“Oh, my poor little one, my poor little one!” she gasped, bursting into a final fit of sobbing.
The Petite Duchesse was being rehearsed at the Varietes. The first act had just been carefully gone through, and the second was about to begin. Seated in old armchairs in front of the stage, Fauchery and Bordenave were discussing various points while the prompter, Father Cossard, a little humpbacked man perched on a straw-bottomed chair, was turning over the pages of the manuscript, a pencil between his lips.
“Well, what are they waiting for?” cried Bordenave on a sudden, tapping the floor savagely with his heavy cane. “Barillot, why don’t they begin?”
“It’s Monsieur Bosc that has disappeared,” replied Barillot, who was acting as second stage manager.’
Then there arose a tempest, and everybody shouted for Bosc while Bordenave swore.
“Always the same thing, by God! It’s all very well ringing for ’em: they’re always where they’ve no business to be. And then they grumble when they’re kept till after four o’clock.”
But Bosc just then came in with supreme tranquillity.
“Eh? What? What do they want me for? Oh, it’s my turn! You ought to have said so. All right! Simonne gives the cue: ‘Here are the guests,’ and I come in. Which way must I come in?”
“Through the door, of course,” cried Fauchery in great exasperation.
“Yes, but where is the door?”
At this Bordenave fell upon Barillot and once more set to work swearing and hammering the boards with his cane.
“By God! I said a chair was to be put there to stand for the door, and every day we have to get it done again. Barillot! Where’s Barillot? Another of ’em! Why, they’re all going!”
Nevertheless, Barillot came and planted the chair down in person, mutely weathering the storm as he did so. And the rehearsal began again. Simonne, in her hat and furs, began moving about like a maidservant busy arranging furniture. She paused to say:
“I’m not warm, you know, so I keep my hands in my muff.”
Then changing her voice, she greeted Bosc with a little cry:
“La, it’s Monsieur le Comte. You’re the first to come, Monsieur le Comte, and Madame will be delighted.”
Bosc had muddy trousers and a huge yellow overcoat, round the collar of which a tremendous comforter was wound. On his head he wore an old hat, and he kept his hands in his pockets. He did not act but dragged himself along, remarking in a hollow voice:
“Don’t disturb your mistress, Isabelle; I want to take her by surprise.”
The rehearsal took its course. Bordenave knitted his brows. He had slipped down low in his armchair and was listening with an air of fatigue. Fauchery was nervous and kept shifting about in his seat. Every few minutes he itched with the desire to interrupt, but he restrained himself. He heard a whispering in the dark and empty house behind him.