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A Chair on The Boulevard by Leonard Merrick

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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."

"Which it was not convenient to pay?" interrupted Petitpas, all the
pages of _La Vie de Bohème_ playing leapfrog through his brain.

"I regret to bore you by so trite a situation. 'Which it was not
convenient to pay'! Indeed, I was not responsible for all of it, for I
occupied the room with a composer named Pitou. Well, you can construct
the next scene without a collaborator; the landlord has a speech, and
the tragedy is entitled 'Tricotrin in Quest of a Home.'"

"What of the composer?" inquired the delighted clerk; "what has become
of monsieur Pitou?"

"Monsieur Pitou was not on in that Act. The part of Pitou will attain
prominence when he returns and finds himself locked out."

"But, my dear monsieur Tricotrin, in such an extremity you should have
sought the services of a friend."

"I had that inspiration myself; I sought a painter called Goujaud. And
observe how careless is Reality in the matter of coincidences! I learnt
from his concierge that precisely the same thing had befallen monsieur
Goujaud. He, too, is Christmassing alfresco."

"Mon Dieu," faltered the clerk, "how it rejoices me that I have met
you! All my life I have looked forward to encountering a genius in such
a fix."

"Alas!" sighed Tricotrin, with a pensive smile, "to the genius the fix
is less spicy. Without a supper--"

"Without a supper!" crowed Petitpas.

"Without a bed--"

"Without a bed!" babbled Petitpas, enravished.

"With nothing but a pen and the sacred fire, one may be forgiven
sadness."

"Not so, not so," shouted Petitpas, smacking him on the back. "You are
omitting _me_ from your list of assets! Listen, I am staying at an
hotel. You cannot decline to accord me the honour of welcoming you
there as my guest for the night. Hang the expense! I am no longer in
business, I am a bohemian, like yourself; some supper, a bed, and a
little breakfast will not ruin me. What do you say, monsieur?"

"I say, drop the 'monsieur,' old chap," responded Tricotrin. "Your
suggestions for the tragedy are cordially accepted. I have never known
a collaborator to improve a plot so much. And understand this: I feel
more earnestly than I speak; henceforth we are pals, you and I."

"Brothers!" cried Petitpas, in ecstasy. "You shall hear all about a
novel that I have projected for years. I should like to have your
opinion of it."

"I shall be enchanted," said Tricotrin, his jaw dropping.

"You must introduce me to your circle--the painters, and the models,
and the actresses. Your friends shall be _my_ friends in future."

"Don't doubt it! When I tell them what a brick you are, they will be
proud to know you."

"No ceremony, mind!"

"Not a bit. You shall be another chum. Already I feel as if we had been
confidants in our cradles."

"It is the same with me. How true it is that kindred spirits recognise
each other in an instant. What is environment? Bah! A man may be a
bohemian and an artist although his occupations are commercial?"

"Perfectly! I nearly pined amid commercial occupations myself."

"What an extraordinary coincidence! Ah, that is the last bond between
us! You can realise my most complex moods, you can penetrate to the
most distant suburbs of my soul! Gustave, if I had been free to choose
my career, I should have become a famous man." "My poor Adolphe!
Still, prosperity is not an unmixed evil. You must seek compensation in
your wealth," murmured the poet, who began to think that one might pay
too high a price for a bed.

"Oh--er--to be sure!" said the little clerk, reminded that he was
pledged to a larger outlay than he had originally proposed. "That is to
say, I am not precisely 'wealthy.'" He saw his pocket-money during the
trip much curtailed, and rather wished that his impulse had been less
expansive.

"A snug income is no stigma, whether one derives it from Parnassus or
the Bourse," continued Tricotrin. "Hold! Who is that I see, slouching
over there? As I live, it's Pitou, the composer, whose dilemma I told
you of!"

"Another?" quavered the clerk, dismayed.

"Hé, Nicolas! Turn your symphonic gaze this way! 'Tis I, Gustave!"

"Ah, mon vieux!" exclaimed the young musician joyfully; "I was
wondering what your fate might be. I have only just come from the
house. Madame Dubois refused me admission; she informed me that you had
been firing Spanish novels at Gouge's head. Why Spanish? Is the Spanish
variety deadlier? So the villain has had the effrontery to turn us
out?"

"Let me make your affinities known to each other," said Tricotrin. "My
brother Nicolas--my brother Adolphe. Brother Adolphe has received a
scenario of the tragedy already, and he has a knack of inventing
brilliant 'curtains.'"

Behind Pitou's back he winked at Petitpas, as if to say, "He little
suspects what a surprise you have in store for him!"

"Oh--er--I am grieved to hear of your trouble, monsieur Pitou," said
Petitpas feebly.

"What? 'Grieved'? Come, that isn't all about it!" cried Tricotrin, who
attributed his restraint to nothing but diffidence. In an undertone he
added, "Don't be nervous, dear boy. Your invitation won't offend him in
the least!"

Petitpas breathed heavily. He aspired to prove himself a true bohemian,
but his heart quailed at the thought of such expense. Two suppers, two
beds, and two little breakfasts as a supplement to his bill would be no
joke. It was with a very poor grace that he stammered at last, "I hope
you will allow me to suggest a way out, monsieur Pitou? A room at my
hotel seems to dispose of the difficulty."

"Hem?" exclaimed Pitou. "Is that room a mirage, or are you serious?"

"'Serious'?" echoed Tricotrin. "He is as serious as an English
adaptation of a French farce." He went on, under his breath, "You
mustn't judge him by his manner, I can see that he has turned a little
shy. Believe me, he is the King of Trumps."

"Well, upon my word I shall be delighted, monsieur," responded Pitou.
"It was evidently the good kind fairies that led me to the place
Dancourt. I would ask you to step over the way and have a bock, but my
finances forbid."

"Your finances need cause no drought--Adolphe will be paymaster!"
declared Tricotrin gaily, shouldering his manuscript. "Come, let us
adjourn and give the Réveillon its due!"

Petitpas suppressed a moan. "By all means," he assented; "I was about
to propose it myself. I am a real bohemian, you know, and think nothing
of ordering several bocks at once."

"Are you sure he is all you say?" whispered Pitou to Tricotrin, with
misgiving.

"A shade embarrassed, that is all," pronounced the poet. And then, as
the trio moved arm-in-arm toward the café, a second solitary figure
emerged from the obscurity of the square.

"Bless my soul!" ejaculated Tricotrin; "am I mistaken, or--Look, look,
Adolphe! I would bet ten to one in sonnets that it is Goujaud, the
painter, whose plight I mentioned to you!"

"Yet another?" gasped Petitpas, panic-stricken.

"Sst! Hé, Goujaud! Come here, you vagrant, and be entertaining!"

"Well met, you fellows!" sighed Goujaud. "Where are you off to?"

"We are going to give Miranda a drink," said the poet; "she is drier
than ever. Let there be no strangers--my brother Adolphe, my brother
Théodose! What is your secret woe, Théo? Your face is as long as this
Spaniard's novel, Adolphe, have you a recipe in your pocket for the
hump?"

"Perhaps monsieur Goujaud will join us in a glass of beer?" said
Petitpas very coldly.

"There are more unlikely things than that!" affirmed the painter; and
when the café was entered, he swallowed his bock like one who has a
void to fill. "The fact is," he confided to the group, "I was about to
celebrate the Réveillon on a bench. That insolent landlord of mine has
kicked me out."

"And you will not get inside," said Tricotrin, "'not you, nor I, nor
any other of your vagabond friends. So there!' I had the privilege of
conversing with your concierge earlier in the evening."

"Ah, then, you know all about it. Well, now that I have run across you,
you can give me a shakedown in your attic. Good business!"

"I discern only one drawback to the scheme," said Pitou; "we haven't
any attic. It must be something in the air--all the landlords seem to
have the same complaint."

"But if you decide in the bench's favour, after all, you may pillow
your curls on Miranda," put in Tricotrin. "She would be exhilarating
company for him, Adolphe, hein? What do you think?" He murmured aside,
"Give him a dig in the ribs and say, 'You silly ass, _I_ can fix
you up all right!' That's the way we issue invitations in Montmartre."

The clerk's countenance was livid; his tongue stuck to his front teeth.
At last, wrenching the words out, he groaned, "If monsieur Goujaud will
accept my hospitality, I shall be charmed!" He was not without a hope
that his frigid bearing would beget a refusal.

"Ah, my dear old chap!" shouted Goujaud without an instant's
hesitation, "consider it done!" And now there were to be three suppers,
three beds, and three little breakfasts, distorting the account!

Petitpas sipped his bock faintly, affecting not to notice that his
guests' glasses had been emptied. With all his soul he repented the
impulse that had led to his predicament. Amid the throes of his mental
arithmetic he recognised that he had been deceived in himself, that he
had no abiding passion for bohemia. How much more pleasing than to
board and lodge this disreputable collection would have been the daily
round of amusements that he had planned! Even now--he caught his
breath--even now it was not too late; he might pay for the drinks and
escape! Why shouldn't he run away?

"Gentlemen," cried Petitpas, "I shall go and fetch a cab for us all.
Make yourselves comfortable till I come back!"

When the café closed, messieurs Tricotrin, Goujaud, and Pitou crept
forlornly across the square and disposed themselves for slumber on the
bench.

"Well, there is this to be said," yawned the poet, "if the little
bounder had kept his word, it would have been an extraordinary
conclusion to our adventures--as persons of literary discretion, we can
hardly regret that a story did not end so improbably.... My children,
Miranda, good-night--and a Merry Christmas!"

THE CAFÉ OF THE BROKEN HEART

On the last day of the year, towards the dinner-hour, a young and
attractive woman, whose costume proclaimed her a widow, entered the
Café of the Broken Heart. That modest restaurant is situated near the
Cemetery of Mont-martre. The lady, quoting from an announcement over
the window, requested the proprietor to conduct her to the "Apartment
reserved for Those Desirous of Weeping Alone."

The proprietor's shoulders became apologetic. "A thousand regrets,
madame," he murmured; "the Weeping Alone apartment is at present
occupied."

This visibly annoyed the customer.

"It is the second anniversary of my bereavement," she complained, "and
already I have wept here twice. The woe of an habituée should find a
welcome!"

Her reproof, still more her air of being well-to-do, had an effect on
Brochat. He looked at his wife, and his wife said hesitatingly:

"Perhaps the young man would consent to oblige madame if you asked him
nicely. After all, he engaged the room for seven o'clock, and it is not
yet half-past six."

"That is true," said Brochat. "Alors, I shall see what can be arranged!
I beg that madame will put herself to the trouble of sitting down while
I make the biggest endeavours."

But he returned after a few minutes to declare that the young man's
sorrow was so profound that no reply could be extracted from him.

The lady showed signs of temper. "Has this person the monopoly of
sorrowing on your premises?" she demanded. "Whom does he lament? Surely
the loss of a husband should give me prior claim?"

"I cannot rightly say whom the gentleman laments," stammered Brochat;
"the circumstances are, in fact, somewhat unusual. I would mention,
however, that the apartment is a spacious one, as madame doubtless
recalls, and no further mourners are expected for half an hour. If in
the meantime madame would be so amiable as to weep in the young man's
presence, I can assure her that she would find him too stricken to
stare."

The widow considered. "Well," she said, after the pause, "if you can
guarantee his abstraction, so be it! It is a matter of conscience with
me to behave in precisely the same way each year, and, rather than miss
my meditations there altogether, I am willing to make the best of him."

Brochat, having taken her order for refreshments--for which he always
charged slightly higher prices on the first floor--preceded her up the
stairs. The single gas-flame that had been kindled in the room was very
low, and the lady received but a momentary impression of a man's figure
bowed over a white table. She chose a chair at once with her back
towards him, and resting her brow on her forefinger, disposed herself
for desolation.

It may have been that the stranger's proximity told on her nerves, or
it may have been that Time had done something to heal the wound.
Whatever the cause, the frame of mind that she invited was slow in
arriving, and when the bouillon and biscottes appeared she was not
averse from trifling with them. Meanwhile, for any sound that he had
made, the young man might have been as defunct as Henri IV; but as she
took her second sip, a groan of such violence escaped him that she
nearly upset her cup.

His abandonment of despair seemed to reflect upon her own
insensibility; and, partly to raise herself in his esteem, the lady a
moment later uttered a long-drawn, wistful sigh. No sooner had she done
so, however, than she deeply regretted the indiscretion, for it
stimulated the young man to a howl positively harrowing.

An impatient movement of her graceful shoulders protested against these
demonstrations, but as she had her back to him, she could not tell
whether he observed her. Stealing a glance, she discovered that his
face was buried in his hands, and that the white table seemed to be
laid for ten covers. Scrutiny revealed ten bottles of wine around it,
the neck of each bottle embellished with a large crape bow. Curiosity
now held the lady wide-eyed, and, as luck would have it, the young man,
at this moment, raised his head.

"I trust that my agony does not disturb you, madame?" he inquired,
meeting her gaze with some embarrassment.

"I must confess, monsieur," said she, "that you have been carrying it
rather far."

He accepted the rebuke humbly. "If you divined the intensity of my
sufferings, you would be lenient," he murmured. "Nevertheless, it was
dishonest of me to moan so bitterly before seven o'clock, when my claim
to the room legally begins. I entreat your pardon."

"It is accorded freely," said the lady, mollified by his penitence.
"She would be a poor mourner who quarrelled with the affliction of
another."

Again she indulged in a plaintive sigh, and this time the young man's
response was tactfully harmonious.

"Life is a vale of tears, madame," he remarked, with more solicitude
than originality.

"You may indeed say so, monsieur," she assented. "To have lost one who
was beloved--"

"It must be a heavy blow; I can imagine it!"

He had made a curious answer. She stared at him, perplexed.

"You can 'imagine' it?"

"Very well."

"But you yourself have experienced such a loss, monsieur?" faltered the
widow nervously. Had trouble unhinged his brain?

"No," said the young man; "to speak by the clock, my own loss has not
yet occurred."

A brief silence fell, during which she cast uneasy glances towards the
door.

He added, as if anxious that she should do him justice: "But I would
not have you consider my lamentations premature."

"How true it is," breathed the lady, "that in this world no human soul
can wholly comprehend another!"

"Mine is a very painful history," he warned her, taking the hint; "yet
if it will serve to divert your mind from your own misfortune, I shall
be honoured to confide it to you. Stay, the tenth invitation, which an
accident prevented my dispatching, would explain the circumstances
tersely: but I much fear that the room is too dark for you to decipher
all the subtleties. Have I your permission to turn up the gas?"

"Do so, by all means, monsieur," said the lady graciously. And the
light displayed to her, first, as personable a young man as she could
have desired to see; second, an imposing card, which was inscribed as
follows:

MONSIEUR ACHILLE FLAMANT, ARTIST,

Forewarns you of the

DEATH OF HIS CAREER

The Interment will take place at the
Café of the Broken Heart
on December 31st.

_Valedictory N.B.--A sympathetic costume
Victuals will be appreciated.
7 p.m._

"I would call your attention to the border of cypress, and to the tomb
in the corner," said the young man, with melancholy pride. "You may
also look favourably on the figure with the shovel, which, of course,
depicts me in the act of burying my hopes. It is a symbolic touch that
no hope is visible."

"It is a very artistic production altogether," said the widow,
dissembling her astonishment. "So you are a painter, monsieur Flamant?"

"Again speaking by the clock, I am a painter," he concurred; "but at
midnight I shall no longer be in a position to say so--in the morning I
am pledged to the life commercial. You will not marvel at my misery
when I inform you that the existence of Achille Flamant, the artist,
will terminate in five hours and twenty odd minutes!"

"Well, I am commercial myself," she said. "I am madame Aurore, the
Beauty Specialist, of the rue Baba. Do not think me wanting in the
finer emotions, but I assure you that a lucrative establishment is not
a calamity."

"Madame Aurore," demurred the painter, with a bow, "your own business
is but a sister art. In your atelier, the saffron of a bad complexion
blooms to the fairness of a rose, and the bunch of a lumpy figure is
modelled to the grace of Galatea. With me it will be a different pair
of shoes; I shall be condemned to perch on a stool in the office of a
wine-merchant, and invoice vintages which my thirty francs a week will
not allow me to drink. No comparison can be drawn between your lot and
my little."

"Certainly I should not like to perch," she confessed.

"Would you rejoice at the thirty francs a week?"

"Well, and the thirty francs a week are also poignant. But you may
rise, monsieur; who shall foretell the future? Once I had to make both
ends meet with less to coax them than the salary you mention. Even when
my poor husband was taken from me--heigho!" she raised a miniature
handkerchief delicately to her eyes--"when I was left alone in the
world, monsieur, my affairs were greatly involved--I had practically
nothing but my resolve to succeed."

"And the witchery of your personal attractions, madame," said the
painter politely.

"Ah!" A pensive smile rewarded him. "The business was still in its
infancy, monsieur; yet to-day I have the smartest clientèle in Paris. I
might remove to the rue de la Paix to-morrow if I pleased. But, I say,
why should I do that? I say, why a reckless rental for the sake of a
fashionable address, when the fashionable men and women come to me
where I am?"

"You show profound judgment, madame," said Flamant. "Why, indeed!"

"And you, too, will show good judgment, I am convinced," continued
madame Aurore, regarding him with approval. "You have an air of
intellect. If your eyebrows were elongated a fraction towards the
temples--an improvement that might be effected easily enough by regular
use of my Persian Pomade--you would acquire the appearance of a born
conqueror."

"Alas," sighed Flamant, "my finances forbid my profiting by the tip!"

"Monsieur, you wrong me," murmured the specialist reproachfully. "I was
speaking with no professional intent. On the contrary, if you will
permit me, I shall take joy in forwarding a pot to you gratis."

"Is it possible?" cried Flamant: "you would really do this for me? You
feel for my sufferings so much?"

"Indeed, I regret that I cannot persuade you to reduce the sufferings,"
she replied. "But tell me why you have selected the vocation of a
wine-merchant's clerk."

"Fate, not I, has determined my cul-de-sac in life," rejoined her
companion. "It is like this: my father, who lacks an artistic soul,
consented to my becoming a painter only upon the understanding that I
should gain the Prix de Rome and pursue my studies in Italy free of any
expense to him. This being arranged, he agreed to make me a minute
allowance in the meanwhile. By a concatenation of catastrophes upon
which it is unnecessary to dwell, the Beaux-Arts did not accord the
prize to me; and, at the end of last year, my parent reminded me of our
compact, with a vigour which nothing but the relationship prevents my
describing as 'inhuman'. He insisted that I must bid farewell to
aspiration and renounce the brush of an artist for the quill of a
clerk! Distraught, I flung myself upon my knees. I implored him to
reconsider. My tribulation would have moved a rock--it even moved his
heart!"

"He showed you mercy?"

"He allowed me a respite."

"It was for twelve months?"

"Precisely. What rapid intuitions you have!--if I could remain in
Paris, we should become great friends. He allowed me twelve months'
respite. If, at the end of that time, Art was still inadequate to
supply my board and lodging, it was covenanted that, without any more
ado, I should resign myself to clerical employment at Nantes. The
merchant there is a friend of the family, and had offered to
demonstrate his friendship by paying me too little to live on. Enfin,
Fame has continued coy. The year expires to-night. I have begged a few
comrades to attend a valedictory dinner--and at the stroke of midnight,
despairing I depart!"

"Is there a train?"

"I do not depart from Paris till after breakfast to-morrow; but at
midnight I depart from myself, I depart psychologically--the Achille
Flamant of the Hitherto will be no more."

"I understand," said madame Aurore, moved. "As you say, in my own way I
am an artist, too, there is a bond between us. Poor fellow, it is
indeed a crisis in your life!... Who put the crape bows on the
bottles? they are badly tied. Shall I tie them properly for you?"

"It would be a sweet service," said Flamant, "and I should be grateful.
How gentle you are to me--pomade, bows, nothing is too much for you!"

"You must give me your Nantes address," she said, "and I will post the
pot without fail."

"I shall always keep it," he vowed--"not the pomade, but the pot--as a
souvenir. Will you write a few lines to me at the same time?"

Her gaze was averted; she toyed with her spoon. "The directions will be
on the label," she said timidly.

"It was not of my eyebrows I was thinking," murmured the man.

"What should I say? The latest quotation for artificial lashes, or a
development in dimple culture, would hardly be engrossing to you."

"I am inclined to believe that anything that concerned you would
engross me."

"It would be so unconventional," she objected dreamily.

"To send a brief message of encouragement? Have we not talked like
confidants?"

"That is queerer still."

"I admit it. Just now I was unaware of your existence, and suddenly you
dominate my thoughts. How do you work these miracles, madame? Do you
know that I have an enormous favour to crave of you?"

"What, another one?"

"Actually! Is it not audacious of me? Yet for a man on the verge of
parting from his identity, I venture to hope that you will strain a
point."

"The circumstances are in the man's favour," she owned. "Nevertheless,
much depends on what the point is."

"Well, I ask nothing less than that you accept the invitation on the
card that you examined; I beg you to soothe my last hours by remaining
to dine."

"Oh, but really," she exclaimed. "I am afraid--"

"You cannot urge that you are required at your atelier so late. And as
to any social engagement, I do not hesitate to affirm that my
approaching death in life puts forth the stronger claim."

"On me? When all is said, a new acquaintance!"

"What is Time?" demanded the painter. And she was not prepared with a
reply.

"Your comrades will be strangers to me," she argued.

"It is a fact that now I wish they were not coming," acknowledged the
host; "but they are young men of the loftiest genius, and some day it
may provide a piquant anecdote to relate how you met them all in the
period of their obscurity."

"My friend," she said, hurt, "if I consented, it would not be to garner
anecdotes."

"Ah, a million regrets!" he cried; "I spoke foolishly."

"It was tactless."

"Yes--I am a man. Do you forgive?"

"Yes--I am a woman. Well, I must take my bonnet off!"

"Oh, you are not a woman, but an angel! What beautiful hair you have!
And your hands, how I should love to paint them!"

"I have painted them, myself--with many preparations. My hands have
known labour, believe me; they have washed up plates and dishes, and
often the dishes had provided little to eat."

"Poor girl! One would never suspect that you had struggled like that."

"How feelingly you say it! There have been few to show me sympathy. Oh,
I assure you, my life has been a hard one; it is a hard one now, in
spite of my success. Constantly, when customers moan before my mirrors,
I envy them, if they did but know it. I think: 'Yes, you have a double
chin, and your eyes have lost their fire, and nasty curly little veins
are spoiling the pallor of your nose; but you have the affection of
husband and child, while _I_ have nothing but fees.' What is my
destiny? To hear great-grandmothers grumble because I cannot give them
back their girlhood for a thousand francs! To devote myself to making
other women beloved, while _I_ remain loveless in my shop!"

"Honestly, my heart aches for you. If I might presume to advise, I
would say, 'Do not allow the business to absorb your youth--you were
meant to be worshipped.' And yet, while I recommend it, I hate to think
of another man worshipping you."

"Why should you care, my dear? But there is no likelihood of that; I am
far too busy to seek worshippers. A propos an idea has just occurred to
me which might be advantageous to us both. If you could inform your
father that you would be able to earn rather more next year by
remaining in Paris than by going to Nantes, would it be satisfactory?"

"Satisfactory?" ejaculated Flamant. "It would be ecstatic! But how
shall I acquire such information?"

"Would you like to paint a couple of portraits of me?"

"I should like to paint a thousand."

"My establishment is not a picture-gallery. Listen. I offer you a
commission for two portraits: one, present day, let us say, moderately
attractive--"

"I decline to libel you."

"O, flatterer! The other, depicting my faded aspect before I discovered
the priceless secrets of the treatment that I practise in the rue Baba.
I shall hang them both in the reception-room. I must look at least a
decade older in the 'Before' than in the 'After,' and it must, of
course, present the appearance of having been painted some years ago.
That can be faked?"

"Perfectly."

"You accept?" "I embrace your feet. You have saved my life; you have
preserved my hopefulness, you have restored my youth!"

"It is my profession to preserve and restore."

"Ah, mon Dieu!" gasped Flamant in a paroxysm of adoration. "Aurore, I
can no longer refrain from avowing that--"

At this instant the door opened, and there entered solemnly nine young
men, garbed in such habiliments of woe as had never before been seen
perambulating, even on the figures of undertakers. The foremost bore a
wreath of immortelles, which he laid in devout silence on the dinner-table.

"Permit me," said Flamant, recovering himself by a stupendous effort:
"monsieur Tricotrin, the poet--madame Aurore."

"Enchanted!" said the poet, in lugubrious tones. "I have a heavy cold,
thank you, owing to my having passed the early hours of Christmas Day
on a bench, in default of a bed. It is superfluous to inquire as to the
health of madame."

"Monsieur Goujaud, a colleague."

"Overjoyed!" responded Goujaud, with a violent sneeze.

"Goujaud was with me," said Tricotrin.

"Monsieur Pitou, the composer."

"I ab hodoured. I trust badabe is dot dervous of gerbs? There is
nothing to fear," said Pitou.

"So was Pitou!" added Tricotrin.

"Monsieur Sanquereau, the sculptor; monsieur Lajeunie, the novelist,"
continued the host. But before he could present the rest of the
company, Brochat was respectfully intimating to the widow that her
position in the Weeping Alone apartment was now untenable. He was
immediately commanded to lay another cover.

"Madame and comrades," declaimed Tricotrin, unrolling a voluminous
manuscript, as they took their seats around the pot-au-feu, "I have
composed for this piteous occasion a brief poem!"

"I must beseech your pardon," stammered Flamant, rising in deep
confusion; "I have nine apologies to tender. Gentlemen, this touching
wreath for the tomb of my career finds the tomb unready. These
affecting garments which you have hired at, I fear, ruinous expense,
should be exchanged for bunting; that immortal poem with which our
friend would favour us has been suddenly deprived of all its point."

"Explain! explain!" volleyed from nine throats.

"I shall still read it," insisted Tricotrin, "it is good."

"The lady--nay, the goddess--whom you behold, has showered commissions,
and for one year more I shall still be in your midst. Brothers in art,
brothers in heart, I ask you to charge your glasses, and let your
voices ring. The toast is, 'Madame Aurore and her gift of the New
Year!'"

"Madame Aurore and her gift of the New Year!" shrieked the nine young
men, springing to their feet.

"In a year much may happen," said the lady tremulously.

And when they had all sat down again, Flamant was thrilled to find her
hand in his beneath the table.

THE DRESS CLOTHES OF MONSIEUR POMPONNET

It was thanks to Touquet that she was able to look so chic--the little
baggage!--yet of all her suitors Touquet was the one she favoured
least. He was the costumier at the corner of the rue des Martyrs, and
made a very fair thing of the second-hand clothes. It was to Touquet's
that the tradesmen of the quarter turned as a matter of course to hire
dress-suits for their nuptials; it was in the well-cleaned satins of
Touquet that the brides' mothers and the lady guests cut such imposing
figures when they were photographed after the wedding breakfasts; it
was even Touquet who sometimes supplied a gown to one or another of the
humble actresses at the Théâtre Montmartre, and received a couple of
free tickets in addition to his fee. I tell you that Touquet was not a
person to be sneezed at, though he had passed the first flush of youth,
and was never an Adonis.

Besides, who was she, this little Lisette, who had the impudence to
flout him? A girl in a florist's, if you can believe me, with no
particular beauty herself, and not a son by way of dot! And yet--one
must confess it--she turned a head as swiftly as she made a
"buttonhole"; and Pomponnet, the pastrycook, was paying court to her,
too--to say nothing of the homage of messieurs Tricotrin, the poet, and
Goujaud, the painter, and Lajeunie, the novelist. You would never have
guessed that her wages were only twenty francs a week, as you watched
her waltz with Tricotrin at the ball on Saturday evening, or as you saw
her enter Pomponnet's shop, when the shutters were drawn, to feast on
his strawberry tarts. Her costumes were the cynosure of the boulevard
Rochechouart!

And they were all due to Touquet, Touquet the infatuated, who lent the
fine feathers to her for the sake of a glance, or a pressure of the
hand--and wept on his counter afterwards while he wondered whose arms
might be embracing her in the costumes that he had cleaned and pressed
with so much care. Often he swore that his folly should end--that she
should be affianced to him, or go shabby; but, lo! in a day or two she
would make her appearance again, to coax for the loan of a smart
blouse, or "that hat with the giant rose and the ostrich plume"--and
Touquet would be as weak as ever.

Judge, then, of his despair when he heard that she had agreed to marry
Pomponnet! She told him the news with the air of an amiable gossip when
she came to return a ball-dress that she had borrowed.

"Enfin," she said--perched on the counter, and swinging her remorseless
feet--"it is arranged; I desert the flowers for the pastry, and become
the mistress of a shop. I shall have to beg from my good friend
monsieur Touquet no more--not at all! I shall be his client, like the
rest. It will be better, hein?"

Touquet groaned. "You know well, Lisette," he answered, "that it has
been a joy to me to place the stock at your disposal, even though it
was to make you more attractive in the eyes of other men. Everything
here that you have worn possesses a charm to me. I fondle the garments
when you bring them back; I take them down from the pegs and dream over
them. Truly! There is no limit to my weakness, for often when a client
proposes to hire a frock that you have had, I cannot bear that she
should profane it, and I say that it is engaged."

"You dear, kind monsieur Touquet," murmured the coquette; "how
agreeable you are!"

"I have always hoped for the day when the stock would be all your own,
Lisette. And by-and-by we might have removed to a better position--
even down the hill. Who knows? We might have opened a business in the
Madeleine quarter. That would suit you better than a little cake-shop
up a side street? And I would have risked it for you--I know how you
incline to fashion. When I have taken you to a theatre, did you choose
the Montmartre--where we might have gone for nothing--or the Moncey?
Not you!--that might do for other girls. _You_ have always
demanded the theatres of the Grand Boulevard; a cup of coffee at the
Café de la Paix is more to your taste than a bottle of beer and
hard-boiled eggs at The Nimble Rabbit. Heaven knows I trust you will be
happy, but I cannot persuade myself that this Pomponnet shares your
ambitions; with his slum and his stale pastry he is quite content."

"It is not stale," she said.

"Well, we will pass his pastry--though, word of honour, I bought some
there last week that might have been baked before the Commune; but to
recur to his soul, is it an affinity?"

"Affinities are always hard up," she pouted.

"Zut!" exclaimed Touquet; "now your mind is running on that monsieur
Tricotrin--by 'affinities' I do not mean hungry poets. Why not have
entrusted your happiness to _me_? I adore you, I have told you a
thousand times that I adore you. Lisette, consider before it is too
late! You cannot love this--this obscure baker?"

She gave a shrug. "It is a fact that devotion has not robbed me of my
appetite," she confessed. "But what would you have? His business goes
far better than you imagine--I have seen his books; and anyhow, my
sentiment for you is friendship, and no more."

"To the devil with friendship!" cried the unhappy wardrobe-dealer; "did
I dress you like the Empress Joséphine for friendship?"

"Do not mock yourself of it," she said reprovingly; "remember that
'Friendship is a beautiful flower, of which esteem is the stem.'" And,
having thrown the adage to him, coupled with a glance that drove him to
distraction, the little flirt jumped off the counter and was gone.

Much more reluctantly she contemplated parting with him whom the
costumier had described as a "hungry poet"; but matrimony did not enter
the poet's scheme of things, nor for that matter had she ever regarded
him as a possible parti. Yet a woman may give her fancy where her
reason refuses to follow, and when she imparted her news to Tricotrin
there was no smile on her lips.

"We shall not go to balls any more, old dear," she said. "Monsieur
Pomponnet has proposed marriage to me--and I settle down."

"Heartless girl," exclaimed the young man, with tears in his eyes. "So
much for woman's constancy!"

"Mon Dieu," she faltered, "did you then love me, Gustave--really?"

"I do not know," said Tricotrin, "but since I am to lose you, I prefer
to think so. Ah, do not grieve for me--fortunately, there is always the
Seine! And first I shall pour my misery into song; and in years to
come, fair daughters at your side will read the deathless poem, little
dreaming that the Lisette I sang to is their mother. Some time--long
after I am in my grave, when France has honoured me at last--you may
stand before a statue that bears my name, and think, 'He loved me, and
I broke his heart!'"

"Oh," she whimpered, "rather than break your heart I--I might break the
engagement! I might consider again, Gustave."

"No, no," returned Tricotrin, "I will not reproach myself with the
thought that I have marred your life; I will leave you free. Besides,
as I say, I am not certain that I should want you so much but for the
fact that I have lost you. After all, you will not appreciate the poem
that immortalises you, and if I lived, many of your remarks about it
would doubtless infuriate me."

"Why shall I not appreciate it? Am I so stupid?"

"It is not that you are stupid, my Soul," he explained; "it is that I
am transcendentally clever. To understand the virtues of my work one
must have sipped from all the flowers of Literature. 'There is to be
found in it Racine, Voltaire, Flaubert, Renan--and always Gustave
Tricotrin,' as Lemaître has written. He wrote, '--and always Anatole
France,' but I paraphrase him slightly. So you are going to marry
Pomponnet? Mon Dieu, when I have any sous in my pocket, I will ruin
myself, for the rapture of regretting you among the pastry!"

"I thought," she said, a little mortified, "that you were going to
drown yourself?"

"Am I not to write my Lament to you? I must eat while I write it--why
not pastry? Also, when I am penniless and starving, you may sometimes,
in your prosperity--And yet, perhaps, it is too much to ask?"

"Give you tick, do you mean, dear? But yes, Gustave; how can you doubt
that I will do that? In memory of--"

"In memory of the love that has been, you will permit me to run up a
small score for cakes, will you not, Lisette?"

"I will, indeed!" she promised. "But, but--Oh, it's quite true, I
should never understand you! A minute ago you made me think of you in
the Morgue, and now you make me think of you in the cake-shop. What are
you laughing at?"

"I laugh, like Figaro," said Tricotrin, "that I may not be obliged to
weep. When are you going to throw yourself away, my little Lisette? Has
my accursed rival induced you to fix a date?'

"We are to be married in a fortnight's time," she said. "And if you
could undertake to be sensible, I would ask Alphonse to invite you to
the breakfast."

"In a fortnight's time hunger and a hopeless passion will probably have
made an end of me," replied the poet; "however, if I survive, the
breakfast will certainly be welcome. Where is it to be held? I can
recommend a restaurant that is especially fine at such affairs, and
most moderate. 'Photographs of the party are taken gratuitously in the
Jardin d'Acclimatation, and pianos are at the disposal of the ladies';
I quote from the menu--I study it in the window every time I pass.
There are wedding breakfasts from six to twelve francs per head. At six
francs, the party have their choice of two soups and three hors
d'oeuvres. Then comes 'poisson'--I fear it may be whiting--filet de
boeuf with tomates farcies, bouchées à la Reine, chicken, pigeons,
salad, two vegetables, an ice, assorted fruits, and biscuits. The wines
are madeira, a bottle of mâcon to each person, a bottle of bordeaux
among four persons, and a bottle of champagne among ten persons. Also
coffee and liqueurs. At six francs a head! It is good, hein? At seven
francs there is a bottle of champagne among every eight persons--
Pomponnet will, of course, do as he thinks best. At eight francs, a
bottle is provided for every six persons. I have too much delicacy to
make suggestions, but should he be willing to soar to twelve francs a
head, I might eat enough to last a week--and of such quality! The soups
would then be bisque d'écrevisse and consommé Rachel. Rissoles de foies
gras would appear. Asparagus 'in branches,' and compote of peaches
flavoured with maraschino would be included. Also, in the twelve-franc
breakfast, the champagne begins to have a human name on the label!"

Now, it is not certain how much of this information Lisette repeated to
Pomponnet, but Pomponnet, having a will of his own, refused to
entertain monsieur Tricotrin at any price at all. More-over, he found
it unconventional that she should desire the poet's company,
considering the attentions that he had paid her; and she was forced to
listen, with an air of humility which she was far from feeling, to a
lecture on the responsibilities of her new position.

"I am not a jealous man," said the pastrycook, who was as jealous a man
as ever baked a pie; "but it would be discreet that you dropped this
acquaintance now that we are engaged. I know well that you have never
taken the addresses of such a fellow seriously, and that it is only in
the goodness of your heart you wish to present him with a blow-out.
Nevertheless, the betrothal of a man in my circumstances is much
remarked; all the daughters of the hairdresser next door have had their
hopes of me--indeed, there is scarcely a neighbour who is not chagrined
at the turn events have taken--and the world would be only too glad of
an excuse to call me 'fool.' Pomponnet's wife must be above suspicion.
You will remember that a little lightness of conduct which might be
forgiven in the employée of the florist would be unseemly in my
fiancée. No more conversation with monsieur Tricotrin, Lisette! Some
dignity--some coldness in the bow when you pass him. The boulevard will
observe it, it will be approved."

"You, of course, know best, my dear Alphonse," she returned meekly; "I
am only an inexperienced girl, and I am thankful to have your advice to
guide me. But let me say that never, never has there been any
'lightness of conduct,' to distress you. Monsieur Tricotrin and I have
been merely friends. If I have gone to a ball with him sometimes--and I
acknowledge that has happened--it has been because nobody more to my
taste has offered to take me." She had ground her little teeth under
the infliction of his homily, and it was only by dint of thinking hard
of his profits that she abstained from retorting that he might marry
all the daughters of the hairdresser and go to Uganda.

However, during the next week or so, she did not chance to meet the
poet on the boulevard; and since she wished to conquer her tenderness
for him, one cannot doubt that all would have been well but for the
Editor of _L'Echo de la Butte._ By a freak of fate, the Editor of
_L'Echo de la Butte_ was moved to invite monsieur Tricotrin to an
affair of ceremony two days previous to the wedding. What followed?
Naturally Tricotrin must present himself in evening dress. Naturally,
also, he must go to Touquet's to hire the suit.

"Regard," said the costumier, "here is a suit that I have just
acquired. Monsieur will observe that it is of the most distinguished
cut--quite in the latest fashion. I will whisper to monsieur that it
comes to me through the valet of the Comte de St.-Nom-la-Bretèche-
Forêt-de-Marly."

"Mon Dieu!" said Tricotrin, "let me try it on!" And he was so gratified
by his appearance in it that he barely winced at the thought of the
expense. "I am improving my position," he soliloquised; "if I have not
precisely inherited the mantle of Victor Hugo, I have, at any rate,
hired the dress-suit of the Comte de St.-Nom-la-Bretèche-Forêt-de-
Marly!"

Never had a more impressive spectacle been witnessed in Montmartre than
Tricotrin's departure from his latest lodging shortly after six
o'clock. Wearing a shirt of Pitou's, Flamant's patent-leather boots,
and a white tie contributed by Goujaud, the young man sallied forth
with the deportment of the Count himself. Only one thing more did he
desire, a flower for his buttonhole--and Lisette remained in her
situation until the morrow! What more natural, finally, than that he
should hie him to the florist's?

It was the first time that she had seen her lover in evening dress, and
sentiment overpowered her as he entered.

"Thou!" she murmured, paling.

On the poet, too, the influence of the clothes was very strong; attired
like a jeune premier, he craved with all the dramatic instinct of his
nature for a love scene; and, instead of fulfilling his intention to
beg for a rosebud at cost price, he gazed at her soulfully and breathed
"Lisette!"

"So we have met again!" she said.

"The world is small," returned the poet, ignoring the fact that he had
come to the shop. "And am I yet remembered?"

"It is not likely I should forget you in a few days," she said, more
practically; "I didn't forget about the breakfast, either, but Alphonse
put his foot down."

"Pig!" said the poet. "And yet it may be better so! How could I eat in
such an hour?"

"However, you are not disconsolate this evening?" she suggested. "Mais
vrai! what a swell you are!"

"Flûte! some fashionable assembly that will bore me beyond endurance,"
he sighed. "With you alone, Lisette, have I known true happiness--the
train rides on summer nights that were joyous because we loved; the
simple meals that were sweetened by your smile!"

"Ah, Gustave!" she said. "Wait, I must give you a flower for your
coat!"

"I shall keep it all my life!" vowed Tricotrin. "Tell me, little one--I
dare not stay now, because my host lives a long way off--but this
evening, could you not meet me once again? For the last time, to say
farewell? I have nearly two francs fifty, and we might go to supper, if
you agree."

It was arranged before he took leave of her that she should meet him
outside the _débit_ at the corner of the rue de Sontay at eleven
o'clock, and sup with him there, in a locality where she was unlikely
to be recognised. Rash enough, this conduct, for a young woman who was
to be married to another man on the next day but one! But a greater
imprudence was to follow. They supped, they sentimentalised, and when
they parted in the Champs Elysées and the moonshine, she gave him from
her bosom a little rose-coloured envelope that contained nothing less
than a lock of her hair.

The poet placed it tenderly in his waistcoat pocket; and, after he had
wept, and quoted poetry to the stars, forgot it. He began to wish that
he had not mixed his liquors quite so impartially; and, on the morrow,
when he woke, he was mindful of nothing more grievous than a splitting
headache.

Now Touquet, who could not sleep of nights because the pastrycook was
going to marry Lisette, made a practice of examining the pockets of all
garments returned to him, with an eye to stray sous; and when he
proceeded to examine the pockets of the dress-suit returned by monsieur
Tricotrin, what befell but that he drew forth a rose-tinted envelope
containing a tress of hair, and inscribed, "To Gustave, from Lisette.
Adieu."

And the Editor who invited monsieur Tricotrin had never heard of
Lisette; never heard of Pomponnet; did not know that such a person as
Touquet existed; yet the editorial caprice had manipulated destinies.
How powerful are Editors! How complicated is life!

But a truce to philosophy--let us deal with the emotions of the soul!
The shop reeled before Touquet. All the good and the bad in his
character battled tumultuously. In one moment he aspired to be generous
and restore to Lisette the evidence of her guilt; in the next he sank
to the base thought of displaying it to Pomponnet and breaking off the
match. The discovery fired his brain. No longer was he a nonentity, the
odd man out--chance had transformed him to the master of the situation.
Full well he knew that there would be no nuptials next day were
Pomponnet aware of his fiancée's perfidy; it needed but to go to him
and say, "Monsieur, my sense of duty compels me to inform you--." How
easy it would be! He laughed hysterically.

But Lisette would never pardon such a meanness--she would always
despise and hate him! He would have torn her from his rival's arms, it
was true, yet his own would still be empty. "Ah, Lisette, Lisette!"
groaned the wretched man; and, swept to evil by the force of passion,
he cudgelled his mind to devise some piece of trickery, some diabolical
artifice, by which the incriminating token might be placed in the
pastrycook's hands as if by accident.

And while he pondered--his "whole soul a chaos"--in that hour Pomponnet
entered to hire a dress-suit for his wedding!

Touquet raised his head, blanched to the lips.

"Regard," he said, with a forced calm terrible to behold; "here is a
suit that I have just acquired. Monsieur will observe that it is of the
most distinguished cut--quite in the latest fashion. I will whisper to
monsieur that it comes to me through the valet of the Comte de St. Nom-
la-Bretéche-Forét-de-Marly." And, unseen by the guileless bridegroom,
he slipped the damning proof into a pocket of the trousers, where his
knowledge of the pastrycook's attitudes assured him that it was even
more certain to be found than in the waistcoat.

"Mon Dieu!" said the other, duly impressed by the suit's pedigree; "let
me try it on.... The coat is rather tight," he complained, "but it has
undeniably an air."

"No more than one client has worn it," gasped the wardrobe dealer
haggardly: _"monsieur Gustave Tricotrin, the poet, who hired it last
night!_ The suit is practically new; I have no other in the
establishment to compare with it. Listen, monsieur Pomponnet! To an old
client like yourself, I will be liberal; wear it this evening for an
hour in your home--if you find it not to your figure, there will be
time to make another selection before the ceremony to-morrow. You shall
have this on trial, I will make no extra charge."

Such munificence was bound to have its effect, and five minutes later
Touquet's plot had progressed. But the tension had been frightful; the
door had scarcely closed when he sank into a chair, trembling in every
limb, and for the rest of the day he attended to his business like one
moving in a trance.

Meanwhile, the unsuspecting Pomponnet reviewed the arrangement with
considerable satisfaction; and when he came to attire himself, after
the cake-shop was shut, his reflected image pleased him so well that he
was tempted to stroll abroad. He decided to call on his betrothed, and
to exhibit himself a little on the boulevard. Accordingly, he put some
money in the pocket of the waistcoat, oiled his silk hat, to give it an
additional lustre, and sallied forth in high good-humour.

"How splendid you look, my dear Alphonse!" exclaimed Lisette, little
dreaming it was the same suit that she had approved on Tricotrin the
previous evening.

Her innocent admiration was agreeable to Pomponnet; he patted her on
the cheek.

"In truth," he said carelessly, "I had forgotten that I had it on! But I
was so impatient for to-morrow, my pet angel, that I could not remain
alone and I had to come to see you."

They were talking on her doorstep, for she had no apartment in which it
would have been _convenable_ to entertain him, and it appeared to
him that the terrace of a café would be more congenial.

"Run upstairs and make your toilette, my loving duck," he suggested,
"and I shall take you out for a tasse. While you are getting ready, I
will smoke a cigar." And he drew his cigar-case from the breast-pocket
of the coat, and took a match-box from the pocket where he had put his
cash.

It was a balmy evening, sweet with the odour of spring, and the streets
were full of life. As he promenaded with her on the boulevard,
Pomponnet did not fail to remark the attention commanded by his
costume. He strutted proudly, and when they reached the café and took
their seats, he gave his order with the authority of the President.

"Ah!" he remarked, "it is good here, hein?" And then, stretching his
legs, he thrust both his hands into the pockets of his trousers.
"_Comment?_" he murmured. "What have I found?... Now is not this
amusing--I swear it is a billet-doux!" He bent, chuckling, to the
light--and bounded in his chair with an oath that turned a dozen heads
towards them. "Traitress," roared Pomponnet, "miserable traitress! It
is _your_ name! It is your _writing_! It is your _hair_!
Do not deny it; give me your head--it matches to a shade! Jezebel, last
night you met monsieur Tricotrin--you have deceived me!"

Lisette, who had jumped as high as he in recognising the envelope, sat
like one paralysed now. Her tongue refused to move. For an instant, the
catastrophe seemed to her of supernatural agency--it was as if a
miracle had happened, as she saw her fiancé produce her lover's
keepsake. All she could stammer at last was:

"Let us go away--pay for the coffee!"

"I will not pay," shouted monsieur Pomponnet. "Pay for it yourself,
jade--I have done with you!" And, leaving her spellbound at the table,
he strode from the terrace like a madman before the waiters could stop
him.

Oh, of course, he was well known at the café, and they did not detain
Lisette, but it was a most ignominious position for a young woman. And
there was no wedding next day, and everybody knew why. The little
coquette, who had mocked suitors by the dozen, was jilted almost on the
threshold of the Mairie. She smacked Tricotrin's face in the morning,
but her humiliation was so acute that it demanded the salve of
immediate marriage; and at the moment she could think of no one better
than Touquet.

So Touquet won her after all. And though by this time she may guess how
he accomplished it, he will tell you--word of honour!--that never,
never has he had occasion for regret.

THE SUICIDES IN THE RUE SOMBRE

Having bought the rope, Tournicquot wondered where he should hang
himself. The lath-and-plaster ceiling of his room might decline to
support him, and while the streets were populous a lamp-post was out of
the question. As he hesitated on the kerb, he reflected that a pan of
charcoal would have been more convenient after all; but the coil of
rope in the doorway of a shop had lured his fancy, and now it would be
laughable to throw it away.

Tournicquot was much averse from being laughed at in private life--
perhaps because Fate had willed that he should be laughed at so much in
his public capacity. Could he have had his way, indeed, Tournicquot
would have been a great tragedian, instead of a little droll, whose
portraits, with a bright red nose and a scarlet wig, grimaced on the
hoardings; and he resolved that, at any rate, the element of humour
should not mar his suicide.

As to the motive for his death, it was as romantic as his heart
desired. He adored "La Belle Lucèrce," the fascinating Snake Charmer,
and somewhere in the background the artiste had a husband. Little the
audience suspected the passion that devoured their grotesque comedian
while he cut his capers and turned love to ridicule; little they
divined the pathos of a situation which condemned him behind the scenes
to whisper the most sentimental assurances of devotion when disfigured
by a flaming wig and a nose that was daubed vermilion! How nearly it
has been said, One half of the world does not know how the other half
loves!

But such incongruities would distress Tournicquot no more--to-day he
was to die; he had worn his chessboard trousers and his little green
coat for the last time! For the last time had the relentless virtue of
Lucrèce driven him to despair! When he was discovered inanimate,
hanging to a beam, nothing comic about him, perhaps the world would
admit that his soul had been solemn, though his "line of business" had
been funny; perhaps Lucrèce would even drop warm tears on his tomb!

It was early in the evening. Dusk was gathering over Paris, the promise
of dinner was in the breeze. The white glare of electric globes began
to flood the streets; and before the cafés, waiters bustled among the
tables, bearing the vermouth and absinthe of the hour. Instinctively
shunning the more frequented thoroughfares, Tournicquot crossed the
boulevard des Batignolles, and wandered, lost in reverie, along the
melancholy continuation of the rue de Rome until he perceived that he
had reached a neighbourhood unknown to him--that he stood at the corner
of a street which bore the name "Rue Sombre." Opposite, one of the
houses was being rebuilt, and as he gazed at it--this skeleton of a
home in which the workmen's hammers were silenced for the night--
Tournicquot recognised that his journey was at an end. Here, he could
not doubt that he would find the last, grim hospitality that he sought.
The house had no door to bar his entrance, but--as if in omen--above
the gap where a door had been, the sinister number "13" was still to be
discerned. He cast a glance over his shoulder, and, grasping the rope
with a firm hand, crept inside.

It was dark within, so dark that at first he could discern nothing but
the gleam of bare walls. He stole along the passage, and, mounting a
flight of steps, on which his feet sprung mournful echoes, proceeded
stealthily towards an apartment on the first floor. At this point the
darkness became impenetrable, for the _volets_ had been closed,
and in order to make his arrangements, it was necessary that he should
have a light. He paused, fumbling in his pocket; and then, with his
next step, blundered against a body, which swung from the contact, like
a human being suspended in mid-air.

Tournicquot leapt backwards in terror. A cold sweat bespangled him, and
for some seconds he shook so violently that he was unable to strike a
match. At last, when he accomplished it, he beheld a man, apparently
dead, hanging by a rope in the doorway.

"Ah, mon Dieu!" gasped Tournicquot. And the thudding of his heart
seemed to resound through the deserted house.

Humanity impelled him to rescue the poor wretch, if it was still to be
done. Shuddering, he whipped out his knife, and sawed at the cord
desperately. The cord was stout, and the blade of the knife but small;
an eternity seemed to pass while he sawed in the darkness. Presently
one of the strands gave way. He set his teeth and pressed harder, and
harder yet. Suddenly the rope yielded and the body fell to the ground.
Tournicquot threw himself beside it, tearing open the collar, and using
frantic efforts to restore animation. There was no result. He
persevered, but the body lay perfectly inert. He began to reflect that
it was his duty to inform the police of the discovery, and he asked
himself how he should account for his presence on the scene. Just as he
was considering this, he felt the stir of life. As if by a miracle the
man groaned.

"Courage, my poor fellow!" panted Tournicquot. "Courage--all is well!"

The man groaned again; and after an appalling silence, during which
Tournicquot began to tremble for his fate anew, asked feebly, "Where am
I?"

"You would have hanged yourself," explained Tournicquot. "Thanks to
Heaven, I arrived in time to save your life!"

In the darkness they could not see each other, but he felt for the
man's hand and pressed it warmly. To his consternation, he received,
for response, a thump in the chest.

"Morbleu, what an infernal cheek!" croaked the man. "So you have cut me
down? You meddlesome idiot, by what right did you poke your nose into
my affairs, hein?"

Dismay held Tournicquot dumb.

"Hein?" wheezed the man; "what concern was it of yours, if you please?
Never in my life before have I met with such a piece of presumption!"

"My poor friend," stammered Tournicquot, "you do not know what you say
--you are not yourself! By-and-by you will be grateful, you will fall on
your knees and bless me."

"By-and-by I shall punch you in the eye," returned the man, "just as
soon as I am feeling better! What have you done to my collar, too? I
declare you have played the devil with me!" His annoyance rose. "Who
are you, and what are you doing here, anyhow? You are a trespasser--I
shall give you in charge."

"Come, come," said Tournicquot, conciliatingly, "if your misfortunes
are more than you can bear, I regret that I was obliged to save you;
but, after all, there is no need to make such a grievance of it--you
can hang yourself another day."

"And why should I be put to the trouble twice?" grumbled the other. "Do
you figure yourself that it is agreeable to hang? I passed a very bad
time, I can assure you. If you had experienced it, you would not talk
so lightly about 'another day.' The more I think of your impudent
interference, the more it vexes me. And how dark it is! Get up and
light the candle--it gives me the hump here."

"I have no candle, I have no candle," babbled Tournicquot; "I do not
carry candles in my pocket."

"There is a bit on the mantelpiece," replied the man angrily; "I saw it
when I came in. Go and feel for it--hunt about! Do not keep me lying
here in the dark--the least you can do is to make me as comfortable as
you can."

Tournicquot, not a little perturbed by the threat of assault, groped
obediently; but the room appeared to be of the dimensions of a park,
and he arrived at the candle stump only after a prolonged excursion.
The flame revealed to him a man of about his own age, who leant against
the wall regarding him with indignant eyes. Revealed also was the coil
of rope that the comedian had brought for his own use; and the man
pointed to it.

"What is that? It was not here just now."

"It belongs to me," admitted Tournicquot, nervously.

"I see that it belongs to you. Why do you visit an empty house with a
coil of rope, hein? I should like to understand that ... Upon my life,
you were here on the same business as myself! Now if this does not pass
all forbearance! You come to commit suicide, and yet you have the
effrontery to put a stop to mine!"

"Well," exclaimed Tournicquot, "I obeyed an impulse of pity! It is true
that I came to destroy myself, for I am the most miserable of men; but
I was so much affected by the sight of your sufferings that temporarily
I forgot my own."

"That is a lie, for I was not suffering--I was not conscious when you
came in. However, you have some pretty moments in front of you, so we
will say no more! When you feel yourself drop, it will be diabolical, I
promise you; the hair stands erect on the head, and each spot of blood
in the veins congeals to a separate icicle! It is true that the drop
itself is swift, but the clutch of the rope, as you kick in the air, is
hardly less atrocious. Do not be encouraged by the delusion that the
matter is instantaneous. Time mocks you, and a second holds the
sensations of a quarter of an hour. What has forced you to it? We need
not stand on ceremony with each other, hein?"

"I have resolved to die because life is torture," said Tournicquot, on
whom these details had made an unfavourable impression.

"The same with me! A woman, of course?"

"Yes," sighed Tournicquot, "a woman!"

"Is there no other remedy? Cannot you desert her?"

"Desert her? I pine for her embrace!"

"Hein?"

"She will not have anything to do with me."

"_Comment?_ Then it is love with you?"

"What else? An eternal passion!"

"Oh, mon Dieu, I took it for granted you were married! But this is
droll. _You_ would die because you cannot get hold of a woman, and
_I_ because I cannot get rid of one. We should talk, we two. Can
you give me a cigarette?"

"With pleasure, monsieur," responded Tournicquot, producing a packet.
"I, also, will take one--my last!"

"If I expressed myself hastily just now," said his companion,
refastening his collar, "I shall apologise--no doubt your interference
was well meant, though I do not pretend to approve it. Let us dismiss
the incident; you have behaved tactlessly, and I, on my side, have
perhaps resented your error with too much warmth. Well, it is finished!
While the candle burns, let us exchange more amicable views. Is my
cravat straight? It astonishes me to hear that love can drive a man to
such despair. I, too, have loved, but never to the length of the rope.
There are plenty of women in Paris--if one has no heart, there is
always another. I am far from proposing to frustrate your project,
holding as I do that a man's suicide is an intimate matter in which
'rescue' is a name given by busybodies to a gross impertinence; but as
you have not begun the job, I will confess that I think you are being
rash."

"I have considered," replied Tournicquot, "I have considered
attentively. There is no alternative, I assure you."

"I would make another attempt to persuade the lady--I swear I would
make another attempt! You are not a bad-looking fellow. What is her
objection to you?"

"It is not that she objects to me--on the contrary. But she is a woman
of high principle, and she has a husband who is devoted to her--she
will not break his heart. It is like that."

"Young?"

"No more than thirty."

"And beautiful?"

"With a beauty like an angel's! She has a dimple in her right cheek
when she smiles that drives one to distraction."

"Myself, I have no weakness for dimples; but every man to his taste--
there is no arguing about these things. What a combination--young,
lovely, virtuous! And I make you a bet the oaf of a husband does not
appreciate her! Is it not always so? Now _I_--but of course I
married foolishly, I married an artiste. If I had my time again I would
choose in preference any sempstress. The artistes are for applause,
for bouquets, for little dinners, but not for marriage."

"I cannot agree with you," said Tournicquot, with some hauteur, "Your
experience may have been unfortunate, but the theatre contains women
quite as noble as any other sphere. In proof of it, the lady I adore is
an artiste herself!"

"Really--is it so? Would it be indiscreet to ask her name?"

"There are things that one does not tell."

"But as a matter of interest? There is nothing derogatory to her in
what you say--quite the reverse."

"True! Well, the reason for reticence is removed. She is known as 'La
Belle Lucrèce.'"

"_Hein?"_ ejaculated the other, jumping.

"What ails you?"

"She is my wife!"

"Your wife? Impossible!"

"I tell you I am married to her--she is 'madame Béguinet.'"

"Mon Dieu!" faltered Tournicquot, aghast; "what have I done!"

"So?... You are her lover?"

"Never has she encouraged me--recall what I said! There are no grounds
for jealousy--am I not about to die because she spurns me? I swear to
you--"

"You mistake my emotion--why should I be jealous? Not at all--I am only
amazed. She thinks I am devoted to her? Ho, ho! Not at all! You see my
'devotion' by the fact that I am about to hang myself rather than live
with her. And _you_, you cannot bear to live because you adore
her! Actually, you adore her! Is it not inexplicable? Oh, there is
certainly the finger of Providence in this meeting!... Wait, we must
discuss--we should come to each other's aid!... Give me another
cigarette."

Some seconds passed while they smoked in silent meditation.

"Listen," resumed monsieur Béguinet; "in order to clear up this
complication, a perfect candour is required on both sides. Alors, as to
your views, is it that you aspire to marry madame? I do not wish to
appear exigent, but in the position that I occupy you will realise that
it is my duty to make the most favourable arrangements for her that I
can. Now open your heart to me; speak frankly!"

"It is difficult for me to express myself without restraint to you,
monsieur," said Tournicquot, "because circumstances cause me to regard
you as a grievance. To answer you with all the delicacy possible, I
will say that if I had cut you down five minutes later, life would be a
fairer thing to me."

"Good," said monsieur Béguinet, "we make progress! Your income? Does it
suffice to support her in the style to which she is accustomed? What
may your occupation be?"

"I am in madame's own profession--I, too, am an artiste."

"So much the more congenial! I foresee a joyous union. Come, we go
famously! Your line of business--snakes, ventriloquism, performing-
rabbits, what is it?"

"My name is 'Tournicquot,'" responded the comedian, with dignity. "All
is said!"

"A-ah! Is it so? Now I understand why your voice has been puzzling me!
Monsieur Tournicquot, I am enchanted to make your acquaintance. I
declare the matter arranges itself! I shall tell you what we will do.
Hitherto I have had no choice between residing with madame and
committing suicide, because my affairs have not prospered, and--though
my pride has revolted--her salary has been essential for my
maintenance. Now the happy medium jumps to the eyes; for you, for me,
for her the bright sunshine streams! I shall efface myself; I shall go
to a distant spot--say, Monte Carlo--and you shall make me a snug
allowance. Have no misgiving; crown her with blossoms, lead her to the
altar, and rest tranquil--I shall never reappear. Do not figure
yourself that I shall enter like the villain at the Amibigu and menace
the blissful home. Not at all! I myself may even re-marry, who knows?
Indeed, should you offer me an allowance adequate for a family man, I
will undertake to re-marry--I have always inclined towards speculation.
That will shut my mouth, hein? I could threaten nothing, even if I had
a base nature, for I, also, shall have committed bigamy. Suicide,
bigamy, I would commit _anything_ rather than live with Lucrèce!"

"But madame's consent must be gained," demurred Tournicquot; "you
overlook the fact that madame must consent. It is a fact that I do not
understand why she should have any consideration for you, but if she
continues to harp upon her 'duty,' what then?"

"Do you not tell me that her only objection to your suit has been her
fear that she would break my heart? What an hallucination! I shall
approach the subject with tact, with the utmost delicacy. I shall
intimate to her that to ensure her happiness I am willing to sacrifice
myself. Should she hesitate, I shall demand to sacrifice myself! Rest
assured that if she regards you with the favour that you believe, your
troubles are at an end--the barrier removes itself, and you join
hands.... The candle is going out! Shall we depart?"

"I perceive no reason why we should remain; In truth, we might have got
out of it sooner."

"You are right! a café will be more cheerful. Suppose we take a bottle
of wine together; how does it strike you? If you insist, I will be your
guest; if not--"

"Ah, monsieur, you will allow me the pleasure," murmured Tournicquot.

"Well, well," said Beguinet, "you must have your way!... Your rope you
have no use for, hein--we shall leave it?"

"But certainly! Why should I burden myself?"

"The occasion has passed, true. Good! Come, my comrade, let us
descend!"

Who shall read the future? Awhile ago they had been strangers, neither
intending to quit the house alive; now the pair issued from it
jauntily, arm in arm. Both were in high spirits, and by the time the
lamps of a café gave them welcome, and the wine gurgled gaily into the
glasses, they pledged each other with a sentiment no less than
fraternal.

"How I rejoice that I have met you!" exclaimed Béguinet. "To your
marriage, mon vieux; to your joy! Fill up, again a glass!--there are
plenty of bottles in the cellar. Mon Dieu, you are my preserver--I must
embrace you. Never till now have I felt such affection for a man. This
evening all was black to me; I despaired, my heart was as heavy as a
cannon-ball--and suddenly the world is bright. Roses bloom before my
feet, and the little larks are singing in the sky. I dance, I skip. How
beautiful, how sublime is friendship!--better than riches, than youth,
than the love of woman: riches melt, youth flies, woman snores. But
friendship is--Again a glass! It goes well, this wine.

"Let us have a lobster! I swear I have an appetite; they make one
peckish, these suicides, n'est-ce pas? I shall not be formal--if you
consider it your treat, you shall pay. A lobster and another bottle! At
your expense, or mine?"

"Ah, the bill all in one!" declared Tourniequot.

"Well, well," said Béguinet, "you must have your way! What a happy man
I am! Already I feel twenty years younger. You would not believe what I
have suffered. My agonies would fill a book. Really. By nature I am
domesticated; but my home is impossible--I shudder when I enter it. It
is only in a restaurant that I see a clean table-cloth. Absolutely. I
pig. All Lucrèce thinks about is frivolity."

"No, no," protested Tournicquot; "to that I cannot agree."

"What do you know? You 'cannot agree'! You have seen her when she is
laced in her stage costume, when she prinks and prattles, with the
paint, and the powder, and her best corset on. It is I who am 'behind
the scenes,' mon ami, not you. I see her dirty peignoir and her curl
rags. At four o'clock in the afternoon. Every day. You 'cannot agree'!"

"Curl rags?" faltered Tournicquot.

"But certainly! I tell you I am of a gentle disposition, I am most
tolerant of women's failings; it says much that I would have hanged
myself rather than remain with a woman. Her untidiness is not all; her
toilette at home revolts my sensibilities, but--well, one cannot have
everything, and her salary is substantial; I have closed my eyes to the
curl rags. However, snakes are more serious."

"Snakes?" ejaculated Tournicquot.

"Naturally! The beasts must live, do they not support us? But
'Everything in its place' is my own motto; the motto of my wife--'All
over the place.' Her serpents have shortened my life, word of honour!--
they wander where they will. I never lay my head beside those curl rags
of hers without anticipating a cobra-decapello under the bolster. It is
not everybody's money. Lucrèce has no objection to them; well, it is
very courageous--very fortunate, since snakes are her profession--but
_I_, I was not brought up to snakes; I am not at my ease in a
Zoölogical Gardens."

"It is natural."

"Is it not? I desire to explain myself to you, you understand; are we
not as brothers? Oh, I realise well that when one loves a woman one
always thinks that the faults are the husband's: believe me I have had
much to justify my attitude. Snakes, dirt, furies, what a ménage!"

"Furies?" gasped Tournicquot.

"I am an honest man," affirmed Béguinet draining another bumper; "I
shall not say to you 'I have no blemish, I am perfect,' Not at all.
Without doubt, I have occasionally expressed myself to Lucrèce with
more candour than courtesy. Such things happen. But"--he refilled his
glass, and sighed pathetically--"but to every citizen, whatever his
position--whether his affairs may have prospered or not--his wife owes
respect. Hein? She should not throw the ragoút at him. She should not
menace him with snakes." He wept. "My friend, you will admit that it is
not _gentil_ to coerce a husband with deadly reptiles?"

Tournicquot had turned very pale. He signed to the waiter for the bill,
and when it was discharged, sat regarding his companion with round
eyes, At last, clearing his throat, he said nervously:

"After all, do you know--now one comes to think it over--I am not sure,
upon my honour, that our arrangement is feasible?"

"What?" exclaimed Béguinet, with a violent start. "Not feasible? How is
that, pray? Because I have opened my heart to you, do you back out? Oh,
what treachery! Never will I believe you could be capable of it!"

"However, it is a fact. On consideration, I shall not rob you of her."

"Base fellow! You take advantage of my confidence. A contract is a
contract!"

"No," stammered Tournicquot, "I shall be a man and live my love down.
Monsieur, I have the honour to wish you 'Good-night.'"

"Hé, stop!" cried Béguinet, infuriated. "What then is to become of
_me_? Insolent poltroon--you have even destroyed my rope!"

THE CONSPIRACY FOR CLAUDINE

"Once," remarked Tricotrin, pitching his pen in the air, "there were
four suitors for the Most Beautiful of her Sex. The first young man was
a musician, and he shut himself in his garret to compose a divine
melody, to be dedicated to her. The second lover was a chemist, who
experimented day and night to discover a unique perfume that she alone
might use. The third, who was a floriculturist, aspired constantly
among his bulbs to create a silver rose, that should immortalise the
lady's name."

"And the fourth," inquired Pitou, "what did the fourth suitor do?"

"The fourth suitor waited for her every afternoon in the sunshine,
while the others were at work, and married her with great éclat. The
moral of which is that, instead of cracking my head to make a sonnet to
Claudine, I shall be wise to put on my hat and go to meet her."

"I rejoice that the dénoûment is arrived at," Pitou returned, "but it
would be even more absorbing if I had previously heard of Claudine."

"Miserable dullard!" cried the poet; "do you tell me that you have not
previously heard of Claudine? She is the only woman I have ever loved."

"A--ah," rejoined Pitou; "certainly, I have heard of her a thousand
times--only she has never been called 'Claudine' before."

"Let us keep to the point," said Tricotrin. "Claudine represents the
devotion of a lifetime. I think seriously of writing a tragedy for her
to appear in."

"I shall undertake to weep copiously at it if you present me with a
pass," affirmed Pitou. "She is an actress, then, this Claudine? At what
theatre is she blazing--the Montmartre?"

"How often I find occasion to lament that your imagination is no larger
than the quartier! Claudine is not of Montmartre at all, at all. My
poor friend, have you never heard that there are theatres on the Grand
Boulevard?"

"Ah, so you betake yourself to haunts of fashion? Now I begin to
understand why you have become so prodigal with the blacking; for some
time I have had the intention of reproaching you with your shoes--our
finances are not equal to such lustre."

"Ah, when one truly loves, money is no object!" said Tricotrin.
"However, if it is time misspent to write a sonnet to her, it is even
more unprofitable to pass the evening justifying one's shoes." And,
picking up his hat, the poet ran down the stairs, and made his way as
fast as his legs would carry him to the Comédie Moderne.

He arrived at the stage-door with no more than three minutes to spare,
and disposing himself in a graceful attitude, waited for mademoiselle
Claudine Hilairet to come out. It might have been observed that his
confidence deserted him while he waited, for although it was perfectly
true that he adored her, he had omitted to add that the passion was not
mutual. He was conscious that the lady might resent his presence on the
door-step; and, in fact, when she appeared, she said nothing more
tender than--

"Mon Dieu, again you! What do you want?"

"How can you ask?" sighed the poet. "I came to walk home with you lest
an electric train should knock you down at one of the crossings. What a
magnificent performance you have given this evening! Superb!"

"Were you in the theatre?"

"In spirit. My spirit, which no official can exclude, is present every
night, though sordid considerations force me to remain corporally in my
attic. Transported by admiration, I even burst into frantic applause
there. How perfect is the sympathy between our souls!"

"Listen, my little one," she said. "I am sorry for your relatives, if
you have any--your condition must be a great grief to them. But, all
the same, I cannot have you dangling after me and talking this bosh.
What do you suppose can come of it?"

"Fame shall come of it," averred the poet, "fame for us both! Do not
figure yourself that I am a dreamer. Not at all! I am practical, a man
of affairs. Are you content with your position in the Comédie Moderne?
No, you are not. You occupy a subordinate position; you play the rôle
of a waiting-maid, which is quite unworthy of your genius, and
understudy the ingénue, who is a portly matron in robust health. The
opportunity to distinguish yourself appears to you as remote as Mars.
Do I romance, or is it true?"

"It is true," she said. "Well?"

"Well, I propose to alter all this--I! I have the intention of writing
a great tragedy, and when it is accepted, I shall stipulate that you,
and you alone, shall thrill Paris as my heroine. When the work of my
brain has raised you to the pinnacle for which you were born, when the
theatre echoes with our names, I shall fall at your feet, and you will
murmur, 'Gustave--I love thee!'"

"Why does not your mother do something?" she asked. "Is there nobody to
place you where you might be cured? A tragedy? Imbecile, I am
comédienne to the finger-tips! What should I do with your tragedy, even
if it were at the Français itself?"

"You are right," said Tricotrin; "I shall turn out a brilliant comedy
instead. And when the work of my brain has raised you to the pinnacle
for which you were born, when the theatre echoes with our names--"

She interrupted him by a peal of laughter which disconcerted him hardly
less than her annoyance.

"It is impossible to be angry with you long," she declared, "you are
too comic. Also, as a friend, I do not object to you violently. Come, I
advise you to be content with what you can have, instead of crying for
the moon!"

"Well, I am not unwilling to make shift with it in the meantime,"
returned Tricotrin; "but friendship is a poor substitute for the
heavens--and we shall see what we shall see. Tell me now, they mean to
revive _La Curieuse_ at the Comédie, I hear--what part in it have
you been assigned?" "Ah," exclaimed mademoiselle Hilairet, "is it not
always the same thing? I dust the same decayed furniture with the same
feather brush, and I say 'Yes,' and 'No,' and 'Here is a letter,
madame.' That is all."

"I swear it is infamous!" cried the poet. "It amazes me that they fail
to perceive that your gifts are buried. One would suppose that managers
would know better than to condemn a great artiste to perform such
ignominious roles. The critics also! Why do not the critics call
attention to an outrage which continues year by year? It appears to me
that I shall have to use my influence with the Press." And so serious
was the tone in which he made this boast, that the fair Claudine began
to wonder if she had after all underrated the position of her out-at-
elbows gallant.

"Your influence?" she questioned, with an eager smile. "Have you
influence with the critics, then?"

"We shall see what we shall see," repeated Tricotrin, significantly. "I
am not unknown in Paris, and I have your cause at heart--I may make a
star of you yet. But while we are on the subject of astronomy, one
question! When my services have transformed you to a star, shall I
still be compelled to cry for the moon?"

Mademoiselle Hilairet's tones quivered with emotion--as she murmured
how grateful to him she would be, and it was understood, when he took
leave of her, that if he indeed accomplished his design, his suit would
be no longer hopeless.

The poet pressed her hand ardently, and turned homeward in high
feather; and it was not until he had trudged a mile or so that the
rapture in his soul began to subside under the remembrance that he had
been talking through his hat.

"In fact," he admitted to Pitou when the garret was reached, "my
imagination took wings unto itself; I am committed to a task beside
which the labours of Hercules were child's play. The question now
arises how this thing, of which I spoke so confidently, is to be
effected. What do you suggest?"

"I suggest that you allow me to sleep," replied Pitou, "for I shall
feel less hungry then."

"Your suggestion will not advance us," demurred Tricotrin. "We shall,
on the contrary, examine the situation in all its bearings. Listen!
Claudine is to enact the waiting-maid in _La Curieuse,_ which will
be revived at the Comédie Moderne in a fortnight's time; she will dust
the Empire furniture, and say 'Yes' and 'No' with all the intellect and
animation for which those monosyllables provide an opening. Have you
grasped the synopsis so far? Good! On the strength of this performance,
it has to be stated by the foremost dramatic critic in Paris that she
is an actress of genius. Now, how is it to be done? How shall we induce
Labaregue to write of her with an outburst of enthusiasm in _La
Voix_?"

"Labaregue?" faltered Pitou. "I declare the audacity of your notion
wakes me up!"

"Capital," said Tricotrin, "we are making progress already! Yes, we
must have Labaregue--it has never been my custom to do things by
halves. Dramatically, of course, I should hold a compromising paper of
Labaregue's. I should say, 'Monsieur, the price of this document is an
act of justice to mademoiselle Claudine Hilairet. It is agreed? Good!
Sit down--you will write from my dictation!'"

"However--" said Pitou.

"However--I anticipate your objection--I do not hold such a paper.
Therefore, that scene is cut. Well, let us find another! Where is your
fertility of resource? Mon Dieu! why should I speak to him at all?"

"I do not figure myself that you will speak to him, you will never get
the chance."

"Precisely my own suspicion. What follows? Instead of wasting my time
seeking an interview which would not be granted--"

"And which would lead to nothing even if it were granted!"

"And which would lead to nothing even if it were granted, as you point
out; instead of doing this, it is evident that I must write Labaregue's
criticism myself!"

"Hein?" ejaculated Pitou, sitting up in bed.

"I confess that I do not perceive yet how it is to be managed, but
obviously it is the only course. _I_ must write what is to be
said, and _La Voix_ must believe that it has been written by
Labaregue. Come, we are getting on famously--we have now decided what
we are to avoid!"

"By D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis," cried Pitou, "this will be
the doughtiest adventure in which we have engaged!"

"You are right, it is an adventure worthy of our steel ... pens! We
shall enlighten the public, crown an artiste, and win her heart by way
of reward--that is to say, _I_ shall win her heart by way of
reward. What your own share of the booty will be I do not recognize,
but I promise you, at least, a generous half of the dangers."

"My comrade," murmured Pitou; "ever loyal! But do you not think that
_La Voix_ will smell a rat? What about the handwriting?"

"It is a weak point which had already presented itself to me. Could I
have constructed the situation to my liking, Labaregue would have the
custom to type-write his notices; however, as he is so inconsiderate as
to knock them off in the Café de l'Europe, he has not that custom, and
we must adapt ourselves to the circumstances that exist. The
probability is that a criticism delivered by the accredited messenger,
and signed with the familiar 'J.L.' will be passed without question;
the difference in the handwriting may be attributed to an amanuensis.
When the great man writes his next notice, I shall make it my business
to be taking a bock in the Café de l'Europe, in order that I may
observe closely what happens. There is to be a répétition générale at
the Vaudeville on Monday night--on Monday night, therefore, I hope to
advise you of our plan of campaign. Now do not speak to me any more--I
am about to compose a eulogy on Claudine, for which Labaregue will, in
due course, receive the credit."

The poet fell asleep at last, murmuring dithyrambic phrases; and if you
suppose that in the soberness of daylight he renounced his harebrained
project, it is certain that you have never lived with Tricotrin in
Montmartre.

No, indeed, he did not renounce it. On Monday night--or rather in the
small hours of Tuesday morning--he awoke Pitou with enthusiasm.

"Mon vieux," he exclaimed, "the evening has been well spent! I have
observed, and I have reflected. When he quitted the Vaudeville,
Labaregue entered the Café de l'Europe, seated himself at his favourite
table, and wrote without cessation for half an hour. When his critique
was finished, he placed it in an envelope, and commanded his supper.
All this time I, sipping a bock leisurely, accorded to his actions a
scrutiny worthy of the secret police. Presently a lad from the office
of _La Voix_ appeared; he approached Labaregue, received the
envelope, and departed. At this point, my bock was finished; I paid for
it and sauntered out, keeping the boy well in view. His route to the
office lay through a dozen streets which were all deserted at so late
an hour; but I remarked one that was even more forbidding than the
rest--a mere alley that seemed positively to have been designed for our
purpose. Our course is clear--we shall attack him in the rue des
Cendres."

"Really?" inquired Pitou, somewhat startled.

"But really! We will not shed his blood; we will make him turn out his
pockets, and then, disgusted by the smallness of the swag, toss it back
to him with a flip on the ear. Needless to say that when he escapes, he
will be the bearer of _my_ criticism, not of Labaregue's. He will
have been too frightened to remark the exchange."

"It is not bad, your plan."

"It is an inspiration. But to render it absolutely safe, we must have
an accomplice."

"Why, is he so powerful, your boy?"

"No, mon ami, the boy is not so powerful, but the alley has two ends--I
do not desire to be arrested while I am giving a lifelike
representation of an apache. I think we will admit Lajeunie to our
scheme--as a novelist he should appreciate the situation. If Lajeunie
keeps guard at one end of the alley, while you stand at the other, I
can do the business without risk of being interrupted and removed to
gaol."

"It is true. As a danger signal, I shall whistle the first bars of my
Fugue."

"Good! And we will arrange a signal with Lajeunie also. Mon Dieu! will
not Claudine be amazed next day? I shall not breathe a word to her in
the meantime; I shall let her open _La Voix_ without expectation;
and then--ah, what joy will be hers! 'The success of the evening was
made by the actress who took the role of the maidservant, and who had
perhaps six words to utter. But with what vivacity, with what esprit
were they delivered! Every gesture, every sparkle of the eyes,
betokened the comedienne. For myself, I ceased to regard the fatuous
ingénue, I forgot the presence of the famous leading lady; I watched
absorbed the facial play of this maidservant, whose brains and beauty,
I predict, will speedily bring Paris to her feet'!"

"Is that what you mean to write?"

"I shall improve upon it. I am constantly improving--that is why the
notice is still unfinished. It hampers me that I must compose in the
strain of Labaregue himself, instead of allowing my eloquence to soar.
By the way, we had better speak to Lajeunie on the subject soon, lest
he should pretend that he has another engagement for that night; he is
a good boy, Lajeunie, but he always pretends that he has engagements in
fashionable circles."

The pair went to him the following day, and when they had climbed to
his garret, found the young literary man in bed.

"It shocks me," said Pitou, "to perceive that you rise so late,
Lajeunie; why are you not dashing off chapters of a romance?"

"Mon Dieu!" replied Lajeunie, "I was making studies among the beau
monde until a late hour last night at a reception; and, to complete my
fatigue, it was impossible to get a cab when I left."

"Naturally; it happens to everybody when he lacks a cab-fare," said
Tricotrin. "Now tell me, have you any invitation from a duchess for
next Thursday evening?"

"Thursday, Thursday?" repeated Lajeunie thoughtfully. "No, I believe
that I am free for Thursday."

"Now, that is fortunate!" exclaimed Tricotrin. "Well, we want you to
join us on that evening, my friend."

"Indeed, we should be most disappointed if you could not," put in
Pitou.

"Certainly; I shall have much pleasure," said Lajeunie. "Is it a
supper?"

"No," said Tricotrin, "it is a robbery. I shall explain. Doubtless you
know the name of 'mademoiselle Claudine Hilairet'?"

"I have never heard it in my life. Is she in Society?"

"Society? She is in the Comédie Moderne. She is a great actress, but--
like us all--unrecognised."

"My heart bleeds for her. Another comrade!"

"I was sure I could depend upon your sympathy. Well, on Thursday night
they will revive _La Curieuse_ at the Comédie, and I myself
propose to write Labaregue's critique of the performance. Do you
tumble?"

"It is a gallant action. Yes, I grasp the climax, but at present I do
not perceive how the plot is to be constructed."

"Labaregue's notices are dispatched by messenger," began Pitou.

"From the Café de l'Europe," added Tricotrin.

"So much I know," said Lajeunie.

"I shall attack the messenger, and make a slight exchange of
manuscripts," Tricotrin went on.

"A blunder!" proclaimed Lajeunie; "you show a lack of invention. Now be
guided by me, because I am a novelist and I understand these things.
The messenger is an escaped convict, and you say to him, 'I know your
secret. You do my bidding, or you go back to the galleys; I shall give
you three minutes to decide!' You stand before him, stern, dominant,
inexorable--your watch in your hand."

"It is at the pawn-shop."

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