Vandover and the Brute HTML version

Chapter Fourteen
The house was crowded to the doors; there was no longer any standing room and many
were even sitting on the steps of the aisles. In the boxes the gentlemen were standing up
behind the chairs of large plain ladies in showy toilets and diamonds. The atmosphere
was heavy with the smell of gas, of plush upholstery, of wilting bouquets and of sachet.
A fine vapour as of the visible exhalation of many breaths pervaded the house, blurring
the lowered lights and dimming the splendour of the great glass chandelier.
It was warm to suffocation, a dry, irritating warmth that perspiration did not relieve,
while the air itself was stale and close as though fouled by being breathed over and over
again. In the topmost galleries, banked with tiers of watching faces, the heat must have
been unbearable.
The only movement perceptible throughout the audience was the little swaying of gay-
coloured fans like the balancing of butterflies about to light. Occasionally there would be
a vast rustling like the sound of wind in a forest, as the holders of librettos turned the
leaves simultaneously.
The orchestra thundered; the French horns snarling, the first violins wailing in unison,
while all the bows went up and down together like parts of a well-regulated machine; the
kettle-drums rolled sonorously at exact intervals, and now and then one heard the tinkling
of the harp like the pattering of raindrops between peals of thunder. The leader swayed
from side to side in his place, beating time with his baton, his hand, and his head.
On the stage itself the act was drawing to a close. There had just been a duel. The
baritone lay stretched upon the floor at left centre, his sword fallen at some paces from
him. On the left of the scene, front, stood the tenor who had killed him, singing in his
highest register, very red in the face, continually striking his hand upon his breast and
pointing with his sword toward his fallen enemy. Next him on the extreme left was his
friend the basso, in high leather boots, growling from time to time during a sustained
chord, "Mon honneur et ma foi." In the centre of the stage, the soprano, the star, the prima
donna chanted a fervid but ineffectual appeal to the tenor who cried, "Jamais, jamais!"
striking his breast and pointing with his sword. The prima donna cried, "Ah, mon Dieu,
ayez pitié de moi." Her confidante, the mezzo-soprano, came to her support, repeating her
words with an impersonal meaning, "Ayez pitié d'elle." "Mon honneur et ma foi," growled
the basso. The contralto, dressed as a man, turned toward the audience on the extreme
right, bringing out her notes with a wrench and a twist of her body and neck, and
intoning, "Ah, malheureuse! Mon Dieu, ayez pitié d'elle."
The leader of the chorus, costumed as the captain of the watch, leaned over the dead
baritone and sang, "Il est mort, il est mort. Mon Dieu, ayez pitié de lui." The soldiers of
the watch were huddled together immediately back of him. They wore tin helmets, much
too large, and green peplums, and repeated his words continually.