He was going up the Rue des Martyrs in a melancholy frame of mind, and in a melancholy frame of mind she also was going up the Rue des Martyrs. He was already old, nearly sixty, with a bald head under his seedy, tall hat, a gray beard, half buried in a high shirt collar, with dull eyes, an unpleasant mouth and yellow teeth.
She was past forty, with thin hair over her pads, and with a false plait; her linen was doubtful in color, and she had evidently bought her unfashionable dress at a reach-me-down shop. He was thin, while she was chubby. He had been handsome, proud, ardent, full of self-confidence, certain of his future, and seeming to hold in his hands all the trumps with which to win the game on the green table of Parisian life, while she had been pretty, sought after, fast, and in a fair way to have horses and carriages, and to win the first prize on the turf of gallantry, among the favorites of fortune.
At times, in his dark moments, he remembered the time when he had come to Paris from the country, with a volume of poetry and plays in his portmanteau, feeling a supreme contempt for all the writers who were then in vogue, and sure of supplanting them. She often, when she awoke in the morning to another day’s unhappiness, remembered that happy time when she had been launched onto the world, when she already saw that she was more sought after than Marie G. or Sophie N. or any other woman of that class, who had been her companions in vice, and whose lovers she had stolen from them.
He had had a splendid start. Not, indeed, as a poet and dramatist, as he had hoped at first, but thanks to a series of scandalous stories which had made a sensation on the boulevards, so that after an action for damages and several duels, he had become our witty and brilliant colleague who, etc., etc.
She had had her moments of extraordinary good luck, though she certainly did not eclipse Marie P. or Camille L., whom men compared to Zenobia or Ninon de l’Enclos, but still enough to cause her to be talked about in the newspapers, and to cause a resolution at certain tables-d’hòtes at Montmarte. But one fine day, the newspaper in which our brilliant and witty colleague who . . . used to write, became defunct, having been killed by a much more cynical rival, thanks to the much more venomous pen of a much more brilliant and witty colleague who . . . . Then, the insults of the latter having become pure and simple mud-pelting, his style soon became worn out, to the disgust of the public, and the celebrated Mr. What’s his name had great difficulty in getting onto some obscure paper, where he was transformed into the obscure penny-a-liner Machin.
Now, one evening the quasi-rival of Marie X. and Camille L. had fallen ill, and consequently into pecuniary difficulties, and the prostitute No-matter-who was now on the lookout for a dinner, and would have been only too happy to get it at some table-d’hòte at Montmarte. Machin had had a return of ambition with regard to his poetry and his dramas, but then, his verses of former days had lost their freshness, and his youthful dramas appeared to him to be childish. He would have to write others, and, by Jove! he felt himself capably of doing it, for he had plenty of ideas and plans in his head, and he could easily demolish many successful writers if he chose to try! But then, the difficulty was, how to set about it, and to find the necessary leisure and time for thought. He had his daily bread to gain, and something besides: his coffee, his game of cards and other little requirements; and the incessant writing article upon article barely sufficed for that, and so days and years went by, and Machin was Machin still.
She also longed for former years, and surely it could not be so very hard to find a lover to start her on her career once more, for many of her female friends, who were not nearly so nice as she was, had unearthed one, so why should not she be equally fortunate? But there, her youth had gone and she had lost all her chances; other women had their fancy men, and she had to take them on, every day at reduced prices, so that she was reduced from taking up with any man she met, and so day after day and months and years passed, and the prostitute No-matter-who had remained the prostitute No-matter-who.
Often, in a fit of despondency, he used to say to himself, thinking of some one who had succeeded in life: “But, after all, I am cleverer than that fellow.” And she always said to herself, when she got up to her miserable, daily round, when she thought of such and such a woman, who was now settled in life: “In what respect is that woman better than I am?”
And Machin, who was nearly sixty, and whose head was bald under his shabby tall hat, and whose gray beard was half-buried in a high shirt collar, who had dull eyes, an unpleasant mouth and yellow teeth, was mad with his fellow men, while the prostitute No-matter-who, with thin hair over her pads, and with a false plait, with her linen of a doubtful color, and with her unfashionable dress, which she had evidently bought at a reach-me-down shop, was enraged with society.
Ah! Those miserable, dark hours, and the wretched awakenings! And that evening he was more than usually wretched, as he had just lost all his pay for the next month, that miserable screw which he earned so hardly by almost editing the newspaper, for three hundred francs a month, in a brothel.
And that evening she was in a state of semi-stupidity, as she had had too many glasses of beer which a charitable female friend had given her, and was almost afraid to go back to her room, as her landlord had told her in the morning that unless she paid the fortnight’s back rent that she owed at the rate of a franc a day, he would turn her out of doors and keep her things.
And this was the reason why they were both going up the Rue des Martyrs in a melancholy frame of mind. There was scarcely a soul in the muddy streets; it was getting dark, and beginning to rain, and the drains smelled horribly.
He passed her, and in a mechanical voice she said: “Will you not come home with me, you handsome dark man?” “I have no money,” he replied. But she ran after him, and catching hold of his arm, she said: “Only a franc; that is having it for nothing.” And he turned round, looked at her, and seeing that she must have been pretty, and that she was still stout (and he was fond of fat women), he said: “Where do you live? Near here?” “In the Rue Lepic.” “Why! So do I.” “Then that is all right, eh? Come along, old fellow.”
He felt in his pockets and pulled out all the money he found there, which amounted to thirteen sous, and said: “That is all I have, upon my honor!” “All right,” she said; “come along.”
And they continued their melancholy walk along the Rue des Martyrs, side by side now, but without speaking, and without guessing that their two existences harmonized and corresponded with each other, and that by huddling up together, they would be merely accomplishing the acme of their twin destinies.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53