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."