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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Master Mummer - Book 2 - Chapter 9
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The Master Mummer - Book 2 - Chapter 9 Post by :claudehop Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3502

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The Master Mummer - Book 2 - Chapter 9

BOOK II CHAPTER IX

Isobel interrupted the discussion with an imperative little tap upon the table.

"Please listen, all of you!" she exclaimed. "I have something to say, and an invitation for you all."

We had been dining at a little Italian restaurant on our way home, and over our coffee had been considering how to spend the rest of the evening. Arthur had declared for a music hall; Mabane and I were indifferent. Isobel up to now had said nothing.

"All my life," she said slowly, "I have been wanting to see Feurgeres. He is in London for one week with Rejani, and if we can get seats I am going to take you all. I have twenty pounds in my pocket from that nice man Mr. Grooten, who bought my other miniature, and I want to spend some of it."

Arthur, who understood no French, shook his head.

"Not the slightest chance of seats," he declared. "They've all been booked for weeks."

"They often have some returned at the theatre," Isobel answered. "At least, if you others do not mind, we will go and see."

"Your proposal, Isobel," Allan said gravely, "indicates a certain amount of recklessness which reflects little credit upon us, your guardians. I propose----"

"Please do not be tiresome!" she interrupted. "Arnold, you will come with me, will you not?"

"I shall be delighted," I answered. "I am sure that we all shall. Only I am afraid that we shall not get in."

We paid the bill and walked to the theatre. The man at the ticket-office shook his head at our request for seats. People had been waiting in the streets since morning for the unreserved places, and the others had been booked weeks ago. But as we were turning away the telephone in his office rang, and he called us back.

"I have just had four stalls returned," he said. "You can have them, if you like."

"We are in morning dress," I remarked doubtfully.

"They are in the back row, so you can have them if you care to," he answered.

"What luck!" Isobel exclaimed, delighted. "Arnold, how glorious! Here is my purse. Will you pay for me, please?"

So we went in just as the curtain rose upon the first act of Rostand's great play. The house was packed with an immense audience. One box alone, the stage box on the left, was empty. I leaned over to Isobel, and would have told her the story which all the world knew.

"You see that box?" I whispered. "Wherever he plays it is always empty."

"I know," she answered. "His wife used to sit there--always in the same place; and after her death, whatever theatre he played at, he always insisted upon having it kept empty. They say that on great nights, when the people go almost wild with enthusiasm, he looks into the shadows there almost as though he really saw her still sitting in her old place. It is a beautiful story."

"Done for effect!" Arthur muttered, and was promptly snubbed, as he deserved. They were friends again immediately afterwards, however, and I saw him attempt to hold her hand for a moment. Decidedly it was time that we carried out our new resolution.

I think that from the moment I took my seat I was conscious in some mysterious way of the coming of great things. There was a thrill of excitement in the air, a sort of stifled electricity which one realizes often amongst a highly cultured audience awaiting the production of a great work. But apart from this sensation of which I was fully conscious, I felt a curious sense of nervousness stealing in upon me for which I could in no way account. I knew what it meant only when, amidst a storm of cheers, Feurgeres entered. Then indeed I knew.

I kept silent, for which I was thankful, but the programme in my hand was crumpled into a little ball, and the figures upon the stage moved as though in a mist before my eyes. Isobel noticed nothing, for her whole breathless attention was riveted upon the play. I came to myself with the rich sweet voice of the man, so tender, so infinitely pathetic, ringing with a curious familiarity in my ears. From that moment I followed the movement of the play.

The curtain went down upon the first act amidst a silence so intense that it seemed as though people might be listening still for the echoes of that sad, sweet voice which had been playing so effectively upon their heartstrings. Then came the storm of applause, which lasted for several minutes. I turned towards Isobel. She was sitting very still, and she did not join in the enthusiasm which seemed to find its way straight from the hearts of the men and women who sat about us. But her eyes were wet with tears, her lips a little parted. She gazed at the man whom incessant calls had brought at last a little wearily before the curtain, as one might look at a god. And their eyes met. He did not start or betray himself in any way--perhaps his training befriended him there, but as he left the stage he staggered, and I saw his hand go to clutch the curtain for support. I knew then that, before the night was over, Isobel's history would no longer be a secret to us.

She turned to me with a little smile of apology. There was a new look in her face too. She spoke gravely.

"Was I very stupid? I am sorry, but I could not help it. I have never seen anything like this before. It is wonderful!"

We talked quietly of the play, and I was astonished at the keenness of her perceptions, the unerring ease with which she had realized and appreciated the self-abnegation which was the great underlying _motif of the whole drama. And in the midst of our conversation, what I had expected happened. A note was brought to me by an attendant.

"Come to me after the next act, and bring her. An attendant will be waiting for you at your left-hand door of egress."

Mabane and Arthur had gone out to have a smoke. I had still a moment before the curtain went up. I leaned over towards Isobel.

"Isobel," I said, "I am going to tell you something which will surprise you very much. It is necessary that I tell you at once. If you answer me at all do not speak above a whisper."

She only slightly moved her head. I had not any fear of her betraying herself.

"You have seen Feurgeres before. It was in the _cafe_. He was my companion when I saw you first."

"Mr. Grooten!" she murmured, so softly that her lips seemed scarcely to move.

I nodded assent.

"You knew?"

"Not until to-night."

She was very pale, but her self-control was complete.

"He wishes us--you and I--to go round to his room after this act. You will be prepared?"

"Of course," she answered simply.

Mabane and Arthur came back, and the latter whispered several times in her ear. I doubt, however, whether she heard anything. She sat through the whole of the next act like one in a dream, only her eyes never left the stage--never left, indeed, the figure of the man from whom all the greatness of the play seemed to flow. As the curtain fell I leaned over to Arthur.

"Isobel and I are going to pay a visit," I said. "We shall be back in time for the next act."

"A visit!" he repeated doubtfully. "Is there anyone we know here, then?"

"Allan will explain," I answered. "You had better tell him," I whispered to Mabane.

Allan was looking very serious. I think that he questioned the wisdom of what I was doing.

"You are going to see him?" he asked, in a low tone.

"He has sent for us," I answered.

We found the attendant waiting, and by a devious route along many passages and through many doors we reached our destination at last. Our guide knocked at a door on which was hanging a little board with the name of "Monsieur Feurgeres" painted across it. Almost immediately we were bidden to enter. Monsieur Feurgeres was sitting with his back to us before a long dressing-table. He turned at once to the servant who stood by his side.

"Come back five minutes before my call," he ordered. "That will be in about twenty minutes from now."

The man bowed and silently withdrew. Not until he had left the room did Feurgeres move from his place. Then he arose to his feet and held out his hands to Isobel.

"I knew your mother, Isobel!" he said simply.

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BOOK II CHAPTER XIIIWe all knew Isobel's history. It had taken barely twenty minutes to tell it, but they had been twenty minutes of tragedy. We were all, I think, in different ways affected. Monsieur Feurgeres alone sat back in his seat like a carved image, his face white and haggard, his deep-set eyes fixed upon vacancy. We felt that he had passed wholly away from the world of present things. He himself was lingering amongst the shadows of that wonderful past, upon which he had only a moment before dropped the curtain. He had told us to ask him questions,
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BOOK II CHAPTER VIIIThe perfume from a drooping lilac-bush a few feet away from the open casement was mingled with the fainter odour of jessamine and homely stocks. In the soft morning sunshine the terrors of last night seemed a thing far removed from us. We sat at breakfast in our little sitting-room, and as though by common though unspoken consent we treated the whole affair as a gigantic joke. We ignored its darker aspect. We spoke of it as an "opera-bouffe" attempt never likely to be repeated--the hare-brained scheme of a mad foreigner, over anxious to earn the favour of
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