The Counterfeiters X : The Cloak-Room Ticket

The sun woke Bernard. He rose from his bench with a violent headache. His gallant courage of the morning had left him. He felt abominably lonely and his heart was swelling with something brackish and bitter which he would not call unhappiness, but which brought the tears to his eyes. What should he do? Where should he go?… If his steps turned towards St. Lazare Station at the time that he knew Olivier was due there, it was without any definite purpose and merely with the wish to see his friend again. He reproached himself for having left so abruptly that morning; perhaps Olivier had been hurt?… Was he not the creature in the world he liked best?… When he saw him arm in arm with Edouard a peculiar feeling made him follow the pair and at the same time not show himself; painfully conscious of being de trop, he would yet have liked to slip in between them. He thought Edouard looked charming; only a little taller than Olivier and with a scarcely less youthful figure. It was he whom he made up his mind to address; he would wait until Olivier left him. But address him? Upon what pretext?

It was at this moment that he caught sight of the little bit of crumpled paper as it escaped from Edouard’s hand. He picked it up, saw that it was a cloak-room ticket … and, by Jove, here was the wished-for pretext!

He saw the two friends go into a café, hesitated a moment in perplexity, and then continued his monologue:

“Now a normal fathead would have nothing better to do than to return this paper at once,” he said to himself.

“ ‘How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!’

as I have heard Hamlet remark. Bernard, Bernard, what thought is this that is tickling you? It was only yesterday that you were rifling a drawer. On what path are you entering? Consider, my boy, consider.… Consider that the cloak-room attendant who took Edouard’s luggage will be gone to his lunch at 12 o’clock, and that there will be another one on duty. And didn’t you promise your friend to stick at nothing?”

He reflected, however, that too much haste might spoil everything. The attendant might be surprised into thinking this haste suspicious; he might consult the entry book and think it unnatural that a piece of luggage deposited in the cloak-room a few minutes before twelve, should be taken out immediately after. And besides, suppose some passer-by, some busy-body, had seen him pick up the bit of paper.… Bernard forced himself to walk to the Place de la Concorde without hurrying—in the time it would have taken another person to lunch. It is quite usual, isn’t it, to put one’s luggage in the cloak-room whilst one is lunching and to take it out immediately after.… His headache had gone. As he was passing by a restaurant terrace, he boldly took a toothpick from one of the little bundles that were set out on the tables, and stood nibbling it at the cloak-room counter, in order to give himself the air of having lunched. He was lucky to have in his favour his good looks, his well-cut clothes, his distinction, the frankness of his eyes and smile, and that indefinable something in the whole appearance which denotes those who have been brought up in comfort and want for nothing. (But all this gets rather draggled by sleeping on benches.) …

He had a horrible turn when the attendant told him there were ten centimes to pay. He had not a single sou left. What should he do? The suit-case was there, on the counter. The slightest sign of hesitation would give the alarm—so would his want of money. But the demon is watching over him; he slips between Bernard’s anxious fingers, as they go searching from pocket to pocket with a pretence of feigned despair, a fifty-centime bit, which had lain forgotten since goodness knows when in his waistcoat pocket. Bernard hands it to the attendant. He has not shown a sign of his agitation. He takes up the suit-case, and in the simplest, honestest fashion pockets the forty centimes change. Heavens! How hot he is! Where shall he go now? His legs are beginning to fail him and the suit-case feels heavy. What shall he do with it?… He suddenly remembers that he has no key. No! No! Certainly not! He will not break open the lock; what the devil, he isn’t a thief!… But if he only knew what was in it. His arm is aching and he is perspiring with the heat. He stops for a moment and puts his burden down on the pavement. Of course he has every intention of returning the wretched thing to its owner; but he would like to question it first. He presses the lock at a venture.… Oh miracle! The two shells open and disclose a pearl—a pocket-book, which in its turn discloses a bundle of bank-notes. Bernard seizes the pearl and shuts up the oyster.

And now that he has the wherewithal—quick! a hotel. He knows of one close by in the Rue d’Amsterdam. He is dying of hunger. But before sitting down to table, he must put his suit-case in safety. A waiter carries it upstairs before him; three flights; a passage; a door which he locks upon his treasure. He goes down again.

Sitting at table in front of a beefsteak, Bernard did not dare examine the pocket-book. (One never knows who may be watching you.) But his left hand amorously caressed it, lying snug in his inside pocket.

“How to make Edouard understand that I’m not a thief—that’s the trouble. What kind of fellow is Edouard? Perhaps the suit-case may shed a little light upon that. Attractive—so much is certain. But there are heaps of attractive fellows who have no taste for practical joking. If he thinks his suit-case has been stolen, no doubt he’ll be glad to see it again. If he’s the least decent he’ll be grateful to me for bringing it back to him. I shall easily rouse his interest. Let’s eat the sweet quickly and then go upstairs and examine the situation. Now for the bill and a soul-stirring tip for the waiter.”

A minute or two later he was back again in his room.

“Now, suit-case, a word with you!… A morning suit, not more than a trifle too big for me, I expect. The material becoming and in good taste. Linen; toilet things. I’m not very sure that I shall give any of all this back. But what proves that I’m not a thief is that these papers interest me a great deal more than anything else. We’ll begin by reading this.”

This was the note-book into which Edouard had slipped Laura’s menancholy letter. We have already seen the first pages; this is what followed.