Maggiormente hastened down the stairs and out into the street before drawing breath, as if the sound of his aspiration might be enough to call the signora to follow him. Determining that she had not in fact pursued, the alchemist slowed his steps as he considered what to do.
Anything but return for her desired tête-à-tête!
He was not entirely certain how interested she truly was in his person, but it was beginning to look like very. Maggiormente frowned. He did not return her interest. And Eduardo would not much like it if she continued to express her insinuations.
There's so much work to be done! The alchemist shook his head. He did not need interference from anyone at present, particularly from his concierge. How awful to have to consider moving! But if her importunities did not end, it might have to be considered.
Maggiormente had stopped as the horror of the thought occurred to him. Although his original thought had been to get some sand from the river, and indeed his footsteps had taken him down the gentle slope in that direction, his intruding worries had pushed all thought of sand from his mind and he could not immediately remember where he had been bound.
"Monsieur alchemiste!" a voice called from nearby.
Hearing himself hailed, Maggiormente turned although the thoughts in his head continued to buzz like a hive. "Si?"
A young man in Bohemian garb waved a desultory hand at him, beckoning the alchemist to join him at the café where he sat. "Come, share a glass with me!"
"Gustave!" Maggiormente's face lit up and the buzzing thoughts subsided like the banked embers of a fire. He walked across the way with eager steps and clasped the offered hand in his two palms. "You have returned to Paris!"
The young man in the rumpled suit nodded, a broad grin brightening his unremarkable face with its uneven growth of beard. Only his twinkling eyes suggested there might be something more to the figure than one of another in the horde of young Bohemians still crowding the Paris cafés.
"I could not last long in the countryside, monsieur Maggiormente. I am not suited to the genteel life of the farm."
The alchemist threw himself down in the seat opposite his friend. "Ah, but the country is free of distractions. You must have got much writing done."
Gustave sighed. "Alas, no."
"But surely there was much to inspire you?"
The poet sighed even more dramatically. "Inspiration? Cows? Hayricks? Trees? Wheatfields? Bah! No one could find much in that."
The alchemist laughed. "I think there are many painters who might disagree with you. Pastoral novelists, too. I think there may be a poet or two who found much to immortalize in the countryside."
Gustave rubbed a hand over his face as if to erase the memory of the green. "Bloody Romantics! Don't give me your western winds and burbling streams. I want people, noise, shops, tavernas, galleries and fights. City life, monsieur. It is the only true inspiration. And no city is like Paris."
"Ah, but have you been to Rome or Venice? You must see Rome before you die," Maggiormente scolded.
"Gladly, gladly," Gustave said with a vague wave. "If this life does not kill me before I have the chance. Philippe! A glass for my friend." The waiter brought the glass and the poet filled it to the brim before handing it over.
"Oh no, just a little," Maggiormente said, frowning at the glass. "I still have much work to do—" He broke off, wondering if he would be able to get any work done while his concierge lay in wait for him.
"Nonsense! Drink up! Santé!"
"Well, perhaps a little respite…" The alchemist sipped the wine, grimacing a little to find it overly sweet. All French wine seemed a trifle sweet to him. He missed the bold Tuscan flavours that his local café in Rome favoured, and as soon as he thought of that, Maggiormente could almost taste roasted artichoke and felt a stab of homesickness flick his heart. To distract himself as much as anything else, he asked his friend, "And now that you're back in Paris, have you been writing much?"
Gustave smacked his forehead with an open palm. "Not one wretched word! None! My ink has dried up. My pages mock me. My quills have flown away."
"But you are in the city you love, full of noise and cafés and arguments."
"There's just one problem."
"I'm in love!"