In the Bois, one day, I met madame Aribaud. By madame " Aribaud " I mean the wife of a very popular dramatist, and I call them Aribaud because it wouldn't do to mention their real name. I like meeting madame Aribaud when I am in Paris. It refreshes me, not only because she isn't preceded by a gust of scent, and doesn't daub her mouth clown red, like so many Parisiennes, but because she is so cheerful. She diffuses cheerfulness. She sat beaming at her little son, while he scattered crumbs for the birds, and she informed me—it was in 1912—that he was in the latest fashion, having a nurse from England to give him the real English pronunciation, though as yet he was hardly a linguist. And the nurse said, " I tell madam we must be pietient with 'im ; we can't expect 'im to talk like I do hall at once".
Also the lady informed me that they had finished arranging their new house, and that on the morrow I must go there to déjeuner. Very readily I went, and they showed me the " English nursery," and an American contrivance that she had presented to her husband for his dressing-room— " Comme ils sont pratiques, les américains ! "—and an antique or two that she had picked up for his study; and, not least, she showed us both some croquettes de pommes that looked ethereal and— I have never tasted croquettes de pommes like madame Aribaud's ! I always say she is the most domesticated of pretty women, and her husband the most pampered of good fellows. Playgoers who know him merely by his comedies, in which married people get on together so badly up to the fourth act, might be surprised to see inside his villa.
Only when he and I were lounging in the study afterwards—my hostess was in the little garden, pretending to be a horse—I said to him, as the boy's shouts came up to us through the open window, " Doesn't the child disturb you out there when you're busy? "
My friend nodded. " Sometimes," he acknowledged, " he disturbs me. What would you have? He must play, and the ' garden ' is too diminutive for him to go far away in it. It makes me think of what Dumas pere said when he paid a visit to his son's chalet in the suburbs—' Open your dining-room window and give your garden some air ! ' Once or twice I have wondered whether I should work in a front room, instead, but to tell you the truth, I always come to the conclusion that I like the noise. Believe me, a dramatist may suffer from worse drawbacks than a child's laughter." He blew smoke thoughtfully, and added, " I had a wife who was childless".
Now, though I knew Maurice Aribaud very well indeed, I had never heard that this was his second marriage, and I suppose I stared.
" Yes," he said again, " I had a wife who was childless." And then, with many pauses, he told me a lot that I had not suspected about his life, and though I can't pretend to remember his precise words, or the exact order in which details were forthcoming, I am going to quote him as well as I can.
" I had not two louis to knock together when I met her—and I wasn't so very young. I had been writing for the theatre for years, and had begun to despair of ever seeing anything produced. To complete my misery, I had no companionship, if one excepts books—no friend who wrote, or aspired to write, no acquaintance who did not draw his screw from a billet as humdrum as my own. I was a clerk in the Magasins du Louvre, and though of course the other men in the office talked about plays—in France everybody is interested in plays; in England, I hear, you are interested only in the players—none of them was so congenial that I was tempted to announce my ambitions to him. I used to think how exciting it must be to know authors and artists, even though they were obscure and out-at-elbows. Every night, as I walked home and passed the windows of a bohemian café I used to look at it wistfully. I envied the fiercest disappointments of the habitues inside, for they were at least professionals of sorts; they moved on a different planet from myself. Once in a blue moon I found the resolution to enter, pushing the door open timidly, like a provincial venturing into Paillard 's. I suppose I had a vague hope that something might happen, something that would yield confidences, perhaps a comrade for life. But I sat in the place embarrassed, with the air of an intruder, and came out feeling even lonelier than when I went in.
" One windy, wet day I was at the mont-de-piété to redeem my watch. I had pawned it two or three weeks before, because I had seen a secondhand copy of a book that I wanted very much and couldn't afford at the moment. I will not inquire whether you have ever pawned anything in Paris, yourself, but if you haven't, you may not know the formalities of the dégagement. Ah, you have pawned things only in London.
" Well, after you have paid the principal and the interest, you are given a numbered ticket, and then you go into a large room and take your choice among uncomfortable benches, and wait your turn. It is something like cashing a cheque at the head office of the Crédit Lyonnais, only at the mont-de-piété the people on the benches sit waiting for the most disparate articles. On one side of you, there may be a fashionably dressed woman who rises to receive a jewel-case—and on the other, some piteous creature who clutches at a bundle. The goods and chattels descend in consignments, and when one consignment has been distributed, the interval before the next comes down threatens to be endless. The officials behind the counter converse in undertones, and you meanwhile have nothing livelier to do than listen to the rain and wonder how hard-up your neighbour may be.
" That day, however, I did not chafe at the delay. There was a young girl there whose face caught and held my attention almost immediately. Not only was her prettiness remarkable—her expression was astonishing. She looked happy. Yes, in the gaunt room, among the damp, dismal crowd, relieving the tedium by a heavy sigh or an occasional shuffling of their shoes, this fair-haired, neat, innocent little girl looked happy. Smiles hovered about her lips, and her eyes sparkled with contentment. I tried to conjecture the reason for her delight, what treasured possession she was about to regain. A trinket ? No, something indefinable in her bearing forbade me to think it was a trinket. My imagination ranged over a dozen possible pledges, without finding one to harmonise with her. Ridiculous as it sounds, I could picture nothing so appropriate for her to recover as a canary, which should fly, singing, to her finger. Every time a number was called, curiosity made me hope that her turn had come. The latest load that had been delivered was almost exhausted. Only three packages remained. Another call, and she got up at last ! The package was a bulky one. I craned my neck. It was a typewriter.