“The dinners are better at Édon’s than at Bombarda’s,” exclaimed Zéphine.
“I prefer Bombarda to Édon,” declared Blachevelle. “There is more luxury. It is more Asiatic. Look at the room downstairs; there are mirrors [glaces] on the walls.”
“I prefer them [glaces, ices] on my plate,” said Favourite.
“Look at the knives. The handles are of silver at Bombarda’s and of bone at Édon’s. Now, silver is more valuable than bone.”
“Except for those who have a silver chin,” observed Tholomyès.
He was looking at the dome of the Invalides, which was visible from Bombarda’s windows.
A pause ensued.
“Tholomyès,” exclaimed Fameuil, “Listolier and I were having a discussion just now.”
“A discussion is a good thing,” replied Tholomyès; “a quarrel is better.”
“We were disputing about philosophy.”
“Which do you prefer, Descartes or Spinoza?”
“Désaugiers,” said Tholomyès.
This decree pronounced, he took a drink, and went on:—
“I consent to live. All is not at an end on earth since we can still talk nonsense. For that I return thanks to the immortal gods. We lie. One lies, but one laughs. One affirms, but one doubts. The unexpected bursts forth from the syllogism. That is fine. There are still human beings here below who know how to open and close the surprise box of the paradox merrily. This, ladies, which you are drinking with so tranquil an air is Madeira wine, you must know, from the vineyard of Coural das Freiras, which is three hundred and seventeen fathoms above the level of the sea. Attention while you drink! three hundred and seventeen fathoms! and Monsieur Bombarda, the magnificent eating-house keeper, gives you those three hundred and seventeen fathoms for four francs and fifty centimes.”
Again Fameuil interrupted him:—
“Tholomyès, your opinions fix the law. Who is your favorite author?”
And Tholomyès continued:—
“Honor to Bombarda! He would equal Munophis of Elephanta if he could but get me an Indian dancing-girl, and Thygelion of Chæronea if he could bring me a Greek courtesan; for, oh, ladies! there were Bombardas in Greece and in Egypt. Apuleius tells us of them. Alas! always the same, and nothing new; nothing more unpublished by the creator in creation! Nil sub sole novum, says Solomon; amor omnibus idem, says Virgil; and Carabine mounts with Carabin into the bark at Saint-Cloud, as Aspasia embarked with Pericles upon the fleet at Samos. One last word. Do you know what Aspasia was, ladies? Although she lived at an epoch when women had, as yet, no soul, she was a soul; a soul of a rosy and purple hue, more ardent hued than fire, fresher than the dawn. Aspasia was a creature in whom two extremes of womanhood met; she was the goddess prostitute; Socrates plus Manon Lescaut. Aspasia was created in case a mistress should be needed for Prometheus.”
Tholomyès, once started, would have found some difficulty in stopping, had not a horse fallen down upon the quay just at that moment. The shock caused the cart and the orator to come to a dead halt. It was a Beauceron mare, old and thin, and one fit for the knacker, which was dragging a very heavy cart. On arriving in front of Bombarda’s, the worn-out, exhausted beast had refused to proceed any further. This incident attracted a crowd. Hardly had the cursing and indignant carter had time to utter with proper energy the sacramental word, Mâtin (the jade), backed up with a pitiless cut of the whip, when the jade fell, never to rise again. On hearing the hubbub made by the passers-by, Tholomyès’ merry auditors turned their heads, and Tholomyès took advantage of the opportunity to bring his allocution to a close with this melancholy strophe:—
“Elle était de ce monde ou coucous et carrosses
Ont le même destin;
Et, rosse, elle a vécu ce que vivant les rosses,
L’espace d’un mâtin!” 3
“Poor horse!” sighed Fantine.
And Dahlia exclaimed:—
“There is Fantine on the point of crying over horses. How can one be such a pitiful fool as that!”
At that moment Favourite, folding her arms and throwing her head back, looked resolutely at Tholomyès and said:—
“Come, now! the surprise?”
“Exactly. The moment has arrived,” replied Tholomyès. “Gentlemen, the hour for giving these ladies a surprise has struck. Wait for us a moment, ladies.”
“It begins with a kiss,” said Blachevelle.
“On the brow,” added Tholomyès.
Each gravely bestowed a kiss on his mistress’s brow; then all four filed out through the door, with their fingers on their lips.
Favourite clapped her hands on their departure.
“It is beginning to be amusing already,” said she.
“Don’t be too long,” murmured Fantine; “we are waiting for you.”