Rough-hew Them How We Will

Paul boielle was a waiter. The word “waiter” suggests a soft-voiced, deft-handed being, moving swiftly and without noise in an atmosphere of luxury and shaded lamps. At Bredin’s Parisian Café and Restaurant in Soho, where Paul worked, there were none of these things; and Paul himself, though he certainly moved swiftly, was by no means noiseless. His progress through the room resembled in almost equal proportions the finish of a Marathon race, the star-act of a professional juggler, and a monologue by an Earl’s Court side-showman. Constant acquaintance rendered regular habitués callous to the wonder, but to a stranger the sight of Paul tearing over the difficult between-tables course, his hands loaded with two vast pyramids of dishes, shouting as he went the mystic word, “Comingsarecominginamomentsaresteaksareyessarecomingsare!” was impressive to a degree. For doing far less exacting feats on the stage musichall performers were being paid fifty pounds a week. Paul got eighteen shillings.

What a blessing is poverty properly considered. If Paul had received more than eighteen shillings a week he would not have lived in an attic. He would have luxuriated in a bed-sitting-room on the second floor; and would consequently have missed what was practically a genuine north light. The skylight which went with the attic was so arranged that the room was a studio in miniature, and, as Paul was engaged in his spare moments in painting a great picture, nothing could have been more fortunate; for Paul, like so many of our public men, lived two lives. Off duty, the sprinting, barking juggler of Bredin’s Parisian Café became the quiet follower of Art. Ever since his childhood he had had a passion for drawing and painting. He regretted that Fate had allowed him so little time for such work; but after all, he reflected, all great artists had had their struggles—so why not he? Moreover, they were now nearly at an end. An hour here, an hour there, and every Thursday a whole afternoon, and the great picture was within measurable distance of completion. He had won through. Without models, without leisure, hungry, tired, he had nevertheless triumphed. A few more touches, and the masterpiece would be ready for purchase. And after that all would be plain sailing. Paul could forecast the scene so exactly. The picture would be at the dealer’s, possibly—one must not be too sanguine—thrust away in some odd corner. The wealthy connoisseur would come in. At first he would not see the masterpiece; other more prominently displayed works would catch his eye. He would turn from them in weary scorn, and then!…Paul wondered how big the cheque would be.

There were reasons why he wanted money. Looking at him as he cantered over the linoleum at Bredin’s, you would have said that his mind was on his work. But it was not so. He took and executed orders as automatically as the penny-in-the-slot musical-box in the corner took pennies and produced tunes. His thoughts were of Jeanne Le Brocq, his co-worker at Bredin’s, and a little cigar shop down Brixton way which he knew was in the market at a reasonable rate. To marry the former and own the latter was Paul’s idea of the earthly paradise, and it was the wealthy connoisseur, and he alone, who could open the gates.

Jeanne was a large, slow-moving Norman girl, stolidly handsome. One could picture her in a De Maupassant farmyard. In the clatter and bustle of Bredin’s Parisian Café she appeared out of place, like a cow in a boiler-factory. To Paul, who worshipped her with all the fervour of a little man for a large woman, her deliberate methods seemed all that was beautiful and dignified. To his mind she lent a tone to the vulgar whirlpool of gorging humanity, as if she had been some goddess mixing in a Homeric battle. The whirlpool had other views—and expressed them. One coarse-fibred brute, indeed, once went so far as to address to her the frightful words, “ ’Urry up, there, Tottie! Look slippy.” It was wrong, of course, for Paul to slip and spill an order of scrambled eggs down the brute’s coat-sleeve, but who can blame him?

Among those who did not always see eye to eye with Paul in his views on deportment in waitresses was M. Bredin himself, the owner of the Parisian Café; and it was this circumstance which first gave Paul the opportunity of declaring the passion which was gnawing him with the fierce fury of a Bredin customer gnawing a tough steak against time during the rush hour. He had long worshipped her from afar, but nothing more intimate than a “Good-morning, Miss Jeanne,” had escaped him, till one day during a slack spell he came upon her in the little passage leading to the kitchen, her face hidden in her apron, her back jerking with sobs.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.