Part 3 out of 8
functions; exaggerated in their gestures; stilted and affected in
their speech. They seemed, indeed, to belong to a world apart, a
world of unreality which became real only on the planks of their
stage, in the glare of their footlights. Good-fellowship bound them
one to another; and Andre-Louis reflected cynically that this
harmony amongst them might be the cause of their apparent unreality.
In the real world, greedy striving and the emulation of
acquisitiveness preclude such amity as was present here.
They numbered exactly eleven, three women and eight men; and they
addressed each other by their stage names: names which denoted their
several types, and never - or only very slightly - varied, no matter
what might be the play that they performed.
"We are," Pantaloon informed him, "one of those few remaining
staunch bands of real players, who uphold the traditions of the old
Italian Commedia dell' Arte. Not for us to vex our memories and
stultify our wit with the stilted phrases that are the fruit of a
wretched author's lucubrations. Each of us is in detail his own
author in a measure as he develops the part assigned to him. We are
improvisers - improvisers of the old and noble Italian school."
"I had guessed as much," said Andre-Louis, "when I discovered you
rehearsing your improvisations."
"I have observed, young sir, that your humour inclines to the
pungent, not to say the acrid. It is very well. It is I suppose,
the humour that should go with such a countenance. But it may lead
you astray, as in this instance. That rehearsal - a most unusual
thing with us - was necessitated by the histrionic rawness of our
Leandre. We are seeking to inculcate into him by training an art
with which Nature neglected to endow him against his present needs.
Should he continue to fail in doing justice to our schooling... But
we will not disturb our present harmony with the unpleasant
anticipation of misfortunes which we still hope to avert. We love
our Leandre, for all his faults. Let me make you acquainted with our
And he proceeded to introduction in detail. He pointed out the
long and amiable Rhodomont, whom Andre-Louis already knew.
"His length of limb and hooked nose were his superficial
qualifications to play roaring captains," Pantaloon explained.
"His lungs have justified our choice. You should hear him roar.
At first we called him Spavento or Epouvapte. But that was unworthy
of so great an artist. Not since the superb Mondor amazed the world
has so thrasonical a bully been seen upon the stage. So we
conferred upon him the name of Rhodomont that Mondor made famous;
and I give you my word, as an actor and a gentleman - for I am a
gentleman, monsieur, or was - that he has justified us."
His little eyes beamed in his great swollen face as he turned their
gaze upon the object of his encomium. The terrible Rhodomont,
confused by so much praise, blushed like a schoolgirl as he met the
solemn scrutiny of Andre-Louis.
"Then here we have Scaramouche, whom also you already know.
Sometimes he is Scapin and sometimes Coviello, but in the main
Scaramouche, to which let me tell you he is best suited - sometimes
too well suited, I think. For he is Scaramouche not only on the
stage, but also in the world. He has a gift of sly intrigue, an
art of setting folk by the ears, combined with an impudent
aggressiveness upon occasion when he considers himself safe from
reprisals. He is Scaramouche, the little skirmisher, to the very
life. I could say more. But I am by disposition charitable and
loving to all mankind."
"As the priest said when he kissed the serving-wench," snarled
Scaramouche, and went on eating.
"His humour, like your own, you will observe, is acrid," said
Pantaloon. He passed on. "Then that rascal with the lumpy nose
and the grinning bucolic countenance is, of course, Pierrot. Could
he be aught else?"
"I could play lovers a deal better," said the rustic cherub.
"That is the delusion proper to Pierrot," said Pantaloon,
contemptuously. "This heavy, beetle-browed ruffian, who has grown
old in sin, and whose appetite increases with his years, is
Polichinelle. Each one, as you perceive, is designed by Nature
for the part he plays. This nimble, freckled jackanapes is
Harlequin; not your spangled Harlequin into which modern degeneracy
has debased that first-born of Momus, but the genuine original zany
of the Commedia, ragged and patched, an impudent, cowardly,
"Each one of us, as you perceive," said Harlequin, mimicking the
leader of the troupe, "is designed by Nature for the part he plays."
"Physically, my friend, physically only, else we should not have so
much trouble in teaching this beautiful Leandre to become a lover.
Then we have Pasquariel here, who is sometimes an apothecary,
sometimes a notary, sometimes a lackey - an amiable, accommodating
fellow. He is also an excellent cook, being a child of Italy, that
land of gluttons. And finally, you have myself, who as the father
of the company very properly play as Pantaloon the roles of father.
Sometimes, it is true, I am a deluded husband, and sometimes an
ignorant, self-sufficient doctor. But it is rarely that I find it
necessary to call myself other than Pantaloon. For the rest, I am
the only one who has a name - a real name. It is Binet, monsieur.
"And now for the ladies... First in order of seniority we have
Madame there." He waved one of his great hands towards a buxom,
smiling blonde of five-and-forty, who was seated on the lowest of
the steps of the travelling house. "She is our Duegne, or Mother,
or Nurse, as the case requires. She is known quite simply and
royally as Madame. If she ever had a name in the world, she has
long since forgotten it, which is perhaps as well. Then we have
this pert jade with the tip-tilted nose and the wide mouth, who
is of course our soubrette Columbine, and lastly, my daughter
Climene, an amoureuse of talents not to be matched outside the
Comedie Francaise, of which she has the bad taste to aspire to
become a member."
The lovely Climene - and lovely indeed she was - tossed her
nut-brown curls and laughed as she looked across at Andre-Louis.
Her eyes, he had perceived by now, were not blue, but hazel.
"Do not believe him, monsieur. Here I am queen, and I prefer to
be queen here rather than a slave in Paris."
"Mademoiselle," said Andre-Louis, quite solemnly, "will be queen
wherever she condescends to reign."
Her only answer was a timid - timid and yet alluring - glance from
under fluttering lids. Meanwhile her father was bawling at the
comely young man who played lovers - "You hear, Leandre! That is
the sort of speech you should practise."
Leandre raised languid eyebrows. "That?" quoth he, and shrugged.
"The merest commonplace."
Andre-Louis laughed approval. "M. Leandre is of a readier wit than
you concede. There is subtlety in pronouncing it a commonplace to
call Mlle. Climene a queen.
Some laughed, M. Binet amongst them, with good-humoured mockery.
"You think he has the wit to mean it thus? Bah! His subtleties are
The conversation becoming general, Andre-Louis soon learnt what yet
there was to learn of this strolling band. They were on their way
to Guichen, where they hoped to prosper at the fair that was to open
on Monday next. They would make their triumphal entry into the town
at noon, and setting up their stage in the old market, they would
give their first performance that same Saturday night, in a new
canevas - or scenario - of M. Binet's own, which should set the
rustics gaping. And then M. Binet fetched a sigh, and addressed
himself to the elderly, swarthy, beetle-browed Polichinelle, who sat
on his left.
"But we shall miss Felicien," said he. "Indeed, I do not know what
we shall do without him."
"Oh, we shall contrive," said Polichinelle, with his mouth full.
"So you always say, whatever happens, knowing that in any case the
contriving will not fall upon yourself."
"He should not be difficult to replace," said Harlequin.
"True, if we were in a civilized land. But where among the rustics
of Brittany are we to find a fellow of even his poor parts?" M.
Binet turned to Andre-Louis. "He was our property-man, our machinist,
our stage-carpenter, our man of affairs, and occasionally he acted."
"The part of Figaro, I presume," said Andre-Louis, which elicited a
"So you are acquainted with Beaumarchais!" Binet eyed the young
man with fresh interest.
"He is tolerably well known, I think."
"In Paris, to be sure. But I had not dreamt his fame had reached
the wilds of Brittany."
"But then I was some years in Paris - at the Lycee of Louis le
Grand. It was there I made acquaintance with his work."
"A dangerous man," said Polichinelle, sententiously.
"Indeed, and you are right," Pantaloon agreed. "Clever - I do not
deny him that, although myself I find little use for authors. But
of a sinister cleverness responsible for the dissemination of many
of these subversive new ideas. I think such writers should be
"M. de La Tour d'Azyr would probably agree with you - the gentleman
who by the simple exertion of his will turns this communal land into
his own property." And Andre-Louis drained his cup, which had been
filled with the poor vin gris that was the players' drink.
It was a remark that might have precipitated an argument had it not
also reminded M. Binet of the terms on which they were encamped
there, and of the fact that the half-hour was more than past. In a
moment he was on his feet, leaping up with an agility surprising in
so corpulent a man, issuing his commands like a marshal on a field
"Come, come, my lads! Are we to sit guzzling here all day? Time
flees, and there's a deal to be done if we are to make our entry
into Guichen at noon. Go, get you dressed. We strike camp in twenty
minutes. Bestir, ladies! To your chaise, and see that you contrive
to look your best. Soon the eyes of Guichen will be upon you, and
the condition of your interior to-morrow will depend upon the
impression made by your exterior to-day. Away! Away!"
The implicit obedience this autocrat commanded set them in a whirl.
Baskets and boxes were dragged forth to receive the platters and
remains of their meagre feast. In an instant the ground was
cleared, and the three ladies had taken their departure to the
chaise, which was set apart for their use. The men were already
climbing into the house on wheels, when Binet turned to Andre-Louis.
"We part here, sir," said he, dramatically, "the richer by your
acquaintance; your debtors and your friends." He put forth his
Slowly Andre-Louis took it in his own. He had been thinking swiftly
in the last few moments. And remembering the safety he had found
from his pursuers in the bosom of this company, it occurred to him
hat nowhere could he be better hidden for the present, until the
quest for him should have died down.
"Sir," he said, "the indebtedness is on my side. It is not every
day one has the felicity to sit down with so illustrious and
engaging a company."
Binet's little eyes peered suspiciously at the young man, in quest
of irony. He found nothing but candour and simple good faith.
"I part from you reluctantly," Andre-Louis continued. "The more
reluctantly since I do not perceive the absolute necessity for
"How?" quoth Binet, frowning, and slowly withdrawing the hand which
the other had already retained rather longer than was necessary.
"Thus," Andre-Louis explained himself. "You may set me down as a
sort of knight of rueful countenance in quest of adventure, with no
fixed purpose in life at present. You will not marvel that what I
have seen of yourself and your distinguished troupe should inspire
me to desire your better acquaintance. On your side you tell me
that you are in need of some one to replace your Figaro - your
Felicien, I think you called him. Whilst it may be presumptuous of
me to hope that I could discharge an office so varied and so
"You are indulging that acrid humour of yours again, my friend,"
Binet interrupted him. "Excepting for that," he added, slowly,
meditatively, his little eyes screwed up, "we might discuss this
proposal that you seem to be making."
"Alas! we can except nothing. If you take me, you take me as I am.
What else is possible? As for this humour - such as it is - which
you decry, you might turn it to profitable account."
"In several ways. I might, for instance, teach Leandre to make
Pantaloon burst into laughter. "You do not lack confidence in your
powers. Modesty does not afflict you."
"Therefore I evince the first quality necessary in an actor."
"Can you act?"
"Upon occasion, I think," said Andre-Louis, his thoughts upon his
performance at Rennes and Nantes, and wondering when in all his
histrionic career Pantaloon's improvisations had so rent the heart
M. Binet was musing. "Do you know much of the theatre?" quoth he.
"Everything," said Andre-Louis.
"I said that modesty will prove no obstacle in your career."
"But consider. I know the work of Beaumarchais, Eglantine, Mercier,
Chenier, and many others of our contemporaries. Then I have read, of
course, Moliere, Racine, Corneille, besides many other lesser French
writers. Of foreign authors, I am intimate with the works of Gozzi,
Goldoni, Guarini, Bibbiena, Machiavelli, Secchi, Tasso, Ariosto, and
Fedini. Whilst of those of antiquity I know most of the work of
Euripides, Aristophanes, Terence, Plautus... "
"Enough!" roared Pantaloon.
"I am not nearly through with my list," said Andre-Louis.
"You may keep the rest for another day. In Heaven's name, what can
have induced you to read so many dramatic authors?"
"In my humble way I am a student of man, and some years ago I made
the discovery that he is most intimately to be studied in the
reflections of him provided for the theatre."
"That is a very original and profound discovery," said Pantaloon,
quite seriously. "It had never occurred to me. Yet is it true.
Sir, it is a truth that dignifies our art. You are a man of parts,
that is clear to me. It has been clear since first I met you. I
can read a man. I knew you from the moment that you said
'good-morning.' Tell me, now: Do you think you could assist me
upon occasion in the preparation of a scenario? My mind, fully
engaged as it is with a thousand details of organization, is not
always as clear as I would have it for such work. Could you assist
me there, do you think?"
"I am quite sure I could."
"Hum, yes. I was sure you would be. The other duties that were
Felicien's you would soon learn. Well, well, if you are willing,
you may come along with us. You'd want some salary, I suppose?"
"If it is usual," said Andre-Louis.
"What should you say to ten livres a month?"
"I should say that it isn't exactly the riches of Peru."
"I might go as far as fifteen," said Binet, reluctantly. "But times
"I'll make them better for you."
"I've no doubt you believe it. Then we understand each other?"
"Perfectly," said Andre-Louis, dryly, and was thus committed to the
service of Thespis.
THE COMIC MUSE
The company's entrance into the township of Guichen, if not exactly
triumphal, as Binet had expressed the desire that it should be, was
at least sufficiently startling and cacophonous to set the rustics
gaping. To them these fantastic creatures appeared - as indeed they
were - beings from another world.
First went the great travelling chaise, creaking and groaning on its
way, drawn by two of the Flemish horses. It was Pantaloon who drove
it, an obese and massive Pantaloon in a tight-fitting suit of scarlet
under a long brown bed-gown, his countenance adorned by a colossal
cardboard nose. Beside him on the box sat Pierrot in a white smock,
with sleeves that completely covered his hands, loose white trousers,
and a black skull-cap. He had whitened his face with flour, and he
made hideous noises with a trumpet.
On the roof of the coach were assembled Polichinelle, Scaramouche,
Harlequin, and Pasquariel. Polichinelle in black and white, his
doublet cut in the fashion of a century ago, with humps before and
behind, a white frill round his neck and a black mask upon the upper
half of his face, stood in the middle, his feet planted wide to
steady him, solemnly and viciously banging a big drum. The other
three were seated each at one of the corners of the roof, their legs
dangling over. Scaramouche, all in black in the Spanish fashion of
the seventeenth century, his face adorned with a pair of mostachios,
jangled a guitar discordantly. Harlequin, ragged and patched in
every colour of the rainbow, with his leather girdle and sword of
lath, the upper half of his face smeared in soot, clashed a pair of
cymbals intermittently. Pasquariel, as an apothecary in skull-cap
and white apron, excited the hilarity of the onlookers by his
enormous tin clyster, which emitted when pumped a dolorous squeak.
Within the chaise itself, but showing themselves freely at the
windows, and exchanging quips with the townsfolk, sat the three
ladies of the company. Climene, the amoureuse, beautifully gowned
in flowered satin, her own clustering ringlets concealed under a
pumpkin-shaped wig, looked so much the lady of fashion that you
might have wondered what she was dong in that fantastic rabble.
Madame, as the mother, was also dressed with splendour, but
exaggerated to achieve the ridiculous. Her headdress was a
monstrous structure adorned with flowers, and superimposed by little
ostrich plumes. Columbine sat facing them, her back to the horses,
falsely demure, in milkmaid bonnet of white muslin, and a striped
gown of green and blue.
The marvel was that the old chaise, which in its halcyon days may
have served to carry some dignitary of the Church, did not founder
instead of merely groaning under that excessive and ribald load.
Next came the house on wheels, led by the long, lean Rhodomont, who
had daubed his face red, and increased the terror of it by a pair
of formidable mostachios. He was in long thigh-boots and leather
jerkin, trailing an enormous sword from a crimson baldrick. He wore
a broad felt hat with a draggled feather, and as he advanced he
raised his great voice and roared out defiance, and threats of
blood-curdling butchery to be performed upon all and sundry. On
the roof of this vehicle sat Leandre alone. He was in blue satin,
with ruffles, small sword, powdered hair, patches and spy-glass, and
red-heeled shoes: the complete courtier, looking very handsome. The
women of Guichen ogled him coquettishly. He took the ogling as a
proper tribute to his personal endowments, and returned it with
interest. Like Climene, he looked out of place amid the bandits who
composed the remainder of the company.
Bringing up the rear came Andre-Louis leading the two donkeys that
dragged the property-cart. He had insisted upon assuming a false
nose, representing as for embellishment that which he intended for
disguise. For the rest, he had retained his own garments. No one
paid any attention to him as he trudged along beside his donkeys,
an insignificant rear guard, which he was well content to be.
They made the tour of the town, in which the activity was already
above the normal in preparation for next week's fair. At intervals
they halted, the cacophony would cease abruptly, and Polichinelle
would announce in a stentorian voice that at five o'clock that
evening in the old market, M. Binet's famous company of improvisers
would perform a new comedy in four acts entitled, "The Heartless
Thus at last they came to the old market, which was the groundfloor
of the town hall, and open to the four winds by two archways on each
side of its length, and one archway on each side of its breadth.
These archways, with two exceptions, had been boarded up. Through
those two, which gave admission to what presently would be the
theatre, the ragamuffins of the town, and the niggards who were
reluctant to spend the necessary sous to obtain proper admission,
might catch furtive glimpses of the performance.
That afternoon was the most strenuous of Andre-Louis' life,
unaccustomed as he was to any sort of manual labour. It was spent
in erecting and preparing the stage at one end of the market-hall;
and he began to realize how hard-earned were to be his monthly
fifteen livres. At first there were four of them to the task - or
really three, for Pantaloon did no more than bawl directions.
Stripped of their finery, Rhodomont and Leandre assisted Andre-Louis
in that carpentering. Meanwhile the other four were at dinner with
the ladies. When a half-hour or so later they came to carry on the
work, Andre-Louis and his companions went to dine in their turn,
leaving Polichinelle to direct the operations as well as assist in
They crossed the square to the cheap little inn where they had
taken up their quarters. In the narrow passage Andre-Louis came
face to face with Climene, her fine feathers cast, and restored by
now to her normal appearance
"And how do you like it?" she asked him, pertly.
He looked her in the eyes. "It has its compensations," quoth he,
in that curious cold tone of his that left one wondering whether he
meant or not what he seemed to mean.
She knit her brows. "You... you feel the need of compensations
"Faith, I felt it from the beginning," said he. "It was the
perception of them allured me."
They were quite alone, the others having gone on into the room set
apart for them, where food was spread. Andre-Louis, who was as
unlearned in Woman as he was learned in Man, was not to know, upon
feeling himself suddenly extraordinarily aware of her femininity,
that it was she who in some subtle, imperceptible manner so rendered
"What," she asked him, with demurest innocence, "are these
He caught himself upon the brink of the abyss.
"Fifteen livres a month," said he, abruptly.
A moment she stared at him bewildered. He was very disconcerting.
Then she recovered.
"Oh, and bed and board," said she. "Don't be leaving that from
the reckoning, as you seem to be doing; for your dinner will be
going cold. Aren't you coming?"
"Haven't you dined?" he cried, and she wondered had she caught a
note of eagerness.
"No," she answered, over her shoulder. "I waited."
"What for?" quoth his innocence, hopefully.
"I had to change, of course, zany," she answered, rudely. Having
dragged him, as she imagined, to the chopping-block, she could not
refrain from chopping. But then he was of those who must be
"And you left your manners upstairs with your grand-lady clothes,
mademoiselle. I understand."
A scarlet flame suffused her face. "You are very insolent," she
"I've often been told so. But I don't believe it." He thrust open
the door for her, and bowing with an air which imposed upon her,
although it was merely copied from Fleury of the Comedie Francaise,
so often visited in the Louis le Grand days, he waved her in.
"After you, ma demoiselle." For greater emphasis he deliberately
broke the word into its two component parts.
"I thank you, monsieur," she answered, frostily, as near sneering
as was possible to so charming a person, and went in, nor addressed
him again throughout the meal. Instead, she devoted herself with
an unusual and devastating assiduity to the suspiring Leandre, that
poor devil who could not successfully play the lover with her on
the stage because of his longing to play it in reality.
Andre-Louis ate his herrings and black bread with a good appetite
nevertheless. It was poor fare, but then poor fare was the common
lot of poor people in that winter of starvation, and since he had
cast in his fortunes with a company whose affairs were not
flourishing, he must accept the evils of the situation
"Have you a name?" Binet asked him once in the course of that repast
and during a pause in the conversation.
"It happens that I have," said he. "I think it is Parvissimus.
"Parvissimus?" quoth Binet. "Is that a family name?"
"In such a company, where only the leader enjoys the privilege of a
family name, the like would be unbecoming its least member. So I
take the name that best becomes in me. And I think it is Parvissimus
- the very least."
Binet was amused. It was droll; it showed a ready fancy. Oh, to be
sure, they must get to work together on those scenarios.
"I shall prefer it to carpentering," said Andre-Louis. Nevertheless
he had to go back to it that afternoon, and to labour strenuously
until four o'clock, when at last the autocratic Binet announced
himself satisfied with the preparations, and proceeded, again with
the help of Andre-Louis, to prepare the lights, which were supplied
partly by tallow candles and partly by lamps burning fish-oil.
At five o'clock that evening the three knocks were sounded, and the
curtain rose on "The Heartless Father."
Among the duties inherited by Andre-Louis from the departed Felicien
whom he replaced, was that of doorkeeper. This duty he discharged
dressed in a Polichinelle costume, and wearing a pasteboard nose.
It was an arrangement mutually agreeable to M. Binet and himself. M.
Binet - who had taken the further precaution of retaining Andre-Louis'
own garments - was thereby protected against the risk of his latest
recruit absconding with the takings. Andre-Louis, without illusions
on the score of Pantaloon's real object, agreed to it willingly
enough, since it protected him from the chance of recognition by any
acquaintance who might possibly be in Guichen.
The performance was in every sense unexciting; the audience meagre
and unenthusiastic. The benches provided in the front half of the
market contained some twenty-seven persons: eleven at twenty sous
a head and sixteen at twelve. Behind these stood a rabble of some
thirty others at six sous apiece. Thus the gross takings were two
louis, ten livres, and two sous. By the time M. Binet had paid for
the use of the market, his lights, and the expenses of his company
at the inn over Sunday, there was not likely to be very much left
towards the wages of his players. It is not surprising, therefore,
that M. Binet's bonhomie should have been a trifle overcast that
"And what do you think of it?" he asked Andre-Louis, as they were
walking back to the inn after the performance.
"Possibly it could have been worse; probably it could not," said he.
In sheer amazement M. Binet checked in his stride, and turned to
look at his companion.
"Huh!" said he. "Dieu de Dien! But you are frank."
"An unpopular form of service among fools, I know."
"Well, I am not a fool," said Binet.
"That is why I am frank. I pay you the compliment of assuming
intelligence in you, M. Binet."
"Oh, you do?" quoth M. Binet. "And who the devil are you to assume
anything? Your assumptions are presumptuous, sir." And with that
he lapsed into silence and the gloomy business of mentally casting
up his accounts.
But at table over supper a half-hour later he revived the topic.
"Our latest recruit, this excellent M. Parvissimus," he announced,
"has the impudence to tell me that possibly our comedy could have
been worse, but that probably it could not." And he blew out his
great round cheeks to invite a laugh at the expense of that foolish
"That's bad," said the swarthy and sardonic Polichinelle. He was
grave as Rhadamanthus pronouncing judgment. "That's bad. But what
is infinitely worse is that the audience had the impudence to be of
the same mind."
"An ignorant pack of clods," sneered Leandre, with a toss of his
"You are wrong," quoth Harlequin. "You were born for love, my dear,
Leandre - a dull dog, as you will have conceived - looked
contemptuously down upon the little man. "And you, what were you
born for?" he wondered.
"Nobody knows," was the candid admission. "Nor yet why. It is the
case of many of us, my dear, believe me."
"But why" - M. Binet took him up, and thus spoilt the beginnings of
a very pretty quarrel - "why do you say that Leandre is wrong?"
"To be general, because he is always wrong. To be particular,
because I judge the audience of Guichen to be too sophisticated
for 'The Heartless Father.'"
"You would put it more happily," interposed Andre-Louis - who was
the cause of this discussion - "if you said that 'The Heartless
Father' is too unsophisticated for the audience of Guichen."
"Why, what's the difference?" asked Leandre.
"I didn't imply a difference. I merely suggested that it is a
happier way to express the fact."
"The gentleman is being subtle," sneered Binet.
"Why happier?" Harlequin demanded.
"Because it is easier to bring 'The Heartless Father' to the
sophistication of the Guichen audience, than the Guichen audience
to the unsophistication of 'The Heartless Father.'"
"Let me think it out," groaned Polichinelle, and he took his head
in his hands.
But from the tail of the table Andre-Louis was challenged by Climene
who sat there between Columbine and Madame.
"You would alter the comedy, would you, M. Parvissimus?" she cried.
He turned to parry her malice.
"I would suggest that it be altered," he corrected, inclining his
"And how would you alter it, monsieur?"
"I? Oh, for the better."
"But of course!" She was sleekest sarcasm. "And how would you do it?"
"Aye, tell us that," roared M. Binet, and added: "Silence, I pray
you, gentlemen and ladies. Silence for M. Parvissimus."
Andre-Louis looked from father to daughter, and smiled. "Pardi!"
said he. "I am between bludgeon and dagger. If I escape with my
life, I shall be fortunate. Why, then, since you pin me to the very
wall, I'll tell you what I should do. I should go back to the
original and help myself more freely from it."
"The original?" questioned M. Binet - the author.
"It is called, I believe, 'Monsieur de Pourceaugnac,' and was written
Somebody tittered, but that somebody was not M. Binet. He had been
touched on the raw, and the look in his little eyes betrayed the
fact that his bonhomme exterior covered anything but a bonhomme.
"You charge me with plagiarism," he said at last; "with filching the
ideas of Moliere."
"There is always, of course," said Andre-Louis, unruffled, "the
alternative possibility of two great minds working upon parallel
M. Binet studied the young man attentively a moment. He found him
bland and inscrutable, and decided to pin him down.
"Then you do not imply that I have been stealing from Moliere?"
"I advise you to do so, monsieur," was the disconcerting reply.
M. Binet was shocked.
"You advise me to do so! You advise me, me, Antoine Binet, to turn
thief at my age!"
"He is outrageous," said mademoiselle, indignantly.
"Outrageous is the word. I thank you for it, my dear. I take you
on trust, sir. You sit at my table, you have the honour to be
included in my company, and to my face you have the audacity to
advise me to become a thief - the worst kind of thief that is
conceivable, a thief of spiritual things, a thief of ideas! It is
insufferable, intolerable! I have been, I fear, deeply mistaken
in you, monsieur; just as you appear to have been mistaken in me.
I am not the scoundrel you suppose me, sir, and I will not number
in my company a man who dares to suggest that I should become one.
He was very angry. His voice boomed through the little room, and
the company sat hushed and something scared, their eyes upon
Andre-Louis, who was the only one entirely unmoved by this outburst
of virtuous indignation.
"You realize, monsieur," he said, very quietly, "that you are
insulting the memory of the illustrious dead?"
"Eh?" said Binet.
Andre-Louis developed his sophistries.
"You insult the memory of Moliere, the greatest ornament of our
stage, one of the greatest ornaments of our nation, when you suggest
that there is vileness in doing that which he never hesitated to do,
which no great author yet has hesitated to do. You cannot suppose
that Moliere ever troubled himself to be original in the matter of
ideas. You cannot suppose that the stories he tells in his plays
have never been told before. They were culled, as you very well
know - though you seem momentarily to have forgotten it, and it is
therefore necessary that I should remind you - they were culled,
many of them, from the Italian authors, who themselves had culled
them Heaven alone knows where. Moliere took those old stories and
retold them in his own language. That is precisely what I am
suggesting that you should do. Your company is a company of
improvisers. You supply the dialogue as you proceed, which is
rather more than Moliere ever attempted. You may, if you prefer it
- though it would seem to me to be yielding to an excess of scruple
- go straight to Boccaccio or Sacchetti. But even then you cannot
be sure that you have reached the sources."
Andre-Louis came off with flying colours after that. You see what
a debater was lost in him; how nimble he was in the art of making
white look black. The company was impressed, and no one more that
M. Binet, who found himself supplied with a crushing argument
against those who in future might tax him with the impudent
plagiarisms which he undoubtedly perpetrated. He retired in the
best order he could from the position he had taken up at the outset.
"So that you think," he said, at the end of a long outburst of
agreement, "you think that our story of 'The Heartless Father'
could be enriched by dipping into 'Monsieur de Pourceaugnac,' to
which I confess upon reflection that it may present certain
"I do; most certainly I do - always provided that you do so
judiciously. Times have changed since Moliere." It was as a
consequence of this that Binet retired soon after, taking
Andre-Louis with him. The pair sat together late that night, and
were again in close communion throughout the whole of Sunday morning.
After dinner M. Binet read to the assembled company the amended and
amplified canevas of "The Heartless Father," which, acting upon the
advice of M. Parvissimus, he had been at great pains to prepare.
The company had few doubts as to the real authorship before he began
to read; none at all when he had read. There was a verve, a grip
about this story; and, what was more, those of them who knew their
Moliere realized that far from approaching the original more closely,
this canevas had drawn farther away from it. Moliere's original
part - the title role - had dwindled into insignificance, to the
great disgust of Polichinelle, to whom it fell. But the other parts
had all been built up into importance, with the exception of Leandre,
who remained as before. The two great roles were now Scaramouche,
in the character of the intriguing Sbrigandini, and Pantaloon the
father. There was, too, a comical part for Rhodomont, as the
roaring bully hired by Polichinelle to cut Leandre into ribbons.
And in view of the importance now of Scaramouche, the play had been
This last had not been without a deal of opposition from M. Binet.
But his relentless collaborator, who was in reality the real author
- drawing shamelessly, but practically at last upon his great store
of reading - had overborne him.
"You must move with the times, monsieur. In Paris Beaumarchais is
the rage. 'Figaro' is known to-day throughout the world. Let us
borrow a little of his glory. It will draw the people in. They
will come to see half a 'Figaro' when they will not come to see a
dozen 'Heartless Fathers.' Therefore let us cast the mantle of
Figaro upon some one, and proclaim it in our title."
"But as I am the head of the company... " began M. Binet, weakly.
"If you will be blind to your interests, you will presently be a
head without a body. And what use is that? Can the shoulders of
Pantaloon carry the mantle of Figaro? You laugh. Of course you
laugh. The notion is absurd. The proper person for the mantle of
Figaro is Scaramouche, who is naturally Figaro's twin-brother."
Thus tyrannized, the tyrant Binet gave way, comforted by the
reflection that if he understood anything at all about the theatre,
he had for fifteen livres a month acquired something that would
presently be earning him as many louis.
The company's reception of the canevas now confirmed him, if we
except Polichinelle, who, annoyed at having lost half his part in
the alterations, declared the new scenario fatuous.
"Ah! You call my work fatuous, do you?" M. Binet hectored him.
"Your work?" said Polichinelle, to add with his tongue in his cheek:
"Ah, pardon. I had not realized that you were the author."
"Then realize it now."
"You were very close with M. Parvissimus over this authorship," said
Polichinelle, with impudent suggestiveness.
"And what if I was? What do you imply?"
"That you took him to cut quills for you, of course."
"I'll cut your ears for you if you're not civil," stormed the
Polichinelle got up slowly, and stretched himself.
"Dieu de Dieu!" said he. "If Pantaloon is to play Rhodomont, I
think I'll leave you. He is not amusing in the part." And he
swaggered out before M. Binet had recovered from his speechlessness.
EXIT MONSIEUR PARVISSIMUS
Ar four o'clock on Monday afternoon the curtain rose on
"Figaro-Scaramouche" to an audience that filled three quarters of
the market-hall. M. Binet attributed this good attendance to the
influx of people to Guichen for the fair, and to the magnificent
parade of his company through the streets of the township at the
busiest time of the day. Andre-Louis attributed it entirely to
the title. It was the "Figaro" touch that had fetched in the
better-class bourgeoisie, which filled more than half of the
twenty-sous places and three quarters of the twelve-sous seats.
The lure had drawn them. Whether it was to continue to do so would
depend upon the manner in which the canevas over which he had
laboured to the glory of Binet was interpreted by the company. Of
the merits of the canevas itself he had no doubt. The authors upon
whom he had drawn for the elements of it were sound, and he had
taken of their best, which he claimed to be no more than the
justice due to them.
The company excelled itself. The audience followed with relish the
sly intriguings of Scaramouche, delighted in the beauty and
freshness of Climene, was moved almost to tears by the hard fate
which through four long acts kept her from the hungering arms of
the so beautiful Leandre, howled its delight over the ignominy of
Pantaloon, the buffooneries of his sprightly lackey Harlequin, and
the thrasonical strut and bellowing fierceness of the cowardly
The success of the Binet troupe in Guichen was assured. That night
the company drank Burgundy at M. Binet's expense. The takings
reached the sum of eight louis, which was as good business as M.
Binet had ever done in all his career. He was very pleased.
Gratification rose like steam from his fat body. He even
condescended so far as to attribute a share of the credit for the
success to M. Parvissimus.
"His suggestion," he was careful to say, by way of properly
delimiting that share, "was most valuable, as I perceived at the
"And his cutting of quills," growled Polichinelle. "Don't forget
that. It is most important to have by you a man who understands how
to cut a quill, as I shall remember when I turn author."
But not even that gibe could stir M. Binet out of his lethargy of
On Tuesday the success was repeated artistically and augmented
financially. Ten louis and seven livres was the enormous sum that
Andre-Louis, the doorkeeper, counted over to M. Binet after the
performance. Never yet had M. Binet made so much money in one
evening - and a miserable little village like Guichen was certainly
the last place in which he would have expected this windfall.
"Ah, but Guichen in time of fair," Andre-Louis reminded him. "There
are people here from as far as Nantes and Rennes to buy and sell.
To-morrow, being the last day of the fair, the crowds will be greater
than ever. We should better this evening's receipts."
"Better them? I shall be quite satisfied if we do as well, my
"You can depend upon that," Andre-Louis assured him. "Are we to
And then the tragedy occurred. It announced itself in a succession
of bumps and thuds, culminating in a crash outside the door that
brought them all to their feet in alarm.
Pierrot sprang to open, and beheld the tumbled body of a man lying
at the foot of the stairs. It emitted groans, therefore it was
alive. Pierrot went forward to turn it over, and disclosed the fact
that the body wore the wizened face of Scaramouche, a grimacing,
groaning, twitching Scaramouche.
The whole company, pressing after Pierrot, abandoned itself to
"I always said you should change parts with me," cried Harlequin.
"You're such an excellent tumbler. Have you been practising?"
"Fool!" Scaramouche snapped. "Must you be laughing when I've all
but broken my neck?"
"You are right. We ought to be weeping because you didn't break
it. Come, man, get up," and he held out a hand to the prostrate
Scaramouche took the hand, clutched it, heaved himself from the
ground, then with a scream dropped back again.
"My foot!" he complained.
Binet rolled through the group of players, scattering them to right
and left. Apprehension had been quick to seize him. Fate had
played him such tricks before.
"What ails your foot?" quoth he, sourly.
"It's broken, I think," Scaramouche complained.
"Broken? Bah! Get up, man." He caught him under the armpits and
hauled him up.
Scaramouche came howling to one foot; the other doubled under him
when he attempted to set it down, and he must have collapsed again
but that Binet supported him. He filled the place with his plaint,
whilst Binet swore amazingly and variedly.
"Must you bellow like a calf, you fool? Be quiet. A chair here,
A chair was thrust forward. He crushed Scaramouche down into it.
"Let us look at this foot of yours."
Heedless of Scaramouche's howls of pain, he swept away shoe and
"What ails it?" he asked, staring. "Nothing that I can see." He
seized it, heel in one hand, instep in the other, and gyrated it.
Scaramouche screamed in agony, until Climene caught Binet's arm and
made him stop.
"My God, have you no feelings?" she reproved her father. "The lad
has hurt his foot. Must you torture him? Will that cure it?"
"Hurt his foot!" said Binet. "I can see nothing the matter with his
foot - nothing to justify all this uproar. He has bruised it,
"A man with a bruised foot doesn't scream like that," said Madame
over Climene's shoulder. "Perhaps he has dislocated it."
"That is what I fear," whimpered Scaramouche.
Binet heaved himself up in disgust.
"Take him to bed," he bade them, "and fetch a doctor to see him."
It was done, and the doctor came. Having seen the patient, he
reported that nothing very serious had happened, but that in falling
he had evidently sprained his foot a little. A few days' rest and
all would be well.
"A few days!" cried Binet. "God of God! Do you mean that he can't
"It would be unwise, indeed impossible for more than a few steps."
M. Binet paid the doctor's fee, and sat down to think. He filled
himself a glass of Burgundy, tossed it off without a word, and sat
thereafter staring into the empty glass.
"It is of course the sort of thing that must always be happening to
me," he grumbled to no one in particular. The members of the company
were all standing in silence before him, sharing his dismay. "I
might have known that this - or something like it - would occur to
spoil the first vein of luck that I have found in years. Ah, well,
it is finished. To-morrow we pack and depart. The best day of the
fair, on the crest of the wave of our success - a good fifteen louis
to be taken, and this happens! God of God!"
"Do you mean to abandon to-morrow's performance?"
All turned to stare with Binet at Andre-Louis.
"Are we to play 'Figaro-Scaramouche' without Scaramouche?" asked
"Of course not." Andre-Louis came forward. "But surely some
rearrangement of the parts is possible. For instance, there is a
fine actor in Polichinelle."
Polichinelle swept him a bow. "Overwhelmed," said he, ever sardonic.
"But he has a part of his own," objected Binet.
"A small part, which Pasquariel could play."
"And who will play Pasquariel?"
"Nobody. We delete it. The play need not suffer."
"He thinks of everything," sneered Polichinelle. "What a man!"
But Binet was far from agreement. "Are you suggesting that
Polichinelle should play Scaramouche?" he asked, incredulously.
"Why not? He is able enough!"
"Overwhelmed again," interjected Polichinelle.
"Play Scaramouche with that figure?" Binet heaved himself up to
point a denunciatory finger at Polichinelle's sturdy, thick-set
"For lack of a better," said Andre-Louis.
"Overwhelmed more than ever." Polichinelle's bow was superb this
time. "Faith, I think I'll take the air to cool me after so much
"Go to the devil," Binet flung at him.
"Better and better." Polichinelle made for the door. On the
threshold he halted and struck an attitude. "Understand me, Binet.
I do not now play Scaramouche in any circumstances whatever." And
he went out. On the whole, it was a very dignified exit.
Andre-Louis shrugged, threw out his arms, and let them fall to his
sides again. "You have ruined everything," he told M. Binet. "The
matter could easily have been arranged. Well, well, it is you are
master here; and since you want us to pack and be off, that is what
we will do, I suppose."
He went out, too. M. Binet stood in thought a moment, then followed
him, his little eyes very cunning. He caught him up in the doorway.
"Let us take a walk together, M. Parvissimus," said he, very affably.
He thrust his arm through Andre-Louis', and led him out into the
street, where there was still considerable movement. Past the booths
that ranged about the market they went, and down the hill towards the
bridge. "I don't think we shall pack to-morrow," said M. Binet,
presently. "In fact, we shall play to-morrow night."
"Not if I know Polichinelle. You have... "
"I am not thinking of Polichinelle."
"Of whom, then?"
"I am flattered, sir. And in what capacity are you thinking of me?"
There was something too sleek and oily in Binet's voice for
"I am thinking of you in the part of Scaramouche."
"Day-dreams," said Andre-Louis. "You are amusing yourself, of
"Not in the least. I am quite serious."
"But I am not an actor."
"You told me that you could be."
"Oh, upon occasion... a small part, perhaps... "
"Well, here is a big part - the chance to arrive at a single stride.
How many men have had such a chance?"
"It is a chance I do not covet, M. Binet. Shall we change the
subject?" He was very frosty, as much perhaps because he scented
in M. Binet's manner something that was vaguely menacing as for any
"We'll change the subject when I please," said M. Binet, allowing a
glimpse of steel to glimmer through the silk of him. "To-morrow
night you play Scaramouche. You are ready enough in your wits, your
figure is ideal, and you have just the kind of mordant humour for
the part. You should be a great success."
"It is much more likely that I should be an egregious failure."
"That won't matter," said Binet, cynically, and explained himself.
"The failure will be personal to yourself. The receipts will be
safe by then."
"Much obliged," said Andre-Louis.
"We should take fifteen louis to-morrow night."
"It is unfortunate that you are without a Scaramouche," said
"It is fortunate that I have one, M. Parvissimus." Andre-Louis
disengaged his arm. "I begin to find you tiresome," said he. "I
think I will return."
"A moment, M. Parvissimus. If I am to lose that fifteen louis...
you'll not take it amiss that I compensate myself in other ways?"
"That is your own concern, M. Binet."
"Pardon, M. Parvissimus. It may possibly be also yours." Binet
took his arm again. "Do me the kindness to step across the street
with me. Just as far as the post-office there. I have something
to show you."
Andre-Louis went. Before they reached that sheet of paper nailed
upon the door, he knew exactly what it would say. And in effect it
was, as he had supposed, that twenty louis would be paid for
information leading to the apprehension of one Andre-Louis Moreau,
lawyer of Gavrillac, who was wanted by the King's Lieutenant in
Rennes upon a charge of sedition.
M. Binet watched him whilst he read. Their arms were linked, and
Binet's grip was firm and powerful.
"Now, my friend," said he, "will you be M. Parvissimus and play
Scaramouche to-morrow, or will you be Andre-Louis Moreau of Gavrillac
and go to Rennes to satisfy the King's Lieutenant?"
"And if it should happen that you are mistaken?" quoth Andre-Louis,
his face a mask.
"I'll take the risk of that," leered M. Binet. "You mentioned, I
think, that you were a lawyer. An indiscretion, my dear. It is
unlikely that two lawyers will be in hiding at the same time in the
same district. You see it is not really clever of me. Well, M.
Andre-Louis Moreau, lawyer of Gavrillac, what is it to be?"
"We will talk it over as we walk back," said Andre-Louis.
"What is there to talk over?"
"One or two things, I think. I must know where I stand. Come, sir,
if you please."
"Very well," said M. Binet, and they turned up the street again, but
M. Binet maintained a firm hold of his young friend's arm, and kept
himself on the alert for any tricks that the young gentleman might
be disposed to play. It was an unnecessary precaution. Andre-Louis
was not the man to waste his energy futilely. He knew that in bodily
strength he was no match at all for the heavy and powerful Pantaloon.
"If I yield to your most eloquent and seductive persuasions, M.
Binet," said he, sweetly, "what guarantee do you give me that you
will not sell me for twenty louis after I shall have served your
"You have my word of honour for that." M. Binet was emphatic.
Andre-Louis laughed. "Oh, we are to talk of honour, are we? Really,
M. Binet? It is clear you think me a fool."
In the dark he did not see the flush that leapt to M. Binet's round
face. It was some moments before he replied.
"Perhaps you are right," he growled. "What guarantee do you want?"
"I do not know what guarantee you can possibly give."
"I have said that I will keep faith with you."
"Until you find it more profitable to sell me."
"You have it in your power to make it more profitable always for me
to keep faith with you. It is due to you that we have done so well
in Guichen. Oh, I admit it frankly."
"In private," said Andre-Louis.
M. Binet left the sarcasm unheeded.
"What you have done for us here with 'Figaro-Scaramouche,' you can
do elsewhere with other things. Naturally, I shall not want to lose
you. That is your guarantee."
"Yet to-night you would sell me for twenty louis."
"Because - name of God! - you enrage me by refusing me a service well
within your powers. Don't you think, had I been entirely the rogue
you think me, I could have sold you on Saturday last? I want you to
understand me, my dear Parvissimus."
"I beg that you'll not apologize. You would be more tiresome than
"Of course you will be gibing. You never miss a chance to gibe.
It'll bring you trouble before you're done with life. Come; here
we are back at the inn, and you have not yet given me your decision."
Andre-Louis looked at him. "I must yield, of course. I can't help
M. Binet released his arm at last, and slapped him heartily upon the
back. "Well declared, my lad. You'll never regret it. If I know
anything of the theatre, I know that you have made the great decision
of your life. To-morrow night you'll thank me."
Andre-Louis shrugged, and stepped out ahead towards the inn. But M.
Binet called him back.
He turned. There stood the man's great bulk, the moonlight beating
down upon that round fat face of his, and he was holding out his hand.
"M. Parvissimus, no rancour. It is a thing I do not admit into my
life. You will shake hands with me, and we will forget all this."
Andre-Louis considered him a moment with disgust. He was growing
angry. Then, realizing this, he conceived himself ridiculous, almost
as ridiculous as that sly, scoundrelly Pantaloon. He laughed and
took the outstretched hand. "No rancour?" M. Binet insisted.
"Oh, no rancour," said Andre-Louis.
Dressed in the close-fitting suit of a bygone age, all black, from
flat velvet cap to rosetted shoes, his face whitened and a slight
up-curled moustache glued to his upper lip, a small-sword at his
side and a guitar slung behind him, Scaramouche surveyed himself
in a mirror, and was disposed to be sardonic - which was the proper
mood for the part.
He reflected that his life, which until lately had been of a
stagnant, contemplative quality, had suddenly become excessively
active. In the course of one week he had been lawyer, mob-orator,
outlaw, property-man, and finally buffoon. Last Wednesday he had
been engaged in moving an audience of Rennes to anger; on this
Wednesday he was to move an audience of Guichen to mirth. Then he
had been concerned to draw tears; to-day it was his business to
provoke laughter. There was a difference, and yet there was a
parallel. Then as now he had been a comedian; and the part that he
had played then was, when you came to think of it, akin to the part
he was to play this evening. For what had he been at Rennes but a
sort of Scaramouche - the little skirmisher, the astute intriguer,
spattering the seed of trouble with a sly hand? The only difference
lay in the fact that to-day he went forth under the name that
properly described his type, whereas last week he had been disguised
as a respectable young provincial attorney.
He bowed to his reflection in the mirror.
"Buffoon!" he apostrophized it. "At last you have found yourself.
At last you have come into your heritage. You should be a great
Hearing his new name called out by M. Binet, he went below to find
the company assembled, and waiting in the entrance corridor of the
He was, of course, an object of great interest to all the company.
Most critically was he conned by M. Binet and mademoiselle; by the
former with gravely searching eyes, by the latter with a curl of
"You'll do," M. Binet commended his make-up. "At least you look
"Unfortunately men are not always what they look," said Climene,
"That is a truth that does not at present apply to me," said
Andre-Louis. "For it is the first time in my life that I look what
Mademoiselle curled her lip a little further, and turned her shoulder
to him. But the others thought him very witty - probably because he
was obscure. Columbine encouraged him with a friendly smile that
displayed her large white teeth, and M. Binet swore yet once again
that he would be a great success, since he threw himself with such
spirit into the undertaking. Then in a voice that for the moment
he appeared to have borrowed from the roaring captain, M. Binet
marshalled them for the short parade across to the market-hall.
The new Scaramouche fell into place beside Rhodomont. The old one,
hobbling on a crutch, had departed an hour ago to take the place of
doorkeeper, vacated of necessity by Andre-Louis. So that the
exchange between those two was a complete one.
Headed by Polichinelle banging his great drum and Pierrot blowing
his trumpet, they set out, and were duly passed in review by the
ragamuffins drawn up in files to enjoy so much of the spectacle as
was to be obtained for nothing.
Ten minutes later the three knocks sounded, and the curtains were
drawn aside to reveal a battered set that was partly garden, partly
forest, in which Climene feverishly looked for the coming of Leandre.
In the wings stood the beautiful, melancholy lover, awaiting his cue,
and immediately behind him the unfledged Scaramouche, who was anon
to follow him.
Andre-Louis was assailed with nausea in that dread moment. He
attempted to take a lightning mental review of the first act of this
scenario of which he was himself the author-in-chief; but found his
mind a complete blank. With the perspiration starting from his skin,
he stepped back to the wall, where above a dim lantern was pasted a
sheet bearing the brief outline of the piece. He was still studying
it, when his arm was clutched, and he was pulled violently towards
the wings. He had a glimpse of Pantaloon's grotesque face, its eyes
blazing, and he caught a raucous growl:
"Climene has spoken your cue three times already."
Before he realized it, he had been bundled on to the stage, and
stood there foolishly, blinking in the glare of the footlights, with
their tin reflectors. So utterly foolish and bewildered did he look
that volley upon volley of laughter welcomed him from the audience,
which this evening packed the hall from end to end. Trembling a
little, his bewilderment at first increasing, he stood there to
receive that rolling tribute to his absurdity. Climene was eyeing
him with expectant mockery, savouring in advance his humiliation;
Leandre regarded him in consternation, whilst behind the scenes, M.
Binet was dancing in fury.
"Name of a name," he- groaned to the rather scared members of the
company assembled there, "what will happen when they discover that
he isn't acting?"
But they never did discover it. Scaramouche's bewildered paralysis
lasted but a few seconds. He realized that he was being laughed at,
and remembered that his Scaramouche was a creature to be laughed
with, and not at. He must save the situation; twist it to his own
advantage as best he could. And now his real bewilderment and terror
was succeeded by acted bewilderment and terror far more marked, but
not quite so funny. He contrived to make it clearly appear that his
terror was of some one off the stage. He took cover behind a painted
shrub, and thence, the laughter at last beginning to subside, he
addressed himself to Climene and Leandre.
"Forgive me, beautiful lady, if the abrupt manner of my entrance
startled you. The truth is that I have never been the same since
that last affair of mine with Almaviva. My heart is not what it
used to be. Down there at the end of the lane I came face to face
with an elderly gentleman carrying a heavy cudgel, and the horrible
thought entered my mind that it might be your father, and that our
little stratagem to get you safely married might already have been
betrayed to him. I think it was the cudgel put such notion in my
head. Not that I am afraid. I am not really afraid of anything.
But I could not help reflecting that, if it should really have been
your father, and he had broken my head with his cudgel, your hopes
would have perished with me. For without me, what should you have
done, my poor children?"
A ripple of laughter from the audience had been steadily enheartening
him, and helping him to recover his natural impudence. It was clear
they found him comical. They were to find him far more comical than
ever he had intended, and this was largely due to a fortuitous
circumstance upon which he had insufficiently reckoned. The fear of
recognition by some one from Gavrillac or Rennes had been strong
upon him. His face was sufficiently made up to baffle recognition;
but there remained his voice. To dissemble this he had availed
himself of the fact that Figaro was a Spaniard. He had known a
Spaniard at Louis le Grand who spoke a fluent but most extraordinary
French, with a grotesque excess of sibilant sounds. It was an accent
that he had often imitated, as youths will imitate characteristics
that excite their mirth. Opportunely he had bethought him of that
Spanish student, and it was upon his speech that to-night he modelled
his own. The audience of Guichen found it as laughable on his lips
as he and his fellows had found it formerly on the lips of that
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Binet - listening to that glib
impromptu of which the scenario gave no indication - had recovered
from his fears.
"Dieu de Dieu!" he whispered, grinning. "Did he do it, then, on
It seemed to him impossible that a man who had been so
terror-stricken as he had fancied Andre-Louis, could have recovered
his wits so quickly and completely. Yet the doubt remained.
To resolve it after the curtain had fallen upon a first act that
had gone with a verve unrivalled until this hour in the annals of
the company, borne almost entirely upon the slim shoulders of the
new Scaramouche, M. Binet bluntly questioned him.
They were standing in the space that did duty as green-room, the
company all assembled there, showering congratulations upon their
new recruit. Scaramouche, a little exalted at the moment by his
success, however trivial he might consider it to-morrow, took then
a full revenge upon Climene for the malicious satisfaction with
which she had regarded his momentary blank terror.
"I do not wonder that you ask," said he. "Faith, I should have
warned you that I intended to do my best from the start to put the
audience in a good humour with me. Mademoiselle very nearly ruined
everything by refusing to reflect any of my terror. She was not
even startled. Another time, mademoiselle, I shall give you full
warning of my every intention."
She crimsoned under her grease-paint. But before she could find an
answer of sufficient venom, her father was rating her soundly for
her stupidity - the more soundly because himself he had been deceived
by Scaramouche's supreme acting.
Scaramouche's success in the first act was more than confirmed as
the performance proceeded. Completely master of himself by now,
and stimulated as only success can stimulate, he warmed to his work.
Impudent, alert, sly, graceful, he incarnated the very ideal of
Scaramouche, and he helped out his own native wit by many a
remembered line from Beaumarchais, thereby persuading the better
informed among the audience that here indeed was something of the
real Figaro, and bringing them, as it were, into touch with the
great world of the capital.
When at last the curtain fell for the last time, it was Scaramouche
who shared with Climene the honours of the evening, his name that
was coupled with hers in the calls that summoned them before the
As they stepped back, and the curtains screened them again from the
departing audience, M. Binet approached them, rubbing his fat hands
softly together. This runagate young lawyer, whom chance had blown
into his company, had evidently been sent by Fate to make his fortune
for him. The sudden success at Guichen, hitherto unrivalled, should
be repeated and augmented elsewhere. There would be no more sleeping
under hedges and tightening of belts. Adversity was behind him. He
placed a hand upon Scaramouche's shoulder, and surveyed him with a
smile whose oiliness not even his red paint and colossal false nose
"And what have you to say to me now?" he asked him. "Was I wrong
when I assured you that you would succeed? Do you think I have
followed my fortunes in the theatre for a lifetime without knowing
a born actor when I see one? You are my discovery, Scaramouche. I
have discovered you to yourself. I have set your feet upon the road
to fame and fortune. I await your thanks."
Scaramouche laughed at him, and his laugh was not altogether pleasant.
"Always Pantaloon!" said he.
The great countenance became overcast. "I see that you do not yet
forgive me the little stratagem by which I forced you to do justice
to yourself. Ungrateful dog! As if I could have had any purpose
but to make you; and I have done so. Continue as you have begun,
and you will end in Paris. You may yet tread the stage of the
Comedie Francaise, the rival of Talma, Fleury, and Dugazon. When
that happens to you perhaps you will feel the gratitude that is due
to old Binet, for you will owe it all to this soft-hearted old fool."
"If you were as good an actor on the stage as you are in private,"
said Scaramouche, "you would yourself have won to the Comedie
Francaise long since. But I bear no rancour, M. Binet." He laughed,
and put out his hand.
Binet fell upon it and wrung it heartily.
"That, at least, is something," he declared. "My boy, I have great
plans for you - for us. To-morrow we go to Maure; there is a fair
there to the end of this week. Then on Monday we take our chances
at Pipriac, and after that we must consider. It may be that I am
about to realize the dream of my life. There must have been upwards
of fifteen louis taken to-night. Where the devil is that rascal
Cordemais was the name of the original Scaramouche, who had so
unfortunately twisted his ankle. That Binet should refer to him by
his secular designation was a sign that in the Binet company at
least he had fallen for ever from the lofty eminence of Scaramouche.
"Let us go and find him, and then we'll away to the inn and crack a
bottle of the best Burgundy, perhaps two bottles."
But Cordemais was not readily to be found. None of the company had
seen him since the close of the performance. M. Binet went round
to the entrance. Cordemais was not there. At first he was annoyed;
then as he continued in vain to bawl the fellow's name, he began to
grow uneasy; lastly, when Polichinelle, who was with them,
discovered Cordemais' crutch standing discarded behind the door, M.
Binet became alarmed. A dreadful suspicion entered his mind. He
grew visibly pale under his paint.
"But this evening he couldn't walk without the crutch!" he exclaimed.
"How then does he come to leave it there and take himself off?"
"Perhaps he has gone on to the inn," suggested some one.
"But he could n't walk without his crutch," M. Binet insisted.
Nevertheless, since clearly he was not anywhere about the market-hall,
to the inn they all trooped, and deafened the landlady with their
"Oh, yes, M. Cordemais came in some time ago."
"Where is he now?"
"He went away again at once. He just came for his bag."
"For his bag!" Binet was on the point of an apoplexy. "How long
ago was that?"
She glanced at the timepiece on the overmantel. "It would be about
half an hour ago. It was a few minutes before the Rennes diligence
"The Rennes diligence!" M. Binet was almost inarticulate. "Could
he... could he walk?" he asked, on a note of terrible anxiety.
"Walk? He ran like a hare when he left the inn. I thought, myself,
that his agility was suspicious, seeing how lame he had been since
he fell downstairs yesterday. Is anything wrong?"
M. Binet had collapsed into a chair. He took his head in his hands,
"The scoundrel was shamming all the time!" exclaimed Climene. "His
fall downstairs was a trick. He was playing for this. He has
"Fifteen louis at least - perhaps sixteen!" said M. Binet. "Oh, the
heartless blackguard! To swindle me who have been as a father to
him - and to swindle me in such a moment."
>From the ranks of the silent, awe-stricken company, each member of
which was wondering by how much of the loss his own meagre pay would
be mulcted, there came a splutter of laughter.
M. Binet glared with blood-injected eyes.
"Who laughs?" he roared. "What heartless wretch has the audacity
to laugh at my misfortune?"
Andre-Louis, still in the sable glories of Scaramouche, stood
forward. He was laughing still.
"It is you, is it? You may laugh on another note, my friend, if I
choose a way to recoup myself that I know of."
"Dullard!" Scaramouche scorned him. "Rabbit-brained elephant! What
if Cordemais has gone with fifteen louis? Hasn't he left you
something worth twenty times as much?"
M. Binet gaped uncomprehending.
"You are between two wines, I think. You've been drinking," he
"So I have - at the fountain of Thalia. Oh, don't you see? Don't
you see the treasure that Cordemais has left behind him?"
"What has he left?"
"A unique idea for the groundwork of a scenario. It unfolds itself
all before me. I'll borrow part of the title from Moliere. We'll
call it 'Les Fourberies de Scaramouche,' and if we don't leave the
audiences of Maure and Pipriac with sides aching from laughter I'll
play the dullard Pantaloon in future."
Polichinelle smacked fist into palm. "Superb!" he said, fiercely.
"To cull fortune from misfortune, to turn loss into profit, that
is to have genius.
Scaramouche made a leg. "Polichinelle, you are a fellow after my
own heart. I love a man who can discern my merit. If Pantaloon had
half your wit, we should have Burgundy to-night in spite of the
flight of Cordemais."
"Burgundy?" roared M. Binet, and before he could get farther
Harlequin had clapped his hands together.
"That is the spirit, M. Binet. You heard him, landlady. He called
"I called for nothing of the kind."
"But you heard him, dear madame. We all heard him."
The others made chorus, whilst Scaramouche smiled at him, and patted
"Up, man, a little courage. Did you not say that fortune awaits us?
And have we not now the wherewithal to constrain fortune? Burgundy,
then, to... to toast 'Les Fourberies de Scaramouche.'"
And M. Binet, who was not blind to the force of the idea, yielded,
took courage, and got drunk with the rest.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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, haying 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,
"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
"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
"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
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,