The Suicides in the Rue des Vents
The Suicides in the Rue
HAVING bought the rope, Tournicquot wondered where he should hang himself. The lath-and-plaster ceiling of his room might decline to support him, and at five o'clock in the afternoon a lamp-post was out of the question. As he roamed on, he reflected that a pan of charcoal would have been more convenient after all; but the coil of rope in the doorway of a shop had lured his fancy, and now it would be laughable to throw it away.
Tournicquot was much averse to being laughed at in private life—perhaps because Fate had willed that he should be laughed at so much in his public capacity at Le Jardin Extérieur. Could he have had his way indeed, Tournicquot would have been a great tragedian, instead of a little droll whose portraits with a bright-red nose and a scarlet wig grimaced on every kiosk in the Quarter; and he resolved that at any rate the element of humor should not mar his suicide.
As to the motive for his death, it was as romantic as his heart desired. He adored "La Belle Lucrèce," the fascinating Snake Charmer, and somewhere in the background the artiste had a husband. How little the audience at Le Jardin Extérieur suspected the passion that devoured their grotesque comedian while he cut his capers, and turned love to ridicule! How little they divined the pathos of a situation which condemned him behind the scenes to whisper the most sentimental assurances of devotion when disfigured by a flaming wig and a nose that was daubed vermilion! Truly is it said. "Not half the world knows how the other half lives!"
It was an evening in late Autumn, and dusk was already gathering over Paris. The white glare of electric globes began to flood the boulevards; before the cafés, waiters bustled among the tables, bearing the "lasses," the vermouth, the absinthe of the hour. Instinctively shunning the more frequented thoroughfares, Tournicquot wandered, plunged in reverie, until he perceived that he had reached a neighborhood which was unknown to him—that he stood at the corner of a street which bore the name "Rue des Vents." Opposite, one of the dwellings was being rebuilt, and as he gazed at it—this skeleton of a home on which the workmen's hammers were silenced for the night—Tournicquot recognized that his journey was at an end. Here he could not doubt that he would find the last grim hospitality that he sought. The house had no door to bar his entrance, but, as if in omen, above the gap where a door had been, the sinister number "13" was still to be discerned. He cast a glance over his shoulder, and. grasping the rope with a firm hand, crept inside.
It was dark within, so dark that at first he could discern nothing hut the gleam of bare walls. He stole along the passage and. mounting a flight of steps on which his feet sprung mournful echoes, proceeded stealthily towards an apartment on the first floor. At this point the darkness became impenetrable, for the persiennes had been closed, and in order to make his arrangements it was necessary that he should have a light. He paused, fumbling in his pocket; and then, with his next step, blundered against a body that swung from the contact like a human being suspended in mid air. Tournicquot leapt backwards in terror. A cold sweat bespangled him, and for some seconds he shook so violently that he was unable to strike a match. At last, when he accomplished it, he beheld an apparently dead man hanging by a rope in the doorway. "Oh, mon Dieu!" gasped Tournicquot. And the thudding of his heart seemed to resound through the deserted house.
Humanity impelled him to rescue the poor wretch if it were still to be done. Shuddering, he whipped out his knife, and sawed at the cord desperately. The cord was stout, and the blade of the knife but small; an eternity seemed to pass while he sawed in the darkness. Presently one of the strands gave way. He set his teeth and pressed harder and harder yet. Suddenly the rope yielded and the body fell to the ground. Tournicquot threw himself beside it. tearing open the collar, and using frantic efforts to restore animation. There was no result. He persevered, but the body lay perfectly inert. He began to reflect that it was his duty to inform the police of the discovery, and he asked himself how he should account for his presence on the scene. Just as he was considering this, he felt the stir of life. As if by a miracle the man groaned.
"Courage, my poor fellow!" panted Tournicquot; "courage—all is well!"
The man groaned again; and after an appalling silence, during which Tournicquot began to tremble for his fate anew, he asked feebly, "Where am I?"
"You would have hanged yourself," explained Tournicquot; "thanks to heaven, I arrived in time to save your life!" In the darkness they could not see each other, but he felt for the man's hand and pressed it warmly. To his consternation he received, for response, a thump in the chest.
"Mon Dieu, what an infernal cheek!" croaked the man. "So you have cut me down? You meddlesome idiot, by what right did you poke your nose into my affairs—hein?"
Dismay turned Tourniequot dumb.
"Hein?" wheezed the man; "what concern was it of yours, if you please? Never in my life before have I met with such a piece of presumption!"
"My poor friend," stammered Tournicquot, "you do not know what you say—you are not yourself! By and by you will be grateful, you will fall on your knees and bless me."
"By and by I shall punch you in the eye," returned the man, "just as soon as I am feeling better! What have you done to my collar, too? I declare you have played the devil with me!" His annoyance rose. "Who the devil are you, and what are you doing here, anyhow? You are a trespasser. I shall give you in charge."
"Come, come," said Tournicquot conciliating!, "if your misfortunes are more than you can bear, I regret that I was obliged to save you; but, after all, there is no need to make such a grievance of it; you can hang yourself another day."
"And why should I be put to the trouble twice?" grumbled the other. "Do you figure yourself that it is agreeable to choke? I passed a very bad time, I can assure you. If you had experienced it, you would not talk so lightly about 'another day.' The more I think of your impudent interference, the more it vexes me. And how dark it is! Get up and light the candle—it gives me the hump here."
"I have no candle, I have no candle," babbled Tournicquot; "I do not carry candles in my pocket."
"There is a bit on the mantelpiece," replied the man angrily; "I saw it when I came in. Go and feel for it—hunt about! Do not keep me lying here in the dark—the least you can do is to make me as comfortable as you can!"
Tournicquot, not a little perturbed by the threat of assault, groped obediently; but the room appeared to be of the dimensions of a park, and he arrived at the candle stump only after a prolonged excursion. The flame revealed to him a man of about his own age, who leant against the wall, regarding him with indignant eyes. Revealed also was the coil of rope the comedian had brought for his own use; and the man pointed to it.
"What is that? It was not here just now."
"It belongs to me," admitted Tournicquot, nervously.
"I see that it belongs to you. Why do you visit an empty house with a coil of rope—hein? I should like to understand that! … Upon my life, you were here on the same business as myself! Now if this does not pass all forbearance! You come to commit suicide, and yet you have the effrontery to put a stop to mine."
"Well," exclaimed Tourniequot. "I obeyed an impulse of pity! It is true that I came to destroy myself, for I am the most miserable of men; but I was so much affected by the sight of your sufferings that temporarily I forgot my own."
"That is a lie, for I was not suffering—I was not conscious when you came in."
"I have resolved to die because life is torture," said Tournicquot, on whom these details had made an unfavorable impression.
"The same with me! A woman, of course?"
"Yet," sighed Tournicquot, "a woman!"
"Is there no other remedy? Can you not desert her?"
"Desert her? I pine for her embrace!"
"She will not have anything to do with me!"
"Comment? It is love, then, with you?"
"What else? A passion eternal."
"Oh, mon Dieu, I took it for granted you were married! But this is droll. You would die because you cannot get hold of a woman, and I because I cannot get rid of one. We should talk, we two. Can you give me a cigarette?"
"With pleasure, monsieur," responded Tournicquot, producing a packet. "I, also, will take one—my last."
"If I expressed myself hastily just now," said his companion, re-fastening his collar, "I shall apologize—no doubt your interference was well meant, though I do not pretend to approve it. Let us dismiss the incident; you have behaved tactlessly, and I, on my side, have perhaps resented your error with too much warmth. Well, it is finished! I will confess that I think you are being rash."
"I have considered," replied Tournicquot; "I have considered attentively. There is no alternative, I assure you."
"I should make another attempt to persuade the lady—I swear I should make another attempt. You are not a bad-looking fellow. What is her objection to you?"
"It is not that she objects to me—on the contrary. But she is a woman of high principle, and she has a husband who is devoted to her—she will not break his heart. It is like that."
"No more than thirty."
"With the beauty like an angel! She has a dimple in her right cheek when she smiles that drives one to distraction."
"Myself, I have no weakness for dimples; but every man has his taste—there is no arguing about these things. What a combination—young, lovely, virtuous! And I make you a bet the oaf of a husband does not appreciate her! Is it not always so? Now I—but of course I married foolishly, I chose an artiste. If I had my time again, I would choose in preference any sempstress. The artistes are for applause, for bouquets, for little dinners, but not for marriage."
"I cannot agree with you," said Tournicquot, with some hauteur. "Your experience may have been unfortunate, but the theatre contains women quite as noble as any other sphere. In proof of it, the lady I adore is an artiste herself!"
"Really—is it so? Would it be indiscreet to ask her name?"
"There are things one does not tell."
"Perfectly. But as a matter of interest? There is nothing derogatory to her in what you say—quite the reverse."
"It is a fact. Nevertheless——"
"Also I shall be dead by to-morrow."
"True, I was overlooking that. Well, the reason for reticence is removed. She is known as 'La Belle Lucrèce.’"
"Hein?" ejaculated the other, jumping.
"What ails you?"
"She is my Wife!"
"Your wife? Impossible!"
"I tell you I am married to her—she is 'Madame Beguinet.’"
"Mon Dieu!" faltered Tournicquot, aghast; "what have I done!"
"So? … You are her lover?"
"Never has she encouraged me—recall what I have said? There are no grounds for jealousy—am I not about to die because she spurns me? I swear to you——"
"You mistake my emotion—why should I be jealous. Not at all—I am only amazed. She thinks I am devoted to her? Ho, ho! Not at all. You see my 'devotion' by the fact that I am about to hang myself rather than live with her. And you, you cannot bear to live because you adore her! Actually you 'adore' her! Is it not inexplicable! Oh, there is certainly the finger of Providence in this meeting! … Wait, we must discuss—we should come to each other's aid! … Give me another cigarette."
Some seconds passed while they smoked in silent meditation.
"Listen," resumed M. Beguinet; "in order to clear up this complication, we must first arrive at a thorough understanding: a perfect candor is required on both sides. Alors, as to your views, is it that you aspire to marry Madame? Now open your heart to me, speak frankly."
"It is difficult for me to express myself without restraint to you, monsieur," said Tournicquot, "because circumstances which we both regret naturally cause me to regard your existence in the light of a misfortune. To answer you with all the delicacy possible I will say that, if you had been cut down five minutes later, life would be a fairer thing to me."
"Good," said M. Beguinet, "we make progress. Your income? Does it suffice to support her in the style to which she is accustomed? What may your occupation be?"
"I am in Madame's own profession—I, too, am an artiste."
"So much the more congenial! I foresee a joyous union. Come, we go famously! Your line of business—snakes, songs, performing rabbits, what is it?"
"My name is 'Tournicquot,’" responded the comedian with dignity. "All is said!"
"A-ah! Is it so? Now I understand why your voice has been puzzling me! Monsieur Tournicquot, I am enchanted to make your acquaintance. I declare the matter arranges itself! I shall tell you what we will do. Hitherto I have had no choice between residing with Madame and committing suicide, because my affairs have not prospered, and—though my pride has revolted—her salary has been essential for my maintenance. Now the happy medium jumps to the eyes; for you, for me, for her the bright, sunshine streams! I shall efface myself; I shall go to a distant land—say Brussels—and you shall make me a snug allowance. Have no misgiving; crown her with blossoms, lead her to the altar, and rest tranquil—I shall never reappear. Do not figure yourself that I shall enter like the villain in the melodrama and menace the blissful home. Not at all! I myself may even re-marry, who knows? Indeed should you offer me an allowance adequate for a family man, I will undertake to re-marry—I have always inclined towards speculation. That will shut my mouth, hein? I could threaten nothing, even if I had a base nature, for I, also, shall have committed bigamy. Suicide, bigamy, I would commit rather than live with Lucrèce."
"But Madame's consent must be gained," demurred Tournicquot; "you overlooked the fact that Madame must consent. It is a fact that I do not understand why she should have any consideration for you, but if she continues to harp upon her duty, what then?"
"Do you not tell me that her only objection to your suit has been her fear that she would break my heart?—what an hallucination!—I shall approach the subject—with tact, with the utmost delicacy! I shall intimate to her that to ensure her happiness I am willing to sacrifice myself. Should she hesitate, I shall demand to sacrifice myself! Rest assured that if she regards you with the favor that you believe, your troubles are at an end—the barrier removes itself, and you join hands. … The candle is going out! Shall we depart?"
"I perceive no reason why we should remain; in truth we might have got out of it sooner."
"You are right; a café will be more cheerful. Suppose we take a bottle of wine together—how does it strike you? If you insist, I will be your guest; if not——"
"Ah, monsieur, you will allow me the pleasure," murmured Tournicquot.
"Well, well," said M. Beguinet, "you must have your way! … Your rope you have no use for, hein—we shall leave it?"'"
"But certainly! Why should I burden myself?"
"The occasion has passed, true. Good! Come, my comrade, let us descend!"
Who shall read the future? Awhile ago they had been strangers, neither intending to quit the house alive; now the pair issued from it jauntily, arm in arm. Both were in high spirits, and by the time the lamps of a café gave them welcome, and the wine gurgled gaily into the glasses, they pledged each other with a sentiment no less than fraternal.
"How I rejoice that I have met you!" exclaimed Beguinet. "To your marriage, mon vieux, to your joy! Fill up, again a glass—there are plenty of bottles in the cellar. Mon Dieu, you are my preserver—I must embrace you! Never till now have I felt for a man such affection! This evening all was black to me; I despaired; my heart was heavy as a cannon-ball—and suddenly the world is bright! Roses bloom before my feet, and the little larks are singing in the sky. I dance, I skip! How beautiful, how sublime is friendship—better than riches, than youth, than the love of woman; riches melt, youth flies, woman snores. But friendship is— Again a glass! It goes well, this wine. Let us have a lobster! I swear I have an; they make one peckish, these suicides, n'est-ce-pas? I shall not be formal—if you consider it your treat, you shall pay. A lobster and another bottle, hein? At the expense of you, or me?"
"Ah, the bill all in one!" declared Tournicquot.
"Well, well," said Beguinet, "you must have your way! What a happy man I am! Already I feel twenty years younger. You would not believe what I have suffered! My agonies would fill a book. Really! By nature I am domesticated, but my home is impossible—I shudder when I enter it. It is only in a restaurant that I see a clean tablecloth. Absolutely. I pig. All Lucrèce thinks about is dress."
"No, no," demurred Tournicquot; "to that I cannot agree."
"What do you know? You 'cannot agree'! You have seen her when she is laced in her stage costume, when she minces and prattles, with the paint and the powder, and the false hair on. It is I who am 'behind the scenes,' mon ami, not you! I see her in her dressing-gown and her curl papers. At four o'clock in the afternoon! Every day! You 'cannot agree'!"
"Curl papers?" faltered Tournicquot.
"But certainly! I tell you I am of a gentle disposition, I am most tolerant of woman's failings; it says much that I would have hanged myself rather than remain with a woman. Her untidiness is not all; her toilette at home revolts my sensibilities, but—well, one cannot have everything, and her salary is substantial; I have closed my eves to the curl papers. However, snakes are more serious."
"Snakes?" ejaculated Tournicquot.
"Naturally! The beasts must live; do they not support us? But 'Everything in its place' is my motto; the motto of my wife— All over the place'! Her serpents have shortened my life, word of honor!—they wander where they will. I never lay my head beside those curl papers without the terror of finding a cobra-de-capello on the pillow. It is not everybody's money! Lucrèce has no objection to them; well, it is very courageous—very fortunate, since snakes are her profession—but I, I was not brought up to snakes; I am not at my ease in a zoölogical garden."
"It is natural."
"Is it not? I desire to explain myself to you, you understand; are we not as brothers? Oh, I realize well that when one loves a woman, one thinks always that the faults are with the husband; believe me, I have had much to justify my attitude. Snakes, dirt, rages, what a ménage!"
"Rages?" gasped Tournicquot.
"I am an honest man," affirmed Beguinet, draining another bumper; "I shall not say to you, 'I have no blemish, I am perfect.' Not at all! Without doubt I have occasionally expressed myself to Lucrèce with more candor than courtesy. Hein? Such things happen. But"—he refilled his glass, and sighed pathetically—"but to every citizen, whatever his position—whether his affairs may have prospered or not—his wife owes respect. Hein? She should not throw the ragoût at him. She should not menace him with snakes." He wept. "My friend, you will admit that it is not gentille to coerce a husband with deadly reptiles?"
Tournicquot had turned very pale. He signed to the waiter for the bill, and when it was discharged, sat regarding his companion with round eyes. At last, clearing his throat, he said nervously:
"After all, do you know—now one comes to think it over—I am not sure, upon my honor, that our arrangement is feasible?"
"What?" exclaimed Beguinet, with a violent start—"not feasible? How is that, pray. Because I have opened my heart to you, do you back out? Oh, what treachery! Never will I believe that you could be capable of it!"
"However, it is a fact. On consideration, I shall not rob you of her."
"Base fellow. You take advantage of my confidence. A contract is a contract!"
"No," stammered Tournicquot, "I shall be a man and live my love down! Monsieur, I have the honor to wish you 'good-night.’"
"Hi, stop!" cried Beguinet, infuriated. "What is then to become of me? Insolent poltroon—you have even destroyed my rope!"