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Paris, March, 1814

Fine yellow sunlight down the rue du Mont Thabor.
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Paris, March, 1814

Fine yellow sunlight down the rue du Mont Thabor.
Ten o'clock striking from all the clock-towers of Paris.
Over the door of a shop, in gilt letters:
"Martin — Parfumeur", and something more.
A large gilded wooden something.
Listen!  What a ringing of hammers!
Tap!
Tap!
Squeak!
Tap!  Squeak!  Tap-a-tap!
"Blaise."
"Oui, M'sieu."
"Don't touch the letters.  My name stays."
"Bien, M'sieu."
"Just take down the eagle, and the shield with the bees."
"As M'sieu pleases."
Tap!  Squeak!  Tap!
The man on the ladder hammers steadily for a minute or two,
Then stops.
"He!  Patron!
They are fastened well, Nom d'un Chien!
What if I break them?"
"Break away,
You and Paul must have them down to-day."
"Bien."
And the hammers start again,
Drum-beating at the something of gilded wood.
Sunshine in a golden flood
Lighting up the yellow fronts of houses,
Glittering each window to a flash.
Squeak!  Squeak!  Tap!
The hammers beat and rap.
A Prussian hussar on a grey horse goes by at a dash.
From other shops, the noise of striking blows:
Pounds, thumps, and whacks;
Wooden sounds:  splinters — cracks.
Paris is full of the galloping of horses and the knocking of hammers.
"Hullo! Friend Martin, is business slack
That you are in the street this morning?  Don't turn your back
And scuttle into your shop like a rabbit to its hole.
I've just been taking a stroll.
The stinking Cossacks are bivouacked all up and down the Champs Elysees.
I can't get the smell of them out of my nostrils.
Dirty fellows, who don't believe in frills
Like washing.  Ah, mon vieux, you'd have to go
Out of business if you lived in Russia.  So!
We've given up being perfumers to the Emperor, have we?
Blaise,
Be careful of the hen,
Maybe I can find a use for her one of these days.
That eagle's rather well cut, Martin.
But I'm sick of smelling Cossack,
Take me inside and let me put my head into a stack
Of orris-root and musk."
Within the shop, the light is dimmed to a pearl-and-green dusk
Out of which dreamily sparkle counters and shelves of glass,
Containing phials, and bowls, and jars, and dishes; a mass
Of aqueous transparence made solid by threads of gold.
Gold and glass,
And scents which whiff across the green twilight and pass.
The perfumer sits down and shakes his head:
"Always the same, Monsieur Antoine,
You artists are wonderful folk indeed."
But Antoine Vernet does not heed.
He is reading the names on the bottles and bowls,
Done in fine gilt letters with wonderful scrolls.
"What have we here?  `Eau Imperial Odontalgique.'
I must say, mon cher, your names are chic.
But it won't do, positively it will not do.
Elba doesn't count.  Ah, here is another:
`Baume du Commandeur'.  That's better.  He needs something to smother
Regrets.  A little lubricant, too,
Might be useful.  I have it,
`Sage Oil', perhaps he'll be good now; with it we'll submit
This fine German rouge.  I fear he is pale."
"Monsieur Antoine, don't rail
At misfortune.  He treated me well and fairly."
"And you prefer him to Bourbons, admit it squarely."
"Heaven forbid!"  Bang!  Whack!
Squeak!  Squeak!  Crack!
CRASH!
"Oh, Lord, Martin!  That shield is hash.
The whole street is covered with golden bees.
They look like so many yellow peas,
Lying there in the mud.  I'd like to paint it.
`Plum pudding of Empire'.  That's rather quaint, it
Might take with the Kings.  Shall I try?"  "Oh, Sir,
You distress me, you do."  "Poor old Martin's purr!
But he hasn't a scratch in him, I know.
Now let us get back to the powders and patches.
Foolish man,
The Kings are here now.  We must hit on a plan
To change all these titles as fast as we can.
`Bouquet Imperatrice'.  Tut!  Tut!  Give me some ink —
`Bouquet de la Reine', what do you think?
Not the same receipt?
Now, Martin, put away your conceit.
Who will ever know?
`Extract of Nobility' — excellent, since most of them are killed."
"But, Monsieur Antoine —"
"You are self-willed,
Martin.  You need a salve
For your conscience, do you?
Very well, we'll halve
The compliments, also the pastes and dentifrices;
Send some to the Kings, and some to the Empresses.
`Oil of Bitter Almonds' — the Empress Josephine can have that.
`Oil of Parma Violets' fits the other one pat."
Rap!  Rap!  Bang!
"What a hideous clatter!
Blaise seems determined to batter
That poor old turkey into bits,
And pound to jelly my excellent wits.
Come, come, Martin, you mustn't shirk.
`The night cometh soon' — etc.  Don't jerk
Me up like that.  `Essence de la Valliere' —
That has a charmingly Bourbon air.
And, oh! Magnificent!  Listen to this! —
`Vinaigre des Quatre Voleurs'.  Nothing amiss
With that — England, Austria, Russia and Prussia!
Martin, you're a wonder,
Upheavals of continents can't keep you under."
"Monsieur Antoine, I am grieved indeed
At such levity.  What France has gone through —"
"Very true, Martin, very true,
But never forget that a man must feed."
Pound!  Pound!  Thump!
Pound!
"Look here, in another minute Blaise will drop that bird on the ground."
Martin shrugs his shoulders.  "Ah, well, what then? —"
Antoine, with a laugh:  "I'll give you two sous for that antiquated hen."
The Imperial Eagle sells for two sous,
And the lilies go up.
      A man must choose!

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