" We meant to honour you with a visit now," I said. " As it is, we will go on and see Elise. Come back and see her too".
" Elise has gone to a matinee," said Henri. " You shall take a little ta-ta with me, instead. I am on topping terms with myself, and need someone to listen to my boasts. I read my play to Martime this week. All is well. When I finished, tears were in his eyes".
" Good business! " We exulted hardly less than he.
" When will it be seen ? " asked Jacques. " Will he make it his next production ? "
" Ah, that is not settled. For that matter, he has not actually agreed to take it. But he has got the script, and he is to write to me in a few days. I know well enough what is going to happen; I shall have to agree that the leading woman's part ought to be less strong. And then he will tell me the play is flawless".
" You do not mind sacrificing her? "
"If I mind? Well, naturally I mind. Mais que voulez-vous? My primary desire is Martime. His vanity is colossal, but it is a man's play, and no other actor on the stage could do what he will do with it. I constructed it for him from the start. You may be sure I will make concessions rather than lose Martime. Ah, we are rejoicing ! This piece means a great deal to us, you know—it is ambitious work. With this, if it succeeds, I—en effet, I am promoted to the front rank".
" You are not at the foot of the class now," I said.
" Ah! But I have written for fees rather than for fame. It was not good enough to clothe my wife and children in rags because I aspired to wear laurels. The day I entreated Elise to marry a boy who had not five hundred francs, I was guilty of a crime. I have never forgotten the confidence she showed in me that day—nor her unwavering belief in me while times were bad. In truth, my wife has but one failing—she admires me to excess. According to her, every word I write, or speak, is inspired. But it is not odious to be worshipped. She is adorable. I ask myself what I should do without her. They may say some of the pieces I have done so far are of no account; I assure you I have had far more joy from scribbling a farce that bought smart costumes or a bracelet for Elise than I could have had from evolving classics that left her worried about the washing bill. Enfin, everything comes at last to him who waits—even a fine day in London, hein ?—and now I have felt entitled to devote twelve months to a grand attempt. And, if it is well received—I do not romance when I say that, if it is well received, the thing that will make me proudest will be the admiration of my dear wife".
While he talked on, opening his heart to us, we strode towards the Boulevard; and as we proceeded to the Boulevard, with never a premonition of disaster, it is not hyperbolic to affirm that all Paris would have failed to display a trio more united.
Presently he inquired of Jacques : " Anything wrong with you? You are very quiet".
" I search for a plot," sighed our friend; and was long-winded.
" He has been able to think of nothing but the enchanting story that ought to blossom from that flower-pot, and doesn't," I explained. " By this time he might have-"
" The points I ponder are three," Jacques broke in strenuously. " Who, in such environment, has the lingering sensibility to tend a pot of pansies ? What does it express to her ? How does it happen that she is there? "
" I do not see anything in it," said Henri. " It has no action".
" How the devil can it have action before there is a plot? " screamed Jacques. " I tell you, the atmosphere is superb".
"It is a picture, not a story. There is no material in it," complained Henri. " You have everything to create, except the scene. The scene is good, but-"
We were still discussing the question, sipping vermouth at a cafe, when someone exclaimed : " Ah, you ! How goes it ? " And, looking up, I saw that the cordial hand upon the dramatist's shoulder pertained to no less eminent a person than Martime himself.
" Numa ! " Henri was delighted; the more so when Martime consented to sit down at our table and sip an aperitif, too.
" Permettez. Two of my oldest friends—monsieur Camus, of UElan; monsieur Rouelle, romancier".
The actor-manager did not allow us to imagine we met upon terms of equality, but his greetings were gracious. To be candid, I had been somewhat impressed to hear our chum call him by his Christian name. I knew, of course, that Henri was agog to learn whether a decision had been reached about his play, and I mentally applauded his air of absorption while Martime expatiated upon his performance in the present piece. After some minutes I glanced at Jacques, with a view to our leaving the pair together, but before we could move, Henri, desirous no doubt of cloaking his eagerness, said lightly :
" As you arrived, we were in the midst of a literary controversy. Monsieur Rouelle detects promise of a great story where I see none. The point is not uninteresting." Whereupon he launched into a description of the street, and did justice to the pansies, though Jacques did not look as if he thought so.
" C'est tres bien, 5a," said Martime, with weighty-nods. " It is very fine, that. Let me tell you that you have there a poem." In no more authoritative a tone could the Academy have spoken.
" Ah ! " cried Jacques. " You feel it, monsieur? There, in that vile spot, the fairness and fragrance of those pansies-"
" Not ' fragrance,' " said Henri; " pansies have no smell".
"-struck a note sensationally virginal," continued Jacques, with defiance.
" Oui, oui," concurred Martime. I suppose it was no trouble to him to do these things, but the ideality he threw into his eyes was worth money to see. We all regarded him intently, and I think he liked the situation. Even more ideality flooded his gaze, and he propped a temple with two fingers. " I am not of your opinion, mon cher," he told Henri profoundly. " I find it admirable".