THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE IN AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION EDITED BY J. LEWIS MAY AND BERNARD MIALL
A MUMMER'S TALE
A MUMMER'S TALE
BY ANATOLE FRANCE
A TRANSLATION BY CHARLES E. ROCHE
LONDON, JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY: MCMXXI
WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES, ENGLAND
A MUMMER'S TALE
A MUMMER'S TALE
The scene was an actress's dressing-room at the Odeon.
Felicie Nanteuil, her hair powdered, with blue on her eyelids, rouge on her cheeks and ears, and white on her neck and shoulders, was holding out her foot to Madame Michon, the dresser, who was fitting on a pair of little black slippers with red heels. Dr. Trublet, the physician attached to the theatre, and a friend of the actress's, was resting his bald cranium on a cushion of the divan, his hands folded upon his stomach and his short legs crossed.
"What else, my dear?" he inquired of her.
"Oh, I don't know! Fits of suffocation; giddiness; and, all of a sudden, an agonizing pain, as if I were going to die. That's the worst of all."
"Do you sometimes feel as though you must laugh or cry for no apparent reason, about nothing at all?"
"That I cannot tell you, for in this life one has so many reasons for laughing or crying!"
"Are you subject to attacks of dizziness?"
"No. But, just think, doctor, at night, I see an imaginary cat, under the chairs or the table, gazing at me with fiery eyes!"
"Try not to dream of cats any more," said Madame Michon, "because that's a bad omen. To see a cat is a sign that you'll be betrayed by friends, or deceived by a woman."
"But it is not in my dreams that I see a cat! It's when I'm wide awake!"
Trublet, who was in attendance at the Odeon once a month only, was given to looking in as a friend almost every evening. He was fond of the actresses, delighted in chatting with them, gave them good advice, and listened with delicacy to their confidences. He promised Felicie that he would write her a prescription at once.
"We'll attend to the stomach, my dear child, and you'll see no more cats under the chairs and tables."
Madame Michon was adjusting the actress's stays. The doctor, suddenly gloomy, watched her tugging at the laces.
"Don't scowl," said Felicie. "I am never tight-laced. With my waist I should surely be a fool if I were." And she added, thinking of her best friend in the theatre, "It's all very well for Fagette, who has no shoulders and no hips; she's simply straight up and down. Michon, you can pull a little tighter still. I know you are no lover of waists, doctor. Nevertheless, I cannot wear swaddling bands like those aesthetic creatures. Just slip your hand into my stays, and you'll see that I don't squeeze myself too tight."
He denied that he was inimical to stays; he only condemned them when too tightly laced. He deplored the fact that women should have no sense of the harmony of line; that they should associate with smallness of the waist an idea of grace and beauty, not realizing that their beauty resided wholly in those modulations through which the body, having displayed the superb expansion of chest and bosom, tapers off gradually below the thorax, to glorify itself in the calm and generous width of the flanks.
"The waist," he said, "the waist, since one has to make use of that hideous word, should be a gradual, imperceptible, gentle transition from one to another of woman's two glories, her bosom and her womb, and you stupidly strangle it, you stave in the thorax, which involves the breasts in its ruin, you flatten your lower ribs, and you plough a horrible furrow above the navel. The negresses, who file their teeth down to a point, and split their lips, in order to insert a wooden disc, disfigure themselves in a less barbarous fashion. For, after all, some feminine splendour still remains to a creature who wears rings in the cartilage of her nose, and whose lip is distended by a circular disc of mahogany as big as this pomade pot. But the devastation is complete when woman carries her ravages into the sacred centre of her empire."
Dwelling upon a favourite subject, he enumerated one by one the deformities of the bones and muscles caused by the wearing of stays, in terms now fanciful, now precise, now droll, now lugubrious.
Nanteuil laughed as she listened. She laughed because, being a woman, she felt an inclination to laugh at physical uncomeliness or poverty; because, referring everything to her own little world of actors and actresses, each and every deformity described by the doctor reminded her of some comrade of the boards, stamping itself on her mind like a caricature. Knowing that she herself had a good figure, she delighted in her own young body as she pictured to herself all these indignities of the flesh. With a ringing laugh she crossed the dressing-room towards the doctor, dragging with her Madame Michon, who was holding on to her stay-laces as though they were reins, with the look of a sorceress being whisked away to a witches' sabbath.
"Don't be afraid!" she said.
And she objected that peasant women, who never wore stays, had far worse figures than town-bred women.
The doctor bitterly inveighed against the Western civilizations because of their contempt for and ignorance of natural beauty.
Trublet, born within the shadow of Saint-Sulpice, had gone as a young man to practise in Cairo. He brought back from that city a little money, a liver complaint, and a knowledge of the various customs of humanity. When at a ripe age, he returned to his own country, he rarely strayed from his ancient Rue de Seine, thoroughly enjoying his life, save that it depressed him a trifle to see how little able his contemporaries were to realize the deplorable misunderstandings which for eighteen centuries had kept humanity at cross-purposes with nature.
There was a tap at the door.
"It's only me!" exclaimed a woman's voice in the passage.
Felicie, slipping on her pink petticoat, begged the doctor to open the door.
Enter Madame Doulce, a lady who was allowing her massive person to run to seed, although she had long contrived to hold it together on the boards, compelling it to assume the dignity proper to aristocratic mothers.
"Well, my dear! How-d'ye-do, doctor! Felicie, you know I am not one to pay compliments. Nevertheless, I saw you the day before yesterday, and I assure you that in the second of La Mere confidente you put in some excellent touches, which are far from easy to bring off."
Nanteuil, with smiling eyes, waited—as is always the case when one has received a compliment—for another.
Madame Doulce, thus invited by Nanteuil's silence, murmured some additional words of praise:
"...excellent touches, genuinely individual business!"
"You really think so, Madame Doulce? Glad to hear it, for I don't feel the part. And then that great Perrin woman upsets me altogether. It is a fact. When I sit on the creature's knees, it makes me feel as if——You don't know all the horrors that she whispers into my ear while we are on the stage! She's crazy! I understand everything, but there are some things which disgust me. Michon, don't my stays crease at the back, on the right?"
"My dear child," cried Trublet with enthusiasm, "you have just said something that is really admirable."
"What?" inquired Nanteuil simply.
"You said: 'I understand everything, but there are some things which disgust me.' You understand everything; the thoughts and actions of men appear to you as particular instances of the universal mechanics, but in respect of them you cherish neither hatred nor anger. But there are things which disgust you; you have a fastidious taste, and it is profoundly true that morals are a matter of taste. My child, I could wish that the Academy of Moral Science thought as sanely as you. Yes. You are quite right. As regards the instincts which you attribute to your fellow-actress, it is as futile to blame her for them as to blame lactic acid for being an acid possessing mixed properties."
"What are you talking about?"
"I am saying that we can no longer assign praise or blame to any human thought or action, once the inevitable nature of such thoughts and actions has been proved for us."
"So you approve of the morals of that gawk of a Perrin, do you? You, a member of the Legion of Honour! A nice thing, to be sure!"
The doctor heaved himself up.
"My child," he said, "give me a moment's attention; I am going to tell you an instructive story:
"In times gone by, human nature was other than it is to-day. There were then not men and women only, but also hermaphrodites; in other words, beings in whom the two sexes were combined. These three kinds of human beings possessed four arms, four legs, and two faces. They were robust and rotated rapidly on their own axes, just like wheels. Their strength inspired them with audacity to war with the gods, therein following the example of the Giants, Jupiter, unable to brook such insolence——"
"Michon, doesn't my petticoat hang too low on the left?" asked Nanteuil.
"Resolved," continued the doctor, "to render them less strong and less daring. He divided each into two, so that they had now but two arms, two legs, and one head apiece, and thenceforward the human race became what it is to-day. Consequently, each of us is only the half of a human being, divided from the other half, just as one divides a sole into two portions. These halves are ever seeking their other halves. The love which we experience for one another is nothing but an invisible force impelling us to reunite our two halves in order to re-establish ourselves in our pristine perfection. Those men who result from the divisions of hermaphrodites love women; those women who have a similar origin love men. But the women who proceed from the division of primitive women do not bestow much attention upon men, but are drawn toward their own sex. So do not be astonished when you see——"
"Did you invent that precious story, doctor?" inquired Nanteuil, pinning a rose in her bodice.
The doctor protested that he had not invented a word of it. On the contrary, he had, he said, left out part of the story.
"So much the better?" exclaimed Nanteuil. "For I must tell you that the person who did invent it is not particularly brilliant."
"He is dead," remarked Trublet.
Nanteuil once more expressed her disgust of her fellow-actress, but Madame Doulce, who was prudent and occasionally took dejeuner with Jeanne Perrin, changed the subject.
"Well, my darling, so you've got the part of Angelique. Only remember what I told you: your gestures should be somewhat restrained, and you yourself a little stiff. That is the secret of the ingenue. Beware of your charming natural suppleness. Young girls in a 'stock' piece ought to be just a trifle doll-like. It's good form. The costume requires it. You see, Felicie, what you must do above all, when you are playing in La Mere confidente, which is a delightful play——"
"Oh," interrupted Felicie, "so long as I have a good part, I don't care a fig for the play. Besides, I am not particularly in love with Marivaux——What are you laughing at, doctor? Have I put my foot in it? Isn't La Mere confidente by Marivaux?"
"To be sure it is!"
"Well, then? You are always trying to muddle me. I was saying that Angelique gets on my nerves. I should prefer a part with more meat in it, something out of the ordinary. This evenings especially, the part gives me the creeps."
"All the more likely that you'll do well in it, my pet," said Madame Doulce. "We never enter more thoroughly into our parts than when we do so by main force, and in spite of ourselves. I could give you many examples. I myself, in La Vivandiere d'Austerlitz, staggered the house by my gaiety of tone, when I had just been informed that my Doulce, so great an artist and so good a husband, had had an epileptic fit in the orchestra at the Odeon, just as he was picking up his cornet."
"Why do they insist on my being nothing but an ingenue?" inquired Nanteuil, who wanted to play the woman in love, the brilliant coquette, and every part a woman could play.
"That is quite natural," persisted Madame Doulce. "Comedy is an imitative art; and you imitate an art all the better for not feeling it yourself."
"Do not delude yourself, my child," said the doctor to Felicie. "Once an ingenue, always an ingenue. You are born an Angelique or a Dorine, a Celimene or a Madame Pernelle. On the stage, some women are always twenty, others are always thirty, others again are always sixty. As for you, Mademoiselle Nanteuil, you will always be eighteen, and you will always be an ingenue."
"I am quite content with my work," replied Nanteuil, "but you cannot expect me to play all ingenues with the same pleasure. There is one part, for example, which I long to play, and that is Agnes in L'Ecole des femmes."
At the mere mention of the name of Agnes, the doctor murmured delightedly from among his cushions:
"Mes yeux ont-ils du mal pour en donner au monde?"
"Agnes, that's a part if you like!" exclaimed Nanteuil. "I have asked Pradel to give it me."
Pradel, the manager of the theatre, was an ex-comedian, a wideawake, genial fellow, who had got rid of his illusions and nourished no exaggerated hopes. He loved peace, books and women. Nanteuil had every reason to speak well of Pradel, and she referred to him without any feeling of ill will, and with frank directness.
"It was shameful, disgusting, rotten of him," she said. "He wouldn't let me play Agnes and gave the part to Falempin. I must say, though, that when I asked him I didn't go the right way about it. While she knows how to tackle him, if you like! But what do I care! If Pradel doesn't let me play Agnes, he can go to the deuce, and his dirty Punch and Judy show too!"
Madame Doulce continued to lavish her unheeded precepts. She was an actress of merits but she was old and worn out, and no longer obtained any engagements. She gave advice to beginners, wrote their letters for them, and thus, in the morning or evenings earned what was almost every day her only meal.
"Doctor," asked Felicie, while Madame Michon was fastening a black velvet ribbon round her neck: "You say that my fits of dizziness are due to my stomach. Are you sure of that?"
Before Trublet could answer, Madame Doulce exclaimed that fits of dizziness always proceeded from the stomach, and that two or three hours after meals she experienced a feeling of distension in hers, and she thereupon asked the doctor for a remedy.
Felicie, however, was thinking, for she was capable of thought.
"Doctor," she said suddenly, "I want to ask you a question, which you may possibly think a droll one; but I do really want to know whether, considering that you know just what there is in the human body, and that you have seen all the things we have inside us, it doesn't embarrass you, at certain moments, in your dealings with women? It seems to me that the idea of all that must disgust you."
From the depths of his cushions Trublet, wafting a kiss to Felicie, replied:
"My dear child, there is no more exquisitely delicate, rich, and beautiful tissue than the skin of a pretty woman. That is what I was telling myself just now, while contemplating the back of your neck, and you will readily understand that, under such an impression——"
She made a grimace at him like that of a disdainful monkey.
"You think it witty, I suppose, to talk nonsense when anyone asks you a serious question?"
"Well, then, since you wish it, mademoiselle, you shall have an instructive answer. Some twenty years ago we had, in the post-mortem room at the Hopital Saint-Joseph, a drunken old watchman, named Daddy Rousseau, who every day at eleven o'clock used to lunch at the end of the table on which the corpse was lying. He ate his lunch because he was hungry. Nothing prevents people who are hungry from eating as soon as they have got something to eat. Only Daddy Rousseau used to say: 'I don't know whether it is because of the atmosphere of the room, but I must have something fresh and appetizing.'"
"I understand," said Felicie. "Little flower-girls are what you want. But you mustn't, you know. And there you are seated like a Turk and you haven't written out my prescription yet." She cast an inquiring glance at him. "Where is the stomach exactly?"
The door had remained ajar. A young man, a very pretty fellow and extremely fashionable, pushed it open, and, having taken a couple of steps into the dressing-room, inquired politely whether he might come in.
"Oh, it's you!" said Nanteuil. And she stretched out her hand, which he kissed with pleasure, ceremony and fatuity.
"How are you, Doctor Socrates?" he inquired, without wasting any particular courtesies on Madame Doulce.
Trublet was often accosted in this manner, because of his snub-nose and his subtle speech. Pointing to Nanteuil, he said:
"Monsieur de Ligny, you see before you a young lady who is not quite sure whether she has a stomach. It is a serious question. We advise her to refer, for the answer, to the little girl who ate too much jam. Her mother said to her: 'You will injure your stomach.' The child replied: 'It's only ladies who have stomachs; little girls haven't any.'"
"Heavens, how silly you are, doctor!" cried Nanteuil.
"I would you spoke the truth, mademoiselle. Silliness is the capacity for happiness. It is the sovereign content. It is the prime asset in a civilized society."
"You are paradoxical, my dear doctor," remarked Monsieur de Ligny. "But I grant you that it is better to be silly as everybody is silly than to be clever as no one else is clever."
"It's true, what Robert says!" exclaimed Nanteuil, sincerely impressed. And she added thoughtfully: "At any rate, doctor, one thing is certain. It is that stupidity often prevents one from doing stupid things. I have noticed that many a time. Whether you take men or women, those are not the most stupid who act the most stupidly. For example, there are intelligent women who are stupid about men."
"You mean those who cannot do without them."
"There's no hiding anything from you, my little Socrates."
"Ah," sighed the big Doulce, "what a terrible slavery it is! Every woman who cannot control her senses is lost to art."
Nanteuil shrugged her pretty shoulders, which still retained something of the angularity of youth.
"Oh, my great-grandmother! Don't try to kid the youngsters! What an idea! In your days, did actresses control their—how did you put it? Fiddlesticks! They didn't control them a scrap!"
Noticing that Nanteuil's temper was rising, the bulky Doulce retired with dignity and prudence. Once in the passage, she vouchsafed a further word of advice:
"Remember, my darling, to play Angelique as a 'bud.' The part requires it."
But Nanteuil, her nerves on edge, took no notice.
"Really," she said, sitting down before her dressing-table, "she makes me boil, that old Doulce, with her morality. Does she think people have forgotten her adventures? If so, she is mistaken. Madame Ravaud tells one of them six days out of seven. Everybody knows that she reduced her husband, the musician, to such a state of exhaustion that one night he tumbled into his cornet. As for her lovers, magnificent men, just ask Madame Michon. Why, in less than two years she made mere shadows of them, mere puffs of breath. That's the way she controlled them! And supposing anyone had told her that she was lost to art!"
Dr. Trublet extended his two hands, palms outward, towards Nanteuil, as though to stop her.
"Do not excite yourself, my child. Madame Doulce is sincere. She used to love men, now she loves God. One loves what one can, as one can, and with what one has. She has become chaste and pious at the fitting age. She is diligent in the practices of her religion: she goes to Mass on Sundays and feast days, she——"
"Well, she is right to go to Mass," asserted Nanteuil "Michon, light a candle for me, to heat my rouge. I must do my lips again. Certainly, she is quite right to go to Mass, but religion does not forbid one to have a lover."
"You think not?" asked the doctor.
"I know my religion better than you, that's certain!"
A lugubrious bell sounded, and the mournful voice of the call-boy was heard in the corridors:
"The curtain-raiser is over!"
Nanteuil rose, and slipped over her wrist a velvet ribbon ornamented with a steel medallion. Madame Michon was on her knees arranging the three Watteau pleats of the pink dress, and, with her mouth full of pins, delivered herself from one corner of her lips of the following maxim:
"There is one good thing in being old, men cannot make you suffer any more."
Robert de Ligny took a cigarette from his case.
"May I?" And he moved toward the lighted candle on the dressing-table.
Nanteuil, who never took her eyes off him, saw beneath his moustache, red and light as flame, his lips, ruddy in the candlelight, drawing in and puffing out the smoke. She felt a slight warmth in her ears. Pretending to look among her trinkets, she grazed Ligny's neck with her lips, and whispered to him:
"Wait for me after the show, in a cab, at the corner of the Rue de Tournon."
At this moment the sound of voices and footsteps was heard in the corridor. The actors in the curtain-raiser were returning to their dressing-rooms.
"Doctor, pass me your newspaper."
"It is highly uninteresting, mademoiselle."
"Never mind, pass it over."
She took it and held it like a screen above her head.
"The light makes my eyes ache," she observed.
It was true that a too brilliant light would sometimes give her a headache. But she had just seen herself in the glass. With her blue-tinted eyelids, her eyelashes smeared with a black paste, her grease-painted cheeks, her lips tinted red in the shape of a tiny heart, it seemed to her she looked like a painted corpse with glass eyes, and she did not wish Ligny to see her thus.
While she was keeping her face in the shadow of the newspaper a tall, lean young man entered the dressing-room with a swaggering gait. His melancholy eyes were deeply sunken above a nose like a crow's beak; his mouth was set in a petrified grin. The Adam's apple of his long throat made a deep shadow on his stock. He was dressed as a stage bailiff.
"That you, Chevalier? How are you, my friend?" gaily inquired Dr. Trublet, who was fond of actors, preferred the bad ones, and had a special liking for Chevalier.
"Come in, everybody!" cried Nanteuil "This isn't a dressing-room; it's a mill."
"My respects, none the less, Mme. Miller!" replied Chevalier, "I warn you, there's a pack of idiots out in front. Would you believe it—they shut me up!"
"That's no reason for walking in without knocking," replied Nanteuil snappishly.
The doctor pointed out that Monsieur de Ligny had left the door open; whereupon Nanteuil, turning to Ligny, said in a tone of tender reproach:
"Did you really leave the door open? But, when one comes into a room, one closes the door on other people: it is one of the first things one is taught."
She wrapped herself in a white blanket-cloak.
The call-boy summoned the players to the stage.
She grasped the hand which Ligny offered her, and, exploring his wrist with her fingers, dug her nail into the spot, close to the veins, where the skin is tender. Then she disappeared into the dark corridor.
Chevalier, having resumed his ordinary clothes, sat in a corner box, beside Madame Doulce, gazing at Felicie, a small remote figure on the stage. And remembering the days when he had held her in his arms, in his attic in the Rue des Martyrs, he wept with grief and rage.
They had met last year at a fete given under the patronage of Lecureuil, the deputy; a benefit performance given in aid of poor actors of the ninth arrondissement. He had prowled around her, dumb, famishing, and with blazing eyes. For a whole fortnight he had pursued her incessantly. Cold and unmoved, she had appeared to ignore him. Then, suddenly, she surrendered; so suddenly that when he left her that day, still radiant and amazed, he had said a stupid thing. He had told her: "And I took you for a little bit of china!" For three whole months he had tasted joys acute as pain. Then Felicie had grown elusive, remote, and estranged. She loved him no longer. He sought the reason, but could not discover it. It tortured him to know that he was no longer loved; jealousy tortured him still more. It was true that in the first beautiful hours of his love he had known that Felicie had a lover, one Girmandel, a court bailiff, who lived in the Rue de Provence, and he had felt it deeply. But as he never saw him he had formed so confused and ill-defined an idea of him that his jealousy lost itself in uncertainty. Felicie assured him that she had never been more than passive in her intercourse with Girmandel, that she had not even pretended to care for him. He believed her, and this belief gave him the keenest satisfaction. She also told him that for a long time past, for months, Girmandel had been nothing more than a friend, and he believed her. In short, he was deceiving the bailiff, and it was agreeable to him to feel that he enjoyed this advantage. He had learned also that Felicie, who was just finishing her second year at the Conservatoire, had not denied herself to her professor. But the grief which he had felt because of this was softened by a time-honoured and venerable custom. Now Robert de Ligny was causing him intolerable suffering. For some time past he had found him incessantly dangling about her. He could not doubt that she loved Robert; and although he sometimes told himself that she had not yet given herself to this man, it was not that he believed it, but merely that he was fain sometimes to mitigate the bitterness of his sufferings.
Mechanical applause broke out at the back of the theatre, and a few members of the orchestra, murmuring inaudibly, clapped their hands slowly and noiselessly. Nanteuil had just given her last reply to Jeanne Perrin.
"Brava! Brava! She is delightful, dear little woman!" sighed Madame Doulce.
In his jealous anger, Chevalier was disloyal. Lifting a finger to his forehead, he remarked:
"She plays with that." Then, placing his hand upon his heart, he added: "It is with this that one should act."
"Thanks, dear friend, thanks!" murmured Madame Doulce, who read into these maxims an obvious eulogy of herself.
She was, indeed, in the habit of asserting that all good acting comes from the heart; she maintained that, to give full expression to a passion, it was necessary to experience it, and to feel in one's own person the expressions that one wished to represent. She was fond of referring to herself as an example of this. When appearing as a tragedy queen, after draining a goblet of poison on the stage, her bowels had been on fire all night. Nevertheless she was given to saying: "The dramatic art is an imitative art, and one imitates an emotion all the better for not having experienced it." And to illustrate this maxim she drew yet further examples from her triumphant career.
She gave a deep sigh.
"The child is admirably gifted. But she is to be pitied; she has been born into a bad period. There is no longer a public nowadays; no critics, no plays, no theatres, no artists. It is a decadence of art."
Chevalier shook his head.
"No need to pity her," he said. "She will have all that she can wish; she will succeed; she will be wealthy. She is a selfish little jade, and a woman who is selfish can get anything she likes. But for people with hearts there's nothing left but to hang a stone round one's neck and throw oneself into the river. But, I too, I shall go far. I, too, shall climb high. I, too, will be a selfish hound."
He got up and went out without waiting for the end of the play. He did not return to Felicie's dressing-room for fear of meeting Ligny there, the sight of whom was insupportable, and because by avoiding it he could pretend to himself that Ligny had not returned thither.
Conscious of physical distress on going away from her, he took five or six turns under the dark, deserted arcades of the Odeon, went down the steps into the night, and turned up the Rue de Medicis. Coachmen were dozing on their boxes, while waiting for the end of the performance, and high over the tops of the plane-trees the moon was racing through the clouds. Treasuring in his heart an absurd yet soothing remnant of hope, he went, this night, as on other nights, to wait for Felicie at her mother's flat.
Madame Nanteuil lived with her daughter in a little flat on the fifth story of a house in the Boulevard Saint-Michel, whose windows opened upon the garden of the Luxembourg. She gave Chevalier a friendly welcome, for she thought kindly of him because he loved Felicie, and because the latter did not love him in return, and ignored on principle the fact that he had been her daughter's lover.
She made him sit beside her in the dining-room, where a coke fire was burning in the stove. In the lamplight army revolvers and sabres with golden tassels on the sword-knots gleamed upon the wall. They were hung about a woman's cuirass, which was provided with round breast-shields of tin-plate; a piece of armour which Felicie had worn last winter, while still a pupil at the Conservatoire, when taking the part of Joan of Arc at the house of a spiritualistic duchess. An officer's widow and the mother of an actress, Madame Nanteuil, whose real name was Nantean, treasured these trophies.
"Felicie is not back yet, Monsieur Chevalier. I don't expect her before midnight. She is on the stage till the end of the play."
"I know; I was in the first piece. I left the theatre after the first act of La Mere confidente.
"Oh, Monsieur Chevalier, why didn't you stay till the end? My daughter would have been so pleased if you had waited. When one is acting one likes to have friends in the house."
Chevalier replied ambiguously:
"Oh, as to friends, there are plenty of those about."
"You are mistaken, Monsieur Chevalier; good friends are scarce. Madame Doulce was there, of course? Was she pleased with Felicie?" And she added, with great humility: "I should indeed be happy if she could really make a hit. It is so difficult to come to the fore in her profession, for a girl who is alone, without support, without influence! And it is so necessary for her to succeed, poor child!"
Chevalier did not feel disposed to lavish any pity upon Felicie. With a shrug of the shoulders he replied bluntly:
"No need to worry about that. She'll get on. She is an actress heart and soul. She has it in her bones, down to her very legs."
Madame Nanteuil indulged in a quiet smile.
"Poor child! They are not very plump, her legs. Felicie's health is not bad, but she must not overdo it. She often has fits of giddiness, and sick headaches."
The servant came in to place on the table a dish of fried sausage, a bottle of wine, and a few plates.
Meanwhile, Chevalier was searching in his mind for some appropriate fashion of asking a question which had been on the tip of his tongue ever since he had set foot on the stairs. He wanted to know whether Felicie was still meeting Girmandel, whose name he never heard mentioned nowadays. We are given to conceiving desires which suit themselves to our condition. Now, in the misery of his existence, in the distress of his heart, he was full of an eager desire that Felicie, who loved him no longer, should love Girmandel, whom she loved but little, and he hoped with all his heart that Girmandel would keep her for him, would possess her wholly, and leave nothing of her for Robert de Ligny. The idea that the girl might be with Girmandel appeased his jealousy, and he dreaded to learn that she had broken with him.
Of course he would never have allowed himself to question a mother as to her daughter's lovers. But it was permissible to speak of Girmandel to Madame Nanteuil, who saw nothing that was other than respectable in the relations of her household with the Government official, who was well-to-do, married, and the father of two charming daughters. To bring Girmandel's name into the conversation he had only to resort to a stratagem. Chevalier hit upon one which he thought was ingenious.
"By the way," he remarked, "I saw Girmandel just now in a carriage."
Madame Nanteuil made no comment.
"He was driving down the Boulevard Saint-Michel in a cab. I certainly thought I recognized him. I should be greatly surprised if it wasn't he."
Madame Nanteuil made no comment.
"His fair beard, his high colour—he's an easy man to recognize, Girmandel."
Madame Nanteuil made no comment.
"You were very friendly with him at one time, you and Felicie. Do you still see him?"
"Monsieur Girmandel? Oh yes, we still see him," replied Madame Nanteuil softly.
These words made Chevalier feel almost happy. But she had deceived him; she had not spoken the truth. She had lied out of self-respect, and in order not to reveal a domestic secret which she regarded as derogatory to the honour of her family. The truth was that, being carried away by her passion for Ligny, Felicie had given Girmandel the go-by, and he, being a man of the world, had promptly cut off supplies. Madame Nanteuil, despite her years, had resumed an old lover, out of her love for her child, that she might not want for anything. She had renewed her former liaison with Tony Meyer, the picture-dealer in the Rue de Clichy. Tony Meyer was a poor substitute for Girmandel; he was none too free with his money. Madame Nanteuil, who was wise and knew the value of things, did not complain on that account, and she was rewarded for her devotion, for, in the six weeks during which she had been loved anew, she had grown young again.
Chevalier, following up his idea, inquired:
"You would hardly say that Girmandel was still a young man, would you?"
"He is not old," said Madame Nanteuil. "A man is not old at forty."
"A bit used up, isn't he?"
"Oh, dear no," replied Madame Nanteuil, quite calmly.
Chevalier became thoughtful and was silent. Madame Nanteuil began to nod. Then, being aroused from her somnolence by the servant, who brought in the salt-cellar and the water-bottle, she inquired:
"And you, Monsieur Chevalier, is all well with you?"
No, all was not well with him. The critics were out to "down" him. And the proof that they had combined against him was that they all said the same thing; they said his face lacked expression.
"My face lacking in expression!" he cried indignantly. "They should have called it a predestined face. Madame Nanteuil, I aim high, and it is that which does me harm. For example, in La Nuit du 23 octobre, which is being rehearsed now, I am Florentin: I have only six lines; it's a washout. But I have increased the importance of the character enormously. Durville is furious. He deliberately crabs all my effects."
Madame Nanteuil, placid and kindly, found words to comfort him. Obstacles there were, no doubt, but in the end one overcame them. Her own daughter had fallen foul of the ill-will of certain critics.
"Half-past twelve!" said Chevalier gloomily. "Felicie is late."
Madame Nanteuil supposed that she had been detained by Madame Doulce.
"Madame Doulce as a rule undertakes to see her home, and you know she never hurries herself."
Chevalier rose, as if to take his leave, to show that he remembered his manners. Madame Nanteuil begged him to stay.
"Don't go; Felicie won't be long now. She will be pleased to find you here. You will have supper with her."
Madame Nanteuil dozed off again in her chair. Chevalier sat gazing in silence at the clock hanging on the wall, and as the hand travelled across the dial he felt a burning wound in his heart, which grew bigger and bigger, and each little stroke of the pendulum touched him to the quick, lending a keener eye to his jealousy, by recording the moments which Felicie was passing with Ligny. For he was now convinced that they were together. The stillness of the night, interrupted only by the muffled sound of the cabs bowling along the boulevard, gave reality to the thoughts and images which tortured him. He could see them.
Awakened with a start by the sound of singing on the pavement below, Madame Nanteuil returned to the thought with which she had fallen asleep.
"That's what I am always telling Felicie; one mustn't be discouraged. One should not lose heart. We all have our ups and downs in life."
Chevalier nodded acquiescence.
"But those who suffer," he said, "only get what they deserve. It needs but a moment to free oneself from all one's troubles. Isn't it so?"
She admitted the fact; certainly there were such things as sudden opportunities, especially on the stage.
"Heaven knows," he continued in a deep, brooding voice, "it's not the stage I am worrying about. I know I shall make a name for myself one day, and a big one. But what's the good of being a great artist if one isn't happy? There are stupid worries which are terrible! Pains that throb in your temples with strokes as even and as regular as the ticking of that clock, till they drive you mad!"
He ceased speaking; the gloomy gaze of his deep-set eyes fell upon the trophy hanging on the wall. Then he continued:
"These stupid worries, these ridiculous sufferings, if one endures them too long, it simply means that one is a coward."
And he felt the butt of the revolver which he always carried in his pocket.
Madame Nanteuil listened to him serenely, with that gentle determination not to know anything, which had been her one talent in life.
"Another dreadful thing," she observed, "is to decide what to have to eat. Felicie is sick of everything. There's no knowing what to get for her."
After that, the flagging conversation languished, drawn out into detached phrases, which had no particular meaning. Madame Nanteuil, the servant, the coke fire, the lamp, the plate of sausage, awaited Felicie in depressing silence. The clock struck one. Chevalier's suffering had by this time attained the serenity of a flood tide. He was now certain. The cabs were not so frequent and their wheels echoed more loudly along the street. The rumbling of one of these cabs suddenly ceased outside the house. A few seconds later he heard the slight grating of a key in the lock, the slamming of the door, and light footsteps in the outer room.
The clock marked twenty-three minutes past one. He was suddenly full of agitation, yet hopeful. She had come! Who could tell what she would say? She might offer the most natural explanation of her late arrival.
Felicie entered the room, her hair in disorder, her eyes shining, her cheeks white, her bruised lips a vivid red; she was tired, indifferent, mute, happy and lovely, seeming to guard beneath her cloak, which she held wrapped about her with both hands, some remnant of warmth and voluptuous pleasure.
"I was beginning to be worried," said her mother. "Aren't you going to unfasten your cloak?"
"I'm hungry," she replied. She dropped into a chair before the little round table. Throwing her cloak over the back of the chair, she revealed her slender figure in its little black schoolgirl's dress, and, resting her left elbow on the oil-cloth table-cover, she proceeded to stick her fork into the sliced sausage.
"Did everything go off well to-night?" asked Madame Nanteuil.
"You see Chevalier has come to keep you company. It is kind of him, isn't it?"
"Oh, Chevalier! Well, let him come to the table."
And, without replying further to her mother's questions, she began to eat, greedy and charming, like Ceres in the old woman's house. Then she pushed aside her plate, and leaning back in her chair, with half-closed eyes, and parted lips, she smiled a smile that was akin to a kiss.
Madame Nanteuil, having drunk her glass of mulled wine, rose to her feet.
"You will excuse me, Monsieur Chevalier, I have my accounts to bring up to date."
This was the formula which she usually employed to announce that she was going to bed.
Left alone with Felicie, Chevalier said to her angrily:
"I know I'm a fool and a groveller; but I'm going mad for love of you. Do you hear, Felicie?"
"I should think I do hear. You needn't shout like that!"
"It's ridiculous, isn't it?"
"No, it's not ridiculous, it's——"
She did not complete the sentence.
He drew nearer to her, dragging his chair with him.
"You came in at twenty-five minutes past one. It was Ligny who saw you home, I know it. He brought you back in a cab, I heard it stop outside the house."
As she did not reply, he continued:
"Deny it, if you can!"
She remained silent, and he repeated, in an urgent, almost appealing tone:
"Tell me he didn't!"
Had she been so inclined, she might, with a phrase, with a single word, with a tiny movement of head or shoulders, have rendered him perfectly submissive, and almost happy. But she maintained a malicious silence. With compressed lips and a far-off look in her eyes, she seemed as though lost in a dream.
He sighed hoarsely.
"Fool that I was, I didn't think of that! I told myself you would come home, as on other nights, with Madame Doulce, or else alone. If I had only known that you were going to let that fellow see you home!"
"Well, what would you have done, had you known it?"
"I should have followed you, by God!"
She stared at him with hard, unnaturally bright eyes.
"That I forbid you to do! Understand me! If I learn that you have followed me, even once, I'll never see you again. To begin with, you haven't the right to follow me. I suppose I am free to do as I like."
Choking with astonishment and anger, he stammered:
"Haven't the right to? Haven't the right to? You tell me I haven't the right?"
"No, you haven't the right! Moreover, I won't have it." Her face assumed an expression of disgust. "It's a mean trick to spy on a woman, if you once try to find out where I'm going, I'll send you about your business, and quickly at that."
"Then," he murmured, thunderstruck, "we are nothing to each other, I am nothing to you. We have never belonged to each other. But see, Felicie, remember——"
But she was losing patience:
"Well, what do you want me to remember?"
"Felicie, remember that you gave yourself to me!"
"My dear boy, you really can't expect me to think of that all day. It wouldn't be proper."
He looked at her for a while, more in curiosity than in anger, and said to her, half bitterly, half gently:
"They may well call you a selfish little jade! Be one, Felicie, be one, as much as you like! What does it matter, since I love you? You are mine; I am going to take you back; I am going to take you back, and keep you. Think! I can't go on suffering for ever, like a poor dumb beast. Listen. I'll start with a clean slate. Let us begin to love one another over again. And this time it will be all right. And you'll be mine for good, mine only. I am an honest man; you know that. You can depend on me. I'll marry you as soon as I've got a position."
She gazed at him with disdainful surprise. He believed that she had doubts as to his dramatic future, and, in order to banish them, he said, erect on his long legs:
"Don't you believe in my star, Felicie? You are wrong. I can feel that I am capable of creating great parts. Let them only give me a part, and they'll see. And I have in me not only comedy, but drama, tragedy—yes, tragedy. I can deliver verse properly. And that is a talent which is becoming rare in these days. So don't imagine, Felicie, that I am insulting you when I offer you marriage. Far from it! We will marry later on, as soon as it is possible and suitable. Of course, there is no need for hurry. Meanwhile, we will resume our pleasant habits of the Rue des Martyrs. You remember, Felicie; we were so happy there! The bed wasn't wide, but we used to say: "That doesn't matter." I have now two fine rooms in the Rue de la Montagne-Saint-Genevieve, behind Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. Your portrait hangs on every wall. You will find there the little bed of the Rue des Martyrs. Listen to me, I beg of you: I have suffered too much; I will not suffer any longer. I demand that you shall be mine, mine only."
While he was speaking, Felicie had taken from the mantelpiece the pack of cards with which her mother played every night, and was spreading them out on the table.
"Mine only. You hear me, Felicie."
"Don't disturb me, I am busy with a game of patience."
"Listen to me, Felicie. I won't have you receiving that fool in your dressing-room."
Looking at her cards she murmured:
"All the blacks are at the bottom of the pack."
"I say that fool. He is a diplomatist, and nowadays the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the refuge of incompetents." Raising his voice, he continued: "Felicie, for your own sake, as well as for mine, listen to me!"
"Well, don't shout, then. Mama is asleep."
He continued in muffled tones:
"Just get it into your head that I don't intend that Ligny shall be your lover."
She raised her spiteful little face, and replied:
"And if he is my lover?"
He moved a step closer to her, raising his chair, gazing at her with the eye of a madman, and laughing a cracked laugh.
"If he is your lover, he won't be so for long."
And he dropped the chair.
Now she was alarmed. She forced herself to smile.
"You know very well I'm joking!"
She succeeded without much difficulty in making him believe that she had spoken thus merely to punish him, because he was getting unbearable. He became calmer. She then informed him that she was tired out, that she was dropping with sleep. At last he decided to go home. On the landing he turned, and said:
"Felicie, I advise you, if you wish to avoid a tragedy, not to see Ligny again."
She cried through the half-open door:
"Knock on the window of the porter's lodge, so that he can let you out!"
In the dark auditorium large linen sheets protected the balcony and the boxes. The orchestra was covered with a huge dust-cloth, which, being turned back at the edges, left room for a few human figures, indistinctly seen in the gloom: actors, scene-shifters, costumiers, friends of the manager, mothers and lovers and actresses. Here and there shone a pair of eyes from the black recesses of the boxes.
They were rehearsing, for the fifty-sixth time, La Nuit du 23 octobre 1812, a celebrated drama, dating twenty years back, which had not as yet been performed in this theatre. The actors knew their parts, and the following day had been chosen for that last private rehearsal which on stages less austere than that of the Odeon is known as "the dressmakers' rehearsal."
Nanteuil had no part in the play. But she had had business at the theatre that day, and, as she had been informed that Marie-Claire was execrable in the part of General Malet's wife, she had come to have a peep at her, concealed in the depths of a box.
The great scene of the second act was about to begin. The stage setting represented an attic in the private asylum where the conspirator was confined in 1812. Durville, who filled the part of General Malet, had just made his entrance. He was rehearsing in costume: a long blue frock-coat, with a collar reaching above his ears, and riding-breeches of chamois leather. He had even gone so far as to make up his face for the part, the clean-shaven soldierly face of the general of the Empire, ornamented with the "hare's-foot" whiskers which were handed down by the victors of Austerlitz to their sons, the bourgeois of July. Standing erect, his right elbow resting in his left hand, his brow supported by his right hand, his deep voice and his tight-fitting breeches expressed his pride.
"Alone, and without funds, from the depths of a prison, to attack this colossus, who commands a million soldiers, and who causes all the peoples and kings of Europe to tremble. Well, this colossus shall fall crashing to the ground."
From the back of the stage old Maury, who was playing the conspirator Jacquemont, delivered his reply:
"He may crush us in his downfall."
Suddenly cries at once plaintive and angry arose from the orchestra.
The author was exploding. He was a man of seventy, brimming over with youth.
"What do I see there at the back of the stage? It's not an actor, it's a fire-place. We shall have to send for the bricklayers, the marble-workers, to move it. Maury, do get a move on, confound you!"
Maury shifted his position.
"He may crush us in his downfall. I realize that it will not be your fault, General. Your proclamation is excellent. You promise them a constitution, liberty, equality. It is Machiavellian."
"And in the best sense. An incorrigible breed, they are making ready to violate the oaths that they have not yet taken, and, because they lie, they believe themselves Machiavellis. What will you do with absolute power, you simpletons?"
The strident voice of the author ground out:
"You are right off the track, Dauville."
"I?" asked the astonished Durville.
"Yes, you, Dauville, you do not understand a word of what you are saying."
In order to humiliate them, "to take them down a peg," this man who, in the whole course of his life, had never forgotten the name of a dairy-woman or a hall-porter, disdained to remember the names of the most illustrious actors.
"Dauville, my friend, just do that over again for me."
He could play every part well. Jovial, funereal, violent, tender, impetuous, affectionate, he assumed at will a deep or a piping voice; he sighed, he roared, he laughed, he wept. He could transform himself, like the man in the fairy-tale, into a flame, a river, a woman, a tiger.
In the wings the actors exchanged only short and meaningless phrases. Their freedom of speech, their easy morals, the familiarity of their manners did not prevent their retaining so much of hypocrisy as is needful, in any assemblage of men, if people are to look upon one another without feelings of horror and disgust. There even prevailed, in this workshop in full activity, a seemly appearance of harmony and union, a oneness of feeling created by the thought, lofty or commonplace, of the author, a spirit of order which compelled all rivalries and all illwill to transform themselves into goodwill and harmonious co-operation.
Nanteuil, sitting in her box, felt uneasy at the thought that Chevalier was close at hand. For the last two days, since the night on which he had uttered his obscure threats, she had not seen him again and the fear with which he had inspired her still possessed her. "Felicie, if you wish to prevent a tragedy, I advise you not to see Ligny again." What did those words portend? She pondered deeply over Chevalier. This young fellow, who, only two days earlier, had seemed to her commonplace and insignificant, of whom she had seen a good deal too much, whom she knew by heart—how mysterious and full of secrets he now appeared to her! How suddenly it had dawned upon her that she did not know him! Of what was he capable? She tried to guess. What was he going to do? Probably nothing. All men who are thrown over by a woman utter threats and do nothing. But was Chevalier a man quite like all the rest? People did say that he was crazy. That was mere talk. But she herself did not feel sure that there might not be a spark of insanity in him. She was studying him now with genuine interest. Highly intelligent herself, she had never discovered any great signs of intelligence in him; but he had on several occasions astonished her by the obstinacy of his will. She could remember his performing acts of the fiercest energy. Jealous by nature, there were yet certain matters which he understood. He knew what a woman is compelled to do in order to win a place on the stage, or to dress herself properly; but he could not endure to be deceived for the sake of love. Was he the sort of man to commit a crime, to do something dreadful? That was what she could not decide. She recalled his mania for handling firearms. When she used to visit him in the Rue des Martyrs, she always found him in his room, taking an old shot-gun to pieces and cleaning it. And yet he never went shooting. He boasted of being a dead shot, and carried a revolver on his person. But what did that prove? Never before had she thought so much about him.
Nanteuil was tormenting herself in this fashion in her box, when Jenny Fagette came to join her there; Jenny Fagette, slender and fragile, the incarnation of Alfred de Musset's Muse, who at night wore out her eyes of periwinkle-blue by scribbling society notes and fashion articles. A mediocre actress, but a clever and wonderfully energetic woman, she was Nanteuil's most intimate friend. They recognized in each other remarkable qualities, qualities which differed from those which each discovered in herself, and they acted in concert as the two great Powers of the Odeon. Nevertheless, Fagette was doing her best to take Ligny away from her friend; not from inclination, for she was insensible as a stick and held men in contempt, but with the idea that a liaison with a diplomatist would procure her certain advantages, and above all, in order not to miss the opportunity of doing something scandalous. Nanteuil was aware of this. She knew that all her sister-actresses, Ellen Midi, Duvernet, Herschell, Falempin, Stella, Marie-Claire, were trying to take Ligny from her. She had seen Louise Dalle, who dressed like a music-mistress, and always had the air of being about to storm an omnibus, and retained, even in her provocations and accidental contacts, the appearance of incurable respectability, pursue Ligny with her lanky legs, and beset him with the glances of a poverty-stricken Pasiphae. She had also surprised the oldest actress of the theatre, their excellent mother Ravaud, in a corridor, baring, at Ligny's approach, all that was left to her, her magnificent arms, which had been famous for forty years.
Fagette, with disgust, and the tip of a gloved finger, called Nanteuil's attention to the scene through which Durville, old Maury and Marie-Claire were struggling.
"Just look at those people. They look as if they were playing at the bottom of thirty fathoms of water."
"It's because the top lights are not lit."
"Not a bit of it. This theatre always looks as if it were at the bottom of the sea. And to think that I, too, in a moment, have to enter that aquarium. Nanteuil, you must not stop longer than one season in this theatre. One is drowned in it. But look at them, look at them!"
Durville was becoming almost ventriloqual in order to seem more solemn and more virile:
"Peace, the abolition of the combined martial and civil law, and of conscription, higher pay for the troops; in the absence of funds, a few drafts on the bank, a few commissions suitably distributed, these are infallible means."
Madame Doulce entered the box. Unfastening her cloak with its pathetic lining of old rabbit-skin, she produced a small dog's-eared book.
"They are Madame de Sevigne's letters," she said. "You know that next Sunday I am going to give a reading of the best of Madame de Sevigne's letters."
"Where?" asked Fagette.
It must have been some remote and little known hall, for Nanteuil and Fagette had not heard of it.
"I am giving this reading for the benefit of the three poor orphans left by Lacour, the actor, who died so sadly of consumption this winter. I am counting on you, my darlings, to dispose of some tickets for me."
"All the same, she really is ridiculous, Marie-Claire!" said Nanteuil.
Some one scratched at the door of the box. It was Constantin Marc, the youthful author of a play, La Grille, which the Odeon was going to rehearse immediately; and Constantin Marc, although a countryman living in the forest, could henceforth breathe only in the theatre. Nanteuil was to take the principal part in the play. He gazed upon her with emotion, as the precious amphora destined to be the receptacle of his thought.
Meanwhile Durville continued hoarsely:
"If our France can be saved only at the price of our life and honour, I shall say, with the man of '93: 'Perish our memory!'"
Fagette pointed her finger at a bloated youth, who was sitting in the orchestra, resting his chin on his walking-stick.
"Isn't that Baron Deutz?"
"Need you ask!" replied Nanteuil. "Ellen Midi is in the cast. She plays in the fourth act. Baron Deutz has come to display himself."
"Just wait a minute, my children; I have a word to say to that ill-mannered cub. He met me yesterday in the Place de la Concorde, and he didn't bow to me."
"What, Baron Deutz? He couldn't have seen you!"
"He saw me perfectly well. But he was with his people. I am going to have him on toast. Just you watch, my dears."
She called him very softly:
The Baron came towards her, smiling and well-pleased with himself, and leaned his elbows on the edge of the box.
"Tell me, Monsieur Deutz, when you met me yesterday, were you in very bad company that you did not raise your hat to me?"
He looked at her in astonishment.
"I? I was with my sister."
On the stage, Marie-Claire, hanging upon Durville's neck, was exclaiming:
"Go! Victorious or defeated, in good or evil fortune, your glory will be equally great. Come what may, I shall know how to show myself the wife of a hero."
"That will do, Madame Marie-Claire!" said Pradel.
Just at that moment Chevalier made his entry, and immediately the author, tearing his hair, let loose a flood of imprecations:
"Do you call that an entry? It's a tumble, a catastrophe, a cataclysm! Ye gods! A meteor, an aerolith, a bit of the moon falling on to the stage would be less horribly disastrous! I will take off my play! Chevalier, come in again, my good fellow!"
The artist who had designed the costumes, Michel, a fair young man with a mystic's beard, was seated in the first row, on the arm of a stall. He leaned over and whispered into the ear of Roger, the scene-painter:
"And to think it's the fifty-sixth time that he's dropped on Chevalier with the same fury!"
"Well, you know, Chevalier is rottenly bad," replied Roger, without hesitation.
"It isn't that he is bad," returned Michel indulgently. "But he always seems to be laughing, and nothing could be worse for a comedy actor. I knew him when he was quite a kid, at Montmartre. At school his masters used to ask him: 'Why are you laughing?' He was not laughing; he had no desire to laugh; he used to get his ears boxed from morning to night. His parents wanted to put him in a chemical factory. But he had dreams of the stage, and spent his days on the Butte Montmartre, in the studio of the painter Montalent. Montalent at that time was working day and night on his Death of Saint Louis, a huge picture which was commissioned for the cathedral of Carthage. One day, Montalent said to him——"
"A little less noise!" shouted Pradel.
"Said to him: 'Chevalier, since you have nothing to do, just sit for Philippe the Bold.' 'With pleasure,' said Chevalier. Montalent told him to assume the attitude of a man bowed down with grief. More, he stuck two tears as big as spectacle lenses on his cheeks. He finished his picture, forwarded it to Carthage, and had half a dozen bottles of champagne sent up. Three months later he received from Father Cornemuse, the head of the French Missions in Tunis, a letter informing him that his painting of the Death of Saint Louis, having been submitted to the Cardinal-Archbishop, had been refused by His Eminence, because of the unseemly expression on the face of Philippe the Bold who was laughing as he watched the saintly King, his father, dying on a bed of straw. Montalent could not make head or tail of it; he was furious, and wanted to take proceedings against the Cardinal-Archbishop. His painting was returned to him; he unpacked it, gazed at it in gloomy silence, and suddenly shouted: 'It's true—Philippe the Bold appears to be splitting his sides with laughter. What a fool I have been! I gave him the head of Chevalier, who always seems to be laughing, the brute!'"
"Will you be quiet there!" yelled Pradel.
And the author exclaimed:
"Pradel, my dear boy, just pitch all those people into the street."
Indefatigable, he was arranging the scene:
"A little farther, Trouville, there. Chevalier, you walk up to the table, you pick up the documents one by one, and you say: 'Senatus-Consultum. Order of the day. Despatches to the departments. Proclamation,' Do you understand?"
"Yes, Master. 'Senatus-Consultum. Order of the day. Despatches to the departments. Proclamation.'"
"Now, Marie-Claire, my child, a little more life, confound it! Cross over! That's it! Very good. Back again! Good! Very good! Buck up! Ah, the wretched woman! She's spoiling it all!"
He called the stage manager.
"Romilly, give us a little more light, one can't see an inch. Dauville, my dear friend, what are you doing there in front of the prompter's box! You seem glued to it! Just get into your head, once for all, that you are not the statue of General Malet, that you are General Malet in person, that my play is not a catalogue of wax-work figures, but a living moving tragedy, one which brings the tears into your eyes, and——"
Words failed him, and he sobbed for a long while into his handkerchief. Then he roared:
"Holy thunder! Pradel! Romilly! Where is Romilly? Ah, there he is, the villain! Romilly, I told you to put the stove nearer the dormer-window. You have not done so. What are you thinking of, my friend?"
The rehearsal was suddenly brought to a standstill by a serious difficulty. Chevalier, the bearer of documents on which hung the fate of the Empire, was to escape from his prison by the dormer-window. The stage "business" had not yet been settled; it had been impossible to do so before the setting of the stage was completed. It was now discovered that the measurements had been wrongly taken, and the dormer-window was not accessible.
The author leapt on to the stage.
"Romilly, my friend, the stove is not in the place fixed on. How can you expect Chevalier to get out through the dormer-window? Push the stove to the right at once."
"I'm willing enough," said Romilly, "but we shall be blocking up the door."
"What's that? We shall be blocking up the door?"
The manager of the theatre, the stage-manager, the scene-shifters stood examining the stage-setting with gloomy attention, while the author held his peace.
"Don't worry, Master," said Chevalier. "There's no need to change anything. I shall be able to jump out all right."
Climbing on to the stove, he did indeed succeed in grasping the sill of the window, and in hoisting himself up until his elbows rested on it, a feat that had seemed impossible.
A murmur of admiration rose from the stage, the wings, and the house. Chevalier had produced an astonishing impression by his strength and agility.
"Splendid!" exclaimed the author. "Chevalier, my friend, that is perfect. The fellow is as nimble as a monkey. I'll be hanged if any of you could do as much. If all the parts were in such good hands as that of Florentin, the play would be lauded to the skies."
Nanteuil, in her box, almost admired him. For one brief second he had seemed to her more than man, both man and gorilla, and the fear with which he had inspired her was immeasurably increased. She did not love him; she had never loved him; she did not desire him; it was a long time since she had really wanted him; and, for some days past, she had been unable to imagine herself taking pleasure in any other than Ligny; but had she at that moment found herself alone with Chevalier she would have felt powerless, and she would have sought to appease him by her submission as one appeases a supernatural power.
On the stage, while an Empire salon was being lowered from the flies, through all the noise of the running gear and the grounding of the supports, the author held the whole of the company, as well as all the supers, in the hollow of his hand, and at the same time gave them all advice, or illustrated what he wanted of them.
"You, the big woman, the cake-seller, Madame Ravaud, haven't you ever heard the women calling in the Champs-Elysees: 'Eat your fill, ladies! This way for a treat!' It is sung. Just learn the tune by to-morrow. And you, drummer-boy, just give me your drum; I'm going to teach you how to beat the roll, confound it! Fagette, my child, what the mischief are you doing at a ball given by the Minister of Police, if you haven't any stockings with golden clocks? Take off those knitted woollen stockings immediately. This is the very last play that I shall produce in this theatre. Where is the colonel of the 10th cohort? So it's you? Well then, my friend, your soldiers march past like so many pigs. Madame Marie-Claire, come forward a little, so that I may teach you how to curtsy."
He had a hundred eyes, a hundred mouths, and arms and legs everywhere.
In the house, Romilly was shaking hands with Monsieur Gombaut, of the Academy of Moral Sciences, who had dropped in as a neighbour.
"You may say what you will, Monsieur Gombaut, it is perhaps not accurate as far as facts are concerned, but it's drama."
"Malet's conspiracy," replied Monsieur Gombaut, "remains, and will doubtless remain for a long time to come, an historical enigma. The author of this drama has taken advantage of those points which are obscure in order to introduce dramatic elements. But what, to my thinking, is beyond a doubt, is that General Malet, although associated with Royalists, was himself a Republican, and was working for the re-establishment of popular Government. In the course of his examination during the trial, he pronounced a sublime and profound utterance. When the presiding judge of the court-martial asked him: 'Who were your accomplices?' Malet replied: 'All France, and you yourself, had I succeeded.'"
Leaning on the edge of Nanteuil's box, an aged sculptor, as venerable and as handsome as an ancient satyr, was gazing with glistening eye and smiling lips at the stage, which at that moment was in a state of commotion and confusion.
"Are you pleased with the play, Master?" Nanteuil asked him.
And the Master, who had no eyes for anything but bones, tendons and muscles, replied:
"Yes, indeed, mademoiselle; yes, indeed! I see over there a little creature, little Midi, whose shoulder attachment is a jewel."
He outlined it with his thumb. Tears welled up into his eyes.
Chevalier asked if he might enter the box. He was happy, less on account of his prodigious success than at seeing Felicie. He dreamed, in his infatuation, that she had come for his sake, that she loved him, that she was returning to him.
She feared him, and, as she was timid, she flattered him.
"I congratulate you, Chevalier. You were simply astounding. Your exit is a marvel. You can take my word for it. I am not the only one to say so. Fagette thought you were wonderful."
"Really?" asked Chevalier.
It was one of the happiest moments of his life.
A shrieking voice issued from the deserted heights of the third galleries, sounding through the house like the whistle of a locomotive.
"One can't hear a word you say, my children; speak louder and pronounce your words distinctly!"
The author appeared, infinitely small, in the shadow of the dome.
Thereupon the utterance of the players who were collected at the front of the stage, around a naphtha flare, rose more distinctly:
"The Emperor will allow the troops to rest for some weeks at Moscow; then with the rapidity of an eagle he will swoop down upon St. Petersburg."
"Spades, clubs, trump, two points to me."
"There we shall spend the winter, and next spring we shall penetrate into India, crossing Persia, and the British power will be a thing of the past."
"Thirty-six in diamonds."
"And I the four aces."
"By the way, gentlemen, what say you to the Imperial decree concerning the actors of Paris, dated from the Kremlin? There's an end of the squabbles between Mademoiselle Mars and Mademoiselle Leverd."
"Do look at Fagette," said Nanteuil. "She is charming in that blue Marie-Louise dress trimmed with chinchilla."
Madame Doulce brought out from under her furs a stack of tickets already soiled through having been too frequently offered.
"Master," she said, addressing Constantin Marc, "you know that next Sunday I am to give a reading, with appropriate remarks, of the best letters of Madame de Sevigne, for the benefit of the three poor orphans left by Lacour, the actors who died this winter in so deplorable a fashion."
"Had he any talent?" asked Constantin Marc.
"None whatever," said Nanteuil.
"Well, then, in what way is his death deplorable?"
"Oh, Master," sighed Madame Doulce, "do not pretend to be unfeeling."
"I am not pretending to be unfeeling. But here is something that surprises me: the value which we set upon the lives of those who are not of the slightest interest to us. We seem as though we believe that life is in itself something precious. Yet nature teaches us plainly enough that nothing is more worthless and contemptible. In former days people were less besmeared with sentimentalism. Each of us held his own life to be infinitely precious, but he did not profess any respect whatever for the life of others. We were nearer to nature in those days. We were created to devour one another. But our debilitated, enervated, hypocritical race wallows in a sly cannibalism. While we are gulping one another down we declare that life is sacred, and we no longer dare to confess that life is murder."
"That life is murder," echoed Chevalier dreamily, without grasping the meaning of the words.
Then he poured forth a string of nebulous ideas:
"Murder and bloodshed, that may be! But amusing bloodshed, and comical murder. Life is a burlesque catastrophe, a terrible comedy, the mask of carnival over blood-stained cheeks. That is what life means to the artist; the artist on the stage, and the artist in action."
Nanteuil uneasily sought a meaning in these confused phrases.
The actor continued excitedly:
"Life is yet another thing: it is the flower and the knife, it is to see red one day and blue the next, it is hatred and love, ravishing, delightful hatred, cruel love."
"Monsieur Chevalier," asked Constantin Marc in the quietest of tones, "does it not seem to you natural to be a murderer, and do you not think that it is merely the fear of being killed that prevents us from killing?"
Chevalier replied in deep, pensive tones:
"Most certainly not! It would not be the fear of being killed that would prevent me from killing. I have no fear of death. But I feel a respect for the life of others. I am humane in spite of myself. I have for some time past been seriously considering the question which you have just asked me, Monsieur Constantin Marc. I have pondered over it day and night, and I know now that I could not kill any one.'"
At this, Nanteuil, filled with joy, cast upon him a look of contempt. She feared him no longer, and she could not forgive him for having alarmed her.
"Good evening; I have a headache. Good-bye till to-morrow, Monsieur Constantin Marc." And she went out briskly.
Chevalier ran after her down the corridor, descended the stage staircase behind her, and rejoined her by the stage doorkeeper's box.
"Felicie, come and dine with me to-night at our cabaret. I should be so glad if you would! Will you?"
"Good gracious, no!"
"Why won't you?"
"Leave me alone; you are bothering me!"
She tried to escape. He detained her.
"I love you so! Don't be too cruel to me!"
Taking a step towards him, her lips curling back from her clenched teeth, she hissed into his ear:
"It's all over, over, over! You hear me? I am fed up with you."
Then, very gently and solemnly, he said:
"It is the last time that we two shall speak together. Listen, Felicie, before there is a tragedy I ought to warn you. I cannot compel you to love me. But I do not intend that you shall love another. For the last time I advise you not to see Monsieur de Ligny again, I shall prevent your belonging to him."
"You will prevent me? You? My poor dear fellow!"
In a still more gentle tone he replied:
"I mean it; I shall do it. A man can get what he wants; only he must pay the price."
Returning home, Felicie succumbed to a fit of tears. She saw Chevalier once more imploring her in a despairing voice with the look of a poor man. She had heard that voice and seen that expression when passing tramps, worn out with fatigue, on the high road, when her mother fearing that her lungs were affected, had taken her to spend the winter at Antibes with a wealthy aunt. She despised Chevalier for his gentleness and tranquil manner. But the recollection of that face and that voice disturbed her. She could not eat, she felt as if she were suffocating. In the evening she was attacked by such an excruciating internal pain that she thought she must be dying. She thought this feeling of prostration was due to the fact that it was two days since she had seen Robert. It was only nine o'clock. She hoped that she might find him still at home, and put on her hat.
"Mamma, I have to go to the theatre this evening. I am off."
Out of consideration for her mother, she was in the habit of making such veiled explanations.
"Go, my child, but don't come home too late."
Ligny lived with his parents. He had, on the top floor of the charming house in the Rue Vernet, a small bachelor flat, lit by round windows, which he called his "oeil-de-boeuf." Felicie sent word by the hall-porter that a lady was waiting for him in a carriage. Ligny did not care for women to look him up too often in the bosom of his family. His father, who was in the diplomatic service, and deeply engrossed in the foreign interests of the country, remained in an incredible state of ignorance as to what went on in his own house. But Madame de Ligny was determined that the decencies of life should be observed in her home, and her son was careful to satisfy her requirements in the matter of outward appearances, since they never probed to the bottom of things. She left him perfectly free to love where he would, and only rarely, in serious and expansive moments, did she hint that it was to the advantage of young men to cultivate the acquaintance of women of their own class. Hence it was that Robert had always dissuaded Felicie from coming to him in the Rue Vernet. He had rented, in the Boulevard de Villiers, a small house, where they could meet in absolute freedom. But on the present occasion, after two days without seeing her, he was greatly pleased by her unexpected visit, and he came down immediately.
Leaning back in the cab, they drove through the darkness and the snow, at the quiet pace of their aged hack, through the streets and boulevards, while the darkness of the night cloaked their love-making.
At her door, having seen her home, he said:
"Good-bye till to-morrow."
"Yes, to-morrow, Boulevard de Villiers. Come early."
She was leaning on him preparatory to stepping down from the cab. Suddenly she started back.
"There! There! Among the trees. He has seen us. He was watching us."
"A man—some one I don't know."
She had just recognized Chevalier. She stepped out, rang the bell, and, nestling in Robert's fur coat, waited, trembling, for the door to open. When it was opened, she detained him.
"Robert, see me upstairs, I am frightened."
Not without some impatience, he followed her up the stairs.
Chevalier had waited for Felicie, in the little dining-room, before the armour which she had worn as Jeanne d'Arc, together with Madame Nanteuil, until one o'clock in the morning. He had left at that hour, and had watched for her on the pavement, and on seeing the cab stop in front of the door he had concealed himself behind a tree. He knew very well that she would return with Ligny; but when he saw them together it was as if the earth had yawned beneath him, and, so that he should not fall to the ground, he had clutched the trunk of the tree. He remained until Ligny had emerged from the house; he watched him as, wrapped in his fur coat, he got into the cab, took a couple of steps as if to spring on him, stopped short, and then with long strides went down the boulevard.
He went his way, driven by the rain and wind. Feeling too hot, he doffed his felt hat, and derived a certain pleasure from the sense of the icy drops of water on his forehead. He was vaguely conscious that houses, trees, walls, and lights went past him indefinitely; he wandered on, dreaming.
He found himself, without knowing how he had got there, on a bridge which he hardly knew. Half-way across it stood the colossal statue of a woman. His mind was now at rest; he had formed a resolution. It was an old idea, which he had now driven into his brain like a nail, which pierced it through and through. He no longer examined it. He calculated coldly the means of carrying out the thing he had determined to do. He walked straight ahead at random, absorbed in thought, and as calm as a mathematician.
On the Pont des Arts he became aware that a dog was following him. He was a big, long-haired farm dog, with eyes of different colours, which were full of gentleness, and an expression of infinite distress. Chevalier spoke to him:
"You've no collar. You are not happy. Poor fellow, I can't do anything for you."
By four o'clock in the morning he found himself in the Avenue de l'Observatoire. On seeing the houses of the Boulevard Saint-Michel he experienced a painful impression and abruptly turned back toward the Observatory. The dog had vanished. Near the monument of the Lion of Belfort, Chevalier stopped in front of a deep trench which cut the road in two. Against the bank of excavated earth, under a tarpaulin supported by four stakes, an old man was keeping vigil before a brazier. The lappets of his rabbit-skin cap were down over his ears; his huge nose was a flaming red. He raised his head; his eyes, which were watering, seemed wholly white, without pupils, each set in a ring of fire and tears. He was stuffing into the bowl of his cutty a few scraps of canteen tobacco, mixed with bread-crumbs, which did not fill half the bowl of his little pipe.
"Will you have some tobacco, old fellow?" asked Chevalier, offering him his pouch.
The man's answer was slow in coming. His understanding was not quick, and courtesies astonished him. Finally, he opened a mouth which was quite black, and said:
"I won't say no to that."
He half rose from his seat. One of his feet was shod in an old slipper; the other was swathed in rags. Slowly, with hands numb with the cold, he stuffed his pipe. It was snowing, a snow that melted as it fell.
"You will excuse me?" said Chevalier, and he slipped under the tarpaulin and seated himself beside the old man.
From time to time they exchanged a remark.
"It's what we expect at this season. Winter's hard; summer's better."
"So you look after the job at night, old fellow?"
The old man answered readily when questioned. Before he spoke his throat emitted a long, very gentle murmur.
"I do one thing one day; another thing another. Odd jobs. See?"
"You are not a Parisian?"
"No, I was born in La Creuse. I used to work as a navvy in the Vosges. I left there the year the Prussians and other foreigners came. There were thousands of them. Can't understand where they all came from. Maybe you've heard of the war of the Prussians, young man?"
He remained silent for a long spell and then resumed:
"So you are out on a spree, my lad. You don't feel like going back to the works yet?"
"I am an actor," replied Chevalier.
The old man who did not understand, inquired:
"Where is it, your works?"
Chevalier was anxious to rouse the old man's admiration.
"I play comedy parts in a big theatre," he said. "I am one of the principal actors at the Odeon. You know the Odeon?"
The watchman shook his head. No, he did not know the Odeon. After a prolonged silence, he once more opened the black cavern of his mouth:
"And so, young man, you are on the loose. You don't want to go back to the works, eh?"
"Read the paper the day after to-morrow, you will see my name in it."
The old man tried to discover a meaning in these words, but it was too difficult; he gave it up, and reverted to his familiar train of thought.
"When once one's off on the loose, it is sometimes for weeks and months."
At daybreak, Chevalier resumed his wanderings. The sky was milky. Heavy wheels were breaking the silence of the paved roads. Voices, here and there, rang through the keen air. The snow was no longer falling. He walked on at haphazard. The spectacle of the city's reviving life made him feel almost cheerful. On the Pont des Arts he stood for a long time watching the Seine flow by, after which he continued on his way. On the Place du Havre he saw an open cafe. A faint streak of dawn was reddening the front windows. The waiters were sanding the brick pavement and setting out the tables. He flung himself into a chair.
"Waiter, an absinthe."
In the cab, beyond the fortifications, which were skirted by the deserted boulevard, Felicie and Robert held one another in a close embrace.
"Don't you love your own Felicie? Tell me! Doesn't it flatter your vanity to possess a little woman who makes people cheer and clap her, who is written about in the newspapers? Mamma pastes all my notices in her album. The album is full already."
He replied that he had not waited for her to succeed before discovering how charming she was; and, in fact, their liaison had begun when she was making an obscure first appearance at the Odeon in a revival which had fallen flat.
"When you told me that you wanted me, I didn't keep you waiting, did I? We didn't take long about that! Wasn't I right? You are too sensible to think badly of me because I didn't keep things dragging along. When I saw you for the first time I felt that I was to be yours, so it wasn't worth while delaying. I don't regret it. Do you?"
The cab stopped at a short distance from the fortifications, in front of a garden railing.
This railing, which had not been painted for a long time, stood on a wall faced with pebbles, low and broad enough to permit of children perching themselves on it. It was screened half-way up by a sheet of iron with a toothed edge, and its rusty spikes did not rise more than ten feet above the ground. In the centre, between two pillars of masonry surmounted by cast-iron vases, the railing formed a gate opening in the middle, filled in across its lower part, and furnished, on the inside, with worm-eaten slatted shutters.
They alighted from the cab. The trees of the boulevard, in four straight lines, lifted their frail skeletons in the fog. They heard, through the wide silence, the diminishing rattle of their cab, on its way back to the barrier, and the trotting of a horse coming from Paris.
"How dismal the country is!" she said, with a shiver.
"But, my darling, the Boulevard de Villiers is not the country."
He could not open the gate, and the lock creaked. Irritated by the sound, she said:
"Open it, do: the noise is getting on my nerves."
She noticed that the cab which had come from Paris had stopped near their house, at about the tenth tree from where she stood; she looked at the thin, steaming horse and the shabby driver, and asked:
"What is that carriage?"
"It's a cab, my pet."
"Why does it stop here?"
"It has not stopped here? It's stopping in front of the next house."
"There is no next house; there's only a vacant lot."
"Well, then, it has stopped in front of a vacant lot. What more can I tell you?"
"I don't see anyone getting out of it."
"The driver is perhaps waiting for a fare."
"What, in front of a vacant lot!"
"Probably, my dear. This lock has got rusty."
She crept along, hiding herself behind the trees, toward the spot where the cab had stopped, and then returned to Ligny, who had succeeded in unlocking the gate.
"Robert, the blinds of the cab are down."
"Well, then, there's a loving couple inside."
"Don't you think there's something queer about that cab?"
"It is not a thing of beauty, but all cabs are ugly. Come in."
"Isn't somebody following us?"
"Whom do you expect to follow us?"
"I don't know. One of your women friends."
But she was not saying what was in her thoughts.
"Do come in, my darling."
When she had entered the garden she said:
"Be sure to close the gate properly, Robert."
Before them stretched a small oval grass-plot.
Behind it stood the house, with its flight of three steps, sheltered by a zinc portico, its six windows, and its slate roof.
Ligny had rented it for a year from an old merchant's clerk, who had wearied of it because nocturnal prowlers used to steal his fowls and rabbits. On either side of the grass-plot a gravel path led to the steps. They took the path on the right. The gravel creaked beneath their feet.
"Madame Simonneau has forgotten to close the shutters again," said Ligny.
Madame Simonneau was a woman from Neuilly, who came every morning to clean up.
A large Judas-tree, leaning to one side, and to all appearance dead, stretched one of its round black branches as far as the portico.
"I don't quite like that tree," said Felicie; "its branches are like great snakes. One of them goes almost into our room."
They went up the three front steps; and, while he was looking through his bunch of keys for the key of the front door, she rested her head on his shoulder.
* * * * *
Felicie, when unveiling her beauty, displayed a serene pride which made her adorable. She revealed such a quiet satisfaction in her nudity that her chemise, when it fell to her feet, made the onlooker think of a white peacock.
And when Robert saw her in her nakedness, bright as the streams or stars, he said:
"At least you don't make one badger you! Its curious: there are women, who, even if you don't ask them for anything, surrender themselves completely, go just as far as it's possible to go, yet all the time they won't let you see so much as a finger-breadth of skin."
"Why?" asked Felicie, playing with the airy threads of her hair.
Robert de Ligny had experience of women. Yet he did not realize what an insidious question this was. He had received some training in moral science, and in replying he derived inspiration from the professors whose classes he had attended.
"It is doubtless a matter of training, religious principles, and an innate feeling which survives even when——"
This was not at all what he ought to have replied, for Felicie, shrugging her shoulders, and placing her hands upon her smoothly polished hips, interrupted him sharply:
"Well, you are simple! It's because they've got bad figures! Training! Religion! It makes me boil to hear such rubbish! Have I been brought up any worse than other women? Have I less religion than they have? Tell me, Robert, how many really well-made women have you ever seen? Just reckon them up on your fingers. Yes, there are heaps of women who won't show their shoulders or anything. Take Fagette; she won't let even women see her undress; when she puts a clean chemise on she holds the old one between her teeth. Sure enough, I should do the same if I were built as she is!"
She relapsed into silence, and, with quiet arrogance, slowly ran the palms of her hands over her sides and her loins, observing proudly:
"And the best of it is that there's not too much of me anywhere."
She was conscious of the charm imparted to her beauty by the graceful slenderness of her outlines.
Now her head, thrown back on the pillow, was bathed in the masses of her golden tresses, which lay streaming in all directions; her slender body, slightly raised by a pillow slipped beneath her loins, lay motionless at full length; one gleaming leg was extended along the edge of the bed, ending in a sharply chiselled foot like the point of a sword. The light from the great fire which had been lit in the fireplace gilded her flesh, casting palpitating lights and shadows over her motionless body, clothing it in mystery and splendour, while her outer clothing and her underlinen, lying on the chairs and the carpet, waited, like a docile flock.
She raised herself on her elbow, resting her cheek in her hand.
"You are the first, really you are, I am not lying: the others don't exist."
He felt no jealousy in respect of the past; he had no fear of comparisons. He questioned her:
"Then the others?"
"To begin with, there were only two: my professor, and he of course doesn't count, and there was the man I told you about, a solid sort of a person, whom my mother saddled me with."
"I swear it."
"Chevalier? He? Good gracious, no! You wouldn't have had me look at him!"
"And the solid sort of person found by your mother, he, too, does not count any more?"
"I assure you that, with you, I am another woman. It's the solemn truth that you are the first to possess me. It's queer, all the same. Directly I set eyes on you I wanted you. Quite suddenly I felt I must have you. I felt it somehow. What? I should find it very hard to say. Oh, I didn't stop to think. With your conventional, stiff, frigid manners, and your appearance, like a curly-haired little wolf, you pleased me, that was all! And now I could not do without you. No, indeed, I couldn't."
He assured her that on her surrender he had been deliciously surprised; he said all sorts of pretty, caressing things, all of which had been said before.
Taking his head in her hands, she said:
"You have really the teeth of a wolf. I think it was your teeth that made me want you the first day. Bite me!"
He pressed her to his bosom, and felt her firm supple body respond to his embrace. Suddenly she released herself:
"Don't you hear the gravel creaking?"
"Listen: I can hear a sound of footsteps on the path."
Sitting upright, her body bent forward, she strained her ears.
He was disappointed, excited, irritated, and perhaps his self-esteem was slightly hurt.
"What has come over you? It's absurd."
She cried very sharply:
"Do hold your tongue!"
She was listening intently to a slight sound, near at hand, as of breaking branches.
Suddenly she leapt from the bed with such instinctive agility, with a movement so like the rapid spring of a young animal, that Ligny, although by no means of a literary turn of mind, thought of the cat metamorphosed into a woman.
"Are you crazy? Where are you going?"
Raising a corner of the curtain, she wiped the moisture from the corner of a pane, and peered out through the window. She saw nothing but the night. The noise had ceased altogether.