Girard Lemasqué studied his face in the mirror, his hand in front of its right half. This way it seemed handsome. He had a strong jaw and high cheeks, green eyes and full lips. He removed his hand. Behind it had hid scar tissue, twisting the corner of his eye, pulling his mouth into a ghastly grin. It distorted his brow and soldered his jaw to his neck. With a fierce flick, he pulled a curtain in front of his reflection. He wrenched a jeweled mask from the table and tied it over his face. He strode out of the room, down the hall, and swept a cloak about his shoulders as he walked down the steps to his waiting carriage.
It was evening, and the sun had only the strength left to brush the horizon. The moon was already bright and full, though black clouds freed it for just moments at a time. The carriage rattled down a dirty road, then onto the cobbled streets of the city. Inside, Girard watched none of it. Finally, he stopped in front of a theatre where the attendees of the night's masquerade were entering. This was his life, attending masquerades to moonlight as a gentleman.
He stepped out of the carriage and into the theatre. A horned beast walked in front of him, speaking earnestly with a satyr. Beside him was a chevalier couple; and everywhere were historical figures and feathered faces. Girard could hear the orchestra's music from the pit, and hurried into the house to see the opening performance. Ballerinas danced onto the stage, where they met and were dipped by their partners. The girls danced around their men, waving their fans, twirling their skirts, until they were caught again in their pretended lovers' arms. It was a daring opening that Girard watched intently. So intently that he didn't notice the manager approach him.
"Ah, Monsieur Lemasqué!" Gémi Haute exclaimed when he had caught sight of Girard's crest, which pinned his cloak. "Désolé," he apologized as he saw Lemasqué's startled expression, "You are enjoying the ballet, non?"
"Indeed," Girard answered, "It is very provocative."
"Yes, I had my doubts, but Monsieur and Madame Dégotté insisted upon it. They are hard to refuse." Monsieur Haute studied the faces around him with tight lips and said, "It doesn't seem to be offending anyone. The liberal movement must be tainting people's taste for theatre as well as politics."
"Or they have just found that liberalism is pleasant on the stage, where nothing is real, and all is steady," Girard said.
"Perhaps." The horns let out one last, low note, and the dancers on stage froze. The audience clapped, the violins picked up a lively melody, and guests paired for dancing flooded the stage. Small groups stayed in seats to socialize while others wandered out for refreshments.
"Now you must come with me, mon patron, to meet our clients," Haute guided Girard firmly, "The Count Démand asked to dine with you on Thursday evening, but I told him you were indisposed. Here he is. Count Gille Démand and his wife, Countess Noire Démand; Duke Girard Lemasqué, our patron."
Girard politely kissed the lady's gloved hand and shook hands with the Count.
"A pleasure," Girard smiled and bowed, "I'm sorry I couldn't join you for supper, I'm afraid I'm quite busy. But, perhaps we could enjoy some refreshments tonight instead."
"Of course," the Count agreed and took his wife's arm, "Had you previwewed tonight's opening ballet?"
"I'm afraid not. I rarely get the chance to leave my manor. In fact, these masquerades are my only chance to speak with my manager face to face," Girard said, "I found it quite enthralling. I believe our ballet instructors have trained the performers very nicely."
"Mm, it was a bold move," Count Démand said.
"I enjoyed it," the Countess spoke, "Theatre has been taking its time catching up with the popular mood."
"I thought the same," Girard said.
"The popular mood is easily swayed by these contemporary speakers," the Count argued, "When the conservative speaks, the popular mood is conservative; when the liberal speaks, the popular mood is liberal; when the moderate speaks, the popular mood is moderate."
"I have always been a moderate, myself," Girard said, "But, then, I don't get the chance to go see these passionate speakers."
"That is probably for the best," the Count said.
"These tarts look delicious," Girard said, and put one onto his petite plate. "Have you seen our production of The Oedipus Cycle? The last play in the series is opening this Saturday."
"We were vacationing at Marseilles during the run of Oedipus Rex, but we had the chance to see Oedipus at Colonus last Wednesday," the Count said as he took a small cake, "It was obviously adapted for modern theatre."
"Yes, a ballet was added and many of the spoken lines were put to song. I was against it at first, but I was convinced that it would be a good excercise for the maestro and our choreographers. I think it turned out nicely."
"Then you do preview the performances put on by the company?" the Count inquired.
"I see the dress rehearsal, as a sort of private performance," Girard answered.
"Then you don't see the first rehearsals? You could be deceived by the manager and invest in a horror!"
"Non, Monsieur Haute knows I will refuse funding of any future performances if he deceives me. Not that I leave every decision up to him. In fact, tonight he wants me to audition two promising leads for one of tonight's intermediary ballets. Would you like to accompany me?"
"No, thank you. I prefer to be surprised. I think my wife and I will join the dancers on stage."
"As you wish. Au revoir."
Girard bowed and left for the studio backstage. He found Gémi pacing anxiously.
"You have been taking your time!" he fumed, "I hope you do not take too long deciding."
"Of course not," Girard answered reassurantly, "Let them perform together."
"D'accord. Il les veut ensemble!" Haute told the choreographer.
Two ballerinas hurried to chalk their slippers. Both were tall and willowy, perfect examples of grace. Their hair was knotted and plaited with spring green ribbons. One stood in front of the other and slightly to the side.
"The one in front, with the blond hair, is Cécile," Monsieur Haute whispered to Girard, "The one with the dark hair is Fleur."
Girard nodded to the choreographer and he began to tap his cane on the floor. After four taps, both girls began to move. After a few moments Girard saw a distinct difference between the two girls. They were both precise in their movements, and perfectly balanced, but with different styles. Fleur was more spirited in her dancing, but forgot about the audience; she danced for herself. Cécile obviously danced the steps given to her, he could see it in her face, but she was aware of him watching her and made eye contact with him.
"I see your dilemma now," Girard whispered to Gémi.
Gémi nodded. "They are both very good, but subtly different. I can't decide which is better for this type of performance."
Girard let them finish before speaking. "Fleur," he said, and got up to leave. He saw the fallen look on Cécile's face, but said nothing.
He entered the stage from the wing and stole a peacock-like lady from a black-and-white man. They danced silently for a while, then she saw his pin. He recognized the look of fear and curiosity, and left her with a bow to sit in a velvety seat.
"Are you Girard Lemasqué?" She had followed him.
"Yes, though I don't think it should mean anything to you," he said acidly.
This left her silent for a few moments, then she asked, "Why do you only show at masquerades?"
The portion of his face not covered by his mask contorted in rage. He jumped to his feet. "You insolent child!" he yelled and slapped her across the face.
Masked faces turned to look at them. She stood still, frozen with fright. He threw her aside and ran up the aisle, shoving aside those who stood in his way. His cloak billowed behind him as he ran backstage. There bewildered dancers jumped out of the way of his raging eyes. He ran up the spiraling staircase that led to the roof, gaining speed as he went. He burst onto the flat roof and slammed the door behind him. He yelled incoherently at the sky. Then his mood turned, and he cursed at the city. He drew the dull practice sword at his waist and beat at the railing, at the angels that stood on each corner.
"Damn you!" he cried, "Damn you!"
Finally, he exhausted himself. He felt tears welling in his eyes, but fought them back with a final blow of his fist. He lay, chest heaving, in the fold of an angel's stony robes.
"Damn all of you," he whispered with more venom than a viper, "You think that you can ask anything. You think that your charm and beauty can trick any secret from me. You look at me like a new scientific discovery, and perhaps you can be the one to unlock my secrets. You can't! You paint yourselves and shape yourselves, and hide beneath mounds of gold and silver. I want nothing to do with you and your endless curiosity. Do you hear me? Nothing!"
"Girard?" Haute appeared at the door.
"What?" Girard spat.
"I've called your carriage. It is waiting for you at the door."
Girard took one deep breath, and got up. He was still shaking, and put his sword back in its sheath. Haute held the door open for him, and watched him walk down the stairs. He walked through the ballerinas in the wings, then through the dancers on stage, and stalked down the aisle. Many faces watched him go by, and he wondered what they would do if he were to look back. Yes, they looked away as Girard met their eyes. Finally, he stepped into his carriage and began the bumpy ride back to his home.