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CHAPTER VI

CLIMENE


Diligent search among the many scenarios of the improvisers which
have survived their day, has failed to bring to light the scenario
of "Les Fourberies de Scaramouche," upon which we are told the
fortunes of the Binet troupe came to be soundly established. They
played it for the first time at Maure in the following week, with
Andre-Louis - who was known by now as Scaramouche to all the
company, and to the public alike - in the title-role. If he had
acquitted himself well as Figaro-Scaramouche, he excelled himself
in the new piece, the scenario of which would appear to be very
much the better of the two.

After Maure came Pipriac, where four performances were given, two
of each of the scenarios that now formed the backbone of the Binet
repertoire. In both Scaramouche, who was beginning to find himself,
materially improved his performances. So smoothly now did the two
pieces run that Scaramouche actually suggested to Binet that after
Fougeray, which they were to visit in the following week, they
should tempt fortune in a real theatre in the important town of
Redon. The notion terrified Binet at first, but coming to think
of it, and his ambition being fanned by Andre-Louis, he ended by
allowing himself to succumb to the temptation.

It seemed to Andre-Louis in those days that he had found his real
metier, and not only was he beginning to like it, but actually to
look forward to a career as actor-author that might indeed lead
him in the end to that Mecca of all comedians, the Comedie
Francaise. And there were other possibilities. From the writing
of skeleton scenarios for improvisers, he might presently pass to
writing plays of dialogue, plays in the proper sense of the word,
after the manner of Chenier, Eglantine, and Beaumarchais.

The fact that he dreamed such dreams shows us how very kindly he
had taken to the profession into which Chance and M. Binet between
them had conspired to thrust him. That he had real talent both
as author and as actor I do not doubt, and I am persuaded that had
things fallen out differently he would have won for himself a
lasting place among French dramatists, and thus fully have realized
that dream of his.

Now, dream though it was, he did not neglect the practical side
of it.

"You realize," he told M. Binet, "that I have it in my power to
make your fortune for you.

He and Binet were sitting alone together in the parlour of the inn
at Pipriac, drinking a very excellent bottle of Volnay. It was on
the night after the fourth and last performance there of "Les
Feurberies." The business in Pipriac had been as excellent as in
Maure and Guichen. You will have gathered this from the fact that
they drank Volnay.

"I will concede it, my dear Scaramouche, so that I may hear the
sequel."

"I am disposed to exercise this power if the inducement is
sufficient. You will realize that for fifteen livres a month a
man does not sell such exceptional gifts as mine.

"There is an alternative," said M. Binet, darkly.

"There is no alternative. Don't be a fool, Binet."

Binet sat up as if he had been prodded. Members of his company
did not take this tone of direct rebuke with him.

"Anyway, I make you a present of it," Scaramouche pursued, airily.
"Exercise it if you please. Step outside and inform the police that
they can lay hands upon one Andre-Louis Moreau. But that will be
the end of your fine dreams of going to Redon, and for the first
time in your life playing in a real theatre. Without me, you can't
do it, and you know it; and I am not going to Redon or anywhere
else, in fact I am not even going to Fougeray, until we have an
equitable arrangement."

"But what heat!" complained Binet, "and all for what? Why must you
assume that I have the soul of a usurer? When our little arrangement
was made, I had no idea how could I? - that you would prove as
valuable to me as you are? You had but to remind me, my dear
Scaramouche. I am a just man. As from to-day you shall have thirty
livres a month. See, I double it at once. I am a generous man."

"But you are not ambitious. Now listen to me, a moment."

And he proceeded to unfold a scheme that filled Binet with a
paralyzing terror.

"After Redon, Nantes," he said. "Nantes and the Theatre Feydau."

M. Binet choked in the act of drinking. The Theatre Feydau was a
sort of provincial Comedie Francaise. The great Fleury had played
there to an audience as critical as any in France. The very thought
of Redon, cherished as it had come to be by M. Binet, gave him at
moments a cramp in the stomach, so dangerously ambitious did it
seem to him. And Redon was a puppet-show by comparison with Nantes.
Yet this raw lad whom he had picked up by chance three weeks ago,
and who in that time had blossomed from a country attorney into
author and actor, could talk of Nantes and the Theatre Feydau
without changing colour.

"But why not Paris and the Comedie Francaise?" wondered M. Binet,
with sarcasm, when at last he had got his breath.

"That may come later," says impudence.

"Eh? You've been drinking, my friend."

But Andre-Louis detailed the plan that had been forming in his mind.
Fougeray should be a training-ground for Redon, and Redon should be
a training-ground for Nantes. They would stay in Redon as long as
Redon would pay adequately to come and see them, working hard to
perfect themselves the while. They would add three or four new
players of talent to the company; he would write three or four fresh
scenarios, and these should be tested and perfected until the troupe
was in possession of at least half a dozen plays upon which they
could depend; they would lay out a portion of their profits on
better dresses and better scenery, and finally in a couple of months'
time, if all went well, they should be ready to make their real bid
for fortune at Nantes. It was quite true that distinction was
usually demanded of the companies appearing at the Feydau, but on
the other hand Nantes had not seen a troupe of improvisers for a
generation and longer. They would be supplying a novelty to which
all Nantes should flock provided that the work were really well done,
and Scaramouche undertook - pledged himself - that if matters were
left in his own hands, his projected revival of the Commedia dell'
Arte in all its glories would exceed whatever expectations the
public of Nantes might bring to the theatre.

"We'll talk of Paris after Nantes," he finished, supremely
matter-of-fact, "just as we will definitely decide on Nantes
after Redon."

The persuasiveness that could sway a mob ended by sweeping M. Binet
off his feet. The prospect which Scaramouche unfolded, if
terrifying, was also intoxicating, and as Scaramouche delivered a
crushing answer to each weakening objection in a measure as it was
advanced, Binet ended by promising to think the matter over.

"Redon will point the way," said Andre-Louis, "and I don't doubt
which way Redon will point."

Thus the great adventure of Redon dwindled to insignificance.
Instead of a terrifying undertaking in itself, it became merely a
rehearsal for something greater. In his momentary exaltation Binet
proposed another bottle of Volnay. Scaramouche waited until the
cork was drawn before he continued.

"The thing remains possible," said he then, holding his glass to
the light, and speaking casually, "as long as I am with you."

"Agreed, my dear Scaramouche, agreed. Our chance meeting was a
fortunate thing for both of us."

"For both of us," said Scaramouche, with stress. "That is as I
would have it. So that I do not think you will surrender me just
yet to the police."

"As if I could think of such a thing! My dear Scaramouche, you
amuse yourself. I beg that you will never, never allude to that
little joke of mine again."

"It is forgotten," said Andre-Louis. "And now for the remainder of
my proposal. If I am to become the architect of your fortunes, if
I am to build them as I have planned them, I must also and in the
same degree become the architect of my own."

"In the same degree?" M. Binet frowned.

"In the same degree. From to-day, if you please, we will conduct
the affairs of this company in a proper manner, and we will keep
account-books."

"I am an artist," said M. Binet, with pride. "I am not a merchant."

"There is a business side to your art, and that shall be conducted
in the business manner. I have thought it all out for you. You
shall not be troubled with details that might hinder the due
exercise of your art. All that you have to do is to say yes or no
to my proposal."

"Ah? And the proposal?"

"Is that you constitute me your partner, with an equal share in the
profits of your company."

Pantaloon's great countenance grew pale, his little eyes widened to
their fullest extent as he conned the face of his companion. Then
he exploded.

"You are mad, of course, to make me a proposal so monstrous."

"It has its injustices, I admit. But I have provided for them. It
would not, for instance, be fair that in addition to all that I am
proposing to do for you, I should also play Scaramouche and write
your scenarios without any reward outside of the half-profit which
would come to me as a partner. Thus before the profits come to be
divided, there is a salary to be paid me as actor, and a small sum
for each scenario with which I provide the company; that is a matter
for mutual agreement. Similarly, you shall be paid a salary as
Pantaloon. After those expenses are cleared up, as well as all the
other salaries and disbursements, the residue is the profit to be
divided equally between us."

It was not, as you can imagine, a proposal that M. Binet would
swallow at a draught. He began with a point-blank refusal to
consider it.

"In that case, my friend," said Scaramouche, "we part company at
once. To-morrow I shall bid you a reluctant farewell."

Binet fell to raging. He spoke of ingratitude in feeling terms; he
even permitted himself another sly allusion to that little jest of
his concerning the police, which he had promised never again to
mention.

"As to that, you may do as you please. Play the informer, by all
means. But consider that you will just as definitely be deprived
of my services, and that without me you are nothing - as you were
before I joined your company."

M. Binet did not care what the consequences might be. A fig for
the consequences! He would teach this impudent young country
attorney that M. Binet was not the man to be imposed upon.

Scaramouche rose. "Very well," said he, between indifference and
resignation. "As you wish. But before you act, sleep on the matter.
In the cold light of morning you may see our two proposals in their
proper proportions. Mine spells fortune for both of us. Yours
spells ruin for both of us. Good-night, M. Binet. Heaven help you
to a wise decision.

The decision to which M. Binet finally came was, naturally, the only
one possible in the face of so firm a resolve as that of Andre-Louis,
who held the trumps. Of course there were further discussions,
before all was settled, and M. Binet was brought to an agreement
only after an infinity of haggling surprising in one who was an
artist and not a man of business. One or two concessions were made
by Andre-Louis; he consented, for instance, to waive his claim to
be paid for scenarios, and he also consented that M. Binet should
appoint himself a salary that was out of all proportion to his
deserts.

Thus in the end the matter was settled, and the announcement duly
made to the assembled company. There were, of course, jealousies
and resentments. But these were not deep-seated, and they were
readily swallowed when it was discovered that under the new
arrangement the lot of the entire company was to be materially
improved from the point of view of salaries. This was a matter
that had met with considerable opposition from M. Binet. But the
irresistible Scaramouche swept away all objections.

"If we are to play at the Feydau, you want a company of
self-respecting comedians, and not a pack of cringing starvelings.
The better we pay them in reason, the more they will earn for us."

Thus was conquered the company's resentment of this too swift
promotion of its latest recruit. Cheerfully now - with one
exception - they accepted the dominance of Scaramouche, a dominance
soon to be so firmly established that M. Binet himself came under it.

The one exception was Climene. Her failure to bring to heel this
interesting young stranger, who had almost literally dropped into
their midst that morning outside Guichen, had begotten in her a
malice which his persistent ignoring of her had been steadily
inflaming. She had remonstrated with her father when the new
partnership was first formed. She had lost her temper with him,
and called him a fool, whereupon M. Binet - in Pantaloon's best
manner - had lost his temper in his turn and boxed her ears. She
piled it up to the account of Scaramouche, and spied her opportunity
to pay off some of that ever-increasing score. But opportunities
were few. Scaramouche was too occupied just then. During the week
of preparation at Fougeray, he was hardly seen save at the
performances, whilst when once they were at Redon, he came and went
like the wind between the theatre and the inn.

The Redon experiment had justified itself from the first. Stimulated
and encouraged by this, Andre-Louis worked day and night during the
month that they spent in that busy little town. The moment had been
well chosen, for the trade in chestnuts of which Redon is the centre
was just then at its height. And every afternoon the little theatre
was packed with spectators. The fame of the troupe had gone forth,
borne by the chestnut-growers of the district, who were bringing
their wares to Redon market, and the audiences were made up of people
from the surrounding country, and from neighbouring villages as far
out as Allaire, Saint-Perrieux and Saint-Nicholas. To keep the
business from slackening, Andre-Louis prepared a new scenario every
week. He wrote three in addition to those two with which he had
already supplied the company; these were "The Marriage of Pantaloon,"
"The Shy Lover," and "The Terrible Captain." Of these the last was
the greatest success. It was based upon the "Miles Gloriosus" of
Plautus, with great opportunities for Rhodomont, and a good part
for Scaramouche as the roaring captain's sly lieutenant. Its
success was largely due to the fact that Andre-Louis amplified the
scenario to the extent of indicating very fully in places the
lines which the dialogue should follow, whilst here and there he
had gone so far as to supply some of the actual dialogue to be
spoken, without, however, making it obligatory upon the actors
to keep to the letter of it.

And meanwhile as the business prospered, he became busy with
tailors, improving the wardrobe of the company, which was sorely
in need of improvement. He ran to earth a couple of needy artists,
lured them into the company to play small parts - apothecaries and
notaries - and set them to beguile their leisure in painting new
scenery, so as to be ready for what he called the conquest of Nantes,
which was to come in the new year. Never in his life had he worked
so hard; never in his life had he worked at all by comparison with
his activities now. His fund of energy and enthusiasm was
inexhaustible, like that of his good humour. He came and went,
acted, wrote, conceived, directed, planned, and executed, what time
M. Binet took his ease at last in comparative affluence, drank
Burgundy every night, ate white bread and other delicacies, and
began to congratulate himself upon his astuteness in having made
this industrious, tireless fellow his partner. Having discovered
how idle had been his fears of performing at Redon, he now began to
dismiss the terrors with which the notion of Nantes had haunted him.

And his happiness was reflected throughout the ranks of his company,
with the single exception always of Climene. She had ceased to
sneer at Scaramouche, 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,
point-blank.

"Done to me, mademoiselle?" He did not understand. She made a
gesture of impatience. "Why do you hate me?"

"Hate you, mademoiselle? I do not hate anybody. It is the most
stupid of all the emotions. I have never hated - not even my
enemies."

"What Christian resignation!"

"As for hating you, of all people! Why... I consider you adorable.
I envy Leandre every day of my life. I have seriously thought of
setting him to play Scaramouche, and playing lovers myself."

"I don't think you would be a success," said she.

"That is the only consideration that restrains me. And yet, given
the inspiration that is given Leandre, it is possible that I might
be convincing."

"Why, what inspiration do you mean?"

"The inspiration of playing to so adorable a Climene."

Her lazy eyes were now alert to search that lean face of his.

"You are laughing at me," said she, and swept past him into the
theatre on her pretended quest. There was nothing to be done with
such a fellow. He was utterly without feeling. He was not a man
at all.

Yet when she came forth again at the end of some five minutes, she
found him still lingering at the door.

"Not gone yet?" she asked him, superciliously.

"I was waiting for you, mademoiselle. You will be walking to the
inn. If I might escort you... "

"But what gallantry! What condescension!"

"Perhaps you would prefer that I did not?"

"How could I prefer that, M. Scaramouche? Besides, we are both
going the same way, and the streets are common to all. It is that
I am overwhelmed by the unusual honour."

He looked into her piquant little face, and noted how obscured it
was by its cloud of dignity. He laughed.

"Perhaps I feared that the honour was not sought."

"Ah, now I understand," she cried. "It is for me to seek these
honours. I am to woo a man before he will pay me the homage of
civility. It must be so, since you, who clearly know everything,
have said so. It remains for me to beg your pardon for my ignorance."

"It amuses you to be cruel," said Scaramouche. "No matter. Shall
we walk?"

They set out together, stepping briskly to warm their blood against
the wintry evening air. Awhile they went in silence, yet each
furtively observing the other.

"And so, you find me cruel?" she challenged him at length, thereby
betraying the fact that the accusation had struck home.

He looked at her with a half smile. "Will you deny it?"

"You are the first man that ever accused me of that."

"I dare not suppose myself the first man to whom you have been cruel.
That were an assumption too flattering to myself. I must prefer to
think that the others suffered in silence."

"Mon Dieu! Have you suffered?" She was between seriousness and
raillery.

"I place the confession as an offering on the altar of your vanity."

"I should never have suspected it."

"How could you? Am I not what your father calls a natural actor?
I was an actor long before I became Scaramouche. Therefore I have
laughed. I often do when I am hurt. When you were pleased to be
disdainful, I acted disdain in my turn."

"You acted very well," said she, without reflecting.

"Of course. I am an excellent actor."

"And why this sudden change?"

"In response to the change in you. You have grown weary of your
part of cruel madam - a dull part, believe me, and unworthy of your
talents., Were I a woman and had I your loveliness and your grace,
Climene, I should disdain to use them as weapons of offence."

"Loveliness and grace!" she echoed, feigning amused surprise. But
the vain baggage was mollified. "When was it that you discovered
this beauty and this grace, M. Scaramouche?"

He looked at her a moment, considering the sprightly beauty of her,
the adorable femininity that from the first had so irresistibly
attracted him.

"One morning when I beheld you rehearsing a love-scene with Leandre."

He caught the surprise that leapt to her eyes, before she veiled
them under drooping lids from his too questing gaze.

"Why, that was the first time you saw me."

"I had no earlier occasion to remark your charms."

"You ask me to believe too much," said she, but her tone was softer
than he had ever known it yet.

"Then you'll refuse to believe me if I confess that it was this
grace and beauty that determined my destiny that day by urging me
to join your father's troupe."

At that she became a little out of breath. There was no longer any
question of finding an outlet for resentment. Resentment was all
forgotten.

"But why? With what object?"

"With the object of asking you one day to be my wife."

She halted under the shock of that, and swung round to face him.
Her glance met his own without, shyness now; there was a hardening
glitter in her eyes, a faint stir of colour in her cheeks. She
suspected him of an unpardonable mockery.

"You go very fast, don't you?" she asked him, with heat.

"I do. haven't you observed it? I am a man of sudden impulses.
See what I have made of the Binet troupe in less than a couple of
months. Another might have laboured for a year and not achieved
the half of it. Shall I be slower in love than in work? Would it
be reasonable to expect it? I have curbed and repressed myself not
to scare you by precipitancy. In that I have done violence to my
feelings, and more than all in using the same cold aloofness with
which you chose to treat me. I have waited - oh! so patiently -
until you should tire of that mood of cruelty."

"You are an amazing man," said she, quite colourlessly.

"I am," he agreed with her. "It is only the conviction that I am
not commonplace that has permitted me to hope as I have hoped."

Mechanically, and as if by tacit consent, they resumed their walk.

"And I ask you to observe," he said, "when you complain that I go
very fast, that, after all, I have so far asked you for nothing."

"How?" quoth she, frowning.

"I have merely told you of my hopes. I am not so rash as to ask at
once whether I may realize them."

"My faith, but that is prudent," said she, tartly.

"Of course."

It was his self-possession that exasperated her; for after that she
walked the short remainder of the way in silence, and so, for the
moment, the matter was left just there.

But that night, after they had supped, it chanced that when Climene
was about to retire, he and she were alone together in the room
abovestairs that her father kept exclusively for his company. The
Binet Troupe, you see, was rising in the world.

As Climene now rose to withdraw for the night, Scaramouche rose
with her to light her candle. Holding it in her left hand, she
offered him her right, a long, tapering, white hand at the end of
a softly rounded arm that was bare to the elbow.

"Good-night, Scaramouche," she said, but so softly, so tenderly,
that he caught his breath, and stood conning her, his dark eyes
aglow.

Thus a moment, then he took the tips of her fingers in his grasp,
and bowing over the hand, pressed his lips upon it. Then he looked
at her again. The intense femininity of her lured him on, invited
him, surrendered to him. Her face was pale, there was a glitter in
her eyes, a curious smile upon her parted lips, and under its
fichu-menteur her bosom rose and fell to complete the betrayal of her.

By the hand he continued to hold, he drew her towards him. She came
unresisting. He took the candle from her, and set it down on the
sideboard by which she stood. The next moment her slight, lithe
body was in his arms, and he was kissing her, murmuring her name as
if it were a prayer.

"Am I cruel now?" she asked him, panting. He kissed her again for
only answer. "You made me cruel because you would not see," she
told him next in a whisper.

And then the door opened, and M. Binet came in to have his paternal
eyes regaled by this highly indecorous behaviour of his daughter.

He stood at gaze, whilst they quite leisurely, and in a
self-possession too complete to be natural, detached each from
the other.

"And what may be the meaning of this?" demanded M. Binet, bewildered
and profoundly shocked.

"Does it require explaining?" asked Scaramouche. "Doesn't it speak
for itself - eloquently? It means that Climene and I have taken it
into our heads to be married."

"And doesn't it matter what I may take into my head?"

"Of course. But you could have neither the bad taste nor the bad
heart to offer any obstacle."

"You take that for granted? Aye, that is your way, to be sure - to
take things for granted. But my daughter is not to be taken for
granted. I have very definite views for my daughter. You have done
an unworthy thing, Scaramouche. You have betrayed my trust in you.
I am very angry with you."

He rolled forward with his ponderous yet curiously noiseless gait.
Scaramouche turned to her, smiling, and handed her the candle.

"If you will leave us, Climene, I will ask your hand of your father
in proper form."

She vanished, a little fluttered, lovelier than ever in her mixture
of confusion and timidity. Scaramouche closed the door and faced the
enraged M. Binet, who had flung himself into an armchair at the head
of the short table, faced him with the avowed purpose of asking for
Climene's hand in proper form. And this was how he did it:

"Father-in-law," said he, "I congratulate you. This will certainly
mean the Comedie Francaise for Climene, and that before long, and
you shall shine in the glory she will reflect. As the father of
Madame Scaramouche you may yet be famous."

Binet, his face slowly empurpling, glared at him in speechless
stupefaction. His rage was the more utter from his humiliating
conviction that whatever he might say or do, this irresistible
fellow would bend him to his will. At last speech came to him.

"You're a damned corsair," he cried, thickly, banging his ham-like
fist upon the table. "A corsair! First you sail in and plunder me
of half my legitimate gains; and now you want to carry off my
daughter. But I'll be damned if I'll give her to a graceless,
nameless scoundrel like you, for whom the gallows are waiting
already."

Scaramouche pulled the bell-rope, not at all discomposed. He smiled.
There was a flush on his cheeks and a gleam in his eyes. He was
very pleased with the world that night. He really owed a great debt
to M. de Lesdiguieres.

"Binet," said he, "forget for once that you are Pantaloon, and behave
as a nice, amiable father-in-law should behave when he has secured a
son-in-law of exceptionable merits. We are going to have a bottle of
Burgundy at my expense, and it shall be the best bottle of Burgundy
to be found in Redon. Compose yourself to do fitting honour to it.
Excitations of the bile invariably impair the fine sensitiveness of
the palate."





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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