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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Bobbo
By Thomas Wharton (1859–1896)
 
From ‘Bobbo and Other Fancies’

IT was Ash-Wednesday morning; and thanks to the carnival the night before, the labors of Monsieur Anatole Doblay, most respected of the magistrates of Paris, seemed likely to be severe. True, the prospect did not weigh upon the mind of the worthy magistrate, who customarily busied himself only with his duty, and accepted that duty in whatever form it was arrested and brought before him, so to speak, by the gendarmes. But the thought of a long and harassing session was anything but refreshing to another functionary of the court,—the clerk, Paul Patureau. Half asleep and nodding was Monsieur Paul as he sat and waited for the hour of opening court; his head ached, and the riotous melodies of the carnival still rang in his ears. He had been out very late himself,—oh, very late!—and this morning his dearly despised official duties seemed, like the vast court-room, more forbidding and gloomy than ever.  1
  Now, when a young man finds his office gloomy in the morning and his clerical duties irksome, that generally means that he has a soul above routine; and dissipation the night before only aggravates his unrest. And as a matter of fact, Paul Patureau deemed that in being made a clerk, he had arrived at the wrong address: like most other young Frenchmen, he thought he had been directed “À la Gloire.” And he wished to be, instead of a clerk in the Correctional Court, a poet, a dramatist, and most particularly a writer of librettos,—librettos that should make all Paris laugh and sing and dance; that should go round the world, like the ‘Grande Duchesse’ or the ‘Fille de Madame Angot’; that should bring him fame and money, and the friendship of the Muse,—and it need not be said that as yet he had not achieved his chef-d’œuvre. Alas, the dramatic ambition, if it is only to write a play around a tank, is the most torturing of all ambitions; for while there are theatres and actors the appetite can never be controlled. As it feeds, it grows and grows; it begins in the gallery and descends by degrees to the orchestra stall; sometimes it may even conquer the green-room and the coulisse: but thus to feed unsatisfied is the bitterest vanity if the ideas will not arrive. And that was the difficulty with Paul Patureau. Ideas cut him dead.  2
  Except when he was asleep. For when he was asleep and dreaming, the most striking plots revealed themselves to him, whole dramas performed themselves before him as author and sole spectator; only, when he awoke he could not remember a single situation. It was a new demonstration of Fate’s unfailing and subtle irony that poor Paul Patureau should nightly renew the bitterness of his own conviction that he deserved success, and daily exasperate himself against his own unlucky memory as being to blame for his inability to command it. Yes, when he slept he saw all kinds of plays, with characters and motives, plots and stories, drawn from every age and clime: heroes more romantic than Ruy Blas, more comic than Figaro; theatrical surprises more thrilling than the horn in ‘Hernani,’ more clever than the scented glove in ‘Diplomacy’: and as for stage pictures, he had but to close his eyes and they crowded on his sight, magnificent in their complex accuracy and perfection. Yet what good did they do to him? None at all. Now, at this very moment, should he yield to his overwhelming desire to doze off, forgetful of the criminals and the gendarmes and the stuffy, evil-smelling crowd of spectators, he would probably witness one of these very productions, to be performed only once and then to be lost forever—which would leave him no better off. Still, if he remained awake the criminals and the gendarmes and the spectators would suggest nothing to him, and he would in addition be bored, so that there was some reason for going to sleep.  3
  “Indeed, I wish I could go to sleep,” he said to himself; and he folded his arms and closed his eyes. Almost every Frenchman looks as if he had artistic possibilities; and with his pale cheeks—the result of the carnival—and thin, delicate, closed eyelids, the young clerk was by no means a bad type of a poet and a dreamer. “A pretty figure I must be,” he said drowsily to himself, “to assist at the administration of justice to unfortunate carnival-makers who have been less cautious than myself!” And he began to wonder how he could best secure the magistrate’s clemency for some of those very unfortunates in whom he was particularly interested. Among the prisoners waiting their turn to appear before Monsieur Doblay were certain masqueraders, who, it was said among the ushers, were well-known actors; they had been quarreling among themselves at a restaurant after the ball, and their quarrel had grown so violent that the whole party had been taken into custody. It may be guessed with what sympathy Monsieur Paul viewed their incarceration. If he could have passed upon their offense, their detention would have been very quickly at an end.  4
  All of a sudden there broke out from the adjoining room, where the prisoners were in custody, a snatch of a chorus:—
  “And every time the princess sighs,
Her tearful subjects wipe their eyes.”
  5
  Paul started up, instinctively crying out “Silence!” and he heard the officers calling for order; but a few voices still continued:—
  “They sorrow most because her griefs
Entail such waste of handkerchiefs.”
  6
  “Outrageous! What do they mean by such a disturbance?” said a stern voice behind him; and Paul turned with an almost guilty realization of the dignity of the court and of Monsieur Doblay. To tell the truth, he had just lost his own consciousness of official dignity in the perception that the words of the chorus were new to him, and that discovery never fails to set the nerve cells of the amateur tingling.  7
  He explained the situation to Monsieur Doblay.  8
  “Actors, indeed! They take great liberties.”  9
  “They are a most picturesque collection,” said Paul, longing to find a good word to throw in on their behalf. “There is a Punchinello, a Harlequin, a Pierrot, a Pantaloon, a Domino Noir, a Pierrette—”  10
  “The classics, eh?” growled Monsieur Doblay. “They wish to turn my court-room into a scene from Racine?”  11
  “Monsieur,” cried Paul, suddenly illumed, “I have it! They must be singing from the new operetta at the Folles-Farces: it is the one operetta I have not heard; but only because I had not time: and perhaps this is the cast.”  12
  “Have them in at once,” said Monsieur Doblay, replying, it almost seemed, to Paul’s unspoken wish. “Have them in, and we will see how they excuse themselves for their follies.”  13
  “Ah, monsieur, wait till you see the Pierrette,” said Paul. “She is a nymph—a true nymph! Oh, she is wonderful!”  14
  It is always these old friends of ours who are getting into trouble, thought Paul, as the masqueraders were ushered into the court-room, disheveled, haggard, absurdly out of keeping with the daylight in their carnival paint. The Pierrot and the Punchinello led, followed by all the other familiar figures,—a Pantaloon, a Harlequin, a Columbine (wrapped in a long fur cloak), a Domino Noir, and two young men in dress-coats and false noses: their costumes gave them all that droll, half-deprecating look of conscious guilt which Punchinello and Pierrot wear before the Law. And Paul, as he prepared to take down their names with a stub-pen on stiff court paper, felt himself a figure in the comedy which the carnival and the stage hand down unchanged, eternal,—the comedy which shows man human, weak, but therefore lovable.  15
  And here a singular incident happened. For while this red-and-white procession was being marshaled toward the seat of justice, to the immense delight of the habitués of the court-room, an altercation was heard to arise next door, in the room devoted to the prisoners. “I will not accompany the rest of the troupe,” cried a woman’s voice—a young and fresh voice. “I am the prima donna, my good man, and I insist on my entrée!”  16
  “You hear her? That is Adèle,” murmured the Pierrot, as he lounged forward, his eyes dropping with sleep. He shrugged his sloping shoulders. It was indeed Mademoiselle Adèle, of the Folles-Farces, as Paul all of a sudden became aware; and a hard time the gendarme had to bring her out into the court-room,—flushed, frowning, mutinous, long strands of her straight glossy black hair undone, and falling over her creamy cheeks and the white sleeves of her Pierrette dress. The tall rebellious androgyn tossed back her hair, and put her hands on her supple slim hips, and looked devastation at the magistrate; but he was not nearly so much affected as was Monsieur Paul Patureau as he took the names down.  17
  He thought it more appropriate to set them out as a cast, as follows:—
  PUNCHINELLO  MM. TAVERNIER.
PIERROT      BRÉBANT.
PANTALOON      MUELLER.
HARLEQUIN      GERVAIS.
COLUMBINE  Mmes. JOLIFROY.
DOMINO NOIR      GAUDRION.
PIERRETTE      ADÈLE.
  18
  All of the Théâtre des Folles-Farces. In addition to these, M. Rébus of the Matinée, and M. Obus of the claque.  19
  Monsieur Doblay listened gravely to the report of the gendarme. A case of disorderly conduct, fracas, and defiance of the authorities of the Café des Blafards. Blows had been struck and furniture broken. The women of the party encouraged the participants. The defendants Brébant and Rébus had taken no part in the fracas, but on the appearance of the authorities had interfered to protect their companions. It had consequently been necessary to arrest the whole party.  20
  “And all,” cried Mademoiselle Adèle, “because Tavernier cannot act Bobbo.”  21
  “Silence!” cried the ushers. And everybody stood aghast.  22
  Monsieur Doblay pressed his fingers together and looked over his spectacles, not so much severely as reflectively, at the rebellious Pierrette, so full of grace and wild beauty.  23
  “Upon my word,” he said at last, “I should be glad to have some explanation why so many people of reputation and intelligence have been engaging in such a lamentable dispute. Is it only because Monsieur Tavernier cannot act Bobbo? Pray what is Bobbo?”  24
  “An opera-bouffe, Monsieur le Juge,” said the actress, proudly inclining her head, “composed for the Folles-Farces by Monsieur Brébant there, and the libretto is by Monsieur Tavernier himself. And I am the Princess Lisa.”  25
  “You mean that you take that part in the opera?”  26
  “Yes, Monsieur le Juge. And Monsieur Tavernier has the title rôle.”  27
  “Which he sustains with the utmost art,” murmured Brébant.  28
  Adèle gave him a glance which might have withered him.  29
  “Which he does not sustain with art, Monsieur le Juge—oh, not at all. For though it is an adorable little story, but adorable, it does not draw the public; and why? Because Monsieur Tavernier, though a comedian not a little proud of his own prowess, cannot carry out the very part he has imagined for himself.” And here her slender limbs began visibly to chafe under the oppression of keeping still. Her voice rang higher, but always sweet. “And the Folles-Farces is a new theatre, Monsieur le Juge; not a rich theatre. It is most important to us to draw the public: and we do not draw the public, monsieur, because Monsieur Tavernier cannot act Bobbo. And we shall all starve!” And she looked daggers at poor Tavernier, who twisted his hands together—the thick, short-fingered hands of a true bouffe actor—and drew a long sigh.  30
  “And yet,” said Monsieur Doblay, gravely, “if there was a quarrel, mademoiselle, there must have been those who disagreed with you. Why did the quarrel arise?”  31
  “Because,” cried Mademoiselle Adèle, “I frankly counseled Monsieur Tavernier to leave the cast. As a friend.”  32
  “That was the way of it, Monsieur le Juge,” said Brébant, who shrugged his shoulders with languid cynicism. “She frankly counseled my colleague, the author of the operetta, part owner of the theatre, stage-manager, and leading actor, to leave the cast. I forgot to add that it was to him she owed her engagement.”  33
  “And when Mademoiselle Adèle gave this advice to Monsieur Tavernier, there was opposition?” asked Monsieur Doblay.  34
  “Pronounced,” said Brébant.  35
  “Vociferous,” said Rébus. “Even minatory.”  36
  “Upon which”—Mademoiselle Adèle’s eyes were blazing indignantly at Brébant, but he persevered relentlessly—“upon which Mademoiselle Adèle treated her colleagues, particularly Mademoiselle Jolifroy, to epithets of an injurious character.”  37
  “Pray, if I might ask—”  38
  “I called them pigs of gallery-crushers,” said Adèle, impetuously breaking in.  39
  “The words were uttered in heat,” said Brébant dryly.  40
  “I do not withdraw them,” said Adèle.  41
  “And it was on this provocation that the fracas arose?” said Monsieur Doblay patiently.  42
  “As if the words had been dynamite,” said Rébus.  43
  There was a moment’s silence.  44
  “Ladies and gentlemen,” said the magistrate, “I am afraid that I see nothing for it but to fine you all. I regret that there should be differences among you behind the scenes, if I may so express myself; but the law really cannot concern itself with the origin of these differences.”  45
  “I would leave the cast willingly,” said Tavernier, whose heavy face looked so sad that his Punchinello’s hump seemed to belong to him, “but we cannot afford another actor.”  46
  “Monsieur le Juge,” said Madame Gaudrion, speaking with dignity from the mysterious folds of her domino, “I desire it should go on record as the opinion of those members of the company whose sentiments are in accord with what has just fallen from the lips of Monsieur Brébant, that the rôle of Bobbo is perfectly sustained by Monsieur Tavernier, and that if any one’s acting is at fault it is Mademoiselle Adèle’s.”  47
  “Mazette! I believe you,” murmured the little Jolifroy. (Understudy.)  48
  From Adèle’s eyes shot forth a flame of contempt; she spread her small brown hands wide to the poles. “Listen, Monsieur le Juge,” she cried,—“listen, and you will understand why they all speak evil of me. I am alone against them all; and last night they would have driven me out of the theatre forever, except that Monsieur Gervais, that good young man whom you see there as Harlequin, Monsieur le Juge, and Monsieur Obus, with the false nose, like chivalrous and gallant friends, constituted themselves my champions,—and the resistance they encountered was such that the gendarmes were hurled upon us. It is true, Monsieur le Juge, it is true that I act badly—that in my great scene where I should laugh I want to cry—and thus I am so angry that I cannot laugh at all—and the whole scene is spoiled, and the whole play is spoiled, and our happiness, and our business, and my career, all, all are spoiled! But why? Because it is Bobbo who should make me want to laugh, and every night when I play it is Bobbo who makes me want to cry!”  49
  “Fudge!” said Madame Gaudrion, decisively, and quite loud enough to be heard.  50
  “You say that, madame—” began Adèle; but Monsieur Doblay silenced her with a word.  51
  “You are a firebrand, mademoiselle,” he said; and he turned to Brébant. “As I am still in the dark, monsieur, perhaps you will explain a little further.”  52
  “Willingly, Monsieur le Juge,” said the Pierrot. “The fact is, Mademoiselle Adèle is convicting herself by her own testimony; for Monsieur Tavernier’s rôle, admirably conceived, is one of those which blend humor and pathos, and it is the pathos which should make, not Mademoiselle Adèle, you understand, but the Princess Lisa laugh. And if Mademoiselle Adèle forgets that she is the Princess Lisa, and herself feels the pathos of the scene, she is not an actress, that is all.”  53
  “Ah!” said Monsieur Doblay, looking benignly wise. “The paradox of acting.”  54
  “Exactly, Monsieur le Juge.”  55
  “But,” cried Adèle in a transport, “it is Tavernier who is not acting!”  56
  “Not acting!” cried Brébant, Gervais, and Mueller together. In fact, the whole company turned to Adèle with looks of astonishment.  57
  “No, he is not acting! Do you suppose that I, an actress, cannot tell? It is real with him; yes, I affirm it, Monsieur le Juge, it is real with him! and that makes it real with me, and I cry instead of laughing.”  58
  At this remarkable statement all eyes were turned on Tavernier. His face was doleful enough; but he only shrugged his hump, as if to say, “I do not understand, but I will not oppose her.”  59
  Monsieur Doblay laid down his pen in despair. “The further we go,” he said, “the greater is my perplexity. Suppose, mademoiselle, I were to ask you to give me a brief précis of the plot, and then perhaps I shall understand. For really it has come to this,—that Monsieur Tavernier’s acting is on trial, and I feel it my duty to examine into his case and pronounce one way or the other.”  60
  It seemed to Paul Patureau as if his ideas mysteriously communicated themselves to his superior, and what was more remarkable, controlled him.  61
  Adèle stood forward. She made a gesture of such grace and eloquence as thrilled Paul Patureau to the marrow. “Monsieur le Juge,” she said, “I am overcome by the honor—oh, but overcome! You ask me for the plot of ‘Bobbo,’ Monsieur le Juge. Monsieur Tavernier’s idea was charming, most charming; and I should be the first to make its eulogiums, for he honored me by giving me the chief rôle,—after his own. I, do you see, am the Princess Lisa. The scene is laid in Italy at the time they called the Middle Ages,—but how did they know then they were the Middle Ages, Monsieur le Juge?—and I am very melancholy. Oh, I am the most melancholy princess that ever was known! They give fêtes for me, balls, tournaments, cavalcades, water parties, illuminations—all to no purpose; they might as well have paraded the funerals of the town before me. Then they have plays to amuse me, jugglers, clowns, dancing-dogs, acrobats, the whole Folies Bergères: worse and worse—I weep all day long, and I swear that nothing can cure me. So my father, the king, who is excellently played by Monsieur Mueller, Monsieur le Juge,—my father is in agonies; for not only am I his favorite child, but if I do not marry, the kingdom must go to his brother, whom he despises. And when they talk to me of marriage, I weep so bitterly that even Madame Gaudrion, my governess,—you understand, my most aristocratic governess,—gives me up. So the king has an idea. He offers my hand to any one who will make me laugh. Is not that an idea worthy of a father? But, nevertheless, so stupid are men that numbers of poor young princes and counts and barons come and try to win a smile from me, and they all fail, and their heads are taken off by the headsman—Monsieur Gervais. Such things happen, you know, in opera-bouffe—in the Middle Ages. And of course, as these repeated executions happen, I go into convulsions of grief, and grow more and more melancholy.”  62
  “Because none of the young men succeeds?” asked Monsieur Doblay with a smile.  63
  “Possibly,” said Mademoiselle Adèle. “But of course,” she added, with a sudden and dazzling smile of her own,—“of course I do not confess that to myself, so there my poor father is at the end of his resources; and even my sister, the Princess Beatrice (played by Mademoiselle Jolifroy), confesses she does not know what is to be done. And as a last resource my father thinks once more of Bobbo. Bobbo, Monsieur le Juge, is the most celebrated jester in the world,—irresistible, enchanting, the very soul of drollery and humor. It is not only that his wit is so quick and keen, but his features are the perfect epitome of comedy. You die of laughing just to look at him; it is impossible to remain grave in his presence. My father would have brought him before me long ago but for one unfortunate circumstance,—Bobbo is attached to the court of our young and hot-headed neighbor the Prince Eugenius. Now some time ago, before all these experiments that ended so sadly on the headsman’s block, the prince personally asked for my hand; and as I declined to hear of marriage, it was refused him. So he vowed that if my melancholy was not removed by the announcement of his suit, I might remain in my present state of depression till the end of my days before he would lift a finger to prevent it. Accordingly my father goes to war with him, captures both him and Bobbo, and brings the captives back to court. For he is a terrible man, my father, as the prince—who is Monsieur Brébant—finds out.”  64
  “I begin to see the plot,” said Monsieur Doblay, deeply interested. Court officers and spectators too all hung upon her words.  65
  “Is it not too natural?” cried Adèle, her eyes sparkling. “What stupid beings fathers are, Monsieur le Juge! Why should the king suppose that I, who have succeeded in my obstinacy—yes, I admit that it is obstinacy: the idea of weeping one’s eyes out like that for any other reason!—that I, who have persisted in torturing my lachrymal glands while any number of nice young men were trying to entertain me, should all of a sudden face about, dry my eyes, and laugh like a cook at the antics of a professional clown? Much he knows about a woman! Actually, when he brings Bobbo before me, he is smiling for the first time in years. Poor man, he is doomed to disappointment. Perhaps Bobbo is not over-confident, for he knows what will happen to him if he fails; but no matter how he exerts himself,—and in two minutes he has the rest of the court rolling on their sides on the floor,—Monsieur le Juge, I pay absolutely no attention to him. He says the wittiest, most excruciating things: I am deaf. He gambols and capers so as to make you ill with laughing: I scarcely lift my eyebrows. He even makes sport of his master, the prince, for suffering himself to be captured: I turn away indifferent. And then what happens is that he loses his courage, he falters, he stammers, he wrings his hands, and finally falls on his knees and begs pathetically to be spared. Consequently my father orders him to be beheaded at once.”  66
  “He was wrong,” said Monsieur Doblay judicially.  67
  “Very wrong, Monsieur le Juge; but after all, see how fortunately it turned out! For on hearing his sentence, Bobbo, in despair, turns to me and sings a song begging me to intercede for him; he joins his wrinkled old hands together, and the tears run from his poor old face, and his nose is red, and his eyes are bleared, and his voice cracks and creaks, and altogether he looks so absurd and ridiculous, and he is such a refreshing, delightful, irresistible contrast to the terrified and unnatural gayety which every one about me has been forced to exhibit, that I burst out into a good hearty fit of laughter, the first in years. Bobbo has saved me!”  68
  Brava! There followed general applause, which was at once suppressed, but which did not seem to annoy Monsieur Doblay very greatly. He smiled with satisfaction at the escape of Bobbo, and by the nodding of his head appeared to congratulate the princess on the breaking of the spell that afflicted her. As for Paul, his heart sank. “There!” he said to himself: “do you wonder that it falls to the lot of others to write libretti, and not to mine? Effectively! They have ideas, while I—”  69
  “And so you marry the prince,” said Monsieur Doblay approvingly.  70
  “Oh, not yet!” cried Adèle, radiant with her success. “Of course finally I do; but if it ended now it would be flat indeed.”  71
  Paul’s heart sank again: he had supposed this was the finale, and behold he did not know the elements of construction!  72
  “What happens next is that I become serious once more, and swear that as my father offered to marry me to whosoever should make me laugh, and as Bobbo has been the one to succeed, I will marry Bobbo. This, of course, is meant to punish the prince for his pride; yet, after all, I have a—a little feeling for Bobbo. But you may guess,” cried Adèle, with a heightened color, “how this resolve affects my father and the court; and it is only a very little while before they are all in tears at my feet, begging me to reconsider my decision. And as they are now the melancholy ones, I am well amused, I promise you. ‘If you all sniveled till Doomsday,’ I say to them, ‘you couldn’t make me break faith with my dear Bobbo.’ Poor Bobbo, you know! ready to put his head in a meal-bag and pull the strings. Well, at last the situation is resolved—but you must ask Madame Gaudrion how.”  73
  “How, Madame Gaudrion?”  74
  “Oh, very simply,” replied that lady in her measured tones. “I am the governess,—very aristocratic, as Mademoiselle Adèle says,—and I have been talking a great deal of my family pretensions, and setting my cap at the king; and it turns out that Bobbo is my husband.”  75
  Whereat there was a laugh.  76
  “And everybody is made happy, except probably Bobbo,” commented Monsieur Doblay. “Let me compliment you, Monsieur Tavernier, on the grace and charm of your little theme. The springs of sorrow and happiness lie very close together in our hearts, and you have perceived this and made excellent use of your penetration of human nature.” And he made a polite yet magisterial bow.  77
  “I beg you to believe, Monsieur le Juge, that I know how to value such compliments,” said Tavernier, a little flush of pleasure breaking out on his anxious face. “But the story has gained greatly from Mademoiselle Adèle’s manner of recital.”  78
  “Doubtless she will answer that she has gained her inspiration from the story,” said the courteous magistrate. “But come now, Monsieur Tavernier, here we are on the threshold of the mystery; let us examine it to the bottom. You are charged by this young lady with singing your ballad in such a manner as to prevent her from listening properly in the character of the Princess Lisa. Now here I am about to throw out a suggestion which may assist us. Perhaps the difficulty lies in the ballad itself; and I should be very glad if you will repeat it, Monsieur Tavernier. Or better still, if any one here has a libretto—”  79
  Obus stepped forward, solemn-faced leader of the claque. He drew a marked libretto from the pocket of his paletot.  80
  “You will pardon my critical remarks on the margin, Monsieur le Juge,” he observed.  81
  The magistrate found the place, and adjusted his glasses.

  
LA CHANSON DE BOBBO
  
OH, is it you, all youth and grace,
Who turn an unrelenting face,
        And cruel send
Me to my death, so bent and worn,
So pitiable and forlorn,
        So old a friend?
  
Think! in the nursery, long ago,
A form like mine you used to know,
        With curving back,
With painted cheeks, and staring eyes.
Look at me! don’t you recognize
        Your jumping Jack?
  
You only had to pull a string,
And he his arms and legs would fling
        A dozen ways;
And then you’d laugh—ah, yes, indeed!
’Twas easy for me to succeed
        In those old days.
  
You clasped me to your baby breast,
And cried, “Dear Jack!” and soothed to rest
        My clumsy head;
And when they asked you which of all
Your toys the prettiest you’d call,—
        “My Jack!” you said.
  
Yes, let my poor absurd grimace,
My crooked back and wizened face,
        My pardon make.
O child, your childhood bring to mind,
And be to Punchinello kind,
        For pity’s sake!
  82
 
  While Monsieur Doblay read this aloud, slowly, and with the reserve of a man who does not commit himself to the support of his author, there was a deep silence in the court-room. Then Monsieur Doblay raised his head, and it was not difficult to see that he was disappointed. “I confess,” he said, “I do not find these verses in themselves so affecting as to justify Mademoiselle Adèle’s representations.”  83
  There was a little nervous professional stir among the actors; but before any one else could speak in behalf of Tavernier’s song, Adèle was boldly making her own special defense. “Mon Dieu, Monsieur le Juge,” she cried, “they are not meant to be read like verses in a book, you know—they are written for music and the stage effect. Ah, monsieur, if you will ask Monsieur Tavernier to recite them to you, you will see! Yes, Monsieur Tavernier, if you really desire to clear yourself, repeat them to the magistrate—and let him judge.”  84
  “You see, Monsieur le Juge, what she exacts,” was all Tavernier could say.  85
  “After all,” said Monsieur Doblay, “she is correct. I am misconstruing your verses, Monsieur Tavernier, and I see that my doubt disposes of itself. If the lines are written solely for the actor, there is nothing intrinsically pathetic in them—there can be nothing.” And Monsieur Doblay smiled reassuringly. “And now let me hear you repeat them. Permit me to say that I anticipate a great artistic gratification.”  86
  Tavernier looked over at Adèle, and murmured something no one could hear. She, her face flushed, seemed ready to spring upon him, take him by the shoulders, and shake him into action, so eager was she to be proved in the right.  87
  As if fascinated, he kept his troubled eyes fixed upon her and began in a low voice:—
  “Oh, is it you, all youth and grace—”
And as he spoke he betrayed all.
  88
  There was no mistaking the import of his tone. The man had a voice that should have made his fortune. Resonant, strong, full of feeling, and yet dominated by a strange and overpowering timbre, a curious vibration, which though hard and masculine was inexplicably attractive, and even affecting,—a perfect stage voice, intended by nature for comedy and bouffe,—it aroused not only instant carnal delight, but also the obscure yearning that accompanies the highest artistic sympathy. But now it was quivering with the deepest pathos. To hear him struck to the heart. Tears sprang unbidden to the eyes. It was an appeal, all concealment thrown aside, to the beautiful young girl who stood before him. It told the whole story of their relations,—of his dumb despairing love and her girlish obtuseness, perversity, and self-love. The words fell slowly and like sobs. They conveyed the yearning of a life.  89
  The surprise of his emotion deeply disturbed his hearers. Brébant, in particular, was visibly startled out of his languor, and launched uneasy glances at Adèle. She alone appeared to see in this sudden confession merely the confirmation of her charge. Her eyes sparkled with triumph; her foot patted the ground; she could hardly wait until Tavernier had finished. She did not give Monsieur Doblay time to speak.  90
  “You see,” she cried—“you see, all of you, that I have told you nothing but the truth—and yet you would not believe me! He sings it himself—and not to the Princess Lisa, but to me. He does not know how to sing it. Hold! I will show you how.” And before any one could stop her, she suddenly pushed away Mueller and Obus, clearing a little space for a stage, as it were, and dropped her tall supple form into a hunchback’s crouching pose and began to sing.  91
  It was a most amazing feat of mimicry. Her head sank and rolled on her shoulders, her arms hung long and loose by her sides, her back was crooked—yet all these things were shown by the lightest, swiftest indications, like the heart-breaking falsetto in her rich, splendid voice, which, with her frightened eye and trembling lip, showed the poor Punchinello at his wits’ end for refuge. Sing it well? Not the greatest comedian that ever lived, it seemed, could have sung it better,—with all its whimpering, its ridiculous terrified grimaces, its shaking fingers weakly clawing the air, its tottering knees and cracked comic voice, its absurd senile smiles broken by swift spasms of terror as the singer alternated between hope and despair. Adèle subdued it all to her purpose, with the true bouffe touch so perfectly bestowed that the very pathos of it seemed a thing to laugh at, because it so surely promised that happiness was on the other side of the picture. And indeed, as verse succeeded verse, smiles were running over all their lips, as they stood breathlessly listening, ready when she ended to break out into laughter and applause. When all at once, just as she was nearing the end, perhaps overcome by some sudden emotion, perhaps tired by the night of confinement and the strain of the police examination, perhaps at the end of her artist’s tether, since extreme were the demands the song made upon her thus to counterfeit a buffo at the height of his art,—for whatever reason, she faltered, gasped, and tottering against Mueller, who caught her round the waist and supported her, burst into tears.  92
  Then, heartlessly enough, but with full professional enjoyment of her break-down, the actors raised a peal of laughter, in which all joined—except Tavernier. He stood apart, forgotten, watching her with his burning eyes. But the little Jolifroy was especially merry, and clapped her hands in an ecstasy of mirth.  93
  Adèle leaped up; furious, angry gleams darting from her eyes. “What do you mean by laughing at me?” she cried. “You are all beggars, wretches, vile travesties of actors, whom the public will cover with shame!” That her tumult of wrath must have physical relief was obvious. It was the little Jolifroy who suffered. Adèle’s glance fell instinctively on her understudy’s sniggering face, and she smacked it.  94
  A cry of horror rose—gendarmes sprang at the offender. Contempt of court, lèse-majesté—what had not Adèle committed? She herself, at the realization of her offense, paled and stood trembling in the grasp of the military police before the magistrate.  95
  The only reason why Tavernier was not scuffling with those same gendarmes was that Brébant and Rébus, by a common impulse, threw their arms about him and restrained him.  96
  Monsieur Doblay seemed for a moment lost in consternation at the iniquity of the deed which his own lenity had encouraged; then he roused himself, and addressed the prisoner at the bar.  97
  “Mademoiselle,” he said sternly, “insensible of the kindness with which you have been treated here, you have permitted yourself to commit an outrage upon the dignity of this court which merits the severest retribution. And what is more, you have shown yourself intolerant, unreasonable, unjust to a brother artist, who after all can only do his best, as his talent permits, and to whom it would appear you are bound in very gratitude to defer. Art is not life, mademoiselle; it is but a representation of life, and all the more, therefore, perfection in it cannot be demanded or hoped for. It rests with all artists to give the public their best; but having done so, they must be satisfied. And since this seems impossible to you, since your ungovernable temper makes you a firebrand among your colleagues, the punishment that I must now impose upon you should be responsive to this fault, that justice may prove remedial. I condemn you to prison, Mademoiselle Adèle, for forty days,—and suspend the sentence on condition that you pass the whole of the ensuing Lent in retirement, in good works and meditation, without appearing once at the theatre. And that will teach you, perhaps, to control yourself.”  98
  “What, Monsieur le Juge—leave the stage?”  99
  Then might you have seen Adèle, breaking from the gendarmes, kneel, actually kneel like a guilty sinner before the tribune, imploring mercy. To be condemned for forty days to leave the theatre—to leave a successful play, to see which the house was crowded every evening—she would be forgotten by the public, by her friends—her understudy would supplant her—and the theatre was her life, her very being! She would die without it; to do penance would kill her!  100
  Would not Monsieur le Juge fine her—she could afford to pay a fine, oh, a heavy fine—and let her go?  101
  And it did occur to Monsieur Doblay that his scheme of poetic justice did not consider the management of the Folles-Farces; and he said, “After all, I ought not to visit the penalty of your misbehavior on the theatre, and therefore a fine—”  102
  To every one’s surprise, here Tavernier interrupted. “No, Monsieur le Juge,” he cried, quite beside himself with suffering: “I would rather let her go!”  103
  “Let me go?” exclaimed Adèle, her face suddenly growing white.  104
  “Yes,” he answered, turning on her, his breast heaving: “we cannot go on like this,—one of us must leave the Folles-Farces. There is a limit to what a man’s heart can bear; and since you mean to break mine, since there is no limit to your contempt, your disdain, and your ill-usage, I must protect myself,—I must snap the chain in two. God knows I would give you all,—the theatre, my heart, my life, if you would but accept them,—God knows I have offered you both my heart and my life, again and again, and you would not take them—”  105
  “You have offered me your heart?” said Adèle, with a strange sound in her voice.  106
  “Yes,” he cried in exaltation: “every night, in the song I sing to you, the song I wrote to you, the song I cannot sing because every word, every note, breaks my heart when you will not look at me or care for me. But why should you?—you, so beautiful, so young—”  107
  He could not go on.  108
  Adèle drew a long, shuddering breath; her face was white. She choked as she tried to speak. Finally she said, “I did not know—I did not know I was so much to you.” And after a pause she added, “I have promised to marry Brébant.”  109
  Tavernier gave a cry, and then covered his ghastly face with his hands. Brébant looked at them both from under the dark, delicate lines of his eyebrows, pulled at his mustache, and said, “Fichtre!”  110
  Nobody seemed able to speak, and there was a long silence.  111
  All at once Adèle started, and turned and looked at Brébant. He met her look steadily, but without budging a hair’s-breadth from his attitude of profound, concentrated attention. Then the blood surged back to her face again, and she cried, in excited but clear and resolute tones, “But as Brébant does not love me—I release him.”  112
 
  When we wake from a dream, the eye still sees distinct before it the mental image which was the last impressed on the retina of our imagination, and which somehow seems the one which woke us out of sleep. And as Paul Patureau returned to his senses and found the real court-room again before him, and heard the tread of the real Monsieur Doblay echoing behind him on the tribune, there hung for an instant clearly outlined in his vision the miniature actors of the supposititious theatre created by his drowsy fancy as they disposed themselves before their flight,—Tavernier catching Adèle to his breast; Mueller and Gervais and Rébus and Jolifroy and all the rest grouped about in various attitudes of astonishment and delight, or perhaps envy; Brébant slowly vouchsafing the magistrate a glance whose faint suggestion of relief was to Paul Patureau the subtlest touch of it all. How willing Paul would have been to delay them just a moment longer, to hear what Tavernier was saying to Adèle, or himself to have saluted the bride! But he saw them go without a pang, for this once he recollected the plot of his operetta. He had at last dreamed successfully.  113
  And now he had nothing left to do but write his libretto, get it accepted by some popular composer, and produced. Lucky Paul Patureau!  114
 
 
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