IN THE days in Canada when my father conducted the orchestra in the pit of a large vaudeville theater, there was given to me, once a week, a special privilege. I was permitted every Saturday to attend the matinée performance. Equipped with two packages of Necco Wafers (thin, multi-colored, many-flavored sugar candies) I would arrive at the theater with my father a half-hour before the performance began.
I would go backstage with him — really downstairs under the stage — where the dressing rooms were. Here, while he sorted music, made important pencil marks, and played a little rummy with the others, I would sit, usually on a large, heavily labeled trunk, my legs dangling.
Performers who were getting dressed or just hanging around would often talk to me, and even show me tricks of magic, feats of juggling, or small dance routines.
I had been going to the theater every week for several years and some of the performers I knew from previous engagements, since they went around the circuit often.
One of them was a dancer named LaSalle Dubois. He danced with a large lady in something called “The Faun Dance.” It was very serious and very classical but I, personally, did not comprehend it.
Nor did I comprehend M. Dubois, who was the saddest-looking man I had ever known. Every time he came to Ottawa he sat quietly outside his dressing room, his long, hairy head cupped in his hands, his eyes large and wistful. He spoke very little.
The day of the twilight of a faun, then, M. Dubois was once more with us and sadder than ever.
My father was rearranging cues on the top of sheets of music when I asked him about the dancer.
“Papa,” I inquired, “why is it M. Dubois is always like he will cry soon?”
My father shrugged. “He is sad.”
“ Puurquoi?” To me actors were never really sad, except on the stage. In the dressing rooms and backstage they were forever gay, good-natured, and full of wine.
“Je ne sais pas,” my father replied. “There are many reasons for being sad in this world. One’s stomach, perhaps, revolts. One’s heart beats too fast. One marries the wrong woman. One marries the right woman. Many reasons.”
I knew that my father must be busy and not thinking clearly, for his explanation did not satisfy me at all.
“No,” I protested, “these are not the reasons for the sadness of M. Dubois.”
My father stopped working, looked at me and smiled tenderly. “Eh bien! ” he observed. “You go then, young philosopher, and discover for yourself why fauns are sad.”
I took him literally. I went to the dressing room of M. Dubois, where I found him putting on his suit of hair to become a faun. He was also drinking cognac from a bottle.
He said nothing when I ambled into the room and sat myself down on a trunk marked with red and white letters: “The Faun and The Nymph: Keith Circuit.”
“Bon jour,” the faun said gloomily.
“M. Dubois,” I began hesitantly, “why is it you are all the time so sad? Me, if I were always on the stage with a nymph, I would not be sad. Especially traveling all over the world and seeing the beautiful scenery.”
M. Dubois stopped his making up and regarded my reflection in his dressing-table mirror.
“You say this because you are not an actor.”
“Some day, maybe I will be an actor.”
“Better to die young,” said the faun.
“An actor is not so bad,” I countered. “It is better than to be a grocer and have all the time people shouting about the high price of the sausage. Or to be an umpire of baseball and be all the time
struck with dead eggs,”
“My wife and I, too, have been struck with dead eggs. Also sick tomatoes. Soon the time is coming, if you ask me, when we will be struck again.”
I waited patiently while he placed on his feet the artificial hoofs of what seemed to be a goat. Then he drank once more a large portion of the cognac.
“If it is so sad to be a faun chasing always a nymph on the stage, why do you do it?” I questioned.
M. Dubois said, “Pah!” as if he were removing from the end of his tongue a fly which had died in the cognac.
“Eh?” I said. “Pourquoi?”
“Pah! Pah!” repeated the faun.
I waited. M. Dubois pondered.
“Ah, well,” he said at length, “often to myself I have imagined how it would be to appear on the stage wearing a suit of red and white checkers and a green hat, making songs and dances and funny sayings— no longer to chase across the stage, forever and ever, a nymph in many coats of cheesecloth.
Yes, I have imagined it to myself in every province in Canada — in every state in the U.S.A. In Australia I imagined it and in a music hall in London. Pah!”
“And why not?” I questioned. A small bell rang to announce that the short moving pictures which preceded the vaudeville had begun.
“Why not?” the faun repeated dully. “The faun is an old faun who cannot now even keep up with the music — although your father is a genius and plays it as slowly as possible — and the nymph is a fat nymph whom no faun would really chase anyway.”
He pulled a few hairs from his faun’s suit. “What,” he asked me suddenly and loudly, “is a woman for?”
I shrugged. “To take care of babies; to make pies; to have clean sheets for the beds; to kiss good night. Some other things, maybe.”
M. Dubois took an exceptional helping of cognac.
“Not to run around in public dressed only in cheesecloth which ripples from the fat?”
“But no,” I agreed.
“Ah—” He heard the loud voice of his large wife coming downstairs from the stage entranee. He put the top on the bottle of cognac hastily and was about to slide it furtively into his trunk when he stopped.
“Regard me!” he commanded. I regarded.
“Am I,” he went on bravely, “a mouse or a
“A faun,” I said.
“So! A faun is more than a man. no?”
“Yes. He is a man, but he is wild like an animal too, and strong,” I agreed.
“Good,” the faun announced firmly. He put the bottle back on the table and removed the top. He sat down calmly in his chair, crossing his arms and hoofs.
In a moment the nymph, wearing a large straw hat full of red roses and a dress covered with painted morning-glories, appeared. She removed her winecolored gloves and with one of them slapped the faun across the hairy back.
“LaSalle,” she cried in the accent of the London music halls, “you’ve bean drinkin’!”
“Certainly,” the faun said calmly.
“Down’t leave me ever catch you at it agayn!” she shouted. She began now to remove, over her head, the dress of morning-glories. I observed with interest.
When the dress was almost removed, she placed her red head through an opening and asked, “ ‘Ow hold are you ? ” “Ten,” I said.
“Get hout!” she said.
I hesitated, but the faun nodded in agreement with his nymph. I sighed and clambered down off the trunk. The bell had rung, anyway, for the first act of acrobats and I was just as glad to leave.
I went, as usual, through the little door into the orchestra pit, while the house lights were still up. I climbed slowly over the brass rail and the deepred velvet curtain which set the orchestra off from the theater proper.
This was my method of announcing to the audience that, while I was one of them in fact, at heart I was really a child of the other side of the footlights. My silent announcement over, I took a seat behind where my father would soon tap his baton on the music rack.
The acrobats were, as ever, wonderful. The three girls, beautiful beyond description, who came next and sang popular songs were, of course, divine. The two colored boys with faces like milk chocolate danced as no one dances today. The sketch, the fourth act, was brilliantly dramatic, full of gun shots and wavings of the French flag, with a brief appearance of Napoleon himself.
At last came the faun and the nymph. The spring-like music began. The faun sat on a cardboard rock pretending to play pipes. Pretty soon, who comes to tickle him under the chin and make him nervous? Of course, Mme. Dubois — no longer enveloped in morning-glories but draped in cheesecloth. I regarded with new eyes the nymph. M. Dubois was right. She was indeed too fat for a nymph, and the cheesecloth made her even more so.
Now the faun arose, threw down his pipes, and jumped up and down, chasing after Mme. Dubois, who bounced and quivered across the wooden grass until she hid herself behind a paper tree, which shook with her weight.
The faun pretended the nymph had disappeared and he went back to playing sadly on his pipes, sitting again on his cardboard rock.
But is the nymph satisfied? No!
Once more she sneaks up behind him and waves a cheesecloth under his nose, like a promise.
Up jumps the faun! Away bounces the nymph! This goes on and on for many, many minutes.
To myself I say: “I can understand M. Dubois now. In every province in the Dominion, in every state in the U.S.A., in Australia, and in London he has chased the nymph who makes him nervous when he wishes only to rest and play the pipes. And the worst part is that he has never caught her.”
It made me very sorry for M. Dubois.
This was the only time I had really no reason to be sorry for the faun, because this day the act was different from what it had ever been before. I did not know it, but here history of a kind was being made.
The faun, at last, threw down his pipes and flexed his muscles.
He pawed the wooden grass for a while with his imitation hoofs. Mme. Dubois nervously waved the cheesecloth nightshirt under his nose.
With a jump he was after her!
It was so real the audience burst into applause as when the cowboys suddenly come near to the Indians.
Mme. Dubois jumped quickly behind the paper tree and over some cardboard rocks. The faun was right after her. He pushed over the rocks with his hoof. He tore up the tree by the roots, in a manner of speaking.
Mme. Dubois, definitely frightened, ran off the stage at one side. The faun ran after her.
She reappeared at the other side and dashed across the stage, cheesecloth flying.
She was not fast enough for the faun, who, running behind her, lifted one hoof expertly and kicked her soundly in the round, fat backside.
The curtain came swiftly down and, in spite of the loud applause, the cheers, the happy whistles, it did not go up again on the act of the faun and the nymph.
It did not ever again go up on the act of the faun and the nymph.
Six months later there was on the program, as I regarded it in the dim light (back once more in the front row, center, with my Necco Wafers), an act entitled: “LaSalle Dubois: Songs— Dances— Funny Sayings.”
I waited, entranced, for his appearance.
Yes, there he was, surely enough—looking ten years younger. He clog-danced out of the wings, briskly and happily, wearing a red and white checkered suit and a hat of bright green.
All alone, I applauded furiously, stamped my feet and whistled. It was contagious and those beside me began to applaud and soon everyone in the audience was clapping.
M. Dubois rose to the occasion. He executed two somersaults without touching the floor with his hands.
The drums rolled and the cymbals crashed with joy. And all was well again in the world of makebelieve.
Fauns we do not need here, I reflected. Nymphs should be home with the babies. What we want are men in bright suits with songs, dances, and funny sayings.