“And where were you before you left France?” I asked.
“At La Ferte-sous-Jouarre, where Madame Caterna achieved a genuine success as Elsa in ‘Lohengrin,’ which we played without music. But it is an interesting piece, and it was well done.”
“You must have been a good deal about the world, Monsieur Caterna?”
“I believe you; Russia, England, both Americas. Ah! Monsieur Claudius.”
He already called me Claudius.
“Ah! Monsieur Claudius, there was a time when I was the idol of Buenos Ayres, and the pet of Rio Janeiro! Do not think I would tell you an untruth! No! I know myself. Bad at Paris, I am excellent in the provinces. In Paris you play for yourself; in the provinces you play for the others! And then what a repertory!”
“My compliments, my dear compatriot!”
“I accept them, Monsieur Claudius, for I like my trade. What would you haye? All the world cannot expect to be a senator or—a special correspondent.”
“There, that is wicked, Monsieur Caterna,” said I, with a laugh.
“No; it is the last word.”
And while the unwearied actor ran on in this way, stations appeared one after the other between the shrieks of the whistle, Kulka, Nisachurch, Kulla Minor and others, not particularly cheerful to look at; then Bairam Ali at the seven hundred and ninety-fifth verst and Kourlan Kala at the eight hundred and fifteenth.
“And to tell you the truth,” continued Caterna, “we have made a little money by going about from town to town. At the bottom of our boxes are a few Northern debentures, of which I think a good deal, and take much care, and they have been honestly got, Monsieur Claudius. Although we live under a democratic government, the rule of equality, the time is still far off when you will see the noble father dining beside the prefect at the table of the judge of appeal, and the actress open the ball with the prefect at the house of the general-in-chief! Well! We can dine and dance among ourselves—”
“And be just as happy, Monsieur Caterna.”
“Certainly no less, Monsieur Claudius,” replied the future premier comic of Shanghai, shaking an imaginary frill with the graceful ease of one of Louis XV.’s noblemen.
At this point, Madame Caterna came up. She was in every way worthy of her husband, sent into the world to reply to him in life as on the stage, one of those genial theater folks, born one knows not where or how, but thoroughly genuine and good-natured.
“I beg to introduce you to Caroline Caterna,” said the actor, in much the same tone as he would have introduced me to Patti or Sarah Bernhardt.
“Having shaken hands with your husband,” said I, “I shall be happy to shake hands with you, Madame Caterna.”
“There you are, then,” said the actress, “and without ceremony, foot to the front, and no prompting.”
“As you see, no nonsense about her, and the best of wives—”