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   Chapter 11 SUCCESS

A Romance of Youth -- Complete By Francois Coppee Characters: 27355

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Success, which usually is as fickle as justice, took long strides and doubled its stations in order to reach Amedee. The Cafe de Seville, and the coterie of long-haired writers, were busying themselves with the rising poet already. His suite of sonnets, published in La Guepe, pleased some of the journalists, who reproduced them in portions in well-distributed journals. Ten days after Amedee's meeting with Jocquelet, the latter recited his poem "Before Sebastopol" at a magnificent entertainment given at the Gaite for the benefit of an illustrious actor who had become blind and reduced to poverty.

This "dramatic solemnity," to use the language of the advertisement, began by being terribly tiresome. There was an audience present who were accustomed to grand Parisian soirees, a blase and satiated public, who, upon this warm evening in the suffocating theatre, were more fatigued and satiated than ever. The sleepy journalists collapsed in their chairs, and in the back part of the stage-boxes, ladies' faces, almost green under paint, showed the excessive lassitude of a long winter of pleasure. The Parisians had all come there from custom, without having the slightest desire to do so, just as they always came, like galley-slaves condemned to "first nights." They were so lifeless that they did not even feel the slightest horror at seeing one another grow old. This chloroformed audience was afflicted with a long and too heavy programme, as is the custom in performances of this kind. They played fragments of the best known pieces, and sang songs from operas long since fallen into disuse even on street organs. This public saw the same comedians march out; the most famous are the most monotonous; the comical ones abused their privileges; the lover spoke distractedly through his nose; the great coquette-the actress par excellence, the last of the Celimenes-discharged her part in such a sluggish way that when she began an adverb ending in "ment," one would have almost had time to go out and smoke a cigarette or drink a glass of beer before she reached the end of the said adverb.

But at the most lethargic moment of this drowsy soirees, after the comedians from the Francais had played in a stately manner one act from a tragedy, Jocquelet appeared. Jocquelet, still a pupil at the Conservatoire, showed himself to the public for the first time and by an exceptional grace-Jocquelet, absolutely unknown, too short in his evening clothes, in spite of the two packs of cards that he had put in his boots. He appeared, full of audacity, riding his high horse, raising his flat-nosed, bull-dog face toward the "gallery gods," and, in his voice capable of making Jericho's wall fall or raising Jehoshaphat's dead, he dashed off in one effort, but with intelligence and heroic feeling, his comrade's poem.

The effect was prodigious. This bold, common, but powerful actor, and these picturesque and modern verses were something entirely new to this public satiated with old trash. What a happy surprise! Two novelties at once! To think of discovering an unheard-of poet and an unknown comedian! To nibble at these two green fruits! Everybody shook off his torpor; the anaesthetized journalists aroused themselves; the colorless and sleepy ladies plucked up a little animation; and when Jocquelet had made the last rhyme resound like a grand flourish of trumpets, all applauded enough to split their gloves.

In one of the theatre lobbies, behind a bill-board pasted over with old placards, Amedee Violette heard with delight the sound of the applause which seemed like a shower of hailstones. He dared not think of it! Was it really his poem that produced so much excitement, which had thawed this cold public? Soon he did not doubt it, for Jocquelet, who had just been recalled three times, threw himself into the poet's arms and glued his perspiring, painted face to his.

"Well, my little one, I have done it!" he exclaimed, bursting with gratification and vanity. "You heard how I caught them!"

Immediately twenty, thirty, a hundred spectators appeared, most of them very correct in white cravats, but all eager and with beaming countenances, asking to see the author and the interpreter, and to be presented to them, that they might congratulate them with an enthusiastic word and a shake of the hand. Yes! it was a success, an instantaneous one. It was certainly that rare tropical flower of the Parisian greenhouse which blossoms out so seldom, but so magnificently.

One large, very common-looking man, wearing superb diamond shirt-buttons, came in his turn to shake Amedee's hand, and in a hoarse, husky voice which would have been excellent to propose tickets "cheaper than at the office!" he asked for the manuscript of the poem that had just been recited.

"It is so that I may put you upon the first page of my tomorrow's edition, young man, and I publish eighty thousand. Victor Gaillard, editor of 'Le Tapage'. Does that please you?"

He took the manuscript without listening to the thanks of the poet, who trembled with joy at the thought that his work had caught the fancy of this Barnum of the press, the foremost advertiser in France and Europe, and that his verses would meet the eyes of two hundred thousand readers.

Yes, it was certainly a success, and he experienced the first bitterness of it as soon as he arrived the next morning at the Cafe de Seville, where he now went every two or three days at the hour for absinthe. His verses had appeared in that morning's Tapage, printed in large type and headed by a few lines of praise written by Victor Gaillard, a la Barnum. As soon as Amedee entered the cafe he saw that he was the object of general attention, and the lyric gentlemen greeted him with acclamations and bravos; but at certain expressions of countenance, constrained looks, and bitter smiles, the impressionable young man felt with a sudden sadness that they already envied him.

"I warned you of it," said Paul Sillery to him, as he led him into a corner of the cafe. "Our good friends are not pleased, and that is very natural. The greater part of these rhymers are 'cheap jewellers,' and they are jealous of a master workman. Above all things, pretend not to notice it; they will never forgive you for guessing their bad sentiments. And then you must be indulgent to them. You have your beautiful lieutenant's epaulettes, Violette, do not be too hard upon these poor privates. They also are fighting under the poetic flag, and ours is a poverty-stricken regiment. Now you must profit by your good luck. Here you are, celebrated in forty-eight hours. Do you see, even the political people look at you with curiosity, although a poet in the estimation of these austere persons is an inferior and useless being. It is all they will do to accept Victor Hugo, and only on account of his 'Chatiments.' You are the lion of the day. Lose no time. I met just now upon the boulevard Massif, the publisher. He had read 'Le Tapage' and expects you. Carry him all your poems to-morrow; there will be enough to make a volume. Massif will publish it at his own expense, and you will appear before the public in one month. You never will inveigle a second time that big booby of a Gaillard, who took a mere passing fancy for you. But no matter! I know your book, and it will be a success. You are launched. Forward, march! Truly, I am better than I thought, for your success gives me pleasure."

This amiable comrade's words easily dissipated the painful feelings that Amedee had just experienced. However, it was one of those exalted moments when one will not admit that evil exists. He spent some time with the poets, forcing himself to be more gracious and friendly than ever, and left them persuaded-the unsuspecting child!-that he had disarmed them by his modesty; and very impatient to share his joy with his friends, the Gerards, he quickly walked the length of Montmartre and reached them just at their dinner hour.

They did not expect him, and only had for their dinner the remains of the boiled beef of the night before, with some cucumbers. Amedee carried his cake, as usual, and, what was better still, two sauces that always make the poorest meal palatable-hope and happiness.

They had already read the journals and knew that the poem had been applauded at the Gaite, and that it had at once been printed on the first page of the journal; and they were all so pleased, so glad, that they kissed Amedee on both cheeks. Mamma Gerard remembered that she had a few bottles-five or six-of old chambertin in the cellar, and you could not have prevented the excellent woman from taking her key and taper at once, and going for those old bottles covered with cobwebs and dust, that they might drink to the health of the triumphant one. As to Louise, she was radiant, for in several houses where she gave lessons she had heard them talk of the fine and admirable verses published in Le Tapage, and she was very proud to think that the author was a friend of hers. What completed Amedee's pleasure was that for the first time Maria seemed to be interested in his poem, and said several times to him, with such a pretty, vain little air:

"Do you know, your battle is very nice. Amedee, you are going to become a great poet, a celebrated man! What a superb future you have before you!"

Ah! what exquisitely sweet hopes he carried away that evening to his room in the Faubourg St.-Jacques! They gave him beautiful dreams, and pervaded his thoughts the next morning when the concierge brought him two letters.

Still more happiness! The first letter contained two notes of a hundred francs each, with Victor Gaillard's card, who congratulated Amedee anew and asked him to write something for his journal in the way of prose; a story, or anything he liked. The young poet gave a cry of joyful surprise when he recognized the handwriting of Maurice Roger upon the other envelope.

"I have just returned to Paris, my dear Amedee," wrote the traveller, "and your success was my first greeting. I must embrace you quickly and tell you how happy I am. Come to see me at four o'clock in my den in the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. We will dine and pass the evening together."

Ah! how the poet loved life that morning, how good and sweet it seemed to him! Clothed in his best, he gayly descended the Rue St.-Jacques, where boxes of asparagus and strawberries perfumed the fruit-stalls, and went to the Boulevard St. Michel, where he purchased an elegant gray felt hat and a new cravat. Then he went to the Cafe Voltaire, where he lunched. He changed his second hundred-franc bill, so that he might feel, with the pleasure of a child, the beautiful louis d'or which he owed to his work and its success. At the office the head clerk-a good fellow, who sang well at dinners-complimented Amedee upon his poem. The young man had only made his appearance to ask for leave that afternoon, so as to take his manuscript to the publisher.

Once more in the street in the bright May sun, after the fashion of nabobs, he took an open carriage and was carried to Massif, in the Passage des Princes. The editor of the Jeunes was seated in his office, which was decorated with etchings and beautiful bindings. He is well known by his magnificent black beard and his large bald head, upon which a wicked jester once advised him to paste his advertisements; he publishes the works of audacious authors and sensational books, and had the honor of sharing with Charles Bazile, the poet, an imprisonment at St.-Pelagie. He received this thin-faced rhymer coldly. Amedee introduced himself, and at once there was a broad smile, a handshake, and a connoisseur's greedy sniffling. Then Massif opened the manuscript.

"Let us see! Ah, yes, with margins and false titles we can make out two hundred and fifty pages."

The business was settled quickly. A sheet of stamped paper-an agreement! Massif will pay all the expenses of the first edition of one thousand, and if there is another edition-and of course there will be!-he will give him ten cents a copy. Amedee signs without reading. All that he asks is that the volume should be published without delay.

"Rest easy, my dear poet! You will receive the first proofs in three days, and in one month it will appear."

Was it possible? Was Amedee not dreaming? He, poor Violette's son, the little office clerk-his book would be published, and in a month! Readers and unknown friends will be moved by his agitation, will suffer in his suspense; young people will love him and find an echo of their sentiments in his verses; women will dreamily repeat-with one finger in his book-some favorite verse that touches their hearts! Ah! he must have a confidant in his joy, he must tell some true friend.

"Driver, take me to the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince."

He mounted, four steps at a time, the stairs leading to Maurice's room. The key is in the door. He enters and finds the traveller there, standing in the midst of the disorder of open trunks.



What an embrace! How long they stood hand in hand, looking at each other with happy smiles!

Maurice is more attractive and gracious than ever. His beauty is more manly, and his golden moustache glistens against his sun-browned skin. What a fine fellow! How he rejoiced at his friend's first success!

"I am certain that your book will turn everybody's head. I always told you that you were a genuine poet. We shall see!"

As to himself, he was happy too. His mother had let him off from studying law and allowed him to follow his vocation. He was going to have a studio and paint. It had al

l been decided in Italy, where Madame Roger had witnessed her son's enthusiasm over the great masters. Ah, Italy! Italy! and he began to tell of his trip, show knickknacks and souvenirs of all kinds that littered the room. He turned in his hands, that he might show all its outlines, a little terra-cotta reduction of the Antinous in the Museum of Naples. He opened a box, full to bursting, of large photographs, and passed them to his friend with exclamations of retrospective admiration.

"Look! the Coliseum! the ruins of Paestum-and this antique from the Vatican! Is it not beautiful?"

While looking at the pictures he recalled the things that he had seen and the impressions he had experienced. There was a band of collegians in little capes and short trousers taking their walk; they wore buckled shoes, like the abbes of olden times, and nothing could be more droll than to see these childish priests play leapfrog. There, upon the Riva dei Schiavoni, he had followed a Venetian. "Shabbily dressed, and fancy, my friend, bare-headed, in a yellow shawl with ragged green fringe! No, I do not know whether she was pretty, but she possessed in her person all the attractions of Giorgione's goddesses and Titian's courtesans combined!"

Maurice is still the same wicked fellow. But, bah! it suits him; he even boasts of it with such a joyous ardor and such a youthful dash, that it is only one charm the more in him. The clock struck seven, and they went to dine. They started off through the Latin Quarter. Maurice gave his arm to Amedee and told him of his adventures on the other side of the Alps. Maurice, once started on this subject, could not stop, and while the dinner was being served the traveller continued to describe his escapades. This kind of conversation was dangerous for Amedee; for it must not be forgotten that for some time the young poet's innocence had weighed upon him, and this evening he had some pieces of gold in his pocket that rang a chime of pleasure. While Maurice, with his elbow upon the table, told him his tales of love, Amedee gazed out upon the sidewalk at the women who passed by in fresh toilettes, in the gaslight which illuminated the green foliage, giving a little nod of the head to those whom they knew. There was voluptuousness in the very air, and it was Amedee who arose from the table and recalled to Maurice that it was Thursday, and that there was a fete that night at Bullier's; and he also was the one to add, with a deliberate air:

"Shall we take a turn there?"

"Willingly," replied his gay friend. "Ah, ha! we are then beginning to enjoy ourselves a little, Monsieur Violette! Go to Bullier's? so be it. I am not sorry to assure myself whether or not I still love the Parisians."

They started off, smoking their cigarettes. Upon the highway, going in the same direction as themselves, were victorias carrying women in spring costumes and wearing bonnets decked with flowers. From time to time the friends were elbowed by students shouting popular refrains and walking in Indian-file.

Here is Bullier's! They step into the blazing entrance, and go thence to the stairway which leads to the celebrated public ballroom. They are stifled by the odor of dust, escaping gas, and human flesh. Alas! there are in every village in France doctors in hansom cabs, country lawyers, and any quantity of justices of the peace, who, I can assure you, regret this stench as they take the fresh air in the open country under the starry heavens, breathing the exquisite perfume of new-mown hay; for it is mingled with the little poetry that they have had in their lives, with their student's love-affairs, and their youth.

All the same, this Bullier's is a low place, a caricature of the Alhambra in pasteboard. Three or four thousand moving heads in a cloud of tobacco-smoke, and an exasperating orchestra playing a quadrille in which dancers twist and turn, tossing their legs with calm faces and audacious gestures.

"What a mob!" said Amedee, already a trifle disgusted. "Let us go into the garden."

They were blinded by the gas there; the thickets looked so much like old scenery that one almost expected to see the yellow breastplates of comic-opera dragoons; and the jet of water recalled one of those little spurts of a shooting-gallery upon which an empty egg-shell dances. But they could breathe there a little.

"Boy! two sodas," said Maurice, striking the table with his cane; and the two friends sat down near the edge of a walk where the crowd passed and repassed. They had been there about ten minutes when two women stopped before them.

"Good-day, Maurice," said the taller, a brunette with rich coloring, the genuine type of a tavern girl.

"What, Margot!" exclaimed the young man. "Will you take something? Sit down a moment, and your friend too. Do you know, your friend is charming? What is her name?"

"Rosine," replied the stranger, modestly, for she was only about eighteen, and, in spite of the blond frizzles over her eyes, she was not yet bold, poor child! She was making her debut, it was easy to see.

"Well, Mademoiselle Rosine, come here, that I may see you," continued Maurice, seating the young girl beside him with a caressing gesture. "You, Margot, I authorize to be unfaithful to me once more in favor of my friend Amedee. He is suffering with lovesickness, and has a heart to let. Although he is a poet, I think he happens to have in his pocket enough to pay for a supper."

Everywhere and always the same, the egotistical and amiable Maurice takes the lion's share, and Amedee, listening only with one ear to the large Margot, who is already begging him to make an acrostic for her, thinks Rosine is charming, while Maurice says a thousand foolish things to her. In spite of himself, the poet looks upon Maurice as his superior, and thinks it perfectly natural that he should claim the prettier of the two women. No matter! Amedee wanted to enjoy himself too. This Margot, who had just taken off her gloves to drink her wine, had large, red hands, and seemed as silly as a goose, but all the same she was a beautiful creature, and the poet began to talk to her, while she laughed and looked at him with a wanton's eyes. Meanwhile the orchestra burst into a polka, and Maurice, in raising his voice to speak to his friend, called him several times Amedee, and once only by his family name, Violette. Suddenly little Rosine started up and looked at the poet, saying with astonishment:

"What! Is your name Amedee Violette?"


"Then you are the boy with whom I played so much when I was a child."

"With me?"

"Yes! Do you not remember Rosine, little Rosine Combarieu, at Madame Gerard's, the engraver's wife, in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs? We played games with his little girls. How odd it is, the way one meets old friends!"

What is it that Amedee feels? His entire childhood rises before him. The bitterness of the thought that he had known this poor girl in her innocence and youth, and the Gerards' name spoken in such a place, filled the young man's heart with a singular sadness. He could only say to Rosine, in a voice that trembled a little with pity:

"You! Is it you?"

Then she became red and very embarrassed, lowering her eyes.

Maurice had tact; he noticed that Rosine and Amedee were agitated, and, feeling that he was de trop, he arose suddenly and said:

"Now then, Margot. Come on! these children want to talk over their childhood, I think. Give up your acrostic, my child. Take my arm, and come and have a turn."

When they were alone Amedee gazed at Rosine sadly. She was pretty, in spite of her colorless complexion, a child of the faubourg, born with a genius for dress, who could clothe herself on nothing-a linen gown, a flower in her hat. One who lived on salads and vegetables, so as to buy well-made shoes and eighteen-button gloves.

The pretty blonde looked at Amedee, and a timid smile shone in her nut-brown eyes.

"Now, Monsieur Amedee," said she, at last, "it need not trouble you to meet at Bullier's the child whom you once played with. What would have been astonishing would be to find that I had become a fine lady. I am not wise, it is true, but I work, and you need not fear that I go with the first comer. Your friend is a handsome fellow, and very amiable, and I accepted his attentions because he knew Margot, while with you it is very different. It gives me pleasure to talk with you. It recalls Mamma Gerard, who was so kind to me. What has become of her, tell me? and her husband and her daughters?"

"Monsieur Gerard is dead," replied Amedee; "but the ladies are well, and I see them often."

"Do not tell them that you met me here, will you? It is better not. If I had had a good 'mother, like those girls, things would have turned out differently for me. But, you remember, papa was always interested in his politics. When I was fifteen years old he apprenticed me to a florist. He was a fine master, a perfect monster of a man, who ruined me! I say, Pere Combarieu has a droll trade now; he is manager of a Republican journal-nothing to do-only a few months in prison now and then. I am always working in flowers, and I have a little friend, a pupil at Val-de-Grace, but he has just left as a medical officer for Algeria. I was lonely all by myself, and this evening big Margot, whom I got acquainted with in the shop, brought me here to amuse myself. But you-what are you doing? Your friend said just now that you were a poet. Do you write songs? I always liked them. Do you remember when I used to play airs with one finger upon the Gerards' old piano? You were such a pretty little boy then, and as gentle as a girl. You still have your nice blue eyes, but they are a little darker. I remember them. No, you can not know how glad I am to see you again!"

They continued to chatter, bringing up old reminiscences, and when she spoke of the Gerard ladies she put on a respectful little air which pleased Amedee very much. She was a poor feather-headed little thing, he did not doubt; but she had kept at least the poor man's treasure, a simple heart. The young man was pleased with her prattling, and as he looked at the young girl he thought of the past and felt a sort of compassion for her. As she was silent for a moment, the poet said to her, "Do you know that you have become very pretty? What a charming complexion you have! such a lovely pallor!"

The grisette, who had known what poverty was, gave a bitter little laugh:

"Oh, my pallor! that is nothing! It is not the pallor of wealth."

Then, recovering her good-humor at once, she continued:

"Tell me, Monsieur Amedee, does this big Margot, whom you began to pay attentions to a little while ago, please you?"

Amedee quickly denied it. "That immense creature? Never! Now then, Rosine, I came here to amuse myself a little, I will admit. That is not forbidden at my age, is it? But this ball disgusts me. You have no appointment here? No? Is it truly no? Very well, take my arm and let us go. Do you live far from here?"

"In the Avenue d'Orleans, near the Montrouge church."

"Will you allow me to escort you home, then?"

She would be happy to, and they arose and left the ball. It seemed to the young poet as if the pretty girl's arm trembled a little in his; but once upon the boulevard, flooded by the light from the silvery moon, Rosine slackened her steps and became pensive, and her eyes were lowered when Amedee sought a glance from them in the obscurity. How sweet was this new desire that troubled the young man's heart! It was mixed with a little sentiment; his heart beat with emotion, and Rosine was not less moved. They could both find only insignificant things to say.

"What a beautiful night!"

"Yes! It does one good to breathe the fresh air."

They continued their walk without speaking. Oh, how fresh and sweet it was under these trees!

At last they reached the door of Rosine's dwelling. With a slow movement she pressed her hand upon the bell-button. Then Amedee, with a great effort, and in a confused, husky voice, asked whether he might go up with her and see her little room.

She looked at him steadily, with a tender sadness in her eyes, and then said to him, softly:

"No, certainly not! One must be sensible. I please you this evening, and you know very well that I think you are charming. It is true we knew each other when we were young, and now that we have met again, it seems as if it would be pleasant to love each other. But, believe me, we should commit a great folly, perhaps a wrong. It is better, I assure you, to forget that you ever met me at Bullier's with big Margot, and only remember your little playmate of the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. It will be better than a caprice, it will be something pure that you can keep in your heart. Do not let us spoil the remembrance of our childhood, Monsieur Amedee, and let us part good friends."

Before the young man could find a reply, the bell pealed again, and Rosine gave Amedee a parting smile, lightly kissing the tips of her fingers, and disappeared behind the doer, which fell together, with a loud bang. The poet's first movements was one of rage. Giddy weather-cock of a woman! But he had hardly taken twenty steps upon the sidewalk before he said to himself, with a feeling of remorse, "She was right!" He thought that this poor girl had kept in one corner of her heart a shadow of reserve and modesty, and he was happy to feel rise within him a sacred respect for woman!

Amedee, my good fellow, you are quite worthless as a man of pleasure. You had better give it up!

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