This afternoon it chanced that three men, who used to be firm friends, were all sitting in the Cafe de la Paix at the same time. They pretended not to notice one another. And to-night my thoughts keep reverting to a pot of pansies, the pot of pansies that was so great a power.
I exaggerate nothing. It is I, Pierre Camus, pressman, who affirm it.
Jacques Rouelle still struggled as a writer of short stories, and Henri Dufour was already succeeding as a playwright, but they remained as cordial as ever. No jealousy on the one side, nor pomposity on the other. Their wives, too, were on affectionate terms; in fact, the women were cousins. As for me, I was the comrade of them all. In their modest flat—a great name for two rooms— Jacques and Blanche Rouelle would read to me manuscripts, and bewail the terms Jacques got for them; and in their little villa, off the rue Pergolese, Henri and Elise Dufour would talk to me of some comedy that Henri was perpending, and even confide to me their discomfiture when he had one declined. Two devoted couples; five ardent friends. And then, by a stroke of fate, Jacques discovered the pot of pansies !
I had gone to see him one day, and found that he was out. Blanche, however, was at home, and Elise had just dropped in, bringing a toy or something for the child. Very charming and fashionable she looked, though I knew her well enough to be sure she had put on one of her shabbiest costumes for the visit. She told us that Henri had begun the penultimate act of the play on which he had been at work ever since the spring, and that he had talked of it recently to Martime, who was much attracted by the thesis. She was in high feather, and her elation was natural. Martime had produced an earlier piece of Henri's, but that had been no guarantee that he would like this one, and I knew that Henri's heart was set on his playing the leading part.
" Mind you don't forget to send Jacques and me tickets for the dress rehearsal," said Blanche blithely.
"As if we were likely to forget you ! Or Pierre either," said the other, smiling to me. " Of course we don't know yet that Martime will do the piece, but he was so enthusiastic about the theme, and his part is so good, that we're pretty confident. I daresay he will want some silly alterations made, but I don't think there's much doubt about his taking it, when it's ready".
" How lovely to be able to write for the theatre ! " Blanche exclaimed. " Think, all the money Jacques has had from editors, with his royalties from Contes du Quartier as well, is not anything like as much as Henri can make with a single play ! " And, as if fearing that her cousin might misconstrue her plaint, she added emotionally, " Not that I grudge him his good fortune, Heaven knows ! "
" I know it, too, chérie," responded Elise, squeezing her hand. " Jacques' innings will come. I am very sure it will come. It is atrocious that Henri and I should have all the luck in the meantime".
The vivacity seemed to be taking a solemn turn, so I put in, " And what about me ? For me both your households are too wealthy—I blunder in knowing either of you. A pauper should never have rich friends".
" Tiens ! That is a novel philosophy," said Elise inquiringly.
"It is sound. What do they yield him? At best, an invitation to dinner. Which does not compensate for the despondence he suffers in contrasting their grandeur with his garret. The poor devil of discretion associates with people even worse off than himself—and by comparison feels prosperous".
" You old humbug ! " they laughed at me. And addressing Blanche again, Elise Dufour said, " Wait till those dividends come rolling in ! He will gnash his teeth more than ever, won't he ? "
"Dividends?" said I. "What dividends? Who dares to mention dividends in front of me? "
" Ah ! he hasn't heard," cried Blanche, recovering her buoyancy. " Henri is going to get a hundred shares for Jacques in a company that is coming out.
We should not be able to get them ourselves, but the man is a friend of Henri's. What do you think of it, our making investments ? Isn't it great ? "
" It is true," said Elise, nodding. " It will be a very good thing. Henri means to apply for quite a lot".
I could guess what it was, though, not being a capitalist, I paid no heed to the Bourse and was absolutely ignorant whether Amalgamated Pancakes were heavy, or Funded Fireworks had gone up. Henri had chanced to speak of it to me. I had no doubt that Jacques might do much worse than hold a hundred shares in that concern.
" What do you think of it? " repeated Blanche. " We have been working eight years to save three thousand francs—won't it seem wonderful to have a few francs that we haven't worked for at all coming in every year? "
She went on talking about it after Elise had gone. " It will be like something in a fairy tale, to have a little money falling regularly to us from the skies, as it were. What it will mean ! Even Henri and Elise do not know. We shall be in a position to indulge in pleasures that sound fantastic now. For instance, if Jacques is out of sorts, I shall be able to pack him off to the country to get well. To-day he would not hear of such a thing— he would not touch our nest-egg if he were on his last legs. And the little one ! What joy to buy Baby's clothes without dipping into that! To buy him perhaps a little fur coat out of money that poor Jacques has not had to whip his brains for.
Won't he look sweet, the pet, dressed in dividends ? I wish that you could take some shares, Pierre. But I know".
Then Jacques returned, seemingly deep in thought, and I said: " Come in and make yourself at home. Congratulations, my financial magnate ! "
" Hein ? " he queried. " What ? Oh, that ! Yes. It had slipped my mind for the moment." He went over to his wife and kissed her tenderly. It appeared that he had been out for two or three hours, and he demanded, with deep anxiety, if the child still thrived.