I left Boris at my room and went down to the pawnshop. When I got there I found that it was shut and would not open till four in the afternoon. It was now about half-past one, and I had walked twelve kilometres and had no food for sixty hours. Fate seemed to be playing a series of extraordinarily unamusing jokes.
Then the luck changed as though by a miracle. I was walking home through the Rue Broca when suddenly, glittering on the cobbles, I saw a five-sou piece. I pounced on it, hurried home, got our other five-sou piece and bought a pound of potatoes. There was only enough alcohol in the stove to parboil them, and we had no salt, but we wolfed them, skins and all. After that we felt like new men, and sat playing chess till the pawnshop opened.
At four o’clock I went back to the pawnshop. I was not hopeful, for if I had only got seventy francs before, what could I expect for two shabby overcoats in a cardboard suitcase? Boris had said twenty francs, but I thought it would be ten francs, or even five. Worse yet, I might be refused altogether, like poor Numéro 83 on the previous occasion. I sat on the front bench, so as not to see people laughing when the clerk said five francs.
At last the clerk called my number: ‘Numéro 117!’
‘Yes,’ I said, standing up.
It was almost as great a shock as the seventy francs had been the time before. I believe now that the clerk had mixed my number up with someone else’s, for one could not have sold the coats outright for fifty francs. I hurried home and walked into my room with my hands behind my back, saying nothing. Boris was playing with the chessboard. He looked up eagerly.
‘What did you get?’ he exclaimed. ‘What, not twenty francs? Surely you got ten francs, anyway? Nom de Dieu, five francs — that is a bit too thick. Mon ami, don’t say it was five francs. If you say it was five francs I shall really begin to think of suicide.’
I threw the fifty-franc, note on to the table. Boris turned white as chalk, and then, springing up, seized my hand and gave it a grip that almost broke the bones. We ran out, bought bread and wine, a piece of meat and alcohol for the stove, and gorged.
After eating, Boris became more optimistic than I had ever known him. ‘What did I tell you?’ he said. ‘The fortune of war! This morning with five sous, and now look at us. I have always said it, there is nothing easier to get than money. And that reminds me, I have a friend in the rue Fondary whom we might go and see. He has cheated me of four thousand francs, the thief. He is the greatest thief alive when he is sober, but it is a curious thing, he is quite honest when he is drunk. I should think he would be drunk by six in the evening. Let’s go and find him. Very likely he will pay up a hundred on account. Merde! He might pay two hundred. Allons-y!’
We went to the rue Fondary and found the man, and he was drunk, but we did not get our hundred francs. As soon as he and Boris met there was a terrible altercation on the pavement. The other man declared that he did not owe Boris a penny, but that on the contrary Boris owed him four thousand francs, and both of them kept appealing to me for my opinion. I never understood the rights of the matter. The two argued and argued, first in the street, then in a bistro, then in a prix fixe restaurant where we went for dinner, then in another bistro. Finally, having called one another thieves for two hours, they went off together on a drinking bout that finished up the last sou of Boris’s money.
Boris slept the night at the house of a cobbler, another Russian refugee, in the Commerce quarter. Meanwhile, I had eight francs left, and plenty of cigarettes, and was stuffed to the eyes with food and drink. It was a marvellous change for the better after two bad days.