She called up to us now : " Are we a nuisance, messieurs? Shall we go to the nursery? "
" No, no," cried Aribaud, starting, " not at all ; we are doing nothing. Continue, mon ange, continue ! "
" What a heaven opened," he went on, turning to me, " when I had a piece taken at last! As long as I live I shall think of the morning that letter came, of our reading it together, half dressed, and crying with joy. She was making the coffee for breakfast. And yet, even when the contract was signed, it sometimes seemed incredible. I used to dream that it had happened, and dream that I was dreaming—that I was to wake and find it wasn't true. And the eternity of delay, the postponements, one after another ! And then, when we felt worn out with waiting, the night that we jolted to the show in an omnibus, and sat breathless in the fauteuils de balcon ! I remember the first laugh of approval that the audience gave, her clutching my hand; and how she clung to me, sobbing and comforting, when we got home and knew that the piece had failed.
" I had a short run the next autumn with Successeur de Son Pere, but my first hit, of course, was Les Huit Jours de Leonie. When that was produced, the fees came tumbling in.
" Weren't we dazed at the beginning ! And how important we felt to be taking a flat and going to a bureau de placement to engage a servant! We were like children playing with a doll's-house. The change was marvellous. And when I received an invitation from somebody or other who had been unapproachable only a year before—her exultance to see me go ! The invitations to the author, you understand, did not always include his wife; and, unfortunately, those that ignored her were often those that it would have been unwise for me to decline. I found that rather pathetic; we had hoped together for so long, and now that success had come she wasn't getting her fair half of the fun. An elaborate evening gown that we had hurried expectantly to order for her was not needed, after all—it was out of fashion before she wore it. Still, as I say, she exulted to see me go—at first. And later- Well, when I insisted on a refusal because she had not been asked, it grieved her that I neglected opportunities for her sake; and when I consented to go without her she was, not unnaturally, dull.
" It was not very lively for her in the daytime, either. When my duties as a clerk had taken me from her, she, too, had had employment, but now, of course, her berth had been resigned, and while I wrote all day upstairs, she was alone. She was not used to leisure—all her life she had worked. We had no child to claim her time, to occupy her thoughts and yield the interests of maternity. Though she endeavoured to create distractions for herself, the flat that we had been so proud of was rather dreary for her, after its novelty faded. She sighed in it oftener than she laughed.
"The very few women that she met were actresses, who talked of nothing but their careers—their genius, their wrongs, and their Press notices. What companion could she find among them, even had I wished her to seek their companionship? And the men who came to us also talked shop continuously, and directed themselves chiefly to me. No doubt they would have had enough, and too much, to say to her had I been absent, but, as it was, they often appeared to forget that she was there. As time went on, too, the theatre made more and more demands upon me—a comedy in rehearsal while another was being written; the telephone bell always ringing to call me away just when I had arranged to take a half-holiday with her. And when I left the theatre I could not dismiss the anxieties of a production from my mind as I had dismissed the affairs of the Magasins when I left my office stool—they were mine, and I brought them home with me. She grew bored, restless. She was nervy with solitude, and chagrined at feeling herself insignificant. She told me one day that she wanted me to put her on the stage.
" Mon Dieu ! To begin with, she had no gift for the stage—and if she had been ever so clever, did I want to see her there ? I was aghast.
" ' But, mignonne,' I said, 4 what makes you think, all of a sudden, you could act? Leaving everything else aside, what reason is there to suppose you would succeed? You have had no experience, you have never even shown the slightest tendency towards it'.
" 11 want something to do,' she said.
" 4 But,' I said,' that isn't enough. And besides, you would not like it at all—you would find it odious. You sit in a box and you see a celebrated woman bringing the house down, and to be an actress looks to you very fine. But she has been half a lifetime arriving at celebrity—there is nothing fine about the journey to it. You would feel that you had given up a good deal, I assure you—a dramatist's wife in the box is a much more dignified figure than a dramatist's wife rehearsing a trivial part and being corrected by the stage-manager'.
" ' I did not mean trivial parts,' she said disconsolately—and I realised for the first time that she had been dreaming of a debut in the principal role. But she let the discussion drop, and I half thought I had convinced her.
" I was very much mistaken. A few weeks later she referred to it again, and more urgently. She seemed to imagine that her project was a perfectly simple matter for me to arrange, that the only obstacle in the way was my personal objection to it. ' What you say about trivial parts is quite true,' she acknowledged, with an air of being extremely reasonable, ' but in one of your own pieces you could easily get me lead. Everybody wants plays from you now; you would only have to say that you wished me to be engaged. Of course, I should study; I should go to a professor of diction and take lessons'.
" Well, I tried to explain the commercial aspect of the case to her. I told her that, for one thing, the managers would see my plays in Jericho before they agreed to entrust the leading part to a novice. And I told her that, supposing for an instant I did find a manager reckless enough to consent, I should be ruining my own property.