- Pierre ?
- Oh damn! It's that he made a splash! It scared my fishes !
- Finally, let him come to his senses! Gustave, approach! Give your jacket. He will catch death.
Pierre opens his eyes. He distinguishes some shapes and bright colors, as through frosted glass. The sky, trees, maybe. Very tall, the trees. Poplars?
The contours are sharper. A fishing rod, a bearded man with a funny soft hat, a young, elegant woman with a white bodice.
- Talk to us, good Lord! What got into you?
- Shut up, Gustave! You can see that he is knocked!
- Yes, Pierre, yes, of course! How do you feel? You gave us one of those scares!
- Well I… I don't really know. I must have slipped off the bridge.
- On your birthday, do you play acrobats? Do you want Auguste to make an attack?
The affectionate reprimand of Gustave Caillebotte makes the small group that has formed around the miracle smile. The fisherman is inexhaustible.
- I saw it as I see you! He climbed over the parapet and wham! In the water !
- Where's my jacket?
- She probably stayed up there. Father Villot has gone to look for her, says Gustave.
Peter straightened up. It is leaned against the trunk of a poplar. Someone brings him a blanket. The onlookers disperse slowly.
Aline Charigot, who had been away for a few minutes, stands in front of him, hands on her hips.
- Mathilde is waiting for you at Fournaise. Alphonse lent him something to dry you and some clean linen. I bet you'll have a lot to do to make up for it. Did you forget our lunch?
Pierre, still a little dazed, gets up and heads for the restaurant. Mathilde is standing in front of the door, with a bundle of clothes. When she sees him, she runs to him and throws herself into his arms.
- You are crazy! she said to him in a tone of reproach immediately belied by that sour smile he loves so much. When will you stop your pranks?
Peter burst out laughing.
- Wait, you're going to be soaked! Let me dry off, at least… where's Caroline?
- Your daughter is playing on the terrace with Auguste. I didn't tell her. Don't want her to think her father is a daredevil...
- She already knows!
Pierre has worn gray canvas pants and a white undershirt. Mathilde poses with authority on the head of her man a straw hat with a blue ribbon.
Father Villot approaches and hands him his jacket. Pierre seizes it, not without thanking the old carter who has returned to the bridge. He inspects his pockets and pulls out a tube of color, like a trophy.
He dangles it before Mathilde's eyes.
- It's ultramarine blue, he said triumphantly. Real, with Lapis-Lazuli pigments, the same one that was used by the Limbourg brothers. It cost me a fortune but I wanted to do your portrait with your blue bodice, that blue my princ…
Mathilde does not let him finish his sentence. She kisses him violently, tenderly, full on the mouth, while pressing him against the wall.
- I'm happy, freak! And now, we have to go up, they are waiting for us...
He wants to kiss her again. She approaches her face then, when their lips are about to meet, she escapes, bursting into laughter.
- Come, my painter!
He climbs the stairs behind her and they find themselves on the terrace on the first floor. Several tables are set in the shade of a canvas with red and white stripes. Small oak barrels wait to pour their nectar into the bottles, bunches of grapes overflow heavy white compotes.
It is full sun. Pierre leans on the wrought iron balustrade. Mathilde approaches and hugs her gently.
In the distance, small sailboats and a few boats glide on the Seine.
- But where are the others? There is no one here!
Pierre contemplates Mathilde who tries in vain to stifle a smile.
- Happy birthday, Dad!
Caroline Guillaume appears at the top of the stairs and approaches her father with a small beribboned package and a bouquet of wildflowers. Then, behind her, in a joyous cohort, Aline and Auguste Renoir, Hippolyte and Alphonsine Fournaise, Baron Raoul Barbier, actresses Ellen Andrée and Jeanne Samary, Adrien Maggido, model Angèle Legault and all the others, who applaud and repeat sound " Happy Birthday ".
Pierre feels a hand resting affectionately on his shoulder.
- Happy birthday, my companion!
Gustave Caillebotte gives him a vigorous hug.
Pierre takes his daughter in his arms and stays like that for a long time, his eyes filled with tears.
- Won't you open your present?
- Yes, of course, my dear.
The guests form a circle around the hero of the day. The ribbon is quickly removed and the tissue paper reveals a small varnished wooden box. Pierre removes the lid.
At the bottom of the box is a small medallion in enamel and gilded metal, the two parts of which are connected by a delicate clasp.
- From all those who love you, says Caroline.
Pierre opens the locket carefully. Inside, on one side, a photograph of Mathilde. On the other side, a snapshot of Caroline. Peter is moved.
- Thank you all, thank you my dear Mathilde, thank you, my mischievous daughter!
One moves forward, wanting to see the medallion, Pierre receives a few shoves. One asks for a speech, steps aside, makes room. A few barely filled glasses are already circulating from hand to hand.
Renoir approaches, clearing his throat. he takes a small crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket.
- My dear Pierre, happy birthday! 40 years of life, 20 years of friendship, 5 years of success! This September 8, 1880 will remain in our hearts, here, at Alphonse Fournaise, at the rendezvous of all boaters! It's your house, it's our house! Monet had to stay in Vétheuil but he sends you all his compliments. To your health, to that of Mathilde and the charming Caroline!
In a joyful hubbub, the glasses clink, the ladies sit down, the men chat, the weather is mild. An accordion plays a few notes.
Renoir approaches Pierre with a greedy gaze.
- Mathilde told me that you bought ultramarine blue?
- Yes, real, an incredible blue, fine and deep at the same time.
- You know I want to do a portrait of Aline with her beautiful blue and gray bodice?
- I see you coming, you wooden head! Give me a sheet of paper!
As if he had guessed his friend's reaction, Renoir presents a small piece of cardboard. Pierre opens the precious tube of color and deposits a good half of its contents in a spiral.
- But it’s far too much, says Auguste.
- Do not worry! With what remains, you will paint Caroline's portrait!
- What are you two plotting?
Mathilde takes her companion's arm. Pierre draws her to him.
- Didn't we have a kiss in progress, Madame Guillaume?
- You are insatiable, sir!
She offers her lips, he bends down, shivers of pure gold vibrate in their eyes, the sounds are muffled, the terrace fades, the sun goes out, fall into darkness...
The body of the unknown had drifted from the Asnières bridge to the Chatou bridge. He had been found thanks to the description of a tramp who had seen a man throw himself into the Seine. When he was fished out, what struck the investigators was that incredible smile on his face. The commissioner on duty had moved to the scene.
- Do we know who it is?
- No idea. No wallet, no papers.
- Take him to the forensic institute.
- At your service commissar. By the way, we found this stuff in one of his pockets.
He handed the chief of police a transparent plastic bag. Inside was a half-opened tube of paint, ultramarine blue, it seemed to him. Next to it, a small medallion in enamel and gilt metal.
© Fabrice Roy 2018