Part 5 out of 9
second paper, on which some verses to Sarah Bernhardt were scrawled. The
third paper was a sort of triumphant chant, celebrating all our
victories over the enemy.
"The poor fellow still hoped, until he was killed," said the father. "He
has only been dead five weeks. He had three shots in his head. The first
shattered his jaw, but he did not fall. He continued firing on the
scoundrels like a man possessed. The second took his ear off, and the
third struck him in his right eye. He fell then, never to rise again.
His comrade told us all this. He was twenty-two years old. And now--it's
The unhappy man's head fell back on the heap of pillows. His two inert
hands had let the papers fall, and great tears rolled down his pale
cheeks, in the furrows formed by grief. A stifled groan burst from his
lips. The girl had fallen on her knees, and buried her head in the
bed-clothes, to deaden the sound of her sobs. Soubise and I were
completely upset. Ah! those stifled sobs, those deadened groans seemed
to buzz in my ears, and I felt everything giving way under me. I
stretched my hands out into space and closed my eyes.
Soon there was a distant rumbling noise, which increased and came
nearer; then yells of pain, bones knocking against each other, the dull
sound of horses' feet dashing out human brains; armed men passed by like
a destructive whirlwind, shouting, "_Vive la guerre!_" And women on
their knees, with outstretched arms, crying out, "War is infamous! In
the name of our wombs which bore you, of our breasts which suckled you,
in the name of our pain in childbirth, in the name of our anguish over
your cradles, let this cease!"
But the savage whirlwind passed by, riding over the women. I stretched
my arms out in a supreme effort which woke me suddenly. I was lying in
the girl's bed. Mlle. Soubise, who was near me, was holding my hand. A
man whom I did not know, but whom some one called doctor, laid me gently
down again on the bed. I had some difficulty in collecting my thoughts.
"How long have I been here?" I asked.
"Since last night," replied the gentle voice of Soubise. "You fainted,
and the doctor told us that you had an attack of fever. Oh, I have been
I turned my face to the doctor.
"Yes, dear lady," he said. "You must be very prudent now for the next
forty-eight hours, and then you may set out again. But you have had a
great many shocks for one with such delicate health. You must take
I took the draught that he was holding out to me, apologised to the
owner of the house, who had just come in, and then turned round with my
face to the wall. I needed rest so very, very much.
Two days later I left our sad but kindly hosts. My travelling companions
had all disappeared. When I went downstairs I kept meeting Prussians,
for the unfortunate proprietor had been invaded compulsorily by the
German army. He looked at each soldier and at every officer, trying to
find out whether he were not in presence of the one who had killed his
poor boy. He did not tell me this, but it was my idea. It seemed to me
that such was his thought and such the meaning of his gaze.
In the vehicle in which I drove to the station the kind man had put a
basket of food. He also gave me a copy of the sonnet and a tracing of
his son's photograph.
I left the desolate couple with the deepest emotion, and I kissed the
girl on taking our departure. Soubise and I did not exchange a word on
our journey to the railway station, but we were both preoccupied with
the same distressing thoughts.
At the station we found that the Germans were masters there too. I asked
for a first-class compartment to ourselves, or for a _coupe_, whatever
they liked, provided we were alone.
I could not make myself understood.
I saw a man, oiling the wheels of the carriages, who looked to me like a
Frenchman. I was not mistaken. He was an old man who had been kept on,
partly out of charity and partly because he knew every nook and corner,
and, being Alsatian, spoke German. This good man took me to the booking
office, and explained my wish to have a first-class compartment to
myself. The man who had charge of the ticket office burst out laughing.
There was neither first nor second class, he said. It was a German
train, and I should have to travel like every one else. The wheel-oiler
turned purple with rage, which he quickly suppressed. (He had to keep
his place. His consumptive wife was nursing their son, who had just been
sent home from the hospital with his leg cut off and the wound not yet
healed up. There were so many in the hospital.) All this he told me as
he took me to the station-master. The latter spoke French very well, but
he was not at all like the other German officers I had met.
He scarcely saluted me, and when I expressed my desire he replied
"It is impossible. Two places shall be reserved for you in the officers'
"But that is what I want to avoid," I exclaimed. "I do not want to
travel with German officers."
"Well then, you shall be put with German soldiers," he growled angrily,
and, putting on his hat, he went out slamming the door. I remained
there, amazed and confused by the insolence of this ignoble brute. I
turned so pale, it appears, and the blue of my eyes became so clear,
that Soubise, who was acquainted with my fits of anger, was very much
"Do be calm, Madame, I implore!" she said. "We are two women alone in
the midst of hostile people. If they liked to harm us they could, and we
must accomplish the aim and object of our journey; we must see little
She was very clever, this charming Mlle. Soubise, and her little speech
had the desired effect. To see the child again was my aim and object. I
calmed down, and vowed that I would not allow myself to get angry during
this journey, which promised to be fertile in incidents, and I almost
kept my word. I left the station-master's office, and found the poor
Alsatian waiting at the door. I gave him a couple of louis, which he hid
away quickly, and then shook my hand as though he would shake it off.
"You ought not to have that so visible, Madame," he said, pointing to
the little bag I had hanging at my side, "it is very dangerous."
I thanked him, but did not pay any attention to his advice. As the train
was about to start we entered the only first-class compartment there
was; in it were two young German officers. They saluted, and I took this
as a good omen. The train whistled, and I thought what good luck we had,
as no one else would get in! Well, the wheels had not turned round ten
times when the door opened violently and five German officers leaped
into our carriage.
We were nine then, and what torture it was! The station-master waved a
farewell to one of the officers, and both of them burst out laughing as
they looked at us. I glanced at the station-master's friend. He was a
surgeon-major, and was wearing the ambulance badge on his sleeve. His
wide face was congested, and a ring of sandy bushy beard surrounded the
lower part of it. Two little bright, light-coloured eyes in perpetual
movement lit up this ruddy face and gave him a sly look. He was
broad-shouldered and thick-set, and gave one the idea of having strength
without nerves. The horrid man was still laughing when the station and
its master were far away from us, but what the other one had said was
evidently very droll.
I was in a corner seat, with Soubise opposite me. A young German officer
sat beside me, and the other young officer was next to my friend. They
were both very gentle and polite, and one of them was quite delightful
in his youthful charm.
The surgeon-major took off his helmet. He was very bald, and had a very
small, stubborn-looking forehead. He began to talk in a loud voice to
the other officers.
Our two young bodyguards took very little part in the conversation.
Among the others was a tall, affected young man, whom they addressed as
baron. He was slender, very elegant, and very strong. When he saw that
we did not understand German he spoke to us in English. But Soubise was
too timid to answer, and I speak English very badly. He therefore
resigned himself regretfully to talking French.
He was agreeable, too agreeable; he certainly had not bad manners, but
he was deficient in tact. I made him understand this by turning my face
towards the scenery we were passing.
We were very much absorbed in our thoughts, and had been travelling for
a long time, when I suddenly felt suffocated by smoke which was filling
the carriage. I looked round, and saw that the surgeon-major had lighted
his pipe, and, with his eyes half closed, was sending up puffs of smoke
to the ceiling.
My eyes were smarting, and I was choking with indignation, so much so
that I was seized with a fit of coughing, which I exaggerated in order
to attract the attention of the impolite man. The baron, however,
slapped him on the knee and endeavoured to make him comprehend that the
smoke inconvenienced me. He answered by an insult which I did not
understand, shrugged his shoulders, and continued to smoke. Exasperated
by this, I lowered the window on my side. The intense cold made itself
felt in the carriage, but I preferred that to the nauseous smoke of the
pipe. Suddenly the surgeon-major got up, putting his hand to his ear,
which I then saw was filled with cotton-wool. He swore like an
ox-driver, and, pushing past every one and stepping on my feet and on
Soubise's, he shut the window violently, cursing and swearing all the
time quite uselessly, for I did not understand him. He went back to his
seat, continued his pipe, and sent out enormous clouds of smoke in the
most insolent way. The baron and the two young Germans who had been the
first in the carriage appeared to ask him something and then to
remonstrate with him, but he evidently told them to mind their own
business and began to abuse them. Very much calmer myself on seeing the
increasing anger of the disagreeable man, and very much amused by his
earache, I again opened the window. He got up again, furious, showed me
his ear and his swollen cheek, and I caught the word "periostitis" in
the explanation he gave me on shutting the window again and threatening
me. I then made him understand that I had a weak chest, and that the
smoke made me cough.
The baron acted as my interpreter, and explained this to him; but it was
easy to see that he did not care a bit about that, and he once more took
up his favourite attitude and his pipe. I left him in peace for five
minutes, during which time he was able to imagine himself triumphant,
and then with a sudden jerk of my elbow I broke the pane of glass.
Stupefaction was depicted on the major's face, and he became livid. He
got straight up, but the two young men rose at the same time, whilst the
baron burst out laughing in the most brutal manner.
The surgeon moved a step in our direction, but he found a rampart before
him; another officer had joined the two young men, and he was a strong,
hardy-looking fellow, just cut out for an obstacle. I do not know what
he said to the surgeon-major, but it was something clear and decisive.
The latter, not knowing how to expend his anger, turned on the baron,
who was still laughing, and abused him so violently that the latter
calmed down suddenly and answered in such a way that I quite understood
the two men were calling each other out. That affected me but little,
anyhow. They might very well kill each other, these two men, for they
were equally ill-mannered.
The carriage was now quiet and icy-cold, for the wind blew in wildly
through the broken pane. The sun had set. The sky was getting cloudy. It
was about half-past five, and we were approaching Tergnier. The major
had changed seats with his friend, in order to shelter his ear as much
as possible. He kept moaning like a half-dead cow.
Suddenly the repeated whistling of a distant locomotive made us listen
attentively. We then heard two, three, and four crackers bursting under
our wheels. We could perfectly well feel the efforts the engine-driver
was making to slacken speed, but before he could succeed we were thrown
against each other by a frightful shock. There were cracks and creaks,
the hiccoughs of the locomotive spitting out its smoke in irregular
fits, desperate cries, shouts, oaths, sudden downfalls, a lull, then a
thick smoke, broken by the flames of a fire. Our carriage was standing
up, like a horse kicking up its hind legs. It was impossible to get our
Who was wounded and who was not wounded? We were nine in the
compartment. For my part, I fancied that all my bones were broken. I
moved one leg and then I tried the other. Then, delighted at finding
them unbroken, I tried my arms in the same way. I had nothing broken,
and neither had Soubise. She had bitten her tongue, and it was bleeding,
and this had frightened me. She did not seem to understand anything. The
tremendous shaking had made her dizzy, and she lost her memory for some
days. I had a rather deep scratch between my eyes. I had not had time to
stretch out my arms, and my forehead had knocked against the hilt of the
sword which the officer seated by Soubise had been holding upright.
Assistance arrived from all sides.
For some time the door of our compartment could not be opened.
Darkness had come on when it finally yielded, and a lantern shone feebly
on our poor broken-up carriage.
I looked round for our one bag, but on finding it I let it go
immediately, for my hand was red with blood. Whose blood was it?
Three men did not move, and one of them was the major. His face looked
to me livid. I closed my eyes, in order not to know, and I let the man
who had come to our aid pull me out of the compartment. One of the young
officers got out after me. He took Soubise, who was almost in a fainting
condition, from his friend. The imbecile baron then got out; his
shoulder was out of joint. A doctor came forward among the rescuers. The
baron held his arm out to him, telling him at the same time to pull it,
which he did at once. The French doctor took off the officer's cloak,
told two of the railway-men to hold him, and then, pushing against him
himself, pulled at the poor arm. The baron was very pale, and gave a low
whistle. When the arm was back in its place, the doctor shook the
baron's other hand. "Cristi!" he said, "I must have hurt you very much.
You are most courageous." The German saluted, and I helped him on again
with his cloak.
The doctor was then fetched away, and I saw that he was taken back to
our compartment. I shuddered in spite of myself. We were now able to
find out what had been the cause of our accident. A locomotive attached
to two vans of coal had been shunting on to a side line in order to let
us pass, when one of the vans got off the rails, and the locomotive
tired its lungs with whistling the alarm, whilst men ran to meet us,
scattering crackers. Everything had been in vain, and we had run against
the overturned van.
What were we to do? The roads, softened by the recent wet weather, were
all broken up by the cannons. We were about four miles from Tergnier,
and a thin penetrating rain was making our clothes stick to our bodies.
There were four carriages, but they were for the wounded. Other
carriages would come, but there were the dead to be carried away. An
improvised litter was just being borne along by two workmen. The major
was lying on it, so livid that I clenched my hands until my nails
entered the flesh. One of the officers wanted to question the doctor who
"Oh no!" I exclaimed. "Please, please do not. I do not want to know. The
I stopped my ears, as though some one was about to shout out something
horrible to me, and I never knew his fate.
We were obliged to resign ourselves to setting out on foot. We went
about two kilometres as bravely as possible, and then I stopped, quite
exhausted. The mud which clung to our shoes made these very heavy. The
effort we had to make at every step to get our feet out of the mire
tired us out. I sat down on a milestone, and declared that I would not
go any farther.
My sweet companion wept: the two young German officers who had acted as
bodyguards made a seat for me by crossing their hands, and so we went
nearly another mile. My companion could not walk any farther. I offered
her my place, but she refused it.
"Well then, let us wait here!" I said, and, quite at the end of our
strength, we rested against a little broken tree.
It was now night, and such a cold night!
Soubise and I huddled close together, trying to keep each other warm. I
began to fall asleep, seeing before my eyes the wounded men of
Chatillon, who had died seated against the little shrubs. I did not want
to move again, and the torpor seemed to me thoroughly delicious.
A cart passed by, however, on its way to Tergnier. One of the young men
hailed it, and when a price was agreed upon I felt myself picked up from
the ground, lifted into the vehicle, and carried along by the jerky,
rolling movement of two loose wheels, which climbed the hills, sank into
the mire, and jumped over the heaps of stones, whilst the driver whipped
up his beasts and urged them on with his voice. He had a "don't care,
let what will happen" way of driving, which was characteristic of those
I was aware of all this in my semi-sleep, for I was not really asleep,
but I did not want to answer any questions. I gave myself up to this
prostration of my whole being with a certain amount of enjoyment.
A rough jerk, however, indicated that we had arrived at Tergnier. The
cart had drawn up at the hotel, and we had to get out. I pretended to be
still sleeping heavily. But it was no use, for I had to wake up. The two
young men helped me up to my room.
I asked Soubise to arrange about the payment of the cart before the
departure of our excellent young companions, who were sorry to leave us.
I signed for each of them a voucher, on a sheet of the hotel paper, for
a photograph. Only one of them ever claimed it. This was six years
later, and I sent it to him.
The Tergnier hotel could only give us one room. I let Soubise go to bed,
and I slept in an arm-chair, dressed as I was.
The following morning I asked about a train for Cateau, but was told
that there was no train.
We had to work marvels to procure a vehicle, but finally Dr. Meunier, or
Mesnier, agreed to lend us a two-wheeled conveyance. That was something,
but there was no horse. The poor doctor's horse had been requisitioned
by the enemy. A wheelwright for an exorbitant price let me have a colt
that had never been in the shafts, and which went wild when the harness
was put on. The poor little beast calmed down after being well lashed,
but his wildness then changed into stubbornness. He stood still on his
four legs, which were trembling furiously, and refused to move. With his
neck stretched towards the ground, his eye fixed, and his nostrils
dilating, he would not budge any more than a stake in the earth. Two men
then held the light carriage back; the halter was taken off the colt's
neck; he shook his head for an instant, and, thinking himself free and
without any impediments, began to advance. The men were scarcely holding
the vehicle. He gave two little kicks, and then began to trot. Oh, it
was only a very short trot. A boy then stopped him, some carrots were
given to him, his mane was stroked, and the halter was put on again. He
stopped suddenly, but the boy, jumping into the gig and holding the
reins lightly, spoke to him and encouraged him to move on. The colt, not
feeling any resistance, began to trot along for about a quarter of an
hour, and then came back to us at the door of the hotel. I had to leave
a deposit of four hundred francs with the notary of the place, in case
the colt should die.
Ah, what a journey that was with the boy, Soubise, and me sitting close
together in that little gig, the wheels of which creaked at every jolt!
The unhappy colt was steaming like a _pot-au-feu_ when the lid is
raised. We started at eleven in the morning, and when we had to stop,
because the poor beast could not go any farther, it was five in the
afternoon, and we had not gone five miles. Oh, that poor colt, he was
certainly to be pitied! We were not very heavy, all three of us
together, but we were too much for him. We were just a few yards away
from a sordid-looking house. I knocked, and an old woman, enormous in
size, opened the door.
"What do you want?" She asked.
"Hospitality for an hour and shelter for our horse."
She looked out on to the road and saw our turn-out.
"Hey, father!" She called out in a husky voice, "come and look here!"
A stout man, quite as stout as she was, but older, came hobbling heavily
along. She pointed to the gig, so oddly equipped, and he burst out
laughing and said to me in an insolent way:
"Well, what do you want?"
I repeated my phrase: "Hospitality for an hour," &c. &c.
"Perhaps we can do it, but it'll want paying for."
I showed him twenty francs. The old woman gave him a nudge.
"Oh, but in these times, you know, it's well worth forty francs."
"Very good," I said, "agreed; forty francs."
He then let me go inside the house with Mlle. Soubise, and sent his son
towards the boy, who was coming along holding the colt by his mane. He
had taken off the halter very considerately and thrown my rug over its
steaming sides. On reaching the house the poor beast was quickly
unharnessed and taken into a little enclosure, at the far end of which a
few badly-joined planks served as a stable for an old mule, which was
aroused by the fat woman with kicks and turned out into the enclosure.
The colt took its place, and when I asked for some oats for it she
"Perhaps we could get it some, but that isn't included in the forty
"Very well," I said, and I gave our boy five francs to fetch the oats,
but the old shrew took the money from him and handed it to her lad,
"You go; you know where to find them, and come back quick."
Our boy remained with the colt, drying it and rubbing it down as well as
he could. I went back to the house, where I found my charming Soubise
with her sleeves turned up and her delicate hands washing two glasses
and two plates for us. I asked if it would be possible to have some
I interrupted our monstrous hostess.
"Don't tire yourself, Madame, I beg," I said. "It is understood that the
forty francs are your tip, and that I am to pay for everything else."
She was confused for a moment, shaking her head and trying to find
words, but I asked her to give me the eggs. She brought me five eggs,
and I began to make an omelette, as my culinary glory is an omelette.
The water was nauseous, so we drank cider. I sent for the boy and made
them serve him something to eat in our presence, for I was afraid that
the ogress would give him too economical a meal.
When I paid the fabulous bill of seventy-five francs, inclusive of
course of the forty francs, the matron put on her spectacles, and taking
one of the gold pieces, looked at it on one side, then on the other,
made it ring on a plate and then on the ground. She did this with each
of the three gold pieces. I could not help laughing.
"Oh, there's nothing to laugh at," she grunted. "For the last six months
we've had nothing but thieves here."
"And you know something about theft!" I said.
She looked at me, trying to make out what I meant, but the laughing
expression in my eyes took away her suspicions. This was very fortunate,
as they were people capable of doing us harm. I had taken the
precaution, when sitting down to table, of putting my revolver near me.
"You know how to fire that?" asked the lame man.
"Oh yes, I shoot very well," I answered, though it was not true.
Our steed was then put in again in a few seconds, and we proceeded on
our way. The colt appeared to be quite joyful. He stamped, kicked a
little, and began to go at a pretty steady pace.
Our disagreeable hosts had indicated the way to St. Quentin, and we set
off, after our poor colt had made various attempts at standing still. I
was dead tired and fell asleep, but after about an hour the vehicle
stopped abruptly and the wretched beast began to snort and put his back
up, supporting himself on his four stiff, trembling legs.
It had been a gloomy day, and a lowering sky full of tears seemed to be
falling slowly over the earth. We had stopped in the middle of a field
which had been ploughed up all over by the heavy wheels of cannons. The
rest of the ground had been trampled by horses' feet and the cold had
hardened the little ridges of earth, leaving icicles here and there,
which glittered dismally in the thick atmosphere.
We got down from the vehicle, to try to discover what was making our
little animal tremble in this way. I gave a cry of horror, for, only
about five yards away, some dogs were pulling wildly at a dead body,
half of which was still underground. It was a soldier, and fortunately
one of the enemy. I took the whip from our young driver and lashed the
horrid animals as hard as I could. They moved away for a second, showing
their teeth, and then returned to their voracious and abominable work,
growling sullenly at us.
Our boy got down and led the snorting pony by the bridle. We went on
with some difficulty, trying to find the road in these devastated
Darkness came over us, and it was icy cold.
The moon feebly pushed aside her veils and shone over the landscape with
a wan, sad light. I was half dead with fright. It seemed to me that the
silence was broken by cries from underground, and every little mound of
earth appeared to me to be a head.
Mlle. Soubise was crying, with her face hidden in her hands. After going
along for half an hour, we saw in the distance a little group of people
coming along carrying lanterns. I went towards them, as I wanted to find
out which way to go. I was embarrassed on getting nearer to them, for I
could hear sobs. I saw a poor woman, who was very corpulent, being
helped along by a young priest. The whole of her body was shaken by her
fits of grief. She was followed by two sub-officers and by three other
persons. I let her pass by, and then questioned those who were following
her. I was told that she was looking for the bodies of her husband and
son, who had both been killed a few days before on the St. Quentin
plains. She came each day at dusk, in order to avoid general curiosity,
but she had not yet met with any success. It was hoped that she would
find them this time, as one of these sub-officers, who had just left the
hospital, was taking her to the spot where he had seen the poor woman's
husband fall, mortally wounded. He had fallen there himself, and had
been picked up by the ambulance people.
I thanked these persons, who showed me the sad road we must take, the
best one there was, through the cemetery, which was still warm under the
We could now distinguish groups of people searching about, and it was
all so horrible that it made me want to scream out.
Suddenly the boy who was driving us pulled my coat-sleeve.
"Oh, Madame," he said, "look at that scoundrel stealing."
I looked, and saw a man lying down full length, with a large bag near
him. He had a dark lantern, which he held towards the ground. He then
got up, looked round him, for his outline could be seen distinctly on
the horizon, and began his work again.
When he caught sight of us he put out his lamp and crouched down on the
ground. We walked on in silence straight towards him. I took the colt by
the bridle, on the other side, and the boy no doubt understood what I
intended to do, for he let me lead the way. I walked straight towards
the man, pretending not to know he was there. The colt backed, but we
pulled hard and made it advance. We were so near to the man that I
shuddered at the thought that the wretch would perhaps allow himself to
be trampled over by the animal and the light vehicle rather than reveal
his presence. Fortunately, I was mistaken. A stifled voice murmured,
"Take care there! I am wounded. You will run over me." I took the gig
lantern down. We had covered it with a jacket, as the moon lighted us
better, and I now turned it on the face of this wretch. I was stupefied
to see a man of from sixty-five to seventy years of age, with a
hollow-looking face, framed with long, dirty white whiskers. He had a
muffler round his neck, and was wearing a peasant's cloak of a dark
colour. Around him, shown up by the moon, were sword belts, brass
buttons, sword hilts, and other objects that the infamous old fellow had
torn from the poor dead.
"You are not wounded. You are a thief and a violator of tombs! I shall
call out and you will be killed. Do you hear that, you miserable
wretch?" I exclaimed, and I went so near to him that I could feel his
breath sully mine. He crouched down on his knees and, clasping his
criminal hands, implored me in a trembling, tearful voice.
"Leave your bag there, then," I said, "and all those things. Empty your
pockets; leave everything and go. Run, for as soon as you are out of
sight I shall call one of those soldiers who are making searches, and
give them your plunder. I know I am doing wrong, though, in letting you
He emptied his pockets, groaning all the time, and was just going away
when the lad whispered, "He's hiding some boots under his cloak." I was
furious with rage with this vile thief, and I pulled his big cloak off.
"Leave everything, you wretched man," I exclaimed, "or I will call the
Six pairs of boots, taken from the corpses, fell noisily on to the hard
ground. The man stooped down for his revolver, which he had taken out of
his pocket at the same time as the stolen objects.
"Will you leave that, and get away quickly?" I said. "My patience is at
"But if I am caught I shan't be able to defend myself," he exclaimed, in
a fit of desperate rage.
"It will be because God willed it so," I answered. "Go at once, or I
will call." The man then made off, abusing me as he went.
Our little driver then fetched a soldier, to whom I related the
adventure, showing him the objects.
"Which way did the rascal go?" asked a sergeant who had come with the
"I can't say," I replied.
"Oh well, I don't care to run after him," he said; "there are enough
dead men here."
We continued our way until we came to a place where several roads met,
and it was then possible for us to take a route a little more suitable
After going through Busigny and a wood, where there were bogs in which
we only just escaped being swallowed up, our painful journey came to an
end, and we arrived at Cateau in the night, half dead with fatigue,
fright, and despair.
I was obliged to take a day's rest there, for I was prostrate with
feverishness. We had two little rooms, roughly white-washed but quite
clean. The floor was of red, shiny bricks, and there was a polished wood
bed and white curtains.
I sent for a doctor for my charming little Soubise, who, it seemed to
me, was worse than I was. He thought we were both in a very bad state,
though. A nervous feverishness had taken all the use out of my limbs and
made my head burn. She could not keep still, but kept seeing spectres
and fires, hearing shouts and turning round quickly, imagining that some
one had touched her on the shoulder. The good man gave us a soothing
draught to overcome our fatigue, and the next day a very hot bath
brought back the suppleness to our limbs. It was then six days since we
had left Paris, and it would take about twenty more hours to reach
Homburg, for in those days trains went much less quickly than at
present. I took a train for Brussels, where I was counting on buying a
trunk and a few necessary things.
From Cateau to Brussels there was no hindrance to our journey, and we
were able to take the train again the same evening.
I had replenished our wardrobe, which certainly needed it, and we
continued our journey without much difficulty as far as Cologne. But on
arriving in that city we had a cruel disappointment. The train had only
just entered the station, when a railway official, passing quickly in
front of the carriages, shouted something in German which I did not
catch. Every one seemed to be in a hurry, and men and women pushed each
other without any courtesy.
I addressed another official and showed him our tickets. He took up my
bag, very obligingly, and hurried after the crowd. We followed, but I
did not understand the excitement until the man flung my bag into a
compartment and signed to me to get in as quickly as possible.
Soubise was already on the step when she was pushed aside violently by a
railway porter, who slammed the door, and before I was fully aware of
what had happened the train had disappeared. My bag had gone, and our
trunk also. The trunk had been placed in a luggage van that had been
unhooked from the train which had just arrived, and immediately fastened
on to the express now departing. I began to cry with rage. An official
took pity on us and led us to the station-master. He was a very superior
sort of man, who spoke French fairly well. I sank down in his great
leather arm-chair and told him my misadventure, sobbing nervously. He
looked kind and sympathetic. He immediately telegraphed for my bag and
trunk to be given into the care of the station-master at the first
"You will have them again to-morrow, towards mid-day," he said.
"Then I cannot start this evening?" I asked.
"Oh no, that is impossible," he replied. "There is no train, for the
express that will take you to Homburg does not start before to-morrow
"Oh God, God!" I exclaimed, and I was seized with veritable despair,
which soon affected Mlle. Soubise too.
The poor station-master was rather embarrassed, and tried to soothe me.
"Do you know any one here?" he asked.
"No, no one. I do not know any one in Cologne."
"Well then, I will have you driven to the Hotel du Nord. My
sister-in-law has been there for two days, and she will look after you."
Half an hour later his carriage arrived, and he took us to the Hotel du
Nord, after driving a long way round to show us the city. But at that
epoch I did not admire anything belonging to the Germans.
On arriving at the Hotel du Nord, he introduced us to his sister-in-law,
a fair-haired young woman, pretty, but too tall and too big for my
taste. I must say, though, that she was very sweet and affable. She
engaged two bedrooms for us near her own rooms. She had a flat on the
ground floor, and she invited us to dinner, which was served in her
drawing-room. Her brother-in-law joined us in the evening. The charming
woman was very musical. She played to us from Berlioz, Gounod, and even
Auber. I thoroughly appreciated the delicacy of this woman in only
letting us hear French composers. I asked her to play us something from
Mozart and Wagner. At that name she turned to me and exclaimed, "Do you
"I like his music," I replied, "but I detest the man."
Mlle. Soubise whispered to me, "Ask her to play Liszt."
She overheard, and complied with infinite graciousness. I must admit
that I spent a delightful evening there.
At ten o'clock the station-master (whose name I have very stupidly
forgotten, and I cannot find it in any of my notes) told me that he
would call for us at eight the following morning, and he then took leave
of us. I fell asleep, lulled by Mozart, Gounod, &c.
At eight o'clock the next morning a servant came to tell me that the
carriage was waiting for us. There was a gentle knock at my door, and
our beautiful hostess of the previous evening said sweetly, "Come, you
must start!" I was really very much touched by the delicacy of the
pretty German woman.
It was such a fine day that I asked her if we should have time to walk
there, and on her reply in the affirmative we all three started for the
station, which is not far from the hotel. A special compartment had been
reserved for us, and we installed ourselves in it as comfortably as
possible. The brother and sister shook hands with us, and wished us a
When the train had started I discovered in one of the corners a bouquet
of forget-me-nots with the sister's card and a box of chocolates from
I was at last about to arrive at my goal, and was in a state of wild
excitement at the idea of seeing once more all my beloved ones. I should
have liked to have gone to sleep. My eyes, which had grown larger with
anxiety, travelled through space more rapidly than the train went. I
fumed each time it stopped, and envied the birds I saw flying along. I
laughed with delight as I thought of the surprised faces of those I was
going to see again, and then I began to tremble with anxiety. What had
happened to them, and should I find them all? I should if--ah, those
"ifs," those "becauses," and those "buts"! My mind became full of them,
they bristled with illnesses and accidents, and I began to weep. My poor
little travelling companion began to weep too.
Finally we came within sight of Homburg. Twenty more minutes of this
turning of wheels and we should enter the station. But just as though
all the sprites and devils from the infernal regions had concerted to
torture my patience, we stopped short. All heads were out of the
windows. "What is it?" "What's the matter?" "Why are we not going on?"
There was a train in front of us at a standstill, with a broken brake,
and the line had to be cleared. I fell back on my seat, clenching my
teeth and hands, and looking up in the air to distinguish the evil
spirits which were so bent on tormenting me, and then I resolutely
closed my eyes. I muttered some invectives against the invisible
sprites, and declared that, as I would not suffer any more, I was now
going to sleep. I then fell fast asleep, for the power of sleeping when
I wish is a precious gift which God has bestowed on me. In the most
frightful circumstances and the most cruel moments of life, when I have
felt that my reason was giving way under shocks that have been too great
or too painful, my will has laid hold of my reason, just as one holds a
bad-tempered little dog that wants to bite, and, subjugating it, my will
has said to my reason: "Enough. You can take up again to-morrow your
suffering and your plans, your anxiety, your sorrow and your anguish.
You have had enough for to-day. You would give way altogether under the
weight of so many troubles, and you would drag me along with you. I will
not have it! We will forget everything for so many hours and go to sleep
together!" And I have gone to sleep. This, I swear to.
Mlle. Soubise roused me as soon as the train entered the station. I was
refreshed and calmer. A minute later we were in a carriage and had given
the address, 7 Ober Strasse.
We were soon there, and I found all my adored ones, big and little, and
they were all very well. Oh, what happiness it was! The blood pulsed in
all my arteries. I had suffered so much that I burst out into delicious
laughter and sobs.
Who can ever describe the infinite pleasure of tears of joy! During the
next two days the maddest things occurred, which I will not relate, so
incredible would they sound. Among others, fire broke out in the house;
we had to escape in our night clothes and camp out for six hours in five
feet of snow, &c. &c.
MY RETURN TO PARIS--THE COMMUNE--AT ST. GERMAIN-EN-LAYE
Everybody being safe and sound, we set out for Paris, but on arriving at
St. Denis we found there were no more trains. It was four o'clock in the
morning. The Germans were masters of all the suburbs of Paris, and
trains only ran for their service. After an hour spent in running about,
in discussions and rebuffs, I met with an officer of higher rank, who
was better educated and more agreeable. He had a locomotive prepared to
take me to the Gare du Havre (Gare St. Lazare).
The journey was very amusing. My mother, my aunt, my sister Regina,
Mlle. Soubise, the two maids, the children, and I all squeezed into a
little square space, in which there was a very small, narrow bench,
which I think was the place for the signalman in those days. The engine
went very slowly, as the rails were frequently obstructed by carts or
We left at five in the morning and arrived at seven. At a place which I
cannot locate our German conductors were exchanged for French
conductors. I questioned them, and learnt that revolutionary troubles
were beginning in Paris.
The stoker with whom I was talking was a very intelligent and very
"You would do better to go somewhere else, and not to Paris," he said,
"for before long they will come to blows there."
We had arrived. But as no train was expected in at that hour, it was
impossible to find a carriage. I got down with my tribe from the
locomotive, to the great amazement of the station officials.
I was no longer very rich, but I offered twenty francs to one of the men
if he would see to our six bags. We were to send for my trunk and those
belonging to my family later on.
There was not a single carriage outside the station. The children were
very tired, but what was to be done? I was then living at No. 4 Rue de
Rome, and this was not far away, but my mother scarcely ever walked, for
she was delicate and had a weak heart. The children, too, were very,
very tired. Their eyes were puffed up and scarcely open, and their
little limbs were benumbed by the cold and immobility. I began to get
desperate, but a milk cart was just passing by, and I sent a porter to
hail it. I offered twenty francs if the man would drive my mother and
the two children to 4 Rue de Rome.
"And you too, if you like, young lady," said the milkman. "You are
thinner than a grasshopper, and you won't make it any heavier."
I did not want inviting twice, although rather annoyed by the man's
When once my mother was installed, in spite of her hesitation, by the
side of the milkman, and the children and I were in amongst the full and
empty milk-pails, I said to our driver, "Would you mind coming back to
fetch the others?" I pointed to the remaining group, and added, "You
shall have twenty francs more."
"Right you are!" said the worthy fellow. "A good day's work! Don't you
tire your legs, you others. I'll be back for you directly!"
He then whipped up his horse and we started at a wild rate. The children
rolled about and I held on. My mother set her teeth and did not utter a
word, but from under her long lashes she glanced at me with a displeased
On arriving at my door the milkman drew up his horse so sharply that I
thought my mother would have fallen out on to the animal's back. We had
arrived, though, and we got out. The cart started off again at full
speed. My mother would not speak to me for about an hour. Poor, pretty
mother, it was not my fault.
I had gone away from Paris eleven days before, and had then left a sad
city. The sadness had been painful, the result of a great and unexpected
misfortune. No one had dared to look up, fearing to be blown upon by the
same wind which was blowing the German flag floating yonder towards the
Arc de Triomphe.
I now found Paris effervescent and grumbling. The walls were placarded
with multi-coloured posters; and all these posters contained the wildest
harangues. Fine noble ideas were side by side with absurd threats.
Workmen on their way to their daily toil stopped in front of these
bills. One would read aloud, and the gathering crowd would begin to read
And all these human beings, who had just been suffering so much through
this abominable war, now echoed these appeals for vengeance. They were
very much to be excused.
This war, alas! had hollowed out under their very feet a gulf of ruin
and of mourning. Poverty had brought the women to rags, the privations
of the siege had lowered the vitality of the children, and the shame of
the defeat had discouraged the men.
Well, these appeals to rebellion, these anarchist shouts, these yells
from the crowd, shrieking: "Down with thrones! Down with the Republic!
Down with the rich! Down with the priests! Down with the Jews! Down with
the army! Down with the masters! Down with those who work! Down with
everything!"--all these cries roused the benumbed hearers. The Germans,
who fomented all these riots, rendered us a real service without
intending it. Those who had given themselves up to resignation were
stirred out of their torpor. Others, who demanded revenge, found an
aliment for their inactive forces. None of them agreed. There were ten
or twenty different parties, devouring each other and threatening each
other. It was terrible.
But it was the awakening. It was life after death. I had among my
friends about ten of the leaders of different opinions, and all of them
interested me, the maddest and the wisest of them.
I often saw Gambetta at Girardin's, and it was a joy to me to listen to
this admirable man. What he said was so wise, so well-balanced, and so
This man, with his heavy stomach, his short arms, and huge head, had a
halo of beauty round him when he spoke.
Gambetta was never common, never ordinary. He took snuff, and the
gesture of his hand when he brushed away the stray grains was full of
grace. He smoked huge cigars, but could smoke them without
inconveniencing any one. When he was tired of politics and talked
literature it was a real charm, for he knew everything and quoted poetry
admirably. One evening, after a dinner at Girardin's, we played together
the whole scene of the first act of _Hernani_ with Dona Sol. And if he
was not as handsome as Mounet-Sully, he was just as admirable in it.
On another occasion he recited the whole of "Ruth and Boaz," commencing
with the last verse.
But I preferred his political discussions, especially when he criticised
the speech of some one who was of the opposite opinion to himself. The
eminent qualities of this politician's talent were logic and weight, and
his seductive force was his chauvinism. The early death of so great a
thinker is a disconcerting challenge flung at human pride.
I sometimes saw Rochefort, whose wit delighted me. I was not at ease
with him, though, for he was the cause of the fall of the Empire, and,
although I am very republican, I liked the Emperor Napoleon III. He had
been too trustful, but very unfortunate, and it seemed to me that
Rochefort insulted him too much after his misfortune.
I also frequently saw Paul de Remusat, the favourite of Thiers. He had
great refinement of mind, broad ideas, and fascinating manners. Some
people accused him of Orleanism. He was a Republican, and a much more
advanced Republican than Thiers. One must have known him very little to
believe him to be anything else but what he said he was. Paul de Remusat
had a horror of untruth. He was sensitive, and had a very
straightforward, strong character. He took no active part in politics,
except in private circles, and his advice always prevailed, even in the
Chamber and in the Senate. He would never speak except when in
committee. The Ministry of Fine Arts was offered to him a hundred times,
but he refused it a hundred times. Finally, after my repeated
entreaties, he almost allowed himself to be appointed Minister of Fine
Arts, but at the last moment he declined, and wrote me a delightful
letter, from which I quote a few passages. As the letter was not written
for publication, I do not consider that I have a right to give the whole
of it, but there seems to be no harm in publishing these few lines:
"Allow me, my charming friend, to remain in the shade. I can see better
there than in the dazzling brilliancy of honours. You are grateful to me
sometimes for being attentive to the miseries you point out to me. Let
me keep my independence. It is more agreeable to me to have the right to
relieve every one than to be obliged to relieve no matter whom.... In
matters of art I have made for myself an ideal of beauty, which would
naturally seem too partial...."
It is a great pity that the scruples of this delicate-minded man did not
allow him to accept this office. The reforms that he pointed out to me
were, and still are, very necessary ones. However, that cannot be
I also knew and frequently saw a mad sort of fellow, full of dreams and
Utopian follies. His name was Flourens, and he was tall and
nice-looking. He wanted every one to be happy and every one to have
money, and he shot down the soldiers without reflecting that he was
commencing by making one or more of them unhappy. Reasoning with him was
impossible, but he was charming and brave. I saw him two days before his
death. He came to see me with a very young girl who wanted to devote
herself to dramatic art. I promised him to help her. Two days later the
poor child came to tell me of the heroic death of Flourens. He had
refused to surrender, and, stretching out his arms, had shouted to the
hesitating soldiers, "Shoot, shoot! I should not have spared you!" And
their bullets had killed him.
Another man, not so interesting, whom I looked upon as a dangerous
madman, was a certain Raoul Rigault. For a short time he was Prefect of
Police. He was very young and very daring, wildly ambitious, determined
to do anything to succeed, and it seemed to him more easy to do harm
than good. That man was a real danger. He belonged to a group of
students who used to send me verses every day. I came across them
everywhere, enthusiastic and mad. They had been nicknamed in Paris the
_Saradoteurs_ (Sara-dotards). One day he brought me a little one-act
play. The piece was so stupid and the verses were so insipid that I sent
it him back with a few words, which he no doubt considered unkind, for
he bore me malice for them, and attempted to avenge himself in the
following way. He called on me one day, and Madame Guerard was there
when he was shown in.
"Do you know that I am all-powerful at present?" he said.
"In these days there is nothing surprising in that," I replied.
"I have come to see you, either to make peace or declare war," he
This way of talking did not suit me, and I sprang up. "As I can foresee
that your conditions of peace would not suit me, _cher Monsieur_, I will
not give you time to declare war. You are one of the men one would
prefer, no matter how spiteful they might be, as enemies rather than
friends." With these words I rang for my footman to show the Prefect of
Police to the door. Madame Guerard was in despair. "That man will do us
some harm, my dear Sarah, I assure you," she said.
She was not mistaken in her presentiment, except that she was thinking
of me and not of herself, for his first vengeance was taken on her, by
sending away one of her relatives, who was a police commissioner, to an
inferior and dangerous post. He then began to invent a hundred miseries
for me. One day I received an order to go at once to the Prefecture of
Police on urgent business. I took no notice. The following day a mounted
courier brought me a note from Sire Raoul Rigault, threatening to send a
prison van for me. I took no notice whatever of the threats of this
wretch, who was shot shortly after and died without showing any courage.
Life, however, was no longer possible in Paris, and I decided to go to
St. Germain-en-Laye. I asked my mother to go with me, but she went to
Switzerland with my youngest sister.
The departure from Paris was not as easy as I had hoped. Communists with
gun on shoulder stopped the trains and searched in all our bags and
pockets, and even under the cushions of the railway carriages. They were
afraid that the passengers were taking newspapers to Versailles. This
was monstrously stupid.
The installation at St. Germain was not an easy thing either. Nearly all
Paris had taken refuge in this little place, which is as pretty as it is
dull. From the height of the terrace, where the crowd remained morning
and night, we could see the alarming progress of the Commune.
On all sides of Paris the flames rose, proud and destructive. The wind
often brought us burnt papers, which we took to the Council House. The
Seine brought quantities along with it, and the boatmen collected these
in sacks. Some days--and these were the most distressing of all--an
opaque veil of smoke enveloped Paris. There was no breeze to allow the
flames to pierce through.
The city then burnt stealthily, without our anxious eyes being able to
discover the fresh buildings that these furious madmen had set alight.
I went for a ride every day in the forest. Sometimes I would go as far
as Versailles, but this was not without danger. We often came across
poor starving wretches in the forest, whom we joyfully helped, but
often, too, there were prisoners who had escaped from Poissy, or
Communist sharpshooters trying to shoot a Versailles soldier.
One day, on the way back from Triel, where Captain O'Connor and I had
been for a gallop over the hills, we entered the forest rather late in
the evening, as it was a shorter way. A shot was fired from a
neighbouring thicket, which made my horse bound so suddenly towards the
left that I was thrown. Fortunately my horse was quiet. O'Connor hurried
to me, but I was already up and ready to mount again. "Just a second,"
he said; "I want to search that thicket." A short gallop soon brought
him to the spot, and I then heard a shot, some branches breaking under
flying feet, then another shot not at all like the two former ones, and
my friend appeared again with a pistol in his hand.
"You have not been hit?" I asked.
"Yes, the first shot just touched my leg, but the fellow aimed too low.
The second he fired haphazard. I fancy, though, that he has a bullet
from my revolver in his body."
"But I heard some one running away," I said.
"Oh," replied the elegant captain, chuckling, "he will not go far."
"Poor wretch!" I murmured.
"Oh no," exclaimed O'Connor, "do not pity them, I beg. They kill numbers
of our men every day; only yesterday five soldiers from my regiment were
found on the Versailles road, not only killed, but mutilated," and
gnashing his teeth, he finished his sentence with an oath.
I turned towards him rather surprised, but he took no notice. We
continued our way, riding as quickly as the obstacles in the forest
would allow us. Suddenly, our horses stopped short, snorting and
sniffing. O'Connor took his revolver in his hand, got off, and led his
horse. A few yards from us there was a man lying on the ground.
"That must be the wretch who shot at me," said my companion, and bending
down over the man he spoke to him. A moan was the only reply. O'Connor
had not seen his man, so that he could not have recognised him. He
lighted a match, and we saw that this one had no gun. I had dismounted,
and was trying to raise the unfortunate man's head, but I withdrew my
hand, covered with blood. He had opened his eyes, and fixed them on
"Ah, it's you, Versailles dog!" he said. "It was you who shot me! I
missed you, but--" He tried to pull out the revolver from his belt, but
the effort was too great, and his hand fell down inert. O'Connor on his
side had cocked his revolver, but I placed myself in front of the man,
and besought him to leave the poor fellow in peace. I could scarcely
recognise my friend, for this handsome, fair-haired man, so polite,
rather a snob, but very charming, seemed to have turned into a brute.
Leaning towards the unfortunate man, his under-jaw protruded, he was
muttering under his teeth some inarticulate words; his clenched hand
seemed to be grasping his anger, just as one does an anonymous letter
before flinging it away in disgust.
"O'Connor, let this man alone, please!" I said.
He was as gallant a man as he was a good soldier. He gave way and
seemed to become aware of the situation again. "Good!" he said, helping
me to mount once more. "When I have taken you back to your hotel, I will
come back with some men to pick up this wretch."
Half an hour later we were back home, without having exchanged another
word during our ride.
I kept up my friendship with O'Connor, but I could never see him again
without thinking of that scene. Suddenly, when he was talking to me, the
brute-like mask under which I had seen him for a second would fix itself
again over his laughing face. Quite recently, in March 1905, General
O'Connor, who was commanding in Algeria, came to see me one evening in
my dressing-room at the theatre. He told me about his difficulties with
some of the great Arab chiefs.
"I fancy," he said, laughing, "that we shall have a brush together."
Again I saw the captain's mask on the general's face.
I never saw him again, for he died six months afterwards.
We were at last able to go back to Paris. The abominable and shameful
peace had been signed, the wretched Commune crushed. Everything was
supposed to be in order again. But what blood and ashes! What women in
mourning! What ruins!
In Paris, we inhaled the bitter odour of smoke. All that I touched at
home left on my fingers a somewhat greasy and almost imperceptible
colour. A general uneasiness beset France, and more especially Paris.
The theatres, however, opened their doors once more, and that was a
One morning I received from the Odeon a notice of rehearsal. I shook out
my hair, stamped my feet, and sniffed the air like a young horse
The race-ground was to be opened for us again. We should be able to
gallop afresh through our dreams. The lists were ready. The contest was
beginning. Life was commencing again. It is truly strange that man's
mind should have made of life a perpetual strife. When there is no
longer war there is battle, for there are a hundred thousand of us
aiming for the same object. God has created the earth and man for each
other. The earth is vast. What ground there is uncultivated! Miles upon
miles, acres upon acres of new land waiting for arms that will take from
its bosom the treasures of inexhaustible Nature. And we remain grouped
round each other, crowds of famishing people watching other groups,
which are also lying in wait.
The Odeon opened its doors to the public with a repertory programme.
Some new pieces were given us to study. One of these met with tremendous
success. It was Andre Theuriet's _Jean-Marie_, and was produced in
October 1871. This one-act play is a veritable masterpiece, and it took
its author straight to the Academy. Porel, who played the part of
Jean-Marie, met with an enormous success. He was at that time slender,
nimble, and full of youthful ardour. He needed a little more poetry, but
the joyous laughter of his thirty-two teeth made up in ardour for what
was wanting in poetic desire. It was very good, anyhow.
My _role_ of the young Breton girl, submissive to the elderly husband
forced upon her, and living eternally with the memory of the _fiance_
who was absent, and perhaps dead, was pretty, poetical, and touching by
reason of the final sacrifice. There was even a certain grandeur in the
concluding part of the piece. It had, I must repeat, an immense success,
and increased my growing reputation.
I was, however, awaiting the event which was to consecrate me a star. I
did not quite know what I was expecting, but I knew that my Messiah had
to come. And it was the greatest poet of the last century who was to
place on my head the crown of the elect.
At the end of that year 1871, we were told, in rather a mysterious and
solemn way, that we were going to play a piece of Victor Hugo's. My mind
at that time of my life was still closed to great ideas. I was living in
rather a _bourgeois_ atmosphere, what with my somewhat cosmopolitan
family, their rather snobbish acquaintances and friends, and the
acquaintances and friends I had chosen in my independent life as an
I had heard Victor Hugo spoken of ever since my childhood as a rebel and
a renegade, and his works, which I had read with passion, did not
prevent my judging him with very great severity. And I blush to-day with
anger and shame when I think of all my absurd prejudices, fomented by
the imbecile or insincere little court which flattered me. I had a great
desire, nevertheless, to play in _Ruy Blas_. The _role_ of the Queen
seemed so charming to me.
I mentioned my wish to Duquesnel, who said he had already thought of it.
Jane Essler, an artiste then in vogue, but a trifle vulgar, had great
chances, though, against me. She was on very amicable terms with Paul
Meurice, Victor Hugo's intimate friend and adviser. One of my friends
brought Auguste Vacquerie to my house. He was another friend, and even a
relative, of the "illustrious master."
Auguste Vacquerie promised to speak to Victor Hugo, and two days later
he came again, assuring me that I had every chance in my favour. Paul
Meurice himself, a very straightforward man, a delightful soul, had
proposed me to the author. And Geffroy, the admirable artiste who had
retired from the Comedie Francaise, and was now asked to play _Don
Salluste_, had said, it appears, that he could only see one little Queen
of Spain worthy to wear the crown, and I was that one. I did not know
Geffroy; I did not know Paid Meurice; and was rather astonished that
they should know me.
The play was to be read to the artistes at Victor Hugo's, December
6,1871, at two o'clock. I was very much spoilt, and very much praised
and flattered, so that I felt hurt at the unceremoniousness of a man who
did not condescend to disturb himself, but asked women to go to his
house when there was neutral ground, the theatre, for the reading of
plays. I mentioned this unheard-of incident at five o'clock to my little
court, and men and women alike exclaimed: "What! That man who was only
the other day an outlaw! That man who has only just been pardoned! That
nobody!--dares to ask the little Idol, the Queen of _Hearts_, the Fairy
of Fairies, to put herself to inconvenience!"
All my little sanctuary was in a tumult; men and women alike could not
"She must not go," they said. "Write him this"--"Write him that." And
they were composing impertinent, disdainful letters when Marshal
Canrobert was announced. He belonged at that time to my little five
o'clock court, and he was soon posted on what had taken place by my
turbulent visitors. He was furiously angry at the imbecilities uttered
against the great poet.
"You must not go to Victor Hugo's," he said to me, "for it seems to me
that he has no reason to deviate from the regular custom. But say that
you are suddenly unwell; follow my advice and show the respect for him
that we owe to genius."
I followed my great friend's counsel, and sent the following letter to
"MONSIEUR,--The Queen has taken a chill, and her Camerara Mayor forbids
her to go out. You know better than any one else the etiquette of the
Spanish Court. Pity your Queen, Monsieur."
I sent the letter, and the following was the poet's reply:
"I am your valet, Madame.
The next day the play was read on the stage to the artistes. I believe
that the reading did not take place, or at least not entirely, at the
I then made the acquaintance of the monster. Ah, what a grudge I had for
a long time against all those silly people who had prejudiced me!
The monster was charming--so witty and refined, and so gallant, with a
gallantry that was a homage and not an insult. He was so good, too, to
the humble, and always so gay. He was not, certainly, the ideal of
elegance, but there was a moderation in his gestures, a gentleness in
his way of speaking, which savoured of the old French peer. He was quick
at repartee, and his observations were gentle but pertinent. He recited
poetry badly, but adored hearing it well recited. He often made sketches
during the rehearsals.
He frequently spoke in verse when he wished to reprimand an artiste. One
day during a rehearsal he was trying to convince poor Talien about his
bad elocution. I was bored by the length of the colloquy, and sat down
on the table swinging my legs. He understood my impatience, and getting
up from the middle of the orchestra stalls, he exclaimed,
"_Une Reine d'Espagne honnete et respectable
Ne devrait point ainsi s'asseoir sur une table?_"
I sprang up from the table slightly embarrassed, and wanted to answer
him in rather a piquant or witty way--but I could not find anything to
say, and remained there confused and in a bad temper.
One day, when the rehearsal was over an hour earlier than usual, I was
waiting, my forehead pressed against the window-pane, for the arrival of
Madame Guerard, who was coming to fetch me. I was gazing idly at the
footpath opposite, which is bounded by the Luxembourg railings. Victor
Hugo had just crossed the road, and was about to walk on. An old woman
attracted his attention. She had just put a heavy bundle of linen down
on the ground, and was wiping her forehead, on which were great beads of
perspiration. In spite of the cold, her toothless mouth was half open,
as she was panting, and her eyes had an expression of distressing
anxiety as she looked at the wide road she had to cross, with carriages
and omnibuses passing each other. Victor Hugo approached her, and after
a short conversation he drew a piece of money from his pocket, handed it
to the old woman; then, taking off his hat, he confided it to her, and
with a quick movement and a laughing face lifted the bundle onto his
shoulder and crossed the road, followed by the bewildered woman. I
rushed downstairs to embrace him for it, but by the time I had reached
the passage I jostled against de Chilly, who wanted to stop me, and when
I descended the staircase Victor Hugo had disappeared. I could only see
the old woman's back, but it seemed to me that she hobbled along now
The next day I told the poet that I had witnessed his delicate good
"Oh," said Paul Meurice, his eyes wet with emotion, "every day that
dawns is a day of kindness for him."
I embraced Victor Hugo, and we went to the rehearsal.
Oh, those rehearsals of _Ruy Bias!_ I shall never forget them, for there
was such good grace and charm about everything. When Victor Hugo
arrived, everything brightened up. His two satellites, Auguste Vacquerie
and Paul Meurice, scarcely ever left him, and when the Master was absent
they kept up the divine fire.
Geffroy, severe, sad, and distinguished, often gave me advice. During
the intervals for rest I posed for him in various attitudes, for he was
a painter. In the _foyer_ of the Comedie Francaise there are two
pictures by him, representing two generations of Societaires of both
sexes. The pictures are not of very original composition, neither are
they of beautiful colouring, but they are faithful likenesses, it
appears, and rather happily grouped.
Lafontaine, who was playing Ruy Bias, often had long discussions with
the Master, in which Victor Hugo never yielded. And I must confess that
he was always right.
Lafontaine had conviction and self-assurance, but his elocution was very
bad for poetry. He had lost his teeth, and they were replaced by a set
of false ones. This gave a certain slowness to his delivery, and there
was a little odd clacking sound between his real palate and his
artificial rubber palate, which often distracted the ear listening
attentively to catch the beauty of the poetry.
As for poor Talien, who was playing Don Guritan, he made a hash of it
every minute. His comprehension of the _role_ was quite erroneous.
Victor Hugo explained it to him clearly and intelligently. Talien was a
well-intentioned comedian, a hard worker, always conscientious, but as
stupid as a goose. What he did not understand at first he never
understood. As long as he lived he would never understand. But, as he
was straightforward and loyal, he put himself into the hands of the
author, and gave himself up then in complete abnegation. "That is not as
I understood it," he would say, "but I will do as you tell me."
He would then rehearse, word by word and gesture by gesture, with the
inflexions and movements required. This got on my nerves in the most
painful way, and was a cruel blow dealt at the solidarity of my artistic
pride. I often took this poor Talien aside and tried to urge him on to
rebellion, but it was all in vain.
He was tall, and his arms were too long, and his eyes tired; his nose
was weary with having grown too long, and it sank over his lips in
heartrending dejection. His forehead was covered with thick hair, and
his chin seemed to be running away in a hurry from his ill-built face. A
great kindliness was diffused all over his being, and this kindliness
was his very self. Every one was therefore infinitely fond of him.
A MEMORABLE SUPPER
January 26, 1872, was an artistic _fete_ for the Odeon. The _Tout-Paris_
of first nights and the vibrating younger elements were to meet in the
large, solemn, dusty theatre. Ah, what a splendid, stirring performance
it was! What a triumph for Geffroy, pale, sinister, and severe-looking
in his black costume as Don Salluste. Melingue rather disappointed the
public as Don Cesar de Bazan, and the public was in the wrong. The
_role_ of Don Cesar de Bazan is a treacherously good _role_, which
always tempts artists by the brilliancy of the first act; but the fourth
act, which belongs entirely to him, is distressingly heavy and useless.
It might be taken out of the piece just like a periwinkle out of its
shell, and the piece would be none the less clear and complete.
This 26th of January rent asunder, though, for me the thin veil which
still made my future hazy, and I felt that I was destined for celebrity.
Until that day I had remained the students' little fairy. I became then
the Elect of the public.
Breathless, dazed, and yet delighted by my success, I did not know to
whom to reply in the ever-changing stream of male and female admirers.
Then, suddenly, I saw the crowd separating and forming two lines, and I
caught a glimpse of Victor Hugo and Girardin coming towards me. In a
second all the stupid ideas I had had about this immense genius flashed
across me. I remembered my first interview, when I had been stiff and
barely polite to this kind, indulgent man. At that moment, when all my
life was opening its wings, I should have liked to cry out to him my
repentance and to tell him of my devout gratitude.
Before I could speak, though, he was down on his knee, and raising my
two hands to his lips, he murmured, "Thank you! Thank you!"
And so it was he who said "Thank you." He, the great Victor Hugo, whose
soul was so beautiful, whose universal genius filled the world! He,
whose generous hands flung pardons like gems to all his insulters. Ah,
how small I felt, how ashamed, and yet how happy! He then rose, shook
the hands that were held out to him, finding for every one the right
He was so handsome that night, with his broad forehead, which seemed to
retain the light, his thick, silvery fleece of hair, and his laughing
Not daring to fling myself in Victor Hugo's arms, I fell into
Girardin's, the sure friend of my first steps, and I burst into tears.
He took me aside in my dressing-room. "You must not let yourself be
intoxicated with this great success now," he said. "There must be no
more risky jumps, now that you are crowned with laurels. You will have
to be more yielding, more docile, more sociable."
"I feel that I shall never be yielding nor docile, my friend," I
answered looking at him, "I will try to be more sociable, but that is
all I can promise. As to my crown, I assure you that in spite of my
risky jumps, and I feel that I shall always be making some, the crown
will not shake off."
Paul Meurice, who had come up to us, overheard this conversation, and
reminded me of it on the evening of the first performance of _Angelo_ at
the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre, on February 7, 1905.
On returning home, I sat up a long time talking to Madame Guerard, and
when she wanted to go I begged her to stay longer. I had become so rich
in hopes for the future that I was afraid of thieves. _Mon petit Dame_
stayed on with me, and we talked till daybreak. At seven o'clock we took
a cab and I drove my dear friend home, and then continued driving for
another hour. I had already achieved a fair number of successes: _Le
Passant, Le Drame de la Rue de la Paix_, Anna Danby in _Kean_, and
_Jean-Marie_, but I felt that the _Ruy Blas_ success was greater than
any of the others, and that this time I had become some one to be
criticised, but not to be overlooked.
I often went in the morning to Victor Hugo's, and he was always very
charming and kind.
When I was quite at my ease with him, I spoke to him about my first
impressions, about all my stupid, nervous rebellion with regard to him,
about all that I had been told and all that I had believed in my naive
ignorance about political matters.
One morning the Master took great delight in my conversation. He sent
for Madame Drouet, the sweet soul, the companion of his glorious and
rebellious mind. He told her, in a laughing but melancholy way, that the
evil work of bad people is to sow error in every soil, whether
favourable or not. That morning is engraved for ever in my mind, for the
great man talked a long time. Oh, it was not for me, but for what I
represented in his eyes. Was I not, as a matter of fact, the young
generation, in which a _bourgeois_ and clerical education had warped the
intelligence by closing the mind to every generous idea, to every flight
towards the new?
When I left Victor Hugo that morning I felt myself more worthy of his
I then went to Girardin's, as I wanted to talk to some one who loved the
poet, but he was out.
I went next to Marshal Canrobert's, and there I had a great surprise.
Just as I was getting out of the carriage, I nearly fell into the arms
of the Marshal, who was coming out of his house.
"What is it? What's the matter? Is it postponed?" he asked, laughing.
I did not understand, and gazed at him rather bewildered.
"Well, have you forgotten that you invited me to luncheon?" he asked.
I was quite confused, for I had entirely forgotten it.
"Well, all the better!" I said; "I very much wanted to talk to you.
Come; I am going to take you with me now."
I then related my visit to Victor Hugo, and repeated all the fine
thoughts he had uttered, forgetting that I was constantly saying things
that were contrary to the Marshal's ideas. This admirable man could
admire, though, and if he could not change his opinions, he approved the
great ideas which were to bring about great changes.
One day, when he and Busnach were both at my house, there was a
political discussion which became rather violent. I was afraid for a
moment that things might take a bad turn, as Busnach was the most witty
and at the same time the rudest man in France. It is only fair to say,
though, that if Marshal Canrobert was a polite man and very well bred,
he was not at all behind William Busnach in wit. The latter was worked
up by the chafing speeches of the Marshal.
"I challenge you, Monsieur," he exclaimed, "to write about the odious
Utopias that you have just been supporting!"
"Oh, Monsieur Busnach," replied Canrobert coldly, "we do not use the
same steel for writing history! You use a pen, and I a sword."
The luncheon that I had so completely forgotten was nevertheless a
luncheon arranged several days previously. On reaching home we found
there Paul de Remusat, charming Mlle. Hocquigny, and M. de Monbel, a
young _attache d'ambassade_. I explained my lateness as well as I could,
and that morning finished in the most delicious harmony of ideas.
I have never felt more than I did that day the infinite joy of
During a silence Mlle. Hocquigny turned to the Marshal and said:
"Are you not of the opinion that our young friend should enter the
"Ah, no, no!" I exclaimed; "I am so happy at the Odeon. I began at the
Comedie, and the short time I remained there I was very unhappy."
"You will be obliged to go back there, my dear friend--obliged. Believe
me, it will be better early than late."
"Well, do not spoil today's pleasure for me, for I have never been
One morning shortly after this my maid brought me a letter. The large
round stamp, on which are the words "Comedie Francaise" was on the
corner of the envelope.
I remembered that ten years previously, almost day for day, our old
servant Marguerite had, with my mother's permission, handed me a letter
in the same kind of envelope.
My face then had flushed with joy, but this time I felt a faint tinge of
pallor touch my cheeks.
When events occur which disturb my life, I always have a movement of
recoil. I cling for a second to what is, and then I fling myself
headlong into what is to be. It is like a gymnast who clings first to
his trapeze bar in order to fling himself afterwards with full force
into space. In one second what now is becomes for me what was, and I
love it with tender emotion as something dead. But I adore what is to be
without seeking even to know about it, for what is to be is the unknown,
the mysterious attraction. I always fancy that it will be something
unheard of, and I shudder from head to foot in delicious uneasiness. I
receive quantities of letters, and it seems to me that I never receive
enough. I watch them accumulating just as I watch the waves of the sea.
What are they going to bring me, these mysterious envelopes, large,
small, pink, blue, yellow, white? What are they going to fling upon the
rock, these great wild waves, dark with seaweed? What sailor-boy's
corpse? What remains of a wreck? What are these little brisk waves going
to leave on the beach, these reflections of a blue sky, little laughing
waves? What pink "sea-star"? What mauve anemone? What pearly shell?
So I never open my letters immediately. I look at the envelopes, try to
recognise the handwriting and the seal; and it is only when I am quite
certain from whom the letter comes that I open it. The others I leave my
secretary to open or a kind friend, Suzanne Seylor. My friends know this
so well that they always put their initials in the corner of their
At that time I had no secretary, but _mon petit Dame_ served me as such.
I looked at the envelope a long time, and gave it at last to Madame
"It is a letter from M. Perrin, director of the Comedie Francaise," she
said. "He asks if you can fix a time to see him on Tuesday or Wednesday
afternoon at the Comedie Francaise or at your own house."
"Thanks. What day is it to-day?" I asked.
"Monday," she replied.
I then installed Madame Guerard at my desk, and asked her to reply that
I would go there the following day at three o'clock.
I was earning very little at that time at the Odeon. I was living on
what my father had left me--that is, on the transaction made by the
Havre notary--and not much remained. I therefore went to see Duquesnel
and showed him the letter.
"Well, what are you going to do?" he asked.
"Nothing. I have come to ask your advice."
"Oh well, I advise you to remain at the Odeon. Besides, your engagement
does not terminate for another year, and I shall not allow you leave!"
"Well, raise my salary, then," I said. "I am offered twelve thousand
francs a year at the Comedie. Give me fifteen thousand here and I will
stay, for I do not want to leave."
"Listen to me," said the charming manager in a friendly way. "You know
that I am not free to act alone. I will do my best, I promise you." And
Duquesnel certainly kept his word. "Come here to-morrow before going to
the Comedie, and I will give you Chilly's reply. But take my advice, and
if he obstinately refuses to increase your salary, do not leave; we
shall find some way.... And besides--Anyhow, I cannot say any more."
I returned the following day according to arrangement.
I found Duquesnel and Chilly in the managerial office. Chilly began at
once somewhat roughly:
"And so you want to leave, Duquesnel tells me. Where are you going? It
is most stupid, for your place is here. Just consider, and think it over
for yourself. At the Gymnase they only give modern pieces, dressy plays.
That is not your style. At the Vaudeville it is the same. At the Gaite
you would spoil your voice. You are too distinguished for the Ambigu."
I looked at him without replying. I saw that his partner had not spoken
to him about the Comedie Francaise. He felt awkward, and mumbled:
"Well then, you are of my opinion?"
"No," I answered; "you have forgotten the Comedie."
He was sitting in his big arm-chair, and he burst out laughing.
"Ah no, my dear girl," he said, "you must not tell me that. They've had
enough of your queer character at the Comedie. I dined the other night
with Maubant, and when some one said that you ought to be engaged at the
Comedie Francaise he nearly choked with rage. I can assure you the great
tragedian did not show much affection for you."
"Oh well, you ought to have taken my part," I exclaimed, irritated. "You
know very well that I am a most serious member of your company."
"But I did take your part," he said, "and I added even that it would be
a very fortunate thing for the Comedie if it could have an artiste with
your will power, which perhaps might relieve the monotonous tone of the
house; and I only spoke as I thought, but the poor tragedian was beside
himself. He does not consider that you have any talent. In the first
place, he maintains that you do not know how to recite verse. He
declares that you make all your _a_'s too broad. Finally, when he had no
arguments left he declared that as long as he lives you will never enter
the Comedie Francaise."
I was silent for a moment, weighing the pros and cons of the probable
result of my experiment. Finally coming to a decision, I murmured
"Well then, you will not give me a higher salary?"
"No, a thousand times no!" yelled Chilly. "You will try to make me pay
up when your engagement comes to an end, and then we shall see. But I
have your signature until then. You have mine, too, and I hold to our
engagement. The Theatre Francais is the only one that would suit you
beside ours, and I am quite easy in my mind with regard to that
"You make a mistake perhaps," I answered. He got up brusquely and came
and stood opposite me, his two hands in his pockets. He then said in an
odious and familiar tone:
"Ah, that's it, is it? You think I am an idiot, then?"
I got up too, and said coldly, pushing him gently back, "I think you are
a triple idiot." I then hurried away towards the staircase, and all
Duquesnel's shouting was in vain. I ran down the stairs two at a time.
On arriving under the Odeon arcade I was stopped by Paul Meurice, who
was just going to invite Duquesnel and Chilly, on behalf of Victor Hugo,
to a supper to celebrate the one hundredth performance of _Ruy Blas_.
"I have just come from your house," he said. "I have left you a few
lines from Victor Hugo."
"Good, good; that's all right," I replied, getting into my carriage. "I
shall see you to-morrow then, my friend."
"Good Heavens, what a hurry you are in!" he said.
"Yes!" I replied, and then, leaning out of the window, I said to my
coachman, "Drive to the Comedie Francaise."
I looked at Paul Meurice to wish him farewell. He was standing stupefied
on the arcade steps.
On arriving at the Comedie I sent my card to Perrin, and five minutes
later was ushered in to that icy mannikin. There were two very distinct
personages in this man. The one was the man he was himself, and the
other the one he had created for the requirements of his profession.
Perrin himself was gallant, pleasant, witty, and slightly timid; the
mannikin was cold, and somewhat given to posing.
I was first received by Perrin the mannikin. He was standing up, his
head bent, bowing to a woman, his arm outstretched to indicate the
hospitable armchair. He waited with a certain affectation until I was
seated before sitting down himself. He then picked up a paper-knife, in
order to have something to do with his hands, and in a rather weak
voice, the voice of the mannikin, he remarked:
"Have you thought it over, Mademoiselle?"
"Yes, Monsieur, and here I am to give my signature."
Before he had time to give me any encouragement to dabble with the
things on his desk, I drew up my chair, picked up a pen, and prepared to
sign the paper. I did not take enough ink at first, and I stretched my
arm out across the whole width of the writing table, and dipped my pen
this time resolutely to the bottom of the ink-pot. I took too much ink,
however, this time, and on the return journey a huge spot of it fell on
the large sheet of white paper in front of the mannikin.
He bent his head, for he was slightly short-sighted, and looked for a
moment like a bird when it discovers a hemp-seed in its grain. He then
proceeded to put aside the blotted sheet.
"Wait a minute, oh, wait a minute!" I exclaimed, seizing the inky paper.
"I want to see whether I am doing right or not to sign. If that is a
butterfly I am right, and if anything else, no matter what, I am wrong."
I took the sheet, doubled it in the middle of the enormous blot, and
pressed it firmly together. Emile Perrin thereupon began to laugh,
giving up his mannikin attitude entirely. He leaned over to examine the
paper with me, and we opened it very gently just as one opens one's hand
after imprisoning a fly. When the paper was spread open, in the midst of
its whiteness a magnificent black butterfly with outspread wings was to
"Well then," said Perrin, with nothing of the mannikin left, "we were
quite right in signing."
After this we talked for some time, like two friends who meet again, for
this man was charming and very fascinating, in spite of his ugliness.
When I left him we were friends and delighted with each other.
I was playing in _Ruy Blas_ that night at the Odeon. Towards ten o'clock
Duquesnel came to my dressing-room.
"You were rather rough on that poor Chilly," he said. "And you really
were not nice. You ought to have come back when I called you. Is it
true, as Paul Meurice tells us, that you went straight to the Theatre
"Here, read for yourself," I said, handing him my engagement with the
Duquesnel took the paper and read it.
"Will you let me show it to Chilly?" he asked.
"Show it him, certainly," I replied.
He came nearer, and said in a grave, hurt tone:
"You ought never to have done that without telling me first. It shows a
lack of confidence I do not deserve."
He was right, but the thing was done. A moment later Chilly arrived,
furious, gesticulating, shouting, stammering in his anger.
"It is abominable!" he said. "It is treason, and you had not even the
right to do it. I shall make you pay damages."
As I felt in a bad humour, I turned my back on him, and apologised as
feebly as possible to Duquesnel. He was hurt, and I was a little
ashamed, for this man had given me nothing but proofs of kindliness, and
it was he who, in spite of Chilly and many other unwilling people, had
held the door open for my future.
Chilly kept his word, and brought an action against me and the Comedie.
I lost, and had to pay six thousand francs damages to the managers of
A few weeks later Victor Hugo invited the artistes who performed in _Ruy
Bias_ to a big supper in honour of the one hundredth performance. This
was a great delight to me, as I had never been present at a supper of
I had scarcely spoken to Chilly since our last scene. On the night in
question he was placed at my right, and we had to get reconciled. I was
seated to the right of Victor Hugo, and to his left was Madame Lambquin,
who was playing the Camerara Mayor, and Duquesnel was next to Madame
Lambquin. Opposite the illustrious poet was another poet, Theophile
Gautier, with his lion's head on an elephant's body. He had a brilliant
mind, and said the choicest things with a horse laugh. The flesh of his
fat, flabby, wan face was pierced by two eyes veiled by heavy lids. The
expression of them was charming, but far away. There was in this man an
Oriental nobility choked by Western fashion and customs. I knew nearly
all his poetry, and I gazed at him with affection--the fond lover of the
It amused me to imagine him dressed in superb Oriental costumes. I could
see him lying down on huge cushions, his beautiful hands playing with
gems of all colours; and some of his verses came in murmurs to my lips.
I was just setting off with him in a dream that was infinite, when a
word from my neighbour, Victor Hugo, made me turn towards him.
What a difference! He was just himself, the great poet--the most
ordinary of beings except for his luminous forehead. He was
heavy-looking, although very active. His nose was common, his eyes lewd,
and his mouth without any beauty; his voice alone had nobility and
charm. I liked to listen to him whilst looking at Theophile Gautier.
I was a little embarrassed, though, when I looked across the table, for
at the side of the poet was an odious individual, Paul de St. Victor.
His cheeks looked like two bladders from which the oil they contained
was oozing out. His nose was sharp and like a crow's beak, his eyes
evil-looking and hard; his arms were too short, and he was too stout. He
looked like a jaundice.
He had plenty of wit and talent, but he employed both in saying and
writing more harm than good. I knew that this man hated me, and I
promptly returned him hatred for hatred.
In answer to the toast proposed by Victor Hugo thanking every one for
such zealous help on the revival of his work, each person raised his
glass and looked towards the poet, but the illustrious master turned
towards me and continued, "As to you, Madame----"
Just at this moment Paul de St. Victor put his glass down so violently
on the table that it broke. There was an instant of stupor, and then I
leaned across the table and held my glass out towards Paul de St.
"Take mine, Monsieur," I said, "and then when you drink you will know
what my thoughts are in reply to yours, which you have just expressed so
The horrid man took my glass, but with what a look!
Victor Hugo finished his speech in the midst of applause and cheers.
Duquesnel then leaned back and spoke to me quietly. He asked me to tell
Chilly to reply to Victor Hugo. I did as requested. But he gazed at me
with a glassy look, and in a faraway voice replied:
"Some one is holding my legs." I looked at him more attentively, whilst
Duquesnel asked for silence for M. de Chilly's speech. I saw that his
fingers were grasping a fork desperately; the tips of his fingers were
white, the rest of the hand was violet. I took his hand, and it was icy
cold; the other was hanging down inert under the table. There was
silence, and all eyes turned towards Chilly.
"Get up," I said, seized with terror. He made a movement, and his head
suddenly fell forward with his face on his plate. There was a muffled
uproar, and the few women present surrounded the poor man. Stupid,
commonplace, indifferent things were uttered in the same way that one
mutters familiar prayers. His son was sent for, and then two of the
waiters came and carried the body away, living but inert, and placed it
in a small drawing-room.
Duquesnel stayed with him, begging me, however, to go back to the poet's
guests. I returned to the room where the supper had taken place. Groups
had been formed, and when I was seen entering I was asked if he was
still as ill.
"The doctor has just arrived, and he cannot yet say," I replied.
"It is indigestion," said Lafontaine (Ruy Blas), tossing off a glass of
"It is cerebral anaemia," pronounced Talien (Don Guritan), clumsily, for
he was always losing his memory.
Victor Hugo approached and said very simply:
"It is a beautiful kind of death."
He then took my arm and led me away to the other end of the room, trying
to chase my thoughts away by gallant and poetical whispers. Some little
time passed with this gloom weighing on us, and then Duquesnel appeared.
He was pale, but appeared as if nothing serious was the matter. He was
ready to answer all questions.
Oh yes; he had just been taken home. It would be nothing, it appeared.
He only needed rest for a couple of days. Probably his feet had been
cold during the meal.
"Yes," put in one of the _Ruy Blas_ guests, "there certainly was a fine
draught under the table."
"Yes," Duquesnel was just replying to some one who was worrying him,
"yes; no doubt there was too much heat for his head."
"Yes," added another of the guests, "our heads were nearly on fire with
that wretched gas."
I could see the moment arriving when Victor Hugo would be reproached by
all of his guests for the cold, the heat, the food, and the wine of his
banquet. All these imbecile remarks got on Duquesnel's nerves. He
shrugged his shoulders, and drawing me away from the crowd, said:
"It's all over with him."
I had had the presentiment of this, but the certitude of it now caused
me intense grief.
"I want to go," I said to Duquesnel. "Kindly tell some one to ask for my
I moved towards the small drawing-room which served as a cloak-room for
our wraps, and there old Madame Lambquin knocked up against me. Slightly
intoxicated by the heat and the wine, she was waltzing with Talien.
"Ah, I beg your pardon, little Madonna," she said; "I nearly knocked you
I pulled her towards me, and without reflecting whispered to her, "Don't
dance any more, Mamma Lambquin; Chilly is dying." She was purple, but
her face turned as white as chalk. Her teeth began to chatter, but she
did not utter a word.
"Oh, my dear Lambquin," I murmured; "I did not know I should make you so
She was not listening to me, though, any longer; she was putting on her
"Are you leaving?" she asked me.
"Yes," I replied.
"Will you drive me home? I will then tell you----"
She wrapped a black fichu round her head, and we both went downstairs,
accompanied by Duquesnel and Paul Meurice, who saw us into the carriage.
She lived in the St. Germain quarter and I in the Rue de Rome. On the
way the poor woman told me the following story.
"You know, my dear," she began, "I have a mania for somnambulists and
fortune-tellers of all kinds. Well, last Friday (you see, I only consult
them on a Friday) a woman who tells fortunes by cards said to me, 'You
will die a week after a man who is dark and not young, and whose life is
connected with yours.' Well, my dear, I thought she was just making game
of me, for there is no man whose life is connected with mine, as I am a
widow and have never had any _liaison_. I therefore abused her for this,
as I pay her seven francs. She charges ten francs to other people, but
seven francs to artistes. She was furious at my not believing her, and
she seized my hands and said, 'It's no good yelling at me, for it is as
I say. And if you want me to tell you the exact truth, it is a man who
supports you; and, even to be more exact still, there are two men who
support you, the one dark and the other fair; it's a nice thing that!'
She had not finished her speech before I had given her such a slap as
she had never had in her life, I can assure you. Afterwards, though, I
puzzled my head to find out what the wretched woman could have meant.
And all I could find was that the two men who support me, the one dark
and the other fair, are our two managers, Chilly and Duquesnel. And now
you tell me that Chilly----"
She stopped short, breathless with her story, and again seized with
terror. "I feel stifled," she murmured, and in spite of the freezing
cold we lowered both the windows. On arriving I helped her up her four
flights of stairs, and after telling the _concierge_ to look after her,
and giving the woman a twenty-franc piece to make sure that she would do
so, I went home myself, very much upset by all these incidents, as
dramatic as they were unexpected, in the middle of a _fete_.
Three days later Chilly died, without ever recovering consciousness.
Twelve days later poor Lambquin died. To the priest who gave her
absolution she said, "I am dying because I listened to and believed the
AT THE COMEDIE FRANCAISE AGAIN--SCULPTURE
I left the Odeon with very great regret, for I adored and still adore
that theatre. It always seems as though in itself it were a little
provincial town. Its hospitable arcades, under which so many poor old
_savants_ take fresh air and shelter themselves from the sun; the large
flagstones all round, between the crevices of which microscopic yellow
grass grows; its tall pillars, blackened by time, by hands, and by the
dirt from the road; the uninterrupted noise going on all around, the
departure of the omnibuses, like the departure of the old coaches, the
fraternity of the people who meet there; everything, even to the very
railings of the Luxembourg, gives it a quite special aspect in the midst
of Paris. Then too there is a kind of odour of the colleges there--the
very walls are impregnated with youthful hopes. People are not always
talking there of yesterday, as they do in the other theatres. The young
artistes who come there talk of to-morrow.
In short, my mind never goes back to those few years of my life without
a childish emotion, without thinking of laughter and without a dilation
of the nostrils, inhaling again the odour of little ordinary bouquets,
clumsily tied up, bouquets which had all the freshness of flowers that
grow in the open air, flowers that were the offerings of the hearts of
twenty summers, little bouquets paid for out of the purses of students.
I would not take anything away with me from the Odeon. I left the
furniture of my dressing-room to a young artiste. I left my costumes,
all the little toilette knickknacks--I divided them and gave them away.
I felt that my life of hopes and dreams was to cease there. I felt that
the ground was now ready for the fruition of all the dreams, but that
the struggle with life was about to commence, and I divined rightly.
My first experience at the Comedie Francaise had not been a success. I
knew that I was going into the lions' den. I counted few friends in this
house, except Laroche, Coquelin, and Mounet-Sully--the first two my
friends of the Conservatoire and the latter of the Odeon. Among the
women, Marie Lloyd and Sophie Croizette, both friends of my childhood;
the disagreeable Jouassain, who was nice only to me; and the adorable
Marie Brohan, whose kindness delighted the soul, whose wit charmed the
mind, and whose indifference rebuffed devotion.
M. Perrin decided that I should make my _debut_ in _Mademoiselle de
Belle-Isle_, according to Sarcey's wish.
The rehearsals began in the _foyer_, which troubled me very much. Mlle.
Brohan was to play the part of the Marquise de Prie. At this time she
was so fat as to be almost unsightly, while I was so thin that the
composers of popular and comic verses took my meagre proportions as
their theme and the cartoonists as a subject for their albums.
It was therefore impossible for the Duc de Richelieu to mistake the
Marquise de Prie (Madeleine Brohan) for Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle
(Sarah Bernhardt) in the irreverent nocturnal rendezvous given by the
Marquise to the Duc, who thinks he embraces the chaste Mademoiselle de
At each rehearsal Bressant, who took the part of the Duc de Richelieu,
would stop, saying, "No, it is too ridiculous. I must play the Duc de
Richelieu with both my arms cut off!" And Madeleine left the rehearsal
to go to the director's room in order to try and get rid of the _role_.