At this time of day I do not mind publishing the facts. It happened a few weeks after those pillars of the State—Thibaudin and Hazard—disappeared from Paris with a couple of million francs. They were leading the police a pretty dance, and people said, " Ah, they are probably at the world's end by this time ! " I used to think to myself how securely a man who had a mind to do so might lie hidden within an hour's journey of the Grand Boulevard. It was really the disappearance of Thibaudin and Hazard that originated my Idea.
I was manager at that period of the Theatre Supreme, where we were very soon to produce Beauregard's play, Omphale. I descried a way to attract additional attention to our project. I went to see Beauregard one October morning, and gave him a shock. He was breakfasting in bed.
" Bonjour, maitre," I said. " Are you too much occupied to talk business ? "
" Panage," exclaimed the dramatist, " if you have come to demand any more mutilations of the manuscript, I tell you without parleying that no consideration on earth will induce me to yield. There is a limit; mon Dieu, there is a limit! Rather than cut another line, or substitute another syllable I will put the contract in the fire".
" Dear friend, you have evidently slept ill and are testy this morning," I said. " Compose yourself. I come to exhilarate you with a great scheme".
He still eyed me apprehensively, and to pacify him I made haste to explain, " It has nothing to do with any alterations in the play".
" Ah ! " He breathed relief, and dipped his croissant in his cup.
" It is a scheme for booming it".
My host was forthwith genial. A smile suffused his munching face, and he offered me a cigarette.
" I ask your pardon if I was abrupt," he said. " As you surmise, I passed a bad night. A boom ? Well, you know my views on the subject of booming. The ordinary puff preliminary is played out. One needs something novel, Panage, something scholarly. ' Scholarly ' is the word. For Omphale, a play of pre-Hellenic times, one needs the boom scholarly, classical, and grandiose".
" You voice my own sentiments," said I. " One needs nothing less than a production of ' unrivalled accuracy ' — costumes ' copied from designs discovered in Crete and dating back to the dim days of the Minotaur.' That would look tasteful in print, would it not ? Alors, what do you say to our going to Crete and discovering them? "
"Crete?" stammered Beauregard. Have I mentioned that he was fat and indolent and had never travelled further than Trouville?
" What think you of exploring the Minotaur's lair?" I questioned. "Of penetrating to the apartments of Phaedra? Of examining with your own eyes the labyrinth of Ariadne ? "
" I? " he ejaculated.
" You and I together, my old one ! Our adventures would make pretty reading, hein? Would not all Paris be chattering about your Omphale? What a fever of impatience for the first night! Think of the effect such paragraphs would have on the advance booking".
The corpulent Beauregard lay back on the pillows, pale and mute. I had spoken too earnestly for him to suspect that I was pulling his leg, and I could see that he was very seriously perturbed. His mind was torn in halves between his longing for the advertisement and his horror of the exertion and expense. After a moment he sat up, perspiring, and wrung my hand.
" Panage," he cried, " you are a man of genius ! Your idea is most brilliant; I have never heard its equal. With all my heart I congratulate you. I, alas ! cannot accompany you on account of my wife's ill-health, but you are free. Go, mon ami! Your inspiration will crowd your theatre".
His wife's health was offensively robust. I shook with laughter so unrestrained that the cigarette fell out of my mouth.
" Let me be a trifle more explicit," I said. " It is not essential to my scheme that either you or I should actually go to Crete. It is only essential that we should be reported to have gone there. I propose that we should blazon our departure in all the journals—we might give them interviews in the midst of our packing—and that we should then retire for two or three months to some secluded spot near at hand where there will be nobody to recognise us. I shall confide only in Verdeille, my secretary ; I can rely on him, and he will keep the Press well supplied with anecdotes of our vicissitudes during our absence. Mon Dieu ! We will make Paris bubble and boil with anticipation".
He was admiring, but timid. " Don't you think it would be very risky? " he demurred. " If our imposture were found out? It would be ruin. For example, what spot ? "
" Well, I am not prepared with spots at the instant ; I came to you on the effervescence of the notion. But somewhere off the beaten track. One can hide very effectually without going far— I would not mind wagering that Thibaudin and Hazard are lying low in some hamlet. While the police are watching Marseilles and Havre, or picturing them already in South America, they are probably concealed within an easy run of the gare St. Lazare, waiting till the search is relaxed. What about one of the little seaside places in Normandy—have you ever stumbled on one of them a day after the season finished? There is nobody left but the garde-champêtre".
He shivered. "Three months of it?" he queried piteously.
" Our investigations, which we undertake ' to complete the previous labours of the archaeologists,' ought to be thorough," I pointed out. " Is it not worth our while to suffer a little tedium for such an end? Lift your gaze to the cash that will accrue, Beauregard. Dwell upon the box-office besieged. Positively we shall double the value of your play. Also you can take plenty of exercise and improve your figure".
" I abhor exercise," he murmured.
" And you could keep early hours and prolong your life".
" My life is a series of vexations—to prolong it would be fatuous".