It is midnight in Paris’s Grand Boulevard district on a windy Sunday in October, 1871. Because the city is still under martial law, the cafés and restaurants of that quarter are bustling to meet the curfew, ushering out their few remaining patrons and preparing to close their doors. The menacing gaze of two police officers encourages their haste. The surrounding streets are rapidly emptying of coaches and pedestrians for the same reason. Into this scene of hasty departures, there wanders a tall, sad-faced arrival, dressed in the style of the previous century and moving as though he were walking in his sleep. Oblivious to the bustle around him, the man stops before a tall, thin mirror, which decorates the exterior of an elegant café, and examines himself closely. After this solemn inspection, he ceremoniously removes his hat and bows politely to himself in the old-fashioned pre-Revolutionary manner. Now bareheaded, the man can be readily recognized as the illustrious tragedian Esprit Chaudval, whose real name is Lepeinteur, and whom everyone calls Monanteuil.
Seeming shocked, Chaudval continues to stare at himself in the mirror while all around him silence reigns, for everyone else has gone, and he is alone. What has shocked him is that his hair, salt and pepper only yesterday, is now the color of moonlight. In the mirror he has caught a glimpse of himself growing old. This spectacle sets off in the actor a host of memories and reflections about the sad necessity that faces him: to retire from the stage and give up the pleasures of the theatrical life that he has so long relished. He recalls his recent decision to...
(The entire section is 667 words.)