Fete Galante by Maurice Baring
To Cecilia Fisher
"The King said that nobody had ever danced as I danced to-night," said
Columbine. "He said it was more than dancing, it was magic."
"It is true," said Harlequin, "you never danced like that before."
But Pierrot paid no heed to their remarks, and stared vacantly at the sky.
They were sitting on the deserted stage of the grass amphitheatre where
they had been playing. Behind them were the clumps of cypress trees which
framed a vista of endless wooden garden and formed their drop scene. They
were sitting immediately beneath the wooden framework made of two upright
beams and one horizontal, which formed the primitive proscenium, and from
which little coloured lights had hung during the performance. The King and
Queen and their lords and ladies who had looked on at the living puppet
show had all left the amphitheatre; they had put on their masks and their
dominoes, and were now dancing on the lawns, whispering in the alleys and
the avenues, or sitting in groups under the tall dark trees. Some of them
were in boats on the lake, and everywhere one went, from the dark
boscages, came sounds of music, thin, tinkling tunes played on guitars by
skilled hands, and the bird-like twittering and whistling of flageolets.
"The King said I looked like a moon fairy," said Columbine to Pierrot.
Pierrot only stared in the sky and laughed inanely. "If you persist in
slighting me like this," she whispered in his ear, in a whisper which was
like a hiss, "I will abandon you for ever. I will give my heart to
Harlequin, and you shall never see me again." But Pierrot continued to
stare at the sky, and laughed once more inanely. Then Columbine got up,
her eyes flashing with rage; taking Harlequin by the arm she dragged him
swiftly away. They danced across the grass semi-circle of the amphitheatre
and up the steps away into the alleys. Pierrot was left alone with
Pantaloon, who was asleep, for he was old and clowning fatigued him. Then
Pierrot left the amphitheatre also, and putting a black mask on his face
he joined the revellers who were everywhere dancing, whispering, talking,
and making music in subdued tones. He sought out a long lonely avenue, in
one side of which there nestled, almost entirely concealed by bushes and
undergrowth, a round open Greek temple. Right at the end of the avenue a
foaming waterfall splashed down into a large marble basin, from which a
tall fountain rose, white and ghostly, and made a sobbing noise. Pierrot
went towards the temple, then he turned back and walked right into the
undergrowth through the bushes, and lay down on the grass, and listened to
the singing of the night-jar. The whole garden that night seemed to be
sighing and whispering; there was a soft warm wind, and a smell of mown
hay in the air, and an intoxicating sweetness came from the bushes of
syringa. Columbine and Harlequin also joined the revellers. They passed
from group to group, with aimless curiosity, pausing sometimes by the
artificial ponds and sometimes by the dainty groups of dancers, whose
satin and whose pearls glimmered faintly in the shifting moonlight, for
the night was cloudy. At last they too were tired of the revel, they
wandered towards a more secluded place and made for the avenue which
Pierrot had sought. On their way they passed through a narrow grass walk
between two rows of closely cropped yew hedges. There on a marble seat a
tall man in a black domino was sitting, his head resting on his hands; and
between the loose folds of his satin cloak, one caught the glint of
precious stones. When they had passed him Columbine whispered to
Harlequin: "That is the King. I caught sight of his jewelled collar." They
presently found themselves in the long avenue at the end of which were the
waterfall and the fountain. They wandered on till they reached the Greek
temple, and there suddenly Columbine put her finger on her lips. Then she
led Harlequin back a little way and took him round through the undergrowth
to the back of the temple, and, crouching down in the bushes, bade him
look. In the middle of the temple there was a statue of Eros holding a
torch in his hands. Standing close beside the statue were two figures, a
man dressed as a Pierrot, and a beautiful lady who wore a grey satin
domino. She had taken off her mask and pushed back the hood from her hair,
which was encircled by a diadem made of something shining and silvery, and
a ray of moonlight fell on her face, which was as delicate as the petal of
a flower. Pierrot was masked; he was holding her hand and looking into her
eyes, which were turned upwards towards his.
"It is the Queen!" whispered Columbine to Harlequin. And once more putting
her finger on her lips, she deftly led him by the hand and noiselessly
threaded her way through the bushes and back into the avenue, and without
saying a word ran swiftly with him to the place where they had seen the
King. He was still there, alone, his head resting upon his hands.
In the temple the Queen was upbraiding her lover for his temerity in
having crossed the frontier into the land from which he had been banished
for ever, and for having dared to appear at the court revel disguised as
Pierrot. "Remember," she was saying, "the enemies that surround us, the
dreadful peril, and the doom that awaits us." And her lover said: "What is
doom, and what is death? You whispered to the night and I heard. You
sighed and I am here!" He tore the mask from his face, and the Queen
looked at him and smiled. At that moment a rustle was heard in the
undergrowth, and the Queen started back from him, whispering: "We are
betrayed! Fly!" And her lover put on his mask and darted through the
undergrowth, following a path which he and no one else knew, till he came
to an open space where his squire awaited him with horses, and they
galloped away safe from all pursuit.
Then the King walked into the temple and led the Queen back to the palace
without saying a word; but the whole avenue was full of dark men bearing
torches and armed with swords, who were searching the undergrowth. And
presently they found Pierrot who, ignorant of all that had happened, had
been listening all night to the song of the night-jar. He was dragged to
the palace and cast into a dungeon, and the King was told. But the revel
did not cease, and the dancing and the music continued softly as before.
The King sent for Columbine and told her she should have speech with
Pierrot in his prison, for haply he might have something to confess to
her. And Columbine was taken to Pierrot's dungeon, and the King followed
her without her knowing it, and concealed himself behind the door, which
he set ajar.
Columbine upbraided Pierrot and said: "All this was my work. I have always
known that you loved the Queen. And yet for the sake of past days, tell me
the truth. Was it love or a joke, such as those you love to play?"
Pierrot laughed inanely. "It was a joke," he said. "It is my trade to make
jokes. What else can I do?"
"You love the Queen nevertheless," said Columbine, "of that I am sure, and
for that I have had my revenge."
"It was a joke," said Pierrot, and he laughed again.
And though she talked and raved and wept, she could get no other answer
from him. Then she left him, and the King entered the dungeon.
"I have heard what you said," said the King, "but to me you must tell the
truth. I do not believe it was you who met the Queen in the temple; tell
me the truth, and your life shall be spared."
"It was a joke," said Pierrot, and he laughed. Then the King grew fierce
and stormed and threatened. But his rage and threats were in vain! for
Pierrot only laughed. Then the King appealed to him as man to man and
implored him to tell him the truth; for he would have given his kingdom to
believe that it was the real Pierrot who had met the Queen and that the
adventure had been a joke. Pierrot only repeated what he had said, and
laughed and giggled inanely.
At dawn the prison door was opened and three masked men led Pierrot out
through the courtyard into the garden. The revellers had gone home, but
here and there lights still twinkled and flickered and a stray note or two
of music was still heard. Some of the latest of the revellers were going
home. The dawn was grey and chilly; they led Pierrot through the alleys to
the grass amphitheatre, and they hanged him on the horizontal beam which
formed part of the primitive proscenium where he and Columbine had danced
so wildly in the night. They hanged him and his white figure dangled from
the beam as though he were still dancing; and the new Pierrot, who was
appointed the next day, was told that such would be the fate of all
mummers who went too far, and whose jokes and pranks overstepped the
limits of decency and good breeding.