The Suicide Club and Other Stories
Providence And The Guitar
Monsieur Leon Berthelini had a great care of his appearance, and sedulously suited his
deportment to the costume of the hour. He affected something Spanish in his air, and
something of the bandit, with a flavour of Rembrandt at home. In person he was
decidedly small and inclined to be stout; his face was the picture of good humour; his
dark eyes, which were very expressive, told of a kind heart, a brisk, merry nature, and the
most indefatigable spirits. If he had worn the clothes of the period you would have set
him down for a hitherto undiscovered hybrid between the barber, the innkeeper, and the
affable dispensing chemist. But in the outrageous bravery of velvet jacket and flapped
hat, with trousers that were more accurately described as fleshings, a white handkerchief
cavalierly knotted at his neck, a shock of Olympian curls upon his brow, and his feet shod
through all weathers in the slenderest of Moliere shoes - you had but to look at him and
you knew you were in the presence of a Great Creature. When he wore an overcoat he
scorned to pass the sleeves; a single button held it round his shoulders; it was tossed
backwards after the manner of a cloak, and carried with the gait and presence of an
Almaviva. I am of opinion that M. Berthelini was nearing forty. But he had a boy's heart,
gloried in his finery, and walked through life like a child in a perpetual dramatic
performance. If he were not Almaviva after all, it was not for lack of making believe.
And he enjoyed the artist's compensation. If he were not really Almaviva, he was
sometimes just as happy as though he were.
I have seen him, at moments when he has fancied himself alone with his Maker, adopt so
gay and chivalrous a bearing, and represent his own part with so much warmth and
conscience, that the illusion became catching, and I believed implicitly in the Great
But, alas! life cannot be entirely conducted on these principles; man cannot live by
Almavivery alone; and the Great Creature, having failed upon several theatres, was
obliged to step down every evening from his heights, and sing from half-a-dozen to a
dozen comic songs, twang a guitar, keep a country audience in good humour, and preside
finally over the mysteries of a tombola.
Madame Berthelini, who was art and part with him in these undignified labours, had
perhaps a higher position in the scale of beings, and enjoyed a natural dignity of her own.
But her heart was not any more rightly placed, for that would have been impossible; and
she had acquired a little air of melancholy, attractive enough in its way, but not good to
see like the wholesome, sky-scraping, boyish spirits of her lord.
He, indeed, swam like a kite on a fair wind, high above earthly troubles. Detonations of
temper were not unfrequent in the zones he travelled; but sulky fogs and tearful
depressions were there alike unknown. A well-delivered blow upon a table, or a noble
attitude, imitated from Melingne or Frederic, relieved his irritation like a vengeance.