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Chapter 5 Providence and the guitar

  • ### 1\. Part 1
  • Monsieur Leon Berthelini had a great care of his appearance, and sedulousl_uited his deportment to the costume of the hour. He affected somethin_panish in his air, and something of the bandit, with a flavour of Rembrand_t home. In person he was decidedly small and inclined to be stout; his fac_as the picture of good humour; his dark eyes, which were very expressive,
  • told of a kind heart, a brisk, merry nature, and the most indefatigabl_pirits. If he had worn the clothes of the period you would have set him dow_or a hitherto undiscovered hybrid between the barber, the innkeeper, and th_ffable dispensing chemist. But in the outrageous bravery of velvet jacket an_lapped hat, with trousers that were more accurately described as fleshings, _hite handkerchief cavalierly knotted at his neck, a shock of Olympian curl_pon his brow, and his feet shod through all weathers in the slenderest o_oliere shoes - you had but to look at him and you knew you were in th_resence of a Great Creature. When he wore an overcoat he scorned to pass th_leeves; a single button held it round his shoulders; it was tossed backward_fter the manner of a cloak, and carried with the gait and presence of a_lmaviva. I am of opinion that M. Berthelini was nearing forty. But he had _oy's heart, gloried in his finery, and walked through life like a child in _erpetual dramatic performance. If he were not Almaviva after all, it was no_or lack of making believe. And he enjoyed the artist's compensation. If h_ere not really Almaviva, he was sometimes just as happy as though he were.
  • I have seen him, at moments when he has fancied himself alone with his Maker,
  • adopt so gay and chivalrous a bearing, and represent his own part with so muc_armth and conscience, that the illusion became catching, and I believe_mplicitly in the Great Creature's pose.
  • But, alas! life cannot be entirely conducted on these principles; man canno_ive by Almavivery alone; and the Great Creature, having failed upon severa_heatres, was obliged to step down every evening from his heights, and sin_rom half-a-dozen to a dozen comic songs, twang a guitar, keep a countr_udience in good humour, and preside finally over the mysteries of a tombola.
  • Madame Berthelini, who was art and part with him in these undignified labours,
  • had perhaps a higher position in the scale of beings, and enjoyed a natura_ignity of her own. But her heart was not any more rightly placed, for tha_ould have been impossible; and she had acquired a little air of melancholy,
  • attractive enough in its way, but not good to see like the wholesome, sky-
  • scraping, boyish spirits of her lord.
  • He, indeed, swam like a kite on a fair wind, high above earthly troubles.
  • Detonations of temper were not unfrequent in the zones he travelled; but sulk_ogs and tearful depressions were there alike unknown. A well-delivered blo_pon a table, or a noble attitude, imitated from Melingne or Frederic,
  • relieved his irritation like a vengeance. Though the heaven had fallen, if h_ad played his part with propriety, Berthelini had been content! And the man'_tmosphere, if not his example, reacted on his wife; for the couple doated o_ach other, and although you would have thought they walked in differen_orlds, yet continued to walk hand in hand.
  • It chanced one day that Monsieur and Madame Berthelini descended with tw_oxes and a guitar in a fat case at the station of the little town of Castel-
  • le-Gachis, and the omnibus carried them with their effects to the Hotel of th_lack Head. This was a dismal, conventual building in a narrow street, capabl_f standing siege when once the gates were shut, and smelling strangely in th_nterior of straw and chocolate and old feminine apparel. Berthelini pause_pon the threshold with a painful premonition. In some former state, it seeme_o him, he had visited a hostelry that smelt not otherwise, and been il_eceived.
  • The landlord, a tragic person in a large felt hat, rose from a business tabl_nder the key-rack, and came forward, removing his hat with both hands as h_id so.
  • "Sir, I salute you. May I inquire what is your charge for artists?" inquire_erthelini, with a courtesy at once splendid and insinuating.
  • "For artists?" said the landlord. His countenance fell and the smile o_elcome disappeared. "Oh, artists!" he added brutally; "four francs a day."
  • And he turned his back upon these inconsiderable customers.
  • A commercial traveller is received, he also, upon a reduction - yet is h_elcome, yet can he command the fatted calf; but an artist, had he the manner_f an Almaviva, were he dressed like Solomon in all his glory, is receive_ike a dog and served like a timid lady travelling alone.
  • Accustomed as he was to the rubs of his profession, Berthelini wa_npleasantly affected by the landlord's manner.
  • "Elvira," said he to his wife, "mark my words: Castel-le-Gachis is a tragi_olly."
  • "Wait till we see what we take," replied Elvira.
  • "We shall take nothing," returned Berthelini; "we shall feed upon insults. _ave an eye, Elvira: I have a spirit of divination; and this place i_ccursed. The landlord has been discourteous, the Commissary will be brutal,
  • the audience will be sordid and uproarious, and you will take a cold upon you_hroat. We have been besotted enough to come; the die is cast - it will be _econd Sedan."
  • Sedan was a town hateful to the Berthelinis, not only from patriotism (fo_hey were French, and answered after the flesh to the somewhat homely name o_uval), but because it had been the scene of their most sad reverses. In tha_lace they had lain three weeks in pawn for their hotel bill, and had it no_een for a surprising stroke of fortune they might have been lying there i_awn until this day. To mention the name of Sedan was for the Berthelinis t_ip the brush in earthquake and eclipse. Count Almaviva slouched his hat wit_ gesture expressive of despair, and even Elvira felt as if ill-fortune ha_een personally invoked.
  • "Let us ask for breakfast," said she, with a woman's tact.
  • The Commissary of Police of Castel-le-Gachis was a large red Commissary,
  • pimpled, and subject to a strong cutaneous transpiration. I have repeated th_ame of his office because he was so very much more a Commissary than a man.
  • The spirit of his dignity had entered into him. He carried his corporation a_f it were something official. Whenever he insulted a common citizen it seeme_o him as if he were adroitly flattering the Government by a side wind; i_efault of dignity he was brutal from an overweening sense of duty. His offic_as a den, whence passers-by could hear rude accents laying down, not the law,
  • but the good pleasure of the Commissary.
  • Six several times in the course of the day did M. Berthelini hurry thither i_uest of the requisite permission for his evening's entertainment; six severa_imes he found the official was abroad. Leon Berthelini began to grow quite _amiliar figure in the streets of Castel-le-Gachis; he became a loca_elebrity, and was pointed out as "the man who was looking for th_ommissary." Idle children attached themselves to his footsteps, and trotte_fter him back and forward between the hotel and the office. Leon might try a_e liked; he might roll cigarettes, he might straddle, he might cock his ha_t a dozen different jaunty inclinations - the part of Almaviva was, under th_ircumstances, difficult to play.
  • As he passed the market-place upon the seventh excursion the Commissary wa_ointed out to him, where he stood, with his waistcoat unbuttoned and hi_ands behind his back, to superintend the sale and measurement of butter.
  • Berthelini threaded his way through the market stalls and baskets, an_ccosted the dignitary with a bow which was a triumph of the histrionic art.
  • "I have the honour," he asked, "of meeting M. le Commissaire?"
  • The Commissary was affected by the nobility of his address. He excelled Leo_n the depth if not in the airy grace of his salutation.
  • "The honour," said he, "is mine!"
  • "I am," continued the strolling-player, "I am, sir, an artist, and I hav_ermitted myself to interrupt you on an affair of business. To-night I give _rifling musical entertainment at the Cafe of the Triumphs of the Plough -
  • permit me to offer you this little programme - and I have come to ask you fo_he necessary authorisation."
  • At the word "artist," the Commissary had replaced his hat with the air of _erson who, having condescended too far, should suddenly remember the dutie_f his rank.
  • "Go, go," said he, "I am busy - I am measuring butter."
  • "Heathen Jew!" thought Leon. "Permit me, sir," he resumed aloud. "I have gon_ix times already - "
  • "Put up your bills if you choose," interrupted the Commissary. "In an hour o_o I will examine your papers at the office. But now go; I am busy."
  • "Measuring butter!" thought Berthelini. "Oh, France, and it is for this tha_e made '93!"
  • The preparations were soon made; the bills posted, programmes laid on th_inner-table of every hotel in the town, and a stage erected at one end of th_afe of the Triumphs of the Plough; but when Leon returned to the office, th_ommissary was once more abroad.
  • "He is like Madame Benoiton," thought Leon, "Fichu Commissaire!"
  • And just then he met the man face to face.
  • "Here, sir," said he, "are my papers. Will you be pleased to verify?"
  • But the Commissary was now intent upon dinner.
  • "No use," he replied, "no use; I am busy; I am quite satisfied. Give you_ntertainment."
  • And he hurried on.
  • "Fichu Commissaire!" thought Leon.