" The three questions that besiege one, monsieur," burst forth Jacques—and I shuddered—'* are, who, biding amid decay, has the imperishable sensibility to tend a pot of pansies ? Of what does it speak to her? How comes it that she is there? "
And now it was that the famous man was tempted to a fall.
" Tout á fait admirable," he repeated. " But " —he displayed a cautionary palm—" above all, q no melodrama! The keynote is simplicity. Simplicity and tenderness. For example, in the squalid room sits a young girl, refined though poor— a sempstress. She dreams always of the sylvan vales that she has left, and the lover who is seeking for her. And—it would be very charming—one day the lover passes the window while she waters the pansies".
" Oh, my dear Numa, bosh ! " exclaimed Henri genially.
No sooner had he said it than he recognised his error, I am sure. Martime's eyes flashed poniards, and his face turned turnip colour with offence. Perceiving his indignation, Jacques began to stammer hasty insincerities, and Henri also did his utmost to palliate the affront, but I could not persuade myself that their efforts were successful. For a minute or two Martime remained stiff and monosyllabic, and then, with a few formal words, got up and went.
" I fear he was annoyed," murmured Jacques.
" You ' fear ' ! " said Henri irascibly. I was dismayed to hear resentment in his tone.
Though Martime had gone the constraint continued ; and it was not long before we rose.
As Henri and I walked on, after Jacques had parted from us, I said : " Very stupid of Martime. You spoke in quite a friendly way".
" And still more stupid of Jacques to talk about the story to him," he flung back, at white heat. " What possible interest could Jacques' difficulties have for Martime ? Childish ! "
" But—pardon me, it was you who first mentioned the matter," I said.
" Ah, don't split straws," he growled. Clearly, the incident disturbed him more than a little.
It was probably a week or ten days afterwards that Jacques came to me in great perturbation and volleyed, "What do you think? Henri has got his knife into me ! It appears that Martime has returned the play, and Henri says it is my fault".
" Oh, nonsense ! " I said. " How can he say that? Returned the play? I am dreadfully sorry".
" I too. But what have I got to do with it ? Did you ever hear anything more preposterous? To begin with, it is not likely that Martime would refuse the piece solely on account of what was said that day; and, even if he did so, it was not I who said it. It wasn't till yesterday I knew there was anything wrong. Blanche met Elise. Elise's manner was rather strange, and Blanche wondered. But she had no idea there was any ill-feeling. Naturally! She inquired if Henri had heard from Martime yet. Then it came out".
" That Henri held you responsible ? "
" Blanche was condoling. She said, ' What a cruel disappointment for you both, dear ! ' And Elise said coldly, ' Yes, indeed; it is very unfortunate that Jacques discussed his affairs in front of Martime.' Blanche, poor girl, was thunderstruck. Of course, she explained to Elise exactly what had happened. But Elise replied with something very vague, and when I telephoned to Henri he was not himself with me at all—he was very brusque. He said,11 have no wish to talk about the matter.' There is not the least doubt that he is angry".
" I will have a chat with him," said I.
I went the following day. But he had gone to have a Turkish bath, and Elise, who received me, begged me not to mention the play when I saw him. " His finest work, that took him a year to do, practically wasted ! " she said, in a stunned fashion. " It is frightful. He is stricken. It would be kinder of you not to say anything about it to him yet awhile. I'll tell him that you came".
" But ' practically wasted ' ? " I demurred. " He will be able to place it with some other management, will he not? "
" He may. But it is not the kind of play for every management. And, anyhow, we shall not get Martime in the part. It will never now be the immense success that it would have been. What an idiot to reject a great part because his vanity was wounded ! "
" You are certain that is the explanation? "
" There is no question about it. The script was returned in the most formal way—a line to say it was ' unsuitable.' Henri was prostrate. Prostrate. My poor Henri! You may realise what a blow it was. I am feeling very anxious about him. I have persuaded him to go away for a few months— I am taking him to Biarritz. What a calamity his meeting Jacques that afternoon ! "
" Ah, but listen," I urged. " Jacques is terribly cut up that Henri is bitter against him. And, between ourselves, it is a shade unjust. It was not Jacques who affronted Martime, nor even Jacques who first referred to the subject. It was Henri himself".
" Henri made a passing allusion," she protested; " Jacques made an eternal discussion of it. He would never let it drop. Henri is never unjust, he is fairness itself; I have never known anyone who was as fair as Henri always is. Also, he is not ' bitter ' against Jacques—we are not so small-minded that we forget old friendships because of an indiscretion. When we come back I shall, of course, go and see Jacques and Blanche as usual. I have nothing against Blanche—it was not her fault that Jacques was so tactless".
Oh, well. Useless to try to convince people of what they don't want to believe ! I told Jacques that she and Henri were going away, and predicted that he would find the unpleasantness over when they returned. And, as a matter of fact, I did not attach deep importance to it until a certain morning. The sight of a prospectus led me to inquire of Jacques if the shares he had been counting on were allotted to him. He answered passionately, " No".
At that I was startled. I asked if he had made an application for them.