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   Chapter 2 No.2

A Mummer's Tale By Anatole France Characters: 5214

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

hevalier, having resumed his ordinary clothes, sat in a corner box, beside Madame Doulce, gazing at Félicie, a small remote figure on the stage. And remembering the days when he had held her in his arms, in his attic in the Rue des Martyrs, he wept with grief and rage.

They had met last year at a fête given under the patronage of Lecureuil, the deputy; a benefit performance given in aid of poor actors of the ninth arrondissement. He had prowled around her, dumb, famishing, and with blazing eyes. For a whole fortnight he had pursued her incessantly. Cold and unmoved, she had appeared to ignore him. Then, suddenly, she surrendered; so suddenly that when he left her that day, still radiant and amazed, he had said a stupid thing. He had told her: "And I took you for a little bit of china!" For three whole months he had tasted joys acute as pain. Then Félicie had grown elusive, remote, and estranged. She loved him no longer. He sought the reason, but could not discover it. It tortured him to know that he was no longer loved; jealousy tortured him still more. It was true that in the first beautiful hours of his love he had known that Félicie had a lover, one Girmandel, a court bailiff, who lived in the Rue de Provence, and he had felt it deeply. But as he never saw him he had formed so confused and ill-defined an idea of him that his jealousy lost itself in uncertainty. Félicie assured him that she had never been more than passive in her intercourse with Girmandel, that she had not even pretended to care for him. He believed her, and this belief gave him the keenest satisfaction. She also told him that for a long time past, for months, Girmandel had been nothing more than a friend, and he believed her. In short, he was deceiving the bailiff, and it was agreeable to him to feel that he enjoyed this advantage. He had learned also that Félicie, who was just finishing her second year at the Conservatoire, had not denied herself to her professor. But the grief which he had felt because of this was softened by a time-honoured and venerable custom. Now Robert de Ligny was causing him intolerable suffering. For some time past he had found him incessantly dangling about her. He could not doubt that she loved Robert; and although he sometimes told himself that she had not yet given herself to this man, it was not that he believed it, but merely that he was fain sometimes to mitigate the bitterness of his sufferings.

Mechanical applause broke out at the back of the theatre, and a few members of the orchestra, murmuring inaudibly, clapped their hands slowly and noiselessly

. Nanteuil had just given her last reply to Jeanne Perrin.

"Brava! Brava! She is delightful, dear little woman!" sighed Madame Doulce.

In his jealous anger, Chevalier was disloyal. Lifting a finger to his forehead, he remarked:

"She plays with that." Then, placing his hand upon his heart, he added: "It is with this that one should act."

"Thanks, dear friend, thanks!" murmured Madame Doulce, who read into these maxims an obvious eulogy of herself.

She was, indeed, in the habit of asserting that all good acting comes from the heart; she maintained that, to give full expression to a passion, it was necessary to experience it, and to feel in one's own person the expressions that one wished to represent. She was fond of referring to herself as an example of this. When appearing as a tragedy queen, after draining a goblet of poison on the stage, her bowels had been on fire all night. Nevertheless she was given to saying: "The dramatic art is an imitative art, and one imitates an emotion all the better for not having experienced it." And to illustrate this maxim she drew yet further examples from her triumphant career.

She gave a deep sigh.

"The child is admirably gifted. But she is to be pitied; she has been born into a bad period. There is no longer a public nowadays; no critics, no plays, no theatres, no artists. It is a decadence of art."

Chevalier shook his head.

"No need to pity her," he said. "She will have all that she can wish; she will succeed; she will be wealthy. She is a selfish little jade, and a woman who is selfish can get anything she likes. But for people with hearts there's nothing left but to hang a stone round one's neck and throw oneself into the river. But, I too, I shall go far. I, too, shall climb high. I, too, will be a selfish hound."

He got up and went out without waiting for the end of the play. He did not return to Félicie's dressing-room for fear of meeting Ligny there, the sight of whom was insupportable, and because by avoiding it he could pretend to himself that Ligny had not returned thither.

Conscious of physical distress on going away from her, he took five or six turns under the dark, deserted arcades of the Odéon, went down the steps into the night, and turned up the Rue de Médicis. Coachmen were dozing on their boxes, while waiting for the end of the performance, and high over the tops of the plane-trees the moon was racing through the clouds. Treasuring in his heart an absurd yet soothing remnant of hope, he went, this night, as on other nights, to wait for Félicie at her mother's flat.

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