Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini

Chapter 4

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 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.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29