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A BALL AT THE BARRIER.
In the last number of the Miscellany I promised to continue the account of my adventures during the last Parisian Carnival. To tell the truth, I had more than half made up my mind to conclude with my visit to the Salon de Mars, for too much of a good thing is good for nothing, and even though a little folly is permissible at such a season, sapienti sat should be the motto of the cosmopolitan; but, as the French so admirably put it, "l'homme propose," &c.
Well, then, I was sitting quietly in my rooms with a young medical friend, who was supposed to be attending lectures at the Hôtel-Dieu, and whom I will call Jones, when there came a knock at the door. On my shouting "Entrez," a young man came in, dressed in a blue woollen blouse, black cap, blue linen trousers pulled over his cloth ones, white cotton gloves, and a white shirt-collar with a red silk tie-a Parisian ouvrier in his Sunday clothes, but a smart one. Even the cigar in a long silver mouthpiece was not missing. As he had a rather large bundle under his arm, I took him for a workman to whom my tailor had given a commission, or else he might have made a mistake in the house and door.
As I could not by the lamplight distinguish my strange visitor, I removed the shade, and, to my utter amazement, found the friend who had accompanied me to the previous balls standing before me in a workman's dress. In a second it all became clear to me- -I was, namely, regularly
in for it.
My friend had during the last few weeks repeatedly proposed to me a visit to the Barrier balls, but had not found any great willingness on my part. To tell the honest truth, after the visit to the Salon de Mars I had had enough of it, at least for this year, and I remembered, not without some degree of satisfaction, the imminent approach of Ash Wednesday, which puts an end to all the fun of the carnival.
"And then, again, the Barrier balls," I added, in order to have a practical excuse for my refusal, which otherwise my friend would have refused to accept, "are of such a peculiar nature; a gentleman is regarded with suspicion there, so that
"The coat and the hat, you mean," my friend interrupted me; "there you are in the right; but that can be easily altered. We need only put on a blouse and a cap in order to pass muster at the Barrier."
The matter had rested for the moment with this argument, and I had quite forgotten the entire project, when Saville suddenly entered my room on this evening in the garb of an ouvrier. And I therefore claim an apology for having shouted in my vexation, "Confound it all!"
"You will soon change your mind," Saville said, as he opened his bundle and arranged various articles on the sofa. "Just look here; could you desire a handsomer blouse or neater trousers? Now that I have brought you all these smart things, you must say yes; and then, too, the blue tie and the white plaid cap. Why, you will make any amount of conquests."
"Oh!" suddenly exclaimed Jones, "if no one else is willing, I am
ready to take the costume. The most respectable persons disguise themselves at carnival time, and besides, I hear that there is lots of fun at the Barrier balls."
"That is your sort," Saville answered him triumphantly; "a man, a word. At No. 7, Rue Lamartine, twenty yards from here, you will find everything you require. Make haste and fetch a dress; in the mean while we will dress here."
The doctor was out of the room before this speech was ended, and I was compelled to yield, nolens volens.
"You can keep on your patent leather shoes," Saville said, while I was undressing, "for all smart ouvriers wear them, c'est le chic. But no upstanding shirt-collar, for that is proscribed at the Barriers."
"But I have no others," I answered, in some embarrassment.
"Leave me to act," Saville said; and walked to my writing-table, and cut a collar with practised hand out of a sheet of paper. Then he bent it to shape, placed the blue tie inside it, and fastened it to my shirt with a few pins. It looked first rate, and could deceive the most practised eye. The blouse fitted me equally well; the linen trousers were rather short, it is true, but on that account displayed the cloth ones underneath all the better. "C'est encore le chic," said Saville. Next the gloves, the cap, and the polished leather belt, with the broad steel buckle, and the metamorphosis was complete.
"Just have a look at yourself in the glass," my Mephistopheles remarked; "don't you look ever so much better like that, than in the stupid tail-coat and a white choker? Put some cigars and a few franc pieces in your pocket, although we shall manage as well there with one franc as at the Grand Opéra with a louis d'or."
There was a ring at the bell, and Jones reappeared. He saluted us with much gravity, and posted himself in the centre of the room, for the purpose of being admired. He had dressed in the shop, and chosen the most suitable articles: a white blouse, and a blue Scotch cap with long black streamers-extremely distingué, but perfectly in order.
Then we set out on our expedition.
"Let us buy false noses,' "Saville said, "as a precautionary measure, in case of our desiring to render ourselves less easily recognisable; no one can tell."
The noses were purchased, and we then clambered on to the roof of the first passing omnibus proceeding in the direction of Montmartre; for the most celebrated Barriers are there, and the Elysée Montmartre is the Grand Opéra of the Parisian working world. We soon reached the Barrière des Martyrs, where we got down, in order to walk to the Petit Ramponneau, which, according to the evening's programme, was to be our first halting-place.
"Let us try whether our disguise suits us, and if we are able to behave in accordance with it," said Jones, as he pointed to a marchand de vins opposite, where a number of workmen, dressed in their best, happened to be assembled.
We walked in, and called for a glass of Curaçoa, which was immediately served, without any attention being paid to us. The hostess alone gave us a side-look, which did not escape me. Then she asked, curiously:
"Ces messieurs iront à l'Elysée ce soir? On dit qu'il y aura beaucoup de masques."
While saying this she indulged in a most significant smile, and I plainly saw that the word "masques" was intended as a cut at us.
A l'Elysée! how grand that sounds, and evokes reminiscences of the Consulate, when Napoleon gave his great balls at the Elysée.
But we could not remain long here, for it was nearly eight o'clock, and consequently high time for us to dine, and this we intended to do at the Petit Ramponneau, the Véry of the Barriers, or the Véfour of the Blouses, as it is also called. Grand Ramponneau would be the more correct name, for it is one of the largest eating-houses in the whole of Paris. In the lower rooms congregate workmen and many country people, especially from the plain of St. Denis, who come to Paris by thousands every day with their vegetable carts; on the first floor there is a large room for "finer persons," though still only workmen : for the bourgeois proper rarely comes here, and we did not see a hat anywhere. We were conducted up-stairs, and asked whether we would like a cabinet particulier, or precisely as in Paris. But we naturally declined this, and remained in the large room, where numerous guests were already assembled, and where, after the French fashion, there was such an uproar that we could hardly hear ourselves speak.
The menu was very soon read through. In these restaurants you only find, in addition to soup and boiled beef, three or four dishes, les plats du jour. Of course, you can have anything you like to order, but you act much more wisely in sticking to these dishes, which are always excellent. Ragoût de mouton, saucisse fumée à l'Allemande ; is to say, with sauer-kraut, omelette aux confitures-a dinner for a king, to which we did hearty justice.
The wine was also good, at sixteen sous; but afterwards we ordered a bottle with the yellow seal at one franc and a half, quite as good as what one pays four francs for in the Passage de l'Opéra. At a table near us some workmen were seated with their grisettes: there champagne was drunk, though it was neither Cliquot nor Röderer, but the corks popped, and that was the chief thing.
We preferred drinking coffee in the large, room down stairs, where the company were more numerous and mixed, and the noise was consequently greater. In all these Barrier places of amusement the wandering minstrels and musicians cannot be kept out, however miserable their performances may be. In large establishments, such as the Petit Ramponneau, they are even given food, and many of the guests throw them a piece of money. If only one singer performed at a time it might be endurable, but three or four at once is really too much of a good thing. A harp girl was strumming at the entrance and singing a romance in a ropy voice; in the centre, two boys of from six to eight years of age were playing the violin; farther back, a street singer was standing on a chair, and bellowing at such a pitch that his melody reached all ears and hearts. "La manière de traiter les femmes comme elles méritent," met with great success, and was so loudly and heartily applauded that suddenly several sergens de ville became visible (gendarmes everywhere in beautiful, happy Paris !), but disappeared again as soon as they saw that no element dangerous to the state was the cause of this tremendous
hilarity. The singer, in the mean while, had sold some fifty copies of his ditty, but no objection could be raised to that either, for the "poem" displayed the prescribed police stamp, and had consequently passed the censorship. Still, our artist was unable to continue singing, for a grimacer had already taken his place, and was cutting such frightful faces that the "ladies" shrieked loudly, and several " gentlemen," through consideration for the fair sex present, threw the fellow some sous so that he might leave off.
Like the dinner up-stairs, the coffee below was excellent; but, for all that, we were compelled to think of making a start. For the Little Ramponneau was merely a station in the programme of the evening, although we had amused ourselves excellently there.
Jones alone was rather out of temper, and was continually growling to himself. He felt annoyed that we created hardly any sensationneither he, nor Saville, nor my humility. Here and there a transient glance was thrown at us, but as we looked exactly like the rest in this mixed company, no further notice was taken of us. The worthy doctor wanted some slight adventure, as he said, so that he might have some reason for his disguise.
"Pray have patience," Saville said. "Who knows what is impending over us ?"
A tap on the shoulder. On turning, old Krautheimer was standing before me, shaking with laughter on seeing me disguised in a blouse. He had recognised us at once, but, on receiving a slight hint, pretended not to know us.
Old Krautheimer is so well known that I feel sure the reader knows him. An absurd supposition, Jones would say. As if the renown of a Parisian gargotier, no matter how celebrated he might be, ever spread beyond the Barriers.
Krautheimer is most assuredly the Vatel of the exterior boulevards. "Tell the story," Saville remarked. "I will give you five minutes, but then we must be off."
Soon after the revolution of July, Krautheimer came to Paris just as he stood; he had brought two florins with him from home, but could not even spend them, as no one was willing to change the foreign coins. He became a marmiton, omnibus, and eventually waiter, and finally set up on his own account-that is to say, he hired a shop at the corner of a street hardly large enough to admit his stove and a couple of fryingpans, and sold pommes de terre frites. He always remained in front of the Barriers, in the vicinity of Montmartre, which is the Boulevard des Italiens of the working classes. Hundreds of workmen daily passed his corner, and Krautheimer's potatoes ere long became renowned. later, he also began to fry small fish, and, owing to the increase of his customers, he was obliged to enlarge his shop. When another year had passed away, he purchased a real restaurant (içi on donne à boire et à manger), and thus became a gargotier. When I add that it was the same establishment in which he commenced his career as marmiton, it sounds like poetical exaggeration, but I am bound to add that it is true.
He was now established in the correct sense of the term, and the first thing he did, when he had become a master, was to return to Berg
zabern and fetch his betrothed. He had been true to her for six years, and she to him. He had written to her once annually at Christmas. At last he was in a position to marry. The story is certainly not very romantic; it is merely a specimen of honest German fidelity in fickle, windy Paris.
Ten years have elapsed, and Herr Krautheimer has become a well-todo and respected man, and if he had only consented to be naturalised, he would have been chosen into the municipality. But he refused to become a Frenchman. His establishment had grown considerably in the mean while he had bought the adjoining houses, and a large garden in the bargain, where people dined during the summer. Only workmen and factory hands, and sauer-kraut and sausage, with the addition of the eternal ragoût de mouton for his French customers, and two or three dishes of a similar nature; such was the unchangeable bill of fare all the year round. Beer and the problematical red wine, which has already been introduced to the reader's notice under the name of "le petit bleu," were the sole beverages. Years ago I dined there in summer, and excellently too, frequently with six hundred workmen on such occasions old Krautheimer (he had become gradually old) would wait on me in person, spread the napkin, and sit down for a moment's gossip. At times he would call up his children, and say, "Shake hands with these gentlemen; it is a great honour for us that they visit us!" At last he had twenty-five waiters to serve the guests, and twelve women in the kitchen, nearly all German; for he always displayed his affection for everything Teutonic, and never denied his country. In the starvation year of 1856, of sad memory, during the three winter months he daily gave fifty dinners to the poor of his quarter. The Maire of Montmartre reported the fact to Paris, and obtained for him the great gold medal. Had Krautheimer been a man of importance, he could easily have secured the cross of the Legion; but, for the sake of decency, it was impossible to decorate a gargotier.
Last year the gargotier retired from business, and it is said with a yearly income of twenty thousand francs. Although he was known to be rich, not a soul could comprehend this: for his portions were always the largest, his meat the best, and his prices the lowest. But in this consisted his grand secret. He much desired a son to continue the business, but Heaven cannot give a man everything he wishes, especially when it has bestowed so much on him already. His two daughters are naturally excellent matches, and have made the mouth of more than one bachelor water. But the father is looking out for German sons-in-law, and will not hear of frivolous Parisians.
"It is half after nine," said Saville, and we started, after shaking hands with old Krautheimer, and arranging a meeting at the Elysée for the same evening.
"I wish the old fellow would bring his daughters to the ball," Jones remarked, as he pulled on his white cotton gloves again, and looked in the glass to see whether his blouse was properly arranged. And thus we set out for the Elysée Montmartre.
The stay at the Petit Ramponneau has been rather long-winded as an introduction, and yet we should have done better by remaining there