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CHAPTER V

ENTER SCARAMOUCHE


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
success.

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
inn.

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
scornful lip.

"You'll do," M. Binet commended his make-up. "At least you look
the part."

"Unfortunately men are not always what they look," said Climene,
acidly.

"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
I am."

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
derided Spaniard.

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
purpose?"

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
curtains.

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
could dissemble.

"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?"

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
inquiries.

"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
passed through."

"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,
and groaned.

"The scoundrel was shamming all the time!" exclaimed Climene. "His
fall downstairs was a trick. He was playing for this. He has
swindled us."

"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
concluded.

"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
for Burgundy."

"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
his shoulder.

"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.





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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