Part 5 out of 10
further on is the Rue des Gres, narrow, crowded, picturesque, one
uninterrupted perspective of bookstalls and bookshops from end to end.
Here the bookseller occasionally pursues a two-fold calling, and retails
not only literature but a cellar of_ petit vin bleu_; and here,
overnight, the thirsty student exchanges for a bottle of Macon the "Code
Civile" that he must perforce buy back again at second-hand in
A little farther on, and we come to the College Saint Louis, once the
old College Narbonne; and yet a few yards more, and we are at the doors
of the Theatre du Pantheon, once upon a time the Church of St. Benoit,
where the stage occupies the site of the altar, and an orchestra stall
in what was once the nave, may be had for seventy-five centimes. Here,
too, might be seen the shop of the immortal Lesage, renowned throughout
the Quartier for the manufacture of a certain kind of transcendental
ham-patty, peculiarly beloved by student and grisette; and here,
clustering within a stone's throw of each other, were to be found those
famous restaurants, Pompon, Viot, Flicoteaux, and the "Boeuf Enrage,"
where, on gala days, many an Alphonse and Fifine, many a Theophile and
Cerisette, were wont to hold high feast and festival--terms sevenpence
half-penny each, bread at discretion, water gratis, wine and
But it was in the side streets, courts, and _impasses_ that branched off
to the left and right of the main arteries, that one came upon the very
heart of the old Pays Latin; for the Rue St. Jacques, the Rue de la
Harpe, the Rue des Gres, narrow, steep, dilapidated though they might
be, were in truth the leading thoroughfares--the Boulevards, so to
speak--of the Student Quartier. In most of the side alleys, however,
some of which dated back as far, and farther, than the fifteenth
century, there was no footway for passengers, and barely space for one
wheeled vehicle at a time. A filthy gutter invariably flowed down the
middle of the street. The pavement, as it peeped out here and there
through a _moraine_ of superimposed mud and offal, was seen to consist
of small oblong stones, like petrified kidney potatoes. The houses, some
leaning this way, some that, with projecting upper stories and
overhanging gable-roofs, nodded together overhead, leaving but a narrow
strip of sky down which the sunlight strove in vain to struggle. Long
poles upon which were suspended old clothes hung out to air, and ragged
linen to dry, stood out like tattered banners from the attic windows.
Here, too, every ground-floor was a shop, open, unglazed, cavernous,
where the dealer lay _perdu_ in the gloom of midday, like a spider in
the midst of his web, surrounded by piles of old bottles, old iron, old
clothes, old furniture, or whatever else his stock in trade might
Of such streets--less like streets, indeed, than narrow, overhanging
gorges and ravines of damp and mouldering stone--of such streets, I say,
intricate, winding, ill-lighted, unventilated, pervaded by an atmosphere
compounded of the fumes of fried fish, tobacco, old leather, mildew and
dirt, there were hundreds in the Quartier Latin of my time:--streets to
the last degree unattractive as places of human habitation, but rich,
nevertheless, in historic associations, in picturesque detail, and in
archaeological interest. Such a street, for instance, was the Rue du
Fouarre (scarcely a feature of which has been modernized to this day),
where Dante, when a student of theology in Paris, attended the lectures
of one Sigebert, a learned monk of Gemblours, who discoursed to his
scholars in the open air, they sitting round him the while upon fresh
straw strewn upon the pavement. Such a street was the Rue des Cordiers,
close adjoining the Rue des Gres, where Rousseau lived and wrote; and
the Rue du Dragon, where might then be seen the house of Bernard
Palissy; and the Rue des Macons, where Racine lived; and the Rue des
Marais, where Adrienne Lecouvreur--poor, beautiful, generous, ill-fated
Adrienne Lecouvreur!--died. Here, too, in a blind alley opening off the
Rue St. Jacques, yet stands part of that Carmelite Convent in which, for
thirty years, Madame de la Valliere expiated the solitary frailty of her
life. And so at every turn! Not a gloomy by-street, not a dilapidated
fountain, not a grim old college facade but had its history, or its
legend. Here the voice of Abelard thundered new truths, and Rabelais
jested, and Petrarch discoursed with the doctors. Here, in the Rue de
l'Ancienne Comedie, walked the shades of Racine, of Moliere, of
Corneille, of Voltaire. Dear, venerable, immortal old Quartier Latin!
Thy streets were narrow, but they were the arteries through which,
century after century, circulated all the wisdom and poetry, all the
art, and science, and learning of France! Their gloom, their squalor,
their very dirt was sacred. Could I have had my will, not a stone of the
old place should have been touched, not a pavement widened, not a
Then beside, yet not apart from, all that was mediaeval and historic in
the Pays Latin, ran the gay, effervescent, laughing current of the life
of the _jeunessed' aujour d'hui._ Here beat the very heart of that rare,
that immortal, that unparalleled _vie de Boheme_, the vagabond poetry of
which possesses such an inexhaustible charm for even the soberest
imagination. What brick and mortar idylls, what romances _au cinquieme_,
what joyous epithalamiums, what gay improvident _menages_, what kisses,
what laughter, what tears, what lightly-spoken and lightly-broken vows
those old walls could have told of!
Here, apparelled in all sorts of unimaginable tailoring, in jaunty
colored cap or flapped sombrero, his pipe dangling from his button-hole,
his hair and beard displaying every eccentricity under heaven, the Paris
student, the _Pays Latiniste pur sang_, lived and had his being. Poring
over the bookstalls in the Place du Pantheon or the Rue des
Gres--hurrying along towards this or that college with a huge volume
under each arm, about nine o'clock in the morning--haunting the cafes at
midday and the restaurants at six--swinging his legs out of
upper windows and smoking in his shirt-sleeves in the summer
evenings--crowding the pit of the Odeon and every part of the Theatre du
Pantheon--playing wind instruments at dead of night to the torment of
his neighbors, or, in vocal mood, traversing the Quartier with a society
of musical friends about the small hours of the morning--getting into
scuffles with the gendarmes--flirting, dancing, playing billiards and
the deuce; falling in love and in debt; dividing his time between
Aristotle and Mademoiselle Mimi Pinson ... here, and here only, in all
his phases, at every hour of the day and night, he swarmed, ubiquitous.
And here, too (a necessary sequence), flourished the fair and frail
grisette. Her race, alas! is now all but extinct--the race of Fretillon,
of Francine, of Lisette, Musette, Rosette, and all the rest of that too
fascinating terminology--the race immortalized again and again by
Beranger, Gavarni, Balzac, De Musset; sketched by a hundred pencils and
described by a hundred pens; celebrated in all manner of metres and set
to all manner of melodies; now caricatured and now canonized; now
painted wholly _en noir_ and now all _couleur de rose_; yet, however
often described, however skilfully analyzed, remaining for ever
indescribable, and for ever defying analysis!
"De tous les produits Parisiens," says Monsieur Jules Janin (himself the
quintessence of everything most Parisian), "le produit le plus Parisien,
sans contredit, c'est la grisette." True; but our epigrammatist should
have gone a step farther. He should have added that the grisette _pur
sang_ is to be found nowhere except in Paris; and (still a step farther)
nowhere in Paris save between the Pont Neuf and the Barriere d'Enfer.
There she reigns; there (ah! let me use the delicious present tense--let
me believe that I still live in Arcadia!)--there she lights up the old
streets with her smile; makes the old walls ring with her laughter;
flits over the crossings like a fairy; wears the most coquettish of
little caps and the daintiest of little shoes; rises to her work with
the dawn; keeps a pet canary; trains a nasturtium round her window;
loves as heartily as she laughs, and almost as readily; owes not a sou,
saves not a centime; sews on Adolphe's buttons, like a good neighbor; is
never so happy as when Adolphe in return takes her to Tivoli or the
Jardin Turc; adores _galette, sucre d'orge_, and Frederick Lemaitre; and
looks upon a masked ball and a debardeur dress as the summit of
_Vive la grisette_! Shall I not follow many an illustrious example and
sing my modest paean in her praise? Frown not, august Britannia! Look
not so severely askance upon my poor little heroine of the Quartier
Latin! Thinkest thou because thou art so eminently virtuous that she who
has many a serviceable virtue of her own, shall be debarred from her
share in this world's cakes and ale?
_Vive la grisette_! Let us think and speak no evil of her. "Elle ne
tient au vice que par un rayon, et s'en eloigne par les mille autres
points de la circonference sociale." The world sees only her follies,
and sees them at first sight; her good qualities lie hidden in the
shade. Is she not busy as a bee, joyous as a lark, helpful, pitiful,
unselfish, industrious, contented? How often has she not slipped her
last coin into the alms-box at the hospital gate, and gone supperless to
bed? How often sat up all night, after a long day's toil in a crowded
work-room, to nurse Victorine in the fever? How often pawned her Sunday
gown and shawl, to redeem that coat without which Adolphe cannot appear
before the examiners to-morrow morning? Granted, if you will, that she
has an insatiable appetite for sweets, cigarettes, and theatrical
admissions--shall she not be welcome to her tastes? And is it her fault
if her capacity in the way of miscellaneous refreshments partakes of the
nature of the miraculous--somewhat to the inconvenience of Adolphe, who
has overspent his allowance? Supposing even that she may now and then
indulge (among friends) in a very modified can-can at the
Chaumiere--what does that prove, except that her heels are as light as
her heart, and that her early education has been somewhat neglected?
But I am writing of a world that has vanished as completely as the lost
Pleiad. The Quartier Latin of my time is no more. The Chaumiere is no
more. The grisette is fast dying out. Of the Rue de la Harpe not a
recognisable feature is left. The old Place St. Michel, the fountain,
the Theatre du Pantheon, are gone as if they had never been. Whole
streets, I might say whole parishes, have been swept away--whole
chapters of mediaeval history erased for ever.
Well, I love to close my eyes from time to time, and evoke the dear old
haunts from their ruins; to descend once more the perilous steeps of the
Rue St. Jacques, and to thread the labyrinthine by-streets that surround
the Ecole de Medecine. I see them all so plainly! I look in at the
familiar print-shops--I meet many a long-forgotten face--I hear many a
long-forgotten voice--I am twenty years of age and a student again!
Ah me! what a pleasant time, and what a land of enchantment! Dingy,
dilapidated, decrepit as it was, that graceless old Quartier Latin,
believe me, was paved with roses and lighted with laughing gas.
THE FETE AT COURBEVOIE.
"_Halte la_! I thought I should catch you about this time! They've been
giving you unconscionable good measure to-day, though, haven't they? I
thought Bollinet's lecture was always over by three; and here I've been
moralizing on the flight of Time for more than twenty minutes."
So saying, Mueller, having stopped me as I was coming down the steps of
the Hotel Dieu, linked his arm in mine, drew me into a shady angle under
the lee of Notre Dame, and, without leaving me time to reply, went on
pouring out his light, eager chatter as readily as a mountain-spring
bubbles out its waters.
"I thought you'd like to know about the Tapottes, you see--and I was
dying to tell you. I went to your rooms last night between eight and
nine, and you were out; so I thought the only sure way was to come
here--I know you never miss Bollinet's Lectures. Well, as I was saying,
the Tapottes.... Oh, _mon cher_! I am your debtor for life in that
matter of Milord Smithfield. It has been the making of me. What do you
think? Tapotte is not only going to sit for a companion half-length to
Madame's portrait, but he has given me a commission for half-a-dozen
ancestors. Fancy--half-a-dozen illustrious dead-and-done Tapottes! What
a scope for the imagination! What a bewildering vista of _billets de
banque_! I feel--ah, _mon ami_! I feel that the wildest visions of my
youth are about to be realized, and that I shall see my tailor's bill
receipted before I die!"
"I'm delighted," said I, "that Tapotte has turned up a trump card."
"A trump card? Say a California--a Pactolus--a Golden Calf. Nay, hath
not Tapotte two golden calves? Is he not of the precious metal all
compact? Stands he not, in the amiable ripeness of his years, a living
representative of the Golden Age? _'O bella eta dell' oro_!'"
And to my horror, he then and there executed a frantic _pas seul_.
"Gracious powers!" I exclaimed. "Are you mad?"
"Yes--raving mad. Have you any objection?"
"But, my dear fellow--in the face of day--in the streets of Paris! We
shall get taken up by the police!"
"Then suppose we get out of the streets of Paris? I'm tired enough,
Heaven knows, of cultivating the arid soil of the Pave. See, it's a
glorious afternoon. Let's go somewhere."
"With all my heart. Where?"
"_Ah, mon Dieu! ca m'est egal_. Enghien--Vincennes--St.
Cloud--Versailles ... anywhere you like. Most probably there's a fete
going on somewhere, if we only knew where,"
"Can't we find out?"
"Oh, yes--we can drop into a Cafe and look at the _Petites Affiches_;
only that entails an absinthe; or we can go into the nearest Omnibus
Bureau and see the notices on the walls, which will be cheaper."
So we threaded our way along the narrow thoroughfares of the Ile de la
Cite, and came presently to an Omnibus Bureau on the Quai de l'Horloge,
overlooking the Pont Neuf and the river. Here the first thing we saw was
a flaming placard setting forth the pleasures and attractions of the
great annual fete at Courbevoie; a village on the banks of the Seine, a
mile or two beyond Neuilly.
"_Voila, notre affaire_!" said Mueller, gaily. "We can't do better than
steer straight for Courbevoie."
Saying which, he hailed a passing fiacre and bade the coachman drive to
the Embarcadere of the Rive Droite.
"We shall amuse ourselves famously at Courbevoie," he said, as we
rattled over the stones. "We'll dine at the Toison d'Or--an excellent
little restaurant overlooking the river; and if you're fond of angling,
we can hire a punt and catch our own fish for dinner. Then there will be
plenty of fiddling and dancing at the guingettes and gardens in the
evening. By the way, though, I've no money! That is to say, none worth
speaking of--_voila!_... one franc, one piece of fifty centimes, another
of twenty centimes, and some sous. I hope your pockets are better lined
"Not much, I fear," I replied, pulling out my porte-monnaie, and
emptying the contents into my hand. They amounted to nine francs and
"_Parbleu_! we've just eleven francs and a half between us," said
Mueller. "A modest sum-total; but we must make it as elastic as we can.
Let me see, there'll be a franc for the fiacre, four francs for our
return tickets, four for our dinner, and two and a half to spend as we
like in the fair. Well, we can't commit any great extravagance with that
amount of floating capital."
"Better turn back and go to my rooms for some more money?" I exclaimed.
"I've two Napoleons in my desk."
"No, no--we should miss the three-fifty train, and not get another till
between five and six."
"But we shall have no fun if we have no money!"
"I dissent entirely from that proposition, Monsieur Englishman. I have
always had plenty of fun, and I have been short of cash since the hour
of my birth. Come, it shall be my proud task to-day to prove to you the
pleasures of impecuniosity!"
So with our eleven francs and a half we went on to the station, and took
our places for Courbevoie.
We travelled, of course, by third class in the open wagons; and it so
happened that in our compartment we had the company of three pretty
little chattering grisettes, a fat countrywoman with a basket, and a
quiet-looking elderly female with her niece. These last wore bonnets,
and some kind of slight mourning. They belonged evidently to the small
bourgeoise class, and sat very quietly in the corner of the carriage,
speaking to no one. The three grisettes, however, kept up an incessant
fire of small talk and squabble.
"I was on this very line last Sunday," said one. "I went with Julie to
Asnieres, and we were so gay! I wonder if it will be very gay at
"_Je m'en doute_," replied another, whom they called Lolotte. "I came to
one of the Courbevoie fetes last spring, and it was not gay at all. But
then, to be sure, I was with Edouard, and he is as dull as the first day
in Lent. Where were you last Sunday, Adele?"
"I did not go beyond the barriers. I went to the Cirque with my cousin,
and we dined in the Palais Royal. We enjoyed ourselves so much! You know
"Ah! yes--the little fellow with the curly hair and the whiskers, who
waits for you at the corner when we leave the workshop."
"Your Achille is nice-looking," said Mademoiselle Lolotte, with a
somewhat critical air. "It is a pity he squints."
"He does not squint, mam'selle."
"Oh, _ma chere_! I appeal to Caroline."
"I am not sure that he actually squints," said Mam'selle Caroline,
speaking for the first time; "but he certainly has one eye larger than
the other, and of quite a different color."
"_Tiens_, Caroline--it seems to me that you look very closely into the
eyes of young men," exclaims Adele, turning sharply upon this new
"At all events you admit that Caroline is right," cries Lolotte,
"I admit nothing of the kind. I say that you are both very ill-natured,
and that you say what is not true. As for you, Lolotte, I don't believe
you ever had the chance of seeing a young man's eyes turned upon you, or
you would not be so pleased with the attentions of an old one."
"An _old_ one!" shrieked Mam'selle Lolotte. "Ah, _mon Dieu_! Is a man
old at forty-seven? Monsieur Durand is in the prime of life, and there
isn't a girl in the Quartier who would not be proud of his attentions!"
"He's sixty, if an hour," said the injured Adele. "And as for you,
Caroline, who have never had a beau in your life...."
"_Ciel_! what a calumny!--I--never had a ... Holy Saint Genevieve! why,
it was only last Thursday week...."
Here the train stopped at the Asnieres station, and two privates of the
Garde Imperiale got into the carriage. The horizon cleared as if by
magic. The grisettes suddenly forgot their differences, and began to
chat quite amicably. The soldiers twirled their mustachios, listened,
smiled, and essayed to join in the conversation. In a few minutes all
was mirth and flirtation.
Meanwhile Mueller was casting admiring glances on the young girl in the
corner, whilst the fat countrywoman, pursing up her mouth, and watching
the grisettes and soldiers, looked the image of offended virtue.
"Dame! Madame," she said, addressing herself to the old lady in the
bonnet, "girls usen't to be so forward in the days when you and I
To which the old lady in the bonnet, blandly smiling, replied:--
"Beautiful, for the time of year."
"Eh? For the time of year? Dame! I don't see that the time of year has
anything to do with it," exclaimed the fat countrywoman.
Here the young girl in the corner, blushing and smiling very sweetly,
interposed with--"Pardon, Madame--my aunt is somewhat deaf. Pray,
Whereupon the old lady, watching the motion of her niece's lips, added--
"Ah, yes--yes! I am a poor, deaf old woman--I don't understand what you
say. Talk to my little Marie, here--she can answer you."
"I, for one, desire nothing better than permission to talk to
Mademoiselle," said Mueller, gallantly.
"Mademoiselle, with Madame her aunt, are going to the fete at
"The river is very pretty thereabouts, and the walks through the meadows
"Mademoiselle does not know the place?"
"Ah, if I might only be permitted to act as guide! I know every foot of
the ground about Courbevoie."
Mademoiselle Marie blushed again, looked down, and made no reply.
"I am a painter," continued Mueller; "and I have sketched all the
windings of the Seine from Neuilly to St. Germains. My friend here is
English--he is a student of medicine, and speaks excellent French."
"What is the gentleman saying, _mon enfant_?" asked the old lady,
"Monsieur says that the river is very pretty about Courbevoie, _ma
tante_," replied Mademoiselle Marie, raising her voice.
"Ah! ah! and what else?"
"Monsieur is a painter."
"A painter? Ah, dear me! it's an unhealthy occupation. My poor brother
Pierre might have been alive to this day if he had taken to any other
line of business! You must take great care of your lungs, young man. You
Mueller laughed, shook his head, and declared at the top of his voice
that he had never had a day's illness in his life.
Here the pretty niece again interposed.
"Ah, Monsieur," she said, "my aunt does not understand....My--my uncle
Pierre was a house-painter."
"A very respectable occupation, Mademoiselle," replied Mueller, politely.
"For my own part, I would sooner paint the insides of some houses than
the outsides of some people."
At this moment the train began to slacken pace, and the steam was let
off with a demoniac shriek.
"_Tiens, mon enfant_," said the old lady, turning towards her niece with
affectionate anxiety. "I hope you have not taken cold."
The excellent soul believed that it was Mademoiselle Marie who sneezed.
And now the train had stopped--the porters were running along the
platform, shouting "Courbevoie! Courbevoie!"--the passengers were
scrambling out _en masse_--and beyond the barrier one saw a confused
crowd of _charrette_ and omnibus-drivers, touters, fruit-sellers, and
idlers of every description. Mueller handed out the old lady and the
niece; the fat countrywoman scrambled up into a kind of tumbril driven
by a boy in _sabots_; the grisettes and soldiers walked off together;
and the tide of holiday-makers, some on foot, some in hired vehicles,
set towards the village. In the meanwhile, what with the crowd on the
platform and the crowd outside the barrier, and what with the hustling
and pushing at the point where the tickets were taken, we lost sight of
the old lady and her niece.
"What the deuce has become of _ma tante_?" exclaimed Mueller, looking
But neither _ma tante_ nor Mademoiselle Marie were anywhere to be seen.
I suggested that they must have gone on in the omnibus or taken a
_charrette_, and so have passed us unperceived.
"And, after all," I added, "we didn't want to enter upon an indissoluble
union with them for the rest of the day. _Ma tante's_ deafness is not
entertaining, and _la petite_ Marie has nothing to say."
"_La petite_ Marie is uncommonly pretty, though," said Mueller. "I mean
to dance a quadrille with her by-and-by, I promise you."
"_A la bonne heure_! We shall be sure to chance upon them again before
We had come by this time to a group of pretty villa-residences with high
garden walls and little shady side-lanes leading down to the river. Then
came a church and more houses; then an open Place; and suddenly we found
ourselves in the midst of the fair.
It was just like any other of the hundred and one fetes that take place
every summer in the environs of Paris. There was a merry-go-round and a
greasy pole; there was a juggler who swallowed knives and ribbons; there
were fortune-tellers without number; there were dining-booths, and
drinking-booths, and dancing-booths; there were acrobats, organ-boys
with monkeys, and Savoyards with white mice; there were stalls for the
sale of cakes, fruit, sweetmeats, toys, combs, cheap jewelry, glass,
crockery, boots and shoes, holy-water vessels, rosaries, medals, and
little colored prints of saints and martyrs; there were brass bands, and
string bands, and ballad-singers everywhere; and there was an atmosphere
compounded of dust, tobacco-smoke, onions, musk, and every objectionable
perfume under heaven.
"Dine at the Restaurant de l'Empire, Messieurs," shouted a shabby
touter in a blouse, thrusting a greasy card into our faces. "Three
dishes, a dessert, a half-bottle, and a band of music, for one
franc-fifty. The cheapest dinner in the fair!"
"The cheapest dinner in the fair is at the Belle Gabrielle!" cried
another. "We'll give you for the same money soup, fish, two dishes, a
dessert, a half-bottle, and take your photograph into the bargain!"
"Bravo! _mon vieux_--you first poison them with your dinner, and then
provide photographs for the widows and children," retorts touter number
one. "That's justice, anyhow."
Whereupon touter number two shrieks out a torrent of abuse, and we push
on, leaving them to settle their differences after their own fashion.
At the next booth we are accosted by a burly fellow daubed to the eyes
with red and blue paint, and dressed as an Indian chief.
"_Entrez, entrez, Messieurs et Mesdames_" he cries, flourishing a
war-spear some nine feet in length. "Come and see the wonderful Peruvian
maiden of Tanjore, with webbed fingers and toes, her mouth in the back
of her head, and her eyes in the soles of her feet! Only four sous each,
and an opportunity that will never occur again!"
"Only fifty centimes!" shouts another public orator; "the most ingenious
little machine ever invented! Goes into the waistcoat pocket--is wound
up every twenty-four hours--tells the day of the month, the day of the
year, the age of the moon, the state of the Bourse, the bank rate of
discount, the quarter from which the wind is blowing, the price of
new-laid eggs in Paris and the provinces, the rate of mortality in the
Fee-jee islands, and the state of your sweetheart's affections!"
A little further on, by dint of much elbowing, we made our way into a
crowded booth where, for the modest consideration of two sous per head,
might be seen a Boneless Youth and an Ashantee King. The performances
were half over when we went in. The Boneless Youth had gone through his
feats of agility, and was lying on a mat in a corner of the stage, the
picture of limp incapability. The Ashantee monarch was just about to
make his appearance. Meanwhile, a little man in fleshings and a cocked
hat addressed the audience.
"Messieurs and Mesdames--I have the honor to announce that Caraba
Radokala, King of Ashantee, will next appear before you. This terrific
native sovereign was taken captive by that famous Dutch navigator, the
Mynheer Van Dunk, in his last voyage round the globe. Van Dunk, having
brought his prisoner to Europe in an iron cage, sold him to the English
government in 1840; who sold him again to Milord Barnum, the great
American philanthropist, in 1842; who sold him again to Franconi of the
Cirque Olympique; who finally sold him to me. At the time of his
capture, Caraba Radokala was the most treacherous, barbarous, and
sanguinary monster upon record. He had three hundred and sixty-five
wives--a wife, you observe, for every day in the year. He lived
exclusively upon human flesh, and consumed, when in good health, one
baby per diem. His palace in Ashantee was built entirely of the skulls
and leg-bones of his victims. He is now, however, much less ferocious;
and, though he feeds on live pigeons, rabbits, dogs, mice, and the like,
he has not tasted human flesh since his captivity. He is also heavily
ironed. The distinguished company need therefore entertain no
apprehensions. Pierre--draw the bolt, and let his majesty loose!"
A savage roar was now heard, followed by a rattling of chains. Then the
curtains were suddenly drawn back, and the Ashantee king--crowned with a
feather head-dress, loaded with red and blue war-paint, and chained from
ankle to ankle--bounded on the stage.
Seeing the audience before him, he uttered a terrific howl. The front
rows were visibly agitated. Several young women faintly screamed.
The little man in the cocked hat rushed to the front, protesting that
the ladies had no reason to be alarmed. Caraba Radokala, if not wantonly
provoked, was now quite harmless--a little irritable, perhaps, from
being waked too suddenly--would be as gentle as a lamb, if given
something to eat:--"Pierre, quiet his majesty with a pigeon!"
Pierre, a lank lad in motley, hereupon appeared with a live pigeon,
which immediately escaped from his hands and perched on the top of the
proscenium. Caraba Radokala yelled; the little man in the cocked hat
raved; and Pierre, in default of more pigeons, contritely reappeared
with a lump of raw beef, into which his majesty ravenously dug his royal
teeth. The pigeon, meanwhile, dressed its feathers and looked
complacently down, as if used to the incident.
"Having fed, Caraba Radokala will now be quite gentle and good-humored,"
said the showman. "If any lady desires to shake hands with him, she may
do so with perfect safety. Will any lady embrace the opportunity?"
A faint sound of tittering was heard in various parts of the booth; but
no one came forward.
"Will _no_ lady be persuaded? Well, then, is there any gentleman present
who speaks Ashantee?"
Mueller gave me a dig with his elbow, and started to his feet.
"Yes," he replied, loudly. "I do."
Every head was instantly turned in our direction.
The showman collapsed with astonishment. Even the captive, despite his
ignorance of the French tongue, looked considerably startled.
"_Comment_!" stammered the cocked hat. "Monsieur speaks Ashantee?"
"Is it permitted to inquire how and when monsieur acquired this very
"I have spoken Ashantee from my infancy," replied Mueller, with admirable
aplomb. "I was born at sea, brought up in an undiscovered island, twice
kidnapped by hostile tribes before attaining the age of ten years, and
have lived among savage nations all my life."
A murmur of admiration ran through the audience, and Mueller became, for
the time, an object of livelier interest than Caraba Radokala himself.
Seeing this, the indignant monarch executed a warlike _pas_, and rattled
his chains fiercely.
"In that case, monsieur, you had better come upon the stage, and speak
to his majesty," said the showman reluctantly.
"With all the pleasure in life."
"But I warn you that his temper is uncertain."
"Bah!" said Mueller, working his way round through the crowd, "I'm not
afraid of his temper."
"As monsieur pleases--but, if monsieur offends him, _I_ will not be
answerable for the consequences."
"All right--give us a hand up, _mon vieux_!" And Muller, having
clambered upon the stage, made a bow to the audience and a salaam to
"Chickahominy chowdar bang," said he, by way of opening the
The ex-king of Ashantee scowled, folded his arms, and maintained a
"Hic hac horum, high cockalorum," continued Mueller, with exceeding
The captive monarch stamped impatiently, ground his teeth, but still
made no reply.
"Monsieur had better not aggravate him," said the showman. "On the
contrary--I am overwhelming him with civilities Now observe--I condole
with him upon his melancholy position. I inquire after his wives and
children; and I remark how uncommonly well he is looking."
And with this, he made another salaam, smiled persuasively, and said--
"Alpha, beta, gamma, delta--chin-chin--Potz tausend!--Erin-go-bragh!"
"Borriobooloobah!" shrieked his majesty, apparently stung to
"Rocofoco!" retorted Mueller promptly.
But as if this last was more than any Ashantee temper could bear, Caraba
Rodokala clenched both his fists, set his teeth hard, and charged down
upon Mueller like a wild elephant. Being met, however, by a well-planted
blow between the eyes, he went down like a ninepin--picked himself
up,--rushed in again, and, being forcibly seized and held back by the
cocked hat, Pierre of the pigeons, and a third man who came tumbling up
precipitately from somewhere behind the stage, vented his fury, in a
torrent of very highly civilized French oaths.
"Eh, _sacredieu_!" he cried, shaking his fist in Mueller's face, "I've
not done with you yet, _diable de galerien_!"
Whereupon there burst forth a general roar--a roar like the
"inextinguishable laughter" of Olympus.
"_Tiens_!" said Mueller, "his majesty speaks French almost as well as I
"_Bourreau! Brigand! Assassin_!" shrieked his Ferocity, as his friends
hustled him off the stage.
The curtains then fell together again; and the audience, still laughing
vociferously, dispersed with cries of "Vive Caraba Rodokala!" "Kind
remembrances to the Queens of Ashantee!" "What's the latest news from
Elbowing our way out with the crowd, we now plunged once more into the
press of the fair. Here our old friends the dancing dogs of the Champs
Elysees, and the familiar charlatan of the Place du Chatelet with his
chariot and barrel-organ, transported us from Ashantee to Paris. Next we
came to a temporary shooting-gallery, adorned over the entrance with a
spirited cartoon of a Tyrolean sharpshooter; and then to an exhibition
of cosmoramas; and presently to a weighing machine, in which a great,
rosy-cheeked, laughing Normandy peasant girl, with her high cap, blue
skirt, massive gold cross and heavy ear-rings, was in the act of
"_Tiens! Mam'selle est joliment solide_!" remarks a saucy bystander, as
the owner of the machine piles on weight after weight.
"Perhaps if I had no more brains than m'sieur, I should weigh as light!"
retorts the damsel, with a toss of her high cap.
"_Pardon_! it is not a question of brains--it is a question of hearts,"
interposes an elderly exquisite in a white hat. "Mam'selle has captured
so many that she is completely over weighted."
"Twelve stone six ounces," pronounces the owner of the machine,
adjusting the last weight.
Whereupon there is a burst of ironical applause, and the big _paysanne_,
half laughing, half angry, walks off, exclaiming, "_Eh bien! tant
mieux_! I've no mind to be a scarecrow--_moi_!"
By this time we have both had enough of the fair, and are glad to make
our way out of the crowd and down to the riverside. Here we find lovers
strolling in pairs along the towing-path; family groups pic-nicking in
the shade; boats and punts for hire, and a swimming-match just coming
off, of which all that is visible are two black heads bobbing up and
down along the middle of the stream.
"And now, _mon ami_, what do you vote for?" asks Mueller. "Boating or
fishing? or both? or neither?"
"Both, if you like--but I never caught anything in my life,"
"The pleasure of fishing, I take it," says Mueller, "is not in the fish
you catch, but in the fish you miss. The fish you catch is a poor little
wretch, worth neither the trouble of landing, cooking, nor eating; but
the fish you miss is always the finest fellow you ever saw in
"_Allons donc_! I know, then, which of us two will have most of the
pleasure to-day," I reply, laughing. "But how about the expense?"
To which Mueller, with a noble recklessness, answers:--
"Oh, hang the expense! Here, boatman! a boat _a quatre rames_, and some
fishing-tackle--by the hour."
Now it was undoubtedly a fine sentiment this of Mueller's, and had we but
fetched my two Napoleons before starting, I should have applauded it to
the echo; but when I considered that something very nearly approaching
to a franc had already filtered out of our pockets in passing through
the fair, and that the hour of dinner was looming somewhat indefinitely
in the distance, I confess that my soul became disquieted within me.
"Don't forget, for heaven's sake," I said, "that we must keep something
"My dear fellow," he replied, "I have already a tremendous appetite for
dinner--that _is_ something."
After this, I resigned myself to whatever might happen.
We then rowed up the river for about a mile beyond Courbevoie. moored
our boat to a friendly willow, put our fishing-tackle together, and
composed ourselves for the gentle excitement that waits upon the gudgeon
and the minnow.
"I haven't yet had a single nibble," said Mueller, when we had been
sitting to our work for something less than ten minutes.
"Hush!" I said. "You mustn't speak, you know."
"True--I had forgotten. I'll sing instead. Fishes, I have been told, are
fond of music.
'Fanfan, je vous aimerais bien;
Contre vous je n'ai nul caprice;
Vous etes gentil, j'en convien....'"
"Come, now!" I exclaimed pettishly, "this is really too bad. I had a
bite--a most decided bite--and if you had only kept quiet"....
"Nonsense, my dear fellow! I tell you again--and I have it on the best
authority--fishes like music. Did you never hear of Arion! Have you
forgotten about the Syrens? Believe me, your gudgeon nibbled because I
sang him to the surface--just as the snakes come out for the song of the
snake-charmer. I'll try again!"
And with this he began:--
"Jeannette est une brune
Qui demeure a Pantin,
Ou toute sa fortune
Est un petit jardin!"
"Well, if you go on like that, all I have to say is, that not a fish
will come within half a mile of our bait," said I, with
"Alas! _mon cher_, I am grieved to observe in your otherwise estimable
character, a melancholy want of faith," replied Mueller "Without faith,
what is friendship? What is angling? What is matrimony? Now, I tell you
that with regard to the finny tribe, the more I charm them, the more
enthusiastically they will flock to be caught. We shall have a
miraculous draught in a few minutes, if you are but patient."
And then he began again:--
"Mimi Pinson est une blonde,
Une blonde que l'on connait.
Elle n'a qu'une robe au monde,
Et qu'un bonnet."
I laid aside my rod, folded my arms, and when he had done, applauded
"Very good," I said. "I understand the situation. We are here, at
some--indeed, I may say, considering the state of our exchequer, at a
considerable mutual expense; not to catch fish, but to afford Herr
Mueller an opportunity of exercising his extensive memory, and his
limited baritone voice. The entertainment is not without its
_agrements_, but I find it dear at the price."
"_Tiens_, Arbuthnot! let us fish seriously. I promise not to open my
lips again till you have caught something."
"Then, seriously, I believe you would have to be silent the whole night,
and all I should catch would be the rheumatism. I am the worst angler in
the world, and the most unlucky."
"Really and truly?"
"Really and truly. And you?"
"As bad as yourself. If a tolerably large and energetic fish did me the
honor to swallow my bait, the probability is that he would catch me. I
certainly shouldn't know what to do with him."
"Then the present question is--what shall we do with ourselves?"
"I vote that we row up as far as yonder bend in the river, just to see
what lies beyond; and then back to Courbevoie."
"Heaven only grant that by that time we shall have enough money left for
dinner!" I murmured with a sigh.
We rowed up the river as far as the first bend, a distance of about
half a mile; and then we rowed on as far as the next bend. Then we
turned, and, resting on our oars, drifted slowly back with the current.
The evening was indescribably brilliant and serene. The sky was
cloudless, of a greenish blue, and full of light. The river was clear as
glass. We could see the flaccid water-weeds swaying languidly with the
current far below, and now and then a shoal of tiny fish shooting along
half-way between the weeds and the surface. A rich fringe of purple
iris, spear-leaved sagittarius, and tufted meadow-sweet (each blossom a
bouquet on a slender thyrsus) bordered the towing-path and filled the
air with perfume. Here the meadows lay open to the water's edge; a
little farther on, they were shut off by a close rampart of poplars and
willows whose leaves, already yellowed by autumn, were now fiery in the
sunset. Joyous bands of gnats, like wild little intoxicated maenads,
circled and hummed about our heads as we drifted slowly on; while, far
away and mellowed by distance, we heard the brazen music of the fair.
We were both silent. Mueller pulled out a small sketch-book and made a
rapid study of the scene--the reach in the river; the wooded banks; the
green flats traversed by long lines of stunted pollards; the church-tops
and roofs of Courbevoie beyond.
Presently a soft voice, singing, broke upon the silence. Mueller stopped
involuntarily, pencil in hand. I held my breath, and listened. The tune
was flowing and sweet; and as our boat drifted on, the words of the
singer became audible.
"O miroir ondoyant!
Je reve en te voyant
Harmonie et lumiere,
O ma riviere,
O ma belle riviere!
"On voit se reflechir
Dans ses eaux les nuages;
Elle semble dormir
Entre les paturages
Ou paissent les grands boeufs
Et les grasses genisses.
Au patres amoureux
Que ses bords sont propices!"
"A woman's voice," said Mueller. "Dupont's words and music. She must be
young and pretty ... where has she hidden herself?"
The unseen singer, meanwhile, went on with another verse.
"Pres des iris du bord,
Sous une berge haute,
La carpe aux reflets d'or
Ou le barbeau ressaute,
Les goujons font le guet,
L'Ablette qui scintille
Fuit le dent du brochet;
Au fond rampe l'anguille!
"O miroir ondoyant!
Je reve en te voyant
Harmonic et lumiere,
O ma riviere,
O ma belle riviere!"
"Look!" said Mueller. "Do you not see them yonder--two women under the
trees? By Jupiter! it's _ma tante_ and _la petite_ Marie!"
Saying which, he flung himself upon his oars and began pulling
vigorously towards the shore.
THAT TERRIBLE MUeLLER.
La petite Marie broke off at the sound of our oars, and blushed a
"Will these ladies do us the honor of letting us row them back to
Courbevoie?" said Mueller, running our boat close in against the sedges,
and pulling off his hat as respectfully as if they were duchesses.
Mademoiselle Marie repeated the invitation to her aunt, who accepted it
"_Tres volontiers, tres volontiers, messieurs_" she said, smiling and
nodding. "We have rambled out so far--so far! And I am not as young as I
was forty years ago. _Ah, mon Dieu_! how my old bones ache! Give me thy
hand, Marie, and thank the gentlemen for their politeness."
So Mam'selle Marie helped her aunt to rise, and we steadied the boat
close under the bank, at a point where the interlacing roots of a couple
of sallows made a kind of natural step by means of which they could
easily get down.
"Oh, dear! dear! it will not turn over, will it, my dear young man?
_Ciel_! I am slipping ... Ah, _Dieu, merci_!--Marie, _mon cher enfant_,
pray be careful not to jump in, or you will upset us all!"
And _ma tante_, somewhat tremulous from the ordeal of embarking, settled
down in her place, while Mueller lifted Mam'selle Marie into the boat, as
if she had been a child. I then took the oars, leaving him to steer; and
so we pursued our way towards Courbevoie.
"Mam'selle has of course seen the fair?" said Mueller, from behind the
old lady's back.
"No! Is it possible?"
"There was so much crowd, monsieur, and such a noise ... we were quite
too much afraid to venture in."
"Would you be afraid, mam'selle, to venture with me?"
"I--I do not know, monsieur."
"Ah, mam'selle, you might be very sure that I would take good care of
"_Mais ... monsieur_"...
"These gentlemen, I see, have been angling," said the old lady,
addressing me very graciously. "Have you caught many fish?"
"None at all, madame!" I replied, loudly.
"_Tiens_! so many as that?"
"_Pardon_, madame," I shouted at the top of my voice. "We have caught
nothing--nothing at all."
_Ma tante_ smiled blandly.
"Ah, yes," she said; "and you will have them cooked presently for
dinner, _n'est-ce pas_? There is no fish so fresh, and so well-flavored,
as the fish of our own catching."
"Will madame and mam'selle do us the honor to taste our fish and share
our modest dinner?" said Mueller, leaning forward in his seat in the
stern, and delivering his invitation close into the old lady's ear.
To which _ma tante_, with a readiness of hearing for which no one would
have given her credit, replied:--
"But--but monsieur is very polite--if we should not be inconveniencing
"We shall be charmed, madame--we shall be honored!"
"_Eh bien!_ with pleasure, then--Marie, my child, thank the gentlemen
for their amiable invitation."
I was thunderstruck. I looked at Mueller to see if he had suddenly gone
out of his senses. Mam'selle Marie, however, was infinitely amused.
"_Fi donc!_ monsieur," she said. "You have no fish. I heard the other
gentleman say so."
"The other gentleman, mam'selle," replied Mueller, "is an Englishman, and
troubled with the spleen. You must not mind anything he says."
Troubled with the spleen! I believe myself to be as even-tempered and as
ready to fall in with a joke as most men; but I should have liked at
that moment to punch Franz Mueller's head. Gracious heavens! into what a
position he had now brought us! What was to be done? How were we to get
out of it? It was now just seven; and we had already been upon the water
for more than an hour. What should we have to pay for the boat? And when
we had paid for the boat, how much money should we have left to pay for
the dinner? Not for our own dinners--ah, no! For _ma tante's_ dinner
(and _ma tante_ had a hungry eye) and for _la petite_ Marie's dinner;
and _la petite_ Marie, plump, rosy, and well-liking, looked as if she
might have a capital appetite upon occasion! Should we have as much as
two and a half francs? I doubted it. And then, in the absence of a
miracle, what could we do with two and a half francs, if we had them? A
miserable sum!--convertible, perhaps, into as much bouilli, bread and
cheese, and thin country wine as might have satisfied our own hunger in
a prosaic and commonplace way; but for four persons, two of
And this was not the worst of it. I thought I knew Mueller well enough by
this time to feel that he would entirely dismiss this minor
consideration of ways and means; that he would order the dinner as
recklessly as if we had twenty francs apiece in our pockets; and that he
would not only order it, but eat it and preside at it with all the
gayety and audacity in life.
Then would come the horrible retribution of the bill!
I felt myself turn red and hot at the mere thought of it.
Then a dastardly idea insinuated itself into my mind. I had my
return-ticket in my waistcoat-pocket:--what if I slipped away presently
to the station and went back to Paris by the next train, leaving my
clever friend to improvise his way out of his own scrape as best
In the meanwhile, as I was rowing with the stream, we soon got back to
"_Are_ you mad?" I said, as, having landed the ladies, Mueller and I
delivered up the boat to its owner.
"Didn't I admit it, two or three hours ago?" he replied. "I wonder you
don't get tired, _mon cher_, of asking the same question so often."
"Four francs, fifty centimes, Messieurs," said the boatman, having made
fast his boat to the landing-place.
"Four francs, fifty centimes!" I echoed, in dismay.
Even Mueller looked aghast.
"My good fellow," he said, "do you take us for coiners?"
"Hire of boat, two francs the hour. These gentlemen have been out
nearly one hour and a half--three francs. Hire of bait and
fishing-tackle, one franc fifty. Total, four francs and a half," replied
the boatman, putting out a great brown palm.
Mueller, who was acting as cashier and paymaster, pulled out his purse,
deposited one solitary half-franc in the middle of that brown palm, and
suggested that the boatman and he should toss up for the remaining four
francs--or race for them--or play for them--or fight for them. The
boatman, however, indignantly rejected each successive proposal, and,
being paid at last, retired with a _decrescendo_ of oaths.
"_Tiens_!" said Mueller, reflectively. "We have but one franc left. One
franc, two sous, and a centime. _Vive la France!_"
"And you have actually asked that wretched old woman and her niece to
"And I have actually solicited that excellent and admirable woman,
Madame Marotte, relict of the late lamented Jacques Marotte, umbrella
maker, of number one hundred and two, Rue du Faubourg St. Denis, and her
beautiful and accomplished niece, Mademoiselle Marie Charpentier, to
honor us with their company this evening. _Dis-donc,_ what shall we give
them for dinner?"
"Precisely what you invited them to, I should guess--the fish we caught
"Agreed. And what else?"
"Say--a dish of invisible greens, and a phoenix _a la Marengo_."
"You are funny, _mon cher_."
"Then, for fear I should become too funny--good afternoon."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I have no mind to dine first, and be kicked out of doors
afterwards. It is one of those aids to digestion that I can willingly
"But if I guarantee that the dinner shall be paid for--money down!"
"Tra la la!"
"You don't believe me? Well, come and see."
With this, he went up to Madame Marotte, who, with her niece, had sat
down on a bench under a walnut-tree close by, waiting our pleasure.
"Would not these ladies prefer to rest here, while we seek for a
suitable restaurant and order the dinner?" said Mueller insinuatingly.
The old lady looked somewhat blank. She was not too tired to go
on--thought it a pity to bring us all the way back again--would do,
however, as "_ces messieurs_" pleased; and so was left sitting under the
walnut-tree, reluctant and disconsolate.
"_Tiens! mon enfant_" I heard her say as we turned away, "suppose they
don't come back again!"
We had promised to be gone not longer, than twenty minutes, or at most
half an hour. Mueller led the way straight to the _Toison d' Or_.
I took him by the arm as we neared the gate.
"Steady, steady, _mon gaillard_" I said. "We don't order our dinner, you
know, till we've found the money to pay for it."
"True--but suppose I go in here to look for it?"
"Into the restaurant garden?"
THE PETIT COURIER ILLUSTRE.
THE _Toison d' Or_ was but a modest little establishment as regarded the
house, but it was surrounded on three sides by a good-sized garden
overlooking the river. Here, in the trellised arbors which lined the
lawn on either side, those customers who preferred the open air could
take their dinners, coffees, and absinthes _al fresco_.
The scene when we arrived was at its gayest. There were dinners going on
in every arbor; waiters running distractedly to and fro with trays and
bottles; two women, one with a guitar, the other with a tamborine,
singing under a tree in the middle of the garden; while in the air there
reigned an exhilarating confusion of sounds and smells impossible
We went in. Mueller paused, looked round, captured a passing waiter, and
asked for Monsieur le proprietaire. The waiter pointed over his shoulder
towards the house, and breathlessly rushed on his way.
Mueller at once led the way into a salon on the ground-floor looking over
Here we found ourselves in a large low room containing some thirty or
forty tables, and fitted up after the universal restaurant pattern, with
cheap-looking glasses, rows of hooks, and spittoons in due number. The
air was heavy with the combined smells of many dinners, and noisy with
the clatter of many tongues. Behind the fruits, cigars, and liqueur
bottles that decorated the _comptoir_ sat a plump, black-eyed little
woman in a gorgeous cap and a red silk dress. This lady welcomed us with
a bewitching smile and a gracious inclination of the head.
"_Ces messieurs_," she said, "will find a vacant table yonder, by the
Mueller bowed majestically.
"Madame," he said, "I wish to see Monsieur le proprietaire."
The dame de comptoir looked very uneasy.
"If Monsieur has any complaint to make," she said, "he can make it to
"Madame, I have none."
"Or if it has reference to the ordering of a dinner...."
Mueller smiled loftily.
"Dinner, Madame," he said, with a disdainful gesture, "is but one of the
accidents common to humanity. A trifle! A trifle always
humiliating--sometimes inconvenient--occasionally impossible. No,
Madame, mine is a serious mission; a mission of the highest importance,
both socially and commercially. May I beg that you will have the
goodness to place my card in the hands of Monsieur le proprietaire, and
say that I request the honor of five minutes' interview."
The little woman's eyes had all this time been getting rounder and
blacker. She was evidently confounded by my friend's grandiloquence.
"_Ah! mon Dieu! M'sieur_," she said, nervously, "my husband is in the
kitchen. It is a busy day with us, you understand--but I will send
And she forthwith despatched a waiter for "Monsieur Choucru."
Mueller seized me by the arm.
"Heavens!" he exclaimed, in a very audible aside, "did you hear? She is
his wife! She is Madame Choucru?"
"Well, and what of that?"
"What of that, indeed? _Mais, mon ami_, how can you ask the question?
Have you no eyes? Look at her! Such a remarkably handsome woman--such a
_tournure_--such eyes--such a figure for an illustration! Only conceive
the effect of Madame Choucru--in medallion!"
"Oh, magnificent!" I replied. "Magnificent--in medallion."
But I could not, for the life of me, imagine what he was driving at.
"And it would make the fortune of the _Toison d'Or_" he added, solemnly.
To which I replied that it would undoubtedly do so.
Monsieur Choucru now came upon the scene; a short, rosy, round-faced
little man in a white flat cap and bibbed apron--like an elderly cherub
that had taken to cookery. He hung back upon the threshold, wiping his
forehead, and evidently unwilling to show himself in his shirt-sleeves.
"Here, _mon bon_," cried Madame, who was by this time crimson with
gratified vanity, and in a fever of curiosity; "this way--the gentleman
is waiting to speak to you!"
Monsieur, the cook and proprietor, shuffled his feet to and fro in the
doorway, but came no nearer.
"_Parbleu_!" he said, "if M'sieur's business is not urgent."
"It is extremely urgent, Monsieur Choucru," replied Mueller; "and,
moreover, it is not so much my business as it is yours,"
"Ah bah! if it is my business, then, it may stand over till to-morrow,"
replied the little man, impatiently. "To-day I have eighty dinners on
hand, and with M'sieur's permission"....
But Mueller strode to the door and caught him by the shoulder.
"No, Monsieur Choucru," he said sternly, "I will not let you ruin
yourself by putting off till to-morrow what can only be done to-day. I
have come here, Monsieur Choucru, to offer you fame. Fame and fortune,
Monsieur Choucru!--and I will not suffer you, for the sake of a few
miserable dinners, to turn your back upon the most brilliant moment of
"_Mais, M'sieur_--explain yourself" ... stammered the proprietaire.
"You know who I am, Monsieur Choucru?"
"No, M'sieur--not in the least."
"I am Mueller--Franz Mueller--landscape painter, portrait painter,
historical painter, caricaturist, artist _en chef_ to the _Petit Courier
"_Hein! M'sieur est peintre_!"
"Yes, Monsieur Choucru--and I offer you my protection."
Monsieur Choucru scratched his ear, and smiled doubtfully.
"Now listen, Monsieur Choucru--I am here to-day in the interests of the
_Petit Courier Illustre_. I take the Courbevoie fete for my subject. I
sketch the river, the village, the principal features of the-scene; and
on Saturday my designs are in the hands of all Paris. Do you
"I understand that M'sieur is all this time talking to me of his own
business, while mine, _la bas_, is standing still!" exclaimed the
proprietaire, in an agony of impatience. "I have the honor to wish
But Mueller seized him again, and would not let him escape.
"Not so fast, Monsieur Choucru," he said; "not so fast! Will you answer
me one question before you go?"
"_Eh, mon Dieu_! Monsieur."
"Will you tell me, Monsieur Choucru, what is to prevent me from giving
a view of the best restaurant in Courbevoie?"
Madame Choucru, from behind the _comptoir_, uttered a little scream.
"A design in the _Petit Courier Illustre_, I need scarcely tell you,"
pursued Mueller, with indescribable pomposity, "is in itself sufficient
to make the fortune not only of an establishment, but of a neighborhood.
I am about to make Courbevoie the fashion. The sun of Asnieres, of
Montmorency, of Enghien has set--the sun of Courbevoie is about to rise.
My sketches will produce an unheard-of effect. All Paris will throng to
your fetes next Sunday and Monday--all Paris, with its inexhaustible
appetite for _bifteck aux pommes frites_--all Paris with its
unquenchable thirst for absinthe and Bavarian beer! Now, Monsieur
Choucru, do you begin to understand me?"
"_Mais_, Monsieur, I--I think...."
"You think you do, Monsieur Choucru? Very good. Then will you please to
answer me one more question. What is to prevent me from conferring fame,
fortune, and other benefits too numerous to mention on your excellent
neighbor at the corner of the Place--Monsieur Coquille of the Restaurant
_Croix de Malte_?"
Monsieur Choucru scratched his ear again, stared helplessly at his wife,
and said nothing. Madame looked grave.
"Are we to treat this matter on the footing of a business transaction,
Monsieur!" she asked, somewhat sharply. "Because, if so, let Monsieur at
once name his price for me...."
"'PRICE,' Madame!" interrupted Mueller, with a start of horror. "Gracious
powers! this to me--to Franz Mueller of the _Petit Courier Illustre_!
'No, Madame--you mistake me--you wound me--you touch the honor of the
Fine Arts! Madame, I am incapable of selling my patronage."
Madame clasped her hands; raised her voice; rolled her black eyes; did
everything but burst into tears. She was shocked to have offended
Monsieur! She was profoundly desolated! She implored a thousand pardons!
And then, like a true French-woman of business, she brought back the
conversation to the one important point:--since money was not in
question, upon what consideration would Monsieur accord his preference
to the _Toison d' Or_ instead of to the _Croix de Malte_?
Mueller bowed, laid his hand upon his heart, and said:--
"I will do it, _pour les beaux yeux de Madame_."
And then, in graceful recognition of the little man's rights as owner of
the eyes in question, he bowed to Monsieur Choucru.
Madame was inexpressibly charmed. Monsieur smiled, fidgeted, and cast
longing glances towards the door.
"I have eighty dinners on hand," he began again, "and if M'sieur will
"One moment more, my dear Monsieur Choucru," said Mueller, slipping his
hand affectionately through the little man's arm. "For myself, as I have
already told you, I can accept nothing--but I am bound in honor not to
neglect the interests of the journal I represent. You will of course
wish to express your sense of the compliment paid to your house by
adding your name to the subscription list of the _Petit Courier
"Oh, by--by all means--with pleasure," faltered the proprietaire.
"For how many copies, Monsieur Choucru? Shall we say--six?"
Monsieur looked at Madame. Madame nodded. Mueller took out his
pocket-book, and waited, pencil in hand.
"Eh--_parbleu_!--let it be for six, then," said Monsieur Choucru,
Mueller made the entry, shut up the pocket-book, and shook hands
boisterously with his victim.
"My dear Monsieur Choucru," he said, "I cannot tell you how gratifying
this is to my feelings, or with what disinterested satisfaction I shall
make your establishment known to the Parisian public. You shall be
immortalized, my dear fellow--positively immortalized!"
"_Bien oblige, M'sieur--bien oblige_. Will you not let my wife offer you
a glass of liqueure?"
"Liqueure, _mon cher_!" exclaimed Mueller, with an outburst of frank
cordiality--"hang liqueure!--WE'LL DINE WITH YOU!"
"Monsieur shall be heartily welcome to the best dinner the _Toison d'Or_
can send up; and his friend also," said Madame, with her sweetest smile.
"And M'sieur Choucru shall make you one of his famous cheese souffles.
_Tiens, mon bon_, go down and prepare a cheese souffle for two."
Mueller smote his forehead distractedly.
"For two!" he cried. "Heavens! I had forgotten my aunt and my cousin!"
Madame looked up inquiringly.
"Monsieur has forgotten something?"
"Two somethings, Madame--two somebodies! My aunt--my excellent and
admirable maternal aunt,--and my cousin. We left them sitting under a
tree by the river-side, more than half an hour ago. But the fault,
Madame, is yours."
"Yes; for in your charming society I forget the ties of family and the
laws of politeness. But I hasten to fetch my forgotten relatives. With
what pleasure they will share your amiable hospitality! _Au revoir_,
Madame. In ten minutes we shall be with you again!"
Madame Choucru looked grave. She had not bargained to entertain a party
of four; yet she dared not disoblige the _Petit Courier Illustre_. She
had no time, however, to demur to the arrangement; for Mueller,
ingeniously taking her acquiescence for granted, darted out of the room
without waiting for an answer.
"Miserable man!" I exclaimed, as soon as we were outside the doors,
"what will you do now?"
"Do! Why, fetch my admirable maternal aunt and my interesting cousin, to
"But you have raised a dinner under false pretences!"
"I, _mon cher_? Not a bit of it."
"Have you, then, really anything to do with the _Petit Courier
"The Editor of the _Petit Courier Illustre_ is one of the best fellows
in the world, and occasionally (when my pockets represent that vacuum
which Nature very properly abhors) he advances me a couple of Napoleons.
I wipe out the score from time to time by furnishing a design for the
paper. Now to-day, you see, I'm in luck. I shall pay off two obligations
at once--to say nothing of Monsieur Choucru's six-fold subscription to
the P.C., on which the publishers will allow me a douceur of thirty
francs. Now, confess that I'm a man of genius!"
In less than a quarter of an hour we were all four established round one
of Madame Choucru's comfortable little dining-tables, in a snug recess
at the farthest end of the salon. Here, being well out of reach of our
hostess's black eyes, Mueller assumed all the airs of a liberal
entertainer. He hung up _ma cousine's_ bonnet; fetched a footstool for
_ma tante_; criticised the sauces; presided over the wine; cut jokes
with the waiter; and pretended to have ordered every dish beforehand.
The stewed kidneys with mushrooms were provided especially for Madame
Marotte; the fricandeau was selected in honor of Mam'selle Marie (had he
not an innate presentiment that she loved fricandeau?); and as for the
soles _au gratin_, he swore, in defiance of probability and all the laws
of nature, that they were the very fish we had just caught in the Seine.
By-and-by came Monsieur Choucru's famous cheese _souffle_; and then,
with a dish of fruit, four cups of coffee, and four glasses of liqueure,
the banquet came to an end.
As we sat at desert, Mueller pulled out his book and pencilled a rapid
but flattering sketch of the dining-room interior, developing a
perspective as long as the Rue de Rivoli, and a _mobilier_ at least
equal in splendor to that of the _Trois Freres_.
At sight of this _chef d'oeuvre_, Madame Choucru was moved almost to
tears. Ah, Heaven! if Monsieur could only figure to himself her
admiration for his _beau talent_! But alas! that was impossible--as
impossible as that Monsieur Choucru should ever repay this unheard-of
Mueller laid his hand upon his heart, and bowed profoundly.
"Ah! Madame," he said, "it is not to Monsieur Choucru that I look for
repayment--it is to you."
"To me, Monsieur? _Dieu merci! Monsieur se moque de moi_!"
And the Dame de Comptoir, intrenched behind her fruits and liqueure
bottles, shot a Parthian glance from under her black eye-lashes, and
made believe to blush.
"Yes, Madame, to you. I only ask permission to come again very soon, for
the purpose of executing a little portrait of Madame--a little portrait
which, alas! _must_ fail to render adequate justice to such a multitude
And with this choice compliment, Mueller bowed again, took his leave,
bestowed a whole franc upon the astonished waiter, and departed from the
_Toison d'Or_ in an atmosphere of glory.
The fair, or rather that part of the fair where the dancers and diners
most did congregate, was all ablaze with lights, and noisy with brass
bands as we came out. _Ma tante_, who was somewhat tired, and had been
dozing for the last half hour over her coffee and liqueure, was
impatient to get back to Paris. The fair Marie, who was not tired at
all, confessed that she should enjoy a waltz above everything. While
Mueller, who professed to be an animated time-table, swore that we were
just too late for the ten minutes past ten train, and that there would
be no other before eleven forty-five. So Madame Marotte was carried off,
_bon gre, mal gre_, to a dancing-booth, where gentlemen were admitted on
payment of forty centimes per head, and ladies went in free.
Here, despite the noise, the dust, the braying of an abominable band,
the overwhelming smell of lamp-oil, and the clatter, not only of heavy
walking-boots, but even of several pairs of sabots upon an uneven floor
of loosely-joined planks--_ma tante_, being disposed of in a safe
corner, went soundly to sleep.
It was a large booth, somewhat over-full; and the company consisted
mainly of Parisian blue blouses, little foot-soldiers, grisettes (for
there were grisettes in those days, and plenty of them), with a
sprinkling of farm-boys and dairy-maids from the villages round about.
We found this select society caracoling round the booth in a thundering
galop, on first going in. After the galop, the conductor announced a
_valse a deux temps_. The band struck up--one--two--three. Away went
some thirty couples--away went Mueller and the fair Marie--and away went
the chronicler of this modest biography with a pretty little girl in
green boots who waltzed remarkably well, and who deserted him in the
middle of the dance for a hideous little French soldier about four feet
and a half high.
After this rebuff (having learned, notwithstanding my friend's
representations to the contrary, that a train ran from Courbevoie to
Paris every half-hour up till midnight) I slipped away, leaving Mueller
and _ma cousine_ in the midst of a furious flirtation, and Madame
Marotte fast asleep in her corner.
The clocks were just striking twelve as I passed under the archway
leading to the Cite Bergere.
"_Tiens_!" said the fat concierge, as she gave me my key and my candle.
"Monsieur has perhaps been to the theatre this evening? No!--to the
country--to the fete at Courbevoie! Ah, then, I'll be sworn that M'sieur
has had plenty of fun!"
But had I had plenty of fun? That was the question. That Mueller had had
plenty of flirting and plenty of fun was a fact beyond the reach of
doubt. But a flirtation, after all, unless in a one-act comedy, is not
entertaining to the mere looker-on; and oh! must not those bridesmaids
who sometimes accompany a happy couple in their wedding-tour, have a
dreary time of it?
THE ECOLE DE NATATION.
It seemed to me that I had but just closed my eyes, when I was waked by
a hand upon my shoulder, and a voice calling me by my name. I started up
to find the early sunshine pouring in at the window, and Franz Mueller
standing by my bedside.
"_Tiens_!" said he. "How lovely are the slumbers of innocence! I was
hesitating, _mon cher_, whether to wake or sketch you."
I muttered something between a growl and a yawn, to the effect that I
should have been better satisfied if he had left me alone.
"You prefer everything that is basely self-indulgent, young man,"
replied Mueller, making a divan of my bed, and coolly lighting his pipe
under my very nose. "Contrary to all the laws of _bon-camaraderie_, you
stole away last night, leaving your unprotected friend in the hands of
the enemy. And for what?--for the sake of a few hours' ignominious
oblivion! Look at me--I have not been to bed all night, and I am as
lively as a lobster in a lobster-pot."
"How did you get home?" I asked, rubbing my eyes; "and when?"
"I have not got home at all yet," replied my visitor. "I have come to
breakfast with you first."
Just at this moment, the _pendule_ in the adjoining room struck six.
"To breakfast!" I repeated. "At this hour?--you who never breakfast
"True, _mon cher_; but then you see there are reasons. In the first
place, we danced a little too long, and missed the last train, so I was
obliged to bring the dear creatures back to Paris in a fiacre. In the
second place, the driver was drunk, and the horse was groggy, and the
fiacre was in the last stage of dilapidation. The powers below only know
how many hours we were on the road; for we all fell asleep, driver
included, and never woke till we found ourselves at the Barriere de
l'Etoile at the dawn of day."
"Then what have you done with Madame Marotte and Mademoiselle Marie?"
"Deposited them at their own door in the Rue du Faubourg St. Denis, as
was the bounden duty of a _preux chevalier_. But then, _mon cher_, I had
no money; and having no money, I couldn't pay for the fiacre; so I drove
on here--and here I am--and number One Thousand and Eleven is now at the
door, waiting to be paid."
"The deuce he is!"
"So you see, sad as it was to disturb the slumbers of innocence, I
couldn't possibly let you go on sleeping at the rate of two francs
"And what is the rate at which you have waked me?"
"Sixteen francs the fare, and something for the driver--say twenty in
"Then, my dear fellow, just open my desk and take one of the two
Napoleons you will see lying inside, and dismiss number One Thousand and
Eleven without loss of time; and then...."
"A thousand thanks! And then what?"
"Will you accept a word of sound advice?"
"Depends on whether it's pleasant to follow, _caro mio_"
"Go home; get three or four hours' rest; and meet me in the Palais Royal
about twelve for breakfast."
"In order that you may turn round and go to sleep again in comfort? No,
young man, I will do nothing of the kind. You shall get up, instead, and
we'll go down to Molino's."
"Yes--don't you know Molino's--the large swimming-school by the Pont
Neuf. It's a glorious morning for a plunge in the Seine."
A plunge in the Seine! Now, given a warm bed, a chilly autumn morning,
and a decided inclination to quote the words of the sluggard, and
"slumber again," could any proposition be more inopportune, savage, and
alarming? I shuddered; I protested; I resisted; but in vain.
"I shall be up again in less time than it will take you to tell your
beads, _mon gaillard_" said Mueller the ferocious, as, having captured my
Napoleon, he prepared to go down and liquidate with number One Thousand
and Eleven. "And it's of no use to bolt me out, because I shall hammer
away till you let me in, and that will wake your fellow-lodgers. So let
me find you up, and ready for the fray."
And then, execrating Mueller, and Molino, and Molino's bath, and Molino's
customers, and all Molino's ancestors from the period of the deluge
downwards, I reluctantly complied.
The air was brisk, the sky cloudless, the sun coldly bright; and the
city wore that strange, breathless, magical look so peculiar to Paris at
early morning. The shops were closed; the pavements deserted; the busy
thoroughfares silent as the avenues of Pere la Chaise. Yet how different
from the early stillness of London! London, before the world is up and
stirring, looks dead, and sullen, and melancholy; but Paris lies all
beautiful, and bright, and mysterious, with a look as of dawning smiles
upon her face; and we know that she will wake presently, like the
Sleeping Beauty, to sudden joyousness and activity.
Our road lay for a little way along the Boulevards, then down the Rue
Vivienne, and through the Palais Royal to the quays; but long ere we
came within sight of the river this magical calm had begun to break up.
The shop-boys in the Palais Royal were already taking down the
shutters--the great book-stall at the end of the Galerie Vitree showed
signs of wakefulness; and in the Place du Louvre there was already a
detachment of brisk little foot-soldiers at drill. By the time we had
reached the open line of the quays, the first omnibuses were on the
road; the water-carriers were driving their carts and blowing their
shrill little bugles; the washer-women, hard at work in their gay,
oriental-looking floating kiosques, were hammering away, mallet in hand,
and chattering like millions of magpies; and the early matin-bell was
ringing to prayers as we passed the doors of St. Germain L'Auxerrois.
And now we were skirting the Quai de l'Ecole, looking down upon the bath
known in those days as Molino's--a hugh, floating quadrangular
structure, surrounded by trellised arcades and rows of dressing-rooms,
with a divan, a cafe restaurant, and a permanent corps of cooks and
hair-dressers on the establishment. For your true Parisian has ever been
wedded to his Seine, as the Venetian to his Adriatic; and the Ecole de
Natation was then, as now, a lounge, a reading-room, an adjunct of the
clubs, and one of the great institutions of the capital.
Some bathers, earlier than ourselves, were already sauntering about the
galleries in every variety of undress, from the simple _calecon_ to the
gaudiest version of Turkish robe and Algerian _kepi_. Some were smoking;
some reading the morning papers; some chatting in little knots; but as
yet, with the exception of two or three school-boys (called, in the
_argot_ of the bath, _moutards_), there were no swimmers in the water.
With some of these loungers Mueller exchanged a nod or a few words as we
passed along the platform; but shook hands cordially with a bronzed,
stalwart man, dressed like a Venetian gondolier in the frontispiece to a
popular ballad, with white trousers, blue jacket, anchor buttons, red
sash, gold ear-rings, and great silver buckles in his shoes. Mueller
introduced this romantic-looking person to me as "Monsieur Barbet."
"My friend, Monsieur Barbet," said he, "is the prince of
swimming-masters. He is more at home in the water than on land, and
knows more about swimming than a fish. He will calculate you the
specific gravity of the heaviest German metaphysician at a glance, and
is capable of floating even the works of Monsieur Thiers, if put to
"Monsieur can swim?" said the master, addressing me, with a nautical
"I think so," I replied.
"Many gentlemen think so," said Monsieur Barbet, "till they find
themselves in the water."
"And many who wish to be thought accomplished swimmers never venture
into it on that account," added Mueller. "You would scarcely suppose," he
continued, turning to me, "that there are men here--regular _habitues_
of the bath--who never go into the water, and yet give themselves all
the airs of practised bathers. That tall man, for instance, with the
black beard and striped _peignoir_, yonder--there's a fellow who comes
once or twice a week all through the season, goes through the ceremony
of undressing, smokes, gossips, criticises, is looked up to as an
authority, and has never yet been seen off the platform. Then there's
that bald man in the white robe--his name's Giroflet--a retired
stockbroker. Well, that fellow robes himself like an ancient Roman, puts
himself in classical attitudes, affects taciturnity, models himself upon
Brutus, and all that sort of thing; but is as careful not to get his
feet wet as a cat. Others, again, come simply to feed. The restaurant is
one of the choicest in Paris, with this advantage over Vefour or the
Trois Freres, that it is the only place where you may eat and drink of
the best in hot weather, with nothing on but the briefest of _calecons_"
Thus chattering, Mueller took me the tour of the bath, which now began to
fill rapidly. We then took possession of two little dressing-rooms no
bigger than sentry-boxes, and were presently in the water.
The scene now became very animated. Hundreds of eccentric figures
crowded the galleries--some absurdly fat, some ludicrously thin; some
old, some young; some bow-legged, some knock-kneed; some short, some
tall; some brown, some yellow; some got up for effect in gorgeous
wrappers; and all more or less hideous.
"An amusing sight, isn't it?" said Mueller, as, having swum several times
round the bath, we sat down for a few moments on one of the flights of
steps leading down to the water.
"It is a sight to disgust one for ever with human-kind," I replied.
"And to fill one with the profoundest respect for one's tailor. After
all, it's broad-cloth makes the man."
"But these are not men--they are caricatures."
"Every man is a caricature of himself when you strip him," said Mueller,
epigrammatically. "Look at that scarecrow just opposite. He passes for
an Adonis, _de par le monde_."
I looked and recognised the Count de Rivarol, a tall young man, an
_elegant_ of the first water, a curled darling of society, a professed
lady-killer, whom I had met many a time in attendance on Madame de
Marignan. He now looked like a monkey:--
.... "long, and lank and brown,
As in the ribb'd sea sand!"
"Gracious heavens!" I exclaimed, "what would become of the world, if
clothes went out of fashion?"
"Humph!--one half of us, my dear fellow, would commit suicide."
At the upper end of the bath was a semicircular platform somewhat
loftier than the rest, called the Amphitheatre. This, I learned, was the
place of honor. Here clustered the _elite_ of the swimmers; here they
discussed the great principles of their art, and passed judgment on the
performances of those less skilful than themselves. To the right of the
Amphitheatre rose a slender spiral staircase, like an openwork pillar of
iron, with a tiny circular platform on the top, half surrounded by a
light iron rail. This conspicuous perch, like the pillar of St. Simeon
Stylites, was every now and then surmounted by the gaunt figure of some
ambitious plunger who, after attitudinizing awhile in the pose of
Napoleon on the column Vendome, would join his hands above his head and
take a tremendous "header" into the gulf below. When this feat was
successfully performed, the _elite_ in the Amphitheatre applauded
And now, what with swimming, and lounging, and looking on, some two
hours had slipped by, and we were both hungry and tired, Mueller proposed
that we should breakfast at the Cafe Procope.
"But why not here?" I asked, as a delicious breeze from the buffet came
wafting by "like a steam of rich distilled perfumes."
"Because a breakfast _chez_ Molino costs at least twenty-five francs
per head--BECAUSE I have credit at Procope--BECAUSE I have not a _sou_
in my pocket--and BECAUSE, milord Smithfield, I aspire to the honor of
entertaining your lordship on the present occasion!" replied Mueller,
punctuating each clause of his sentence with a bow.
If Mueller had not a _sou_, I, at all events, had now only one Napoleon;
so the Cafe Procope carried the day.
THE RUE DE L'ANCIENNE COMEDIE AND THE CAFE PROCOPE.
The Rue des Fosses-Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the Rue de
l'Ancienne Comedie are one and the same. As the Rue des
Fosses-Saint-Germain-des-Pres, it dates back to somewhere about the
reign of Philippe Auguste; and as the Rue de l'Ancienne Comedie it takes
its name and fame from the year 1689, when the old Theatre Francais was
opened on the 18th of April by the company known as Moliere's
troupe--Moliere being then dead, and Lully having succeeded him at the
Theatre du Palais Royal.
In the same year, 1689, one Francois Procope, a Sicilian, conceived the
happy idea of hiring a house just opposite the new theatre, and there
opening a public refreshment-room, which at once became famous, not only
for the excellence of its coffee (then newly introduced into France),
but also for being the favorite resort of all the wits, dramatists, and
beaux of that brilliant time. Here the latest epigrams were circulated,
the newest scandals discussed, the bitterest literary cabals set on
foot. Here Jean Jacques brooded over his chocolate; and Voltaire drank
his mixed with coffee; and Dorat wrote his love-letters to Mademoiselle
Saunier; and Marmontel wrote praises of Mademoiselle Clairon; and the
Marquis de Bievre made puns innumerable; and Duclos and Mercier wrote
satires, now almost forgotten; and Piron recited those verses which are
at once his shame and his fame; and the Chevalier de St. Georges gave
fencing lessons to his literary friends; and Lamothe, Freron,
D'Alembert, Diderot, Helvetius, and all that wonderful company of wits,
philosophers, encyclopaedists, and poets, that lit up as with a dying
glory the last decades of the old _regime_, met daily, nightly, to
write, to recite, to squabble, to lampoon, and some times to fight.
The year 1770 beheld, in the closing of the Theatre
Francais, the extinction of a great power in the Rue des
Fosses-Saint-Germain-des-Pres--for it was not, in fact, till the theatre
was no more a theatre that the street changed its name, and became the
Rue de L'Ancienne Comedie. A new house (to be on first opening invested
with the time-honored title of Theatre Francais, but afterwards to be
known as the Odeon) was now in progress of erection in the close
neighborhood of the Luxembourg. The actors, meanwhile, repaired to the
little theatre of the Tuilleries. At length, in 1782, the Rue de
L'Ancienne Comedie was one evening awakened from its two years' lethargy
by the echo of many footfalls, the glare of many flambeaux, and the
rattle of many wheels; for all Paris, all the wits and critics of the
Cafe Procope, all the fair shepherdesses and all the beaux seigneurs of
the court of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI., were hastening on foot, in
chairs, and in chariots, to the opening of the new house and the
performance of a new play! And what a play! Surely, not to consider it
too curiously, a play which struck, however sportively, the key-note of
the coming Revolution;--a play which, for the first time, displayed
society literally in a state of _bouleversement_;--a play in which the
greed of the courtier, the venality of the judge, the empty glitter of
the crown, were openly held up to scorn;--a play in which all the wit,
audacity, and success are on the side of the _canaille_;--a play in
which a lady's-maid is the heroine, and a valet canes his master, and a
great nobleman is tricked, outwitted, and covered with ridicule!
 1782 is the date given by M. Hippolyte Lucas. Sainte-Beuve places it
two years later.
This play, produced for the first time under the title of _La Folle
Journee_, was written by one Caron de Beaumarchais--a man of wit, a man
of letters, a man of the people, a man of nothing--and was destined to
achieve immortality under its later title of _Le Mariage de Figaro_.
A few years later, and the Rue de l'Ancienne Comedie echoed daily and
nightly to the dull rumble of Revolutionary tumbrils, and the heavy
tramp of Revolutionary mobs. Danton and Camille Desmoulins must have
passed through it habitually on their way to the Revolutionary Tribunal.
Charlotte Corday (and this is a matter of history) did pass through it
that bright July evening, 1793, on her way to a certain gloomy house
still to be seen in the adjoining Rue de l'Ecole de Medecine, where she
stabbed Marat in his bath.
But throughout every vicissitude of time and politics, though fashion
deserted the Rue de l'Ancienne Comedie, and actors migrated, and fresh
generations of wits and philosophers succeeded each other, the Cafe
Procope still held its ground and maintained its ancient reputation. The
theatre (closed in less than a century) became the studio first of Gros
and then of Gerard, and was finally occupied by a succession of
restaurateurs but the Cafe Procope remained the Cafe Procope, and is the
Cafe Procope to this day.
The old street and all belonging to it--especially and peculiarly the
Cafe Procope---was of the choicest Quartier Latin flavor in the time of
which I write; in the pleasant, careless, impecunious days of my youth.
A cheap and highly popular restaurateur named Pinson rented the old
theatre. A _costumier_ hung out wigs, and masks, and debardeur garments
next door to the restaurateur. Where the fatal tumbril used to labor
past, the frequent omnibus now rattled gayly by; and the pavements
trodden of old by Voltaire, and Beaumarchais, and Charlotte Corday, were
thronged by a merry tide of students and grisettes. Meanwhile the Cafe
Procope, though no longer the resort of great wits and famous
philosophers, received within its hospitable doors, and nourished with
its indifferent refreshments, many a now celebrated author, painter,
barrister, and statesman. It was the general rendezvous for students of
all kinds--poets of the Ecole de Droit, philosophers of the Ecole de
Medecine, critics of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. It must however be
admitted that the poetry and criticism of these future great men was
somewhat too liberally perfumed with tobacco, and that into their
systems of philosophy there entered a considerable element of grisette.
Such, at the time of my first introduction to it, was the famous Cafe
THE PHILOSOPHY OF BREAKFAST.
"Now this, _mon cher_," said Mueller, taking off his hat with a flourish
to the young lady at the _comptoir_, "is the immortal Cafe Procope."
I looked round, and found myself in a dingy, ordinary sort of Cafe, in
no wise differing from any other dingy, ordinary sort of Cafe in that
part of Paris. The decorations were ugly enough to be modern. The
ceiling was as black with gas-fumes and tobacco smoke as any other
ceiling in any other estaminet in the Quartier Latin. The waiters looked
as waiters always look before midday--sleepy, discontented, and
unwashed. A few young men of the regular student type were scattered
about here and there at various tables, reading, smoking, chatting,
breakfasting, and reading the morning papers. In an alcove at the upper
end of the second room (for there were two, one opening from the other)
stood a blackened, broken-nosed, plaster bust of Voltaire, upon the
summit of whose august wig some irreverent customer had perched a
particularly rakish-looking hat. Just in front of this alcove and below
the bust stood a marble-topped table, at one end of which two young men
were playing dominoes to the accompaniment of the matutinal absinthe.
"And this," said Mueller, with another flourish, "is the still more
immortal table of the still more supremely immortal Voltaire. Here he
was wont to rest his sublime elbows and sip his _demi-tasse_. Here, upon
this very table, he wrote that famous letter to Marie Antoinette that
Freron stole, and in revenge for which he wrote the comedy called
_l'Ecossaise_; but of this admirable satire you English, who only know
Voltaire in his Henriade and his history of Charles the Twelfth, have
probably never heard till this moment! _Eh bien_! I'm not much wiser
than you--so never mind. I'll be hanged if I've ever read a line of it.
Anyhow, here is the table, and at this other end of it we'll have our
It was a large, old-fashioned, Louis Quatorze piece of furniture, the
top of which, formed from a single slab of some kind of gray and yellow
marble, was stained all over with the coffee, wine, and ink-splashes of
many generations of customers. It looked as old--nay, older--than the
The young men who were playing at dominoes looked up and nodded, as
three or four others had done in the outer room when we passed through.
"_Bonjour, l'ami_," said the one who seemed to be winning. "Hast thou
chanced to see anything of Martial, coming along!"
"I observed a nose defiling round the corner of the Rue de Bussy,"
replied Mueller, "and it looked as if Martial might be somewhere in the
far distance, but I didn't wait to see. Are you expecting him?"
"Confound him--yes! We've been waiting more than half an hour."
"If you have invited him to breakfast," said Mueller, "he is sure to
"On the contrary, he has invited us to breakfast."
"Ah, that alters the case," said Mueller, philosophically. "Then he is
sure _not_ to come." "Garcon!"
A bullet-headed, short-jacketed, long-aproned waiter, who looked as if
he had not been to bed since his early youth, answered the summons,
"What have you that you can especially recommend this morning?"
The waiter, with that nasal volubility peculiar to his race, rapidly ran
over the whole vegetable and animal creation.
Mueller listened with polite incredulity.
"Nothing else?" said he, when the other stopped, apparently from want of
"_Mais oui, M'sieur_!" and, thus stimulated, the waiter, having
"exhausted worlds and then imagined new," launched forth into a second
and still more impossible catalogue.
Mueller turned to me.
"The resources of this establishment, you observe," he said, very
gravely, "are inexhaustible. One might have a Roc's egg a la Sindbad for
The waiter looked puzzled, shuffled his slippered feet, and murmured
something about "_oeufs sur le plat_."
"Unfortunately, however," continued Mueller, "we are but men--not
fortresses provisioning for a siege. Antoine, _mon enfant_, we know thee
to be a fellow of incontestible veracity, and thy list is magnificent;
but we will be content with a _vol-au-vent_ of fish, a _bifteck aux
pommes frites_, an _omelette sucree_, and a bottle of thy 1840 Bordeaux
with the yellow seal. Now vanish!"
The waiter, wearing an expression of intense relief, vanished
Meanwhile more students had come in, and more kept coming. Hats and caps
cropped up rapidly wherever there were pegs to hang them on, and the
talking became fast and furious.
I soon found that everybody knew everybody at the Cafe Procope, and that
the specialty of the establishment was dominoes--just as the specialty
of the Cafe de la Regence is chess. There were games going on before
long at almost every table, and groups of lookers-on gathered about
those who enjoyed the reputation of being skilful players.
Gradually breakfast after breakfast emerged from some mysterious nether
world known only to the waiters, and the war of dominoes languished.