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From The World’s Wit and Humor, Volume X, French — Rutebœuf to Balzac; The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 108-114.


Paul Scarron [1610-1660]

Ragotin’s Civility

AS soon as Destiny had stripped himself of his old embroidery and put on his ordinary wearing apparel, La Rapinière took him to the common jail, because the man they had taken that day the curate of Domfront was set upon desiring to speak to. In the mean time the actresses went home to their inn with a numerous attendance of citizens. Ragotin happening to be near Cave as she came out of the tennis-court where they had acted, offered her his hand to lead her home, though he would rather have paid that polite service to his dear Star; he did the like to Angelica, so that he was squire upon the right and left. This double civility occasioned a treble inconvenience, for Cave, who had the upper hand, as in all reason she ought, was crowded to the wall by Ragotin, that Angelica might not be forced to walk in the gutter. Besides, the little dwarf, reaching no higher than their waists, pulled down their hands so much, that they could scarce keep themselves from tumbling over him. But what most troubled them was his so often looking behind to stare at Madam Star, who was talking to a couple of country gallants, who would by all means escort her to her lodgings against her will. The poor actresses endeavored many times to get loose from their gentleman usher, but he held so fast that they felt themselves in fetters.

They requested him a hundred times to spare himself his trouble, but he only answered, “Your servant, your servant” (his ordinary compliment), and gripped their hands ever 109 harder and harder. Therefore they were fain to be patient till they came to their chamber-stairs, where they hoped to be set at liberty. But Ragotin was better bred; and repeating only “Your servant, your servant,” to all they could say, he endeavored at first to go up with them abreast, which he found impossible. Then Cave turned her back to the wall and crept up sideways, dragging Ragotin after her, who dragged Angelica in like manner, she dragging nobody, but laughing like man.

Now as an additional inconvenience, when they were within four or five steps of their chamber-door, down comes a servant belonging to the inn, with a huge sack of oats of excessive weight on his back, who, with much ado — so heavy was his load — bids them go down, because he could not get up again with his burden. Ragotin must needs argue the case with him; the fellow swore bluntly he would let his sack fall upon them. This made them go down much faster than they had come up; but Ragotin would not, for all that, let go his hold. The man with the oats pressed on close behind them, which caused Ragotin to miss a step, so that he hung in the air, holding the actresses by the hand, till he pulled down Cave upon him, who supported him more than her daughter by reason of the advantage of the place. Then she tumbled down upon him, lighting with her feet on the pygmy’s chest and belly, and knocked her head so fiercely against her daughter’s that they lay all three rolling on the floor. The fellow, thinking they could not easily get up in time, and being no longer able to support his load, let his sack down upon the stairs, swearing and cursing like an hostler. The sack burst open with the fall, and in came mine host, who scolded like mad. But as he was angry at the fellow, so the fellow was angry at the players, and they 110 as angry at Ragotin, who was the angriest of them all; but Madam Star, coming not far behind, was witness of this disgraceful scene, not much inferior to that late adventure of the deep-crowned hat, wherein his head had been most unmercifully pent up, not to be recovered until a pair of scissors had broken the enchantment. Cave swore a great oath that Ragotin should never lead her again, and showed Madam Star how black and blue he had squeezed her hand. Star told her it was a just judgment for robbing her of Ragotin, who had engaged to bring her back to her lodgings after the play, adding she was glad of the mischance that had befallen him for breaking his word. However, he heard nothing of this, being all the while in dispute with mine host, who threatened to make him pay the waste of his oats, and had already offered to beat his servant on the same account, who for that reason beat Ragotin, and called him a pettifogger. Angelica began to banter him in her turn, and reproached him with his infidelity to Madam Star.

In fine, Fortune showed plainly how little she was yet concerned in the promises made to Ragotin, of making him gain her affection to such a degree as would render him more happy than any lover in the whole country of Mayne — nay, La Perche and Laval added. The oats were swept up again, and the actresses went into their chamber one by one, without any further misfortune. Ragotin did not follow them, nor can I tell exactly what became of him. Supper-time at last came, and to supper they went. After supper all withdrew to their respective apartments, and Destiny locked himself in with the actresses in order to pursue his story.

— “The Comic Romance.


Strolling Players

BRIGHT Phœbus had already run through about half his career; and his chariot, having passed the meridian and gone on the declivity of the sky, rolled on swifter than he desired. Had his horses been willing to have made use of the slope of their way, they might have finished the remainder of the day in less than half a quarter of an hour; but instead of pulling amain, they curveted about, sniffing brine in the air, which set them neighing, and made them sensible that they were near the sea, where their father is said to take his rest every night.

To speak more like a man and in plainer terms, it was between five and six of the clock, when a cart came into the market-place of the town of Mans. This cart was drawn by two yoke of lean oxen, led by a breeding mare, which had a colt that skipped to and fro like the silly creature that it was. The cart was laden with trunks, portmanteaus, and great packs of painted clothes, that made a sort of pyramid, on the top of which sat a damsel in a half-city, half-country dress. A young man, as poor in clothes as rich in mien, walked by the side of the cart. He had a great patch on his face (which covered one of his eyes and half of one cheek) and carried a long fowling-piece on his shoulder, with which he had murdered several magpies, jays, and crows, that, having strung together, made him a sort of bandoleer; at the end of it hung a hen and a goose which looked as if they had been taken from an enemy by way of plunder. Instead of a hat he wore a night-cap, tied about his head with garters of several colors, and which was 112 without doubt a kind of unfinished turban. His doublet was a griset-coat, girt about with a leather thong, which served likewise to support a rapier so very long that it could not be used dexterously without the help of a rest. He wore a pair of breeches tucked up to above the middle of his thighs, like those that players have when they represent an ancient hero. Instead of shoes he wore tragic buskins, bespattered with dirt up to the ankles. An old man, somewhat more regular in his dress, though in a very ordinary habit, walked by his side. He carried a bass-viol on his shoulders; and, because he stooped a little as he went, one might have taken him at a distance for a huge tortoise walking on its hind feet. Some critic or other will probably find fault with the comparison by reason of the disproportion between that creature and a man, but I speak of those great tortoises that are to be found in the Indies; and besides, I make bold to use the simile on my own authority. . . .

Let us return to our strolling company. They have passed by the tennis-court at the “Hind,” before which were then assembled some of the chief men of the town. The novelty of our strollers’ equipage and the noise of the mob, which had by this time gathered around the cart, drew the eyes of all those honorable burghers upon our unknown travelers. Among the rest was a sub-sheriff, La Rapinière by name; he, bearing the authority of a magistrate, asked them who they were. The young man whom I described before, without offering to pull off his turban (because with one hand he held his gun, and with the other the hilt of his sword, lest it should beat against his legs), answered him that they were French by birth and players by profession, that his stage-name was Destiny, his old comrade’s Rancor, and the gentlewoman’s (who sat roosting like a hen on the top of their baggage) 113 Cave. This odd name set some of the company laughing, whereupon the young player answered that the name of Cave ought not to seem more strange to men of sense than Mountain, Valley, Rose, or Thorn. The conversation ended with the same tumult of blows, cursing, and swearing as took place before the cart. The squabble had been occasioned by the servant of the tennis-court falling foul upon the carter without saying why or wherefore; yet the reason was that his mare and oxen had made too free with a truss of hay that lay before the door. However, the combatants were at length parted, and the mistress of the tennis-court, who liked to hear a play better than sermons or vespers, with marvelous generosity for the keeper of a tennis-court, bid the carter let his cattle eat their bellies full . . .

La Rapinière renewed the conversation interrupted by the squabble, and asked the young player whether the company consisted only of Rancor, Cave, and himself. “Our company,” answered he, “is as complete as that of the Prince of Orange, or of his Grace the Duke of Épernon; but through a misfortune that befell us at Tours, where our rattle-headed door-keeper happened to kill one of the men-at-arms of the governor of the province, we were forced to flee in a hurry, and in the sad pickle in which you see us. Had we but the keys of our trunks, we might entertain the town for four or five days.” The player’s answer made every one prick up his ears. La Rapinière offered an old gown of his wife’s to Cave, and the tennis-woman two or three suites of clothes to Destiny and Rancor. “But,” answered some of the bystanders, “there are only three of you.” “No matter of that,” replied Rancor, “for I once acted a whole play myself, and represented the king, queen, and the ambassador in my single person. I made use of a false treble tone when I impersonated the 114 queen; I spoke through the nose for the ambassador, addressing myself to the crown, which I placed upon a chair; and when I did the king, I resumed my seat, my crown, and my gravity, and lowered the key of my voice to a bass. Now to convince you of this, if you will satisfy our carter, defray our charges at the inn, and lend us what clothes you can spare, we will act before night; otherwise we must beg leave to refresh ourselves and rest, for we have come a great distance.”

— “The Comic Romance.


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