We were as happy as we were poor, or as poor as we were happy--phrase it to suit yourself. Claude Frere and Carl Boulanger--these are the names of those boys; dear, dear fellows, and the sunniest spirits that ever laughed at poverty and had a noble good time in all weathers.
'At last we ran hard aground in a Breton village, and an artist as poor as ourselves took us in and literally saved us from starving--Francois Millet--'
'What! the great Francois Millet?'
'Great? He wasn't any greater than we were, then. He hadn't any fame, even in his own village; and he was so poor that he hadn't anything to feed us on but turnips, and even the turnips failed us sometimes. We four became fast friends, doting friends, inseparables. We painted away together with all our might, piling up stock, piling up stock, but very seldom getting rid of any of it. We had lovely times together; but, O my soul! how we were pinched now and then!
'For a little over two years this went on. At last, one day, Claude said:
'"Boys, we've come to the end. Do you understand that?--absolutely to the end. Everybody has struck--there's a league formed against us. I've been all around the village and it's just as I tell you. They refuse to credit us for another centime until all the odds and ends are paid up."
'This struck us as cold. Every face was blank with dismay. We realised that our circumstances were desperate, now. There was a long silence. Finally, Millet said with a sigh:
'"Nothing occurs to me--nothing. Suggest something, lads."
'There was no response, unless a mournful silence may be called a response. Carl got up, and walked nervously up and down a while, then said:
'"It's a shame! Look at these canvases: stacks and stacks of as good pictures as anybody in Europe paints--I don't care who he is. Yes, and plenty of lounging strangers have said the same--or nearly that, anyway."
'"But didn't buy," Millet said.
'"No matter, they said it; and it's true, too. Look at your 'Angelus' there! Will anybody tell me--"
'"Pah, Carl--My 'Angelus!' I was offered five francs for it."
'"Who offered it?"
'"Where is he?"
'"Why didn't you take it?"
'"Come--don't all speak at once. I thought he would give more--I was sure of it--he looked it--so I asked him eight."
'"He said he would call again."
'"Thunder and lightning! Why, Francois--"
'"Oh, I know--I know! It was a mistake, and I was a fool. Boys, I meant for the best; you'll grant me that, and I--"
'"Why, certainly, we know that, bless your dear heart; but don't you be a fool again."
'"I? I wish somebody would come along and offer us a cabbage for it-- you'd see!"
'"A cabbage! Oh, don't name it--it makes my mouth water. Talk of things less trying."
'"Boys," said Carl, "do these pictures lack merit? Answer me that."
'"Aren't they of very great and high merit? Answer me that."
'"Of such great and high merit that, if an illustrious name were attached to them they would sell at splendid prices. Isn't it so?"
'"Certainly it is. Nobody doubts that."
'"But--I'm not joking--isn't it so?"
'"Why, of course it's so--and we are not joking. But what of it. What of it? How does that concern us?"
'"In this way, comrades--we'll attach an illustrious name to them!"
'The lively conversation stopped. The faces were turned inquiringly upon Carl. What sort of riddle might this be? Where was an illustrious name to be borrowed? And who was to borrow it?
'Carl sat down, and said:
'"Now, I have a perfectly serious thing to propose. I think it is the only way to keep us out of the almshouse, and I believe it to be a perfectly sure way. I base this opinion upon certain multitudinous and long-established facts in human history. I believe my project will make us all rich."
'"Rich! You've lost your mind."
'"No, I haven't."
'"Yes, you have--you've lost your mind. What do you call rich?"
'"A hundred thousand francs apiece."
'"He has lost his mind.