Sacred And Profane Love
E. Arnold Bennett

Part 4 out of 4

than I am.'

She smiled and shook her honey-coloured hair, and toyed with the ribbons
of her _peignoir_.

'What I say is true,' she said gently. 'But, there, what would you have?
We hate them, but we love them. They are beasts! beasts! but we cannot do
without them!'

Her eyes rested on Diaz for a moment. He slept without the least sound,
the stricken and futile witness of our confidences.

'You will take him away from Paris soon, perhaps?' she asked.

'If I can,' I said.

There was a sound of light footsteps on the stair. They stopped at the
door, which I remembered we had not shut. I jumped up and went into the
passage. Another girl stood in the doorway, in a _peignoir_ the exact
counterpart of my first visitor's, but rose-coloured. And this one, too,
was languorous and had honey-coloured locks. It was as though the
mysterious house was full of such creatures, each with her secret lair.

'Pardon, madame,' said my visitor, following and passing me; and then to
the newcomer: 'What is it, Alice?'

'It is Monsieur Duchatel who is arrived.'

'Oh!' with a disdainful gesture. '_Je m'en fiche._ Let him go.'

'But it is the nephew, my dear; not the uncle.'

'Ah, the nephew! I come. _Bon soir, madams, et bonne nuit_.'

The two _peignoirs_ fluttered down the stairs together. I returned to my
Diaz, and seeing his dressing-gown behind the door of the bedroom, I took
it and covered him with it.


His first words were:

'Magda, you look like a ghost. Have you been sitting there like that all
the time?'

'No,' I said; 'I lay down.'


'By your side.'

'What time is it?'

'Tea-time. The water is boiling.

'Was I dreadful last night?'

'Dreadful? How?'

'I have a sort of recollection of getting angry and stamping about. I
didn't do anything foolish?'

'You took a great deal too much of my sedative,' I answered.

'I feel quite well,' he said; 'but I didn't know I had taken any
sedative at all. I'm glad I didn't do anything silly last night.'

I ran away to prepare the tea. The situation was too much for me.

'My poor Diaz!' I said, when we had begun to drink the tea, and he was
sitting on the edge of the bed, his eyes full of sleep, his chin rough,
and his hair magnificently disarranged, 'you did one thing that was silly
last night.'

'Don't tell me I struck you?' he cried.

'Oh no!' and I laughed. 'Can't you guess what I mean?'

'You mean I got vilely drunk.'

I nodded.

'Magda,' he burst out passionately, seeming at this point fully to arouse
himself, to resume acutely his consciousness, 'why were you late? You
said four o'clock. I thought you had deceived me. I thought I had
disgusted you, and that you didn't mean to return. I waited more than an
hour and a quarter, and then I went out in despair.'

'But I came just afterwards,' I protested. 'You had only to wait a few
more minutes. Surely you could have waited a few more minutes?'

'You said four o'clock,' he repeated obstinately.

'It was barely half-past five when I came,' I said.

'I had meant never to drink again,' he went on.

'You were so kind to me. But then, when you didn't come--'

'You doubted me, Diaz. You ought to have been sure of me.'

'I was wrong.'

'No, no!' I said. 'It was I who was wrong. But I never thought that an
hour and a half would make any difference.'

There was a pause.

'Ah, Magda, Magda!'--he suddenly began to weep; it was
astounding--'remember that you had deserted me once before. Remember
that. If you had not done that, my life might have been different. It
_would_ have been different.'

'Don't say so,' I pleaded.

'Yes, I must say so. You cannot imagine how solitary my life has been.
Magda, I loved you.'

And I too wept.

His accent was sincerity itself. I saw the young girl hurrying secretly
out of the Five Towns Hotel. Could it be true that she had carried away
with her, unknowing, the heart of Diaz? Could it be true that her panic
flight had ruined a career? The faint possibility that it was true made
me sick with vain grief.

'And now I am old and forgotten and disgraced,' he said.

'How old are you, Diaz?'

'Thirty-six,' he answered.

'Why,' I said, 'you have thirty years to live.'

'Yes; and what years?'

'Famous years. Brilliant years.'

He shook his head.

'I am done for--' he murmured, and his head sank.

'Are you so weak, then?' I took his hand. 'Are you so weak? Look at me.'

He obeyed, and his wet eyes met mine. In that precious moment I lived.

'I don't know,' he said.

'You could not have looked at me if you had not been strong, very
strong,' I said firmly. 'You told me once that you had a house near
Fontainebleau. Have you still got it?'

'I suppose so.'

'Let us go there, and--and--see.'


'I should like to go,' I insisted, with a break in my voice.

'My God!' he exclaimed in a whisper, 'my God!'

I was sobbing violently, and my forehead was against the rough stuff
of his coat.


And one morning, long afterwards, I awoke very early, and the murmuring
of the leaves of the forest came through the open window. I had known
that I should wake very early, in joyous anticipation of that day. And
as I lay he lay beside me, lost in the dreamless, boyish, natural sleep
that he never sought in vain. He lay, as always, slightly on his right
side, with his face a little towards me--his face that was young again,
and from which the bane had passed. It was one of the handsomest,
fairest faces in the world, one of the most innocent, and one of the
strongest; the face of a man who follows his instincts with the direct
simplicity of a savage or a child, and whose instincts are sane and
powerful. Seen close, perfectly at rest, as I saw it morning after
morning, it was full of a special and mysterious attraction. The fine
curves of the nostrils and of the lobe of the ear, the masterful lines
of the mouth, the contours of the cheek and chin and temples, the tints
of the flesh subtly varying from rose to ivory, the golden crown of
hair, the soft moustache. I had learned every detail by heart; my eyes
had dwelt on them till they had become my soul's inheritance, till they
were mystically mine, drawing me ever towards them, as a treasure draws.
Gently moving, I would put my ear close, close, and listen to the breath
of life as it entered regularly, almost imperceptibly, vivifying that
organism in repose. There is something terrible in the still beauty of
sleep. It is as though the spiritual fabric hangs inexplicably over the
precipice of death. It seems impossible, or at least miraculous, that
the intake and the expulsion upon which existence depends should
continue thus, minute by minute, hour by hour. It is as though one stood
on the very confines of life, and could one trace but one step more, one
single step, one would unveil the eternal secret. I would not listen
long; the torture was too sweet, too exquisite, and I would gently slide
back to my place.... His hand was on the counterpane, near to my
breast--the broad hand of the pianist, with a wrist of incredible force,
and the fingers tapering suddenly at the end to a point. I let my own
descend on it as softly as snow. Ah, ravishing contact! He did not move.
And while my small hand touched his I gazed into the spaces of the
bedroom, with its walls of faded blue tapestry and its white curtains,
and its marble and rosewood, and they seemed to hold peace, as the
hollows of a field hold dew; they seemed to hold happiness as a great
tree holds sunlight in its branches; and outside was the murmuring of
the leaves of the forest and the virginal freshness of the morning.

Surely he must wake earlier that day! I pursed my lips and blew tenderly,
mischievously, on his cheek, lying with my cheek full on the pillow, so
that I could watch him. The muscles of his mouth twitched, his inner
being appeared to protest. And then began the first instinctive blind
movement of the day with him. His arms came forward and found my neck,
and drew me forcibly to him, and then, just before our lips touched, he
opened his eyes and shut them again. So it occurred every morning. Ere
even his brain had resumed activity his heart had felt its need of me.
This it was that was so wonderful, so overpowering! And the kiss, languid
and yet warm, heavy with a human scent, with the scent of the night,
honest, sensuous, and long--long! As I lay thus, clasped in his arms, I
half closed my eyes, and looked into his eyes through my lashes, smiling,
and all was a delicious blur....

It was the summit of bliss! No! I have never mounted higher! I asked
myself, astounded, what I had done that I should receive such happiness,
what I had done that existence should have no flaw for me. And what _had_
I done? I know not, I know not. It passes me. I am lost in my joy. For I
had not even cured him. I had anticipated painful scenes, interminable
struggles, perhaps a relapse. But nothing of the kind. He had simply
ceased at once the habit--that was all. We never left each other. And his
magnificent constitution had perfectly recovered itself in a few months.
I had done nothing.

'Magda,' he murmured indistinctly, drawing his mouth an inch away from
mine, 'why can't your dark hair always be loose over your shoulders like
that? It is glorious!'

'What ideas you have!' I murmured, more softly than he. 'And do you know
what it is to-day?'


'You've forgotten?' I pouted.



'No; you must tell me. Not your birthday? Not mine?'

'It's just a year since I met you,' I whispered timidly.

Our mouths met again, and, so enlocked, we rested, savouring the true
savour of life. And presently my hand stole up to his head and stroked
his curls.

Every morning he began to practise at eight o'clock, and continued till
eleven. The piano, a Steinway in a hundred Steinways, was in the further
of the two drawing-rooms. He would go into the room smoking a cigarette,
and when he had thrown away the cigarette I would leave him. And as soon
as I had closed the door the first notes would resound, slow and solemn,
of the five-finger exercises with which he invariably commenced his
studies. That morning, as often, I sat writing in the enclosed garden. I
always wrote in pencil on my knee. The windows of the drawing-room were
wide open, and Diaz' music filled the garden. The sheer beauty of his
tone was such that to hear him strike even an isolated note gave
pleasure. He created beauty all the time. His five-finger exercises were
lovely patterns of sound woven with exact and awful deliberation. It
seemed impossible that these should be the same bald and meaningless
inventions which I had been wont to repeat. They were transformed. They
were music. The material in which he built them was music itself,
enchanting the ear as much by the quality of the tone as by the
impeccable elegance of the form. To hear Diaz play a scale, to catch that
measured, tranquil succession of notes, each a different jewel of equal
splendour, each dying precisely when the next was born--this was to
perceive at last what music is made of, to have glimpses of the divine
magic that is the soul of the divinest art. I used to believe that
nothing could surpass the beauty of a scale, until Diaz, after writing
formal patterns in the still air innumerably, and hypnotizing me with
that sorcery, would pass suddenly to the repetition of fragments of Bach.
And then I knew that hitherto he had only been trying to be more purely
and severely mechanical than a machine, and that now the interpreter was
at work. I have heard him repeat a passage fifty times--and so
slowly!--and each rendering seemed more beautiful than the last; and it
was more beautiful than the last. He would extract the final drop of
beauty from the most beautiful things in the world. Washed, drenched in
this circumambient ether of beauty, I wrote my verse. Perhaps it may
appear almost a sacrilege that I should have used the practising of a
Diaz as a background for my own creative activity. I often thought so.
But when one has but gold, one must put it to lowly use. So I wrote, and
he passed from Bach to Chopin.

Usually he would come out into the garden for five minutes at half-past
nine to smoke a cigarette, but that morning it had struck ten before the
music ceased. I saw him. He walked absent-minded along the terrace in
the strange silence that had succeeded. He was wearing his
riding-breeches, for we habitually rode at eleven. And that morning I did
not hide my work when he came. It was, in fact, finished; the time had
arrived to disclose it. He stopped in front of me in the sunlight,
utterly preoccupied with himself and his labours. He had the rapt look on
his face which results from the terrible mental and spiritual strain of
practising as he practised.

'Satisfied?' I asked him.

He frowned.

'There are times when one gets rather inspired,' he said, looking at me,
as it were, without seeing me. 'It's as if the whole soul gets into one's
hands. That's what's wanted.'

'You had it this morning?'

'A bit.'

He smiled with candid joy.

'While I was listening--' I began.

'Oh!' he broke in impulsively, violently, 'it isn't you that have to
listen. It's I that have to listen. It's the player that has to listen.
He's got to do more than listen. He's got to be _in_ the piano with his
inmost heart. If he isn't on the full stretch of analysis the whole
blessed time, he might just as well be turning the handle of a

He always talked about his work during the little 'recess' which he took
in the middle of the morning. He pretended to be talking to me, but it
was to himself that he talked. He was impatient if I spoke.

'I shall be greater than ever,' he proceeded, after a moment. And his
attitude towards himself was so disengaged, so apart and aloof, so
critically appreciative, that it was impossible to accuse him of egoism.
He was, perhaps, as amazed at his own transcendent gift as any other
person could be, and he was incapable of hiding his sensations. 'Yes,' he
repeated; 'I think I shall be greater than ever. You see, a Chopin player
is born; you can't make him. With Chopin it's not a question of
intellect. It's all tone with Chopin--_tone_, my child, even in the most
bravura passages. You've got to get it.'

'Yes,' I agreed.

He gazed over the tree-tops into the blue sky.

'I may be ready in six months,' he said.

'I think you will,' I concurred, with a judicial air. But I honestly
deemed him to be more than ready then.

Twelve months previously he had said: 'With six hours' practice a day
for two years I shall recover what I have lost.'

He had succeeded beyond his hopes.

'Are you writing in that book?' he inquired carelessly as he threw down
the cigarette and turned away.

'I have just finished something,' I replied.

'Oh!' he said, 'I'm glad you aren't idle. It's so boring.'

He returned to the piano, perfectly incurious about what I did,
self-absorbed as a god. And I was alone in the garden, with the
semicircle of trees behind me, and the facade of the old house and its
terrace in front. And lying on the lawn, just under the terrace, was
the white end of the cigarette which he had abandoned; it breathed
upwards a thin spiral of blue smoke through the morning sunshine, and
then it ceased to breathe. And the music recommenced, on a different
plane, more brilliantly than before. It was as though, till then, he
had been laboriously building the bases of a tremendous triumphal arch,
and that now the two wings met, dazzlingly, soaringly, in highest
heaven, and the completed arch became a rainbow glittering in the face
of the infinite. He played two of his great concert pieces, and their
intricate melodies--brocaded, embroidered, festooned--poured themselves
through the windows into the garden in a procession majestic and
impassioned, perturbing the intent soul of the solitary listener,
swathing her in intoxicating sound. It was the unique virtuoso born
again, proudly displaying the ultimate sublime end of all those
slow-moving exercises to which he had subdued his fingers. Not for ten
years had I heard him play so.

When we first came into the house I had said bravely to myself: 'His
presence shall not deter me from practising as I have always done.' And
one afternoon I had sat down to the piano full of determination to
practise without fear of him, without self-consciousness. But before my
hands had touched the keys shame took me, unreasoning, terror-struck
shame, and I knew in an instant that while he lived I should never more
play the piano. He laughed lightly when I told him, and I called myself
silly. Yet now, as I sat in the garden, I saw how right I had been. And I
wondered that I should ever have had the audacity even to dream of
playing in his house; the idea was grotesque. And he did not ask me to
play, save when there arrived new orchestral music arranged for four
hands. Then I steeled myself to the ordeal of playing with him, because
he wished to try over the music. And he would thank me, and say that
pianoforte duets were always very enjoyable. But he did not pretend that
I was not an amateur, and he never--thank God!--suggested that we should
attempt _Tristan_ again....

At last he finished. And I heard distantly the bell which he had rung for
his glass of milk. And, remembering that I was not ready for the ride, I
ran with guilty haste into the house and upstairs.

The two bay horses were waiting, our English groom at their heads, when I
came out to the porch. Diaz was impatiently tapping his boot with his
whip. He was not in the least a sporting man, but he loved the sensation
of riding, and the groom would admit that he rode passably; but he loved
more to strut in breeches, and to imitate in little ways the sporting
man. I had learnt to ride in order to please him.

'Come along,' he exclaimed.

His eyes said: 'You are always late.' And I was. Some people always know
exactly what point they have reached in the maze and jungle of the day,
just as mariners are always aware, at the back of their minds, of the
state of the tide. But I was not born so.

Diaz helped me to mount, and we departed, jingling through the gate and
across the road into a glade of the forest, one of those long sandy
defiles, banked on either side, and over-shadowed with tall oaks, which
pierce the immense forest like rapiers. The sunshine slanted through the
crimsoning leafwork and made irregular golden patches on the dark sand to
the furthest limit of the perspective. And though we could not feel the
autumn wind, we could hear it in the tree-tops, and it had the sound of
the sea. The sense of well-being and of joy was exquisite. The beauty of
horses, timid creatures, sensitive and graceful and irrational as young
girls, is a thing apart; and what is strange is that their vast strength
does not seem incongruous with it. To be above that proud and lovely
organism, listening, apprehensive, palpitating, nervous far beyond the
human, to feel one's self almost part of it by intimate contact, to yield
to it, and make it yield, to draw from it into one's self some of its
exultant vitality--in a word, to ride--yes, I could comprehend Diaz' fine
enthusiasm for that! I could share it when he was content to let the
horses amble with noiseless hoofs over the soft ways. But when he would
gallop, and a strong wind sprang up to meet our faces, and the earth
shook and thundered, and the trunks of the trees raced past us, then I
was afraid. My fancy always saw him senseless at the foot of a tree while
his horse calmly cropped the short grass at the sides of the path, or
with his precious hand twisted and maimed! And I was in agony till he
reined in. I never dared to speak to him of this fear, nor even hint to
him that the joy was worth less than the peril. He would have been angry
in his heart, and something in him stronger than himself would have
forced him to increase the risks. I knew him! ... Ah! but when we went
gently, life seemed to be ideal for me, impossibly perfect! It seemed to
contain all that I could ever have demanded of it.

I looked at him sideways, so noble and sane and self-controlled. And the
days in Paris had receded, far and dim and phantom-like. Was it
conceivable that they had once been real, and that we had lived through
them? And was this Diaz, the world-renowned darling of capitals, riding
by me, a woman whom he had met by fantastic chance? Had he really hidden
himself in my arms from the cruel stare of the world and the insufferable
curiosity of admirers who, instead of admiring, had begun to pity? Had I
in truth saved him? Was it I who would restore him to his glory? Oh, the
astounding romance that my life had been! And he was with me! He shared
my life, and I his! I wondered what would happen when he returned to his
bright kingdom. I was selfish enough to wish that he might never return
to his kingdom, and that we might ride and ride for ever in the forest.

And then we came to a circular clearing, with an iron cross in the
middle, where roads met, a place such as occurs magically in some ballade
of Chopin's. And here we drew rein on the leaf-strewn grass, breathing
quickly, with reddened cheeks, and the horses nosed each other, with long
stretchings of the neck and rattling of bits.

'So you've been writing again?' said Diaz, smiling quizzically.

'Yes,' I answered. 'I've been writing a long time, but I haven't let
_you_ know anything about it; and just to-day I've finished it.'

'What is it--another novel?'

'No; a little drama in verse.'

'Going to publish it?'

'Why, naturally.'

Diaz was aware that I enjoyed fame in England and America. He was
probably aware that my books had brought me a considerable amount of
money. He had read some of my works, and found them excellent--indeed, he
was quite proud of my talent. But he did not, he could not, take
altogether seriously either my talent or my fame. I knew that he always
regarded me as a child gracefully playing at a career. For him there was
only one sort of fame; all the other sorts were shadows. A supreme
violinist might, perhaps, approach the real thing, in his generous mind;
but he was incapable of honestly believing that any fame compared with
that of a pianist. The other fames were very well, but they were paste to
the precious stone, gewgaws to amuse simple persons. The sums paid to
sopranos struck him as merely ridiculous in their enormity. He could not
be called conceited; nevertheless, he was magnificently sure that he had
been, and still was, the most celebrated person in the civilized world.
Certainly he had no superiors in fame, but he would not admit the
possibility of equals. Of course, he never argued such a point; it was a
tacit assumption, secure from argument. And with that he profoundly
reverenced the great composers. The death of Brahms affected him for
years. He regarded it as an occasion for universal sorrow. Had Brahms
condescended to play the piano, Diaz would have turned the pages for him,
and deemed himself honoured--him whom queens had flattered!

'Did you imagine,' I began to tease him, after a pause, 'that while you
are working I spend my time in merely existing?'

'You exist--that is enough, my darling,' he said. 'Strange that a
beautiful woman can't understand that in existing she is doing her
life's work!'

And he leaned over and touched my right wrist below the glove.

'You dear thing!' I murmured, smiling. 'How foolish you can be!'

'What's the drama about?' he asked.

'About La Valliere,' I said.

'La Valliere! But that's the kind of subject I want for my opera!'

'Yes,' I said; 'I have thought so.'

'Could you turn it into a libretto, my child?'

'No, dearest.'

'Why not?'

'Because it already is a libretto. I have written it as such.'

'For me?'

'For whom else?'

And I looked at him fondly, and I think tears came to my eyes.

'You are a genius, Magda!' he exclaimed. 'You leave nothing undone for
me. The subject is the very thing to suit Villedo.'

'Who is Villedo?'

'My jewel, you don't know who Villedo is! Villedo is the director of the
Opera Comique in Paris, the most artistic opera-house in Europe. He used
to beg me every time we met to write him an opera.'

'And why didn't you?'

'Because I had neither the subject nor the time. One doesn't write
operas after lunch in hotel parlours; and as for a good libretto--well,
outside Wagner, there's only one opera in the world with a good libretto,
and that's _Carmen_.'

Diaz, who had had a youthful operatic work performed at the Royal School
of Music in London, and whose numerous light compositions for the
pianoforte had, of course, enjoyed a tremendous vogue, was much more
serious about his projected opera than I had imagined. He had frequently
mentioned it to me, but I had not thought the idea was so close to his
heart as I now perceived it to be. I had written the libretto to amuse
myself, and perhaps him, and lo! he was going to excite himself; I well
knew the symptoms.

'You wrote it in that little book,' he said. 'You haven't got it in
your pocket?'

'No,' I answered. 'I haven't even a pocket.'

He would not laugh.

'Come,' he said--'come, let's see it.'

He gathered up his loose rein and galloped off. He could not wait
an instant.

'Come along!' he cried imperiously, turning his head.

'I am coming,' I replied; 'but wait for me. Don't leave me like
that, Diaz.'

The old fear seized me, but nothing could stop him, and I followed as
fast as I dared.

'Where is it?' he asked, when we reached home.

'Upstairs,' I said.

And he came upstairs behind me, pulling my habit playfully, in an effort
to persuade us both that his impatience was a simulated one. I had to
find my keys and unlock a drawer. I took the small, silk-bound volume
from the back part of the drawer and gave it to him.

'There!' I exclaimed. 'But remember lunch is ready.'

He regarded the book.

'What a pretty binding!' he said. 'Who worked it?'

'I did.'

'And, of course, your handwriting is so pretty, too!' he added, glancing
at the leaves. '"La Valliere, an opera in three acts."'

We exchanged a look, each of us deliciously perturbed, and then he ran
off with the book.

He had to be called three times from the garden to lunch, and he brought
the book with him, and read it in snatches during the meal, and while
sipping his coffee. I watched him furtively as he turned over the pages.

'Oh, you've done it!' he said at length--'you've done it! You evidently
have a gift for libretto. It is neither more nor less than perfect! And
the subject is wonderful!'

He rose, walked round the table, and, taking my head between his hands,
kissed me.

'Magda,' he said, 'you're the cleverest girl that was ever born.'

'Then, do you think you will compose it?' I asked, joyous.

'Do I think I will compose it! Why, what do you imagine? I've already
begun. It composes itself. I'm now going to read it all again in the
garden. Just see that I'm not worried, will you?'

'You mean you don't want me there. You don't care for me any more.'

It amused me to pretend to pout.

'Yes,' he laughed; 'that's it. I don't care for you any more.'

He departed.

'Have no fear!' I cried after him. 'I shan't come into your horrid

His habit was to resume his practice at three o'clock. The hour was then
half-past one. I wondered whether he would allow himself to be seduced
from the piano that afternoon by the desire to compose. I hoped not, for
there could be no question as to the relative importance to him of the
two activities. To my surprise, I heard the piano at two o'clock,
instead of at three, and it continued without intermission till five.
Then he came, like a sudden wind, on to the terrace where I was having
tea. Diaz would never take afternoon tea. He seized my hand impulsively.

'Come down,' he said--'down under the trees there.'

'What for?'

'I want you.'

'But, Diaz, let me put my cup down. I shall spill the tea on my dress.'

'I'll take your cup.'

'And I haven't nearly finished my tea, either. And you're hurting me.'

'I'll bring you a fresh cup,' he said. 'Come, come!'

And he dragged me off, laughing, to the lower part of the garden, where
were two chairs in the shade. And I allowed myself to be dragged.

'There! Sit down. Don't move. I'll fetch your tea.'

And presently he returned with the cup.

'Now that you've nearly killed me,' I said, 'and spoilt my dress, perhaps
you'll explain.'

He produced the silk-bound book of manuscript from his pocket and put it
in my unoccupied hand.

'I want you to read it to me aloud, all of it,' he said.



'What a strange boy you are!' I chided.

Then I drank the tea, straightened my features into seriousness, and
began to read.

The reading occupied less than an hour. He made no remark when it was
done, but held out his hand for the book, and went out for a walk. At
dinner he was silent till the servants had gone. Then he said musingly:

'That scene in the cloisters between Louise and De Montespan is a great
idea. It will be magnificent; it will be the finest thing in the opera.
What a subject you have found! what a subject!' His tone altered. 'Magda,
will you do something to oblige me?'

'If it isn't foolish.'

'I want you to go to bed.'

'Out of the way?' I smiled.

'Go to bed and to sleep,' he repeated.

'But why?'

'I want to walk about this floor. I must be alone.'

'Well,' I said, 'just to prove how humble and obedient I am, I will go.'

And I held up my mouth to be kissed.

Wondrous, the joy I found in playing the decorative, acquiescent,
self-effacing woman to him, the pretty, pouting plaything! I liked him to
dismiss me, as the soldier dismisses his charmer at the sound of the
bugle. I liked to think upon his obvious conviction that the libretto was
less than nothing compared to the music. I liked him to regard the whole
artistic productivity of my life as the engaging foible of a pretty
woman. I liked him to forget that I had brought him alive out of Paris. I
liked him to forget to mention marriage to me. In a word, he was Diaz,
and I was his.

And as I lay in bed I even tried to go to sleep, in my obedience, because
I knew he would wish it. But I could not easily sleep for anticipating
his triumph of the early future. His habits of composition were extremely
rapid. It might well occur that he would write the entire opera in a few
months, without at all sacrificing the piano. And naturally any operatic
manager would be loath to refuse an opera signed by Diaz. Villedo,
apparently so famous, would be sure to accept it, and probably would
produce it at once. And Diaz would have a double triumph, a dazzling and
gorgeous re-entry into the world. He might give his first recital in the
same week as the _premiere_ of the opera. And thus his shame would never
be really known to the artistic multitude. The legend of a nervous
collapse could be insisted on, and the opera itself would form a
sufficient excuse for his retirement.... And I should be the secret cause
of all this glory--I alone! And no one would ever guess what Diaz owed to
me. Diaz himself would never appreciate it. I alone, withdrawn from the
common gaze, like a woman of the East, Diaz' secret fountain of strength
and balm--I alone should be aware of what I had done. And my knowledge
would be enough for me.

I imagine I must have been dreaming when I felt a hand on my cheek.

'Magda, you aren't asleep, are you?'

Diaz was standing over me.

'No, no!' I answered, in a voice made feeble by sleep. And I looked
up at him.

'Put something on and come downstairs, will you?'

'What time is it?'

'Oh, I don't know. One o'clock.'

'You've been working for over three hours, then!'

I sat up.

'Yes,' he said proudly. 'Come along. I want to play you my notion of the
overture. It's only in the rough, but it's there.'

'You've begun with the overture?'

'Why not, my child? Here's your dressing-gown. Which is the top
end of it?'

I followed him downstairs, and sat close by him at the piano, with one
limp hand on his shoulder. There was no light in the drawing-rooms, save
one candle on the piano. My slipper escaped off my bare foot. As Diaz
played he looked at me constantly, demanding my approval, my enthusiasm,
which I gave him from a full heart. I thought the music charming, and, of
course, as he played it...!

'I shall only have three motives,' he said. 'That's the La Valliere
motive. Do you see the idea?'

'You mean she limps?'

'Precisely. Isn't it delightful?'

'She won't have to limp much, you know. She didn't.'

'Just the faintest suggestion. It will be delicious. I can see Morenita
in the part. Well, what do you think of it?'

I could not speak. His appeal, suddenly wistful, moved me so. I leaned
forward and kissed him.

'Dear girl!' he murmured.

Then he blew out the candle. He was beside himself with excitement.

'Diaz,' I cried, 'what's the matter with you? Do have a little sense.
And you've made me lose my slipper.'

'I'll carry you upstairs,' he replied gaily.

A faint illumination came from the hall, so that we could just see each
other. He lifted me off the chair.

'No!' I protested, laughing. 'And my slipper.... The servants!'


I was a trifle in those arms.


The triumphal re-entry into the world has just begun, and exactly as Diaz
foretold. And the life of the forest is over. We have come to Paris, and
he has taken Paris, and already he is leaving it for other shores, and I
am to follow. At this moment, while I write because I have not slept and
cannot sleep, his train rolls out of St. Lazare.

Last night! How glorious! But he is no longer wholly mine. The world has
turned his face a little from my face....

It was as if I had never before realized the dazzling significance of
the fame of Diaz. I had only once seen him in public. And though he
conquered in the Jubilee Hall of the Five Towns, his victory, personal
and artistic, at the Opera Comique, before an audience as exacting,
haughty, and experienced as any in Europe, was, of course, infinitely
more striking--a victory worthy of a Diaz.

I sat alone and hidden at the back of a _baignoire_ in the auditorium. I
had drawn up the golden grille, by which the occupants of a _baignoire_
may screen themselves from the curiosity of the _parterre_. I felt like
some caged Eastern odalisque, and I liked so to feel. I liked to exist
solely for him, to be mysterious, and to baffle the general gaze in order
to be more precious to him. Ah, how I had changed! How he had changed me!

It was Thursday, a subscription night, and, in addition, all Paris was in
the theatre, a crowded company of celebrities, of experts, and of
perfectly-dressed women. And no one knew who I was, nor why I was there.
The vogue of a musician may be universal, but the vogue of an English
writer is nothing beyond England and America. I had not been to a
rehearsal. I had not met Villedo, nor even the translator of my verse. I
had wished to remain in the background, and Diaz had not crossed me. Thus
I gazed through the bars of my little cell across the rows of bald heads,
and wonderful coiffures, and the waving arms of the conductor, and the
restless, gliding bows of the violinists, and saw a scene which was
absolutely strange and new to me. And it seemed amazing that these
figures which I saw moving and chanting with such grace in a palace
garden, authentic to the last detail of historical accuracy, were my La
Valliere and my Louis, and that this rich and coloured music which I
heard was the same that Diaz had sketched for me on the piano, from
illegible scraps of ruled paper, on the edge of the forest. The full
miracle of operatic art was revealed to me for the first time.

And when the curtain fell on the opening act, the intoxicating human
quality of an operatic success was equally revealed to me for the first
time. How cold and distant the success of a novelist compared to this!
The auditorium was suddenly bathed in bright light, and every listening
face awoke to life as from an enchantment, and flushed and smiled, and
the delicatest hands in France clapped to swell the mighty uproar that
filled the theatre with praise. Paris, upstanding on its feet, and
leaning over balconies and cheering, was charmed and delighted by the
fable and the music, in which it found nothing but the sober and pretty
elegance that it loves. And Paris applauded feverishly, and yet with a
full sense of the value of its applause--given there in the only French
theatre where the claque has been suppressed. And then the curtain rose,
and La Valliere and Louis tripped mincingly forward to prove that after
all they were Morenita and Montferiot, the darlings of their dear Paris,
and utterly content with their exclusively Parisian reputation. Three
times they came forward. And then the applause ceased, for Paris is not
Naples, and it is not Madrid, and the red curtain definitely hid the
stage, and the theatre hummed with animated chatter as elegant as Diaz'
music, and my ear, that loves the chaste vivacity of the French tongue,
was caressed on every side by its cadences.

'This is the very heart of civilization,' I said to myself. 'And even in
the forest I could not breathe more freely.'

I stared up absently at Benjamin Constant's blue ceiling, meretricious
and still adorable, expressive of the delicious decadence of Paris, and
my eyes moistened because the world is so beautiful in such various ways.

Then the door of the _baignoire_ opened. It was Diaz himself who
appeared. He had not forgotten me in the excitements of the stage and
the dressing-rooms. He put his hand lightly on my shoulder, and I
glanced at him.

'Well?' he murmured, and gave me a box of bonbons elaborately tied with
rich ribbons.

And I murmured, 'Well?'

The glory of his triumph was upon him. But he understood why my eyes were
wet, and his fingers moved soothingly on my shoulder.

'You won't come round?' he asked. 'Both Villedo and Morenita are dying to
meet you.'

I shook my head, smiling.

'You're satisfied?'

'More than satisfied,' I answered. 'The thing is wonderful.'

'I think it's rather charming,' he said. 'By the way, I've just had an
offer from New York for it, and another from Rome.'

I nodded my appreciation.

'You don't want anything?'

'Nothing, thanks,' I said, opening the box of bonbons, 'except these.
Thanks so much for thinking of them.'


And he left me again.

In the second act the legend--has not the tale of La Valliere acquired
almost the quality of a legend?--grew in persuasiveness and in
magnificence. It was the hour of La Valliere's unwilling ascendancy, and
it foreboded also her fall. The situations seemed to me to be poignantly
beautiful, especially that in which La Valliere and Montespan and the
Queen found themselves together. And Morenita had perceived my meaning
with such a sure intuition. I might say that she showed me what I had
meant. Diaz, too, had given to my verse a voice than which it appeared
impossible that anything could be more appropriate. The whole effect was
astonishing, ravishing. And within me--far, far within the recesses of my
glowing heart--a thin, clear whisper spoke and said that I, and I alone,
was the cause of that beauty of sight and sound. Not Morenita, and not
Montferiot, not Diaz himself, but Magda, the self-constituted odalisque,
was its author. I had thought of it; I had schemed it; I had fashioned
it; I had evoked the emotion in it. The others had but exquisitely
embroidered my theme. Without me they must have been dumb and futile. On
my shoulders lay the burden and the glory. And though I was amazed,
perhaps naively, to see what I had done, nevertheless I had done it--I!
The entire opera-house, that complicated and various machine, was simply
a means to express me. And it was to my touch on their heartstrings that
the audience vibrated. With all my humility, how proud I was--coldly and
arrogantly proud, as only the artist can be! I wore my humility as I wore
my black gown. Even Diaz could not penetrate to the inviolable place in
my heart, where the indestructible egoism defied the efforts of love to
silence it. And yet people say there is nothing stronger than love.

At the close of the act, while the ringing applause, much more
enthusiastic than before, gave certainty of a genuine and extraordinary
success, I could not help blushing. It was as if I was in danger of being
discovered as the primal author of all that fleeting loveliness, as if my
secret was bound to get about, and I to be forced from my seclusion in
order to receive the acclamations of Paris. I played nervously and
self-consciously with my fan, and I wrapped my humility closer round me,
until at length the tumult died away, and the hum of charming, eager
chatter reassured my ears again.

Diaz did not come. The entr'acte stretched out long, and the chatter lost
some of its eagerness, and he did not come. Perhaps he could not come.
Perhaps he was too much engaged, too much preoccupied, to think of the
gallantry which he owed to his mistress. A man cannot always be dreaming
of his mistress. A mistress must be reconciled to occasional neglect; she
must console herself with chocolates. And they were chocolates from
Marquis's, in the Passage des Panoramas....

Then he came, accompanied.

A whirl of high-seasoned, laughing personalities invaded my privacy.
Diaz, smiling humorously, was followed by a man and a cloaked woman.

'Dear lady,' he said, with an intimate formality, 'I present Mademoiselle
Morenita and Monsieur Villedo. They insisted on seeing you. Mademoiselle,
Monsieur--Mademoiselle Peel.'

I stood up.

'All our excuses,' said Villedo, in a low, discreet voice, as he
carefully shut the door. 'All our excuses, madame. But it was necessary
that I should pay my respects--it was stronger than I.'

And he came forward, took my hand, and raised it to his lips. He is a
little finicking man, with a little gray beard, and the red rosette in
his button-hole, and a most consummate ease of manner.

'Monsieur,' I replied, 'you are too amiable. And you, madame. I cannot
sufficiently thank you both.'

Morenita rushed at me with a swift, surprising movement, her cloak
dropping from her shoulders, and taking both my hands, she kissed me

'You have genius,' she said; 'and I am proud. I am ashamed that I cannot
read English; but I have the intention to learn in order to read your
books. Our Diaz says wonderful things of them.'

She is a tall, splendidly-made, opulent creature, of my own age, born for
the footlights, with an extremely sweet and thrilling voice, and that
slight coarseness or exaggeration of gesture and beauty which is the
penalty of the stage. She did not in the least resemble a La Valliere as
she stood there gazing at me, with her gleaming, pencilled eyes and
heavy, scarlet lips. It seemed impossible that she could refine herself
to a La Valliere. But that woman is the drama itself. She would act no
matter what. She has always the qualities necessary to a role. And the
gods have given her green eyes, so that she may be La Valliere to the
very life.

I began to thank her for her superb performance.

'It is I who should thank you,' she answered. 'It will be my greatest
part. Never have I had so many glorious situations in a part. Do you
like my limp?'

She smiled, her head on one side. Success glittered in those orbs.

'You limp adorably,' I said.

'It is my profession to make compliments,' Villedo broke in; and then,
turning to Morenita, '_N'est-ce pas, ma belle creature_? But really'--he
turned to me again--'but very sincerely, all that there is of most
sincerely, dear madame, your libretto is made with a virtuosity
astonishing. It is _du theatre_. And with that a charm, an emotion...!
One would say--'

And so it continued, the flattering stream, while Diaz listened, touched,
and full of pride.

'Ah!' I said. 'It is not I who deserve praise.'

An electric bell trembled in the theatre.

Morenita picked up her cloak.

'_Mon ami_,' she warned Villedo. 'I must go. Diaz, _mon petit_! you will
persuade Mademoiselle Peel to come to the room of the Directeur later.
Madame, a few of us will meet there--is it not so, Villedo? We shall
count on you, madame. You have hidden yourself too long.'

I glanced at Diaz, and he nodded. As a fact, I wished to refuse; but I
could not withstand the seduction of Morenita. She had a physical
influence which was unique in my experience.

'I accept,' I said.

'_A tout a l'heure_, then,' she twittered gaily; and they left as they
had come, Villedo affectionately toying with Morenita's hand.

Diaz remained behind a moment.

'I am so glad you didn't decline,' he said. 'You see, here in this
theatre Morenita is a queen. I wager she has never before in all her life
put herself out of the way as she has done for you to-night.'

'Really!' I faltered.

And, indeed, as I pondered over it, the politeness of these people
appeared to be marvellous, and so perfectly accomplished. Villedo, who
has made a European reputation and rejuvenated his theatre in a dozen
years, is doubtless, as he said, a professional maker of compliments. In
his position a man must be. But, nevertheless, last night's triumph is
officially and very genuinely Villedo's. While as for Morenita and Diaz,
the mere idea of these golden stars waiting on me, the librettist,
effacing themselves, rendering themselves subordinate at such a moment,
was fantastic. It passed the credible.... A Diaz standing silent and
deferential, while an idolized prima donna stepped down from her throne
to flatter me in her own temple! All that I had previously achieved of
renown seemed provincial, insular.

But Diaz took his own right place in the spacious salon of Villedo
afterwards, after all the applause had ceased, and the success had been
consecrated, and the enraptured audience had gone, and the lights were
extinguished in the silent auditorium. It is a room that seems to be
furnished with nothing but a grand piano and a large, flat writing-table
and a few chairs. On the walls are numberless signed portraits of singers
and composers, and antique playbills of the Opera Comique, together with
strange sinister souvenirs of the great fires which have destroyed the
house and its patrons in the past. When Diaz led me in, only Villedo and
the principal artists and Pouvillon, the conductor, were present.
Pouvillon, astonishingly fat, was sitting on the table, idly swinging the
electric pendant over his head; while Morenita occupied Villedo's
armchair, and Villedo talked to Montferiot and another man in a corner.
But a crowd of officials of the theatre ventured on Diaz' heels. And then
came Monticelli, the _premiere danseuse_, in a coat and skirt, and then
some of her rivals. And as the terrible Director did not protest, the
room continued to fill until it was full to the doors, where stood a
semicircle of soiled, ragged scene-shifters and a few fat old women, who
were probably dressers. Who could protest on such a night? The democracy
of a concerted triumph reigned. Everybody was joyous, madly happy.
Everybody had done something; everybody shared the prestige, and the rank
and file might safely take generals by the hand.

Diaz was then the centre of attraction. It was recognised that he had
entered that sphere from a wider one, bringing with him a radiance
brighter than he found there. He was divine last night. All felt that he
was divine. He spoke to everyone with an admirable modesty, gaily, his
eyes laughing. Several women kissed him, including Morenita. Not that I
minded. In the theatre the code is different, coarser, more banal. He
alone raised this crowd above its usual level and gave it distinction.

Someone suggested that, as the piano was there, he should play, and
the demand ran from mouth to mouth. Villedo, appreciating its
audacity, made a gesture to indicate that such a thing could not be
asked. But Diaz instantly said that, if it would give pleasure, he
would play with pleasure.

And he sat down to the piano, and looked round, smiling, and the room was
hushed in a moment, and each face was turned towards him.

'What?' he ejaculated. And then, as no definite recommendation was
offered, he said: 'Do you wish that I improvise?'

The idea was accepted with passionate, noisy enthusiasm.

A cold perspiration broke out over my whole body. I must have turned
very pale.

'You are not ill, madame?' asked that ridiculous fop, Montferiot, who
had been presented to me, and was whispering the most fatuous

'No, I thank you.'

The fact was that Diaz, since his retirement, had not yet played to
anyone except myself. This was his first appearance. I was afraid for
him. I trembled for him. I need not have done. He was absolutely master
of his powers. His fingers announced, quite simply, one of the most
successful airs from _La Valliere_, and then he began to decorate it with
an amazing lacework of variations, and finished with a bravura display
such as no pianist could have surpassed. The performance, marvellous in
itself, was precisely suited to that audience, and it electrified the
audience; it electrified even me. Diaz fought his way through kisses and
embraces to Villedo, who stood on his toes and wept and put his arms
round Diaz' neck.

'_Cher maitre_,' he cried, 'you overwhelm us!'

'You are too kind, all of you,' said Diaz. 'I must ask permission to
retire. I have to conduct Mademoiselle Peel to her hotel, and there is
much for me to do during the night. You know I start very early

'_Helas!_ Morenita sighed.

I had blushed. Decidedly I behaved like a girl last night. But, indeed,
the new, swift realization, as Diaz singled me out of that multitude,
that after all he utterly belonged to me, that he was mine alone, was
more than I could bear with equanimity. I was the proudest woman in the
universe. I scorned the lot of all other women.

The adieux were exchanged, and there were more kisses. '_Au revoir! Bon
voyage_! Much success over there.'

The majority of these good, generous souls were in tears.

Villedo opened a side-door, and we escaped into a corridor, only Morenita
and one or two others accompanying us to the street.

And on the pavement a carpet had been laid. The electric brougham was
waiting. I gathered up my skirt and sprang in. Diaz followed, smiling at
me. He put his head out of the window and said a few words. Morenita blew
a kiss. Villedo bowed profoundly. The carriage moved in the direction of
the boulevard.... I had carried him off. Oh, the exquisite dark intimacy
of the interior of that smooth-rolling brougham! When, after the theatre,
a woman precedes a man into a carriage, does she not publish and glory
in the fact that she is his? Is it not the most delicious of avowals?
There is something in the enforced bend of one's head as one steps in.
And when the man shuts the door with a masculine snap--

I wondered idly what Morenita and Villedo thought of our relations. They
must surely guess.

We went down the boulevard and by the Rue Royale into the Place de la
Concorde, where vehicles flitted mysteriously in a maze of lights under
the vast dome of mysterious blue. And Paris, in her incomparable toilette
of a June night, seemed more than ever the passionate city of love that
she is, recognising candidly, with the fearless intellectuality of the
Latin temperament, that one thing only makes life worth living. How soft
was the air! How languorous the pose of the dim figures that passed us
half hidden in other carriages! And in my heart was the lofty joy of work
done, definitely accomplished, and a vista of years of future pleasure.
My happiness was ardent and yet calm--a happiness beyond my hopes, beyond
what a mortal has the right to dream of. Nothing could impair it, not
even Diaz' continued silence as to a marriage between us, not even the
imminent brief separation that I was to endure.

'My child,' said Diaz suddenly, 'I'm very hungry. I've never been
so hungry.'

'You surely didn't forget to have your dinner?' I exclaimed.

'Yes, I did,' he admitted like a child; 'I've just remembered.'

'Diaz!' I pouted, and for some strange reason my bliss was intensified,
'you are really terrible! What can I do with you? You will eat before
you leave me. I must see to that. We can get something for you at the
hotel, perhaps.'

'Suppose we go to a supper restaurant?' he said.

Without waiting for my reply, he seized the dangling end of the
speaking-tube and spoke to the driver, and we swerved round and regained
the boulevard.

And in the private room of a great, glittering restaurant, one of a long
row of private rooms off a corridor, I ate strawberries and cream and
sipped champagne while Diaz went through the entire menu of a supper.

'Your eyes look sad,' he murmured, with a cigar between his teeth. 'What
is it? We shall see each other again in a fortnight.'

He was to resume his career by a series of concerts in the United States.
A New York agent, with the characteristic enterprise of New York agents,
had tracked Diaz even into the forest and offered him two hundred and
fifty thousand dollars for forty concerts on the condition that he played
at no concert before he played in New York. And in order to reach New
York in time for the first concert, it was imperative that he should
catch the _Touraine_ at Havre. I was to follow in a few days by a
Hamburg-American liner. Diaz had judged it more politic that we should
not travel together. In this he was undoubtedly right.

I smiled proudly.

'I am both sad and happy,' I answered.

He moved his chair until it touched mine, and put his arm round my neck,
and brought my face close to his.

'Look at me,' he said.

And I looked into his large, splendid eyes.

'You mustn't think,' he whispered, 'that, because I don't talk about it,
I don't feel that I owe everything to you.'

I let my face fall on his breast. I knew I had flushed to the ears.

'My poor boy,' I sobbed, 'if you talk about that I shall never
forgive you.'

It was heaven itself. No woman has ever been more ecstatically happy than
I was then.

He rang for the bill.

We parted at the door of my hotel. In the carriage we had exchanged one
long, long kiss. At the last moment I wanted to alter the programme, go
with him to his hotel to assist in his final arrangements, and then see
him off at early morning at the station. But he refused. He said he could
not bear to part from me in public. Perhaps it was best so. Just as I
turned away he put a packet into my hand. It contained seven banknotes
for ten thousand francs each, money that it had been my delight to lend
him from time to time. Foolish, vain, scrupulous boy! I knew not where he
had obtained--

* * * * *

It is now evening. Diaz is on the sea. While writing those last lines I
was attacked by fearful pains in the right side, and cramp, so that I
could not finish. I can scarcely write now. I have just seen the old
English doctor. He says I have appendicitis, perhaps caused by pips of
strawberries. And that unless I am operated on at once--And that even
if--He is telephoning to the hospital. Diaz! No; I shall come safely
through the affair. Without me Diaz would fall again. I see that now. And
I have had no child. I must have a child. Even that girl in the blue
_peignoir_ had a--Chance is a strange--

_Extract translated from 'Le Temps,' the Paris Evening Paper_.


The obsequies of Mademoiselle Pell, the celebrated English poetess, and
author of the libretto of _La Valliere_, were celebrated this morning at
eleven o'clock in the Church of St. Honore d'Eylau.

The chief mourners were the doctor who assisted at the last moments of
Mademoiselle Pell, and M. Villedo, director of the Opera-Comique.

Among the wreaths we may cite those of the Association of Dramatic
Artists, of Madame Morenita, of the management of the Opera-Comique, and
of the artists of the Opera-Comique.

Mass was said by a vicar of the parish, and general absolution given by
M. le Cure Marbeau.

During the service there was given, under the direction of M. Letang,
chapel-master, the _Funeral March_ of Beethoven, the _Kyrie_ of
Neidermeyer, the _Pie Jesu_ of Stradella, the _Ego Sum_ of Gounod, the
_Libera Me_ of S. Rousseau.

M. Deep officiated at the organ.

After the ceremony the remains were transported to the cemetery of
Pere-Lachaise and cremated.


Back to Full Books