Kuno Francke.

The German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) online

. (page 22 of 34)
Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 22 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

zens, up !

Grasset. Up ! Lock up your shop and come with us now.

Host. I'll come right enough, when the time comes.

Grasset. Ay, to be sure, when there is no more danger.

Host. My good friend, I love Liberty as well as you do,
but my calling comes before everything.

Grasset. There is only one calling now for citizens of
Paris — freeing their brothers.

Host. Yes, for those w^ho have nothing else to do !

Lebret, What says he? He makes game of us.

Host. Never dreamt of it. But now, my friends, look to
it that you go away — my performance will begin in a
minute, and I can't find you a job in it.

Lebret. What performance? Is this a theatre?

Host. Certainly, 'tis a theatre. Why, only a fortnight
ago your friend was playing here.

Lebret. Were you inlaying here, Grasset? . . . Why do
you let the fellow jeer at you like that without punish-
ing him?

Grasset. Calm yourself — it is true ; I did play here. This
is no ordinary tavern: 'tis a den of thieves. Come.



Host. You '11 pay first.

Lebret. If this is a den of thieves I won't pay a single sou.

Host. Explain to your friend where he is.

Geasset. This is a strange place. People who play crim-
inals come here — and others who are criminals with-
out suspecting it.

Lebret. Indeed ?

Grasset. I would have you mark that what I just said was
very witty; it is positively capable of making the sub-
stance of a whole speech.

Lebret. I don't understand a word of all you say.

Geasset. I was simply telling you that Prosper was my
manager. And he is still playing comedy with his
actors, but a different kind from before. My former
gentlemen and lady colleagues sit around and be-
have as though they were criminals. Do you under-
stand! They tell blood-curdling stories of things that
have never happened to them — speak of crimes they
have never committed . . . and the audience that
comes here enjoys the pleasant titillation of hob-
nobbing with the most dangerous rabble in Paris —
swindlers, burglars, murderers — and —

Lebret. What kind of an audience?

Host. The most elegant people in Paris.

Grasset. Noble —

Host. Gentlemen of the Court.

Lebret. Down with them!

Grasset. It does 'em good. It gives a fillip to their jaded
senses. 'Twas here that I made my start, Lebret — here
that I delivered my first speech as though for a joke ;
here it was that I first began to hate the dogs who sat
amongst us with all their fine clothes and perfumes
and rottenness . . . and I am very glad indeed, my
good Lebret, that you, too, should see just for once the
place from which your great friend raised himself.
(In another tone.) I say, Prosper, supposing the busi-
ness doesn't come off —


Host. What business?

Grasset. Why, my political career — will you engage me

Host. Not for anything!

Grasset (lightly). Why — I thought there might be still
room for somebody besides your Henri.

Host. Apart from that ... I should be afraid that you
might forget yourself one fine day and fall foul in
earnest of one of my paying customers.

Grasset (flattered). That would certainly be possible —

Host. I — I have control over myself —

Grasset. Frankly, Prosper, I must say that I would ad-
mire you for your self-control, if I happened not to
know that you are a poltroon.

Host. Ah! my friend, I am satisfied with what I can do
in my own line. I get enough pleasure out of being
able to tell the fellows my opinion of them to their faces
and to insult them to my heart's content — while they
take it for a joke. That, too, is a way of venting one's
wrath. (Draws a dagger and makes it flash.)

Lebret. Citizen Prosper, what is the meaning of this?

Grasset. Have no fear. I wager that the dagger is not
even sharpened.

Host. In that, my friend, you may be making a mistake.
One fine day the jest may turn to earnest — and so I
am ready for all emergencies.

Grasset. The day is nigh. We live in great times. Come,
Citizen Lebret, we will go to our comrades. Farewell,
Prosper ; you will see me either a great man or never

Lebret (giddily). As a great man — or — not at all.

[Exeunt. Host remains behind, sits on a table, opens
a pamphlet, and reads aloud.']

Host. '* Now that the beast is in the noose, throttle it."
He doesn't write badly, that little Desmoulins. " Never
was richer booty offered to the victors. Forty thou-
sand palaces and castles, two-fifths of all the property


in France, will be the reward of valor. Those who

plume themselves on being conquerors mil be put

beneath the yoke, the nation will be purged. ' '
Enter the Commissaire.
Host {sizing him up). Hallo — the rabble's beginning to

come in pretty early tonight.
Commissaire. My dear Prosper, don't start any of your

jokes on me; I am the Commissaire of your district.
Host. And how can I be of any service ?
Commissaire. I have orders to attend the performance in

your tavern this evening.
Host. It will be an especial honor for me.
Commissaire. 'Tis nothing of that, my excellent Prosper.

The authorities Avish to have definite information as to

what really goes on in your place. For some weeks —
Host. This is a place of amusement, M. le Commissaire —

nothing more.
Commissaire. Let me finish what I was saying. For some

weeks past this place is said to have been the theatre

of wild orgies.
Host. You are falsely informed, M. le Commissaire. We

make jokes here, nothing more.
Commissaire. It begins with that, I know. But it finishes

up in another way, so I am informed. You have been

an actor.
Host. A manager, sir — manager of a first-class troupe

who last played in Denis.
Commissaire. That is immaterial. Then you came into

a small legacy.
Host. Not worth speaking about, M. le Commissaire.
Commissaire. Your troupe split up.
Host. And my legacy as well.

Commissaire {smiling). Very well! {Both smile. Sud-
denly serious.) You started a tavern.
Host. That fared wretchedly.
Commissaire. After which you had an idea that, which,

as one must admit, possesses a certain quantum of



Host. You make me quite proud, sir.

CoMMissAiEE. You gathered your troupe together again,
and have a comedy played here which is of a peculiar
and by no means harmless character.

Host. If it were harmful, M. le Commissaire, I should not
have my audience — the most aristocratic audience in
Paris, I'm in a position to say. The Vicomte de
Nogeant is my daily customer. The Marquis de Lansac
often comes, and the Due de Cadignan, M. le Commis-
saire, is the most enthusiastic admirer of my leading
actor, the celebrated Henri Baston.

CoMMissAiKE. As w^cll as of the art or arts of your

Host. When you get to know my little actresses, M. le
Commissaire, you won't blame anybody in the w^hole
world for that.

Commissaire. Enough. The authorities have been in-
formed that the entertainments which your — what
shall I say — ?

Host. The w^ord ' ' artists ' ' ought to suffice.

Commissaire. I will decide on the word " subjects " — that
the entertainments which your subjects provide trans-
gress in every sense the limits the laws allow.
Speeches are said to be delivered by your — w^hat shall
I say? — by your artist-criminals which — what does
my information say? — {he reads from a notebook, as
he had been doing previously) which are calculated to
produce not only an immoral effect, which would bother
us but little, but a highly seditious effect — a matter
to w^hich the authorities absolutely cannot be indiffer-
ent, at a time so agitated as the one in which we live.

Host. M. le Commissaire, I can only answer that accusa-
tion by politely inviting you to see the thing just once
for yourself. You w^ill observe that nothing of a sedi-
tious nature takes place here, if only because my audi-
ence will not permit itself to be made seditious. There
is simply a theatrical performance here, that is all.


CoMMissAiRE. I naturally cannot accept your invitation,
but I will stay here by virtue of my office.

Host. I think I can promise you a first-class entertain-
ment, M. le Commissaire ; but I will take the liberty of
advising you to doff your official garb and to appear
here in civilian clothes. If people actually saw a
Commissaire in uniform here, both the spontaneity of
my artists and the mood of my audience would suffer

Commissaire. You are right, M. Prosper; I will go away
and come back as an elegant young man.

Host. You wdll have no difficulty about that, M. le Com-
missaire. You would be w^elcomed here even as a
vagabond — that would not excite attention — but not
as a Commissaire.

Commissaire. Good-by. (Starts to go.)

Host (botving). When will the blessed day come when I
can treat you and your damned likes — ?

[The Commissaire meets Grain in the doorivay.
Graik is in absolute rags and gives a start when
he sees the Commissaire. The latter looks at him
first, smiles, and then turns courteously to Host.]

Commissaire. One of your artists already? \_Exit.']

Grain {ivhining pathetically) . Good evening.

Host (after looking at him for a long time). If you're
one of my troupe, I won't grudge you my recognition
... of your art, because I don't recognize you.

Grain. What do you mean?

Host. No jests now; take off your wig; I'd rather like to
know who you are. (He pulls at his hair.)

Grain. Oh, dear!

Host. But 'tis genuine! Heavens — who are you? You
appear to be a real ragamuffin.

Grain. I am!

Host. What do you want of me?

Grain. Have I the honor of speaking to Citizen Prosper?
— the host of The Green Cockatoo?


Host. I am he.

Grain. My name is Grain, sometimes Carniclie — very
often Shrieking Pumice-stone ; but I was sent to prison,
Citizen Prosper, under the name of Grain, and that is
the real point.

Host. Ah, I understand. You want to play in my estab-
lishment and start off with playing me. Good. Go on.

Geaiist. Citizen Prosper, don't look upon me as a swindler.
I am a man of honor. If I tell you that I was im-
prisoned, 'tis the complete truth.

[Host looks at him suspiciously.']

Geain {pulling a paper out of his pocket). Here, Citizen
Prosper, you can see from this that I was let out yes-
terday afternoon at four o'clock.

Host. After two years' imprisonment! Zounds, 'tis gen-

Grain. Were you all the time doubting it, then. Citizen

Host. What did you do to get two years?

Grain. I would have been hanged ; but I was lucky enough
to be still half a child w^hen I killed my poor aunt.

Host. Nay, fellow, how can a man kill his own aunt ?

Grain. Citizen Prosper, I would never have done it if my
aunt had not deceived me with my best friend.

Host. Your aunt?

Grain. That's it — she was dearer to me than aunts
usually are to their nephews. The family relations
were peculiar — it made me embittered, most embit-
tered. May I tell you about it?

Host. Go on telling — perhaps you and I will be able to do
business together.

Grain. My sister was but half a child when she ran away
from home — and whom do you think she went with ?

Host. 'Tis difficult to guess.

Grain. With her uncle. And he left her in the lurch —
with a child —

Host. A whole one, I hope.


Grain. 'Tis indelicate of you, Citizen Prosper, to jest
about such things.

Host. I'll tell you what, Shrieking Pumice-stone, you —
your family history bores me. Do you think I'm here
to listen to every Tom, Dick, or Harry o' a ragamuffin
telling me whom he has killed? What's all that go to
do with me? I take it you wish something of me.

Grain. Ay, truly. Citizen Prosper; I've come to ask you
for work.

Host (sarcastically). I would have you mark that there
are no aunts to murder in my place — this is a house
of entertainment.

Grain. Oh, I found the once quite enough. I want to
become a respectable member of society — I was recom-
mended to come to you.

Host. By whom, if I may ask?

Grain. A charming young man whom they put in my cell
three days ago. Now he's alone. His name's Gaston!
. . . and you know him.

Host. Gaston! Now I know why I've missed him for
three evenings. One of my best interpreters of pick-
pockets. He told yarns — ah! it made 'em split their

Grain. Quite so. And now they've nabbed him.

Host. Nabbed — what do you mean? He didn't really
steal I suppose.

Grain. Yes, he did. But it must have been the first time,
for he seems to have gone about it with incredible
clumsiness. Just think of it — [confidentially) — just
made a grab at the pocket of a lady in the Boulevard
des Capucines, and pulled out her purse — an absolute
amateur. You inspire me with confidence, Citizen
Prosper, and so I'll make a confession to you. There
was a time when I, too, transacted little bits of busi-
ness of that sort, but never without my dear father.
When I was still a child, when we all lived together,
when my poor aunt was still alive —


Host. What are you moaning for! I think 'tis in bad-
taste. You ought not to have killed her.

Grain. Too late. But the point I was coming to is — take
me on here. I will do just the opposite of Gaston. He
played the thief and became one —

Host. I will give you a trial. You will produce a fine
effect with your make-up. And at a given moment
you'll just describe the aunt matter — how it all hap-
pened — someone or other will be sure to ask you.

Grain. I thank you, Citizen Prosper. And with regard to
my wages —

Host. Tonight you will play on trial, and I am, therefore,
not yet in a position to pay you wages. But you will
get good stuff to eat and drink ; and I shall not mind a
franc or so for a night's lodging.

Grain. I thank you. And just introduce me to your other
colleagues as a visitor from the provinces.

Host. Oh, no. We will tell them right away that you are
a real murderer. They will much prefer that.

Grain. Pardon me. I don't wish to do anything against
my interests, but I don't see why —

Host. When you have been on the boards a bit longer, you
will understand.

Enter Scaevola and Jules.

ScAEVOLA. Good evening. Chief.

Host. How many times have I got to tell you that the
whole joke falls flat if you call me Chief?

Scaevola. Well, whatever you are, I don't think we shall
play tonight.

Host. And why?

Scaevola. The people won't be in the mood. There's a
hellish uproar in the streets, and in front of the Bas-
tille especially they are yelling like men possessed.

Host. What matters that to us I The shouting has been
going on for months, and our audience hasn't stayed
away from us. It goes on diverting itself just as it did


ScAEVoLA. Ay, it has the gaiety of people who are shortly
going to be hanged.

Host. If only I live to see it !

ScAEVOLA. In the meanwhile, give us something to drink
to get me into the vein. I don't feel at all in the vein

Host. That's often the case with you, my friend. I must
tell you that I was most dissatisfied with you last night.

ScAEVOLA. Why so, if I may ask?

Host. The story about the burglary was simply babyish.

ScAVEOLA. Babyish I

Host. To be sure. Absolutely incredible. Mere roaring
is of no avail.

ScAEVOLA. I didn't roar.

Host. You are always roaring. It will really be neces-
sary for me to rehearse things with you. One can
never rely on your inspirations. Henri is the only one.

ScAEvoLA. Henri — never anything but Henri! Henri
simply plays to the gallery. My burglary of last night
was a masterpiece. Henri will never do anything gis
good as that as long as he lives. If I don't satisfy
you, my friend, then I'll just go to a proper theatre.
Anyhow, yours is nothing but a cheap-jack establish-
ment. Hallo! {Notices Grain.) Who is this! He
isn't one of our lot, is he? Perhaps you've just en-
gaged someone ? But what a make-up the fellow has !

Host. Calm yourself. 'Tis not a professional actor. 'Tis
a real murderer.

ScAEvoLA. Oh, indeed. {Goes up to him.) Very glad to
know you. My name is Scaevola.

Grain. My name is Grain.

[Jules has been walking around in the room the
whole time, frequently standing still, like a man
tortured imvardly.]

Host. What ails you, Jules?

Jules. I am learning my part.

Host. What?


Jules. Eemorse. Tonight I am playing a man who is a

prey to remorse. Look at me. What do you think of

the furrow in the forehead here? Do I not look as

though all the furies of hell — {Walks up and doivn.)
ScAEVOLA {roars). Wine — wine, here!
Host. Calm yourself. . . . There is no audience yet.

Enter Henri and Leocadie.
Henri. Good evening. {He greets those sitting at the

back with a light wave of his hand.) Good evening,

Host. Good evening, Henri. What do I see? — you and

Leocadie together?
Grain" {who has noticed Leocadie, to Scaevola). Why, I

know her. {Speaks softly with the others.)
Leocadie. Yes, my dear Prosper, it is I.
Host. I have not seen you for a year on end. Let me

greet you. {He tries to kiss her.)
Henri. Stop that. {His eyes often rest on Leocadie with

pride and passion, hut also a certain anxiety.)
Host. But, Henri — as between old comrades — your old

chief Leocadie!
Leocadie, Oh, the good old times. Prosper!
Host. What are you sighing about? When a wench has

made her way in the way you have ! No doubt about it,

a pretty young w^oman has always a much easier time

of it than we have.
Henri {wild with rage). Stop it.
Host. Why the deuce do you keep on shouting at me like

that? Because you've picked up with her once more?
Henri. Hold your tongue — she became my wife yesterday.
Host. Your . . . ? {To Leocadie.) Is he joking?
Leocadie. He has really married me. Yes,
Host. Then I congratulate you. ... I say, Scaevola,

Jules, Henri is married.
Scaevola {comes to the front). I wish you joy {winks at


[Jules shakes hands with them both.]


Grain {to Host). Ah! How strange! I saw that woman
— a few minutes after I was let out.

Host. What do you mean?

Geain. She was the first pretty woman I'd seen for two
years. I was very moved. But it was another gentle-
man with whom — {Goes on speaking to Host.)

Henri {in an exalted tone as though inspired, hut not
theatrically). Leocadie, my love, my wife ... all
the past is over now. A great deal is blotted out on an
occasion like this.

[ScAEVOLA and Jules have gone to the hack. Host
comes forivard again.']

Host. What sort of occasion?

Henri. We are united now by a holy sacrament. That
means more than any human oath. God is now watch-
ing over us, and one ought to forget everything which
has happened before. Leocadie, a new age is dawning.
Everything becomes holy now, Leocadie. Our kisses,
however wild they may be, are holy from henceforth.
Leocadie, my love, my wife! {He contemplates her
with an ardent glance.) Isn't ^':y expression quite
different. Prosper, from what you ever knew her to
have before? Is not her forehead pure! What has
been is blotted out — not so, Leocadie?

Leocadie. Surely, Henri.

Henri. And all is well. We leave Paris tomorrow.
Leocadie makes her last appearance tonight at the
Porte St. Martin, and I am placing here tonight for
the last time.

Host. Are you mad, Henri? Do you want to desert me?
Besides, the manager of the Porte -St. Martin will
never think of letting Leocadie go away. Why, she
makes the fortune of his house. The young gentlemen
stream thither, so thej^ say.

Henri. Hold your peace. Leocadie will go with me. She
will never desert me. Tell me that you will never
desert me, Leocadie. {Brutally.) Tell me.


Leocadie. I will never desert you.

Henri. If you did, I would . . . (pause). I am sick of
this life. I want quiet — I wish to have quiet.

Host. But what do you want to do then, Henri? It is
quite ridiculous. I will make you a proposition. So
far as I am concerned, take Leocadie from the Porte
St. Martin, but let her stay here with me. I will engage
her. Anyway, I have rather a dearth of talented
women characters.

Henri. My mind is made up. Prosper. We are leaving
town. We are going into the country.

Host. Into the country? But where?

Henri. To my old father, who lives alone in our poor vil-
lage — I haven't seen him for seven years. He has
almost given up hope of ever seeing his lost son again.
He will welcome me with joy.

Prosper. What will you do in the country? In the country
they all starve. People are a thousand times worse off
there than in town. What on earth will you do there ?
You are not the man to till the fields. Don't imagine
you are.

Henri. Time will prove that I am the man to do even that.

Host. Soon there won't be any corn growing in any part
of France. You are going to certain misery.

Henri. To happiness. Prosper. Not so, Leocadie? We
have often dreamt of it. I yearn for the peace of the
wide plains. Yes, Prosper, I have seen myself in my
dreams going over the fields with her, in an infinite
stillness with the wonderful placid heavens over us.
Ay, we will flee from this awful and dangerous town;
the great peace will come over us. Is it not true,
Leocadie, that we have often had such dreams?

Leocadie. Yes, we have often had such dreams.

Host. Look here, Henri, you should consider it. I will
gladly raise your wages and I will give Leocadie quite
as much as you.

Leocadie. Hear you that, Henri?


Host. I really don't know who's to take your place here.
Not a single one of my people has such precious inspi-
rations as you have, not one of them is so popular with
my audience as you . . . don't go away.

Henri. I can quite believe that no one will take my place.

Host. Stay by me, Henri. {Throws Leocadie a look; she
intimates that she will arrange matters.)

Henri. And I can promise you that they will take my
departure to heart — they, not I. For tonight — for
my final appearance I have reserved something that
will make them all shudder ... a foreboding of the
end of this world v/ill come over them . , . for the
end of their world is nigh. But I shall only experience
it from a safe distance . . . they will tell us about
it out there, Leocadie, many days after it has hap-
pened. . . . But I tell you, they will shudder. And
you yourself will say, " Henri has never played so

Host. What are you going to play ? What? Do you know
what, Leocadie?

Leocadie. I never know anything.

Henri. But has anyone any idea of what an artist lies
hidden within me?

Host. They certamly have an idea, and that's why I tell
you that a man with a talent such as yours doesn't go
and bury himself in the country. What an injustice
to yourself ! and to Art !

Henri. I don't care a straw about Art. I wish for quiet.
You don't understand that, Prosper; you have never
loved —

Host. Oh !

Henri. As I love. I want to be alone with her — that's

the only way . . . that's the only way, Leocadie, of

forgetting everything. But then we shall be happier

than human beings have ever been before. We shall

Vol. XX— 20


have children; you will be a good mother, Leocadie,

and a true wife. All the past, all thq past will be

blotted out. {Great pause.)
Leocadie. 'Tis getting late, Henri. I must go to the

theatre. Farewell, Prosper ; I am glad at last to have

seen your famous den, the place where Henri scores

such triumphs.
Host. But why did you never come?
Leocadie. Henri would not let me — because I should have

to sit next to the young men, you know.
Henri {lias gone to the hack). Give me a drink, Scaevola.

{He drinks.)
Host {to Leocadie, when Henri is out of hearing). Henri

is an arrant fool — if you had only sat next to them!
Leocadie. Now then! no remarks of that sort.
Host. Take my tip and be careful, you silly gutter-brat.

He will kill you one of these days.
Leocadie. What's up, then?
Host. You w^ere seen only yesterday with one of your

Leocadie. That was not a fellow, you blockhead; that

was —
Henri {turns round quickly). What's the matter with you?

No jokes, if you don't mind. No more whispering. No

more secrets now. She is my wife.
Host. What did you give her for a wedding present?
Leocadie. Heavens! he never thinks about such things.
Henri. Well, you shall have one this very night.
Leocadie. What ?

Scaevola and Jules. What are you going to give her?

Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 22 of 34)