Alphonse Daudet.

Sappho : to which is added Between the flies and the footlights online

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Copyright, iS^^, by Littijf, Brovm.

Geupa it C? FarCs

. ' ! • ,' Copyright, 1S99,

By Ljtti-e, Brown, and Company.

A /I rights reserved.

John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.





V\c\jj\ Zay\^ iMa*"'^ U'.b





Sappho . , . ^

Between the Flies and the Footlights:

I. The Actor at Work 261

II. Madame d'fipinay's Dream 275

III. Provincial Circuits 282

IV. Theatrical Mourning 289

V. Stage-Setting and Rehearsals 298

VI. Drunkenness on the Stage 315

VII. Sixty Years on the Stage 320

VIII. Diderot's Advice to an Actress 329

IX. Fanny Kemble after her Memoirs 345




" Come, look at me. I like the color of your
eyes. What 's your name ? "

*' Jean."

*' Just Jean?"

"Jean Gaussin."

** From the South, I can see that. How old are
you ? "

** Twenty-one."

"An artist?"

" No, madame."

" Ah ! so much the better."

These brief sentences, almost unintelligible amid
the shrieks and laughter and dance music of a
masquerade party, were exchanged, one night in
June, by a bagpiper and a female fellah in the
conservatory of palms and tree-like ferns which
formed the background of Dechelette's studio.

To the Egyptian's searching examination, the
piper replied with the ingenuousness of his tender
years, the recklessness and the sigh of relief of a
Southerner who has been silent for a long while.
A stranger to all that throng of painters and sculp-
tors, lost sight of immediately after his arrival by

2 Sappho.

the friend who had brought him, he had been
sauntering" about for two hours with his attractive
fair face tanned and gilded by the sun, his curly
h.^iif ' close atid sh-ort as the sheepskin costume he
wore ; and a triumph, which he was far from sus-
pecting, arose and whispered around him.

Dancers jostled him roughly with their shoulders,
studio fags laughed and jeered at the bagpipe slung
over his shoulder and his mountain costume, heavy
and uncomfortable on that summer night. A Jap-
anese woman, with eyes suggestive of the faubourg,
her high chignon held in place by steel knives,
hummed as she ogled him : Ah I qu'il est beaUy
qtCil est beau, le postilion ! while a Spanish novia,
passing on the arm of an Apache chief, vio-
lently thrust her bouquet of white jasmine into his

He failed to understand these advances, ima-
gined that he was cutting an exceedingly absurd
figure, and took refuge in the cool shadows of the
glass gallery, where a divan was placed against the
wall under the plants. That woman had come at
once, and taken a seat by his side.

Young, beautiful? He could not have told.
From the long sheath of blue woollen stuff, in
which her full figure swayed with an undulating
motion, emerged two round and shapely arms bare
to the shoulder; and her little hands laden with
rings, her wide-open gray eyes increased in ap-
parent size by the curious iron ornaments hanging
from her forehead, formed a harmonious whole.

An actress without doubt. Many actresses

Sappho. 3

came to Dechelette's ; and the thought was not
calculated to put him at his ease, as persons of
that sort had great terror for him. She sat very-
near him, with her elbow on her knee, her head
resting on her hand, and spoke with grave sweet-
ness, with a touch of weariness in her tone. ** From
the South, really? And such light hair! That's
an extraordinary thing."

Then she wanted to know how long he had lived
in Paris, if the examination for admission to the
diplomatic service that he was preparing for was
very hard, if he knew many people, and how he
came to be at that party at Dechelette's on Rue de
Rome, so far from his Latin quarter.

When he told her the name of the student who
had brought him — *' La Gournerie, a relative of
the author — no doubt you know him" — the ex-
pression of the woman's face changed, suddenly
darkened ; but he did not notice, being of the age
when eyes shine without seeing. La Gournerie
had promised that his cousin would be there, that
he would introduce him.

" I like his verses so much ! I shall be so glad
to know him ! "

She smiled compassionately at his Innocence,
with a pretty drawing together of the shoulders,
'.and at the same time put aside the light leaves of
a bamboo with her hand, and looked into the ball-
room, to see if she could not discover his great

The festivity at that moment was as animated
and resplendent as the transformation scene of a

4 Sappho.

fairy spectacle. The studio — the hall rather, for
little work was ever done there — extended to the
roof, making one enormous room, and its light
and airy summer draperies, its shades of fine straw
or gauze, its lacquered screens, its multi-colored
glassware, and the cluster of yellow roses which
embellished the opening of a high Renaissance
fireplace, were illuminated by the variegated,
bizarre reflections of innumerable Chinese, Persian,
Moorish, and Japanese lanterns, some in perforated
iron carved like the door of a mosque, others in
colored paper shaped like different fruits, others like
open fans, flowers, birds, and serpents ; and flashes
of electricity, of a bluish tinge, would suddenly
pale all those thousands of lights, and cast a frosty
gleam, like a ray of moonlight, on the faces and
bare shoulders, on all the phantasmagoria of
dresses, feathers, spangles, and ribbons, jostling one
another in the ball-room, and sitting in tiers on
the Dutch staircase, with its massive rail leading to
the galleries on the first floor, which were over-
topped by the long necks of the double basses,
and the frenzied flourishes of the conductor's baton.
From his seat the young man saw it all through
a network of green branches, of flowering convol-
vuli, which blended with the decorations, formed
a frame for them, and by an optical illusion, in the
constant motion of the dance, threw wreaths of
glycine on the silver train of a princess's gown,
and placed a head-dress of dracaena leaves above
a Pompadour shepherdess's pretty face; and the
interest of the spectacle was doubled now for him

Sappho, 5

by the pleasure of learning from his gypsy the
names, all renowned, all well known, which were
concealed beneath those fancy costumes, so amus-
ing in their variety and oddity.

That whipper-in, with his short whip slung
saltire-wise, was Jadin ; while that shabby country
cure's cassock a little farther on disguised old
Isabey, who had made himself taller by putting a
pack of cards in his buckled shoes. Pere Corot
smiled from behind the huge visor of an Invalide's
cap. She also pointed out Thomas Couture as
a bull-dog, Jundt as a thief-catcher, Cham as a

Several serious historical costumes, a beplumed
Murat, a Prince Eugene, a Charles I., worn by
young painters, marked clearly the difference be-
tween the two generations of artists; the latest
comers serious, cold, with the faces of members
of the Bourse prematurely aged by the charac-
teristic wrinkles traced by absorbing financial
preoccupation; the elders much more boyish,
mischievous, noisy and frolicsome.

Despite his fifty-five years and the palm-leaves
of the Institute, the sculptor Caoudal as a hussar
in barracks, his bare arms exhibiting his herculean
biceps, a painter's palette danghng against his
long legs in guise of sabre-tascJie, was dancing a
cavalier seiil of the time of the Grande Chaumiere,
opposite the musician de Potter, in the costume of
a muezzin on a spree, his turban awry, imitating
the danse du ventre^ and whining " La Allah, il
Allah ! " in a terribly shrill voice.

6 Sappho.

Those frolicsome celebrities were surrounded
by a large circle, the dancers resting meanwhile ;
and in the front row stood Dechelette, the master
of the house, wrinkling his little eyes, his Kal-
muck nose, his grizzly beard, happy in the gayety
of the others and highly entertained without seem-
ing to be.

Dechelette, the engineer, a typical figure of
artistic Paris ten or twelve years ago, very good-
natured, very wealthy, with a taste for art, and that
free-and-easy manner, that contempt for public
opinion, which result from a life of travel and
bachelorhood, had at that time a contract for a
railroad from Tauris to Teheran ; and every year,
to recuperate after ten months of fatigue, of nights
under canvas, of wild gallops across sandy deserts
and swamps, he came to Paris to pass the very
hot season in that house on Rue de Rome, built
from his own plans and furnished like a summer
palace, where he got together clever men and
pretty girls, calling upon civilization to give him
in a few weeks the essence of its most piquant
and dehcious products.

** Dechelette has arrived." The news spread
through the studios as soon as the great linen
shades which covered the glass front of the house
were seen to rise like a stage-curtain. That meant
that the fetes were about to begin, and that they
were to have two months of music and merry-
making, of dancing and feasting, breaking in upon
the silent torpor of Quartier de I'Europe at that
season of villas and sea-baths.

Sappho, 7

Personally D(^chelette took no part in the bac-
chanalian festivities that woke the echoes of his
studio night and day. That indefatigable rake
brought to his pleasures a cold-blooded passion,
a glance vague and smiling, as if deadened by
hasheesh, but of imperturbable calmness and lu-
cidity. An exceedingly loyal friend, giving boun-
tifully without counting, he entertained for women
the contempt of an Oriental, compounded of in-
dulgence and courtesy ; and of those who came
there, attracted by his great wealth and the joyous
eccentricity of the festivities, not one could boast
of having been his mistress more than one day.

" A good fellow, all the same," added the gypsy,
who gave Gaussin this information. Suddenly she
interrupted herself, —

" There 's your poet."


" In front of you, dressed as a village bride-

The young man uttered an '' Oh ! " of disap-
pointment. His poet! That fat, shiny, perspir-
ing man, performing awkward antics in the false
collar with two points and the flowered waistcoat
of Jeannot. The despairing, piercing shrieks of
the Livre de l Amour came to his mind, the book
that he never read without a quickening of the
pulse; and instinctively he murmured aloud, —

" Pour animer le marbre orgueilleux de ton corps,
O Sapho, j'ai donnd tout le sang de mes veines."i

* To give life to the haughty marble of thy body,
O Sappho, I have given all the best blood in my veins.

8 Sappho.

She turned quickly, jangling her barbarian or-

** What's that you say?"

They were lines written by La Gournerie; he
was surprised that she did not know them.

"I don't like poetry," she said shortly; and she
remained standing, with a frown on her face, watch-
ing the dancing and nervously toying with the
beautiful lilac clusters hanging before her. Then,
with an effort, as if forcing herself to a painful deci-
sion, she said " Good-night," and disappeared.

The poor piper was dumfounded. " What *s the
matter with her? What did I say to her?" He
cudgelled his brains, but could think of nothing,
except that he would do well to go to bed. He
picked up his bagpipes with a melancholy air, and
returned to the ball-room, less annoyed by the
gypsy's departure than by the thought that he
must pass through all that crowd to reach the

The consciousness of his own obscurity among
so many celebrities made him still more timid.
They were no longer dancing, except a few couples
here and there clinging desperately to the last
strains of a dying waltz; among them Caoudal,
superb and gigantic, with head erect, whirling
around with a little knitting-woman in his red
arms, her hair flying in the wind.

Through the great window at the rear, which
was wide open, entered puffs of early morning air
with the white light of dawn, rustling the leaves of
the palms, prostrating the flames of the candles as

Sappho, 9

if to extinguish them. A paper lantern took fire,
bobeches burst, and all around the room the ser-
vants were arranging small round tables as on the
terraces of cafes. At Dechelette's the guests al-
ways supped thus, by fours and fives ; and at that
moment congenial spirits were seeking one another
and forming groups.

There were shouts and fierce calls, the ^^ Pil-
ouit" of the faubourgs answering the " Yoii you
you you!^ in imitation of a rattle, of the girls of
the Orient; and conversations in undertones and
the voluptuous laughter of women led away with a

Gaussin was availing himself of the confusion
to glide toward the outer door, when his student-
friend, dripping with perspiration, his eyes like
saucers, a bottle under each arm, stopped him:
"Why, where in the deuce were you? I've been
looking for you everywhere. I have a table and
some girls, little Bachellery from the Bouffes —
dressed as a Japanese, you know. She sent me to
find you. Come quick ! " and he ran off.

The piper was thirsty ; then the wild excitement
of the ball tempted him, and the pretty face of the
little actress, who was making signs to him in the
distance. But a sweet grave voice murmured close
to his ear, —

" Don't go there."

The woman who had just been sitting by him
was close beside him now, leading him away; and
he followed her unhesitatingly. Why? It was not
because of her personal attraction ; he had scarcely

lo Sappho,

glanced at her, and the other over yonder, who
was calling him, adjusting the steel knives in her
hair, pleased him much more. But he obeyed a
will superior to his own, the headstrong violence
of a desire.

" Do not go there."

Suddenly they both found themselves on the
sidewalk on Rue de Rome. Cabs were waiting in
the pale morning light. Street-sweepers, mechan-
ics going to their work, glanced at that uproarious
revel, overflowing into the street, that couple in
fancy dress, a Mardi Gras in midsummer.

"To your house or mine?" she asked. With-
out stopping to consider why, he thought that it
would be better to go to his house, and gave his
distant address to the driver. During the drive,
which was long, they talked little. But she held
one of his hands in hers, which he felt were small
and cold ; and except for that icy, nervous pres-
sure, he might have thought that she was sleeping,
as she lay back against the cushion with the waver-
ing reflection of the blue curtain on her face.

The cab stopped on Rue Jacob in front of a
students' lodging-house. Four flights of stairs to
ascend ; they were long and steep. " Shall I carry
you?" he said with a laugh, but in an under-
tone, because of the sleeping house. She looked
him over with a slow, contemptuous, yet tender
glance, — the glance of experience, which gauged
his strength and said plainly, *' Poor little fellow ! "

Thereupon, with a fine outburst of energy, char-
acteristic of his age and his southern blood, he

Sappho, 1 1

seized her and carried her like a child, — for he
was a sturdy, strapping youth for all his fair
girlish skin, — and he went up the first flight at a
breath, exulting in the weight suspended about
his neck by two lovely, cool bare arms.

The second flight was longer, less pleasant. The
woman hung more heavily as they ascended. Her
iron pendants, which at first caressed him with a
pleasant tickling sensation, sank slowly and pain-
fully into his flesh.

At the third flight he panted like a piano-mover ;
his breath almost failed him, while she murmured
ecstatically, " Oh ! niarni, how nice this is ! how
comfortable I am ! " And the last stairs, which
he climbed one by one, seemed to him to belong
to a giant staircase, whose walls and rail and nar-
row windows twisted round and round in an inter-
minable spiral. It was no longer a woman he was
carrying, but something heavy, ghastly, which
suffocated him, and which he was momentarily
tempted to drop, to throw down angrily at the
risk of crushing her brutally.

When they reached the narrow landing, "Al-
ready ! " she exclaimed, and opened her eyes. He
thought, " At last ! " but could not have said it,
for he was very pale, and held both hands to his
breast, which seemed as if it would burst.

The ascent of those stairs in the melancholy
grayness of the morning was an epitome of their
whole history.

12 Sappho.


He kept her two days; then she went away,
leaving behind her a memory of soft flesh and fine
linen. He knew nothing of her but her name, her
address, and these words : " When you want me,
call me — I shall always be ready."

The little card, dainty and perfumed, read : —


b Rue de V Arcade

He stuck it in his mirror, between an invitation
to the last ball at the Department of Foreign Af-
fairs and the fanciful, illuminated programme of
Dechelette's evening-party, his only two appear-
ances in society of the year ; and the memory of
the woman, which hovered for several days around
the fireplace in that faint, delicate perfume, faded
away with it ; nor was Gaussin, who was a serious,
hard-working youth, especially distrustful of the
temptations of Paris, conscious of an inclination to
renew that amourette of a day.

The ministerial examination took place in
November. He had but three months to prepare
for it. After that would come a probationary term
of three or four years in the offices of the consular
service ; then he would be sent away somewhere,

Sappho, 1 3

a long distance away. That idea of exile did not
alarm him; for a tradition among the Gaussins
d'Armandy, an old Avignon family, demanded
that the oldest son should follow what is called the
career, with the example, the encouragement, and
the moral protection of those who had preceded
him in it. In the view of that young provincial
Paris was simply the first port in a very long
voyage, which fact prevented him from forming
any serious connection, either by way of love or

One evening, a week or two after the D^chelette
ball, as Gaussin, having lighted his lamp and
arranged his books on the table, was about to
begin to work, some one knocked timidly; and
when he opened the door, a woman appeared,
dressed in a light and fashionable costume. He
did not recognize her until she lifted her veil.

** You see, it's I. I have come back."

As she detected the anxious, annoyed glance he
cast at the task awaiting him, she added, —

** Oh ! I won't disturb you — I know what that

She removed her hat, took up a number of Le
Tour de Monde, settled herself in a chair, and did
not stir, being apparently absorbed by what she
was reading ; but every time that he raised his eyes,
he met her glance.

And in very truth, it required courage for him
to refrain from taking her in his arms at once, for
she was very tempting and very charming, with
her little face with its low forehead, short nose, sen-

14 Sappho,

sual and kindly lip, and the mature suppleness of
her figure in that dress, thoroughly Parisian in its
faultless style, and less terrifying to him than her
Egyptian costume.

She left him early the next morning, and re-
turned several times during the week, always with
the same pallor, the same cold, moist hands, the
same voice trembling with emotion.

'' Oh ! I know perfectly well that I bore you,"
she would say to him, " that I tire you. I ought
to be more proud. Would you believe it? Every
morning, when I leave you, I swear that I will not
come again ; and then at night it seizes me again
like an attack of insanity."

He gazed at her, amused, surprised, in his scorn
of the woman, by that amorous persistence. The
women he had known hitherto, met at beer-shops
or skating-rinks, and, sometimes young and pretty,
left behind them a feeling of disgust with their
idiotic laughter, their cooks' hands, and with a
certain vulgarity in their instincts and their speech
which led him to open the window when they had
gone. 1 1n his innocence, he fancied that all women
of pleasure were of the same sort. So that he was
amazed to find in Fanny a genuine womanly
gentleness and reserve, with the superiority over
the bourgeois women he was accustomed to meet
in his mother's house in the province, due to a
smattering of art, a familiarity with all sorts of
subjects, which made their conversations varied
and interesting.

And then she was musical, accompanied herself

Sappho. 1 5

on the piano, and sang, in a somewhat worn and
uneven but well-trained voice, romanzas by
Chopin or Schumann, provincial ballads, airs of
Berri, Bourguignon, or Picardie, of which she had
an extensive repertory.

Gaussin, who was mad over music, that art of
indolence and of the open air in which the people
of his province take such pleasure, was spurred on
by music in his working hours, and found it deli-
ciously soothing in his moments of repose. And
from Fanny's lips it was especially delightful to
him. He was surprised that she was not engaged
at any theatre, and learned that she had sung at
the Lyrique. " But not for long ; it was too much
of a bore."

There was no suggestion about her of the studied,
conventional manners of the stage-performer ; not
a shadow of vanity or of falseness. Simply a cer-
tain mystery concerning her life away from him, a
mystery not divulged even in the hours of passion ;
nor did her lover try to solve it, being neither jeal-
ous nor inquisitive, allowing her to arrive at the
stated time without even looking at the clock,
ignorant as yet of the sensation of suspense, of
those violent blows of the heart against the breast
betokening desire and impatience.

From time to time, (the weather being very fine
that summer, they set out on voyages of discovery
among the charming nooks in the outskirts of
Paris, with which her acquaintance was most pre-
cise and thorough. They formed part of the noisy
multitude at some suburban railway station, break-

1 6 Sappho.

fasted at a cabaret on the edge of a forest or lake,
avoiding only certain too frequented spots. One
day he suggested that they go to Vaux-de-Cernay,
" No, no, not there ; there are too many painters."

And he remembered that that antipathy of hers
for artists had been the beginning of their love.
When he asked her the reason for it, she said, —

" They are crazy, inexplicable creatures, who
always tell more than they know. They have
done me a great deal of harm."

" But," he protested, " art is a noble thing.
There is nothing like it to embellish, broaden
one's views of hfe."

*' Ah ! my dear, the noble thing is to be simple
and upright as you are, to be twenty years old, and
to love dearly."

Twenty years old ! you would have said she was
no more than that, to see her so full of life, always
ready, laughing at everything, pleased with every-

One evening they arrived at Saint-Clair in the
valley of Chevreuse the night before a holiday, and
could find no room. It was late, and they must
pass through a league of forest in the dark to reach
the next village. At last they were offered an un-
occupied cot-bed at the end of a barn in which
masons slept.

" Come on," said she, with a laugh ; *' it will
remind me of my days of poverty."

So she had known poverty !

They crept along, feeling their way between the
occupied beds in the great roughly whitewashed

Sappho. 1 7

apartment, where a night light was smoking in a
niche in the wall ; and all night long, lying side by-
side, they smothered their kisses and their laughter,
hstening to the snoring, the groans of weariness of
their room-mates, whose cotton caps and heavy
working-shoes lay close beside the Parisian girl's
silk dress and dainty boots.

At day-break a wicket opened in the lower part
of the great door, a ray of white light touched
lightly the bed-cords and the hard earth, while a
hoarse voice shouted, " Ohe ! time to get up ! "
Then there ensued a slow, painful commotion in
the barn, once more in darkness ; yawnings, stretch-
ings, hoarse coughs, the depressing sounds of a
room full of human beings just aroused from sleep ;
and the Limousins went away one by one, heavily
and in silence, having no suspicion that they had
slept in close proximity to a lovely girl.

After they had gone, she rose, put on her dress
by feeling, and hastily twisted up her hair. "Wait
here, I will come back in a moment." She came
back in a moment with an enormous armful of
wild flowers dripping with dew. *' Now let us

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Online LibraryAlphonse DaudetSappho : to which is added Between the flies and the footlights → online text (page 1 of 21)