Cæsar Cascabel/Part 2/Chapter XIII

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Cæsar Cascabel by Jules Verne, translated by A. Estoclet
Part 2, Chapter XIII

CHAPTER XIII.
AN ENDLESS DAY.
[edit]

THE government of Perm looks as if astride on the back of the Ural, one foot in Asia, the other in Europe. Its boundaries are: the government of Vologdia to the north-west, that of Tobolsk to the east, Viatka to the west, and Orenburg to the south. And accordingly, thanks to this dual situation, its population is a strange mixture of Asiatic and of European types.

Perm, its capital, is a town of 6000 inhabitants, situated on the Kama, and an important center for the metal trade. Previous to the eighteenth century, it was merely a village. But, having been enriched by the discovery of a copper mine in 1723, the village was declared a town in 1781.

Is the latter denomination justified even now? Scarcely, in truth! Monuments, there are none; the streets are for the most part narrow and dirty, the houses destitute of comfort, and the hotels such that no traveler has ever yet taken it into his head to say a word in their favor.

Of course, the Cascabels were but little concerned with the town architect's business. Did they not prefer their own “home on wheels” to any other? Would they have exchanged it for the New York “St. Nicholas” or the “Grand Hotel” in Paris?

“Just think, will you?” repeated its proud owner. “The Fair Rambler has come from Sacramento to Perm!—Only that little trip, that's all!—Just show me one of your hotels in Paris, London, Vienna, or New York that has ever done as much!”

What answers could be given to arguments of this kind?

On that day, then, Perm had been increased by one house, standing in the very middle of its principal “square,” with the authorization of the civil governor of the place. Nor had the slightest contraction of the official's brow accompanied his perusal of the artists' papers.

Immediately on the arrival of the Fair Rambler, public curiosity had been on tiptoe: French showmen, just arrived from the depths of America, with a wagon drawn by a team of reindeer!—The profit to be derived from such a bait none knew so well as the eminent manager of the troupe.

As luck would have it, the fair was at its full, and would last a few days longer; some good takings in perspective, therefore! At the same time, not a day was to be lost, for, Perm first, and Nijni after, should yield the wherewith to accomplish the remainder of the journey to France. Beyond that—well, they would trust to Providence, and thus far the Cascabels had not a little to be thankful for.

The consequence of all this was that all hands were at work at early morn. John, Sander, Clovy, and the two Russian sailors vied with each other in their eagerness to prepare all that was necessary for the performance. As to Mr. Sergius, he had not returned as he had promised,—a source of considerable vexation to Ortik, and of some uneasiness to Mr. Cascabel.

Meanwhile, at the earliest moment, a huge bill had been posted up, written in Russian, of course, and in large characters, under the dictation of their absent friend, before his departure.

It read as follows:

THE CASCABEL FAMILY.

French Troupe Returning from America.

Gymnastics, Juggling, Equilibrism, Displays of Muscle and Skill, Dances, Graceful Arts.

Mr. Cascabel, first Hercules in any and every style.
Mme. Cascabel, first wrestler in any and every style, champion of the Chicago International Matches.
Mr. John, first equilibrist in any and every style.
Mr. Sander, clown in any and every style.
Mlle. Napoleona, dancer in any and every style.
Mr. Clovy, pantaloon in any and every style.
Jako, parrot in any and every style.
John Bull, ape in any and every style.
Wagram and Marengo, dogs in any and every style.

GREAT ATTRACTION!
THE BRIGANDS OF THE BLACK FOREST.

A pantomime or dumb show, with a grand wedding and wonderful dénouement. Immense success through three thousand one hundred and seventy-seven performances in France and foreign parts.

N.B.—Needless to say that this being a speechless play and the spoken language being replaced by gestures of all kinds, this masterpiece of the dramatic art ca n be understood by all, even by those persons afflicted with that much-to-be-regrette d ailment, deafness.

For the convenience of the public, admission will be free. The seats will be paid for only when they have been occupied.

Price: 40 Kopecks, without any distinction.

Generally, Mr. Cascabel gave his unique performances in the open air, merely describing a circle in front of the Fair Rambler with stout posts and fastening canvas thereon; but the grand square in Perm happened to be possessed of a wooden circus for the exercises of the equestrian troupes who might pass that way; and dilapidated as it was, and proof against neither wind nor rain, it was still strong enough, and might accommodate two hundred or two hundred and fifty spectators.

In any case, even in its present state, the “circus” was better than Cascabel's canvas. He had asked the mayor's permission to make use of it during his stay in the town, and this personage had graciously given his consent.

Not to flatter them, these Russians were really good fellows,—although there were Ortiks and beings of that ilk among them. But in what country are they not to be found! As to the circus of the town of Perm, it would not be disgraced by the doings of the Cascabel troup! There was but one thing to be regretted: it was that His Majesty Czar Alexander II did not happen to be passing through this locality. As he was then at St. Petersburg, however, it would have been hard for him to be present at this inaugural performance.

One other trouble for Cæsar Cascabel, was the fear that his staff might have got somewhat rusty in the matter of somersaults, dances, and other practices. The rehearsals, which had been suspended as soon as the Fair Rambler had entered the pass of the Ural, had not been resumed during the remainder of the journey. Pshaw, genuine artists would always be ready to shine in the noble art!

As to the play, it was useless to rehearse it! It had been gone through so often, and without a prompter, that no uneasiness need be had on that score.

And now Ortik found it difficult not to betray the annoyance he felt at Mr. Sergius's prolonged absence. The projected interview not having taken place the night before, he had been obliged to send word to his accomplices that the affair was postponed for twenty-four hours. And meanwhile he kept wondering why Mr. Sergius had not returned, seeing that Mr. Cascabel was distinctly expecting him back in the course of the evening. Had he been detained at the chateau? It was likely; for, there was no doubt as to his having gone there. Ortik should therefore have been less impatient. But it was stronger than himself, and he could not refrain from asking Cascabel if he had heard from the absentee.

“Not a word!” the latter replied.

“I thought you expected him last night?”

“Quite so! Something unforeseen must have happened. It would be a great pity if he could not see our performance. It will be simply marvelous! Wait till you see, Ortik, my friend!”

And Cæsar Cascabel spoke in his jolliest tone of voice; but at heart he was now truly anxious.

The previous day, after promising to be back before day-break, Mr. Sergius had started for Walska. Six versts there, six versts back, a mere nothing. Now, as there was no sign of him, three suppositions presented themselves to the showman's mind: either he had been arrested before he reached Walska, or he had safely got home but was detained by his father's state of health, or again, he had been captured on his way back during the night. As to supposing that Ortik's companions had drawn him into some ambush, that was out of the question; and to Kayette's suggestion in that direction he unhesitatingly replied:

“No, Kayette, no! That ruffian Ortik would not be so uneasy as he has every appearance of being. He would hardly have inquired as he did after Mr. Sergius if his mates had held him in their clutches. The rascal! So long as I don't see him grinning at the end of a stout rope, there will be something wanting to my happiness here below, Kayette!”

Nor was it to Kayette alone Mr. Cascabel's anxiety was apparent. How often Cornelia would say to him:

“Come, Cæsar, try and be calm. You overexcite yourself! You should be reasonable!”

“Cornelia, ‘reasonable’ is all very fine! But a man must have grounds for being reasonable. Now, there is no denying the fact that our friend should have been here long since, and that we know absolutely nothing about him.”

“Very good, Cæsar; but, since nobody can even suspect that he is Count Narkine.”

“No, nobody, unless—”

“What do you mean? ‘Unless—’ Is Clovy's crank ‘unless’ your latest fad? What do you mean, I say? You and I are the only two who know Mr. Sergius's secret. Do you imagine, by any chance, that I have let it out?”

“You, Cornelia, fiddlesticks! Nor I, either!”

“Well, then?”

“Well, there are, here in Perm, people who have had dealings with Count Narkine, years ago, and who might very well recognize him. It must seem strange, at first sight, that we should have a Russian amongst us! Then again, Cornelia, it may be that I exaggerate things; but you know, I am so fond of that man, I can't help myself; I must stir about, I must!”

“Cæsar, be careful that you don't excite suspicions with your stirring about! And above all, don't go compromise yourself asking people questions just at the wrong moment. Like yourself, I think this delay very unfortunate, and I do wish Mr. Sergius were here! Still, I don't put the very worst aspect on things; and I am of opinion that he has simply been detained by his father at Walska. Now, during daylight, he is afraid to set out, that's easy to understand, but he will come back after nightfall. So, Cæsar, no nonsense! A little cold blood, if you please, and bear in mind that to-night you are to play Fracassar, one of the greatest successes of your professional career.”

No sounder reasoning could have been poured into Cascabel's ear, and it may seem strange that he still kept the truth from his sensible wife. Still, after all, he may not have been wrong. Who knows if the impulsive Cornelia would not have broken loose the seal on her lips at the sight of Ortik and Kirschef, when she would know what they were and what they meant to do?

Mr. Cascabel, therefore, held his tongue, and soon left the wagon to go and superintend his installation at the circus. Cornelia, on her part, had not too much of Kayette's and Napoleona's help to examine all the costumes and wigs and accessories for the evening's performance.

The two Russians, too, were busy (so they said) with the many formalities to be fulfilled so as to obtain their being sent home as shipwrecked sailors,—which necessitated numerous calls, and solicitations, and runs hither and thither.

While Mr. Cascabel and Clovy plied the brush and the broom, cleaning the dusty seats of the amphitheater, sweeping the ring, etc., John and Sander brought out and arranged the various objects and utensils indispensable to the several items on the program. This done, they would have to see to what the impresario described as “those brand-new sceneries,” in which his inimitable artists would play that beautiful pantomimic drama, “The Brigands of the Black Forest.”

John was more sad at heart than ever. He, of course, was unaware that Mr. Sergius, in reality a political convict of the name of Count Narkine, could not remain in his country, even if he willed. In his eyes, Mr. Sergius was a wealthy, landed estate owner, returning to his domains, there to settle with his adopted daughter. What a relief to his sorrowing heart, if he had known that a residence in Russia was an impossibility for his respected friend, and that he would leave the country again as soon as he had seen his father; if he could have cherished even a hope that Mr. Sergius would seek a refuge in France, and that Kayette would come with him. In such a case, the parting would have been postponed for a few weeks. It would have been a few weeks more for them to live near each other.

“Yes,” John sighed to himself. “Mr. Sergius is going to stay here, and Kayette will remain with him! In a few days we shall be off, and then—I shall see her no more. Dear little Kayette! She will be happy in Mr. Sergius's grand house—and still!”

And the poor fellow's heart sank within him as he thought over all these things.

It was now nine o'clock; Mr. Sergius had given no sign of life yet. What Cornelia had said was turning out true: he should not be expected now before night time, or at least before it was so late that he would not run the risk of being recognized on the road.

“If that be so,” soliloquized Mr. Cascabel, “he will not even be in time for the performance. Well, so much the better! I won't be sorry for it! A pretty turnout it will be for the first appearance of the Cascabel family on the boards of the Perm circus! With all this worry, I shall be a complete failure in Fracassar, after the glorious figure I have cut, up to this, in that good man's skin. Cornelia, let her deny it as she will, will be on thorns and needles all the time. Then there is John, who'll think of nothing but his little Kayette. Sander and Napoleona are ready to blubber out even now at the thought of her going away—what a fiasco! Clovy, my old fellow, the honor of the Cascabels depends on you this night!”

And as the disheartened manager could not keep still in any one place, the idea struck him to go news-hunting. In a town like Perm, news travels fast! The Narkines were well known and equally loved. In the event of the Count having fallen into the hands of the police, the rumor of his arrest would have spread like wildfire; it would be the topic of every conversation; nay, the prisoner would already be awaiting his sentence under lock and key in the fortress of Perm, by this time.

So, Clovy was left to finish the preparations of the circus, and his “boss” set off on his ramble through the town, along the riverside, where the watermen and their kin mostly congregate, away in the upper town, down in the lower districts; nowhere did the population seem in any way disturbed from its daily humdrum life. He joined the groups of gossipers here and there; he listened without appearing to do so.—Nothing!—Not a word that could have a reference to Count Narkine.

Not satisfied even with this, he strolled away along the road to Walska, by which the police would have brought back Mr. Sergius if they had taken him prisoner. Whenever he saw a group of wayfarers at a distance, he imagined it was a platoon of Cossacks escorting his friend.

In the chaotic state of his brains, Mr. Cascabel had almost ceased to think of his wife, his children, or himself, terribly compromised though he would be in the event of Count Narkine's arrest. For it would have been the easiest thing for the authorities to ascertain by what means he had succeeded in re-entering the Russian Empire, and who the good people were who had aided and abetted him. And the Cascabels might have to pay a dear price for their kind-heartedness.

Of all this going and coming on the part of Mr. Cascabel, and of his long watching on the Walska road, the result was that he was not at the circus when a man called and asked to see him at about ten o'clock in the morning.

Clovy was the sole tenant of the place at the time, and was working away in the middle of a cloud of dust that rose from the circus track. Out of this cloud he emerged on perceiving the visitor, who turned out to be a simple moujik; and both stood facing each other. Clovy being just as ignorant of the language of the said moujik as the said moujik was unacquainted with Clovy's, the conversation presented insurmountable difficulties. Not a syllable did Clovy understand when the man told him he wished to see his master, and that he had come to look for him at the circus before going to the Fair Rambler. All this was Greek to poor Clovy, the which the moujik perceiving, he ended as he should have begun, and presented him a letter directed to Monsieur Cascabel.

This time Clovy was up to the emergency. A letter bearing the famous name of the Cascabels could only be for the head of the family—unless it were for Mrs. Cornelia, or Mr. John, or Master Sander, or Missie Napoleona.

Clovy took it, and, by means of those cosmopolitan gesticulations, intelligible, it would seem, to mankind at large, he gave the moujik to understand that it was O.K., and that the letter would reach its destination safely, thanks to himself; whereupon he showed him to the door with any amount of bowing and scraping, but without having been able to gather the smallest conception of where he came from or who had sent him.

A quarter of an hour later, Clovy was preparing to return to the wagon, when Mr. Cascabel, more broken-down, more careworn than ever, appeared at the entrance of the circus,

“Here you are, sir!” he called.

“Well?”

“I've a letter here!”

“A letter?”

“Yes, a letter that has just been brought.”

“For me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“By whom?”

“What they call a moujik here.”

“A moujik?”

“Yes—unless it's something else!”

During this purportless preamble, Mr. Cascabel had seized the letter, and on recognizing Mr. Sergius's hand-writing, he had grown so pale that his faithful attendant startled:

“What's up now, boss?”

“Nothing.”

Nothing, indeed! And yet our strong-nerved man was well-nigh fainting in Clovy's arms.

What did Mr. Sergius say in that letter? Why did he write to Mr. Cascabel? Evidently to explain the cause of his absence. Could it be that he was arrested?

Mr. Cascabel tore open the letter, rubbed his right eye, then his left eye, and then ran right through the contents.

What a cry he uttered!—some such cry as escapes out of a strangled throat! His face convulsed, his eyes colorless, his features paralyzed by a nervous contraction, he strove to speak, but could not articulate a single sound.

Clovy thought his boss was going to be choked out of existence, and set about undoing his neck-cloth.

Be it the dread lest Clovy should call for help, be it that even this terrific emotion had to yield to the iron will of our hero, he seemed suddenly to recover himself by a superhuman effort, and assuming a mysterious look:

“Clovy,” he said, “you are a discreet fellow?”

“I guess I am, boss. Did I ever let the cat out of the bag, unless—”

“That's enough; listen! You see this letter?”

“The moujik's letter?”

“That very same! Well, should you ever tell anybody I have received it—”

“Yes!”

“Should you ever tell John, or Sander, or Napoleona—”

“Right you are!”

“Or above all, Cornelia, my wife, I swear I'll get you stuffed for a freak!”

“Alive?”

“Yes, alive, so that you may feel it, you fool!”

And before such an awful threat, Clovy trembled from head to foot.

Then, his master, taking him by the shoulder, whispered in his ear with an air of princely complacency:

“She is tremendously jealous—is Cornelia! You see, Clovy, my boy, a man is a good-looking fellow, or he is not! A lovely woman—a Russian princess!—you understand—This is a note from her to me. Now that'll never fall to your lot, with such a nose as that!”

“Never,” re-echoed Clovy, “unless—”

But, what that restriction could mean in Clovy's mind was never ascertained!