A Dinner with Petrus Borel

A Dinner with Petrus Borel by Théophile Gautier

Vabre and his friend Petrus were in charge of works for some contractors and settled down in the first livable room, mostly so they could save rent but also to play Robinson Crusoe and the wild savages lost in the midst of civilization.
That’s how I found them living under the collapsing vaults of a cellar in a house on Rue Fontaine-au-Roi, which they were obviously supposed to repair. The beams, bricks and stones scattered all over the yard made it difficult to enter. Stumbling over the rocks and timber I managed to reach my friends’ room, guided by the occasional glimmer of light that escaped through the windows of the cellar—for them it was a veritable grotto in the Juan-Fernandez Islands and not a cellar on Rue Fontaine-au-Roi. I went down a few steps and saw Petrus, pale and haughty, cockier than a Castilian fat-cat, sitting near a fire made of boards while Vabre, kneeling and leaning forward on his hands, his cheeks swollen like Aeolus, was blowing on the flames, which produced the intermittent light that was visible from outside.
The two of them sitting there like that, lit from below, casting dark shadows strangely deformed by the curve of the vaulting, would have given Rembrandt, or even Norblin, if Rembrandt was too busy at the moment, the subject for an etching full of mystery.
Under the ashes of the fire the supper of my two friends (more sober than hermits) was cooking. “But on Sundays we put in salt,” Jules Vabre said with proud sensuality, “because, after all, salt is a luxury like Diogenes’ wooden cup. Simple palates don’t need the stimulant just as a man can drink out of his cupped hands.”
Water from a pump washed down the primitive meal. The two comrades had such personalities that they experienced a kind of joy in reducing their life to the bare necessities. With so few needs it was easy to put up with the tyrannies of civilization and they felt free in their cellar like on a deserted island.

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