"And you too, if you like, young lady," said the milkman. "You are thinner than a grasshopper, and you won't make it any heavier."
I did not want inviting twice, although rather annoyed by the man's speech.
When once my mother was installed, in spite of her hesitation, by the side of the milkman, and the children and I were in amongst the full and empty milk-pails, I said to our driver, "Would you mind coming back to fetch the others?" I pointed to the remaining group, and added, "You shall have twenty francs more."
"Right you are!" said the worthy fellow. "A good day's work! Don't you tire your legs, you others. I'll be back for you directly!"
He then whipped up his horse and we started at a wild rate. The children rolled about and I held on. My mother set her teeth and did not utter a word, but from under her long lashes she glanced at me with a displeased look.
On arriving at my door the milkman drew up his horse so sharply that I thought my mother would have fallen out on to the animal's back. We had arrived, though, and we got out. The cart started off again at full speed. My mother would not speak to me for about an hour. Poor, pretty mother, it was not my fault.
I had gone away from Paris eleven days before, and had then left a sad city. The sadness had been painful, the result of a great and unexpected misfortune. No one had dared to look up, fearing to be blown upon by the same wind which was blowing the German flag floating yonder towards the Arc de Triomphe.
I now found Paris effervescent and grumbling. The walls were placarded with multi-coloured posters; and all these posters contained the wildest harangues. Fine noble ideas were side by side with absurd threats. Workmen on their way to their daily toil stopped in front of these bills. One would read aloud, and the gathering crowd would begin to read over again.
And all these human beings, who had just been suffering so much through this abominable war, now echoed these appeals for vengeance. They were very much to be excused.
This war, alas! had hollowed out under their very feet a gulf of ruin and of mourning. Poverty had brought the women to rags, the privations of the siege had lowered the vitality of the children, and the shame of the defeat had discouraged the men.
Well, these appeals to rebellion, these anarchist shouts, these yells from the crowd, shrieking: "Down with thrones! Down with the Republic! Down with the rich! Down with the priests! Down with the Jews! Down with the army! Down with the masters! Down with those who work! Down with everything!"—all these cries roused the benumbed hearers. The Germans, who fomented all these riots, rendered us a real service without intending it. Those who had given themselves up to resignation were stirred out of their torpor. Others, who demanded revenge, found an aliment for their inactive forces. None of them agreed. There were ten or twenty different parties, devouring each other and threatening each other. It was terrible.
But it was the awakening. It was life after death. I had among my friends about ten of the leaders of different opinions, and all of them interested me, the maddest and the wisest of them.
I often saw Gambetta at Girardin's, and it was a joy to me to listen to this admirable man. What he said was so wise, so well-balanced, and so captivating.
This man, with his heavy stomach, his short arms, and huge head, had a halo of beauty round him when he spoke.
Gambetta was never common, never ordinary. He took snuff, and the gesture of his hand when he brushed away the stray grains was full of grace. He smoked huge cigars, but could smoke them without inconveniencing any one. When he was tired of politics and talked literature it was a real charm, for he knew everything and quoted poetry admirably. One evening, after a dinner at Girardin's, we played together the whole scene of the first act of Hernani with Dona Sol. And if he was not as handsome as Mounet-Sully, he was just as admirable in it.
On another occasion he recited the whole of "Ruth and Boaz," commencing with the last verse.
But I preferred his political discussions, especially when he criticised the speech of some one who was of the opposite opinion to himself. The eminent qualities of this politician's talent were logic and weight, and his seductive force was his chauvinism. The early death of so great a thinker is a disconcerting challenge flung at human pride.
I sometimes saw Rochefort, whose wit delighted me. I was not at ease with him, though, for he was the cause of the fall of the Empire, and, although I am very republican, I liked the Emperor Napoleon III. He had been too trustful, but very unfortunate, and it seemed to me that Rochefort insulted him too much after his misfortune.
I also frequently saw Paul de Remusat, the favourite of Thiers. He had great refinement of mind, broad ideas, and fascinating manners. Some people accused him of Orleanism. He was a Republican, and a much more advanced Republican than Thiers. One must have known him very little to believe him to be anything else but what he said he was. Paul de Remusat had a horror of untruth. He was sensitive, and had a very straightforward, strong character. He took no active part in politics, except in private circles, and his advice always prevailed, even in the Chamber and in the Senate. He would never speak except when in committee. The Ministry of Fine Arts was offered to him a hundred times, but he refused it a hundred times. Finally, after my repeated entreaties, he almost allowed himself to be appointed Minister of Fine Arts, but at the last moment he declined, and wrote me a delightful letter, from which I quote a few passages. As the letter was not written for publication, I do not consider that I have a right to give the whole of it, but there seems to be no harm in publishing these few lines:
"Allow me, my charming friend, to remain in the shade. I can see better there than in the dazzling brilliancy of honours. You are grateful to me sometimes for being attentive to the miseries you point out to me. Let me keep my independence. It is more agreeable to me to have the right to relieve every one than to be obliged to relieve no matter whom.... In matters of art I have made for myself an ideal of beauty, which would naturally seem too partial...."
It is a great pity that the scruples of this delicate-minded man did not allow him to accept this office. The reforms that he pointed out to me were, and still are, very necessary ones. However, that cannot be helped.
I also knew and frequently saw a mad sort of fellow, full of dreams and Utopian follies. His name was Flourens, and he was tall and nice-looking. He wanted every one to be happy and every one to have money, and he shot down the soldiers without reflecting that he was commencing by making one or more of them unhappy. Reasoning with him was impossible, but he was charming and brave. I saw him two days before his death. He came to see me with a very young girl who wanted to devote herself to dramatic art. I promised him to help her. Two days later the poor child came to tell me of the heroic death of Flourens. He had refused to surrender, and, stretching out his arms, had shouted to the hesitating soldiers, "Shoot, shoot! I should not have spared you!" And their bullets had killed him.
Another man, not so interesting, whom I looked upon as a dangerous madman, was a certain Raoul Rigault. For a short time he was Prefect of Police. He was very young and very daring, wildly ambitious, determined to do anything to succeed, and it seemed to him more easy to do harm than good. That man was a real danger. He belonged to a group of students who used to send me verses every day. I came across them everywhere, enthusiastic and mad. They had been nicknamed in Paris the Saradoteurs (Sara-dotards). One day he brought me a little one-act play. The piece was so stupid and the verses were so insipid that I sent it him back with a few words, which he no doubt considered unkind, for he bore me malice for them, and attempted to avenge himself in the following way. He called on me one day, and Madame Guerard was there when he was shown in.
"Do you know that I am all-powerful at present?" he said.
"In these days there is nothing surprising in that," I replied.
"I have come to see you, either to make peace or declare war," he continued.
This way of talking did not suit me, and I sprang up. "As I can foresee that your conditions of peace would not suit me, cher Monsieur, I will not give you time to declare war. You are one of the men one would prefer, no matter how spiteful they might be, as enemies rather than friends." With these words I rang for my footman to show the Prefect of Police to the door. Madame Guerard was in despair. "That man will do us some harm, my dear Sarah, I assure you," she said.
She was not mistaken in her presentiment, except that she was thinking of me and not of herself, for his first vengeance was taken on her, by sending away one of her relatives, who was a police commissioner, to an inferior and dangerous post. He then began to invent a hundred miseries for me. One day I received an order to go at once to the Prefecture of Police on urgent business. I took no notice. The following day a mounted courier brought me a note from Sire Raoul Rigault, threatening to send a prison van for me. I took no notice whatever of the threats of this wretch, who was shot shortly after and died without showing any courage.
Life, however, was no longer possible in Paris, and I decided to go to St. Germain-en-Laye. I asked my mother to go with me, but she went to Switzerland with my youngest sister.
The departure from Paris was not as easy as I had hoped. Communists with gun on shoulder stopped the trains and searched in all our bags and pockets, and even under the cushions of the railway carriages. They were afraid that the passengers were taking newspapers to Versailles. This was monstrously stupid.
The installation at St. Germain was not an easy thing either. Nearly all Paris had taken refuge in this little place, which is as pretty as it is dull. From the height of the terrace, where the crowd remained morning and night, we could see the alarming progress of the Commune.
On all sides of Paris the flames rose, proud and destructive. The wind often brought us burnt papers, which we took to the Council House. The Seine brought quantities along with it, and the boatmen collected these in sacks. Some days—and these were the most distressing of all—an opaque veil of smoke enveloped Paris. There was no breeze to allow the flames to pierce through.
The city then burnt stealthily, without our anxious eyes being able to discover the fresh buildings that these furious madmen had set alight.
I went for a ride every day in the forest. Sometimes I would go as far as Versailles, but this was not without danger. We often came across poor starving wretches in the forest, whom we joyfully helped, but often, too, there were prisoners who had escaped from Poissy, or Communist sharpshooters trying to shoot a Versailles soldier.
One day, on the way back from Triel, where Captain O'Connor and I had been for a gallop over the hills, we entered the forest rather late in the evening, as it was a shorter way. A shot was fired from a neighbouring thicket, which made my horse bound so suddenly towards the left that I was thrown. Fortunately my horse was quiet. O'Connor hurried to me, but I was already up and ready to mount again. "Just a second," he said; "I want to search that thicket." A short gallop soon brought him to the spot, and I then heard a shot, some branches breaking under flying feet, then another shot not at all like the two former ones, and my friend appeared again with a pistol in his hand.
"You have not been hit?" I asked.
"Yes, the first shot just touched my leg, but the fellow aimed too low. The second he fired haphazard. I fancy, though, that he has a bullet from my revolver in his body."
"But I heard some one running away," I said.
"Oh," replied the elegant captain, chuckling, "he will not go far."
"Poor wretch!" I murmured.
"Oh no," exclaimed O'Connor, "do not pity them, I beg. They kill numbers of our men every day; only yesterday five soldiers from my regiment were found on the Versailles road, not only killed, but mutilated," and gnashing his teeth, he finished his sentence with an oath.
I turned towards him rather surprised, but he took no notice. We continued our way, riding as quickly as the obstacles in the forest would allow us. Suddenly, our horses stopped short, snorting and sniffing. O'Connor took his revolver in his hand, got off, and led his horse. A few yards from us there was a man lying on the ground.
"That must be the wretch who shot at me," said my companion, and bending down over the man he spoke to him. A moan was the only reply. O'Connor had not seen his man, so that he could not have recognised him. He lighted a match, and we saw that this one had no gun. I had dismounted, and was trying to raise the unfortunate man's head, but I withdrew my hand, covered with blood. He had opened his eyes, and fixed them on O'Connor.
"Ah, it's you, Versailles dog!" he said. "It was you who shot me! I missed you, but—" He tried to pull out the revolver from his belt, but the effort was too great, and his hand fell down inert. O'Connor on his side had cocked his revolver, but I placed myself in front of the man, and besought him to leave the poor fellow in peace. I could scarcely recognise my friend, for this handsome, fair-haired man, so polite, rather a snob, but very charming, seemed to have turned into a brute. Leaning towards the unfortunate man, his under-jaw protruded, he was muttering under his teeth some inarticulate words; his clenched hand seemed to be grasping his anger, just as one does an anonymous letter before flinging it away in disgust.
"O'Connor, let this man alone, please!" I said.
He was as gallant a man as he was a good soldier. He gave way and seemed to become aware of the situation again. "Good!" he said, helping me to mount once more. "When I have taken you back to your hotel, I will come back with some men to pick up this wretch."
Half an hour later we were back home, without having exchanged another word during our ride.
I kept up my friendship with O'Connor, but I could never see him again without thinking of that scene. Suddenly, when he was talking to me, the brute-like mask under which I had seen him for a second would fix itself again over his laughing face. Quite recently, in March 1905, General O'Connor, who was commanding in Algeria, came to see me one evening in my dressing-room at the theatre. He told me about his difficulties with some of the great Arab chiefs.
"I fancy," he said, laughing, "that we shall have a brush together."
Again I saw the captain's mask on the general's face.
I never saw him again, for he died six months afterwards.
We were at last able to go back to Paris. The abominable and shameful peace had been signed, the wretched Commune crushed. Everything was supposed to be in order again. But what blood and ashes! What women in mourning! What ruins!
In Paris, we inhaled the bitter odour of smoke. All that I touched at home left on my fingers a somewhat greasy and almost imperceptible colour. A general uneasiness beset France, and more especially Paris. The theatres, however, opened their doors once more, and that was a general relief.
One morning I received from the Odeon a notice of rehearsal. I shook out my hair, stamped my feet, and sniffed the air like a young horse snorting.
The race-ground was to be opened for us again. We should be able to gallop afresh through our dreams. The lists were ready. The contest was beginning. Life was commencing again. It is truly strange that man's mind should have made of life a perpetual strife. When there is no longer war there is battle, for there are a hundred thousand of us aiming for the same object. God has created the earth and man for each other. The earth is vast. What ground there is uncultivated! Miles upon miles, acres upon acres of new land waiting for arms that will take from its bosom the treasures of inexhaustible Nature. And we remain grouped round each other, crowds of famishing people watching other groups, which are also lying in wait.
The Odeon opened its doors to the public with a repertory programme. Some new pieces were given us to study. One of these met with tremendous success. It was Andre Theuriet's Jean-Marie, and was produced in October 1871. This one-act play is a veritable masterpiece, and it took its author straight to the Academy. Porel, who played the part of Jean-Marie, met with an enormous success. He was at that time slender, nimble, and full of youthful ardour. He needed a little more poetry, but the joyous laughter of his thirty-two teeth made up in ardour for what was wanting in poetic desire. It was very good, anyhow.
My role of the young Breton girl, submissive to the elderly husband forced upon her, and living eternally with the memory of the fiance who was absent, and perhaps dead, was pretty, poetical, and touching by reason of the final sacrifice. There was even a certain grandeur in the concluding part of the piece. It had, I must repeat, an immense success, and increased my growing reputation.
I was, however, awaiting the event which was to consecrate me a star. I did not quite know what I was expecting, but I knew that my Messiah had to come. And it was the greatest poet of the last century who was to place on my head the crown of the elect.
At the end of that year 1871, we were told, in rather a mysterious and solemn way, that we were going to play a piece of Victor Hugo's. My mind at that time of my life was still closed to great ideas. I was living in rather a bourgeois atmosphere, what with my somewhat cosmopolitan family, their rather snobbish acquaintances and friends, and the acquaintances and friends I had chosen in my independent life as an artiste.
I had heard Victor Hugo spoken of ever since my childhood as a rebel and a renegade, and his works, which I had read with passion, did not prevent my judging him with very great severity. And I blush to-day with anger and shame when I think of all my absurd prejudices, fomented by the imbecile or insincere little court which flattered me. I had a great desire, nevertheless, to play in Ruy Blas. The role of the Queen seemed so charming to me.
I mentioned my wish to Duquesnel, who said he had already thought of it. Jane Essler, an artiste then in vogue, but a trifle vulgar, had great chances, though, against me. She was on very amicable terms with Paul Meurice, Victor Hugo's intimate friend and adviser. One of my friends brought Auguste Vacquerie to my house. He was another friend, and even a relative, of the "illustrious master."
Auguste Vacquerie promised to speak to Victor Hugo, and two days later he came again, assuring me that I had every chance in my favour. Paul Meurice himself, a very straightforward man, a delightful soul, had proposed me to the author. And Geffroy, the admirable artiste who had retired from the Comedie Francaise, and was now asked to play Don Salluste, had said, it appears, that he could only see one little Queen of Spain worthy to wear the crown, and I was that one. I did not know Geffroy; I did not know Paid Meurice; and was rather astonished that they should know me.
The play was to be read to the artistes at Victor Hugo's, December 6,1871, at two o'clock. I was very much spoilt, and very much praised and flattered, so that I felt hurt at the unceremoniousness of a man who did not condescend to disturb himself, but asked women to go to his house when there was neutral ground, the theatre, for the reading of plays. I mentioned this unheard-of incident at five o'clock to my little court, and men and women alike exclaimed: "What! That man who was only the other day an outlaw! That man who has only just been pardoned! That nobody!—dares to ask the little Idol, the Queen of Hearts, the Fairy of Fairies, to put herself to inconvenience!"
All my little sanctuary was in a tumult; men and women alike could not keep still.
"She must not go," they said. "Write him this"—"Write him that." And they were composing impertinent, disdainful letters when Marshal Canrobert was announced. He belonged at that time to my little five o'clock court, and he was soon posted on what had taken place by my turbulent visitors. He was furiously angry at the imbecilities uttered against the great poet.
"You must not go to Victor Hugo's," he said to me, "for it seems to me that he has no reason to deviate from the regular custom. But say that you are suddenly unwell; follow my advice and show the respect for him that we owe to genius."
I followed my great friend's counsel, and sent the following letter to the poet:
"MONSIEUR,—The Queen has taken a chill, and her Camerara Mayor forbids her to go out. You know better than any one else the etiquette of the Spanish Court. Pity your Queen, Monsieur."
I sent the letter, and the following was the poet's reply:
"I am your valet, Madame.
The next day the play was read on the stage to the artistes. I believe that the reading did not take place, or at least not entirely, at the Master's house.
I then made the acquaintance of the monster. Ah, what a grudge I had for a long time against all those silly people who had prejudiced me!
The monster was charming—so witty and refined, and so gallant, with a gallantry that was a homage and not an insult. He was so good, too, to the humble, and always so gay. He was not, certainly, the ideal of elegance, but there was a moderation in his gestures, a gentleness in his way of speaking, which savoured of the old French peer. He was quick at repartee, and his observations were gentle but pertinent. He recited poetry badly, but adored hearing it well recited. He often made sketches during the rehearsals.
He frequently spoke in verse when he wished to reprimand an artiste. One day during a rehearsal he was trying to convince poor Talien about his bad elocution. I was bored by the length of the colloquy, and sat down on the table swinging my legs. He understood my impatience, and getting up from the middle of the orchestra stalls, he exclaimed,
"Une Reine d'Espagne honnete et respectable Ne devrait point ainsi s'asseoir sur une table?"
I sprang up from the table slightly embarrassed, and wanted to answer him in rather a piquant or witty way—but I could not find anything to say, and remained there confused and in a bad temper.
One day, when the rehearsal was over an hour earlier than usual, I was waiting, my forehead pressed against the window-pane, for the arrival of Madame Guerard, who was coming to fetch me. I was gazing idly at the footpath opposite, which is bounded by the Luxembourg railings. Victor Hugo had just crossed the road, and was about to walk on. An old woman attracted his attention. She had just put a heavy bundle of linen down on the ground, and was wiping her forehead, on which were great beads of perspiration. In spite of the cold, her toothless mouth was half open, as she was panting, and her eyes had an expression of distressing anxiety as she looked at the wide road she had to cross, with carriages and omnibuses passing each other. Victor Hugo approached her, and after a short conversation he drew a piece of money from his pocket, handed it to the old woman; then, taking off his hat, he confided it to her, and with a quick movement and a laughing face lifted the bundle onto his shoulder and crossed the road, followed by the bewildered woman. I rushed downstairs to embrace him for it, but by the time I had reached the passage I jostled against de Chilly, who wanted to stop me, and when I descended the staircase Victor Hugo had disappeared. I could only see the old woman's back, but it seemed to me that she hobbled along now more briskly.
The next day I told the poet that I had witnessed his delicate good deed.
"Oh," said Paul Meurice, his eyes wet with emotion, "every day that dawns is a day of kindness for him."
I embraced Victor Hugo, and we went to the rehearsal.
Oh, those rehearsals of Ruy Bias! I shall never forget them, for there was such good grace and charm about everything. When Victor Hugo arrived, everything brightened up. His two satellites, Auguste Vacquerie and Paul Meurice, scarcely ever left him, and when the Master was absent they kept up the divine fire.
Geffroy, severe, sad, and distinguished, often gave me advice. During the intervals for rest I posed for him in various attitudes, for he was a painter. In the foyer of the Comedie Francaise there are two pictures by him, representing two generations of Societaires of both sexes. The pictures are not of very original composition, neither are they of beautiful colouring, but they are faithful likenesses, it appears, and rather happily grouped.
Lafontaine, who was playing Ruy Bias, often had long discussions with the Master, in which Victor Hugo never yielded. And I must confess that he was always right.
Lafontaine had conviction and self-assurance, but his elocution was very bad for poetry. He had lost his teeth, and they were replaced by a set of false ones. This gave a certain slowness to his delivery, and there was a little odd clacking sound between his real palate and his artificial rubber palate, which often distracted the ear listening attentively to catch the beauty of the poetry.
As for poor Talien, who was playing Don Guritan, he made a hash of it every minute. His comprehension of the role was quite erroneous. Victor Hugo explained it to him clearly and intelligently. Talien was a well-intentioned comedian, a hard worker, always conscientious, but as stupid as a goose. What he did not understand at first he never understood. As long as he lived he would never understand. But, as he was straightforward and loyal, he put himself into the hands of the author, and gave himself up then in complete abnegation. "That is not as I understood it," he would say, "but I will do as you tell me."
He would then rehearse, word by word and gesture by gesture, with the inflexions and movements required. This got on my nerves in the most painful way, and was a cruel blow dealt at the solidarity of my artistic pride. I often took this poor Talien aside and tried to urge him on to rebellion, but it was all in vain.
He was tall, and his arms were too long, and his eyes tired; his nose was weary with having grown too long, and it sank over his lips in heartrending dejection. His forehead was covered with thick hair, and his chin seemed to be running away in a hurry from his ill-built face. A great kindliness was diffused all over his being, and this kindliness was his very self. Every one was therefore infinitely fond of him.
A MEMORABLE SUPPER
January 26, 1872, was an artistic fete for the Odeon. The Tout-Paris of first nights and the vibrating younger elements were to meet in the large, solemn, dusty theatre. Ah, what a splendid, stirring performance it was! What a triumph for Geffroy, pale, sinister, and severe-looking in his black costume as Don Salluste. Melingue rather disappointed the public as Don Cesar de Bazan, and the public was in the wrong. The role of Don Cesar de Bazan is a treacherously good role, which always tempts artists by the brilliancy of the first act; but the fourth act, which belongs entirely to him, is distressingly heavy and useless. It might be taken out of the piece just like a periwinkle out of its shell, and the piece would be none the less clear and complete.
This 26th of January rent asunder, though, for me the thin veil which still made my future hazy, and I felt that I was destined for celebrity. Until that day I had remained the students' little fairy. I became then the Elect of the public.
Breathless, dazed, and yet delighted by my success, I did not know to whom to reply in the ever-changing stream of male and female admirers. Then, suddenly, I saw the crowd separating and forming two lines, and I caught a glimpse of Victor Hugo and Girardin coming towards me. In a second all the stupid ideas I had had about this immense genius flashed across me. I remembered my first interview, when I had been stiff and barely polite to this kind, indulgent man. At that moment, when all my life was opening its wings, I should have liked to cry out to him my repentance and to tell him of my devout gratitude.
Before I could speak, though, he was down on his knee, and raising my two hands to his lips, he murmured, "Thank you! Thank you!"
And so it was he who said "Thank you." He, the great Victor Hugo, whose soul was so beautiful, whose universal genius filled the world! He, whose generous hands flung pardons like gems to all his insulters. Ah, how small I felt, how ashamed, and yet how happy! He then rose, shook the hands that were held out to him, finding for every one the right word.
He was so handsome that night, with his broad forehead, which seemed to retain the light, his thick, silvery fleece of hair, and his laughing luminous eyes.
Not daring to fling myself in Victor Hugo's arms, I fell into Girardin's, the sure friend of my first steps, and I burst into tears. He took me aside in my dressing-room. "You must not let yourself be intoxicated with this great success now," he said. "There must be no more risky jumps, now that you are crowned with laurels. You will have to be more yielding, more docile, more sociable."
"I feel that I shall never be yielding nor docile, my friend," I answered looking at him, "I will try to be more sociable, but that is all I can promise. As to my crown, I assure you that in spite of my risky jumps, and I feel that I shall always be making some, the crown will not shake off."
Paul Meurice, who had come up to us, overheard this conversation, and reminded me of it on the evening of the first performance of Angelo at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre, on February 7, 1905.
On returning home, I sat up a long time talking to Madame Guerard, and when she wanted to go I begged her to stay longer. I had become so rich in hopes for the future that I was afraid of thieves. Mon petit Dame stayed on with me, and we talked till daybreak. At seven o'clock we took a cab and I drove my dear friend home, and then continued driving for another hour. I had already achieved a fair number of successes: Le Passant, Le Drame de la Rue de la Paix, Anna Danby in Kean, and Jean-Marie, but I felt that the Ruy Blas success was greater than any of the others, and that this time I had become some one to be criticised, but not to be overlooked.
I often went in the morning to Victor Hugo's, and he was always very charming and kind.
When I was quite at my ease with him, I spoke to him about my first impressions, about all my stupid, nervous rebellion with regard to him, about all that I had been told and all that I had believed in my naive ignorance about political matters.
One morning the Master took great delight in my conversation. He sent for Madame Drouet, the sweet soul, the companion of his glorious and rebellious mind. He told her, in a laughing but melancholy way, that the evil work of bad people is to sow error in every soil, whether favourable or not. That morning is engraved for ever in my mind, for the great man talked a long time. Oh, it was not for me, but for what I represented in his eyes. Was I not, as a matter of fact, the young generation, in which a bourgeois and clerical education had warped the intelligence by closing the mind to every generous idea, to every flight towards the new?
When I left Victor Hugo that morning I felt myself more worthy of his friendship.
I then went to Girardin's, as I wanted to talk to some one who loved the poet, but he was out.
I went next to Marshal Canrobert's, and there I had a great surprise. Just as I was getting out of the carriage, I nearly fell into the arms of the Marshal, who was coming out of his house.
"What is it? What's the matter? Is it postponed?" he asked, laughing.
I did not understand, and gazed at him rather bewildered.
"Well, have you forgotten that you invited me to luncheon?" he asked.
I was quite confused, for I had entirely forgotten it.
"Well, all the better!" I said; "I very much wanted to talk to you. Come; I am going to take you with me now."
I then related my visit to Victor Hugo, and repeated all the fine thoughts he had uttered, forgetting that I was constantly saying things that were contrary to the Marshal's ideas. This admirable man could admire, though, and if he could not change his opinions, he approved the great ideas which were to bring about great changes.
One day, when he and Busnach were both at my house, there was a political discussion which became rather violent. I was afraid for a moment that things might take a bad turn, as Busnach was the most witty and at the same time the rudest man in France. It is only fair to say, though, that if Marshal Canrobert was a polite man and very well bred, he was not at all behind William Busnach in wit. The latter was worked up by the chafing speeches of the Marshal.
"I challenge you, Monsieur," he exclaimed, "to write about the odious Utopias that you have just been supporting!"
"Oh, Monsieur Busnach," replied Canrobert coldly, "we do not use the same steel for writing history! You use a pen, and I a sword."
The luncheon that I had so completely forgotten was nevertheless a luncheon arranged several days previously. On reaching home we found there Paul de Remusat, charming Mlle. Hocquigny, and M. de Monbel, a young attache d'ambassade. I explained my lateness as well as I could, and that morning finished in the most delicious harmony of ideas.
I have never felt more than I did that day the infinite joy of listening.
During a silence Mlle. Hocquigny turned to the Marshal and said:
"Are you not of the opinion that our young friend should enter the Comedie Francaise?"
"Ah, no, no!" I exclaimed; "I am so happy at the Odeon. I began at the Comedie, and the short time I remained there I was very unhappy."
"You will be obliged to go back there, my dear friend—obliged. Believe me, it will be better early than late."
"Well, do not spoil today's pleasure for me, for I have never been happier!"
One morning shortly after this my maid brought me a letter. The large round stamp, on which are the words "Comedie Francaise" was on the corner of the envelope.
I remembered that ten years previously, almost day for day, our old servant Marguerite had, with my mother's permission, handed me a letter in the same kind of envelope.
My face then had flushed with joy, but this time I felt a faint tinge of pallor touch my cheeks.
When events occur which disturb my life, I always have a movement of recoil. I cling for a second to what is, and then I fling myself headlong into what is to be. It is like a gymnast who clings first to his trapeze bar in order to fling himself afterwards with full force into space. In one second what now is becomes for me what was, and I love it with tender emotion as something dead. But I adore what is to be without seeking even to know about it, for what is to be is the unknown, the mysterious attraction. I always fancy that it will be something unheard of, and I shudder from head to foot in delicious uneasiness. I receive quantities of letters, and it seems to me that I never receive enough. I watch them accumulating just as I watch the waves of the sea. What are they going to bring me, these mysterious envelopes, large, small, pink, blue, yellow, white? What are they going to fling upon the rock, these great wild waves, dark with seaweed? What sailor-boy's corpse? What remains of a wreck? What are these little brisk waves going to leave on the beach, these reflections of a blue sky, little laughing waves? What pink "sea-star"? What mauve anemone? What pearly shell?
So I never open my letters immediately. I look at the envelopes, try to recognise the handwriting and the seal; and it is only when I am quite certain from whom the letter comes that I open it. The others I leave my secretary to open or a kind friend, Suzanne Seylor. My friends know this so well that they always put their initials in the corner of their envelopes.
At that time I had no secretary, but mon petit Dame served me as such.
I looked at the envelope a long time, and gave it at last to Madame Guerard.
"It is a letter from M. Perrin, director of the Comedie Francaise," she said. "He asks if you can fix a time to see him on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon at the Comedie Francaise or at your own house."
"Thanks. What day is it to-day?" I asked.
"Monday," she replied.
I then installed Madame Guerard at my desk, and asked her to reply that I would go there the following day at three o'clock.
I was earning very little at that time at the Odeon. I was living on what my father had left me—that is, on the transaction made by the Havre notary—and not much remained. I therefore went to see Duquesnel and showed him the letter.
"Well, what are you going to do?" he asked.
"Nothing. I have come to ask your advice."
"Oh well, I advise you to remain at the Odeon. Besides, your engagement does not terminate for another year, and I shall not allow you leave!"
"Well, raise my salary, then," I said. "I am offered twelve thousand francs a year at the Comedie. Give me fifteen thousand here and I will stay, for I do not want to leave."
"Listen to me," said the charming manager in a friendly way. "You know that I am not free to act alone. I will do my best, I promise you." And Duquesnel certainly kept his word. "Come here to-morrow before going to the Comedie, and I will give you Chilly's reply. But take my advice, and if he obstinately refuses to increase your salary, do not leave; we shall find some way.... And besides—Anyhow, I cannot say any more."
I returned the following day according to arrangement.
I found Duquesnel and Chilly in the managerial office. Chilly began at once somewhat roughly:
"And so you want to leave, Duquesnel tells me. Where are you going? It is most stupid, for your place is here. Just consider, and think it over for yourself. At the Gymnase they only give modern pieces, dressy plays. That is not your style. At the Vaudeville it is the same. At the Gaite you would spoil your voice. You are too distinguished for the Ambigu."
I looked at him without replying. I saw that his partner had not spoken to him about the Comedie Francaise. He felt awkward, and mumbled:
"Well then, you are of my opinion?"
"No," I answered; "you have forgotten the Comedie."
He was sitting in his big arm-chair, and he burst out laughing.
"Ah no, my dear girl," he said, "you must not tell me that. They've had enough of your queer character at the Comedie. I dined the other night with Maubant, and when some one said that you ought to be engaged at the Comedie Francaise he nearly choked with rage. I can assure you the great tragedian did not show much affection for you."
"Oh well, you ought to have taken my part," I exclaimed, irritated. "You know very well that I am a most serious member of your company."
"But I did take your part," he said, "and I added even that it would be a very fortunate thing for the Comedie if it could have an artiste with your will power, which perhaps might relieve the monotonous tone of the house; and I only spoke as I thought, but the poor tragedian was beside himself. He does not consider that you have any talent. In the first place, he maintains that you do not know how to recite verse. He declares that you make all your a's too broad. Finally, when he had no arguments left he declared that as long as he lives you will never enter the Comedie Francaise."
I was silent for a moment, weighing the pros and cons of the probable result of my experiment. Finally coming to a decision, I murmured somewhat waveringly:
"Well then, you will not give me a higher salary?"
"No, a thousand times no!" yelled Chilly. "You will try to make me pay up when your engagement comes to an end, and then we shall see. But I have your signature until then. You have mine, too, and I hold to our engagement. The Theatre Francais is the only one that would suit you beside ours, and I am quite easy in my mind with regard to that theatre."
"You make a mistake perhaps," I answered. He got up brusquely and came and stood opposite me, his two hands in his pockets. He then said in an odious and familiar tone:
"Ah, that's it, is it? You think I am an idiot, then?"
I got up too, and said coldly, pushing him gently back, "I think you are a triple idiot." I then hurried away towards the staircase, and all Duquesnel's shouting was in vain. I ran down the stairs two at a time.
On arriving under the Odeon arcade I was stopped by Paul Meurice, who was just going to invite Duquesnel and Chilly, on behalf of Victor Hugo, to a supper to celebrate the one hundredth performance of Ruy Blas.
"I have just come from your house," he said. "I have left you a few lines from Victor Hugo."
"Good, good; that's all right," I replied, getting into my carriage. "I shall see you to-morrow then, my friend."
"Good Heavens, what a hurry you are in!" he said.
"Yes!" I replied, and then, leaning out of the window, I said to my coachman, "Drive to the Comedie Francaise."
I looked at Paul Meurice to wish him farewell. He was standing stupefied on the arcade steps.
On arriving at the Comedie I sent my card to Perrin, and five minutes later was ushered in to that icy mannikin. There were two very distinct personages in this man. The one was the man he was himself, and the other the one he had created for the requirements of his profession. Perrin himself was gallant, pleasant, witty, and slightly timid; the mannikin was cold, and somewhat given to posing.
I was first received by Perrin the mannikin. He was standing up, his head bent, bowing to a woman, his arm outstretched to indicate the hospitable armchair. He waited with a certain affectation until I was seated before sitting down himself. He then picked up a paper-knife, in order to have something to do with his hands, and in a rather weak voice, the voice of the mannikin, he remarked:
"Have you thought it over, Mademoiselle?"
"Yes, Monsieur, and here I am to give my signature."
Before he had time to give me any encouragement to dabble with the things on his desk, I drew up my chair, picked up a pen, and prepared to sign the paper. I did not take enough ink at first, and I stretched my arm out across the whole width of the writing table, and dipped my pen this time resolutely to the bottom of the ink-pot. I took too much ink, however, this time, and on the return journey a huge spot of it fell on the large sheet of white paper in front of the mannikin.
He bent his head, for he was slightly short-sighted, and looked for a moment like a bird when it discovers a hemp-seed in its grain. He then proceeded to put aside the blotted sheet.
"Wait a minute, oh, wait a minute!" I exclaimed, seizing the inky paper. "I want to see whether I am doing right or not to sign. If that is a butterfly I am right, and if anything else, no matter what, I am wrong." I took the sheet, doubled it in the middle of the enormous blot, and pressed it firmly together. Emile Perrin thereupon began to laugh, giving up his mannikin attitude entirely. He leaned over to examine the paper with me, and we opened it very gently just as one opens one's hand after imprisoning a fly. When the paper was spread open, in the midst of its whiteness a magnificent black butterfly with outspread wings was to be seen.
"Well then," said Perrin, with nothing of the mannikin left, "we were quite right in signing."
After this we talked for some time, like two friends who meet again, for this man was charming and very fascinating, in spite of his ugliness. When I left him we were friends and delighted with each other.
I was playing in Ruy Blas that night at the Odeon. Towards ten o'clock Duquesnel came to my dressing-room.
"You were rather rough on that poor Chilly," he said. "And you really were not nice. You ought to have come back when I called you. Is it true, as Paul Meurice tells us, that you went straight to the Theatre Francais?"
"Here, read for yourself," I said, handing him my engagement with the Comedie.
Duquesnel took the paper and read it.
"Will you let me show it to Chilly?" he asked.
"Show it him, certainly," I replied.
He came nearer, and said in a grave, hurt tone:
"You ought never to have done that without telling me first. It shows a lack of confidence I do not deserve."
He was right, but the thing was done. A moment later Chilly arrived, furious, gesticulating, shouting, stammering in his anger.
"It is abominable!" he said. "It is treason, and you had not even the right to do it. I shall make you pay damages."
As I felt in a bad humour, I turned my back on him, and apologised as feebly as possible to Duquesnel. He was hurt, and I was a little ashamed, for this man had given me nothing but proofs of kindliness, and it was he who, in spite of Chilly and many other unwilling people, had held the door open for my future.
Chilly kept his word, and brought an action against me and the Comedie. I lost, and had to pay six thousand francs damages to the managers of the Odeon.
A few weeks later Victor Hugo invited the artistes who performed in Ruy Bias to a big supper in honour of the one hundredth performance. This was a great delight to me, as I had never been present at a supper of this kind.
I had scarcely spoken to Chilly since our last scene. On the night in question he was placed at my right, and we had to get reconciled. I was seated to the right of Victor Hugo, and to his left was Madame Lambquin, who was playing the Camerara Mayor, and Duquesnel was next to Madame Lambquin. Opposite the illustrious poet was another poet, Theophile Gautier, with his lion's head on an elephant's body. He had a brilliant mind, and said the choicest things with a horse laugh. The flesh of his fat, flabby, wan face was pierced by two eyes veiled by heavy lids. The expression of them was charming, but far away. There was in this man an Oriental nobility choked by Western fashion and customs. I knew nearly all his poetry, and I gazed at him with affection—the fond lover of the beautiful.
It amused me to imagine him dressed in superb Oriental costumes. I could see him lying down on huge cushions, his beautiful hands playing with gems of all colours; and some of his verses came in murmurs to my lips. I was just setting off with him in a dream that was infinite, when a word from my neighbour, Victor Hugo, made me turn towards him.
What a difference! He was just himself, the great poet—the most ordinary of beings except for his luminous forehead. He was heavy-looking, although very active. His nose was common, his eyes lewd, and his mouth without any beauty; his voice alone had nobility and charm. I liked to listen to him whilst looking at Theophile Gautier.
I was a little embarrassed, though, when I looked across the table, for at the side of the poet was an odious individual, Paul de St. Victor. His cheeks looked like two bladders from which the oil they contained was oozing out. His nose was sharp and like a crow's beak, his eyes evil-looking and hard; his arms were too short, and he was too stout. He looked like a jaundice.
He had plenty of wit and talent, but he employed both in saying and writing more harm than good. I knew that this man hated me, and I promptly returned him hatred for hatred.
In answer to the toast proposed by Victor Hugo thanking every one for such zealous help on the revival of his work, each person raised his glass and looked towards the poet, but the illustrious master turned towards me and continued, "As to you, Madame——"
Just at this moment Paul de St. Victor put his glass down so violently on the table that it broke. There was an instant of stupor, and then I leaned across the table and held my glass out towards Paul de St. Victor.
"Take mine, Monsieur," I said, "and then when you drink you will know what my thoughts are in reply to yours, which you have just expressed so clearly!"
The horrid man took my glass, but with what a look!
Victor Hugo finished his speech in the midst of applause and cheers. Duquesnel then leaned back and spoke to me quietly. He asked me to tell Chilly to reply to Victor Hugo. I did as requested. But he gazed at me with a glassy look, and in a faraway voice replied:
"Some one is holding my legs." I looked at him more attentively, whilst Duquesnel asked for silence for M. de Chilly's speech. I saw that his fingers were grasping a fork desperately; the tips of his fingers were white, the rest of the hand was violet. I took his hand, and it was icy cold; the other was hanging down inert under the table. There was silence, and all eyes turned towards Chilly.
"Get up," I said, seized with terror. He made a movement, and his head suddenly fell forward with his face on his plate. There was a muffled uproar, and the few women present surrounded the poor man. Stupid, commonplace, indifferent things were uttered in the same way that one mutters familiar prayers. His son was sent for, and then two of the waiters came and carried the body away, living but inert, and placed it in a small drawing-room.
Duquesnel stayed with him, begging me, however, to go back to the poet's guests. I returned to the room where the supper had taken place. Groups had been formed, and when I was seen entering I was asked if he was still as ill.
"The doctor has just arrived, and he cannot yet say," I replied.
"It is indigestion," said Lafontaine (Ruy Blas), tossing off a glass of liqueur brandy.
"It is cerebral anaemia," pronounced Talien (Don Guritan), clumsily, for he was always losing his memory.
Victor Hugo approached and said very simply:
"It is a beautiful kind of death."
He then took my arm and led me away to the other end of the room, trying to chase my thoughts away by gallant and poetical whispers. Some little time passed with this gloom weighing on us, and then Duquesnel appeared. He was pale, but appeared as if nothing serious was the matter. He was ready to answer all questions.
Oh yes; he had just been taken home. It would be nothing, it appeared. He only needed rest for a couple of days. Probably his feet had been cold during the meal.
"Yes," put in one of the Ruy Blas guests, "there certainly was a fine draught under the table."
"Yes," Duquesnel was just replying to some one who was worrying him, "yes; no doubt there was too much heat for his head."
"Yes," added another of the guests, "our heads were nearly on fire with that wretched gas."
I could see the moment arriving when Victor Hugo would be reproached by all of his guests for the cold, the heat, the food, and the wine of his banquet. All these imbecile remarks got on Duquesnel's nerves. He shrugged his shoulders, and drawing me away from the crowd, said:
"It's all over with him."
I had had the presentiment of this, but the certitude of it now caused me intense grief.
"I want to go," I said to Duquesnel. "Kindly tell some one to ask for my carriage."
I moved towards the small drawing-room which served as a cloak-room for our wraps, and there old Madame Lambquin knocked up against me. Slightly intoxicated by the heat and the wine, she was waltzing with Talien.
"Ah, I beg your pardon, little Madonna," she said; "I nearly knocked you over."
I pulled her towards me, and without reflecting whispered to her, "Don't dance any more, Mamma Lambquin; Chilly is dying." She was purple, but her face turned as white as chalk. Her teeth began to chatter, but she did not utter a word.
"Oh, my dear Lambquin," I murmured; "I did not know I should make you so wretched."
She was not listening to me, though, any longer; she was putting on her cloak.
"Are you leaving?" she asked me.
"Yes," I replied.
"Will you drive me home? I will then tell you——"
She wrapped a black fichu round her head, and we both went downstairs, accompanied by Duquesnel and Paul Meurice, who saw us into the carriage.
She lived in the St. Germain quarter and I in the Rue de Rome. On the way the poor woman told me the following story.
"You know, my dear," she began, "I have a mania for somnambulists and fortune-tellers of all kinds. Well, last Friday (you see, I only consult them on a Friday) a woman who tells fortunes by cards said to me, 'You will die a week after a man who is dark and not young, and whose life is connected with yours.' Well, my dear, I thought she was just making game of me, for there is no man whose life is connected with mine, as I am a widow and have never had any liaison. I therefore abused her for this, as I pay her seven francs. She charges ten francs to other people, but seven francs to artistes. She was furious at my not believing her, and she seized my hands and said, 'It's no good yelling at me, for it is as I say. And if you want me to tell you the exact truth, it is a man who supports you; and, even to be more exact still, there are two men who support you, the one dark and the other fair; it's a nice thing that!' She had not finished her speech before I had given her such a slap as she had never had in her life, I can assure you. Afterwards, though, I puzzled my head to find out what the wretched woman could have meant. And all I could find was that the two men who support me, the one dark and the other fair, are our two managers, Chilly and Duquesnel. And now you tell me that Chilly——"
She stopped short, breathless with her story, and again seized with terror. "I feel stifled," she murmured, and in spite of the freezing cold we lowered both the windows. On arriving I helped her up her four flights of stairs, and after telling the concierge to look after her, and giving the woman a twenty-franc piece to make sure that she would do so, I went home myself, very much upset by all these incidents, as dramatic as they were unexpected, in the middle of a fete.
Three days later Chilly died, without ever recovering consciousness.
Twelve days later poor Lambquin died. To the priest who gave her absolution she said, "I am dying because I listened to and believed the demon."
AT THE COMEDIE FRANCAISE AGAIN—SCULPTURE
I left the Odeon with very great regret, for I adored and still adore that theatre. It always seems as though in itself it were a little provincial town. Its hospitable arcades, under which so many poor old savants take fresh air and shelter themselves from the sun; the large flagstones all round, between the crevices of which microscopic yellow grass grows; its tall pillars, blackened by time, by hands, and by the dirt from the road; the uninterrupted noise going on all around, the departure of the omnibuses, like the departure of the old coaches, the fraternity of the people who meet there; everything, even to the very railings of the Luxembourg, gives it a quite special aspect in the midst of Paris. Then too there is a kind of odour of the colleges there—the very walls are impregnated with youthful hopes. People are not always talking there of yesterday, as they do in the other theatres. The young artistes who come there talk of to-morrow.
In short, my mind never goes back to those few years of my life without a childish emotion, without thinking of laughter and without a dilation of the nostrils, inhaling again the odour of little ordinary bouquets, clumsily tied up, bouquets which had all the freshness of flowers that grow in the open air, flowers that were the offerings of the hearts of twenty summers, little bouquets paid for out of the purses of students.
I would not take anything away with me from the Odeon. I left the furniture of my dressing-room to a young artiste. I left my costumes, all the little toilette knickknacks—I divided them and gave them away. I felt that my life of hopes and dreams was to cease there. I felt that the ground was now ready for the fruition of all the dreams, but that the struggle with life was about to commence, and I divined rightly.
My first experience at the Comedie Francaise had not been a success. I knew that I was going into the lions' den. I counted few friends in this house, except Laroche, Coquelin, and Mounet-Sully—the first two my friends of the Conservatoire and the latter of the Odeon. Among the women, Marie Lloyd and Sophie Croizette, both friends of my childhood; the disagreeable Jouassain, who was nice only to me; and the adorable Marie Brohan, whose kindness delighted the soul, whose wit charmed the mind, and whose indifference rebuffed devotion.
M. Perrin decided that I should make my debut in Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle, according to Sarcey's wish.
The rehearsals began in the foyer, which troubled me very much. Mlle. Brohan was to play the part of the Marquise de Prie. At this time she was so fat as to be almost unsightly, while I was so thin that the composers of popular and comic verses took my meagre proportions as their theme and the cartoonists as a subject for their albums.
It was therefore impossible for the Duc de Richelieu to mistake the Marquise de Prie (Madeleine Brohan) for Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle (Sarah Bernhardt) in the irreverent nocturnal rendezvous given by the Marquise to the Duc, who thinks he embraces the chaste Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle.
At each rehearsal Bressant, who took the part of the Duc de Richelieu, would stop, saying, "No, it is too ridiculous. I must play the Duc de Richelieu with both my arms cut off!" And Madeleine left the rehearsal to go to the director's room in order to try and get rid of the role.
This was exactly what Perrin wanted; he had from the earliest moment thought of Croizette, but he wanted to have his hand forced for private and underhand reasons which he knew and which others guessed.
At last the change took place, and the serious rehearsals commenced.
Then the first performance was announced for November 6 (1872).
I have always suffered, and still suffer, terribly from stage fright, especially when I know that much is expected of me. I knew a long time beforehand that every seat in the house had been booked; I knew that the Press expected a great success, and that Perrin himself was reckoning on a long series of big receipts.
Alas! all these hopes and predictions went for nothing, and my re-debut at the Comedie Francaise was only moderately successful.
The following is an extract from the Temps of November 11, 1872. It was written by Francisque Sarcey, with whom I was not then acquainted, but who was following my career with very great interest. "It was a very brilliant assembly, as this debut had attracted all theatre-lovers. The fact is, beside the special merit of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt, a whole crowd of true or false stories had been circulated about her personally, and all this had excited the curiosity of the Parisian public. Her appearance was a disappointment. She had by her costume exaggerated in a most ostentatious way a slenderness which is elegant under the veils and ample drapery of the Grecian and Roman heroines, but which is objectionable in modern dress. Then, too, either powder does not suit her, or stage fright had made her terribly pale. The effect of this long white face emerging from a long black sheath was certainly unpleasant [I looked like an ant], particularly as the eyes had lost their brilliancy and all that relieved the face were the sparkling white teeth. She went through the first three acts with a convulsive tremor, and we only recognised the Sarah of Ruy Blas by two couplets which she gave in her enchanting voice with the most wonderful grace, but in all the more powerful passages she was a failure. I doubt whether Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt will ever, with her delicious voice, be able to render those deep thrilling notes, expressive of paroxysms of violent passion, which are capable of carrying away an audience. If only nature had endowed her with this gift she would be a perfect artiste, and there are none such on the stage. Roused by the coldness of her public, Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt was entirely herself in the fifth act. This was certainly our Sarah once more, the Sarah of Ruy Blas, whom we had admired so much at the Odeon...."
As Sarcey said, I made a complete failure of my debut. My excuse, though, was not the "stage fright" to which he attributed it, but the terrible anxiety I felt on seeing my mother hurriedly leave her seat in the dress circle five minutes after my appearance on the stage.
I had glanced at her on entering, and had noticed her death-like pallor. When she went out I felt that she was about to have one of those attacks which endangered her life, so that the first act seemed to me interminable. I uttered one word after another, stammering through my sentences hap-hazard, with only one idea in my head, a longing to know what had happened. Oh, the public cannot conceive of the tortures endured by the unfortunate comedians who are there before them in flesh and blood on the stage, gesticulating and uttering phrases, while their heart, all torn with anguish, is with the beloved absent one who is suffering. As a rule, one can fling away the worries and anxieties of every-day life, put off one's own personality for a few hours, take on another, and, forgetting everything else, enter as it were into another life. But that is impossible when our dear ones are suffering. Anxiety then lays hold of us, attenuating the bright side, magnifying the dark, maddening our brain, which is living two lives at once, and tormenting our heart, which is beating as though it would burst.
These were the sensations I experienced during the first act.
"Mamma! What has happened to Mamma?" were my first words on leaving the stage. No one could tell me anything.
Croizette came up to me and said, "What's the matter? I hardly recognise you as you are, and you weren't yourself at all just now in the play."
In a few words I told her what I had seen and all that I had felt. Frederic Febvre sent at once to get news, and the doctor came hurrying to me.
"Your mother had a fainting fit, Mademoiselle," he said, "but they have just taken her home."
"It was her heart, wasn't it?" I asked, looking at him.
"Yes," he replied; "Madame's heart is in a very agitated state."
"Oh, I know how ill she is," I said, and not being able to control myself any longer, I burst into sobs. Croizette helped me back to my dressing-room. She was very kind; we had known each other from childhood, and were very fond of each other. Nothing ever estranged us, in spite of all the malicious gossip of envious people and all the little miseries due to vanity.
My dear Madame Guerard took a cab and hurried away to my mother to get news for me. I put a little more powder on, but the public, not knowing what was taking place, were annoyed with me, thinking I was guilty of some fresh caprice, and received me still more coldly than before. It was all the same to me, as I was thinking of something else. I went on saying Mlle. de Belle-Isle's words (a most stupid and tiresome role), but all the time I, Sarah, was waiting for news about my mother. I was watching for the return of mon petit Dame. "Open the door on the O.P. side just a little way," I had said to her, "and make a sign like this if Mamma is better, and like that if she is worse." But I had forgotten which of the signs was to stand for better, and when, at the end of the third act I saw Madame Guerard opening the door and nodding her head for "yes," I became quite idiotic.
It was in the big scene of the third act, when Mlle. de Belle-Isle reproaches the Duc de Richelieu (Bressant) with doing her such irreparable harm. The Duc replies, "Why did you not say that some one was listening, that some one was hidden?" I exclaimed, "It's Guerard bringing me news!" The public had not time to understand, for Bressant went on quickly, and so saved the situation.
After an unenthusiastic call I heard that my mother was better, but that she had had a very serious attack. Poor mamma, she had thought me such a fright when I made my appearance on the stage that her superb indifference had given way to grievous astonishment, and that in its turn to rage on hearing a lady seated near her say in a jeering tone, "Why, she's like a dried bone, this little Bernhardt!"
I was greatly relieved on getting the news, and I played my last act with confidence. The great success of the evening, though, was Croizette's, who was charming as the Marquise de Prie. My success, nevertheless, was assured in the performances which followed, and it became so marked that I was accused of paying for applause. I laughed heartily at this, and never even contradicted the report, as I have a horror of useless words.
I next appeared as Junie in Britannicus, with Mounet-Sully, who played admirably as Nero. In this delicious role of Junie I obtained an immense and incredible success.
Then in 1873 I played Cherubin in Le Mariage de Figaro. Croizette played Suzanne, and it was a real treat for the public to see that delightful creature play a part so full of gaiety and charm.
Cherubin was for me the opportunity of a fresh success.
In the month of March 1873 Perrin took it into his head to stage Dalila, by Octave Feuillet. I was then taking the part of young girls, young princesses, or boys. My slight frame, my pale face, my delicate aspect marked me out for the time being for the role of victim. Perrin, who thought that the victims attracted pity, and that it was for this reason I pleased my audiences, cast the play most ridiculously: he gave me the role of Dalila, the swarthy, wicked, and ferocious princess, and to Sophie Croizette he gave the role of the fair young dying girl.
The piece, with this strange cast, was destined to fail. I forced my character in order to appear the haughty and voluptuous siren; I stuffed my bodice with wadding and the hips under my skirts with horse-hair; but I kept my small, thin, sorrowful face. Croizette was obliged to repress the advantages of her bust by bands which oppressed and suffocated her, but she kept her pretty plump face with its dimples.
I was obliged to put on a strong voice, she to soften hers. In fact, it was absurd. The piece was a demi-succes.
After that I created L'Absent, a pretty piece in verse, by Eugene Manuel; Chez l'Avocat, a very amusing thing in verse, by Paul Ferrier, in which Coquelin and I quarrelled beautifully. Then, on August 22, I played with immense success the role of Andromaque. I shall never forget the first performance, in which Mounet-Sully obtained a delirious triumph. Oh, how fine he was, Mounet-Sully, in his role of Orestes! His entrance, his fury, his madness, and the plastic beauty of this marvellous artiste—how magnificent!
After Andromaque I played Aricie in Phedre, and in this secondary role it was I who really made the success of the evening.
I took such a position in a very short time at the Comedie that some of the artistes began to feel uneasy, and the management shared their anxiety. M. Perrin, an extremely intelligent man, whom I have always remembered with great affection, was horribly authoritative. I was also, so that there was always perpetual warfare between us. He wanted to impose his will on me, and I would not submit to it. He was always ready to laugh at my outbursts when they were against the others, but he was furious when they were directed against himself. As for me, I will own that to get Perrin in a fury was one of my delights. He stammered so when he tried to talk quickly, he who weighed every word on ordinary occasions; the expression of his eyes, which was generally wavering, grew irritated and deceitful, and his pale, distinguished-looking face became mottled with patches of wine-dreg colour.
His fury made him take his hat off and put it on again fifteen times in as many minutes, and his extremely smooth hair stood on end with this mad gallop of his head-gear. Although I had certainly arrived at the age of discretion, I delighted in my wicked mischievousness, which I always regretted after, but which I was always ready to recommence; and even now, after all the days, weeks, months, and years that I have lived since then, it still gives me infinite pleasure to play a joke on any one.
All the same, life at the Comedie began to affect my nerves.
I wanted to play Camille in On ne badine pas avec l'amour: the role was given to Croizette. I wanted to play Celimene: that role was Croizette's. Perrin was very partial to Croizette. He admired her, and as she was very ambitious, she was most thoughtful and docile, which charmed the authoritative old man. She always obtained everything she wanted, and as Sophie Croizette was frank and straightforward, she often said to me when I was grumbling, "Do as I do; be more yielding. You pass your time in rebelling; I appear to be doing everything that Perrin wants me to do, but in reality I make him do all I want him to. Try the same thing." I accordingly screwed up my courage and went up to see Perrin. He nearly always said to me when we met, "Ah, how do you do, Mademoiselle Revolt? Are you calm to-day?"
"Yes, very calm," I replied; "but be amiable and grant me what I am going to ask you." I tried to be charming, and spoke in my prettiest way. He almost purred with satisfaction, and was witty (this was no effort to him, as he was naturally so), and we got on very well together for a quarter of an hour. I then made my petition:
"Let me play Camille in On ne badine pas avec l'amour".
"That's impossible, my dear child," he replied; "Croizette is playing it."
"Well then, we'll both play it; we'll take it in turns."
"But Mademoiselle Croizette wouldn't like that."
"I've spoken to her about it, and she would not mind it."
"You ought not to have spoken to her about it."
"Because the management does the casting, not the artistes."
He didn't purr any more, he only growled. As for me, I was in a fury, and a few minutes later I went out of the room, banging the door after me.
All this preyed on my mind, though, and I used to cry all night. I then decided to take a studio and devote myself to sculpture. As I was not able to use my intelligence and my energy in creating roles at the theatre, as I wished, I gave myself up to another art, and began working at sculpture with frantic enthusiasm. I soon made great progress, and started on an enormous composition, After the Storm. I was indifferent now to the theatre. Every morning at eight my horse was brought round, and I went for a ride, and at ten I was back in my studio, 11 Boulevard de Clichy. I was very delicate, and my health suffered from the double effort I was making. I used to vomit blood in the most alarming way, and for hours together I was unconscious. I never went to the Comedie except when obliged by my duties there. My friends were seriously concerned about me, and Perrin was informed of what was going on. Finally, incited by the Press and the Department of Fine Arts, he decided to give me a role to create in Octave Feuillet's play Le Sphinx.
The principal part was for Croizette, but on hearing the play read I thought the part destined for me charming, and I resolved that it should also be the principal role. There would have to be two principal ones, that was all. The rehearsals went along very smoothly at the start, but it soon became evident that my role was more important than had been imagined, and friction soon began.
Croizette herself got nervous, Perrin was annoyed, and all this by-play had the effect of calming me. Octave Feuillet, a shrewd, charming man, extremely well-bred and slightly ironical, thoroughly enjoyed the skirmishes that took place. War was doomed to break out, however, and the first hostilities came from Sophie Croizette.
I always wore in my bodice three or four roses, which were apt to open under the influence of the warmth, and some of the petals naturally fell. One day Sophie Croizette slipped down full length on the stage, and as she was tall and not slim, she fell rather unbecomingly, and got up again ungracefully. The stifled laughter of some of the subordinate persons present stung her to the quick, and turning to me she said, "It's your fault; your roses fall and make every one slip down." I began to laugh.
"Three petals of my roses have fallen," I replied, "and there they all three are by the arm-chair on the prompt side, and you fell on the O.P. side. It isn't my fault, therefore; it is just your own awkwardness." The discussion continued, and was rather heated on both sides. Two clans were formed, the "Croizettists" and the "Bernhardtists." War was declared, not between Sophie and me, but between our respective admirers and detractors. The rumour of these little quarrels spread in the world outside the theatre, and the public too began to form clans. Croizette had on her side all the bankers and all the people who were suffering from repletion. I had all the artists, the students, dying folks, and the failures. When once war was declared there was no drawing back from the strife. The first, the most fierce, and the definitive battle was fought over the moon.
We had begun the full dress rehearsals. In the third act the scene was laid in a forest glade. In the middle of the stage was a huge rock upon which was Blanche (Croizette) kissing Savigny (Delaunay), who was supposed to be my husband. I (Berthe de Savigny) had to arrive by a little bridge over a stream of water. The glade was bathed in moonlight. Croizette had just played her part, and her kiss had been greeted with a burst of applause. This was rather daring in those days for the Comedie Francaise. (But since then what have they not given there?)
Suddenly a fresh burst of applause was heard. Amazement could be read on some faces, and Perrin stood up terrified. I was crossing over the bridge, my pale face ravaged with grief, and the sortie de bal which was intended to cover my shoulders was dragging along, just held by my limp fingers; my arms were hanging down as though despair had taken the use out of them. I was bathed in the white light of the moon, and the effect, it seems, was striking and deeply impressive. A nasal, aggressive voice cried out, "One moon effect is enough. Turn it off for Mademoiselle Bernhardt."
I sprang forward to the front of the stage. "Excuse me, Monsieur Perrin," I exclaimed, "you have no right to take my moon away. The manuscript reads, Berthe advances, pale, convulsed with emotion, the rays of the moon falling on her.... I am pale and I am convulsed. I must have my moon."
"It is impossible," roared Perrin. "Mademoiselle Croizette's words: 'You love me, then!' and her kiss must have this moonlight. She is playing the Sphinx; that is the chief part in the play, and we must leave her the principal effect."
"Very well, then; give Croizette a brilliant moon, and give me a less brilliant one. I don't mind that, but I must have my moon." All the artistes and all the employes of the theatre put their heads in at all the doorways and openings both on the stage and in the house itself. The "Croizettists" and the "Bernhardtists" began to comment on the discussion.
Octave Feuillet was appealed to, and he got up in his turn.
"I grant that Mademoiselle Croizette is very beautiful in her moon effect. Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt is ideal too, with her ray of moonlight. I want the moon therefore for both of them."
Perrin could not control his anger. There was a discussion between the author and the director, followed by others between the artistes, and between the door-keeper and the journalists who were questioning him. The rehearsal was interrupted. I declared that I would not play the part if I did not have my moon. For the next two days I received no notice of another rehearsal, but through Croizette I heard that they were trying my role of Berthe privately. They had given it to a young woman whom we had nicknamed "the Crocodile," because she followed all the rehearsals just as that animal follows boats—she was always hoping to snatch up some role that might happen to be thrown overboard. Octave Feuillet refused to accept the change of artistes, and he came himself to fetch me, accompanied by Delaunay, who had negotiated matters.
"It's all settled," he said, kissing my hands; "there will be a moon for both of you."
The first night was a triumph both for Croizette and for me.
The party strife between the two clans waxed warmer and warmer, and this added to our success and amused us both immensely, for Croizette was always a delightful friend and a loyal comrade. She worked for her own ends, but never against any one else.
After Le Sphinx I played a pretty piece in one act by a young pupil of the Ecole Polytechnique, Louis Denayrouse, La Belle Paule. This author has now become a renowned scientific man, and has renounced poetry.
I had begged Perrin to give me a month's holiday, but he refused energetically, and compelled me to take part in the rehearsals of Zaire during the trying months of June and July, and, in spite of my reluctance, announced the first performance for August 6. That year it was fearfully hot in Paris. I believe that Perrin, who could not tame me alive, had, without really any bad intention, but by pure autocracy, the desire to tame me dead. Doctor Parrot went to see him, and told him that my state of weakness was such that it would be positively dangerous for me to act during the trying heat. Perrin would hear nothing of it. Then, furious at the obstinacy of this intellectual bourgeois, I swore I would play on to the death.
Often, when I was a child, I wished to kill myself in order to vex others. I remember once having drunk the contents of a large ink-pot after being compelled by mamma to swallow a "panade," [Footnote: Bread stewed a long time in water and flavoured with a little butter and sugar, a kind of "sops" given to children in France.] because she imagined that panades were good for the health. Our nurse had told her my dislike to this form of nourishment, adding that every morning I emptied the panade into the slop-pail. I had, of course, a very bad stomach-ache, and screamed out in pain. I cried to mamma, "It is you who have killed me!" and my poor mother wept. She never knew the truth, but they never again made me swallow anything against my will.
Well, after so many years I experienced the same bitter and childish sentiment. "I don't care," I said; "I shall certainly fall senseless vomiting blood, and perhaps I shall die! And it will serve Perrin right. He will be furious!" Yes, that is what I thought. I am at times very foolish. Why? I don't know how to explain it, but I admit it.
The 6th of August, therefore, I played, in tropical heat, the part of Zaire. The entire audience was bathed in perspiration. I saw the spectators through a mist. The piece, badly staged as regards scenery, but very well presented as regards costume, was particularly well played by Mounet-Sully (Orosmane), Laroche (Nerestan) and myself (Zaire), and obtained an immense success.
I was determined to faint, determined to vomit blood, determined to die, in order to enrage Perrin. I played with the utmost passion. I had sobbed, I had loved, I had suffered, and I had been stabbed by the poignard of Orosmane, uttering a true cry of suffering, for I had felt the steel penetrate my breast. Then, falling panting, dying, on the Oriental divan, I had meant to die in reality, and dared scarcely move my arms, convinced as I was that I was in my death agony, and somewhat afraid, I must admit, at having succeeded in playing such a nasty trick on Perrin. But my surprise was great when the curtain fell at the close of the piece and I got up quickly to answer to the call and bow to the audience without languor, without fainting, feeling strong enough to go through my part again if it had been necessary.
And I marked this performance with a little white stone—for that day I learned that my vital force was at the service of my intellectual force. I had desired to follow the impulse of my brain, whose conceptions seemed to me to be too forceful for my physical strength to carry out. And I found myself, after having given out all of which I was capable—and more—in perfect equilibrium.
Then I saw the possibility of the longed-for future.
I had fancied, and up to this performance of Zaire I had always heard and read in the papers that my voice was pretty, but weak; that my gestures were gracious, but vague; that my supple movements lacked authority, and that my glance lost in heavenward contemplation could not tame the wild beasts (the audience). I thought then of all that.
I had received proof that I could rely on my physical strength, for I had commenced the performance of Zaire in such a state of weakness that it was easy to predict that I should not finish the first act without fainting.
On the other hand, although the role was easy, it required two or three shrieks, which might have provoked the vomiting of blood that frequently troubled me at that time.
That evening, therefore, I acquired the certainty that I could count on the strength of my vocal cords, for I had uttered my shrieks with real rage and suffering, hoping to break something, in my wild desire to be revenged on Perrin.
Thus this little comedy turned to my profit. Being unable to die at will, I changed my batteries and resolved to be strong, vivacious, and active, to the great annoyance of some of my contemporaries, who had only put up with me because they thought I should soon die, but who began to hate me as soon as they acquired the conviction that I should perhaps live for a long time. I will only give one example, related by Alexandre Dumas fils, who was present at the death of his intimate friend Charles Narrey, and heard his dying words: "I am content to die because I shall hear no more of Sarah Bernhardt and of the grand Francais" (Ferdinand de Lesseps).
But this revelation of my strength rendered more painful to me the sort of farniente to which Perrin condemned me.
In fact, after Zaire, I remained months without doing anything of importance, playing only now and again. Discouraged and disgusted with the theatre, my passion for sculpture increased. After my morning ride and a light meal I used to rush to my studio, where I remained till the evening.
Friends came to see me, sat round me, played the piano, sang; politics were discussed—for in this modest studio I received the most illustrious men of all parties. Several ladies came to take tea, which was abominable and badly served, but I did not care about that. I was absorbed by this admirable art. I saw nothing, or, to speak more truly, I would not see anything.
I was making the bust of an adorable young girl, Mlle. Emmy de ——. Her slow and measured conversation had an infinite charm. She was a foreigner, but spoke French so perfectly that I was stupefied. She smoked a cigarette all the time, and had a profound disdain for those who did not understand her.
I made the sittings last as long as possible, for I felt that this delicate mind was imbuing me with her science of seeing into the beyond, and often in the serious steps of my life I have said to myself, "What would Emmy have done? What would she have thought?"
I was somewhat surprised one day by the visit of Adolphe de Rothschild, who came to give me an order for his bust. I commenced the work immediately. But I had not properly considered this admirable man—he had nothing of the aesthetic, but the contrary. I tried nevertheless, and I brought all my will to bear in order to succeed in this first order, of which I was so proud. Twice I dashed the bust which I had commenced on the ground, and after a third attempt I definitely gave up, stammering idiotic excuses which apparently did not convince my model, for he never returned to me. When we met in our morning rides he saluted me with a cold and rather severe bow.
After this defeat I undertook the bust of a beautiful child, Miss Multon, a delightful little American, whom later on I came across in Denmark, married and the mother of a family, but still as pretty as ever.
My next bust was that of Mlle. Hocquigny, that admirable person who was keeper of the linen in the commissariat during the war, and who had so powerfully helped me and my wounded at that time.
Then I undertook the bust of my young sister Regina, who had, alas! a weak chest. A more perfect face was never made by the hand of God! Two leonine eyes shaded by long, long brown lashes, a slender nose with delicate nostrils, a tiny mouth, a wilful chin, and a pearly skin crowned by meshes of sunrays, for I have never seen hair so blonde and so pale, so bright and so silky. But this admirable face was without charm; the expression was hard and the mouth without a smile. I tried my best to reproduce this beautiful face in marble, but it needed a great artist and I was only a humble amateur.
When I exhibited the bust of my little sister, it was five months after her death, which occurred after a six months' illness, full of false hopes. I had taken her to my home, No. 4 Rue de Rome, to the little entresol which I had inhabited since the terrible fire which had destroyed my furniture, my books, my pictures, and all my scant possessions. This flat in the Rue de Rome was very small. My bedroom was quite tiny. The big bamboo bed took up all the room. In front of the window was my coffin, where I frequently installed myself to study my parts. Therefore, when I took my sister to my home I found it quite natural to sleep every night in this little bed of white satin which was to be my last couch, and to put my sister in the big bamboo bed, under the lace hangings.
She herself found it quite natural also, for I would not leave her at night, and it was impossible to put another bed in the little room. Besides, she was accustomed to my coffin.
One day my manicurist came into the room to do my hands, and my sister asked her to enter quietly, because I was still asleep. The woman turned her head, believing that I was asleep in the arm-chair, but seeing me in my coffin she rushed away shrieking wildly. From that moment all Paris knew that I slept in my coffin, and gossip with its thistle-down wings took flight in all directions.
I was so accustomed to the turpitudes which were written about me that I did not trouble about this. But at the death of my poor little sister a tragi-comic incident happened. When the undertaker's men came to the room to take away the body they found themselves confronted with two coffins, and losing his wits, the master of ceremonies sent in haste for a second hearse. I was at that moment with my mother, who had lost consciousness, and I just got back in time to prevent the black-clothed men taking away my coffin. The second hearse was sent back, but the papers got hold of this incident. I was blamed, criticised, &c.
It really was not my fault.
A DESCENT INTO THE ENFER DU PLOGOFF—MY FIRST APPEARANCE AS PHEDRE—THE DECORATION OF MY NEW MANSION
After the death of my sister I fell seriously ill. I had tended her day and night, and this, in addition to the grief I was suffering, made me anaemic. I was ordered to the South for two months. I promised to go to Mentone, and I turned immediately towards Brittany, the country of my dreams.
I had with me my little boy, my steward and his wife. My poor Guerard, who had helped me to tend my sister, was in bed ill with phlebitis. I would much have liked to have her with me.
Oh, the lovely holiday that we had there! Thirty-five years ago Brittany was wild, inhospitable, but as beautiful—perhaps more beautiful than at present, for it was not furrowed with roads; its green slopes were not dotted with small white villas; its inhabitants—the men—were not dressed in the abominable modern trousers, and the women did not wear miserable little hats with feathers. No! The Bretons proudly displayed their well-shaped legs in gaiters or rough stockings, their feet shod with buckled shoes; their long hair was brought down on the temples, hiding any awkward ears and giving to the face a nobility which the modern style does not admit of. The women, with their short skirts, which showed their slender ankles in black stockings, and with their small heads under the wings of the headdress, resembled sea-gulls. I am not speaking, of course, of the inhabitants of Pont l'Abbe or of Bourg de Batz, who have entirely different aspects.
I visited nearly the whole of Brittany, but made my chief stay at Finistere. The Pointe du Raz enchanted me. I remained twelve days at Audierne, in the house of Father Batifoule, who was so big and so fat that they had been obliged to cut a piece out of the table to let in his immense abdomen. I set out every morning at ten o'clock. My steward Claude himself prepared my lunch, which he packed up very carefully in three little baskets, then climbing into the comical vehicle of Father Batifoule, my little boy driving, we set out for the Baie des Trepasses. Ah, that beautiful and mysterious shore, all bristling with rocks! The lighthouse keeper would be looking out for me, and would come to meet me. Claude gave him my provisions, with a thousand recommendations as to the manner of cooking the eggs, warming up the lentils, and toasting the bread. He carried off everything, then returned with two old sticks in which he had stuck nails to make them into picks, and we commenced the terrifying ascent of the Pointe du Raz, a kind of labyrinth full of disagreeable surprises, of crevasses across which we had to jump over the gaping and roaring abyss, of arches and tunnels through which we had to crawl on all fours, having overhead—touching us even—a rock which had fallen there in unknown ages and was only held in equilibrium by some inexplicable cause. Then all at once the path became so narrow that it was impossible to walk straight forward; we had to turn and put our backs against the cliff and advance with both arms spread out and fingers holding on to the few asperities of the rock.
When I think of what I did in those moments, I tremble, for I have always been, and still am, subject to dizziness; and I went over this path along a steep precipitous rock, 30 metres high, in the midst of the infernal noise of the sea, at this place eternally furious, and which raged fearfully against this indestructible cliff. And I must have taken a mad pleasure in it, for I accomplished this journey five times in eleven days.
After this challenge thrown down to reason we descended, and installed ourselves in the Baie des Trepasses. After a bath we had lunch, and I painted till sunset.
The first day there was nobody there. The second day a child came to look at us. The third day about ten children stood around asking for sous. I was foolish enough to give them some, and the following day there were twenty or thirty boys, some of them from sixteen to eighteen years old. Seeing near my easel something not particularly agreeable, I begged one of them to take it away and throw it into the sea, and for that I gave, I think, fifty centimes. When I came back the following day to finish my painting the whole population of the neighbouring village had chosen this place to relieve their corporal necessities, and as soon as I arrived the same boys, but in increased numbers, offered, if properly paid, to take away what they had put there.
I had the ugly band routed by Claude and the lighthouse keeper, and as they took to throwing stones at us, I pointed my gun at the little group. They fled howling. Only two boys, of six and ten years of age, remained there. We did not take any notice of them, and I installed myself a little farther on, sheltered by a rock which kept the wind away. The two boys followed. Claude and the keeper Lucas were on the look out to see that the band did not come back.
They were stooping down over the extreme point of the rock which was above our heads. They seemed peaceful, when suddenly my young maid jumped up: "Horrors! Madame! Horrors! They are throwing lice down on us!" And in fact the two little good-for-nothings had been for the last hour searching for all the vermin they could find on themselves, and throwing it on us.
I had the two little beggars caught, and they got a well-deserved correction.
There was a crevasse which was called the "Enfer du Plogoff." I had a wild desire to go down this crevasse, but the guardian dissuaded me, constantly giving as objections the danger of slipping, and his fear of responsibility in case of accident. I persisted nevertheless in my intention, and after a thousand promises, in addition to a certificate to testify that, notwithstanding the supplications of the guardian and the certainty of the danger that I ran, I had persisted all the same, &c., and after having made a small present of ten louis to the good fellow, I obtained facilities for descending the Enfer du Plogoff—that is to say, a wide belt to which a strong rope was fastened. I buckled this belt round my waist, which was then so slender—43 centimetres—that it was necessary to make additional holes in order to fasten it.
Then the guardian put on each of my hands a wooden shoe the sole of which was bordered with big nails jutting out two centimetres. I stared at these wooden shoes, and asked for an explanation before putting them on.
"Well," said the guardian Lucas, "when I let you down, as you are no fatter than a herring bone, you will get shaken about in the crevasse, and will risk breaking your bones, while if you have the 'sabots' on your hands you can protect yourself against the walls by putting out your arms to the right and the left, according as you are shaken up against them. I do not say that you will not have a few bangs, but that is your own fault; you will go. Now listen, my little lady. When you are at the bottom, on the rock in the middle, mind you don't slip, for that is the most dangerous of all; if you fall in the water I will pull the rope, for sure, but I don't answer for anything. In that cursed whirlpool of water you might be caught between two stones, and it would be no use for me to pull: I should break the rope, and that would be all."
Then the man grew pale and made the sign of the cross; he leaned towards me, murmuring in a dreamy voice, "It is the shipwrecked ones who are there under the stones, down there. It is they who dance in the moonlight on the 'shore of the dead.' It is they who put the slippery sea-weed on the little rock down there, in order to make travellers slip, and then they drag them to the bottom of the sea." Then, looking me in the eyes, he said, "Will you go down all the same?"