She was born in Chauville-le-Vieux. Her mother gave piano lessons at the local Lycée de Jeunes Filles, and her father had been " professeur de violon " at the little Conservatoire. Music was her destiny. As a hollow-eyed, stunted child, who should have been romping in the unfrequented park, she had been doomed to hours of piano practice in the stuffy salon, where during eight months of the year a window was never opened for longer than it took to shake out the rug. Her name was Marie Lamande.
She had accepted her fate passively. If it had not been scales and exercises that made a prisoner of her, she recognised that it would have been fractions, or zoology. In France, schools actually educate, but few children have a childhood. On the first day of a term, when the wan girls reassemble, they sometimes ask one another—curious to hear what novelty the " holidays " may have yielded, amid the home work—" Did you have a little promenade during the vacances? "
Because its Lycée was widely known, English and American families came to stay in Chauville— the English pupils discovering what it was to be taught with enthusiasm—and Marie knew French girls who had been initiated into the pleasures of tea-parties. Open-mouthed, she heard that the extravagant anglaise or américaine must have spent at least five or six francs on the cakes. But all the foreigners successively grew tired of inviting French children whose astonished mothers sent them trooping as often as they were asked, and, in no case, gave an invitation in return, and Marie herself never had the good luck to be asked.
Like her parents, she had been intended for the groove of tuition, and in due course tuition became her lot. But she was a gifted pianist, and ambitious; she dreamed of glory. Some years after she had been left alone, when her age was twenty-seven, she dared to escape from the melancholy town that she had grown to execrate. A slight little woman, without influence or knowledge of life, she aspired to conquer Paris. She attacked it with a sum sufficient to keep her for twelve months.
Her arrival at once frightened and enraptured her. In Chauville, at eight o'clock in the evening, a few of the shopkeepers had sat before their doorways, in the dark, a while; at nine, their crude streets were as vacant as the boulevards of the professional and independent classes, whose covert homes signified, even in the daytime, Visitors Will be Prosecuted. Behind the shutters of long avenues were over sixty thousand persons—most of them heroically hardworking—of a race that the pleasure-seeking English called " frivolous," content with no semblance of entertainment but the ill-patronised performances provided by a gloomy theatre, which was unbarred on only two days in the week. Paris, spirited and sparkling, in the tourist regions, took her breath away. Music called to her imperiously. She sat, squeezed among crowds, at the recitals of celebrities ; and came out prayerful, to wonder : " Will crowds ever applaud me ? " But after the first few days she reduced her expenses, and her allowance for concert-going was strict.
She found a lodging now in the rue Honoré-Chevalier, and sought engagements for Soirées d'Art and Matinées Artistiques, writing to many people who made no reply, and crossing the bridge to appeal in person to many others, who were inaccessible, or rude.
Among the few letters of introduction that she had brought from Chauville, one served its purpose. Madame Herbelin, the Directrice of the Lycée, always kindly disposed towards her, had recommended her to an acquaintance as a teacher. Thanks to this, she earned five francs each Thursday by a lesson.
When nine alarming weeks had slipped away she gained an interview with a fat man who had much knowledge, and who was interested in hearing himself talk. He said to her :
" Mademoiselle, it is a question of finances. To rise in the musical world you must give concerts, and to give concerts you must have money. Also, you must have the goodwill of pupils in a position to collect an audience for you, otherwise your concerts will be a heavier loss still. Further, you must have the usual paragraphs and critiques : ' Triumph ! Triumph ! What genius is possessed by this divine artist, whose enchanting gifts revolutionise Paris ! Mademoiselle Lamande is, without question, the virtuosa the most spirituelle, the most troublante of our epoch.' These things do not cost a great deal in the Paris newspapers, but, naturally, they have to be paid for".
She told him : "I am a poor woman, and the only pupil that I have here is a child in Mont-parnasse".
The fat man, groaning comically, volunteered to " see what he could do".
He forgot her after five minutes.
Practising, in the feeble lamplight of the attic, she used to wait, through the long evenings, for the postman and news that never came. " For me?" she would call over the banisters. " Nothing, mademoiselle ! " Then, back to the hired Pleyel, that barely left space for her to wash. Inexorable technique, cascades of brilliance, while her heart was breaking.
After she shut the piano, the dim light looked dimmer. The narrow street was silent. Only, in the distance sometimes, was the jog-trot of a cab-horse and the minor jangle of its bell.
Her siege of Paris made no progress.
Companionship came to her when ten months had gone. A young widow drifted to the house, and now and then, on the stairs, they met. One day they found themselves seated at the same table, in a little cremerie close by, and over their ceufs-sur-le-plat they talked. As they walked home together, the widow said :
" I always leave my door open to hear you play".
The answer was, " Won't you come into my room instead ? "
Madame Branthonne was a gentlewoman, employed in the Bernstein School of Languages. She was so free-handed with her sous, so generous in the matter of brioche and chocolate, that Marie thought she must be comparatively rich. But madame Branthonne was not rich; and when Marie knew her well it transpired that she remitted every month, out of her slender salary, for the maintenance of a baby son in Amiens.