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A recollection of L’Adorée.

Fortnightly Fiction



EVERYONE REMEMBERS LA DORÉE—L’Adorée, the lovely, the enchanting – and many must remember her touching farewell to the public who could hardly believe in the reality of her departure, and who stood for nearly an hour in the theatre shouting, “Come back, come back.” To me above all, of course, the occasion was moving.

The first time I saw her was the first night she danced here in Paris. She had arrived from Brussels, whence report heralded her, that morning. Destined for a dancer as I had always been, my mother took me to see each new star who appeared, that I might learn or take warning from her as the case might be. I can remember the very smell of the theatre as we went in, but I forget the dull entertainment that preceded the clou of the evening. I know we seemed to wait through an eternity of boredom before the voices of the violins sang a prelude to the appearance of the dancer. She was billed as La Dorée, The Golden One, on account of her wonderful shining hair; but after that first night she was L’Adorée, for all hearts were hers.

There is no need for me to describe her dancing. Has not Europe rung with it, and America resounded on gongs? From her first arresting entrance in her thin green robes, with her air of a wearied sylph, to her last frenzied swirling over autumn leaves we sat spellbound, and when at last she fell, as if exhausted, with her white arms flung wide, the whole house rose at her and shouted itself hoarse.

From that moment my fate was decided. If I could not dance as she danced, I would not dance at all. In vain my mother assured me that such dancing might prove only a passing fashion. I was obdurate. The only thing to be done was to take me to see her. Ah, the graciousness of her reception of us. Maman, shy and distressed, I, silent with admiration. We must have been an embarrassing pair. But she, even lovelier in her own rooms than on the stage, leaned forward so kindly and so simply took my hand that all our shyness vanished and we freely asked, and as freely received, her directions. I was to leave Henri’s at once, and to study for two years with Mme. Fantin; then L’Adorée would take me under her own care. But all this on condition that I danced for her in the big studio she had taken, and that she saw promise in me. Then distraction: she was so busy that she could not see me dance for a week. Thursday-week, at eleven o’clock, was her first hour of freedom. And now we must go, she was expecting a visitor.

WHAT A DRIVE HOME that was, both of us talking at once: Maman conquered by the dancer’s charm, I her utter slave. And so I remained through the following two years of drudgery, lightened by periodic visits to my idol. For the trial at the studio proved a success. How I trembled when I first stood up before her. The great mirrors around the walls seemed to mock the frightened figure they reflected. The heavy purple curtains were the colour of doom. And Prince X., who sat there with his quizzical smile, seemed to be only waiting for my discomfiture. I danced the few conventional steps that revealed training, and woke approval but no interest in the tall dark man. L’Adorée watched me gravely.

“See now,” she said as I finished, “Cesare here will play the 22nd Prelude of Bach. He will play it twice. Listen the first time. Go behind the screen and listen alone. Then, when he plays it again, come out and give to us in dance what the music has given to you.”

Prince X. looked up kindly. “Forget us,” he said. “Forget life. Forget your future. At any rate then you will carry something away.”

I looked at him, and he seemed to send strength into my soul with his steady, kind look. I went behind the screen.

A miracle happened. L’Adorée had tears in her eyes. Maman wore her rapt air. The Prince looked at me questioningly, “How does she do it?” he asked.

But I am not here to tell you about myself. Let me tell you rather how she mothered me, worked with me, taught me, loved me, gave me all that she could give, until at last the day came on which I was to make my first appearance in public and she her last in France.

WE WERE IN PARIS, where L’Adorée had been dancing for a month before sailing on a two years’ contract to America. She was to sail the day after her farewell performance, at which I also was to dance. X. was to follow her by the next boat and Maman and I were to join her after a three months’ tour in Europe. All day she had looked at me with troubled eyes. She had no doubt of my success, she said, and yet she looked at me as if our life together were ending.

We were presenting a new dance for her farewell night, or rather a new version of the one in which I had first seen her. Were any of you there? It was a wonderful night. The curtain drew up on a grey hillside silent in twilight. One saw dim white flowers and trees with colourless fruits; a valley sloped away to the right, and grey fields shewed faintly against a grey horizon. The orchestra played a minor air that Striavine had written specially for the dance. Slowly, slowly, as one listened, a faint tremor of colour seemed to come to life. The grey faded, and deepened, and grew to green. A warm light shone in the sky. The air changed to a triumphant chant, and as the light throbbed and glowed the fields grew gold across the valley as if the sun himself were coming up on the road that climbed the hill. And now one saw that the fields were of standing corn ripe in the ear. The indistinguishable grey creeper was a vine heavy with purple grapes. The dim tree bowed beneath a load of figs. And now the sky was a bright hard blue, in which high summer set one white cloud sail. Then, as the whole orchestra seemed to sing with triumph, a figure came from the valley and stayed for a moment against the glowing sky. Tall and slender and golden, with golden sandals on her feet; veiled with gold and crowned with barley, Demeter stood before us. And then, the wonder-dance. The dance “of woven paces and of waving hands.” And all the while the colour about her grew and the music gathered new and fuller themes. Then, almost imperceptibly, the music slowed and the brilliancy faded. The heavy grape clusters fell from the reddening vine. The figs dropped their purple from among the withering leaves. And now the fires of autumn burnt the gold from the landscape, and then their red died down till the dance ended with the dancer gazing with wild eyes at a leaf that fell at her feet from some arching bow above. She stood and looked and the music stopped, and leaf after leaf eddied down through the chilling air till, with the light gone from her gold-lit robes, a figure of dismay stood brown-clad among the brown and shrivelling leaves.

A feeling of foreboding struck at my heart as I stood ready to descend the hill. The hill that, waking only to green, was grey once more in the mist of autumn. Then my cue came. A shrill piping rose from the orchestra and then a thrill of bird-song. The mists lifted, and, as an opal light grew rosy with dawn, I set my bare feet on a green path that led downward through the flowering hawthorn trees. Demeter lifted her stricken face and saw, treading tenderly between the spring flowers that starred her path, white-clad Persephone, with clustered golden hair crowned with pale wind-flowers. There had always been a slight likeness between us. This my teacher had cultivated. Her movements and carriage I copied partly from worship, partly from association. My hair, though paler than hers, she made me wear in her own fashion.

How can I describe the look she gave me? The long look of love, of renunciation, of despair. X. said after that he could never tell if it was that that so moved the audience, or the picture I made of youth but half-awakened, and with a pathos of troubled questioning in my eyes. Be it as it may, the audience rose in their seats and shouted at us—

“A miracle,” “A re-incarnation,” “La Dorée,” “L’Adorée.”

She lifted her hand, and the music of Striavine’s enchanting Spring Song began. As I advanced she stepped back, but always with that look in her eyes. I drew inspiration deep into my soul, and, stooping to a daisy, began my dance. All the joy of resurrection after long sleep, of light after long darkness, was my theme. I forgot the still, watching figure. I forgot the audience. I listened to the music. I gave out what I drew in. Then as I stood listening to the thunder of the applause I became aware of one thing that struck at my heart like a sword. From the stage box X. leaned forward, and with his deep-set eyes looked straight into mine. I stepped back and bowed to the audience. Demeter unbound the golden fillet that confined her veil and fastened it below my wreath. Then she took me in her arms and gave me a long tender kiss, there on stage before all the people. How they shouted. The boards were covered with flowers. The golden light played on my idol’s robes again and she turned to receive the incense that we shared. But in her eyes despair stayed.

She sailed the next day and that night I danced alone. I gave the Spring dance in a larch wood all tender green, while a little shepherd sat on a grey rock piping. Prince X. came into his box as my turn began. Afterwards he drove Maman and me home in his car. Every day that week he took us to lunch in the Bois and every night he came to the theatre. I began to grieve at the thought of how soon he would go to America. On the Friday I said to him, “This is our last lunch, is it not?”

An unhappy look came into his eyes, and he said that business would keep him a little longer in Paris.

A letter came from L’Adorée. She had had a tremendous reception in New York. I was to be good and to practise hard, and to remind X. to bring her signed copy of Anatole France. But X. lingered in Paris. Other letters came—shorter, messages to different people, commissions, but less and less of the personal. The day came when I was to journey to Milan.

“It is good-bye,” I said to X., and as I spoke it was like a sword in my heart. A two-edged sword. X. did not look at me.

“I am coming to Milan,” he said.

All my entreaties, all my tears—well, all the world knows how they ended. I swear I made a good fight both against myself and against him. “I have written to her,” he said.

She did not write to me again, though I wrote letters of denial, of despair, of renunciation, of passionate adoration. I tried to be true. I was only nineteen.

L’ADORÉE NEVER CAME TO Paris again. She danced in every capital of the world and so did I, yet I never saw her but once more. It was five years later, and she had left the stage. I was staying at Heyste for a week before dancing in Brussels. One evening I was so restless in my rooms at the big hotel that I left my paid companion to write my letters, and went out on the long sands of the shore. From the lighted Casino one heard distinctly the sound of dance music. Couples walked about in the lighted gardens, but the sands were dark and deserted. I thought I saw one figure ahead of me, but no more. As I paced along the sea’s edge, from the Casino came suddenly the minor opening notes of Striavine’s Demeter. I sat down against a tussock of coarse grass and closed my eyes and listened. When I looked up a grey figure was on the smooth stretch of sand between me and the sea. A woman with a grey veil bound about her head. She swayed and lifted her hands. I sat and watched her, unable to move. At last she stood still with head thrown back, gazing upwards as if a star had fallen at her feet. A shrill piping came from the orchestra, and then a thrill of bird-song. I threw back my cloak and rose to my feet, lifting my white skirts. For a moment we faced each other, then my tears came.

“Adorée!” I cried, and took her hands. She looked at me with eyes that burnt in a white face.

C’est la petite Marguerite,” she said. Then she detached herself from me.

“Believe me,” she said, “I have always been glad of your success. I have watched your career and have rejoiced that it has been so great. I could not see you, I could not see you with him.”

“If you knew—” I began. She stopped me.

“I know all,” she said, “and it was perhaps the best way. I am not a woman who, having known passion, could see it die into kindness. You took my lover” – I raised my hands to protest – “No, you did it innocently. Say, then, my lover left me for you. I forgive you that now. You won greater fame than mine. But of that I am not jealous. It is what happened at the last that makes an eternal barrier between us. That makes it impossible for us to meet. You know.” I bowed my head. “It is that that makes me a living grief. That stabs me unceasingly here.”

She pressed her hands to her breast as if a bodily agony possessed her.

“I can never forget,” she cried, and turned, and was gone. I threw myself down where one of her little heel-prints lay marked in the sand, and lay there weeping. I wept for myself, left alone in a grey world; I wept for her; I wept for X., the perfect, the faithless lover, who had been false to both of us, but who had sent for me as he lay dying and had died against my heart.

Lady Ethel Dilke, a poet and the daughter of Lucy Clifford, was married to Sir Fisher Wentworth Dilke, Bt. She died in 1959. From our archive: Fortnightly Review 108 [ns], 1920.

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