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CHAPTER IV

EXIT MONSIEUR PARVISSIMUS

At 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
Rhodomont.

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
time."

"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
content.

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
friend."

"You can depend upon that," Andre-Louis assured him. "Are we to
have Burgundy?"

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
laughter.

"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
rogue.

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,
some one."

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
stocking.

"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,
maybe... "

"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
walk?"

"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
Binet, sneering.

"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
shortness.

"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
blushing."

"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?"

"Of yourself."

"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
Andre-Louis' taste.

"I am thinking of you in the part of Scaramouche."

"Day-dreams," said Andre-Louis. "You are amusing yourself, of
course."

"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
other reason.

"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
Andre-Louis.

"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
turn?"

"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
ever."

"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
myself."

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.

"M. Parvissimus!"

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.





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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