This article presented by www.stagebeauty.net (Copyright 2007)

MY DOUBLE LIFE
The Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt

Published 1907


XI. MY DÉBUT AT THE HOUSE OF MOLIÈRE, AND MY FIRST DEPARTURE THEREFROM

On September 1, 1862, the day I was to make my début, I was in the Rue Duphot looking at the theatrical posters. They used to be put up then at the corner of the Rue Duphot and the Rue St. Honoré. On the poster of the Comédie Française I read the words "Début of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt." I have no idea how long I stood there, fascinated by the letters of my name, but I remember that it seemed to me as though every person who stopped to read the poster looked at me afterwards, and I blushed to the very roots of my hair.

At five o'clock I went to the theatre. I had a dressing-room on the top floor which I shared with Mlle. Coblentz. This room was on the other side of the Rue de Richelieu, in a house rented by the Comédie Française. A small covered bridge over the street served as a passage and means of communication for us to reach the Comédie.

I was a tremendously long time dressing, and did not know whether I looked nice or not. Mon petit Dame thought I was too pale, and Mlle. de Brabender considered that I had too much colour. My mother was to go direct to her seat in the theatre, and Aunt Rosine was away in the country.

When the call-boy announced that the play was about to begin, I broke into a cold perspiration from head to foot, and felt ready to faint. I went downstairs trembling, tottering, and my teeth chattering. When I arrived on the stage the curtain was rising. That curtain which was being raised so slowly and solemnly was to me like the veil being torn which was to let me have a glimpse of my future. A deep gentle voice made me turn round. It was Provost, my first professor, who had come to encourage me. I greeted him warmly, so glad was I to see him again. Samson was there, too; I believe that he was playing that night in one of Molière's comedies. The two men were very different. Provost was tall, his silvery hair was blown about, and he had a droll face. Samson was small, precise, dainty; his shiny white hair curled firmly and closely round his head. Both men had been moved by the same sentiment of protection for the poor, fragile, nervous girl, who was nevertheless so full of hope. Both of them knew my zeal for work, my obstinate will, which was always struggling for victory over my physical weakness. They knew that my motto "Quand-même" had not been adopted by me merely by chance, but that it was the outcome of a deliberate exercise of will power on my part. My mother had told them how I had chosen this motto at the age of nine, after a formidable leap over a ditch which no one could jump and which my young cousin had dared me to attempt. I had hurt my face, broken my wrist, and was in pain all over. Whilst I was being carried home I exclaimed furiously, "Yes, I would do it again, quand-même, if any one dared me again. And I will always do what I want to do all my life." In the evening of that day my aunt, who was grieved to see me in such pain, asked me what would give me any pleasure. My poor little body was all bandaged, but I jumped with joy at this, and quite consoled, I whispered in a coaxing way, "I should like to have some writing-paper with a motto of my own."

My mother asked me rather slyly what my motto was. I did not answer for a minute, and then, as they were all waiting quietly, I uttered such a furious "Quand-même" that my Aunt Faure started back exclaiming, "What a terrible child!"

Samson and Provost reminded me of this story in order to give me courage, but my ears were buzzing so that I could not listen to them. Provost heard my "cue" on the stage, and pushed me gently forward. I made my entry and hurried towards Agamemnon, my father. I did not want to leave him again, as I felt I must have some one to hold on to. I then rushed to my mother, Clytemnestra ... I stammered ... and on leaving the stage I rushed up to my room and began to undress.

Madame Guérard was terrified, and asked me if I was mad. I had only played one act, and there were four more. I realised then that it would really be dangerous to give way to my nerves. I had recourse to my own motto, and, standing in front of the glass gazing into my own eyes, I ordered myself to be calm and to conquer myself, and my nerves, in a state of confusion, yielded to my brain. I got through the play, but was very insignificant in my part.

The next morning my mother sent for me early. She had been looking at Sarcey's article in L'Opinion Nationale, and she now read me the following lines: "Mlle. Bernhardt who made her début yesterday in the rôle of Iphigénie, is a tall, pretty girl with a slender figure and a very pleasing expression; the upper part of her face is remarkably beautiful. Her carriage is excellent, and her enunciation is perfectly clear. This is all that can be said for her at present."

"The man is an idiot," said my mother, drawing me to her. "You were charming."

She then prepared a little cup of coffee for me, and made it with cream. I was happy, but not completely so.

When my godfather arrived in the afternoon he exclaimed, "Good heavens! My poor child, what thin arms you have!"

As a matter of fact, people had laughed, and I had heard them, when stretching out my arms towards Eurybate. I had said the famous line in which Favart had made her "effect" that was now a tradition. I certainly had made no "effect," unless the smiles caused by my long, thin arms can be reckoned as such. My second appearance was in Valérie, when I did make some slight success.

My third appearance at the Comédie resulted in the following boutade from the pen of the same Sarcey:

L'Opinion Nationale, September 12: "The same evening Les Femmes Savantes was given. This was Mlle. Bernhardt's third début, and she assumed the rôle of Henriette. She was just as pretty and insignificant in this as in that of Junie [he had made a mistake, as it was Iphigénie I had played] and of Valérie. both of which rôles had been entrusted to her previously. This performance was a very poor affair, and gives rise to reflections by no means gay. That Mlle. Bernhardt should be insignificant does not much matter. She is a débutante, and among the number presented to us it is only natural that some should be failures. The pitiful part is, though, that the comedians playing with her were not much better than she was, and they are Sociétaires of the Théâtre Français. All that they had more than their young comrade was a greater familiarity with the boards. They are just as Mlle. Bernhardt may be in twenty years' time, if she stays at the Comédie Française."

I did not stay there, though, for one of those nothings which change a whole life changed mine. I had entered the Comédie expecting to remain there always. I had heard my godfather explain to my mother all about the various stages of my career.

"The child will have so much during the first five years," he said, "and so much afterwards, and then at the end of thirty years she will have the pension given to Sociétaires--that is, if she ever becomes a Sociétaire." He appeared to have his doubts about that.

My sister Régina was the cause (though quite involuntarily this time) of the drama which made me leave the Comédie. It was Molière's anniversary, and all the artistes of the Français salute the bust of the great writer, according to the tradition of the theatre. It was to be my first appearance at a "ceremony," and my little sister, on hearing me tell about it at home, besought me to take her to it.

My mother gave me permission to do so, and our old Marguerite was to accompany us. All the members of the Comédie were assembled in the foyer. The men and women, dressed in different costumes, all wore the famous doctor's cloak. The signal was given that the ceremony was about to commence, and every one hurried along the corridor of the busts. I was holding my little sister's hand, and just in front of us was the very fat and very solemn Madame Nathalie. She was a Sociétaire of the Comédie, old, spiteful, and surly.

Régina, in trying to avoid the train of Marie Roger's cloak, stepped on to Nathalie's, and the latter turned round and gave the child such a violent push that she was knocked against a column on which was a bust. Régina screamed out, and as she turned back to me I saw that her pretty face was bleeding.

"You miserable creature!" I called out to the fat woman, and as she turned round to reply I slapped her in the face. She proceeded to faint; there was a great tumult, and an uproar of indignation, approval, stifled laughter, satisfied revenge, pity for the poor child from those artistes who were mothers, &c. &c. Two groups were formed, one around the wretched Nathalie, who was still in her swoon, and the other around little Régina. And the different aspect of these two groups was rather strange. Around Nathalie were cold, solemn-looking men and women, fanning the fat, helpless lump with their handkerchief's or fans. A young but severe-looking Sociétaire was sprinkling her with drops of water. Nathalie, on feeling this, roused up suddenly, put her hands over her face, and muttered in a far-away voice, "How stupid! You'll spoil my make-up!"

The younger men were stooping over Régina, washing her pretty face, and the child was saying in her broken voice, "I did not do it on purpose, sister, I am certain I didn't. She's an old cow, and she just kicked for nothing at all!" Régina was a fair-haired seraph, who might have made the angels envious, for she had the most ideal and poetical beauty--but her language was by no means choice, and nothing in the world could change it. Her coarse speech made the friendly group burst out laughing, while all the members of the enemy's camp shrugged their shoulders. Bressant, who was the most charming of the comedians and a general favourite, came up to me and said:

"We must arrange this little matter, dear Mademoiselle, for Nathalie's short arms are really very long. Between ourselves, you were a trifle hasty, but I like that, and then that child is so droll and so pretty," he added, pointing to my little sister.

The house was stamping with impatience, for this little scene had caused twenty minutes' delay, and we were obliged to go on to the stage at once. Marie Roger kissed me, saying, "You are a plucky little comrade!" Rose Baretta drew me to her, murmuring, "How dared you do it! She is a Sociétaire!"

As for me, I was not very conscious as to what I had done, but my instinct warned me that I should pay dearly for it.

The following day I received a letter from the manager asking me to call at the Comédie at one o'clock, about a matter concerning me privately. I had been crying all night long, more through nervous excitement than from remorse, and I was particularly annoyed at the idea of the attacks I should have to endure from my own family. I did not let my mother see the letter, for from the day that I had entered the Comédie I had been emancipated. I received my letters now direct, without her supervision, and I went about alone.

At one o'clock precisely I was shown into the manager's office. M. Thierry, his nose more congested than ever, and his eyes more crafty, preached me a deadly sermon, blamed my want of discipline, absence of respect, and scandalous conduct, and finished his pitiful harangue by advising me to beg Madame Nathalie's pardon.

"I have asked her to come," he added, "and you must apologise to her before three Sociétaires, members of the committee. If she consents to forgive you, the committee will then consider whether to fine you or to cancel your engagement."

I did not reply for a few minutes. I thought of my mother in distress, my godfather laughing in his bourgeois way, and my Aunt Faure triumphant, with her usual phrase, "That child is terrible!" I thought too of my beloved Brabender, with her hands clasped, her moustache drooping sadly, her small eyes full of tears, so touching in their mute supplication. I could hear my gentle, timid Madame Guérard arguing with every one, so courageous was she always in her confidence in my future.

"Well, Mademoiselle?" said M. Thierry curtly.

I looked at him without speaking, and he began to get impatient.

"I will go and ask Madame Nathalie to come here," he said, "and I beg you will do your part as quickly as possible, for I have other things to attend to than to put your blunders right."

"Oh no, do not fetch Madame Nathalie," I said at last. "I shall not apologise to her. I will leave; I will cancel my engagement at once."

He was stupefied, and his arrogance melted away in pity for the ungovernable, wilful child, who was about to ruin her whole future for the sake of a question of self-esteem. He was at once gentler and more polite. He asked me to sit down, which he had not hitherto done, and he sat down himself opposite to me, and spoke to me gently about the advantages of the Comédie, and of the danger that there would be for me in leaving that illustrious theatre, which had done me the honour of admitting me. He gave me a hundred other very good, wise reasons which softened me. When he saw the effect he had made he wanted to send for Madame Nathalie, but I roused up then like a little wild animal.

"Oh, don't let her come here; I should box her ears again!" I exclaimed.

"Well then, I must ask your mother to come," he said.

"My mother would never come," I said.

"Then I will go and call on her," he remarked.

"It will be quite useless," I persisted. "My mother has emancipated me, and I am quite free to lead my own life. I alone am responsible for all that I do."

"Well then, Mademoiselle, I will think it over," he said, rising, to show me that the interview was at an end. I went back home, determined to say nothing to my mother; but my little sister when questioned about her wound had told everything in her own way, exaggerating, if possible, the brutality of Madame Nathalie and the audacity of what I had done. Rose Baretta, too, had been to see me, and had burst into tears, assuring my mother that my engagement would be cancelled. The whole family was very much excited and distressed when I arrived, and when they began to argue with me it made me still more nervous. I did not take calmly the reproaches which one and another of them addressed to me, and I was not at all willing to follow their advice. I went to my room and locked myself in.

The following day no one spoke to me, and I went up to Madame Guérarde comforted and consoled.

Several days passed by, and I had nothing to do at the theatre. Finally one morning I received a notice requesting me to be present at the reading of a play,--Dolores, by M. Bouilhet. This was the first time I had been asked to attend the reading of a new piece. I was evidently to have a rôle to "create." All my sorrows were at once dispersed like a cloud of butterflies. I told my mother of my joy, and she naturally concluded that as I was asked to attend a reading my engagement was not to be cancelled, and I was not to be asked again to apologise to Madame Nathalie.

I went to the theatre, and to my utter surprise I received from M. Davennes the rôle of Dolores, the chief part in Bouilhet's play. I knew that Favart, who should have had this rôle, was not well; but there were other artistes, and I could not get over my joy and surprise. Nevertheless, I felt somewhat uneasy. A terrible presentiment has always warned me of any troubles about to come upon me.

I had been rehearsing for five days, when one morning on going upstairs I suddenly found myself face to face with Nathalie, seated under Gérôme's portrait of Rachel, known as "the red pimento." I did not know whether to go downstairs again or to pass by. My hesitation was noticed by the spiteful woman.

"Oh, you can pass, Mademoiselle," she said. "I have forgiven you, as I have avenged myself. The rôle that you like so much is not going to be for you after all."

I went by without uttering a word. I was thunderstruck by her speech, which I guessed would prove true.

I did not mention this incident to any one, but continued rehearsing. It was on Tuesday that Nathalie had spoken to me, and on Friday I was disappointed to hear that Davennes was not there, and that there was to be no rehearsal. Just as I was getting into my cab the hall-porter ran out to give me a letter from Davennes. The poor man had not ventured to come himself and give me the news, which he was sure would be so painful to me.

He explained to me in his letter that on account of my extreme youth--the importance of the rôle--such responsibility for my young shoulders--and finally that as Madame Favart had recovered from her illness, it was more prudent that, &c. &c. I finished reading the letter through blinding tears, but very soon anger took the place of grief. I rushed back again and sent my name in to the manager's office. He could not see me just then, but I said I would wait. After one hour, thoroughly impatient, taking no notice of the office-boy and the secretary, who wanted to prevent my entering, I opened the door of M. Thierry's office and walked in. All that despair, anger against injustice, and fury against falseness could inspire me with I let him have, in a stream of eloquence only interrupted by my sobs. The manager gazed at me in bewilderment. He could not conceive of such daring and such violence in a girl so young.

When at last, thoroughly exhausted, I sank down in an arm-chair, he tried to calm me, but all in vain.

"I will leave at once," I said. "Give me back my contract and I will send you back mine."

Finally, tired of argument and persuasion, he called his secretary and gave him the necessary orders, and the latter soon brought in my contract.

"Here is your mother's signature, Mademoiselle. I leave you free to bring it me back within forty-eight hours. After that time if I do not receive it I shall consider that you are no longer a member of the theatre. But believe me, you are acting unwisely. Think it over during the next forty-eight hours."

I did not answer, but went out of his office. That very evening I sent back to M. Thierry the contract bearing his signature, and tore up the one with that of my mother.

I had left Molière's Theatre, and was not to re-enter it until twelve years later.

XII. AT THE GYMNASE THEATRE--A TRIP TO SPAIN

This proceeding of mine was certainly violently decisive, and it completely upset my home life. I was not happy from this time forth amongst my own people, as I was continually being blamed for my violence. Irritating remarks with a double meaning were constantly being made by my aunt and my little sister. My godfather, whom I had once for all requested to mind his own business, no longer dared to attack me openly; but he influenced my mother against me. There was no longer any peace for me except at Madame Guérard's so I was constantly with her. I enjoyed helping her in her domestic affairs. She taught me to make cakes, chocolate, and scrambled eggs. All this gave me something else to think about, and I soon recovered my gaiety.

One morning there was something very mysterious about my mother. She kept looking at the clock, and seemed uneasy because my godfather, who lunched and dined with us every day, had not arrived.

"It's very strange," my mother said, "for last night after whist he said he should be with us this morning before luncheon. It's very strange indeed!"

She was usually calm, but she kept coming in and out of the room, and when Marguerite put her head in at the door to ask whether she should serve the luncheon, my mother told her to wait.

Finally the bell rang, startling my mother and Jeanne. My little sister was evidently in the secret.

"Well, it's settled!" exclaimed my godfather, shaking the snow from his hat. "Here, read that, you self-willed girl."

He handed me a letter stamped with the words "Théâtre du Gymnase." It was from Montigny, the manager of the theatre, to M. de Gerbois, a friend of my godfather's whom I knew very well. The letter was very friendly, as far as M. de Gerbois was concerned, but it finished with the following words, "I will engage your protégée in order to be agreeable to you.... but she appears to me to have a vile temper."

I blushed as I read these lines, and I thought my godfather was wanting in tact, as he might have given me real delight and avoided hurting my feelings in this way, but he was the clumsiest-minded man that ever lived. My mother seemed very much pleased, so I kissed her pretty face and thanked my godfather. Oh, how I loved kissing that pearly face, which was always so cool and always slightly dewy. When I was a little child I used to ask her to play at butterfly on my cheeks with her long lashes, and she would put her face close to mine and open and shut her eyes, tickling my cheeks whilst I lay back breathless with delight.

The following day I went to the Gymnase. I was kept waiting for some little time, together with about fifty other girls. M. Monval, a cynical old man who was stage manager and almost general manager, then interviewed us. I liked him at first, because he was like M. Guérard I very soon disliked him. His way of looking at me, of speaking to me, and of taking stock of me generally roused my ire at once. I answered his questions curtly, and our conversation, which seemed likely to take an aggressive turn, was cut short by the arrival of M. Montigny, the manager.

"Which of you is Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt?" he asked. I at once rose, and he continued, "Will you come into my office, Mademoiselle?"

Montigny had been an actor, and was plump and good-humoured. He appeared to be somewhat infatuated with his own personality, with his ego, but that did not matter to me.

After some friendly conversation, he preached a little to me about my outburst at the Comédie made me a great many promises about the rôles I should have to play. He prepared my contract, and gave it me to take home for my mother's signature and that of my family council.

"I am emancipated," I said to him, "so that my own signature is all that is required."

"Oh, very good," he said; "but what nonsense to have emancipated a self-willed girl. Your parents did not do you a good turn by that."

I was just on the point of replying that what my parents chose to do did not concern him, but I held my peace, signed the contract, and hurried home feeling very joyful.

Montigny kept his word at first. He let me understudy Victoria Lafontaine, a young artist very much in vogue just then, who had the most delightful talent. I played in La maison sans enfants, and I took her rôle at a moment's notice in Le démon du jeu, a piece which made a great success. I was fairly good in both plays, but Montigny, in spite of my entreaties, never came to see me in them, and the spiteful stage manager played me no end of tricks. I used to feel a sullen anger stirring within me, and I struggled with myself as much possible to keep my nerves calm.

One evening, on leaving the theatre, a notice was handed to me requesting me to be present at the reading of a play the following day. Montigny had promised me a good part, and I fell asleep that night lulled by fairies, who carried me off into the land of glory and success. On arriving at the theatre I found Blanche Pierson and Céline Montalant already there--two of the prettiest creatures that God has been pleased to create, the one as fair as the rising sun, and the other as dark as a starry night, for she was brilliant-looking in spite of her black hair. There were other women there, too--very, very pretty ones.

The play to be read was entitled Un mari qui lance sa femme, and it was by Raymond Deslandes. I listened to it without any great pleasure, and I thought it stupid. I waited anxiously to see what rôle was to be given to me, and I discovered this only too soon. It was a certain Princess Dimchinka, a frivolous, foolish, laughing individual, who was always eating or dancing. I did not like the part at all. I was very inexperienced on the stage, and my timidity made me rather awkward. Besides, I had not worked for three years with such persistency and conviction in order to create the rôle of an idiotic woman in an imbecile play. I was in despair, and the wildest ideas came into my head. I wanted to give up the stage and go into business. I spoke of this to our old family friend, Meydieu, who was so unbearable. He approved of my idea, and wanted me to take a shop--a confectioner's--on the Boulevard des Italiens. This became a fixed idea with the worthy man. He loved sweets himself, and he knew lots of recipes for various sorts of sweets that were not generally known, and which he wanted to introduce. I remember one kind that he wanted to call "bonbon nègre." It was a mixture of chocolate and essence of coffee rolled into grilled licorice root. It was like black praliné, and was extremely good. I was very persistent in this idea at first, and went with Meydieu to look at a shop, but when he showed me the little flat over it where I should have to live, it upset me so much that I gave up for ever the idea of business.

I went every day to the rehearsal of the stupid piece, and was bad-tempered all the time. Finally the first performance took place, and my part was neither a success nor a failure. I simply was not noticed, and at night my mother remarked, "My poor child, you were ridiculous in your Russian princess rôle, and I was very much grieved!"

I did not answer at all, but I should honestly have liked to kill myself. I slept very badly that night, and towards six in the morning I rushed up to Madame Guérard. I asked her to give me some laudanum, but she refused. When she saw that I really wanted it, the poor dear woman understood my design. "Well, then," I said, "swear by your children that you will not tell any one what I am going to do, and then I will not kill myself." A sudden idea had just come into my mind, and, without going further into it, I wanted to carry it out at once. She promised, and I then told her that I was going at once to Spain, as I had longed to see that country for a long time.

"Go to Spain!" she exclaimed. "With whom and when?"

"With the money I have saved," I answered. "And this very morning. Every one is asleep at home. I shall go and pack my trunk, and start at once with you!"

"No, no, I cannot go," exclaimed Madame Guérard, nearly beside herself. "There is my husband to think of, and my children."

Her little girl was scarcely two years old at that time.

"Well, then, mon petit Dame, find me some one to go with me."

"I do not know any one," she answered, crying in her excitement. "My dear little Sarah give up such an idea, I beseech you."

But by this time it was a fixed idea with me, and I was very determined about it. I went downstairs, packed my trunk, and then returned to Madame Guérard. I had wrapped up a pewter fork in paper, and this I threw against one of the panes of glass in a skylight window opposite. The window was opened abruptly, and the sleepy, angry face of a young woman appeared. I made a trumpet of my two hands and called out:

"Caroline, will you start with me at once for Spain?" The bewildered expression on the woman's face showed that she had not comprehended, but she replied at once, "I am coming, Mademoiselle." She then closed her window, and ten minutes later Caroline was tapping at the door. Madame Guérard had sunk down aghast in an arm-chair.

M. Guérard had asked several times from his bedroom what was going on.

"Sarah is here," his wife had replied. "I will tell you later on."

Caroline did dressmaking by the day at Madame Guérard's, and she had offered her services to me as lady's maid. She was agreeable and rather daring, and she now accepted my offer at once. But as it would not do to arouse the suspicions of the concierge, it was decided that I should take her dresses in my trunk, and that she should put her linen into a bag to be lent by mon petit Dame.

Poor dear Madame Guérard had given in. She was quite conquered, and soon began to help in my preparations, which certainly did not take me long.

But I did not know how to get to Spain.

"You go through Bordeaux," said Madame Guérard.

"Oh no," exclaimed Caroline; "my brother-in-law is a skipper, and he often goes to Spain by Marseilles."

I had saved nine hundred francs, and Madame Guérard lent me six hundred. It was perfectly mad, but I felt ready to conquer the universe, and nothing would have induced me to abandon my plan. Then, too, it seemed to me as though I had been wishing to see Spain for a long time. I had got it into my head that my Fate willed it, that I must obey my star, and a hundred other ideas, each one more foolish than the other, strengthened me in my plan. I was destined to act in this way, I thought.

I went downstairs again. The door was still ajar. With Caroline's help I carried the empty trunk up to Madame Guérard's, and Caroline emptied my wardrobe and drawers, and then packed the trunk. I shall never forget that delightful moment. It seemed to me as though the world was about to be mine. I was going to start off with a woman to wait on me. I was about to travel alone, with no one to criticise what I decided to do. I should see an unknown country about which I had dreamed, and I should cross the sea. Oh, how happy I was! Twenty times I must have gone up and down the staircase which separated our two flats. Every one was asleep in my mother's flat, and the rooms were so disposed that not a sound of our going in and out could reach her.

My trunk was at last closed, Caroline's valise fastened, and my little bag crammed full. I was quite ready to start, but the fingers of the clock had moved along by this time, and to my horror I discovered that it was eight o'clock. Marguerite would be coming down from her bedroom at the top of the house to prepare my mother's coffee, my chocolate, and bread and milk for my sisters. In a fit of despair and wild determination I kissed Madame Guérard with such violence as almost to stifle her, and rushed once more to my room to get my little Virgin Mary, which went with me everywhere. I threw a hundred kisses to my mother's room, and then, with wet eyes and a joyful heart, went downstairs. Mon petit Dame had asked the man who polished the floors to take the trunk and the valise down, and Caroline had fetched a cab. I went like a whirlwind past the concierge's door. She had her back turned towards me and was sweeping the floor. I sprang into the cab, and the driver whipped up his horse. I was on my way to Spain. I had written an affectionate letter to my mother begging her to forgive me and not to be grieved. I had written a stupid letter of explanation to Montigny, the manager of the Gymnase Theatre. The letter did not explain anything, though. It was written by a child whose brain was certainly a little affected, and I finished up with these words: "Have pity on a poor, crazy girl!"

Sardou told me later on that he happened to be in Montigny's office when he received my letter.

"The conversation was very animated, and when the door opened Montigny exclaimed in a fury, 'I had given orders that I was not to be disturbed!' He was somewhat appeased, however, on seeing old Monval's troubled look, and he knew something urgent was the matter. 'Oh, what's happened now?' he asked, taking the letter that the old stage manager held out to him. On recognising my paper, with its grey border, he said, 'Oh, it's from that mad child! Is she ill?'

"'No,' said Monval; 'she has gone to Spain.'

"'She can go to the deuce!' exclaimed Montigny. 'Send for Madame Dieudonnée to take her part. She has a good memory, and half the rôle must be cut. That will settle it.'

"'Any trouble for to-night?' I asked Montigny.

"'Oh, nothing,' he answered; 'it's that little Sarah Bernhardt who has cleared off to Spain!'

"'That girl from the Français who boxed Nathalie's ears?'

"'Yes.'

"'She's rather amusing.'

"'Yes, but not for her managers,' remarked Montigny, continuing immediately afterwards the conversation which had been interrupted."

This is exactly as Victorien Sardou related the incident.


On arriving at Marseilles, Caroline went to get information about the journey. The result was that we embarked on an abominable trading-boat, a dirty coaster, smelling of oil and stale fish, a perfect horror.

I had never been on the sea, so I fancied that all boats were like this one, and that it was no good complaining. After six days of rough sea we landed at Alicante. Oh, that landing, how well I remember it! I had to jump from boat to boat, from plank to plank, with the risk of falling into the water a hundred times over, for I am naturally inclined to dizziness, and the little gangways, without any rails, rope, or anything, thrown across from one boat to another and bending under my light weight seemed to me like mere ropes stretched across space.

Exhausted with fatigue and hunger, I went to the first hotel recommended to us. Oh, what a hotel it was! The house itself was built of stone, with low arcades. Rooms on the first floor were given to me. Certainly the owners of these hotel people had never had two ladies in their house before. The bedroom was large, but with a low ceiling. By way of decoration there were enormous fish bones arranged in garlands caught up by the heads of fish. By half shutting one's eyes this decoration might be taken for delicate sculpture of ancient times. In reality, however, it was merely composed of fish-bones.

I had a bed put up for Caroline in this sinister-looking room. We pulled the furniture across against the doors, and I did not undress, for I could not venture on those sheets. I was accustomed to fine sheets perfumed with iris, for my pretty little mother, like all Dutch women, had a mania for linen and cleanliness, and she had inculcated me with this harmless mania.

It was about five in the morning when I opened my eyes, no doubt instinctively, as there had been no sound to rouse me. A door, leading I did not know where, opened, and a man looked in. I gave a shrill cry, seized my little Virgin Mary, and waved her about, wild with terror.

Caroline roused up with a start, and courageously rushed to the window. She threw it up, screaming, "Fire! Thieves! Help!"

The man disappeared, and the house was soon invaded by the police. I leave it to be imagined what the police of Alicante forty years ago were like. I answered all the questions asked me by a vice-consul, who was an Hungarian and spoke French. I had seen the man, and he had a silk handkerchief on his head. He had a beard, and on his shoulder a poncho, but that was all I knew. The Hungarian vice-consul, who, I believe, represented France, Austria, and Hungary, asked me the colour of the brigand's beard, silk handkerchief, and poncho. It had been too dark for me to distinguish the colours exactly. The worthy man was very much annoyed at my answer. After taking down a few notes he remained thoughtful for a moment and then gave orders for a message to be taken to his home. It was to ask his wife to send a carriage, and to get a room ready in order to receive a young foreigner in distress. I prepared to go with him, and after paying my bill at the hotel we started off in the worthy Hungarian's carriage, and I was welcomed by his wife with the most touching cordiality. I drank the coffee with thick cream which she poured out for me, and during breakfast told her who I was and where I was going. She then told me in return that her father was an important manufacturer of cloth, that he was from Bohemia, and a great friend of my father's. She took me to the room that had been prepared for me, made me go to bed, and told me that while I was asleep she would write me some letters of introduction for Madrid.

I slept for ten hours without waking, and when I roused up was thoroughly rested in mind and body. I wanted to send a telegram to my mother, but this was impossible, as there was no telegraph at Alicante. I wrote a letter, therefore, to my poor dear mother, telling her that I was in the house of friends of my father, etc. etc.

The following day I started for Madrid with a letter for the landlord of the Hôtel de la Puerta del Sol. Nice rooms were given to us, and I sent messengers with the letters from Madame Rudcowitz. I spent a fortnight in Madrid, and was made a great deal of and generally feted. I went to all the bull-fights, and was infatuated with them. I had the honour of being invited to a great corrida given in honour of Victor Emmanuel, who was just then the guest of the Queen of Spain--I forgot Paris, my sorrows, disappointments, ambitions and everything else, and I wanted to live in Spain. A telegram sent by Madame Guérard made me change all my plans. My mother was very ill, the telegram informed me. I packed my trunk and wanted to start off at once, but when my hotel bill was paid I had not a sou to pay for the railway journey. The landlord of the hotel took two tickets for me, prepared a basket of provisions, and gave me two hundred francs at the station, telling me that he had received orders from Madame Rudcowitz not to let me want for anything. She and her husband were certainly most delightful people.

My heart beat fast when I reached my mother's house in Paris. Mon petit Dame was waiting for me downstairs in the concierge's room. She was very excited to see me looking so well, and kissed me with her eyes full of tears of joy. The concierge and family poured forth their compliments. Madame Guérard went upstairs before me to inform my mother of my arrival, and I waited a moment in the kitchen and was hugged by our old servant Marguerite.

My sisters both came running in. Jeanne kissed me, then turned me round and examined me. Régina, with her hands behind her back, leaned against the stove gazing at me furiously.

"Well, won't you kiss me, Régina?" I asked, stooping down to her.

"No, don't like you," she answered. "You've went off without me. Don't like you now." She turned away brusquely to avoid my kiss, and knocked her head against the stove.

Finally Madame Guérard appeared again, and I went with her. Oh, how repentant I was, and how deeply affected. I knocked gently at the door of the room, which was hung with pale blue rep. My mother looked very white, lying in her bed. Her face was thinner, but wonderfully beautiful. She stretched out her arms like two wings, and I rushed forward to this white, loving nest. My mother cried silently, as she always did. Then her hands played with my hair, which she let down and combed with her long, taper fingers. Then we asked each other a hundred questions. I wanted to know everything, and she did too, so that we had the most amusing duet of words, phrases, and kisses. I found that my mother had had a rather severe attack of pleurisy, that she was now getting better, but was not yet well. I therefore took up my abode again with her, and for the time being went back to my old bed-room. Madame Guérard had told me in a letter that my grandmother on my father's side had at last agreed to the proposal made by my mother. My father had left a certain sum of money which I was to have on my wedding-day. My mother, at my request, had asked my grandmother to let me have half this sum, and she had at last consented, saying that she should use the interest of the other half, but that this latter half would always be at my disposal if I changed my mind and consented to marry.

I was therefore determined to live my life as I wished, to go away from home and be quite independent. I adored my mother, but our ideas were altogether different. Besides, my godfather was perfectly odious to me, and for years and years he had been in the habit of lunching and dining with us every day, and of playing whist every evening. He was always hurting my feelings in one way or another. He was a very rich old bachelor, with no near relatives. He adored my mother, but she had always refused to marry him. She had put up with him at first, because he was a friend of my father's. After my father's death she had continued to put up with him, because she was then accustomed to him, until finally she quite missed him when he was ill or travelling. But, placid as she was, my mother was authoritative, and could not endure any kind of constraint. She therefore rebelled against the idea of another master. She was very gentle but determined, and this determination of hers ended sometimes in the most violent anger. She used then to turn very pale, and violet rings would come round her eyes, her lips would tremble, her teeth chatter, her beautiful eyes take a fixed gaze, the words would come at intervals from her throat, all chopped up--hissing and hoarse. After this she would faint; and the veins of her throat would swell, and her hands and feet turned icy cold. Sometimes she would be unconscious for hours, and the doctors told us that she might die in one of these attacks, so that we did all in our power to avoid these terrible accidents. My mother knew this, and rather took advantage of it, and, as I had inherited this tendency to fits of rage from her, I could not and did not wish to live with her. As for me, I am not placid. I am active and always ready for fight, and what I want I always want immediately. I have not the gentle obstinacy peculiar to my mother. The blood begins to boil under my temples before I have time to control it. Time has made me wiser in this respect, but not sufficiently so. I am aware of this, and it causes me to suffer.

I did not say anything about my plans to our dear invalid, but I asked our old friend Meydieu to find me a flat. The old man, who had tormented me so much during my childhood, had been most kind to me ever since my début at the Théâtre Français, and, in spite of my row with Nathalie, and my escapade when at the Gymnase, he was now ready to see the best in me. When he came to see us the day after my return home, I remained talking with him for a time in the drawing-room, and confided my intentions to him. He quite approved, and said that my intercourse with my mother would be all the more agreeable because of this separation.

XIII. FROM THE PORTE ST. MARTIN THEATRE TO THE ODÉON

I took a flat in the Rue Duphot, quite near to my mother, and Madame Guérard undertook to have it furnished for me. As soon as my mother was well again, I talked to her about it, and I was not long in making her agree with me that it was really better I should live by myself and in my own way. When once she had accepted the situation everything went along satisfactorily. My sisters were present when we were talking about it. Jeanne was close to my mother, and Regina, who had refused to speak to me or look at me ever since my return three weeks ago, suddenly jumped on to my lap.

"Take me with you this time!" she exclaimed suddenly. "I will kiss you, if you will."

I glanced at my mother, rather embarrassed.

"Oh, take her," she said, "for she is unbearable."

Régina jumped down again and began to dance a jig, muttering the rudest, silliest things at the same time. She then nearly stifled me with kisses, sprang on to my mother's arm-chair, and kissed her hair, her eyes, her cheeks, saying:

"You are glad I am going, aren't you? You can give everything to your Jenny!"

My mother coloured slightly, but as her eyes fell on Jeanne her expression changed and a look of unspeakable affection came over her face. She pushed Régina gently aside, and the child went on with her jig.

"We two will stay together," said my mother, leaning her head back on Jeanne's shoulder, and she said this quite unconsciously, just in the same way as she had gazed at my sister. I was perfectly stupefied, and closed my eyes so that I should not see. I could only hear my little sister dancing her jig and emphasising every stamp on the floor with the words, "And we two as well; we two, we two!"

It was a very painful little drama that was stirring our four hearts in this little bourgeois home, and the result of it was that I settled down finally with my little sister in the flat in the Rue Duphot. I kept Caroline with me, and engaged a cook. Mon petit Dame was with me nearly all day, and I dined every evening with my mother.

I was still on good terms with an actor of the Porte Saint Martin Theatre, who had been appointed stage manager there, Marc Fournier being at that time manager of the theatre. A piece entitled La biche au bois was then being given. It was a spectacular play, and was having a great success. A delightful actress from the Odéon Theatre, Mlle. Debay, had been engaged for the principal rôle. She played tragedy princesses most charmingly. I often had tickets for the Porte Saint Martin, and I thoroughly enjoyed La biche au bois. Madame Ulgade sang admirably in her rôle of the young prince, and amazed me. Mariquita charmed me with her dancing. She was delightful and so animated in her dances, so characteristic, and always so full of distinction. Thanks to old Josse, I knew every one.

But to my surprise and terror, one evening towards five o'clock, on arriving at the theatre to get the tickets for our seats, he exclaimed on seeing me:

"Why here is our Princess, our little biche au bois. Here she is! It is the Providence that watches over theatres who has sent her."

I struggled like an eel caught in a net, but it was all in vain. M. Marc Fournier, who could be very charming, gave me to understand that I should be rendering him a great service and would "save" the receipts. Josse, who guessed what my scruples were, exclaimed:

"But, my dear child, it will still be your high art, for Mademoiselle Debay from the Odéon Theatre plays this rôle of Princess, and Mademoiselle Debay is the first artiste at the Odéon and the Odéon is an imperial theatre, so that it cannot be any disgrace after your studies."

Mariquita, who had just arrived, also persuaded me, and Madame Ulgade was sent for to rehearse the duos, for I was to sing. Yes, and I was to sing with a veritable artiste, one who was considered to be the first artiste of the Opéra Comique.

There was but little time to spare. Josse made me rehearse my rôle, which I almost knew, as I had seen the piece often and I had an extraordinary memory. The minutes flew, soon running into quarters of an hour, and these quarters of an hour made half-hours, and then entire hours. I kept looking at the clock, the large clock in the manager's room, where Madame Ulgade was making me rehearse. She thought my voice was pretty, but I kept singing out of tune, and she helped me along and encouraged me all the time.

I was dressed up in Mlle. Debay's clothes, and the curtain was raised. Poor me! I was more dead than alive, but my courage returned after a triple burst of applause for the couplet which I sang on waking in very much the same way as I should have murmured a series of Racine's lines.

When the performance was over Marc Fournier offered me, through Josse, a three years' engagement, but I asked to be allowed to think it over. Josse had introduced me to a dramatic author, Lambert Thiboust, a charming man who was certainly not without talent. He thought I was just the ideal actress for his heroine in La bergère d'Ivry, but M. Faille, an old actor, who had just become manager of the Ambigu Theatre, was not the only person to consult, for a certain M. de Chilly had some interest in the theatre. De Chilly had made his name in the róle of Rodin in Le Juif errant, and after marrying a rather wealthy wife, had left the stage, and was now interested in the business side of theatrical affairs. He had, I think, just given the Ambigu up to Faille.

De Chilly was then helping on a charming girl named Laurence Gérard. She was gentle and very bourgeoise, rather pretty, but without any real beauty or grace.

Faille told Lambert Thiboust that he was negotiating with Laurence Gérard, but that he was ready to do as the author wished in the matter. The only thing he stipulated was that he should hear me before deciding. I was willing to humour the poor fellow, who must have been as poor a manager as he had been an artiste. I gave a short performance for him at the Ambigu Theatre. The stage was only lighted by the wretched servante, a little transportable lamp. About a yard in front of me I could see M. Faille balancing himself on his chair, one hand on his waistcoat and the fingers of the other hand in his enormous nostrils. This disgusted me horribly. Lambert Thiboust was seated near him, his handsome face smiling as he looked at me encouragingly.

I had selected On ne badine pas avec l'amour; I did not want to recite verse, because I was to perform in a play in prose. I believe I was perfectly charming, and Lambert Thiboust thought so too, but when I had finished poor Faille got up in a clumsy, pretentious way, said something in a low voice to the author, and took me to his office.

"My child." remarked the worthy but stupid manager, "you are no good on the stage!"

I resented this, but he continued:

"Oh no, no good," and as the door then opened he added, pointing to the new-comer, "here is M. de Chilly, who was also listening to you, and he will say just the same as I say."

M. de Chilly nodded and shrugged his shoulders.

"Lambert Thiboust is mad," he remarked. "No one ever saw such a thin shepherdess!"

He then rang the bell and told the boy to show in Mlle. Laurence Gérard. I understood; and, without taking leave of the two boors, I left the room.

My heart was heavy, though, as I went back to the foyer, where I had left my hat. There I found Laurence Gérard, but she was fetched away the next moment. I was standing near her, and as I looked in the glass I was struck by the contrast between us. She was plump, with a wide face and magnificent black eyes; her nose was rather canaille, her mouth heavy, and there was a very ordinary look about her generally. I was fair, slight, and frail-looking, like a reed, with a long, pale face, blue eyes, a rather sad mouth and a general look of distinction. This hasty vision consoled me for my failure, and then, too, I felt that this Faille was a nonentity and that de Chilly was common.

I was destined to meet with them both again later in my life: Chilly soon after, as manager at the Odéon, and Faille twenty years later, in such a wretched condition that the tears came to my eyes when he appeared before me and begged me to play for his benefit.

"Oh, I beseech you," said the poor man. "You will be the only attraction at this performance, and I have only you to count on for the receipts."

I shook hands with him. I do not know whether he remembered our first interview and my "audition," but I who remembered it well only hope that he did not.

Five days later Mile. Debay was well again, and took her rôle as usual.

Before accepting an engagement at the Porte Saint Martin, I wrote to Camille Doucet. The following day I received a letter asking me to call at the Ministry. It was not without some emotion that I went to see this kind man again. He was standing up waiting for me when I was ushered into the room. He held out his hands to me, and drew me gently towards him.

"Oh, what a terrible child!" he said, giving me a chair. "Come now, you must be calmer. It will never do to waste all these admirable gifts in voyages, escapades, and boxing people's ears."

I was deeply moved by his kindness, and my eyes were full of regret as I looked at him.

"Now, don't cry, my dear child; don't cry. Let us try and find out how we are to make up for all this folly."

He was silent for a moment, and then, opening a drawer, he took out a letter. "Here is something which will perhaps save us," he said.

It was a letter from Duquesnel, who had just been appointed manager of the Odéon Theatre in conjunction with Chilly.

"They ask me for some young artistes to make up the Odéon company. Well, we must attend to this." He got up, and, accompanying me to the door, said as I went away, "We shall succeed."

I went back home and began at once to rehearse all my rôles in Racine's plays. I waited very anxiously for several days, consoled by Madame Guérard, who succeeded in restoring my confidence. Finally I received a letter, and went at once to the Ministry. Camille Doucet received me with a beaming expression on his face.

"It's settled," he said. "Oh, but it has not been easy, though," he added. "You are very young, but very celebrated already for your headstrong character. But I have pledged my word that you will be as gentle as a young lamb."

"Yes, I will be gentle, I promise," I replied, "if only out of gratitude. But what am I to do?"

"Here is a letter for Félix Duquesnel," he replied; "he is expecting you."

I thanked Camille Doucet heartily, and he then said, "I shall see you again, less officially, at your aunt's on Thursday. I have received an invitation this morning to dine there, so you will be able to tell me what Duquesnel says."

It was then half-past ten in the morning. I went home to put some pretty clothes on. I chose a dress the underskirt of which was of canary yellow, the dress being of black silk with the skirt scalloped round, and a straw conical-shaped hat trimmed with corn, and black ribbon velvet under the chin. It must have been delightfully mad looking. Arrayed in this style, feeling very joyful and full of confidence, I went to call on Félix Duquesnel. I waited a few moments in a little room, very artistically furnished. A young man appeared, looking very elegant. He was smiling and altogether charming. I could not grasp the fact that this fair-haired, gay young man would be my manager.

After a short conversation we agreed on every point we touched.

"Come to the Odéon at two o'clock," said Duquesnel, by way of leave-taking, "and I will introduce you to my partner. I ought to say it the other way round, according to society etiquette," he added, laughing, "but we are talking théâtre" (shop).

He came a few steps down the staircase with me, and stayed there leaning over the balustrade to wish me good-bye.

At two o'clock precisely I was at the Odéon, and had to wait an hour. I began to grind my teeth, and only the remembrance of my promise to Camille Doucet prevented me from going away.

Finally Duquesnel appeared and took me across to the manager's office.

"You will now see the other ogre," he said, and I pictured to myself the other ogre as charming as his partner. I was therefore greatly disappointed on seeing a very ugly little man, whom I recognised as Chilly.

He eyed me up and down most impolitely, and pretended not to recognise me. He signed to me to sit down, and without a word handed me a pen and showed me where to sign my name on the paper before me. Madame Guérard interposed, laying her hand on mine.

"Do not sign without reading it," she said.

"Are you Mademoiselle's mother?" he asked, looking up.

"No," she said, "but it is just as though I were."

"Well, yes, you are right. Read it quickly," he continued, "and then sign or leave it alone, but be quick."

I felt the colour coming into my face, for this man was odious. Duquesnel whispered to me, "There's no ceremony about him, but he's a good fellow; don't take offence."

I signed my contract and handed it to his ugly partner.

"You know," he remarked, "He is responsible for you. I should not upon any account have engaged you."

"And if you had been alone, Monsieur," I answered, "I should not have signed, so we are quits."

I went away at once, and hurried to my mother's to tell her, for I knew this would be a great joy for her. Then, that very day, I set off with mon petit Dame to buy everything necessary for furnishing my dressing-room.

The following day I went to the convent in the Rue Notre Dame-des-Champs to see my dear governess, Mlle. de Brabender. She had been ill with acute rheumatism in all her limbs for the last thirteen months. She had suffered so much that she looked like a different person. She was lying in her little white bed, a little white cap covering her hair; her big nose was drawn with pain, her washed-out eyes seemed to have no colour in them. Her formidable moustache alone bristled up with constant spasms of pain. Besides all this she was so strangely altered that I wondered what had caused the change. I went nearer, and, bending down, kissed her gently. I then gazed at her so inquisitively that she understood instinctively. With her eyes she signed to me to look on the table near her, and there in a glass I saw all my dear old friend's teeth. I put the three roses I had brought her in the glass, and, kissing her again, I asked her forgiveness for my impertinent curiosity. I left the convent with a very heavy heart, for the Mother Superior told me in the garden that my beloved Mlle. de Brabender could not live much longer. I therefore went every day for a time to see my gentle old governess, but as soon as the rehearsals commenced at the Odéon my visits had to be less frequent.

One morning about seven o'clock a message came from the convent to fetch me in great haste, and I was present at the dear woman's death-agony. Her face lighted up at the supreme moment with such a holy look that I suddenly longed to die. I kissed her hands, which were holding the crucifix, and they had already turned cold. I asked to be allowed to be there when she was placed in her coffin. On arriving at the convent the next day, at the hour fixed, I found the sisters in such a state of consternation that I was alarmed. What could have happened, I wondered? They pointed to the door of the cell, without uttering a word. The nuns were standing round the bed, on which was the most extraordinary looking being imaginable. My poor governess, lying rigid on her deathbed, had a man's face. Her moustache had grown longer, and she had a beard nearly half an inch long. Her moustache and beard were sandy, whilst the long hair framing her face was white. Her mouth, without the support of the teeth, had sunk in so that her nose fell on the sandy moustache. It was like a terrible and ridiculous-looking mask, instead of the sweet face of my friend. It was the mask of a man, whilst the little delicate hands were those of a woman.

There was an awe-struck expression in the eyes of the nuns, in spite of the assurance of the nurse who had dressed the poor dead body, and had declared to them that the body was that of a woman. But the poor little sisters were trembling and crossing themselves all the time.

The day after this dismal ceremony I made my début at the Odéon in Le jeu de l'amour et du hasard. I was not suited for Marivaux's plays, as they require a certain coquettishness and an affectation which were not then and still are not among my qualities. Then, too, I was rather too slight, so that I made no success at all. Chilly happened to be passing along the corridor, just as Duquesnel was talking to me and encouraging me. Chilly pointed to me and remarked:

"Une flûte pour les gens du monde, il n'y a même pas de mie."

I was furious at the man's insolence, and the blood rushed to my face, but I saw through my half-closed eyes Camille Doucet's face, that face always so clean shaven and young-looking under his crown of white hair. I thought it was a vision of my mind, which was always on the alert, on account of the promise I had made. But no, it was he himself, and he came up to me.

"What a pretty voice you have!" he said. "Your second appearance will be such a pleasure for us!"

This man was always courteous, but truthful. This début of mine had not given him any pleasure, but he was counting on my next appearance, and he had spoken the truth. I had a pretty voice, and that was all that any one could say from my first trial.

I remained at the Odéon, and worked very hard. I was ready to take any one's place at a moment's notice, for I knew all the rôles. I made some success, and the students had a predilection for me. When I came on to the stage I was always greeted by applause from these young men. A few old sticklers used to turn towards the pit and try and command silence, but no one cared a straw for them.

Finally my day of triumph dawned. Duquesnel had the happy idea of putting Athalie on again, with Mendelssohn's choruses.

Beauvallet, who had been odious as a professor, was charming as a comrade. By special permission from the Ministry he was to play Joad. The rôle of Zacharie was assigned to me. Some of the Conservatoire pupils were to take the spoken choruses, and the female pupils who studied singing undertook the musical part. The rehearsals were so bad that Duquesnel and Chilly were in despair.

Beauvallet, who was more agreeable now, but not choice in his language, muttered some terrible words. We began over and over again, but it was all to no purpose. The spoken choruses were simply abominable. When suddenly Chilly exclaimed:

"Well, let the young one say all the spoken choruses. They will be right enough with her pretty voice!"

Duquesnel did not utter a word, but he pulled his moustache to hide a smile. Chilly was coming round to his protegée after all. He nodded his head in an indifferent way, in answer to his partner's questioning look, and we began again, I reading all the spoken choruses. Every one applauded, and the conductor of the orchestra was delighted, for the poor man had suffered enough. The first performance was a veritable little triumph for me! Oh, quite a little one, but still full of promise for my future. The audience, charmed with the sweetness of my voice and its crystal purity, encored the part of the spoken choruses, and I was rewarded by three rounds of applause.

At the end of the act Chilly came to me and said, "Thou art adorable!" His thou rather annoyed me, but I answered mischievously, using the same form of speech:

"Thou findest me fatter?"

He burst into a fit of laughter, and from that day forth we both used the familiar thou and became the best friends imaginable.

Oh, that Odéon Theatre! It is the theatre I loved most. I was very sorry to leave it, for every one liked each other there, and every one was gay. The theatre is a little like the continuation of school. The young artistes came there, and Duquesnel was an intelligent manager, and very polite and young himself. During rehearsal we often went off, several of us together, to play ball in the Luxembourg, during the acts in which we were not "on." I used to think of my few months at the Comédie Française. The little world I had known there had been stiff, scandal-mongering, and jealous. I recalled my few months at the Gymnase. Hats and dresses were always discussed there, and every one chattered about a hundred things that had nothing to do with art.

At the Odéon I was happy. We thought of nothing but putting plays on, and we rehearsed morning, afternoon, and at all hours, and I liked that very much.

For the summer I had taken a little house in the Villa Montmorency at Auteuil. I went to the theatre in a petit duc, which I drove myself. I had two wonderful ponies that Aunt Rosine had given to me because they had very nearly broken her neck by taking fright at St. Cloud at a whirligig of wooden horses. I used to drive at full speed along the quays, and in spite of the atmosphere brilliant with the July sunshine, and the gaiety of everything outside, I always ran up the cold cracked steps of the theatre with veritable joy, and rushed up to my dressing-room, wishing every one I passed good morning on my way. When I had taken off my coat and gloves I went on to the stage, delighted to be once more in that infinite darkness with only a poor light (a servante hanging here and there on a tree, a turret, a wall, or placed on a bench) thrown on the faces of the artistes for a few seconds.

There was nothing more vivifying for me than that atmosphere, full of microbes, nothing more gay than that obscurity, and nothing more brilliant than that darkness.

One day my mother had the curiosity to come behind the scenes. I thought she would have died with horror and disgust. "Oh, you poor child," she murmured, "how can you live in that!" When once she was outside again she began to breathe freely, taking long gasps several times. Oh yes, I could live in it, and I really only lived well in it. Since then I have changed a little, but I still have a great liking for that gloomy workshop in which we joyous lapidaries of art cut the precious stones supplied to us by the poets.

The days passed by, carrying away with them all our little disappointed hopes, and fresh days dawned bringing fresh dreams, so that life seemed to me eternal happiness. I played in turn in Le Marquis de Villemer and François le Champi. In the former I took the part of the foolish baroness, an expert woman of thirty-five years of age. I was scarcely twenty-one myself, and I looked seventeen. In the second piece I played Mariette, and made a great success.

Those rehearsals of the Marquis de Villemer and François le Champi have remained in my memory as so many exquisite hours. Madame George Sand was a sweet, charming creature, extremely timid. She did not talk much, but smoked all the time. Her large eyes were always dreamy, and her mouth, which was rather heavy and common, had the kindest expression. She had perhaps had a medium-sized figure, but she was no longer upright. I used to watch her with the most romantic affection, for had she not been the heroine of a fine love romance!

I used to sit down by her, and when I took her hand in mine I held it as long as possible. Her voice, too, was gentle and fascinating.

Prince Napoleon, commonly known as "Plon-Plon," often used to come to George Sand's rehearsals. He was extremely fond of her. The first time I ever saw that man I turned pale, and felt as though my heart had stopped beating. He looked so much like Napoleon I. that I disliked him for it. By resembling him it seemed to me that he made him seem less far away, and brought him nearer to every one.

Madame Sand introduced me to him, in spite of my wishes. He looked at me in an impertinent way: he displeased me. I scarcely replied to his compliments, and went closer to George Sand.

"Why, she is in love with you!" he exclaimed, laughing.

George Sand stroked my cheek gently.

"She is my little Madonna," she answered; "do not torment her."

I stayed with her, casting displeased and furtive glances at the Prince. Gradually, though, I began to enjoy listening to him, for his conversation was brilliant, serious, and at the same time witty. He sprinkled his discourses and his replies with words that were a trifle crude, but all that he said was interesting and instructive. He was not very indulgent, though, and I have heard him say base, horrible things about little Thiers which I believe had little truth in them. He drew such an amusing portrait one day of that agreeable Louis Bouilhet, that George Sand, who liked him, could not help laughing, although she called the Prince a bad man. He was very unceremonious, too, but at the same time he did not like people to be wanting in respect to him. One day an artiste, named Paul Deshayes, who was playing in François le Champi, came into the green-room. Prince Napoleon, Madame George Sand, the curator of the library, whose name I have forgotten, and myself were there. This artiste was common, and something of an anarchist. He bowed to Madame Sand, and addressing the Prince, said:

"You are sitting on my gloves, sir."

The Prince scarcely moved, pulled the gloves out, and, throwing them on the floor, remarked, "I thought this seat was clean."

The actor coloured, picked up the gloves, and went away, murmuring some revolutionary threat.

I played the part of Hortense in Le testament de César, by Girodot, and of Anna Danby in Alexandre Dumas's Kean.

On the evening of the first performance of the latter piece [Footnote: February 18, 1868.] the audience was most aggravating. Dumas père was quite out of favour on account of a private matter that had nothing to do with art. Politics for some time past had been exciting every one, and the return of Victor Hugo from exile was very much desired. When Dumas entered his box he was greeted by yells. The students were there in full force, and they began shouting for Ruy Blas. Dumas rose and asked to be allowed to speak. "My young friends," he began, as soon as there was silence. "We are quite willing to listen," called out some one, "but you must be alone in your box."

Dumas protested vehemently. Several persons in the orchestra took his side, for he had invited a lady into his box, and whoever that lady might be, no one had any right to insult her in so outrageous a manner. I had never yet witnessed a scene of this kind. I looked through the hole in the curtain, and was very much interested and excited. I saw our great Dumas, pale with anger, clenching his fists, shouting, swearing, and storming. Then suddenly there was a burst of applause. The woman had disappeared from the box. She had taken advantage of the moment when Dumas, leaning well over the front of the box, was answering, "No, no, this lady shall not leave the box!"

Just at this moment she slipped away, and the whole house, delighted, shouted, "Bravo!" Dumas was then allowed to continue, but only for à few seconds. Cries of "Ruy Blas! Ruy Blas! Victor Hugo! Hugo!" could then be heard again in the midst of an infernal uproar. We had been ready to commence the play for an hour, and I was greatly excited. Chilly and Duquesnel then came to us on the stage.

"Courage, mes enfants, for the house has gone mad," they said. "We will commence anyhow, let what will happen."

"I'm afraid I shall faint," I said to Duquesnel. My hands were as cold as ice, and my heart was beating wildly. "What am I to do," I asked him, "if I get too frightened?"

"There's nothing to be done," he replied. "Be frightened, but go on playing, and don't faint upon any account!"

The curtain was drawn up in the midst of a veritable tempest, bird cries, cat-calls, and a heavy rhythmical refrain of "Ruy Blas! Ruy Blas! Victor Hugo! Victor Hugo!"

My turn came. Berton père, who was playing Kean, had been received badly. I was wearing the eccentric costume of an Englishwoman in the year 1820. As soon as I appeared I heard a burst of laughter, and I stood still, rooted to the spot in the doorway. At the very same instant the cheers of my dear friends the students drowned the laughter of the aggravators. This gave me courage, and I even felt a desire to fight. But it was not necessary, for after the second endlessly long harangue, in which I give an idea of my love for Kean, the house was delighted, and gave me an ovation.

"Ignotus" wrote the following paragraph in the Figaro:

"Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt appeared wearing an eccentric costume which increased the tumult, but her rich voice, that astonishing voice of hers, appealed to the public, and she charmed them like a little Orpheus."

After Kean I played in La loterie du mariage. When we were rehearsing the piece, Agar came up to me one day, in the corner where I usually sat. I had a little arm-chair there from my dressing-room, and put my feet up on a straw chair. I liked this place, because there was a little gas-burner there, and I could work whilst waiting for my turn to go on the stage. I loved embroidery and tapestry work. I had a quantity of different kinds of fancy work commenced, and could take up one or the other as I felt inclined.

Madame Agar was an admirable creature. She had evidently been created for the joy of the eyes. She was a brunette, tall, pale, with large, dark, gentle eyes, a very small mouth with full rounded lips, which went up at the corners with an imperceptible smile. She had exquisite teeth, and her head was covered with thick, glossy hair. She was the living incarnation of one of the most beautiful types of ancient Greece. Her pretty hands were long and rather soft, whilst her slow and rather heavy walk completed the illusion. She was the great tragédienne of the Odéon Theatre. She approached me, with her measured tread, followed by a young man of from twenty-four to twenty-six years of age.

"Well, my dear," she said, kissing me, "there is a chance for you to make a poet happy!" She then introduced François Coppée. I invited the young man to sit down, and then I looked at him more thoroughly. His handsome face, emaciated and pale, was that of the immortal Bonaparte. A thrill of emotion went through me, for I adore Napoleon I.

"Are you a poet, Monsieur?" I asked.

"Yes, Mademoiselle."

His voice, too, trembled, for he was still more timid than I was.

"I have written a little piece," he continued, "and Mlle. Agar is sure that you will play it with her."

"Yes, my dear," put in Agar, "you are going to play it for him. It is a little masterpiece, and I am sure you will make a gigantic success."

"Oh, and you too. You will be so beautiful in it!" said the poet, gazing rapturously at Agar.

I was called on to the stage just at this moment, and on returning a few minutes later I found the young poet talking in a low voice to the beautiful tragédienne. I coughed, and Agar, who had taken my arm-chair, wanted to give it me back. On my refusing it she pulled me down on to her lap. The young man drew up his chair and we chatted away together, our three heads almost touching. It was decided that after reading the piece I should show it to Duquesnel, who alone was capable of judging poetry, and that we should then get permission from both managers to play it at a benefit that was to take place after our next production.

The young man was delighted, and his pale face lighted up with a grateful smile as he shook hands excitedly. Agar walked away with him as far as the little landing which projected over the stage. I watched them as they went, the magnificent statue-like woman and the slender outline of the young writer. Agar was perhaps thirty-five at that time. She was certainly very beautiful, but to me there was no charm about her, and I could not understand why this poetical Bonaparte was in love with this matronly woman. It was as clear as daylight that he was, and she too appeared to be in love. This interested me infinitely. I watched them clasp each other's hands, and then, with an abrupt and almost awkward movement, the young poet bent over the beautiful hand he was holding and kissed it fervently.

Agar came back to me with a faint colour in her cheeks. This was rare with her, for she had a marble-like complexion. "Here is the manuscript!" she said, giving me a little roll of paper.

The rehearsal was over, and I wished Agar good-bye, and on my way home read the piece. I was so delighted with it that I drove straight back to the theatre to give it to Duquesnel at once. I met him coming downstairs.

"Do come back again, please!" I exclaimed.

"Good heavens, my dear girl, what is the matter?" he asked. "You look as though you have won a big lottery prize."

"Well, it is something like that," I said, and entering his office, I produced the manuscript.

"Read this, please," I continued.

"I'll take it with me," he said.

"Oh no, read it here at once!" I insisted. "Shall I read it to you?"

"No, no," he replied; "your voice is treacherous. It makes charming poetry of the worst lines possible. Well, let me have it," he continued, sitting down in his arm-chair. He began to read whilst I looked at the newspapers.

"It's delicious!" he soon exclaimed. "It's a perfect masterpiece."

I sprang to my feet in joy.

"And you will get Chilly to accept it?"

"Oh yes, you can make your mind easy. But when do you want to play it?"

"Well, the author seems to be in a great hurry," I said, "and Agar too."

"And you as well," he put in, laughing, "for this is a rôle that just suits your fancy."

"Yes, my dear 'Duq,'" I acknowledged. "I too want it put on at once. Do you want to be very nice?" I added. "If so, let us have it for the benefit of Madame ---- in a fortnight from now. That would not make any difference to other arrangements, and our poet would be so happy."

"Good!" said Duquesnel, "I will settle it like that. What about the scenery, though?" he muttered meditatively, biting his nails, which were then his favourite meal when disturbed in his mind.

I had already thought that out, so I offered to drive him home, and on the way I put my plan before him.

We might have the scenery of Jeanne de Ligneris, a piece that had been put on and taken off again immediately, after being jeered at by the public. The scenery consisted of a superb Italian park, with flowers, statues, and even a flight of steps. As to costumes, if we spoke of them to Chilly, no matter how little they might cost he would shriek, as he had done in his rôle of Rodin. Agar and I would supply our own costumes.

When I arrived at Duquesnel's house, he asked me to go in and discuss the costumes with his wife. I accepted his invitation, and, after kissing the prettiest face one could possibly dream of, I told its owner about our plot. She approved of everything, and promised to begin at once to look out for pretty designs for our costumes. Whilst she was talking I compared her with Agar. Oh, how much I preferred that charming head, with its fair hair, those large, limpid eyes, and the face, with its two little pink dimples. Her hair was soft and light, and formed a halo round her forehead. I admired, too, her delicate wrists, finishing with the loveliest hands imaginable, hands that were later on quite famous.

On leaving my two friends I drove straight to Agar's to tell her what had happened. She kissed me over and over again, and a cousin of hers, a priest, who happened to be there, appeared to be very delighted with my story. He seemed to know about everything. Presently there was a timid ring at the bell, and François Coppée was announced.

"I am just going away," I said to him, as I met him in the doorway and shook hands. "Agar will tell you everything."

XIV. LE PASSANT--AT THE TUILERIES--FIRE IN MY FLAT

The rehearsals of Le Passant commenced very soon after this, and were delightful, for the timid young poet was a most interesting and intelligent talker.

The first performance took place as arranged, and Le Passant was a veritable triumph. The whole house cheered over and over again, and Agar and myself had eight curtain calls. We tried in vain to bring the author forward, as the audience wished to see him. François Coppée was not to be found. The young poet, hitherto unknown, had become famous within a few hours. His name was on all lips. As for Agar and myself, we were simply overwhelmed with praise, and Chilly wanted to pay for our costumes. We played this one-act piece more than a hundred times consecutively to full houses.

We were asked to give it at the Tuileries, and at the house of Princess Mathilde.

Oh, that first performance at the Tuileries! It is stamped on my brain for ever, and with my eyes shut I can see every detail again even now. It had been arranged between Duquesnel and the official sent from the Court that Agar and I should go to the Tuileries to see the room where we were to play, in order to have it arranged according to the requirements of the piece. Count de Laferrière was to introduce me to the Emperor, who would then introduce me to the Empress Eugénie. Agar was to be introduced by Princess Mathilde, to whom she was then sitting as Minerva.

M. de Laferrière came for me at nine o'clock in a state carriage, and Madame Guérard accompanied me.

M. de Laferrière was a very agreeable man, with rather stiff manners. As we were turning round the Rue Royale the carriage had to draw up an instant, and General Fleury approached us. I knew him, as he had been introduced to me by Morny. He spoke to us, and Comte de Laferrière explained where we were going. As he left us he said to me, "Good luck!" Just at that moment a man who was passing by took up the words and called out, "Good luck, perhaps, but not for long, you crowd of good-for-nothings!"

On arriving at the Palace we all three got out of the carriage, and were shown into a small yellow drawing-room on the ground floor.

"I will go and inform his Majesty that you are here," said M. de Laferrière, leaving us.

When alone with Madame Guérard I thought I would rehearse my three curtseys.

"Mon petit Dame," I said, "tell me whether they are right."

I made the curtseys, murmuring, "Sire... Sire..." I began over again several times, looking down at my dress as I said "Sire..." when suddenly I heard a stifled laugh.

I stood up quickly, furious with Madame Guérard, but I saw that she too was bent over in a half circle. I turned round quickly, and behind me--was the Emperor. He was clapping his hands silently and laughing quietly, but still he was laughing. My face flushed, and I was embarrassed, for I wondered how long he had been there. I had been curtseying I do not know how many times, trying to get my reverence right, and saying, "There... that's too low... There; is that right, Guérard?"

"Good Heavens!" I now said to myself. "Has he heard it all?"

In spite of my confusion, I now made my curtsey again, but the Emperor said, smiling:

"Oh! no; it could not be better than it was just now. Save them for the Empress, who is expecting you."

Oh, that "just now." I wondered when it had been?

I could not question Madame Guérard, as she was following at some distance with M. de Laferrière. The Emperor was at my side, talking to me of a hundred things, but I could only answer in an absent-minded way, on account of that "just now."

I liked him much better thus, quite near, than in his portraits. He had such fine eyes, which he half closed whilst looking through his long lashes. His smile was sad and rather mocking. His face was pale and his voice faint, but seductive.

We found the Empress seated in a large arm-chair. Her body was sheathed in a grey dress, and seemed to have been moulded into the material. I thought her very beautiful. She too was more beautiful than her portraits. I made my three curtseys under the laughing eyes of the Emperor. The Empress spoke, and the spell was then broken. That rough, hard voice coming from that brilliant woman gave me a shock.

From that moment I felt ill at ease with her, in spite of her graciousness and her kindness. As soon as Agar arrived and had been introduced, the Empress had us conducted to the large drawing-room, where the performance was to take place. The measurements were taken for the platform, and there was to be the flight of steps where Agar had to pose as the unhappy courtesan cursing mercenary love and longing for ideal love.

This flight of steps was quite a problem. They were supposed to represent the first three steps of a huge flight leading up to a Florentine palace, and had to be half hidden in some way. I asked for some shrubs, flowers and plants, which I arranged along the three steps.

The Prince Imperial, who had come in, was then about thirteen years of age. He helped me to arrange the plants, and laughed wildly when Agar mounted the steps to try the effect. He was delicious, with his magnificent eyes with heavy lids like those of his mother, and with his father's long eyelashes. He was witty like the Emperor, whom people surnamed "Louis the Imbecile," and who certainly had the most refined, subtle, and at the same time the most generous wit.

We arranged everything as well as we could, and it was decided that we should return two days later for a rehearsal before their Majesties.

How gracefully the Prince Imperial asked permission to be present at the rehearsal! His request was granted, and the Empress then took leave of us in the most charming manner, but her voice was very ugly. She told the two ladies who were with her to give us wine and biscuits, and to show us over the Palace if we wished to see it. I did not care much about this, but mon petit Dame and Agar seemed so delighted at the offer that I gave in to them.

I have regretted ever since that I did so, for nothing could have been uglier than the private rooms, with the exception of the Emperor's study and the staircases. This inspection of the Palace bored me terribly. A few of the pictures consoled me, and I stayed some time gazing at Winterhalter's portrait representing the Empress Eugénie. She looked beautiful, and I thanked Heaven that the portrait could not speak, for it served to explain and justify the wonderful good luck of her Majesty.

The rehearsal took place without any special incident. The young Prince did his utmost to prove to us his gratitude and delight, for we had made it a dress rehearsal on his account, as he was not to be present at the soirée. He sketched my costume, and intended to have it copied for a bal déguisé which was to be given for the Imperial child. Our performance was in honour of the Queen of Holland, accompanied by the Prince of Orange, commonly known in Paris as "Prince Citron."

A rather amusing incident occurred during the evening. The Empress had remarkably small feet, and in order to make them look still smaller she encased them in shoes that were too narrow. She looked wonderfully beautiful that night, with her pretty sloping shoulders emerging from a dress of pale blue satin embroidered with silver. On her lovely hair she was wearing a little diadem of turquoises and diamonds, and her small feet were on a cushion of silver brocade. All through Coppée's piece my eyes wandered frequently to this cushion, and I saw the two little feet moving restlessly about. Finally I saw one of the shoes pushing its little brother very, very gently, and then I saw the heel of the Empress come out of its prison. The foot was then only covered at the toe, and I was very anxious to know how it would get back, for under such circumstances the foot swells, and cannot go into a shoe that is too narrow. When the piece was over we were recalled twice, and as it was the Empress who started the applause, I thought she was putting off the moment for getting up, and I saw her pretty little sore foot trying in vain to get back into its shoe. The curtains were drawn, and as I had told Agar about the cushion drama, we watched through them its various phases.

The Emperor rose, and every one followed his example. He offered his arm to the Queen of Holland, but she looked at the Empress, who had not yet risen. The Emperor's face lighted up with that smile which I had already seen. He said a word to General Fleury, and immediately the generals and other officers on duty, who were seated behind the sovereigns, formed a rampart between the crowd and the Empress. The Emperor and the Queen of Holland then passed on, without appearing to have noticed her Majesty's distress, and the Prince of Orange, with one knee on the ground, helped the beautiful sovereign to put on her Cinderella-like slipper. I saw that the Empress leaned more heavily on the Prince's arm than she would have liked, for her pretty foot was evidently rather painful.

We were then sent for to be complimented, and we were surrounded and fêted so much that we were delighted with our evening.

After Le Passant and the prodigious success of that adorable piece, a success in which Agar and I had our share, Chilly thought more of me, and began to like me. He insisted on paying for our costumes, which was great extravagance for him. I had become the adored queen of the students, and I used to receive little bouquets of violets, sonnets, and long, long poems--too long to read. Sometimes on arriving at the theatre as I was getting out of my carriage I received a shower of flowers which simply covered me, and I was delighted, and used to thank my worshippers. The only thing was that their admiration blinded them, so that when in some pieces I was not so good, and the house was rather chary of applause, my little army of students would be indignant and would cheer wildly, without rhyme or reason. I can understand quite well that this used to exasperate the regular subscribers of the Odéon, who were very kindly disposed towards me nevertheless, as they too used to spoil me, but they would have liked me to be more humble and meek, and less headstrong. How many times one or another of these old subscribers would come and give me a word of advice. "Mademoiselle, you were charming in Junie," one of them observed; "but you bite your lips, and the Roman women never did that!"

"My dear girl," another said, "you were delicious in François le Champi, but there is not a single Breton woman in the whole of Brittany with her hair curled."

A professor from the Sorbonne said to me one day rather curtly, "It is a want of respect, Mademoiselle, to turn your back on the public!"

"But, Monsieur," I replied, "I was accompanying an old lady to a door at the back of the stage. I could not walk along with her backwards."

"The artistes we had before you, Mademoiselle, who were quite as talented as you, if not more so, had a way of going across the stage without turning their back on the public."

And he turned quickly on his heel and was going away, when I stopped him.

"Monsieur, will you go to that door, through which you intended to pass, without turning your back on me?"

He made an attempt, and then, furious, turned his back on me and disappeared, slamming the door after him.

I lived some time at 16 Rue Auber, in a flat on the first floor, which was rather a nice one. I had furnished it with old Dutch furniture which my grandmother had sent me. My godfather advised me to insure against fire, as this furniture, he told me, constituted a small fortune. I decided to follow his advice, and asked mon petit Dame to take the necessary steps for me. A few days later she told me that some one would call about it on the 12th.

On the day in question, towards two o'clock, a gentleman called, but I was in an extremely nervous condition, and said: "No, I must be left alone to-day. I do not wish to see any one."

I had refused to be disturbed, and had shut myself up in my bedroom in a frightfully depressed state.

That same evening I received a letter from the fire insurance company, La Foncière, asking which day their agent might call to have the agreement signed. I replied that he might come on Saturday.

On Friday I was so utterly wretched that I sent to ask my mother to come and lunch with me. I was not playing that day, as I never used to perform on Tuesdays and Fridays, days on which répertoire plays only were given. As I was playing every other day in new pieces, it was feared that I should be over-tired.

My mother on arriving thought I looked very pale.

"Yes," I replied. "I do not know what is the matter with me, but I am in a very nervous state and most depressed."

The governess came to fetch my little boy, to take him out for a walk, but I would not let him go.

"Oh no!" I exclaimed. "The child must not leave me to-day. I am afraid of something happening."

What happened was fortunately of a less serious nature than, with my love for my family, I was dreading.

I had my grandmother living with me at that time, and she was blind. It was the grandmother who had given me most of my furniture. She was a spectral-looking woman, and her beauty was of a cold, hard type. She was very tall indeed, six feet, but she looked like a giantess. She was thin and very upright, and her long arms were always stretched in front of her, feeling for all the objects in her way, so that she might not knock herself, although she was always accompanied by the nurse whom I had engaged for her. Above this long body was her little face, with two immense pale blue eyes, which were always open, even when asleep at night. She was generally dressed from head to foot in grey, and this neutral colour gave something unreal to her general appearance.

My mother, after trying to comfort me, went away about two o'clock. My grandmother, seated opposite me in her large Voltaire armchair, questioned me:

"What are you afraid of?" she asked. "Why are you so mournful? I have not heard you laugh all day."

I did not answer, but looked at my grandmother. It seemed to me that the trouble I was dreading would come through her.

"Are you not there?" she insisted.

"Yes, I am here," I answered; "but please do not talk to me."

She did not utter another word, but with her two hands on her lap sat there for hours. I sketched her strange, fatidical face.

It began to grow dusk, and I thought I would go and dress, after being present at the meal taken by my grandmother and the child. My friend Rose Baretta was dining with me that evening, and I had also invited a most charming and witty man, Charles Haas. Arthur Meyer came too. He was a young journalist already very much in vogue. I told them about my forebodings with regard to that day, and begged them not to leave me before midnight.

"After that," I said, "it will not be to-day, and the wicked spirits who are watching me will have missed their chance."

They agreed to humour my fancy, and Arthur Meyer, who was to have gone to some first night at one of the theatres, remained with us. Dinner was more animated than luncheon had been, and it was nine o'clock when we left the table. Rose Baretta sang us some delightful old songs. I went away for a minute to see that all was right in my grandmother's room. I found my maid with her head wrapped up in cloths soaked in sedative water. I asked what was the matter, and she said that she had a terrible headache. I told her to prepare my bath and everything for me for the night, and then to go to bed. She thanked me, and obeyed.

I went back to the drawing-room, and, sitting down to the piano, played "Il Bacio," Mendelssohn's "Bells," and Weber's "Last Thought." I had not come to the end of this last melody when I stopped, suddenly hearing in the street cries of "Fire! Fire!"

"They are shouting 'Fire!'" exclaimed Arthur Meyer.

"That's all the same to me," I said, shrugging my shoulders. "It is not midnight yet, and I am expecting my own misfortune."

Charles Haas had opened the drawing-room window to see where the shouts were coming from. He stepped out on to the balcony, and then came quickly in again.

"The fire is here!" he exclaimed. "Look!"

I rushed to the window, and saw the flames coming from the two windows of my bedroom. I ran back through the drawing-room in to the corridor, and then to the room where my child was sleeping with his governess and his nurse. They were all fast asleep. Arthur Meyer opened the hall door, the bell of which was being rung violently. I roused the two women quickly, wrapped the sleeping child in his blankets, and rushed to the door with my precious burden. I then ran downstairs, and, crossing the street, took him to Guadacelli's chocolate shop opposite, just at the corner of the Rue Caumartin.

The kind man took my little slumberer in and let him lie on a couch, where the child continued his sleep without any break. I left him in charge of his governess and his nurse, and went quickly back to the flaming house. The firemen, who had been sent for, had not yet arrived, and at all costs I was determined to rescue my poor grandmother. It was impossible to go back up the principal staircase, as it was filled with smoke.

Charles Haas, bareheaded and in evening dress, a flower in his button-hole, started with me up the narrow back staircase. We were soon on the first floor, but when once there my knees shook; it seemed as thought my heart had stopped, and I was seized with despair. The kitchen door, at the top of the first flight of stairs, was locked with a triple turn of the key. My amiable companion was tall, slight, and elegant, but not strong. I besought him to go down and fetch a hammer, a hatchet, or something, but just at that moment, a newcomer wrenched the door open by a violent plunge with his shoulder against it. This new arrival was no other than M. Sohège, a friend of mine. He was a most charming and excellent man, a broad-shouldered Alsatian, well known in Paris, very lively and kind, and always ready to do any one a service. I took my friends to my grandmother's room. She was sitting up in bed, out of breath with calling Catherine, the servant who waited upon her. This maid was about twenty-five years of age, a big, strapping girl from Burgundy, and she was now sleeping peacefully, in spite of the uproar in the street, the noise of the fire-engines, which had arrived at last, and the wild shrieks of the occupants of the house. Sohège shook the maid, whilst I explained to my grandmother the reason of the tumult and why we were in her room.

"Very good," she said; and then she added calmly, "Will you give me the box, Sarah, that you will find at the bottom of the wardrobe? The key of it is here."

"But, grandmother," I exclaimed, "the smoke is beginning to come in here. We have not any time to lose."

"Well, do as you like. I shall not leave without my box!"

With the help of Charles Haas and of Arthur Meyer we put my grandmother on Sohège's back in spite of herself. He was of medium height, and she was extremely tall, so that her long legs touched the ground, and I was afraid she might get them injured. Sohège therefore took her in his arms, and Charles Haas carried her legs. We then set off, but the smoke stifled us, and after descending about ten stairs I fell down in a faint.

When I came to myself I was in my mother's bed. My little boy was asleep in my sister's room, and my grandmother was installed in a large armchair. She sat bolt upright, frowning, and with an angry expression on her lips. She did not trouble about anything but her box, until at last my mother was angry, and reproached her in Dutch with only caring for herself. She answered excitedly, and her neck craned forward as though to help her head to peer through the perpetual darkness which surrounded her. Her thin body, wrapped in an Indian shawl of many colours, the hissing of her strident words, which flowed freely, all contributed to make her resemble a serpent in some terrible nightmare. My mother did not like this woman, who had married my grandfather when he had six big children, the eldest of whom was sixteen and the youngest, my uncle, five years. This second wife had never had any children of her own, and had been indifferent, even harsh, towards those of her husband; and consequently she was not liked in the family. I had taken charge of her because small-pox had broken out in the family with whom she had been boarding. She had then wished to stay with me, and I had not had courage enough to oppose her.

On the occasion of the fire, though, I considered she behaved so badly that a strong dislike to her came over me, and I resolved not to keep her with me. News of the fire was brought to us. It continued to rage, and burnt everything in my flat, absolutely everything, even to the very last book in my library. My greatest sorrow was that I had lost a magnificent portrait of my mother by Bassompierre Severin, a pastelist very much à la mode under the Empire; an oil portrait of my father, and a very pretty pastel of my sister Jeanne. I had not much jewellery, and all that was found of the bracelet given to me by the Emperor was a huge shapeless mass, which I still have. I had a very pretty diadem, set with diamonds and pearls, given to me by Kalil Bey after a performance at his house. The ashes of this had to be sifted in order to find the stones. The diamonds were there, but the pearls had melted.

I was absolutely ruined, for the money that my father and his mother had left me I had spent in furniture, curiosities, and a hundred other useless things, which were the delight of my life. I had, too, and I own it was absurd, a tortoise named Chrysagère. Its back was covered with a shell of gold set with very small blue, pink, and yellow topazes. Oh, how beautiful it was, and how droll! It used to wander round my flat, accompanied by a smaller tortoise named Zerbinette, which was its servant, and I used to amuse myself for hours watching Chrysagère, flashing with a hundred lights under the rays of the sun or the moon. Both my tortoises died in this fire.

Duquesnel, who was very kind to me at that time, came to see me a few weeks later, for he had just received a summons from La Foncière, the fire insurance company, whose papers I had refused to sign the day before the catastrophe. The company claimed a heavy sum of money from me for damages done to the house itself. The second storey was almost entirely destroyed, and for many months the whole building had to be propped up. I did not possess the 40,000 francs claimed. Duquesnel offered to give a benefit performance for me, which would, he said, free me from all difficulties. De Chilly was very willing to agree to anything that would be of service to me. The benefit was a wonderful success, thanks to the presence of the adorable Adelina Patti. The young singer, who was then the Marquise de Caux, had never before sung at a benefit performance, and it was Arthur Meyer who brought me the news that "La Patti" was going to sing for me. Her husband came during the afternoon to tell me how glad she was of this opportunity of proving to me her sympathy. As soon as the "fairy bird" was announced, every seat in the house was promptly taken at prices which were higher than those originally fixed. She had no reason to regret her friendly action, for never was any triumph more complete. The students greeted her with three cheers as she came on the stage. She was a little surprised at this noise of bravos in rhythm. I can see her now coming forward, her two little feet encased in pink satin. She was like a bird hesitating as to whether it would fly or remain on the ground. She looked so pretty, so smiling, and when she trilled out the gem-like notes of her wonderful voice the whole house was delirious with excitement.

Every one sprang up, and the students stood on their seats, waved their hats and handkerchiefs, nodded their young heads in their feverish enthusiasm for art, and "encored" with intonations of the most touching supplication.

The divine singer then began again, and three times over she had to sing the Cavatina from Il Barbière de Seville, "Una voce poco fa."

I thanked her affectionately afterwards, and she left the theatre escorted by the students, who followed her carriage for a long way, shouting over and over again, "Long live Adelina Patti!" Thanks to that evening's performance I was able to pay the insurance company. I was ruined all the same, or very nearly so.

I stayed a few days with my mother, but we were so cramped for room there that I took a furnished flat in the Rue de l'Arcade. It was a dismal house, and the flat was dark. I was wondering how I should get out of my difficulties, when one morning M. C----, my father's notary, was announced. This was the man I disliked so much, but I gave orders that he should be shown in. I was surprised that I had not seen him for so long a time. He told me that he had just returned from Hamburg, that he had seen in the newspaper an account of my misfortune, and had now come to put himself at my service. In spite of my distrust, I was touched by this, and I related to him the whole drama of my fire. I did not know how it had started, but I vaguely suspected my maid Josephine of having placed my lighted candle on the little table to the left of the head of my bed. I had frequently warned her not to do this, but it was on this little piece of furniture that she always placed my water-bottle and glass, and a dessert dish with a couple of raw apples, for I adore eating apples when I wake in the night. On opening the door there was always a terrible draught, as the windows were left open until I went to bed. On closing the door after her the lace bed-curtains had probably caught fire. I could not explain the catastrophe in any other way. I had several times seen the young servant do this stupid thing, and I supposed that on the night in question she had been in a hurry to go to bed on account of her bad headache. As a rule, when I was going to undress myself she prepared everything, and then came in and told me, but this time she had not done so. Usually, too, I just went into the room myself to see that everything was right, and several times I had been obliged to move the candle. That day, however, was destined to bring me misfortune of some kind, though it was not a very great one. "But," said the notary, "you were not insured, then?" "No; I was to sign my policy the day after the event." "Ah!" exclaimed the man of law, "and to think that I have been told you set the flat on fire yourself in order to receive a large sum of money!"

I shrugged my shoulders, for I had seen insinuations to this effect in a newspaper. I was very young at this time, but I already had a certain disdain for tittle-tattle.

"Oh well, I must arrange matters for you if things are like this," said Maître C----. "You are really better off than you imagine as regards the money on your father's side," he continued. "As your grandmother leaves you an annuity, you can get a good amount for this by agreeing to insure your life for 250,000 francs for forty years, for the benefit of the purchaser."

I agreed to everything, and was only too delighted at such a windfall. This man promised to send me two days after his return 120,000 francs, and he kept his word. My reason for giving the details of this little episode, which after all belongs to my life, is to show how differently things turn out from what seems likely according to logic or according to our own expectations. It is quite certain that the accident which had just then happened to me scattered to the winds the hopes and plans of my life. I had arranged for myself a luxurious home with the money that my father and mother had left me. I had kept by me and invested a sufficient amount of money so as to be sure to complete my monthly salary for the next two years: I reckoned that at the end of the two years I should be in a position to demand a very high salary. And all these arrangements had been upset by the carelessness of a domestic. I had rich relatives and very rich friends, but not one amongst them stretched out a hand to help me out of the ditch into which I had fallen. My rich relatives had not forgiven me for going on to the stage. And yet Heaven knows what tears it had cost me to take up this career that had been forced upon me. My Uncle Faure came to see me at my mother's house, but my aunt would not listen to a word about me. I used to see my cousin secretly, and sometimes his pretty sister. My rich friends considered that I was wildly extravagant, and could not understand why I did not place the money I had inherited in good, sound investments.

I received a great deal of verse on the subject of my fire. Most of it was anonymous. I have kept it all, however, and I quote the following poem, which is rather nice:

Passant, te voilà sans abri: La flamme a ravagé ton gîte. Hier plus léger qu'un colibri; Ton esprit aujourd'hui s'agite, S'exhalant en gémissements Sur tout ce que le feu dévore. Tu pleures tes beaux diamants?... Non, tes grands yeux les ont encore!

Ne regrette pas ces colliers Qu'ont à leur cou les riches dames! Tu trouveras dans les halliers, Des tissus verts, aux fines trames! Ta perle?... Mais, c'est le jais noir Qui sur l'envers du fossé pousse! Et le cadre de ton miroir Est une bordure de mousse!

Tes bracelets?.. Mais, tes bras nus, Tu paraîtras cent fois plus belle! Sur les bras jolis de Vénus, Aucun cercle d'or n'étincelle! Garde ton charme si puissant! Ton parfum de plante sauvage! Laisse les bijoux, O Passant, A celles que le temps ravage!

Avec ta guitare à ton cou, Va, par la France et par l'Espagne! Suis ton chemin; je ne sais où.... Par la plaine et par la montagne! Passe, comme la plume au vent! Comme le son de ta mandore! Comme un flot qui baise en rêvant, Les flancs d'une barque sonore!

The proprietor of one of the hotels now very much in vogue sent me the following letter, which I quote word for word:

"MADAME,--If you would consent to dine every evening for a month in our large dining-room, I would place at your service a suite of rooms on the first floor, consisting of two bedrooms, a large drawing-room, a small boudoir, and a bath-room. It is of course understood that this suite of rooms would be yours free of charge if you would consent to do as I ask.--Yours, etc.

"(P.S.) You would only have to pay for the fresh supplies of plants for your drawing-room."

This was the extent of the man's coarseness. I asked one of my friends to go and give the low fellow his answer.

I was in despair, though, for I felt that I could not live without comfort and luxury.

I soon made up my mind as to what I must do, but not without sorrow. I had been offered a magnificent engagement in Russia, and I should have to accept it. Madame Guérard was my sole confidant, and I did not mention my plan to any one else. The idea of Russia terrified her, for at that time my chest was very delicate, and cold was my most cruel enemy. It was just as I had made up my mind to this that the lawyer arrived. His avaricious and crafty mind had schemed out the clever and, for him, profitable combination which was to change my whole life once more.

I took a pretty flat on the first floor of a house in the Rue de Rome. It was very sunny, and that delighted me more than anything else. There were two drawing-rooms and a large dining-room. I arranged for my grandmother to live at a home kept by lay sisters and nuns. She was a Jewess, and carried out very strictly all the laws laid down by her religion. The house was very comfortable, and my grandmother took her own maid with her, the young girl from Burgundy, to whom she was accustomed.

When I went to see her she told me that she was much better off there than with me. "When I was with you," she said, "I found your boy too noisy." I very rarely went to visit her there, for after seeing my mother turn pale at her unkind words I never cared any more for her. She was happy, and that was the essential thing.

I now played successfully in Le Bâtard, in which I had great success, in L'Affranchi, in L'Autre by George Sand, and in Jean-Marie, a little masterpiece by André Theuriet, which had the most brilliant success. Porel played the part of Jean-Marie. He was at that time slender, and full of hope. Since then his slenderness has developed into plumpness and his hope into certitude.

XV. THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR

Evil days then came upon us. Paris began to get feverish and excited. The streets were black with groups of people, discussing and gesticulating. And all this noise was only the echo of far-distant groups gathered together in German streets. These other groups were yelling, gesticulating, and discussing, but--they knew, whilst we did not know!

I could not keep calm, but was extremely excited, until finally I was ill. War was declared, and I hate war! It exasperates me and makes me shudder from head to foot. At times I used to spring up terrified, upset by the distant cries of human voices.

Oh, war! What infamy, shame, and sorrow! War! What theft and crime, abetted, forgiven, and glorified!

Recently, I visited a huge steel works. I will not say in what country, for all countries have been hospitable to me, and I am neither a spy nor a traitress. I only set forth things as I see them. Well, I visited one of these frightful manufactories, in which the most deadly weapons are made. The owner of it all, a multi-millionaire, was introduced to me. He was pleasant, but no good at conversation, and he had a dreamy, dissatisfied look. My cicerone informed me that this man had just lost a huge sum of money, nearly sixty million francs.

"Good Heavens!" I exclaimed; "how has he lost it?"

"Oh well, he has not exactly lost the money, but has just missed making the sum, so it amounts to the same thing."

I looked perplexed, and he added, "Yes; you remember that there was a great deal of talk about war between France and Germany with regard to the Morocco affair?"

"Yes."

"Well, this prince of the steel trade expected to sell cannons for it, and for a month his men were very busy in the factory, working day and night. He gave enormous bribes to influential members of the Government, and paid some of the papers in France and Germany to stir up the people. Everything has fallen through, thanks to the intervention of men who are wise and humanitarian. The consequence is that this millionaire is in despair. He has lost sixty or perhaps a hundred million francs."

I looked at the wretched man with contempt, and I wished heartily that he could be suffocated with his millions, as remorse was no doubt utterly unknown to him.

And how many others merit our contempt just as this man does! Nearly all those who are known as "suppliers to the army," in every country in the world, are the most desperate propagators of war.

Let every man be a soldier in the time of peril. Yes, a thousand times over, yes! Let every man be armed for the defence of his country, and let him kill in order to defend his family and himself. That is only reasonable. But that there should be, in our times, young men whose sole dream is to kill in order to make a position for themselves, that is inconceivable!

It is indisputable that we must guard our frontiers and our colonies, but since all men are soldiers, why not take these guards and defenders from among "all men"? We should only have schools for officers then, and we should have no more of those horrible barracks which offend the eye. And when sovereigns visit each other and are invited to a review, would they not be much more edified as to the value of a nation if it could show a thousandth part of its effective force chosen hap-hazard among its soldiers, rather than the elegant evolutions of an army prepared for parade? What magnificent reviews I have seen in all the different countries I have visited! But I know from history that such and such an army as was prancing about there so finely before us had taken flight, without any great reason, before the enemy.

On July 19 war was seriously declared, and Paris then became the theatre of the most touching and burlesque scenes. Excitable and delicate as I was, I could not bear the sight of all these young men gone wild, who were yelling the "Marseillaise" and rushing along the streets in close file, shouting over and over again, "To Berlin! To Berlin!"

My heart used to beat wildly, for I too thought that they were going to Berlin. I understood the fury they felt, for these people had provoked us without plausible reasons, but at the same time it seemed to me that they were getting ready for this great deed without sufficient respect and dignity. My own impotence made me feel rebellious, and when I saw all the mothers, with pale faces and eyes swollen with crying, holding their boys in their arms and kissing them in despair, the most frightful anguish seemed to choke me. I cried, too, almost unceasingly, and I was wearing myself away with anxiety, but I did not foresee the horrible catastrophe that was to take place.

The doctors decided that I must go to Eaux-Bonnes. I did not want to leave Paris, for I had caught the general fever of excitement. My weakness increased, though, day by day, and on July 27 I was taken away in spite of myself. Madame Guérard, my man-servant, and my maid accompanied me, and I also took my child with me.

In all the railway stations there were posters everywhere, announcing that the Emperor Napoleon had gone to Metz to take command of the army.

At Eaux-Bonnes I was compelled to remain in bed. My condition was considered very serious by Dr. Leudet, who told me afterwards that he certainly thought I was going to die. I vomited blood, and had to have a piece of ice in my mouth all the time. At the end of about twelve days, however, I began to get up, and after this I soon recovered my strength and my calmness, and went for long rides on horseback.

The war news led us to hope for victory. There was great joy and a certain emotion felt by every one on hearing that the young Prince Imperial had received his baptism of fire at Saarbruck, in the engagement commanded by General Frossard.

Life seemed to me beautiful again, for I had great confidence in the issue of the war. I pitied the Germans for having embarked on such an adventure. But, alas! the fine, glorious progress which my brain had been so active in imagining was cut short by the atrocious news from Saint-Privat. The political news was posted up every day in the little garden of the Casino at Eaux-Bonnes. The public went there to get information. Detesting, as I did, tranquillity, I used to send my man-servant to copy the telegrams. Oh, how grievous was that terrible telegram from Saint-Privat, informing us laconically of the frightful butchery; of the heroic defence of Marshal Canrobert; and of Bazaine's first treachery in not going to the rescue of his comrade.

I knew Canrobert, and was very fond of him. Later on he became one of my faithful friends, and I shall always remember the exquisite hours spent in listening to his accounts of the bravery of others--never of his own. And what an abundance of anecdotes, what wit, what charm!

This news of the battle of Saint-Privat caused my feverishness to return. My sleep was full of nightmares, and I had a relapse. The news was worse every day. After Saint-Privat came Gravelotte, where 36,000 men, French and German, were cut down in a few hours. Then came the sublime but powerless efforts of MacMahon, who was driven back as far as Sedan; and finally Sedan.

Sedan! Ah, the horrible awakening! The month of August had finished the night before, amidst a tumult of weapons and dying groans. But the groans of the dying men were mingled still with hopeful cries. But the month of September was cursed from its very birth. Its first war-cry was stifled back by the brutal and cowardly hand of Destiny.

A hundred thousand men! A hundred thousand Frenchmen compelled to capitulate, and the Emperor of France forced to hand his sword over to the King of Prussia!

Ah! that cry of grief, that cry of rage, uttered by the whole nation. It can never be forgotten!

On September 1, towards ten o'clock, Claude, my man-servant, knocked at my door. I was not asleep, and he gave me a copy of the first telegrams:

"Battle of Sedan commenced. MacMahon wounded," &c. &c.

"Ah! go back again," I said, "and as soon as a fresh telegram comes, bring me the news. I feel that something unheard of, something great and quite different, is going to happen. We have suffered so terribly this last month, that there can only be something good now, something fine, for God's scales mete out joy and suffering equally. Go at once, Claude," I added, and then, full of confidence, I soon fell asleep again, and was so tired that I slept until one o'clock. When I awoke, my maid Félicie, the most delightful girl imaginable, was seated near my bed. Her pretty face and her large dark eyes were so mournful that my heart stopped beating. I gazed at her anxiously, and she put into my hands the copy of the last telegram:

"The Emperor Napoleon has just handed over his sword...."

Blood rushed to my head, and my lungs were too weak to control its flow. I lay back on my pillow, and the blood escaped through my lips with the groans of my whole being.

For three days I was between life and death. Dr. Leudet sent for one of my father's friends, a shipowner named M. Maunoir. He came at once, bringing with him his young wife. She too was very ill, worse in reality than I was, in spite of her fresh look, for she died six months later. Thanks to their care and to the energetic treatment of Dr. Leudet, I came through alive from this attack.

I decided to return at once to Paris, as the siege was about to be proclaimed, and I did not want my mother and my sisters to remain in the capital. Independently of this, every one at Eaux-Bonnes was seized with a desire to get away, invalids and tourists alike. A post-chaise was found, the owner of which agreed, for an exorbitant price, to drive me to the nearest station without delay. When once in it, we were more or less comfortably seated as far as Bordeaux, but it was impossible to find five seats in the express from there. My man-servant was allowed to travel with the engine-driver. I do not know where Madame Guérard and my maid found room, but in the compartment I entered, with my little boy, there were already nine persons. An ugly old man tried to push my child out when I had put him in, but I pushed him back again energetically in my turn.

"No human force will make us get out of this carriage," I said. "Do you hear that, you ugly old man? We are here, and we shall stay."

A stout lady, who took up more room herself than three ordinary persons, exclaimed:

"Well! that is lively, for we are suffocated already. It's shameful to let eleven persons get into a compartment where there are only seats for eight!"

"Will you get out, then?" I retorted, turning to her quickly, "for without you there would only be seven of us."

The stifled laughter of the other travellers showed me that I had won over my audience. Three young men offered me their places, but I refused, declaring that I was going to stand. The three young men had risen, and they declared that they would also stand. The stout lady called a railway official. "Come here, please!" she began.

The official stopped an instant at the door.

"It is perfectly shameful," she went on. "There are eleven in this compartment, and it is impossible to move."

"Don't you believe it," exclaimed one of the young men. "Just look for yourself. We are standing up, and there are three seats empty. Send some more people in here."

The official went away laughing and muttering something about the woman who had complained. She turned to the young man and began to talk abusively to him. He bowed very respectfully in reply, and said:

"Madame, if you will calm down you shall be satisfied. We will seat seven on the other side, including the child, and then you will only be four on your side."

The ugly old man was short and slight. He looked sideways at the stout lady and murmured, "Four! Four!" His look and tone showed that he considered the stout lady took up more than one seat. This look and tone were not lost on the young man, and before the ugly old man had comprehended he said to him, "Will you come over here and have this corner? All the thin people will be together then," he added, inviting a placid, calm-looking young Englishman of eighteen to twenty years of age to take the old man's seat. The Englishman had the torso of a prize-fighter, with a face like that of a fair-haired baby. A very young woman, opposite the stout one, laughed till the tears came. All six of us then found room on the thin people's side of the carriage. We were a little crushed, but had been considerably enlivened by this little entertainment, and we certainly needed something to enliven us. The young man who had taken the matter in hand in such a witty way was tall and nice-looking. He had blue eyes, and his hair was almost white, and this gave to his face a most attractive freshness and youthfulness. My boy was on his knee during the night. With the exception of the child, the stout lady, and the young Englishman, no one went to sleep. The heat was overpowering, and the war was of course discussed. After some hesitation, one of the young men told me that I resembled Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt. I answered that there was every reason why I should resemble her. The young men then introduced themselves. The one who had recognised me was Albert Delpit, the second was a Dutchman, Baron van Zelern or von Zerlen, I do not remember exactly which, and the young man with white hair was Félix Faure. He told me that he was from Hâvre, and that he knew my grandmother very well. I kept up a certain friendship with these three men afterwards, but later on Albert Delpit became my enemy. All three are now dead--Albert Delpit died a disappointed man, for he had tried everything and succeeded in nothing, the Dutch baron was killed in a railway accident, and Félix Faure was President of the French Republic.

The young woman, on hearing my name, introduced herself in her turn.

"I think we are slightly related," she said. "I am Madame Laroque."

"Of Bordeaux?" I asked.

"Yes."

My mother's brother had married a Mlle. Laroque of Bordeaux, so that we were able to talk of our family. Altogether the journey did not seem very long, in spite of the heat, the over-crowding, and our thirst.

The arrival in Paris was more gloomy. We shook hands warmly with each other. The stout lady's husband was awaiting her; he handed her, in silence, a telegram. The unfortunate woman read it, and then, uttering a cry, burst into sobs and fell into his arms. I gazed at her, wondering what sorrow had come upon her. Poor woman, I could no longer see anything ridiculous about her! I felt a pang of remorse at the thought that we had been laughing at her so much, when misfortune had already singled her out.

On reaching home I sent word to my mother that I should be with her some time during the day. She came at once, as she wanted to know how my health was. We then arranged about the departure of the whole family, with the exception of myself, as I wanted to stay in Paris during the siege. My mother, my little boy and his nurse, my sisters, my Aunt Annette, who kept house for me, and my mother's maid were all ready to start two days later. I had taken rooms at Frascati's, at Hâvre, for the whole tribe. But the desire to leave Paris was one thing, and the possibility of doing so another. The stations were invaded by families like mine, who thought it more prudent to emigrate. I sent my man-servant to engage a compartment, and he came back three hours later with his clothes torn, after receiving no end of kicks and blows.

"Madame cannot go into that crowd," he assured me; "it is quite impossible. I should not be able to protect her. Besides, Madame will not be alone; there is Madame's mother, the other ladies, and the children. It is really quite impossible."

I sent at once for three of my friends, explained my difficulty, and asked them to accompany me. I told my steward to be ready, as well as my other man-servant and my mother's footman. He in his turn invited his younger brother, who was a priest, and who was very willing to go with us. We all set off in a railway omnibus. There were seventeen of us in all, but only nine who were really travelling. Our eight protectors were none too many, for those who were taking tickets were not human beings, but wild beasts haunted by fear and spurred on by a desire to escape. These brutes saw nothing but the little ticket office, the door leading to the train, and then the train which would ensure their escape. The presence of the young priest was a great help to us, for his religious character made people refrain sometimes from blows.

When once all my people were installed in the compartment which had been reserved for them, they waved their farewells, threw kisses, and the train started. A shudder of terror ran through me, for I suddenly felt so absolutely alone. It was the first time I had been separated from the little child who was dearer to me than the whole world.

Two arms were then thrown affectionately round me, and a voice murmured, "My dear Sarah, why did you not go, too? You are so delicate. Will you be able to bear the solitude without the dear child?"

It was Madame Guérard, who had arrived too late to kiss the boy, but was there now to comfort the mother. I gave way to my despair, regretting that I had let him go away. And yet, as I said to myself, there might be fighting in Paris! The idea never for an instant occurred to me that I might have gone away with him. I thought that I might be of some use in Paris. Of some use, but in what way? This I did not know. The idea seemed stupid, but nevertheless that was my idea. It seemed to me that every one who was fit ought to remain in Paris. In spite of my weakness, I felt that I was fit, and with reason, as I proved later on. I therefore remained, not knowing at all what I was going to do.

For some days I was perfectly dazed, missing the life around me, and missing the affection.