“You look exhausted,” said Maria when I arrived home that day, for once not escorted by Miss Stroud but by Madame Lejeune herself, for my governess had been taken ill and was resting at home, so I was allowed a few days without lessons and ballet classes were taking their place.
“That’s probably because I am,” I replied absently, and thought no more about it. Madame wished to speak to Grace, so I was left to go alone to my bedchamber and change my clothes with Annie’s help. When I caught sight of my face in the mirror I was shocked: I looked like a ghost. Pale, with huge dark circles under my eyes, I resembled someone who had not slept for a very long time … and I was thin, too, with rock-hard legs that were nothing but skin, muscle and bone.
“I think you’ve overdone it, if you don’t mind me saying so.” Over the months, Annie had become my friend, and I asked her to treat me as an equal. Though she still tried to keep etiquette in mind, the servant girl was gradually beginning to relax and talk to me normally, something that I’d been trying to persuade her to do ever since I arrived.
“What do you mean? Of course I haven’t overdone it.” And yet I could hardly stand, for my legs wobbled too much and the effort was too great. But I was too proud to admit that she could be right. She was just a servant and I was a privileged young lady. Yet in my own time we would be the same; yet where I come from I was just a normal girl. But I squashed the thoughts.
“Elizabeth, think about this logically,” urged my maid. “It’s now five hours past noon and you have been at the studio since eight o’clock this morning. If I know you well enough, you won’t have stopped for more than ten minutes at a time since then, even to eat lunch—which, if I’m right, would have been an apple and some bread with cheese. You’ve been working solidly at exercises which require great energy…”
“Be quiet!” I said angrily. “It’s none of your business how I choose to spend my time. I have not overdone it; you are talking nonsense. Go away. I’ll dress myself.” Chastised, she left me to it, and I fell gratefully onto the bed now that the need to pretend was no longer there. I had done too much, but I couldn’t help it: I loved to dance, and wouldn’t stop unless it was completely necessary.
I’ll just close my eyes for a few moments, I thought to myself …
The doctor was dabbing my forehead with something wet and cold; Annie was bend over me, holding my hand and trying to rub some warmth into it; Maria looked on, still in her ballet clothes—because of course, she had begun classes long ago, and although not a natural she was getting on well enough, and Madame was very pleased with her.
“What happened?” I asked, and I heard Grace give a sigh of relief. “I was just sleeping … why is everybody so worried? Where is Madame Lejeune? How long did I snooze for? Oh, my dress will be so creased…”
“Hush, young lady,” said the doctor, stepping backwards. “Not so many questions. You were not sleeping. You had fainted and were hardly breathing, and I’m not surprised. You’re exhausted, and you’re not eating enough. There’ll be no more of this ballet for a little while, I can tell you that for sure. Your teacher agrees with me. You’re overdoing it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I said, trying to prop myself up, but I was too weak. “I have to dance. It’s unthinkable.” But the pain in my legs was, oh, so great … it felt like I would never walk again, let alone dance, and I couldn’t imagine that there was something which could cure it; I turned to the doctor with a hopeful face. “You can cure me, right?”
“You need sleep,” he told me. “Sleep and rest. After that, only time can tell. Who knows? You may never dance again.” Then he left the room, leaving me to cry.