That on the right was inscribed
"M. Crevecoeur," and that on the left
They were two professors, two good second-class masters.
They made their appearance, both sparely built, with military air and somewhat stiff movements.
Having gone through the salute with automatic action, they began to attack one another, resembling in their white costumes of leather and duck, two soldier pierrots fighting for fun.
From time to time the word
"Touched" was heard, and the six judges nodded with the air of connoisseurs.
The public saw nothing but two living marionettes moving about and extending their arms; they understood nothing, but they were satisfied.
These two men seemed to them, however, not over graceful, and vaguely ridiculous.
They reminded them of the wooden wrestlers sold on the boulevards at the New Year's Fair.
The first couple of fencers were succeeded by Monsieur Planton and Monsieur Carapin, a civilian master and a military one.
Monsieur Planton was very little, and Monsieur Carapin immensely stout.
One would have thought that the first thrust would have reduced his volume like that of a balloon.
Monsieur Planton skipped about like a monkey: Monsieur Carapin, only moved his arm, the rest of his frame being paralyzed by fat.
He lunged every five minutes with such heaviness and such effort that it seemed to need the most energetic resolution on his part to accomplish it, and then had great difficulty in recovering himself.
The connoisseurs pronounced his play very steady and close, and the confiding public appreciated it as such.
Then came Monsieur Porion and Monsieur Lapalme, a master and an amateur, who gave way to exaggerated gymnastics; charging furiously at one another, obliging the judges to scuttle off with their chairs, crossing and re-crossing from one end of the platform to the other, one advancing and the other retreating, with vigorous and comic leaps and bounds.
They indulged in little jumps backwards that made the ladies laugh, and long springs forward that caused them some emotion.
This galloping assault was aptly criticized by some young rascal, who sang out:
"Don't burst yourselves over it; it is a time job!"
The spectators, shocked at this want of taste, cried "Ssh!"
The judgment of the experts was passed around. The fencers had shown much vigor, and played somewhat loosely.
The first half of the entertainment was concluded by a very fine bout between Jacques Rival and the celebrated Belgian professor, Lebegue.
Rival greatly pleased the ladies.
He was really a handsome fellow, well made, supple, agile, and more graceful than any of those who had preceded him.
He brought, even into his way of standing on guard and lunging, a certain fashionable elegance which pleased people, and contrasted with the energetic, but more commonplace style of his adversary.
"One can perceive the well-bred man at once," was the remark.
He scored the last hit, and was applauded.
But for some minutes past a singular noise on the floor above had disturbed the spectators.
It was a loud trampling, accompanied by noisy laughter.
The two hundred guests who had not been able to get down into the cellar were no doubt amusing themselves in their own way.
On the narrow, winding staircase fifty men were packed.
The heat down below was getting terrible.
"Something to drink," were heard.
The same joker kept on yelping in a shrill tone that rose above the murmur of conversation,
"Orgeat, lemonade, beer."
Rival made his appearance, very flushed, and still in his fencing costume.
"I will have some refreshments brought," said he, and made his way to the staircase.
But all communication with the ground floor was cut off.
It would have been as easy to have pierced the ceiling as to have traversed the human wall piled up on the stairs.
Rival called out: "Send down some ices for the ladies."
Fifty voices called out: "Some ices!"
A tray at length made its appearance.
But it only bore empty glasses, the refreshments having been snatched on the way.
A loud voice shouted: "We are suffocating down here. Get it over and let us be off."
Another cried out: "The collection."