As you perceive, Mlle. Pinson answered. I have inherited that sentence from my uncle, who served under the great Napoleon, and who always repeated it before he gave us an account of a battle. If you dont know the meaning of the words, Ill teach you free of charge. They mean, I give you my word of honor. Well, then, you are to know that one night last week I went with two of my friends, Blanchette and Rougette, to the Odéon theater
Cut ahead, but listen, Mlle. Pinson continued. As I was saying, I went with Blanchette and Rougette to the Odéon to see a tragedy. Rougette, as you know, has just lost her grandmother, and has inherited four hundred francs. We had taken a box, opposite to which, in the pit, sat three students. These young men liked our looks, and, on the pretext that we were alone and unprotected, invited us to supper.
With our cavaliers. The leader, of course, began by telling us that he had nothing, but such little obstacles did not disconcert us. We ordered everything we wanted. Rougette took pen and paper, and ordered a veritable marriage-feast: shrimps, an omelet with sugar, fritters, mussels, eggs with whipped creamin fact, all the delicacies imaginable. To tell the truth, our young gentlemen pulled wry faces
We didnt care. When everything was brought in we began to act the part of great ladies. We approved of nothing, but found everything disgusting. Hardly was any dish brought in but we sent it out again. Waiter, take this away; its intolerable; where did you get the horrible stuff? Our unknown gentlemen wanted to eat, but found it impossible. In a word, we supped as Sancho dined, and in our vigor nearly broke several dishes.
That is precisely the question that our three unknown gentlemen asked one another. To judge by what we overheard of their whispered conversation, one of them owned six francs, the second a good deal less, and the third had only his watch, which he generously pulled out of his pocket. So the three unfortunates went up to the cashier, intending to gain a delay of some sort. What answer do you suppose they received?
You are wrong, said Mlle. Pinson. Before going in Rougette had taken her precautions, and had paid for everything in advance. You can imagine the scene when Viot answered, Gentlemen, everything is paid. Our three unknown gentlemen looked at us as never three dogs looked at three bishops, with pitiful stupefaction mixed with pure tenderness. But we, without seeming to notice anything unusual, went down-stairs and ordered a cab. Dear Marquise, said Rougette to me, we ought to take these gentlemen home. Certainly, dear Countess, answered I. Our poor young gallants did not know what to say, they looked so sheepish. They wanted to get rid of our politeness, and asked not to be taken home, even refusing to give their address. No wonder, either, because they felt sure that they were having to do with great ladies, and they lived in Fish-Cat Street!
The two students, the friends of Marcel, who, up to this time, had done nothing but smoke their pipes and drink in silence, appeared little pleased with this story. Their faces grew red, and they seemed to know as much about this unfortunate supper as Mimi herself, at whom they glanced restlessly. Marcel, laughing, said:
You are right, said Eugène, and are acting even more wisely than you yourself are aware of. There is not a single young fellow at college who has not some such mistake or folly behind him, and yet it is from among these very people that France draws her most distinguished men.
Yes, said Marcel, thats true. There are peers of France who now dine at Flicoteaus, but who once could not pay their bills. But, he added, and winked, havent you seen your unknown gentlemen again?
Very well, said Marcel, dont be angry. But isnt this a nice state of affairs? Here are three giddy girls, who may not be able to pay their next days dinner, and who throw away their money for the sake of mystifying three poor unoffending devils!