Sarah Bernhardt Saves a Life
An eXtract from Sarah Bernhard: My Erotic Life
I signed a contract and left the Comédie, but first I went on a short tour of Europe. I loved playing Hamlet in Copenhagen. Soon we were crossing the Atlantic together on the Amerique where I was received like a queen. Captain Jouclas himself came to welcome me on board. He had instructed that I be given the largest cabin in the ship. It had been freshly carpeted and to my amazement, the curtains had S.B. embroidered in red silk thread, and the room was filled with flowers.
Jarrett naturally expected me to share his bed, and I had promised him that I would. Guérard had her own cabin next to mine. I had also asked my sister Jeanne to accompany us and she had her own berth not too far away. The weather was gloomy to begin with and promptly became tempestuous. As I was slightly seasick, soon after the sumptuous banquet which the captain had laid out for our dinner, of which I partook but parsimoniously, I chose to have an early night.
The next day the storm had become more ferocious, and I loved to brave the elements. I enjoyed the slap of the wintry wind on my face and tottering like a drunk, made for the deck. There were but fellow few passengers outside and I saw a hunched up, middle-aged lady by herself, unable to move without holding on to the railing. I noticed that there was an opening in front of her where some negligent sailor had forgotten to close a hatch. Just at that moment, the lady missed her hold, and, urged onwards by the wind, was making straight for that gap. Without thinking I dashed in front of her and threw my frail body in front of her, whereupon she fell on me on the deck. I held on tightly to her as the gale howled angrily. We were pinned down by the untamed winds until, luckily, some sailors saw us and came to our rescue. We were led inside and served a Cognac.
‘Are you Mrs Hessler,’ the lady asked when she had regained her composure.
‘No, ma’am, I am Sarah Bernhardt.’
‘Not the Sarah Bernhardt?’ I nodded and her countenance changed instantly.
‘I hate actors,’ she said, ‘my husband was shot by one.’
‘Oh I am sorry to hear that. I can assure you that I have never shot anyone, nor intend to do so in the future.’
‘Oh I am sorry to appear rude. I was talking without thinking. May I present myself? I am Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of the martyred President of the United States of America, the greatest man who ever lived after our lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Your husband was indeed such a great man, ma’am, that the whole of France mourned his death.’
After a pause, she added, ‘I suppose I must thank you for saving my life, but I wouldn’t have minded dying so I could meet my dear man again.’