SCENE I.--ÉRASTE, LA MONTAGNE.
ER. Good Heavens! under what star am I born, to be perpetually worried by bores? It seems that fate throws them in my way everywhere; each day I discover some new specimen. But there is nothing to equal my bore of to-day. I thought I should never get rid of him; a hundred times I cursed the harmless desire, which seized me at dinner time, to see the play, where, thinking to amuse myself, I unhappily was sorely punished for my sins. I must tell you how it happened, for I cannot yet think about it coolly. I was on the stage,
[Footnote: It was the custom for young men of fashion to seat themselves upon the stage (see Vol. I.. Prefatory Memoir, page 26, note 7). They often crowded it to such an extent, that it was difficult for the actors to move. This custom was abolished only in 1759, when the Count de Lauraguais paid the comedians a considerable sum of money, on the condition of not allowing any stranger upon the stage.]
in a mood to listen to the piece which I had heard praised by so many. The actors began; everyone kept silence; when with a good deal of noise and in a ridiculous manner, a man with large rolls entered abruptly, crying out "Hulloa, there, a seat directly!" and, disturbing the audience with his uproar, interrupted the play in its finest passage. Heavens! will Frenchmen, altho' so often corrected, never behave themselves like men of common-sense? Must we, in a public theatre, show ourselves with our worst faults, and so confirm, by our foolish outbursts what our neighbours everywhere say of us? Thus I spoke; and whilst I was shrugging my shoulders, the actors attempted to continue their parts. But the man made a fresh disturbance in seating himself, and again crossing the stage with long strides, although he might have been quite comfortable at the wings, he planted his chair full in front, and, defying the audience by his broad back, hid the actors from three-fourths of the pit. A murmur arose, at which anyone else would have felt ashamed; but he, firm and resolute, took no notice of it, and would have remained just as he had placed himself, if, to my misfortune, he had not cast his eyes on me. "Ah, Marquis!" he said, taking a seat near me, "how dost thou do? Let me embrace thee." Immediately my face was covered with blushes that people should see I was acquainted with such a giddy fellow. I was but slightly known to him for all that: but so it is with these men, who assume an acquaintance on nothing, whose embraces we are obliged to endure when we meet them, and who are so familiar with us as to thou and thee us. He began by asking me a hundred frivolous questions, raising his voice higher than the actors. Everyone was cursing him; and in order to check him I said, "I should like to listen to the play." "Hast thou not seen it, Marquis? Oh, on my soul, I think it very funny, and I am no fool in these matters. I know the canons of perfection, and Corneille reads to me all that he writes." Thereupon he gave me a summary of the piece, informing me scene after scene of what was about to happen; and when we came to any lines which he knew by heart, he recited them aloud before the actor could say them. It was in vain for me to resist; he continued his recitations, and towards the end rose a good while before the rest. For these fashionable fellows, in order to behave gallantly, especially avoid listening to the conclusion. I thanked Heaven, and naturally thought that, with the comedy, my misery was ended. But as though this were too good to be expected, my gentleman fastened on me again, recounted his exploits, his uncommon virtues, spoke of his horses, of his love-affairs, of his influence at court, and heartily offered me his services. I politely bowed my thanks, all the time devising some way of escape. But he, seeing me eager to depart, said, "Let us leave; everyone is gone." And when we were outside, he prevented my going away, by saying, "Marquis, let us go to the Cours to show my carriage."
[Footnote: The Cours is that part of the Champs-Elysées called le Cours-la-Reine; because Maria de Medici, the wife of Henry IV., had trees planted there. As the theatre finished about seven o'clock in the evening, it was not too late to show a carriage.]
"It is very well built, and more than one Duke and Peer has ordered a similar one from my coach-maker." I thanked him, and the better to get off, told him that I was about to give a little entertainment. "Ah, on my life, I shall join it, as one of your friends, and give the go-by to the Marshal, to whom I was engaged." "My banquet," I said, "is too slight for gentlemen of your rank." "Nay," he replied, "I am a man of no ceremony, and I go simply to have a chat with thee; I vow, I am tired of grand entertainments." "But if you are expected, you will give offence, if you stay away." "Thou art joking, Marquis! We all know each other; I pass my time with thee much more pleasantly." I was chiding myself, sad and perplexed at heart at the unlucky result of my excuse, and knew not what to do next to get rid of such a mortal annoyance, when a splendidly built coach, crowded with footmen before and behind, stopped in front of us with a great clatter; from which leaped forth a young man gorgeously dressed; and my bore and he, hastening to embrace each other, surprised the passers-by with their furious encounter. Whilst both were plunged in these fits of civilities, I quietly made my exit without a word; not before I had long groaned under such a martyrdom, cursing this bore whose obstinate persistence kept me from the appointment which had been made with me here.
LA M. These annoyances are mingled with the pleasures of life. All goes not, sir, exactly as we wish it. Heaven wills that here below everyone should meet bores; without that, men would be too happy.
ER. But of all my bores the greatest is Damis, guardian of her whom I adore, who dashes every hope she raises, and has brought it to pass that she dares not see me in his presence. I fear I have already passed the hour agreed on; it is in this walk that Orphise promised to be.
LA M. The time of an appointment has generally some latitude, and is not limited to a second.
ER. True; but I tremble; my great passion makes out of nothing a crime against her whom I love.
LA M. If this perfect love, which you manifest so well, makes out of nothing a great crime against her whom you love; the pure flame which her heart feels for you on the other hand converts all your crimes into nothing.
ER. But, in good earnest, do you believe that I am loved by her?
LA M. What! do you still doubt a love that has been tried?
ER. Ah, it is with difficulty that a heart that truly loves has complete confidence in such a matter. It fears to flatter itself; and, amidst its various cares, what it most wishes is what it least believes. But let us endeavour to discover the delightful creature.
LA M. Sir, your necktie is loosened in front.
ER. No matter.
LA M. Let me adjust it, if you please.
ER. Ugh, you are choking me, blockhead; let it be as it is.
LA M. Let me just comb...
ER. Was there ever such stupidity! You have almost taken off my ear with a tooth of the comb.
[Footnote: The servants had always a comb about them to arrange the wigs of their masters, whilst the latter thought it fashionable to comb and arrange their hair in public (see The Pretentious Young Ladies).]
LA M. Your rolls...
ER. Leave them; you are too particular.
LA M. They are quite rumpled.
ER. I wish them to be so.
LA M. At least allow me, as a special favour, to brush your hat, which is covered with dust.
ER. Brush, then, since it must be so.
LA M. Will you wear it like that?
ER. Good Heavens, make haste!
LA M. It would be a shame.
ER. (After waiting). That is enough.
LA M. Have a little patience.
ER. He will be the death of me!
LA M. Where could you get all this dirt?
ER. Do you intend to keep that hat forever?
LA M. It is finished.
ER. Give it me, then.
LA M. (Letting the hat fall). Ah!
ER. There it is on the ground. I am not much the better for all your brushing! Plague take you!
LA M. Let me give it a couple of rubs to take off...
ER. You shall not. The deuce take every servant who dogs your heels, who wearies his master, and does nothing but annoy him by wanting to set himself up as indispensable!
SCENE II.--ORPHISE, ALCIDOR, ÉRASTE, LA MONTAGNE.
(Orphise passes at the foot of the stage; Alcidor holds her hand.)
ER. But do I not see Orphise? Yes, it is she who comes. Whither goeth she so fast, and what man is that who holds her hand? (He bows to her as she passes, and she turns her head another way).
SCENE III.--ÉRASTE, LA MONTAGNE.
ER. What! She sees me here before her, and she passes by, pretending not to know me! What can I think? What do you say? Speak if you will.
LA M. Sir, I say nothing, lest I bore you.
ER. And so indeed you do, if you say nothing to me whilst I suffer such a cruel martyrdom. Give me some answer; I am quite dejected. What am I to think? Say, what do you think of it? Tell me your opinion.
LA M. Sir, I desire to hold my tongue, and not to set up for being indispensable.
ER. Hang the impertinent fellow! Go and follow them; see what becomes of them, and do not quit them.
LA M. (Returning). Shall I follow at a distance?
LA M. (Returning). Without their seeing me, or letting it appear that I was sent after them?
ER. No, you will do much better to let them know that you follow them by my express orders.
LA M. (Returning). Shall I find you here?
ER. Plague take you. I declare you are the biggest bore in the world!
SCENE IV.--ÉRASTE, alone.
Ah, how anxious I feel; how I wish I had missed this fatal appointment! I thought I should find everything favourable; and, instead of that, my heart is tortured.
SCENE V.--LISANDRE, ÉRASTE.
LIS. I recognized you under these trees from a distance, dear Marquis; and I came to you at once. As one of my friends, I must sing you a certain air which I have made for a little Couranto, which pleases all the connoisseurs at court, and to which more than a score have already written words.
[Footnote: See Vol. I., page 164, note 14.]
I have wealth, birth, a tolerable employment, and am of some consequence in France; but I would not have failed, for all I am worth, to compose this air which I am going to let you hear. (He tries his voice). La, la; hum, hum; listen attentively, I beg. (he sings an air of a Couranto). Is it not fine?
LIS. This close is pretty. (He sings the close over again four or five times successively). How do you like it?
ER. Very fine, indeed.
LIS. The steps which I have arranged are no less pleasing, and the figure in particular is wonderfully graceful. (He sings the words, talks, and dances at the same time; and makes Éraste perform the lady's steps). Stay, the gen-man crosses thus; then the lady crosses again: together: then they separate, and the lady comes there. Do you observe that little touch of a faint? This fleuret? These coupés running after the fair one.
[Footnote: A fleuret was an old step in dancing formed of two half coupées and two steps on the point of the toes.]
[Footnote: A coupé is a movement in dancing, when one leg is a little bent, and raised from the ground, and with the other a motion is made forward.]
Back to back: face to face, pressing up close to her. (After finishing). What do you think of it, Marquis?
ER. All those steps are fine.
LIS. For my part, I would not give a fig for your ballet-masters.
LIS. And the steps then?
ER. Are wonderful in every particular.
LIS. Shall I teach you them, for friendship's sake?
ER. To tell the truth, just now I am somewhat disturbed ....
LIS. Well, then, it shall be when you please. If I had those new words about me, we would read them together, and see which were the prettiest.
ER. Another time.
LIS. Farewell. My dearest Baptiste has not seen my Couranto; I am going to look for him. We always agree about the tunes; I shall ask him to score it.
(Exit, still singing.)
[Footnote: Jean Baptiste Lulli had been appointed, in the month of May of 1661, the same year that The Bores was first played, Surintendant et Compositeur de la musique de la chambre du Roi.]
SCENE VI.--ÉRASTE, alone.
Heavens! must we be compelled daily to endure a hundred fools, because they are men of rank, and must we, in our politeness, demean ourselves so often to applaud, when they annoy us?
SCENE VII.--ÉRASTE, LA MONTAGNE.
LA M. Sir, Orphise is alone, and is coming this way.
ER. Ah, I feel myself greatly disturbed! I still love the cruel fair one, and my reason bids me hate her.
LA M. Sir, your reason knows not what it would be at, nor yet what power a mistress has over a man's heart. Whatever just cause we may have to be angry with a fair lady, she can set many things to rights by a single word.
ER. Alas, I must confess it; the sight of her inspires me with respect instead of with anger.
SCENE VIII.--ORPHISE, ÉRASTE, LA MONTAGNE.
ORPH. Your countenance seems to me anything but cheerful. Can it be my presence, Éraste, which annoys you? What is the matter? What is amiss? What makes you heave those sighs at my appearance?
ER. Alas! can you ask me, cruel one, what makes me so sad, and what will kill me? Is it not malicious to feign ignorance of what you have done to me? The gentleman whose conversation made you pass me just now...
ORPH. (Laughing). Does that disturb you?
ER. Do, cruel one, anew insult my misfortune. Certainly, it ill becomes you to jeer at my grief, and, by outraging my feelings, ungrateful woman, to take advantage of my weakness for you.
ORPH. I really must laugh, and declare that you are very silly to trouble yourself thus. The man of whom you speak, far from being able to please me, is a bore of whom I have succeeded in ridding myself; one of those troublesome and officious fools who will not suffer a lady to be anywhere alone, but come up at once, with soft speech, offering you a hand against which one rebels. I pretended to be going away, in order to hide my intention, and he gave me his hand as far as my coach. I soon got rid of him in that way, and returned by another gate to come to you.
ER. Orphise, can I believe what you say? And is your heart really true to me?
ORPH. You are most kind to speak thus, when I justify myself against your frivolous complaints. I am still wonderfully simple, and my foolish kindness...
ER. Ah! too severe beauty, do not be angry. Being under your sway, I will implicitly believe whatever you are kind enough to tell me. Deceive your hapless lover if you will; I shall respect you to the last gasp. Abuse my love, refuse me yours, show me another lover triumphant; yes, I will endure everything for your divine charms. I shall die, but even then I will not complain.
ORPH. As such sentiments rule your heart, I shall know, on my side ...
SCENE IX.--ALCANDRE, ORPHISE, ÉRASTE, LA MONTAGNE.
ALC. (To Orphise). Marquis, one word. Madame, I pray you to pardon me, if I am indiscreet in venturing, before you, to speak with him privately. (Exit Orphise).
SCENE X.--ALCANDRE, ÉRASTE, LA MONTAGNE.
ALC. I have a difficulty, Marquis, in making my request; but a fellow has just insulted me, and I earnestly wish, not to be behind-hand with him, that you would at once go and carry him a challenge from me. You know that in a like case I should joyfully repay you in the same coin.
ER. (After a brief silence). I have no desire to boast, but I was a soldier before I was a courtier. I served fourteen years, and I think I may fairly refrain from such a step with propriety, not fearing that the refusal of my sword can be imputed to cowardice. A duel puts one in an awkward light, and our King is not the mere shadow of a monarch. He knows how to make the highest in the state obey him, and I think that he acts like a wise Prince. When he needs my service, I have courage enough to perform it; but I have none to displease him. His commands are a supreme law to me; seek some one else to disobey him. I speak to you, Viscount, with entire frankness; in every other matter I am at your service. Farewell.
[Footnote: During his long reign, Louis XIV. tried to put a stop to duelling; and, though he did not wholly succeed, he prevented the seconds from participating in the fight,--a custom very general before his rule, and to which Éraste alludes in saying that he does not "fear that the refusal of his (my) sword can be imputed to cowardice."]
SCENE XI.--ÉRASTE, LA MONTAGNE.
ER. To the deuce with these bores, fifty times over! Where, now, has my beloved gone to?
LA M. I know not.
ER. Go and search everywhere till you find her. I shall await you in this walk.
BALLET TO ACT I.
Players at Mall, crying out "Ware!" compel Éraste to draw back. After the players at Mall have finished, Éraste returns to wait for Orphise.
Inquisitive folk advance, turning round him to see who he is, and cause him again to retire for a little while.