He did not look assured, however; he stood silent, and his lips were trembling. Heaven knows what solid help my amiabihty had led him to expect, but it was plain that honeyed phrases were a meagre substitute.
" You have been most courteous to me," he stammered, " you have done me a great honour— as long as I live I shall remember that I have talked with monsieur Panage; but you are leaving what you found, monsieur—a desperate man ! "
" Bah! who knows when an opening may occur?" I said, a shade embarrassed. "I may see a chance for you sooner than you think. When I want you I shall send for you".
I little dreamt in what strange circumstances I was to send for him.
Beauregard was snoring on the sofa when I burst into the room.
" Well, you can bestir yourself and pack ! " I volleyed. " The place is too hot to hold us; we have to get out! "
M Hein? "
" There is a pro here who knows me, confound him ! I had to tell him we were leaving for Crete in the morning—he mustn't see me here again".
The playwright shifted his slippered feet to the floor and sat up. " We go back to Paris ? " he inquired, beaming.
" How can that be ? Of course not! We must discover another retreat".
" Fugitives ! " moaned Beauregard. " Nomads ! Do you not think, Panage, that I might go back to Paris—I could remain cautiously in the house? The truth is, my wife is of a very high-minded character, and it distresses her to have to address tender letters to a monsieur ' Bachelet' : she feels that it is not correct".
I was in no mood to be tolerant of his subterfuges. He wept.
I determined to effect our departure the same * evening while he was still intimidated—and if only I had been able to accelerate his movements, my change of intentions would have spared us much. His dilatoriness exposed us to a thunderbolt. We had pealed the bell in his bedroom for the lamp, and when the door was opened at last, I turned to utter a sharp complaint of the delay. To my surprise, I saw that a stranger was walking in. There was a fraction of a second in which I stared indignantly, waiting for an apology for his blunder. Then it was as if my heart slipped slowly to my stomach, and I felt catastrophe in the air, even before I heard his rustic, official tones. He arrested us as Thibaudin and Hazard !
Behind me I heard Beauregard's dressing-case drop with a thud.
Our eyes met, and we stood petrified, realising the impossibility of concealing our names. In my terror of the public scandal that was imminent, my clothes stuck to my skin. Curs, as well as criminals, we looked. I rather fancied that our provincial captor was relieved to see what knock-kneed miscreants he had to deal with.
" You bungling idiot !" I gasped. " I am monsieur Panage, of the Théâtre Suprême; this gentleman is monsieur Beauregard, of the Académie Française. You shall suffer for this outrage ! "
He shifted his feet slightly. It was the least bit in the world, but that motiveless movement betrayed misgiving; I deduced from it that, in his eagerness to distinguish himself, he had taken more responsibility upon his bucolic shoulders than sat quite comfortably on them. I flung my card to him. " Look ! " " What of it ? " he said surlily. " What evidence is this? I see you were preparing for flight. No violence ! "—Beauregard had impotently wrung his hands—" I have men in the passage. You will offer your explanations in the proper quarter. Come ! " He advanced upon me.
" Now, listen to me," I cried, backing in a panic. " Put so much as a finger on us and you are ruined. Not only will I have you discharged from the Force, I will have you hounded out of any employment that you find to the end of your days. It is I who say it! You have no excuse : we bear no resemblance whatever to Thibaudin and Hazard. If you were of Paris you would know as much ! "
Again he faltered. Again he saw distinction within his grasp. The workings of a dull intelligence, a fool's passion for promotion, supplied a fascinating study, even in my fear. " Hollow cheeks, small grey moustache, slight stoop ? " he recited, eyeing me. His sheep's gaze travelled to Beauregard. " Age forty, bald at crown. Fat".
" Is he the only fat man in France, fool? We can call all Paris to prove who we are ! "
" Monsieur will have his opportunity to prove it elsewhere," he returned stubbornly. But the " monsieur " hinted that I was impressing him against his will.
Beauregard began to collect his wits. " If we are compelled to prove it elsewhere, it will be the end of you ! " he raged. " Better be convinced in time, I warn you. Hazard is fat, yes; I am, perhaps, a little plump".
" What do you show me? " mumbled the fellow. " I see the card of monsieur Panage. That does not demonstrate that monsieur Panage is present." Complacence was in his gesture, he seemed vain of the brilliance of his reasoning. " All is said. I have no time for discussions".
" Stop ! " I cried, inspired. " What if we produce a resident of this very village, to say who I am ? "
" Mon Dieu ! the man you met," roared Beauregard. " Saved ! "
" There is no such person—we have made our inquiries".
" There is a gentleman well known, who has lived here with his daughter since—I don't know how long ! "
" Give me his name".
"His name?" I said. "His name is-" I could not recall the name !—it had had no interest for me. I could remember saying, hypocritically, " I shall bear your name in mind "; but what it was I had no idea. I stood dazed. " His name It escapes me for the moment".
" Enough. The pretence is idle".
" Morbleu ! " thundered Beauregard. " Think, Panage, think ! "
" I am trying; but I paid no heed to it".
Heavens ! what a revenge for the mummer— the name that had fallen on careless ears was now my only chance of rescue. I thrashed my brains for it, sweating with funk.
" The name- It evades me because I have met him only once in my life".
" Or not so often ! I am not to be duped." " Let me think; don't speak for a minute." " Farceur ! "
" His name- I—I nearly had it. Wait".
" I have waited too long. Come ! the pair of you".
" His name—his name-" I sought it frantically. " His name is—Paul Manesse ! "
I mopped my neck. Our persecutor made a note.
" Where is he to be found ? "
" How should I know that ? It is not difficult for you to ascertain; doubtless any villager could direct you to him. Now, mark you, I have supplied the name of a resident in a position to correct your monstrous blunder ! I advise you to bring him to identify me before the matter becomes more serious for you still. If you put us to public ignominy, apologies will not satisfy me when you discover your mistake. Here is your last chance to extricate yourself".
He ruminated. " Enfin, I will send one of my men to inquire for him," he said grudgingly. " If it turns out that this ' monsieur Manesse ' is unknown, I warn you that you will suffer for your game".
The room was about forty feet from the ground —I saw him attentively considering whether, in his absence, we were likely to walk out of the window. He marched into the corridor and gave a whistle. I heard two voices before he came in again.
Uninvited, he sat, clasping his knees. None of us spoke any more. The lamp having still made no appearance, I lit the candles. I do not forget that long half-hour in Les Myosotis. The yokel himself grew restless at last—he rose and went into the corridor again.
" Hark," exclaimed Beauregard suddenly, " the man has come back. Can you hear Manesse? Listen".
" I cannot distinguish," I murmured, straining my ears to the door.
Some minutes passed. To our dismay, our oppressor re-entered alone. Perplexity darkened his brow. He hesitated before he broke the suspensive hush.
" Monsieur Manesse agrees that this afternoon he met monsieur Panage," he announced. " But " —he raised a forensic forefinger—" that does not establish that either of you is monsieur Panage. Monsieur Manesse is occupied in telling a fairy tale to his little daughter and cannot spare the time to come here to identify you. Enfin, you will accompany me to the commissaire de police, and you will obtain the evidence in due course".
" Sacr£ tonnerre ! " I screamed. It was the last straw. That strolling player declined to " spare the time," that mountebank neglected Me !
I saw crimson. I paced the room, raving. " What did he say? " I spluttered. " What were the ruffian's words ? "
" My man reports that the gentleman replied, ' Monsieur Panage must have had immense difficulty in recollecting my name. He would not stir an inch to save my life—why should I take a walk for him ? ' "
I sat down. I felt dizzy. I feared I was going to be extremely ill. The man himself seemed moved by my collapse—or increasingly uncertain of his position. He said, " Perhaps a note might be effectual? Alors, if monsieur wishes to write, I will wait".
" Give me your fountain-pen, Beauregard.
" But "—again the forefinger was uplifted— " there must be no secret instructions. I must be satisfied there is no private meaning in the note".
" Good heavens ! What am I permitted to say ? " He pondered. " ' To monsieur Paul Manesse :
Monsieur-' Has monsieur written ' Monsieur' ? "
" Yes, yes; go on ! "
" ' I am now convinced that you can act. I hereby engage you, at the trifling salary of two hundred and fifty francs a week, for prominent parts in my next three productions at the Theatre Supreme.' "
The silence was sensational.
" Who the devil are you? " I stuttered, when I found my voice.
" Paul Manesse, monsieur," he told me—" your new comedian, if you sign".
I signed. You have heard how we boomed Omphale and I found a star! That jolly little Manesse girl has a rich papa to-day.