She had a weak little voice, and she was intelligent. She was recovering, as the expression goes, from pleurisy. Moreover, she had the air of being as frail morally as physically.
I encountered her many times, after ten o’clock, when she was weary with seeking, often in vain, for any first-comer who would go with her.
She sat down on a bench in the shadows, beside me, and rested her poor pale head against me.
I knew that when she did this it was somewhat with the feeling of slight consolation, like that of a poor animal when it no longer feels itself abused. I was held by an infinite pity for this friend. I knew that she looked at her trade as an important task, however ungrateful it was. For a long time she waited thus for the train to the suburb where she lived.
One evening she asked if she might go with me to the end of the street.
We came to a great lighted square where there was a large theater. On one of the pillars of this edifice was a brilliant, gilded poster. It represented Sarah Bernhardt in the costume of Tosca, I believe. She wore a stiff rich robe and held a palm in her hand. And I called to mind the things I had been told of this famous woman: her caprices that were immediately obeyed, her extravagances, her coffin, her pride.
I felt the poor little sufferer trembling at my side. She saw this barbarous idol rise up and throw unconsciously upon her the splattering flood of her golden ornaments.
And I had a desire to cry out with grief at this meeting face to face of the two. And I said to myself:
“They are both born of woman. One holds a palm, and the other an old umbrella so shabby that she does not dare to open it before me.
“The one trails an admiring throng at her feet, and the other tatters of leather. The one sells her sorrow for the weight of gold and not a sob comes from her mouth that does not have the clinking sound of gold. Not a single sob of the other is heard.”
And something cried aloud within me:
“The one is a human actress. She is applauded because she is of the same clay as those who listen to her. And they have need of the lie on which the most beautiful roles are builded.
“But the other, she is an actress of God. She plays a part so great and so sorrowful that she has not found one man who understands her and who is rich enough to pay her.
“And the great actress has never attained, even in her most beautiful roles, the true genius of sorrow which makes the little prostitute rest her forehead upon me.”
THE GOODNESS OF GOD
She was a dainty and delicate little creature who worked in a shop. She was, perhaps, not very intelligent, but she had soft, black eyes. They looked at you a little sadly, and then drooped. You felt that she was affectionate and commonplace with that tender commonplaceness, which real poets understand, and which is the absence of hate.