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"If you were as good an actor on the stage as you are in private," said Scaramouche, "you would yourself have won to the Comedie Francaise long since. But I bear no rancour, M. Binet." He laughed, and put out his hand.
Binet fell upon it and wrung it heartily.
"That, at least, is something," he declared. "My boy, I have great plans for you - for us. To-morrow we go to Maure; there is a fair there to the end of this week. Then on Monday we take our chances at Pipriac, and after that we must consider. It may be that I am about to realize the dream of my life. There must have been upwards of fifteen louis taken to-night. Where the devil is that rascal Cordemais?"
Cordemais was the name of the original Scaramouche, who had so unfortunately twisted his ankle. That Binet should refer to him by his secular designation was a sign that in the Binet company at least he had fallen for ever from the lofty eminence of Scaramouche.
"Let us go and find him, and then we'll away to the inn and crack a bottle of the best Burgundy, perhaps two bottles."
But Cordemais was not readily to be found. None of the company had seen him since the close of the performance. M. Binet went round to the entrance. Cordemais was not there. At first he was annoyed; then as he continued in vain to bawl the fellow's name, he began to grow uneasy; lastly, when Polichinelle, who was with them, discovered Cordemais' crutch standing discarded behind the door, M. Binet became alarmed. A dreadful suspicion entered his mind. He grew visibly pale under his paint.
"But this evening he couldn't walk without the crutch!" he exclaimed. "How then does he come to leave it there and take himself off?"
"Perhaps he has gone on to the inn," suggested some one.
"But he could n't walk without his crutch," M. Binet insisted.
Nevertheless, since clearly he was not anywhere about the market-hall, to the inn they all trooped, and deafened the landlady with their inquiries.
"Oh, yes, M. Cordemais came in some time ago."
"Where is he now?"
"He went away again at once. He just came for his bag."
"For his bag!" Binet was on the point of an apoplexy. "How long ago was that?"
She glanced at the timepiece on the overmantel. "It would be about half an hour ago. It was a few minutes before the Rennes diligence passed through."
"The Rennes diligence!" M. Binet was almost inarticulate. "Could he... could he walk?" he asked, on a note of terrible anxiety.
"Walk? He ran like a hare when he left the inn. I thought, myself, that his agility was suspicious, seeing how lame he had been since he fell downstairs yesterday. Is anything wrong?"
M. Binet had collapsed into a chair. He took his head in his hands, and groaned.
"The scoundrel was shamming all the time!" exclaimed Climene. "His fall downstairs was a trick. He was playing for this. He has swindled us."
"Fifteen louis at least - perhaps sixteen!" said M. Binet. "Oh, the heartless blackguard! To swindle me who have been as a father to him - and to swindle me in such a moment."
>From the ranks of the silent, awe-stricken company, each member of which was wondering by how much of the loss his own meagre pay would be mulcted, there came a splutter of laughter.
M. Binet glared with blood-injected eyes.
"Who laughs?" he roared. "What heartless wretch has the audacity to laugh at my misfortune?"
Andre-Louis, still in the sable glories of Scaramouche, stood forward. He was laughing still.
"It is you, is it? You may laugh on another note, my friend, if I choose a way to recoup myself that I know of."
"Dullard!" Scaramouche scorned him. "Rabbit-brained elephant! What if Cordemais has gone with fifteen louis? Hasn't he left you something worth twenty times as much?"
M. Binet gaped uncomprehending.
"You are between two wines, I think. You've been drinking," he concluded.
"So I have - at the fountain of Thalia. Oh, don't you see? Don't you see the treasure that Cordemais has left behind him?"
"What has he left?"
"A unique idea for the groundwork of a scenario. It unfolds itself all before me. I'll borrow part of the title from Moliere. We'll call it 'Les Fourberies de Scaramouche,' and if we don't leave the audiences of Maure and Pipriac with sides aching from laughter I'll play the dullard Pantaloon in future."
Polichinelle smacked fist into palm. "Superb!" he said, fiercely. "To cull fortune from misfortune, to turn loss into profit, that is to have genius.
Scaramouche made a leg. "Polichinelle, you are a fellow after my own heart. I love a man who can discern my merit. If Pantaloon had half your wit, we should have Burgundy to-night in spite of the flight of Cordemais."
"Burgundy?" roared M. Binet, and before he could get farther Harlequin had clapped his hands together.
"That is the spirit, M. Binet. You heard him, landlady. He called for Burgundy."
"I called for nothing of the kind."
"But you heard him, dear madame. We all heard him."
The others made chorus, whilst Scaramouche smiled at him, and patted his shoulder.
"Up, man, a little courage. Did you not say that fortune awaits us? And have we not now the wherewithal to constrain fortune? Burgundy, then, to... to toast 'Les Fourberies de Scaramouche.'"
And M. Binet, who was not blind to the force of the idea, yielded, took courage, and got drunk with the rest.
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Scaramouche, A Romance of the French Revolution -by- Rafael Sabatini