" ' Ah,' she said, ' you make up your mind in advance that I have no dramatic instinct? '
" I said : 1 It is not even a question whether you have any dramatic instinct; it is enough that you haven't any renown. You have heard too much of the business by this time not to know that everybody tries to secure the most popular artists that he can. For me to put up a play with an absolutely unknown name, instead of a star's, would be asking for a failure'.
" ' If I were billed as " madame Aribaud " the name would not be unknown,' she argued.
" ' Whether you were billed as " madame Aribaud," or as anybody else,' I said, ' the point would be how good you were in the part. The public would not pay to see an indifferent performance because you were madame Aribaud'.
" ' Ah, then you admit it—that is it, after all! ' she cried; ' you declare beforehand that I have no ability. Why should you say such a thing? It isn't right of you'.
" I said : ' I declare beforehand that you have had no training ! I declare beforehand that you could not master, in a few weeks or months, a technique that other women acquire only after years. And on top of all that, I declare that I don't want to see you in the profession. Why do you become dissatisfied after we have got on? Why can't you be as content as you used to be when we had nothing ? '
" * The days are longer than they used to be; I want something to do,' she insisted.
" Oh, I understood ! But I need hardly tell you that this fever of hers didn't make for bliss. The theatre became a bone of contention between us—the position that I had dreamed of and yearned for was dividing me from my wife. It got worse every year. I no longer dared to mention business in my home. We were on affectionate terms only in the hours when the theatre was forgotten. One day I would hold her in my arms, and on the next some chance allusion would estrange us. If I happened to come across a little actress who was suitable to a more conspicuous part than those that she had had hitherto, my casting her for it was a domestic tragedy—I * made opportunities for every woman but one!' I have been told that strangers who pestered me for theatrical engagements complained that I was unsympathetic—they little guessed how I was pestered for engagements on my own hearth !
" The aunt at Sevres also had something to say. She had managed to get on a semi-friendly footing with us when Les Huit Jours was running, and now she had the effrontery to take the tone of a mother-in-law with me. She ' knew I was devoted to her niece, but I was not being fair to her—I ought to realise that she had a right to a career, too.' What audacity !—a woman who had given nothing but phrases when her niece was penniless ! I did not wrap up my answer in silver paper—and I fancy the aunt's influence was responsible for a good deal; I think she revenged herself by offering all the encouragement possible behind my back.
" Anyhow, my wife announced to me at last that she had determined to go her own road without my help. It was as if she had struck me.
" She meant to seek an opening in some minor company in the provinces—in the obscurest of the theatres ambulants, if she could do no better. It sounded so mad that at first I could hardly believe she was in earnest. The doggedness of her air soon convinced me; I would have welcomed the wildest hysteria in preference. Since I refused to further her ambition, she must resign herself to beginning in the humblest way, she told me quietly; she ' regretted to defy my wishes, but she was a woman, and I had been wrong to expect from her the blind obedience of a child—she could not consent to remain a nonentity any longer ! ' She dumfounded me. It meant actual separation, it meant the end of our life together—and she was telling me this composedly, coolly, as if our life together were the merest trifle, compared with the fascination of the footlights. I cursed the footlights and the day I first wrote for them. I swear I wished myself back in the Magasins du Louvre. My excitement was so violent that I could not articulate; I stuttered and stood mute. I went from her overwhelmed, asking myself what I was to do.
" There is one course that never fails to remedy marital unhappiness and bring husband and wife together again—on the stage. It is when he leads her to an ottoman, and, standing a pace or two behind her, proceeds with tender gravity to recite a catalogue of her defects. He contrasts them pathetically with the virtues that endeared her to him in the springtime of their union—and the wife, moved to tears, becomes immediately and for ever afterwards the girl that she used to be. The situation is pretty, it is popular, and it is quite untrue, for in real life one cannot recreate a character by making a speech. However, I was a dramatist, and more credulous than I am now, and I tried.
" For days I pondered what I should say. Arguments were plentiful, but the problem was how to present them forcefully enough to show her the wildness of her plan, and yet gently enough to avoid incensing her. Our future hung upon the scene, and I prayed to Heaven that not a tactless word should escape me. I knew that we had reached the crisis, that a mistaken adjective, even an impatient gesture, might be fatal. I considered and reconsidered that appeal with more tireless fervour than any lines that I have ever put into the mouth of a leading man. I thought about it so much that sometimes I was enraged to find the things I meant to say falling mentally into sentences too rhythmic and rounded, as if I had indeed been writing for the stage, and I damned my metier anew. You are an author yourself, my friend— you should understand : I longed to open my heart to her with all simplicity—never had any one sought to pour his heart out more earnestly, more freely, more unaffectedly than I—and it seemed to me in these moments that the artifices of the theatre were fighting against me to the very end. It was as if its influence were unconquerable—it had surmounted her love for me, and now it threatened even to mock my plea !
" Enfin, the opportunity came. She sat down on the couch—the ottoman of the stage situation— and I began to speak, with all the tenderness and gravity of the stage husband. Struggle as I would to banish the thought, I could not help being conscious of our resemblance to the hero and heroine of a thousand comedies in the last act. I say that I ' began ' to speak, and that I felt constrained by a shoal of theatrical reminiscences, but our likeness to the hero and heroine was brief. She interrupted me, she defied the dramatic convention. In lieu of being moved to tears, she replied, with a world of dignity, that the faults were mine. She advised me, for my own sake, to try to attain a more unselfish view. With a flow of impromptu eloquence that I envied, she warned me that, though I was not intentionally unjust, I was allowing ' prejudice and egotism to warp my better nature.' Before I knew what had happened, I stood listening to a homily. The situation that meant my last hope had come out upside down ! "
Aribaud paused again. On the little lawn the child had left the swing ; the most devoted of wives and mothers was playing chat perché with him now. They made a pretty picture, but my thoughts were with her predecessor; I was mourning the love-story that had begun like an idyll, and that seemed to have had so bad an end.
The man's voice brought me back. " Yes, the infallible situation had failed," he repeated. " What do you suppose was the sequel? "
" I suppose," I sighed, " she had her way? "
"No," said Aribaud; "she had her baby." He waved a triumphant hand towards the garden. " And from the first promise of that God-sent gift, the glamour of the theatre faded from her mind and she talked only of her home. From that day to this we have been as happy together as you see us now".
My exclamation was cut short by the hostess whose history I had been hearing.
" Messieurs, are you really sure we aren't laughing too much for you? " she pealed up to us again.
" Sure, sure ! It is well—it is as it should be— we come to join you," shouted Aribaud. " Laugh loud, my love—laugh on ! "