Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini

Chapter 6

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, having 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.”

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