“Take your places for the first act!”
The cry of the stage-manager, standing with his hand raised to his mouth to form a trumpet, at the foot of the staircase behind the scenes, echoes under the roof, rises and rolls along, to be lost in the depths of corridors full of the noise of doors banging, of hasty steps, of desperate calls to the coiffeur and the dressers; while there appear one by one on the landings of the various floors, slow and majestic, without moving their heads for fear of disturbing the least detail of their make-up, all the personages of the first act of Revolt, in elegant modern ball costumes, with the creaking of new shoes, the silken rustle of the trains, the jingling of rich bracelets pushed up the arm while gloves are being buttoned. All these people seem excited, nervous, pale beneath their paint, and under the skilfully prepared satin-like surface of the shoulders, tremors flutter like shadows. Dry-mouthed, they speak little. The least nervous, while affecting to smile, have in their eyes and voice the hesitation that marks an absent mind—that apprehension of the battle behind the foot-lights which is ever one of the most powerful attractions of the comedian’s art, its piquancy, its freshness.
The stage is encumbered by the passage to and fro of machinists and scene-builders hastening about, running into one another in the dim, pallid light falling from above, which will give place directly, as soon as the curtain rises, to the dazzling of the foot-lights. Cardailhac is there in his dress-coat and white tie, his opera hat on one side, giving a final glance to the arrangement of the scenery, hurrying the workmen, complimenting the ingenue who is waiting dressed and ready, beaming, humming an air, looking superb. To see him no one would ever guess the terrible worries which distract him. He is compromised by the fall of the Nabob—which entails the loss of his directorate—and is risking his all on the piece of this evening, obliged, if it be not a success, to leave the cost of this marvellous scenery, these stuffs at a hundred francs the yard, unpaid. It is a fourth bankruptcy that stares him in the face. But, bah! our manager is confident. Success, like all the monsters that feed on men, loves youth; and this unknown author, whose name is appearing for the first time on a theatre bill, flatters the gambler’s superstitions.
Andre Maranne feels less confident. As the hour for the production of the piece approaches he loses faith in his work, terrified by the sight of the house, at which he looks through the hole in the curtain as through the narrow lens of a stereoscope.