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A Chair on The Boulevard by Leonard Merrick

Part 4 out of 5

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"Agreed, monsieur!" said Roux.

Oh, the trepidation of Quinquart! Who could eclipse Robichon if his
performance of the part equalled his conception of it? At the theatre
that evening Quinquart followed Suzanne about the wings pathetically.
He was garbed like a buffoon, but he felt like Romeo. The throng that
applauded his capers were far from suspecting the romantic longings
under his magenta wig. For the first time in his life he was thankful
that the author hadn't given him more to do.

And, oh, the excitement of Robichon! He was to put his powers to a
tremendous test, and if he made the effect that he anticipated he had
no fear of Quinquart's going one better. Suzanne, to whom he whispered
his project proudly, announced an intention of being present to "see
the fun." Quinquart also promised to be there. Robichon sat up all
night preparing his lecture.

If you wish to know whether Suzanne rejoiced at the prospect of his
winning her, history is not definite on the point; but some chroniclers
assert that at this period she made more than usual of Quinquart, who
had developed a hump as big as the Panthéon.

And they all went to Appeville-sous-Bois.

Though no one in the town was likely to know the features of the
Executioner, it was to be remembered that people there might know the
actor's, and Robichon had made up to resemble Roux as closely as
possible. Arriving at the humble hall, he was greeted by the lessee,
heard that a "good house" was expected, and smoked a cigarette in the
retiring-room while the audience assembled.

At eight o'clock the lessee reappeared.

"All is ready, monsieur Roux," he said.

Robichon rose.

He saw Suzanne and Quinquart in the third row, and was tempted to wink
at them.

"Ladies and gentlemen--"

All eyes were riveted on him as he began; even the voice of the
"Executioner" exercised a morbid fascination over the crowd. The men
nudged their neighbours appreciatively, and women gazed at him, half
horrified, half charmed.

The opening of his address was quiet enough--there was even a humorous
element in it, as he narrated imaginary experiences of his boyhood.
People tittered, and then glanced at one another with an apologetic
air, as if shocked at such a monster's daring to amuse them. Suzanne
whispered to Quinquart: "Too cheerful; he hasn't struck the right
note." Quinquart whispered back gloomily: "Wait; he may be playing for
the contrast!"

And Quinquart's assumption was correct. Gradually the cheerfulness
faded from the speaker's voice, the humorous incidents were past.
Gruesome, hideous, grew the anecdotes, The hall shivered. Necks were
craned, and white faces twitched suspensively. He dwelt on the agonies
of the Condemned, he recited crimes in detail, he mirrored the last
moments before the blade fell. He shrieked his remorse, his lacerating
remorse. "I am a murderer," he sobbed; and in the hall one might have
heard a pin drop.

There was no applause when he finished--that set the seal on his
success; he bowed and withdrew amid tense silence. Still none moved in
the hall, until, with a rush, the representatives of the Press sped
forth to proclaim Jacques Roux an unparalleled sensation.

The triumph of Robichon! How generous were the congratulations of
Quinquart, and how sweet the admiring tributes of Suzanne! And there
was another compliment to come--nothing less than a card from the
marquis de Thevenin, requesting an interview at his home.

"Ah!" exclaimed Robichon, enravished, "an invitation from a noble! That
proves the effect I made, hein?"

"Who may he be?" inquired Quinquart. "I never heard of the marquis de
Thevenin!"

"It is immaterial whether you have heard of him," replied Robichon. "He
is a marquis, and he desires to converse with me! It is an honour that
one must appreciate. I shall assuredly go."

And, being a bit of a snob, he sought a fiacre in high feather.

The drive was short, and when the cab stopped he was distinctly taken
aback to perceive the unpretentious aspect of the nobleman's abode. It
was, indeed, nothing better than a lodging. A peasant admitted him, and
the room to which he was ushered boasted no warmer hospitality than a
couple of candles and a decanter of wine. However, the sconces were
massive silver. Monsieur le marquis, he was informed, had been suddenly
compelled to summon his physician, and begged that monsieur Roux would
allow him a few minutes' grace.

Robichon ardently admired the candlesticks, but began to think he might
have supped more cozily with Suzanne.

It was a long time before the door opened.

The marquis de Thevenin was old--so old that he seemed to be falling to
pieces as he tottered forward. His skin was yellow and shrivelled, his
mouth sunken, his hair sparse and grey; and from this weird face peered
strange eyes--the eyes of a fanatic.

"Monsieur, I owe you many apologies for my delay," he wheezed. "My
unaccustomed exertion this evening fatigued me, and on my return from
the hall I found it necessary to see my doctor. Your lecture was
wonderful, monsieur Roux--most interesting and instructive; I shall
never forget it."

Robichon bowed his acknowledgments.

"Sit down, monsieur Roux, do not stand! Let me offer you some wine. I
am forbidden to touch it myself. I am a poor host, but my age must be
my excuse."

"To be the guest of monsieur le marquis," murmured Robichon, "is a
privilege, an honour, which--er--"

"Ah," sighed the Marquis. "I shall very soon be in the Republic where
all men are really equals and the only masters are the worms. My reason
for requesting you to come was to speak of your unfortunate
experiences--of a certain unfortunate experience in particular. You
referred in your lecture to the execution of one called 'Victor
Lesueur.' He died game, hein?"

"As plucky a soul as I ever dispatched!" said Robichon, savouring the
burgundy.

"Ah! Not a tremor? He strode to the guillotine like a man?"

"Like a hero!" said Robichon, who knew nothing about him.

"That was fine," said the Marquis; "that was as it should be! You have
never known a prisoner to die more bravely?" There was a note of pride
in his voice that was unmistakable.

"I shall always recall his courage with respect," declared Robichon,
mystified.

"Did you respect it at the time?"

"Pardon, monsieur le marquis?"

"I inquire if you respected it at the time; did you spare him all
needless suffering?"

"There is no suffering," said Robichon. "So swift is the knife that--"
The host made a gesture of impatience. "I refer to mental suffering.
Cannot you realise the emotions of an innocent man condemned to a
shameful death!"

"Innocent! As for that, they all say that they are innocent."

"I do not doubt it. Victor, however, spoke the truth. I know it. He was
my son."

"Your son?" faltered Robichon, aghast.

"My only son--the only soul I loved on earth. Yes; he was innocent,
monsieur Roux. And it was you who butchered him--he died by your
hands."

"I--I was but the instrument of the law," stammered Robichon. "I was
not responsible for his fate, myself."

"You have given a masterly lecture, monsieur Roux," said the Marquis
musingly; "I find myself in agreement with all that you said in it--
you are his murderer,' I hope the wine is to your taste, monsieur Roux?
Do not spare it!"

"The wine?" gasped the actor. He started to his feet, trembling--he
understood.

"It is poisoned," said the old man calmly, "In an hour you will be
dead."

"Great Heavens!" moaned Robichon. Already he was conscious of a strange
sensation--his blood was chilled, his limbs were weighted, there were
shadows before his eyes.

"Ah, I have no fear of you!" continued the other; "I am feeble, I could
not defend myself; but your violence would avail you nothing. Fight, or
faint, as you please--you are doomed."

For some seconds they stared at each other dumbly--the actor paralysed
by terror, the host wearing the smile of a lunatic. And then the
"lunatic" slowly peeled court-plaster from his teeth, and removed
features, and lifted a wig.

* * * * *

And when the whole story was published, a delighted Paris awarded the
palm to Quinquart without a dissentient voice, for while Robichon had
duped an audience, Quinquart had duped Robichon himself.

Robichon bought the silver candlesticks, which had been hired for the
occasion, and he presented them to Quinquart and Suzanne on their
wedding-day.

THE FAIRY POODLE

They were called the "Two Children" because they were so unpractical;
even in bohemia, where practicality is the last virtue to flourish,
their improvidence was surprising; but really they were not children at
all--they had been married for three years, though to watch their
billing and cooing, you would have supposed them to be bride and
bridegroom.

Julian and Juliette had fallen in love and run to the Mairie as
joyously as if chateaubriands were to be gathered from the boughs in
the Jardin des Buttes-Chaumont; and since then their home had been the
studio under the slates, where they were often penniless. Indeed, if it
had not been for the intermittent mercies of madame Cochard, the
concierge, they would have starved under the slates. However, they were
sure that the pictures which Julien painted would some day make him
celebrated, and that the fairy-tales which Juliette weaved would some
day be as famous as Hans Andersen's. So they laughed, and painted and
scribbled, and spent their money on bonbons, instead of saving it for
bread; and when they had no dinner, they would kiss each other, and say
"There is a good time coming," And they were called the "Two Children,"
as you know.

But even the patience of madame Cochard was taxed when Juliette brought
back the poodle.

She found him--a strayed, muddy, unhappy little poodle--in the rue de
Rivoli one wet afternoon in November, and what more natural than that
she should immediately bear him home, and propose to give him a bath,
and adopt him? It was the most natural thing in the world, since she
was Juliette, yet this madame Cochard, who objected to a dog on her
stairs as violently as if it were a tiger, was furious.

"Is it not enough," she cried, "that you are the worst tenants in the
house, you two--that you are always behindhand with your rent, and that
I must fill your mouths out of my own purse? Is a concierge an Angel
from Heaven, do you think, that you expect her to provide also for lost
dogs?"

"Dear, kind madame Cochard," cooed Juliette, "you will learn to love
the little creature as if it were your own child! See how trustfully he
regards you!"

"It is a fact," added Julien; "he seems to take to her already! It is
astonishing how quickly a dog recognises a good heart."

"Good heart, or not," exclaimed the concierge, "it is to be understood
that I do not consent to this outrage. The poodle shall not remain!"

"Be discreet," urged Juliette. "I entreat you to be discreet, for your
own sake; if you must have the whole truth, he is a fairy poodle!"

"What do you say?" ejaculated madame Cochard.

"He is a fairy poodle, and if we treat him ungenerously, we shall
suffer. Remember the history of the Lodgers, the Concierge, and the
Pug!"

"I have never heard of such a history," returned madame Cochard; "and I
do not believe that there ever was one."

"She has never heard the history of the Lodgers, the Concierge, and the
Pug!" cried Juliette. "Oh, then listen, madame! Once upon a time there
were two lodgers, a young man and his wife, and they were so poor that
often they depended on the tenderness of the concierge to supply them
with a dinner."

"Did they also throw away their good money on bonbons and flowers?"
asked madame Cochard, trying her utmost to look severe.

"It is possible," admitted Juliette, who was perched on the table, with
the dirty little animal in her lap, "for though they are our hero and
heroine, I cannot pretend that they were very wise. Well, this
concierge, who suffered badly from lumbago and stairs, had sometimes a
bit of temper, so you may figure yourself what a fuss she raised when
the poor lodgers brought home a friendless pug to add to their
embarrassments. However--"

"There is no 'however,'" persisted madame Cochard; "she raises a fuss,
and that is all about it!"

"Pardon, dear madame," put in Julien, "you confuse the cases; we are
now concerned with the veracious history of the pug, not the uncertain
future of the poodle."

"Quite so," said Juliette. "She raised a terrible fuss and declared
that the pug should go, but finally she melted to it and made it
welcome. And then, what do you suppose happened? Why, it turned out to
be an enchanted prince, who rewarded them all with wealth and
happiness. The young man's pictures were immediately accepted by the
Salon--did I mention that he was an artist? The young woman's stories--
did I tell you that she wrote stories?--became so much the fashion that
her head swam with joy; and the concierge--the dear, kind concierge--
was changed into a beautiful princess, and never had to walk up any
stairs again as long as she lived. Thus we see that one should never
forbid lodgers to adopt a dog!"

"Thus we see that they do well to call you a pair of 'children,'"
replied madame Cochard, "that is what we see! Well, well, keep the dog,
since you are so much bent on it; only I warn you that if it gives me
trouble, it will be sausages in no time! I advise you to wash it
without delay, for a more deplorable little beast I never saw."

Julien and Juliette set to work with delight, and after he was bathed
and dry, the alteration in the dog was quite astonishing. Although he
did not precisely turn into a prince, he turned into a poodle of the
most fashionable aspect. Obviously an aristocrat among poodles, a
poodle of high estate. The metamorphosis was so striking that a new
fear assailed his rescuers, the fear that it might be dishonest of them
to retain him--probably some great lady was disconsolate at his loss!

Sure enough! A few days later, when Sanquereau called upon them, he
said:

"By the way, did I not hear that you had found a poodle, my children?
Doubtless it is the poodle for which they advertise. See!" And he
produced a copy of a journal in which "a handsome reward" was promised
for the restoration of an animal which resembled their protégé to a
tuft.

The description was too accurate for the Children to deceive
themselves, and that afternoon Juliette carried the dog to a
magnificent house which was nothing less than the residence of the
comtesse de Grand Ecusson.

She was left standing in a noble hall while a flunkey bore the dog
away. Then another flunkey bade her follow him upstairs; and in a salon
which was finer than anything that Juliette had ever met with outside
the pages of a novel, the Countess was reclining on a couch with the
poodle in her arms.

"I am so grateful to you for the recovery of my darling," said the
great lady; "my distress has been insupportable. Ah, naughty, naughty
Racine!" She made a pretence of chastising the poodle on the nose.

"I can understand it, madame," said Juliette, much embarrassed.

"Where did you find him? And has he been well fed, well taken care of?
I hope he has not been sleeping in a draught?"

"Oh, indeed, madame, he has been nourished like a beloved child.
Doubtless, not so delicately as with madame, but--"

"It was most kind of you," said the lady. "I count myself blessed that
my little Racine fell into such good hands. Now as to the reward, what
sum would you think sufficient?"

Juliette looked shy. "I thank you, madame, but we could not accept
anything," she faltered.

"What?" exclaimed the Countess, raising her eyebrows in surprise, "you
cannot accept anything? How is that?"

"Well," said Juliette, "it would be base to accept money for a simple
act of honesty. It is true that we did not wish to part with the dog--
we had grown to love him--but, as to our receiving payment for giving
him up, that is impossible."

The Countess laughed merrily. "What a funny child you are! And, who are
'we'--you and your parents?"

"Oh no," said Juliette; "my parents are in Heaven, madame; but I am
married."

"Your husband must be in heaven, too!" said the Countess, who was a
charming woman.

"Ah," demurred Juliette, "but although I have a warm heart, I have also
a healthy appetite, and he is not rich; he is a painter."

"I must go to see his pictures some day," replied the comtesse de Grand
Ecusson. "Give me the address--and believe that I am extremely grateful
to you!"

It need not be said that Juliette skipped home on air after this
interview. The hint of such patronage opened the gates of paradise to
her, and the prospect was equally dazzling to Julien. For fully a week
they talked of nothing but a visit from the comtesse de Grand Ecusson,
having no suspicion that fine ladies often forgot their pretty promises
as quickly as they made them.

And the week, and a fortnight, and a month passed, and at last the
expectation faded; they ceased to indulge their fancies of a carriage-
and-pair dashing into the street with a Lady Bountiful. And what was
much more serious, madame Cochard ceased to indulge their follies. The
truth was that she had never pardoned the girl for refusing to accept
the proffered reward; the delicacy that prompted the refusal was beyond
her comprehension, and now that the pair were in arrears with their
rent again, she put no bridle on her tongue. "It appears to me that it
would have been more honourable to accept money for a poodle than to
owe money to a landlord," she grunted. "It must be perfectly understood
that if the sum is not forthcoming on the first of January, you will
have to get out. I have received my instructions, and I shall obey
them. On the first day of January, my children, you pay, or you go! Le
bon Dieu alone knows what will become of you, but that is no affair of
mine. I expect you will die like the babes in the wood, for you are no
more fit to make a living than a cow is fit to fly."

"Dear madame Cochard," they answered, peacefully, "why distress
yourself about us? The first of January is more than a week distant; in
a week we may sell a picture, or some fairy tales--in a week many
things may happen!" And they sunned themselves on the boulevard the
same afternoon with as much serenity as if they had been millionaires.

Nevertheless, they did not sell a picture or some fairy tales in the
week that followed--and the first of January dawned with relentless
punctuality, as we all remember.

In the early morning, when madame Cochard made her ascent to the attic
--her arms folded inexorably, the glare of a creditor in her eye--she
found that Juliette had already been out. (If you can believe me, she
had been out to waste her last two francs on an absurd tie for Julien!)

"Eh bien," demanded the concierge sternly, "where is your husband? I am
here, as arranged, for the rent; no doubt he has it ready on the
mantelpiece for me?"

"He is not in," answered Juliette coaxingly, "and I am sorry to say we
have had disappointments. The fact is there is something wrong with the
construction of a story of which I had immense hopes--it needs letting
out at the waist, and a tuck put in at the hem. When I have made the
alterations, I am sure it will fit some journal elegantly."

"All this passes forbearance!" exclaimed madame Cochard. "Well, you
have thoroughly understood, and all is said--you will vacate your
lodging by evening! So much grace I give you; but at six o'clock you
depart promptly, or you will be ejected! And do not reckon on me to
send any meal up here during the day, for you will not get so much as a
crust. What is it that you have been buying there?"

"It is a little gift for Julien; I rose early to choose it before he
woke, and surprise him; but when I returned he was out."

"A gift?" cried the concierge. "You have no money to buy food, and you
buy a gift for your husband! What for?"

"What for?" repeated Juliette wonderingly. "Why, because it is New
Year's Day! And that reminds me--I wish you the compliments of the
season, madame; may you enjoy many happy years!"

"Kind words pay no bills," snapped the concierge. "I have been lenient
far too long--I have my own reputation to consider with the landlord.
By six o'clock, bear in mind!" And then, to complete her resentment,
what should happen but that Julien entered bearing a bouquet!

To see Julien present Juliette with the roses, and to watch Juliette
enchant Julien with the preposterous tie, was as charming a little
comedy of improvidence as you would be likely to meet with in a
lifetime.

"Mon Dieu!" gasped madame Cochard, purple with indignation, "it is,
indeed, well that you are leaving here, monsieur--a madhouse is the
fitting address for you! You have nothing to eat and you buy roses for
your wife! What for?"

"What for?" echoed Julien, astonished. "Why, because it is New Year's
Day! And I take the opportunity to wish you the compliments of the
season, madame--may your future be as bright as Juliette's eyes!"

"By six o'clock!" reiterated the concierge, who was so exasperated that
she could barely articulate. "By six o'clock you will be out of the
place!" And to relieve her feelings, she slammed the door with such
violence that half a dozen canvases fell to the floor.

"Well, this is a nice thing," remarked Julien, when she had gone. "It
looks to me, mignonne, as if we shall sleep in the Bois, with the moon
for an eiderdown."

"At least you shall have a comfy pillow, sweetheart," cried Juliette,
drawing his head to her breast.

"My angel, there is none so soft in the Elysée, And as we have nothing
for déjeuner in the cupboard, I propose that we breakfast now on
kisses."

"Ah, Julien!" whispered the girl, as she folded him in her arms.

"Ah, Juliette!" It was as if they had been married that morning.

"And yet," continued the young man, releasing her at last, "to own the
truth, your kisses are not satisfying as a menu; they are the choicest
of hors d'oeuvres--they leave one hungry for more."

They were still making love when Sanquereau burst in to wish them a
Happy New Year.

"How goes it, my children?" he cried. "You look like a honeymoon, I
swear! Am I in the way, or may I breakfast with you?"

"You are not in the way, mon vieux," returned Julien; "but I shall not
invite you to breakfast with me, because my repast consists of
Juliette's lips."

"Mon Dieu!" said Sanquereau. "So you are broke? Well, in my chequered
career I have breakfasted on much worse fare than yours."

At this reply, Juliette blushed with all the bashfulness of a bride,
and Julien endeavoured to assume the air of a man of the world.

"Tell me," he said; "we are in difficulties about the rent--have you by
chance a louis that you could lend me?"

Sanquereau turned out his pockets, like the good fellow he was, but he
could produce no more than a sou. "What a bother!" he cried. "I would
lend you a louis if I had it as readily as a cigarette-paper, but you
see how I am situated. On my honour, it rends my heart to have to
refuse."

"You are a gallant comrade," said Julien, much touched. "Come back and
sup with us this evening, and we will open the New Year with a
festivity!"

"Hein? But there will be no supper," faltered Juliette.

"That's true," said Julien; "there will be no supper--I was forgetting.
Still--who knows? There is plenty of time; I shall have an idea.
Perhaps I may be able to borrow something from Tricotrin."

"I shall be enchanted," responded Sanquereau; "depend on my arrival! If
I am not mistaken, I recognize Tricotrin's voice on the stairs."

His ears had not deceived him; Tricotrin appeared with Pitou at this
very moment.

"Greeting, my children!" they cried. "How wags the world? May the New
Year bring you laurels and lucre!"

"To you also, dear Gustave and Nicolas," cried the Children. "May your
poems and your music ignite the Seine, and may Sanquereau rise to
eminence and make statues of you both!"

"In the meantime," added Sanquereau, "can either of you put your hands
on a few francs? There is a fine opening for them here."

"A difference of opinion exists between ourselves and the landlord,"
Julien explained; "we consider that he should wait for his rent, and he
holds a different view. If you could lend us fifteen francs, we might
effect a compromise."

The poet and the composer displayed the lining of their pockets as
freely as the sculptor had done, but their capital proved to be a sou
less than his own. Tears sprang to their eyes as they confessed their
inability to be of use, "We are in despair," they groaned.

"My good, kind friends," exclaimed Julien, "your sympathy is a noble
gift in itself! Join us in a little supper this evening in celebration
of the date."

"We shall be delighted," declared Tricotrin and Pitou.

"But--but--" stammered Juliette again, "where is it to come from, this
supper--and where shall we be by supper-time?"

"Well, our address is on the lap of the gods," admitted Julien, "but
while there is life there is hope. Possibly I may obtain a loan from
Lajeunie."

Not many minutes had passed before Lajeunie also paid a visit to the
attic, "Aha," cried the unsuccessful novelist, as he perceived the
company, "well met! My children, my brothers, may your rewards equal
your deserts this year--may France do honour to your genius!"

"And may Lajeunie be crowned the New Balzac," shouted the assembly;
"may his abode be in the Champs Elysées, and his name in the mouth of
all the world!"

But, extraordinary as it appears, Lajeunie proved to be as impecunious
as the rest there; and he was so much distressed that Julien, deeply
moved, said:

"Come back to supper, Lajeunie, we will drink toasts to the Muses!" And
now there were four guests invited to the impracticable supper, and
when the Children were left alone they clapped their hands at the
prospect.

"How merry we shall be!" Julien exclaimed; "and awhile ago we talked of
passing the night in the Bois! It only shows you that one can never
tell what an hour may bring forth."

"Yes, yes," assented Juliette blithely. "And as for the supper--"

"We shall not require it till nine o'clock at the earliest."

"And now it is no more than midday. Why, there is an eternity for
things to arrange themselves!"

"Just so. The sky may rain truffles in such an interval," said the
painter. And they drew their chairs closer to the fire, and pretended
to each other that they were not hungry.

The hours crept past, and the sunshine waned, and snow began to flutter
over Paris. But no truffles fell. By degrees the fire burnt low, and
died. To beg for more fuel was impossible, and Juliette shivered a
little.

"You are cold, sweetheart," sighed Julien. "I will fetch a blanket from
the bed and wrap you in it."

"No," she murmured, "wrap me in your arms--it will be better."

Darker and darker grew the garret, and faster and faster fell the snow.

"I have a fancy," said Juliette, breaking a long silence, "that it is
the hour in which a fairy should appear to us. Let us look to see if
she is coming!"

They peered from the window, but in the twilight no fairy was to be
discerned; only an "old clo'" man was visible, trudging on his round.

"I declare," cried Julien, "he is the next best thing to your fairy! I
will sell my summer suit and my velvet jacket. What do I want of a
velvet jacket? Coffee and eggs will be much more cheerful."

"And I," vowed Juliette, "can spare my best hat easily--indeed, it is
an encumbrance. If we make madame Cochard a small peace-offering she
may allow us to remain until the morning."

"What a grand idea! We shall provide ourselves with a night's shelter
and the means to entertain our friends as well Hasten to collect our
wardrobe, mignonette, while I crack my throat to make him hear. Hé,
hé!"

At the repeated cries the "old clo'" man lifted his gaze to the fifth-
floor window at last, and in a few minutes Julien and Juliette were
kneeling on the boards above a pile of garments, which they raised one
by one for his inspection.

"Regard, monsieur," said Julien, "this elegant summer suit! It is
almost as good as new. I begin to hesitate to part with it. What shall
we say for this elegant summer suit?"

The dealer fingered it disdainfully. "Show me boots," he suggested; "we
can do business in boots."

"Alas!" replied Julien, "the only boots that I possess are on my feet.
We will again admire the suit. What do you estimate it at--ten francs?"

"Are you insane? are you a lunatic?" returned the dealer. "To a
reckless man it might be worth ten sous. Let us talk of boots!"

"I cannot go barefoot," expostulated Julien. "Juliette, my Heart, do
you happen to possess a second pair of boots?"

Juliette shook her head forlornly. "But I have a hat with daisies in
it," she said. "Observe, monsieur, the delicate tints of the buds! How
like to nature, how exquisite they are! They make one dream of
courtship in the woods. I will take five francs for it."

"From me I swear you will not take them!" said the "old clo'" man.
"Boots," he pleaded; "for the love of God, boots!"

"Morbleu, what a passion for boots you have!" moaned the unhappy
painter; "they obsess you, they warp your judgment. Can you think of
nothing in the world but boots? Look, we come to the gem of the
exhibition--a velvet jacket! A jacket like this confers an air of
greatness, one could not feel the pinch of poverty in such a jacket. It
is, I confess, a little white at the elbows, but such high lights are
very effective. And observe the texture--as soft as a darling's cheek!"

The other turned it about with indifferent hands, and the Children
began to realise that he would prove no substitute for a fairy after
all. Then, while they watched him with sinking hearts, the door was
suddenly opened, and the concierge tottered on the threshold.

"Monsieur, madame!" she panted, with such respect that they stared at
each other.

"Eh bien?"

"A visitor!" She leant against the wall, overwhelmed.

"Who is it?"

"Madame, la comtesse de Grand Ecusson!"

Actually! The Countess had kept her word after all, and now she rustled
in, before the "old clo'" man could be banished. White as a virgin
canvas, Julien staggered forward to receive her, a pair of trousers,
which he was too agitated to remember, dangling under his arm. "Madame,
this honour!" he stammered; and, making a piteous effort to disguise
his beggary, "One's wardrobe accumulates so that, really, in a small
ménage, one has no room to--"

"I have suffered from the inconvenience myself, monsieur," said the
Countess graciously. "Your charming wife was so kind as to invite me to
view your work; and see--my little Racine has come to wish his
preservers a Happy New Year!"

And, on the honour of an historian, he brought one! Before they left
she had given a commission for his portrait at a thousand francs, and
purchased two landscapes, for which a thousand francs more would be
paid on the morrow. When Sanquereau, and Lajeunie, and Tricotrin, and
Pitou arrived, expecting the worst, they were amazed to discover the
Children waltzing round the attic to the music of their own voices.

What _hurras_ rang out when the explanation was forthcoming; what
loans were promised to the guests, and what a gay quadrille was danced!
It was not until the last figure had concluded that Julien and Juliette
recognised that, although they would be wealthy in the morning, they
were still penniless that night.

"Hélas! but we have no supper after all," groaned Julien.

"Pardon, it is here, monsieur!" shouted madame Cochard, who entered
behind a kingly feast. "_Comment_, shall the artist honoured by
madame la comtesse de Grand Ecusson have no supper? Pot-au-feu,
monsieur; leg of mutton, monsieur; little tarts, monsieur; dessert,
monsieur; and for each person a bottle of good wine!"

And the justice that was done to it, and the laughter that pealed under
the slates! The Children didn't forget that it was all due to the dog.
Juliette raised her glass radiantly.

"Gentlemen," she cried, "I ask you to drink to the Fairy Poodle!"

LITTLE-FLOWER-OF-THE-WOOD

Janiaud used to lie abed all day, and drink absinthe all night. When
he contrived to write his poetry is a mystery. But he did write it, and
he might have written other things, too, if he had had the will. It was
often said that his paramount duty was to publish a history of modern
Paris, for the man was an encyclopaedia of unsuspected facts. Since he
can never publish it now, however, I am free to tell the story of the
Café du Bon Vieux Temps as he told it to an English editor and me one
night on the terrace of the café itself. It befell thus:

When we entered that shabby little Montmartre restaurant, Janiaud
chanced to be seated, at a table in a corner, sipping his favourite
stimulant. He was deplorably dirty and suggested a scarecrow, and the
English editor looked nervous when I offered an introduction. Still,
Janiaud was Janiaud. The offer was accepted, and Janiaud discoursed in
his native tongue. At midnight the Editor ordered supper. Being
unfamiliar with the Café du Bon Vieux Temps in those days, I said that
I would drink beer. Janiaud smiled sardonically, and the waiter
surprised us with the information that beer could not be supplied.

"What?"

"After midnight, nothing but champagne," he answered.

"Really? Well, let us go somewhere else," I proposed.

But the Editor would not hear of that. He had a princely soul, and,
besides, he was "doing Paris."

"All the same, what does it mean?" he inquired of Janiaud.

Janiaud blew smoke rings. "It is the rule. During the evening the
bock-drinker is welcomed here as elsewhere; but at midnight--well, you will
see what you will see!"

And we saw very soon. The bourgeoisie of Montmartre had straggled out
while we talked, and in a little while the restaurant was crowded with
a rackety crew who had driven up in cabs. Everybody but ourselves was
in evening-dress. Where the coppers had been counted carefully, gold
was scattered. A space was cleared for dancing, and mademoiselle Nan
Joliquette obliged the company with her latest comic song.

The Editor was interested. "It is a queer change, though! Has it always
been like this?"

"Ask Janiaud," I said; _I_ don't know."

"Oh, not at all," replied Janiaud; "no, indeed, it was not always like
this! It used to be as quiet at midnight as at any other hour. But it
became celebrated as a supper-place; and now it is quite the thing for
the ardent spirits, with money, to come and kick up their heels here
until five in the morning."

"Curious, how such customs originate," remarked the Editor. "Here we
have a restaurant which is out of the way, which is the reverse of
luxurious, and which, for all that, seems to be a gold mine to the
proprietor. Look at him! Look at his white waistcoat and his massive
watch-chain, his air of prosperity."

"How did he come to rake it in like this, Janiaud--you know
everything?" I said.

The poet stroked his beard, and glanced at his empty glass. The Editor
raised a bottle.

"I cannot talk on Clicquot," demurred Janiaud. "If you insist, I will
take another absinthe--they will allow it, in the circumstances. Sst,
Adolphe!" The waiter whisked over to us. "Monsieur pays for champagne,
but I prefer absinthe. There is no law against that, hein?"

Adolphe smiled tolerantly.

"Shall we sit outside?" suggested the Editor. "What do you think? It's
getting rather riotous in here, isn't it?"

So we moved on to the terrace, and waited while Janiaud prepared his
poison.

"It is a coincidence that you have asked me for the history of the Bon
Vieux Temps tonight," he began, after a gulp; "if you had asked for it
two days earlier, the climax would have been missing. The story
completed itself yesterday, and I happened to be here and saw the end.

"Listen: Dupont--the proprietor whom monsieur has just admired--used to
be chef to a family on the boulevard Haussmann. He had a very fair
salary, and probably he would have remained in the situation till now
but for the fact that he fell in love with the parlourmaid. She was a
sprightly little flirt, with ambitions, and she accepted him only on
condition that they should withdraw from domestic service and start a
business of their own. Dupont was of a cautious temperament; he would
have preferred that they should jog along with some family in the
capacities of chef and housekeeper. Still, he consented; and, with what
they had saved between them, they took over this little restaurant--
where monsieur the Editor has treated me with such regal magnificence.
It was not they who christened it--it was called the Café du Bon Vieux
Temps already; how it obtained its name is also very interesting, but I
have always avoided digressions in my work--that is one of the first
principles of the literary art."

He swallowed some more absinthe.

"They took the establishment over, and they conducted it on the lines
of their predecessor--they provided a déjeuner at one franc fifty, and
a dinner at two francs. These are side-shows of the Bon Vieux Temps to-day,
but, in the period of which I speak, they were all that it had to
say for itself--they were its foundation-stone, and its cupola. When I
had two francs to spare, I used to dine here myself.

"Well, the profits were not dazzling. And after marriage the little
parlourmaid developed extravagant tastes. She had a passion for
theatres. I, Janiaud, have nothing to say against theatres, excepting
that the managers have never put on my dramas, but in the wife of a
struggling restaurateur a craze for playgoing is not to be encouraged.
Monsieur will agree? Also, madame had a fondness for dress. She did
little behind the counter but display new ribbons and trinkets. She was
very stupid at giving change--and always made the mistake on the wrong
side for Dupont. At last he had to employ a cousin of his own as dame-
de-comptoir. The expenses had increased, and the returns remained the
same. In fine, Dupont was in difficulties; the Bon Vieux Temps was on
its last legs.

"Listen: There was at that time a dancer called 'Little-Flower-of-the-
Wood'; she was very chic, very popular. She had her appartement in the
avenue Wagram, she drove to the stage-doors in her coupé, her
photographs were sold like confetti at a carnival. Well, one afternoon,
when Dupont's reflections were oscillating between the bankruptcy court
and the Morgue, he was stupefied to receive a message from her--she
bade him reserve a table for herself and some friends for supper that
night!

"Dupont could scarcely credit his ears. He told his wife that a
practical joker must be larking with him. He declared that he would
take no notice of the message, that he was not such an ass to be duped
by it. Finally, he proposed to telegraph to Little-Flower-of-the-Wood,
inquiring if it was genuine.

"Monsieur, as an editor, will have observed that a woman who is
incapable in the daily affairs of life, may reveal astounding force in
an emergency? It was so in this case. Madame put her foot down; she
showed unsuspected commercial aptitude. She firmly forbade Dupont to do
anything of the sort!

"'What?' she exclaimed. 'You will telegraph to her, inquiring? Never in
this life! You might as well advise her frankly not to come. What would
such a question mean? That you do not think the place is good enough
for her! Well, if _you_ do not think so, neither will _she_--
she will decide that she had a foolish impulse and stay away!

"'Mon Dieu! do you dream that a woman accustomed to the Café de Paris
would choose to sup in an obscure little restaurant like ours?' said
Dupont, fuming. 'Do you dream that I am going to buy partridges, and
peaches, and wines, and heaven knows what other delicacies, in the
dark? Do you dream that I am going to ruin myself while every instinct
in me protests? It would be the act of a madman!'

"'My little cabbage,' returned madame, 'we are so near to ruin as we
are, that a step nearer is of small importance. If Little-Flower-of-
the-Wood should come, it might be the turning-point in our fortunes--
people would hear of it, the Bon Vieux Temps might become renowned.
Yes, we shall buy partridges, and peaches--and bonbons, and flowers
also, and we shall hire a piano! And if our good angel should indeed
send her to us, I swear she shall pass as pleasant an evening as if she
had gone to Maxim's or the Abbaye!

"Bien! She convinced him. For the rest of the day the place was in a
state of frenzy. Never before had such a repast been seen in its
kitchen, never before had he cooked with such loving care, even when he
had been preparing a dinner of ceremony on the boulevard Haussmann.
Madame herself ran out to arrange for the piano. The floor was swept.
The waiter was put into a clean shirt. Dupont shed tears of excitement
in his saucepans.

"He served the two-franc dinner that evening with eyes that watched
nothing but the clock. All his consciousness now was absorbed by the
question whether the dancer would come or not. The dinner passed
somehow--it is to be assumed that the customers grumbled, but in his
suspense Dupont regarded them with indifference. The hours crept by. It
was a quarter to twelve--twelve o'clock. He trembled behind the
counter as if with ague. Now it was time that she was here! His face
was blanched, his teeth chattered in his head. What if he had been
hoaxed after all? Half-past twelve! The sweat ran down him. Terror
gripped his heart. A vision of all the partridges wasted convulsed his
soul. Hark! a carriage stopped. He tottered forward. The door opened--
she had come!

"Women are strange. Little-Flower-of-the-Wood, who yawned her pretty
head off at Armenonville, was enraptured with the Bon Vieux Temps. The
rest of the party took their tone from her, and everything was
pronounced 'fun,' the coarse linen, the dirty ceiling, the admiring
stares of the bock-drinkers. The lady herself declared that she had
'never enjoyed a supper so much in her life,' and the waiter--it was
not Adolphe then--was dumfounded by a louis tip.

"Figure yourself the exultation of madame! 'Ah,' she chuckled, when
they shut up shop at sunrise, 'what did I tell you, my little cabbage?'
Monsieur, as an editor, will have observed that a woman who reveals
astounding force in an emergency may triumph pettily when the emergency
is over?

"'It remains to be seen whether they will come any more, however,' said
Dupont. 'Let us go to bed. Mon Dieu, how sleepy I am!' It was the first
occasion that the Bon Vieux Temps had been open after two o'clock in
the morning.

"It was the first occasion, and for some days they feared it might be
the last. But no, the dancer came again! A few eccentrics who came with
her flattered themselves on having made a 'discovery.' They boasted of
it. Gradually the name of the Bon Vieux Temps became known. By the time
that Little-Flower-of-the-Wood had had enough, there was a supper
clientèle without her. Folly is infectious, and in Paris there are
always people catching a fresh craze. Dupont began to put up his
prices, and levied a charge on the waiter for the privilege of waiting
at supper. The rest of the history is more grave ... _Comment_,
monsieur? Since you insist--again an absinthe!"

Janiaud paused, and ran his dirty fingers through his hair.

"This man can talk!" said the Editor, in an undertone.

"Gentlemen," resumed the poet, "two years passed. Little-Flower-of-the-
Wood was on the Italian Riviera. The Italian Riviera was awake again
after the heat of the summer--the little town that had dozed for many
months began to stir. Almost every day now she saw new faces on the
promenade; the sky was gentler, the sea was fairer. And she sat
loathing it all, craving to escape from it to the bleak streets of
Paris.

"Two winters before, she had been told, 'Your lungs will stand no more
of the pranks you have been playing. You must go South, and keep early
hours, or--' The shrug said the rest. And she had sold some of her
diamonds and obeyed. Of course, it was an awful nuisance, but she must
put up with it for a winter in order to get well. As soon as she was
well, she would go back, and take another engagement. She had promised
herself to be dancing again by May.

"But when May had come, she was no better. And travelling was
expensive, and all places were alike to her since she was forbidden to
return to Paris. She, had disposed of more jewellery, and looked forward
to the autumn. And in the autumn she had looked forward to the spring.
So it had gone on.

"At first, while letters came to her sometimes, telling her how she was
missed, the banishment had been alleviated; later, in her loneliness,
it had grown frightful. Monsieur, her soul--that little soul that
pleasure had held dumb--cried out, under misfortune, like a homeless
child for its mother. Her longing took her by the throat, and the
doctor had difficulty in dissuading her from going to meet death by the
first train. She did not suspect that she was doomed in any case; he
thought it kinder to deceive her. He had preached 'Patience,
mademoiselle, a little patience!' And she had wrung her hands, but
yielded--sustained by the hope of a future that she was never to know.

"By this time the last of her jewels was sold, and most of the money
had been spent. The fact alarmed her when she dwelt upon it, but she
did not dwell upon it very often--in the career of Little-Flower-of-
the-Wood, so many financial crises had been righted at the last moment.
No, although there was nobody now to whom she could turn for help, it
was not anxiety that bowed her; the thoughts by which she was stricken,
as she sauntered feebly on the eternal promenade, were that in Paris
they no longer talked of her, and that her prettiness had passed away.
She was forgotten, ugly! The tragedy of her exile was that.

"Now it was that she found out the truth--she learnt that there was no
chance of her recovering. She made no reproaches for the lies that had
been told her; she recognized that they had been well meant. All she
said was, 'I am glad that it is not too late; I may see Paris still
before the curtain tumbles--I shall go at once.'

"Not many months of life remained to her, but they were more numerous
than her louis. It was an unfamiliar Paris that she returned to! She
had quitted the Paris of the frivolous and fêted; she came back to the
Paris of the outcast poor. The world that she had remembered gave her
no welcome--she peered through its shut windows, friendless in the
streets.

"Gentlemen, last night all the customers had gone from the little Café
du Bon Vieux Temps but a woman in a shabby opera-cloak--a woman with
tragic eyes, and half a lung. She sat fingering her glass of beer
absently, though the clock over the desk pointed to a quarter to
midnight, and at midnight beer-drinkers are no longer desired in the
Bon Vieux Temps. But she was a stranger; it was concluded that she
didn't know.

"Adolphe approached to enlighten her; 'Madame wishes to order supper?'
he asked.

"The stranger shook her head.

"'Madame will have champagne?'

"'Don't bother me!' said the woman.

"Adolphe nodded toward the bock contemptuously. 'After midnight, only
champagne is served here,' he said; 'it is the rule of the house,'

"'A fig for the rule!' scoffed the woman; 'I am going to stop.'

"Adolphe retired and sought the _patron_, and Dupont advanced to
her with dignity.

"'Madame is plainly ignorant of our arrangements,' he began; 'at twelve
o'clock one cannot remain here for the cost of a bock--the restaurant
becomes very gay,'

"'So I believe,' she said; 'I want to see the gaiety,'

"'It also becomes expensive. I will explain. During the evening we
serve a dinner at two francs for our clients in the neighbourhood--and
until twelve o'clock one may order bocks, or what one wishes, at
strictly moderate prices. But at twelve o'clock there is a change; we
have quite a different class of trade. The world that amuses itself
arrives here to sup and to dance. As a supper-house, the Bori Vieux
Temps is known to all Paris.'

"'One lives and learns!' said the woman, ironically; 'but I--know more
about the Bon Vieux Temps than you seem to think. I can tell you the
history of its success.'

"'Madame?' Dupont regarded her with haughty eyes.

"'Three years ago, monsieur, there was no "different class of trade" at
twelve o'clock, and no champagne. The dinners at two francs for your
clients in the neighbourhood were all that you aspired to. You did the
cooking yourself in those days, and you did not sport a white waistcoat
and a gold watch-chain.'

"'These things have nothing to do with it. You will comply with the
rule, or you must go. All is said!' "'One night Little-Flower-of-the-
Wood had a whim to sup here,' continued the woman as if he had not
spoken. 'She had passed the place in her carriage and fancied its name,
or its flowerpot--or she wanted to do something new. Anyhow, she had
the whim! I see you have the telephone behind the desk, monsieur--your
little restaurant was not on the telephone when she wished to reserve a
table that night; she had to reserve it by a messenger.'

"'Well, well?' said Dupont, impatiently.

"'But you were a shrewd man; you saw your luck and leapt at it--and
when she entered with her party, you received her like a queen. You had
even hired a piano, you said, in case Little-Flower-of-the-Wood might
wish to play. I notice that a piano is in the corner now--no doubt you
soon saved the money to buy one.'

"'How do you know all this, you?' Dupont's gaze was curious.

"'Her freak pleased her, and she came again and again--and others came,
just to see her here. Then you recognized that your clients from the
neighbourhood were out of place among the spendthrifts, who yielded
more profit in a night than all the two-franc dinners in a month; you
said, "At twelve o'clock there shall be no more bocks, only champagne!"
I had made your restaurant famous--and you introduced the great rule
that you now command me to obey.'

"'You? You are Little-Flower-of-the-Wood?'

"'Yes, it was I who did it for you,' she said quietly. 'And the
restaurant flourished after Little-Flower-of-the-Wood had faded. Well,
to-night I want to spend an hour here again, for the sake of what I
used to be. Time brings changes, you understand, and I cannot conform
with the great rule.' She opened the opera-cloak, trembling, and he saw
that beneath it Little-Flower-of-the-Wood was in rags.

"'I am very poor and ill,' she went on. 'I have been away in the South
for more than two years; they told me I ought to stop there, but I had
to see Paris once more! What does it matter? I shall finish here a
little sooner, that is all. I lodge close by, in a garret. The garret
is very dirty, but I hear the muisc from the Bal Tabarin across the
way. I like that--I persuade myself I am living the happy life I used
to have. When I am tossing sleepless, I hear the noise and laughter of
the crowd coming out, and blow kisses to them in the dark. You see,
although one is forgotten, one cannot forget. I pray that their
laughter will come up to me right at the end, before I die.'

"'You cannot afford to enter Tabarin's?' faltered Dupont; 'you are so
stony as that?'

"'So stony as that!' she said. 'And I repeat that to-night I want to
pass an hour in the midst of the life I loved. Monsieur, remember how
you came to make your rule! Break it for me once! Let me stay here
to-night for a bock!'

"Dupont is a restaurateur, but he is also a man. He took both her
hands, and the waiters were astonished to perceive that the
_patron_ was crying.

"'My child,' he stammered, 'you will sup here as my guest.'

"Adolphe set before her champagne that she sipped feverishly, and a
supper that she was too ill to eat. And cabs came rattling from the
Boulevard with boisterous men and women who no longer recalled her
name--and with other 'Little-Flowers-of-the-Wood,' who had sprung up
since her day.

"The woman who used to reign there sat among them looking back, until
the last jest was bandied, and the last bottle was drained. Then she
bade her host 'good-bye,' and crawled home--to the garret where she
'heard the music of the ball'; the garret where she 'prayed that the
laughter would come up to her right at the end, before she died.'"

Janiaud finished the absinthe, and lurched to his feet. "That's all."

"Great Scott," said the Editor, "I wish he could write in English! But
--but it's very pitiable, she may starve there; something ought to be
done.... Can you tell us where she is living, monsieur?"

The poet shrugged his shoulders. "Is there no satisfying you? You asked
me for the history of the Bon Vieux Temps, and there are things that
even I do not know. However, I have done my best. I cannot say where
the lady is living, but I can tell you where she was born." He pointed,
with a drunken laugh, to his glass: "There!"

A MIRACLE IN MONTMARTRE

Lajeunie, the luckless novelist, went to Pitou, the unrecognized
composer, saying, "I have a superb scenario for a revue. Let us join
forces! I promise you we shall make a fortune; we shall exchange our
attics for first floors of fashion, and be wealthy enough to wear sable
overcoats and Panama hats at the same time." In ordinary circumstances,
of course, Pitou would have collaborated only with Tricotrin, but
Tricotrin was just then engrossed by a tragedy in blank verse and seven
acts, and he said to them, "Make a fortune together by all means, my
comrades; I should be unreasonable if I raised objections to having
rich friends."

Accordingly the pair worked like heroes of biography, and, after
vicissitudes innumerable, _Patatras_ was practically accepted at
La Coupole. The manager even hinted that Fifi Blondette might be seen
in the leading part. La Coupole, and Blondette! Pitou and Lajeunie
could scarcely credit their ears. To be sure, she was no actress, and
her voice was rather unpleasant, and she would probably want everything
rewritten fifteen times before it satisfied her; but she was a
beautiful woman and all Paris paid to look at her when she graced a
stage; and she had just ruined Prince Czernowitz, which gave her name
an additional value. "Upon my word," gasped Pitou, "our luck seems as
incredible, my dear Lajeunie, as the plot of any of your novels! Come
and have a drink!"

"I feel like Rodolphe at the end of _La Vie de Bohème_," he
confided to Tricotrin in their garret one winter's night, as they went
supper-less to their beds. "Now that the days of privation are past, I
recall them with something like regret. The shock of the laundress's
totals, the meagre dinners at the Bel Avenir, these things have a
fascination now that I part from them. I do not wish to sound
ungrateful, but I cannot help wondering if my millions will impair the
taste of life to me."

"To me they will make it taste much better," said Tricotrin, "for I
shall have somebody to borrow money from, and I shall get enough
blankets. _Brrr_! how cold I am! Besides, you need not lose touch
with Montmartre because you are celebrated--you can invite us all to
your magnificent abode. Also, you can dine at the Bel Avenir still, if
sentiment pulls you that way."

"I shall certainly dine there," averred Pitou. "And I shall buy a house
for my parents, with a peacock and some deer on the lawn. At the same
time, a triumph is not without its pathos. I see my return to the Bel
Avenir, the old affections in my heart, the old greetings on my lips--
and I see the fellows constrained and formal in my presence. I see
madame apologising for the cuisine, instead of reminding me that my
credit is exhausted, and the waiter polishing my glass, instead of
indicating the cheapest item on the menu. Such changes hurt!" He was
much moved. "A fortune is not everything," he sighed, forgetting that
his pockets were as empty as his stomach. "Poverty yielded joys which I
no longer know."

The poet embraced him with emotion. "I rejoice to find that Fame has
not spoilt your nature," he cried; and he, too, forgot the empty
pockets, and that the contract from La Coupole had yet to come. "Yes,
we had hard times together, you and I, and I am still a nobody, but we
shall be chums as long as we live. I feel that you can unbosom yourself
to me, the poor bohemian, more freely than to any Immortal with whom
you hobnob in scenes of splendour."

"Oh indeed, indeed!" assented Pitou, weeping. "You are as dear to me
now as in the days of our struggles; I should curse my affluence if it
made you doubt that! Good-night, my brother; God bless you."

He lay between the ragged sheets; and half an hour crept by.

"Gustave!"

"Well?" said Tricotrin, looking towards the other bed. "Not asleep
yet?"

"I cannot sleep--hunger is gnawing at me."

"Ah, what a relentless realist is this hunger," complained the poet,
"how it destroys one's illusions!"

"Is there nothing to eat in the cupboard?"

"Not a crumb--I am ravenous myself. But I recall a broken cigarette in
my waistcoat pocket; let us cut it in halves!"

They strove, shivering, to appease their pangs by slow whiffs of a
Caporal, and while they supped in this unsatisfactory fashion, there
came an impetuous knocking at the street door.

"It must be that La Coupole has sent you a sack of gold to go on with!"
Tricotrin opined. "Put your head out and see."

"It is Lajeunie," announced the composer, withdrawing from the window
with chattering teeth. "What the devil can he want? I suppose I must go
down and let him in."

"Perhaps we can get some more cigarettes from him," said Tricotrin; "it
might have been worse."

But when the novelist appeared, the first thing he stammered was, "Give
me a cigarette, one of you fellows, or I shall die!"

"Well, then, dictate your last wishes to us!" returned Pitou. "Do you
come here under the impression that the house is a tobacconist's? What
is the matter with you, what is up?" "For three hours," snuffled
Lajeunie, who looked half frozen and kept shuddering violently, "for
three hours I have been pacing the streets, questioning whether I
should break the news to you to-night or not. In one moment I told
myself that it would be better to withhold it till the morning; in the
next I felt that you had a right to hear it without delay. Hour after
hour, in the snow, I turned the matter over in my mind, and--"

"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Pitou, "is this an interminable serial at so much
a column? Come to the point!"

Lajeunie beat his breast. "I am distracted," he faltered, "I am no
longer master of myself. Listen! It occurred to me this evening that I
might do worse than pay a visit to La Coupole and inquire if a date was
fixed yet for the rehearsals to begin. Well, I went! For a long time I
could obtain no interview, I could obtain no appointment--the messenger
came back with evasive answers. I am naturally quick at smelling a rat
--I have the detective's instinct--and I felt that there was something
wrong. My heart began to fail me."

"For mercy's sake," groaned his unhappy collaborator, "explode the bomb
and bury my fragments! Enough of these literary introductions. Did you
see the manager, or didn't you?"

"I did see the miscreant, the bandit-king, I saw him in the street. For
I was not to be put off--I waited till he came out. Well, my friend, to
compress the tragedy into one act, our hope is shattered--
_Patatras_ is again refused!"

"Oh, heavens!" moaned Pitou, and fell back upon the mattress as white
as death.

"What explanation did he make?" cried Tricotrin; "what is the reason?"

"The reason is that Blondette is an imbecile--she finds the part
'unworthy of her talents.' A part on which I have lavished all the
wealth of my invention--she finds it beneath her, she said she would
'break her contract rather than play it.' Well, Blondette is the trump-card
of his season--he would throw over the whole of the Academy sooner
than lose Blondette. Since she objects to figuring in _Patatras,
Patatras_ is waste-paper to him. Alas! who would be an author? I
would rather shovel coke, or cut corns for a living. He himself
admitted that there was no fault to find with the revue, but, 'You know
well, monsieur, that we must humour Blondette!' I asked him if he would
try to bring her to her senses, but it seems that there have been a
dozen discussions already--he is sick of the subject. Now it is
settled--our manuscript will be banged back at us and we may rip!"

"Oh, my mother!" moaned Pitou. "Oh, the peacock and the deer!"

"What's that you say?" asked Lajeunie. "Are you positive that you
haven't got a cigarette anywhere?"

"I am positive that I have nothing," proclaimed Pitou vehemently,
"nothing in life but a broken heart! Oh, you did quite right to come to
me, but now leave me--leave me to perish. I have no words, I am
stricken. The next time you see me it will be in the Morgue. Mon Dieu,
that beautiful wretch, that creature without conscience, or a note in
her voice--by a shrug of her elegant shoulders she condemns me to the
Seine!"

"Ah, do not give way!" exclaimed Tricotrin, leaping out of bed.
"Courage, my poor fellow, courage! Are there not other managers in
Paris?"

"There are--and _Patatras_ has been refused by them. La Coupole
was our last chance, and it has collapsed. We have no more to expect--
it is all over. Is it not so, Lajeunie?"

"All over," sobbed Lajeunie, bowing his head on the washhand-stand.
"_Patatras_ is dead!"

Then for some seconds the only sound to be heard in the attic was the
laboured breathing of the three young men's despair.

At last Tricotrin, drawing himself upright in his tattered nightshirt,
said, with a gesture of dignity, "Well, the case may justify me--in the
present situation it appears to me that I have the right to use my
influence with Blondette!"

A signal from Mars could not have caused a more profound sensation.
Pitou and Lajeunie regarded him with open mouths. "Your influence?"
echoed Pitou: "your influence? I was not aware that you had ever met
her."

"No," rejoined the poet darkly; "I have not met her. But there are
circumstances in my life which entitle me to demand a service of this
triumphant woman. Do not question me, my friends--what I shall say to
her must remain a secret even from you. I declare, however, that nobody
has a stronger claim on her than Gustave Tricotrin, the poor penny-a-
liner whom she does not know!"

The sudden intervention--to say nothing of its literary flavour--so
excited the collaborators that they nearly wrung his hands off: and
Lajeunie, who recognised a promising beginning for another serial, was
athirst for further hints.

"She has perhaps committed a murder, that fair fiend?" he inquired
rapturously.

"Perhaps," replied Tricotrin.

"In that case she dare refuse you nothing."

"Why not, since I have never heard of it?"

"I was only jesting," said the novelist. "In sober earnest, I
conjecture that you are married to her, like Athos to Miladi. As you
stand there, with that grave air, you strongly resemble Athos."

"Nevertheless, Athos did not marry a woman to whom he had not spoken,
and I repeat that I have never spoken to Blondette in my life."

"Well," said Lajeunie, "I have too much respect for your wishes to show
any curiosity. Besides, by an expert the mystery is to be divined--
before the story opens, you rendered her some silent aid, and your name
will remind her of a great heroism?"

"I have never rendered her any aid at all," demurred Tricotrin, "and
there is not the slightest reason to suppose that she has ever heard my
name. But again, I have an incontestable right to demand a service of
her, and for the sake of the affection I bear you both, I shall go and
do it."

"When Tricotrin thinks that he is living in _The Three Musketeers_
it is useless to try to pump him," said Pitou; "let us content
ourselves with what we are told! Is it not enough? Our fate is in
Blondette's hands, and he is in a position to ask a favour of her. What
more can we want?"

But he could not resist putting a question on his own account after
Lajeunie had skipped downstairs.

"Gustave, why did you never mention to me that you knew Blondette?"

"Morbleu! how often must I say that I do _not_ know her?"

"Well--how shall I express it?--that some episode in your career gave
you a claim on her consideration?"

"Because, by doing so, I should have both violated a confidence, and
re-opened a wound which still burns," said Tricotrin, more like Athos
than ever. "Only the urgency of your need, my comrade, could induce me
to take the course that I project. Now let me sleep, for to-morrow I
must have all my wits!"

It was, however, five o'clock already, and before either of them had
slept long, the street was clattering with feet on their way to the
laundries, and vendors of delicacies were bawling suggestions for
appetising breakfasts.

"Not only do the shouts of these monsters disturb my slumber, but they
taunt my starvation!" yawned the poet. "Yet, now I come to think of it,
I have an appointment with a man who has sworn to lend me a franc, so
perhaps I had better get up before he is likely to have spent it. I
shall call upon Blondette in the afternoon, when she returns from her
drive. What is your own programme?"

"My first attempt will be at a crèmerie in the rue St. Rustique, where
I am inclined to think I may get credit for milk and a roll if I
swagger."

"Capital," said Tricotrin; "things are looking up with us both! And if
I raise the franc, there will be ten sous for you to squander on a
recherché luncheon. Meet me in the place Dancourt in an hour's time. So
long!"

Never had mademoiselle Blondette looked more captivating than when her
carriage brought her back that day. She wore--but why particularise?
Suffice it, that she had just been photographed. As she stepped to the
pavement she was surprised by the obeisance of a shabby young man, who
said in courtly tones, "Mademoiselle, may I beg the honour of an
interview? I came from La Coupole." Having bestowed a glance of
annoyance on him, she invited him to ascend the stairs, and a minute
later Tricotrin was privileged to watch her take off her hat before the
mirror.

"Well?" she inquired, "what's the trouble there now; what do they
want?"

"So far as I know, mademoiselle," returned the intruder deferentially,
"they want nothing but your beauty and your genius; but I myself want
infinitely more--I want your attention and your pity. Let me explain
without delay that I do not represent the Management, and that when I
said I came from La Coupole I should have added that I did not come
from the interior."

"Ça, par exemple!" she said sharply. "Who are you, then?"

"I am Tricotrin, mademoiselle--Gustave Tricotrin, at your feet. I have
two comrades, the parents of _Patatras_; you have refused to play
in it, and I fear they will destroy themselves. I come to beg you to
save their lives."

"Monsieur," exclaimed the lady, and her eyes were brilliant with
temper, "all that I have to say about _Patatras_ I have said! The
part gave me the hump."

"And yet," continued the suppliant firmly, "I hope to induce you to
accept it. I am an author myself, and I assure you that it teems with
opportunities that you may have overlooked in a casual reading."

"It is stupid!"

"As you would play it, I predict that it would make an epoch."

"And the music is no good."

"If I may venture to differ from you, the music is haunting--the
composer is my lifelong friend."

"I appreciate the argument," she said, with fine irony. "But you will
scarcely expect me to play a part that I don't like in order to please
you!"

"Frankly, that is just what I do expect," replied the poet. "I think
you will consent for my sake."

"Oh, really? For _your_ sake? Would you mind mentioning why,
before you go?"

"Because, mademoiselle," said Tricotrin, folding his arms, "in years
gone by, you ruined me!"

"Mon Dieu!" she gasped, and she did not doubt that she was in the
presence of a lunatic.

"Do not rush to the bell!" he begged. "If it will allay your panic, I
will open the door and address you from the landing. I am not insane, I
solemnly assert that I am one of the men who have had the honour of
being ruined by you." "I have never seen you in my life before!" "I
know it. I even admit that I attach no blame to you in the matter.
Nevertheless, you cost me two thousand five hundred and forty-three
francs, and--as you may judge by my costume--I do not own the Crédit
Lyonnais. If you will deign to hear my story, I guarantee that it will
convince you. Do you permit me to proceed?"

The beauty nodded wonderingly, and the shabby young man continued in
the following words:

"As I have said, I am an author; I shall 'live' by my poetry, but I
exist by my prose--in fact, I turn my pen to whatever promises a
dinner, be it a sonnet to the Spring, or a testimonial to a hair
restorer. One summer, when dinners had been even more elusive than
usual, I conceived the idea of calling attention to my talents by means
of an advertisement. In reply, I received a note bidding me be on the
third step of the Madeleine at four o'clock the following day, and my
correspondent proved to be a gentleman whose elegant apparel proclaimed
him a Parisian of the Boulevard.

"'You are monsieur Gustave Tricotrin?' he inquired.

"'I have that misfortune, monsieur,' said I. We adjourned to a café,
and after a preliminary chat, from which he deduced that I was a person
of discretion, he made me a proposal.

"He said, 'Monsieur Tricotrin, it is evident that you and I were
designed to improve each other's condition; _your_ dilemma is
that, being unknown, you cannot dispose of your stories--_mine_ is
that, being known so well, I am asked for more stories than I can
possibly write, I suggest that you shall write some for me. _I_
will sign them, they will be paid for in accordance with my usual
terms, and you shall receive a generous share of the swag. I need not
impress upon you that I am speaking in the strictest confidence, and
that you must never breathe a word about our partnership, even to the
wife of your bosom.'

"'Monsieur,' I returned, 'I have no wife to breathe to, and my bosom is
unsurpassed as a receptacle for secrets,'

"'Good,' he said. 'Well, without beating about the bush, I will tell
you who I am.' He then uttered a name that made me jump, and before we
parted it was arranged that I should supply him with a tale immediately
as a specimen of my abilities.

"This tale, which I accomplished the same evening, pleased him so well
that he forthwith gave me an order for two more. I can create a plot
almost as rapidly as a debt, and before long I had delivered
manuscripts to him in such wholesale quantities that if I had been paid
cash for them, I should have been in a position to paint the Butte the
richest shade of red. It was his custom, however, to make excuses and
payments on account, and as we were capital friends by now, I never
demurred.

"Well, things went on in this fashion until one day he hinted to me
that I had provided him with enough manuscripts to last him for two
years; his study was lumbered with evidence of my talent, and his
market, after all, was not unlimited. He owed me then close upon three
thousand francs, and it was agreed that he should wipe the debt out by
weekly instalments. Enfin, I was content enough--I foresaw an ample
income for two years to come, and renewed leisure to win immortality by
my epics. I trust that my narrative does not fatigue you,
mademoiselle?"

"What has it all to do with me, however?" asked the lady.

"You shall hear. Though the heroine comes on late, she brings the house
down when she enters. For a few weeks my patron fulfilled his compact
with tolerable punctuality, but I never failed to notice when we met
that he was a prey to some terrible grief. At last, when he had reduced
the sum to two thousand five hundred and forty-three francs--the
figures will be found graven on my heart--he confided in me, he made me
a strange request; he exclaimed:

"'Tricotrin, I am the most miserable of men!'

"'Poor fellow!' I responded. 'It is, of course, a woman?'

"'Precisely,' he answered. 'I adore her. Her beauty is incomparable,
her fascinations are unparalleled, her intelligence is unique. She has
only one blemish--she is mercenary.'

"'After all, perfection would be tedious,' I said.

"'You are a man of sensibility, you understand!' he cried. 'Her tastes
have been a considerable strain on my resources, and in consequence my
affairs have become involved. Now that I am in difficulties, she is
giving me the chuck. I have implored and besought, I have worn myself
out in appeals, but her firmness is as striking as her other gifts.
There remains only one chance for me--a letter so impassioned that it
shall awake her pity. _I_, as I tell you, am exhausted; I can no
longer plead, no longer phrase, I am a wreck! Will you, as a friend, as
a poet, compose such a letter and give it to me to copy?'

"Could I hesitate? I drove my pen for him till daybreak. All the
yearnings of my own nature, all the romance of my fiery youth, I poured
out in this appeal to a siren whom I had never seen, and whose name I
did not know. I was distraught, pathetic, humorous, and sublime by
turns. Subtle gleams of wit flashed artistically across the lurid
landscape of despair. I reminded her of scenes of happiness--vaguely,
because I had no details to elaborate; the reminiscences, however, were
so touching that I came near to believing in them. Mindful of her
solitary blemish, I referred to 'embarrassments now almost at an end';
and so profoundly did I affect myself, that while I wrote that I was
weeping, it was really true. Well, when I saw the gentleman again he
embraced me like a brother. 'Your letter was a masterpiece,' he told
me; 'it has done the trick!'

"Mademoiselle, I do not wish to say who he was, and as you have known
many celebrities, and had many love-letters, you may not guess. But the
woman was you! And if I had been a better business man, I should have
written less movingly, for I recognised, even during my inspiration,
that it was against my interests to reunite him to you. I was an
artist; I thrilled your heart, I restored you to his arms--and you had
the two thousand five hundred and forty-three francs that would
otherwise have come to me! Never could I extract another sou from him!"

As Tricotrin concluded his painful history, mademoiselle Blondette
seemed so much amused that he feared she had entirely missed its
pathos. But his misgiving was relieved when she spoke.

"It seems to me I have been expensive to you, monsieur," she said; "and
you have certainly had nothing for your money. Since this revue--which
I own that I have merely glanced at--is the apple of your eye, I
promise to read it with more attention."

* * * * *

A month later _Patatras_ was produced at La Coupole after all, and
no one applauded its performance more enthusiastically than the poet,
who subsequently went to supper arm-in-arm with its creators.

"Mon vieux," said the elated pair, "we will not ask again by what means
you accomplished this miracle, but let it teach you a lesson! Tonight's
experience proves that nothing is beyond your power if you resolve to
succeed!"

"It proves," replied Tricotrin, "that Blondette's first impression was
correct, for, between ourselves, my children, _Patatras_ is no
shakes."

Nevertheless, Lajeunie and Pitou wore laurels in Montmartre; and one is
happy to say that their fees raised the young collaborators from
privation to prosperity--thanks to Blondette's attractions--for nearly
three weeks.

THE DANGER OF BEING A TWIN

My Confessions must begin when I was four years old and recovering
from swollen glands. As I grew well, my twin-brother, Grégoire, who was
some minutes younger, was put to bed with the same complaint.

"What a misfortune," exclaimed our mother, "that Silvestre is no sooner
convalescent than Grégoire falls ill!"

The doctor answered: "It astonishes me, madame Lapalme, that you were
not prepared for it--since the children are twins, the thing was to be
foreseen; when the elder throws the malady off, the younger naturally
contracts it. Among twins it is nearly always so."

And it always proved to be so with Grégoire and me. No sooner did I
throw off whooping-cough than Grégoire began to whoop, though I was at
home at Vernon and he was staying with our grandmother at Tours. If I
had to be taken to a dentist, Grégoire would soon afterwards be howling
with toothache; as often as I indulged in the pleasures of the table
Grégoire had a bilious attack. The influence I exercised upon him was
so remarkable that once when my bicycle ran away with me and broke my
arm, our mother consulted three medical men as to whether Grégoire's
bicycle was bound to run away with him too. Indeed, my brother was
distinctly apprehensive of it himself.

Of course, the medical men explained that he was susceptible to any
abnormal physical or mental condition of mine, not to the vagaries of
my bicycle. "As an example, madame, if the elder of two twins were
killed in a railway accident, it would be no reason for thinking that
an accident must befall a train by which the younger travelled. What
sympathy can there be between locomotives? But if the elder were to die
by his own hand, there is a strong probability that the younger would
commit suicide also."

However, I have not died by my own hand, so Grégoire has had nothing to
reproach me for on that score. As to other grounds--well, there is much
to be said on both sides!

To speak truly, that beautiful devotion for which twins are so
celebrated in drama and romance has never existed between my brother
and myself. Nor was this my fault. I was of a highly sensitive
disposition, and from my earliest years it was impressed upon me that
Grégoire regarded me in the light of a grievance, I could not help
having illnesses, yet he would upbraid me for taking them. Then, too,
he was always our mother's favourite, and instead of there being
caresses and condolence for me when I was indisposed, there was nothing
but grief for the indisposition that I was about to cause Grégoire.
This wounded me.

Again at college. I shall not pretend that I was a bookworm, or that I
shared Grégoire's ambitions; on the contrary, the world beyond the
walls looked such a jolly place to me that the mere sight of a
classroom would sometimes fill me with abhorrence. But, mon Dieu! if
other fellows were wild occasionally, they accepted the penalties, and
the affair was finished; on me rested a responsibility--my wildness was
communicated to Grégoire. Scarcely had I resigned myself to dull
routine again when Grégoire, the industrious, would find himself unable
to study a page, and commit freaks for which he rebuked me most
sternly. I swear that my chief remembrance of my college days is
Grégoire addressing pompous homilies to me, in this fashion, when he
was in disgrace with the authorities:

"I ask you to remember, Silvestre, that you have not only your own
welfare to consider--you have mine! I am here to qualify myself for an
earnest career. Be good enough not to put obstacles in my path. Your
levity impels me to distractions which I condemn even while I yield to
them. I perceive a weakness in your nature that fills me with
misgivings for my future; if you do not learn to resist temptation, to
what errors may I not be driven later on--to what outbreaks of
frivolity will you not condemn me when we are men?"

Well, it is no part of my confession to whitewash myself his misgivings
were realised! So far as I had any serious aspirations at all, I
aspired to be a painter, and, after combating my family's objections, I
entered an art school in Paris. Grégoire, on the other hand, was
destined for the law. During the next few years we met infrequently,
but that my brother continued to be affected by any unusual conditions
of my body and mind I knew by his letters, which seldom failed to
contain expostulations and entreaties. If he could have had his way,
indeed, I believe he would have shut me in a monastery.

Upon my word, I was not without consideration for him, but what would
you have? I think some sympathy was due to me also. Regard the
situation with my eyes! I was young, popular, an artist; my life was no
more frivolous than the lives of others of my set; yet, in lieu of
being free, like them, to call the tune and dance the measure, I was
burdened with a heavier responsibility than weighs upon the shoulders
of any paterfamilias. Let me but drink a bottle too much, and Grégoire,
the grave, would subsequently manifest all the symptoms of
intoxication. Let me but lose my head about a petticoat, and Grégoire,
the righteous, would soon be running after a girl instead of attending
to his work. I had a conscience--thoughts of the trouble that I was
brewing for Grégoire would come between me and the petticoat and rob it
of its charms; his abominable susceptibility to my caprices marred half
my pleasures for me. Once when I sat distrait, bowed by such
reflections, a woman exclaimed, "What's the matter with you? One would
think you had a family!" "Well," I said, "I have a twin!" And I went
away. She was a pretty woman, too!

Do you suppose that Maître Lapalme--he was Maître Lapalme by then, this
egregious Grégoire--do you suppose that he wrote to bless me for my
sacrifice? Not at all! Of my heroisms he knew nothing--he was conscious
only of my lapses. To read his letters one would have imagined that I
was a reprobate, a creature without honour or remorse. I quote from
one of them--it is a specimen of them all. Can you blame me if I had no
love for this correspondent?

MY BROTHER,

THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR BIRTH:--

Your attention is directed to my preceding communications on this
subject. I desire to protest against the revelry from which you
recovered either on the 15th or 16th inst. On the afternoon of the
latter date, while engaged in a conference of the first magnitude, I
was seized with an overwhelming desire to dance a quadrille at a public
ball. I found it impossible to concentrate my attention on the case
concerning which I was consulted; I could no longer express myself with
lucidity. Outwardly sedate, reliable, I sat at my desk dizzied by such
visions as pursued St. Anthony to his cell. No sooner was I free than I
fled from Vernon, dined in Paris, bought a false beard, and plunged
wildly into the vortex of a dancing-hall. Scoundrel! This is past
pardon! My sensibilities revolt, and my prudence shudders. Who shall
say but that one night I may be recognised? Who can foretell to what
blackmail you may expose me? I, Maitre Lapalme, forbid your
profligacies, which devolve upon me; I forbid--etc.

Such admissions my brother sent to me in a disguised hand, and
unsigned; perhaps he feared that his blackmailer might prove to be
myself! Typewriting was not yet general in France.

Our mother still lived at Vernon, where she contemplated her favourite
son's success with the profoundest pride. Occasionally I spent a few
days with her; sometimes even more, for she always pressed me to
remain. I think she pressed me to remain, not from any pleasure in my
society, but because she knew that while I was at home I could commit
no actions that would corrupt Grégoire. One summer, when I visited her,
I met mademoiselle Leuillet.

Mademoiselle Leuillet was the daughter of a widower, a neighbour. I
remembered that when our servant first announced her, I thought, "What
a nuisance; how bored I am going to be!" And then she came in, and in
an instant I was spellbound.

I am tempted to describe Berthe Leuillet to you as she entered our
salon that afternoon in a white frock, with a basket of roses in her
little hands, but I know very well that no description of a girl ever
painted her to anybody yet. Suffice it that she was beautiful as an
angel, that her voice was like the music of the spheres--more than all,
that one felt all the time, "How good she is, how good, how good!"

I suppose the impression that she made upon me was plainly to be seen,
for when she had gone, my mother remarked, "You did not say much. Are
you always so silent in girls' company?" "No," I answered; "I do not
often meet such girls."

But afterwards I often met Berthe Leuillet.

Never since I was a boy had I stayed at Vernon for so long as now;
never had I repented so bitterly as now the error of my ways. I loved,
and it seemed to me sometimes that my attachment was reciprocated, yet
my position forbade me to go to monsieur Leuillet and ask boldly for
his daughter's hand. While I had remained obscure, painters of my
acquaintance, whose talent was no more remarkable than my own, had
raised themselves from bohemia into prosperity. I abused myself, I
acknowledged that I was an idler, a good-for-nothing, I declared that
the punishment that had overtaken me was no more than I deserved. And
then--well, then I owned to Berthe that I loved her!

Deliberately, of course, I should not have done this before seeking her
father's permission, but it happened in the hour of our "good-bye", and
I was suffering too deeply to subdue the impulse. I owned that I loved
her--and when I left for Paris we were secretly engaged.

Mon Dieu! Now I worked indeed! To win this girl for my own, to show
myself worthy of her innocent faith, supplied me with the most powerful
incentive in life. In the quarter they regarded me first with ridicule,
then with wonder, and, finally, with respect. For my enthusiasm did not
fade. "He has turned over a new leaf," they said, "he means to be
famous!" It was understood. No more excursions for Silvestre, no more
junketings and recklessness! In the morning as soon as the sky was
light I was at my easel; in the evening I studied, I sketched, I wrote
to Berthe, and re-read her letters. I was another man--my ideal of
happiness was now a wife and home.

For a year I lived this new life. I progressed. Men--men whose approval
was a cachet--began to speak of me as one with a future. In the Salon a
picture of mine made something of a stir. How I rejoiced, how grateful
and sanguine I was! All Paris sang "Berthe" to me; the criticisms in
the papers, the felicitations of my friends, the praise of the public,
all meant Berthe--Berthe with her arms about me, Berthe on my breast.

I said that it was not too soon for me to speak now; I had proved my
mettle, and, though I foresaw that her father would ask more before he
gave his consent, I was, at least, justified in avowing myself. I
telegraphed to my mother to expect me; I packed my portmanteau with
trembling hands, and threw myself into a cab. On the way to the
station, I noticed the window of a florist; I bade the driver stop, and
ran in to bear off some lilies for Berthe. The shop was so full of
wonderful flowers that, once among them, I found some difficulty in
making my choice. Hence I missed the train--and returned to my studio,
incensed by the delay. A letter for me had just been delivered. It told
me that on the previous morning Berthe had married my brother.

I could have welcomed a pistol-shot--my world rocked. Berthe lost,
false, Gregoire's wife, I reiterated it, I said it over and over, I
was stricken by it--and yet I could not realise that actually it had
happened. It seemed too treacherous, too horrible to be true.

Oh, I made certain of it later, believe me!--I was no hero of a "great
serial," to accept such intelligence without proof. I assured myself of
her perfidy, and burnt her love-letters one by one; tore her
photographs into shreds--strove also to tear her image from my heart.
Ah, that mocked me, that I could not tear! A year before I should have
rushed to the cafés for forgetfulness, but now, as the shock subsided,
I turned feverishly to work. I told myself that she had wrecked my
peace, my faith in women, that I hated and despised her; but I swore
that she should not have the triumph of wrecking my career, too. I said
that my art still remained to me--that I would find oblivion in my art.

Brave words! But one does not recover from such blows so easily.

For months I persisted, denying myself the smallest respite, clinging
to a resolution which proved vainer daily. Were art to be mastered by
dogged endeavour, I should have conquered; but alas! though I could
compel myself to paint, I could not compel myself to paint well. It was
the perception of this fact that shattered me at last. I had fought
temptation for half a year, worked with my teeth clenched, worked
against nature, worked while my pulses beat and clamoured for the
draughts of dissipation, which promised a speedier release. I had wooed
art, not as art's lover, but as a tortured soul may turn to one woman
in the desperate hope of subduing his passion for another--and art
would yield nothing to a suitor who approached like that; I recognised
that my work had been wasted, that the struggle had been useless--I
broke down!

I need say little of the months that followed--it would be a record of
degradations, and remorse; alternately, I fell, and was ashamed. There
were days when I never left the house, when I was repulsive to myself;
I shuddered at the horrors that I had committed. No saint has loved
virtue better than I did during those long, sick days of self-disgust;
no man was ever more sure of defying such hideous temptations if they
recurred. As my lassitude passed, I would take up my brushes and feel
confident for an hour, or for a week. And then temptation would creep
on me once more--humming in my ears, and tingling in my veins. And
temptation had lost its loathsomeness now--it looked again attractive.
It was a siren, it dizzied my conscience, and stupefied my common
sense. Back to the mire!

One afternoon when I returned to my rooms, from which I had been absent
since the previous day, I heard from the concierge that a visitor
awaited me. I climbed the stairs without anticipation. My thoughts were
sluggish, my limbs leaden, my eyes heavy and bloodshot. Twilight had
gathered, and as I entered I discerned merely the figure of a woman.
Then she advanced--and all Hell seemed to leap flaring to my heart. My
visitor was Berthe.

I think nearly a minute must have passed while we looked speechlessly
in each other's face--hers convulsed by entreaty, mine dark with hate.

"Have you no word for me?" she whispered.

"Permit me to offer my congratulations on your marriage, madame," I
said; "I have had no earlier opportunity."

"Forgive me," she gasped. "I have come to beseech your forgiveness! Can
you not forget the wrong I did you?"

"Do I look as if I had forgotten?"

"I was inconstant, cruel, I cannot excuse myself. But, O Silvestre, in
the name of the love you once bore me, have pity on us! Reform, abjure
your evil courses! Do not, I implore you, condemn my husband to this
abyss of depravity, do not wreck my married life!" Now I understood
what had procured me the honour of a visit from this woman, and I
triumphed devilishly that I was the elder twin.

"Madame," I answered, "I think that I owe you no explanations, but I
shall say this: the evil courses that you deplore were adopted, not
vindictively, but in the effort to numb the agony that you had made me
suffer. You but reap as you have sown."

"Reform!" she sobbed. She sank on her knees before me. "Silvestre, in
mercy to us, reform!"

"I will never reform," I said inflexibly. "I will grow more abandoned
day by day--my past faults shall shine as merits compared with the
atrocities that are to come. False girl, monster of selfishness, you
are dragging me to the gutter, and your only grief is that _he_
must share my shame! You have blackened my soul, and you have no regret
but that my iniquities must react on _him!_ By the shock that
stunned him in the first flush of your honeymoon, you know what I
experienced when I received the news of your deceit; by the anguish of
repentance that overtakes him after each of his orgies, which revolt
you, you know that I was capable of being a nobler man. The degradation
that you behold is your own work. You have made me bad, and you must
bear the consequences--you cannot make me good now to save your
husband!"

Humbled and despairing, she left me.

I repeat that it is no part of my confession to palliate my guilt. The
sight of her had served merely to inflame my resentment--and it was at
this stage that I began deliberately to contemplate revenge.

But not the one that I had threatened. Ah, no! I bethought myself of a
vengeance more complete than that. What, after all, were these
escapades of his that were followed by contrition, that saw him again
and again a penitent at her feet? There should be no more of such
trifles; she should be tortured with the torture that she had dealt to
me--I would make him _adore another woman_ with all his heart and
brain!

It was difficult, for first I must adore, and tire of another woman
myself--as my own passion faded, his would be born. I swore, however,
that I would compass it, that I would worship some woman for a year--
two years, as long as possible. He would be at peace in the meantime,
but the longer my enslavement lasted, the longer Berthe would suffer
when her punishment began.

For some weeks now I worked again, to provide myself with money. I
bought new clothes and made myself presentable. When my appearance
accorded better with my plan, I paraded Paris, seeking the woman to
adore.

You may think Paris is full of adorable women? Well, so contrary is
human nature, that never had I felt such indifference towards the sex
as during that tedious quest--never had a pair of brilliant eyes, or a
well-turned neck appealed to me so little. After a month, my search
seemed hopeless; I had viewed women by the thousand, but not one with
whom I could persuade myself that I might fall violently in love.

How true it is that only the unforeseen comes to pass! There was a
model, one Louise, whose fortune was her back, and who had long bored
me by an evident tenderness. One day, this Louise, usually so
constrained in my presence, appeared in high spirits, and mentioned
that she was going to be married.

The change in her demeanour interested me; for the first time, I
perceived that the attractions of Louise were not limited to her back.
A little piqued, I invited her to dine with me. If she had said "yes,"
doubtless that would have been the end of my interest; but she refused.
Before I parted from her, I made an appointment for her to sit to me
the next morning.

"So you are going to be married, Louise?" I said carelessly, as I set
the palette.

"In truth!" she answered.

"No regrets?"

"What regrets could I have? He is a very pretty boy, and well-to-do,
believe me!"

"And _I_ am not a pretty boy, nor well-to-do, hein?"

"Ah, zut!" she laughed, "you do not care for me."

"Is it so?" I said. "What would you say if I told you that I did care?"

"I should say that you told me too late, monsieur," she replied, with a
shrug, "Are you ready for me to pose?" And this changed woman turned
her peerless back on me without a scruple.

A little mortified, I attended strictly to business for the rest of the
morning. But I found myself, on the following day, waiting for her with
impatience.

"And when is the event to take place?" I inquired, more eagerly than I
chose to acknowledge. This was by no means the sort of enchantress that
I had been seeking, you understand.

"In the spring," she said. "Look at the ring he has given to me,
monsieur; is it not beautiful?"

I remarked that Louise's hands were very well shaped; and, indeed,
happiness had brought a certain charm to her face.

"Do you know, Louise, that I am sorry that you are going to marry?" I
exclaimed.

"Oh, get out!" she laughed, pushing me away. "It is no good your
talking nonsense to me now, don't flatter yourself!"

Pouchin, the sculptor, happened to come in at that moment. "Sapristi!"

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