A SARAH BERNHARDT.
Salut, Sarah! salut, charmante dona Sol! Lorsque ton pied mignon vient fouler notre sol, Notre sol tout couvert de givre, Est-ce frisson d'orgueil ou d'amour? je ne sais; Mais nous sentons courir dans notre sang francais Quelque chose qui nous enivre!
Femme vaillante au coeur sature d'ideal, Puisque tu n'as pas craint notre ciel boreal, Ni redoute nos froids severes. Merci! De l'apre hiver pour longtemps prisonniers, Nous revons a ta vue aux rayons printaniers Qui font fleurir les primeveres!
Oui, c'est au doux printemps que tu nous fais rever! Oiseau des pays bleus, lorsque tu viens braver L'horreur de nos saisons perfides, Aux clairs rayonnements d'un chaud soleil de mai, Nous croyons voir, du fond d'un bosquet parfume, Surgir la reine des sylphides.
Mais non: de floreal ni du blond messidor, Tu n'es pas, O Sarah, la fee aux ailes d'or Qui vient repandre l'ambroisie; Nous saluons en toi l'artiste radieux Qui sut cueillir d'assaut dans le jardin des dieux Toutes les fleurs de poesie!
Que sous ta main la toile anime son reseau; Que le paros brilliant vive sous ton ciseau, Ou l'argile sous ton doigt rose; Que sur la scene, au bruit delirant des bravos, En types toujours vrais, quoique toujours nouveaux, Ton talent se metamorphose;
Soit que, peintre admirable ou sculpteur souverain, Toi-meme oses ravir la muse au front serein, A ta sourire toujours prete; Soit qu'aux mille vivats de la foule a genoux, Des grands maitres anciens ou modernes, pour nous Ta voix se fasse l'interprete;
Des bords de la Tamise aux bords du Saint-Laurent, Qu'il soit enfant du peuple ou brille au premier rang, Laissant glapir la calomnie, Tour a tour par ton oeuvre et ta grace enchante Chacun courbe le front devant la majeste De ton universel genie!
Salut donc, O Sarah! salut, O dona Sol! Lorsque ton pied mignon vient fouler notre sol, Te montrer de l'indifference Serait a notre sang nous-memes faire affront; Car l'etoile qui luit la plus belle a ton front, C'est encore celle de la France!
He read very well, it is true; but those lines, read at a temperature of twenty-two degrees of cold to a poor woman dumfounded through listening to a frenzied "Marseillaise," stunned by the mad hurrahs from ten thousand throats delirious with patriotic fervour, were more than my strength could bear.
I made superhuman efforts at resistance, but was overwhelmed with fatigue. Everything appeared to be turning round in a mad farandole. I felt myself raised from the ground, and heard a voice which seemed to come from far away, "Make room for our French lady!" Then I heard nothing further, and only recovered my senses in my room at the Hotel Windsor.
My sister Jeanne had become separated from me by the movement of the crowd. But the poet Frechette, a Franco-Canadian, acted as escort, and brought her several minutes later, safe and sound, but trembling on my account, and this is what she told me. "Just imagine. When the crowd was pressing against you, seized with terror on seeing your head fall back with closed eyes on to Abbey's shoulder, I shouted out, 'Help! My sister is being killed.' I had become mad. A man of enormous size, who had followed us for a long time, worked his elbows and hips to make the enthusiastic but overexcited mob give way, with a quick movement placed himself before you just in time to prevent you from falling. The man, whose face I could not see on account of its being hidden beneath a fur cap, the ear flaps of which covered almost his entire face, raised you up as though you had been a flower, and held forth to the crowd in English. I did not understand anything he said, but the Canadians were struck with it, for the pushing ceased, and the crowd separated into two compact files in order to let you pass through. I can assure you that it made me feel quite impressed to see you, so slender, with your head back, and the whole of your poor frame borne at arm's length by that Hercules. I followed as fast as I could, but having caught my foot in the flounce of my skirt, I had to stop for a second, and that second was enough to separate us completely. The crowd, having closed up after your passage, formed an impenetrable barrier. I can assure you, dear sister, that I felt anything but at ease, and it was M. Frechette who saved me."
I shook the hand of that worthy gentleman, and thanked him this time as well as I could for his fine poem; then I spoke to him of other poems of his, a volume of which I had obtained at New York, for alas! to my shame I must acknowledge it, I knew nothing about Frechette up to the time of my departure from France, and yet he was already known a little in Paris.
He was very much touched with the several lines I dwelt upon as the finest of his work. He thanked me. We remained friends.
The day following, nine o'clock had hardly struck when a card was sent up to me on which were written these words, "He who had the joy of saving you, Madame, begs that your kindness will grant him a moment's interview." I directed that the man should be shown into the drawing-room, and after notifying Jarrett, went to waken my sister. "Come with me," I said. She slipped on a Chinese dressing-gown, and we went in the direction of the large, the immense drawing-room of my suite, for a bicycle would have been necessary to traverse without fatigue the entire length of my rooms, drawing-room, dining-room and bedroom. On opening the door I was struck by the beauty of the man who was before me. He was very tall, with wide shoulders, small head, a hard look, hair thick and curly, tanned complexion. The man was fine-looking, but seemed uneasy. He blushed slightly on seeing me. I expressed my gratitude, and asked to be excused for my foolish weakness. I received joyfully the bouquet of violets he handed me. On taking leave he said in a low voice, "If you ever hear who I am, swear that you will only think of the slight service I have rendered you." At that moment Jarrett entered. His face was pale, as he walked towards the stranger and spoke to him in English. I could, however, catch the words, "detective ... door ... assassination ... impossibility ... New Orleans." The stranger's sunburnt complexion became chalky, his nostrils quivered as he glanced towards the door. Then, as flight appeared impossible, he looked at Jarrett and in a peremptory tone, as cold as flint, said, "Well!" as he went towards the door. My hands, which had opened under the stupor, let fall his bouquet, which he picked up whilst looking at me with a supplicating and appealing air. I understood, and said to him in a loud tone of voice, "I swear to it, Monsieur." The man disappeared with his flowers. I heard the uproar of people behind the door and of the crowd in the street. I did not wish to listen to anything further.
When my sister, of a romantic and foolish turn of mind, wished to tell me about the horrible thing, I closed my ears.
Four months afterwards, when an attempt was made to read aloud to me an account of his death by hanging, I refused to hear anything about it. And now after twenty-six years have passed and I know, I only wish to remember the service rendered and my pledged word.
This incident left me somewhat sad. The anger of the Bishop of Montreal was necessary to enable me to regain my good humour. That prelate, after holding forth in the pulpit against the immorality of French literature, forbade his flock to go the theatre. He spoke violently and spitefully against modern France. As to Scribe's play (Adrienne Lecouvreur), he tore it into shreds, as it were, declaiming against the immoral love of the comedienne and of the hero and against the adulterous love of the Princesse de Bouillon. But the truth showed itself in spite of all, and he cried out, with fury intensified by outrage: "In this infamous lucubration of French authors there is a court abbe, who, thanks to the unbounded licentiousness of his expressions, constitutes a direct insult to the clergy." Finally he pronounced an anathema against Scribe, who was already dead, against Legouve, against me, and against all my company. The result was that crowds came from everywhere, and the four performances, Adrienne Lecouvreur, Froufrou, La Dame aux Camelias (matinee), and Hernani had a colossal success and brought in fabulous receipts.
I was invited by the poet Frechette and a banker whose name I do not remember to pay a visit to the Iroquois. I accepted with joy, and went there accompanied by my sister, Jarrett, and Angelo, who was always ready for a dangerous excursion. I felt in safety in the presence of this artiste, full of bravery and composure, and gifted with herculean strength. The only thing he lacked to make him perfect was talent. He had none then, and never did have any.
The St. Lawrence river was frozen over almost entirely; we crossed it in a carriage along a route indicated by two rows of branches fixed in the ice. We had four carriages. The distance between Caughnanwaga and Montreal was five kilometres.
This visit to the Iroquois was deliciously enchanting. I was introduced to the chief, father, and mayor of the Iroquois tribes. Alas! this former chief, son of "Big White Eagle," surnamed during his childhood "Sun of the Nights," now clothed in sorry European rags, was selling liquor, thread, needles, flax, pork fat, chocolate, &c. All that remained of his mad rovings through the old wild forests—when he roamed naked over a land free of all allegiance—was the stupor of the bull held prisoner by the horns. It is true he also sold brandy, and that he quenched his thirst, as did all of them, at that source of forgetfulness.
Sun of the Nights introduced me to his daughter, a girl of eighteen to twenty years of age, insipid, and devoid of beauty and grace.
She sat down at the piano and played a tune that was popular at the time—I do not remember what. I was in a hurry to leave the store, the home of these two victims of civilisation.
I visited Caughnanwaga, but found no pleasure in it. The same compression of the throat, the same retrospective anguish, caused me to revolt against man's cowardice which hid under the name of civilisation the most unjust and most protected of crimes.
I returned to Montreal somewhat sad and tired. The success of our four performances was extraordinary, but what gave them a special charm in my eyes was the infernal and joyous noise made by the students. The doors of the theatre were opened every day one hour in advance for them. They then arranged matters to suit themselves. Most of them were gifted with magnificent voices. They separated into groups according to the requirements of the songs they wished to sing. They then prepared, by means of a strong string worked by a pulley, the aerial route that was to be followed by the flower-bedecked baskets which descended from their paradise to where I was. They tied ribbons round the necks of doves bearing sonnets and good wishes.
These flowers and birds were sent off during the "calls," and by a happy disposition of the strings the flowers fell at my feet, the doves flew where their astonishment led them; and every evening these messages of grace and beauty were repeated. I experienced considerable emotion the first evening. The Marquis of Lorne, son-in-law of Queen Victoria, Governor of Canada, was of royal punctuality. The students knew it. The house was noisy and quivering. Through an opening in the curtain I gazed on the composition of this assembly. All of a sudden a silence came over it without any outward reason for it, and the "Marseillaise" was sung by three hundred warm young male voices. With a courtesy full of grandeur the Governor stood up at the first notes of our national hymn. The whole house was on its feet in a second, and the magnificent anthem echoed in our hearts like a call from the mother-country. I do not believe I ever heard the "Marseillaise" sung with keener emotion and unanimity. As soon as it was over, the plaudits of the crowd broke out three times over; then, upon a sharp gesture from the Governor, the band played "God save the Queen."
I never saw a prouder or more dignified gesture than that of the Marquis of Lorne when he motioned to the conductor of the orchestra. He was quite willing to allow these sons of submissive Frenchmen to feel a regret, perhaps even a flickering hope. The first on his feet, he listened to that fine plaint with respect, but he smothered its last echo beneath the English National Anthem.
Being an Englishman, he was incontestably right in doing so.
I gave for the last performance, on December 25, Christmas Day, Hernani.
The Bishop of Montreal again thundered against me, against Scribe and Legouve, and the poor artistes who had come with me, who could not help it. I do not know whether he did not even threaten to excommunicate all of us, living and dead. Lovers of France and French art, in order to reply to his abusive attack, unyoked my horses, and my sleigh was almost carried by an immense crowd, among which were the deputies and notabilities of the city.
One has only to consult the daily papers of that period to realise the crushing effect caused by such a triumphant return to my hotel.
The day following, Sunday, I went at seven o'clock in the morning, in company with Jarrett and my sister, for a promenade on the banks of the St. Lawrence river. At a given moment I ordered the carriage to stop, with the object of walking a little way.
My sister laughingly said, "What if we climb on to that large piece of ice that seems ready to crack?"
No sooner thought of than done.
And behold both of us walking on the ice, trying to break it loose! All of a sudden a loud shout from Jarrett made us understand that we had succeeded. As a matter of fact, our ice barque was already floating free in the narrow channel of the river that remained always open on account of the force of the current. My sister and I sat down, for the piece of ice rocked about in every direction, making both of us laugh inordinately. Jarret's cries caused people to gather. Men armed with boat-hooks endeavoured to stop our progress, but it was not easy, for the edges of the channel were too friable to bear the weight of a man. Ropes were thrown out to us. We caught hold of one of them with our four hands, but the sudden pull of the men in drawing us towards them cast our raft so suddenly against the ice edges that it broke in two, and we remained, full of fear this time, on one small part of our skiff. I laughed no longer, for we were beginning to travel somewhat fast, and the channel was opening out in width. But in one of the turns it made we were fortunately squeezed in between two immense blocks, and to this fact we owed being able to escape with our lives.
The men who had followed our very rapid ride with real courage climbed on to the blocks. A harpoon was thrown with marvellous skill on to our icy wreck so as to retain us in our position, for the current, rather strong underneath, might have caused us to move. A ladder was brought and planted against one of the large blocks; its steps afforded us means of delivery. My sister was the first to climb up, and I followed, somewhat ashamed at our ridiculous escapade.
During the length of time required to regain the bank the carriage, with Jarrett in it, was able to rejoin us. He was pallid, not from fear of the danger I had undergone, but at the idea that if I died the tour would come to an end. He said to me quite seriously, "If you had lost your life, Madame, you would have been dishonest, for you would have broken your contract of your own free will."
We had just enough time to get to the station, where the train was ready to take me to Springfield.
An immense crowd was waiting, and it was with the same cry of love, underlined with au revoirs, that the Canadian public wished us good-bye.
SPRINGFIELD—BALTIMORE—PHILADELPHIA—CHICAGO—ADVENTURES BETWEEN ST. LOUIS AND CINCINNATI—CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
After our immense and noisy success at Montreal, we were somewhat surprised with the icy welcome of the public at Springfield.
We played La Dame aux Camelias—in America Camille, why, no one was ever able to tell me. This play, which the public rushed to see in crowds, shocked the over-strained Puritanism of the small American towns. The critics of the large cities discussed this modern Magdalene. But those of the small towns began by throwing stones at her. This stilted reserve on the part of the public, prejudiced against the impurity of Marguerite Gautier, we met with from time to time in the small cities. Springfield at that time had barely thirty thousand inhabitants.
During the day I passed at Springfield I called at a gunsmith's to purchase a rifle. The salesman showed me into a long and very narrow courtyard, where I tried several shots. On turning round I was surprised and confused to see two gentlemen taking an interest in my shooting. I wished to withdraw at once, but one of them came up to me:
"Would you like, Madame, to come and fire off a cannon?" I almost fell to the ground with surprise, and did not reply for a second. Then I said, "Yes, I would."
An appointment was made with my strange questioner, who was the director of the Colt gun factory. An hour afterwards I went to the rendezvous.
More than thirty people who had been hastily invited were there already. It got on my nerves a trifle. I fired off the newly invented quick-firing cannon. It amused me very much without procuring me any emotion, and that evening, after the icy performance, we left for Baltimore with a vertiginous rush, the play having finished later than the hour fixed for the departure of the train. It was necessary to catch it up at any cost. The three enormous carriages that made up my special train went off under full steam. With two engines, we bounded over the metals and dropped again, thanks to some miracle.
We finally succeeded in catching up the express, which knew we were on its track, having been warned by telegram. It made a short stop, just long enough to couple us to it anyhow, and in that way we reached Baltimore, where I stayed four days and gave five performances.
Two things struck me in that city: the deadly cold in the hotels and the theatre, and the loveliness of the women.
I felt a profound sadness at Baltimore, for I spent the 1st of January far from everything that was dear to me. I wept all night, and underwent that moment of discouragement that makes one wish for death.
Our success, however, had been colossal in that charming city, which I left with regret to go to Philadelphia, where we were to remain a week.
That handsome city I do not care for. I received an enthusiastic welcome there, in spite of a change of programme the first evening. Two artistes having missed the train, we could not play Adrienne Lecouvreur, and I had to replace it by Phedre, the only piece in which the absentees could be replaced. The receipts averaged twenty thousand francs for the seven performances given in six days. My sojourn was saddened by a letter announcing the death of my friend Gustave Flaubert, the writer who had the beauty of our language at heart.
From Philadelphia we proceeded to Chicago.
At the station I was received by a deputation of Chicago ladies, and a bouquet of rare flowers was handed to me by a delightful young lady, Madame Lily B.
Jarrett then led me into one of the rooms of the station, where the French delegates were waiting.
A very short but highly emotional speech from our Consul spread confidence and friendly feelings among every one, and after having returned heartfelt thanks, I was preparing to leave the station, when I stopped stupefied—and it seems that my features assumed such an intense expression of suffering that everybody ran towards me to offer assistance.
But a sudden anger electrified all my being, and I walked straight towards the horrible vision that had just appeared before me—the whale man! He was alive, that terrible Smith!—enveloped in furs, with diamonds on all of his fingers. He was there with a bouquet in his hand, the wretched brute! I refused the flowers and repulsed him with all my strength, increased tenfold by anger, and a flood of confused words escaped from my pallid lips. But this scene charmed him, for it was repeated and spread about, magnified, and the whale had more visitors than ever.
I went to the Palmer House, one of the most magnificent hotels of that day, whose proprietor, Mr. Potter-Palmer, was a perfect gentleman, courteous, kind, and generous, for he filled the immense apartment I occupied with the rarest flowers, and taxed his ingenuity in order to have my meals cooked and served in the French style, a difficult matter in those days.
We were to remain a fortnight in Chicago. Our success exceeded all expectations. These two weeks seemed to me the most agreeable days I had had since my arrival in America. First of all, there was the vitality of the city in which men pass each other without ever stopping, with knitted brows, with one thought in mind, "the end to attain." They move on and on, never turning for a cry or prudent warning. What takes place behind them matters little. They do not wish to know why a cry is raised, and they have no time to be prudent: "the end to attain" awaits them.
Women here, as everywhere else in America, do not work, but they do not stroll about the streets, as in other cities: they walk quickly; they also are in a hurry to seek amusement. During the day time I went some distance into the surrounding country in order not to meet the sandwich-men advertising the whale.
One day I went to the pigs' slaughter-house. Ah, what a dreadful and magnificent sight! There were three of us, my sister, myself, and an Englishman, a friend of mine.
On arrival we saw hundreds of pigs hurrying, bunched together, grunting and snorting, along a small narrow raised bridge.
Our carriage passed under this bridge, and stopped before a group of men who were waiting for us. The manager of the stock-yards received us and led the way to the special slaughter-houses. On entering into the immense shed, which is dimly lighted by windows with greasy and ruddy panes, an abominable smell gets into your throat, a smell that only leaves one several days afterwards. A sanguinary mist rises everywhere, like a light cloud floating on the side of a mountain and lit up by the setting sun. An infernal hubbub drums itself into your brain: the almost human cries of the pigs being slaughtered, the violent strokes of the hatchets lopping off the limbs, the repeated shouts of the "ripper," who with a superb and sweeping gesture lifts the heavy hatchet, and with one stroke opens from top to bottom the unfortunate, quivering animal hung on a hook. During the terror of the moment one hears the continuous grating of the revolving razor which in one second removes the bristles from the trunk thrown to it by the machine that has cut off the four legs; the whistle of the escaping steam from the hot water in which the head of the animal is scalded; the rippling of the water that is constantly renewed; the cascade of the waste water; the rumbling of the small trains carrying under wide arches trucks loaded with hams, sausages, &c., and the whistling of the engines warning one of the danger of their approach, which in this spot of terrible massacre seems to be the perpetual knell of wretched agonies.
Nothing was more Hoffmanesque than this slaughter of pigs at the period I am speaking about, for since then a sentiment of humanity has crept, although still somewhat timidly, into this temple of porcine hecatombs.
I returned from this visit quite ill. That evening I played in Phedre. I went on to the stage quite unnerved, and trying to do everything to get rid of the horrible vision of the stock-yard. I threw myself heart and soul into my role, so much so that at the end of the fourth act I absolutely fainted on the stage.
On the day of my last performance a magnificent collar of camellias in diamonds was handed me on behalf of the ladies of Chicago. I left that city fond of everything in it: its people; its lake, as big as a small inland sea; its audiences, who were so enthusiastic; everything, everything—except its stock-yards.
I did not even bear any ill-will towards the Bishop, who also, as had happened in other cities, had denounced my art and French literature. By the violence of his sermons he had, as a matter of fact, advertised us so well that Mr. Abbey, the manager, wrote the following letter to him:
"Your Grace ——, Whenever I visit your city, I am accustomed to spend four hundred dollars in advertising. But as you have done the advertising for me, I send you two hundred dollars for your poor.
We left Chicago to go to St. Louis, where we arrived after having covered 283 miles in fourteen hours.
In the drawing-room of my car, Abbey and Jarrett showed me the statement of the sixty-two performances that had been given since our arrival. The gross receipts were $227,459, that is to say, 1,137,295 francs, an average of 18,343 francs per performance. This gave me great pleasure on Henry Abbey's account, for he had lost all he had in his previous tour with an admirable troup of opera artistes, and greater pleasure still on my own account, as I was to receive a good share of the takings.
We stayed at St. Louis all the week, from January 24 to 31. I must admit that this city, which was specially French, was less to my liking than the other American cities, as it was dirty and the hotels were not very comfortable. Since then St. Louis has made great strides, but it was the Germans who planted there the bulb of progress. At the time of which I speak, the year 1881, the city was repulsively dirty. In those days, alas! we were not great at colonising, and all the cities where French influence preponderated were poor and behind the times. I was bored to death at St. Louis, and I wanted to leave the place at once, after paying an indemnity to the manager, but Jarrett, the upright man, the stern man of duty, the ferocious man, said to me, holding my contract in his hand:
"No, Madame; you must stay. You can die of ennui here if you like, but stay you must."
By way of entertaining me he took me to a celebrated grotto where we were to see some millions of fish without eyes. The light had never penetrated into this grotto, and as the first fish who lived there had no use for their eyes, their descendants had no eyes at all. We went to see this grotto. It was a long way off. We went down and groped our way to the grotto very cautiously, on all fours like cats. The road seemed to me interminable, but at last the guide told us that we had arrived at our destination. We were able to stand upright again, as the grotto itself was higher. I could see nothing, but I heard a match being struck, and the guide then lighted a small lantern. Just in front of me, nearly at my feet, was a rather deep natural basin. "You see," remarked our guide phlegmatically, "that is the pond, but just at present there is no water in it; neither are there any fish. You must come again in three months' time."
Jarrett made such a fearful grimace that I was seized with an uncontrollable fit of laughter, of that kind of laughter which borders on madness. I was suffocated with it, and I choked and laughed till the tears came. I then went down into the basin of the pond in search of a relic of some kind, a little skeleton of a dead fish, or anything, no matter what. There was nothing to be found, though—absolutely nothing. We had to return on all fours, as we came. I made Jarrett go first, and the sight of his big back in his fur coat and of him walking on hands and feet, grumbling and swearing as he went, gave me such delight that I no longer regretted anything, and I gave ten dollars to the guide for his ineffable surprise.
We returned to the hotel, and I was informed that a jeweller had been waiting for me more than two hours. "A jeweller!" I exclaimed; "but I have no intention of buying any jewellery. I have too much as it is." Jarrett, however, winked at Abbey, who was there as we entered. I saw at once that there was some understanding between the jeweller and my two impresarii. I was told that my ornaments needed cleaning, that the jeweller would undertake to make them look like new, repair them if they required it, and in a word exhibit them. I rebelled, but it was of no use. Jarrett assured me that the ladies of St. Louis were particularly fond of shows of this kind. He said it would be an excellent advertisement; that my jewellery was very much tarnished, that several stones were missing, and that this man would replace them for nothing, "What a saving!" he added. "Just think of it!"
I gave up, for discussions of that kind bore me to death, and two days later the ladies of St. Louis went to admire my ornaments in this jeweller's show-cases under a blaze of light. Poor Madame Guerard, who also went to see them, came back horrified.
"They have added to your things," she said, "sixteen pairs of earrings, two necklaces, and thirty rings; a lorgnette studded with diamonds and rubies, a gold cigarette-holder set with turquoises; a small pipe, the amber mouthpiece of which is encircled with diamond stars; sixteen bracelets, a tooth-pick studded with sapphires, a pair of spectacles with gold mounts ending with small acorns of pearls.
"They must have been made specially," said poor Guerard, "for there can't be any one who would wear such glasses, and, on them were written the words, 'Spectacles which Madame Sarah Bernhardt wears when she is at home.'"
I certainly thought that this was exceeding all the limits allowed to advertisement. To make me smoke pipes and wear spectacles was going rather too far, and I got into my carriage and drove at once to the jeweller's. I arrived just in time to find the place closed. It was five o'clock on Saturday afternoon; the lights were out, and everything was dark and silent. I returned to the hotel, and spoke to Jarrett of my annoyance. "What does it all matter, Madame?" he said tranquilly. "So many girls wear spectacles; and as to the pipe, the jeweller tells me he has received five orders from it, and that it is going to be quite the fashion. Anyhow, it is of no use worrying about the matter, as the exhibition is now over. Your jewellery will be returned tonight, and we leave here the day after to-morrow."
That evening the jeweller returned all the objects I had lent him, and they had been polished and repaired so that they looked quite new. He had included with them a gold cigarette-holder set with turquoises, the very one that had been on view. I simply could not make that man understand anything, and my anger cooled down when confronted by his pleasant manner and his joy.
This advertisement, though, came very near costing me my life. Tempted by this huge quantity of jewellery, the greater part of which did not belong to me, a little band of sharpers planned to rob me, believing that they would find all these valuables in the large hand-bag which my steward always carried.
On Sunday, January 30, we left St. Louis at eight o'clock in the morning for Cincinnati. I was in my magnificently appointed Pullman car, and I had requested that the car should be put at the end of our special train, so that from the platform I might enjoy the beauty of the landscape, which passes before one like a continually changing living panorama.
We had scarcely been more than ten minutes en route when the guard suddenly stooped down and looked over the little balcony. He then drew back quickly, and his face turned pale. Seizing my hand, he said in a very excited tone in English, "Please go inside, Madame!" I understood that we were in danger of some kind. He pulled the alarm signal, made a sign to another guard, and before the train had quite come to a standstill the two men sprang down and disappeared under the train.
The guard had fired a revolver in order to attract every one's attention, and Jarrett, Abbey, and the artistes hurried out into the narrow corridor. I found myself in the midst of them, and to our stupefaction we saw the two guards dragging out from underneath my compartment a man armed to the teeth. With a revolver held to his temple on either side, he decided to confess the truth of the matter.
The jeweller's exhibition had excited the envy of all the gangs of thieves, and this man had been despatched by an organised band at St. Louis to relieve me of my jewellery.
He was to unhook my carriage from the rest of the train between St. Louis and Cincinnati, at a certain spot known as the "Little Incline."
As this was to be done during the night, and as my carriage was the last, the thing was comparatively easy, since it was only a question of lifting the enormous hook and drawing it out of the link.
The man, a veritable giant, was fastened on to my carriage. We examined his apparatus, and found that it merely consisted of very thick wide straps of leather about half a yard wide By means of these he was secured firmly to the underpart of the train, with his hands perfectly free. The courage and the sang-froid of that man were admirable. He told us that seven armed men were waiting for us at the Little Incline, and that they certainly would not have injured us if we had not attempted to resist, for all they wanted was my jewellery and the money which the secretary carried (two thousand three hundred dollars). Oh, he knew everything; he knew every one's name, and he gabbled on in bad French, "Oh, as for you, Madame, we should not have done you any harm, in spite of your pretty little revolver. We should even have let you keep it."
And so this man and his gang knew that the secretary slept at my end of the train, and that he was not to be dreaded much (poor Chatterton!); that he had with him two thousand three hundred dollars, and that I had a very prettily chased revolver, ornamented with cats-eyes. The man was firmly bound and taken in charge by the two guards, and the train was then backed into St. Louis; we had only started a quarter of an hour before. The police were informed, and they sent us five detectives. A goods train which should have departed half an hour before us was sent on ahead of us. Eight detectives travelled on this goods train, and received orders to get out at the Little Incline. Our giant was handed over to the police authorities, but I was promised that he should be dealt with mercifully on account of the confession he had made. Later on I learnt that this promise had been kept, as the man was sent back to his native country, Ireland.
From this time forth my compartment was always placed between two others every night. In the day-time I was allowed to have my carriage at the end on condition that I would agree to have on the platform an armed detective whom I was to pay, by the way, for his services. Our dinner was very gay, and every one was rather excited. As to the guard who had discovered the giant hidden under the train, Abbey and I had rewarded him so lavishly that he was intoxicated, and kept coming on every occasion to kiss my hand and weep his drunkard's tears, repeating all the time, "I saved the French lady; I'm a gentleman."
When finally we approached the Little Incline, it was dark. The engine-driver wanted to rush along at full speed, but we had not gone five miles when crackers exploded under the wheels and we were obliged to slacken our pace. We wondered what new danger there was awaiting us, and we began to feel anxious. The women were nervous, and some of them were in tears. We went along slowly, peering into the darkness, trying to make out the form of a man or of several men by the light of each cracker. Abbey suggested going at full speed, because these crackers had been placed along the line by the bandits, who had probably thought of some way of stopping the train in case their giant did not succeed in unhooking the carriage. The engine-driver refused to go more quickly, declaring that these crackers were signals placed there by the railway company, and that he could not risk every one's life on a mere supposition. The man was quite right, and he was certainly very brave.
"We can certainly settle a handful of ruffians," he said, "but I could not answer for any one's life if the train went off the lines, clashed into or collided with something, or went over a precipice."
We continued therefore to go slowly. The lights had been turned off in the car, so that we might see as much as possible without being seen ourselves. We had tried to keep the truth from the artistes, except from three men whom I had sent for to my carriage. The artistes really had nothing to fear from the robbers, as I was the only person at whom they were aiming. To avoid all unnecessary questions and evasive answers, we sent the secretary to tell them that as there was some obstruction on the line, the train had to go slowly. They were also told that one of the gas-pipes had to be repaired before we could have the light again. The communication was then cut between my car and the rest of the train. We had been going along like this for ten minutes perhaps when everything was suddenly lighted up by a fire, and we saw a gang of railway-men hastening towards us. It makes me shudder now when I think how nearly these poor fellows escaped being killed. Our nerves had been in such a state of tension for several hours that we imagined at first that these men were the wretched friends of the giant. Some one fired at them, and if it had not been for our plucky engine-driver calling out to them to stop, with the addition of a terrible oath, two or three of these poor men would have been wounded. I too had seized my revolver, but before I could have drawn out the ramrod which serves as a cog to prevent it from going off, any one would have had time to seize me, bind me, and kill me a hundred times over.
And still any time I go to a place where I think there is danger, I invariably take my pistol with me, for it is a pistol, and not a revolver. I always call it a revolver, but in reality it is a pistol, and a very old-fashioned make too, with this ramrod and the trigger so hard to pull that I have to use my other hand as well. I am not a bad shot, for a woman, provided that I may take my time, but this is not very easy when one wants to fire at a robber. And yet I always have my pistol with me; it is here on my table, and I can see it as I write. It is in its case, which is rather too narrow, so that it requires a certain amount of strength and patience to pull it out. If an assassin should arrive at this particular moment I should first have to unfasten the case, which is not an easy matter, then to get the pistol out, pull out the ramrod, which is rather too firm, and press the trigger with both hands. And yet, in spite of all this, the human animal is so strange that this ridiculously useless little object here before me seems to me an admirable protection. And nervous and timid as I am, alas! I feel quite safe when I am near to this little friend of mine, who must roar with laughter inside the little case out of which I can scarcely drag it.
Well, everything was now explained to us. The goods train which had started before us ran off the line, but no great damage was done, and no one was killed. The St. Louis band of robbers had arranged everything, and had prepared to have this little accident two miles from the Little Incline, in case their comrade crouching under my car had not been able to unhook it. The train had left the rails, but when the wretches rushed forward, believing that it was mine, they found themselves surrounded by the band of detectives. It seems that they fought like demons. One of them was killed on the spot, two more wounded, and the remainder taken prisoners. A few days later the chief of this little band was hanged. He was a Belgian, named Albert Wirbyn, twenty-five years of age.
I did all in my power to save him, for it seemed to me that unintentionally I had been the instigator of his evil plan.
If Abbey and Jarrett had not been so rabid for advertisement, if they had not added more than six hundred thousand francs' worth of jewellery to mine, this man, this wretched youth would not perhaps have had the stupid idea of robbing me. Who can say what schemes had floated through the mind of the poor fellow, who was perhaps half-starved, or perhaps excited by a clever, inventive brain? Perhaps when he stopped and looked at the jeweller's window he said to himself: "There is jewellery there worth a million francs. If it were all mine I would sell it and go back to Belgium. What joy I could give to my poor mother, who is blinding herself with work by gaslight, and I could help my sister to get married." Or perhaps he was an inventor, and he thought to himself: "Ah, if only I had the money which that jewellery represents I could bring out my invention myself, instead of selling my patent to some highly esteemed rascal, who will buy it from me for a crust of bread. What would it matter to the artiste. Ah, if only I had the money!" Ah, if I had the money!—perhaps the poor fellow cried with rage to think of all this wealth belonging to one person. Perhaps the idea of crime germinated in this way in a mind which had hitherto been pure. Ah, who can tell to what hope may give birth in a young mind? At first it may be only a beautiful dream, but this may end in a mad desire to realise the dream. To steal the goods of another person is certainly not right, but this should not be punished by death—it certainly should not. To kill a man of twenty-five years of age is a much greater crime than to steal jewellery even by force, and a society which bands together in order to wield the sword of Justice is much more cowardly when it kills than the man who robs and kills quite alone, at his own risk and peril. Oh, what tears I wept for that man, whom I did not know at all—who was a rascal or perhaps a hero! He was perhaps a man of weak intellect who had turned thief, but he was only twenty-five years of age, and he had a right to live.
How I hate capital punishment! It is a relic of cowardly barbarism, and it is a disgrace for civilised countries still to have their guillotines and scaffolds. Every human being has a moment when his heart is easily touched, when the tears of grief will flow; and those tears may fecundate a generous thought which might lead to repentance.
I would not for the whole world be one of those who condemn a man to death. And yet many of them are good, upright men, who when they return to their families are affectionate to their wives, and reprove their children for breaking a doll's head.
I have seen four executions, one in London, one in Spain, and two in Paris.
In London the method is hanging, and this seems to me more hideous, more repugnant, more weird than any other death. The victim was a young man of about thirty, with a strong, self-willed looking face. I only saw him a second, and he shrugged his shoulders as he glanced at me, his eyes expressing his contempt for my curiosity. At that moment I felt that individual's ideas were very much superior to mine, and the condemned man seemed to me greater than all who were there. It was, perhaps, because he was nearer than we all were to the great mystery. I can see him now smile as they covered his face with the hood, while, as for me, I rushed away completely upset.
In Madrid I saw a man garrotted, and the barbarity of this torture terrified me for weeks after. He was accused of having killed his mother, but no real proof seemed to have been brought forward against the wretched man. And he cried out, when they were holding him down on his seat before putting the garrotte on him, "Mother, I shall soon be with you, and you will tell them all, in my presence, that they have lied."
These words were uttered in Spanish, in a voice that vibrated with earnestness. They were translated for me by an attache to the British Embassy, with whom I had gone to see the hideous sight. The wretched man cried out in such a sincere, heart-rending tone of voice that it was impossible for him not to have been innocent, and this was the opinion of all those who were with me.
The two other executions which I witnessed were at the Place de la Roquette, Paris. The first was that of a young medical student, who with the help of one of his friends had killed an old woman who sold newspapers. It was a stupid, odious crime, but the man was more mad than criminal. He was more than ordinarily intelligent, and had passed his examinations at an earlier age than is usual. He had worked too hard, and it had affected his brain. He ought to have been allowed to rest, to have been treated as an invalid, cured in mind and body, and then returned to his scientific pursuits. He was a young man quite above the average as regards intellect. I can see him now, pale and haggard, with a dreamy, far-away look in his eyes, an expression of infinite sadness. I know, of course, that he had killed a poor, defenceless old woman. That was certainly odious, but he was only twenty-three years old, and his mind was disordered through study and overwork, too much ambition, and the habit of cutting off arms and legs and dissecting the dead bodies of women and children. All this does not excuse the man's abominable deed, but it had all contributed to unhinge his moral sense, which was perhaps already in a wavering state, thanks to study, poverty, or atavism. I consider that a crime of high treason against humanity was committed in taking the life of a man of intellect, who, when once he had recovered his reason, might have rendered great service to science and to humanity.
The last execution at which I was present was that of Vaillant, the anarchist. He was an energetic man, and at the same time mild and gentle, with very advanced ideas, but not much more advanced than those of men who have since risen to power.
My theatre at that time was the Renaissance, and he often applied to me for free seats, as he was too poor to pay for the luxuries of art. Ah, poverty, what a sorry counsellor art thou, and how tolerant we ought to be to those who have to endure misery!
One day Vaillant came to see me in my dressing-room at the theatre. I was playing Lorenzaccio, and he said to me: "Ah, that Florentine was an anarchist just as I am, but he killed the tyrant and not tyranny. That is not the way I shall go to work."
A few days later he threw a bomb in a public building, the Chamber of Deputies. The poor fellow was not as successful as the Florentine, whom he seemed to despise, for he did not kill any one, and did no real harm except to his own cause.
I said I should like to know when he was to be executed, and the night before, a friend of mine came to the theatre and told me that the execution was to take place the following day, Monday, at seven in the morning.
I started after the performance, and went to the Rue Merlin, at the corner of the Rue de la Roquette. The streets were still very animated, as that Sunday was Dimanche Gras (Shrove Sunday). People were singing, laughing, and dancing everywhere. I waited all night, and as I was not allowed to enter the prison, I sat on the balcony of a first floor flat which I had engaged. The cold darkness of the night in its immensity seemed to enwrap me in sadness. I did not feel the cold, for my blood was flowing rapidly through my veins. The hours passed slowly, the hours which rang out in the distance, L'heure est morte. Vive l'heure! I heard a vague, muffled sound of footsteps, whispering, and of wood which creaked heavily, but I did not know what these strange, mysterious sounds were until day began to break. I saw that the scaffold was there. A man came to extinguish the lamps on the Place de la Roquette, and an anaemic-looking sky spread its pale light over us. The crowd began to collect gradually, but remained in compact groups, and circulation in the streets was interrupted. Every now and then a man, looking quite indifferent, but evidently in a hurry, pushed aside the crowd, presented a card to a policeman, and then disappeared under the porch of the prison. I counted more than ten of these men: they were journalists. Presently the military guard appeared suddenly on the spot, and took up its position around the melancholy-looking pedestal. The usual number of the guard had been doubled for this occasion, as some anarchist plot was feared. On a given signal swords were drawn and the prison door opened.
Vaillant appeared, looking very pale, but energetic and brave. He cried out in a manly voice, with perfect assurance, "Vive l'anarchie!" There was not a single cry in response to his. He was seized and thrown back over the slab. The knife fell with a muffled sound. The body tottered, and in a second the scaffold was taken away, the place swept; the crowds were allowed to move. They rushed forward to the place of execution, gazing down on the ground for a spot of blood which was not to be seen, sniffing in the air for any odour of the drama which had just been enacted.
There were women, children, old men, all joking there on the very spot where a man had just expired in the most supreme agony. And that man had made himself the apostle of this populace; that man had claimed for this teeming crowd all kinds of liberties, all kinds of privileges and rights.
I was thickly veiled so that I could not be recognised, and accompanied by a friend as escort.
I mingled with the crowd, and it made me sick at heart and desperate. There was not a word of gratitude to this man, not a murmur of vengeance nor of revolt.
I felt inclined to cry out: "Brutes that you are! Kneel down and kiss the stones that the blood of this poor madman has stained for your sakes, for you, because he believed in you."
But before I had time for this a street urchin was calling out, "Buy the last moments of Vaillant! Buy, buy!"
Oh, poor Vaillant! His headless body was then being taken to Clamart, and the crowds for whom he had wept, worked, and died were now going quietly away, indifferent and bored. Poor Vaillant! His ideas were exaggerated ones, but they were generous.
NEW ORLEANS AND OTHER AMERICAN CITIES—A VISIT TO THE FALLS OF NIAGARA
We arrived at Cincinnati safe and sound. We gave three performances there, and set off once more for New Orleans.
Now, I thought, we shall have some sunshine and we shall be able to warm our poor limbs, which were stiffened with three months of mortal cold. We shall be able to open our windows and breathe fresh air instead of the suffocating and anaemia-giving steam heat. I fell asleep, and dreams of warmth and sweet scents lulled me in my slumber. A knock roused me suddenly, and my dog with ears erect sniffed at the door, but as he did not growl, I knew it was some one of our party. I opened the door, and Jarrett, followed by Abbey, made signs to me not to speak. Jarrett came in on tip-toe, and closed the door again.
"Well, what is it now?" I asked.
"Why," replied Jarrett, "the incessant rain during the last twelve days has swollen the water to such a height that the bridge of boats across the bay here is liable to give way under the terrible pressure of the water. Do you hear the awful storm of wind that is now blowing? If we go back by the other route it will require three or four days."
I was furious. Three or four days, and to go back to the snow again! Ah no! I felt I must have sunshine.
"Why can we not pass? Oh, Heavens! what shall we do?" I exclaimed.
"Well, the engine-driver is here. He thinks that he might get across; but he has only just married, and he will try the crossing on condition that you give him two thousand five hundred dollars, which he will at once send to Mobile, where his father and wife live. If we get safely to the other side he will give you back this money, but if not it will belong to his family."
I must confess that I was stupefied with admiration for this plucky man. His daring excited me, and I exclaimed:
"Yes, certainly. Give him the money, and let us cross."
As I have said, I generally travelled by special train. This one was made up of only three carriages and the engine. I never doubted for a moment as to the success of this foolish and criminal attempt, and I did not tell any one about it except my sister, my beloved Guerard, and my faithful Felicie and her husband Claude. The comedian Angelo, who was sleeping in Jarrett's berth on this journey, knew of it, but he was courageous, and had faith in his star. The money was handed over to the engine-driver, who sent it off to Mobile. It was only just as we were actually starting that I had the vision of the responsibility I had taken upon myself, for it was risking without their consent the lives of thirty-two persons. It was too late then to do anything: the train had started, and at a terrific speed it touched the bridge of boats. I had taken my seat on the platform, and the bridge bent and swayed like a hammock under the dizzy speed of our wild course. When we were half way across it gave way so much that my sister grasped my arm and whispered, "Ah, we are drowning!" She closed her eyes and clutched me nervously, but was quite brave. I certainly imagined as she did that the supreme moment had arrived; and abominable as it was, I never for a second thought of all those who were full of confidence and life, whom I was sacrificing, whom I was killing. My only thought was of a dear little face which would soon be in mourning for me. And to think that we take about within us our most terrible enemy, thought, and that it is continually at variance with our deeds. It rises up at times, terrible, perfidious, and we try to drive it away without success. We do not, thanks to God, invariably obey it; but it pursues us, torments us, makes us suffer. How often the most evil thoughts assail us, and what battles we have to fight in order to drive away these children of our brain! Anger, ambition, revenge give birth to the most detestable thoughts, which make us blush with shame as we should at some horrible blemish. And yet they are not ours, for we have not evoked them; but they defile us nevertheless, and leave us in despair at not being masters of our own heart, mind, and body.
My last minute was not inscribed, though, for that day in the book of destiny. The train pulled itself together, and, half leaping and half rolling along, we arrived on the other side of the water. Behind us we heard a terrible noise, a column of water falling back like a huge sheaf. The bridge had given way! For more than a week the trains from the east and the north could not run over this route.
I left the money to our brave engine-driver, but my conscience was by no means tranquil, and for a long time my sleep was disturbed by the most frightful nightmares; and when any of the artistes spoke to me of their child, their mother, or their husband, whom they longed to see once more, I felt myself turn pale; a thrill of deep emotion went through me, and I had the deepest pity for my own self.
When getting out of the train I was more dead than alive from retrospective emotion. I had to submit to receiving a most friendly though fatiguing deputation of my compatriots. Then, loaded with flowers, I climbed into the carriage that was to take me to the hotel. The roads were rivers, and we were on an elevated spot. The lower part of the city, the coachman explained to us in French, with a strong Marseilles accent, was inundated up to the tops of the houses. Hundreds of negroes had been drowned. "Ah, bagasse!" he cried, as he whipped up his horses.
At that period the hotels in New Orleans were squalid—dirty, uncomfortable, black with cockroaches, and as soon as the candles were lighted the bedrooms became filled with large mosquitoes that buzzed round and fell on one's shoulder, sticking in one's hair. Oh, I shudder still when I think of it!
At the same time as our company, there was at New Orleans an opera company, the "star" of which was a charming woman, Emilie Ambre, who at one time came very near being Queen of Holland. The country was poor, like all the other American districts where the French were to be found preponderating.
The opera did very poor business, and we did not do excellently either. Six performances would have been ample in that city: we gave eight.
Nevertheless, my sojourn pleased me immensely.
An infinite charm was evolved from it. All these people, so different, black and white, had smiling faces. All the women were graceful. The shops were attractive from the cheerfulness of their windows. The open-air traders under the arcades challenged one another with joyful flashes of wit. The sun, however, did not show itself once. But these people had the sun within themselves.
I could not understand why boats were not used. The horses had water up to their hams, and it would have been impossible even to get into a carriage if the pavements had not been a metre high and occasionally more.
Floods being as frequent as the years, it would be of no use to think of banking up the river or arm of the sea. But circulation was made easy by the high pavements and small movable bridges. The dark children amused themselves catching crayfish in the streams. (Where did they come from?) And they sold them to passers-by.
Now and again we would see a whole family of water serpents speed by. They swept along, with raised head and undulating body, like long starry sapphires.
I went down towards the lower part of the town. The sight was heartrending. All the cabins of the coloured inhabitants had fallen into the muddy waters. They were there in hundreds, squatting upon these moving wrecks, with eyes burning from fever. Their white teeth chattered with hunger. Right and left, everywhere, were dead bodies with swollen stomachs floating about, knocking up against the wooden piles. Many ladies were distributing food, endeavouring to lead away these unfortunate creatures. No. They would stay where they were. With a blissful smile they would reply, "The water go away. House be found. Me begin again." And the women would slowly nod their heads in token of assent. Several alligators had shown themselves, brought up by the tide. Two children had disappeared.
One child of fourteen years of age had just been carried off to the hospital with his foot cut clean off at the ankle by one of these marine monsters. His family were howling with fury. They wished to keep the youngster with them. The negro quack doctor pretended that he could have cured him in two days, and that the white "quacks" would leave him for a month in bed.
I left this city with regret, for it resembled no other city I had visited up to then. We were really surprised to find that none of our party were missing—they had gone through, so they said, various dangers. The hair-dresser alone, a man called Ibe, could not recover his equilibrium, having become half mad from fear the second day of our arrival. At the theatre he generally slept in the trunk in which he stored his wigs. However strange it may seem, the fact is quite true. The first night everything passed off as usual, but during the second night he woke up the whole neighbourhood by his shrieks. The unfortunate fellow had got off soundly to sleep, when he woke up with a feeling that his mattress, which lay suspended over his collection of wigs, was being raised by some inconceivable movements. He thought that some cat or dog had got into the trunk, and he lifted up the feeble rampart. Two serpents were either quarrelling or making love to each other—he could not say which; two serpents of a size sufficient to terrify the people whom the shouts of the poor Figaro had caused to gather round.
He was still very pale when I saw him embark on board the boat that was to take us to our train. I called him, and begged he would relate to me the Odyssey of his terrible night. As he told me the story he pointed to his big leg: "They were as thick as that, Madame. Yes, like that——" And he quaked with fear as he recalled the dreadful girth of the reptiles. I thought that they were about one quarter as thick as his leg, and that would have been enough to justify his fright, for the serpents in question were not inoffensive water-snakes that bite out of pure viciousness, but have no venom fangs.
We reached Mobile somewhat late in the day.
We had stopped at that city on our way to New Orleans, and I had had a real attack of nerves caused by the "cheek" of the inhabitants, who, in spite of the lateness of the hour, had got up a deputation to wait upon me. I was dead with fatigue, and was dropping off to sleep in my bed in the car. I therefore energetically declined to see anybody. But these people knocked at my windows, sang round about my carriage, and finally exasperated me. I quickly threw up one of the windows and emptied a jug of water on their heads. Women and men, amongst whom were several journalists, were inundated. Their fury was great.
I was returning to that city, preceded by the above story, embellished in their favour by the drenched reporters. But on the other hand, there were others who had been more courteous, and had refused to go and disturb a lady at such an unearthly hour of the night. These latter were in the majority, and took up my defence.
It was therefore in this warlike atmosphere that I appeared before the public of Mobile. I wanted, however, to justify the good opinion of my defenders and confound my detractors.
Yes, but a sprite who had decided otherwise was there.
Mobile was a city that was generally quite disdained by impresarii. There was only one theatre. It had been let to the tragedian Barrett, who was to appear six days after me. All that remained was a miserable place, so small that I know of nothing that can be compared to it. We were playing La Dame aux Camelias. When Marguerite Gautier orders supper to be served, the servants who were to bring in the table ready laid tried to get it in through the door. But this was impossible. Nothing could be more comical than to see those unfortunate servants adopt every expedient.
The public laughed. Among the laughter of the spectators was one that became contagious. A negro of twelve or fifteen, who had got in somehow, was standing on a chair, and with his two hands holding on to his knees, his body bent, head forward, mouth open, he was laughing with such a shrill and piercing tone, and with such even continuity, that I caught it too. I had to go out while a portion of the back scenery was being removed to allow the table to be brought in.
I returned somewhat composed, but still under the domination of suppressed laughter. We were sitting round the table, and the supper was drawing to a close as usual. But just as the servants were entering to remove the table, one of them caught the scenery, which had been badly adjusted by the scene-shifters in their haste, and the whole back scene fell on our heads. As the scenery was nearly all made of paper in those days, it did not fall on our heads and remain there, but round our necks, and we had to remain in that position without being able to move. Our heads having gone through the paper, our appearance was most comical and ridiculous. The young nigger's laughter started again more piercing than ever, and this time my suppressed laughter ended in a crisis that left me without any strength.
The money paid for admission was returned to the public. It exceeded fifteen thousand francs.
This city was an unlucky one for me, and came very near proving fatal during the third visit I paid to it, as I will narrate in the second volume of these Memoirs.
That very night we left Mobile for Atlanta, where, after playing La Dame aux Camelias, we left again the same evening for Nashville.
We stayed an entire day at Memphis, and gave two performances there.
At one in the morning we left for Louisville. During the journey from Memphis to Louisville we were awakened by the sound of a fight, by oaths and cries. I opened the door of my railway carriage, and recognised the voices. Jarrett came out at the same time. We went towards the spot whence the noise came—to the small platform, where the two combatants Captain Hayne and Marcus Mayer, were fighting with revolvers in their hands. Marcus Mayer's eye was out of its orbit, and blood covered the face of Captain Hayne. I threw myself without a moment's reflection between the two madmen, who, with that brutal but delightful courtesy of North Americans, stopped their fight.
We were beginning the dizzy round of the smaller towns, arriving at three, four, and sometimes six o'clock in the evening, and leaving immediately after the play. I only left my car to go to the theatre, and returned as soon as the play was over to retire to my elegant but diminutive bedroom. I sleep well on the railway. I felt an immense pleasure travelling in that way at high speed, sitting outside on the small platform, or rather reclining in a rocking-chair, gazing on the ever-changing spectacle of American plains and forests that passed before me. Without stopping we went through Louisville, Cincinnati for the second time, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, St. Joseph, where one gets the best beer in the world, and where, when I was obliged to go to an hotel on account of repairs to one of the wheels of the car, a drunken dancer at a big ball given in the hotel seized me in the corridor leading to my room. This brutal fellow caught hold of me just as I was getting out of the elevator, and dragged me off with cries like those of a wild animal finding its prey after five days of enforced hunger. My dog, mad with excitement on hearing me scream, bit his legs severely, and that aroused the drunken man to the point of fury. It was with the greatest difficulty that I was delivered from the clutches of this demoniac. Supper was served. What a supper! Fortunately the beer was light both in colour and consistency, and enabled me to swallow the dreadful things that were served up.
The ball lasted all night, accompanied by revolver shots.
We left for Leavenworth, Quincy, Springfield, but not the Springfield in Massachusetts—the one in Illinois.
During the journey from Springfield to Chicago we were stopped by the snow in the middle of the night.
The sharp and deep groanings of the locomotive had already awakened me. I summoned my faithful Claude, and learned that we were to stop and wait for help.
Aided by my Felicie, I dressed in haste and tried to descend, but it was impossible. The snow was as high as the platform of the car. I remained wrapped up in furs, contemplating the magnificent night. The sky was hard, implacable, without a star, but all the same translucid. Lights extended as far as the eye could see along the rails before me, for I had taken refuge on the rear platform. These lights were to warn the trains that followed. Four of these came up, and stopped when the first fog-signals went off beneath their wheels, then crept slowly forward to the first light, where a man who was stationed there explained the incident. The same lights were lit immediately for the following train, as far off as possible, and a man, proceeding beyond the lights, placed detonators on the metals. Each train that arrived followed that course.
We were blocked by the snow. The idea came to me of lighting the kitchen fire, and I thus got sufficient boiling water to melt the top coating of snow on the side where I wanted to alight. Having done this, Claude and our coloured servants got down and cleared away a small portion as well as they could.
I was at last able to descend myself, and I tried to remove the snow to one side. My sister and I finished by throwing snowballs at each other, and the melee became general. Abbey, Jarrett, the secretary, and several of the artistes joined in, and we were warmed by this small battle with white cannon-balls.
When dawn appeared we were to be seen firing a revolver and Colt rifle at a target made from a champagne case. A distant sound, deadened by the cotton-wool of the snow, at length made us realise that help was approaching. As a matter of fact, two engines, with men who had shovels, hooks, and spades, were coming at full speed from the opposite direction. They were obliged to slow down on getting to within one kilometre of where we were, and the men began clearing the way before them. They finally succeeded in reaching us, but we were obliged to go back and take the western route. The unfortunate artistes, who had counted on getting breakfast in Chicago, which we ought to have reached at eleven o'clock, were lamenting, for with the new itinerary that we were forced to follow we could not reach Milwaukee before half-past one. There we were to give a matinee at two o'clock—La Dame aux Camelias. I therefore had the best lunch I could get prepared, and my servants carried it to my company, the members of which showed themselves very grateful.
The performance only began at three, and finished at half-past six o'clock; we started again at eight with Froufrou.
Immediately after the play we left for Grand Rapids, Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburg, in which latter city I was to meet an American friend of mine who was to help me to realise one of my dreams—at least, I fancied so. In partnership with his brother, my friend was the owner of large steel works and several petroleum wells. I had known him in Paris, and had met him again at New York, where he offered to conduct me to Buffalo, so that I could visit or rather he could initiate me into the Falls of Niagara, for which he entertained a lover's passion. Frequently he would start off quite unexpectedly like a madman and take a rest at a place just near the Niagara Falls. The deafening sound of the cataracts seemed like music after the hard, hammering, strident noise of the forges at work on the iron, and the limpidity of the silvery cascades rested his eyes and refreshed his lungs, saturated as they were with petroleum and smoke.
My friend's buggy, drawn by two magnificent horses, took us along in a bewildering whirlwind of mud splashing over us and snow blinding us. It had been raining for a week, and Pittsburg in 1881 was not what it is at present, although it was a city which impressed one on account of its commercial genius. The black mud ran along the streets, and everywhere in the sky rose huge patches of thick, black, opaque smoke; but there was a certain grandeur about it all, for work was king there. Trains ran through the streets laden with barrels of petroleum or piled as high as possible with charcoal and coal. That fine river, the Ohio, carried along with it steamers, barges, loads of timber fastened together and forming enormous rafts, which floated down the river alone, to be stopped on the way by the owner for whom they were destined. The timber is marked, and no one else thinks of taking it. I am told that the wood is not conveyed in this way now, which is a pity.
The carriage took us along through streets and squares in the midst of railways, under the enervating vibration of the electric wires, which ran like furrows across the sky. We crossed a bridge which shook under the light weight of the buggy. It was a suspension bridge. Finally we drew up at my friend's home. He introduced his brother to me, a charming man, but very cold and correct, and so quiet that I was astonished.
"My poor brother is deaf," said my companion, after I had been exerting myself for five minutes to talk to him in my gentlest voice. I looked at this poor millionaire, who was living in the most extraordinary noise, and who could not hear even the faintest echo of the outrageous uproar. He could not hear anything at all, and I wondered whether he was to be envied or pitied. I was then taken to visit his incandescent ovens and his vats in a state of ebullition. I went into a room where some steel discs were cooling, which looked like so many setting suns.
The heat from them seemed to scorch my lungs, and I felt as though my hair would take fire.
We then went down a long, narrow road through which small trains were running to and fro. Some of those trains were laden with incandescent metals which made the atmosphere iridescent as they passed. We walked in single file along the narrow passage reserved for foot passengers between the rails. I did not feel at all safe, and my heart began to beat fast. Blown first one way then the other by the wind from the two trains coming in opposite directions and passing each other, I drew my skirts closely round me so that they should not be caught. Perched on my high heels, at every step I took I was afraid of slipping on this narrow, greasy, coal-strewn pavement.
To sum up briefly, it was a very unpleasant moment, and very delighted I was to come to the end of that interminable street, which led to an enormous field stretching away as far as the eye could see. There were rails lying all about here, which men were polishing and filing, &c. I had had quite enough, though, and I asked to be allowed to go back and rest. So we all three returned to the house.
On arriving there, valets arrayed in livery opened the doors, took our furs, walking on tip-toe as they moved about. There was silence everywhere, and I wondered why, as it seemed to me incomprehensible. My friend's brother scarcely spoke at all, and when he did his voice was so low that I had great difficulty in understanding him. When we asked him any question by gesticulating we had to listen most attentively to catch his reply, and I noticed that an almost imperceptible smile lighted up for an instant his stony face. I understood very soon that this man hated humanity, and that he avenged himself in his own way for his infirmity.
Lunch had been prepared for us in the winter conservatory, a nook of magnificent verdure and flowers. We had just taken our seats at the table when the songs of a thousand birds burst forth like a veritable fanfare. Underneath some large leaves, whole families of canaries were imprisoned by invisible nets. They were everywhere, up in the air, down below, under my chair, on the table behind me, all over the place. I tried to quiet this shrill uproar by shaking my napkin and speaking in a loud voice, but the little feathered tribe began to sing in a maddening way. The deaf man was leaning back in a rocking-chair, and I noticed that his face had lighted up. He laughed aloud in an evil, spiteful manner. Just as my own temper was getting the better of me a feeling of pity and indulgence came into my heart for this man, whose vengeance seemed to me as pathetic as it was puerile. Promptly deciding to make the best of my host's spitefulness, and assisted by his brother, I took my tea into the hall at the other end of the conservatory. I was nearly dead with fatigue, and when my friend proposed that I should go with him to see his petroleum wells, a few miles out of the city, I gazed at him with such a scared, hopeless expression that he begged me in the most friendly and polite way to forgive him.
It was five o'clock and quite dusk, and I wanted to go back to my hotel. My host asked if I would allow him to take me back by the hills. The road was rather longer, but I should be able to have a bird's eye view of Pittsburg, and he assured me that it was quite worth while. We started off in the buggy with two fresh horses, and a few minutes later I had the wildest dream. It seemed to me that he was Pluto, the god of the infernal regions, and I was Proserpine. We were travelling through our empire at a quick trot, drawn by our winged horses. All round us we could see fire and flames. The blood-red sky was blurred with long black trails that looked like widows' veils. The ground was covered with long arms of iron stretched heavenwards in a supreme imprecation. These arms threw forth smoke, flames, or sparks, which fell again in a shower of stars. The buggy carried us on up the hills, and the cold froze our limbs while the fires excited our brains. It was then that my friend told me of his love for the Niagara Falls. He spoke of them more like a lover than an admirer, and told me he liked to go to them alone. He said, though, that for me he would make an exception. He spoke of the rapids with such intense passion that I felt rather uneasy, and began to wonder whether the man was not mad. I grew alarmed, for he was driving along over the very verge of the precipice, jumping the stone heaps. I glanced at him sideways: his face was calm, but his under-lip twitched slightly; and I had noticed this particularly with his deaf brother, also.
By this time I was quite nervous. The cold and the fires, this demoniacal drive, the sound of the anvil ringing out mournful chimes which seemed to come from under the earth, and then the deep forge whistle sounding like a desperate cry rending the silence of the night; the chimney-stacks too, with their worn-out lungs spitting forth their smoke with a perpetual death-rattle, and the wind which had just risen twisting the streaks of smoke into spirals which it sent up towards the sky or beat down all at once on to us, all this wild dance of the natural and the human elements, affected my whole nervous system so that it was quite time for me to get back to the hotel. I sprang out of the carriage quickly on arriving, and arranged to see my friend at Buffalo, but, alas! I was never to see him again. He took cold that very day, and could not meet me there; and the following year I heard that he had been dashed against the rocks when trying to navigate a boat in the rapids. He died of his passion,—for his passion.
At the hotel all the artistes were awaiting me, as I had forgotten we were to have a rehearsal of La Princesse Georges at half-past four. I noticed a face that was unknown to me among the members of our company, and on making inquiries about this person found that he was an illustrator who had come with an introduction from Jarrett. He asked to be allowed to make a few sketches of me, and after giving orders that he should be taken to a seat, I did not trouble any more about him. We had to hurry through the rehearsal in order to be at the theatre in time for the performance of Froufrou, which we were giving that night. The rehearsal was accordingly rushed and gabbled through, so that it was soon over, and the stranger took his departure, refusing to let me look at his sketches on the plea that he wanted to touch them up before showing them. My joy was great the following day when Jarrett arrived at my hotel perfectly furious, holding in his hand the principal newspaper of Pittsburg, in which our illustrator, who turned out to be a journalist, had written an article giving at full length an account of the dress rehearsal of Froufrou! "In the play of Froufrou," wrote this delightful imbecile, "there is only one scene of any importance, and that is the one between the two sisters. Madame Sarah Bernhardt did not impress me greatly, and as to the artistes of the Comedie Francaise, I considered they were mediocre. The costumes were not very fine, and in the ball scene the men did not wear dress suits."
Jarrett was wild with rage and I was wild with joy. He knew my horror of reporters, and he had introduced this one in an underhand way, hoping to get a good advertisement out of it. The journalist imagined that we were having a dress rehearsal of Froufrou, and we were merely rehearsing Alexandre Dumas's Princesse Georges for the sake of refreshing our memory. He had mistaken the scene between Princesse Georges and the Comtesse de Terremonde for the scene in the third act between the two sisters in Froufrou. We were all of us wearing our travelling costumes, and he was surprised at not seeing the men in dress coats and the women in evening dress. What fun this was for our company and for all the town, and I may add what a subject it furnished for the jokes of all the rival newspapers.
I had to play two days at Pittsburg, and then go on to Bradford, Erie, Toronto, and arrive at Buffalo on Sunday. It was my intention to give all the members of my company a day's outing at Niagara Falls, but Abbey too wanted to invite them. We had a discussion on the subject, and it was extremely animated. He was very dictatorial, and so was I, and we both preferred giving the whole thing up rather than yield to each other. Jarrett, however, pointed out the fact to us that this course would deprive the artistes of a little festivity about which they heard a great deal and to which they were looking forward. We therefore gave in finally, and in order to settle the matter we agreed to share the outlay between us. The artistes accepted our invitation with the most charming good grace, and we took the train for Buffalo, where we arrived at ten minutes past six in the morning. We had telegraphed beforehand for carriages and coffee to be in readiness, and to have food provided for us, as it is simply madness for thirty-two persons to arrive on a Sunday in such towns as these without giving notice of such an event. We had a special train going at full speed over the lines, which were entirely clear on Sundays, and it was decorated with festoons of flowers. The younger artistes were as delighted as children; those who had already seen everything before told about it; then there was the eloquence of those who had heard of it, &c. &c.; and all this, together with the little bouquets of flowers distributed among the women and the cigars and cigarettes presented to the men, made every one good-humoured, so that all appeared to be happy. The carriages met our train and took us to the Hotel d'Angleterre, which had been kept open for us. There were flowers everywhere, and any number of small tables upon which were coffee, chocolate, or tea. Every table was soon surrounded with guests. I had my sister, Abbey, Jarrett, and the principal artistes at my table. The meal was of short duration and very gay and animated. We then went to the Falls, and I remained more than an hour on the balcony hollowed out of the rock. My eyes filled with tears as I stood there, for I was deeply moved by the splendour of the sight. A radiant sun made the air around us iridescent. There were rainbows everywhere, lighting up the atmosphere with their soft silvery colours. The pendants of hard ice hanging down along the rocks on each side looked like enormous jewels. I was sorry to leave this balcony. We went down in narrow cages which glided gently into a tube arranged in the cleft of the enormous rock. We arrived in this way under the American Falls. They were there almost over our heads, sprinkling us with their blue, pink, and mauve drops. In front of us, protecting us from the Falls, was a heap of icicles forming quite a little mountain. We climbed over this to the best of our ability. My heavy fur mantle tired me, and about half way down I took it off and let it slip over the side of the ice mountain, to take it again when I reached the bottom. I was wearing a dress of white cloth with a satin blouse, and every one screamed with surprise on seeing me. Abbey took off his overcoat and threw it over my shoulders. I shook this off quickly, and Abbey's coat went to join my fur cloak below. The poor impresario's face looked very blank. As he had taken a fair number of cocktails, he staggered, fell down on the ice, got up, and immediately fell again, to the amusement of every one. I was not at all cold, as I never am when out of doors. I only feel the cold inside houses when I am inactive.
Finally we arrived at the highest point of the ice, and the cataract was really most threatening. We were covered by the impalpable mist; which rises in the midst of the tumultuous noise. I gazed at it all, bewildered and fascinated by the rapid movement of the water, which looked like a wide curtain of silver, unfolding itself to be dashed violently into a rebounding, splashing heap with a noise unlike any sound I had ever heard. I very easily turn dizzy, and I know very well that if I had been alone I should have remained there for ever with my eyes fixed on the sheet of water hurrying along at full speed, my mind lulled by the fascinating sound, and my limbs numbed by the treacherous cold which encircled us. I had to be dragged away, but I am soon myself again when confronted by an obstacle.
We had to go down again, and this was not as easy as it had been to climb up. I took the walking-stick belonging to one of my friends, and then sat down on the ice. By putting the stick under my legs I was able to slide down to the bottom. All the others imitated me, and it was a comical sight to see thirty-two people descending the ice-hill in this way. There were several somersaults and collisions, and plenty of laughter. A quarter of an hour later we were all at the hotel, where luncheon had been ordered.
We were all cold and hungry; it was warm inside the hotel, and the meal smelt good. When luncheon was over the landlord of the hotel asked me to go into a small drawing-room, where a surprise awaited me. On entering I saw on a table, protected under a long glass box, the Niagara Falls in miniature, with the rocks looking like pebbles. A large glass represented the sheet of water, and glass threads represented the Falls. Here and there was some foliage of a hard, crude green. Standing up on a little hillock of ice was a figure intended for me. It was enough to make any one howl with horror, for it was all so hideous. I managed to raise a broad smile for the benefit of the hotel keeper by way of congratulating him on his good taste, but I was petrified on recognising the man-servant of my friends the Th—— brothers of Pittsburg. They had sent this monstrous caricature of the most beautiful thing in the world.
I read the letter which their domestic handed me, and all my disdain melted away. They had gone to so much trouble in order to explain what they wanted me to understand, and they were so delighted at the idea of giving me any pleasure.
I dismissed the valet, after giving him a letter for his masters, and I asked the hotel keeper to send the work of art to Paris, packed carefully. I hoped that it might arrive in fragments.
The thought of it haunted me, though, and I wondered how my friend's passion for the Falls could be reconciled with the idea of such a gift. Whilst admitting that his imaginative mind might have hoped to be able to carry out his idea, how was it that he was not indignant at the sight of this grotesque imitation? How had he dared to send it to me? How was it that my friend loved the Falls, and what had he understood of their marvellous grandeur? Since his death I have questioned my own memory of him a hundred times, but all in vain. He died for them, tossed about in their waters, killed by their caresses; and I cannot think that he could ever have seen how beautiful they really were. Fortunately I was called away, as the carriage was there and every one waiting for me. The horses started off with us, trotting in that weary way peculiar to tourists' horses.
When we arrived on the Canadian shore we had to go underground and array ourselves in black or yellow mackintoshes. We looked like so many heavy, dumpy sailors who were wearing these garments for the first time. There were two large cells to shelter us, one for the women and the other for the men. Every one undressed more or less in the midst of wild confusion, and making a little package of our clothes, we gave this into the keeping of the woman in charge. With the mackintosh hood drawn tightly under the chin, hiding the hair entirely, an enormous blouse much too wide covering the whole body, fur boots with roughed soles to avoid broken legs and heads, and immense mackintosh breeches in zouave style, the prettiest and slenderest woman was at once transformed into a huge, cumbersome, awkward bear. An iron-tipped cudgel to carry in the hand completed this becoming costume. I looked more ridiculous than the others, for I would not cover my hair, and in the most pretentious way I had fastened some roses into my mackintosh blouse. The women went into raptures on seeing me. "How pretty she looks like that!" they exclaimed. "She always finds a way to be chic, quand-meme!" The men kissed my bear's paw in the most gallant way, bowing low and saying in low tones: "Always and quand-meme the queen, the fairy, the goddess, the divinity," &c. &c. And I went along, purring with content and quite satisfied with myself, until, as I passed by the counter where the girl who gives the tickets was sitting, I caught sight of myself in the glass. I looked enormous and ridiculous with my roses pinned in, and the curly locks of hair forming a kind of peak to my clumsy hood. I appeared to be stouter than all the others, because of the silver belt I was wearing round my waist, as this drew up the hard folds of the mackintosh round my hips. My thin face was nearly covered by my hair, which was flattened down by my hood. My eyes could not be seen, and only my mouth served to show that this barrel was a human being. Furious with myself for my pretentious coquetry, and ashamed of my own weakness in having been so content with the pitiful, insincere flattery of people who were making fun of me, I decided to remain as I was as a punishment for my stupid vanity. There were a number of strangers among us, who nudged each other, pointing to me and laughing slyly at my absurd get-up, and this was only what I deserved.
We went down the flight of steps cut in the block of ice in order to get underneath the Canadian Falls. The sight there was most strange and extraordinary. Above me I saw an immense cupola of ice hanging over in space, attached only on one side to the rock. From this cupola thousands of icicles of the most varied shapes were hanging. There were dragons, arrows, crosses, laughing faces, sorrowful faces, hands with six fingers, deformed feet, incomplete human bodies, and women's long locks of hair. In fact, with the help of the imagination and by fixing the gaze when looking with half-shut eyes, the illusion is complete, and in less time than it takes to describe all this one can evoke all the pictures of nature and of our dreams, all the wild conceptions of a diseased mind, or the realities of a reflective brain.
In front of us were small steeples of ice, some of them proud and erect, standing out against the sky, others ravaged by the wind which gnaws the ice, looking like minarets ready for the muezzin. On the right a cascade was rushing down as noisily as on the other side, but the sun had commenced its descent towards the west, and everything was tinged with a rosy hue. The water splashed over us, and we were suddenly covered with small silvery waves which when shaken slightly stiffened against our mackintoshes. It was a shoal of very small fish which had had the misfortune to be driven into the current, and which had come to die in the dazzling brilliancy of the setting sun. On the other side there was a small block which looked like a rhinoceros entering the water.
"I should love to mount on that!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, but it is impossible," replied one of my friends.
"Oh, as to that, nothing is impossible," I said. "There is only the risk; the crevice to be covered is not a yard long."
"No, but it is deep," remarked an artiste who was with us.
"Well," I said, "my dog is just dead. We will bet a dog—and if I win I am to choose my dog—that I go."
Abbey was fetched immediately, but he only arrived in time to see me on the block. I came very near falling into the crevice, and when I was on the back of the rhinoceros I could not stand up. It was as smooth and transparent as artificial ice. I sat down on its back, holding on to the little hump, and I declared that if no one came to fetch me I should stay where I was, as I had not the courage to move a step on this slippery back; and then, too, it seemed to me as though it moved slightly. I began to lose my self-possession. I felt dizzy, but I had won my dog. My excitement was over, and I was seized with fright. Every one gazed at me in a bewildered way, and that increased my terror. My sister went into hysterics, and my dear Guerard groaned in a heartrending way, "Oh heavens, my dear Sarah, oh heavens!" An artist was making sketches; fortunately the members of our company had gone up again in order to go and see the Rapids. Abbey besought me to return; poor Jarrett besought me. But I felt dizzy, and I could not and would not cross again. Angelo then sprang across the crevice, and remaining there, called for a plank of wood and a hatchet.
"Bravo! bravo!" I exclaimed from the back of my rhinoceros.
The plank was brought. It was an old, black-looking piece of wood, and I glanced at it suspiciously. The hatchet cut into the tail of my rhinoceros, and the plank was fixed firmly by Angelo on my side and held by Abbey, Jarrett, and Claude on the other side. I let myself slide over the crupper of my rhinoceros, and I then started, not without terror, along the rotten plank of wood, which was so narrow that I was obliged to put one foot in front of the other, the heel over the toe. I returned in a very feverish state to the hotel, and the artist brought me the droll sketches he had taken.
After a light luncheon I was to start again by the train, which had been waiting for us twenty minutes. All the others had taken their seats some time before. I was leaving without having seen the rapids in which my poor Pittsburg friend met his death.
THE RETURN TO FRANCE—THE WELCOME AT HAVRE
Our great voyage was drawing towards its close. I say great voyage, for it was my first one. It had lasted seven months. The voyages I have since undertaken were always from eleven to sixteen months.
From Buffalo we went to Rochester, Utica, Syracuse, Albany, Troy, Worcester, Providence, Newark, making a short stay in Washington, an admirable city, but one which at that time had a sadness about it that affected one's nerves. It was the last large city I visited.
After two admirable performances there and a supper at the Embassy, we left for Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, where our tour was to come to a close. In that city I gave a grand professional matinee at the general demand of the actors and actresses of New York. The piece chosen was La Princesse Georges.
Oh, what a fine and never-to-be-forgotten performance! Everything was applauded by the artistes. Nothing escaped the particular state of mind of that audience made up of actors and actresses, painters and sculptors. At the end of the play a gold hair-comb was handed to me, on which were engraved the names of a great number of persons present. From Salvini I received a pretty casket of lapis, and from Mary Anderson, at that time in the striking beauty of her nineteen years, a small medal bearing a forget-me-not in turquoises. In my dressing-room I counted one hundred and thirty bouquets.
That evening we gave our last performance with La Dame aux Camelias. I had to return and bow to the public fourteen times.
Then I had a moment's stupefaction, for in the tempest of cries and bravos I heard a shrill cry shouted by thousands of mouths, which I did not in the least understand. After each "call" I asked in the wings what the meaning of the word was that struck on my ears like a dreadful sneeze, beginning again time after time. Jarrett appeared and enlightened me. "They are calling for a speech." I looked at him, abashed. "Yes, they want you to make a little speech."
"Ah no!" I exclaimed, as I again went on the stage to make a bow. "No." And in making my bow to the public I murmured, "I cannot speak. But I can tell you: Thank you, with all my heart!"
It was in the midst of a thunder of applause, underscored with "Hip, hip, hurrah! Vive la France!" that I left the theatre.
On Wednesday, May 4, I embarked on the same Transatlantic steamer, the America, the phantom vessel to which my journey had brought good luck. But it had no longer the same commander. The new one's name was Santelli. He was as little and fair-complexioned as his predecessor was big and dark. But he was as charming, and a nice conversationist.
Commander Jowclas blew his brains out after losing heavily at play.
My cabin had been newly fitted up, and this time the wood-work had been covered in sky-blue material. On boarding the steamer I turned towards the friendly crowd and threw them a last adieu. "Au revoir!" they shouted back.
I then went towards my cabin. Standing at the door, in an elegant iron-grey suit, wearing pointed shoes, hat in the latest style, and dog-skin gloves, stood Henry Smith, the showman of whales. I gave a cry like that of a wild beast. He kept his joyful smile, and held out a jewel casket, which I took with the object of throwing it into the sea through the open port-hole. But Jarrett caught hold of my arm and took possession of the casket, which he opened. "It is magnificent!" he exclaimed, but I had closed my eyes. I stopped up my ears and cried out to the man, "Go away! you knave! you brute! Go away! I hope you will die under atrocious suffering! Go away!"
I half opened my eyes. He had gone. Jarrett wanted to talk to me about the present. I would not hear anything about it.
"Ah, for God's sake, Mr. Jarrett, leave me alone! Since this jewel is so fine, give it to your daughter, and do not speak to me about it any more." And he did so.