Part 4 - Scaramouche Audiobook by Rafael Sabatini - Book 2 (Chs 06-09)


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Transcript:
BOOK II: THE BUSKIN CHAPTER VI.
CLIMENE
Diligent search among the many scenarios of the improvisers which have survived their
day, has failed to bring to light the scenario of "Les Fourberies de
Scaramouche," upon which we are told the
fortunes of the Binet troupe came to be soundly established.
They played it for the first time at Maure in the following week, with Andre-Louis--
who was known by now as Scaramouche to all the company, and to the public alike--in
the title-role.
If he had acquitted himself well as Figaro- Scaramouche, he excelled himself in the new
piece, the scenario of which would appear to be very much the better of the two.
After Maure came Pipriac, where four performances were given, two of each of the
scenarios that now formed the backbone of the Binet repertoire.
In both Scaramouche, who was beginning to find himself, materially improved his
performances.
So smoothly now did the two pieces run that Scaramouche actually suggested to Binet
that after Fougeray, which they were to visit in the following week, they should
tempt fortune in a real theatre in the important town of Redon.
The notion terrified Binet at first, but coming to think of it, and his ambition
being fanned by Andre-Louis, he ended by allowing himself to succumb to the
temptation.
It seemed to Andre-Louis in those days that he had found his real metier, and not only
was he beginning to like it, but actually to look forward to a career as actor-author
that might indeed lead him in the end to
that Mecca of all comedians, the Comedie Francaise.
And there were other possibilities.
From the writing of skeleton scenarios for improvisers, he might presently pass to
writing plays of dialogue, plays in the proper sense of the word, after the manner
of Chenier, Eglantine, and Beaumarchais.
The fact that he dreamed such dreams shows us how very kindly he had taken to the
profession into which Chance and M. Binet between them had conspired to thrust him.
That he had real talent both as author and as actor I do not doubt, and I am persuaded
that had things fallen out differently he would have won for himself a lasting place
among French dramatists, and thus fully have realized that dream of his.
Now, dream though it was, he did not neglect the practical side of it.
"You realize," he told M. Binet, "that I have it in my power to make your fortune
for you."
He and Binet were sitting alone together in the parlour of the inn at Pipriac, drinking
a very excellent bottle of Volnay. It was on the night after the fourth and
last performance there of "Les Feurberies."
The business in Pipriac had been as excellent as in Maure and Guichen.
You will have gathered this from the fact that they drank Volnay.
"I will concede it, my dear Scaramouche, so that I may hear the sequel."
"I am disposed to exercise this power if the inducement is sufficient.
You will realize that for fifteen livres a month a man does not sell such exceptional
gifts as mine. "There is an alternative," said M. Binet,
darkly.
"There is no alternative. Don't be a fool, Binet."
Binet sat up as if he had been prodded. Members of his company did not take this
tone of direct rebuke with him.
"Anyway, I make you a present of it," Scaramouche pursued, airily.
"Exercise it if you please.
Step outside and inform the police that they can lay hands upon one Andre-Louis
Moreau.
But that will be the end of your fine dreams of going to Redon, and for the first
time in your life playing in a real theatre.
Without me, you can't do it, and you know it; and I am not going to Redon or anywhere
else, in fact I am not even going to Fougeray, until we have an equitable
arrangement."
"But what heat!" complained Binet, "and all for what?
Why must you assume that I have the soul of a usurer?
When our little arrangement was made, I had no idea how could I?--that you would prove
as valuable to me as you are? You had but to remind me, my dear
Scaramouche.
I am a just man. As from to-day you shall have thirty livres
a month. See, I double it at once.
I am a generous man."
"But you are not ambitious. Now listen to me, a moment."
And he proceeded to unfold a scheme that filled Binet with a paralyzing terror.
"After Redon, Nantes," he said.
"Nantes and the Theatre Feydau." M. Binet choked in the act of drinking.
The Theatre Feydau was a sort of provincial Comedie Francaise.
The great Fleury had played there to an audience as critical as any in France.
The very thought of Redon, cherished as it had come to be by M. Binet, gave him at
moments a cramp in the stomach, so dangerously ambitious did it seem to him.
And Redon was a puppet-show by comparison with Nantes.
Yet this raw lad whom he had picked up by chance three weeks ago, and who in that
time had blossomed from a country attorney into author and actor, could talk of Nantes
and the Theatre Feydau without changing colour.
"But why not Paris and the Comedie Francaise?" wondered M. Binet, with
sarcasm, when at last he had got his breath.
"That may come later," says impudence.
"Eh? You've been drinking, my friend." But Andre-Louis detailed the plan that had
been forming in his mind.
Fougeray should be a training-ground for Redon, and Redon should be a training-
ground for Nantes.
They would stay in Redon as long as Redon would pay adequately to come and see them,
working hard to perfect themselves the while.
They would add three or four new players of talent to the company; he would write three
or four fresh scenarios, and these should be tested and perfected until the troupe
was in possession of at least half a dozen
plays upon which they could depend; they would lay out a portion of their profits on
better dresses and better scenery, and finally in a couple of months' time, if all
went well, they should be ready to make their real bid for fortune at Nantes.
It was quite true that distinction was usually demanded of the companies appearing
at the Feydau, but on the other hand Nantes had not seen a troupe of improvisers for a
generation and longer.
They would be supplying a novelty to which all Nantes should flock provided that the
work were really well done, and Scaramouche undertook--pledged himself--that if matters
were left in his own hands, his projected
revival of the Commedia dell' Arte in all its glories would exceed whatever
expectations the public of Nantes might bring to the theatre.
"We'll talk of Paris after Nantes," he finished, supremely matter-of-fact, "just
as we will definitely decide on Nantes after Redon."
The persuasiveness that could sway a mob ended by sweeping M. Binet off his feet.
The prospect which Scaramouche unfolded, if terrifying, was also intoxicating, and as
Scaramouche delivered a crushing answer to each weakening objection in a measure as it
was advanced, Binet ended by promising to think the matter over.
"Redon will point the way," said Andre- Louis, "and I don't doubt which way Redon
will point."
Thus the great adventure of Redon dwindled to insignificance.
Instead of a terrifying undertaking in itself, it became merely a rehearsal for
something greater.
In his momentary exaltation Binet proposed another bottle of Volnay.
Scaramouche waited until the cork was drawn before he continued.
"The thing remains possible," said he then, holding his glass to the light, and
speaking casually, "as long as I am with you."
"Agreed, my dear Scaramouche, agreed.
Our chance meeting was a fortunate thing for both of us."
"For both of us," said Scaramouche, with stress.
"That is as I would have it.
So that I do not think you will surrender me just yet to the police."
"As if I could think of such a thing! My dear Scaramouche, you amuse yourself.
I beg that you will never, never allude to that little joke of mine again."
"It is forgotten," said Andre-Louis. "And now for the remainder of my proposal.
If I am to become the architect of your fortunes, if I am to build them as I have
planned them, I must also and in the same degree become the architect of my own."
"In the same degree?"
M. Binet frowned. "In the same degree.
From to-day, if you please, we will conduct the affairs of this company in a proper
manner, and we will keep account-books."
"I am an artist," said M. Binet, with pride.
"I am not a merchant."
"There is a business side to your art, and that shall be conducted in the business
manner. I have thought it all out for you.
You shall not be troubled with details that might hinder the due exercise of your art.
All that you have to do is to say yes or no to my proposal."
"Ah? And the proposal?"
"Is that you constitute me your partner, with an equal share in the profits of your
company."
Pantaloon's great countenance grew pale, his little eyes widened to their fullest
extent as he conned the face of his companion.
Then he exploded.
"You are mad, of course, to make me a proposal so monstrous."
"It has its injustices, I admit. But I have provided for them.
It would not, for instance, be fair that in addition to all that I am proposing to do
for you, I should also play Scaramouche and write your scenarios without any reward
outside of the half-profit which would come to me as a partner.
Thus before the profits come to be divided, there is a salary to be paid me as actor,
and a small sum for each scenario with which I provide the company; that is a
matter for mutual agreement.
Similarly, you shall be paid a salary as Pantaloon.
After those expenses are cleared up, as well as all the other salaries and
disbursements, the residue is the profit to be divided equally between us."
It was not, as you can imagine, a proposal that M. Binet would swallow at a draught.
He began with a point-blank refusal to consider it.
"In that case, my friend," said Scaramouche, "we part company at once.
To-morrow I shall bid you a reluctant farewell."
Binet fell to raging.
He spoke of ingratitude in feeling terms; he even permitted himself another sly
allusion to that little jest of his concerning the police, which he had
promised never again to mention.
"As to that, you may do as you please. Play the informer, by all means.
But consider that you will just as definitely be deprived of my services, and
that without me you are nothing--as you were before I joined your company."
M. Binet did not care what the consequences might be.
A fig for the consequences!
He would teach this impudent young country attorney that M. Binet was not the man to
be imposed upon. Scaramouche rose.
"Very well," said he, between indifference and resignation.
"As you wish. But before you act, sleep on the matter.
In the cold light of morning you may see our two proposals in their proper
proportions. Mine spells fortune for both of us.
Yours spells ruin for both of us.
Good-night, M. Binet. Heaven help you to a wise decision."
The decision to which M. Binet finally came was, naturally, the only one possible in
the face of so firm a resolve as that of Andre-Louis, who held the trumps.
Of course there were further discussions, before all was settled, and M. Binet was
brought to an agreement only after an infinity of haggling surprising in one who
was an artist and not a man of business.
One or two concessions were made by Andre- Louis; he consented, for instance, to waive
his claim to be paid for scenarios, and he also consented that M. Binet should appoint
himself a salary that was out of all proportion to his deserts.
Thus in the end the matter was settled, and the announcement duly made to the assembled
company.
There were, of course, jealousies and resentments.
But these were not deep-seated, and they were readily swallowed when it was
discovered that under the new arrangement the lot of the entire company was to be
materially improved from the point of view of salaries.
This was a matter that had met with considerable opposition from M. Binet.
But the irresistible Scaramouche swept away all objections.
"If we are to play at the Feydau, you want a company of self-respecting comedians, and
not a pack of cringing starvelings.
The better we pay them in reason, the more they will earn for us."
Thus was conquered the company's resentment of this too swift promotion of its latest
recruit.
Cheerfully now--with one exception--they accepted the dominance of Scaramouche, a
dominance soon to be so firmly established that M. Binet himself came under it.
The one exception was Climene.
Her failure to bring to heel this interesting young stranger, who had almost
literally dropped into their midst that morning outside Guichen, had begotten in
her a malice which his persistent ignoring of her had been steadily inflaming.
She had remonstrated with her father when the new partnership was first formed.
She had lost her temper with him, and called him a fool, whereupon M. Binet--in
Pantaloon's best manner--had lost his temper in his turn and boxed her ears.
She piled it up to the account of Scaramouche, and spied her opportunity to
pay off some of that ever-increasing score. But opportunities were few.
Scaramouche was too occupied just then.
During the week of preparation at Fougeray, he was hardly seen save at the
performances, whilst when once they were at Redon, he came and went like the wind
between the theatre and the inn.
The Redon experiment had justified itself from the first.
Stimulated and encouraged by this, Andre- Louis worked day and night during the month
that they spent in that busy little town.
The moment had been well chosen, for the trade in chestnuts of which Redon is the
centre was just then at its height. And every afternoon the little theatre was
packed with spectators.
The fame of the troupe had gone forth, borne by the chestnut-growers of the
district, who were bringing their wares to Redon market, and the audiences were made
up of people from the surrounding country,
and from neighbouring villages as far out as Allaire, Saint-Perrieux and Saint-
Nicholas.
To keep the business from slackening, Andre-Louis prepared a new scenario every
week.
He wrote three in addition to those two with which he had already supplied the
company; these were "The Marriage of Pantaloon," "The Shy Lover," and "The
Terrible Captain."
Of these the last was the greatest success. It was based upon the "Miles Gloriosus" of
Plautus, with great opportunities for Rhodomont, and a good part for Scaramouche
as the roaring captain's sly lieutenant.
Its success was largely due to the fact that Andre-Louis amplified the scenario to
the extent of indicating very fully in places the lines which the dialogue should
follow, whilst here and there he had gone
so far as to supply some of the actual dialogue to be spoken, without, however,
making it obligatory upon the actors to keep to the letter of it.
And meanwhile as the business prospered, he became busy with tailors, improving the
wardrobe of the company, which was sorely in need of improvement.
He ran to earth a couple of needy artists, lured them into the company to play small
parts--apothecaries and notaries--and set them to beguile their leisure in painting
new scenery, so as to be ready for what he
called the conquest of Nantes, which was to come in the new year.
Never in his life had he worked so hard; never in his life had he worked at all by
comparison with his activities now.
His fund of energy and enthusiasm was inexhaustible, like that of his good
humour.
He came and went, acted, wrote, conceived, directed, planned, and executed, what time
M. Binet took his ease at last in comparative affluence, drank Burgundy every
night, ate white bread and other
delicacies, and began to congratulate himself upon his astuteness in having made
this industrious, tireless fellow his partner.
Having discovered how idle had been his fears of performing at Redon, he now began
to dismiss the terrors with which the notion of Nantes had haunted him.
And his happiness was reflected throughout the ranks of his company, with the single
exception always of Climene.
She had ceased to sneer at Scaramouche, having realized at last that her sneers
left him untouched and recoiled upon herself.
Thus her almost indefinable resentment of him was increased by being stifled, until,
at all costs, an outlet for it must be found.
One day she threw herself in his way as he was leaving the theatre after the
performance.
The others had already gone, and she had returned upon pretence of having forgotten
something. "Will you tell me what I have done to you?"
she asked him, point-blank.
"Done to me, mademoiselle?" He did not understand.
She made a gesture of impatience. "Why do you hate me?"
"Hate you, mademoiselle?
I do not hate anybody. It is the most stupid of all the emotions.
I have never hated--not even my enemies." "What Christian resignation!"
"As for hating you, of all people!
Why... I consider you adorable.
I envy Leandre every day of my life.
I have seriously thought of setting him to play Scaramouche, and playing lovers
myself." "I don't think you would be a success,"
said she.
"That is the only consideration that restrains me.
And yet, given the inspiration that is given Leandre, it is possible that I might
be convincing."
"Why, what inspiration do you mean?" "The inspiration of playing to so adorable
a Climene." Her lazy eyes were now alert to search that
lean face of his.
"You are laughing at me," said she, and swept past him into the theatre on her
pretended quest. There was nothing to be done with such a
fellow.
He was utterly without feeling. He was not a man at all.
Yet when she came forth again at the end of some five minutes, she found him still
lingering at the door.
"Not gone yet?" she asked him, superciliously.
"I was waiting for you, mademoiselle. You will be walking to the inn.
If I might escort you..."
"But what gallantry! What condescension!"
"Perhaps you would prefer that I did not?" "How could I prefer that, M. Scaramouche?
Besides, we are both going the same way, and the streets are common to all.
It is that I am overwhelmed by the unusual honour."
He looked into her piquant little face, and noted how obscured it was by its cloud of
dignity. He laughed.
"Perhaps I feared that the honour was not sought."
"Ah, now I understand," she cried. "It is for me to seek these honours.
I am to woo a man before he will pay me the homage of civility.
It must be so, since you, who clearly know everything, have said so.
It remains for me to beg your pardon for my ignorance."
"It amuses you to be cruel," said Scaramouche.
"No matter.
Shall we walk?" They set out together, stepping briskly to
warm their blood against the wintry evening air.
Awhile they went in silence, yet each furtively observing the other.
"And so, you find me cruel?" she challenged him at length, thereby betraying the fact
that the accusation had struck home.
He looked at her with a half smile. "Will you deny it?"
"You are the first man that ever accused me of that."
"I dare not suppose myself the first man to whom you have been cruel.
That were an assumption too flattering to myself.
I must prefer to think that the others suffered in silence."
"Mon Dieu! Have you suffered?"
She was between seriousness and raillery.
"I place the confession as an offering on the altar of your vanity."
"I should never have suspected it." "How could you?
Am I not what your father calls a natural actor?
I was an actor long before I became Scaramouche.
Therefore I have laughed.
I often do when I am hurt. When you were pleased to be disdainful, I
acted disdain in my turn." "You acted very well," said she, without
reflecting.
"Of course. I am an excellent actor."
"And why this sudden change?" "In response to the change in you.
You have grown weary of your part of cruel madam--a dull part, believe me, and
unworthy of your talents.
Were I a woman and had I your loveliness and your grace, Climene, I should disdain
to use them as weapons of offence." "Loveliness and grace!" she echoed,
feigning amused surprise.
But the vain baggage was mollified. "When was it that you discovered this
beauty and this grace, M. Scaramouche?"
He looked at her a moment, considering the sprightly beauty of her, the adorable
femininity that from the first had so irresistibly attracted him.
"One morning when I beheld you rehearsing a love-scene with Leandre."
He caught the surprise that leapt to her eyes, before she veiled them under drooping
lids from his too questing gaze.
"Why, that was the first time you saw me." "I had no earlier occasion to remark your
charms."
"You ask me to believe too much," said she, but her tone was softer than he had ever
known it yet.
"Then you'll refuse to believe me if I confess that it was this grace and beauty
that determined my destiny that day by urging me to join your father's troupe."
At that she became a little out of breath.
There was no longer any question of finding an outlet for resentment.
Resentment was all forgotten. "But why?
With what object?"
"With the object of asking you one day to be my wife."
She halted under the shock of that, and swung round to face him.
Her glance met his own without, shyness now; there was a hardening glitter in her
eyes, a faint stir of colour in her cheeks. She suspected him of an unpardonable
mockery.
"You go very fast, don't you?" she asked him, with heat.
"I do. Haven't you observed it?
I am a man of sudden impulses.
See what I have made of the Binet troupe in less than a couple of months.
Another might have laboured for a year and not achieved the half of it.
Shall I be slower in love than in work?
Would it be reasonable to expect it? I have curbed and repressed myself not to
scare you by precipitancy.
In that I have done violence to my feelings, and more than all in using the
same cold aloofness with which you chose to treat me.
I have waited--oh! so patiently--until you should tire of that mood of cruelty."
"You are an amazing man," said she, quite colourlessly.
"I am," he agreed with her.
"It is only the conviction that I am not commonplace that has permitted me to hope
as I have hoped." Mechanically, and as if by tacit consent,
they resumed their walk.
"And I ask you to observe," he said, "when you complain that I go very fast, that,
after all, I have so far asked you for nothing."
"How?" quoth she, frowning.
"I have merely told you of my hopes. I am not so rash as to ask at once whether
I may realize them." "My faith, but that is prudent," said she,
tartly.
"Of course."
It was his self-possession that exasperated her; for after that she walked the short
remainder of the way in silence, and so, for the moment, the matter was left just
there.
But that night, after they had supped, it chanced that when Climene was about to
retire, he and she were alone together in the room abovestairs that her father kept
exclusively for his company.
The Binet Troupe, you see, was rising in the world.
As Climene now rose to withdraw for the night, Scaramouche rose with her to light
her candle.
Holding it in her left hand, she offered him her right, a long, tapering, white hand
at the end of a softly rounded arm that was bare to the elbow.
"Good-night, Scaramouche," she said, but so softly, so tenderly, that he caught his
breath, and stood conning her, his dark eyes aglow.
Thus a moment, then he took the tips of her fingers in his grasp, and bowing over the
hand, pressed his lips upon it. Then he looked at her again.
The intense femininity of her lured him on, invited him, surrendered to him.
Her face was pale, there was a glitter in her eyes, a curious smile upon her parted
lips, and under its fichu-menteur her bosom rose and fell to complete the betrayal of
her.
By the hand he continued to hold, he drew her towards him.
She came unresisting. He took the candle from her, and set it
down on the sideboard by which she stood.
The next moment her slight, lithe body was in his arms, and he was kissing her,
murmuring her name as if it were a prayer. "Am I cruel now?" she asked him, panting.
He kissed her again for only answer.
"You made me cruel because you would not see," she told him next in a whisper.
And then the door opened, and M. Binet came in to have his paternal eyes regaled by
this highly indecorous behaviour of his daughter.
He stood at gaze, whilst they quite leisurely, and in a self-possession too
complete to be natural, detached each from the other.
"And what may be the meaning of this?" demanded M. Binet, bewildered and
profoundly shocked. "Does it require explaining?" asked
Scaramouche.
"Doesn't it speak for itself--eloquently? It means that Climene and I have taken it
into our heads to be married." "And doesn't it matter what I may take into
my head?"
"Of course. But you could have neither the bad taste
nor the bad heart to offer any obstacle." "You take that for granted?
Aye, that is your way, to be sure--to take things for granted.
But my daughter is not to be taken for granted.
I have very definite views for my daughter.
You have done an unworthy thing, Scaramouche.
You have betrayed my trust in you. I am very angry with you."
He rolled forward with his ponderous yet curiously noiseless gait.
Scaramouche turned to her, smiling, and handed her the candle.
"If you will leave us, Climene, I will ask your hand of your father in proper form."
She vanished, a little fluttered, lovelier than ever in her mixture of confusion and
timidity.
Scaramouche closed the door and faced the enraged M. Binet, who had flung himself
into an armchair at the head of the short table, faced him with the avowed purpose of
asking for Climene's hand in proper form.
And this was how he did it: "Father-in-law," said he, "I congratulate
you.
This will certainly mean the Comedie Francaise for Climene, and that before
long, and you shall shine in the glory she will reflect.
As the father of Madame Scaramouche you may yet be famous."
Binet, his face slowly empurpling, glared at him in speechless stupefaction.
His rage was the more utter from his humiliating conviction that whatever he
might say or do, this irresistible fellow would bend him to his will.
At last speech came to him.
"You're a damned corsair," he cried, thickly, banging his ham-like fist upon the
table. "A corsair!
First you sail in and plunder me of half my legitimate gains; and now you want to carry
off my daughter.
But I'll be damned if I'll give her to a graceless, nameless scoundrel like you, for
whom the gallows are waiting already." Scaramouche pulled the bell-rope, not at
all discomposed.
He smiled. There was a flush on his cheeks and a gleam
in his eyes. He was very pleased with the world that
night.
He really owed a great debt to M. de Lesdiguieres.
"Binet," said he, "forget for once that you are Pantaloon, and behave as a nice,
amiable father-in-law should behave when he has secured a son-in-law of exceptionable
merits.
We are going to have a bottle of Burgundy at my expense, and it shall be the best
bottle of Burgundy to be found in Redon. Compose yourself to do fitting honour to
it.
Excitations of the bile invariably impair the fine sensitiveness of the palate."
>
BOOK II: THE BUSKIN CHAPTER VII.
THE CONQUEST OF NANTES
The Binet Troupe opened in Nantes--as you may discover in surviving copies of the
"Courrier Nantais"--on the Feast of the Purification with "Les Fourberies de
Scaramouche."
But they did not come to Nantes as hitherto they had gone to little country villages
and townships, unheralded and depending entirely upon the parade of their entrance
to attract attention to themselves.
Andre-Louis had borrowed from the business methods of the Comedie Francaise.
Carrying matters with a high hand entirely in his own fashion, he had ordered at Redon
the printing of playbills, and four days before the company's descent upon Nantes,
these bills were pasted outside the Theatre
Feydau and elsewhere about the town, and had attracted--being still sufficiently
unusual announcements at the time-- considerable attention.
He had entrusted the matter to one of the company's latest recruits, an intelligent
young man named Basque, sending him on ahead of the company for the purpose.
You may see for yourself one of these playbills in the Carnavalet Museum.
It details the players by their stage names only, with the exception of M. Binet and
his daughter, and leaving out of account that he who plays Trivelin in one piece
appears as Tabarin in another, it makes the
company appear to be at least half as numerous again as it really was.
It announces that they will open with "Les Fourberies de Scaramouche," to be followed
by five other plays of which it gives the titles, and by others not named, which
shall also be added should the patronage to
be received in the distinguished and enlightened city of Nantes encourage the
Binet Troupe to prolong its sojourn at the Theatre Feydau.
It lays great stress upon the fact that this is a company of improvisers in the old
Italian manner, the like of which has not been seen in France for half a century, and
it exhorts the public of Nantes not to miss
this opportunity of witnessing these distinguished mimes who are reviving for
them the glories of the Comedie de l'Art.
Their visit to Nantes--the announcement proceeds--is preliminary to their visit to
Paris, where they intend to throw down the glove to the actors of the Comedie
Francaise, and to show the world how
superior is the art of the improviser to that of the actor who depends upon an
author for what he shall say, and who consequently says always the same thing
every time that he plays in the same piece.
It is an audacious bill, and its audacity had scared M. Binet out of the little sense
left him by the Burgundy which in these days he could afford to abuse.
He had offered the most vehement opposition.
Part of this Andre-Louis had swept aside; part he had disregarded.
"I admit that it is audacious," said Scaramouche.
"But at your time of life you should have learnt that in this world nothing succeeds
like audacity."
"I forbid it; I absolutely forbid it," M. Binet insisted.
"I knew you would. Just as I know that you'll be very grateful
to me presently for not obeying you."
"You are inviting a catastrophe." "I am inviting fortune.
The worst catastrophe that can overtake you is to be back in the market-halls of the
country villages from which I rescued you.
I'll have you in Paris yet in spite of yourself.
Leave this to me." And he went out to attend to the printing.
Nor did his preparations end there.
He wrote a piquant article on the glories of the Comedie de l'Art, and its
resurrection by the improvising troupe of the great mime Florimond Binet.
Binet's name was not Florimond; it was just Pierre.
But Andre-Louis had a great sense of the theatre.
That article was an amplification of the stimulating matter contained in the
playbills; and he persuaded Basque, who had relations in Nantes, to use all the
influence he could command, and all the
bribery they could afford, to get that article printed in the "Courrier Nantais" a
couple of days before the arrival of the Binet Troupe.
Basque had succeeded, and, considering the undoubted literary merits and intrinsic
interest of the article, this is not at all surprising.
And so it was upon an already expectant city that Binet and his company descended
in that first week of February.
M. Binet would have made his entrance in the usual manner--a full-dress parade with
banging drums and crashing cymbals. But to this Andre-Louis offered the most
relentless opposition.
"We should but discover our poverty," said he.
"Instead, we will creep into the city unobserved, and leave ourselves to the
imagination of the public."
He had his way, of course.
M. Binet, worn already with battling against the strong waters of this young
man's will, was altogether unequal to the contest now that he found Climene in
alliance with Scaramouche, adding her
insistence to his, and joining with him in reprobation of her father's sluggish and
reactionary wits.
Metaphorically, M. Binet threw up his arms, and cursing the day on which he had taken
this young man into his troupe, he allowed the current to carry him whither it would.
He was persuaded that he would be drowned in the end.
Meanwhile he would drown his vexation in Burgundy.
At least there was abundance of Burgundy.
Never in his life had he found Burgundy so plentiful.
Perhaps things were not as bad as he imagined, after all.
He reflected that, when all was said, he had to thank Scaramouche for the Burgundy.
Whilst fearing the worst, he would hope for the best.
And it was very much the worst that he feared as he waited in the wings when the
curtain rose on that first performance of theirs at the Theatre Feydau to a house
that was tolerably filled by a public whose
curiosity the preliminary announcements had thoroughly stimulated.
Although the scenario of "Lee Fourberies de Scaramouche" has not apparently survived,
yet we know from Andre-Louis' "Confessions" that it is opened by Polichinelle in the
character of an arrogant and fiercely
jealous lover shown in the act of beguiling the waiting-maid, Columbine, to play the
spy upon her mistress, Climene.
Beginning with cajolery, but failing in this with the saucy Columbine, who likes
cajolers to be at least attractive and to pay a due deference to her own very piquant
charms, the fierce humpbacked scoundrel
passes on to threats of the terrible vengeance he will wreak upon her if she
betrays him or neglects to obey him implicitly; failing here, likewise, he
finally has recourse to bribery, and after
he has bled himself freely to the very expectant Columbine, he succeeds by these
means in obtaining her consent to spy upon Climene, and to report to him upon her
lady's conduct.
The pair played the scene well together, stimulated, perhaps, by their very
nervousness at finding themselves before so imposing an audience.
Polichinelle was everything that is fierce, contemptuous, and insistent.
Columbine was the essence of pert indifference under his cajolery, saucily
mocking under his threats, and finely sly in extorting the very maximum when it came
to accepting a bribe.
Laughter rippled through the audience and promised well.
But M. Binet, standing trembling in the wings, missed the great guffaws of the
rustic spectators to whom they had played hitherto, and his fears steadily mounted.
Then, scarcely has Polichinelle departed by the door than Scaramouche bounds in through
the window.
It was an effective entrance, usually performed with a broad comic effect that
set the people in a roar. Not so on this occasion.
Meditating in bed that morning, Scaramouche had decided to present himself in a totally
different aspect.
He would cut out all the broad play, all the usual clowning which had delighted
their past rude audiences, and he would obtain his effects by subtlety instead.
He would present a slyly humorous rogue, restrained, and of a certain dignity,
wearing a countenance of complete solemnity, speaking his lines drily, as if
unconscious of the humour with which he intended to invest them.
Thus, though it might take the audience longer to understand and discover him, they
would like him all the better in the end.
True to that resolve, he now played his part as the friend and hired ally of the
lovesick Leandre, on whose behalf he came for news of Climene, seizing the
opportunity to further his own amour with
Columbine and his designs upon the money- bags of Pantaloon.
Also he had taken certain liberties with the traditional costume of Scaramouche; he
had caused the black doublet and breeches to be slashed with red, and the doublet to
be cut more to a peak, a la Henri III.
The conventional black velvet cap he had replaced by a conical hat with a turned-up
brim, and a tuft of feathers on the left, and he had discarded the guitar.
M. Binet listened desperately for the roar of laughter that usually greeted the
entrance of Scaramouche, and his dismay increased when it did not come.
And then he became conscious of something alarmingly unusual in Scaramouche's manner.
The sibilant foreign accent was there, but none of the broad boisterousness their
audiences had loved.
He wrung his hands in despair. "It is all over!" he said.
"The fellow has ruined us!
It serves me right for being a fool, and allowing him to take control of
everything!" But he was profoundly mistaken.
He began to have an inkling of this when presently himself he took the stage, and
found the public attentive, remarked a grin of quiet appreciation on every upturned
face.
It was not, however, until the thunders of applause greeted the fall of the curtain on
the first act that he felt quite sure they would be allowed to escape with their
lives.
Had the part of Pantaloon in "Les Fourberies" been other than that of a
blundering, timid old idiot, Binet would have ruined it by his apprehensions.
As it was, those very apprehensions, magnifying as they did the hesitancy and
bewilderment that were the essence of his part, contributed to the success.
And a success it proved that more than justified all the heralding of which
Scaramouche had been guilty. For Scaramouche himself this success was
not confined to the public.
At the end of the play a great reception awaited him from his companions assembled
in the green-room of the theatre.
His talent, resource, and energy had raised them in a few weeks from a pack of vagrant
mountebanks to a self-respecting company of first-rate players.
They acknowledged it generously in a speech entrusted to Polichinelle, adding the
tribute to his genius that, as they had conquered Nantes, so would they conquer the
world under his guidance.
In their enthusiasm they were a little neglectful of the feelings of M. Binet.
Irritated enough had he been already by the overriding of his every wish, by the
consciousness of his weakness when opposed to Scaramouche.
And, although he had suffered the gradual process of usurpation of authority because
its every step had been attended by his own greater profit, deep down in him the
resentment abode to stifle every spark of that gratitude due from him to his partner.
To-night his nerves had been on the rack, and he had suffered agonies of
apprehension, for all of which he blamed Scaramouche so bitterly that not even the
ultimate success--almost miraculous when
all the elements are considered--could justify his partner in his eyes.
And now, to find himself, in addition, ignored by this company--his own company,
which he had so laboriously and slowly assembled and selected among the men of
ability whom he had found here and there in
the dregs of cities--was something that stirred his bile, and aroused the
malevolence that never did more than slumber in him.
But deeply though his rage was moved, it did not blind him to the folly of betraying
it.
Yet that he should assert himself in this hour was imperative unless he were for ever
to become a thing of no account in this troupe over which he had lorded it for long
months before this interloper came amongst
them to fill his purse and destroy his authority.
So he stepped forward now when Polichinelle had done.
His make-up assisting him to mask his bitter feelings, he professed to add his
own to Polichinelle's acclamations of his dear partner.
But he did it in such a manner as to make it clear that what Scaramouche had done, he
had done by M. Binet's favour, and that in all M. Binet's had been the guiding hand.
In associating himself with Polichinelle, he desired to thank Scaramouche, much in
the manner of a lord rendering thanks to his steward for services diligently
rendered and orders scrupulously carried out.
It neither deceived the troupe nor mollified himself.
Indeed, his consciousness of the mockery of it but increased his bitterness.
But at least it saved his face and rescued him from nullity--he who was their chief.
To say, as I have said, that it did not deceive them, is perhaps to say too much,
for it deceived them at least on the score of his feelings.
They believed, after discounting the insinuations in which he took all credit to
himself, that at heart he was filled with gratitude, as they were.
That belief was shared by Andre-Louis himself, who in his brief, grateful answer
was very generous to M. Binet, more than endorsing the claims that M. Binet had
made.
And then followed from him the announcement that their success in Nantes was the
sweeter to him because it rendered almost immediately attainable the dearest wish of
his heart, which was to make Climene his wife.
It was a felicity of which he was the first to acknowledge his utter unworthiness.
It was to bring him into still closer relations with his good friend M. Binet, to
whom he owed all that he had achieved for himself and for them.
The announcement was joyously received, for the world of the theatre loves a lover as
dearly as does the greater world.
So they acclaimed the happy pair, with the exception of poor Leandre, whose eyes were
more melancholy than ever.
They were a happy family that night in the upstairs room of their inn on the Quai La
Fosse--the same inn from which Andre-Louis had set out some weeks ago to play a vastly
different role before an audience of Nantes.
Yet was it so different, he wondered?
Had he not then been a sort of Scaramouche- -an intriguer, glib and specious, deceiving
folk, cynically misleading them with opinions that were not really his own?
Was it at all surprising that he should have made so rapid and signal a success as
a mime?
Was not this really all that he had ever been, the thing for which Nature had
designed him?
On the following night they played "The Shy Lover" to a full house, the fame of their
debut having gone abroad, and the success of Monday was confirmed.
On Wednesday they gave "Figaro- Scaramouche," and on Thursday morning the
"Courrier Nantais" came out with an article of more than a column of praise of these
brilliant improvisers, for whom it claimed
that they utterly put to shame the mere reciters of memorized parts.
Andre-Louis, reading the sheet at breakfast, and having no delusions on the
score of the falseness of that statement, laughed inwardly.
The novelty of the thing, and the pretentiousness in which he had swaddled
it, had deceived them finely. He turned to greet Binet and Climene, who
entered at that moment.
He waved the sheet above his head. "It is settled," he announced, "we stay in
Nantes until Easter." "Do we?" said Binet, sourly.
"You settle everything, my friend."
"Read for yourself." And he handed him the paper.
Moodily M. Binet read. He set the sheet down in silence, and
turned his attention to his breakfast.
"Was I justified or not?" quoth Andre- Louis, who found M. Binet's behaviour a
thought intriguing. "In what?"
"In coming to Nantes?"
"If I had not thought so, we should not have come," said Binet, and he began to
eat. Andre-Louis dropped the subject, wondering.
After breakfast he and Climene sallied forth to take the air upon the quays.
It was a day of brilliant sunshine and less cold than it had lately been.
Columbine tactlessly joined them as they were setting out, though in this respect
matters were improved a little when Harlequin came running after them, and
attached himself to Columbine.
Andre-Louis, stepping out ahead with Climene, spoke of the thing that was
uppermost in his mind at the moment. "Your father is behaving very oddly towards
me," said he.
"It is almost as if he had suddenly become hostile."
"You imagine it," said she. "My father is very grateful to you, as we
all are."
"He is anything but grateful. He is infuriated against me; and I think I
know the reason. Don't you?
Can't you guess?"
"I can't, indeed." "If you were my daughter, Climene, which
God be thanked you are not, I should feel aggrieved against the man who carried you
away from me.
Poor old Pantaloon! He called me a corsair when I told him that
I intend to marry you." "He was right.
You are a bold robber, Scaramouche."
"It is in the character," said he. "Your father believes in having his mimes
play upon the stage the parts that suit their natural temperaments."
"Yes, you take everything you want, don't you?"
She looked up at him, half adoringly, half shyly.
"If it is possible," said he.
"I took his consent to our marriage by main force from him.
I never waited for him to give it.
When, in fact, he refused it, I just snatched it from him, and I'll defy him now
to win it back from me. I think that is what he most resents."
She laughed, and launched upon an animated answer.
But he did not hear a word of it.
Through the bustle of traffic on the quay a cabriolet, the upper half of which was
almost entirely made of glass, had approached them.
It was drawn by two magnificent bay horses and driven by a superbly livened coachman.
In the cabriolet alone sat a slight young girl wrapped in a lynx-fur pelisse, her
face of a delicate loveliness.
She was leaning forward, her lips parted, her eyes devouring Scaramouche until they
drew his gaze. When that happened, the shock of it brought
him abruptly to a dumfounded halt.
Climene, checking in the middle of a sentence, arrested by his own sudden
stopping, plucked at his sleeve. "What is it, Scaramouche?"
But he made no attempt to answer her, and at that moment the coachman, to whom the
little lady had already signalled, brought the carriage to a standstill beside them.
Seen in the gorgeous setting of that coach with its escutcheoned panels, its portly
coachman and its white-stockinged footman-- who swung instantly to earth as the vehicle
stopped--its dainty occupant seemed to Climene a princess out of a fairy-tale.
And this princess leaned forward, with eyes aglow and cheeks aflush, stretching out a
choicely gloved hand to Scaramouche.
"Andre-Louis!" she called him.
And Scaramouche took the hand of that exalted being, just as he might have taken
the hand of Climene herself, and with eyes that reflected the gladness of her own, in
a voice that echoed the joyous surprise of
hers, he addressed her familiarly by name, just as she had addressed him.
"Aline!"
>
BOOK II: THE BUSKIN CHAPTER VIII.
THE DREAM
"The door," Aline commanded her footman, and "Mount here beside me," she commanded
Andre-Louis, in the same breath. "A moment, Aline."
He turned to his companion, who was all amazement, and to Harlequin and Columbine,
who had that moment come up to share it. "You permit me, Climene?" said he,
breathlessly.
But it was more a statement than a question.
"Fortunately you are not alone. Harlequin will take care of you.
Au revoir, at dinner."
With that he sprang into the cabriolet without waiting for a reply.
The footman closed the door, the coachman cracked his whip, and the regal equipage
rolled away along the quay, leaving the three comedians staring after it, open-
mouthed...
Then Harlequin laughed. "A prince in disguise, our Scaramouche!"
said he. Columbine clapped her hands and flashed her
strong teeth.
"But what a romance for you, Climene! How wonderful!"
The frown melted from Climene's brow. Resentment changed to bewilderment.
"But who is she?"
"His sister, of course," said Harlequin, quite definitely.
"His sister? How do you know?"
"I know what he will tell you on his return."
"But why?" "Because you wouldn't believe him if he
said she was his mother."
Following the carriage with their glance, they wandered on in the direction it had
taken.
And in the carriage Aline was considering Andre-Louis with grave eyes, lips slightly
compressed, and a tiny frown between her finely drawn eyebrows.
"You have taken to queer company, Andre," was the first thing she said to him.
"Or else I am mistaken in thinking that your companion was Mlle.
Binet of the Theatre Feydau."
"You are not mistaken. But I had not imagined Mlle.
Binet so famous already." "Oh, as to that..." mademoiselle shrugged,
her tone quietly scornful.
And she explained. "It is simply that I was at the play last
night. I thought I recognized her."
"You were at the Feydau last night?
And I never saw you!" "Were you there, too?"
"Was I there!" he cried. Then he checked, and abruptly changed his
tone.
"Oh, yes, I was there," he said, as commonplace as he could, beset by a sudden
reluctance to avow that he had so willingly descended to depths that she must account
unworthy, and grateful that his disguise of
face and voice should have proved impenetrable even to one who knew him so
very well. "I understand," said she, and compressed
her lips a little more tightly.
"But what do you understand?" "The rare attractions of Mlle.
Binet. Naturally you would be at the theatre.
Your tone conveyed it very clearly.
Do you know that you disappoint me, Andre? It is stupid of me, perhaps; it betrays, I
suppose, my imperfect knowledge of your sex.
I am aware that most young men of fashion find an irresistible attraction for
creatures who parade themselves upon the stage.
But I did not expect you to ape the ways of a man of fashion.
I was foolish enough to imagine you to be different; rather above such trivial
pursuits.
I conceived you something of an idealist." "Sheer flattery."
"So I perceive. But you misled me.
You talked so much morality of a kind, you made philosophy so readily, that I came to
be deceived. In fact, your hypocrisy was so consummate
that I never suspected it.
With your gift of acting I wonder that you haven't joined Mlle.
Binet's troupe." "I have," said he.
It had really become necessary to tell her, making choice of the lesser of the two
evils with which she confronted him.
He saw first incredulity, then consternation, and lastly disgust
overspread her face.
"Of course," said she, after a long pause, "that would have the advantage of bringing
you closer to your charmer." "That was only one of the inducements.
There was another.
Finding myself forced to choose between the stage and the gallows, I had the incredible
weakness to prefer the former. It was utterly unworthy of a man of my
lofty ideals, but--what would you?
Like other ideologists, I find it easier to preach than to practise.
Shall I stop the carriage and remove the contamination of my disgusting person?
Or shall I tell you how it happened?"
"Tell me how it happened first. Then we will decide."
He told her how he met the Binet Troupe, and how the men of the marechaussee forced
upon him the discovery that in its bosom he could lie safely lost until the hue and cry
had died down.
The explanation dissolved her iciness. "My poor Andre, why didn't you tell me this
at first?"
"For one thing, you didn't give me time; for another, I feared to shock you with the
spectacle of my degradation." She took him seriously.
"But where was the need of it?
And why did you not send us word as I required you of your whereabouts?"
"I was thinking of it only yesterday. I have hesitated for several reasons."
"You thought it would offend us to know what you were doing?"
"I think that I preferred to surprise you by the magnitude of my ultimate
achievements."
"Oh, you are to become a great actor?" She was frankly scornful.
"That is not impossible. But I am more concerned to become a great
author.
There is no reason why you should sniff. The calling is an honourable one.
All the world is proud to know such men as Beaumarchais and Chenier."
"And you hope to equal them?"
"I hope to surpass them, whilst acknowledging that it was they who taught
me how to walk. What did you think of the play last night?"
"It was amusing and well conceived."
"Let me present you to the author." "You? But the company is one of the
improvisers." "Even improvisers require an author to
write their scenarios.
That is all I write at present. Soon I shall be writing plays in the modern
manner." "You deceive yourself, my poor Andre.
The piece last night would have been nothing without the players.
You are fortunate in your Scaramouche." "In confidence--I present you to him."
"You--Scaramouche?
You?" She turned to regard him fully.
He smiled his close-lipped smile that made wrinkles like gashes in his cheeks.
He nodded.
"And I didn't recognize you!" "I thank you for the tribute.
You imagined, of course, that I was a scene-shifter.
And now that you know all about me, what of Gavrillac?
What of my godfather?"
He was well, she told him, and still profoundly indignant with Andre-Louis for
his defection, whilst secretly concerned on his behalf.
"I shall write to him to-day that I have seen you."
"Do so. Tell him that I am well and prospering.
But say no more.
Do not tell him what I am doing. He has his prejudices too.
Besides, it might not be prudent. And now the question I have been burning to
ask ever since I entered your carriage.
Why are you in Nantes, Aline?" "I am on a visit to my aunt, Mme. de
Sautron. It was with her that I came to the play
yesterday.
We have been dull at the chateau; but it will be different now.
Madame my aunt is receiving several guests to-day.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr is to be one of them."
Andre-Louis frowned and sighed. "Did you ever hear, Aline, how poor
Philippe de Vilmorin came by his end?" "Yes; I was told, first by my uncle; then
by M. de La Tour d'Azyr, himself."
"Did not that help you to decide this marriage question?"
"How could it? You forget that I am but a woman.
You don't expect me to judge between men in matters such as these?"
"Why not? You are well able to do so.
The more since you have heard two sides.
For my godfather would tell you the truth. If you cannot judge, it is that you do not
wish to judge." His tone became harsh.
"Wilfully you close your eyes to justice that might check the course of your
unhealthy, unnatural ambition." "Excellent!" she exclaimed, and considered
him with amusement and something else.
"Do you know that you are almost droll? You rise unblushing from the dregs of life
in which I find you, and shake off the arm of that theatre girl, to come and preach to
me."
"If these were the dregs of life I might still speak from them to counsel you out of
my respect and devotion, Aline." He was very, stiff and stern.
"But they are not the dregs of life.
Honour and virtue are possible to a theatre girl; they are impossible to a lady who
sells herself to gratify ambition; who for position, riches, and a great title barters
herself in marriage."
She looked at him breathlessly. Anger turned her pale.
She reached for the cord.
"I think I had better let you alight so that you may go back to practise virtue and
honour with your theatre wench." "You shall not speak so of her, Aline."
"Faith, now we are to have heat on her behalf.
You think I am too delicate? You think I should speak of her as a..."
"If you must speak of her at all," he interrupted, hotly, "you'll speak of her as
my wife." Amazement smothered her anger.
Her pallor deepened.
"My God!" she said, and looked at him in horror.
And in horror she asked him presently: "You are married--married to that--?"
"Not yet.
But I shall be, soon. And let me tell you that this girl whom you
visit with your ignorant contempt is as good and pure as you are, Aline.
She has wit and talent which have placed her where she is and shall carry her a deal
farther.
And she has the womanliness to be guided by natural instincts in the selection of her
mate." She was trembling with passion.
She tugged the cord.
"You will descend this instant!" she told him fiercely.
"That you should dare to make a comparison between me and that..."
"And my wife-to-be," he interrupted, before she could speak the infamous word.
He opened the door for himself without waiting for the footman, and leapt down.
"My compliments," said he, furiously, "to the assassin you are to marry."
He slammed the door. "Drive on," he bade the coachman.
The carriage rolled away up the Faubourg Gigan, leaving him standing where he had
alighted, quivering with rage. Gradually, as he walked back to the inn,
his anger cooled.
Gradually, as he cooled, he perceived her point of view, and in the end forgave her.
It was not her fault that she thought as she thought.
Her rearing had been such as to make her look upon every actress as a trull, just as
it had qualified her calmly to consider the monstrous marriage of convenience into
which she was invited.
He got back to the inn to find the company at table.
Silence fell when he entered, so suddenly that of necessity it must be supposed he
was himself the subject of the conversation.
Harlequin and Columbine had spread the tale of this prince in disguise caught up into
the chariot of a princess and carried off by her; and it was a tale that had lost
nothing in the telling.
Climene had been silent and thoughtful, pondering what Columbine had called this
romance of hers.
Clearly her Scaramouche must be vastly other than he had hitherto appeared, or
else that great lady and he would never have used such familiarity with each other.
Imagining him no better than he was, Climene had made him her own.
And now she was to receive the reward of disinterested affection.
Even old Binet's secret hostility towards Andre-Louis melted before this astounding
revelation. He had pinched his daughter's ear quite
playfully.
"Ah, ah, trust you to have penetrated his disguise, my child!"
She shrank resentfully from that implication.
"But I did not.
I took him for what he seemed." Her father winked at her very solemnly and
laughed. "To be sure, you did.
But like your father, who was once a gentleman, and knows the ways of gentlemen,
you detected in him a subtle something different from those with whom misfortune
has compelled you hitherto to herd.
You knew as well as I did that he never caught that trick of haughtiness, that
grand air of command, in a lawyer's musty office, and that his speech had hardly the
ring or his thoughts the complexion of the bourgeois that he pretended to be.
And it was shrewd of you to have made him yours.
Do you know that I shall be very proud of you yet, Climene?"
She moved away without answering. Her father's oiliness offended her.
Scaramouche was clearly a great gentleman, an eccentric if you please, but a man born.
And she was to be his lady. Her father must learn to treat her
differently.
She looked shyly--with a new shyness--at her lover when he came into the room where
they were dining.
She observed for the first time that proud carriage of the head, with the chin thrust
forward, that was a trick of his, and she noticed with what a grace he moved--the
grace of one who in youth has had his dancing-masters and fencing-masters.
It almost hurt her when he flung himself into a chair and exchanged a quip with
Harlequin in the usual manner as with an equal, and it offended her still more that
Harlequin, knowing what he now knew, should
use him with the same unbecoming familiarity.
>
BOOK II: THE BUSKIN CHAPTER IX.
THE AWAKENING
"Do you know," said Climene, "that I am waiting for the explanation which I think
you owe me?"
They were alone together, lingering still at the table to which Andre-Louis had come
belatedly, and Andre-Louis was loading himself a pipe.
Of late--since joining the Binet Troupe--he had acquired the habit of smoking.
The others had gone, some to take the air and others, like Binet and Madame, because
they felt that it were discreet to leave those two to the explanations that must
pass.
It was a feeling that Andre-Louis did not share.
He kindled a light and leisurely applied it to his pipe.
A frown came to settle on his brow.
"Explanation?" he questioned presently, and looked at her.
"But on what score?" "On the score of the deception you have
practised on us--on me."
"I have practised none," he assured her. "You mean that you have simply kept your
own counsel, and that in silence there is no deception.
But it is deceitful to withhold facts concerning yourself and your true station
from your future wife.
You should not have pretended to be a simple country lawyer, which, of course,
any one could see that you are not. It may have been very romantic, but...
Enfin, will you explain?"
"I see," he said, and pulled at his pipe. "But you are wrong, Climene.
I have practised no deception.
If there are things about me that I have not told you, it is that I did not account
them of much importance. But I have never deceived you by pretending
to be other than I am.
I am neither more nor less than I have represented myself."
This persistence began to annoy her, and the annoyance showed on her winsome face,
coloured her voice.
"Ha! And that fine lady of the nobility with whom you are so intimate, who carried
you off in her cabriolet with so little ceremony towards myself?
What is she to you?"
"A sort of sister," said he. "A sort of sister!"
She was indignant. "Harlequin foretold that you would say so;
but he was amusing himself.
It was not very funny. It is less funny still from you.
She has a name, I suppose, this sort of sister?"
"Certainly she has a name.
She is Mlle. Aline de Kercadiou, the niece of Quintin de
Kercadiou, Lord of Gavrillac." "Oho! That's a sufficiently fine name for
your sort of sister.
What sort of sister, my friend?" For the first time in their relationship he
observed and deplored the taint of vulgarity, of shrewishness, in her manner.
"It would have been more accurate in me to have said a sort of reputed left-handed
cousin." "A reputed left-handed cousin!
And what sort of relationship may that be?
Faith, you dazzle me with your lucidity." "It requires to be explained."
"That is what I have been telling you. But you seem very reluctant with your
explanations."
"Oh, no. It is only that they are so unimportant.
But be you the judge.
Her uncle, M. de Kercadiou, is my godfather, and she and I have been
playmates from infancy as a consequence. It is popularly believed in Gavrillac that
M. de Kercadiou is my father.
He has certainly cared for my rearing from my tenderest years, and it is entirely
owing to him that I was educated at Louis le Grand.
I owe to him everything that I have--or, rather, everything that I had; for of my
own free will I have cut myself adrift, and to-day I possess nothing save what I can
earn for myself in the theatre or elsewhere."
She sat stunned and pale under that cruel blow to her swelling pride.
Had he told her this but yesterday, it would have made no impression upon her, it
would have mattered not at all; the event of to-day coming as a sequel would but have
enhanced him in her eyes.
But coming now, after her imagination had woven for him so magnificent a background,
after the rashly assumed discovery of his splendid identity had made her the envied
of all the company, after having been in
her own eyes and theirs enshrined by marriage with him as a great lady, this
disclosure crushed and humiliated her. Her prince in disguise was merely the
outcast bastard of a country gentleman!
She would be the laughing-stock of every member of her father's troupe, of all those
who had so lately envied her this romantic good fortune.
"You should have told me this before," she said, in a dull voice that she strove to
render steady. "Perhaps I should.
But does it really matter?"
"Matter?" She suppressed her fury to ask another
question. "You say that this M. de Kercadiou is
popularly believed to be your father.
What precisely do you mean?" "Just that.
It is a belief that I do not share. It is a matter of instinct, perhaps, with
me.
Moreover, once I asked M. de Kercadiou point-blank, and I received from him a
denial.
It is not, perhaps, a denial to which one would attach too much importance in all the
circumstances.
Yet I have never known M de Kercadiou for other than a man of strictest honour, and I
should hesitate to disbelieve him-- particularly when his statement leaps with
my own instincts.
He assured me that he did not know who my father was."
"And your mother, was she equally ignorant?"
She was sneering, but he did not remark it.
Her back was to the light. "He would not disclose her name to me.
He confessed her to be a dear friend of his."
She startled him by laughing, and her laugh was not pleasant.
"A very dear friend, you may be sure, you simpleton.
What name do you bear?"
He restrained his own rising indignation to answer her question calmly: "Moreau.
It was given me, so I am told, from the Brittany village in which I was born.
But I have no claim to it.
In fact I have no name, unless it be Scaramouche, to which I have earned a
title.
So that you see, my dear," he ended with a smile, "I have practised no deception
whatever." "No, no.
I see that now."
She laughed without mirth, then drew a deep breath and rose.
"I am very tired," she said. He was on his feet in an instant, all
solicitude.
But she waved him wearily back. "I think I will rest until it is time to go
to the theatre." She moved towards the door, dragging her
feet a little.
He sprang to open it, and she passed out without looking at him.
Her so brief romantic dream was ended.
The glorious world of fancy which in the last hour she had built with such elaborate
detail, over which it should be her exalted destiny to rule, lay shattered about her
feet, its debris so many stumbling-blocks
that prevented her from winning back to her erstwhile content in Scaramouche as he
really was.
Andre-Louis sat in the window embrasure, smoking and looking idly out across the
river. He was intrigued and meditative.
He had shocked her.
The fact was clear; not so the reason. That he should confess himself nameless
should not particularly injure him in the eyes of a girl reared amid the surroundings
that had been Climene's.
And yet that his confession had so injured him was fully apparent.
There, still at his brooding, the returning Columbine discovered him a half-hour later.
"All alone, my prince!" was her laughing greeting, which suddenly threw light upon
his mental darkness.
Climene had been disappointed of hopes that the wild imagination of these players had
suddenly erected upon the incident of his meeting with Aline.
Poor child!
He smiled whimsically at Columbine. "I am likely to be so for some little
time," said he, "until it becomes a commonplace that I am not, after all, a
prince.
"Not a prince? Oh, but a duke, then--at least a marquis."
"Not even a chevalier, unless it be of the order of fortune.
I am just Scaramouche.
My castles are all in Spain." Disappointment clouded the lively, good-
natured face. "And I had imagined you..."
"I know," he interrupted.
"That is the mischief."
He might have gauged the extent of that mischief by Climene's conduct that evening
towards the gentlemen of fashion who clustered now in the green-room between the
acts to pay their homage to the incomparable amoureuse.
Hitherto she had received them with a circumspection compelling respect.
To-night she was recklessly gay, impudent, almost wanton.
He spoke of it gently to her as they walked home together, counselling more prudence in
the future.
"We are not married yet," she told him, tartly.
"Wait until then before you criticize my conduct."
"I trust that there will be no occasion then," said he.
"You trust? Ah, yes.
You are very trusting."
"Climene, I have offended you. I am sorry."
"It is nothing," said she. "You are what you are."
Still was he not concerned.
He perceived the source of her ill-humour; understood, whilst deploring it; and,
because he understood, forgave.
He perceived also that her ill-humour was shared by her father, and by this he was
frankly amused.
Towards M. Binet a tolerant contempt was the only feeling that complete acquaintance
could beget.
As for the rest of the company, they were disposed to be very kindly towards
Scaramouche.
It was almost as if in reality he had fallen from the high estate to which their
own imaginations had raised him; or possibly it was because they saw the effect
which that fall from his temporary and
fictitious elevation had produced upon Climene.
Leandre alone made himself an exception.
His habitual melancholy seemed to be dispelled at last, and his eyes gleamed now
with malicious satisfaction when they rested upon Scaramouche, whom occasionally
he continued to address with sly mockery as "mon prince."
On the morrow Andre-Louis saw but little of Climene.
This was not in itself extraordinary, for he was very hard at work again, with
preparations now for "Figaro-Scaramouche" which was to be played on Saturday.
Also, in addition to his manifold theatrical occupations, he now devoted an
hour every morning to the study of fencing in an academy of arms.
This was done not only to repair an omission in his education, but also, and
chiefly, to give him added grace and poise upon the stage.
He found his mind that morning distracted by thoughts of both Climene and Aline.
And oddly enough it was Aline who provided the deeper perturbation.
Climene's attitude he regarded as a passing phase which need not seriously engage him.
But the thought of Aline's conduct towards him kept rankling, and still more deeply
rankled the thought of her possible betrothal to M. de La Tour d'Azyr.
This it was that brought forcibly to his mind the self-imposed but by now half-
forgotten mission that he had made his own.
He had boasted that he would make the voice which M. de La Tour d'Azyr had sought to
silence ring through the length and breadth of the land.
And what had he done of all this that he had boasted?
He had incited the mob of Rennes and the mob of Nantes in such terms as poor
Philippe might have employed, and then because of a hue and cry he had fled like a
cur and taken shelter in the first kennel
that offered, there to lie quiet and devote himself to other things--self-seeking
things. What a fine contrast between the promise
and the fulfilment!
Thus Andre-Louis to himself in his self- contempt.
And whilst he trifled away his time and played Scaramouche, and centred all his
hopes in presently becoming the rival of such men as Chenier and Mercier, M. de La
Tour d'Azyr went his proud ways unchallenged and wrought his will.
It was idle to tell himself that the seed he had sown was bearing fruit.
That the demands he had voiced in Nantes for the Third Estate had been granted by M.
Necker, thanks largely to the commotion which his anonymous speech had made.
That was not his concern or his mission.
It was no part of his concern to set about the regeneration of mankind, or even the
regeneration of the social structure of France.
His concern was to see that M. de La Tour d'Azyr paid to the uttermost liard for the
brutal wrong he had done Philippe de Vilmorin.
And it did not increase his self-respect to find that the danger in which Aline stood
of being married to the Marquis was the real spur to his rancour and to remembrance
of his vow.
He was--too unjustly, perhaps--disposed to dismiss as mere sophistries his own
arguments that there was nothing he could do; that, in fact, he had but to show his
head to find himself going to Rennes under
arrest and making his final exit from the world's stage by way of the gallows.
It is impossible to read that part of his "Confessions" without feeling a certain
pity for him.
You realize what must have been his state of mind.
You realize what a prey he was to emotions so conflicting, and if you have the
imagination that will enable you to put yourself in his place, you will also
realize how impossible was any decision
save the one to which he says he came, that he would move, at the first moment that he
perceived in what direction it would serve his real aims to move.
It happened that the first person he saw when he took the stage on that Thursday
evening was Aline; the second was the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.
They occupied a box on the right of, and immediately above, the stage.
There were others with them--notably a thin, elderly, resplendent lady whom Andre-
Louis supposed to be Madame la Comtesse de Sautron.
But at the time he had no eyes for any but those two, who of late had so haunted his
thoughts. The sight of either of them would have been
sufficiently disconcerting.
The sight of both together very nearly made him forget the purpose for which he had
come upon the stage. Then he pulled himself together, and
played.
He played, he says, with an unusual nerve, and never in all that brief but eventful
career of his was he more applauded. That was the evening's first shock.
The next came after the second act.
Entering the green-room he found it more thronged than usual, and at the far end
with Climene, over whom he was bending from his fine height, his eyes intent upon her
face, what time his smiling lips moved in talk, M. de La Tour d'Azyr.
He had her entirely to himself, a privilege none of the men of fashion who were in the
habit of visiting the coulisse had yet enjoyed.
Those lesser gentlemen had all withdrawn before the Marquis, as jackals withdraw
before the lion. Andre-Louis stared a moment, stricken.
Then recovering from his surprise he became critical in his study of the Marquis.
He considered the beauty and grace and splendour of him, his courtly air, his
complete and unshakable self-possession.
But more than all he considered the expression of the dark eyes that were
devouring Climene's lovely face, and his own lips tightened.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr never heeded him or his stare; nor, had he done so, would he
have known who it was that looked at him from behind the make-up of Scaramouche;
nor, again, had he known, would he have been in the least troubled or concerned.
Andre-Louis sat down apart, his mind in turmoil.
Presently he found a mincing young gentleman addressing him, and made shift to
answer as was expected.
Climene having been thus sequestered, and Columbine being already thickly besieged by
gallants, the lesser visitors had to content themselves with Madame and the male
members of the troupe.
M. Binet, indeed, was the centre of a gay cluster that shook with laughter at his
sallies.
He seemed of a sudden to have emerged from the gloom of the last two days into high
good-humour, and Scaramouche observed how persistently his eyes kept flickering upon
his daughter and her splendid courtier.
That night there, were high words between Andre-Louis and Climene, the high words
proceeding from Climene.
When Andre-Louis again, and more insistently, enjoined prudence upon his
betrothed, and begged her to beware how far she encouraged the advances of such a man
as M. de La Tour d'Azyr, she became roundly abusive.
She shocked and stunned him by her virulently shrewish tone, and her still
more unexpected force of invective.
He sought to reason with her, and finally she came to certain terms with him.
"If you have become betrothed to me simply to stand as an obstacle in my path, the
sooner we make an end the better."
"You do not love me then, Climene?" "Love has nothing to do with it.
I'll not tolerate your insensate jealousy. A girl in the theatre must make it her
business to accept homage from all."
"Agreed; and there is no harm, provided she gives nothing in exchange."
White-faced, with flaming eyes she turned on him at that.
"Now, what exactly do you mean?"
"My meaning is clear.
A girl in your position may receive all the homage that is offered, provided she
receives it with a dignified aloofness implying clearly that she has no favours to
bestow in return beyond the favour of her smile.
If she is wise she will see to it that the homage is always offered collectively by
her admirers, and that no single one amongst them shall ever have the privilege
of approaching her alone.
If she is wise she will give no encouragement, nourish no hopes that it may
afterwards be beyond her power to deny realization."
"How? You dare?"
"I know my world. And I know M. de La Tour d'Azyr," he
answered her.
"He is a man without charity, without humanity almost; a man who takes what he
wants wherever he finds it and whether it is given willingly or not; a man who
reckons nothing of the misery he scatters
on his self-indulgent way; a man whose only law is force.
Ponder it, Climene, and ask yourself if I do you less than honour in warning you."
He went out on that, feeling a degradation in continuing the subject.
The days that followed were unhappy days for him, and for at least one other.
That other was Leandre, who was cast into the profoundest dejection by M. de La Tour
d'Azyr's assiduous attendance upon Climene.
The Marquis was to be seen at every performance; a box was perpetually reserved
for him, and invariably he came either alone or else with his cousin M. de
Chabrillane.
On Tuesday of the following week, Andre- Louis went out alone early in the morning.
He was out of temper, fretted by an overwhelming sense of humiliation, and he
hoped to clear his mind by walking.
In turning the corner of the Place du Bouffay he ran into a slightly built,
sallow-complexioned gentleman very neatly dressed in black, wearing a tie-wig under a
round hat.
The man fell back at sight of him, levelling a spy-glass, then hailed him in a
voice that rang with amazement. "Moreau!
Where the devil have you been hiding your- self these months?"
It was Le Chapelier, the lawyer, the leader of the Literary Chamber of Rennes.
"Behind the skirts of Thespis," said Scaramouche.
"I don't understand." "I didn't intend that you should.
What of yourself, Isaac?
And what of the world which seems to have been standing still of late?"
"Standing still!" Le Chapelier laughed.
"But where have you been, then?
Standing still!" He pointed across the square to a cafe
under the shadow of the gloomy prison. "Let us go and drink a bavaroise.
You are of all men the man we want, the man we have been seeking everywhere, and--
behold!--you drop from the skies into my path."
They crossed the square and entered the cafe.
"So you think the world has been standing still!
Dieu de Dieu!
I suppose you haven't heard of the royal order for the convocation of the States
General, or the terms of them--that we are to have what we demanded, what you demanded
for us here in Nantes!
You haven't heard that the order has gone forth for the primary elections--the
elections of the electors. You haven't heard of the fresh uproar in
Rennes, last month.
The order was that the three estates should sit together at the States General of the
bailliages, but in the bailliage of Rennes the nobles must ever be recalcitrant.
They took up arms actually--six hundred of them with their valetaille, headed by your
old friend M. de La Tour d'Azyr, and they were for slashing us--the members of the
Third Estate--into ribbons so as to put an end to our insolence."
He laughed delicately. "But, by God, we showed them that we, too,
could take up arms.
It was what you yourself advocated here in Nantes, last November.
We fought them a pitched battle in the streets, under the leadership of your
namesake Moreau, the provost, and we so peppered them that they were glad to take
shelter in the Cordelier Convent.
That is the end of their resistance to the royal authority and the people's will."
He ran on at great speed detailing the events that had taken place, and finally
came to the matter which had, he announced, been causing him to hunt for Andre-Louis
until he had all but despaired of finding him.
Nantes was sending fifty delegates to the assembly of Rennes which was to select the
deputies to the Third Estate and edit their cahier of grievances.
Rennes itself was being as fully represented, whilst such villages as
Gavrillac were sending two delegates for every two hundred hearths or less.
Each of these three had clamoured that Andre-Louis Moreau should be one of its
delegates.
Gavrillac wanted him because he belonged to the village, and it was known there what
sacrifices he had made in the popular cause; Rennes wanted him because it had
heard his spirited address on the day of
the shooting of the students; and Nantes-- to whom his identity was unknown--asked for
him as the speaker who had addressed them under the name of Omnes Omnibus and who had
framed for them the memorial that was
believed so largely to have influenced M. Necker in formulating the terms of the
convocation. Since he could not be found, the
delegations had been made up without him.
But now it happened that one or two vacancies had occurred in the Nantes
representation; and it was the business of filling these vacancies that had brought Le
Chapelier to Nantes.
Andre-Louis firmly shook his head in answer to Le Chapelier's proposal.
"You refuse?" the other cried. "Are you mad?
Refuse, when you are demanded from so many sides?
Do you realize that it is more than probable you will be elected one of the
deputies, that you will be sent to the States General at Versailles to represent
us in this work of saving France?"
But Andre-Louis, we know, was not concerned to save France.
At the moment he was concerned to save two women, both of whom he loved, though in
vastly different ways, from a man he had vowed to ruin.
He stood firm in his refusal until Le Chapelier dejectedly abandoned the attempt
to persuade him.
"It is odd," said Andre-Louis, "that I should have been so deeply immersed in
trifles as never to have perceived that Nantes is being politically active."
"Active!
My friend, it is a seething cauldron of political emotions.
It is kept quiet on the surface only by the persuasion that all goes well.
At a hint to the contrary it would boil over."
"Would it so?" said Scaramouche, thoughtfully.
"The knowledge may be useful."
And then he changed the subject. "You know that La Tour d'Azyr is here?"
"In Nantes? He has courage if he shows himself.
They are not a docile people, these Nantais, and they know his record and the
part he played in the rising at Rennes. I marvel they haven't stoned him.
But they will, sooner or later.
It only needs that some one should suggest it."
"That is very likely," said Andre-Louis, and smiled.
"He doesn't show himself much; not in the streets, at least.
So that he has not the courage you suppose; nor any kind of courage, as I told him
once.
He has only insolence." At parting Le Chapelier again exhorted him
to give thought to what he proposed. "Send me word if you change your mind.
I am lodged at the Cerf, and I shall be here until the day after to-morrow.
If you have ambition, this is your moment." "I have no ambition, I suppose," said
Andre-Louis, and went his way.
That night at the theatre he had a mischievous impulse to test what Le
Chapelier had told him of the state of public feeling in the city.
They were playing "The Terrible Captain," in the last act of which the empty
cowardice of the bullying braggart Rhodomont is revealed by Scaramouche.
After the laughter which the exposure of the roaring captain invariably produced, it
remained for Scaramouche contemptuously to dismiss him in a phrase that varied
nightly, according to the inspiration of the moment.
This time he chose to give his phrase a political complexion:
"Thus, O thrasonical coward, is your emptiness exposed.
Because of your long length and the great sword you carry and the angle at which you
cock your hat, people have gone in fear of you, have believed in you, have imagined
you to be as terrible and as formidable as you insolently make yourself appear.
But at the first touch of true spirit you crumple up, you tremble, you whine
pitifully, and the great sword remains in your scabbard.
You remind me of the Privileged Orders when confronted by the Third Estate."
It was audacious of him, and he was prepared for anything--a laugh, applause,
indignation, or all together.
But he was not prepared for what came.
And it came so suddenly and spontaneously from the groundlings and the body of those
in the amphitheatre that he was almost scared by it--as a boy may be scared who
has held a match to a sun-scorched hayrick.
It was a hurricane of furious applause. Men leapt to their feet, sprang up on to
the benches, waving their hats in the air, deafening him with the terrific uproar of
their acclamations.
And it rolled on and on, nor ceased until the curtain fell.
Scaramouche stood meditatively smiling with tight lips.
At the last moment he had caught a glimpse of M. de La Tour d'Azyr's face thrust
farther forward than usual from the shadows of his box, and it was a face set in anger,
with eyes on fire.
"Mon Dieu!" laughed Rhodomont, recovering from the real scare that had succeeded his
histrionic terror, "but you have a great trick of tickling them in the right place,
Scaramouche."
Scaramouche looked up at him and smiled. "It can be useful upon occasion," said he,
and went off to his dressing-room to change.
But a reprimand awaited him.
He was delayed at the theatre by matters concerned with the scenery of the new piece
they were to mount upon the morrow. By the time he was rid of the business the
rest of the company had long since left.
He called a chair and had himself carried back to the inn in solitary state.
It was one of many minor luxuries his comparatively affluent present
circumstances permitted.
Coming into that upstairs room that was common to all the troupe, he found M. Binet
talking loudly and vehemently. He had caught sounds of his voice whilst
yet upon the stairs.
As he entered Binet broke off short, and wheeled to face him.
"You are here at last!" It was so odd a greeting that Andre-Louis
did no more than look his mild surprise.
"I await your explanations of the disgraceful scene you provoked to-night."
"Disgraceful? Is it disgraceful that the public should
applaud me?"
"The public? The rabble, you mean.
Do you want to deprive us of the patronage of all gentlefolk by vulgar appeals to the
low passions of the mob?"
Andre-Louis stepped past M. Binet and forward to the table.
He shrugged contemptuously. The man offended him, after all.
"You exaggerate grossly--as usual."
"I do not exaggerate. And I am the master in my own theatre.
This is the Binet Troupe, and it shall be conducted in the Binet way."
"Who are the gentlefolk the loss of whose patronage to the Feydau will be so
poignantly felt?" asked Andre-Louis. "You imply that there are none?
See how wrong you are.
After the play to-night M. le Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr came to me, and spoke to me in
the severest terms about your scandalous outburst.
I was forced to apologize, and..."
"The more fool you," said Andre-Louis. "A man who respected himself would have
shown that gentleman the door." M. Binet's face began to empurple.
"You call yourself the head of the Binet Troupe, you boast that you will be master
in your own theatre, and you stand like a lackey to take the orders of the first
insolent fellow who comes to your green-
room to tell you that he does not like a line spoken by one of your company!
I say again that had you really respected yourself you would have turned him out."
There was a murmur of approval from several members of the company, who, having heard
the arrogant tone assumed by the Marquis, were filled with resentment against the
slur cast upon them all.
"And I say further," Andre-Louis went on, "that a man who respects himself, on quite
other grounds, would have been only too glad to have seized this pretext to show M.
de La Tour d'Azyr the door."
"What do you mean by that?" There was a rumble of thunder in the
question. Andre-Louis' eyes swept round the company
assembled at the supper-table.
"Where is Climene?" he asked, sharply. Leandre leapt up to answer him, white in
the face, tense and quivering with excitement.
"She left the theatre in the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr's carriage immediately after
the performance. We heard him offer to drive her to this
inn."
Andre-Louis glanced at the timepiece on the overmantel.
He seemed unnaturally calm. "That would be an hour ago--rather more.
And she has not yet arrived?"
His eyes sought M. Binet's. M. Binet's eyes eluded his glance.
Again it was Leandre who answered him. "Not yet."
"Ah!"
Andre-Louis sat down, and poured himself wine.
There was an oppressive silence in the room.
Leandre watched him expectantly, Columbine commiseratingly.
Even M. Binet appeared to be waiting for a cue from Scaramouche.
But Scaramouche disappointed him.
"Have you left me anything to eat?" he asked.
Platters were pushed towards him.
He helped himself calmly to food, and ate in silence, apparently with a good
appetite. M. Binet sat down, poured himself wine, and
drank.
Presently he attempted to make conversation with one and another.
He was answered curtly, in monosyllables. M. Binet did not appear to be in favour
with his troupe that night.
At long length came a rumble of wheels below and a rattle of halting hooves.
Then voices, the high, trilling laugh of Climene floating upwards.
Andre-Louis went on eating unconcernedly.
"What an actor!" said Harlequin under his breath to Polichinelle, and Polichinelle
nodded gloomily.
She came in, a leading lady taking the stage, head high, chin thrust forward, eyes
dancing with laughter; she expressed triumph and arrogance.
Her cheeks were flushed, and there was some disorder in the mass of nut-brown hair that
crowned her head. In her left hand she carried an enormous
bouquet of white camellias.
On its middle finger a diamond of great price drew almost at once by its effulgence
the eyes of all. Her father sprang to meet her with an
unusual display of paternal tenderness.
"At last, my child!" He conducted her to the table.
She sank into a chair, a little wearily, a little nervelessly, but the smile did not
leave her face, not even when she glanced across at Scaramouche.
It was only Leandre, observing her closely, with hungry, scowling stare, who detected
something as of fear in the hazel eyes momentarily seen between the fluttering of
her lids.
Andre-Louis, however, still went on eating stolidly, without so much as a look in her
direction.
Gradually the company came to realize that just as surely as a scene was brooding,
just so surely would there be no scene as long as they remained.
It was Polichinelle, at last, who gave the signal by rising and withdrawing, and
within two minutes none remained in the room but M. Binet, his daughter, and Andre-
Louis.
And then, at last, Andre-Louis set down knife and fork, washed his throat with a
draught of Burgundy, and sat back in his chair to consider Climene.
"I trust," said he, "that you had a pleasant ride, mademoiselle."
"Most pleasant, monsieur." Impudently she strove to emulate his
coolness, but did not completely succeed.
"And not unprofitable, if I may judge that jewel at this distance.
It should be worth at least a couple of hundred louis, and that is a formidable sum
even to so wealthy a nobleman as M. de La Tour d'Azyr.
Would it be impertinent in one who has had some notion of becoming your husband, to
ask you, mademoiselle, what you have given him in return?"
M. Binet uttered a gross laugh, a queer mixture of cynicism and contempt.
"I have given nothing," said Climene, indignantly.
"Ah! Then the jewel is in the nature of a payment in advance."
"My God, man, you're not decent!" M. Binet protested.
"Decent?"
Andre-Louis' smouldering eyes turned to discharge upon M. Binet such a fulmination
of contempt that the old scoundrel shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"Did you mention decency, Binet?
Almost you make me lose my temper, which is a thing that I detest above all others!"
Slowly his glance returned to Climene, who sat with elbows on the table, her chin
cupped in her palms, regarding him with something between scorn and defiance.
"Mademoiselle," he said, slowly, "I desire you purely in your own interests to
consider whither you are going."
"I am well able to consider it for myself, and to decide without advice from you,
monsieur." "And now you've got your answer," chuckled
Binet.
"I hope you like it." Andre-Louis had paled a little; there was
incredulity in his great sombre eyes as they continued steadily to regard her.
Of M. Binet he took no notice.
"Surely, mademoiselle, you cannot mean that willingly, with open eyes and a full
understanding of what you do, you would exchange an honourable wifehood for... for
the thing that such men as M. de La Tour d'Azyr may have in store for you?"
M. Binet made a wide gesture, and swung to his daughter.
"You hear him, the mealy-mouthed prude!
Perhaps you'll believe at last that marriage with him would be the ruin of you.
He would always be there the inconvenient husband--to mar your every chance, my
girl."
She tossed her lovely head in agreement with her father.
"I begin to find him tiresome with his silly jealousies," she confessed.
"As a husband I am afraid he would be impossible."
Andre-Louis felt a constriction of the heart.
But--always the actor--he showed nothing of it.
He laughed a little, not very pleasantly, and rose.
"I bow to your choice, mademoiselle.
I pray that you may not regret it." "Regret it?" cried M. Binet.
He was laughing, relieved to see his daughter at last rid of this suitor of whom
he had never approved, if we except those few hours when he really believed him to be
an eccentric of distinction.
"And what shall she regret?
That she accepted the protection of a nobleman so powerful and wealthy that as a
mere trinket he gives her a jewel worth as much as an actress earns in a year at the
Comedie Francaise?"
He got up, and advanced towards Andre- Louis.
His mood became conciliatory. "Come, come, my friend, no rancour now.
What the devil!
You wouldn't stand in the girl's way? You can't really blame her for making this
choice? Have you thought what it means to her?
Have you thought that under the protection of such a gentleman there are no heights
which she may not reach? Don't you see the wonderful luck of it?
Surely, if you're fond of her, particularly being of a jealous temperament, you
wouldn't wish it otherwise?" Andre-Louis looked at him in silence for a
long moment.
Then he laughed again. "Oh, you are fantastic," he said.
"You are not real." He turned on his heel and strode to the
door.
The action, and more the contempt of his look, laugh, and words stung M. Binet to
passion, drove out the conciliatoriness of his mood.
"Fantastic, are we?" he cried, turning to follow the departing Scaramouche with his
little eyes that now were inexpressibly evil.
"Fantastic that we should prefer the powerful protection of this great nobleman
to marriage with a beggarly, nameless bastard.
Oh, we are fantastic!"
Andre-Louis turned, his hand upon the door- handle.
"No," he said, "I was mistaken. You are not fantastic.
You are just vile--both of you."
And he went out.
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