later ones, but it was a success, and immediately the "Quat'z' Arts" Ball was put into the hands of clever organizers, and became a studied event in all its artistic sense. Months are spent in the creation of spectacles and in the costuming of students and models. Prizes are given for the most successful organizations, and a jury composed of painters and sculptors passes upon your costume as you enter the ball, and if you do not come up to their artistic standard you are unceremoniously turned away. Students who have been successful in getting into the "Quat'z' Arts" for years often fail to pass into this bewildering display of beauty and brains, owing to their costume not possessing enough artistic originality or merit to pass the jury.
It is, of course, a difficult matter for one who is not an enrolled member of one of the great ateliers of painting, architecture, or sculpture to get into the "Quat'z' Arts," and even after one's ticket is assured, you may fail to pass the jury.
Imagine this ball, with its procession of moving tableaux. A huge float comes along, depicting the stone age and the primitive man, every detail carefully studied from the museums. Another represents the last day of Babylon. One sees a nude captive, her golden hair and white flesh in contrast with the black velvet litter on which she is bound, being carried by a dozen stalwart blackamoors, followed by camels bearing nude slaves and the spoils of a captured city.
As the ball continues until daylight, it resembles a bacchanalian fete in the days of the Romans. But all through it, one is impressed by its artistic completeness, its studied splendor, and permissible license, so long as a costume (or the lack of it) produces an artistic result. One sees the mise en scene of a barbaric court produced by the architects of an atelier, all the various details constructed from carefully studied sketches, with maybe a triumphal throne of some barbaric king, with his slaves, the whole costumed and done in a studied magnificence that takes one's breath away. Again an atelier of painters may reproduce the frieze of the Parthenon in color; another a float or a decoration, suggesting the works of their master.
The room becomes a thing of splendor, for it is as gorgeous a spectacle as the cleverest of the painters, sculptors, and architects can make it, and is the result of careful study—and all for the love of it!—for the great "Quat'z' Arts" ball is an event looked forward to for months. Special instructions are issued to the different ateliers while the ball is in preparation, and the following one is a translation in part from the notice issued before the great ball of '99. As this is a special and private notice to the atelier, its contents may be interesting:
BAL DES QUAT'Z' ARTS, Moulin Rouge, 21 April, 1899.
Doors open at 10 P.M. and closed at midnight.
The card of admission is absolutely personal, to be taken by the committee before the opening of the ball.
The committee will be masked, and comrades without their personal card will be refused at the door. The cards must carry the name and quality of the artist, and bear the stamp of his atelier.
Costumes are absolutely necessary. The soldier—the dress suit, black or in color—the monk—the blouse—the domino—kitchen boy—loafer—bicyclist, and other nauseous types, are absolutely prohibited.
Should the weather be bad, comrades are asked to wait in their carriages, as the committee in control cannot, under any pretext, neglect guarding the artistic effect of the ball during any confusion that might ensue.
A great "feed" will take place in the grand hall; the buffet will serve as usual individual suppers and baskets for two persons.
The committee wish especially to bring the attention of their comrades to the question of women, whose cards of admission must be delivered as soon as possible, so as to enlarge their attendance—always insufficient.
Prizes (champagne) will be distributed to the ateliers who may distinguish themselves by the artistic merit and beauty of their female display.
All the women who compete for these prizes will be assembled on the grand staircase before the orchestra. The nude, as always, is PROHIBITED!?!
The question of music at the head of the procession is of the greatest importance, and those comrades who are musical will please give their names to the delegates of the ateliers. Your good-will in this line is asked for—any great worthless capacity in this line will do, as they always play the same tune, "Les Pompiers!"
For days before the "Quat'z' Arts" ball, all is excitement among the students, who do as little work as possible and rest themselves for the great event. The favorite wit of the different ateliers is given the task of painting the banner of the atelier, which is carried at the head of the several corteges. One of these, in Bouguereau's atelier, depicted their master caricatured as a cupid.
The boys once constructed an elephant with oriental trappings—an elephant that could wag his ears and lift his trunk and snort—and after the two fellows who formed respectfully the front and hind legs of this knowing beast had practised sufficiently to proceed with him safely, at the head of a cortege of slave girls, nautch dancers, and manacled captives, the big beast created a success in the procession at the "Quat'z' Arts" ball.
After the ball, in the gray morning light, they marched it back to the atelier, where it remained for some weeks, finally becoming such a nuisance, kicking around the atelier and getting in everybody's way, that the boys agreed to give it to the first junk-man that came around. But as no junk-man came, and as no one could be found to care for its now sadly battered hulk, its good riddance became a problem. What to do with the elephant! that was the question.
At last the two, who had sweltered in its dusty frame that eventful night of the "Quat'z' Arts," hit upon an idea. They marched it one day up the Boulevard St. Germain to the Cafe des deux Magots, followed by a crowd of people, who, when it reached the cafe, assembled around it, every one asking what it was for—or rather what it was?—for the beast had by now lost much of the resemblance of its former self. When half the street became blocked with the crowd, the two wise gentlemen crawled out of its fore and aft, and quickly mingled, unnoticed, with the bystanders. Then they disappeared in the crowd, leaving the elephant standing in the middle of the street. Those who had been expecting something to happen—a circus or the rest of the parade to come along—stood around for a while, and then the police, realizing that they had an elephant on their hands, carted the thing away, swearing meanwhile at the atelier and every one connected with it.
The cafes near the Odeon, just before the beginning of the ball, are filled with students in costume; gladiators hobnob at the tables with savages in scanty attire—Roman soldiers and students, in the garb of the ancients, strut about or chat in groups, while the uninvited grisettes and models, who have not received invitations from the committee, implore them for tickets.
Tickets are not transferable, and should one present himself at the entrance of the ball with another fellow's ticket, he would run small chance of entering.
"What atelier?" commands the jury "Cormon."
The student answers, while the jury glance at his makeup.
"To the left!" cries the jury, and you pass in to the ball.
But if you are unknown they will say simply, "Connais-pas! To the right!" and you pass down a long covered alley—confident, if you are a "nouveau," that it leads into the ball-room—until you suddenly find yourself in the street, where your ticket is torn up and all hope of entering is gone.
It is hopeless to attempt to describe the hours until morning of this annual artistic orgy. As the morning light comes in through the windows, it is strange to see the effect of diffused daylight, electricity, and gas—the bluish light of early morning reflected on the flesh tones—upon nearly three thousand girls and students in costumes one might expect to see in a bacchanalian feast, just before the fall of Rome. Now they form a huge circle, the front row sitting on the floor, the second row squatting, the third seated in chairs, the fourth standing, so that all can see the dancing that begins in the morning hours—the wild impromptu dancing of the moment. A famous beauty, her black hair bound in a golden fillet with a circle wrought in silver and studded with Oriental turquoises clasping her superb torso, throws her sandals to the crowd and begins an Oriental dance—a thing of grace and beauty—fired with the intensity of the innate nature of this beautifully modeled daughter of Bohemia.
As the dance ends, there is a cry of delight from the great circle of barbarians. "Long live the Quat'z' Arts!" they cry, amid cheers for the dancer.
The ball closes about seven in the morning, when the long procession forms to return to the Latin Quarter, some marching, other students and girls in cabs and on top of them, many of the girls riding the horses. Down they come from the "Moulin Rouge," shouting, singing, and yelling. Heads are thrust out of windows, and a volley of badinage passes between the fantastic procession and those who have heard them coming.
Finally the great open court of the Louvre is reached—here a halt is made and a general romp occurs. A girl and a type climb one of the tall lamp-posts and prepare to do a mid-air balancing act, when rescued by the others. At last, at the end of all this horse-play, the march is resumed over the Pont du Carrousel and so on, cheered now by those going to work, until the Odeon is reached. Here the odd procession disbands; some go to their favorite cafes where the festivities are continued—some to sleep in their costumes or what remains of them, wherever fortune lands them—others to studios, where the gaiety is often kept up for days.
Ah! but life is not all "couleur de rose" in this true Bohemia.
"One day," says little Marguerite (she who lives in the rue Monge), "one eats and the next day one doesn't. It is always like that, is it not, monsieur?—and it costs so much to live, and so you see, monsieur, life is always a fight."
And Marguerite's brown eyes swim a little and her pretty mouth closes firmly.
"But where is Paul?" I ask.
"I do not know, monsieur," she replies quietly; "I have not seen him in ten days—the atelier is closed—I have been there every day, expecting to find him—he left no word with his concierge. I have been to his cafe too, but no one has seen him—you see, monsieur, Paul does not love me!"
I recall an incident that I chanced to see in passing the little shop where Marguerite works, that only confirms the truth of her realization. Paul had taken Marguerite back to the little shop, after their dejeuner together, and, as I passed, he stopped at the door with her, kissed her on both cheeks, and left her; but before they had gone a dozen paces, they ran back to embrace again. This occurred four times, until Paul and Marguerite finally parted. And, as he watched her little heels disappear up the wooden stairs to her work-room above, Paul blew a kiss to the pretty milliner at the window next door, and, taking a long whiff of his cigarette, sauntered off in the direction of his atelier whistling.
It is ideal, this student life with its student loves of four years, but is it right to many an honest little comrade, who seldom knows an hour when she is away from her ami? who has suffered and starved and slaved with him through years of days of good and bad luck—who has encouraged him in his work, nursed him when ill, and made a thousand golden hours in this poet's or painter's life so completely happy, that he looks back on them in later life as never-to-be-forgotten? He remembers the good dinners at the little restaurant near his studio, where they dined among the old crowd. There were Lavaud the sculptor and Francine, with the figure of a goddess; Moreau, who played the cello at the opera; little Louise Dumont, who posed at Julian's, and old Jacquemart, the very soul of good fellowship, who would set them roaring with his inimitable humor.
What good dinners they were!—and how long they sat over their coffee and cigarettes under the trees in front of this little restaurant—often ten and twelve at a time, until more tables had to be pushed together for others of their good friends, who in passing would be hailed to join them. And how Marguerite used to sing all through dinner and how they would all sing, until it grew so late and so dark that they had to puff their cigarettes aglow over their plates, and yell to Madame Giraud for a light! And how the old lady would bustle out with the little oil lamp, placing it in the center of the long table amid the forest of vin ordinaires, with a "Voila, mes enfants!" and a cheery word for all these good boys and girls, whom she regarded quite as her own children.
It seemed to them then that there would never be anything else but dinners at Madame Giraud's for as many years as they pleased, for no one ever thought of living out one's days, except in this good Bohemia of Paris. They could not imagine that old Jacquemart would ever die, or that La Belle Louise would grow old, and go back to Marseilles, to live with her dried-up old aunt, who sold garlic and bad cheese in a little box of a shop, up a crooked street! Or that Francine would marry Martin, the painter, and that the two would bury themselves in an adorable little spot in Brittany, where they now live in a thatched farm-house, full of Martin's pictures, and have a vegetable garden of their own—and a cow—and some children! But they DID!
And those memorable dinners in the old studio back of the Gare Montparnasse! when paints and easels were pushed aside, and the table spread, and the piano rolled up beside it. There was the buying of the chicken, and the salad that Francine would smother in a dressing into which she would put a dozen different things—herbs and spices and tiny white onions! And what a jolly crowd came to these impromptu feasts! How much noise they used to make! How they danced and sang until the gray morning light would creep in through the big skylight, when all these good bohemians would tiptoe down the waxed stairs, and slip past the different ateliers for fear of waking those painters who might be asleep—a thought that never occurred to them until broad daylight, and the door had been opened, after hours of pandemonium and music and noise!
In a little hotel near the Odeon, there lived a family of just such bohemians—six struggling poets, each with an imagination and a love of good wine and good dinners and good times that left them continually in a state of bankruptcy! As they really never had any money—none that ever lasted for more than two days and two nights at the utmost, their good landlord seldom saw a sou in return for his hospitable roof, which had sheltered these six great minds who wrote of the moon, and of fate, and fortune, and love.
For days they would dream and starve and write. Then followed an auction sale of the total collection of verses, hawked about anywhere and everywhere among the editeurs, like a crop of patiently grown fruit. Having sold it, literally by the yard, they would all saunter up the "Boul' Miche," and forget their past misery, in feasting, to their hearts' content, on the good things of life. On days like these, you would see them passing, their black-brimmed hats adjusted jauntily over their poetic locks—their eyes beaming with that exquisite sense of feeling suddenly rich, that those who live for art's sake know! The keenest of pleasures lie in sudden contrasts, and to these six poetic, impractical Bohemians, thus suddenly raised from the slough of despond to a state where they no longer trod with mortals—their cup of happiness was full and spilling over. They must not only have a good time, but so must every one around them. With their great riches, they would make the world gay as long as it lasted, for when it was over they knew how sad life would be. For a while—then they would scratch away—and have another auction!
Unlike another good fellow, a painter whom I once knew, who periodically found himself without a sou, and who would take himself, in despair, to his lodgings, make his will, leaving most of his immortal works to his English aunt, go to bed, and calmly await death! In a fortunate space of time his friends, who had been hunting for him all over the Quarter, would find him at last and rescue him from his chosen tomb; or his good aunt, fearing he was ill, would send a draft! Then life would, to this impractical philosopher, again become worth living. He would dispatch a "petit bleu" to Marcelle; and the two would meet at the Cafe Cluny, and dine at La Perruse on filet de sole au vin blanc, and a bottle of Haut Barsac—the bottle all cobwebs and cradled in its basket—the garcon, as he poured its golden contents, holding his breath meanwhile lest he disturb its long slumber.
There are wines that stir the soul, and this was one of them—clear as a topaz and warming as the noonday sun—the same warmth that had given it birth on its hillside in Bordeaux, as far back as '82. It warmed the heart of Marcelle, too, and made her cheeks glow and her eyes sparkle—and added a rosier color to her lips. It made her talk—clearly and frankly, with a full and a happy heart, so that she confessed her love for this "bon garcon" of a painter, and her supreme admiration for his work and the financial success he had made with his art. All of which this genial son of Bohemia drank in with a feeling of pride, and he would swell out his chest and curl the ends of his long mustache upwards, and sigh like a man burdened with money, and secure in his ability and success, and with a peaceful outlook into the future—and the fact that Marcelle loved him of all men! They would linger long over their coffee and cigarettes, and then the two would stroll out under the stars and along the quai, and watch the little Seine boats crossing and recrossing, like fireflies, and the lights along the Pont Neuf reflected deep down like parti-colored ribbons in the black water.
"A DEJEUNER AT LAVENUE'S"
If you should chance to breakfast at "Lavenue's," or, as it is called, the "Hotel de France et Bretagne," for years famous as a rendezvous of men celebrated in art and letters, you will be impressed first with the simplicity of the three little rooms forming the popular side of this restaurant, and secondly with the distinguished appearance of its clientele.
As you enter the front room, you pass good Mademoiselle Fanny at the desk, a cheery, white-capped, genial old lady, who has sat behind that desk for forty years, and has seen many a "bon garcon" struggle up the ladder of fame—from the days when he was a student at the Beaux-Arts, until his name became known the world over. It has long been a favorite restaurant with men like Rodin, the sculptor—and Colin, the painter—and the late Falguiere—and Jean Paul Laurens and Bonnat, and dozens of others equally celebrated—and with our own men, like Whistler and Sargent and Harrison, and St. Gaudens and Macmonnies.
These three plain little rooms are totally different from the "other side," as it is called, of the Maison Lavenue. Here one finds quite a gorgeous cafe, with a pretty garden in the rear, and another room—opening into the garden—done in delicate green lattice and mirrors. This side is far more expensive to dine in than the side with the three plain little rooms, and the gentlemen with little red ribbons in their buttonholes; but as the same good cook dispenses from the single big kitchen, which serves for the dear and the cheap side the same good things to eat at just half the price, the reason for the popularity of the "cheap side" among the crowd who come here daily is evident.
It is a quiet, restful place, this Maison Lavenue, and the best place I know in which to dine or breakfast from day to day. There is an air of intime and cosiness about Lavenue's that makes one always wish to return.
You will see a family of rich bourgeois enter, just in from the country, for the Montparnasse station is opposite. The fat, sunburned mama, and the equally rotund and genial farmer-papa, and the pretty daughter, and the newly married son and his demure wife, and the two younger children—and all talking and laughing over a good dinner with champagne, and many toasts to the young couple—and to mama and papa, and little Josephine—with ices, and fruit, and coffee, and liqueur to follow.
All these you will see at Lavenue's on the "cheap side"—and the beautiful model, too, who poses for Courbel, who is breakfasting with one of the jeunesse of Paris. The waiters after 2 P.M. dine in the front room with the rest, and jump up now and then to wait on madame and monsieur.
It is a very democratic little place, this popular side of the house of M. Lavenue, founded in 1854.
And there is a jolly old painter who dines there, who is also an excellent musician, with an ear for rhythm so sensitive that he could never go to sleep unless the clock in his studio ticked in regular time, and at last was obliged to give up his favorite atelier, with its picturesque garden——
"For two reasons, monsieur," he explained to me excitedly; "a little girl on the floor below me played a polka—the same polka half the day—always forgetting to put in the top note; and the fellow over me whistled it the rest of the day and put in the top note false; and so I moved to the rue St. Peres, where one only hears, within the cool court-yard, the distant hum of the busy city. The roar of Paris, so full of chords and melody! Listen to it sometimes, monsieur, and you will hear a symphony!"
And Mademoiselle Fanny will tell you of the famous men she has known for years, and how she has found the most celebrated of them simple in their tastes, and free from ostentation—"in fact it is always so, is it not, with les hommes celebres? C'est toujours comme ca, monsieur, toujours!" and mentions one who has grown gray in the service of art and can count his decorations from half a dozen governments. Madame will wax enthusiastic—her face wreathed in smiles. "Ah! he is a bon garcon; he always eats with the rest, for three or four francs, never more! He is so amiable, and, you know, he is very celebrated and very rich"; and madame will not only tell you his entire history, but about his work—the beauty of his wife and how "aimables" his children are. Mademoiselle Fanny knows them all.
But the men who come here to lunch are not idlers; they come in, many of them, fresh from a hard morning's work in the studio. The tall sculptor opposite you has been at work, since his morning coffee, on a group for the government; another, bare-armed and in his flannel shirt, has been building up masses of clay, punching and modeling, and scraping away, all the morning, until he produces, in the rough, the body of a giantess, a huge caryatide that is destined, for the rest of her existence, to hold upon her broad shoulders part of the facade of an American building. The "giantess" in the flesh is lunching with him—a Juno-like woman of perhaps twenty-five, with a superb head well poised, her figure firm and erect. You will find her exceedingly interesting, quiet, and refined, and with a knowledge of things in general that will surprise you, until you discover she has, in her life as a model, been thrown daily in conversation with men of genius, and has acquired a smattering of the knowledge of many things—of art and literature—of the theater and its playwrights—plunging now and then into medicine and law and poetry—all these things she has picked up in the studios, in the cafes, in the course of her Bohemian life. This "vernis," as the French call it, one finds constantly among the women here, for their days are passed among men of intelligence and ability, whose lives and energy are surrounded and encouraged by an atmosphere of art.
In an hour, the sculptor and his Juno-like model will stroll back to the studio, where work will be resumed as long as the light lasts.
The painter breakfasting at the next table is hard at work on a decorative panel for a ceiling. It is already laid out and squared up, from careful pencil drawings. Two young architects are working for him, laying out the architectural balustrade, through which one, a month later, looks up at the allegorical figures painted against the dome of the blue heavens, as a background. And so the painter swallows his eggs, mayonnaise, and demi of beer, at a gulp, for he has a model coming at two, and he must finish this ceiling on time, and ship it, by a fast liner, to a millionaire, who has built a vault-like structure on the Hudson, with iron dogs on the lawn. Here this beautiful panel will be unrolled and installed in the dome of the hard-wood billiard-room, where its rich, mellow scheme of color will count as naught; and the cupids and the flesh-tones of the chic little model, who came at two, will appear jaundiced; and Aunt Maria and Uncle John, and the twins from Ithaca, will come in after the family Sunday dinner of roast beef and potatoes and rice pudding and ice-water, and look up into the dome and agree "it's grand." But the painter does not care, for he has locked up his studio, and taken his twenty thousand francs and the model—who came at two—with him to Trouville.
At night you will find a typical crowd of Bohemians at the Closerie des Lilas, where they sit under a little clump of trees on the sloping dirt terrace in front. Here you will see the true type of the Quarter. It is the farthest up the Boulevard St. Michel of any of the cafes, and just opposite the "Bal Bullier," on the Place de l'Observatoire. The terrace is crowded with its habitues, for it is out of the way of the stream of people along the "Boul' Miche." The terrace is quite dark, its only light coming from the cafe, back of a green hedge, and it is cool there, too, in summer, with the fresh night air coming from the Luxembourg Gardens. Below it is the cafe and restaurant de la Rotonde, a very well-built looking place, with its rounding facade on the corner.
At the entrance of every studio court and apartment, there lives the concierge in a box of a room generally, containing a huge feather-bed and furnished with a variety of things left by departing tenants to this faithful guardian of the gate. Many of these small rooms resemble the den of an antiquary with their odds and ends from the studios—old swords, plaster casts, sketches and discarded furniture—until the place is quite full. Yet it is kept neat and clean by madame, who sews all day and talks to her cat and to every one who passes into the court-yard. Here your letters are kept, too, in one of a row of boxes, with the number of your atelier marked thereon.
At night, after ten, your concierge opens the heavy iron gate of your court by pulling a cord within reach of the family bed. He or she is waked up at intervals through the night to let into and out of a court full of studios those to whom the night is ever young. Or perhaps your concierge will be like old Pere Valois, who has three pretty daughters who do the housework of the studios, as well as assist in the guardianship of the gate. They are very busy, these three daughters of Pere Valois—all the morning you will see these little "femmes de menage" as busy as bees; the artists and poets must be waked up, and beds made and studios cleaned. There are many that are never cleaned at all, but then there are many, too, who are not so fortunate as to be taken care of by the three daughters of Pere Valois.
There is no gossip within the quarter that your "femme de menage" does not know, and over your morning coffee, which she brings you, she will regale you with the latest news about most of your best friends, including your favorite model, and madame from whom you buy your wine, always concluding with: "That is what I heard, monsieur,—I think it is quite true, because the little Marie, who is the femme de menage of Monsieur Valentin, got it from Celeste Dauphine yesterday in the cafe in the rue du Cherche Midi."
In the morning, this demure maid-of-all-work will be in her calico dress with her sleeves rolled up over her strong white arms, but in the evening you may see her in a chic little dress, at the "Bal Bullier," or dining at the Pantheon, with the fellow whose studio is opposite yours.
Alice Lemaitre, however, was a far different type of femme de menage than any of the gossiping daughters of old Pere Valois, and her lot was harder, for one night she left her home in one of the provincial towns, when barely sixteen, and found herself in Paris with three francs to her name and not a friend in this big pleasure-loving city to turn to. After many days of privation, she became bonne to a woman known as Yvette de Marcie, a lady with a bad temper and many jewels, to whom little Alice, with her rosy cheeks and bright eyes and willing disposition to work in order to live, became a person upon whom this fashionable virago of a demi-mondaine vented the worst that was in her—and there was much of this—until Alice went out into the world again. She next found employment at a baker's, where she was obliged to get up at four in the morning, winter and summer, and deliver the long loaves of bread at the different houses; but the work was too hard and she left. The baker paid her a trifle a week for her labor, while the attractive Yvette de Marcie turned her into the street without her wages. It was while delivering bread one morning to an atelier in the rue des Dames, that she chanced to meet a young painter who was looking for a good femme de menage to relieve his artistic mind from the worries of housekeeping. Little Alice fairly cried when the good painter told her she might come at twenty francs a month, which was more money than this very grateful and brave little Brittany girl had ever known before.
"You see, monsieur, one must do one's best whatever one undertakes," said Alice to me; "I have tried every profession, and now I am a good femme de menage, and I am 'bien contente.' No," she continued, "I shall never marry, for one's independence is worth more than anything else. When one marries," she said earnestly, her little brow in a frown, "one's life is lost; I am young and strong, and I have courage, and so I can work hard. One should be content when one is not cold and hungry, and I have been many times that, monsieur. Once I worked in a fabrique, where, all day, we painted the combs of china roosters a bright red for bon-bon boxes—hundreds and hundreds of them until I used to see them in my dreams; but the fabrique failed, for the patron ran away with the wife of a Russian. He was a very stupid man to have done that, monsieur, for he had a very nice wife of his own—a pretty brunette, with a charming figure; but you see, monsieur, in Paris it is always that way. C'est toujours comme ca."
"AT MARCEL LEGAY'S"
Just off the Boulevard St. Michel and up the narrow little rue Cujas, you will see at night the name "Marcel Legay" illumined in tiny gas-jets. This is a cabaret of chansonniers known as "Le Grillon," where a dozen celebrated singing satirists entertain an appreciative audience in the stuffy little hall serving as an auditorium. Here, nightly, as the piece de resistance—and late on the programme (there is no printed one)—you will hear the Bard of Montmartre, Marcel Legay, raconteur, poet, musician, and singer; the author of many of the most popular songs of Montmartre, and a veteran singer in the cabarets.
From these cabarets of the student quarters come many of the cleverest and most beautiful songs. Here men sing their own creations, and they have absolute license to sing or say what they please; there is no mincing of words, and many times these rare bohemians do not take the trouble to hide their clever songs and satires under a double entente. No celebrated man or woman, known in art or letters, or connected with the Government—from the soldier to the good President of the Republique Francaise—is spared. The eccentricity of each celebrity is caught by them, and used in song or recitation.
Besides these personal caricatures, the latest political questions of the day—religion and the haut monde—come in for a large share of good-natured satire. To be cleverly caricatured is an honor, and should evince no ill-feeling, especially from these clever singing comedians, who are the best of fellows at heart; whose songs are clever but never vulgar; who sing because they love to sing; and whose versatility enables them to create the broadest of satires, and, again, a little song with words so pure, so human, and so pathetic, that the applause that follows from the silent room of listeners comes spontaneously from the heart.
It is not to be wondered at that "The Grillon" of Marcel Legay's is a popular haunt of the habitues of the Quarter, who crowd the dingy little room nightly. You enter the "Grillon" by way of the bar, and at the further end of the bar-room is a small anteroom, its walls hung in clever posters and original drawings. This anteroom serves as a sort of green-room for the singers and their friends; here they chat at the little tables between their songs—since there is no stage—and through this anteroom both audience and singers pass into the little hall. There is the informality of one of our own "smokers" about the whole affair.
Furthermore, no women sing in "Le Grillon"—a cabaret in this respect is different from a cafe concert, which resembles very much our smaller variety shows. A small upright piano, and in front of it a low platform, scarcely its length, complete the necessary stage paraphernalia of the cabaret, and the admission is generally a franc and a half, which includes your drink.
In the anteroom, four of the singers are smoking and chatting at the little tables. One of them is a tall, serious-looking fellow, in a black frock coat. He peers out through his black-rimmed eyeglasses with the solemnity of an owl—but you should hear his songs!—they treat of the lighter side of life, I assure you. Another singer has just finished his turn, and comes out of the smoky hall, wiping the perspiration from his short, fat neck. The audience is still applauding his last song, and he rushes back through the faded green velvet portieres to bow his thanks.
A broad-shouldered, jolly-looking fellow, in white duck trousers, is talking earnestly with the owl-like looking bard in eyeglasses. Suddenly his turn is called, and you follow him in, where, as soon as he is seen, he is welcomed by cheers from the students and girls, and an elaborate fanfare of chords on the piano. When this popular poet-singer has finished, there follows a round of applause and a pounding of canes, and then the ruddy-faced, gray-haired manager starts a three-times-three handclapping in unison to a pounding of chords on the piano. This is the proper ending to every demand for an encore in "Le Grillon," and it never fails to bring one.
It is nearly eleven when the curtain parts and Marcel Legay rushes hurriedly up the aisle and greets the audience, slamming his straw hat upon the lid of the piano. He passes his hand over his bald pate—gives an extra polish to his eyeglasses—beams with an irresistibly funny expression upon his audience—coughs—whistles—passes a few remarks, and then, adjusting his glasses on his stubby red nose, looks serio-comically over his roll of music. He is dressed in a long, black frock-coat reaching nearly to his heels. This coat, with its velvet collar, discloses a frilled white shirt and a white flowing bow scarf; these, with a pair of black-and-white check trousers, complete this every-day attire.
But the man inside these voluminous clothes is even still more eccentric. Short, indefinitely past fifty years of age, with a round face and merry eyes, and a bald head whose lower portion is framed in a fringe of long hair, reminding one of the coiffure of some pre-Raphaelite saint—indeed, so striking is this resemblance that the good bard is often caricatured with a halo surrounding this medieval fringe.
In the meantime, while this famous singer is selecting a song, he is overwhelmed with demands for his most popular ones. A dozen students and girls at one end of the little hall, now swimming in a haze of pipe and cigarette smoke, are hammering with sticks and parasols for "Le matador avec les pieds du vent"; another crowd is yelling for "La Goularde." Marcel Legay smiles at them all through his eyeglasses, then roars at them to keep quiet—and finally the clamor in the room gradually subsides—here and there a word—a giggle—and finally silence.
"Now, my children, I will sing to you the story of Clarette," says the bard; "it is a very sad histoire. I have read it," and he smiles and cocks one eye.
His baritone voice still possesses considerable fire, and in his heroic songs he is dramatic. In "The Miller who grinds for Love," the feeling and intensity and dramatic quality he puts into its rendition are stirring. As he finishes his last encore, amidst a round of applause, he grasps his hat from the piano, jams it over his bald pate with its celestial fringe, and rushes for the door. Here he stops, and, turning for a second, cheers back at the crowd, waving the straw hat above his head. The next moment he is having a cooling drink among his confreres in the anteroom.
Such "poet-singers" as Paul Delmet and Dominique Bonnaud have made the "Grillon" a success; and others like Numa Bles, Gabriel Montoya, D'Herval, Fargy, Tourtal, and Edmond Teulet—all of them well-known over in Montmartre, where they are welcomed with the same popularity that they meet with at "Le Grillon."
Genius, alas, is but poorly paid in this Bohemia! There are so many who can draw, so many who can sing, so many poets and writers and sculptors. To many of the cleverest, half a loaf is too often better than no bread.
You will find often in these cabarets and in the cafes and along the boulevard, a man who, for a few sous, will render a portrait or a caricature on the spot. You learn that this journeyman artist once was a well-known painter of the Quarter, who had drawn for years in the academies. The man at present is a wreck, as he sits in a cafe with portfolio on his knees, his black slouch hat drawn over his scraggly gray hair. But his hand, thin and drawn from too much stimulant and too little food, has lost none of its knowledge of form and line; the sketch is strong, true, and with a chic about it and a simplicity of expression that delight you. You ask why he has not done better.
"Ah!" he replies, "it is a long story, monsieur." So long and so much of it that he can not remember it all! Perhaps it was the woman with the velvety black eyes—tall and straight—the best dancer in all Paris. Yes, he remembers some of it—long, miserable years—years of struggles and jealousy, and finally lies and fights and drunkenness; after it was all over, he was too gray and old and tired to care!
One sees many such derelicts in Paris among these people who have worn themselves out with amusement, for here the world lives for pleasure, for "la grande vie!" To the man, every serious effort he is obliged to make trends toward one idea—that of the bon vivant—to gain success and fame, but to gain it with the idea of how much personal daily pleasure it will bring him. Ennui is a word one hears constantly; if it rains toute le monde est triste. To have one's gaiety interrupted is regarded as a calamity, and "tout le monde" will sympathize with you. To live a day without the pleasures of life in proportion to one's purse is considered a day lost.
If you speak of anything that has pleased you one will, with a gay rising inflection of the voice and a smile, say: "Ah! c'est gai la-bas—and monsieur was well amused while in that beautiful country?" "ah!—tiens! c'est gentil ca!" they will exclaim, as you enthusiastically continue to explain. They never dull your enthusiasm by short phlegmatic or pessimistic replies. And when you are sad they will condone so genuinely with you that you forget your disappointments in the charming pleasantry of their sympathy. But all this continual race for pleasure is destined in the course of time to end in ennui!
The Parisian goes into the latest sport because it affords him a new sensation. Being blase of all else in life, he plunges into automobiling, buys a white and red racer—a ponderous flying juggernaut that growls and snorts and smells of the lower regions whenever it stands still, trembling in its anger and impatience to be off, while its owner, with some automobiling Marie, sits chatting on the cafe terrace over a cooling drink. The two are covered with dust and very thirsty; Marie wears a long dust-colored ulster, and he a wind-proof coat and high boots. Meanwhile, the locomotive-like affair at the curbstone is working itself into a boiling rage, until finally the brave chauffeur and his chic companion prepare to depart. Marie adjusts her white lace veil, with its goggles, and the chauffeur puts on his own mask as he climbs in; a roar—a snort, a cloud of blue gas, and they are gone!
There are other enthusiasts—those who go up in balloons!
"Ah, you should go ballooning!" one cries enthusiastically, "to be 'en ballon'—so poetic—so fin de siecle! It is a fantaisie charmante!"
In a balloon one forgets the world—one is no longer a part of it—no longer mortal. What romance there is in going up above everything with the woman one loves—comrades in danger—the ropes—the wicker cage—the ceiling of stars above one and Paris below no bigger than a gridiron! Paris! lost for the time from one's memory. How chic to shoot straight up among the drifting clouds and forget the sordid little world, even the memory of one's intrigues!
"Enfin seuls," they say to each other, as the big Frenchman and the chic Parisienne countess peer down over the edge of the basket, sipping a little chartreuse from the same traveling cup; she, with the black hair and white skin, and gowned "en ballon" in a costume by Paillard; he in his peajacket buttoned close under his heavy beard. They seem to brush through and against the clouds! A gentle breath from heaven makes the basket decline a little and the ropes creak against the hardwood clinch blocks. It grows colder, and he wraps her closer in his own coat.
"Courage, my child," he says; "see, we have gone a great distance; to-morrow before sundown we shall descend in Belgium."
"Horrible!" cries the Countess; "I do not like those Belgians."
"Ah! but you shall see, Therese, one shall go where one pleases soon; we are patient, we aeronauts; we shall bring credit to La Belle France; we have courage and perseverance; we shall give many dinners and weep over the failures of our brave comrades, to make the dirigible balloon 'pratique.' We shall succeed! Then Voila! our dejeuner in Paris and our dinner where we will."
Therese taps her polished nails against the edge of the wicker cage and hums a little chansonette.
"Je t'aime"—she murmurs.
* * * * *
I did not see this myself, and I do not know the fair Therese or the gentleman who buttons his coat under his whiskers; but you should have heard one of these ballooning enthusiasts tell it to me in the Taverne du Pantheon the other night. His only regret seemed to be that he, too, could not have a dirigible balloon and a countess—on ten francs a week!
Drunkards are not frequent sights in the Quarter; and yet when these people do get drunk, they become as irresponsible as maniacs. Excitable to a degree even when sober, these most wretched among the poor when drunk often appear in front of a cafe—gaunt, wild-eyed, haggard, and filthy—singing in boisterous tones or reciting to you with tense voices a jumble of meaningless thoughts.