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["Translator's" Note: This piece is copyrighted 1987,1995 (for the original and this unsubtantially modified version - I keep thinking of improvements). It is released for a limited time to Gaslight and to the Hounds of the Internet for the enjoyment and constructive comments of their members; please do not repost it without my permission - Thanks! I make no guarantees on quality but one: I enjoyed writing it. If you see a hole, let me know offlist at firstname.lastname@example.org - especially if you have an idea of how to fill it; to me, this is a work in progress until such time as I formally publish it, so ideas for improvement are welcome. And now, presenting:]
It was in the year 1897, a few months after my honorable discharge from the Spahis (owing to my wound at Zinderneuf), that I was employed as fencing master for a theatrical play in Paris. I will confess to skepticism at first, that such a position should exist, for I had seen some such plays at the behest of a Countess who had been enjoying my company (and who shall remain nameless here; like my ancestor the famous Brigadier, a man whose exploits were so famous that an Englishman named Doyle felt compelled to put them into print, I am as much a gentleman as to be discreet in these matters) and found them to be drab and sordid. My companion said they were "Realistic". I for one would rather do without this kind of "reality". This Cyrano de Bergerac, however was as far above these in color and glory as are the Spahis, nay, even the Grand Army of my ancestor's time - over the uniform blue of our regular army.
There were others interested in the position, but I had barely begun to show them the error of competing with Etienne Gerard when M. Coquelin, the lead actor, entered the room and told me I was hired. He said that in addition to teaching fencing to the cast, I could teach him " to think like a Gascon". Perhaps that is an acting thing. I do not know. I do know that his character of Cyrano was a Gascon, which is only right. After all, if the finest swordsmen of Napoleon's cavalry and of the Spahis were and are both Gascon (the latter I speak not out of conceit, but in truth), is it not logical that the finest swordsman of the Sun King should be also?
The reader should here be made aware that I did not spend all of my spare time with the great actor. There was the girl who played - but a gentleman must not speak, though he may hint that he could say much if he so desired. The point is that Coquelin and I became the best of friends.
Upon the opening-night of the play I was invited to sup with the actor at his house. When I came there, however, I found the door locked; and when I knocked, there was no answer. Thinking I had perhaps been mistaken about the time I waited at a cafe across the street, but I saw no one come. It was to my surprise then that at seven o'clock I saw Coquelin come out from the house and pass me by saying nothing. He signalled a cabriolet and sped off. As I sat in wonderment a man stood up from one of the other tables - a tall man with iron-black hair and a nose like a hawk's beak - and ran over to the house. Perhaps because of my wound and despite the fact that he was considerably older than myself, it was with some difficulty that I overtook him and pulled him away from the door handle.
"I know not what your business is here, monsieur, but you shall not enter while M. Coquelin is away!" I cried.
"My business is murder!" he replied, thrusting me away with the force of a cannonball.
As he turned again to the lock I recovered myself and flew at him with both feet - much as my great-grandfather had felled the Bustler of Bristol. His head struck the doorframe and he fell.
After making sure of my prisoner, I discovered that he had succeeded in picking the lock, and so I entered - and stopped stock still. There in the parlor were the valet and the serving-maid - bound and gagged - the former upon the floor unconscious and the latter tied to a chair; and through the doorway of the dining-room I saw a figure slumped over the table - breathing, but otherwise dead to the world. I pulled him away from the plate of food into which his face had fallen and there, behind the scraps of bread and meat, was the face of Coquelin!
It was several moments before I sufficiently recovered from this shock to go to the telephone and call the gendarmerie. I untied and revived the valet, and with his help carried Coquelin to his bedroom and laid him in the bed. I asked the valet what had happened but he was able to tell me nothing beyond that Coquelin had suddenly fallen unconscious while he ate; he himself had been struck from behind at that point and could remember nothing until I revived him. The maid, whom I had untied, could tell me nothing, either, for she had been scared senseless by the experience. "The only one then who may be able to tell me the story," I said to myself "is my prisoner outside." It was at this point that the wagon from the gendarmerie arrived, and so I went with the maid and my unconscious prisoner, the valet remaining behind to care for Coquelin.
At the gendarmerie, while we waited for other police business to be dispensed with I suddenly became aware that the time had crept to eight-thirty - curtain time! I was saddened to think that not only was the audience being deprived of the acting talent of Coquelin, but also of the sight of Etienne Gerard as one of the Gascony Cadets. I thought also of the cast and crew, of my comrades in the extras, of the girl who played ... - but all to nought.
At nine-thirty, while we still waited (ah, my poor friends at the theatre!) my prisoner revived. As his eyes met the clock on the wall he sat bolt upright and cried out and demanded to see the commissioner. The desk sergeant called "What is the meaning, of this?"
My prisoner calmed himself and replied "I am afraid that this young former captain of Spahis has made a mistake. I am M. Sherlock Holmes!"
The sergeant and all the gendarmes seemed to find this pronouncement as meaningless as I did, but he quickly sent for the commissioner. As the official bustled out of his office he caught sight of the prisoner and said, "M. Holmes!".
"Ah!" said the prisoner. "I had hoped you would remember my usefulness to you in the Duquesne case, my dear Bertillon."
"But why are you here as a prisoner?" the commissioner asked.
I answered, "M. Constant Coquelin was attacked in his house and left unconscious. I found this fellow skulking outside and captured him."
"I'm afraid you have 'captured' the greatest detective in England, and in France," said the commissioner.
"I was employed by M. Coquelin to guard against such an attack. I am glad it is not as serious as I had feared," said "M. Holmes."
"Name of a name!" I cried. "Because of my blunder the villain has gotten away!"
"Not quite yet. Where was Coquelin to have played tonight, Captain...?"
"Etienne Gerard. At the Palais."
"Then that is where we'll find our man. Come quickly!"
We arrived backstage just as the gunfire started at the end of Act IV. Somehow, the performance had gone on just as planned without M. Coquelin and without myself. At his request, I directed M. Holmes to the place where Coquelin would have made his exit. And he did, or so it seemed. Holmes took ahold of him in a grip of iron.
"It is an excellent role, is it not M. Lescaut? One an actor would almost kill for?"
The man in the Cyrano costume paled visibly even under his makeup. "How did you know?"
"Perhaps you will recall a young actor named Vernet who performed with you and Coquelin about fifteen years ago. I am he.
"I recalled the rather more unique than usual shape of your ear then, and so I was easily able to recognize you as you left Coquelin's house, even disguised as your hated rival. And so officer, if you will be so kind as to take this felon away."
"Just a minute!" cried the theatre manager bustling in. "You can't close the play like this!" I choked back a laugh; there is a line exactly like that in the first act "Not at the start of the final act!"
Holmes looked thoughtful. "It has been some years", he murmured, "on the stage, at least."
Suddenly he turned. "I have some little time, M. Gerard; you will be so kind as to fetch a script and to hold it for me while I dress." As I went I saw him start to strip the costume off of Lescaut.
And so it was that this Englishman Holmes performed the last act of Cyrano, a performance so moving that the audience wept at his death as if Coquelin himself were playing the part.
As I went to congratulate him after the performance he cut me off with a curt but sincere goodbye saying he had to catch the train to Baden he was to meet a friend there.
One thing has always puzzled me, though, since that night - how did he know I was a former captain of Spahis?