Morok shrugged his shoulders, and replied with a sort of feverish ferocity, “Have you ever heard of the fierce pleasure of the gamester, who stakes his honor, his life, upon a card? Well! I too—in these daily exhibitions where my life is at stake—find a wild, fierce pleasure in braving death, before a crowded assembly, shuddering and terrified at my audacity. Yes, even in the fear with which this Englishman inspires me, I find, in spite of myself, a terrible excitement, which I abhor, and which yet subjugates me.”
At this moment, the stage-manager entered the room, and interrupted the beast-tamer. “May we give the signal, M. Morok?” said the stage-manager. “The overture will not last above ten minutes.”
“I am ready,” said Morok.
“The police-inspector has just now given orders, that the double chain of the panther, and the iron ring riveted to the floor of the stage, at the end of the cavern in the foreground, shall be again examined; and everything has been reported quite secure.”
“Yes—secure—except for me,” murmured the beast-tamer.
“So, M. Morok, the signal may be given?”
“The signal may—be given,” replied Morok. And the manager went out.
Up with the curtain.
The usual bell sounded with solemnity behind the scenes the overture began, and, to say the truth, but little attention was paid to it. The interior of the theatre offered a very animated view. With the exception of two stage-boxes even with the dress circle, one to the left, the other to the right of the audience, every seat was occupied. A great number of very fashionable ladies, attracted, as is always the case, by the strange wildness of the spectacle, filled the boxes. The stalls were crowded by most of the young men who; in the morning, had walked their horses on the Champs-Elysees. The observations which passed from one stall to another, will give some idea of their conversation.
“Do you know, my dear boy, there would not be so crowded or fashionable an audience to witness Racine’s Athalia?”
“Undoubtedly. What is the beggarly howling of an actor, compared to the roaring of the lion?”
“I cannot understand how the authorities permit this Morok to fasten his panther with a chain to an iron ring in the corner of the stage. If the chain were to break?”
“Talking of broken chains—there’s little Mme. de Blinville, who is no tigress. Do you see her in the second tier, opposite?”
“It becomes her very well to have broken, as you say, the marriage chain; she looks very well this season.”
“Oh! there is the beautiful Duchess de Saint-Prix; all the world is here to-night—I don’t speak of ourselves.”
“It is a regular opera night—what a festive scene!”
“Well, after all, people do well to amuse themselves, perhaps it will not be for long.”