My Double Life
Part 9 out of 9
performances, _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, _Froufrou_, _La Dame aux Camelias_
(matinee), and _Hernani_ had a colossal success and brought in fabulous
I was invited by the poet Frechette and a banker whose name I do not
remember to pay a visit to the Iroquois. I accepted with joy, and went
there accompanied by my sister, Jarrett, and Angelo, who was always
ready for a dangerous excursion. I felt in safety in the presence of
this artiste, full of bravery and composure, and gifted with herculean
strength. The only thing he lacked to make him perfect was talent. He
had none then, and never did have any.
The St. Lawrence river was frozen over almost entirely; we crossed it in
a carriage along a route indicated by two rows of branches fixed in the
ice. We had four carriages. The distance between Caughnanwaga and
Montreal was five kilometres.
This visit to the Iroquois was deliciously enchanting. I was introduced
to the chief, father, and mayor of the Iroquois tribes. Alas! this
former chief, son of "Big White Eagle," surnamed during his childhood
"Sun of the Nights," now clothed in sorry European rags, was selling
liquor, thread, needles, flax, pork fat, chocolate, &c. All that
remained of his mad rovings through the old wild forests--when he roamed
naked over a land free of all allegiance--was the stupor of the bull
held prisoner by the horns. It is true he also sold brandy, and that he
quenched his thirst, as did all of them, at that source of
Sun of the Nights introduced me to his daughter, a girl of eighteen to
twenty years of age, insipid, and devoid of beauty and grace.
She sat down at the piano and played a tune that was popular at the
time--I do not remember what. I was in a hurry to leave the store, the
home of these two victims of civilisation.
I visited Caughnanwaga, but found no pleasure in it. The same
compression of the throat, the same retrospective anguish, caused me to
revolt against man's cowardice which hid under the name of civilisation
the most unjust and most protected of crimes.
I returned to Montreal somewhat sad and tired. The success of our four
performances was extraordinary, but what gave them a special charm in my
eyes was the infernal and joyous noise made by the students. The doors
of the theatre were opened every day one hour in advance for them. They
then arranged matters to suit themselves. Most of them were gifted with
magnificent voices. They separated into groups according to the
requirements of the songs they wished to sing. They then prepared, by
means of a strong string worked by a pulley, the aerial route that was
to be followed by the flower-bedecked baskets which descended from their
paradise to where I was. They tied ribbons round the necks of doves
bearing sonnets and good wishes.
These flowers and birds were sent off during the "calls," and by a happy
disposition of the strings the flowers fell at my feet, the doves flew
where their astonishment led them; and every evening these messages of
grace and beauty were repeated. I experienced considerable emotion the
first evening. The Marquis of Lorne, son-in-law of Queen Victoria,
Governor of Canada, was of royal punctuality. The students knew it. The
house was noisy and quivering. Through an opening in the curtain I gazed
on the composition of this assembly. All of a sudden a silence came over
it without any outward reason for it, and the "Marseillaise" was sung by
three hundred warm young male voices. With a courtesy full of grandeur
the Governor stood up at the first notes of our national hymn. The whole
house was on its feet in a second, and the magnificent anthem echoed in
our hearts like a call from the mother-country. I do not believe I ever
heard the "Marseillaise" sung with keener emotion and unanimity. As soon
as it was over, the plaudits of the crowd broke out three times over;
then, upon a sharp gesture from the Governor, the band played "God save
I never saw a prouder or more dignified gesture than that of the Marquis
of Lorne when he motioned to the conductor of the orchestra. He was
quite willing to allow these sons of submissive Frenchmen to feel a
regret, perhaps even a flickering hope. The first on his feet, he
listened to that fine plaint with respect, but he smothered its last
echo beneath the English National Anthem.
Being an Englishman, he was incontestably right in doing so.
I gave for the last performance, on December 25, Christmas Day,
The Bishop of Montreal again thundered against me, against Scribe and
Legouve, and the poor artistes who had come with me, who could not help
it. I do not know whether he did not even threaten to excommunicate all
of us, living and dead. Lovers of France and French art, in order to
reply to his abusive attack, unyoked my horses, and my sleigh was almost
carried by an immense crowd, among which were the deputies and
notabilities of the city.
One has only to consult the daily papers of that period to realise the
crushing effect caused by such a triumphant return to my hotel.
The day following, Sunday, I went at seven o'clock in the morning, in
company with Jarrett and my sister, for a promenade on the banks of the
St. Lawrence river. At a given moment I ordered the carriage to stop,
with the object of walking a little way.
My sister laughingly said, "What if we climb on to that large piece of
ice that seems ready to crack?"
No sooner thought of than done.
And behold both of us walking on the ice, trying to break it loose! All
of a sudden a loud shout from Jarrett made us understand that we had
succeeded. As a matter of fact, our ice barque was already floating free
in the narrow channel of the river that remained always open on account
of the force of the current. My sister and I sat down, for the piece of
ice rocked about in every direction, making both of us laugh
inordinately. Jarret's cries caused people to gather. Men armed with
boat-hooks endeavoured to stop our progress, but it was not easy, for
the edges of the channel were too friable to bear the weight of a man.
Ropes were thrown out to us. We caught hold of one of them with our four
hands, but the sudden pull of the men in drawing us towards them cast
our raft so suddenly against the ice edges that it broke in two, and we
remained, full of fear this time, on one small part of our skiff. I
laughed no longer, for we were beginning to travel somewhat fast, and
the channel was opening out in width. But in one of the turns it made we
were fortunately squeezed in between two immense blocks, and to this
fact we owed being able to escape with our lives.
The men who had followed our very rapid ride with real courage climbed
on to the blocks. A harpoon was thrown with marvellous skill on to our
icy wreck so as to retain us in our position, for the current, rather
strong underneath, might have caused us to move. A ladder was brought
and planted against one of the large blocks; its steps afforded us means
of delivery. My sister was the first to climb up, and I followed,
somewhat ashamed at our ridiculous escapade.
During the length of time required to regain the bank the carriage, with
Jarrett in it, was able to rejoin us. He was pallid, not from fear of
the danger I had undergone, but at the idea that if I died the tour
would come to an end. He said to me quite seriously, "If you had lost
your life, Madame, you would have been dishonest, for you would have
broken your contract of your own free will."
We had just enough time to get to the station, where the train was ready
to take me to Springfield.
An immense crowd was waiting, and it was with the same cry of love,
underlined with _au revoirs_, that the Canadian public wished us
ST. LOUIS AND CINCINNATI--CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
After our immense and noisy success at Montreal, we were somewhat
surprised with the icy welcome of the public at Springfield.
We played _La Dame aux Camelias_--in America _Camille_, why, no one was
ever able to tell me. This play, which the public rushed to see in
crowds, shocked the over-strained Puritanism of the small American
towns. The critics of the large cities discussed this modern Magdalene.
But those of the small towns began by throwing stones at her. This
stilted reserve on the part of the public, prejudiced against the
impurity of Marguerite Gautier, we met with from time to time in the
small cities. Springfield at that time had barely thirty thousand
During the day I passed at Springfield I called at a gunsmith's to
purchase a rifle. The salesman showed me into a long and very narrow
courtyard, where I tried several shots. On turning round I was surprised
and confused to see two gentlemen taking an interest in my shooting. I
wished to withdraw at once, but one of them came up to me:
"Would you like, Madame, to come and fire off a cannon?" I almost fell
to the ground with surprise, and did not reply for a second. Then I
said, "Yes, I would."
An appointment was made with my strange questioner, who was the director
of the Colt gun factory. An hour afterwards I went to the rendezvous.
More than thirty people who had been hastily invited were there already.
It got on my nerves a trifle. I fired off the newly invented
quick-firing cannon. It amused me very much without procuring me any
emotion, and that evening, after the icy performance, we left for
Baltimore with a vertiginous rush, the play having finished later than
the hour fixed for the departure of the train. It was necessary to catch
it up at any cost. The three enormous carriages that made up my special
train went off under full steam. With two engines, we bounded over the
metals and dropped again, thanks to some miracle.
We finally succeeded in catching up the express, which knew we were on
its track, having been warned by telegram. It made a short stop, just
long enough to couple us to it anyhow, and in that way we reached
Baltimore, where I stayed four days and gave five performances.
Two things struck me in that city: the deadly cold in the hotels and the
theatre, and the loveliness of the women.
I felt a profound sadness at Baltimore, for I spent the 1st of January
far from everything that was dear to me. I wept all night, and underwent
that moment of discouragement that makes one wish for death.
Our success, however, had been colossal in that charming city, which I
left with regret to go to Philadelphia, where we were to remain a week.
That handsome city I do not care for. I received an enthusiastic welcome
there, in spite of a change of programme the first evening. Two artistes
having missed the train, we could not play _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, and I
had to replace it by _Phedre_, the only piece in which the absentees
could be replaced. The receipts averaged twenty thousand francs for the
seven performances given in six days. My sojourn was saddened by a
letter announcing the death of my friend Gustave Flaubert, the writer
who had the beauty of our language at heart.
From Philadelphia we proceeded to Chicago.
At the station I was received by a deputation of Chicago ladies, and a
bouquet of rare flowers was handed to me by a delightful young lady,
Madame Lily B.
Jarrett then led me into one of the rooms of the station, where the
French delegates were waiting.
A very short but highly emotional speech from our Consul spread
confidence and friendly feelings among every one, and after having
returned heartfelt thanks, I was preparing to leave the station, when I
stopped stupefied--and it seems that my features assumed such an intense
expression of suffering that everybody ran towards me to offer
But a sudden anger electrified all my being, and I walked straight
towards the horrible vision that had just appeared before me--the whale
man! He was alive, that terrible Smith!--enveloped in furs, with diamonds
on all of his fingers. He was there with a bouquet in his hand, the
wretched brute! I refused the flowers and repulsed him with all my
strength, increased tenfold by anger, and a flood of confused words
escaped from my pallid lips. But this scene charmed him, for it was
repeated and spread about, magnified, and the whale had more visitors
I went to the Palmer House, one of the most magnificent hotels of that
day, whose proprietor, Mr. Potter-Palmer, was a perfect gentleman,
courteous, kind, and generous, for he filled the immense apartment I
occupied with the rarest flowers, and taxed his ingenuity in order to
have my meals cooked and served in the French style, a difficult matter
in those days.
We were to remain a fortnight in Chicago. Our success exceeded all
expectations. These two weeks seemed to me the most agreeable days I had
had since my arrival in America. First of all, there was the vitality of
the city in which men pass each other without ever stopping, with
knitted brows, with one thought in mind, "the end to attain." They move
on and on, never turning for a cry or prudent warning. What takes place
behind them matters little. They do not wish to know why a cry is
raised, and they have no time to be prudent: "the end to attain" awaits
Women here, as everywhere else in America, do not work, but they do not
stroll about the streets, as in other cities: they walk quickly; they
also are in a hurry to seek amusement. During the day time I went some
distance into the surrounding country in order not to meet the
sandwich-men advertising the whale.
One day I went to the pigs' slaughter-house. Ah, what a dreadful and
magnificent sight! There were three of us, my sister, myself, and an
Englishman, a friend of mine.
On arrival we saw hundreds of pigs hurrying, bunched together, grunting
and snorting, along a small narrow raised bridge.
Our carriage passed under this bridge, and stopped before a group of men
who were waiting for us. The manager of the stock-yards received us and
led the way to the special slaughter-houses. On entering into the
immense shed, which is dimly lighted by windows with greasy and ruddy
panes, an abominable smell gets into your throat, a smell that only
leaves one several days afterwards. A sanguinary mist rises everywhere,
like a light cloud floating on the side of a mountain and lit up by the
setting sun. An infernal hubbub drums itself into your brain: the almost
human cries of the pigs being slaughtered, the violent strokes of the
hatchets lopping off the limbs, the repeated shouts of the "ripper," who
with a superb and sweeping gesture lifts the heavy hatchet, and with one
stroke opens from top to bottom the unfortunate, quivering animal hung
on a hook. During the terror of the moment one hears the continuous
grating of the revolving razor which in one second removes the bristles
from the trunk thrown to it by the machine that has cut off the four
legs; the whistle of the escaping steam from the hot water in which the
head of the animal is scalded; the rippling of the water that is
constantly renewed; the cascade of the waste water; the rumbling of the
small trains carrying under wide arches trucks loaded with hams,
sausages, &c., and the whistling of the engines warning one of the
danger of their approach, which in this spot of terrible massacre seems
to be the perpetual knell of wretched agonies.
Nothing was more Hoffmanesque than this slaughter of pigs at the period
I am speaking about, for since then a sentiment of humanity has crept,
although still somewhat timidly, into this temple of porcine hecatombs.
I returned from this visit quite ill. That evening I played in _Phedre_.
I went on to the stage quite unnerved, and trying to do everything to
get rid of the horrible vision of the stock-yard. I threw myself heart
and soul into my _role_, so much so that at the end of the fourth act I
absolutely fainted on the stage.
On the day of my last performance a magnificent collar of camellias in
diamonds was handed me on behalf of the ladies of Chicago. I left that
city fond of everything in it: its people; its lake, as big as a small
inland sea; its audiences, who were so enthusiastic; everything,
everything--except its stock-yards.
I did not even bear any ill-will towards the Bishop, who also, as had
happened in other cities, had denounced my art and French literature. By
the violence of his sermons he had, as a matter of fact, advertised us
so well that Mr. Abbey, the manager, wrote the following letter to him:
"Your Grace ----, Whenever I visit your city, I am accustomed to spend
four hundred dollars in advertising. But as you have done the
advertising for me, I send you two hundred dollars for your poor.
We left Chicago to go to St. Louis, where we arrived after having
covered 283 miles in fourteen hours.
In the drawing-room of my car, Abbey and Jarrett showed me the statement
of the sixty-two performances that had been given since our arrival. The
gross receipts were $227,459, that is to say, 1,137,295 francs, an
average of 18,343 francs per performance. This gave me great pleasure on
Henry Abbey's account, for he had lost all he had in his previous tour
with an admirable troup of opera artistes, and greater pleasure still on
my own account, as I was to receive a good share of the takings.
We stayed at St. Louis all the week, from January 24 to 31. I must admit
that this city, which was specially French, was less to my liking than
the other American cities, as it was dirty and the hotels were not very
comfortable. Since then St. Louis has made great strides, but it was the
Germans who planted there the bulb of progress. At the time of which I
speak, the year 1881, the city was repulsively dirty. In those days,
alas! we were not great at colonising, and all the cities where French
influence preponderated were poor and behind the times. I was bored to
death at St. Louis, and I wanted to leave the place at once, after
paying an indemnity to the manager, but Jarrett, the upright man, the
stern man of duty, the ferocious man, said to me, holding my contract in
"No, Madame; you must stay. You can die of _ennui_ here if you like, but
stay you must."
By way of entertaining me he took me to a celebrated grotto where we
were to see some millions of fish without eyes. The light had never
penetrated into this grotto, and as the first fish who lived there had
no use for their eyes, their descendants had no eyes at all. We went to
see this grotto. It was a long way off. We went down and groped our way
to the grotto very cautiously, on all fours like cats. The road seemed
to me interminable, but at last the guide told us that we had arrived at
our destination. We were able to stand upright again, as the grotto
itself was higher. I could see nothing, but I heard a match being
struck, and the guide then lighted a small lantern. Just in front of me,
nearly at my feet, was a rather deep natural basin. "You see," remarked
our guide phlegmatically, "that is the pond, but just at present there
is no water in it; neither are there any fish. You must come again in
three months' time."
Jarrett made such a fearful grimace that I was seized with an
uncontrollable fit of laughter, of that kind of laughter which borders
on madness. I was suffocated with it, and I choked and laughed till the
tears came. I then went down into the basin of the pond in search of a
relic of some kind, a little skeleton of a dead fish, or anything, no
matter what. There was nothing to be found, though--absolutely nothing.
We had to return on all fours, as we came. I made Jarrett go first, and
the sight of his big back in his fur coat and of him walking on hands
and feet, grumbling and swearing as he went, gave me such delight that I
no longer regretted anything, and I gave ten dollars to the guide for
his ineffable surprise.
We returned to the hotel, and I was informed that a jeweller had been
waiting for me more than two hours. "A jeweller!" I exclaimed; "but I
have no intention of buying any jewellery. I have too much as it is."
Jarrett, however, winked at Abbey, who was there as we entered. I saw at
once that there was some understanding between the jeweller and my two
_impresarii_. I was told that my ornaments needed cleaning, that the
jeweller would undertake to make them look like new, repair them if they
required it, and in a word exhibit them. I rebelled, but it was of no
use. Jarrett assured me that the ladies of St. Louis were particularly
fond of shows of this kind. He said it would be an excellent
advertisement; that my jewellery was very much tarnished, that several
stones were missing, and that this man would replace them for nothing,
"What a saving!" he added. "Just think of it!"
I gave up, for discussions of that kind bore me to death, and two days
later the ladies of St. Louis went to admire my ornaments in this
jeweller's show-cases under a blaze of light. Poor Madame Guerard, who
also went to see them, came back horrified.
"They have added to your things," she said, "sixteen pairs of earrings,
two necklaces, and thirty rings; a lorgnette studded with diamonds and
rubies, a gold cigarette-holder set with turquoises; a small pipe, the
amber mouthpiece of which is encircled with diamond stars; sixteen
bracelets, a tooth-pick studded with sapphires, a pair of spectacles
with gold mounts ending with small acorns of pearls.
"They must have been made specially," said poor Guerard, "for there
can't be any one who would wear such glasses, and, on them were written
the words, 'Spectacles which Madame Sarah Bernhardt wears when she is at
I certainly thought that this was exceeding all the limits allowed to
advertisement. To make me smoke pipes and wear spectacles was going
rather too far, and I got into my carriage and drove at once to the
jeweller's. I arrived just in time to find the place closed. It was five
o'clock on Saturday afternoon; the lights were out, and everything was
dark and silent. I returned to the hotel, and spoke to Jarrett of my
annoyance. "What does it all matter, Madame?" he said tranquilly. "So
many girls wear spectacles; and as to the pipe, the jeweller tells me he
has received five orders from it, and that it is going to be quite the
fashion. Anyhow, it is of no use worrying about the matter, as the
exhibition is now over. Your jewellery will be returned tonight, and we
leave here the day after to-morrow."
That evening the jeweller returned all the objects I had lent him, and
they had been polished and repaired so that they looked quite new. He
had included with them a gold cigarette-holder set with turquoises, the
very one that had been on view. I simply could not make that man
understand anything, and my anger cooled down when confronted by his
pleasant manner and his joy.
This advertisement, though, came very near costing me my life. Tempted
by this huge quantity of jewellery, the greater part of which did not
belong to me, a little band of sharpers planned to rob me, believing
that they would find all these valuables in the large hand-bag which my
steward always carried.
On Sunday, January 30, we left St. Louis at eight o'clock in the morning
for Cincinnati. I was in my magnificently appointed Pullman car, and I
had requested that the car should be put at the end of our special
train, so that from the platform I might enjoy the beauty of the
landscape, which passes before one like a continually changing living
We had scarcely been more than ten minutes _en route_ when the guard
suddenly stooped down and looked over the little balcony. He then drew
back quickly, and his face turned pale. Seizing my hand, he said in a
very excited tone in English, "Please go inside, Madame!" I understood
that we were in danger of some kind. He pulled the alarm signal, made a
sign to another guard, and before the train had quite come to a
standstill the two men sprang down and disappeared under the train.
The guard had fired a revolver in order to attract every one's
attention, and Jarrett, Abbey, and the artistes hurried out into the
narrow corridor. I found myself in the midst of them, and to our
stupefaction we saw the two guards dragging out from underneath my
compartment a man armed to the teeth. With a revolver held to his temple
on either side, he decided to confess the truth of the matter.
The jeweller's exhibition had excited the envy of all the gangs of
thieves, and this man had been despatched by an organised band at St.
Louis to relieve me of my jewellery.
He was to unhook my carriage from the rest of the train between St.
Louis and Cincinnati, at a certain spot known as the "Little Incline."
As this was to be done during the night, and as my carriage was the
last, the thing was comparatively easy, since it was only a question of
lifting the enormous hook and drawing it out of the link.
The man, a veritable giant, was fastened on to my carriage. We examined
his apparatus, and found that it merely consisted of very thick wide
straps of leather about half a yard wide By means of these he was
secured firmly to the underpart of the train, with his hands perfectly
free. The courage and the _sang-froid_ of that man were admirable. He
told us that seven armed men were waiting for us at the Little Incline,
and that they certainly would not have injured us if we had not
attempted to resist, for all they wanted was my jewellery and the money
which the secretary carried (two thousand three hundred dollars). Oh, he
knew everything; he knew every one's name, and he gabbled on in bad
French, "Oh, as for you, Madame, we should not have done you any harm,
in spite of your pretty little revolver. We should even have let you
And so this man and his gang knew that the secretary slept at my end of
the train, and that he was not to be dreaded much (poor Chatterton!);
that he had with him two thousand three hundred dollars, and that I had
a very prettily chased revolver, ornamented with cats-eyes. The man was
firmly bound and taken in charge by the two guards, and the train was
then backed into St. Louis; we had only started a quarter of an hour
before. The police were informed, and they sent us five detectives. A
goods train which should have departed half an hour before us was sent
on ahead of us. Eight detectives travelled on this goods train, and
received orders to get out at the Little Incline. Our giant was handed
over to the police authorities, but I was promised that he should be
dealt with mercifully on account of the confession he had made. Later on
I learnt that this promise had been kept, as the man was sent back to
his native country, Ireland.
From this time forth my compartment was always placed between two others
every night. In the day-time I was allowed to have my carriage at the
end on condition that I would agree to have on the platform an armed
detective whom I was to pay, by the way, for his services. Our dinner
was very gay, and every one was rather excited. As to the guard who had
discovered the giant hidden under the train, Abbey and I had rewarded
him so lavishly that he was intoxicated, and kept coming on every
occasion to kiss my hand and weep his drunkard's tears, repeating all
the time, "I saved the French lady; I'm a gentleman."
When finally we approached the Little Incline, it was dark. The
engine-driver wanted to rush along at full speed, but we had not gone
five miles when crackers exploded under the wheels and we were obliged
to slacken our pace. We wondered what new danger there was awaiting us,
and we began to feel anxious. The women were nervous, and some of them
were in tears. We went along slowly, peering into the darkness, trying
to make out the form of a man or of several men by the light of each
cracker. Abbey suggested going at full speed, because these crackers had
been placed along the line by the bandits, who had probably thought of
some way of stopping the train in case their giant did not succeed in
unhooking the carriage. The engine-driver refused to go more quickly,
declaring that these crackers were signals placed there by the railway
company, and that he could not risk every one's life on a mere
supposition. The man was quite right, and he was certainly very brave.
"We can certainly settle a handful of ruffians," he said, "but I could
not answer for any one's life if the train went off the lines, clashed
into or collided with something, or went over a precipice."
We continued therefore to go slowly. The lights had been turned off in
the car, so that we might see as much as possible without being seen
ourselves. We had tried to keep the truth from the artistes, except from
three men whom I had sent for to my carriage. The artistes really had
nothing to fear from the robbers, as I was the only person at whom they
were aiming. To avoid all unnecessary questions and evasive answers, we
sent the secretary to tell them that as there was some obstruction on
the line, the train had to go slowly. They were also told that one of
the gas-pipes had to be repaired before we could have the light again.
The communication was then cut between my car and the rest of the train.
We had been going along like this for ten minutes perhaps when
everything was suddenly lighted up by a fire, and we saw a gang of
railway-men hastening towards us. It makes me shudder now when I think
how nearly these poor fellows escaped being killed. Our nerves had been
in such a state of tension for several hours that we imagined at first
that these men were the wretched friends of the giant. Some one fired at
them, and if it had not been for our plucky engine-driver calling out to
them to stop, with the addition of a terrible oath, two or three of
these poor men would have been wounded. I too had seized my revolver,
but before I could have drawn out the ramrod which serves as a cog to
prevent it from going off, any one would have had time to seize me, bind
me, and kill me a hundred times over.
And still any time I go to a place where I think there is danger, I
invariably take my pistol with me, for it is a pistol, and not a
revolver. I always call it a revolver, but in reality it is a pistol,
and a very old-fashioned make too, with this ramrod and the trigger so
hard to pull that I have to use my other hand as well. I am not a bad
shot, for a woman, provided that I may take my time, but this is not
very easy when one wants to fire at a robber. And yet I always have my
pistol with me; it is here on my table, and I can see it as I write. It
is in its case, which is rather too narrow, so that it requires a
certain amount of strength and patience to pull it out. If an assassin
should arrive at this particular moment I should first have to unfasten
the case, which is not an easy matter, then to get the pistol out, pull
out the ramrod, which is rather too firm, and press the trigger with
both hands. And yet, in spite of all this, the human animal is so
strange that this ridiculously useless little object here before me
seems to me an admirable protection. And nervous and timid as I am,
alas! I feel quite safe when I am near to this little friend of mine,
who must roar with laughter inside the little case out of which I can
scarcely drag it.
Well, everything was now explained to us. The goods train which had
started before us ran off the line, but no great damage was done, and no
one was killed. The St. Louis band of robbers had arranged everything,
and had prepared to have this little accident two miles from the Little
Incline, in case their comrade crouching under my car had not been able
to unhook it. The train had left the rails, but when the wretches rushed
forward, believing that it was mine, they found themselves surrounded by
the band of detectives. It seems that they fought like demons. One of
them was killed on the spot, two more wounded, and the remainder taken
prisoners. A few days later the chief of this little band was hanged. He
was a Belgian, named Albert Wirbyn, twenty-five years of age.
I did all in my power to save him, for it seemed to me that
unintentionally I had been the instigator of his evil plan.
If Abbey and Jarrett had not been so rabid for advertisement, if they
had not added more than six hundred thousand francs' worth of jewellery
to mine, this man, this wretched youth would not perhaps have had the
stupid idea of robbing me. Who can say what schemes had floated through
the mind of the poor fellow, who was perhaps half-starved, or perhaps
excited by a clever, inventive brain? Perhaps when he stopped and looked
at the jeweller's window he said to himself: "There is jewellery there
worth a million francs. If it were all mine I would sell it and go back
to Belgium. What joy I could give to my poor mother, who is blinding
herself with work by gaslight, and I could help my sister to get
married." Or perhaps he was an inventor, and he thought to himself: "Ah,
if only I had the money which that jewellery represents I could bring
out my invention myself, instead of selling my patent to some highly
esteemed rascal, who will buy it from me for a crust of bread. What
would it matter to the artiste. Ah, if only I had the money!" Ah, if I
had the money!--perhaps the poor fellow cried with rage to think of all
this wealth belonging to one person. Perhaps the idea of crime
germinated in this way in a mind which had hitherto been pure. Ah, who
can tell to what hope may give birth in a young mind? At first it may be
only a beautiful dream, but this may end in a mad desire to realise the
dream. To steal the goods of another person is certainly not right, but
this should not be punished by death--it certainly should not. To kill a
man of twenty-five years of age is a much greater crime than to steal
jewellery even by force, and a society which bands together in order to
wield the sword of Justice is much more cowardly when it kills than the
man who robs and kills quite alone, at his own risk and peril. Oh, what
tears I wept for that man, whom I did not know at all--who was a rascal
or perhaps a hero! He was perhaps a man of weak intellect who had turned
thief, but he was only twenty-five years of age, and he had a right to
How I hate capital punishment! It is a relic of cowardly barbarism, and
it is a disgrace for civilised countries still to have their guillotines
and scaffolds. Every human being has a moment when his heart is easily
touched, when the tears of grief will flow; and those tears may
fecundate a generous thought which might lead to repentance.
I would not for the whole world be one of those who condemn a man to
death. And yet many of them are good, upright men, who when they return
to their families are affectionate to their wives, and reprove their
children for breaking a doll's head.
I have seen four executions, one in London, one in Spain, and two in
In London the method is hanging, and this seems to me more hideous, more
repugnant, more weird than any other death. The victim was a young man
of about thirty, with a strong, self-willed looking face. I only saw him
a second, and he shrugged his shoulders as he glanced at me, his eyes
expressing his contempt for my curiosity. At that moment I felt that
individual's ideas were very much superior to mine, and the condemned
man seemed to me greater than all who were there. It was, perhaps,
because he was nearer than we all were to the great mystery. I can see
him now smile as they covered his face with the hood, while, as for me,
I rushed away completely upset.
In Madrid I saw a man garrotted, and the barbarity of this torture
terrified me for weeks after. He was accused of having killed his
mother, but no real proof seemed to have been brought forward against
the wretched man. And he cried out, when they were holding him down on
his seat before putting the garrotte on him, "Mother, I shall soon be
with you, and you will tell them all, in my presence, that they have
These words were uttered in Spanish, in a voice that vibrated with
earnestness. They were translated for me by an _attache_ to the British
Embassy, with whom I had gone to see the hideous sight. The wretched man
cried out in such a sincere, heart-rending tone of voice that it was
impossible for him not to have been innocent, and this was the opinion
of all those who were with me.
The two other executions which I witnessed were at the Place de la
Roquette, Paris. The first was that of a young medical student, who with
the help of one of his friends had killed an old woman who sold
newspapers. It was a stupid, odious crime, but the man was more mad than
criminal. He was more than ordinarily intelligent, and had passed his
examinations at an earlier age than is usual. He had worked too hard,
and it had affected his brain. He ought to have been allowed to rest, to
have been treated as an invalid, cured in mind and body, and then
returned to his scientific pursuits. He was a young man quite above the
average as regards intellect. I can see him now, pale and haggard, with
a dreamy, far-away look in his eyes, an expression of infinite sadness.
I know, of course, that he had killed a poor, defenceless old woman.
That was certainly odious, but he was only twenty-three years old, and
his mind was disordered through study and overwork, too much ambition,
and the habit of cutting off arms and legs and dissecting the dead
bodies of women and children. All this does not excuse the man's
abominable deed, but it had all contributed to unhinge his moral sense,
which was perhaps already in a wavering state, thanks to study, poverty,
or atavism. I consider that a crime of high treason against humanity was
committed in taking the life of a man of intellect, who, when once he
had recovered his reason, might have rendered great service to science
and to humanity.
The last execution at which I was present was that of Vaillant, the
anarchist. He was an energetic man, and at the same time mild and
gentle, with very advanced ideas, but not much more advanced than those
of men who have since risen to power.
My theatre at that time was the Renaissance, and he often applied to me
for free seats, as he was too poor to pay for the luxuries of art. Ah,
poverty, what a sorry counsellor art thou, and how tolerant we ought to
be to those who have to endure misery!
One day Vaillant came to see me in my dressing-room at the theatre. I
was playing Lorenzaccio, and he said to me: "Ah, that Florentine was an
anarchist just as I am, but he killed the tyrant and not tyranny. That
is not the way I shall go to work."
A few days later he threw a bomb in a public building, the Chamber of
Deputies. The poor fellow was not as successful as the Florentine, whom
he seemed to despise, for he did not kill any one, and did no real harm
except to his own cause.
I said I should like to know when he was to be executed, and the night
before, a friend of mine came to the theatre and told me that the
execution was to take place the following day, Monday, at seven in the
I started after the performance, and went to the Rue Merlin, at the
corner of the Rue de la Roquette. The streets were still very animated,
as that Sunday was Dimanche Gras (Shrove Sunday). People were singing,
laughing, and dancing everywhere. I waited all night, and as I was not
allowed to enter the prison, I sat on the balcony of a first floor flat
which I had engaged. The cold darkness of the night in its immensity
seemed to enwrap me in sadness. I did not feel the cold, for my blood
was flowing rapidly through my veins. The hours passed slowly, the hours
which rang out in the distance, _L'heure est morte. Vive l'heure!_ I
heard a vague, muffled sound of footsteps, whispering, and of wood which
creaked heavily, but I did not know what these strange, mysterious
sounds were until day began to break. I saw that the scaffold was there.
A man came to extinguish the lamps on the Place de la Roquette, and an
anaemic-looking sky spread its pale light over us. The crowd began to
collect gradually, but remained in compact groups, and circulation in
the streets was interrupted. Every now and then a man, looking quite
indifferent, but evidently in a hurry, pushed aside the crowd, presented
a card to a policeman, and then disappeared under the porch of the
prison. I counted more than ten of these men: they were journalists.
Presently the military guard appeared suddenly on the spot, and took up
its position around the melancholy-looking pedestal. The usual number of
the guard had been doubled for this occasion, as some anarchist plot was
feared. On a given signal swords were drawn and the prison door opened.
Vaillant appeared, looking very pale, but energetic and brave. He cried
out in a manly voice, with perfect assurance, _"Vive l'anarchie!"_ There
was not a single cry in response to his. He was seized and thrown back
over the slab. The knife fell with a muffled sound. The body tottered,
and in a second the scaffold was taken away, the place swept; the crowds
were allowed to move. They rushed forward to the place of execution,
gazing down on the ground for a spot of blood which was not to be seen,
sniffing in the air for any odour of the drama which had just been
There were women, children, old men, all joking there on the very spot
where a man had just expired in the most supreme agony. And that man had
made himself the apostle of this populace; that man had claimed for this
teeming crowd all kinds of liberties, all kinds of privileges and
I was thickly veiled so that I could not be recognised, and accompanied
by a friend as escort.
I mingled with the crowd, and it made me sick at heart and desperate.
There was not a word of gratitude to this man, not a murmur of vengeance
nor of revolt.
I felt inclined to cry out: "Brutes that you are! Kneel down and kiss
the stones that the blood of this poor madman has stained for your
sakes, for you, because he believed in you."
But before I had time for this a street urchin was calling out, "Buy the
last moments of Vaillant! Buy, buy!"
Oh, poor Vaillant! His headless body was then being taken to Clamart,
and the crowds for whom he had wept, worked, and died were now going
quietly away, indifferent and bored. Poor Vaillant! His ideas were
exaggerated ones, but they were generous.
NEW ORLEANS AND OTHER AMERICAN CITIES--A VISIT TO THE FALLS OF NIAGARA
We arrived at Cincinnati safe and sound. We gave three performances
there, and set off once more for New Orleans.
Now, I thought, we shall have some sunshine and we shall be able to warm
our poor limbs, which were stiffened with three months of mortal cold.
We shall be able to open our windows and breathe fresh air instead of
the suffocating and anaemia-giving steam heat. I fell asleep, and dreams
of warmth and sweet scents lulled me in my slumber. A knock roused me
suddenly, and my dog with ears erect sniffed at the door, but as he did
not growl, I knew it was some one of our party. I opened the door, and
Jarrett, followed by Abbey, made signs to me not to speak. Jarrett came
in on tip-toe, and closed the door again.
"Well, what is it now?" I asked.
"Why," replied Jarrett, "the incessant rain during the last twelve days
has swollen the water to such a height that the bridge of boats across
the bay here is liable to give way under the terrible pressure of the
water. Do you hear the awful storm of wind that is now blowing? If we go
back by the other route it will require three or four days."
I was furious. Three or four days, and to go back to the snow again! Ah
no! I felt I must have sunshine.
"Why can we not pass? Oh, Heavens! what shall we do?" I exclaimed.
"Well, the engine-driver is here. He thinks that he might get across;
but he has only just married, and he will try the crossing on condition
that you give him two thousand five hundred dollars, which he will at
once send to Mobile, where his father and wife live. If we get safely to
the other side he will give you back this money, but if not it will
belong to his family."
I must confess that I was stupefied with admiration for this plucky man.
His daring excited me, and I exclaimed:
"Yes, certainly. Give him the money, and let us cross."
As I have said, I generally travelled by special train. This one was
made up of only three carriages and the engine. I never doubted for a
moment as to the success of this foolish and criminal attempt, and I did
not tell any one about it except my sister, my beloved Guerard, and my
faithful Felicie and her husband Claude. The comedian Angelo, who was
sleeping in Jarrett's berth on this journey, knew of it, but he was
courageous, and had faith in his star. The money was handed over to the
engine-driver, who sent it off to Mobile. It was only just as we were
actually starting that I had the vision of the responsibility I had
taken upon myself, for it was risking without their consent the lives of
thirty-two persons. It was too late then to do anything: the train had
started, and at a terrific speed it touched the bridge of boats. I had
taken my seat on the platform, and the bridge bent and swayed like a
hammock under the dizzy speed of our wild course. When we were half way
across it gave way so much that my sister grasped my arm and whispered,
"Ah, we are drowning!" She closed her eyes and clutched me nervously,
but was quite brave. I certainly imagined as she did that the supreme
moment had arrived; and abominable as it was, I never for a second
thought of all those who were full of confidence and life, whom I was
sacrificing, whom I was killing. My only thought was of a dear little
face which would soon be in mourning for me. And to think that we take
about within us our most terrible enemy, thought, and that it is
continually at variance with our deeds. It rises up at times, terrible,
perfidious, and we try to drive it away without success. We do not,
thanks to God, invariably obey it; but it pursues us, torments us, makes
us suffer. How often the most evil thoughts assail us, and what battles
we have to fight in order to drive away these children of our brain!
Anger, ambition, revenge give birth to the most detestable thoughts,
which make us blush with shame as we should at some horrible blemish.
And yet they are not ours, for we have not evoked them; but they defile
us nevertheless, and leave us in despair at not being masters of our own
heart, mind, and body.
My last minute was not inscribed, though, for that day in the book of
destiny. The train pulled itself together, and, half leaping and half
rolling along, we arrived on the other side of the water. Behind us we
heard a terrible noise, a column of water falling back like a huge
sheaf. The bridge had given way! For more than a week the trains from
the east and the north could not run over this route.
I left the money to our brave engine-driver, but my conscience was by no
means tranquil, and for a long time my sleep was disturbed by the most
frightful nightmares; and when any of the artistes spoke to me of their
child, their mother, or their husband, whom they longed to see once
more, I felt myself turn pale; a thrill of deep emotion went through me,
and I had the deepest pity for my own self.
When getting out of the train I was more dead than alive from
retrospective emotion. I had to submit to receiving a most friendly
though fatiguing deputation of my compatriots. Then, loaded with
flowers, I climbed into the carriage that was to take me to the hotel.
The roads were rivers, and we were on an elevated spot. The lower part
of the city, the coachman explained to us in French, with a strong
Marseilles accent, was inundated up to the tops of the houses. Hundreds
of negroes had been drowned. "Ah, _bagasse_!" he cried, as he whipped up
At that period the hotels in New Orleans were squalid--dirty,
uncomfortable, black with cockroaches, and as soon as the candles were
lighted the bedrooms became filled with large mosquitoes that buzzed
round and fell on one's shoulder, sticking in one's hair. Oh, I shudder
still when I think of it!
At the same time as our company, there was at New Orleans an opera
company, the "star" of which was a charming woman, Emilie Ambre, who at
one time came very near being Queen of Holland. The country was poor,
like all the other American districts where the French were to be found
The opera did very poor business, and we did not do excellently either.
Six performances would have been ample in that city: we gave eight.
Nevertheless, my sojourn pleased me immensely.
An infinite charm was evolved from it. All these people, so different,
black and white, had smiling faces. All the women were graceful. The
shops were attractive from the cheerfulness of their windows. The
open-air traders under the arcades challenged one another with joyful
flashes of wit. The sun, however, did not show itself once. But these
people had the sun within themselves.
I could not understand why boats were not used. The horses had water up
to their hams, and it would have been impossible even to get into a
carriage if the pavements had not been a metre high and occasionally
Floods being as frequent as the years, it would be of no use to think of
banking up the river or arm of the sea. But circulation was made easy by
the high pavements and small movable bridges. The dark children amused
themselves catching crayfish in the streams. (Where did they come from?)
And they sold them to passers-by.
Now and again we would see a whole family of water serpents speed by.
They swept along, with raised head and undulating body, like long starry
I went down towards the lower part of the town. The sight was
heartrending. All the cabins of the coloured inhabitants had fallen into
the muddy waters. They were there in hundreds, squatting upon these
moving wrecks, with eyes burning from fever. Their white teeth chattered
with hunger. Right and left, everywhere, were dead bodies with swollen
stomachs floating about, knocking up against the wooden piles. Many
ladies were distributing food, endeavouring to lead away these
unfortunate creatures. No. They would stay where they were. With a
blissful smile they would reply, "The water go away. House be found. Me
begin again." And the women would slowly nod their heads in token of
assent. Several alligators had shown themselves, brought up by the tide.
Two children had disappeared.
One child of fourteen years of age had just been carried off to the
hospital with his foot cut clean off at the ankle by one of these marine
monsters. His family were howling with fury. They wished to keep the
youngster with them. The negro quack doctor pretended that he could have
cured him in two days, and that the white "quacks" would leave him for a
month in bed.
I left this city with regret, for it resembled no other city I had
visited up to then. We were really surprised to find that none of our
party were missing--they had gone through, so they said, various
dangers. The hair-dresser alone, a man called Ibe, could not recover his
equilibrium, having become half mad from fear the second day of our
arrival. At the theatre he generally slept in the trunk in which he
stored his wigs. However strange it may seem, the fact is quite true.
The first night everything passed off as usual, but during the second
night he woke up the whole neighbourhood by his shrieks. The unfortunate
fellow had got off soundly to sleep, when he woke up with a feeling that
his mattress, which lay suspended over his collection of wigs, was being
raised by some inconceivable movements. He thought that some cat or dog
had got into the trunk, and he lifted up the feeble rampart. Two
serpents were either quarrelling or making love to each other--he could
not say which; two serpents of a size sufficient to terrify the people
whom the shouts of the poor Figaro had caused to gather round.
He was still very pale when I saw him embark on board the boat that was
to take us to our train. I called him, and begged he would relate to me
the Odyssey of his terrible night. As he told me the story he pointed to
his big leg: "They were as thick as that, Madame. Yes, like that----"
And he quaked with fear as he recalled the dreadful girth of the
reptiles. I thought that they were about one quarter as thick as his
leg, and that would have been enough to justify his fright, for the
serpents in question were not inoffensive water-snakes that bite out of
pure viciousness, but have no venom fangs.
We reached Mobile somewhat late in the day.
We had stopped at that city on our way to New Orleans, and I had had a
real attack of nerves caused by the "cheek" of the inhabitants, who, in
spite of the lateness of the hour, had got up a deputation to wait upon
me. I was dead with fatigue, and was dropping off to sleep in my bed in
the car. I therefore energetically declined to see anybody. But these
people knocked at my windows, sang round about my carriage, and finally
exasperated me. I quickly threw up one of the windows and emptied a jug
of water on their heads. Women and men, amongst whom were several
journalists, were inundated. Their fury was great.
I was returning to that city, preceded by the above story, embellished
in their favour by the drenched reporters. But on the other hand, there
were others who had been more courteous, and had refused to go and
disturb a lady at such an unearthly hour of the night. These latter were
in the majority, and took up my defence.
It was therefore in this warlike atmosphere that I appeared before the
public of Mobile. I wanted, however, to justify the good opinion of my
defenders and confound my detractors.
Yes, but a sprite who had decided otherwise was there.
Mobile was a city that was generally quite disdained by _impresarii_.
There was only one theatre. It had been let to the tragedian Barrett,
who was to appear six days after me. All that remained was a miserable
place, so small that I know of nothing that can be compared to it. We
were playing _La Dame aux Camelias_. When Marguerite Gautier orders
supper to be served, the servants who were to bring in the table ready
laid tried to get it in through the door. But this was impossible.
Nothing could be more comical than to see those unfortunate servants
adopt every expedient.
The public laughed. Among the laughter of the spectators was one that
became contagious. A negro of twelve or fifteen, who had got in somehow,
was standing on a chair, and with his two hands holding on to his knees,
his body bent, head forward, mouth open, he was laughing with such a
shrill and piercing tone, and with such even continuity, that I caught
it too. I had to go out while a portion of the back scenery was being
removed to allow the table to be brought in.
I returned somewhat composed, but still under the domination of
suppressed laughter. We were sitting round the table, and the supper was
drawing to a close as usual. But just as the servants were entering to
remove the table, one of them caught the scenery, which had been badly
adjusted by the scene-shifters in their haste, and the whole back scene
fell on our heads. As the scenery was nearly all made of paper in those
days, it did not fall on our heads and remain there, but round our
necks, and we had to remain in that position without being able to move.
Our heads having gone through the paper, our appearance was most comical
and ridiculous. The young nigger's laughter started again more piercing
than ever, and this time my suppressed laughter ended in a crisis that
left me without any strength.
The money paid for admission was returned to the public. It exceeded
fifteen thousand francs.
This city was an unlucky one for me, and came very near proving fatal
during the third visit I paid to it, as I will narrate in the second
volume of these Memoirs.
That very night we left Mobile for Atlanta, where, after playing _La
Dame aux Camelias_, we left again the same evening for Nashville.
We stayed an entire day at Memphis, and gave two performances there.
At one in the morning we left for Louisville. During the journey from
Memphis to Louisville we were awakened by the sound of a fight, by oaths
and cries. I opened the door of my railway carriage, and recognised the
voices. Jarrett came out at the same time. We went towards the spot
whence the noise came--to the small platform, where the two combatants
Captain Hayne and Marcus Mayer, were fighting with revolvers in their
hands. Marcus Mayer's eye was out of its orbit, and blood covered the
face of Captain Hayne. I threw myself without a moment's reflection
between the two madmen, who, with that brutal but delightful courtesy of
North Americans, stopped their fight.
We were beginning the dizzy round of the smaller towns, arriving at
three, four, and sometimes six o'clock in the evening, and leaving
immediately after the play. I only left my car to go to the theatre, and
returned as soon as the play was over to retire to my elegant but
diminutive bedroom. I sleep well on the railway. I felt an immense
pleasure travelling in that way at high speed, sitting outside on the
small platform, or rather reclining in a rocking-chair, gazing on the
ever-changing spectacle of American plains and forests that passed
before me. Without stopping we went through Louisville, Cincinnati for
the second time, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, St. Joseph, where one
gets the best beer in the world, and where, when I was obliged to go to
an hotel on account of repairs to one of the wheels of the car, a
drunken dancer at a big ball given in the hotel seized me in the
corridor leading to my room. This brutal fellow caught hold of me just
as I was getting out of the elevator, and dragged me off with cries like
those of a wild animal finding its prey after five days of enforced
hunger. My dog, mad with excitement on hearing me scream, bit his legs
severely, and that aroused the drunken man to the point of fury. It was
with the greatest difficulty that I was delivered from the clutches of
this demoniac. Supper was served. What a supper! Fortunately the beer
was light both in colour and consistency, and enabled me to swallow the
dreadful things that were served up.
The ball lasted all night, accompanied by revolver shots.
We left for Leavenworth, Quincy, Springfield, but not the Springfield in
Massachusetts--the one in Illinois.
During the journey from Springfield to Chicago we were stopped by the
snow in the middle of the night.
The sharp and deep groanings of the locomotive had already awakened me.
I summoned my faithful Claude, and learned that we were to stop and wait
Aided by my Felicie, I dressed in haste and tried to descend, but it was
impossible. The snow was as high as the platform of the car. I remained
wrapped up in furs, contemplating the magnificent night. The sky was
hard, implacable, without a star, but all the same translucid. Lights
extended as far as the eye could see along the rails before me, for I
had taken refuge on the rear platform. These lights were to warn the
trains that followed. Four of these came up, and stopped when the first
fog-signals went off beneath their wheels, then crept slowly forward to
the first light, where a man who was stationed there explained the
incident. The same lights were lit immediately for the following train,
as far off as possible, and a man, proceeding beyond the lights, placed
detonators on the metals. Each train that arrived followed that course.
We were blocked by the snow. The idea came to me of lighting the kitchen
fire, and I thus got sufficient boiling water to melt the top coating of
snow on the side where I wanted to alight. Having done this, Claude and
our coloured servants got down and cleared away a small portion as well
as they could.
I was at last able to descend myself, and I tried to remove the snow to
one side. My sister and I finished by throwing snowballs at each other,
and the _melee_ became general. Abbey, Jarrett, the secretary, and
several of the artistes joined in, and we were warmed by this small
battle with white cannon-balls.
When dawn appeared we were to be seen firing a revolver and Colt rifle
at a target made from a champagne case. A distant sound, deadened by the
cotton-wool of the snow, at length made us realise that help was
approaching. As a matter of fact, two engines, with men who had shovels,
hooks, and spades, were coming at full speed from the opposite
direction. They were obliged to slow down on getting to within one
kilometre of where we were, and the men began clearing the way before
them. They finally succeeded in reaching us, but we were obliged to go
back and take the western route. The unfortunate artistes, who had
counted on getting breakfast in Chicago, which we ought to have reached
at eleven o'clock, were lamenting, for with the new itinerary that we
were forced to follow we could not reach Milwaukee before half-past one.
There we were to give a _matinee_ at two o'clock--_La Dame aux
Camelias_. I therefore had the best lunch I could get prepared, and my
servants carried it to my company, the members of which showed
themselves very grateful.
The performance only began at three, and finished at half-past six
o'clock; we started again at eight with _Froufrou_.
Immediately after the play we left for Grand Rapids, Detroit, Cleveland,
and Pittsburg, in which latter city I was to meet an American friend of
mine who was to help me to realise one of my dreams--at least, I fancied
so. In partnership with his brother, my friend was the owner of large
steel works and several petroleum wells. I had known him in Paris, and
had met him again at New York, where he offered to conduct me to
Buffalo, so that I could visit or rather he could initiate me into the
Falls of Niagara, for which he entertained a lover's passion. Frequently
he would start off quite unexpectedly like a madman and take a rest at a
place just near the Niagara Falls. The deafening sound of the cataracts
seemed like music after the hard, hammering, strident noise of the
forges at work on the iron, and the limpidity of the silvery cascades
rested his eyes and refreshed his lungs, saturated as they were with
petroleum and smoke.
My friend's buggy, drawn by two magnificent horses, took us along in a
bewildering whirlwind of mud splashing over us and snow blinding us. It
had been raining for a week, and Pittsburg in 1881 was not what it is at
present, although it was a city which impressed one on account of its
commercial genius. The black mud ran along the streets, and everywhere in
the sky rose huge patches of thick, black, opaque smoke; but there was a
certain grandeur about it all, for work was king there. Trains ran through
the streets laden with barrels of petroleum or piled as high as possible
with charcoal and coal. That fine river, the Ohio, carried along with it
steamers, barges, loads of timber fastened together and forming enormous
rafts, which floated down the river alone, to be stopped on the way by the
owner for whom they were destined. The timber is marked, and no one else
thinks of taking it. I am told that the wood is not conveyed in this way
now, which is a pity.
The carriage took us along through streets and squares in the midst of
railways, under the enervating vibration of the electric wires, which
ran like furrows across the sky. We crossed a bridge which shook under
the light weight of the buggy. It was a suspension bridge. Finally we
drew up at my friend's home. He introduced his brother to me, a charming
man, but very cold and correct, and so quiet that I was astonished.
"My poor brother is deaf," said my companion, after I had been exerting
myself for five minutes to talk to him in my gentlest voice. I looked at
this poor millionaire, who was living in the most extraordinary noise,
and who could not hear even the faintest echo of the outrageous uproar.
He could not hear anything at all, and I wondered whether he was to be
envied or pitied. I was then taken to visit his incandescent ovens and
his vats in a state of ebullition. I went into a room where some steel
discs were cooling, which looked like so many setting suns.
The heat from them seemed to scorch my lungs, and I felt as though my
hair would take fire.
We then went down a long, narrow road through which small trains were
running to and fro. Some of those trains were laden with incandescent
metals which made the atmosphere iridescent as they passed. We walked in
single file along the narrow passage reserved for foot passengers
between the rails. I did not feel at all safe, and my heart began to
beat fast. Blown first one way then the other by the wind from the two
trains coming in opposite directions and passing each other, I drew my
skirts closely round me so that they should not be caught. Perched on my
high heels, at every step I took I was afraid of slipping on this narrow,
greasy, coal-strewn pavement.
To sum up briefly, it was a very unpleasant moment, and very delighted I
was to come to the end of that interminable street, which led to an
enormous field stretching away as far as the eye could see. There were
rails lying all about here, which men were polishing and filing, &c. I
had had quite enough, though, and I asked to be allowed to go back and
rest. So we all three returned to the house.
On arriving there, valets arrayed in livery opened the doors, took our
furs, walking on tip-toe as they moved about. There was silence
everywhere, and I wondered why, as it seemed to me incomprehensible. My
friend's brother scarcely spoke at all, and when he did his voice was so
low that I had great difficulty in understanding him. When we asked him
any question by gesticulating we had to listen most attentively to catch
his reply, and I noticed that an almost imperceptible smile lighted up
for an instant his stony face. I understood very soon that this man
hated humanity, and that he avenged himself in his own way for his
Lunch had been prepared for us in the winter conservatory, a nook of
magnificent verdure and flowers. We had just taken our seats at the
table when the songs of a thousand birds burst forth like a veritable
fanfare. Underneath some large leaves, whole families of canaries were
imprisoned by invisible nets. They were everywhere, up in the air, down
below, under my chair, on the table behind me, all over the place. I
tried to quiet this shrill uproar by shaking my napkin and speaking in a
loud voice, but the little feathered tribe began to sing in a maddening
way. The deaf man was leaning back in a rocking-chair, and I noticed
that his face had lighted up. He laughed aloud in an evil, spiteful
manner. Just as my own temper was getting the better of me a feeling of
pity and indulgence came into my heart for this man, whose vengeance
seemed to me as pathetic as it was puerile. Promptly deciding to make
the best of my host's spitefulness, and assisted by his brother, I took
my tea into the hall at the other end of the conservatory. I was nearly
dead with fatigue, and when my friend proposed that I should go with him
to see his petroleum wells, a few miles out of the city, I gazed at him
with such a scared, hopeless expression that he begged me in the most
friendly and polite way to forgive him.
It was five o'clock and quite dusk, and I wanted to go back to my hotel.
My host asked if I would allow him to take me back by the hills. The
road was rather longer, but I should be able to have a bird's eye view
of Pittsburg, and he assured me that it was quite worth while. We
started off in the buggy with two fresh horses, and a few minutes later
I had the wildest dream. It seemed to me that he was Pluto, the god of
the infernal regions, and I was Proserpine. We were travelling through
our empire at a quick trot, drawn by our winged horses. All round us we
could see fire and flames. The blood-red sky was blurred with long black
trails that looked like widows' veils. The ground was covered with long
arms of iron stretched heavenwards in a supreme imprecation. These arms
threw forth smoke, flames, or sparks, which fell again in a shower of
stars. The buggy carried us on up the hills, and the cold froze our
limbs while the fires excited our brains. It was then that my friend
told me of his love for the Niagara Falls. He spoke of them more like a
lover than an admirer, and told me he liked to go to them alone. He
said, though, that for me he would make an exception. He spoke of the
rapids with such intense passion that I felt rather uneasy, and began to
wonder whether the man was not mad. I grew alarmed, for he was driving
along over the very verge of the precipice, jumping the stone heaps. I
glanced at him sideways: his face was calm, but his under-lip twitched
slightly; and I had noticed this particularly with his deaf brother,
By this time I was quite nervous. The cold and the fires, this
demoniacal drive, the sound of the anvil ringing out mournful chimes
which seemed to come from under the earth, and then the deep forge
whistle sounding like a desperate cry rending the silence of the night;
the chimney-stacks too, with their worn-out lungs spitting forth their
smoke with a perpetual death-rattle, and the wind which had just risen
twisting the streaks of smoke into spirals which it sent up towards the
sky or beat down all at once on to us, all this wild dance of the
natural and the human elements, affected my whole nervous system so that
it was quite time for me to get back to the hotel. I sprang out of the
carriage quickly on arriving, and arranged to see my friend at Buffalo,
but, alas! I was never to see him again. He took cold that very day, and
could not meet me there; and the following year I heard that he had been
dashed against the rocks when trying to navigate a boat in the rapids.
He died of his passion,--for his passion.
At the hotel all the artistes were awaiting me, as I had forgotten we
were to have a rehearsal of _La Princesse Georges_ at half-past four. I
noticed a face that was unknown to me among the members of our company,
and on making inquiries about this person found that he was an
illustrator who had come with an introduction from Jarrett. He asked to
be allowed to make a few sketches of me, and after giving orders that he
should be taken to a seat, I did not trouble any more about him. We had
to hurry through the rehearsal in order to be at the theatre in time for
the performance of _Froufrou_, which we were giving that night. The
rehearsal was accordingly rushed and gabbled through, so that it was
soon over, and the stranger took his departure, refusing to let me look
at his sketches on the plea that he wanted to touch them up before
showing them. My joy was great the following day when Jarrett arrived at
my hotel perfectly furious, holding in his hand the principal newspaper
of Pittsburg, in which our illustrator, who turned out to be a
journalist, had written an article giving at full length an account of
the dress rehearsal of _Froufrou_! "In the play of _Froufrou_," wrote
this delightful imbecile, "there is only one scene of any importance,
and that is the one between the two sisters. Madame Sarah Bernhardt did
not impress me greatly, and as to the artistes of the Comedie Francaise,
I considered they were mediocre. The costumes were not very fine, and in
the ball scene the men did not wear dress suits."
Jarrett was wild with rage and I was wild with joy. He knew my horror of
reporters, and he had introduced this one in an underhand way, hoping to
get a good advertisement out of it. The journalist imagined that we were
having a dress rehearsal of _Froufrou_, and we were merely rehearsing
Alexandre Dumas's _Princesse Georges_ for the sake of refreshing our
memory. He had mistaken the scene between Princesse Georges and the
Comtesse de Terremonde for the scene in the third act between the two
sisters in _Froufrou_. We were all of us wearing our travelling
costumes, and he was surprised at not seeing the men in dress coats and
the women in evening dress. What fun this was for our company and for
all the town, and I may add what a subject it furnished for the jokes of
all the rival newspapers.
I had to play two days at Pittsburg, and then go on to Bradford, Erie,
Toronto, and arrive at Buffalo on Sunday. It was my intention to give
all the members of my company a day's outing at Niagara Falls, but Abbey
too wanted to invite them. We had a discussion on the subject, and it
was extremely animated. He was very dictatorial, and so was I, and we
both preferred giving the whole thing up rather than yield to each
other. Jarrett, however, pointed out the fact to us that this course
would deprive the artistes of a little festivity about which they heard
a great deal and to which they were looking forward. We therefore gave
in finally, and in order to settle the matter we agreed to share the
outlay between us. The artistes accepted our invitation with the most
charming good grace, and we took the train for Buffalo, where we arrived
at ten minutes past six in the morning. We had telegraphed beforehand
for carriages and coffee to be in readiness, and to have food provided
for us, as it is simply madness for thirty-two persons to arrive on a
Sunday in such towns as these without giving notice of such an event. We
had a special train going at full speed over the lines, which were
entirely clear on Sundays, and it was decorated with festoons of
flowers. The younger artistes were as delighted as children; those who
had already seen everything before told about it; then there was the
eloquence of those who had heard of it, &c. &c.; and all this, together
with the little bouquets of flowers distributed among the women and the
cigars and cigarettes presented to the men, made every one
good-humoured, so that all appeared to be happy. The carriages met our
train and took us to the Hotel d'Angleterre, which had been kept open
for us. There were flowers everywhere, and any number of small tables
upon which were coffee, chocolate, or tea. Every table was soon
surrounded with guests. I had my sister, Abbey, Jarrett, and the
principal artistes at my table. The meal was of short duration and very
gay and animated. We then went to the Falls, and I remained more than an
hour on the balcony hollowed out of the rock. My eyes filled with tears
as I stood there, for I was deeply moved by the splendour of the sight.
A radiant sun made the air around us iridescent. There were rainbows
everywhere, lighting up the atmosphere with their soft silvery colours.
The pendants of hard ice hanging down along the rocks on each side looked
like enormous jewels. I was sorry to leave this balcony. We went down in
narrow cages which glided gently into a tube arranged in the cleft of
the enormous rock. We arrived in this way under the American Falls. They
were there almost over our heads, sprinkling us with their blue, pink,
and mauve drops. In front of us, protecting us from the Falls, was a
heap of icicles forming quite a little mountain. We climbed over this to
the best of our ability. My heavy fur mantle tired me, and about half
way down I took it off and let it slip over the side of the ice
mountain, to take it again when I reached the bottom. I was wearing a
dress of white cloth with a satin blouse, and every one screamed with
surprise on seeing me. Abbey took off his overcoat and threw it over my
shoulders. I shook this off quickly, and Abbey's coat went to join my
fur cloak below. The poor _impresario's_ face looked very blank. As he
had taken a fair number of cocktails, he staggered, fell down on the
ice, got up, and immediately fell again, to the amusement of every one.
I was not at all cold, as I never am when out of doors. I only feel the
cold inside houses when I am inactive.
Finally we arrived at the highest point of the ice, and the cataract was
really most threatening. We were covered by the impalpable mist; which
rises in the midst of the tumultuous noise. I gazed at it all,
bewildered and fascinated by the rapid movement of the water, which
looked like a wide curtain of silver, unfolding itself to be dashed
violently into a rebounding, splashing heap with a noise unlike any
sound I had ever heard. I very easily turn dizzy, and I know very well
that if I had been alone I should have remained there for ever with my
eyes fixed on the sheet of water hurrying along at full speed, my mind
lulled by the fascinating sound, and my limbs numbed by the treacherous
cold which encircled us. I had to be dragged away, but I am soon myself
again when confronted by an obstacle.
We had to go down again, and this was not as easy as it had been to
climb up. I took the walking-stick belonging to one of my friends, and
then sat down on the ice. By putting the stick under my legs I was able
to slide down to the bottom. All the others imitated me, and it was a
comical sight to see thirty-two people descending the ice-hill in this
way. There were several somersaults and collisions, and plenty of
laughter. A quarter of an hour later we were all at the hotel, where
luncheon had been ordered.
We were all cold and hungry; it was warm inside the hotel, and the meal
smelt good. When luncheon was over the landlord of the hotel asked me to
go into a small drawing-room, where a surprise awaited me. On entering I
saw on a table, protected under a long glass box, the Niagara Falls in
miniature, with the rocks looking like pebbles. A large glass
represented the sheet of water, and glass threads represented the Falls.
Here and there was some foliage of a hard, crude green. Standing up on a
little hillock of ice was a figure intended for me. It was enough to
make any one howl with horror, for it was all so hideous. I managed to
raise a broad smile for the benefit of the hotel keeper by way of
congratulating him on his good taste, but I was petrified on recognising
the man-servant of my friends the Th---- brothers of Pittsburg. They had
sent this monstrous caricature of the most beautiful thing in the world.
I read the letter which their domestic handed me, and all my disdain
melted away. They had gone to so much trouble in order to explain what
they wanted me to understand, and they were so delighted at the idea of
giving me any pleasure.
I dismissed the valet, after giving him a letter for his masters, and I
asked the hotel keeper to send the work of art to Paris, packed
carefully. I hoped that it might arrive in fragments.
The thought of it haunted me, though, and I wondered how my friend's
passion for the Falls could be reconciled with the idea of such a gift.
Whilst admitting that his imaginative mind might have hoped to be able
to carry out his idea, how was it that he was not indignant at the sight
of this grotesque imitation? How had he dared to send it to me? How was
it that my friend loved the Falls, and what had he understood of their
marvellous grandeur? Since his death I have questioned my own memory of
him a hundred times, but all in vain. He died for them, tossed about in
their waters, killed by their caresses; and I cannot think that he could
ever have seen how beautiful they really were. Fortunately I was called
away, as the carriage was there and every one waiting for me. The horses
started off with us, trotting in that weary way peculiar to tourists'
When we arrived on the Canadian shore we had to go underground and array
ourselves in black or yellow mackintoshes. We looked like so many heavy,
dumpy sailors who were wearing these garments for the first time. There
were two large cells to shelter us, one for the women and the other for
the men. Every one undressed more or less in the midst of wild
confusion, and making a little package of our clothes, we gave this into
the keeping of the woman in charge. With the mackintosh hood drawn
tightly under the chin, hiding the hair entirely, an enormous blouse
much too wide covering the whole body, fur boots with roughed soles to
avoid broken legs and heads, and immense mackintosh breeches in zouave
style, the prettiest and slenderest woman was at once transformed into a
huge, cumbersome, awkward bear. An iron-tipped cudgel to carry in the
hand completed this becoming costume. I looked more ridiculous than the
others, for I would not cover my hair, and in the most pretentious way I
had fastened some roses into my mackintosh blouse. The women went into
raptures on seeing me. "How pretty she looks like that!" they exclaimed.
"She always finds a way to be _chic, quand-meme!_" The men kissed my
bear's paw in the most gallant way, bowing low and saying in low tones:
"Always and _quand-meme_ the queen, the fairy, the goddess, the
divinity," &c. &c. And I went along, purring with content and quite
satisfied with myself, until, as I passed by the counter where the girl
who gives the tickets was sitting, I caught sight of myself in the
glass. I looked enormous and ridiculous with my roses pinned in, and the
curly locks of hair forming a kind of peak to my clumsy hood. I appeared
to be stouter than all the others, because of the silver belt I was
wearing round my waist, as this drew up the hard folds of the mackintosh
round my hips. My thin face was nearly covered by my hair, which was
flattened down by my hood. My eyes could not be seen, and only my mouth
served to show that this barrel was a human being. Furious with myself
for my pretentious coquetry, and ashamed of my own weakness in having
been so content with the pitiful, insincere flattery of people who were
making fun of me, I decided to remain as I was as a punishment for my
stupid vanity. There were a number of strangers among us, who nudged
each other, pointing to me and laughing slyly at my absurd get-up, and
this was only what I deserved.
We went down the flight of steps cut in the block of ice in order to get
underneath the Canadian Falls. The sight there was most strange and
extraordinary. Above me I saw an immense cupola of ice hanging over in
space, attached only on one side to the rock. From this cupola thousands
of icicles of the most varied shapes were hanging. There were dragons,
arrows, crosses, laughing faces, sorrowful faces, hands with six
fingers, deformed feet, incomplete human bodies, and women's long locks
of hair. In fact, with the help of the imagination and by fixing the
gaze when looking with half-shut eyes, the illusion is complete, and in
less time than it takes to describe all this one can evoke all the
pictures of nature and of our dreams, all the wild conceptions of a
diseased mind, or the realities of a reflective brain.
In front of us were small steeples of ice, some of them proud and erect,
standing out against the sky, others ravaged by the wind which gnaws the
ice, looking like minarets ready for the muezzin. On the right a cascade
was rushing down as noisily as on the other side, but the sun had
commenced its descent towards the west, and everything was tinged with a
rosy hue. The water splashed over us, and we were suddenly covered with
small silvery waves which when shaken slightly stiffened against our
mackintoshes. It was a shoal of very small fish which had had the
misfortune to be driven into the current, and which had come to die in
the dazzling brilliancy of the setting sun. On the other side there was
a small block which looked like a rhinoceros entering the water.
"I should love to mount on that!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, but it is impossible," replied one of my friends.
"Oh, as to that, nothing is impossible," I said. "There is only the
risk; the crevice to be covered is not a yard long."
"No, but it is deep," remarked an artiste who was with us.
"Well," I said, "my dog is just dead. We will bet a dog--and if I win I
am to choose my dog--that I go."
Abbey was fetched immediately, but he only arrived in time to see me on
the block. I came very near falling into the crevice, and when I was on
the back of the rhinoceros I could not stand up. It was as smooth and
transparent as artificial ice. I sat down on its back, holding on to the
little hump, and I declared that if no one came to fetch me I should
stay where I was, as I had not the courage to move a step on this
slippery back; and then, too, it seemed to me as though it moved
slightly. I began to lose my self-possession. I felt dizzy, but I had
won my dog. My excitement was over, and I was seized with fright. Every
one gazed at me in a bewildered way, and that increased my terror. My
sister went into hysterics, and my dear Guerard groaned in a
heartrending way, "Oh heavens, my dear Sarah, oh heavens!" An artist was
making sketches; fortunately the members of our company had gone up
again in order to go and see the Rapids. Abbey besought me to return;
poor Jarrett besought me. But I felt dizzy, and I could not and would
not cross again. Angelo then sprang across the crevice, and remaining
there, called for a plank of wood and a hatchet.
"Bravo! bravo!" I exclaimed from the back of my rhinoceros.
The plank was brought. It was an old, black-looking piece of wood, and I
glanced at it suspiciously. The hatchet cut into the tail of my
rhinoceros, and the plank was fixed firmly by Angelo on my side and held
by Abbey, Jarrett, and Claude on the other side. I let myself slide over
the crupper of my rhinoceros, and I then started, not without terror,
along the rotten plank of wood, which was so narrow that I was obliged
to put one foot in front of the other, the heel over the toe. I returned
in a very feverish state to the hotel, and the artist brought me the
droll sketches he had taken.
After a light luncheon I was to start again by the train, which had been
waiting for us twenty minutes. All the others had taken their seats some
time before. I was leaving without having seen the rapids in which my
poor Pittsburg friend met his death.
THE RETURN TO FRANCE--THE WELCOME AT HAVRE
Our great voyage was drawing towards its close. I say great voyage, for
it was my first one. It had lasted seven months. The voyages I have
since undertaken were always from eleven to sixteen months.
From Buffalo we went to Rochester, Utica, Syracuse, Albany, Troy,
Worcester, Providence, Newark, making a short stay in Washington, an
admirable city, but one which at that time had a sadness about it that
affected one's nerves. It was the last large city I visited.
After two admirable performances there and a supper at the Embassy, we
left for Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, where our tour was to
come to a close. In that city I gave a grand professional _matinee_ at
the general demand of the actors and actresses of New York. The piece
chosen was _La Princesse Georges_.
Oh, what a fine and never-to-be-forgotten performance! Everything was
applauded by the artistes. Nothing escaped the particular state of mind
of that audience made up of actors and actresses, painters and
sculptors. At the end of the play a gold hair-comb was handed to me, on
which were engraved the names of a great number of persons present. From
Salvini I received a pretty casket of lapis, and from Mary Anderson, at
that time in the striking beauty of her nineteen years, a small medal
bearing a forget-me-not in turquoises. In my dressing-room I counted one
hundred and thirty bouquets.
That evening we gave our last performance with _La Dame aux Camelias_. I
had to return and bow to the public fourteen times.
Then I had a moment's stupefaction, for in the tempest of cries and
bravos I heard a shrill cry shouted by thousands of mouths, which I did
not in the least understand. After each "call" I asked in the wings what
the meaning of the word was that struck on my ears like a dreadful
sneeze, beginning again time after time. Jarrett appeared and
enlightened me. "They are calling for a speech." I looked at him,
abashed. "Yes, they want you to make a little speech."
"Ah no!" I exclaimed, as I again went on the stage to make a bow. "No."
And in making my bow to the public I murmured, "I cannot speak. But I
can tell you: Thank you, with all my heart!"
It was in the midst of a thunder of applause, underscored with "Hip,
hip, hurrah! _Vive la France!_" that I left the theatre.
On Wednesday, May 4, I embarked on the same Transatlantic steamer, the
_America_, the phantom vessel to which my journey had brought good luck.
But it had no longer the same commander. The new one's name was
Santelli. He was as little and fair-complexioned as his predecessor was
big and dark. But he was as charming, and a nice conversationist.
Commander Jowclas blew his brains out after losing heavily at play.
My cabin had been newly fitted up, and this time the wood-work had been
covered in sky-blue material. On boarding the steamer I turned towards
the friendly crowd and threw them a last adieu. "_Au revoir!_" they
I then went towards my cabin. Standing at the door, in an elegant
iron-grey suit, wearing pointed shoes, hat in the latest style, and
dog-skin gloves, stood Henry Smith, the showman of whales. I gave a cry
like that of a wild beast. He kept his joyful smile, and held out a
jewel casket, which I took with the object of throwing it into the sea
through the open port-hole. But Jarrett caught hold of my arm and took
possession of the casket, which he opened. "It is magnificent!" he
exclaimed, but I had closed my eyes. I stopped up my ears and cried out
to the man, "Go away! you knave! you brute! Go away! I hope you will die
under atrocious suffering! Go away!"
I half opened my eyes. He had gone. Jarrett wanted to talk to me about
the present. I would not hear anything about it.
"Ah, for God's sake, Mr. Jarrett, leave me alone! Since this jewel is so
fine, give it to your daughter, and do not speak to me about it any
more." And he did so.
The evening before my departure from America I had received a long
cablegram, signed Grosos, president of the Life Saving Society at Havre,
asking me to give upon my arrival a performance, the proceeds of which
would be distributed among the families of the society of Life Savers. I
accepted with unspeakable joy.
On regaining my native land, I should assist in drying tears.
After the decks had been cleared for departure, our ship moved slowly
off, and we left New York on Thursday the 5th of May.
Detesting sea travelling as I usually do, I set out this time with a
light heart and smiling face, disdainful of the horrible discomfort
caused by the voyage.
We had not left New York forty-eight hours when the vessel stopped. I
sprang out of my berth, and was soon on deck, fearing some accident to
our _Phantom_, as we had nick-named the ship. In front of us a French
boat had raised, lowered, and again raised its small flags. The captain,
who had given the replies to these signals, sent for me, and explained
to me the working and the orthography of the signals. I could not
remember anything he told me, I must confess to my shame. A small boat
was lowered from the ship opposite us, and two sailors and a young man
very poorly dressed and with a pale face embarked. Our captain had the
steps lowered, the small boat was hailed, and the young man, escorted by
two sailors, came on deck. One of them handed a letter to the officer
who was waiting at the top of the steps. He read it, and looking at the
young man he said quietly, "Follow me!" The small boat and the sailors
returned to the ship, the boat was hoisted, the whistle shrieked, and
after the usual salute the two ships continued their way. The
unfortunate young man was brought before the captain. I went away, after
asking the captain to tell me later on what was the meaning of it all,
unless it should prove to be something which had to be kept secret.
The captain came himself and told me the little story. The young man was
a poor artist, a wood-engraver, who had managed to slip on to a steamer
bound for New York. He had not a sou of money for his passage, as he had
not even been able to pay for an emigrant's ticket. He had hoped to get
through without being noticed, hiding under the bales of various kinds.
He had, however, been taken ill, and it was this illness which had
betrayed him. Shivering with cold and feverish, he had talked aloud in
his sleep, uttering the most incoherent words. He was taken into the
infirmary, and when there he had confessed everything. The captain
undertook to make him accept what I sent him for his journey to America.
The story soon spread, and other passengers made a collection, so that
the young engraver found himself very soon in possession of a fortune of
twelve hundred francs. Three days later he brought me a little wooden
box, manufactured, carved, and engraved by him. This little box is now
nearly full of petals of flowers, for every year on May 7 I received a
small bouquet of flowers with these words, always the same ones, year
after year, "Gratitude and devotion." I always put the petals of the
flowers into the little box, but for the last seven years I have not
received any. Is it forgetfulness or death which has caused the artist
to discontinue this graceful little token of gratitude? I have no idea,
but the sight of the box always gives me a vague feeling of sadness, as
forgetfulness and death are the most faithful companions of the human
being. Forgetfulness takes up its abode in our mind, in our heart, while
death is always present laying traps for us, watching all we do, and
jeering gaily when sleep closes our eyes, for we give it then the
illusion of what it knows will some day be a reality.
Apart from the above incident, nothing particular happened during the
voyage. I spent every night on deck gazing at the horizon, hoping to
draw towards me that land on which were my loved ones. I turned in
towards morning, and slept all day to kill the time.
The steamers in those days did not perform the crossing with the same
speed as they do nowadays. The hours seemed to me to be wickedly long. I
was so impatient to land that I called for the doctor and asked him to
send me to sleep for eighteen hours. He gave me twelve hours sleep with
a strong dose of chloral, and I felt stronger and calmer for affronting
the shock of happiness.
Santelli had promised that we should arrive on the evening of the 14th.
I was ready, and had been walking up and down distractedly for an hour
when an officer came to ask whether I would not go on to the bridge with
the commander, who was waiting for me.
With my sister I went up in haste, and soon understood from the
embarrassed circumlocutions of the amiable Santelli that we were too far
off to hope to make the harbour that night.
I began to cry. I thought we should never arrive. I imagined that the
sprite was going to triumph, and I wept those tears that were like a
brook that runs on and on without ceasing.
The commander did what he could to bring me to a rational state of mind.
I descended from the bridge with both body and soul like limp rags.
I lay down on a deck-chair, and when dawn came was benumbed and sleepy.
It was five in the morning. We were still twenty miles from land. The
sun, however, began joyously to brighten up the small white clouds,
light as snowflakes. The remembrance of my young beloved one gave me
courage again. I ran towards my cabin. I spent a long while over my
toilet in order to kill time.
At seven o'clock I made inquiries of the captain.
"We are twelve miles off," he said. "In two hours we shall land."
"You swear to it?"
"Yes, I swear." I returned on deck, where, leaning on the bulwark, I
scanned the distance. A small steamer appeared on the horizon. I saw it
without looking at it, expecting every minute to hear a cry from over
there, over there....
All at once I noticed masses of little white flags being waved on the
small steamer. I got my glasses--and then let them fall with a joyous
cry that left me without any strength, without breath. I wanted to
speak: I could not. My face, it appears, became so pale that it
frightened the people who were about me. My sister Jeanne wept as she
waved her arms towards the distance.
They wanted to make me sit down. I would not. Hanging on to the
bulwarks, I smell the salts that are thrust under my nose. I allow
friendly hands to wipe my temples, but I am gazing over there whence the
vessel is coming. Over there lies my happiness! my joy! my life! my
everything! dearer than everything!
The _Diamond_ (the vessel's name) comes near. A bridge of love is formed
between the small and the large ship, a bridge formed of the beatings of
our hearts, under the weight of the kisses that have been kept back for
so many days. Then comes the reaction that takes place in our tears,
when the small boats, coming up to the large vessel, allow the impatient
ones to climb up the rope ladders and throw themselves into outstretched
The _America_ is invaded. Every one is there, my dear and faithful
friends. They have accompanied my young son Maurice. Ah, what a
delicious time! Answers get ahead of questions. Laughter is mingled with
tears. Hands are pressed, lips are kissed, only to begin over again. One
is never tired of this repetition of tender affection. During this time
our ship is moving. The _Diamond_ has disappeared, carrying away the
mails. The farther we advance, the more small boats we meet; they are
decked with flags, ploughing the sea. There are a hundred of them. And
more are coming....
"Is it a public holiday?" I asked Georges Boyer, the correspondent of
the _Figaro_, who with some friends had come to meet me.
"Oh yes, Madame, a great _fete_ day to-day at Havre, for they are
expecting the return of a fairy who left seven months ago."
"Is it really in my honour that all these pretty boats have spread their
wings and beflagged their masts? Ah, how happy I am!" We are now
alongside the jetty. There are perhaps twenty thousand people there, who
cry out, "_Vive_ Sarah Bernhardt!"
I was dumfounded. I did not expect any triumphant return. I was well
aware that the performance to be given for the Life Saving Society had
won the hearts of the people of Havre, but now I learnt that trains had
come from Paris, packed with people, to welcome my return....
I feel my pulse. It is me. I am not dreaming.
The boat stops opposite a red velvet tent, and an invisible orchestra
strikes up an air from _Le Chalet, "Arretons-nous ici_."
I smile at this quite French childishness. I get off and walk through
the midst of a hedge of smiling, kind faces of sailors, who offer me
Within the tent all the life-savers are waiting for me, wearing on their
broad chests the medals they have so well deserved.
M. Grosos, the president, reads to me the following address:
"Madame,--As President, I have the honour to present to you a delegation
from the Life Saving Society of Havre, come to welcome you and express
their gratitude for the sympathy you have so warmly worded in your
"We have also come to congratulate you on the immense success that you
have met with at every place you have visited during your adventurous
journey. You have now achieved in two worlds an incontestable popularity
and artistic celebrity; and your marvellous talent, added to your
personal charms, has affirmed abroad that France is always the land of
art and the birthplace of elegance and beauty.
"A distant echo of the words you spoke in Denmark, evoking a deep and
sad memory, still strikes on our ears. It repeats that your heart is as
French as your talent, for in the midst of the feverish and burning
successes on the stage you have never forgotten to unite your patriotism
to your artistic triumphs.
"Our life-savers have charged me with expressing to you their admiration
for the charming benefactress whose generous hand has spontaneously
stretched itself out towards their poor but noble society. They wish to
offer you these flowers, gathered from the soil of the mother-country,
on the land of France, where you will find them everywhere under your
feet. They are worthy that you should accept them with favour, for they
are presented to you by the bravest and most loyal of our life-savers."
It is said that my reply was very eloquent, but I cannot affirm that
that reply was really made by me. I had lived for several hours in a
state of over-excitement from successive emotions. I had taken no food,
had no sleep. My heart had not ceased to beat a moving and joyous
refrain. My brain had been filled with a thousand facts that had been
piled up for seven months and narrated in two hours. This triumphant
reception, which I was far from expecting after what had happened just
before my departure, after having been so badly treated by the Paris
Press, after the incidents of my journey, which had been always badly
interpreted by several French papers--all these coincidences were of
such different proportions that they seemed hardly credible.
The performance furnished a fruitful harvest for the life-savers. As for
me, I played _La Dame aux Camelias_ for the first time in France.
I was really inspired. I affirm that those who were present at that
performance experienced the quintessence of what my personal art can
I spent the night at my place at Ste. Adresse. The day following I left
A most flattering ovation was waiting for me on my arrival. Then, three
days afterwards, installed in my little mansion in the Avenue de
Villiers, I received Victorien Sardou, in order to hear him read his
magnificent piece, _Fedora_.
What a great artiste! What an admirable actor! What a marvellous author!
He read that play to me right off, playing every _role_, giving me in
one second the vision of what I should do.
"Ah!" I exclaimed, after the reading was over. "Ah, dear Master! Thanks
for this beautiful part! Thanks for the fine lesson you have just given
That night left me without sleep, for I wished to catch a glimpse in the
darkness of the small star in which I had faith.
I saw it as dawn was breaking, and fell asleep thinking over the new era
that it was going to light up.
* * * * *
My artistic journey had lasted seven months. I had visited fifty cities,
and given 156 performances, as follows:
La Dame aux Camelias . . . . 65 performances
Adrienne Lecouvreur . . . . 17 "
Froufrou . . . . . . . 41 "
La Princesse Georges . . . . 3 "
Hernani . . . . . . . 14 "
L'Etrangere . . . . . . 3 "
Phedre . . . . . . . 6 "
Le Sphinx . . . . . . 7 "
Total receipts . . . . 2,667,600 francs
Average receipts . . . 17,100 "
I conclude the first volume of my souvenirs here, for this is really the
first halting-place of my life, the real starting-point of my physical
and moral being.
I had run away from the Comedie Francaise, from Paris, from France, from
my family, and from my friends.
I had thought of having a wild ride across mountains, seas, and space,
and I came back in love with the vast horizon, but calmed down by the
feeling of responsibility which for seven months had been weighing on my
The terrible Jarrett, with his implacable and cruel wisdom, had tamed my
wild nature by a constant appeal to my probity.
In those few months my mind had matured and the brusqueness of my will
My life, which I thought at first was to be so short, seemed now likely
to be very, very long, and that gave me a great mischievous delight
whenever I thought of the infernal displeasure of my enemies.
I resolved to live. I resolved to be the great artiste that I longed to
And from the time of this return I gave myself entirely up to my life.
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