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HOTEL DE PARIS (LEICESTER PLACE)
HE is a rising young artist with an idea, an idea which is, or was, to make him and me rich beyond dreams of avarice ; all that is wanted now being a publisher who will see matters in the same light that the rising young artist does, and who will spend a hundred thousand pounds to back his belief.
Gentlemen, do not all speak at once.
The rising young artist wanted to talk to me quietly for an hour, to unfold his brilliant idea, and it seemed to me that it would be an economy of time to eat dinner and learn how a fortune can be made at one and the same time.
“Let us go to some very quiet place, then,” said the rising artist, “for if any one were to overhear he might forestall us, and then____“ The rising artist shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands ; and I saw the possibilities of a steam yacht, and a shooting-box in Scotland, and a couple of horses in training at Newmarket all vanishing into air.
Such a calamity as being forestalled should [-312-] not occur if I could help it, I said: and appointed a meeting at a club whence we would walk to a dining-place; and the particular dining-place I had in my mind’s eye was the Hotel de Paris, in Leicester Place, which is quiet, has no disturbing element in the form of a band, and is almost entirely patronised by French people, who probably would not have understood the rising artist’s idea, even if they had overheard it.
The Hôtel de Paris does not thrust itself upon the public gaze. You pass between the two great restaurants that are springing into existence in Leicester Square. To the right is the modest façade of the French Embassy chapel. To the left a lamp, with “Hôtel de Paris” on it, marks the hotel, and a large framed bill of fare shows that here also is the restaurant. Passing through a little hail, where a page and hall-porter bow with exceeding politeness, you turn to the right and find a glass door, with the word “Restaurant” on it, facing you.
The rising artist was punctual to his appointment, and by a quarter to eight we were settled down at a table for two in the restaurant, a T-shaped room, with two arches where the upright of the T joins the cross-line; and M. Conrarie, the manager, his moustaches turned upwards and his frock-coat of the neatest, was standing by, while a waiter, in plain evening clothes, submitted to us the menu of the tabled’hôte dinner for the day. This was it:-
Printanier Royal. Crème de céleri.
Cabillaud. Sauce Hollandaise. Blanchille.
Poulet au riz. Tête de veau en tortue.
[-313-] Filet de boeuf. Tomates farcies.
Epinards a la crème.
We made our selection of dishes, and I ordered a bottle of 1889 Perrier Jouet ; for the building up of a fortune could not be talked over with the accompaniment of any meaner wine than champagne.
The rising artist looked carefully round the rooms. It is a pretty restaurant, with a paper of gold sprays of foliage on a blue background, with many mirrors, with the green of palm-leaves by the two arches, with painted-glass windows, with electric lights dependent from the papered ceiling and in red and yellow shaded lamps on the tables. The tables are dotted about the room at convenient distances, and it was at the diners sitting at these tables that the rising artist was looking curiously to assure himself that what he was going to say would not be overheard. The diners, with the exception of ourselves, were all foreigners. An old Frenchman, with a white moustache and black silk cravat tied in a great bow, was giving dinner to a smooth-faced youth who probably was his son. Next to them was a gentleman with a peaked beard who looked like a musician; then three young men with down on their chins talking eagerly and gesticulating vehemently. A gentleman with a very long beard who talked English with a foreign accent to the waiter, and who possibly was a Russian, was at the table next to [-314-] us, and through the arches we could see a hat with black feathers and a dainty little profile of a face with a tip-tilted nose, as well as more Frenchmen, fat and thin, bearded and clean-shaven.
The rising artist was apparently satisfied with his scrutiny ; and, as I dallied with a sardine and he with some other hors-d’oeuvre, he opened the proceedings by asking me what I intended to do with my half of the fortune we were going to make. Being a practical and prudent man, I said that that depended upon the number of tens of thousands a year that we should realise, but that I had already decided on buying a large steam yacht and hiring a moor in Scotland and having a few horses in training.
The soup then made its appearance, and did not meet with our approval, for the chef had remedied a lack of strength by a liberal sprinkling from the sauce-bottle. It was not in keeping with the excellently-cooked dishes that followed.
The rising artist was going to spend his thousands in a different manner. He thought of building such a house and studio as London had never seen before. His collection of modern pictures was going to be small but very good, while a few chefs-d’oeuvre of the old masters—Velasquez, Van Dyck, and Rembrandt for choice—would satisfy him. He did not care about racing or shooting, but his carriage horses would be the best obtainable, and he thought of building a tennis-court when he bought a little house in the country.
The whitebait was excellently cooked, and [-315-] led us into conversation as to the cooks we should presently require. A Frenchman who had at some time served under the great Cubat and understood Russian dishes was my idea of what would be my requirements, while the rising artist simply thought of going to Maître Escoffier and asking him for the best cook he had under him at the time.
The rising artist said that the poulet au riz was well cooked, and my tête de veau was succulent and beautifully hot. I began to think that it was about time that my young friend propounded his idea; but he lingered lovingly over the details of his studio and tennis-court, and seemed more inclined to tell me how to spend the money than how to make it.
The filet de boeuf was cooked exactly to a Frenchman’s taste, a trifle too much for an Englishman’s; the tomatoes and spinach were all that could be wished.
“Now,” I said, “let’s hear all about your wonderful idea.”
The rising artist looked round again to be sure that nobody, not even a waiter, was within hearing, and then whispered across the table the broad lines of the plan he had conceived for making our joint fortune. When he had finished he leaned back in his chair with the triumphant air of a man who has laid the ace, king, queen, and knave of trumps on the table. I was thinking that the champagne was far too good for the idea.
The cream in its bread casing was put before us and I ordered coffee and liqueurs. “Where do [-316-] you expect to find a publisher who’ll risk tens or hundreds of thousands to do this?” I asked.
“Oh, any publisher with any pluck will jump at it,” said the rising artist airily. “It will be part of your share of the work to find our man.”
I paid the bill: two dinners, 6s.; two cafés spéciaux, 1s.; champagne, 14s.; two fine champagnes, 1s. 6d. ; total, £1:2:6; shook hands with the rising artist, and told him I was going out to try and find that publisher. If any one knows of a publisher who would be likely to risk, say, £100,000 in carrying out an artistic idea, I should be glad of his name and address.