Apartments for Rent
As I told you here the other day, Séverine is my comrade, my confidant, my close friend. We are from the same “region”, both born right in the heart of the 9th, Rue du Helder, in an old house that Baron Haussmann tore down around 1868 and that has since been replaced by the office of the Taitbout-La Muette tramway.
We grew up together. We played with the same dolls, wore out our seats on the same school benches, shared the punishments and rewards, the wallops and the candy. In brief, we almost never left each other’s side.
Likewise professionally. When we had to choose a career, destiny held out a pair of blue stockings—always fraternal we each took one. She matched it with a black stocking and red garters, battle colors. Me, being more frivolous, was satisfied with pastel pink frilled with pale pink ribbons. And while I worked on the society columns, smiling a little at everything, rarely getting angry, mostly discreet and proper, that good, nutty Séverine went running off, running wild, starting controversies, fending off attacks… the kin of Louise Michel for her sincerity and the cousin of Déroulède for her windmills!
I call her good?… hmm. I do not want to belittle her, but that is a legend that needs to be cut down to size. She is good, of course, but often with such lack of tact! Look, we could never make her understand that when an abuse is commmitted by the rich, the right people, or the people in government keeping silent about it is proof of a good upbringing, good taste and good manners; and in betraying the unspoken freemasonry that binds people of the same social status you have everything to lose and nothing to gain; and finally that it is bad form and degrading to look too low. Seriously, she is doing herself a disservice!
But when you tell her these things she gives you that cocky, I-don’t-give-a-damn-what-anybody-thinks look—and, like the marshal’s negro, continue!
In truth she is very mean. So, when I see this usually gloomy girl laughing, I am suspicious. Surely, while pretending to defend the weak she just ran into some distinguished person again. And I never fail to greet her by asking, “Well, what did you do this time, you scamp?”
Now, this morning she was laughing so loudly and so cheerfully, with tears in her eyes, that she could not answer right away. She slumped down in the cushions and wiped her eyes. As I was getting impatient she said, “Wait a minute. It’s so funny.”
“I’m going to move.”
“Oh, great.” And here comes the best part. “Where are you going to move?”
“The left bank.”
“Why? It’s been barely a year since you got your new apartment and you’re set up so nicely there.”
“Yes, but I’m paying for it.”
“And over there?”
“Not a sous, my dear! No matter how much I insist, the landlord will keep my rent very low and the other tenants will provide me with soap, sugar and coffee.”
“Give me the address, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.”
“Oh, there’s nothing there for you, sweetie.”
“Well, are you going to tell me everything?”
“Here you go. Thirteen months ago, you remember (right after the Padlewski affair), I was looking for an apartment. I needed something not very expensive for reasons that I’ll let you guess, but very spacious because of my books and papers, my collection of newspapers, my birds and what the good old master Cladel would call my litany of dogs: Rip, Tiote and Mégot.
“I scoured the districts, went up one street and down another, up one flight of stairs and down another, without finding that pearl of a nice landlady and that other pearl that is no less precious: a smiling, helpful concierge!”
“But you have them where you are, ingrate, and you want to leave!”
“Hold on, I’m not finished. In brief, I’d run all over Paris from east to west, from north to the Midi, without finding the nest of my dreams when I noticed on Rue d’Assas (you’ll understand in a minute why I’m not giving you the number) a lovely apartment. Huge and on the first floor—with a little garden where roses could grow and where all the animals, including myself, could lie in the bright sun.
“I told him timidly that I had birds but the doorman remained calm. I confessed my four-footed friends… and with a smile that looked beatific he said he loved them. ‘Animals are good’ he even deigned to add. You understand now my enthusiasm and the down payment I handed to this fellow beastiomaniac. I got him to arrange a meeting with the manager for the next day and I went dancing back home, happy as a lark.
“The next day I showed up with mama because we had to rent in her name. We settled everything with the manager, a nice man who was the spitting image of Hector Malot. I pointed out the wall partitions that needed to be taken down and the ceiling in need of repair. We agreed so marvelously on every point that there were no misunderstandings and no discussion. We decided on what the owner would pay for and what would be my responsibility. I saw the cellar and the maid’s room and was already arranging the furniture. We parted. Everyone was delighted.
“The day after that, mama came home and broke down in tears. ‘My poor child, they don’t want to rent to us!’ I was startled, ‘Why?’ And she explained that they gave full credit to me as a renter and that even my character as far as being a woman was in no way questionable, but that the house was full of judges and that they were disturbed by the idea of having as a neighbor the former editor-in-chief of Le Cri du Peuple, a ‘petroleuse’, a hell-raiser, a Communard, a journalist imbued with the most ‘subversive’ attitudes toward their association. And my dear mother finished with this predictable comment: Your father and I told you that by choosing that position you would have nothing but trouble! If you were with the government, they would rent to you right away!
“So, I went elsewhere and I’m fine. But now…”
“Take a guess.”
“No, go on!”
“Well… so… the guys on Rue d’Assas got a real scare put in them by the explosion on Boulevard Saint Germain. And all of a sudden they feel terribly guilty and passionately sympathetic toward me. They thought it wasn’t good that their occupational prejudice prevented a poor little woman from living wherever she pleased and that they had lost a unique opportunity to bond with friendly ‘companions’, those young anarchists who are so interesting and admired and slandered! Nothing but positive could come of us getting to know each other, right? And so much incrimination and hatred and reciprocal danger might be avoided that way…”
“You’re joking, come on!”
“I swear it’s the truth. They figured that the anarchists might think twice about blowing to bits a woman who has always defended them and…”
“THEY CAME LOOKING FOR ME! A envoy who was ‘subtle and sensible’, as they say in Lazare le Pâtre, came on behalf of the tenants to know if I would accept being the fireshield for this tribe of magistrates.”
“And you accepted?”
“No worries, my dear. I love quiet houses with nice people. So, I’m not going there. There are judges in that house!”
 Writing as Jacqueline in Gil Blas, March 18 1892.
 For intellectual women interested in the literary world.
 Paul Déroulède (1846-1914), nationalist founder of the League of Patriots and supporter of General Boulanger.
 Léon Cladel (1834-1892) was a French novelist.
 In March 1892 a bomb planted by Ravachol exploded in a judge’s house. See 11-Ravachol.
 A play by Joseph Bouchardy that was first staged in 1840.