In one of the dullest towns of France, I sat with a Parisian at a variety show.
A Frenchman, with a very grubby shirt-front, presented to the audience " Señorita Pilar Naranjo, the famous dancer of Madrid." My companion started dramatically, and whispered, " I pray you to pardon me—I shall adjourn to the bar till she has done".
Of course, I followed him. " What's the matter? "
" Do not ask me to watch her ! "
" Why? "
" I could not support it." " She is so bad as all that ? " "Bad? She is entrancing." " Oh! Did you see her when you were in Spain? "
" In Paris, when I had come back. Have you read my Sobs After Midnight? " " No".
" Buy it. It contains perhaps the most poignant poems that I have written—they are moans in metres for my loss of Pilar Naranjo".
" You don't say so? " " She was the passion of my life." He struck an attitude. " Return to your seat alone, mon ami. For company I shall have my bitter thoughts".
Civility forbade me to let him do all the acting, himself, and I said in solemn tones, " I shall remain by your side".
He brooded heavily, with one eye on the past, and the other on the effect he was making. " In my nature," he informed me, " there is, mysteriously, some Castilian quality—no sooner had I arrived in Spain than I bore myself like a Spaniard. I spent fascinating months there, and when I came home, Paris appeared to me a foreign city. Absently I replied to people in Spanish; my fondest possession was a guitar that I had brought back. Though I could not play it, I derived exquisite pleasure from slinging it over my shoulder when I promenaded in the Garden of the Luxembourg. It may be that instinct warned my compatriots that now they were alien to me, for they seemed to avoid me, and I was alone".
" I can understand it," I said.
" One melancholy evening, as I wandered through the barren streets, pining for the magic of Granada, I noticed the name of ' Pilar Naranjo ' on the bills of a minor musique 'all. Though it was a name unknown to me, its nationality was an appeal. I entered the musique 'all. I paid for a fauteuil, and received a pink ticket. What a crisis ! Even to-day I cannot behold pink tickets without a shudder".
To the strains of an exiguous orchestra, the provocation of the lady's castanets reached our ears gaily. Her victim writhed.
" Very soon I gathered that she was popular there; but on the stage, to be a foreigner is to be a favourite, and I prepared myself to be disappointed when she appeared. Sapristi! I was spellbound. She danced, that night, the habenera that she is dancing now. Ah, those cajoling arms, so irresistible ! How imperial was her form, how Southern were her feet! And her face ! the bewildering beauty of her face that haunts me still".
I got up.
" Sit down—I could not endure your looking at her without me ! " he gasped. " When her turn finished, I had no thought but her; I was scarcely conscious of the monkeys that came next. In some fifteen minutes a girl had danced herself into my destiny—and I was swept to the stage door, like a leaf, on the gale of my emotions.
" I could see nobody inside, to take a message. Ten minutes—a quarter of an hour passed. I waited in the gloomy little cul-de-sac, dreading, in every second, to hear the approaching footstep of a rival with an appointment. So tremendous was my agitation that Spanish tenses with which I was normally familiar evaded me, and my brain buzzed with the effort to compose a preliminary phrase.
" The door opened. Before her features were visible in the darkness, the majesty of her deportment proclaimed that it was she. I advanced. I bowed, with all my grace.
" ' Señorita,' I said, ' I am a poet, and I adore you. Will you honour me by supping with me ? '
" It was not the overwhelming eloquence that I should have had in French, but I felt that the fervour of my voice should make amends; and I prayed that she would not be flippant in return. My sentiment demanded sweet, grave, contralto tones; a giggle would have been torture to me. Once more, a crisis—a spiritual crisis, in which my heart ceased to beat. Would she respond gravely, or would she giggle ?
" She did neither one nor the other. As if I had not spoken, she went by.
" Comment done ? I had referred clearly to supper; I was well-dressed, young, handsome—and a dancer at a fifth-rate musique 'all, which was not precisely a college for decorum, refused to dispense with the ceremony of an introduction !
" It was prodigious. And by degrees my anger at the affront subsided. So far from dismissing her from my mind, I paid homage to her virtue. Yes, my bosom was thrilled by deep esteem. On that sad walk home, the romantic passion for a danseuse was transmuted into a devout reverence for a noble woman. I condemned myself for approaching her so informally. There is, in my complex nature, a vein of humility, extremely winning. I resolved to write to her, confessing my fault, before I slept.
" It was a long job, because I had to look up so many words in a dictionary, but I foresaw that she would be touched by the letter. In conclusion I said, ' The impulse that you scorned was born, not of disrespect, but of an admiration, that brooked no curb. If your vestal pride is not adamant to my remorse, grant me, I supplicate, an opportunity to express my penitence at the stage door to-morrow (Wednesday)'.
" Wednesday's sunshine already tinged the street when I dropped the missive in the boite-aux-lettres, but I was not conscious of fatigue. On the contrary, I regretted that I must kill eighteen hours in sleep, or some other banality, before the paradise of her presence was attained. How much had happened in a night! All that was frivolous in my disposition had passed away, and I realised that this girl had inspired in me a devotion profound, epoch-making, and supreme".
He paused. From the footlights, the Frenchman of the dirty shirt-front was to be heard in the capacity of interpreter : " Ladies and gentlemen, Señorita Pilar Naranjo desires me to translate to you her heartfelt gratitude for the enthusiasm of your applause. If you will graciously allow her a few moments for a change of costume, Señorita Naranjo will have the honour of presenting to you her sensational Toreador Dance".
The poet groaned. " When I woke I hoped to find that I had slept well into the afternoon. With impatience I saw that it was only mid-day. However, in dressing, I recognised that I might profitably employ some of the time with the dictionary, and I prepared a score of burning declarations for the interview.
" The remaining hours were intolerable. No sooner had the musique 'all opened than I took my seat, but the exasperating entertainment appeared to me to endure for aeons before her turn. The torments, inflicted on my suspense by a pair of cross-talk comedians, cannot be surpassed in hell.
" At last I trembled in the cul-de-sac again. At last she came !
" With an obeisance that consigned my career to her feet, I murmured,' I am here to learn whether I am pardoned'.
" Not a syllable ! As before, she passed me by.
" Ah, mon Dieu! I cannot tell you how I reached my couch.
" But my zeal survived even this. I was stricken, but indomitable. I said, ' Behold a saint worth winning ! ' I said ' Brace up, and demonstrate that you are worthy of her ! '
" My friend, every day for a month I thumbed that exhausting dictionary, and a Spanish Grammar, that I might send to her a sonnet every night. For thirty days on end I wrestled with synonyms and inversions in a foreign tongue, to create for her a nightly proof of my genius and my love.
" And I waited for an answer vainly.
" Long after despair had mastered me, I was with a good-for-nothing painter of my acquaintance. He said, ' I have a new flame—delicious. Have you heard of the Spanish dancer up at the Little Casino? '
" By a superhuman effort I controlled myself. ' Your suit prospers ? '
" * It is going strong. And only a week since I first dropped in there and saw her ! '
" 1 You are a man of action ! But since when have you talked Spanish ? '
" ' Oh, that isn't necessary,' he laughed; ' she is Spanish only on the stage. Between ourselves, her name is really Marie Durand—she has never been out of France in her life'.
" She had not understood a single word that I had said, or written—and by the time I discovered it, she was another's ! He holds her still—you hear him now".
The " interpreter" was speaking again: " Señorita Naranjo desires me to translate-"