Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Bohemian Evening Party
By Henri Murger (1822–1861)
From ‘The Humor of France,’ in ‘International Humor Series’

TOWARDS the end of December the messengers of Bidault’s agency were commissioned to distribute about a hundred copies of an invitation, of which the following is a faithful reproduction:—

  MM. Rodolphe and Marcel request the honor of your company on Saturday evening next, Christmas Eve.
  There will be fine fun.
  At 7 P.M., opening of the reception rooms; lively and animated conversation.
  At 8 P.M., entrance and walk through the rooms of the talented authors of the ‘Mountain in Labor,’ comedy refused at the Odéon Théâtre.
  At 8:30 P.M., M. Alexandre Schaunard, the celebrated virtuoso, will perform on the piano ‘The Influence of Blue in the Arts,’ descriptive symphony.
  At 9 P.M., first reading of the paper on ‘The Abolition of the Penalty in Tragedy.’
  At 9:30 P.M., M. Gustave Colline, hyperphysical philosopher, and Monsieur Schaunard, will hold a debate comparing dephilosophy and metapolitics. In order to avoid any collision between the antagonists, they will each be securely fastened.
  At 10 P.M., M. Tristan, man of letters, will relate his early amours. M. Alexandre Schaunard will accompany him on the piano.
  At 10:30 P.M., second reading of the paper on ‘The Abolition of the Penalty in Tragedy.’
  At 11 P.M., a foreign Prince will describe a Cassowary hunt.
  AT midnight, Monsieur Marcel, historical painter, blindfolded, will improvise in chalk the meeting of Napoleon and Voltaire in the Elysian Fields. Monsieur Rodolphe will improvise a comparison between the author of ‘Zaïre’ and the author of Austerlitz.
  At 12:30 P.M., M. Gustave, in a decent undress, will imitate the athletic games of the fourth Olympiad.
  At 1 A.M., third reading of the paper on ‘The Abolition of the Penalty in Tragedy,’ and collection for the tragic authors who will one day be out of work.
  At 2 A.M., beginning of the games and organization of the dances, which will be continued until morning.
  At 6 A.M., sunrise and final chorus.
  During the whole of the entertainment the ventilators will play.
  N. B.—Any person wishing to read or recite verses will be immediately turned out and delivered up to the police. You are requested not to take away the candle ends.
  Let me tell you briefly the origin of the entertainment that so vastly dazzled the Bohemian world of Paris. For about a year, Marcel and Rodolphe had gone on announcing this magnificent entertainment to take place always next Saturday. But untoward circumstances had forced them to let the promise extend over fifty-two weeks. In consequence, they could scarcely move a step without having to endure the jeers of their friends, some of whom were actually unfeeling enough to formulate loud complaints. The affair began to get tiresome; and the two friends determined to put an end to it by liquidating the engagements they had made. And the invitation quoted above was the outcome of that decision.  2
  “Now,” said Rodolphe, “there’s no possibility of retreat: we’ve burnt our ships, and we’ve just a week in which to find the hundred francs indispensable for doing the thing well.”  3
  “As they are so absolutely necessary,” said Marcel, “of course they’ll be forthcoming.”  4
  And with an insolent confidence in luck, the two friends went to sleep, convinced that the hundred francs were already on the road—the road of the impossible.  5
  However, two days before the evening appointed for the party, as nothing had arrived, Rodolphe thought that if he did not wish to be disgraced when the time came for the guests to arrive, it would probably be safer to assist luck. In order to facilitate matters, the two friends, by degrees, modified the sumptuous programme on which they had at first determined. And from modification to modification, after greatly curtailing the item cakes, and carefully revising and diminishing that of drinks, the total expense was reduced to fifteen francs. The problem was thus simplified but not solved.  6
  “Well,” said Rodolphe, “we must take strong measures: we can’t postpone it again this time.”  7
  “Impossible,” said Marcel.  8
  “How long is it since I heard the story of Studzianka?”  9
  “Almost two months.”  10
  “Two months? good! that’s a respectable interval. My uncle shall have no cause for complaint. To-morrow I’ll go and see him, and ask for the battle of Studzianka. That will mean five francs.”  11
  “And,” said Marcel, “I’ll sell old Medicis ‘A Deserted Manor’: that will be another five francs. If I’ve time to put in three towers and a mill, it will very likely be ten francs, and then we shall have just the sum required.”  12
  The two friends went to sleep, and dreamed that the Princess Belgioso asked them to change their reception days, in order not to deprive her of her habitual guests.  13
  Marcel got up very early, took a canvas, and diligently proceeded to construct ‘A Deserted Castle,’—an article in great demand by a broker in the Place du Carrousel. Rodolphe went to call on his uncle Monetti, who excelled in narrating the retreat from Moscow. Rodolphe, when things went badly with him, procured his uncle the satisfaction of fighting his campaigns over again some five or six times a year, in consideration for a loan. If you showed a proper enthusiasm for his stories, the veteran stove-maker and chimney-doctor was not unwilling to make it.  14
  About two o’clock, Marcel, with downcast look, carrying a canvas under his arm, met Rodolphe in the Place du Carrousel coming from his uncle’s; his appearance also betokened ill news.  15
  “Well,” asked Marcel, “what luck?”  16
  “None. My uncle had gone to the Versailles Museum. And you?”  17
  “That wretch of a Medicis doesn’t want any more ‘Ruined Castles.’ He asked for a ‘Bombardment of Tangiers.’”  18
  “Our reputation’s gone if we don’t give the entertainment,” grumbled Rodolphe. “What will my friend the influential critic think, if I make him put on a white tie and light gloves for nothing?”  19
  They returned to the studio, a prey to the liveliest anxiety. At that moment a neighbor’s clock struck four.  20
  “We’ve only three hours left,” said Rodolphe.  21
  “Well,” exclaimed Marcel, going up to his friend, “are you perfectly sure there’s no money to be found here?”  22
  “Neither here nor elsewhere. Where could we have left any?”  23
  “Let us search in the stuffing of the chairs. It is said that the émigrés hid their treasure in Robespierre’s time. Our armchair may have belonged to an émigré. It’s so hard that I’ve often thought it must be metal inside. Will you make an autopsy of it?”  24
  “This is a mere farce,” replied Rodolphe in a tone at once severe and indulgent.  25
  Suddenly Marcel, who had been prosecuting his search in every corner of the studio, gave a loud shout of triumph.  26
  “We are saved!” he exclaimed: “I felt sure there was something of value here. Look!” and he held up for Rodolphe’s inspection a coin the size of a crown, half smothered in rust and verdigris.  27
  It was a Carlovingian coin of some artistic value.  28
  “That’s only worth thirty sous,” said Rodolphe, throwing a contemptuous glance at his friend’s findings.  29
  “Thirty sous well laid out will go a long way,” said Marcel. “I’ll sell this Charlemagne crown to old Father Medicis. Isn’t there anything else here I could sell? Yes, suppose I take the Russian drum-major’s tibia. That will add to the collection.”  30
  “Away with the tibia. But it’s exceedingly annoying: there won’t be a single object of art left.”  31
  During Marcel’s absence, Rodolphe, feeling certain that his party would come off somehow, went in search of his friend Colline, who lived quite near.  32
  “I want you,” he said, “to do me a favor. As master of the house, I must wear a dress coat, and I haven’t got one. Lend me yours.”  33
  “But,” objected Colline, “as a guest I must wear my dress coat myself.”  34
  “I’ll allow you to come in a frock coat.”  35
  “You know I’ve never had a frock coat.”  36
  “Well, then, the matter can be arranged like this: You needn’t come to the party, and you can lend me your dress coat.”  37
  “But that’ll never do. I’m on the programme. I can’t stay away.”  38
  “There’ll be plenty of other things lacking,” said Rodolphe. “Lend me the dress coat; and if you want to come, come as you are, in your shirt-sleeves.”  39
  “Oh, no,” said Colline, getting red. “I’ll put on my greatcoat. But it’s all exceedingly annoying.” And perceiving that Rodolphe had already laid hold of the dress coat, he exclaimed:  40
  “Stay—there are one or two little things in the pockets.”  41
  Colline’s coat deserves mention. First, it was blue, and it was purely from habit that Colline talked about his black coat; and as he was the only member of the band who possessed such a garment, his friends were likewise accustomed to say when speaking of the philosopher, Colline’s black coat. Further, that celebrated article of apparel had a particular shape of its own, the most eccentric that can be imagined. The abnormally long tails fastened to a very short waist possessed two pockets, veritable abysses, in which Colline was accustomed to put about thirty books he everlastingly carried about him. Thus it was said that when the libraries were closed, scholars and literary men looked up their references in the tails of Colline’s coat, a library always open to readers….  42
  When Rodolphe returned he found Marcel playing quoits with five-franc pieces, to the number of three.  43
  He had sold the coin for fifteen francs.  44
  The two friends immediately began their preparations. They put the studio tidy, and lighted a fire in the stove. A canvas frame, ornamented with candles, was suspended from the ceiling, and did duty as a chandelier. A desk was placed in the middle of the studio, to serve as a tribune for the speakers. In front they put the one arm-chair, which was to be occupied by the influential critic; and laid out on a table the books, novels, feuilletons of the authors who were to honor the entertainment with their presence. To avoid any collision between the different parties of men of letters, they divided the studio into four compartments; at the entrance were four hastily manufactured placards inscribed—
  The ladies were to occupy a space reserved in the middle.  46
  “Oh!” said Rodolphe, “there are no chairs.”  47
  “There are plenty on the landing,” replied Marcel. “Suppose we take those.”  48
  “Of course,” said Rodolphe, and proceeded calmly to take possession of his neighbors’ property.  49
  Six o’clock struck. The two friends went out for a hasty dinner, and on their return proceeded to light up the rooms. They could not help feeling dazzled themselves. At seven o’clock Schaunard arrived, accompanied by three ladies, who had forgotten their diamonds and their bonnets. Numerous steps were heard on the staircase. The guests were arriving, and they seemed surprised to find a fire in the stove.  50
  Rodolphe’s dress-coat went to meet the ladies, and kissed their hands with a grace worthy of the Regency. When there were about twenty persons present, Schaunard asked if they couldn’t have something to drink.  51
  “Presently,” said Marcel: “we are waiting for the influential critic before we begin on the punch.”  52
  By eight o’clock all the guests had come, and they began the programme. Between each number came a round of some sort of drink; but what it exactly was, has never transpired.  53
  About ten o’clock the white waistcoat of the influential critic appeared. He only stayed an hour, and was very sparing of praise. At midnight, as it was very cold and there was no more fuel, the guests who were seated drew lots for throwing their chairs into the fire.  54
  At one o’clock everybody was standing.  55
  The greatest merriment held sway among the guests, and the memorable evening was the talk of the neighborhood for a week.  56

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