"But——I really don't know."
"Will fifteen hundred francs per performance suit you?"
I looked at him in stupefaction, not quite sure if he was in his right mind.
"But, Monsieur, if I do not succeed you will lose money, and I cannot agree to that."
"Do not be afraid," he said. "I can assure you it will be a success—a colossal success. Will you sign? And I will also guarantee you fifty performances!"
"Oh no, never! I will sign willingly, for I admire the talent of Victorien Sardou, but I do not want any guarantee. Success will depend on Victorien Sardou, and after him on me. So I sign, and thank you for your confidence."
At my afternoon teas I showed the new contract to my friends, and they were all of opinion that luck was on my side in the matter of my resignation (from the Comedie Francaise).
I was to leave Paris in three days. My heart was sore at the idea of leaving France, for many sorrowful reasons. But in these Memoirs I have put on one side all that touches the inner part of my life. There is one family "me" which lives another life, and whose sensations, sorrows, joys, and griefs are born and die for a very small number of hearts.
But I felt the need of another atmosphere, of vaster space, of other skies.
I left my little boy with my uncle, who had five boys of his own. His wife was rather a strict Protestant, but kind, and my cousin Louise, their eldest daughter, was witty and highly intelligent. She promised me to be on the watch, and to let me know at once if there was anything I ought to know.
Up to the last moment people in Paris did not believe that I would really go. My health was so uncertain that it seemed folly to undertake such a journey. But when it became absolutely certain that I was going, there was a general concert of spiteful reproaches. The hue and cry of my enemies was in full swing. I have now under my eyes these specimens of insanity, calumnies, lies, and stupidities; burlesque portraits, doleful pleasantries; good-byes to the Darling, the Idol, the Star, the Zimm! boum! boum! &c. &c. It was all so absolutely idiotic that I was confounded. I did not read the greater part of these articles, but my secretary had orders to cut them out and paste them in little note-books, whether favourable or unfavourable. It was my godfather who had commenced doing this when I entered the Conservatoire, and after his death I had it continued.
Happily, I find in these thousands of lines fine and noble words—words written by J.J. Weiss, Zola, Emile de Girardin, Jules Valles, Jules Lemaitre, &c.; and beautiful verses full of grace and justice, signed Victor Hugo, Francois Coppee, Richepin, Haraucourt, Henri de Bornier, Catulle Mendes, Parodi, and later Edmond Rostand.
I neither could nor would suffer unduly from the calumnies and lies, but I confess that the kind appreciation and praises accorded me by the superior minds afforded me infinite joy.
EXPERIENCES AND REFLECTIONS ON BOARD SHIP FROM HAVRE TO NEW YORK
The ship which was to take me away to other hopes, other sensations, and other successes was named L'Amerique. It was the unlucky boat, the boat that was haunted by the gnome. All kinds of misfortunes, accidents, and storms had been its lot. It had been blockaded for months with its keel out of water. Its stern had been staved in by an Iceland boat, and it had foundered on the shores of Newfoundland, I believe, and been set afloat again. Another time fire had broken out on it right in the Havre roadstead, but no great damage was done. The poor boat had had a celebrated adventure which had made it ridiculous.
In 1876 or 1877 a new pumping system was adopted, and although this system had been in use by the English for a long time, it was quite unknown aboard French boats. The captain very wisely decided to have these pumps worked by his crew, so that in case of any danger the men should be ready to manipulate them easily.
The experiment had been going on for a few minutes when one of the men came to inform the captain that the hold of the ship was filling with water, and no one could discover the cause of it. "Go on pumping!" shouted the captain. "Hurry up! Pump away!" The pumps were worked frantically, and the result was that the hold filled entirely, and the captain was obliged to abandon the ship after seeing the passengers safely off in the boats. An English whaler met the ship two days after, tried the pumps, which worked admirably, but in the contrary way to that indicated by the French captain. This slight error cost the Compagnie Transatlantique L48,000 salvage money, and when they wanted to run the ship again and passengers refused to go by it, they offered my impresario, Mr. Abbey, excellent terms. He accepted them, and very intelligent he was, for, in spite of all prognostications, nothing further happened to the boat.
I had hitherto travelled very little, and I was wild with delight.
On October 15, 1880, at six o'clock in the morning, I entered my cabin. It was a large one, and was hung with light red repp embroidered with my initials. What a profusion of the letters S.B.! Then there was a large brass bedstead brightly polished, and flowers were everywhere. Adjoining mine was a very comfortable cabin for mon petit Dame, and leading out of that was one for my maid and her husband. All the other persons in my service were at the other end of the ship.
The sky was misty, the sea grey, with no horizon. I was on my way over there, beyond that mist which seemed to unite the sky and the water in a mysterious rampart.
The clearing of the deck for the departure upset every one and everything. The rumbling of the machinery, the boatswain's call, the bell, the sobbing and the laughter, the creaking of the ropes, the shrill shouting of the orders, the terror of those who were only just in time to catch the boat, the "Halloa!" "Look out!" of the men who were pitching the packages from the quay into the hold, the sound of the laughing waves breaking on the side of the boat, all this mingled together made the most frightful uproar, tiring the brain so that its own sensations were all vague and bewildered. I was one of those who up to the last moment enjoyed the good-byes, the hand-shakings, the plans about the return, and the farewell kisses, and when it was all over flung themselves sobbing on their beds.
For the next three days I was in utter despair, weeping bitter tears, tears that scalded my cheeks. Then I began to get calm again; my will-power triumphed over my grief. On the fourth day I dressed at seven o'clock and went on deck to have some fresh air. It was icy cold, and as I walked up and down I met a lady dressed in black with a sad resigned face. The sea looked gloomy and colourless, and there were no waves. Suddenly a wild billow dashed so violently against the ship that we were both thrown down. I immediately clutched hold of the leg of one of the benches, but the unfortunate lady was flung forward. Springing to my feet with a bound, I was just in time to seize hold of the skirt of her dress, and with the help of my maid and a sailor managed to prevent the poor woman from falling head first down the staircase. Very much hurt though she was, and a trifle confused, she thanked me in such a gentle dreamy voice that my heart began to beat with emotion.
"You might have been killed, Madame," I said, "down that horrible staircase."
"Yes," she answered, with a sigh of regret; "but it was not God's will."
"Are you not Madame Hessler?" she continued, looking earnestly at me.
"No, Madame," I answered; "my name is Sarah Bernhardt."
She stepped back and drawing herself up, her face very pale and her brows knitted, she said in a mournful voice, a voice that was scarcely audible, "I am the widow of President Lincoln."
I too stepped back, and a thrill of anguish ran through me, for I had just done this unhappy woman the only service that I ought not to have done her—I had saved her from death. Her husband had been assassinated by an actor, Booth, and it was an actress who had now prevented her from joining her beloved husband.
I went back again to my cabin and stayed there two days, for I had not the courage to meet the woman for whom I felt such sympathy and to whom I should never dare to speak again.
On the 22nd we were surprised by an abominable snowstorm. I was called up hurriedly by Captain Jouclas. I threw on a long ermine cloak and went on to the bridge. It was perfectly stupefying and at the same time fairy-like. The heavy flakes met each other with a thud in their mad waltzing provoked by the wind. The sky was suddenly veiled from us by all this whiteness which fell round us in avalanches, completely hiding the horizon. I was facing the sea, and as Captain Jouclas pointed out to me, we could not see a hundred yards in front of us. I then turned round and saw that the ship was as white as a sea-gull: the ropes, the cordage, the nettings, the port-holes, the shrouds, the boats, the deck, the sails, the ladders, the funnels, the ventilators, everything was white. The sea was black and the sky black. The ship alone was white, floating along in this immensity. There was a contest between the high funnel, spluttering forth with difficulty its smoke through the wind which was rushing wildly into its great mouth, and the prolonged shrieks of the siren. The contrast was so extraordinary between the virgin whiteness of this ship and the infernal uproar it made that it seemed to me as if I had before me an angel in a fit of hysterics.
On the evening of that strange day the doctor came to tell me of the birth of a child among the emigrants, in whom I was deeply interested. I went at once to the mother, and did all I could for the poor little creature who had just come into this world. Oh, the dismal moans in that dismal night in the midst of all that misery! Oh, that first strident cry of the child affirming its will to live in the midst of all these sufferings, of all these hardships, and of all these hopes! Everything was there mingled together in this human medley—men, women, children, rags and preserves, oranges and basins, heads of hair and bald pates, half open lips of young girls and tightly closed mouths of shrewish women, white caps and red handkerchiefs, hands stretched out in hope and fists clenched against adversity. I saw revolvers half concealed under the rags, knives in the men's belts. A sudden roll of the boat showed us the contents of a parcel that had fallen from the hands of a rascally-looking fellow with a very determined expression on his face, and a hatchet and a tomahawk fell to the ground. One of the sailors immediately seized the two weapons to take them to the purser. I shall never forget the scrutinising glance of the man; he had evidently made a mental note of the features of the sailor, and I breathed a fervent prayer that the two might never meet in a solitary place.
I remember now with remorse the horrible disgust that took possession of me when the doctor handed the child over to me to wash. That dirty little red, moving, sticky object was a human being. It had a soul, and would have thoughts! I felt quite sick, and I could never again look at that child, although I was afterwards its godmother, without living over again that first impression. When the young mother had fallen asleep I wanted to go back to my cabin. The doctor helped me, but the sea was so rough that we could scarcely walk at all among the packages and emigrants. Some of them who were crouching on the floor watched us silently as we tottered and stumbled along like drunkards. I was annoyed at being watched by those malevolent, mocking eyes. "I say, doctor," one of the men called out, "the sea water gets in the head like wine. You and your lady look as though you were coming back from a spree!" An old woman clung to me as we passed: "Oh, Madame," she said, "shall we be shipwrecked with the boat rolling like this? Oh God! Oh God!" A tall fellow with red hair and beard came forward and laid the poor old woman down again gently. "You can sleep in peace, mother," he said. "If we are shipwrecked I swear there shall be more saved down here than up above." He then came closer to me and continued in a defiant tone: "The rich folks—first-class—into the sea! The emigrants and the second-class in the boats!" As he uttered these words I heard a sly, stifled laugh from everywhere, in front of me, behind, at the side, and even from under my feet. It seemed to echo in the distance like the laughing behind the scenes on the stage. I drew nearer to the doctor, and he saw that I was uneasy.
"Nonsense," he said, laughing; "we should defend ourselves."
"But how many could be saved," I asked, "in case we were really in danger?"
"Two hundred—two hundred and fifty at the most, with all the boats out, if all arrived safely."
"But the purser told me that there were seven hundred and sixty emigrants," I insisted, "and there are only a hundred and twenty passengers. How many do you reckon with the officers, the crew, and the servants?"
"A hundred and seventy," the doctor answered.
"Then there are a thousand and fifty on board, and you can only save two hundred and fifty?"
"Well then, I can understand the hatred of these emigrants, whom you take on board like cattle and treat like negroes. They are absolutely certain that in case of danger they would be sacrificed!"
"But we should save them when their turn came."
I glanced with horror at the man who was talking to me. He looked honest and straightforward and he evidently meant what he said. And so all these poor creatures who had been disappointed in life and badly treated by society would have no right to life until after we were saved—we, the more favoured ones! Oh, how I understood now the rascally-looking fellow, with his hatchet and tomahawk! How thoroughly I approved at that moment of the revolvers and the knives hidden in the belts. Yes, he was quite right, the tall, red-haired fellow. We want the first places, always the first places. And so we should have the first places in the water.
"Well, are you satisfied?" asked the captain, who was just coming out of his cabin. "Has it gone off all right?"
"Yes, captain," I answered; "but I am horrified."
Jouclas stepped back in surprise.
"Good Heavens, what has horrified you?" he asked.
"The way in which you treat your passengers——"
He tried to put in a word, but I continued:
"Why—you expose us in case of a shipwreck——"
"We never have a shipwreck."
"Good. In case of a fire, then——"
"We never have a fire——"
"Good! In case of sinking——"
"I give in," he said, laughing. "To what do we expose you, though, Madame?"
"To the very worst of deaths: to a blow on the head with an axe, to a dagger thrust in our back, or merely to be flung into the water——"
He attempted to speak, but again I continued:
"There are seven hundred and fifty emigrants below, and there are scarcely three hundred of us, counting first-class passengers and the crew. You have boats which might save two hundred persons, and even that is doubtful——"
"Well, what about the emigrants?"
"We should save them before the crew."
"But after us?"
"Yes, after you."
"And you fancy that they would let you do it?"
"We have guns with which to keep them in order."
"Guns—guns for women and children?"
"No; the women and children would take their turn first."
"But that is idiotic!" I exclaimed; "it is perfectly absurd! Why save women and children if you are going to make widows and orphans of them? And do you believe that all those young men would resign themselves to their fate because of your guns? There are more of them than there are of you, and they are armed. Life owes them their revenge, and they have the same right that we have to defend themselves in such moments. They have the courage of those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain in the struggle. In my opinion it is iniquitous and infamous that you should expose us to certain death and them to an obligatory and perfectly justified crime."
The captain tried to speak, but again I persisted:
"Without going as far as a shipwreck, only fancy if we were to be tossed about for months on a raging sea. This has happened, and might happen again. You cannot possibly have food enough on board for a thousand people during two or three months."
"No, certainly not," put in the purser dryly. He was a very amiable man, but very touchy.
"Well then, what should you do?" I asked.
"What would you do?" asked the captain, highly amused at the annoyed expression on the purser's face.
"I—oh, I should have a ship for emigrants and a ship for passengers, and I think that would be only just."
"Yes, but it would be ruinous."
"No; the one for wealthy people would be a steamer like this, and the one for emigrants a sailing vessel."
"But that too would be unjust, Madame, for the steamer would go more quickly than the sailing boat."
"That would not matter at all," I argued. "Wealthy people are always in a hurry, and the poor never are. And then, considering what is awaiting them in the land to which they are going——"
"It is the Promised Land."
"Oh, poor things! poor things! with their Promised Land! Dakota or Colorado.... In the day-time they have the sun which makes their brains boil, scorches the ground, dries up the springs, and brings forth endless numbers of mosquitoes to sting their bodies and try their patience. The Promised Land!... At night they have the terrible cold to make their eyes smart, to stiffen their joints and ruin their lungs. The Promised Land!
"It is just death in some out-of-the-world place after fruitless appeals to the justice of their fellow countrymen. They will breathe their life out in a sob or in a terrible curse of hatred. God will have mercy on them though, for it is piteous to think that all these poor creatures are delivered over, with their feet bound by suffering and their hands bound by hope, to the slave-drivers who trade in white slaves. And when I think that the money is in the purser's cash-box which the slave-driver has paid for the transport of all these poor creatures! Money that has been collected by rough hands or trembling fingers. Poor money economised, copper by copper, tear by tear. When I think of all this it makes me wish that we could be shipwrecked, that we could be all killed and all of them saved."
With these words I hurried away to my cabin to have a good cry, for I was seized with a great love for humanity and intense grief that I could do nothing, absolutely nothing!
The following morning I woke late, as I had not fallen asleep until very late. My cabin was full of visitors, and they were all holding small parcels half concealed. I rubbed my sleepy eyes, and could not quite understand the meaning of this invasion.
"My dear Sarah," said Madame Guerard, coming to me and kissing me, "don't imagine that this day, your fete day, could be forgotten by those who love you."
"Oh," I exclaimed, "is it the 23rd?"
"Yes, and here is the first of the remembrances from the absent ones."
My eyes filled with tears, and it was through a mist that I saw the portrait of that young being more precious to me than anything else in the world, with a few words in his own handwriting. Then there were some presents from friends—pieces of work from humble admirers. My little godson of the previous evening was brought to me in a basket, with oranges, apples, and tangerines all round him. He had a golden star on his forehead, a star cut out of some gold paper in which chocolate had been wrapped. My maid Felicie, and Claude her husband, who were most devoted to me, had prepared some very ingenious little surprises. Presently there was a knock at my door, and on my calling out "Come in!" I saw, to my surprise, three sailors carrying a superb bouquet, which they presented to me in the name of the whole crew.
I was wild with admiration, and wanted to know how they had managed to keep the flowers in such good condition.
It was an enormous bouquet, but when I took it in my hands I let it fall to the ground in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. The flowers were all cut out of vegetables, but so perfectly done that the illusion was complete at a little distance. Magnificent roses were cut out of carrots, camellias out of turnips, small radishes had furnished sprays of rose-buds stuck on to long leeks dyed green, and all these relieved by carrot leaves artistically arranged to imitate the grassy plants used for elegant bouquets. The stalks were tied together with a bow of tri-coloured ribbon. One of the sailors made a very touching little speech on behalf of his comrades, who wished to thank me for a trifling service rendered. I shook hands cordially and thanked them heartily, and this was the signal for a little concert that had been organised in the cabin of mon petit Dame. There had been a private rehearsal with two violins and a flute, so that for the next hour I was lulled by the most delightful music, which transported me to my own dear ones, to my home, which seemed so distant from me at that moment.
This little fete, which was almost a domestic one, together with the music, had evoked the tender and restful side of my life, and the tears that all this called forth fell without grief, bitterness, or regret. I wept simply because I was deeply moved, and I was tired, nervous, and weary, and had a longing for rest and peace. I fell asleep in the midst of my tears, sighs, and sobs.
ARRIVAL IN NEW YORK—AMERICAN REPORTERS—THE CUSTOM HOUSE—PERFORMANCES IN NEW YORK—A VISIT TO EDISON AT MENLO PARK
Finally the ship arrived on October 27, at half-past six in the morning. I was asleep, worn out by three days and nights of wild storms. My maid had some difficulty in rousing me. I could not believe that we had arrived, and I wanted to go on sleeping until the last minute. I had to give in to the evidence, however, as the screw had stopped, and I heard a sound of dull thuds echoing in the distance. I put my head out of my port-hole, and saw some men endeavouring to make a passage for us through the river. The Hudson was frozen hard, and the heavy vessel could only advance with the aid of pick-axes cutting away the blocks of ice.
This sudden arrival delighted me, and everything seemed to be transformed in a minute. I forgot all my discomforts and the weariness of the twelve days' crossing. The sun was rising, pale but rose-tinted, dispersing the mists and shining over the ice, which, thanks to the efforts of our pioneers, was splintered into a thousand luminous pieces. I had entered the New World in the midst of a display of ice-fireworks. It was fairy-like and somewhat crazy, but it seemed to me that it must be a good omen.
I am so superstitious that if I had arrived when there was no sunshine I should have been wretched and most anxious until after my first performance. It is a perfect torture to be superstitious to this degree, and, unfortunately for me, I am ten times more so now than I was in those days, for besides the superstitions of my own country, I have, thanks to my travels, added to my stock all the superstitions of the other countries. I know them all now, and in any critical moment of my life they all rise up in armed legions, for or against me. I cannot walk a single step or make any movement or gesture, sit down, go out, look at the sky or the ground, without finding some reason for hope or for despair, until at last, exasperated by the trammels put upon my actions by my thought, I defy all my superstitions and just act as I want to act. Delighted, then, with what seemed to me to be a good omen, I began to dress gleefully.
Mr. Jarrett had just knocked at my door.
"Do please be ready as soon as possible, Madame," he said, "for there are several boats, with the French colours flying, that have come out to meet you."
I glanced in the direction of my port-hole, and saw a steamer, the deck of which was black with people, and then two other small boats no less laden than the first one.
The sun lighted up all these French flags, and my heart began to beat more quickly.
I had been without any news for twelve days, as, in spite of all the efforts of our good captain, L'Amerique had taken twelve days for the journey.
A man had just come on deck, and I rushed towards him with outstretched hands, unable to utter a single word.
He gave me a packet of telegrams. I did not see any one present, and I heard no sound. I wanted to know something. And among all the telegrams I was searching first for one, just one name. At last I had it, the telegram I had waited for, feared and hoped to receive, signed Maurice. Here it was at last. I closed my eyes for a second, and during that time I saw all that was dear to me and felt the infinite sweetness of it all.
When I opened my eyes again I was slightly embarrassed, for I was surrounded by a crowd of unknown people, all of them silent and indulgent, but evidently very curious. Wishing to go away, I took Mr. Jarrett's arm and went to the saloon. As soon as I entered the first notes of the Marseillaise rang out, and our Consul spoke a few words of welcome and handed me some flowers. A group representing the French colony presented me with a friendly address. Then M. Mercier, the editor of the Courrier des Etats Unis, made a speech, as witty as it was kindly. It was a thoroughly French speech. Then came the terrible moment of introductions. Oh, what a tiring time that was! My mind was kept at a tension to catch the names. Mr. Pemb——, Madame Harth——, with the h aspirated. With great difficulty I grasped the first syllable, and the second finished in a confusion of muffled vowels and hissing consonants. By the time the twentieth name was pronounced I had given up listening; I simply kept on with my little risorius de Santorini, half closed my eyes, held out mechanically the arm at the end of which was the hand that had to shake and be shaken. I replied all the time: "Combien je suis charmee, Madame.... Oh! Certainement.... Oh oui!... Oh non!... Ah!... Oh!... Oh!..." I was getting dazed, idiotic—worn out with standing. I had only one idea, and that was to get my rings off the fingers that were swelling with the repeated grips they were enduring. My eyes were getting larger and larger with terror as they gazed at the door through which the crowd continued to stream in my direction. There were still the names of all these people to hear and all these hands to shake. My risorius de Santorini must still go on working more than fifty times. I could feel the beads of perspiration standing out under my hair, and I began to get terribly nervous. My teeth chattered and I commenced stammering: "Oh, Madame!... Oh!... Je suis cha——cha——" I really could not go on any longer. I felt that I should get angry or burst out crying—in fact, that I was about to make myself ridiculous. I decided therefore to faint. I made a movement with my hand as though it wanted to continue but could not. I opened my mouth, closed my eyes, and fell gently into Jarrett's arms. "Quick! Air!... A doctor!... Poor thing.... How pale she is! Take her hat off!... Loosen her corset!... She doesn't wear one. Unfasten her dress!..." I was terrified, but Felicie was called up in haste, and mon petit Dame would not allow any deshabillage. The doctor came back with a bottle of ether. Felicie seized the bottle.
"Oh no, doctor—not ether! When Madame is quite well the odour of ether will make her faint."
This was quite true, and I thought it was time to come to my senses again. The reporters were arriving, and there were more than twenty of them; but Jarrett, who was very much affected, asked them to go to the Albemarle Hotel, where I was to put up. I saw each of the reporters take Jarrett aside, and when I asked him what the secret was of all these "asides," he answered phlegmatically, "I have made an appointment with them for one o'clock. There will be a fresh one every ten minutes." I looked at him, petrified with astonishment. He met my anxious gaze and said:
"Ah oui; il etait necessaire."
On arriving at the Albemarle Hotel I felt tired and nervous, and wanted to be left quite alone. I hurried away at once to my room in the suite that had been engaged for me, and fastened the doors. There was neither lock nor bolt on one of them, but I pushed a piece of furniture against it, and then refused emphatically to open it. There were about fifty people waiting in the drawing-room, but I had that feeling of awful weariness which makes one ready to go to the most violent extremes for the sake of an hour's repose. I wanted to lie down on the rug, cross my arms, throw my head back, and close my eyes. I did not want to talk any more, and I did not want to have to smile or look at any one. I threw myself down on the floor, and was deaf to the knocks on my door and to Jarrett's supplications. I did not want to argue the matter, so I did not utter a word. I heard the murmur of grumbling voices, and Jarrett's words tactfully persuading the visitors to stay. I heard the rustle of paper being pushed under the door, and Madame Guerard whispering to Jarrett, who was furious.
"You don't know her, Monsieur Jarrett," I heard her say. "If she thought you were forcing the door open, against which she has pushed the furniture, she would jump out of the window!"
Then I heard Felicie talking to a French lady who was insisting on seeing me.
"It is quite impossible," she was saying. "Madame would be quite hysterical. She needs an hour's rest, and every one must wait!"
For some little time I could hear a confused murmur which seemed to get farther away, and then I fell into a delicious sleep, laughing to myself as I went off, for my good temper returned as I pictured the angry, nonplussed expression on the faces of my visitors.
I woke in an hour's time, for I have the precious gift of being able to sleep ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, or an hour, just as I like, and I then wake up quite peacefully without a shake at the time I choose to rouse up. Nothing does me so much good as this rest to body and mind, decided upon and regulated merely by my will.
Very often when among my intimate friends I have lain down on the bear-skin hearth-rug in front of the fire, telling every one to go on talking, and to take no notice of me. I have then slept perhaps for an hour, and on waking have found two or three new-comers in the room, who, not wishing to disturb me, have taken part in the general conversation whilst waiting until I should wake up and they could present their respects to me. Even now I lie down on the huge wide sofa in the little Empire salon which leads into my dressing-room, and I sleep whilst waiting for the friends and artistes with whom I have made appointments to be ushered in. When I open my eyes I see the faces of my kind friends, who shake hands cordially, delighted that I should have had some rest. My mind is then tranquil, and I am ready to listen to all the beautiful ideas proposed to me, or to decline the absurdities submitted to me without being ungracious.
I woke up then at the Albemarle Hotel an hour later, and found myself lying on the rug. I opened the door of my room, and discovered my dear Guerard and my faithful Felicie seated on a trunk.
"Are there any people there still?" I asked.
"Oh, Madame, there are about a hundred now," answered Felicie.
"Help me to take my things off then quickly," I said, "and find me a white dress."
In about five minutes I was ready, and I felt that I looked nice from head to foot. I went into the drawing-room where all these unknown persons were waiting. Jarrett came forward to meet me, but on seeing me well dressed and with a smiling face he postponed the sermon that he wanted to preach to me.
I should like to introduce Jarrett to my readers, for he was a most extraordinary man. He was then about sixty-five or seventy years of age. He was tall, with a face like King Agamemnon, framed by the most beautiful silver-white hair I have ever seen on a man's head. His eyes were of so pale a blue that when they lighted up with anger he looked as though he were blind. When he was calm and tranquil, admiring nature, his face was really handsome, but when gay and animated his upper lip showed his teeth and curled up in a most ferocious sniff, and his grins seemed to be caused by the drawing up of his pointed ears, which were always moving as though on the watch for prey.
He was a terrible man, extremely intelligent; but from childhood he must have been fighting with the world, and he had the most profound contempt for all mankind. Although he must have suffered a great deal himself, he had no pity for others who suffered. He always said that every man was armed for his own defence. He pitied women; did not care for them, but was always ready to help them. He was very rich and very economical, but not miserly.
"I made my way in life," he often said to me, "by the aid of two weapons: honesty and a revolver. In business honesty is the most terrible weapon a man can use against rascals and crafty people. The former don't know what it is and the latter don't believe in it; while the revolver is an admirable invention for compelling scoundrels to keep their word."
He used to tell me about wonderful and terrifying adventures.
He had a deep scar under his right eye. During a violent discussion about a contract to be signed for Jenny Lind, the celebrated singer, Jarrett said to his interlocutor, pointing at the same time to his right eye: "Look at that eye, sir. It is now reading in your mind all that you are not saying."
"It doesn't know how to read, then, for it never foresaw that," said the other, firing his revolver at Jarrett's right eye.
"A bad shot, sir," replied Jarrett. "This is the way to take aim for effectually closing an eye."
And he put a ball between the two eyes of the other man, who fell down dead.
When Jarrett told this story his lip curled up and his two incisors appeared to be crunching the words with delight, and his bursts of stifled laughter sounded like the snapping of his jaws. He was an upright, honest man, though, and I liked him very much, and I like what I remember of him.
My first impression was a joyful one, and I clapped my hands with delight as I entered the drawing-room, which I had not yet seen. The busts of Racine, Moliere, and Victor Hugo were on pedestals surrounded with flowers. All round the large room were sofas laden with cushions, and, to remind me of my home in Paris, there were tall palms stretching out their branches over the sofas. Jarrett introduced Knoedler, who had suggested this piece of gallantry. He was a very charming man. I shook hands with him, and we were friends from that time forth.
The visitors soon went away, but the reporters remained. They were all seated, some of them on the arms of the chairs, others on the cushions. One of them had crouched down tailor-fashion on a bear-skin, and was leaning back against the steam heater. He was pale and thin, and coughed a great deal. I went towards him, and had just opened my lips to speak to him, although I was rather shocked that he did not rise, when he addressed me in a bass voice.
"Which is your favourite role, Madame?" he asked.
"That is no concern of yours," I answered, turning my back on him. In doing so I knocked against another reporter, who was more polite.
"What do you eat when you wake in the morning, Madame?" he inquired.
I was about to reply to him as I had done to the first one, but Jarrett, who had had difficulty in appeasing the anger of the crouching man, answered quickly for me, "Oatmeal." I did not know what that dish was, but the ferocious reporter continued his questions.
"And what do you eat during the day?"
He wrote down phlegmatically, "Mussels during the day."
I moved towards the door, and a female reporter in a tailor-made skirt, with her hair cut short, asked me in a clear, sweet voice, "Are you a Jewess-Catholic-Protestant-Mohammedan-Buddhist-Atheist- Zoroaster-Theist-or-Deist?" I stood still, rooted to the spot in bewilderment. She had said all that in a breath, accenting the syllables haphazard, and making of the whole one word so wildly incoherent that my impression was that I was not in safety near this strange, gentle person. I must have looked uneasy, and as my eyes fell on an elderly lady who was talking gaily to a little group of people, she came to my rescue, saying in very good French, "This young lady is asking you, Madame whether you are of the Jewish religion or whether you are a Catholic, a Protestant, a Mohammedan, a Buddhist, an Atheist a Zoroastrian, a Theist, or a Deist."
I sank down on a couch.
"Oh, Heavens!" I exclaimed, "will it be like this in all the cities I visit?"
"Oh no," answered Jarrett placidly; "your interviews will be wired throughout America."
"What about the mussels?" I thought to myself, and then in an absent-minded way I answered, "I am a Catholic, Mademoiselle."
"A Roman Catholic, or do you belong to the Orthodox Church?" she asked.
I jumped up from my seat, for she bored me beyond endurance, and a very young man then approached timidly.
"Will you allow me to finish my sketch, Madame?" he asked.
I remained standing, my profile turned towards him at his request. When he had finished I asked to see what he had done, and, perfectly unabashed, he handed me his horrible drawing of a skeleton with a curly wig. I tore the sketch up and threw it at him, but the following day that horror appeared in the papers, with a disagreeable inscription beneath it. Fortunately I was able to speak seriously about my art with a few honest and intelligent journalists, but twenty-five years ago reporters' paragraphs were more appreciated in America than serious articles, and the public, very much less literary then than at present, always seemed ready to echo the turpitudes invented by reporters hard up for copy. I should think that no creature in the world, since the invention of reporting, has ever had as much to endure as I had during that first tour. The basest calumnies were circulated by my enemies long before I arrived in America, there was all the treachery of the friends of the Comedie, and even of my own admirers, who hoped that I should not succeed on my tour, so that I might return more quickly to the fold, humiliated, calmed down, and subdued. Then there were the exaggerated announcements invented by my impresario Abbey and my representative Jarrett. These announcements were often outrageous and always ridiculous; but I did not know their real source until long afterwards, when it was too late—much too late—to undeceive the public, who were fully persuaded that I was the instigator of all these inventions. I therefore did not attempt to undeceive them. It matters very little to me whether people believe one thing or another.
Life is short, even for those who live a long time, and we must live for the few who know and appreciate us, who judge and absolve us, and for whom we have the same affection and indulgence. The rest I look upon as a mere crowd, lively or sad, loyal or corrupt, from whom there is nothing to be expected but fleeting emotions, either pleasant or unpleasant, which leave no trace behind them. We ought to hate very rarely, as it is too fatiguing; remain indifferent to a great deal, forgive often and never forget. Forgiving does not mean forgetting—at least, it does not with me. I will not mention here any of the outrageous and infamous attacks that were made upon me, as it would be doing too great an honour to the wretched people who were responsible for them, from beginning to end dipping their pen in the gall of their own souls. All I can say is that nothing kills but death, and that any one who wishes to defend himself or herself from slander can do it. For that one must live. It is not given to every one to be able to do it, but it depends on the will of God, who sees and judges.
I took two days' rest before going to the theatre, for I could feel the movement of the ship all the time: my head was dizzy, and it seemed to me as though the ceiling moved up and down. The twelve days on the sea had quite upset my health. I sent a line to the stage manager, telling him that we would rehearse on Wednesday, and on that day, as soon as luncheon was over, I went to Booth's Theatre, where our performances were to take place. At the stage-door I saw a compact, swaying crowd, very much animated and gesticulating. These strange-looking individuals did not belong to the world of actors. They were not reporters either, for I knew them too well, alas! to be mistaken in them. They were not there out of curiosity either, these people, for they seemed too much occupied, and then, too, there were only men. When my carriage drew up, one of them rushed forward to the door of it and then returned to the swaying crowd. "Here she is! Here she is!" I heard, and then all these common men, with their white neckties and questionable-looking hands, with their coats flying open, and trousers the knees of which were worn and dirty-looking, crowded behind me into the narrow passage leading to the staircase. I did not feel very easy in my mind, and I mounted the stairs rapidly. Several persons were waiting for me at the top: Mr. Abbey, Jarrett, and also some reporters, two gentlemen and a charming and most distinguished woman, whose friendship I have kept ever since, although she does not care much for French people. I saw Mr. Abbey, who was usually very dignified and cold, advance in the most gracious and courteous way to one of the men who were following me. They raised their hats to each other, and, followed by the strange and brutal-looking regiment, they advanced towards the centre of the stage.
I then saw the strangest of sights. In the middle of the stage were my forty-two trunks. In obedience to a sign, twenty of the men came forward, and placing themselves each one between two trunks, with a quick movement with their right and left hands they took the covers off the trunks on the right and left of them. Jarrett, with frowns and an unpleasant grin, held out my keys to them. He had asked me that morning for my keys for the Customs.
"Oh, it's nothing," he said; "don't be uneasy," and the way in which my luggage had always been respected in other countries had given me perfect confidence about it.
The principal personage of the ugly group came towards me, accompanied by Abbey, and Jarrett explained things to me. The man was an official from the American Custom-house.
The Custom-house is an abominable institution in every country, but worse in America than anywhere else. I was prepared for all this, and was most affable to the tormentor of a traveller's patience. He raised the melon which served him for a hat, and without taking his cigar out of his mouth made some incomprehensible remark to me. He then turned to his regiment of men, made an abrupt sign with his hand, and uttered some word of command, whereupon the forty dirty hands of these twenty men proceeded to forage among my velvets, satins, and laces. I rushed forward to save my poor dresses from such outrageous violation, and I ordered the lady of our company who had charge of the costumes to lift my gowns out one at a time, which she accordingly did, aided by my maid, who was in tears at the small amount of respect shown by these boors to all my beautiful, fragile things. Two ladies had just arrived, very noisy and businesslike. One of them was short and stout: her nose seemed to begin at the roots of her hair; she had round, placid-looking eyes, and a mouth like a snout; her arms she was hiding timidly behind her heavy flabby bust, and her ungainly knees seemed to come straight out of her groin. She looked like a seated cow. Her companion was like a terrapin, with her little black evil-looking head at the end of a neck which was too long and very stringy. She kept shooting it out of her boa and drawing it back with the most incredible rapidity. The rest of her body bulged out flat. These two delightful persons were the dressmakers sent for by the Custom-house to value my costumes. They glanced at me in a furtive way, and gave a little bow full of bitterness and jealous rage at the sight of my dresses; and I was quite aware that two more enemies had now come upon the scene. These two odious shrews began to chatter and argue, pawing and crumpling my dresses and cloaks at the same time. They kept exclaiming in the most emphatic way, "Oh, how beautiful! What magnificence! What luxury! All our customers will want gowns like these, and we shall never be able to make them! It will be the ruin of all the American dressmakers." They were working up the judges into a state of excitement for this chiffon court-martial. They kept lamenting, then going into raptures and asking for "justice" against foreign invasion. The ugly band of men nodded their heads in approval, and spat on the ground to affirm their independence. Suddenly the Terrapin turned on one of the inquisitors:
"Oh, isn't it beautiful? Show it! show it!" she exclaimed, seizing on a dress all embroidered with pearls, which I wore in La Dame aux Camelias.
"This dress is worth at least ten-thousand dollars," she said; and then, coming up to me, she asked, "How much did you pay for that dress, Madame?"
I ground my teeth together and would not answer, for just at that moment I should have enjoyed seeing the Terrapin in one of the saucepans in the Albemarle Hotel kitchen. It was nearly half-past five, and my feet were frozen. I was half dead, too, with fatigue and suppressed anger. The rest of the examination was postponed until the next day, and the ugly band of men offered to put everything back in the trunks, but I objected to that. I sent out for five hundred yards of blue tarletan to cover over the mountain of dresses, hats, cloaks, shoes, laces, linen, stockings, furs, gloves, &c. &c. They then made me take my oath to remove nothing, for they had such charming confidence in me, and I left my steward there in charge. He was the husband of Felicie, my maid, and a bed was put up for him on the stage. I was so nervous and upset that I wanted to go somewhere far away, to have some fresh air, and to stay out for a long time. A friend offered to take me to see Brooklyn Bridge.
"That masterpiece of American genius will make you forget the petty miseries of our red tape affairs," he said gently, and so we set out for Brooklyn Bridge.
Oh, that bridge! It is insane, admirable, imposing; and it makes one feel proud. Yes, one is proud to be a human being when one realises that a brain has created and suspended in the air, fifty yards from the ground, that fearful thing which bears a dozen trains filled with passengers, ten or twelve tramcars, a hundred cabs, carriages, and carts, and thousands of foot passengers; and all that moving along together amidst the uproar of the music of the metals—clanging, clashing, grating, and groaning under the enormous weight of people and things. The movement of the air caused by this frightful tempestuous coming and going caused me to feel giddy and stopped my breath.
I made a sign for the carriage to stand still, and I closed my eyes. I then had a strange, undefinable sensation of universal chaos. I opened my eyes again when my brain was a little more tranquil, and I saw New York stretching out along the river, wearing its night ornaments, which glittered as much through its dress with thousands of electric lights as the firmament with its tunic of stars.
I returned to the hotel reconciled with this great nation.
I went to sleep, tired in body but rested in mind, and had such delightful dreams that I was in a good humour the following day. I adore dreams, and my sad, unhappy days are those which follow dreamless nights.
My great grief is that I cannot choose my dreams. How many times I have done all in my power at the end of a happy day to make myself dream a continuation of it. How many times I have called up the faces of those I love just before falling asleep; but my thoughts wander and carry me off elsewhere, and I prefer that a hundred times over to the absolute negation of thought.
When I am asleep my body has an infinite sense of enjoyment, but it is torture to me for my thoughts to slumber.
My vital forces rebel against such negation of life. I am quite willing to die once for all, but I object to slight deaths such as those of which one has the sensation on dreamless nights. When I awoke my maid told me that Jarrett was waiting for me to go to the theatre so that the valuation of my costumes could be terminated. I sent word to Jarrett that I had seen quite enough of the regiment from the Custom-house, and I asked him to finish everything without me, as Madame Guerard would be there. During the next two days the Terrapin, the Seated Cow, and the Black Band made notes for the Custom-house, took sketches for the papers and patterns of my dresses for customers. I began to get impatient, as we ought to have been rehearsing. Finally, I was told on Thursday morning that the business was over, and that I could not have my trunks until I had paid twenty-eight thousand francs for duty. I was seized with such a violent fit of laughing that poor Abbey, who had been terrified, caught it from me, and even Jarrett showed his cruel teeth.
"My dear Abbey," I exclaimed, "arrange as you like about it, but I must make my debut on Monday the 8th of November, and to-day is Thursday. I shall be at the theatre on Monday to dress. See that I have my trunks, for there was nothing about the Custom-house in my contract. I will pay half, though, of what you have to give."
The twenty-eight thousand francs were handed over to an attorney who made a claim in my name on the Board of Customs. My trunks were left with me, thanks to this payment, and the rehearsals commenced at Booth's Theatre.
On Monday, November 8, at 8.30, the curtain rose for the first performance of Adrienne Lecouvreur. The house was crowded, and the seats, which had been sold to the highest bidders and then sold by them again, had fetched exorbitant prices. I was awaited with impatience and curiosity, but not with any sympathy. There were no young girls present, as the piece was too immoral. Poor Adrienne Lecouvreur!
The audience was very polite to the artistes of my company, but rather impatient to see the strange person who had been described to them.
In the play the curtain falls at the end of the first act without Adrienne having appeared. A person in the house, very much annoyed, asked to see Mr. Henry Abbey. "I want my money back," he said, "as la Bernhardt is not in every act." Abbey refused to return the money to the extraordinary individual, and as the curtain was going up he hurried back to take possession of his seat again. My appearance was greeted by several rounds of applause, which I believe had been paid for in advance by Abbey and Jarrett. I commenced, and the sweetness of my voice in the fable of the "Two Pigeons" worked the miracle. The whole house this time burst out into hurrahs. A current of sympathy was established between the public and myself. Instead of the hysterical skeleton that had been announced to them, they had before them a very frail-looking creature with a sweet voice. The fourth act was applauded, and Adrienne's rebellion against the Princesse de Bouillon stirred the whole house. Finally in the fifth act, when the unfortunate artiste is dying, poisoned by her rival, there was quite a manifestation, and every one was deeply moved. At the end of the third act all the young men were sent off by the ladies to find all the musicians they could get together, and to my surprise and delight on arriving at my hotel a charming serenade was played for me while I was at supper. The crowd had assembled under my windows at the Albemarle Hotel, and I was obliged to go out on to the balcony several times to bow and to thank this public, which I had been told I should find cold and prejudiced against me. From the bottom of my heart I also thanked all my detractors and slanderers, as it was through them that I had had the pleasure of fighting, with the certainty of conquering. The victory was all the more enjoyable as I had not dared to hope for it.
I gave twenty-seven performances in New York. The plays were Adrienne Lecouvreur, Froufrou, Hernani, La Dame aux Camelias, Le Sphinx, and L'Etrangere. The average receipts were 20,342 francs for each performance, including matinees. The last performance was given on Saturday, December 4, as a matinee, for my company had to leave that night for Boston, and I had reserved the evening to go to Mr. Edison's at Menlo Park, where I had a reception worthy of fairyland.
Oh, that matinee of Saturday, December 4! I can never forget it. When I got to the theatre to dress it was mid-day, for the matinee was to commence at half-past one. My carriage stopped, not being able to get along, for the street was filled by ladies, sitting on chairs which they had borrowed from the neighbouring shops, or on folding seats which they had brought themselves. The play was La Dame aux Camelias. I had to get out of my carriage and walk about twenty-five yards on foot in order to get to the stage door. It took me twenty-five minutes to do it. People shook my hands and begged me to come back. One lady took off her brooch and pinned it in my mantle—a modest brooch of amethysts surrounded by fine pearls, but certainly for the giver the brooch had its value. I was stopped at every step. One lady pulled out her note-book and begged me to write my name. The idea took like lightning. Small boys under the care of their parents wanted me to write my name on their cuffs. My arms were full of small bouquets which had been pushed into my hands. I felt behind me some one tugging at the feather in my hat. I turned round sharply. A woman with a pair of scissors in her hand had tried to cut off a lock of my hair, but she only succeeded in cutting the feather out of my hat. In vain Jarrett signalled and shouted. I could not get along. They sent for the police, who delivered me, but without any ceremony either for my admirers or for myself. Those policemen were real brutes, and they made me very angry. I played La Dame aux Camelias, and I counted seventeen calls after the third act and twenty-nine after the fifth. In consequence of the cheering and calls the play had lasted an hour longer than usual, and I was half dead with fatigue. I was just about to go to my carriage to get back to my hotel, when Jarrett came to tell me that there were more than 50,000 people waiting outside. I fell back on a chair, tired and disheartened.
"Oh, I will wait till the crowd has dispersed. I am tired out I can do no more."
But Henry Abbey had an inspiration of genius.
"Come," said he to my sister. "Put on Madame's hat and boa and take my arm. And take also these bouquets—give me what you cannot carry. And now we will go to your sister's carriage and make our bow."
He said all this in English, and Jarrett translated it to my sister, who willingly accepted her part in this little comedy. During this time Jarrett and I got into Abbey's carriage, which was stationed in front of the theatre where no one was waiting. And it was fortunate we took this course, for my sister only got back to the Albemarle Hotel an hour later, very tired, but very much amused. Her resemblance to myself, my hat, my boa, and the darkness of night had been the accomplices of the little comedy which we had offered to my enthusiastic public.
We had to set out at nine o'clock for Menlo Park. We had to dress in travelling costume, for the following day we were to leave for Boston, and my trunks were leaving the same day with my company, which preceded me by several hours.
Our meal was, as usual, very bad, for in those days in America the food was unspeakably awful. At ten o'clock we took the train—a pretty special train, all decorated with flowers and banners, which they had been kind enough to prepare for me. But it was a painful journey all the same, for at every moment we had to pull up to allow another train to pass or an engine to manoeuvre, or to wait to pass over the points. It was two o'clock in the morning when the train at last reached the station of Menlo Park, the residence of Thomas Edison.
It was a very dark night, and the snow was falling silently in heavy flakes. A carriage was waiting, and the one lamp of this carriage served to light up the whole station, for orders had been given that the electric lights should be put out. I found my way with the help of Jarrett and some of my friends who had accompanied us from New York. The intense cold froze the snow as it fell, and we walked over veritable blocks of sharp, jagged ice, which crackled under our feet. Behind the first carriage was another heavier one, with only one horse and no lamp. There was room for five or six persons to crowd into this. We were ten in all. Jarrett, Abbey, my sister, and I took our places in the first one, leaving the others to get into the second. We looked like a band of conspirators. The dark night, the two mysterious carriages, the silence caused by the icy coldness, the way in which we were muffled in our furs, and our anxious expression as we glanced around us—all this made our visit to the celebrated Edison resemble a scene out of an operetta.
The carriage rolled along, sinking deep into the snow and jolting terribly; the jolts made us dread every instant some tragi-comic accident.
I cannot tell how long we had been rolling along, for, lulled by the movement of the carriage and buried in my warm furs, I was quietly dozing, when a formidable "Hip, hip, hurrah!" made us all jump, my travelling companions, the coachman, the horse, and I. As quick as thought the whole country was suddenly illuminated. Under the trees, on the trees, among the bushes, along the garden walks, lights flashed forth triumphantly.
The wheels of the carriage turned a few more times, and then drew up at the house of the famous Thomas Edison. A group of people awaited us on the verandah—four men, two ladies, and a young girl. My heart began to beat quickly as I wondered which of these men was Edison. I had never seen his photograph, and I had the greatest admiration for his genial brain. I sprang out of the carriage, and the dazzling electric light made it seem like day-time to us. I took the bouquet which Mrs. Edison offered me, and thanked her for it, but all the time I was endeavouring to discover which of these was the great man.
They all four advanced towards me, but I noticed the flush that came into the face of one of them, and it was so evident from the expression of his blue eyes that he was intensely bored that I guessed this was Edison. I felt confused and embarrassed myself, for I knew very well that I was causing inconvenience to this man by my visit. He of course imagined that it was due to the idle curiosity of a foreigner eager to court publicity. He was no doubt thinking of the interviewing in store for him the following day, and of the stupidities he would be made to utter. He was suffering beforehand at the idea of the ignorant questions I should ask him, of all the explanations he would out of politeness be obliged to give me, and at that moment Thomas Edison took a dislike to me. His wonderful blue eyes, more luminous than his incandescent lamps, enabled me to read his thoughts. I immediately understood that he must be won over, and my combative instinct had recourse to all my powers of fascination in order to vanquish this delightful but bashful savant. I made such an effort, and succeeded so well that half an hour later we were the best of friends.
I followed him about quickly, climbing up staircases as narrow and steep as ladders, crossing bridges suspended in the air above veritable furnaces, and he explained everything to me. I understood all, and I admired him more and more, for he was so simple and charming, this king of light.
As we were leaning over a slightly unsteady bridge above the terrible abyss, in which immense wheels encased in wide thongs were turning, whirling about, and rumbling, he gave various orders in a clear voice, and light then burst forth on all sides, sometimes in sputtering greenish jets, sometimes in quick flashes, or in serpentine trails like streams of fire. I looked at this man of medium size, with rather a large head and a noble-looking profile, and I thought of Napoleon I. There is certainly a great physical resemblance between these two men, and I am sure that one compartment of their brain would be found to be identical. Of course I do not compare their genius. The one was destructive and the other creative, but whilst I execrate battles I adore victories, and in spite of his errors I have raised an altar in my heart to that god of glory, Napoleon! I therefore looked at Edison thoughtfully, for he reminded me of the great man who was dead. The deafening sound of the machinery, the dazzling rapidity of the changes of light, all that together made my head whirl, and forgetting where I was, I leaned for support on the slight balustrade which separated me from the abyss beneath. I was so unconscious of all danger that before I had recovered from my surprise Edison had helped me into an adjoining room and installed me in an arm-chair without my realising how it had all happened. He told me afterwards that I had turned dizzy.
After having done the honours of his telephonic discovery and of his astonishing phonograph, Edison offered me his arm and took me to the dining-room, where I found his family assembled. I was very tired, and did justice to the supper that had been so hospitably prepared for us.
I left Menlo Park at four o'clock in the morning, and the time the country round, the roads and the station were all lighted up a giorno, by the thousands of lamps of my kind host. What a strange power of suggestion the darkness has! I thought I had travelled a long way that night, and it seemed to me that the roads were impracticable. It proved to be quite a short distance, and the roads were charming, although they were now covered with snow. Imagination had played a great part during the journey to Edison's house, but reality played a much greater one during the same journey back to the station. I was enthusiastic in my admiration of the inventions of this man, and I was charmed with his timid graciousness and perfect courtesy, and with his profound love of Shakespeare.
AT BOSTON—STORY OF THE WHALE
The next day, or rather that same day, for it was then four in the morning, I started with my company for Boston. Mr. Abbey, my impresario, had arranged for me to have a delightful "car," but it was nothing like the wonderful Pullman car that I was to have from Philadelphia for continuing my tour. I was very much pleased with this one, nevertheless. In the middle of it there was a real bed, large and comfortable, on a brass bedstead. Then there were an arm-chair, a pretty dressing-table, a basket tied up with ribbons for my dog, and flowers everywhere, but flowers without an overpowering perfume. In the car adjoining mine were my own servants, who were also very comfortable. I went to bed feeling thoroughly satisfied, and woke up at Boston.
A large crowd was assembled at the station. There were reporters and curious men and women—a public decidedly more interested than friendly, not badly intentioned, but by no means enthusiastic. Public opinion in New York had been greatly occupied with me during the past month. I had been so much criticised and glorified. Calumnies of all kinds, stupid and disgusting, foolish and odious, had been circulated about me. Some people blamed and others admired the disdain with which I had treated these turpitudes, but every one knew that I had won in the end and that I had triumphed over all and everything. Boston knew, too, that clergymen had preached from their pulpits saying that I had been sent by the Old World to corrupt the New World, that my art was an inspiration from hell, &c. &c. Every one knew all this, but the public wanted to see for itself. Boston belongs especially to the women. Tradition says that it was a woman who first set foot in Boston. Women form the majority there. They are puritanical with intelligence, and independent with a certain grace. I passed between the two lines formed by this strange, courteous, and cold crowd, and just as I was about to get into my carriage a lady advanced towards me and said, "Welcome to Boston, Madame!"
"Welcome, Madame!" and she held out a soft little hand to me. (American women generally have charming hands and feet.) Other people now approached and smiled, and I had to shake hands with many of them.
I took a fancy to this city at once, but all the same I was furious for a moment when a reporter sprang on the steps of the carriage just as we were driving away. He was in a greater hurry and more audacious than any of the others, but he was certainly overstepping the limits, and I pushed the impolite fellow back angrily. Jarrett was prepared for this, and saved him by the collar of his coat; otherwise he would have fallen down on the pavement as he deserved.
"At what time will you come and get on the whale to-morrow?" this extraordinary personage asked. I gazed at him in bewilderment. He spoke French perfectly, and repeated his question.
"He's mad!" I said in a low voice to Jarrett.
"No, Madame; I am not mad, but I should like to know at what time you will come and get on the whale? It would be better perhaps to come this evening, for we are afraid it may die in the night, and it would be a pity for you not to come and pay it a visit while it still has breath."
He went on talking, and as he talked he half seated himself beside Jarrett, who was still holding him by the collar lest he should fall out of the carriage.
"But, Monsieur," I exclaimed, "what do you mean? What is all this about a whale?"
"Ah, Madame," he replied, "it is admirable, enormous. It is in the harbour basin, and there are men employed day and night to break the ice all round it."
He broke off suddenly, and standing on the carriage step he clutched the driver.
"Stop! Stop!" he called out. "Hi! Hi! Henry, come here! Here's Madame; here she is!"
The carriage drew up, and without any further ceremony he jumped down and pushed into my landau a little man, square all over, who was wearing a fur cap pulled down over his eyes, and an enormous diamond in his cravat. He was the strangest type of the old-fashioned Yankee. He did not speak a word of French, but he took his seat calmly by Jarrett, whilst the reporter remained half sitting and half hanging on to the vehicle. There had been three of us when we started from the station, and we were five when we reached the Hotel Vendome. There were a great many people awaiting my arrival, and I was quite ashamed of my new companion. He talked in a loud voice, laughed, coughed, spat, addressed every one, and gave every one invitations. All the people seemed to be delighted. A little girl threw her arms round her father's neck, exclaiming, "Oh yes, papa; do please let us go!"
"Well, but we must ask Madame," he replied, and he came up to me in the most polite and courteous manner. "Will you kindly allow us to join your party when you go to see the whale to-morrow?" he asked.
"But, Monsieur," I answered, delighted to have to do with a gentleman once more, "I have no idea what all this means. For the last quarter of an hour this reporter and that extraordinary man have been talking about a whale. They declare authoritatively that I must go and pay it a visit, and I know absolutely nothing about it all. These two gentlemen took my carriage by storm; installed themselves in it without my permission, and, as you see, are giving invitations in my name to people I do not know, asking them to go with me to a place about which I know nothing, for the purpose of paying a visit to a whale which is to be introduced to me, and which is waiting impatiently to die in peace."
The kindly disposed gentleman signed to his daughter to come with us, and, accompanied by them, and by Jarrett and Madame Guerard, I went up in a lift to the door of my suite of rooms. I found my apartments hung with valuable pictures and full of magnificent statues. I felt rather disturbed in my mind, for among these objects of art were two or three very rare and beautiful things, which I knew must have cost an exorbitant price. I was afraid lest any of them should be stolen, and I spoke of my fear to the proprietor of the hotel.
"Mr. X., to whom the knick-knacks belong," he answered, "wished you to have them to look at as long as you are here, Mademoiselle; and when I expressed my anxiety about them to him, just as you have done to me, he merely remarked that 'it was all the same to him.' As to the pictures, they belong to two wealthy Bostonians." There was among them a superb Millet, which I should very much have liked to own.
After expressing my gratitude and admiring these treasures, I asked for an explanation of the story of the whale, and Mr. Max Gordon, the father of the little girl, translated for me what the little man in the fur cap had said. It appeared that he owned several fishing-boats, which he sent out cod-fishing for his own benefit. One of these boats had captured an enormous whale, which still had two harpoons in it. The poor creature was thoroughly exhausted with its struggles, and only a few miles distant along the coast, so it had been easy to capture it and bring it in triumph to Henry Smith, the owner of the boats. It was difficult to say by what freak of fancy and by what turn of the imagination this man had arrived at associating in his mind the idea of the whale and my name as a source of wealth. I could not understand it, but the fact remained that he insisted in such a droll way, and so authoritatively and energetically, that the following morning at seven o'clock fifty of us assembled, in spite of the icy cold rain, on the quay.
Mr. Gordon had given orders that his mail coach with four beautiful horses should be in readiness. He drove himself, and his daughter, Jarrett, my sister, Madame Guerard, and another elderly lady, whose name I have forgotten, were with us. Seven other carriages followed. It was all very amusing indeed.
On our arrival at the quay we were received by this comic Henry, shaggy-looking this time from head to foot, and his hands encased in fingerless woollen gloves. Only his eyes and his huge diamond shone out from his furs. I walked along the quay, very much amused and interested. There were a few idlers looking on also, and alas!—three times over alas!—there were reporters.
Henry's shaggy paw then seized my hand, and he drew me along with him quickly to the steps.
I only just escaped breaking my neck at least a dozen times. He pushed me along, made me stumble down the ten steps of the basin, and I next found myself on the back of the whale. They assured me that it still breathed, but I should not like to affirm that it really did; but the splashing of the water breaking its eddy against the poor creature caused it to oscillate slightly. Then, too, it was covered with glazed frost, and twice I fell down full length on its spine. I laugh about it now, but I was furious then.
Every one around me insisted, however, on my pulling a piece of whalebone from the blade of the poor captured creature, one of those little bones which are used for women's corsets. I did not like to do this, as I feared to cause it suffering, and I was sorry for the poor thing, as three of us—Henry, the little Gordon girl, and I—had been skating about on its back for the last ten minutes. Finally I decided to do it. I pulled out the little whale bone, and went up the steps again, holding my poor trophy in my hand. I felt nervous and flustered, and every one surrounded me.
I was annoyed with this Henry Smith. I did not want to return to the coach, as I thought I could hide bad temper better in one of the huge, gloomy-looking landaus which followed, but the charming Miss Gordon asked me so sweetly why I would not ride with them that I felt my anger melt away before the child's smiling face.
"Would you like to drive?" her father asked me, and I accepted with pleasure.
Jarrett immediately proceeded to get down from the coach as quickly as his age and corpulence would allow him.
"If you are going to drive I prefer getting down," he said, and he took a seat in another carriage. I changed places boldly with Mr. Gordon in order to drive, and we had not gone a hundred yards before I had let the horses make for a chemist's shop along the quay and got the coach itself up on to the footpath, so that if it had not been for the quickness and energy of Mr. Gordon we should all have been killed. On arriving at the hotel I went to bed, and stayed there until it was time for the theatre in the evening. We played Hernani that night to a full house.
The seats had been sold to the highest bidders, and considerable prices were obtained for them. We gave fifteen performances at Boston, at an average of nineteen thousand francs for each performance. I was sorry to leave that city, as I had spent two charming weeks there, my mind all the time on the alert when holding conversations with the Boston women. They are Puritans from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, but they are indulgent, and there is no bitterness about their Puritanism. What struck me most about the women of Boston was the harmony of their gestures and the softness of their voices. Brought up among the severest and harshest of traditions, the Bostonian race seems to me to be the most refined and the most mysterious of all the American races.
As the women are in the majority in Boston, many of the young girls remain unmarried. All their vital forces which they cannot expend in love and in maternity they employ in fortifying and making supple the beauty of their body by means of exercise and sports, without losing any of their grace. All the reserves of heart are expended in intellectuality. They adore music, the stage, literature, painting, and poetry. They know everything and understand everything, are chaste and reserved, and neither laugh nor talk very loud.
They are as far removed from the Latin race as the North Pole is from the South Pole, but they are interesting, delightful, and captivating.
It was therefore with a rather heavy heart that I left Boston for New Haven, and to my great surprise, on arriving at the hotel there I found Henry Smith the famous whale man.
"Oh, Heavens!" I exclaimed, flinging myself into an armchair, "what does this man want now with me?"
I was not left in ignorance very long, for the most infernal noise of brass instruments, drums, trumpets, and, I should think, saucepans, drew me to the window. I saw an immense carriage surrounded by an escort of negroes dressed as minstrels. On this carriage was an abominable, monstrous coloured advertisement representing me standing on the whale, tearing away its blade while it struggled to defend itself.
Some sandwich-men followed with posters on which were written the following words:
"COME AND SEE THE ENORMOUS CETACEAN WHICH SARAH BERNHARDT KILLED BY TEARING OUT ITS WHALEBONE FOR HER CORSETS. THESE ARE MADE BY MADAME LILY NOE, WHO LIVES," ETC. ETC.
Some of the other sandwich-men carried posters with these words:
"THE WHALE IS JUST AS FLOURISHING (sic) AS WHEN IT WAS ALIVE!
It has five hundred dollars' worth of salt in its stomach, and every day the ice upon which it is resting is renewed at a cost of one hundred dollars!"
My face turned more livid than that of a corpse, and my teeth chattered with fury on seeing this.
Henry Smith advanced towards me, and I struck him in my anger, and then rushed away to my room, where I sobbed with vexation, disgust, and utter weariness.
I wanted to start back to Europe at once, but Jarrett showed me my contract. I then wanted to take steps to have this odious exhibition stopped, and in order to calm me I was promised that this should be done, but in reality nothing was done at all.
Two days later I was at Hartford, and the same whale was there. It continued its tour as I continued mine.
They gave it more salt and renewed its ice, and it went on its way, so that I came across it everywhere. I took proceedings about it, but in every State I was obliged to begin all over again, as the law varied in the different States. And every time I arrived at a fresh hotel I found there an immense bouquet awaiting me, with the horrible card of the showman of the whale. I threw his flowers on the ground and trampled on them, and much as I love flowers, I had a horror of these. Jarrett went to see the man and begged him not to send me any more bouquets, but it was all of no use, as it was the man's way of avenging the box on the ears I had given him. Then too he could not understand my anger. He was making any amount of money, and had even proposed that I should accept a percentage of the receipts. Ah, I would willingly have killed that execrable Smith, for he was poisoning my life. I could see nothing else in all the different cities I visited, and I used to shut my eyes to go from the hotel to the theatre. When I heard the minstrels I used to fly into a rage and turn green with anger. Fortunately I was able to rest when once I reached Montreal, where I was not followed by this show. I should certainly have been ill if it had continued, as I saw nothing but that, I could think of nothing else, and my very dreams were about it. It haunted me; it was an obsession and a perpetual nightmare. When I left Hartford, Jarrett swore to me that Smith would not be at Montreal, as he had been taken suddenly ill. I strongly suspected that Jarrett had found a way of administering to him some violent kind of medicine which had stopped his journeying for the time. I felt sure of this, as the ferocious gentleman laughed so heartily en route, but anyhow I was infinitely grateful to him for ridding me of the man for the present.
MONTREAL'S GRAND RECEPTION—THE POET FRECHETTE—AN ESCAPADE ON THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER
At last we arrived at Montreal.
For a long time, ever since my earliest childhood, I had dreamed about Canada. I had always heard my godfather regret, with considerable fury, the surrender of that territory by France to England.
I had heard him enumerate, without very clearly understanding them, the pecuniary advantages of Canada, the immense fortune that lay in its lands, &c., and that country had seemed to my imagination the far-off promised land.
Awakened some considerable time before by the strident whistle of the engine, I asked what time it was. Eleven o'clock in the evening, I was informed. We were within fifteen minutes of the station. The sky was black and smooth, like a steel shield. Lanterns placed at distant intervals caught the whiteness of the snow heaped up there for how many days? The train stopped suddenly, and then started again with such a slow and timid movement that I fancied that there might be a possibility of its running off the rails. But a deadened sound, growing louder every second, fell upon my attentive ears. This sound soon resolved itself into music—and it was in the midst of a formidable "Hurrah! long live France!" shouted by ten thousand throats, strengthened by an orchestra playing the "Marseillaise" with a frenzied fury, that we made our entry into Montreal.
The place where the train stopped in those days was very narrow. A somewhat high bank served as a rampart for the slight platform of the station.
Standing on the small step of my carriage, I looked with emotion upon the strange spectacle I had before me. The bank was packed with bears holding lanterns. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. In the narrow space between the bank and the train, which had come to a stop, there were more bears, large and small, and I wondered with terror how I should manage to reach my sleigh.
Jarrett and Abbey caused the crowd to make way, and I got out. But a deputy, whose name I cannot make out on my notes (what commendation for my writing!)—a deputy advanced towards me and handed me an address signed by the notabilities of the city. I returned thanks as best I could, and took the magnificent bouquet of flowers that was tendered in the name of the signatories to the address. When I lifted the flowers to my face in order to smell them I hurt myself slightly with their pretty petals, which were frozen by the cold.
However, I began myself to feel both arms and legs were getting benumbed. The cold crept over my whole body. That night, it appears, was one of the coldest that had been experienced for many years past.
The women who had come to be present at the arrival of the French company had been compelled to withdraw into the interior of the station, with the exception of Mrs. Jos. Doutre, who handed me a bouquet of rare flowers and gave me a kiss. The temperature was twenty-two degrees below zero. I whispered low to Jarrett, "Let us continue our journey; I am turning into ice. In ten minutes I shall not be able to move a step."
Jarrett repeated my words to Abbey, who applied to the Chief of Police. The latter gave orders in English, and another police officer repeated them in French. And we were able to proceed for a few yards. But the main station was still some way off. The crowd grew bigger, and at one time I felt as though I were about to faint. I took courage, however, holding or rather hanging on to the arms of Jarrett and Abbey. Every minute I thought I should fall, for the platform was like a mirror.
We were obliged, however, to stay further progress. A hundred lanterns, held aloft by a hundred students' hands, suddenly lit up the place.
A tall young man separated himself from the group and came straight towards me, holding a wide unrolled piece of paper, and in a loud voice declaimed: