Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards.

In the Days of My Youth online

. (page 20 of 35)
Online LibraryAmelia Ann Blanford EdwardsIn the Days of My Youth → online text (page 20 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


replied Müller. "I brought you in here that you might sit at Voltaire's
table, and eat your steak under the shadow of Voltaire's bust; but this
salon is chiefly frequented by law-students - the other by medical and
art students. Your place, _mon chér_, as well as mine, is in the outer
sanctuary."

"That infernal Martial!" groaned one of the domino-players at the other
end of the table. "So ends the seventh game, and here we are still.
_Parbleu!_ Horace, hasn't that absinthe given you an inconvenient amount
of appetite?"

"Alas! my friend - don't mention it. And when the absinthe is paid for, I
haven't a sou."

"My own case precisely. What's to be done?"

"Done!" echoed Horace, pathetically. "Shade of Apicius! inspire
me...but, no - he's not listening."

"Hold! I have it. We'll make our wills in one another's favor, and die."

"I should prefer to die when the wind is due East, and the moon at the
full," said Horace, contemplatively.

"True - besides, there is still _la mère_ Gaudissart. Her cutlets are
tough, but her heart is tender. She would not surely refuse to add one
more breakfast to the score!"

Horace shook his head with an air of great despondency.

"There was but one Job," said he, "and he has been dead some time. The
patience of _la mère_ Gaudissart has long since been entirely
exhausted."

"I am not so sure of that. One might appeal to her feelings, you
know - have a presentiment of early death - wipe away a tear... Bah! it is
worth the effort, anyhow."

"It is a forlorn hope, my dear fellow, but, as you say, it is worth the
effort. _Allons donc!_ to the storming of _la mère_ Gaudissart!"

And with this they pushed aside the dominoes, took down their hats,
nodded to Müller, and went out.

"There go two of the brightest fellows and most improvident scamps in
the whole Quartier," said my companion. "They are both studying for the
bar; both under age; both younger sons of good families; and both
destined, if I am not much mistaken, to rise to eminence by-and-by.
Horace writes for _Figaro_ and the _Petit Journal pour Rire_ - Théophile
does _feuilleton_ work - romances, chit-chat, and political
squibs - rubbish, of course; but clever rubbish, and wonderful when one
considers what boys they both are, and what dissipated lives they lead.
The amount of impecuniosity those fellows get through in the course of a
term is something inconceivable. They have often only one decent suit
between them - and sometimes not that. To-day, you see, they are at their
wits' end for a breakfast. They have run their credit dry at Procope and
everywhere else, and are gone now to a miserable little den in the Rue
du Paon, kept by a fat good-natured old soul called _la mère_
Gaudissart. She will perhaps take compassion on their youth and
inexperience, and let them have six sous worth of horsebeef soup, stale
bread, and the day before yesterday's vegetables. Nay, don't look so
pitiful! We poor devils of the Student Quartier hug our Bohemian life,
and exalt it above every other. When we have money, we cannot find
windows enough out of which to fling it - when we have none, we start
upon _la chasse au diner_, and enjoy the pleasures of the chase. We
revel in the extremes of fasting and feasting, and scarcely know which
we prefer."

"I think your friends Horace and Théophile are tolerably clear as to
which _they_ prefer," I remarked, with a smile.

"Bah! they would die of _ennui_ if they had always enough to eat! Think
how it sharpens a man's wits if - given the time, the place, and the
appetite - he has every day to find the credit for his dinners! Show me a
mathematical problem to compare with it as a popular educator of youth!"

"But for young men of genius, like Horace and Théophile..."

"Make yourself quite easy, _mon cher_. A little privation will do them
no kind of harm. They belong to that class of whom it has been said that
'they would borrow money from Harpagon, and find truffles on the raft of
the Medusa.' But hold! we are at the end of our breakfast. What say you?
Shall we take our _demi-tasse_ in the next room, among our
fellow-students of physic and the fine arts?"



CHAPTER XXX.

A MAN WITH A HISTORY.

The society of the outer salon differed essentially from the society of
the inner salon at the Café Procope. It was noisier - it was
shabbier - it was smokier. The conversation in the inner salon was of a
general character on the whole, and, as one caught sentences of it here
and there, seemed for the most part to relate to the literature and news
of the day - to the last important paper in the Revue des Deux Mondes, to
the new drama at the Odéon, or to the article on foreign politics in the
_Journal des Débats_. But in the outer salon the talk was to the last
degree shoppy, and overflowed with the argot of the studios. Some few
medical students were clustered, it is true, in a corner near the door;
but they were so outnumbered by the artists at the upper end of the
room, that these latter seemed to hold complete possession, and behaved
more like the members of a recognised club than the casual customers of
a café. They talked from table to table. They called the waiters by
their Christian names. They swaggered up and down the middle of the room
with their hats on their heads, their hands in their pockets, and their
pipes in their mouths, as coolly as if it were the broad walk of the
Luxembourg gardens.

And the appearance of these gentlemen was not less remarkable than their
deportment. Their hair, their beards, their clothes, were of the wildest
devising. They seemed one and all to have started from a central idea,
that central idea being to look as unlike their fellow-men as possible;
and thence to have diverged into a variety that was nothing short of
infinite. Each man had evidently modelled himself upon his own ideal,
and no two ideals were alike. Some were picturesque, some were
grotesque; and some, it must be admitted, were rather dirty ideals, into
the realization of which no such paltry considerations as those of soap,
water, or brushes were permitted to enter.

Here, for instance, were Roundhead crops and flowing locks of Cavalier
redundancy - steeple-crowned hats, and Roman cloaks draped
bandit-fashion - moustachios frizzed and brushed up the wrong way in the
style of Louis XIV. - pointed beards and slouched hats, after the manner
of Vandyke - -patriarchal beards _à la Barbarossa_ - open collars, smooth
chins, and long undulating locks of the Raffaelle type - coats, blouses,
paletots of inconceivable cut, and all kinds of unusual colors - in a
word, every eccentricity of clothing, short of fancy costume, in which
it was practicable for men of the nineteenth century to walk abroad and
meet the light of day.

We had no sooner entered this salon, taken possession of a vacant table,
and called for coffee, than my companion was beset by a storm of
greetings.

"Holà! Müller, where hast thou been hiding these last few centuries,
_mon gaillard?_"

"_Tiens!_ Müller risen from the dead!"

"What news from _là bas,_ old fellow?"

To all which ingenious pleasantries my companion replied in
kind - introducing me at the same time to two or three of the nearest
speakers. One of these, a dark young man got up in the style of a
Byzantine Christ, with straight hair parted down the middle, a
bifurcated beard, and a bare throat, was called Eugène Droz.
Another - big, burly, warm-complexioned, with bright open blue eyes,
curling reddish beard and moustache, slouched hat, black velvet blouse,
immaculate linen, and an abundance of rings, chains, and ornaments - was
made up in excellent imitation of the well-known portrait of Rubens.
This gentleman's name, as I presently learned, was Caesar de Lepany.

When we came in, these two young men, Droz and De Lepany, were
discussing, in enthusiastic but somewhat unintelligible language, the
merits of a certain Monsieur Lemonnier, of whom, although till that
moment ignorant of his name and fame, I at once perceived that he must
be some celebrated _chef de cuisine_.

"He will never surpass that last thing of his," said the Byzantine
youth. "Heavens! How smooth it is! How buttery! How pulpy!"

"Ay - and yet with all that lusciousness of quality, he never wants
piquancy," added De Lepany.

"I think his greens are apt to be a little raw," interposed Müller,
taking part in the conversation.

"Raw!" echoed the first speaker, indignantly. "_Eh, mon Dieu!_ What can
you be thinking of! They are almost too hot!"

"But they were not so always, Eugène," said he of the Rubens make-up,
with an air of reluctant candor. "It must be admitted that Lemonnier's
greens used formerly to be a trifle - just a trifle - raw. Evidently
Monsieur Müller does not know how much he has taken to warming them up
of late. Even now, perhaps, his olives are a little cold."

"But then, how juicy his oranges are!" exclaimed young Byzantine.

"True - and when you remember that he never washes - !"

"Ah, _sacredie!_ yes - there is the marvel!"

And Monsieur Eugène Droz held up his hands and eyes with all the
reverent admiration of a true believer for a particularly dirty dervish.

"Who, in Heaven's name, is this unclean individual who used to like his
vegetables underdone, and never washes?" whispered I in Müller's ear.

"What - Lemonnier! You don't mean to say you never heard of Lemonnier?"

"Never, till now. Is he a cook?"

Müller gave me a dig in the ribs that took my breath away.

"_Goguenard!_" said he. "Lemonnier's an artist - the foremost man of the
water-color school. But I wouldn't be too funny if I were you. Suppose
you were to burst your jocular vein - there'd be a catastrophe!"

Meanwhile the conversation of Messieurs Droz and Lepany had taken a
fresh turn, and attracted a little circle of listeners, among whom I
observed an eccentric-looking young man with a club-foot, an enormously
long neck, and a head of short, stiff, dusty hair, like the bristles of
a blacking-brush.

"Queroulet!" said Lepany, with a contemptuous flourish of his pipe. "Who
spoke of Queroulet? Bah! - a miserable plodder, destitute of ideality - a
fellow who paints only what he sees, and sees only what is
commonplace - a dull, narrow-souled, unimaginative handicraftsman, to
whom a tree is just a tree; and a man, a man; and a straw, a straw, and
nothing more!"

"That's a very low-souled view to take of art, no doubt," croaked in a
grating treble voice the youth with the club-foot; "but if trees and men
and straws are not exactly trees and men and straws, and are not to be
represented as trees and men and straws, may I inquire what else they
are, and how they are to be pictorially treated?"

"They must be ideally treated, Monsieur Valentin," replied Lepany,
majestically.

"No doubt; but what will they be like when they are ideally treated?
Will they still, to the vulgar eye, be recognisable for trees and men
and straws?"

"I should scarcely have supposed that Monsieur Valentin would jest upon
such a subject as a canon of the art he professes," said Lepany,
becoming more and more dignified.

"I am not jesting," croaked Monsieur Valentin; "but when I hear men of
your school talk so much about the Ideal, I (as a realist) always want
to know what they themselves understand by the phrase."

"Are you asking me for my definition of the Ideal, Monsieur Valentin?"

"Well, if it's not giving you too much trouble - yes."

Lepany, who evidently relished every chance of showing off, fell into a
picturesque attitude and prepared to hold forth. Valentin winked at one
or two of his own clique, and lit a cigar.

"You ask me," began Lepany, "to define the Ideal - in other words, to
define the indefinite, which alas! whether from a metaphysical, a
philosophical, or an aesthetic point of view, is a task transcending
immeasurably my circumscribed powers of expression."

"Gracious heavens!" whispered Müller in my ear. "He must have been
reared from infancy on words of five syllables!"

"What shall I say?" pursued Lepany. "Shall I say that the Ideal is, as
it were, the Real distilled and sublimated in the alembic of the
imagination? Shall I say that the Ideal is an image projected by the
soul of genius upon the background of the universe? That it is that
dazzling, that unimaginable, that incommunicable goal towards which the
suns in their orbits, the stars in their courses, the spheres with all
their harmonies, have been chaotically tending since time began! Ideal,
say you? Call it ideal, soul, mind, matter, art, eternity,... what are
they all but words? What are words but the weak strivings of the
fettered soul that fain would soar to those empyrean heights where
Truth, and Art, and Beauty are one and indivisible? Shall I say
all this..."

"My dear fellow, you have said it already - you needn't say it again,"
interrupted Valentin.

"Ay; but having said it - having expressed myself, perchance with some
obscurity...."

"With the obscurity of Erebus!" said, very deliberately, a fat student
in a blouse.

"Monsieur!" exclaimed De Lepany, measuring the length and breadth of
the fat student with a glance of withering scorn.

The Byzantine was no less indignant.

"Don't heed them, _mon ami_!" he cried, enthusiastically. "Thy
definition is sublime-eloquent!"

"Nay," said Valentin, "we concede that Monsieur de Lepany is sublime; we
recognise with admiration that he is eloquent; but we submit that he is
wholly unintelligible."

And having delivered this parting shot, the club-footed realist slipped
his arm through the arm of the fat student, and went off to a distant
table and a game at dominoes.

Then followed an outburst of offended idealism. His own clique crowded
round Lepany as the champion of their school. They shook hands with him.
They embraced him. They fooled him to the top of his bent. Presently,
being not only as good-natured as he was conceited, but (rare phenomenon
in the Quartier Latin!) a rich fellow into the bargain, De Lepany called
for champagne and treated his admirers all around.

In the midst of the chatter and bustle which this incident occasioned, a
pale, earnest-looking man of about five-and-thirty, coming past our
table on his way out of the Café, touched Müller on the arm, bent down,
and said quietly: -

"Müller, will you do me a favor!"

"A hundred, Monsieur," replied my companion; half rising, and with an
air of unusual respect and alacrity.

"Thanks, one will be enough. Do you see that man yonder, sitting alone
in the corner, with his back to the light?"

"I do."

"Good - don't look at him again, for fear of attracting his attention. I
have been trying for the last half hour to get a sketch of his head, but
I think he suspected me. Anyhow he moved so often, and so hid his face
with his hands and the newspaper, that I was completely baffled. Now it
is a remarkable head - just the head I have been wanting for my Marshal
Romero - and if, with your rapid pencil and your skill in seizing
expression, you could manage this for me...."

"I will do my best," said Müller.

"A thousand thanks. I will go now; for when I am gone he will be off his
guard. You will find me in the den up to three o'clock. Adieu."

Saying which, the stranger passed on, and went out.

"That's Flandrin!" said Müller.

"Really?" I said. "Flandrin! And you know him?"

But in truth I only answered thus to cover my own ignorance; for I knew
little at that time of modern French art, and I had never even heard the
name of Flandrin before.

"Know him!" echoed Müller. "I should think so. Why, I worked in his
studio for nearly two years."

And then he explained to me that this great painter (great even then,
though as yet appreciated only in certain choice Parisian circles, and
not known out of France) was at work upon a grand historical subject
connected with the Spanish persecutions in the Netherlands - the
execution of Egmont and Horn, in short, in the great square before the
Hôtel de Ville in Brussels.

"But the main point now," said Müller, "is to get the sketch - and how?
Confound the fellow! while he keeps his back to the light and his head
down like that, the thing is impossible. Anyhow I can't do it without an
accomplice. You must help me."

"I! What can I do?"

"Go and sit near him - speak to him - make him look up - keep him, if
possible, for a few minutes in conversation - nothing easier."

"Nothing easier, perhaps, if I were you; but, being only myself, few
things more difficult!"

"Nevertheless, my dear boy, you must try, and at once. Hey
- presto! - away!"

Placed where we were, the stranger was not likely to have observed us;
for we had come into the room from behind the corner in which he was
sitting, and had taken our places at a table which he could not have
seen without shifting his own position. So, thus peremptorily
commanded, I rose; slipped quietly back into the inner salon, made a
pretext of looking at the clock over the door; and came out again, as if
alone and looking for a vacant seat.

The table at which he had placed himself was very small - only just big
enough to stand in a corner and hold a plate and a coffee-cup; but it
was supposed to be large enough for two, and there were evidently two
chairs belonging to it. On one of these, being alone, the stranger had
placed his overcoat and a small black bag. I at once saw and seized my
opportunity.

"Pardon, Monsieur," I said, very civilly, "will you permit me to hang
these things up?"

He looked up, frowned, and said abruptly: -

"Why, Monsieur?"

"That I may occupy this chair."

He glanced round; saw that there was really no other vacant; swept off
the bag and coat with his own hands; hung them on a peg overhead;
dropped back into his former attitude, and went on reading.

"I regret to have given you the trouble, Monsieur," I said, hoping to
pave the way to a conversation.

But a little quick, impatient movement of the hand was his only reply.
He did not even raise his head. He did not even lift his eyes from
the paper.

I called for a demi-tasse and a cigar; then took out a note-book and
pencil, assumed an air of profound abstraction, and affected to become
absorbed in calculations.

In the meanwhile, I could not resist furtively observing the appearance
of this man whom a great artist had selected as his model for one of the
darkest characters of mediæval history.

He was rather below than above the middle height; spare and sinewy;
square in the shoulders and deep in the chest; with close-clipped hair
and beard; grizzled moustache; high cheek-bones; stern impassive
features, sharply cut; and deep-set restless eyes, quick and glancing as
the eyes of a monkey. His face, throat, and hands were sunburnt to a
deep copper-color, as if cast in bronze. His age might have been from
forty-five to fifty. He wore a thread-bare frock-coat buttoned to the
chin; a stiff black stock revealing no glimpse of shirt-collar; a
well-worn hat pulled low over his eyes; and trousers of dark blue cloth,
worn very white and shiny at the knees, and strapped tightly down over a
pair of much-mended boots.

The more I looked at him, the less I was surprised that Flandrin should
have been struck by his appearance. There was an air of stern poverty
and iron resolution about the man that arrested one's attention at first
sight. The words "_ancien militaire"_ were written in every furrow of
his face; in every seam and on every button of his shabby clothing. That
he had seen service, missed promotion, suffered unmerited neglect (or,
it might be, merited disgrace), seemed also not unlikely.

Watching him as he sat, half turned away, half hidden by the newspaper
he was reading, one elbow resting on the table, one brown, sinewy hand
supporting his chin and partly concealing his mouth, I told myself that
here, at all events, was a man with a history - perhaps with a very dark
history. What were the secrets of his past? What had he done? What had
he endured? I would give much to know.

My coffee and cigar being brought, I asked for the _Figaro_, and holding
the paper somewhat between the stranger and myself, watched him with
increasing interest.

I now began to suspect that he was less interested in his own newspaper
than he appeared to be, and that his profound abstraction, like my own,
was assumed. An indefinable something in the turn of his head seemed to
tell me that his attention was divided between whatever might be going
forward in the room and what he was reading. I cannot describe what that
something was; but it gave me the impression that he was always
listening. When the outer door opened or shut, he stirred uneasily, and
once or twice looked sharply round to see what new-comer entered the
café. Was he anxiously expecting some one who did not come? Or was he
dreading the appearance of some one whom he wished to avoid? Might he
not be a political refugee? Might he not be a spy?

"There is nothing of interest in the papers to-day, Monsieur," said,
making another effort to force him into conversation.

He affected not to hear me.

I drew my chair a little nearer, and repeated the observation.

He frowned impatiently, and without looking up, replied: -

"_Eh, mon Dieu_, Monsieur! - when there is a dearth of news!"

"There need not, even so, be a dearth of wit. _Figaro_ is as heavy
to-day as a government leader in the _Moniteur_."

He shrugged his shoulders and moved slightly round, apparently to get a
better light upon what he was reading, but in reality to turn still more
away from me. The gesture of avoidance was so marked, that with the best
will in the world, it would have been impossible for me to address him
again. I therefore relapsed into silence.

Presently I saw a sudden change flash over him.

Now, in turning away from myself, he had faced round towards a narrow
looking-glass panel which reflected part of the opposite side of the
room; and chancing, I suppose, to lift his eyes from the paper, he had
seen something that arrested his attention. His head was still bent; but
I could see that his eyes were riveted upon the mirror. There was
alertness in the tightening of his hand before his mouth - in the
suspension of his breathing.

Then he rose abruptly, brushed past me as if I were not there, and
crossed to where Müller, sketch-book in hand, was in the very act of
taking his portrait.

I jumped up, almost involuntarily, and followed him. Müller, with an
unsuccessful effort to conceal his confusion, thrust the book into
his pocket.

"Monsieur," said the stranger, in a low, resolute voice, "I protest
against what you have been doing. You have no right to take my likeness
without my permission."

"Pardon, Monsieur, I - I beg to assure you - " stammered Müller.

"That you intended no offence? I am willing to suppose so. Give me up
the sketch, and I am content."

"Give up the sketch!" echoed Müller.

"Precisely, Monsieur."

"Nay - but if, as an artist, I have observed that which leads me to
desire a - a memorandum - let us say of the pose and contour of a certain
head," replied Müller, recovering his self-possession, "it is not likely
that I shall be disposed to part from my memorandum."

"How, Monsieur! you refuse?"

"I am infinitely sorry, but - "

"But you refuse?"

"I certainly cannot comply with Monsieur's request."

The stranger, for all his bronzing, grew pale with rage.

"Do not compel me, Monsieur, to say what I must think of your conduct,
if you persist in this determination," he said fiercely.

Müller smiled, but made no reply.

"You absolutely refuse to yield up the sketch?"

"Absolutely."

"Then, Monsieur, _c'est une infamie_ - _et vous êtes un lâche_!"

But the last word had scarcely hissed past his lips before Müller dashed
his coffee dregs full in the stranger's face.

In one second, the table was upset - blows were exchanged - Müller, pinned
against the wall with his adversary's hands upon his throat, was
striking out with the desperation of a man whose strength is
overmatched - and the whole room was in a tumult.

In vain I attempted to fling myself between them. In vain the waiters
rushed to and fro, imploring "ces Messieurs" to interpose. In vain a
stout man pushed his way through the bystanders, exclaiming angrily: -

"Desist, Messieurs! Desist, in the name of the law! I am the proprietor
of this establishment - I forbid this brawling - I will have you both
arrested! Messieurs, do you hear?"

Suddenly the flush of rage faded out of Müller's face. He gasped - became
livid. Lepany, Droz, myself, and one or two others, flew at the stranger



Online LibraryAmelia Ann Blanford EdwardsIn the Days of My Youth → online text (page 20 of 35)