April 1, 2023

Read La Boheme’s source novel by Henry Murger


One morning--it was the eighth of April--Alexander Schaunard, who
cultivated the two liberal arts of painting and music, was rudely
awakened by the peal of a neighbouring cock, which served him for an

"By Jove!" exclaimed Schaunard, "my feathered clock goes too fast: it
cannot possibly be today yet!" So saying, he leaped precipitately out of
a piece of furniture of his own ingenious contrivance, which, sustaining
the part of bed by night, (sustaining it badly enough too,) did duty by
day for all the rest of the furniture which was absent by reason of the
severe cold for which the past winter had been noted.

To protect himself against the biting north-wind, Schaunard slipped on
in haste a pink satin petticoat with spangled stars, which served him
for dressing-gown. This gay garment had been left at the artist's
lodging, one masked-ball night, by a _folie_, who was fool enough to let
herself be entrapped by the deceitful promises of Schaunard when,
disguised as a marquis, he rattled in his pocket a seducingly sonorous
dozen of crowns--theatrical money punched out of a lead plate and
borrowed of a property-man. Having thus made his home toilette, the
artist proceeded to open his blind and window. A solar ray, like an
arrow of light, flashed suddenly into the room, and compelled him to
open his eyes that were still veiled by the mists of sleep. At the same
moment the clock of a neighbouring church struck five.

"It is the Morn herself!" muttered Schaunard; "astonishing, but"--and he
consulted an almanac nailed to the wall--"not the less a mistake. The
results of science affirm that at this season of the year the sun ought
not to rise till half-past five: it is only five o'clock, and there he
is! A culpable excess of zeal! The luminary is wrong; I shall have to
make a complaint to the longitude-office. However, I must begin to be a
little anxious. Today is the day after yesterday, certainly; and since
yesterday was the seventh, unless old Saturn goes backward, it must be
the eighth of April today. And if I may believe this paper," continued
Schaunard, going to read an official notice-to-quit posted on the wall,
"today, therefore, at twelve precisely, I ought to have evacuated the
premises, and paid into the hands of my landlord, Monsieur Bernard, the
sum of seventy-five francs for three quarters' rent due, which he
demands of me in very bad handwriting. I had hoped--as I always do--that
Providence would take the responsibility of discharging this debt, but
it seems it hasn't had time. Well, I have six hours before me yet. By
making good use of them, perhaps--to work! to work!"

He was preparing to put on an overcoat, originally of a long-haired,
woolly fabric, but now completely bald from age, when suddenly, as if
bitten by a tarantula, he began to execute around the room a polka of
his own composition, which at the public balls had often caused him to
be honoured with the particular attention of the police.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "it is surprising how the morning air gives one
ideas! It strikes me that I am on the scent of my air; Let's see." And,
half-dressed as he was, Schaunard seated himself at his piano. After
having waked the sleeping instrument by a terrific hurly-burly of notes,
he began, talking to himself all the while, to hunt over the keys for
the tune he had long been seeking.

"Do, sol, mi, do la, si, do re. Bah! it's as false as Judas, that re!"
and he struck violently on the doubtful note. "We must represent
adroitly the grief of a young person picking to pieces a white daisy
over a blue lake. There's an idea that's not in its infancy! However,
since it is fashion, and you couldn't find a music publisher who would
dare to publish a ballad without a blue lake in it, we must go with the
fashion. Do, sol, mi, do, la, si, do, re! That's not so bad; it gives a
fair idea of a daisy, especially to people well up in botany. La, si,
do, re. Confound that re! Now to make the blue lake intelligible. We
should have something moist, azure, moonlight--for the moon comes in too;
here it is; don't let's forget the swan. Fa, mi, la, sol," continued
Schaunard, rattling over the keys. "Lastly, an adieu of the young girl,
who determines to throw herself into the blue lake, to rejoin her
beloved who is buried under the snow. The catastrophe is not very
perspicuous, but decidedly interesting. We must have something tender,
melancholy. It's coming, it's coming! Here are a dozen bars crying like
Magdalens, enough to split one's heart--Brr, brr!" and Schaunard shivered
in his spangled petticoat, "if it could only split one's wood! There's a
beam in my alcove which bothers me a good deal when I have company at
dinner. I should like to make a fire with it--la, la, re, mi--for I feel
my inspiration coming to me through the medium of a cold in the head. So
much the worse, but it can't be helped. Let us continue to drown our
young girl;" and while his fingers assailed the trembling keys,
Schaunard, with sparkling eyes and straining ears, gave chase to the
melody which, like an impalpable sylph, hovered amid the sonorous mist
which the vibrations of the instrument seemed to let loose in the room.

"Now let us see," he continued, "how my music will fit into my poet's
words;" and he hummed, in voice the reverse of agreeable, this fragment
of verse of the patent comic-opera sort:

    "The fair and youthful maiden,
     As she flung her mantle by,
     Threw a glance with sorrow laden
     Up to the starry sky
     And in the azure waters
     Of the silver-waved lake."

"How is that?" he exclaimed, in transports of just indignation; "the
azure waters of a silver lake! I didn't see that. This poet is an idiot.
I'll bet he never saw a lake, or silver either. A stupid ballad too, in
every way; the length of the lines cramps the music. For the future I
shall compose my verses myself; and without waiting, since I feel in the
humour, I shall manufacture some couplets to adapt my melody to."

So saying, and taking his head between his hands, he assumed the grave
attitude of a man who is having relations with the Muses. After a few
minutes of this sacred intercourse, he had produced one of those strings
of nonsense-verses which the libretti-makers call, not without reason,
monsters, and which they improvise very readily as a ground-work for the
composer's inspiration. Only Schaunard's were no nonsense-verses, but
very good sense, expressing with sufficient clearness the inquietude
awakened in his mind by the rude arrival of that date, the eighth of

Thus they ran:

    "Eight and eight make sixteen just,
     Put down six and carry one:
     My poor soul would be at rest
     Could I only find some one,
     Some honest poor relation,
     Who'd eight hundred francs advance,
     To pay each obligation,
     Whenever I've a chance."


     "And ere the clock on the last and fatal morning
     Should sound mid-day,
     To old Bernard, like a man who needs no warning,
     To old Bernard, like a man who needs no warning,
     To old Bernard, like a man who needs no warning,
     My rent I'd pay!"

"The duece!" exclaimed Schaunard, reading over his composition, "one and
some one--those rhymes are poor enough, but I have no time to make them
richer. Now let us try how the notes will unite with the syllables." And
in his peculiarly frightful nasal tone he recommenced the execution of
his ballad. Satisfied with the result he had just obtained, Schaunard
congratulated himself with an exultant grimace, which mounted over his
nose like a circumflex accent whenever he had occasion to be pleased
with himself. But this triumphant happiness was destined to have no long
duration. Eleven o'clock resounded from the neighbouring steeple. Every
stroke diffused itself through the room in mocking sounds which seemed
to say to the unlucky Schaunard, "Are you ready?"

The artist bounded on his chair. "The time flies like a bird!" he
exclaimed. "I have but three-quarters of an hour left to find my
seventy-five francs and my new lodging. I shall never get them; that
would be too much like magic. Let me see: I give myself five minutes to
find out how to obtain them;" and burying his head between his knees, he
descended into the depths of reflection.

The five minutes elapsed, and Schaunard raised his head without having
found anything which resembled seventy-five francs.

"Decidedly, I have but one way of getting out of this, which is simply
to go away. It is fine weather and my friend Monsieur Chance may be
walking in the sun. He must give me hospitality till I have found the
means of squaring off with Monsieur Bernard."

Having stuffed into the cellar-like pockets of his overcoat all the
articles they would hold, Schaunard tied up some linen in a
handkerchief, and took an affectionate farewell of his home. While
crossing the court, he was suddenly stopped by the porter, who seemed to
be on the watch for him.

"Hallo! Monsieur Schaunard," cried he, blocking up the artist's way,
"don't you remember that this is the eighth of April?"

    "Eight and eight make sixteen just,
     Put down six and carry one,"

hummed Schaunard. "I don't remember anything else."

"You are a little behindhand then with your moving," said the porter;
"it is half-past eleven, and the new tenant to whom your room has been
let may come any minute. You must make haste."

"Let me pass, then," replied Schaunard; "I am going after a cart."

"No doubt, but before moving there is a little formality to be gone
through. I have orders not to let you take away a hair unless you pay
the three quarters due. Are you ready?"

"Why, of course," said Schaunard, making a step forward.

"Well come into my lodge then, and I will give you your receipt."

"I shall take it when I come back."

"But why not at once?" persisted the porter.

"I am going to a money changer's. I have no change."

"Ah, you are going to get change!" replied the other, not at all at his
ease. "Then I will take care of that little parcel under your arm, which
might be in your way."

"Monsieur Porter," exclaimed the artist, with a dignified air, "you
mistrust me, perhaps! Do you think I am carrying away my furniture in a

"Excuse me," answered the porter, dropping his tone a little, "but such
are my orders. Monsieur Bernard has expressly charged me not to let you
take away a hair before you have paid."

"But look, will you?" said Schaunard, opening his bundle, "these are not
hairs, they are shirts, and I am taking them to my washerwoman, who
lives next door to the money changer's twenty steps off."

"That alters the case," said the porter, after he had examined the
contents of the bundle. "Would it be impolite, Monsieur Schaunard, to
inquire your new address?"

"Rue de Rivoli!" replied the artist, and having once got outside the
gate, he made off as fast as possible.

"Rue de Rivoli!" muttered the porter, scratching his nose, "it's very
odd they should have let him lodgings in the Rue de Rivoli, and never
come here to ask about him. Very odd, that. At any rate, he can't carry
off his furniture without paying. If only the new tenant don't come
moving in just as Monsieur Schaunard is moving out! That would make a
nice mess! Well, sure enough," he exclaimed, suddenly putting his head
out of his little window, "here he comes, the new tenant!"

In fact, a young man in a white hat, followed by a porter who did not
seem over-burdened by the weight of his load, had just entered the
court. "Is my room ready?" he demanded of the house-porter, who had
stepped out to meet him.

"Not yet, sir, but it will be in a moment. The person who occupies it
has gone after a cart for his things. Meanwhile, sir, you may put your
furniture in the court."

"I am afraid it's going to rain," replied the young man, chewing a
bouquet of violets which he held in his mouth, "My furniture might be
spoiled. My friend," continued he, turning to the man who was behind
him, with something on a trunk which the porter could not exactly make
out, "put that down and go back to my old lodging to fetch the remaining

The man ranged along the wall several frames six or seven feet high,
folded together, and apparently being capable of being extended.

"Look here," said the new-comer to his follower, half opening one of the
screens and showing him a rent in the canvas, "what an accident! You
have cracked my grand Venetian glass. Take more care on your second
trip, especially with my library."

"What does he mean by his Venetian glass?" muttered the porter, walking
up and down with an uneasy air before the frames ranged against the
wall. "I don't see any glass. Some joke, no doubt. I only see a screen.
We shall see, at any rate, what he will bring next trip."

"Is your tenant not going to make room for me soon?" inquired the young
man, "it is half-past twelve, and I want to move in."

"He won't be much longer," answered the porter, "but there is no harm
done yet, since your furniture has not come," added he, with a stress on
the concluding words.

As the young man was about to reply, a dragoon entered the court.

"Is this Monsieur Bernard's?" he asked, drawing a letter from a huge
leather portfolio which swung at his side.

"He lives here," replied the porter.

"Here is a letter for him," said the dragoon; "give me a receipt," and
he handed to the porter a bulletin of despatches which the latter
entered his lodge to sign.

"Excuse me for leaving you alone," said he to the young man who was
stalking impatiently about the court, "but this is a letter from the
Minister to my landlord, and I am going to take it up to him."

Monsieur Bernard was just beginning to shave when the porter knocked at
his door.

"What do you want, Durand?"

"Sir," replied the other, lifting his cap, "a soldier has just brought
this for you. It comes from the Ministry." And he handed to Monsieur
Bernard the letter, the envelope of which bore the stamp of the War

"Heavens!" exclaimed Monsieur Bernard, in such agitation that he all but
cut himself. "From the Minister of War! I am sure it is my nomination as
Knight of the Legion of Honour, which I have long solicited. At last
they have done justice to my good conduct. Here, Durand," said he,
fumbling in his waistcoat-pocket, "here are five francs to drink to my
health. Stay! I haven't my purse about me. Wait, and I will give you the
money in a moment."

The porter was so overcome by this stunning fit of generosity, which was
not at all in accordance with his landlord's ordinary habits, that he
absolutely put on his cap again.

But Monsieur Bernard, who at any other time would have severely
reprimanded this infraction of the laws of social hierarchy, appeared
not to notice it. He put on his spectacles, broke the seal of the
envelope with the respectful anxiety of a vizier receiving a sultan's
firman, and began to read the dispatch. At the first line a frightful
grimace ploughed his fat, monk-like cheeks with crimson furrows, and his
little eyes flashed sparks that seemed ready to set fire to his bushy
wig. In fact, all his features were so turned upside-down that you would
have said his countenance had just suffered a shock of face-quake.

For these were the contents of the letter bearing the ministerial stamp,
brought by a dragoon--orderly, and for which Durand had given the
government a receipt:

     "Friend landlord: Politeness-who, according to ancient mythology,
     is the grandmother of good manners--compels me to inform you that I
     am under the cruel necessity of not conforming to the prevalent
     custom of paying rent--prevalent especially when the rent is due. Up
     to this morning I had cherished the hope of being able to celebrate
     this fair day by the payments of my three quarters. Vain chimera,
     bitter illusion! While I was slumbering on the pillow of
     confidence, ill-luck--what the Greeks call _ananke_--was scattering
     my hopes. The returns on which I counted--times are so bad!-have
     failed, and of the considerable sums which I was to receive I have
     only realised three francs, which were lent me, and I will not
     insult you by the offer of them. Better days will come for our dear
     country and for me. Doubt it not, sir! When they come, I shall fly
     to inform you of their arrival, and to withdraw from your lodgings
     the precious objects which I leave there, putting them under your
     protection and that of the law, which hinders you from selling them
     before the expiration of a year, in case you should be disposed to
     try to do so with the object of obtaining the sum for which you
     stand credited in the ledger of my honesty. I commend to your
     special care my piano, and also the large frame containing sixty
     locks of hair whose different colours run through the whole gamut
     of capillary shades; the scissors of love have stolen them from the
     forehead of the Graces."

     "Therefore, dear sir, and landlord, you may dispose of the roof
     under which I have dwelt. I grant you full authority, and have
     hereto set my hand and seal."


On finishing this letter, (which the artist had written at the desk of a
friend who was a clerk in the War Office,) Monsieur Bernard indignantly
crushed it in his hand, and as his glance fell on old Durand, who was
waiting for the promised gratification, he roughly demanded what he was

"Waiting, sir."

"For what?"

"For the present, on account of the good news," stammered the porter.

"Get out, you scoundrel! Do you presume to speak to me with your cap

"But, sir--"

"Don't you answer me! Get out! No, stay there! We shall go up to the
room of that scamp of an artist who has run off without paying."

"What! Monsieur Schaunard?" ejaculated the porter.

"Yes," cried the landlord with increasing fury, "and if he has carried
away the smallest article, I send you off, straight off!"

"But it can't be," murmured the poor porter, "Monsieur Schaunard has not
run away. He has gone to get change to pay you, and order a cart for his

"A cart for his furniture!" exclaimed the other, "run! I'm sure he has
it here. He laid a trap to get you away from your lodge, fool that you

"Fool that I am! Heaven help me!" cried the porter, all in a tremble
before the thundering wrath of his superior, who hurried him down the
stairs. When they arrived in the court the porter was hailed by the
young man in the white hat.

"Come now! Am I not soon going to be in possession of my lodging? Is
this the eighth of April? Did I hire a room here and pay you a deposit
to bind the bargain? Yes or no?"

"Excuse me, sir," interposed the landlord, "I am at your service.
Durand, I will talk to the gentleman myself. Run up there, that scamp
Schaunard has come back to pack up. If you find him, shut him in, and
then come down again and run for the police."

Old Durand vanished up the staircase.

"Excuse me, sir," continued the landlord, with a bow to the young man
now left alone with him, "to whom have I the honour of speaking?"

"Your new tenant. I have hired a room in the sixth story of this house,
and am beginning to be tired of waiting for my lodging to become

"I am very sorry indeed," replied Monsieur Bernard, "there has been a
little difficulty with one of my tenants, the one whom you are to

"Sir," cried old Durand from a window at the very top of the house,
"Monsieur Schaunard is not here, but his room--stupid!--I mean he has
carried nothing away, not a hair, sir!"

"Very well, come down," replied the landlord. "Have a little patience, I
beg of you," he continued to the young man. "My porter will bring down
to the cellar the furniture in the room of my defaulting tenant, and you
may take possession in half an hour. Beside, your furniture has not come

"But it has," answered the young man quietly.

Monsieur Bernard looked around, and saw only the large screens which had
already mystified his porter.

"How is this?" he muttered. "I don't see anything."

"Behold!" replied the youth, unfolding the leaves of the frame, and
displaying to the view of the astonished landlord a magnificent interior
of a palace, with jasper columns, bas-reliefs, and paintings of old

"But your furniture?" demanded Monsieur Bernard.

"Here it is," replied the young man, pointing to the splendid furniture
_painted_ in the palace, which he had bought at a sale of second-hand
theatrical decorations.

"I hope you have some more serious furniture than this," said the
landlord. "You know I must have security for my rent."

"The deuce! Is a palace not sufficient security for the rent of a

"No sir, I want real chairs and tables in solid mahogany."

"Alas! Neither gold nor mahogany makes us happy, as for the ancient poet
well says. And I can't bear mahogany; it's too common a wood. Everybody
has it."

"But surely sir, you must have some sort of furniture."

"No, it takes up too much room. You are stuck full of chairs, and have
no place to sit down."

"But at any rate, you have a bed. What do you sleep on?"

"On a good conscience, sir."

"Excuse me, one more question," said the landlord, "What is your

At this very moment the young man's porter, returning on his second
trip, entered the court. Among the articles with which his truck was
loaded, an easel occupied a conspicuous position.

"Sir! Sir!!" shrieked old Durance, pointing out the easel to his
landlord, "it's a painter!"

"I was sure he was an artist!" exclaimed the landlord in his turn, the
hair of his wig standing up in affright, "a painter!! And you never
inquired after this person," he continued to his porter, "you didn't
know what he did!"

"He gave me five francs _arrest_," answered the poor fellow, "how could
I suspect--"

"When you have finished," put in the stranger--

"Sir," replied Monsieur Bernard, mounting his spectacles with great
decision, "since you have no furniture, you can't come in. The law
authorizes me to refuse a tenant who brings no security."

"And my word, then?"

"Your word is not furniture, you must go somewhere else. Durance will
give you back your earnest money."

"Oh dear!" exclaimed the porter, in consternation, "I've put it in the
Savings' Bank."

"But consider sir," objected the young man. "I can't find another
lodging in a moment! At least grant me hospitality for a day."

"Go to a hotel!" replied Monsieur Bernard. "By the way," added he,
struck with a sudden idea, "if you like, I can let you a furnished room,
the one you were to occupy, which has the furniture of my defaulting
tenant in it. Only you know that when rooms are let this way, you pay in

"Well," said the artist, finding he could do no better, "I should like
to know what you are going to ask me for your hole."

"It is a very comfortable lodging, and the rent will be twenty-five
francs a month, considering the circumstances, paid in advance."

"You have said that already, the expression does not deserve being
repeated," said the young man, feeling in his pocket. "Have you change
for five hundred francs?"

"I beg your pardon," quoth the astonished landlord.

"Five hundred, half a thousand; did you never see one before?"
continued the artist, shaking the bank-note in the faces of the landlord
and porter, who fairly lost their balance at the sight.

"You shall have it in a moment, sir," said the now respectful owner of
the house, "there will only be twenty francs to take out, for Durand
will return your deposit."

"He may keep it," replied the artist, "on condition of coming every
morning to tell me the day of the week and month, the quarter of the
moon, the weather it is going to be, and the form of government we are

Old Durand described an angle of ninety degrees forward.

"Yes, my good fellow, you shall serve me for almanac. Meanwhile, help my
porter to bring the things in."

"I shall send you your receipt immediately," said the landlord, and that
very night the painter Marcel was installed in the lodging of the
fugitive Schaunard. During this time the aforesaid Schaunard was beating
his roll-call, as he styled it, through the city.

Schaunard had carried the art of borrowing to the perfection of a
science. Foreseeing the possible necessity of having to _spoil the
foreigners_, he had learned how to ask for five francs in every language
of the world. He had thoroughly studied all the stratagems which specie
employs to escape those who are hunting for it, and knew, better than a
pilot knows the hours of the tide, at what periods it was high or low
water; that is to say, on what days his friends and acquaintances were
accustomed to be in funds. Accordingly, there were houses where his
appearance of a morning made people say, not "Here is Monsieur
Schaunard," but "This is the first or the fifteenth." To facilitate, and
at the same time equalize this species of tax which he was going to
levy, when compelled by necessity, from those who were able to pay it to
him, Schaunard had drawn up by districts and streets an alphabetical
table containing the names of all his acquaintances. Opposite each name
was inscribed the maximum of the sum which the party's finances
authorized the artist to borrow of him, the time when he was flush, and
his dinner hour, as well as his usual bill of fare. Beside this table,
he kept a book, in perfect order, on which he entered the sums lent him,
down to the smallest fraction; for he would never burden himself beyond
a certain amount which was within the fortune of a country relative,
whose heir-apparent he was. As soon as he owed one person twenty francs,
he closed the account and paid him off, even if obliged to borrow for
the purpose of those to whom he owed less. In this way he always kept up
a certain credit which he called his floating debt, and as people knew
that he was accustomed to repay as soon as his means permitted him,
those who could accommodate him were very ready to do so.

But on the present occasion, from eleven in the morning, when he had
started to try and collect the seventy-five francs requisite, up to six
in the afternoon, he had only raised three francs, contributed by three
letters (M., V., and R.) of his famous list. All the rest of the
alphabet, having, like himself, their quarter to pay, had adjourned his
claim indefinitely.

The clock of his stomach sounded the dinner-hour. He was then at the
Maine barrier, where letter U lived. Schaunard mounted to letter U's
room, where he had a knife and fork, when there were such articles on
the premises.

"Where are you going, sir?" asked the porter, stopping him before he had
completed his ascent.

"To Monsieur U," replied the artist.

"He's out."

"And madame?"

"Out too. They told me to say to a friend who was coming to see them
this evening, that they were gone out to dine. In fact, if you are the
gentleman they expected, this is the address they left." It was a scrap
of paper on which his friend U. had written. "We are gone to dine with
Schaunard, No.__, Rue de__. Come for us there."

"Well," said he, going away, "accident does make queer farces
sometimes." Then remembering that there was a little tavern near by,
where he had more than once procured a meal at a not unreasonable rate,
he directed his steps to this establishment, situated in the adjoining
road, and known among the lowest class of artistdom as "Mother Cadet's."
It is a drinking-house which is also an eating-house, and its ordinary
customers are carters of the Orleans railway, singing-ladies of Mont
Parnasse, and juvenile "leads" from the Bobino theatre. During the warm
season the students of the numerous painters' studios which border on
the Luxembourg, the unappreciated and unedited men of the letters, the
writers of leaders in mysterious newspapers, throng to dine at "Mother
Cadet's," which is famous for its rabbit stew, its veritable sour-crout,
and a miled white wine which smacks of flint.

Schaunard sat down in the grove; for so at "Mother Cadet's" they called
the scattered foliage of two or three rickety trees whose sickly boughs
had been trained into a sort of arbor.

"Hang the expense!" said Schaunard to himself, "I have to have a good
blow-out, a regular Belthazzar's feast in private life," and without
more ado, he ordered a bowl of soup, half a plate of sour-crout, and two
half stews, having observed that you get more for two halves than one
whole one.

This extensive order attracted the attention of a young person in white
with a head-dress of orange flowers and ballshoes; a veil of _sham
imitation_ lace streamed down her shoulders, which she had no special
reason to be proud of. She was a _prima donna_ of the Mont Parnasse
theatre, the greenroom of which opens into Mother Cadet's kitchen; she
had come to take a meal between two acts of _Lucia_, and was at that
moment finishing with a small cup of coffee her dinner, composed
exclusively of an artichoke seasoned with oil and vinegar.

"Two stews! Duece take it!" said she, in an aside to the girl who acted
as waiter at the establishment. "That young man feeds himself well. How
much do I owe, Adele?"

"Artichoke four, coffee four, bread one, that makes nine sous."

"There they are," said the singer and off she went humming:

    "This affection Heaven has given."

"Why she is giving us the la!" exclaimed a mysterious personage half
hidden behind a rampart of old books, who was seated at the same table
with Schaunard.

"Giving it!" replied the other, "keeping it, I should say. Just
imagine!" he added, pointing to the vinegar on the plate from which
Lucia had been eating her artichoke, "pickling that falsetto of hers!"

"It is a strong acid, to be sure," added the personage who had first
spoken. "They make some at Orleans which has deservedly a great

Schaunard carefully examined this individual, who was thus fishing for a
conversation with him. The fixed stare of his large blue eyes, which
always seemed looking for something, gave his features the character of
happy tranquility which is common among theological students. His face
had a uniform tint of old ivory, except his cheeks, which had a coat, as
it were of brickdust. His mouth seemed to have been sketched by a
student in the rudiments of drawing, whose elbow had been jogged while
he was tracing it. His lips, which pouted almost like a negro's,
disclosed teeth not unlike a stag-hound's and his double-chin reposed
itself upon a white cravat, one of whose points threatened the stars,
while the other was ready to pierce the ground. A torrent of light hair
escaped from under the enormous brim of his well-worn felt-hat. He wore
a hazel-coloured overcoat with a large cape, worn thread-bare and rough
as a grater; from its yawning pockets peeped bundles of manuscripts and
pamphlets. The enjoyment of his sour-crout, which he devoured with
numerous and audible marks of approbation, rendered him heedless of the
scrutiny to which he was subjected, but did not prevent him from
continuing to read an old book open before him, in which he made
marginal notes from time to time with a pencil that he carried behind
his ear.

"Hullo!" cried Schaunard suddenly, making his glass ring with his knife,
"my stew!"

"Sir," said the girl, running up plate in hand, "there is none left,
here is the last, and this gentleman has ordered it." Therewith she
deposited the dish before the man with the books.

"The deuce!" cried Schaunard. There was such an air of melancholy
disappointment in his ejaculation, that the possessor of the books was
moved to the soul by it. He broke down the pile of old works which
formed a barrier between him and Schaunard, and putting the dish in the
centre of the table, said, in his sweetest tones:

"Might I be so bold as to beg you, sir, to share this with me?"

"Sir," replied the artist, "I could not think of depriving you of it."

"Then will you deprive me of the pleasure of being agreeable to you?"

"If you insist, sir," and Schaunard held out his plate.

"Permit me not to give you the head," said the stranger.

"Really sir, I cannot allow you," Schaunard began, but on taking back
his plate he perceived that the other had given him the very piece which
he implied he would keep for himself.

"What is he playing off his politeness on me for?" he muttered to

"If the head is the most noble part of man," said the stranger, "it is
the least agreeable part of the rabbit. There are many persons who
cannot bear it. I happen to like it very much, however."

"If so," said Schaunard, "I regret exceedingly that you robbed yourself
for me."

"How? Excuse me," quoth he of the books, "I kept the head, as I had the
honor of observing to you."

"Allow me," rejoined Schaunard, thrusting his plate under his nose,
"what part do you call that?"

"Good heavens!" cried the stranger, "what do I see? Another head? It is
a bicephalous rabbit!"

"Buy what?" said Schaunard.

"Cephalous--comes from the Greek. In fact, Baffon (who used to wear
ruffles) cites some cases of this monstrosity. On the whole, I am not
sorry to have eaten a phenomenon."

Thanks to this incident, the conversation was definitely established.
Schaunard, not willing to be behindhand in courtesy, called for an extra
quart of wine. The hero of the books called for a third. Schaunard
treated to salad, the other to dessert. At eight o'clock there were six
empty bottles on the table. As they talked, their natural frankness,
assisted by their libations, had urged them to interchange biographies,
and they knew each other as well as if they had always lived together.
He of the books, after hearing the confidential disclosures of
Schaunard, had informed him that his name was Gustave Colline; he was a
philosopher by profession, and got his living by giving lessons in
rhetoric, mathematics and several other _ics_.

What little money he picked up by his profession was spent in buying
books. His hazel-coloured coat was known to all the stall keepers on the
quay from the Pont de la Concorde to the Pont Saint Michel. What he did
with these books, so numerous that no man's lifetime would have been
long enough to read them, nobody knew, least of all, himself. But this
hobby of his amounted to monomania: when he came home at night without
bringing a musty quarto with him, he would repeat the saying of Titus,
"I have lost a day." His enticing manners, his language, which was a
mosaic of every possible style, and the fearful puns which embellished
his conversation, completely won Schaunard, who demanded on the spot
permission of Colline to add his name to those on the famous list
already mentioned.

They left Mother Cadet's at nine o'clock at night, both fairly primed,
and with the gait of men who have been engaged in close conversation
with sundry bottles.

Colline offered to stand coffee, and Schaunard accepted on condition
that he should be allowed to pay for the accompanying nips of liquor.
They turned into a cafe in the Rue Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, and
bearing on its sign the name of Momus, god of play and pleasure.

At the moment they entered a lively argument broke out between two of
the frequenters of the place. One of them was a young fellow whose face
was hidden by a dense thicket of beard of several distinct shades. By
way of a balance to this wealth of hair on his chin, a precocious
baldness had despoiled his forehead, which was as bare as a billiard
ball. He vainly strove to conceal the nakedness of the land by brushing
forward a tuft of hairs so scanty that they could almost be counted. He
wore a black coat worn at the elbows, and revealing whenever he raised
his arms too high a ventilator under the armpits. His trousers might
have once been black, but his boots, which had never been new, seemed to
have already gone round the world two or three times on the feet of the
Wandering Jew.

Schaunard noticed that his new friend Colline and the young fellow with
the big beard nodded to one another.

"You know the gentleman?" said he to the philosopher.

"Not exactly," replied the latter, "but I meet him sometimes at the
National Library. I believe that he is a literary man."

"He wears the garb of one, at any rate," said Schaunard.

The individual with whom this young fellow was arguing was a man of
forty, foredoomed, by a big head wedged between his shoulders without
any break in the shape of a neck, to the thunderstroke of apoplexy.
Idiocy was written in capital letters on his low forehead, surmounted by
a little black skull-cap. His name was Monsieur Mouton, and he was a
clerk at the town hall of the 4th Arrondissement, where he acted as
registrar of deaths.

"Monsieur Rodolphe," exclaimed he, in the squeaky tones of a eunuch,
shaking the young fellow by a button of his coat which he had laid hold
of. "Do you want to know my opinion? Well, all your newspapers are of no
use whatsoever. Come now, let us put a supposititious case. I am the
father of a family, am I not? Good. I go to the cafe for a game at
dominoes? Follow my argument now."

"Go on," said Rodolphe.

"Well," continued Daddy Mouton, punctuating each of his sentences by a
blow with his fist which made the jugs and glasses on the table rattle
again. "Well, I come across the papers. What do I see? One which says
black when the other says white, and so on and so on. What is all that
to me? I am the father of a family who goes to the cafe--"

"For a game at dominoes," said Rodolphe.

"Every evening," continued Monsieur Mouton. "Well, to put a case--you

"Exactly," observed Rodolphe.

"I read an article which is not according to my views. That puts me in a
rage, and I fret my heart out, because you see, Monsieur Rodolphe,
newspapers are all lies. Yes, lies," he screeched in his shrillest
falsetto, "and the journalists are robbers."

"But, Monsieur Mouton--"

"Yes, brigands," continued the clerk. "They are the cause of all our
misfortunes; they brought about the Revolution and its paper money,
witness Murat."

"Excuse me," said Rodolphe, "you mean Marat."

"No, no," resumed Monsieur Mouton, "Murat, for I saw his funeral when I
was quite a child--"

"But I assure you--"

"They even brought you a piece at the Circus about him, so there."

"Exactly," said Rodolphe, "that was Murat."

"Well what else have I been saying for an hour past?" exclaimed the
obstinate Mouton. "Murat, who used to work in a cellar, eh? Well, to put
a case. Were not the Bourbons right to guillotine him, since he had
played the traitor?"

"Guillotine who? Play the traitor to whom?" cried Rodolphe,
button-holing Monsieur Mouton in turn.

"Why Marat."

"No, no, Monsieur Mouton. Murat, let us understand one another, hang it

"Precisely, Marat, a scoundrel. He betrayed the Emperor in 1815. That is
why I say all the papers are alike," continued Monsieur Mouton,
returning to the original theme of what he called an explanation. "Do
you know what I should like, Monsieur Rodolphe? Well, to put a case. I
should like a good paper. Ah! not too large and not stuffed with

"You are exacting," interrupted Rodolphe, "a newspaper without phrases."

"Yes, certainly. Follow my idea?"

"I am trying to."

"A paper which should simply give the state of the King's health and of
the crops. For after all, what is the use of all your papers that no one
can understand? To put a case. I am at the town hall, am I not? I keep
my books; very good. Well, it is just as if someone came to me and said,
'Monsieur Mouton, you enter the deaths--well, do this, do that.' What do
you mean by this and that? Well, it is the same thing with newspapers,"
he wound up with.

"Evidently," said a neighbor who had understood.

And Monsieur Mouton having received the congratulations of some of the
other frequenters of the cafe who shared his opinion, resumed his game
at dominoes.

"I have taught him his place," said he, indicating Rodolphe, who had
returned to the same table at which Schaunard and Colline were seated.

"What a blockhead!" said Rodolphe to the two young fellows.

"He has a fine head, with his eyelids like the hood of a cabriolet, and
his eyes like glass marbles," said Schaunard, pulling out a wonderfully
coloured pipe.

"By Jupiter, sir," said Rodolphe, "that is a very pretty pipe of yours."

"Oh! I have a much finer one I wear in society," replied Schaunard,
carelessly, "pass me some tobacco, Colline."

"Hullo!" said the philosopher, "I have none left."

"Allow me to offer you some," observed Rodolphe, pulling a packet of
tobacco out of his pocket and placing it on the table.

To this civility Colline thought it his duty to respond by an offer of
glasses round.

Rodolphe accepted. The conversation turned on literature. Rodolphe,
questioned as to the profession already revealed by his garb, confessed
his relation with the Muses, and stood a second round of drinks. As the
waiter was going off with the bottle Schaunard requested him to be good
enough to forget it. He had heard the silvery tinkle of a couple of
five-franc pieces in one of Colline's pockets. Rodolphe had soon reached
the same level of expansiveness as the two friends, and poured out his
confidences in turn.

They would no doubt have passed the night at the cafe if they had not
been requested to leave. They had not gone ten steps, which had taken
them a quarter of an hour to accomplish, before they were surprised by a
violent downpour. Colline and Rodolphe lived at opposite ends of Paris,
one on the Ile Saint Louis, and the other at Montmartre.

Schaunard, who had wholly forgotten that he was without a residence,
offered them hospitality.

"Come to my place," said he, "I live close by, we will pass the night in
discussing literature and art."

"You shall play and Rodolphe will recite some of his verses to us," said

"Right you are," said Schaunard, "life is short, and we must enjoy
ourselves whilst we can."

Arriving at the house, which Schaunard had some difficulty in
recognizing, he sat down for a moment on a corner-post waiting for
Rodolphe and Colline, who had gone into a wine-shop that was still open
to obtain the primary element of a supper. When they came back,
Schaunard rapped several times at the door, for he vaguely recollected
that the porter had a habit of keeping him waiting. The door at length
opened, and old Durand, half aroused from his first sleep, and no longer
recalling that Schaunard had ceased to be his tenant, did not disturb
himself when the latter called out his name to him.

When they had all three gained the top of the stairs, the ascent of
which had been as lengthy as it was difficult, Schaunard, who was the
foremost, uttered a cry of astonishment at finding the key in the
keyhole of his door.

"What is the matter?" asked Rodolphe.

"I cannot make it out," muttered the other. "I find the key in the door,
though I took it away with me this morning. Ah! we shall see. I put it
in my pocket. Why, confound it, here it is still!" he exclaimed,
displaying a key. "This is witchcraft."

"Phantasmagoria," said Colline.

"Fancy," added Rodolphe.

"But," resumed Schaunard, whose voice betrayed a commencement of alarm,
"do you hear that?"



"My piano, which is playing of its own accord _do la mi re do, la si sol
re._ Scoundrel of a re, it is still false."

"But it cannot be in your room," said Rodolphe, and he added in a
whisper to Colline, against whom he was leaning heavily, "he is tight."

"So I think. In the first place, it is not a piano at all, it is a

"But you are screwed too, my dear fellow," observed the poet to the
philosopher, who had sat down on the landing, "it is a violin."

"A vio--, pooh! I say, Schaunard," hiccupped Colline, pulling his friend
by the legs, "here is a joke, this gentleman makes out that it is a

"Hang it all," exclaimed Schaunard in the height of terror, "it is

"Phantasma-goria," howled Colline, letting fall one of the bottles he
held by his hand.

"Fancy," yelled Rodolphe in turn.

In the midst of this uproar the room door suddenly opened, and an
individual holding a triple-branched candlestick in which pink candles
were burning, appeared on the threshold.

"What do you want, gentlemen?" asked he, bowing courteously to the three

"Good heavens, what am I about? I have made a mistake, this is not my
room," said Schaunard.

"Sir," added Colline and Rodolphe, simultaneously, addressing the person
who had opened the door, "be good enough to excuse our friend, he is as
drunk as three fiddlers."

Suddenly a gleam of lucidity flashed through Schaunard's intoxication,
he read on his door these words written in chalk:

     "I have called three times for my New Year's gift--PHEMIE."

"But it is all right, it is all right, I am indeed at home," he
exclaimed, "here is the visiting card Phemie left me on New Year's Day;
it is really my door."

"Good heavens, sir," said Rodolphe, "I am truly bewildered."

"Believe me, sir," added Colline, "that for my part, I am an active
partner in my friend's confusion."

The young fellow who had opened the door could not help laughing.

"If you come into my room for a moment," he replied, "no doubt your
friend, as soon as he has looked around, will see his mistake."


And the poet and philosopher each taking Schaunard by an arm, led him
into the room, or rather the palace of Marcel, whom no doubt our readers
have recognized.

Schaunard cast his eyes vaguely around him, murmuring, "It is
astonishing how my dwelling is embellished!"

"Well, are you satisfied now?" asked Colline.

But Schaunard having noticed the piano had gone to it, and was playing

"Here, you fellows, listen to this," said he, striking the notes, "this
is something like, the animal has recognized his master,_ si la sol, fa
mi re._ Ah! wretched re, you are always the same. I told you it was my

"He insists on it," said Colline to Rodolphe.

"He insists on it," repeated Rodolphe to Marcel.

"And that," added Schaunard, pointing to the star-adorned petticoat that
was lying on a chair, "it is not an adornment of mine, perhaps? Ah!"

And he looked Marcel straight in the face.

"And this," continued he, unfastening from the wall the notice to quit
already spoken of.

And he began to read, "Therefore Monsieur Schaunard is hereby required
to give up possession of the said premises, and to leave them in
tenantable repair, before noon on the eighth day of April. As witness
the present formal notice to quit, the cost of which is five francs."
"Ha! ha! so I am not the Monsieur Schaunard to whom formal notice to
quit is given at a cost of five francs? And these, again," he continued,
recognizing his slippers on Marcel's feet, "are not those my papouches,
the gift of a beloved hand? It is your turn, sir," said he to Marcel,
"to explain your presence amongst my household goods."

"Gentlemen," replied Marcel, addressing himself more especially to
Colline and Rodolphe, "this gentleman," and he pointed to Schaunard, "is
at home, I admit."

"Ah!" exclaimed Schaunard, "that's lucky."

"But," continued Marcel, "I am at home too."

"But, sir," broke in Rodolphe, "if our friend recognizes--"

"Yes," said Colline, "if our friend--"

"And if on your side you recall that--," added Rodolphe, "how is it

"Yes," replied his echo Colline, "how is it that--"

"Have the kindness to sit down, gentlemen," replied Marcel, "and I will
explain the mystery to you."

"If we were to liquify the explanation?" risked Colline.

"Over a mouthful of something," added Rodolphe.

The four young fellows sat down to table and attacked a piece of cold
veal which the wine-shop keeper had let them have.

Marcel then explained what had taken place in the morning between
himself and the landlord when he had come to move in.

"Then," observed Rodolphe, "this gentleman is quite right, and we are in
his place?"

"You are at home," said Marcel politely.

But it was a tremendous task to make Schaunard understand what had taken
place. A comical incident served to further complicate the situation.
Schaunard, when looking for something in a sideboard, found the change
of the five hundred franc note that Marcel had handed to Monsieur
Bernard that morning.

"Ah! I was quite sure," he exclaimed, "that Fortune would not desert me.
I remember now that I went out this morning to run after her. On account
of its being quarter-day she must have looked in during my absence. We
crossed one another on the way, that it is. How right I was to leave the
key in my drawer!"

"Delightful madness!" murmured Rodolphe, looking at Schaunard, who was
building up the money in equal piles.

"A dream, a falsehood, such is life," added the philosopher.

Marcel laughed.

An hour later they had all four fallen asleep.

The next day they woke up at noon, and at first seemed very much
surprised to find themselves together. Schaunard, Colline, and Rodolphe
did not appear to recognize one another, and addressed one another as
"sir." Marcel had to remind them that they had come together the evening

At that moment old Durand entered the room.

"Sir," said he to Marcel, "it is the month of April, eighteen hundred
and forty, there is mud in the streets, and His Majesty Louis-Philippe
is still King of France and Navarre. What!" exclaimed the porter on
seeing his former tenant, "Monsieur Schaunard, how did you come here?"

"By the telegraph," replied Schaunard.

"Ah!" replied the porter, "you are still a joker--"

"Durand," said Marcel, "I do not like subordinates mingling in
conversation with me, go to the nearest restaurant and have a breakfast
for four sent up. Here is the bill of fare," he added, handing him a
slip of paper on which he had written it. "Go."

"Gentlemen," continued Marcel, addressing the three young fellows, "you
invited me to supper last night, allow me to offer you a breakfast this
morning, not in my room, but in ours," he added, holding out his hand to

"Oh! no," said Schaunard sentimentally, "let us never leave one

"That's right, we are very comfortable here," added Colline.

"To leave you for a moment," continued Rodolphe. "Tomorrow the 'Scarf of
Iris,' a fashion paper of which I am editor, appears, and I must go and
correct my proofs; I will be back in an hour."

"The deuce!" said Colline, "that reminds me that I have a lesson to give
to an Indian prince who has come to Paris to learn Arabic."

"Go tomorrow," said Marcel.

"Oh, no!" said the philosopher, "the prince is to pay me today. And then
I must acknowledge to you that this auspicious day would be spoilt for
me if I did not take a stroll amongst the bookstalls."

"But will you come back?" said Schaunard.

"With the swiftness of an arrow launched by a steady hand," replied the
philosopher, who loved eccentric imagery.

And he went out with Rodolphe.

"In point of fact," said Schaunard when left alone with Marcel, "instead
of lolling on the sybarite's pillow, suppose I was to go out to seek
some gold to appease the cupidity of Monsieur Bernard?"

"Then," said Marcel uneasily, "you still mean to move?"

"Hang it," replied Schaunard, "I must, since I have received a formal
notice to quit, at a cost of five francs."

"But," said Marcel, "if you move, shall you take your furniture with

"I have that idea. I will not leave a hair, as Monsieur Bernard says."

"The deuce! That will be very awkward for me," said Marcel, "since I
have hired your room furnished."

"There now, that's so," replied Schaunard. "Ah! bah," he added in a
melancholy tone, "there is nothing to prove that I shall find my
thousand francs today, tomorrow, or even later on."

"Stop a bit," exclaimed Marcel, "I have an idea."

"Unfold it."

"This is the state of things. Legally, this lodging is mine, since I
have paid a month in advance."

"The lodging, yes, but as to the furniture, if I pay, I can legally take
it away, and if it were possible I would even take it away illegally."

"So that," continued Marcel, "you have furniture and no lodging, and I
have lodging and no furniture."

"That is the position," observed Schaunard.

"This lodging suits me," said Marcel.

"And for my part is has never suited me better," said Schaunard.

"Well then, we can settle this business," resumed Marcel, "stay with me,
I will apply house-room, and you shall supply the furniture."

"And the rent?" said Schaunard.

"Since I have some money just now I will pay it, it will be your turn
next time. Think about it."

"I never think about anything, above all accepting a suggestion which
suits me. Carried unanimously, in point of fact, Painting and Music are

"Sisters-in-law," observed Marcel.

At that moment Colline and Rodolphe, who had met one another, came in.

Marcel and Schaunard informed them of their partnership.

"Gentlemen," said Rodolphe, tapping his waistcoat pocket, "I am ready to
stand dinner all round."

"That is just what I was going to have the honour of proposing," said
Colline, taking out a gold coin which he stuck in his eye like a glass.
"My prince gave me this to buy an Arabic grammar, which I have just paid
six sous ready cash for."

"I," said Rodolphe, "have got the cashier of the 'Scarf of Iris' to
advance me thirty francs under the pretext that I wanted it to get

"It is general pay-day then?" said Schaunard, "there is only myself
unable to stand anything. It is humiliating."

"Meanwhile," said Rodolphe, "I maintain my offer of a dinner."

"So do I," said Colline.

"Very well," said Rodolphe, "we will toss up which shall settle the

"No," said Schaunard, "I have something far better than that to offer
you as a way of getting over the difficulty."

"Let us have it."

"Rodolphe shall pay for dinner, and Colline shall stand supper."

"That is what I call Solomonic jurisprudence," exclaimed the

"It is worse than Camacho's wedding," added Marcel.

The dinner took place at a Provencal restaurant in the Rue Dauphine,
celebrated for its literary waiters and its "Ayoli." As it was necessary
to leave room for the supper, they ate and drank in moderation. The
acquaintance, begun the evening before between Colline and Schaunard and
later on with Marcel, became more intimate; each of the young fellows
hoisted the flag of his artistic opinions, and all four recognized that
they had like courage and similar hopes. Talking and arguing they
perceived that their sympathies were akin, that they had all the same
knack in that chaff which amuses without hurting, and that the virtues
of youth had not left a vacant spot in their heart, easily stirred by
the sight of the narration of anything noble. All four starting from the
same mark to reach the same goal, they thought that there was something
more than chance in their meeting, and that it might after all be
Providence who thus joined their hands and whispered in their ears the
evangelic motto, which should be the sole charter of humanity, "Love one

At the end of the repast, which closed in somewhat grave mood, Rodolphe
rose to propose a toast to the future, and Colline replied in a short
speech that was not taken from any book, had no pretension to style,
and was merely couched in the good old dialect of simplicity, making
that which is so badly delivered so well understood.

"What a donkey this philosopher is!" murmured Schaunard, whose face was
buried in his glass, "here is he obliging me to put water in my wine."

After dinner they went to take coffee at the Cafe Momus, where they had
already spent the preceding evening. It was from that day that the
establishment in question became uninhabitable by its other frequenters.

After coffee and nips of liqueurs the Bohemian clan, definitely founded,
returned to Marcel's lodging, which took the name of Schaunard's
Elysium. Whilst Colline went to order the supper he had promised, the
others bought squibs, crackers and other pyrotechnic materials, and
before sitting down to table they let off from the windows a magnificent
display of fireworks which turned the whole house topsy-turvey, and
during which the four friends shouted at the top of their voices--

    "Let us celebrate this happy day."

The next morning they again found themselves all four together but
without seeming astonished this time. Before each going about his
business they went together and breakfasted frugally at the Cafe Momus,
where they made an appointment for the evening and where for a long time
they were seen to return daily.

Such are the chief personages who will reappear in the episodes of which
this volume is made up, a volume which is not a romance and has no other
pretension than that set forth on its title-page, for the "Bohemians of
the Latin Quarter" is only a series of social studies, the heroes of
which belong to a class badly judged till now, whose greatest crime is
lack of order, and who can even plead in excuse that this very lack of
order is a necessity of the life they lead.

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