The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. XXI: French
By Richard OMonroy (J. de Saint Geniès) (18501916)
WISHING to keep the national holiday in some out-of-the-way corner of Normandy, I was striding up and down the hall of the Saint Lazare Station when I heard an inharmonious feminine voice address meinharmonious but feminine.
I turned round. It was my friend Mme. Manchaballe, in a traveling costume consisting of an old surah dust-cloak, trimmed with black lace that had formerly done duty at Aix with Rebecca (I knew it again), and a Leghorn hat with a heap of flowers and two pink ibis wings. However vivid your imagination may be, I defy you to present to yourself Mme. Manchaballes head adorned with two pink ibis wings. You ought to have seen it, for it is a never-to-be-forgotten spectacle.
Yes, but its the meaning. In operas words are of no importance. Well, if you remember, you were surprised yourself, and cried, The deuce! Your daughter has made great progress. I will recommend her to my friend Victorien Sardou.
Well, theyre both Victorien, so wheres the difference? I didnt let the grass grow under my feet. Not only did I give her lessons from Mme. Saxe, but I made her call on all the members of the jury without me. At first I wanted to go with her, but she said I made her nervous, and that she sang better when I wasnt there. So I did not insist.
Yes, yes. And, besides, I was busy. I went to the Concert Vatoire. A funny sort of concert, I must say! A queer room, half theater, half study. The stage, with its two chairs and one door, looked like a porters lodge, and a poor porter too. Not a decoration, not a piece of furniture, not an ornament on the bare walls, which were painted the color of raw beef. It seems that this plain, bare background is good for judging gesture, pose, and play of feature. Well, I didnt mind. Instead of the usual boxes, there was a long table of severe aspect, behind which the members of the jury were seated, with the president in the center, all getting gray, short-sighted, and not handsome at all. Such beards, such heads of hair! Why do all musicians have such extraordinary heads of hair? Perhaps music is good for the hair.
Just so, Im coming to it. In short, one day I arrived late, at the end of the performance, and heard that Mlle. Terville had the first prize for her fugue, an unheard-of fugue, an extraordinary fugue, a marvelous fugue, that literally carried the jury away. And all round me I heard the critics exclaiming, What a fugue! Ah, my dear fellow, what a magnificent fugue! In order not to seem out of it, I said the same, smiling like the rest. But in factdont laugh at meI hadnt the least idea what a fugue was. So far, with Judith and Rebecca, I have only had to do with dancing. With pirouettes and the like I was quite at home, but I had never heard a mention of fugues. So that as soon as I got out into the vestibule I went up to Mme. Chapuzot, Stella Chapuzots mother, who was in the same class as Carolineand Mme. Saxe had always said, If Stella doesnt make a success at the opera first, it will be Caroline. Well, Mme. Chapuzot was very jealous of us. I ought to have been on my guard, but I thought all would be right between mothers. So I went up to her and said, Mlle. Terville had a great success with her fuguethat is to say, shes certain of the prize. And, I went on, since I wasnt there, it would be very kind of you to tell me what a fugue is, because, you see, Id make Caroline prepare one.
Then Mme. Chapuzot began to laugh, and so loudly that everybody turned round to look at us. I laughed, too, for companys sake, but without exactly knowing why. Suddenly Mme. Chapuzot became serious, and said, A fugue, Mme. Manchaballe, is to make yourself scarce just at the moment when it would be least expected. Suppose you are to sing in the evening at the Opéra Comique: at eight oclock, precisely, you decamp to Italy. Thats a fugue. Then the terrified directors, in order to bring you back, prefer either to increase your salary or to give you a prize. That is what was done in the case of Mlle. Terville.
I thought it rather extraordinary. But the same evening I met by chance at the opera one of our former tenants, M. Jules Claretie, who is a member of the Academy, and consequently understands the French language, and I said to him, M. Claretie, if a person had to sing at the Opéra Comique at half-past eight, and at eight decamped to Italy, would that be a fugue? Certainly, replied the Academician with perfect politeness, that would be a fugue.
I hesitated no longer. I waited for the day of the competition, and then hey presto! without a word of warning, I packed Caroline off to Houlgate. She objected, but I said, Leave everything to your mother; its for your own good. I went to the concert-hall, and when Carolines name was called I stood up and said, Shes doing a fugue. Shes in her cottage at the seaside.
And he summoned the next, Stella Chapuzot. And she passed, and Caroline failed. Now, isnt it disgraceful, sir? I ought not to have trusted Mme. Chapuzot; but, honestly now, could I suspect M. Claretie? Such a distinguished man! Put it into the papers, will you? It will prove to the government that, say what they like, theres no equality yet; and that what spells success for one is fatal to another. But theres my train. Good-by!