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Title: A Love Episode
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
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A LOVE EPISODE

BY
ÉMILE ZOLA

ILLUSTRATED BY DANTAN


PREPARER’S NOTE:

This eBook was prepared from the edition published by the Société
des Beaux-Arts in 1905 for the Comedie d'Amour Series. Registered
copy Number 153 of 500.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]


CONTENTS

 CHAPTER I.
 CHAPTER II.
 CHAPTER III.
 CHAPTER IV.
 CHAPTER V.
 CHAPTER VI.
 CHAPTER VII.
 CHAPTER VIII.
 CHAPTER IX.
 CHAPTER X.
 CHAPTER XI.
 CHAPTER XII.
 CHAPTER XIII.
 CHAPTER XIV.
 CHAPTER XV.
 CHAPTER XVI.
 CHAPTER XVII.
 CHAPTER XVIII.
 CHAPTER XIX.
 CHAPTER XX.
 CHAPTER XXI.
 CHAPTER XXII.
 CHAPTER XXIII.
 CHAPTER XXIV.
 CHAPTER XXV.



List of Illustrations

 Comedie D'amour Series
 Émile Zola
 Jeanne's Illness
 Malignon Appoints a Rendezvous With Juliette
 The Meeting of Hélène and Henri

[Illustration]



ZOLA AND HIS WRITINGS


Émile Zola was born in Paris, April 2, 1840. His father was Francois
Zola, an Italian engineer, who constructed the Canal Zola in Provence.
Zola passed his early youth in the south of France, continuing his
studies at the Lycée St. Louis, in Paris, and at Marseilles. His sole
patrimony was a lawsuit against the town of Aix. He became a clerk in
the publishing house of Hachette, receiving at first the modest
honorarium of twenty-five francs a week. His journalistic career,
though marked by immense toil, was neither striking nor remunerative.
His essays in criticism, of which he collected and published several
volumes, were not particularly successful. This was evidently not his
field. His first stories, _Les Mystères de Marseilles_ and _Le Voeu
d’Une Morte_ fell flat, disclosing no indication of remarkable talent.
But in 1864 appeared _Les Contes à Ninon_, which attracted wide
attention, the public finding them charming. _Les Confessions de
Claude_ was published in 1865. In this work Zola had evidently struck
his gait, and when _Thérèse Raquin_ followed, in 1867, Zola was fully
launched on his great career as a writer of the school which he called
“Naturalist.” _Thérèse Raquin_ was a powerful study of the effects of
remorse preying upon the mind. In this work the naturalism was
generally characterized as “brutal,” yet many critics admitted that it
was absolutely true to nature. It had, in fact, all the gruesome
accuracy of a clinical lecture. In 1868 came _Madeleine Ferat_, an
exemplification of the doctrine of heredity, as inexorable as the
“Destiny” of the Greek tragedies of old.

And now dawned in Zola’s teeming brain the vast conception of a
“Naturalistic Comedy of Life.” It was to be Balzac “naturalized,” so to
speak. The great cycle should run through the whole gamut of human
passions, foibles, motives and interests. It should consist of human
documents, of painstaking minuteness of detail and incontrovertible
truth.

The idea of destiny or heredity permeates all the works of this
portentously ambitious series. Details may be repellant. One should not
“smell” a picture, as the artists say. If one does, he gets an
impression merely of a small blotch of paint. The vast canvas should be
studied as a whole. Frailties are certainly not the whole of human
nature. But they cannot be excluded from a comprehensive view of it.
The “_Rougon-Macquart_ series” did not carry Zola into the Academy. But
the reputation of Moliere has managed to survive a similar exclusion,
and so will the fame of Zola, who will be bracketed with Balzac in
future classifications of artistic excellence. For twenty-two years,
from _La Fortune des Rougon_, in 1871, to _Docteur Pascal_ in 1893, the
series continued to focus the attention of the world, and Zola was the
most talked about man in the literature of the epoch. _La Fortune des
Rougon_ was introductory. _La Curée_ discussed society under the second
Empire. _Le Ventre de Paris_ described the great market of Paris. _La
Conquete de Plassans_ spoke of life in the south of France. _La Faute
de l’Abbé Mouret_ treated of the results of celibacy. _Son Excellence
Eugene Rougon_ dealt with official life. _L’Assommoir_ was a tract
against the vice of drunkenness. Some think this the strongest of the
naturalist series. Its success was prodigious. In this the marvellous
talent of Zola for minute description is evinced. _Une Page d’Amour_ (A
Love Episode) appeared in 1878. Of _Nana_, 1880, three hundred thousand
copies were quickly sold. _Pot-Bouille_ portrayed the lower
_bourgeoisie_ and their servants. _Au Bonheur des Dames_ treated of the
great retail shops. _La Joie de Vivre_ came in 1884. _Germinal_ told of
mining and the misery of the proletariat. _L’Oeuvre_ pictured the life
of artists and authors. _La Terre_ portrayed, with startling realism,
the lowest peasant life. _Le Reve_, which followed, was a reaction. It
was a graceful idyl. _Le Reve_ was termed “a symphony in white,” and
was considered as a concession to the views of the majority of the
French Academy. _La Bete Humaine_ exhausted the details of railway
life. _L’Argent_ treats of financial scandals and panics. _La Debacle_,
1892, is a realistic picture of the desperate struggles of the
Franco-Prussian war. _Le Docteur Pascal_, 1893, a story of the
emotions, wound up the series. Through it all runs the thread of
heredity and environment in their influence on human character.

But Zola’s work was not finished. A series of three romances on cities
showed a continuance of power. They are _Lourdes_, _Rome_, and _Paris_.
After the books on the three cities Zola planned a sort of tetralogy,
intended to sum up his social philosophy, which he called the “Four
Gospels.” _Feconditie_ is a tract against race suicide. The others of
this series are entitled _Travail_, _Verite_ and _Justice_, the latter
projected but not begun.

The attitude which Zola took in reference to the wretched Dreyfus
scandal will add greatly to his fame as a man of courage and a lover of
truth. From this filthy mess of perjury and forgery Zola’s intrepidity
and devotion to justice arise clear and white as a lily from a
cesspool.

Several of Zola’s books have been dramatized.

Zola died suddenly at his home in Paris, in September, 1902. He
received a public funeral, Anatole France delivering an oration at the
grave. There is every indication that Zola’s great reputation as an
artist and philosopher will increase with the passing of the years.

C. C. STARKWEATHER.



A LOVE EPISODE



 CHAPTER I.


The night-lamp with a bluish shade was burning on the chimney-piece,
behind a book, whose shadows plunged more than half the chamber in
darkness. There was a quiet gleam of light cutting across the round
table and the couch, streaming over the heavy folds of the velvet
curtains, and imparting an azure hue to the mirror of the rosewood
wardrobe placed between the two windows. The quiet simplicity of the
room, the blue tints on the hangings, furniture, and carpet, served at
this hour of night to invest everything with the delightful vagueness
of cloudland. Facing the windows, and within sweep of the shadow,
loomed the velvet-curtained bed, a black mass, relieved only by the
white of the sheets. With hands crossed on her bosom, and breathing
lightly, lay Hélène, asleep—mother and widow alike personified by the
quiet unrestraint of her attitude.

In the midst of the silence one o’clock chimed from the timepiece. The
noises of the neighborhood had died away; the dull, distant roar of the
city was the only sign of life that disturbed those Trocadero heights.
Hélène’s breathing, so light and gentle, did not ruffle the chaste
repose of her bosom. She was in a beauteous sleep, peaceful yet sound,
her profile perfect, her nut-brown hair twisted into a knot, and her
head leaning forward somewhat, as though she had fallen asleep while
eagerly listening. At the farther end of the room the open door of an
adjoining closet seemed but a black square in the wall.

Still there was not a sound. The half-hour struck. The pendulum gave
but a feeble tick-tack amid the general drowsiness that brooded over
the whole chamber. Everything was sleeping, night-lamp and furniture
alike; on the table, near an extinguished lamp, some woman’s handiwork
was disposed also in slumber. Hélène in her sleep retained her air of
gravity and kindliness.

Two o’clock struck, and the stillness was broken. A deep sigh issued
from the darkness of the closet. There was a rustling of linen sheets,
and then silence reigned again. Anon labored breathing broke through
the gloom. Hélène had not moved. Suddenly, however, she started up, for
the moanings and cries of a child in pain had roused her. Dazed with
sleep, she pressed her hands against her temples, but hearing a stifled
sob, she leaped from her couch on to the carpet.

“Jeanne! my Jeanne! what ails you? tell me, love,” she asked; and as
the child remained silent, she murmured, while running towards the
night-light, “Gracious Heaven! why did I go to bed when she was so
ill?”

Quickly she entered the closet, where deep silence had again fallen.
The feeble gleam of the lamp threw but a circular patch of light on the
ceiling. Bending over the iron cot, she could at first make out
nothing, but amidst the bed-clothes, tossed about in disorder, the dim
light soon revealed Jeanne, with limbs quite stiff, her head flung
back, the muscles of her neck swollen and rigid. Her sweet face was
distorted, her eyes were open and fixed on the curtain-rod above.

“My child!” cried Hélène. “My God! my God! she is dying.”

Setting down the lamp, Hélène touched her daughter with trembling
hands. The throbbing of the pulse and the heart’s action seemed to have
died away. The child’s puny arms and legs were stretched out
convulsively, and the mother grew frantic at the sight.

“My child is dying! Help, help!” she stammered. “My child! my child!”

She wandered back to her room, brushing against the furniture, and
unconscious of her movements; then, distracted, she again returned to
the little bed, throwing herself on her knees, and ever appealing for
help. She took Jeanne in her arms, rained kisses on her hair, and
stroked her little body, begging her to answer, and seeking one
word—only one word—from her silent lips. Where was the pain? Would she
have some of the cooling drink she had liked the other day? Perhaps the
fresh air would revive her? So she rattled on, bent on making the child
speak.

“Speak to me, Jeanne! speak to me, I entreat you!”

Oh, God! and not to know what to do in this sudden terror born of the
night! There was no light even. Then her ideas grew confused, though
her supplications to the child continued—at one moment she was
beseeching, at another answering in her own person. Thus, the pain
gripped her in the stomach; no, no, it must be in the breast. It was
nothing at all; she need merely keep quiet. Then Hélène tried to
collect her scattered senses; but as she felt her daughter stark and
stiff in her embrace, her heart sickened unto death. She tried to
reason with herself, and to resist the yearning to scream. But all at
once, despite herself, her cry rang out

“Rosalie, Rosalie! my child is dying. Quick, hurry for the doctor.”

Screaming out these words, she ran through dining-room and kitchen to a
room in the rear, where the maid started up from sleep, giving vent to
her surprise. Hélène speeded back again. Clad only in her night-dress
she moved about, seemingly not feeling the icy cold of the February
night. Pah! this maid would loiter, and her child would die! Back again
she hurried through the kitchen to the bedroom before a minute had
elapsed. Violently, and in the dark, she slipped on a petticoat, and
threw a shawl over her shoulders. The furniture in her way was
overturned; the room so still and silent was filled with the echoes of
her despair. Then leaving the doors open, she rushed down three flights
of stairs in her slippers, consumed with the thought that she alone
could bring back a doctor.

After the house-porter had opened the door Hélène found herself upon
the pavement, with a ringing in her ears and her mind distracted.
However, she quickly ran down the Rue Vineuse and pulled the door-bell
of Doctor Bodin, who had already tended Jeanne; but a servant—after an
interval which seemed an eternity—informed her that the doctor was
attending a woman in childbed. Hélène remained stupefied on the
footway; she knew no other doctor in Passy. For a few moments she
rushed about the streets, gazing at the houses. A slight but keen wind
was blowing, and she was walking in slippers through the light snow
that had fallen during the evening. Ever before her was her daughter,
with the agonizing thought that she was killing her by not finding a
doctor at once. Then, as she retraced her steps along the Rue Vineuse,
she rang the bell of another house. She would inquire, at all events;
some one would perhaps direct her. She gave a second tug at the bell;
but no one seemed to come. The wind meanwhile played with her
petticoat, making it cling to her legs, and tossed her dishevelled
hair.

At last a servant answered her summons. “Doctor Deberle was in bed
asleep.” It was a doctor’s house at which she had rung, so Heaven had
not abandoned her! Straightway, intent upon entering, she pushed the
servant aside, still repeating her prayer:

“My child, my child is dying! Oh, tell him he must come!”

The house was small and seemed full of hangings. She reached the first
floor, despite the servant’s opposition, always answering his protest
with the words, “My child is dying!” In the apartment she entered she
would have been content to wait; but the moment she heard the doctor
stirring in the next room she drew near and appealed to him through the
doorway:

“Oh, sir, come at once, I beseech you. My child is dying!”

When the doctor at last appeared in a short coat and without a
neckcloth, she dragged him away without allowing him to finish
dressing. He at once recognized her as a resident in the next-door
house, and one of his own tenants; so when he induced her to cross a
garden—to shorten the way by using a side-door between the two
houses—memory suddenly awoke within her.

“True, you are a doctor!” she murmured, “and I knew it. But I was
distracted. Oh, let us hurry!”

On the staircase she wished him to go first. She could not have
admitted the Divinity to her home in a more reverent manner. Upstairs
Rosalie had remained near the child, and had lit the large lamp on the
table. After the doctor had entered the room he took up this lamp and
cast its light upon the body of the child, which retained its painful
rigidity; the head, however, had slipped forward, and nervous
twitchings were ceaselessly drawing the face. For a minute he looked on
in silence, his lips compressed. Hélène anxiously watched him, and on
noticing the mother’s imploring glance, he muttered: “It will be
nothing. But she must not lie here. She must have air.”

Hélène grasped her child in a strong embrace, and carried her away on
her shoulder. She could have kissed the doctor’s hand for his good
tidings, and a wave of happiness rippled through her. Scarcely,
however, had Jeanne been placed in the larger bed than her poor little
frame was again seized with violent convulsions. The doctor had removed
the shade from the lamp, and a white light was streaming through the
room. Then, opening a window, he ordered Rosalie to drag the bed away
from the curtains. Hélène’s heart was again filled with anguish. “Oh,
sir, she is dying,” she stammered. “Look! look! Ah! I scarcely
recognize her.”

The doctor did not reply, but watched the paroxysm attentively.

“Step into the alcove,” he at last exclaimed. “Hold her hands to
prevent her from tearing herself. There now, gently, quietly! Don’t
make yourself uneasy. The fit must be allowed to run its course.”

They both bent over the bed, supporting and holding Jeanne, whose limbs
shot out with sudden jerks. The doctor had buttoned up his coat to hide
his bare neck, and Hélène’s shoulders had till now been enveloped in
her shawl; but Jeanne in her struggles dragged a corner of the shawl
away, and unbuttoned the top of the coat. Still they did not notice it;
they never even looked at one another.

[Illustration]

At last the convulsion ceased, and the little one then appeared to sink
into deep prostration. Doctor Deberle was evidently ill at ease, though
he had assured the mother that there was no danger. He kept his gaze
fixed on the sufferer, and put some brief questions to Hélène as she
stood by the bedside.

“How old is the child?”

“Eleven years and six months, sir,” was the reply.

Silence again fell between them. He shook his head, and stooped to
raise one of Jeanne’s lowered eyelids and examine the mucus. Then he
resumed his questions, but without raising his eyes to Hélène.

“Did she have convulsions when she was a baby?”

“Yes, sir; but they left her after she reached her sixth birthday. Ah!
she is very delicate. For some days past she had seemed ill at ease.
She was at times taken with cramp, and plunged in a stupor.”

“Do you know of any members of your family that have suffered from
nervous affections?”

“I don’t know. My mother was carried off by consumption.”

Here shame made her pause. She could not confess that she had a
grandmother who was an inmate of a lunatic asylum.[*] There was
something tragic connected with all her ancestry.

[*] This is Adelaide Fouque, otherwise Aunt Dide, the ancestress of the
Rougon-Macquart family, whose early career is related in the “Fortune
of the Rougons,” whilst her death is graphically described in the pages
of “Dr. Pascal.”

“Take care! the convulsions are coming on again!” now hastily exclaimed
the doctor.

Jeanne had just opened her eyes, and for a moment she gazed around her
with a vacant look, never speaking a word. Her glance then grew fixed,
her body was violently thrown backwards, and her limbs became distended
and rigid. Her skin, fiery-red, all at once turned livid. Her pallor
was the pallor of death; the convulsions began once more.

“Do not loose your hold of her,” said the doctor. “Take her other
hand!”

He ran to the table, where, on entering, he had placed a small
medicine-case. He came back with a bottle, the contents of which he
made Jeanne inhale; but the effect was like that of a terrible lash;
the child gave such a violent jerk that she slipped from her mother’s
hands.

“No, no, don’t give her ether,” exclaimed Hélène, warned by the odor.
“It drives her mad.”

The two had now scarcely strength enough to keep the child under
control. Her frame was racked and distorted, raised by the heels and
the nape of the neck, as if bent in two. But she fell back again and
began tossing from one side of the bed to the other. Her fists were
clenched, her thumbs bent against the palms of her hands. At times she
would open the latter, and, with fingers wide apart, grasp at phantom
bodies in the air, as though to twist them. She touched her mother’s
shawl and fiercely clung to it. But Hélène’s greatest grief was that
she no longer recognized her daughter. The suffering angel, whose face
was usually so sweet, was transformed in every feature, while her eyes
swam, showing balls of a nacreous blue.

“Oh, do something, I implore you!” she murmured. “My strength is
exhausted, sir.”

She had just remembered how the child of a neighbor at Marseilles had
died of suffocation in a similar fit. Perhaps from feelings of pity the
doctor was deceiving her. Every moment she believed she felt Jeanne’s
last breath against her face; for the child’s halting respiration
seemed suddenly to cease. Heartbroken and overwhelmed with terror,
Hélène then burst into tears, which fell on the body of her child, who
had thrown off the bedclothes.

The doctor meantime was gently kneading the base of the neck with his
long supple fingers. Gradually the fit subsided, and Jeanne, after a
few slight twitches, lay there motionless. She had fallen back in the
middle of the bed, with limbs outstretched, while her head, supported
by the pillow, inclined towards her bosom. One might have thought her
an infant Jesus. Hélène stooped and pressed a long kiss on her brow.

“Is it over?” she asked in a whisper. “Do you think she’ll have another
fit?”

The doctor made an evasive gesture, and then replied:

“In any case the others will be less violent.”

He had asked Rosalie for a glass and water-bottle. Half-filling the
glass with water, he took up two fresh medicine phials, and counted out
a number of drops. Hélène assisted in raising the child’s head, and the
doctor succeeded in pouring a spoonful of the liquid between the
clenched teeth. The white flame of the lamp was leaping up high and
clear, revealing the disorder of the chamber’s furnishings. Hélène’s
garments, thrown on the back of an arm-chair before she slipped into
bed, had now fallen, and were littering the carpet. The doctor had
trodden on her stays, and had picked them up lest he might again find
them in his way. An odor of vervain stole through the room. The doctor
himself went for the basin, and soaked a linen cloth in it, which he
then pressed to Jeanne’s temples.

“Oh, madame, you’ll take cold!” expostulated Rosalie as she stood there
shivering. “Perhaps the window might be shut? The air is too raw.”

“No, no!” cried Hélène; “leave the window open. Should it not be so?”
she appealed to the doctor.

The wind entered in slight puffs, rustling the curtains to and fro; but
she was quite unconscious of it. Yet the shawl had slipped off her
shoulders, and her hair had become unwound, some wanton tresses
sweeping down to her hips. She had left her arms free and uncovered,
that she might be the more ready; she had forgotten all, absorbed
entirely in her love for her child. And on his side, the doctor, busy
with his work, no longer thought of his unbuttoned coat, or of the
shirt-collar that Jeanne’s clutch had torn away.

“Raise her up a little,” said he to Hélène. “No, no, not in that way!
Give me your hand.”

He took her hand and placed it under the child’s head. He wished to
give Jeanne another spoonful of the medicine. Then he called Hélène
close to him, made use of her as his assistant; and she obeyed him
reverently on seeing that her daughter was already more calm.

“Now, come,” he said. “You must let her head lean against your
shoulder, while I listen.”

Hélène did as he bade her, and he bent over her to place his ear
against Jeanne’s bosom. He touched her bare shoulder with his cheek,
and as the pulsation of the child’s heart struck his ear he could also
have heard the throbbing of the mother’s breast. As he rose up his
breath mingled with Hélène’s.

“There is nothing wrong there,” was the quiet remark that filled her
with delight. “Lay her down again. We must not worry her more.”

However, another, though much less violent, paroxysm followed. From
Jeanne’s lips burst some broken words. At short intervals two fresh
attacks seemed about to convulse her, and then a great prostration,
which again appeared to alarm the doctor, fell on the child. He had
placed her so that her head lay high, with the clothes carefully tucked
under her chin; and for nearly an hour he remained there watching her,
as though awaiting the return of a healthy respiration. On the other
side of the bed Hélène also waited, never moving a limb.

Little by little a great calm settled on Jeanne’s face. The lamp cast a
sunny light upon it, and it regained its exquisite though somewhat
lengthy oval. Jeanne’s fine eyes, now closed, had large, bluish,
transparent lids, which veiled—one could divine it—a sombre, flashing
glance. A light breathing came from her slender nose, while round her
somewhat large mouth played a vague smile. She slept thus, amidst her
outspread tresses, which were inky black.

“It has all passed away now,” said the doctor in a whisper; and he
turned to arrange his medicine bottles prior to leaving.

“Oh, sir!” exclaimed Hélène, approaching him, “don’t leave me yet; wait
a few minutes. Another fit might come on, and you, you alone, have
saved her!”

He signed to her that there was nothing to fear; yet he tarried, with
the idea of tranquillizing her. She had already sent Rosalie to bed;
and now the dawn soon broke, still and grey, over the snow which
whitened the housetops. The doctor proceeded to close the window, and
in the deep quiet the two exchanged a few whispers.

“There is nothing seriously wrong with her, I assure you,” said he;
“only with one so young great care must be taken. You must see that her
days are spent quietly and happily, and without shocks of any kind.”

“She is so delicate and nervous,” replied Hélène after a moment’s
pause. “I cannot always control her. For the most trifling reasons she
is so overcome by joy or sorrow that I grow alarmed. She loves me with
a passion, a jealousy, which makes her burst into tears when I caress
another child.”

“So, so—delicate, nervous, and jealous,” repeated the doctor as he
shook his head. “Doctor Bodin has attended her, has he not? I’ll have a
talk with him about her. We shall have to adopt energetic treatment.
She has reached an age that is critical in one of her sex.”

Recognizing the interest he displayed, Hélène gave vent to her
gratitude. “How I must thank you, sir, for the great trouble you have
taken!”

The loudness of her tones frightened her, however; she might have woke
Jeanne, and she bent down over the bed. But no; the child was sound
asleep, with rosy cheeks, and a vague smile playing round her lips. The
air of the quiet chamber was charged with languor. The whilom
drowsiness, as if born again of relief, once more seized upon the
curtains, furniture, and littered garments. Everything was steeped
restfully in the early morning light as it entered through the two
windows.

Hélène again stood up close to the bed; on the other side was the
doctor, and between them lay Jeanne, lightly sleeping.

“Her father was frequently ill,” remarked Hélène softly, continuing her
answer to his previous question. “I myself enjoy the best of health.”

The doctor, who had not yet looked at her, raised his eyes, and could
scarcely refrain from smiling, so hale and hearty was she in every way.
She greeted his gaze with her own sweet and quiet smile. Her happiness
lay in her good health.

However, his looks were still bent on her. Never had he seen such
classical beauty. Tall and commanding, she was a nut-brown Juno, of a
nut-brown sunny with gleams of gold. When she slowly turned her head,
its profile showed the severe purity of a statue. Her grey eyes and
pearly teeth lit up her whole face. Her chin, rounded and somewhat
pronounced, proved her to be possessed of commonsense and firmness. But
what astonished the doctor was the superbness of her whole figure. She
stood there, a model of queenliness, chastity, and modesty.

On her side also she scanned him for a moment. Doctor Deberle’s years
were thirty-five; his face was clean-shaven and a little long; he had
keen eyes and thin lips. As she gazed on him she noticed for the first
time that his neck was bare. Thus they remained face to face, with
Jeanne asleep between them. The distance which but a short time before
had appeared immense, now seemed to be dwindling away. Then Hélène
slowly wrapped the shawl about her shoulders again, while the doctor
hastened to button his coat at the neck.

“Mamma! mamma!” Jeanne stammered in her sleep. She was waking, and on
opening her eyes she saw the doctor and became uneasy.

“Mamma, who’s that?” was her instant question; but her mother kissed
her, and replied: “Go to sleep, darling, you haven’t been well. It’s
only a friend.”

The child seemed surprised; she did not remember anything. Drowsiness
was coming over her once more, and she fell asleep again, murmuring
tenderly: “I’m going to by-by. Good-night, mamma, dear. If he is your
friend he will be mine.”

The doctor had removed his medicine-case, and, with a silent bow, he
left the room. Hélène listened for a while to the child’s breathing,
and then, seated on the edge of the bed, she became oblivious to
everything around her; her looks and thoughts wandering far away. The
lamp, still burning, was paling in the growing sunlight.



 CHAPTER II.


Next day Hélène thought it right and proper to pay a visit of thanks to
Doctor Deberle. The abrupt fashion in which she had compelled him to
follow her, and the remembrance of the whole night which he had spent
with Jeanne, made her uneasy, for she realized that he had done more
than is usually compassed within a doctor’s visit. Still, for two days
she hesitated to make her call, feeling a strange repugnance towards
such a step. For this she could give herself no reasons. It was the
doctor himself who inspired her with this hesitancy; one morning she
met him, and shrunk from his notice as though she were a child. At this
excess of timidity she was much annoyed. Her quiet, upright nature
protested against the uneasiness which was taking possession of her.
She decided, therefore, to go and thank the doctor that very day.

Jeanne’s attack had taken place during the small hours of Wednesday
morning; it was now Saturday, and the child was quite well again.
Doctor Bodin, whose fears concerning her had prompted him to make an
early call, spoke of Doctor Deberle with the respect that an old doctor
with a meagre income pays to another in the same district, who is
young, rich, and already possessed of a reputation. He did not forget
to add, however, with an artful smile, that the fortune had been
bequeathed by the elder Deberle, a man whom all Passy held in
veneration. The son had only been put to the trouble of inheriting
fifteen hundred thousand francs, together with a splendid practice. “He
is, though, a very smart fellow,” Doctor Bodin hastened to add, “and I
shall be honored by having a consultation with him about the precious
health of my little friend Jeanne!”

About three o’clock Hélène made her way downstairs with her daughter,
and had to take but a few steps along the Rue Vineuse before ringing at
the next-door house. Both mother and daughter still wore deep mourning.
A servant, in dress-coat and white tie, opened the door. Hélène easily
recognized the large entrance-hall, with its Oriental hangings; on each
side of it, however, there were now flower-stands, brilliant with a
profusion of blossoms. The servant having admitted them to a small
drawing-room, the hangings and furniture of which were of a mignonette
hue, stood awaiting their pleasure, and Hélène gave her name—Madame
Grandjean.

Thereupon the footman pushed open the door of a drawing-room, furnished
in yellow and black, of dazzling effect, and, moving aside, announced:

“Madame Grandjean!”

Hélène, standing on the threshold, started back. She had just noticed
at the other end of the room a young woman seated near the fireplace on
a narrow couch which was completely covered by her ample skirts. Facing
her sat an elderly person, who had retained her bonnet and shawl, and
was evidently paying a visit.

“I beg pardon,” exclaimed Hélène. “I wished to see Doctor Deberle.”

She had made the child enter the room before her, and now took her by
the hand again. She was both astonished and embarrassed in meeting this
young lady. Why had she not asked for the doctor? She well knew he was
married.

Madame Deberle was just finishing some story, in a quick and rather
shrill voice.

“Oh! it’s marvellous, marvellous! She dies with wonderful realism. She
clutches at her bosom like this, throws back her head, and her face
turns green. I declare you ought to see her, Mademoiselle Aurelie!”

Then, rising up, she sailed towards the doorway, rustling her skirts
terribly.

“Be so kind as to walk in, madame,” she said with charming
graciousness. “My husband is not at home, but I shall be delighted to
receive you, I assure you. This must be the pretty little girl who was
so ill a few nights ago. Sit down for a moment, I beg of you.”

Hélène was forced to accept the invitation, while Jeanne timidly
perched herself on the edge of another chair. Madame Deberle again sank
down on her little sofa, exclaiming with a pretty laugh,

“Yes, this is my day. I receive every Saturday, you see, and Pierre
then announces all comers. A week or two ago he ushered in a colonel
suffering from the gout.”

“How silly you are, my dear Juliette!” expostulated Mademoiselle
Aurelie, the elderly lady, an old friend in straitened circumstances,
who had seen her come into the world.

There was a short silence, and Hélène gazed round at the luxury of the
apartment, with its curtains and chairs in black and gold, glittering
like constellations. Flowers decorated mantel-shelf, piano, and tables
alike, and the clear light streamed through the windows from the
garden, in which could be seen the leafless trees and bare soil. The
room had almost a hot-house temperature; in the fireplace one large log
was glowing with intense heat. After another glance Hélène recognized
that the gaudy colors had a happy effect. Madame Deberle’s hair was
inky-black, and her skin of a milky whiteness. She was short, plump,
slow in her movements, and withal graceful. Amidst all the golden
decorations, her white face assumed a vermeil tint under her heavy,
sombre tresses. Hélène really admired her.

“Convulsions are so terrible,” broke in Madame Deberle. “My Lucien had
them when a mere baby. How uneasy you must have been, madame! However,
the dear little thing appears to be quite well now.”

As she drawled out these words she kept her eyes on Hélène, whose
superb beauty amazed and delighted her. Never had she seen a woman with
so queenly an air in the black garments which draped the widow’s
commanding figure. Her admiration found vent in an involuntary smile,
while she exchanged glances with Mademoiselle Aurelie. Their admiration
was so ingenuously and charmingly expressed, that a faint smile also
rippled over Hélène’s face.

Then Madame Deberle stretched herself on the sofa. “You were not at the
first night at the Vaudeville yesterday, madame?” she asked, as she
played with the fan that hung from her waist.

“I never go to the theatre,” was Hélène’s reply.

“Oh! little Noëmi was simply marvellous! Her death scene is so
realistic! She clutches her bosom like this, throws back her head, and
her face turns green. Oh! the effect is prodigious.”

Thereupon she entered into a minute criticism of the actress’s playing,
which she upheld against the world; and then she passed to the other
topics of the day—a fine art exhibition, at which she had seen some
most remarkable paintings; a stupid novel about which too much fuss was
being made; a society intrigue which she spoke of to Mademoiselle
Aurelie in veiled language. And so she went on from one subject to
another, without wearying, her tongue ever ready, as though this social
atmosphere were peculiarly her own. Hélène, a stranger to such society,
was content to listen, merely interjecting a remark or brief reply
every now and then.

At last the door was again thrown open and the footman announced:
“Madame de Chermette! Madame Tissot!”

Two ladies entered, magnificently dressed. Madame Deberle rose eagerly
to meet them, and the train of her black silk gown, heavily decked with
trimmings, trailed so far behind her that she had to kick it out of her
way whenever she happened to turn round. A confused babel of greetings
in shrill voices arose.

“Oh! how kind of you! I declare I never see you!”

“You know we come about that lottery.”

“Yes: I know, I know.”

“Oh! we cannot sit down. We have to call at twenty houses yet.”

“Come now, you are not going to run away at once!”

And then the visitors finished by sitting down on the edge of a couch;
the chatter beginning again, shriller than ever.

“Well! what do you think of yesterday at the Vaudeville?”

“Oh! it was splendid!”

“You know she unfastens her dress and lets down her hair. All the
effect springs from that.”

“People say that she swallows something to make her green.”

“No, no, every action is premeditated; but she had to invent and study
them all, in the first place.”

“It’s wonderful.”

The two ladies rose and made their exit, and the room regained its
tranquil peacefulness. From some hyacinths on the mantel-shelf was
wafted an all-pervading perfume. For a time one could hear the noisy
twittering of some sparrows quarrelling on the lawn. Before resuming
her seat, Madame Deberle proceeded to draw down the embroidered tulle
blind of a window facing her, and then returned to her sofa in the
mellowed, golden light of the room.

“I beg pardon,” she now said. “We have had quite an invasion.”

Then, in an affectionate way, she entered into conversation with
Hélène. She seemed to know some details of her history, doubtless from
the gossip of her servants. With a boldness that was yet full of tact,
and appeared instinct with much friendliness, she spoke to Hélène of
her husband, and of his sad death at the Hotel du Var, in the Rue de
Richelieu.

“And you had just arrived, hadn’t you? You had never been in Paris
before. It must be awful to be plunged into mourning, in a strange
room, the day after a long journey, and when one doesn’t know a single
place to go to.”

Hélène assented with a slow nod. Yes, she had spent some very bitter
hours. The disease which carried off her husband had abruptly declared
itself on the day after their arrival, just as they were going out
together. She knew none of the streets, and was wholly unaware what
district she was in. For eight days she had remained at the bedside of
the dying man, hearing the rumble of Paris beneath her window, feeling
she was alone, deserted, lost, as though plunged in the depths of an
abyss. When she stepped out on the pavement for the first time, she was
a widow. The mere recalling of that bare room, with its rows of
medicine bottles, and with the travelling trunks standing about
unpacked, still made her shudder.

“Was your husband, as I’ve been told, nearly twice your age?” asked
Madame Deberle with an appearance of profound interest, while
Mademoiselle Aurelie cocked her ears so as not to lose a syllable of
the conversation.

“Oh, no!” replied Hélène. “He was scarcely six years older.”

Then she ventured to enter into the story of her marriage, telling in a
few brief sentences how her husband had fallen deeply in love with her
while she was living with her father, Monsieur Mouret, a hatter in the
Rue des Petites-Maries, at Marseilles; how the Grandjean family, who
were rich sugar-refiners, were bitterly opposed to the match, on
account of her poverty. She spoke, too, of the ill-omened and secret
wedding after the usual legal formalities, and of their hand-to-mouth
existence, till the day an uncle on dying left them some ten thousand
francs a year. It was then that Grandjean, within whom an intense
hatred of Marseilles was growing, had decided on coming to Paris, to
live there for good.

“And how old were you when you were married?” was Madame Deberle’s next
question.

“Seventeen.”

“You must have been very beautiful.”

The conversation suddenly ceased, for Hélène had not seemed to hear the
remark.

“Madame Manguelin!” announced the footman.

A young, retiring woman, evidently ill at ease, was ushered in. Madame
Deberle scarcely rose. It was one of her dependents, who had called to
thank her for some service performed. The visitor only remained for a
few minutes, and left the room with a courtesy.

Madame Deberle then resumed the conversation, and spoke of Abbé Jouve,
with whom both were acquainted. The Abbé was a meek officiating priest
at Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the parish church of Passy; however, his
charity was such that he was more beloved and more respectfully
hearkened to than any other priest in the district.

“Oh, he has such pious eloquence!” exclaimed Madame Deberle, with a
sanctimonious look.

“He has been very kind to us,” said Hélène. “My husband had formerly
known him at Marseilles. The moment he heard of my misfortune he took
charge of everything. To him we owe our settling in Passy.”

“He has a brother, hasn’t he?” questioned Juliette.

“Yes, a step-brother, for his mother married again. Monsieur Rambaud
was also acquainted with my husband. He has started a large business in
the Rue de Rambuteau, where he sells oils and other Southern produce. I
believe he makes a large amount of money by it.” And she added, with a
laugh: “The Abbé and his brother make up my court.”

Jeanne, sitting on the edge of her chair, and wearied to death, now
cast an impatient look at her mother. Her long, delicate, lamb-like
face wore a pained expression, as if she disliked all this
conversation; and she appeared at times to sniff the heavy, oppressive
odors floating in the room, while casting suspicious side-glances at
the furniture, as though her own exquisite sensibility warned her of
some undefined dangers. Finally, however, she turned a look of
tyrannical worship on her mother.

Madame Deberle noticed the child’s uneasiness.

“Here’s a little girl,” she said, “who feels tired at being serious,
like a grown-up person. There are some picture-books on the table,
dear; they will amuse you.”

Jeanne took up an album, but her eyes strayed from it to glance
imploringly at her mother. Hélène, charmed by her hostess’s excessive
kindness, did not move; there was nothing of the fidget in her, and she
would of her own accord remain seated for hours. However, as the
servant announced three ladies in succession—Madame Berthier, Madame de
Guiraud, and Madame Levasseur—she thought she ought to rise.

“Oh! pray stop,” exclaimed Madame Deberle; “I must show you my son.”

The semi-circle round the fireplace was increasing in size. The ladies
were all gossiping at the same time. One of them declared that she was
completely broken down, as for five days she had not gone to bed till
four o’clock in the morning. Another indulged in a diatribe against wet
nurses; she could no longer find one who was honest. Next the
conversation fell on dressmakers. Madame Deberle affirmed no woman
tailor could fit you properly; a man was requisite. Two of the ladies,
however, were mumbling something under their breath, and, a silence
intervening, two or three words became audible. Every one then broke
into a laugh, while languidly waving their fans.

“Monsieur Malignon!” announced the servant.

A tall young man, dressed in good style, was ushered in. Some
exclamations greeted him. Madame Deberle, not taking the trouble to
rise, stretched out her hand and inquired: “Well! what of yesterday at
the Vaudeville?”

“Vile!” was his reply.

“What! vile! She’s marvellous when she clutches her bosom and throws
back her head—”

“Stop! stop! The whole thing is loathsome in its realism.”

And then quite a dispute commenced. It was easy to talk of realism, but
the young man would have no realism at all.

“I would not have it in anything, you hear!” said he, raising his
voice. “No, not in anything! it degrades art.”

People would soon be seeing some fine things on the stage, indeed! Why
didn’t Noëmi follow out her actions to their logical conclusion? And he
illustrated his remark with a gesture which quite scandalized the
ladies. Oh, how horrible! However, when Madame Deberle had declared
that the actress produced a great effect, and Madame Levasseur had
related how a lady had fainted in the balcony, everybody agreed that
the affair was a great success; and with this the discussion stopped
short.

The young man sat in an arm-chair, with his legs stretched out among
the ladies’ flowing skirts. He seemed to be quite at home in the
doctor’s house. He had mechanically plucked a flower from a vase, and
was tearing it to pieces with his teeth. Madame Deberle interrupted
him:

“Have you read that novel which—”

He did not allow her to finish, but replied, with a superior air, that
he only read two novels in the year.

As for the exhibition of paintings at the Art Club, it was not worth
troubling about; and then, every topic being exhausted, he rose and
leaned over Juliette’s little sofa, conversing with her in a low voice,
while the other ladies continued chatting together in an animated
manner.

At length: “Dear me! he’s gone,” exclaimed Madame Berthier turning
round. “I met him only an hour ago in Madame Robinot’s drawing-room.”

“Yes, and he is now going to visit Madame Lecomte,” said Madame
Deberle. “He goes about more than any other man in Paris.” She turned
to Hélène, who had been following the scene, and added: “A very
distinguished young fellow he is, and we like him very much. He has
some interest in a stockbroking business; he’s very rich besides, and
well posted in everything.”

The other ladies, however, were now going off.

“Good-bye, dear madame. I rely upon you for Wednesday.”

“Yes, to be sure; Wednesday.”

“Oh, by the way, will you be at that evening party? One doesn’t know
whom one may meet. If you go, I’ll go.”

“Ah, well! I’ll go, I promise you. Give my best regards to Monsieur de
Guiraud.”

When Madame Deberle returned she found Hélène standing in the middle of
the drawing-room. Jeanne had drawn close to her mother, whose hands she
firmly grasped; and thus clinging to her caressingly and almost
convulsively, she was drawing her little by little towards the doorway.

“Ah, I was forgetting!” exclaimed the lady of the house; and ringing
the bell for the servant, she said to him: “Pierre, tell Miss Smithson
to bring Lucien here.”

During the short interval of waiting that ensued the door was again
opened, but this time in a familiar fashion and without any formal
announcement. A good-looking girl of some sixteen years of age entered
in company with an old man, short of stature but with a rubicund,
chubby face.

“Good-day, sister,” was the girl’s greeting, as she kissed Madame
Deberle.

“Good-day, Pauline! good-day, father!” replied the doctor’s wife.

Mademoiselle Aurelie, who had not stirred from her seat beside the
fire, rose to exchange greetings with Monsieur Letellier. He owned an
extensive silk warehouse on the Boulevard des Capucines. Since his
wife’s death he had been taking his younger daughter about everywhere,
in search of a rich husband for her.

“Were you at the Vaudeville last night?” asked Pauline.

“Oh, it was simply marvellous!” repeated Juliette in parrot-fashion,
as, standing before a mirror, she rearranged a rebellious curl.

“It is annoying to be so young; one can’t go to anything!” said
Pauline, pouting like a spoiled child. “I went with papa to the
theatre-door at midnight, to find out how the piece had taken.”

“Yes, and we tumbled upon Malignon,” said the father.

“He was extremely pleased with it.”

“Really!” exclaimed Juliette. “He was here a minute ago, and declared
it vile. One never knows how to take him.”

“Have you had many visitors to-day?” asked Pauline, rushing off to
another subject.

“Oh, several ladies; quite a crowd! The room was never once empty. I’m
dead-beat—”

Here she abruptly broke off, remembering she had a formal introduction
to make

“My father, my sister—Madame Grandjean.”

The conversation was turning on children and the ailments which give
mothers so much worry when Miss Smithson, an English governess,
appeared with a little boy clinging to her hand. Madame Deberle scolded
her in English for having kept them waiting.

“Ah! here’s my little Lucien!” exclaimed Pauline as she dropped on her
knees before the child, with a great rustling of skirts.

“Now, now, leave him alone!” said Juliette. “Come here, Lucien; come
and say good-day to this little lady.”

The boy came forward very sheepishly. He was no more than seven years
old, fat and dumpy, and dressed as coquettishly as a doll. As he saw
that they were all looking at him with smiles, he stopped short, and
surveyed Jeanne, his blue eyes wide open with astonishment.

“Go on!” urged his mother.

He turned his eyes questioningly on her and advanced a step, evincing
all the sullenness peculiar to lads of his age, his head lowered, his
thick lips pouting, and his eyebrows bent into a growing frown. Jeanne
must have frightened him with the serious look she wore standing there
in her black dress. She had not ceased holding her mother’s hand, and
was nervously pressing her fingers on the bare part of the arm between
the sleeve and glove. With head lowered she awaited Lucien’s approach
uneasily, like a young and timid savage, ready to fly from his caress.
But a gentle push from her mother prompted her to step forward.

“Little lady, you will have to kiss him first,” Madame Deberle said
laughingly. “Ladies always have to begin with him. Oh! the little
stupid.”

“Kiss him, Jeanne,” urged Hélène.

The child looked up at her mother; and then, as if conquered by the
bashful looks of the little noodle, seized with sudden pity as she
gazed on his good-natured face, so dreadfully confused—she smiled
divinely. A sudden wave of hidden tenderness rose within her and
brightened her features, and she whispered: “Willingly, mamma!”

Then, taking Lucien under the armpits, almost lifting him from the
ground, she gave him a hearty kiss on each cheek. He had no further
hesitation in embracing her.

“Bravo! capital!” exclaimed the onlookers.

With a bow Hélène turned to leave, accompanied to the door by Madame
Deberle.

“I beg you, madame,” said she, “to present my heartiest thanks to the
doctor. He relieved me of such dreadful anxiety the other night.”

“Is Henri not at home?” broke in Monsieur Letellier.

“No, he will be away some time yet,” was Juliette’s reply. “But you’re
not going away; you’ll dine with us,” she continued, addressing
Mademoiselle Aurelie, who had risen as if to leave with Madame
Grandjean.

The old maid with each Saturday expected a similar invitation, then
decided to relieve herself of shawl and bonnet. The heat in the
drawing-room was intense, and Monsieur Letellier hastened to open a
window, at which he remained standing, struck by the sight of a lilac
bush which was already budding. Pauline, meantime, had begun playfully
running after Lucien behind the chairs and couches, left in confusion
by the visitors.

On the threshold Madame Deberle held out her hand to Hélène with a
frank and friendly movement.

“You will allow me,” said she. “My husband spoke to me about you, and I
felt drawn to you. Your bereavement, your lonely life—in short, I am
very glad to have seen you, and you must not be long in coming back.”

“I give you my promise, and I am obliged to you,” said Hélène, moved by
these tokens of affection from a woman whom she had imagined rather
flighty. They clasped hands, and each looked into the other’s face with
a happy smile. Juliette’s avowal of her sudden friendship was given
with a caressing air. “You are too lovely not to be loved!” she said.

Hélène broke into a merry laugh, for her beauty never engaged her
thoughts, and she called Jeanne, whose eyes were busy watching the
pranks of Lucien and Pauline. But Madame Deberle detained the girl for
a moment longer.

“You are good friends henceforth,” she said; “you must just say _au
revoir_.”

Thereupon the two children blew one another a kiss with their
finger-tips.



 CHAPTER III.


Every Tuesday Hélène had Monsieur Rambaud and Abbé Jouve to dine with
her. It was they who, during the early days of her bereavement, had
broken in on her solitude, and drawn up their chairs to her table with
friendly freedom; their object being to extricate her, at least once a
week, from the solitude in which she lived. The Tuesday dinners became
established institutions, and the partakers in these little feasts
appeared punctually at seven o’clock, serenely happy in discharging
what they deemed a duty.

That Tuesday Hélène was seated at the window, profiting by the last
gleams of the twilight to finish some needle work, pending the arrival
of her guests. She here spent her days in pleasant peacefulness. The
noises of the street died away before reaching such a height. She loved
this large, quiet chamber, with its substantial luxury, its rosewood
furniture and blue velvet curtains. When her friends had attended to
her installation, she not having to trouble about anything, she had at
first somewhat suffered from all this sombre luxury, in preparing which
Monsieur Rambaud had realized his ideal of comfort, much to the
admiration of his brother, who had declined the task. She was not long,
however, in feeling happy in a home in which, as in her heart, all was
sound and simple. Her only enjoyment during her long hours of work was
to gaze before her at the vast horizon, the huge pile of Paris,
stretching its roofs, like billows, as far as the eye could reach. Her
solitary corner overlooked all that immensity.

“Mamma, I can no longer see,” said Jeanne, seated near her on a low
chair. And then, dropping her work, the child gazed at Paris, which was
darkening over with the shadows of night. She rarely romped about, and
her mother even had to exert authority to induce her to go out. In
accordance with Doctor Bodin’s strict injunction, Hélène made her
stroll with her two hours each day in the Bois de Boulogne, and this
was their only promenade; in eighteen months they had not gone three
times into Paris.[*] Nowhere was Jeanne so evidently happy as in their
large blue room. Her mother had been obliged to renounce her intention
of having her taught music, for the sound of an organ in the silent
streets made her tremble and drew tears from her eyes. Her favorite
occupation was to assist her mother in sewing linen for the children of
the Abbé’s poor.

[*] Passy and the Trocadero are now well inside Paris, but at the time
fixed for this story they were beyond the _barrieres_.

Night had quite fallen when the lamp was brought in by Rosalie, who,
fresh from the glare of her range, looked altogether upset. Tuesday’s
dinner was the one event of the week, which put things topsy-turvy.

“Aren’t the gentlemen coming here to-night, madame?” she inquired.

Hélène looked at the timepiece: “It’s a quarter to seven; they will be
here soon,” she replied.

Rosalie was a gift from Abbé Jouve, who had met her at the station on
the day she arrived from Orleans, so that she did not know a single
street in Paris. A village priest, an old schoolmate of Abbé Jouve’s,
had sent her to him. She was dumpy and plump, with a round face under
her narrow cap, thick black hair, a flat nose, and deep red lips; and
she was expert in preparing savory dishes, having been brought up at
the parsonage by her godmother, servant to the village priest.

“Here is Monsieur Rambaud at last!” she exclaimed, rushing to open the
door before there was even a ring.

Full and broad-shouldered, Monsieur Rambaud entered, displaying an
expansive countenance like that of a country notary. His forty-five
years had already silvered his hair, but his large blue eyes retained a
wondering, artless, gentle expression, akin to a child’s.

“And here’s his reverence; everybody has come now!” resumed Rosalie, as
she opened the door once more.

Whilst Monsieur Rambaud pressed Hélène’s hand and sat down without
speaking, smiling like one who felt quite at home, Jeanne threw her
arms round the Abbé’s neck.

“Good-evening, dear friend,” said she. “I’ve been so ill!”

“So ill, my darling?”

The two men at once showed their anxiety, the Abbé especially. He was a
short, spare man, with a large head and awkward manners, and dressed in
the most careless way; but his eyes, usually half-closed, now opened to
their full extent, all aglow with exquisite tenderness. Jeanne
relinquished one of her hands to him, while she gave the other to
Monsieur Rambaud. Both held her and gazed at her with troubled looks.
Hélène was obliged to relate the story of her illness, and the Abbé was
on the point of quarrelling with her for not having warned him of it.
And then they each questioned her. “The attack was quite over now? She
had not had another, had she?” The mother smiled as she listened.

“You are even fonder of her than I am, and I think you’ll frighten me
in the end,” she replied. “No, she hasn’t been troubled again, except
that she has felt some pains in her limbs and had some headaches. But
we shall get rid of these very soon.”

The maid then entered to announce that dinner was ready.

The table, sideboard, and eight chairs furnishing the dining-room were
of mahogany. The curtains of red reps had been drawn close by Rosalie,
and a hanging lamp of white porcelain within a plain brass ring lighted
up the tablecloth, the carefully-arranged plates, and the tureen of
steaming soup. Each Tuesday’s dinner brought round the same remarks,
but on this particular day Dr. Deberle served naturally as a subject of
conversation. Abbé Jouve lauded him to the skies, though he knew that
he was no church-goer. He spoke of him, however, as a man of upright
character, charitable to a fault, a good father, and a good husband—in
fact, one who gave the best of examples to others. As for Madame
Deberle she was most estimable, in spite of her somewhat flighty ways,
which were doubtless due to her Parisian education. In a word, he
dubbed the couple charming. Hélène seemed happy to hear this; it
confirmed her own opinions; and the Abbé’s remarks determined her to
continue the acquaintance, which had at first rather frightened her.

“You shut yourself up too much!” declared the priest.

“No doubt,” echoed his brother.

Hélène beamed on them with her quiet smile, as though to say that they
themselves sufficed for all her wants, and that she dreaded new
acquaintances. However, ten o’clock struck at last, and the Abbé and
his brother took up their hats. Jeanne had just fallen asleep in an
easy-chair in the bedroom, and they bent over her, raising their heads
with satisfied looks as they observed how tranquilly she slumbered.
They stole from the room on tiptoe, and in the lobby whispered their
good-byes:

“Till next Tuesday!”

“O, by the way,” said the Abbé, returning a step or two, “I was
forgetting: Mother Fétu is ill. You should go to see her.”

“I will go to-morrow,” answered Hélène.

The Abbé had a habit of commissioning her to visit his poor. They
engaged in all sorts of whispered talk together on this subject,
private business which a word or two enabled them to settle together,
and which they never referred to in the presence of other persons.

On the morrow Hélène went out alone. She decided to leave Jeanne in the
house, as the child had been troubled with fits of shivering since
paying a visit of charity to an old man who had become paralyzed. Once
out of doors, she followed the Rue Vineuse, turned down the Rue
Raynouard, and soon found herself in the Passage des Eaux, a strange,
steep lane, like a staircase, pent between garden walls, and conducting
from the heights of Passy to the quay. At the bottom of this descent
was a dilapidated house, where Mother Fétu lived in an attic lighted by
a round window, and furnished with a wretched bed, a rickety table, and
a seatless chair.

“Oh! my good lady, my good lady!” she moaned out, directly she saw
Hélène enter.

The old woman was in bed. In spite of her wretchedness, her body was
plump, swollen out, as it were, while her face was puffy, and her hands
seemed numbed as she drew the tattered sheet over her. She had small,
keen eyes and a whimpering voice, and displayed a noisy humility in a
rush of words.

“Ah! my good lady, how I thank you! Ah, ah! oh, how I suffer! It’s just
as if dogs were tearing at my side. I’m sure I have a beast inside
me—see, just there! The skin isn’t broken; the complaint is internal.
But, oh! oh! the pain hasn’t ceased for two days past. Good Lord, how
is it possible to suffer so much? Ah, my good lady, thank you! You
don’t forget the poor. It will be taken into account up above; yes,
yes, it will be taken into account!”

Hélène had sat down. Noticing on the table a jug of warm _tisane_, she
filled a cup which was near at hand, and gave it to the sufferer. Near
the jug were placed a packet of sugar, two oranges, and some other
comfits.

“Has any one been to see you?” Hélène asked.

“Yes, yes,—a little lady. But she doesn’t know. That isn’t the sort of
stuff I need. Oh, if I could get a little meat! My next-door neighbor
would cook it for me. Oh! oh! this pain is something dreadful! A dog is
tearing at me—oh, if only I had some broth!”

In spite of the pains which were racking her limbs, she kept her sharp
eyes fixed on Hélène, who was now busy fumbling in her pocket, and on
seeing her visitor place a ten-franc piece on the table, she whimpered
all the more, and tried to rise to a sitting posture. Whilst
struggling, she extended her arm, and the money vanished, as she
repeated:

“Gracious Heaven! this is another frightful attack. Oh! oh! I cannot
stand such agony any longer! God will requite you, my good lady; I will
pray to Him to requite you. Bless my soul, how these pains shoot
through my whole body! His reverence Abbé Jouve promised me you would
come. It’s only you who know what I want. I am going to buy some meat.
But now the pain’s going down into my legs. Help me; I have no strength
left—none left at all!”

The old woman wished to turn over, and Hélène, drawing off her gloves,
gently took hold of her and placed her as she desired. As she was still
bending over her the door opened, and a flush of surprise mounted to
her cheeks as she saw Dr. Deberle entering. Did he also make visits to
which he never referred?

“It’s the doctor!” blurted out the old woman. “Oh! Heaven must bless
you both for being so good!”

The doctor bowed respectfully to Hélène. Mother Fétu had ceased whining
on his entrance, but kept up a sibilant wheeze, like that of a child in
pain. She had understood at once that the doctor and her benefactress
were known to one another; and her eyes never left them, but travelled
from one to the other, while her wrinkled face showed that her mind was
covertly working. The doctor put some questions to her, and sounded her
right side; then, turning to Hélène, who had just sat down, he said:

“She is suffering from hepatic colic. She will be on her feet again in
a few days.”

And, tearing from his memorandum book a leaf on which he had written
some lines, he added, addressing Mother Fétu:

“Listen to me. You must send this to the chemist in the Rue de Passy,
and every two hours you must drink a spoonful of the draught he will
give you.”

The old woman burst out anew into blessings. Hélène remained seated.
The doctor lingered gazing at her; but when their eyes had met, he
bowed and discreetly took his leave. He had not gone down a flight ere
Mother Fétu’s lamentations were renewed.

“Ah! he’s such a clever doctor! Ah! if his medicine could do me some
good! Dandelions and tallow make a good simple for removing water from
the body. Yes, yes, you can say you know a clever doctor. Have you
known him long? Gracious goodness, how thirsty I am! I feel burning
hot. He has a wife, hasn’t he? He deserves to have a good wife and
beautiful children. Indeed, it’s a pleasure to see kind-hearted people
good acquaintances.”

Hélène had risen to give her a drink.

“I must go now, Mother Fétu,” she said. “Good-bye till to-morrow.”

“Ah! how good you are! If I only had some linen! Look at my
chemise—it’s torn in half; and this bed is so dirty. But that doesn’t
matter. God will requite you, my good lady!”

Next day, on Hélène’s entering Mother Fétu’s room, she found Dr.
Deberle already there. Seated on the chair, he was writing out a
prescription, while the old woman rattled on with whimpering
volubility.

“Oh, sir, it now feels like lead in my side—yes, just like lead! It’s
as heavy as a hundred-pound weight, and prevents me from turning
round.”

Then, having caught sight of Hélène, she went on without a pause: “Ah!
here’s the good lady! I told the kind doctor you would come. Though the
heavens might fall, said I, you would come all the same. You’re a very
saint, an angel from paradise, and, oh! so beautiful that people might
fall on their knees in the streets to gaze on you as you pass! Dear
lady, I am no better; just now I have a heavy feeling here. Oh, I have
told the doctor what you did for me! The emperor could have done no
more. Yes, indeed, it would be a sin not to love you—a great sin.”

These broken sentences fell from her lips as, with eyes half closed,
she rolled her head on the bolster, the doctor meantime smiling at
Hélène, who felt very ill at ease.

“Mother Fétu,” she said softly, “I have brought you a little linen.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you; God will requite you! You’re just like this
kind, good gentleman, who does more good to poor folks than a host of
those who declare it their special work. You don’t know what great care
he has taken of me for four months past, supplying me with medicine and
broth and wine. One rarely finds a rich person so kind to a poor soul!
Oh, he’s another of God’s angels! Dear, dear, I seem to have quite a
house in my stomach!”

In his turn the doctor now seemed to be embarrassed. He rose and
offered his chair to Hélène; but although she had come with the
intention of remaining a quarter of an hour, she declined to sit down,
on the plea that she was in a great hurry.

Meanwhile, Mother Fétu, still rolling her head to and fro, had
stretched out her hand, and the parcel of linen had vanished in the
bed. Then she resumed:

“Oh, what a couple of good souls you are! I don’t wish to offend you; I
only say it because it’s true. When you have seen one, you have seen
the other. Oh, dear Lord! give me a hand and help me to turn round.
Kind-hearted people understand one another. Yes, yes, they understand
one another.”

“Good-bye, Mother Fétu,” said Hélène, leaving the doctor in sole
possession. “I don’t think I shall call to-morrow.”

The next day, however, found her in the attic again. The old woman was
sound asleep, but scarcely had she opened her eyes and recognized
Hélène in her black dress sitting on the chair than she exclaimed:

“He has been here—oh, I really don’t know what he gave me to take, but
I am as stiff as a stick. We were talking about you. He asked me all
kinds of questions; whether you were generally sad, and whether your
look was always the same. Oh, he’s such a good man!”

Her words came more slowly, and she seemed to be waiting to see by the
expression of Hélène’s face what effect her remarks might have on her,
with that wheedling, anxious air of the poor who are desirous of
pleasing people. No doubt she fancied she could detect a flush of
displeasure mounting to her benefactress’s brow, for her huge,
puffed-up face, all eagerness and excitement, suddenly clouded over;
and she resumed, in stammering accents:

“I am always asleep. Perhaps I have been poisoned. A woman in the Rue
de l’Annonciation was killed by a drug which the chemist gave her in
mistake for another.”

That day Hélène lingered for nearly half an hour in Mother Fétu’s room,
hearing her talk of Normandy, where she had been born, and where the
milk was so good. During a silence she asked the old woman carelessly:
“Have you known the doctor a long time?”

Mother Fétu, lying on her back, half-opened her eyes and again closed
them.

“Oh, yes!” she answered, almost in a whisper. “For instance, his father
attended to me before ’48, and he accompanied him then.”

“I have been told the father was a very good man.”

“Yes, but a little cracked. The son is much his superior. When he
touches you you would think his hands were of velvet.”

Silence again fell.

“I advise you to do everything he tells you,” at last said Hélène. “He
is very clever; he saved my daughter.”

“To be sure!” exclaimed Mother Fétu, again all excitement. “People
ought to have confidence in him. Why, he brought a boy to life again
when he was going to be buried! Oh, there aren’t two persons like him;
you won’t stop me from saying that! I am very lucky; I fall in with the
pick of good-hearted people. I thank the gracious Lord for it every
night. I don’t forget either of you. You are mingled together in my
prayers. May God in His goodness shield you and grant your every wish!
May He load you with His gifts! May He keep you a place in Paradise!”

She was now sitting up in bed with hands clasped, seemingly entreating
Heaven with devout fervor. Hélène allowed her to go on thus for a
considerable time, and even smiled. The old woman’s chatter, in fact,
ended by lulling her into a pleasant drowsiness, and when she went off
she promised to give her a bonnet and gown, as soon as she should be
able to get about again.

Throughout that week Hélène busied herself with Mother Fétu. Her
afternoon visit became an item in her daily life. She felt a strange
fondness for the Passage des Eaux. She liked that steep lane for its
coolness and quietness and its ever-clean pavement, washed on rainy
days by the water rushing down from the heights. A strange sensation
thrilled her as she stood at the top and looked at the narrow alley
with its steep declivity, usually deserted, and only known to the few
inhabitants of the neighboring streets. Then she would venture through
an archway dividing a house fronting the Rue Raynouard, and trip down
the seven flights of broad steps, in which lay the bed of a pebbly
stream occupying half of the narrow way. The walls of the gardens on
each side bulged out, coated with a grey, leprous growth; umbrageous
trees drooped over, foliage rained down, here and there an ivy plant
thickly mantled the stonework, and the chequered verdure, which only
left glimpses of the blue sky above, made the light very soft and
greeny. Halfway down Hélène would stop to take breath, gazing at the
street-lamp which hung there, and listening to the merry laughter in
the gardens, whose doors she had never seen open. At times an old woman
panted up with the aid of the black, shiny, iron handrail fixed in the
wall to the right; a lady would come, leaning on her parasol as on a
walking-stick; or a band of urchins would run down, with a great
stamping of feet. But almost always Hélène found herself alone, and
this steep, secluded, shady descent was to her a veritable delight—like
a path in the depths of a forest. At the bottom she would raise her
eyes, and the sight of the narrow, precipitous alley she had just
descended made her feel somewhat frightened.

She glided into the old woman’s room with the quiet and coolness of the
Passage des Eaux clinging to her garments. This woefully wretched den
no longer affected her painfully. She moved about there as if in her
own rooms, opening the round attic window to admit the fresh air, and
pushing the table into a corner if it came in her way. The garret’s
bareness, its whitewashed walls and rickety furniture, realized to her
mind an existence whose simplicity she had sometimes dreamt of in her
girlhood. But what especially charmed her was the kindly emotion she
experienced there. Playing the part of sick nurse, hearing the constant
bewailing of the old woman, all she saw and felt within the four walls
left her quivering with deep pity. In the end she awaited with evident
impatience Doctor Deberle’s customary visit. She questioned him as to
Mother Fétu’s condition; but from this they glided to other subjects,
as they stood near each other, face to face. A closer acquaintance was
springing up between them, and they were surprised to find they
possessed similar tastes. They understood one another without speaking
a word, each heart engulfed in the same overflowing charity. Nothing to
Hélène seemed sweeter than this mutual feeling, which arose in such an
unusual way, and to which she yielded without resistance, filled as she
was with divine pity. At first she had felt somewhat afraid of the
doctor; in her own drawing-room she would have been cold and
distrustful, in harmony with her nature. Here, however, in this garret
they were far from the world, sharing the one chair, and almost happy
in the midst of the wretchedness and poverty which filled their souls
with emotion. A week passed, and they knew one another as though they
had been intimate for years. Mother Fétu’s miserable abode was filled
with sunshine, streaming from this fellowship of kindliness.

The old woman grew better very slowly. The doctor was surprised, and
charged her with coddling herself when she related that she now felt a
dreadful weight in her legs. She always kept up her monotonous moaning,
lying on her back and rolling her head to and fro; but she closed her
eyes, as though to give her visitors an opportunity for unrestrained
talk. One day she was to all appearance sound asleep, but beneath their
lids her little black eyes continued watching. At last, however, she
had to rise from her bed; and next day Hélène presented her with the
promised bonnet and gown. When the doctor made his appearance that
afternoon the old woman’s laggard memory seemed suddenly stirred.
“Gracious goodness!” said she, “I’ve forgotten my neighbor’s soup-pot;
I promised to attend to it!”

Then she disappeared, closing the door behind her and leaving the
couple alone. They did not notice that they were shut in, but continued
their conversation. The doctor urged Hélène to spend the afternoon
occasionally in his garden in the Rue Vineuse.

“My wife,” said he, “must return your visit, and she will in person
repeat my invitation. It would do your daughter good.”

“But I don’t refuse,” she replied, laughing. “I do not require to be
fetched with ceremony. Only—only—I am afraid of being indiscreet. At
any rate, we will see.”

Their talk continued, but at last the doctor exclaimed in a tone of
surprise: “Where on earth can Mother Fétu have gone? It must be a
quarter of an hour since she went to see after her neighbor’s
soup-pot.”

Hélène then saw that the door was shut, but it did not shock her at the
moment. She continued to talk of Madame Deberle, of whom she spoke
highly to her husband; but noticing that the doctor constantly glanced
towards the door, she at last began to feel uncomfortable.

“It’s very strange that she does not come back!” she remarked in her
turn.

Their conversation then dropped. Hélène, not knowing what to do, opened
the window; and when she turned round they avoided looking at one
another. The laughter of children came in through the circular window,
which, with its bit of blue sky, seemed like a full round moon. They
could not have been more alone—concealed from all inquisitive looks,
with merely this bit of heaven gazing in on them. The voices of the
children died away in the distance; and a quivering silence fell. No
one would dream of finding them in that attic, out of the world. Their
confusion grew apace, and in the end Hélène, displeased with herself,
gave the doctor a steady glance.

“I have a great many visits to pay yet,” he at once exclaimed. “As she
doesn’t return, I must leave.”

He quitted the room, and Hélène then sat down. Immediately afterwards
Mother Fétu returned with many protestations:

“Oh! oh! I can scarcely crawl; such a faintness came over me! Has the
dear good doctor gone? Well, to be sure, there’s not much comfort here!
Oh, you are both angels from heaven, coming to spend your time with one
so unfortunate as myself! But God in His goodness will requite you. The
pain has gone down into my feet to-day, and I had to sit down on a
step. Oh, I should like to have some chairs! If I only had an
easy-chair! My mattress is so vile too that I am quite ashamed when you
come. The whole place is at your disposal, and I would throw myself
into the fire if you required it. Yes. Heaven knows it; I always repeat
it in my prayers! Oh, kind Lord, grant their utmost desires to these
good friends of mine—in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost!”

As Hélène listened she experienced a singular feeling of discomfort.
Mother Fétu’s bloated face filled her with disgust. Never before in
this stifling attic had she been affected in a like way; its sordid
misery seemed to stare her in the face; the lack of fresh air, the
surrounding wretchedness, quite sickened her. So she made all haste to
leave, feeling hurt by the blessings which Mother Fétu poured after
her.

In the Passage des Eaux an additional sorrow came upon her. Halfway up,
on the right-hand side of the path, the wall was hollowed out, and here
there was an excavation, some disused well, enclosed by a railing.
During the last two days when passing she had heard the wailings of a
cat rising from this well, and now, as she slowly climbed the path,
these wailings were renewed, but so pitifully that they seemed instinct
with the agony of death. The thought that the poor brute, thrown into
the disused well, was slowly dying there of hunger, quite rent Hélène’s
heart. She hastened her steps, resolving that she would not venture
down this lane again for a long time, lest the cat’s death-call should
reach her ears.

The day was a Tuesday. In the evening, on the stroke of seven, as
Hélène was finishing a tiny bodice, the two wonted rings at the bell
were heard, and Rosalie opened the door.

“His reverence is first to-night!” she exclaimed. “Oh, here comes
Monsieur Rambaud too!”

They were very merry at dinner. Jeanne was nearly well again now, and
the two brothers, who spoiled her, were successful in procuring her
permission to eat some salad, of which she was excessively fond,
notwithstanding Doctor Bodin’s formal prohibition. When she was going
to bed, the child in high spirits hung round her mother’s neck and
pleaded:

“Oh! mamma, darling! let me go with you to-morrow to see the old woman
you nurse!”

But the Abbé and Monsieur Rambaud were the first to scold her for
thinking of such a thing. They would not hear of her going amongst the
poor, as the sight affected her too grieviously. The last time she had
been on such an expedition she had twice swooned, and for three days
her eyes had been swollen with tears, that had flowed even in her
sleep.

“Oh! I will be good!” she pleaded. “I won’t cry, I promise.”

“It is quite useless, my darling,” said her mother, caressing her. “The
old woman is well now. I shall not go out any more; I’ll stay all day
with you!”



 CHAPTER IV.


During the following week Madame Deberle paid a return visit to Madame
Grandjean, and displayed an affability that bordered on affection.

“You know what you promised me,” she said, on the threshold, as she was
going off. “The first fine day we have, you must come down to the
garden, and bring Jeanne with you. It is the doctor’s strict
injunction.”

“Very well,” Hélène answered, with a smile, “it is understood; we will
avail ourselves of your kindness.”

Three days later, on a bright February afternoon, she accompanied her
daughter down to the garden. The porter opened the door connecting the
two houses. At the near end of the garden, in a kind of greenhouse
built somewhat in the style of a Japanese pavilion, they found Madame
Deberle and her sister Pauline, both idling away their time, for some
embroidery, thrown on the little table, lay there neglected.

“Oh, how good of you to come!” cried Juliette. “You must sit down here.
Pauline, move that table away! It is still rather cool you know to sit
out of doors, but from this pavilion we can keep a watch on the
children. Now, little ones, run away and play; but take care not to
fall!”

The large door of the pavilion stood open, and on each side were
portable mirrors, whose covers had been removed so that they allowed
one to view the garden’s expanse as from the threshold of a tent. The
garden, with a green sward in the centre, flanked by beds of flowers,
was separated from the Rue Vineuse by a plain iron railing, but against
this grew a thick green hedge, which prevented the curious from gazing
in. Ivy, clematis, and woodbine clung and wound around the railings,
and behind this first curtain of foliage came a second one of lilacs
and laburnums. Even in the winter the ivy leaves and the close network
of branches sufficed to shut off the view. But the great charm of the
garden lay in its having at the far end a few lofty trees, some
magnificent elms, which concealed the grimy wall of a five-story house.
Amidst all the neighboring houses these trees gave the spot the aspect
of a nook in some park, and seemed to increase the dimensions of this
little Parisian garden, which was swept like a drawing-room. Between
two of the elms hung a swing, the seat of which was green with damp.

Hélène leaned forward the better to view the scene.

“Oh, it is a hole!” exclaimed Madame Deberle carelessly. “Still, trees
are so rare in Paris that one is happy in having half a dozen of one’s
own.”

“No, no, you have a very pleasant place,” murmured Hélène.

The sun filled the pale atmosphere that day with a golden dust, its
rays streaming slowly through the leafless branches of the trees. These
assumed a ruddier tint, and you could see the delicate purple gems
softening the cold grey of the bark. On the lawn and along the walks
the grass and gravel glittered amidst the haze that seemed to ooze from
the ground. No flower was in blossom; only the happy flush which the
sunshine cast upon the soil revealed the approach of spring.

“At this time of year it is rather dull,” resumed Madame Deberle. “In
June it is as cozy as a nest; the trees prevent any one from looking
in, and we enjoy perfect privacy.” At this point she paused to call:
“Lucien, you must come away from that watertap!”

The lad, who was doing the honors of the garden, had led Jeanne towards
a tap under the steps. Here he had turned on the water, which he
allowed to splash on the tips of his boots. It was a game that he
delighted in. Jeanne, with grave face, looked on while he wetted his
feet.

“Wait a moment!” said Pauline, rising. “I’ll go and stop his nonsense!”

But Juliette held her back.

“You’ll do no such thing; you are even more of a madcap than he is. The
other day both of you looked as if you had taken a bath. How is it that
a big girl like you cannot remain two minutes seated? Lucien!” she
continued directing her eyes on her son, “turn off the water at once!”

The child, in his fright, made an effort to obey her. But instead of
turning the tap off, he turned it on all the more, and the water gushed
forth with a force and a noise that made him lose his head. He
recoiled, splashed up to the shoulders.

“Turn off the water at once!” again ordered his mother, whose cheeks
were flushing with anger.

Jeanne, hitherto silent, then slowly, and with the greatest caution,
ventured near the tap; while Lucien burst into loud sobbing at sight of
this cold stream, which terrified him, and which he was powerless to
stop. Carefully drawing her skirt between her legs, Jeanne stretched
out her bare hands so as not to wet her sleeves, and closed the tap
without receiving a sprinkle. The flow instantly ceased. Lucien,
astonished and inspired with respect, dried his tears and gazed with
swollen eyes at the girl.

“Oh, that child puts me beside myself!” exclaimed Madame Deberle, her
complexion regaining its usual pallor, while she stretched herself out,
as though wearied to death.

Hélène deemed it right to intervene. “Jeanne,” she called, “take his
hand, and amuse yourselves by walking up and down.”

Jeanne took hold of Lucien’s hand, and both gravely paced the paths
with little steps. She was much taller than her companion, who had to
stretch his arm up towards her; but this solemn amusement, which
consisted in a ceremonious circuit of the lawn, appeared to absorb them
and invest them with a sense of great importance. Jeanne, like a
genuine lady, gazed about, preoccupied with her own thoughts; Lucien
every now and then would venture a glance at her; but not a word was
said by either.

“How droll they are!” said Madame Deberle, smiling, and again at her
ease. “I must say that your Jeanne is a dear, good child. She is so
obedient, so well behaved—”

“Yes, when she is in the company of others,” broke in Hélène. “She is a
great trouble at times. Still, she loves me, and does her best to be
good so as not to vex me.”

Then they spoke of children; how girls were more precocious than boys;
though it would be wrong to deduce too much from Lucien’s unintelligent
face. In another year he would doubtless lose all his gawkiness and
become quite a gallant. Finally, Madame Deberle resumed her embroidery,
making perhaps two stitches in a minute. Hélène, who was only happy
when busy, begged permission to bring her work the next time she came.
She found her companions somewhat dull, and whiled away the time in
examining the Japanese pavilion. The walls and ceiling were hidden by
tapestry worked in gold, with designs showing bright cranes in full
flight, butterflies, and flowers and views in which blue ships were
tossing upon yellow rivers. Chairs, and ironwood flower-stands were
scattered about; on the floor some fine mats were spread; while the
lacquered furnishings were littered with trinkets, small bronzes and
vases, and strange toys painted in all the hues of the rainbow. At the
far end stood a grotesque idol in Dresden china, with bent legs and
bare, protruding stomach, which at the least movement shook its head
with a terrible and amusing look.

“Isn’t it horribly ugly?” asked Pauline, who had been watching Hélène
as she glanced round. “I say, sister, you know that all these purchases
of yours are so much rubbish! Malignon calls your Japanese museum ‘the
sixpenny bazaar.’ Oh, by the way, talking of him, I met him. He was
with a lady, and such a lady—Florence, of the Varietes Theatre.”

“Where was it?” asked Juliette immediately. “How I shall tease him!”

“On the boulevards. He’s coming here to-day, is he not?”

She was not vouchsafed any reply. The ladies had all at once become
uneasy owing to the disappearance of the children, and called to them.
However, two shrill voices immediately answered:

“We are here!”

Half hidden by a spindle tree, they were sitting on the grass in the
middle of the lawn.

“What are you about?”

“We have put up at an inn,” answered Lucien. “We are resting in our
room.”

Greatly diverted, the women watched them for a time. Jeanne seemed
quite contented with the game. She was cutting the grass around her,
doubtless with the intention of preparing breakfast. A piece of wood,
picked up among the shrubs, represented a trunk. And now they were
talking. Jeanne, with great conviction in her tone, was declaring that
they were in Switzerland, and that they would set out to see the
glaciers, which rather astonished Lucien.

“Ha, here he is!” suddenly exclaimed Pauline.

Madame Deberle turned, and caught sight of Malignon descending the
steps. He had scarcely time to make his bow and sit down before she
attacked him.

“Oh,” she said, “it is nice of you to go about everywhere saying that I
have nothing but rubbishy ornaments about me!”

“You mean this little saloon of yours? Oh yes,” said he, quite at his
ease. “You haven’t anything worth looking at here!”

“What! not my china figure?” she asked, quite hurt.

“No, no, everything is quite _bourgeois_. It is necessary for a person
to have some taste. You wouldn’t allow me to select the things—”

“Your taste, forsooth! just talk about your taste!” she retorted,
flushing crimson and feeling quite angry. “You have been seen with a
lady—”

“What lady?” he asked, surprised by the violence of the attack.

“A fine choice, indeed! I compliment you on it. A girl whom the whole
of Paris knows—”

She suddenly paused, remembering Pauline’s presence.

“Pauline,” she said, “go into the garden for a minute.”

“Oh no,” retorted the girl indignantly. “It’s so tiresome; I’m always
being sent out of the way.”

“Go into the garden,” repeated Juliette, with increased severity in her
tone.

The girl stalked off with a sullen look, but stopped all at once, to
exclaim: “Well, then, be quick over your talk!”

As soon as she was gone, Madame Deberle returned to the charge. “How
can you, a gentleman, show yourself in public with that actress
Florence? She is at least forty. She is ugly enough to frighten one,
and all the gentlemen in the stalls thee and thou her on first nights.”

“Have you finished?” called out Pauline, who was strolling sulkily
under the trees. “I’m not amusing myself here, you know.”

Malignon, however, defended himself. He had no knowledge of this girl
Florence; he had never in his life spoken a word to her. They had
possibly seen him with a lady: he was sometimes in the company of the
wife of a friend of his. Besides, who had seen him? He wanted proofs,
witnesses.

“Pauline,” hastily asked Madame Deberle, raising her voice, “did you
not meet him with Florence?”

“Yes, certainly,” replied her sister. “I met them on the boulevards
opposite Bignon’s.”

Thereupon, glorying in her victory over Malignon, whose face wore an
embarrassed smile, Madame Deberle called out: “You can come back,
Pauline; I have finished.”

Malignon, who had a box at the Folies-Dramatiques for the following
night, now gallantly placed it at Madame Deberle’s service, apparently
not feeling the slightest ill-will towards her; moreover, they were
always quarreling. Pauline wished to know if she might go to see the
play that was running, and as Malignon laughed and shook his head, she
declared it was very silly; authors ought to write plays fit for girls
to see. She was only allowed such entertainments as _La Dame Blanche_
and the classic drama could offer.

Meantime, the ladies had ceased watching the children, and all at once
Lucien began to raise terrible shrieks.

“What have you done to him, Jeanne?” asked Hélène.

“I have done nothing, mamma,” answered the little girl. “He has thrown
himself on the ground.”

The truth was, the children had just set out for the famous glaciers.
As Jeanne pretended that they were reaching the mountains, they had
lifted their feet very high, as though to step over the rocks. Lucien,
however, quite out of breath with his exertions, at last made a false
step, and fell sprawling in the middle of an imaginary ice-field.
Disgusted, and furious with child-like rage, he no sooner found himself
on the ground than he burst into tears.

“Lift him up,” called Hélène.

“He won’t let me, mamma. He is rolling about.”

And so saying, Jeanne drew back, as though exasperated and annoyed by
such a display of bad breeding. He did not know how to play; he would
certainly cover her with dirt. Her mouth curled, as though she were a
duchess compromising herself by such companionship. Thereupon Madame
Deberle, irritated by Lucien’s continued wailing, requested her sister
to pick him up and coax him into silence. Nothing loth, Pauline ran,
cast herself down beside the child, and for a moment rolled on the
ground with him. He struggled with her, unwilling to be lifted, but she
at last took him up by the arms, and to appease him, said, “Stop
crying, you noisy fellow; we’ll have a swing!”

Lucien at once closed his lips, while Jeanne’s solemn looks vanished,
and a gleam of ardent delight illumined her face. All three ran towards
the swing, but it was Pauline who took possession of the seat.

“Push, push!” she urged the children; and they pushed with all the
force of their tiny hands; but she was heavy, and they could scarcely
stir the swing.

“Push!” she urged again. “Oh, the big sillies, they can’t!”

In the pavilion, Madame Deberle had just felt a slight chill. Despite
the bright sunshine she thought it rather cold, and she requested
Malignon to hand her a white cashmere burnous that was hanging from the
handle of a window fastening. Malignon rose to wrap the burnous round
her shoulders, and they began chatting familiarly on matters which had
little interest for Hélène. Feeling fidgety, fearing that Pauline might
unwittingly knock the children down, she therefore stepped into the
garden, leaving Juliette and the young man to wrangle over some new
fashion in bonnets which apparently deeply interested them.

Jeanne no sooner saw her mother than she ran towards her with a
wheedling smile, and entreaty in every gesture. “Oh, mamma, mamma!” she
implored. “Oh, mamma!”

“No, no, you mustn’t!” replied Hélène, who understood her meaning very
well. “You know you have been forbidden.”

Swinging was Jeanne’s greatest delight. She would say that she believed
herself a bird; the breeze blowing in her face, the lively rush through
the air, the continued swaying to and fro in a motion as rythmic as the
beating of a bird’s wings, thrilled her with an exquisite pleasure; in
her ascent towards cloudland she imagined herself on her way to heaven.
But it always ended in some mishap. On one occasion she had been found
clinging to the ropes of the swing in a swoon, her large eyes wide
open, fixed in a vacant stare; at another time she had fallen to the
ground, stiff, like a swallow struck by a shot.

“Oh, mamma!” she implored again. “Only a little, a very, very little!”

In the end her mother, in order to win peace, placed her on the seat.
The child’s face lit up with an angelic smile, and her bare wrists
quivered with joyous expectancy. Hélène swayed her very gently.

“Higher, mamma, higher!” she murmured.

But Hélène paid no heed to her prayer, and retained firm hold of the
rope. She herself was glowing all over, her cheeks flushed, and she
thrilled with excitement at every push she gave to the swing. Her
wonted sedateness vanished as she thus became her daughter’s playmate.

“That will do,” she declared after a time, taking Jeanne in her arms.

“Oh, mamma, you must swing now!” the child whispered, as she clung to
her neck.

She took a keen delight in seeing her mother flying through the air; as
she said, her pleasure was still more intense in gazing at her than in
having a swing herself. Hélène, however, asked her laughingly who would
push her; when she went in for swinging, it was a serious matter; why,
she went higher than the treetops! While she was speaking it happened
that Monsieur Rambaud made his appearance under the guidance of the
doorkeeper. He had met Madame Deberle in Hélène’s rooms, and thought he
would not be deemed presuming in presenting himself here when unable to
find her. Madame Deberle proved very gracious, pleased as she was with
the good-natured air of the worthy man; however, she soon returned to a
lively discussion with Malignon.

“_Bon ami_[*] will push you, mamma! _Bon ami_ will push you!” Jeanne
called out, as she danced round her mother.

[*] Literally “good friend;” but there is no proper equivalent for the
expression in English.

“Be quiet! We are not at home!” said her mother with mock gravity.

“Bless me! if it will please you, I am at your disposal,” exclaimed
Monsieur Rambaud. “When people are in the country—”

Hélène let herself be persuaded. When a girl she had been accustomed to
swing for hours, and the memory of those vanished pleasures created a
secret craving to taste them once more. Moreover, Pauline, who had sat
down with Lucien at the edge of the lawn, intervened with the boldness
of a girl freed from the trammels of childhood.

“Of course he will push you, and he will swing me after you. Won’t you,
sir?”

This determined Hélène. The youth which dwelt within her, in spite of
the cold demureness of her great beauty, displayed itself in a
charming, ingenuous fashion. She became a thorough school-girl,
unaffected and gay. There was no prudishness about her. She laughingly
declared that she must not expose her legs, and asked for some cord to
tie her skirts securely round her ankles. That done, she stood upright
on the swing, her arms extended and clinging to the ropes.

“Now, push, Monsieur Rambaud,” she exclaimed delightedly. “But gently
at first!”

Monsieur Rambaud had hung his hat on the branch of a tree. His broad,
kindly face beamed with a fatherly smile. First he tested the strength
of the ropes, and, giving a look at the trees, determined to give a
slight push. That day Hélène had for the first time abandoned her
widow’s weeds; she was wearing a grey dress set off with mauve bows.
Standing upright, she began to swing, almost touching the ground, and
as if rocking herself to sleep.

“Quicker! quicker!” she exclaimed.

Monsieur Rambaud, with his hands ready, caught the seat as it came back
to him, and gave it a more vigorous push. Hélène went higher, each
ascent taking her farther. However, despite the motion, she did not
lose her sedateness; she retained almost an austre demeanor; her eyes
shone very brightly in her beautiful, impassive face; her nostrils only
were inflated, as though to drink in the air.

Not a fold of her skirts was out of place, but a plait of her hair
slipped down.

“Quicker! quicker!” she called.

An energetic push gave her increased impetus. Up in the sunshine she
flew, even higher and higher. A breeze sprung up with her motion, and
blew through the garden; her flight was so swift that they could
scarcely distinguish her figure aright. Her face was now all smiles,
and flushed with a rosy red, while her eyes sparkled here, then there,
like shooting stars. The loosened plait of hair rustled against her
neck. Despite the cords which bound them, her skirts now waved about,
and you could divine that she was at her ease, her bosom heaving in its
free enjoyment as though the air were indeed her natural place.

“Quicker! quicker!”

Monsieur Rambaud, his face red and bedewed with perspiration, exerted
all his strength. A cry rang out. Hélène went still higher.

“Oh, mamma! Oh, mamma!” repeated Jeanne in her ecstasy.

She was sitting on the lawn gazing at her mother, her little hands
clasped on her bosom, looking as though she herself had drunk in all
the air that was stirring. Her breath failed her; with a rythmical
movement of the shoulders she kept time with the long strokes of the
swing. And she cried, “Quicker! quicker!” while her mother still went
higher, her feet grazing the lofty branches of the trees.

“Higher, mamma! oh, higher, mamma!”

But Hélène was already in the very heavens. The trees bent and cracked
as beneath a gale. Her skirts, which were all they could see, flapped
with a tempestuous sound. When she came back with arms stretched out
and bosom distended she lowered her head slightly and for a moment
hovered; but then she rose again and sank backwards, her head tilted,
her eyes closed, as though she had swooned. These ascensions and
descents which made her giddy were delightful. In her flight she
entered into the sunshine—the pale yellow February sunshine that rained
down like golden dust. Her chestnut hair gleamed with amber tints; and
a flame seemed to have leaped up around her, as the mauve bows on her
whitening dress flashed like burning flowers. Around her the springtide
was maturing into birth, and the purple-tinted gems of the trees showed
like delicate lacquer against the blue sky.

Jeanne clasped her hands. Her mother seemed to her a saint with a
golden glory round her head, winging her way to paradise, and she again
stammered: “Oh, mamma! oh! mamma!”

Madame Deberle and Malignon had now grown interested, and had stepped
under the trees. Malignon declared the lady to be very bold.

“I should faint, I’m sure,” said Madame Deberle, with a frightened air.

Hélène heard them, for she dropped these words from among the branches:
“Oh, my heart is all right! Give a stronger push, Monsieur Rambaud!”

And indeed her voice betrayed no emotion. She seemed to take no heed of
the two men who were onlookers. They were doubtless nothing to her. Her
tress of hair had become entangled, and the cord that confined her
skirts must have given way, for the drapery flapped in the wind like a
flag. She was going still higher.

All at once, however, the exclamation rang out:

“Enough, Monsieur Rambaud, enough!”

Doctor Deberle had just appeared on the house steps. He came forward,
embraced his wife tenderly, took up Lucien and kissed his brow. Then he
gazed at Hélène with a smile.

“Enough, enough!” she still continued exclaiming.

“Why?” asked he. “Do I disturb you?”

She made no answer; a look of gravity had suddenly come over her face.
The swing, still continuing its rapid flights, owing to the impetus
given to it, would not stop, but swayed to and fro with a regular
motion which still bore Hélène to a great height. The doctor, surprised
and charmed, beheld her with admiration; she looked so superb, so tall
and strong, with the pure figure of an antique statue whilst swinging
thus gently amid the spring sunshine. But she seemed annoyed, and all
at once leaped down.

“Stop! stop!” they all cried out.

From Hélène’s lips came a dull moan; she had fallen upon the gravel of
a pathway, and her efforts to rise were fruitless.

“Good heavens!” exclaimed the doctor, his face turning very pale. “How
imprudent!”

They all crowded round her. Jeanne began weeping so bitterly that
Monsieur Rambaud, with his heart in his mouth, was compelled to take
her in his arms. The doctor, meanwhile, eagerly questioned Hélène.

“Is it the right leg you fell on? Cannot you stand upright?” And as she
remained dazed, without answering, he asked: “Do you suffer?”

“Yes, here at the knee; a dull pain,” she answered, with difficulty.

He at once sent his wife for his medicine case and some bandages, and
repeated:

“I must see, I must see. No doubt it is a mere nothing.”

He knelt down on the gravel and Hélène let him do so; but all at once
she struggled to her feet and said: “No, no!”

“But I must examine the place,” he said.

A slight quiver stole over her, and she answered in a yet lower tone:

“It is not necessary. It is nothing at all.”

He looked at her, at first astounded. Her neck was flushing red; for a
moment their eyes met, and seemed to read each other’s soul; he was
disconcerted, and slowly rose, remaining near her, but without pressing
her further.

Hélène had signed to Monsieur Rambaud. “Fetch Doctor Bodin,” she
whispered in his ear, “and tell him what has happened to me.”

Ten minutes later, when Doctor Bodin made his appearance, she, with
superhuman courage, regained her feet, and leaning on him and Monsieur
Rambaud, contrived to return home. Jeanne followed, quivering with
sobs.

“I shall wait,” said Doctor Deberle to his brother physician. “Come
down and remove our fears.”

In the garden a lively colloquy ensued. Malignon was of opinion that
women had queer ideas. Why on earth had that lady been so foolish as to
jump down? Pauline, excessively provoked at this accident, which
deprived her of a pleasure, declared it was silly to swing so high. On
his side Doctor Deberle did not say a word, but seemed anxious.

“It is nothing serious,” said Doctor Bodin, as he came down again—“only
a sprain. Still, she will have to keep to an easy-chair for at least a
fortnight.”

Thereupon Monsieur Deberle gave a friendly slap on Malignon’s shoulder.
He wished his wife to go in, as it was really becoming too cold. For
his own part, taking Lucien in his arms, he carried him into the house,
covering him with kisses the while.



 CHAPTER V.


Both windows of the bedroom were wide open, and in the depths below the
house, which was perched on the very summit of the hill, lay Paris,
rolling away in a mighty flat expanse. Ten o’clock struck; the lovely
February morning had all the sweetness and perfume of spring.

Hélène reclined in an invalid chair, reading in front of one of the
windows, her knee still in bandages. She suffered no pain; but she had
been confined to her room for a week past, unable even to take up her
customary needlework. Not knowing what to do, she had opened a book
which she had found on the table—she, who indulged in little or no
reading at any time. This book was the one she used every night as a
shade for the night-lamp, the only volume which she had taken within
eighteen months from the small but irreproachable library selected by
Monsieur Rambaud. Novels usually seemed to her false to life and
puerile; and this one, Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe,” had at first
wearied her to death. However, a strange curiosity had grown upon her,
and she was finishing it, at times affected to tears, and at times
rather bored, when she would let it slip from her hand for long minutes
and gaze fixedly at the far-stretching horizon.

That morning Paris awoke from sleep with a smiling indolence. A mass of
vapor, following the valley of the Seine, shrouded the two banks from
view. This mist was light and milky, and the sun, gathering strength,
was slowly tinging it with radiance. Nothing of the city was
distinguishable through this floating muslin. In the hollows the haze
thickened and assumed a bluish tint; while over certain broad expanses
delicate transparencies appeared, a golden dust, beneath which you
could divine the depths of the streets; and up above domes and steeples
rent the mist, rearing grey outlines to which clung shreds of the haze
which they had pierced. At times cloudlets of yellow smoke would, like
giant birds, heavy of wing, slowly soar on high, and then mingle with
the atmosphere which seemed to absorb them. And above all this
immensity, this mass of cloud, hanging in slumber over Paris, a sky of
extreme purity, of a faint and whitening blue, spread out its mighty
vault. The sun was climbing the heavens, scattering a spray of soft
rays; a pale golden light, akin in hue to the flaxen tresses of a
child, was streaming down like rain, filling the atmosphere with the
warm quiver of its sparkle. It was like a festival of the infinite,
instinct with sovereign peacefulness and gentle gaiety, whilst the
city, chequered with golden beams, still remained lazy and sleepy,
unwilling to reveal itself by casting off its coverlet of lace.

For eight days it had been Hélène’s diversion to gaze on that mighty
expanse of Paris, and she never wearied of doing so. It was as
unfathomable and varying as the ocean—fair in the morning, ruddy with
fire at night, borrowing all the joys and sorrows of the heavens
reflected in its depths. A flash of sunshine came, and it would roll in
waves of gold; a cloud would darken it and raise a tempest. Its aspect
was ever changing. A complete calm would fall, and all would assume an
orange hue; gusts of wind would sweep by from time to time, and turn
everything livid; in keen, bright weather there would be a shimmer of
light on every housetop; whilst when showers fell, blurring both heaven
and earth, all would be plunged in chaotic confusion. At her window
Hélène experienced all the hopes and sorrows that pertain to the open
sea. As the keen wind blew in her face she imagined it wafted a saline
fragrance; even the ceaseless noise of the city seemed to her like that
of a surging tide beating against a rocky cliff.

The book fell from her hands. She was dreaming, with a far-away look in
her eyes. When she stopped reading thus it was from a desire to linger
and understand what she had already perused. She took a delight in
denying her curiosity immediate satisfaction. The tale filled her soul
with a tempest of emotion. Paris that morning was displaying the same
vague joy and sorrow as that which disturbed her heart. In this lay a
great charm—to be ignorant, to guess things dimly, to yield to slow
initiation, with the vague thought that her youth was beginning again.

How full of lies were novels! She was assuredly right in not reading
them. They were mere fables, good for empty heads with no proper
conception of life. Yet she remained entranced, dreaming unceasingly of
the knight Ivanhoe, loved so passionately by two women—Rebecca, the
beautiful Jewess, and the noble Lady Rowena. She herself thought she
could have loved with the intensity and patient serenity of the latter
maiden. To love! to love! She did not utter the words, but they
thrilled her through and through in the very thought, astonishing her,
and irradiating her face with a smile. In the distance some fleecy
cloudlets, driven by the breeze, now floated over Paris like a flock of
swans. Huge gaps were being cleft in the fog; a momentary glimpse was
given of the left bank, indistinct and clouded, like a city of fairydom
seen in a dream; but suddenly a thick curtain of mist swept down, and
the fairy city was engulfed, as though by an inundation. And then the
vapors, spreading equally over every district, formed, as it were, a
beautiful lake, with milky, placid waters. There was but one denser
streak, indicating the grey, curved course of the Seine. And slowly
over those milky, placid waters shadows passed, like vessels with pink
sails, which the young woman followed with a dreamy gaze. To love! to
love! She smiled as her dream sailed on.

However, she again took up her book. She had reached the chapter
describing the attack on the castle, wherein Rebecca nurses the wounded
Ivanhoe, and recounts to him the incidents of the fight, which she
gazes at from a window. Hélène felt that she was in the midst of a
beautiful falsehood, but roamed through it as through some mythical
garden, whose trees are laden with golden fruit, and where she imbibed
all sorts of fancies. Then, at the conclusion of the scene, when
Rebecca, wrapped in her veil, exhales her love beside the sleeping
knight, Hélène again allowed the book to slip from her hand; her heart
was so brimful of emotion that she could read no further.

Heavens! could all those things be true? she asked, as she lay back in
her easy-chair, numbed by her enforced quiescence, and gazing on Paris,
shrouded and mysterious, beneath the golden sun. The events of her life
now arose before her, conjured up by the perusal of the novel. She saw
herself a young girl in the house of her father, Mouret, a hatter at
Marseilles. The Rue des Petites-Maries was black and dismal, and the
house, with its vat of steaming water ready to the hand of the hatter,
exhaled a rank odor of dampness, even in fine weather. She also saw her
mother, who was ever an invalid, and who kissed her with pale lips,
without speaking. No gleam of the sun penetrated into her little room.
Hard work went on around her; only by dint of toil did her father gain
a workingman’s competency. That summed up her early life, and till her
marriage nothing intervened to break the monotony of days ever the
same. One morning, returning from market with her mother, a basketful
of vegetables on her arm, she jostled against young Grandjean. Charles
turned round and followed them. The love-romance of her life was in
this incident. For three months she was always meeting him, while he,
bashful and awkward, could not pluck up courage to speak to her. She
was sixteen years of age, and a little proud of her lover, who, she
knew, belonged to a wealthy family. But she deemed him bad-looking, and
often laughed at him, and no thought of him disturbed her sleep in the
large, gloomy, damp house. In the end they were married, and this
marriage yet filled her with surprise. Charles worshipped her, and
would fling himself on the floor to kiss her bare feet. She beamed on
him, her smile full of kindness, as she rebuked him for such
childishness. Then another dull life began. During twelve years no
event of sufficient interest had occurred for her to bear in mind. She
was very quiet and very happy, tormented by no fever either of body or
heart; her whole attention being given to the daily cares of a poor
household. Charles was still wont to kiss her fair white feet, while
she showed herself indulgent and motherly towards him. But other
feeling she had none. Then there abruptly came before her the room in
the Hotel du Var, her husband in his coffin, and her widow’s robe
hanging over a chair. She had wept that day as on the winter’s night
when her mother died. Then once more the days glided on; for two months
with her daughter she had again enjoyed peace and happiness. Heaven!
did that sum up everything? What, then, did that book mean when it
spoke of transcendent loves which illumine one’s existence?

While she thus reflected prolonged quivers were darting over the
sleeping lake of mist on the horizon. Suddenly it seemed to burst, gaps
appeared, a rending sped from end to end, betokening a complete
break-up. The sun, ascending higher and higher, scattering its rays in
glorious triumph, was victoriously attacking the mist. Little by little
the great lake seemed to dry up, as though some invisible sluice were
draining the plain. The fog, so dense but a moment before, was losing
its consistency and becoming transparent, showing all the bright hues
of the rainbow. On the left bank of the Seine all was of a heavenly
blue, deepening into violet over towards the Jardin des Plantes. Upon
the right bank a pale pink, flesh-like tint suffused the Tuileries
district; while away towards Montmartre there was a fiery glow, carmine
flaming amid gold. Then, farther off, the working-men’s quarters
deepened to a dusty brick-color, changing more and more till all became
a slatey, bluish grey. The eye could not yet distinguish the city,
which quivered and receded like those subaqueous depths divined through
the crystalline waves, depths with awful forests of huge plants,
swarming with horrible things and monsters faintly espied. However, the
watery mist was quickly falling. It became at last no more than a fine
muslin drapery; and bit by bit this muslin vanished, and Paris took
shape and emerged from dreamland.

To love! to love! Why did these words ring in Hélène’s ears with such
sweetness as the darkness of the fog gave way to light? Had she not
loved her husband, whom she had tended like a child? But a bitter
memory stirred within her—the memory of her dead father, who had hung
himself three weeks after his wife’s decease in a closet where her
gowns still dangled from their hooks. There he had gasped out his last
agony, his body rigid, and his face buried in a skirt, wrapped round by
the clothes which breathed of her whom he had ever worshipped. Then
Hélène’s reverie took a sudden leap. She began thinking of her own
home-life, of the month’s bills which she had checked with Rosalie that
very morning; and she felt proud of the orderly way in which she
regulated her household. During more than thirty years she had lived
with self-respect and strength of mind. Uprightness alone impassioned
her. When she questioned her past, not one hour revealed a sin; in her
mind’s eye she saw herself ever treading a straight and level path.
Truly, the days might slip by; she would walk on peacefully as before,
with no impediment in her way. The very thought of this made her stern,
and her spirit rose in angry contempt against those lying lives whose
apparent heroism disturbs the heart. The only true life was her own,
following its course amidst such peacefulness. But over Paris there now
only hung a thin smoke, a fine, quivering gauze, on the point of
floating away; and emotion suddenly took possession of her. To love! to
love! everything brought her back to that caressing phrase—even the
pride born of her virtue. Her dreaming became so light, she no longer
thought, but lay there, steeped in springtide, with moist eyes.

At last, as she was about to resume her reading, Paris slowly came into
view. Not a breath of wind had stirred; it was as if a magician had
waved his wand. The last gauzy film detached itself, soared and
vanished in the air; and the city spread out without a shadow, under
the conquering sun. Hélène, with her chin resting on her hand, gazed on
this mighty awakening.

A far-stretching valley appeared, with a myriad of buildings huddled
together. Over the distant range of hills were scattered close-set
roofs, and you could divine that the sea of houses rolled afar off
behind the undulating ground, into the fields hidden from sight. It was
as the ocean, with all the infinity and mystery of its waves. Paris
spread out as vast as the heavens on high. Burnished with the sunshine
that lovely morning, the city looked like a field of yellow corn; and
the huge picture was all simplicity, compounded of two colors only, the
pale blue of the sky, and the golden reflections of the housetops. The
stream of light from the spring sun invested everything with the beauty
of a new birth. So pure was the light that the minutest objects became
visible. Paris, with its chaotic maze of stonework, shone as though
under glass. From time to time, however, a breath of wind passed
athwart this bright, quiescent serenity; and then the outlines of some
districts grew faint, and quivered as if they were being viewed through
an invisible flame.

Hélène took interest at first in gazing on the large expanse spread
under her windows, the slope of the Trocadero, and the far-stretching
quays. She had to lean out to distinguish the deserted square of the
Champ-de-Mars, barred at the farther end by the sombre Military School.
Down below, on thoroughfare and pavement on each side of the Seine, she
could see the passers-by—a busy cluster of black dots, moving like a
swarm of ants. A yellow omnibus shone out like a spark of fire; drays
and cabs crossed the bridge, mere child’s toys in the distance, with
miniature horses like pieces of mechanism; and amongst others
traversing the grassy slopes was a servant girl, with a white apron
which set a bright spot in all the greenery. Then Hélène raised her
eyes; but the crowd scattered and passed out of sight, and even the
vehicles looked like mere grains of sand; there remained naught but the
gigantic carcass of the city, seemingly untenanted and abandoned, its
life limited to the dull trepidation by which it was agitated. There,
in the foreground to the left, some red roofs were shining, and the
tall chimneys of the Army Bakehouse slowly poured out their smoke;
while, on the other side of the river, between the Esplanade and the
Champ-de-Mars, a grove of lofty elms clustered, like some patch of a
park, with bare branches, rounded tops, and young buds already bursting
forth, quite clear to the eye. In the centre of the picture, the Seine
spread out and reigned between its grey banks, to which rows of casks,
steam cranes, and carts drawn up in line, gave a seaport kind of
aspect. Hélène’s eyes were always turning towards this shining river,
on which boats passed to and fro like birds with inky plumage. Her
looks involuntarily followed the water’s stately course, which, like a
silver band, cut Paris atwain. That morning the stream rolled liquid
sunlight; no greater resplendency could be seen on the horizon. And the
young woman’s glance encountered first the Pont des Invalides, next the
Pont de la Concorde, and then the Pont Royal. Bridge followed bridge,
they appeared to get closer, to rise one above the other like viaducts
forming a flight of steps, and pierced with all kinds of arches; while
the river, wending its way beneath these airy structures, showed here
and there small patches of its blue robe, patches which became narrower
and narrower, more and more indistinct. And again did Hélène raise her
eyes, and over yonder the stream forked amidst a jumble of houses; the
bridges on either side of the island of La Cité were like mere films
stretching from one bank to the other; while the golden towers of
Notre-Dame sprang up like boundary-marks of the horizon, beyond which
river, buildings, and clumps of trees became naught but sparkling
sunshine. Then Hélène, dazzled, withdrew her gaze from this the
triumphant heart of Paris, where the whole glory of the city appeared
to blaze.

On the right bank, amongst the clustering trees of the Champs-Elysees
she saw the crystal buildings of the Palace of Industry glittering with
a snowy sheen; farther away, behind the roof of the Madeleine, which
looked like a tombstone, towered the vast mass of the Opera House; then
there were other edifices, cupolas and towers, the Vendome Column, the
church of Saint-Vincent de Paul, the tower of Saint-Jacques; and nearer
in, the massive cube-like pavilions of the new Louvre and the
Tuileries, half-hidden by a wood of chestnut trees. On the left bank
the dome of the Invalides shone with gilding; beyond it the two
irregular towers of Saint-Sulpice paled in the bright light; and yet
farther in the rear, to the right of the new spires of Sainte-Clotilde,
the bluish Panthéon, erect on a height, its fine colonnade showing
against the sky, overlooked the city, poised in the air, as it were,
motionless, with the silken hues of a captive balloon.

Hélène’s gaze wandered all over Paris. There were hollows, as could be
divined by the lines of roofs; the Butte des Moulins surged upward,
with waves of old slates, while the line of the principal boulevards
dipped downward like a gutter, ending in a jumble of houses whose tiles
even could no longer be seen. At this early hour the oblique sun did
not light up the house-fronts looking towards the Trocadero; not a
window-pane of these threw back its rays. The skylights on some roofs
alone sparkled with the glittering reflex of mica amidst the red of the
adjacent chimney-pots. The houses were mostly of a sombre grey, warmed
by reflected beams; still rays of light were transpiercing certain
districts, and long streets, stretching in front of Hélène, set streaks
of sunshine amidst the shade. It was only on the left that the
far-spreading horizon, almost perfect in its circular sweep, was broken
by the heights of Montmartre and Père-Lachaise. The details so clearly
defined in the foreground, the innumerable denticles of the chimneys,
the little black specks of the thousands of windows, grew less and less
distinct as you gazed farther and farther away, till everything became
mingled in confusion—the pell-mell of an endless city, whose faubourgs,
afar off, looked like shingly beaches, steeped in a violet haze under
the bright, streaming, vibrating light that fell from the heavens.

Hélène was watching the scene with grave interest when Jeanne burst
gleefully into the room.

“Oh, mamma! look here!”

The child had a big bunch of wall-flowers in her hand. She told, with
some laughter, how she had waylaid Rosalie on her return from market to
peep into her basket of provisions. To rummage in this basket was a
great delight to her.

“Look at it, mamma! It lay at the very bottom. Just smell it; what a
lovely perfume!”

From the tawny flowers, speckled with purple, there came a penetrating
odor which scented the whole room. Then Hélène, with a passionate
movement, drew Jeanne to her breast, while the nosegay fell on her lap.
To love! to love! Truly, she loved her child. Was not that intense love
which had pervaded her life till now sufficient for her wants? It ought
to satisfy her; it was so gentle, so tranquil; no lassitude could put
an end to its continuance. Again she pressed her daughter to her, as
though to conjure away thoughts which threatened to separate them. In
the meantime Jeanne surrendered herself to the shower of kisses. Her
eyes moist with tears, she turned her delicate neck upwards with a
coaxing gesture, and pressed her face against her mother’s shoulder.
Then she slipped an arm round her waist and thus remained, very demure,
her cheek resting on Hélène’s bosom. The perfume of the wall-flowers
ascended between them.

For a long time they did not speak; but at length, without moving,
Jeanne asked in a whisper:

“Mamma, you see that rosy-colored dome down there, close to the river;
what is it?”

It was the dome of the Institute, and Hélène looked towards it for a
moment as though trying to recall the name.

“I don’t know, my love,” she answered gently.

The child appeared content with this reply, and silence again fell. But
soon she asked a second question.

“And there, quite near, what beautiful trees are those?” she said,
pointing with her finger towards a corner of the Tuileries garden.

“Those beautiful trees!” said her mother. “On the left, do you mean? I
don’t know, my love.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Jeanne; and after musing for a little while she added
with a pout: “We know nothing!”

Indeed they knew nothing of Paris. During eighteen months it had lain
beneath their gaze every hour of the day, yet they knew not a stone of
it. Three times only had they gone down into the city; but on returning
home, suffering from terrible headaches born of all the agitation they
had witnessed, they could find in their minds no distinct memory of
anything in all that huge maze of streets.

However, Jeanne at times proved obstinate. “Ah! you can tell me this!”
said she: “What is that glass building which glitters there? It is so
big you must know it.”

She was referring to the Palais de l’Industrie. Hélène, however,
hesitated.

“It’s a railway station,” said she. “No, I’m wrong, I think it is a
theatre.”

Then she smiled and kissed Jeanne’s hair, at last confessing as before:
“I do not know what it is, my love.”

So they continued to gaze on Paris, troubling no further to identify
any part of it. It was very delightful to have it there before them,
and yet to know nothing of it; it remained the vast and the unknown. It
was as though they had halted on the threshold of a world which ever
unrolled its panorama before them, but into which they were unwilling
to descend. Paris often made them anxious when it wafted them a hot,
disturbing atmosphere; but that morning it seemed gay and innocent,
like a child, and from its mysterious depths only a breath of
tenderness rose gently to their faces.

Hélène took up her book again while Jeanne, clinging to her, still
gazed upon the scene. In the dazzling, tranquil sky no breeze was
stirring. The smoke from the Army Bakehouse ascended perpendicularly in
light cloudlets which vanished far aloft. On a level with the houses
passed vibrating waves of life, waves of all the life pent up there.
The loud voices of the streets softened amidst the sunshine into a
languid murmur. But all at once a flutter attracted Jeanne’s notice. A
flock of white pigeons, freed from some adjacent dovecot, sped through
the air in front of the window; with spreading wings like falling snow,
the birds barred the line of view, hiding the immensity of Paris.

With eyes again dreamily gazing upward, Hélène remained plunged in
reverie. She was the Lady Rowena; she loved with the serenity and
intensity of a noble mind. That spring morning, that great, gentle
city, those early wall-flowers shedding their perfume on her lap, had
little by little filled her heart with tenderness.



 CHAPTER VI.


One morning Hélène was arranging her little library, the various books
of which had got out of order during the past few days, when Jeanne
skipped into the room, clapping her hands.

“A soldier, mamma! a soldier!” she cried.

“What? a soldier?” exclaimed her mother. “What do you want, you and
your soldier?”

But the child was in one of her paroxysms of extravagant delight; she
only jumped about the more, repeating: “A soldier! a soldier!” without
deigning to give any further explanation. She had left the door wide
open behind her, and so, as Hélène rose, she was astonished to see a
soldier—a very little soldier too—in the ante-room. Rosalie had gone
out, and Jeanne must have been playing on the landing, though strictly
forbidden to do so by her mother.

“What do you want, my lad?” asked Hélène.

The little soldier was very much confused on seeing this lady, so
lovely and fair, in her dressing-gown trimmed with lace; he shuffled
one foot to and fro over the floor, bowed, and at last precipitately
stammered: “I beg pardon—excuse—”

But he could get no further, and retreated to the wall, still shuffling
his feet. His retreat was thus cut off, and seeing the lady awaited his
reply with an involuntary smile, he dived into his right-hand pocket,
from which he dragged a blue handkerchief, a knife, and a hunk of
bread. He gazed on each in turn, and thrust them all back again. Then
he turned his attention to the left-hand pocket, from which were
produced a twist of cord, two rusty nails, and some pictures wrapped in
part of a newspaper. All these he pushed back to their resting-place,
and began tapping his thighs with an anxious air. And again he
stammered in bewilderment:

“I beg pardon—excuse—”

But all at once he raised his finger to his nose, and exclaimed with a
loud laugh: “What a fool I am! I remember now!”

He then undid two buttons of his greatcoat, and rummaged in his breast,
into which he plunged his arm up to the elbow. After a time he drew
forth a letter, which he rustled violently before handing to Hélène, as
though to shake some dust from it.

“A letter for me! Are you sure?” said she.

On the envelope were certainly inscribed her name and address in a
heavy rustic scrawl, with pothooks and hangers tumbling over one
another. When at last she made it all out, after being repeatedly
baffled by the extraordinary style and spelling, she could not but
smile again. It was a letter from Rosalie’s aunt, introducing Zephyrin
Lacour, who had fallen a victim to the conscription, “in spite of two
masses having been said by his reverence.” However, as Zephyrin was
Rosalie’s “intended” the aunt begged that madame would be so good as to
allow the young folks to see each other on Sundays. In the three pages
which the letter comprised this question was continually cropping up in
the same words, the confusion of the epistle increasing through the
writer’s vain efforts to say something she had not said before. Just
above the signature, however, she seemed to have hit the nail on the
head, for she had written: “His reverence gives his permission”; and
had then broken her pen in the paper, making a shower of blots.

Hélène slowly folded the letter. Two or three times, while deciphering
its contents, she had raised her head to glance at the soldier. He
still remained close to the wall, and his lips stirred, as though to
emphasize each sentence in the letter by a slight movement of the chin.
No doubt he knew its contents by heart.

“Then you are Zephyrin Lacour, are you not?” asked Hélène.

He began to laugh and wagged his head.

“Come in, my lad; don’t stay out there.”

He made up his mind to follow her, but he continued standing close to
the door, while Hélène sat down. She had scarcely seen him in the
darkness of the ante-room. He must have been just as tall as Rosalie; a
third of an inch less, and he would have been exempted from service.
With red hair, cut very short, he had a round, freckled, beardless
face, with two little eyes like gimlet holes. His new greatcoat, much
too large for him, made him appear still more dumpy, and with his
red-trousered legs wide apart, and his large peaked cap swinging before
him, he presented both a comical and pathetic sight—his plump, stupid
little person plainly betraying the rustic, although he wore a uniform.

Hélène desired to obtain some information from him.

“You left Beauce a week ago?” she asked.

“Yes, madame!”

“And here you are in Paris. I suppose you are not sorry?”

“No, madame.”

He was losing his bashfulness, and now gazed all over the room,
evidently much impressed by its blue velvet hangings.

“Rosalie is out,” Hélène began again, “but she will be here very soon.
Her aunt tells me you are her sweetheart.”

To this the little soldier vouchsafed no reply, but hung his head,
laughing awkwardly, and scraping the carpet with the tip of his boot.

“Then you will have to marry her when you leave the army?” Hélène
continued questioning.

“Yes, to be sure!” exclaimed he, his face turning very red. “Yes, of
course; we are engaged!” And, won over by the kindly manners of the
lady, he made up his mind to speak out, his fingers still playing with
his cap. “You know it’s an old story. When we were quite children, we
used to go thieving together. We used to get switched; oh yes, that’s
true! I must tell you that the Lacours and the Pichons lived in the
same lane, and were next-door neighbors. And so Rosalie and myself were
almost brought up together. Then her people died, and her aunt
Marguerite took her in. But she, the minx, was already as strong as a
demon.”

He paused, realizing that he was warming up, and asked hesitatingly:

“But perhaps she has told you all this?”

“Yes, yes; but go on all the same,” said Hélène, who was greatly
amused.

“In short,” continued he, “she was awfully strong, though she was no
bigger than a tomtit. It was a treat to see her at her work! How she
did get through it! One day she gave a slap to a friend of mine—by
Jove! such a slap! I had the mark of it on my arm for a week! Yes, that
was the way it all came about. All the gossips declared we must marry
one another. Besides, we weren’t ten years old before we had agreed on
that! And, we have stuck to it, madame, we have stuck to it!”

He placed one hand upon his heart, with fingers wide apart. Hélène,
however, had now become very grave. The idea of allowing a soldier in
her kitchen somewhat worried her. His reverence, no doubt, had given
his sanction, but she thought it rather venturesome. There is too much
license in the country, where lovers indulge in all sorts of
pleasantries. So she gave expression to her apprehensions. When
Zephyrin at last gathered her meaning, his first inclination was to
laugh, but his awe for Hélène restrained him.

“Oh, madame, madame!” said he, “you don’t know her, I can see! I have
received slaps enough from her! Of course young men like to laugh!
isn’t that so? Sometimes I pinched her, and she would turn round and
hit me right on the nose. Her aunt’s advice always was, ‘Look here, my
girl, don’t put up with any nonsense!’ His reverence, too, interfered
in it, and maybe that had a lot to do with our keeping up
sweethearting. We were to have been married after I had drawn for a
soldier. But it was all my eye! Things turned out badly. Rosalie
declared she would go to service in Paris, to earn a dowry while she
was waiting for me. And so, and so—”

He swung himself about, dangling his cap, now from one hand now from
the other. But still Hélène never said a word, and he at last fancied
that she distrusted him. This pained him dreadfully.

“You think, perhaps, that I shall deceive her?” he burst out angrily.
“Even, too, when I tell you we are betrothed? I shall marry her, as
surely as the heaven shines on us. I’m quite ready to pledge my word in
writing. Yes, if you like, I’ll write it down for you.”

Deep emotion was stirring him. He walked about the room gazing around
in the hope of finding pen and ink. Hélène quickly tried to appease
him, but he still went on:

“I would rather sign a paper for you. What harm would it do you? Your
mind would be all the easier with it.”

However, just at that moment Jeanne, who had again run away, returned,
jumping and clapping her hands.

“Rosalie! Rosalie! Rosalie!” she chanted in a dancing tune of her own
composition.

Through the open doorway one could hear the panting of the maid as she
climbed up the stairs laden with her basket. Zephyrin started back into
a corner of the room, his mouth wide agape from ear to ear in silent
laughter, and the gimlet holes of his eyes gleaming with rustic
roguery. Rosalie came straight into the room, as was her usual
practice, to show her mistress her morning’s purchase of provisions.

“Madame,” said she, “I’ve brought some cauliflowers. Look at them! Only
eighteen sous for two; it isn’t dear, is it?”

She held out the basket half open, but on lifting her head noticed
Zephyrin’s grinning face. Surprise nailed her to the carpet. Two or
three seconds slipped away; she had doubtless at first failed to
recognize him in his uniform. But then her round eyes dilated, her fat
little face blanched, and her coarse black hair waved in agitation.

“Oh!” she simply said.

But her astonishment was such that she dropped her basket. The
provisions, cauliflowers, onions, apples, rolled on to the carpet.
Jeanne gave a cry of delight, and falling on her knees, began hunting
for the apples, even under the chairs and the wardrobe. Meanwhile
Rosalie, as though paralyzed, never moved, though she repeated:

“What! it’s you! What are you doing here? what are you doing here?
Say!”

Then she turned to Hélène with the question: “Was it you who let him
come in?”

Zephyrin never uttered a word, but contented himself with winking
slily. Then Rosalie gave vent to her emotion in tears; and, to show her
delight at seeing him again, could hit on nothing better than to quiz
him.

“Oh! go away!” she began, marching up to him. “You look neat and pretty
I must say in that guise of yours! I might have passed you in the
street, and not even have said: ‘God bless you.’ Oh! you’ve got a nice
rig-out. You just look as if you had your sentry-box on your back; and
they’ve cut your hair so short that folks might take you for the
sexton’s poodle. Good heavens! what a fright you are; what a fright!”

Zephyrin, very indignant, now made up his mind to speak. “It’s not my
fault, that’s sure! Oh! if you joined a regiment we should see a few
things.”

They had quite forgotten where they were; everything had vanished—the
room, Hélène and Jeanne, who was still gathering the apples together.
With hands folded over her apron, the maid stood upright in front of
the little soldier.

“Is everything all right down there?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, excepting Guignard’s cow is ill. The veterinary surgeon came
and said she’d got the dropsy.”

“If she’s got the dropsy, she’s done for. Excepting that, is everything
all right?”

“Yes, yes! The village constable has broken his arm. Old Canivet’s
dead. And, by the way, his reverence lost his purse with thirty sous in
it as he was a-coming back from Grandval. But otherwise, things are all
right.”

Then silence fell on them, and they looked at one another with
sparkling eyes, their compressed lips slowly making an amorous grimace.
This, indeed, must have been the manner in which they expressed their
love, for they had not even stretched out their hands in greeting.
Rosalie, however, all at once ceased her contemplation, and began to
lament at sight of the vegetables on the floor. Such a nice mess! and
it was he who had caused it all! Madame ought to have made him wait on
the stairs! Scolding away as fast as she could, she dropped on her
knees and began putting the apples, onions, and cauliflowers into the
basket again, much to the disgust of Jeanne, who would fain have done
it all herself. And as she turned, with the object of betaking herself
into her kitchen, never deigning another look in Zephyrin’s direction,
Hélène, conciliated by the healthy tranquillity of the lovers, stopped
her to say:

“Listen a moment, my girl. Your aunt has asked me to allow this young
man to come and see you on Sundays. He will come in the afternoon, and
you will try not to let your work fall behind too much.”

Rosalie paused, merely turning her head. Though she was well pleased,
she preserved her doleful air.

“Oh, madame, he will be such a bother,” she declared. But at the same
time she glanced over her shoulder at Zephyrin, and again made an
affectionate grimace at him. The little soldier remained for a minute
stock-still, his mouth agape from ear to ear with its silent laugh.
Then he retired backwards, with his cap against his heart as he thanked
Hélène profusely. The door had been shut upon him, when on the landing
he still continued bowing.

“Is that Rosalie’s brother, mamma?” asked Jeanne.

Hélène was quite embarrassed by the question. She regretted the
permission which she had just given in a sudden impulse of kindliness
which now surprised her. She remained thinking for some seconds, and
then replied, “No, he is her cousin.”

“Ah!” said the child gravely.

Rosalie’s kitchen looked out on the sunny expanse of Doctor Deberle’s
garden. In the summer the branches of the elms swayed in through the
broad window. It was the cheeriest room of the suite, always flooded
with light, which was sometimes so blinding that Rosalie had put up a
curtain of blue cotton stuff, which she drew of an afternoon. The only
complaint she made about the kitchen was its smallness; and indeed it
was a narrow strip of a place, with a cooking-range on the right-hand
side, while on the left were the table and dresser. The various
utensils and furnishings, however, had all been so well arranged that
she had contrived to keep a clear corner beside the window, where she
worked in the evening. She took a pride in keeping everything,
stewpans, kettles, and dishes, wonderfully clean; and so, when the sun
veered round to the window, the walls became resplendent, the copper
vessels sparkled like gold, the tin pots showed bright discs like
silver moons, while the white-and-blue tiles above the stove gleamed
pale in the fiery glow.

On the evening of the ensuing Saturday Hélène heard so great a
commotion in the kitchen that she determined to go and see what was the
matter.

“What is it?” asked she: “are you fighting with the furniture?”

“I am scouring, madame,” replied Rosalie, who, sweating and
dishevelled, was squatting on the tiled floor and scrubbing it with all
the strength of her arms.

This over, she sponged it with clear water. Never had the kitchen
displayed such perfection of cleanliness. A bride might have slept in
it; all was white as for a wedding. So energetically had she exerted
her hands that it seemed as if table and dresser had been freshly
planed. And the good order of everything was a sight to see; stewpans
and pots taking rank by their size, each on its own hook, even the
frying-pan and gridiron shining brightly without one grimy stain.
Hélène looked on for a moment in silence, and then with a smile
disappeared.

Every Saturday afterwards there was a similar furbishing, a tornado of
dust and water lasting for four hours. It was Rosalie’s wish to display
her neatness to Zephyrin on the Sunday. That was her reception day. A
single cobweb would have filled her with shame; but when everything
shone resplendent around her she became amiable, and burst into song.
At three o’clock she would again wash her hands and don a cap gay with
ribbons. Then the curtain being drawn halfway, so that only the subdued
light of a boudoir came in, she awaited Zephyrin’s arrival amidst all
this primness, through which a pleasant scent of thyme and laurel was
borne.

At half-past three exactly Zephyrin made his appearance; he would walk
about the street until the clocks of the neighborhood had struck the
half-hour. Rosalie listened to the beat of his heavy shoes on the
stairs, and opened the door the moment he halted on the landing. She
had forbidden him to ring the bell. At each visit the same greeting
passed between them.

“Is it you?”

“Yes, it’s me!”

And they stood face to face, their eyes sparkling and their lips
compressed. Then Zephyrin followed Rosalie; but there was no admission
vouchsafed to him till she had relieved him of shako and sabre. She
would have none of these in her kitchen; and so the sabre and shako
were hidden away in a cupboard. Next she would make him sit down in the
corner she had contrived near the window, and thenceforth he was not
allowed to budge.

“Sit still there! You can look on, if you like, while I get madame’s
dinner ready.”

But he rarely appeared with empty hands. He would usually spend the
morning in strolling with some comrades through the woods of Meudon,
lounging lazily about, inhaling the fresh air, which inspired him with
regretful memories of his country home. To give his fingers something
to do he would cut switches, which he tapered and notched with
marvelous figurings, and his steps gradually slackening he would come
to a stop beside some ditch, his shako on the back of his head, while
his eyes remained fixed on the knife with which he was carving the
stick. Then, as he could never make up his mind to discard his
switches, he carried them in the afternoon to Rosalie, who would throw
up her hands, and exclaim that they would litter her kitchen. But the
truth was, she carefully preserved them; and under her bed was gathered
a bundle of these switches, of all sorts and sizes.

One day he made his appearance with a nest full of eggs, which he had
secreted in his shako under the folds of a handkerchief. Omelets made
from the eggs of wild birds, so he declared, were very nice—a statement
which Rosalie received with horror; the nest, however, was preserved
and laid away in company with the switches. But Zephyrin’s pockets were
always full to overflowing. He would pull curiosities from them,
transparent pebbles found on the banks of the Seine, pieces of old
iron, dried berries, and all sorts of strange rubbish, which not even a
rag-picker would have cared for. His chief love, however, was for
pictures; as he sauntered along he would seize on all the stray papers
that had served as wrappers for chocolate or cakes of soap, and on
which were black men, palm-trees, dancing-girls, or clusters of roses.
The tops of old broken boxes, decorated with figures of languid, blonde
ladies, the glazed prints and silver paper which had once contained
sugar-sticks and had been thrown away at the neighboring fairs, were
great windfalls that filled his bosom with pride. All such booty was
speedily transferred to his pockets, the choicer articles being
enveloped in a fragment of an old newspaper. And on Sunday, if Rosalie
had a moment’s leisure between the preparation of a sauce and the
tending of the joint, he would exhibit his pictures to her. They were
hers if she cared for them; only as the paper around them was not
always clean he would cut them out, a pastime which greatly amused him.
Rosalie got angry, as the shreds of paper blew about even into her
plates; and it was a sight to see with what rustic cunning he would at
last gain possession of her scissors. At times, however, in order to
get rid of him, she would give them up without any asking.

Meanwhile some brown sauce would be simmering on the fire. Rosalie
watched it, wooden spoon in hand; while Zephyrin, his head bent and his
breadth of shoulder increased by his epaulets, continued cutting out
the pictures. His head was so closely shaven that the skin of his skull
could be seen; and the yellow collar of his tunic yawned widely behind,
displaying his sunburnt neck. For a quarter of an hour at a time
neither would utter a syllable. When Zephyrin raised his head, he
watched Rosalie while she took some flour, minced some parsley, or
salted and peppered some dish, his eyes betraying the while intense
interest. Then, at long intervals, a few words would escape him:

“By Jove! that does smell nice!”

The cook, busily engaged, would not vouchsafe an immediate reply; but
after a lengthy silence she perhaps exclaimed: “You see, it must simmer
properly.”

Their talk never went beyond that. They no longer spoke of their native
place even. When a reminiscence came to them a word sufficed, and they
chuckled inwardly the whole afternoon. This was pleasure enough, and by
the time Rosalie turned Zephyrin out of doors both of them had enjoyed
ample amusement.

“Come, you will have to go! I must wait on madame,” said she; and
restoring him his shako and sabre, she drove him out before her,
afterwards waiting on madame with cheeks flushed with happiness; while
he walked back to barracks, dangling his arms, and almost intoxicated
by the goodly odors of thyme and laurel which still clung to him.

During his earlier visits Hélène judged it right to look after them.
She popped in sometimes quite suddenly to give an order, and there was
Zephyrin always in his corner, between the table and the window, close
to the stone filter, which forced him to draw in his legs. The moment
madame made her appearance he rose and stood upright, as though
shouldering arms, and if she spoke to him his reply never went beyond a
salute and a respectful grunt. Little by little Hélène grew somewhat
easier; she saw that her entrance did not disturb them, and that their
faces only expressed the quiet content of patient lovers.

At this time, too, Rosalie seemed even more wide awake than Zephyrin.
She had already been some months in Paris, and under its influence was
fast losing her country rust, though as yet she only knew three
streets—the Rue de Passy, the Rue Franklin, and the Rue Vineuse.
Zephyrin, soldier though he was, remained quite a lubber. As Rosalie
confided to her mistress, he became more of a blockhead every day. In
the country he had been much sharper. But, added she, it was the
uniform’s fault; all the lads who donned the uniform became sad dolts.
The fact is, his change of life had quite muddled Zephyrin, who, with
his staring round eyes and solemn swagger, looked like a goose. Despite
his epaulets he retained his rustic awkwardness and heaviness; the
barracks had taught him nothing as yet of the fine words and victorious
attitudes of the ideal Parisian fire-eater. “Yes, madame,” Rosalie
would wind up by saying, “you don’t need to disturb yourself; it is not
in him to play any tricks!”

Thus the girl began to treat him in quite a motherly way. While
dressing her meat on the spit she would preach him a sermon, full of
good counsel as to the pitfalls he should shun; and he in all obedience
vigorously nodded approval of each injunction. Every Sunday he had to
swear to her that he had attended mass, and that he had solemnly
repeated his prayers morning and evening. She strongly inculcated the
necessity of tidiness, gave him a brush down whenever he left her,
stitched on a loose button of his tunic, and surveyed him from head to
foot to see if aught were amiss in his appearance. She also worried
herself about his health, and gave him cures for all sorts of ailments.
In return for her kindly care Zephyrin professed himself anxious to
fill her filter for her; but this proposal was long-rejected, through
the fear that he might spill the water. One day, however, he brought up
two buckets without letting a drop of their contents fall on the
stairs, and from that time he replenished the filter every Sunday. He
would also make himself useful in other ways, doing all the heavy work
and was extremely handy in running to the greengrocer’s for butter, had
she forgotten to purchase any. At last, even, he began to share in the
duties of kitchen-maid. First he was permitted to peel the vegetables;
later on the mincing was assigned to him. At the end of six weeks,
though still forbidden to touch the sauces, he watched over them with
wooden spoon in hand. Rosalie had fairly made him her helpmate, and
would sometimes burst out laughing as she saw him, with his red
trousers and yellow collar, working busily before the fire with a
dishcloth over his arm, like some scullery-servant.

One Sunday Hélène betook herself to the kitchen. Her slippers deadened
the sound of her footsteps, and she reached the threshold unheard by
either maid or soldier. Zephyrin was seated in his corner over a basin
of steaming broth. Rosalie, with her back turned to the door, was
occupied in cutting some long sippets of bread for him.

“There, eat away, my dear!” she said. “You walk too much; it is that
which makes you feel so empty! There! have you enough? Do you want any
more?”

Thus speaking, she watched him with a tender and anxious look. He, with
his round, dumpy figure, leaned over the basin, devouring a sippet with
each mouthful of broth. His face, usually yellow with freckles, was
becoming quite red with the warmth of the steam which circled round
him.

“Heavens!” he muttered, “what grand juice! What do you put in it?”

“Wait a minute,” she said; “if you like leeks—”

However, as she turned round she suddenly caught sight of her mistress.
She raised an exclamation, and then, like Zephyrin, seemed turned to
stone. But a moment afterwards she poured forth a torrent of excuses.

“It’s my share, madame—oh, it’s my share! I would not have taken any
more soup, I swear it! I told him, ‘If you would like to have my bowl
of soup, you can have it.’ Come, speak up, Zephyrin; you know that was
how it came about!”

The mistress remained silent, and the servant grew uneasy, thinking she
was annoyed. Then in quavering tones she continued:

“Oh, he was dying of hunger, madame; he stole a raw carrot for me! They
feed him so badly! And then, you know, he had walked goodness knows
where all along the river-side. I’m sure, madame, you would have told
me yourself to give him some broth!”

Gazing at the little soldier, who sat with his mouth full, not daring
to swallow, Hélène felt she could no longer remain stern. So she
quietly said:

“Well, well, my girl, whenever the lad is hungry you must keep him to
dinner—that’s all. I give you permission”

Face to face with them, she had again felt within her that tender
feeling which once already had banished all thoughts of rigor from her
mind. They were so happy in that kitchen! The cotton curtain, drawn
half-way, gave free entry to the sunset beams. The burnished copper
pans set the end wall all aglow, lending a rosy tint to the twilight
lingering in the room. And there, in the golden shade, the lovers’
little round faces shone out, peaceful and radiant, like moons. Their
love was instinct with such calm certainty that no neglect was even
shown in keeping the kitchen utensils in their wonted good order. It
blossomed amidst the savory odors of the cooking-stove, which
heightened their appetites and nourished their hearts.

“Mamma,” asked Jeanne, one evening after considerable meditation, “why
is it Rosalie’s cousin never kisses her?”

“And why should they kiss one another?” asked Hélène in her turn. “They
will kiss on their birthdays.”



 CHAPTER VII.


The soup had just been served on the following Tuesday evening, when
Hélène, after listening attentively, exclaimed:

“What a downpour! Don’t you hear? My poor friends, you will get
drenched to-night!”

“Oh, it’s only a few drops,” said the Abbé quietly, though his old
cassock was already wet about the shoulders.

“I’ve got a good distance to go,” said Monsieur Rambaud. “But I shall
return home on foot all the same; I like it. Besides, I have my
umbrella.”

Jeanne was reflecting as she gazed gravely on her last spoonful of
vermicelli; and at last her thoughts took shape in words: “Rosalie said
you wouldn’t come because of the wretched weather; but mamma said you
would come. You are very kind; you always come.”

A smile lit up all their faces. Hélène addressed a nod of affectionate
approval to the two brothers. Out of doors the rain was falling with a
dull roar, and violent gusts of wind beat angrily against the
window-shutters. Winter seemed to have returned. Rosalie had carefully
drawn the red repp curtains; and the small, cosy dining-room, illumined
by the steady light of the white hanging-lamp, looked, amidst the
buffeting of the storm, a picture of pleasant, affectionate intimacy.
On the mahogany sideboard some china reflected the quiet light; and
amidst all this indoor peacefulness the four diners leisurely
conversed, awaiting the good pleasure of the servant-maid, as they sat
round the table, where all, if simple, was exquisitely clean.

“Oh! you are waiting; so much the worse!” said Rosalie familiarly, as
she entered with a dish. “These are fillets of sole _au gratin_ for
Monsieur Rambaud; they require to be lifted just at the last moment.”

Monsieur Rambaud pretended to be a gourmand, in order to amuse Jeanne,
and give pleasure to Rosalie, who was very proud of her accomplishments
as a cook. He turned towards her with the question: “By the way, what
have you got for us to-day? You are always bringing in some surprise or
other when I am no longer hungry.”

“Oh,” said she in reply, “there are three dishes as usual, and no more.
After the sole you will have a leg of mutton and then some Brussels
sprouts. Yes, that’s the truth; there will be nothing else.”

From the corner of his eye Monsieur Rambaud glanced towards Jeanne. The
child was boiling over with glee, her hands over her mouth to restrain
her laughter, while she shook her head, as though to insinuate that the
maid was deceiving them. Monsieur Rambaud thereupon clacked his tongue
as though in doubt, and Rosalie pretended great indignation.

“You don’t believe me because Mademoiselle Jeanne laughs so,” said she.
“Ah, very well! believe what you like. Stint yourself, and see if you
won’t have a craving for food when you get home.”

When the maid had left the room, Jeanne, laughing yet more loudly, was
seized with a longing to speak out.

“You are really too greedy!” she began. “I myself went into the
kitchen—” However, she left her sentence unfinished: “No, no, I won’t
tell; it isn’t right, is it, mamma? There’s nothing more—nothing at
all! I only laughed to cheat you.”

This interlude was re-enacted every Tuesday with the same unvarying
success. Hélène was touched by the kindliness with which Monsieur
Rambaud lent himself to the fun; she was well aware that, with
Provencal frugality, he had long limited his daily fare to an anchovy
and half-a-dozen olives. As for Abbé Jouve, he never knew what he was
eating, and his blunders and forgetfulness supplied an inexhaustible
fund of amusement. Jeanne, meditating some prank in this respect, was
even now stealthily watching him with her glittering eyes.

“How nice this whiting is!” she said to him, after they had all been
served.

“Very nice, my dear,” he answered. “Bless me, you are right—it is
whiting; I thought it was turbot.”

And then, as every one laughed, he guilelessly asked why. Rosalie, who
had just come into the room again, seemed very much hurt, and burst
out:

“A fine thing indeed! The priest in my native place knew much better
what he was eating. He could tell the age of the fowl he was carving to
a week or so, and didn’t require to go into the kitchen to find out
what there was for dinner. No, the smell was quite sufficient. Goodness
gracious! had I been in the service of a priest like your reverence, I
should not know yet even how to turn an omelet.”

The Abbé hastened to excuse himself with an embarrassed air, as though
his inability to appreciate the delights of the table was a failing he
despaired of curing. But, as he said, he had too many other things to
think about.

“There! that is a leg of mutton!” exclaimed Rosalie, as she placed on
the table the joint referred to.

Everybody once more indulged in a peal of laughter, the Abbé Jouve
being the first to do so. He bent forward to look, his little eyes
twinkling with glee.

“Yes, certainly,” said he; “it is a leg of mutton. I think I should
have known it.”

Despite this remark, there was something about the Abbé that day which
betokened unusual absent-mindedness. He ate quickly, with the haste of
a man who is bored by a long stay at table, and lunches standing when
at home. And, having finished, himself, he would wait the convenience
of the others, plunged in deep thought, and simply smiling in reply to
the questions put to him. At every moment he cast on his brother a look
in which encouragement and uneasiness were mingled. Nor did Monsieur
Rambaud seen possessed of his wonted tranquillity that evening; but his
agitation manifested itself in a craving to talk and fidget on his
chair, which seemed rather inconsistent with his quiet disposition.
When the Brussels sprouts had disappeared, there was a delay in the
appearance of the dessert, and a spell of silence ensued. Out of doors
the rain was beating down with still greater force, rattling noisily
against the house. The dining-room was rather close, and it suddenly
dawned on Hélène that there was something strange in the air—that the
two brothers had some worry of which they did not care to speak. She
looked at them anxiously, and at last spoke:

“Dear, dear! What dreadful rain! isn’t it? It seems to be influencing
both of you, for you look out of sorts.”

They protested, however, that such was not the case, doing their utmost
to clear her mind of the notion. And as Rosalie now made her appearance
with an immense dish, Monsieur Rambaud exclaimed, as though to veil his
emotion: “What did I say! Still another surprise!”

The surprise of the day was some vanilla cream, one of the cook’s
triumphs. And thus it was a sight to see her broad, silent grin, as she
deposited her burden on the table. Jeanne shouted and clapped her
hands.

“I knew it, I knew it! I saw the eggs in the kitchen!”

“But I have no more appetite,” declared Monsieur Rambaud, with a look
of despair. “I could not eat any of it!”

Thereupon Rosalie became grave, full of suppressed wrath. With a
dignified air, she remarked: “Oh, indeed! A cream which I made
specially for you! Well, well! just try not to eat any of it—yes, try!”

He had to give in and accept a large helping of the cream. Meanwhile
the Abbé remained thoughtful. He rolled up his napkin and rose before
the dessert had come to an end, as was frequently his custom. For a
little while he walked about, with his head hanging down; and when
Hélène in her turn quitted the table, he cast at Monsieur Rambaud a
look of intelligence, and led the young woman into the bedroom.[*] The
door being left open behind them, they could almost immediately
afterwards be heard conversing together, though the words which they
slowly exchanged were indistinguishable.

[*] Hélène’s frequent use of her bedroom may seem strange to the
English reader who has never been in France. But in the _petite
bourgeoisie_ the bedchamber is often the cosiest of the whole suite of
rooms, and whilst indoors, when not superintending her servant, it is
in the bedroom that madame will spend most of her time. Here, too, she
will receive friends of either sex, and, the French being far less
prudish than ourselves, nobody considers that there is anything wrong
or indelicate in the practice.

“Oh, do make haste!” said Jeanne to Monsieur Rambaud, who seemed
incapable of finishing a biscuit. “I want to show you my work.”

However, he evinced no haste, though when Rosalie began to clear the
table it became necessary for him to leave his chair.

“Wait a little! wait a little!” he murmured, as the child strove to
drag him towards the bedroom, And, overcome with embarrassment and
timidity, he retreated from the doorway. Then, as the Abbé raised his
voice, such sudden weakness came over him that he had to sit down again
at the table. From his pocket he drew a newspaper.

“Now,” said he, “I’m going to make you a little coach.”

Jeanne at once abandoned her intention of entering the adjoining room.
Monsieur Rambaud always amazed her by his skill in turning a sheet of
paper into all sorts of playthings. Chickens, boats, bishops’ mitres,
carts, and cages, were all evolved under his fingers. That day,
however, so tremulous were his hands that he was unable to perfect
anything. He lowered his head whenever the faintest sound came from the
adjacent room. Nevertheless, Jeanne took interest in watching him, and
leaned on the table at his side.

“Now,” said she, “you must make a chicken to harness to the carriage.”

Meantime, within the bedroom, Abbé Jouve remained standing in the
shadow thrown by the lamp-shade upon the floor. Hélène had sat down in
her usual place in front of the round table; and, as on Tuesdays she
refrained from ceremony with her friends, she had taken up her
needlework, and, in the circular glare of light, only her white hands
could be seen sewing a child’s cap.

“Jeanne gives you no further worry, does she?” asked the Abbé.

Hélène shook her head before making a reply.

“Doctor Deberle seems quite satisfied,” said she. “But the poor darling
is still very nervous. Yesterday I found her in her chair in a fainting
fit.”

“She needs exercise,” resumed the priest. “You stay indoors far too
much; you should follow the example of other folks and go about more
than you do.”

He ceased speaking, and silence followed. He now, without doubt, had
what he had been seeking,—a suitable inlet for his discourse; but the
moment for speaking came, and he was still communing with himself.
Taking a chair, he sat down at Hélène’s side.

“Hearken to me, my dear child,” he began. “For some time past I have
wished to talk with you seriously. The life you are leading here can
entail no good results. A convent existence such as yours is not
consistent with your years; and this abandonment of worldly pleasures
is as injurious to your child as it is to yourself. You are risking
many dangers—dangers to health, ay, and other dangers, too.”

Hélène raised her head with an expression of astonishment. “What do you
mean, my friend?” she asked.

“Dear me! I know the world but little,” continued the priest, with some
slight embarrassment, “yet I know very well that a woman incurs great
risk when she remains without a protecting arm. To speak frankly, you
keep to your own company too much, and this seclusion in which you hide
yourself is not healthful, believe me. A day must come when you will
suffer from it.”

“But I make no complaint; I am very happy as I am,” she exclaimed with
spirit.

The old priest gently shook his large head.

“Yes, yes, that is all very well. You feel completely happy. I know all
that. Only, on the downhill path of a lonely, dreamy life, you never
know where you are going. Oh! I understand you perfectly; you are
incapable of doing any wrong. But sooner or later you might lose your
peace of mind. Some morning, when it is too late, you will find that
blank which you now leave in your life filled by some painful feeling
not to be confessed.”

As she sat there in the shadow, a blush crimsoned Hélène’s face. Had
the Abbé, then, read her heart? Was he aware of this restlessness which
was fast possessing her—this heart-trouble which thrilled her every-day
life, and the existence of which she had till now been unwilling to
admit? Her needlework fell on her lap. A sensation of weakness pervaded
her, and she awaited from the priest something like a pious complicity
which would allow her to confess and particularize the vague feelings
which she buried in her innermost being. As all was known to him, it
was for him to question her, and she would strive to answer.

“I leave myself in your hands, my friend,” she murmured. “You are well
aware that I have always listened to you.”

The priest remained for a moment silent, and then slowly and solemnly
said:

“My child, you must marry again.”

She remained speechless, with arms dangling, in a stupor this counsel
brought upon her. She awaited other words, failing, as it were, to
understand him. And the Abbé continued putting before her the arguments
which should incline her towards marriage.

“Remember, you are still young. You must not remain longer in this
out-of-the-way corner of Paris, scarcely daring to go out, and wholly
ignorant of the world. You must return to the every-day life of
humanity, lest in the future you should bitterly regret your
loneliness. You yourself have no idea how the effects of your isolation
are beginning to tell on you, but your friends remark your pallor, and
feel uneasy.”

With each sentence he paused, in the hope that she might break in and
discuss his proposition. But no; she sat there as if lifeless,
seemingly benumbed with astonishment.

“No doubt you have a child,” he resumed. “That is always a delicate
matter to surmount. Still, you must admit that even in Jeanne’s
interest a husband’s arm would be of great advantage. Of course, we
must find some one good and honorable, who would be a true father—”

However, she did not let him finish. With violent revolt and repulsion
she suddenly spoke out: “No, no; I will not! Oh, my friend, how can you
advise me thus? Never, do you hear, never!”

Her whole heart was rising; she herself was frightened by the violence
of her refusal. The priest’s proposal had stirred up that dim nook in
her being whose secret she avoided reading, and, by the pain she
experienced, she at last understood all the gravity of her ailment.
With the open, smiling glance of the priest still bent on her, she
plunged into contention.

“No, no; I do not wish it! I love nobody!”

And, as he still gazed at her, she imagined he could read her lie on
her face. She blushed and stammered:

“Remember, too, I only left off my mourning a fortnight ago. No, it
could not be!”

“My child!” quietly said the priest, “I thought over this a great deal
before speaking. I am sure your happiness is wrapped up in it. Calm
yourself; you need never act against your own wishes.”

The conversation came to a sudden stop. Hélène strove to keep pent
within her bosom the angry protests that were rushing to her lips. She
resumed her work, and, with head lowered, contrived to put in a few
stitches. And amid the silence, Jeanne’s shrill voice could be heard in
the dining-room.

“People don’t put a chicken to a carriage; it ought to be a horse! You
don’t know how to make a horse, do you?”

“No, my dear; horses are too difficult,” said Monsieur Rambaud. “But if
you like I’ll show you how to make carriages.”

This was always the fashion in which their game came to an end. Jeanne,
all ears and eyes, watched her kindly playfellow folding the paper into
a multitude of little squares, and afterwards she followed his example;
but she would make mistakes and then stamp her feet in vexation.
However, she already knew how to manufacture boats and bishops’ mitres.

“You see,” resumed Monsieur Rambaud patiently, “you make four corners
like that; then you turn them back—”

With his ears on the alert, he must during the last moment have heard
some of the words spoken in the next room; for his poor hands were now
trembling more and more, while his tongue faltered, so that he could
only half articulate his sentences.

Hélène, who was unable to quiet herself, now began the conversation
anew. “Marry again! And whom, pray?” she suddenly asked the priest, as
she laid her work down on the table. “You have some one in view, have
you not?”

Abbé Jouve rose from his chair and stalked slowly up and down. Without
halting, he nodded assent.

“Well! tell me who he is,” she said.

For a moment he lingered before her erect, then, shrugging his
shoulders, said: “What’s the good, since you decline?”

“No matter, I want to know,” she replied. “How can I make up my mind
when I don’t know?”

He did not answer her immediately, but remained standing there, gazing
into her face. A somewhat sad smile wreathed his lips. At last he
exclaimed, almost in a whisper: “What! have you not guessed?”

No, she could not guess. She tried to do so, with increasing wonder,
whereupon he made a simple sign—nodding his head in the direction of
the dining-room.

“He!” she exclaimed, in a muffled tone, and a great seriousness fell
upon her. She no longer indulged in violent protestations; only sorrow
and surprise remained visible on her face. She sat for a long time
plunged in thought, her gaze turned to the floor. Truly, she had never
dreamed of such a thing; and yet, she found nothing in it to object to.
Monsieur Rambaud was the only man in whose hand she could put her own
honestly and without fear. She knew his innate goodness; she did not
smile at his _bourgeois_ heaviness. But despite all her regard for him,
the idea that he loved her chilled her to the soul.

Meanwhile the Abbé had again begun walking from one to the other end of
the room, and on passing the dining-room door he gently called Hélène.
“Come here and look!”

She rose and did as he wished.

Monsieur Rambaud had ended by seating Jeanne in his own chair; and he,
who had at first been leaning against the table, had now slipped down
at the child’s feet. He was on his knees before her, encircling her
with one of his arms. On the table was the carriage drawn by the
chicken, with some boats, boxes, and bishops’ mitres.

“Now, do you love me well?” he asked her. “Tell me that you love me
well!”

“Of course, I love you well; you know it.”

He stammered and trembled, as though he were making some declaration of
love.

“And what would you say if I asked you to let me stay here with you
always?”

“Oh, I should be quite pleased. We would play together, wouldn’t we?
That would be good fun.”

“Ah, but you know I should always be here.”

Jeanne had taken up a boat which she was twisting into a gendarme’s
hat. “You would need to get mamma’s leave,” she murmured.

By this reply all his fears were again stirred into life. His fate was
being decided.

“Of course,” said he. “But if mamma gave me leave, would you say yes,
too?”

Jeanne, busy finishing her gendarme’s hat, sang out in a rapturous
strain: “I would say yes! yes! yes! I would say yes! yes! yes! Come,
look how pretty my hat is!”

Monsieur Rambaud, with tears in his eyes, rose to his knees and kissed
her, while she threw her arms round his neck. He had entrusted the
asking of Hélène’s consent to his brother, whilst he himself sought to
secure that of Jeanne.

“You see,” said the priest, with a smile, “the child is quite content.”

Hélène still retained her grave air, and made no further inquiry. The
Abbé, however, again eloquently took up his plea, and emphasized his
brother’s good qualities. Was he not a treasure-trove of a father for
Jeanne? She was well acquainted with him; in trusting him she gave no
hostages to fortune. Then, as she still remained silent, the Abbé with
great feeling and dignity declared that in the step he had taken he had
not thought of his brother, but of her and her happiness.

“I believe you; I know how you love me,” Hélène promptly answered.
“Wait; I want to give your brother his answer in your presence.”

The clock struck ten. Monsieur Rambaud made his entry into the bedroom.
With outstretched hands she went to meet him.

“I thank you for your proposal, my friend,” said she. “I am very
grateful; and you have done well in speaking—”

She was gazing calmly into his face, holding his big hand in her grasp.
Trembling all over, he dared not lift his eyes.

“Yet I must have time to consider,” she resumed. “You will perhaps have
to give me a long time.”

“Oh! as long as you like—six months, a year, longer if you please,”
exclaimed he with a light heart, well pleased that she had not
forthwith sent him about his business.

His excitement brought a faint smile to her face. “But I intend that we
shall still continue friends,” said she. “You will come here as usual,
and simply give me your promise to remain content till I speak to you
about the matter. Is that understood?”

He had withdrawn his hand, and was now feverishly hunting for his hat,
signifying his acquiescence by a continuous bobbing of the head. Then,
at the moment of leaving, he found his voice once more.

“Listen to me,” said he. “You now know that I am there—don’t you? Well,
whatever happens I shall always be there. That’s all the Abbé should
have told you. In ten years, if you like; you will only have to make a
sign. I shall obey you!”

And it was he who a last time took Hélène’s hand and gripped it as
though he would crush it. On the stairs the two brothers turned round
with the usual good-bye:

“Till next Tuesday!”

“Yes, Tuesday,” answered Hélène.

On returning to her room a fresh downfall of rain beating against the
shutters filled her with grave concern. Good heavens! what an obstinate
downpour, and how wet her poor friends would get! She opened the window
and looked down into the street. Sudden gusts of wind were making the
gaslights flicker, and amid the shiny puddles and shimmering rain she
could see the round figure of Monsieur Rambaud, as he went off with
dancing gait, exultant in the darkness, seemingly caring nothing for
the drenching torrent.

Jeanne, however, was very grave, for she had overheard some of her
playfellow’s last words. She had just taken off her little boots, and
was sitting on the edge of the bed in her nightgown, in deep
cogitation. On entering the room to kiss her, her mother discovered her
thus.

“Good-night, Jeanne; kiss me.”

Then, as the child did not seem to hear her, Hélène sank down in front
of her, and clasped her round the waist, asking her in a whisper: “So
you would be glad if he came to live with us?”

The question seemed to bring no surprise to Jeanne. She was doubtless
pondering over this very matter. She slowly nodded her head.

“But you know,” said her mother, “he would be always beside us—night
and day, at table—everywhere!”

A great trouble dawned in the clear depths of the child’s eyes. She
nestled her cheek against her mother’s shoulder, kissed her neck, and
finally, with a quiver, whispered in her ear: “Mamma, would he kiss
you?”

A crimson flush rose to Hélène’s brow. In her first surprise she was at
a loss to answer, but at last she murmured: “He would be the same as
your father, my darling!”

Then Jeanne’s little arms tightened their hold, and she burst into loud
and grievous sobbing. “Oh! no, no!” she cried chokingly. “I don’t want
it then! Oh! mamma, do please tell him I don’t. Go and tell him I won’t
have it!”

She gasped, and threw herself on her mother’s bosom, covering her with
tears and kisses. Hélène did her utmost to appease her, assuring her
she would make it all right; but Jeanne was bent on having a definite
answer at once.

“Oh! say no! say no, darling mother! You know it would kill me. Never!
Oh, never! Eh?”

“Well, I’ll promise it will never be. Now, be good and lie down.”

For some minutes longer the child, speechless with emotion, clasped her
mother in her arms, as though powerless to tear herself away, and
intent on guarding her against all who might seek to take her from her.
After some time Hélène was able to put her to bed; but for a part of
the night she had to watch beside her. Jeanne would start violently in
her sleep, and every half-hour her eyes would open to make sure of her
mother’s presence, and then she would doze off again, with her lips
pressed to Hélène’s hand.



 CHAPTER VIII.


It was a month of exquisite mildness. The April sun had draped the
garden in tender green, light and delicate as lace. Twining around the
railing were the slender shoots of the lush clematis, while the budding
honeysuckle filled the air with its sweet, almost sugary perfume. On
both sides of the trim and close-shaven lawn red geraniums and white
stocks gave the flower beds a glow of color; and at the end of the
garden the clustering elms, hiding the adjacent houses, reared the
green drapery of their branches, whose little leaves trembled with the
least breath of air.

For more than three weeks the sky had remained blue and cloudless. It
was like a miraculous spring celebrating the new youth and blossoming
that had burst into life in Hélène’s heart. Every afternoon she went
down into the garden with Jeanne. A place was assigned her against the
first elm on the right. A chair was ready for her; and on the morrow
she would still find on the gravel walk the scattered clippings of
thread that had fallen from her work on the previous afternoon.

“You are quite at home,” Madame Deberle repeated every evening,
displaying for Hélène one of those affections of hers, which usually
lasted some six months. “You will come to-morrow, of course; and try to
come earlier, won’t you?”

Hélène, in truth, felt thoroughly at her ease there. By degrees she
became accustomed to this nook of greenery, and looked forward to her
afternoon visit with the longing of a child. What charmed her most in
this garden was the exquisite trimness of the lawn and flower beds. Not
a single weed interfered with the symmetry of the plants. Hélène spent
her time there, calmly and restfully. The neatly laid out flower beds,
and the network of ivy, the withered leaves of which were carefully
removed by the gardener, could exercise no disturbing influence on her
spirit. Seated beneath the deep shadow of the elm-trees, in this quiet
spot which Madame Deberle’s presence perfumed with a faint odor of
musk, she could have imagined herself in a drawing-room; and only the
sight of the blue sky, when she raised her head, reminded her that she
was out-of-doors, and prompted her to breathe freely.

Often, without seeing a soul, the two women would thus pass the
afternoon. Jeanne and Lucien played at their feet. There would be long
intervals of silence, and then Madame Deberle, who disliked reverie,
would chatter for hours, quite satisfied with the silent acquiescence
of Hélène, and rattling off again if the other even so much as nodded.
She would tell endless stories concerning the ladies of her
acquaintance, get up schemes for parties during the coming winter, vent
magpie opinions on the day’s news and the society trifling which filled
her narrow brain, the whole intermingled with affectionate outbursts
over the children, and sentimental remarks on the delights of
friendship. Hélène allowed her to squeeze her hands. She did not always
lend an attentive ear; but, in this atmosphere of unceasing tenderness,
she showed herself greatly touched by Juliette’s caresses, and
pronounced her to be a perfect angel of kindness.

Sometimes, to Madame Deberle’s intense delight, a visitor would drop
in. Since Easter she had ceased receiving on Saturdays, as was usual at
this time of the year. But she dreaded solitude, and a casual
unceremonious visit paid her in her garden gave her the greatest
pleasure. She was now busily engaged in settling on the watering-place
where she would spend her holiday in August. To every visitor she
retailed the same talk; discoursed on the fact that her husband would
not accompany her to the seaside; and then poured forth a flood of
questions, as she could not make up her mind where to go. She did not
ask for herself, however; no, it was all on Lucien’s account. When the
foppish youth Malignon came he seated himself astride a rustic chair.
He, indeed, loathed the country; one must be mad, he would declare, to
exile oneself from Paris with the idea of catching influenza beside the
sea. However, he took part in the discussions on the merits of the
various watering-places, all of which were horrid, said he; apart from
Trouville there was not a place worthy of any consideration whatever.
Day after day Hélène listened to the same talk, yet without feeling
wearied; indeed, she even derived pleasure from this monotony, which
lulled her into dreaming of one thing only. The last day of the month
came, and still Madame Deberle had not decided where to go.

As Hélène was leaving one evening, her friend said to her: “I must go
out to-morrow; but that needn’t prevent you from coming down here. Wait
for me; I shan’t be back late.”

Hélène consented; and, alone in the garden, there spent a delicious
afternoon. Nothing stirred, save the sparrows fluttering in the trees
overhead. This little sunny nook entranced her, and, from that day, her
happiest afternoons were those on which her friend left her alone.

A closer intimacy was springing up between the Deberles and herself.
She dined with them like a friend who is pressed to stay when the
family sits down to table; when she lingered under the elm-trees and
Pierre came down to announce dinner, Juliette would implore her to
remain, and she sometimes yielded. They were family dinners, enlivened
by the noisy pranks of the children. Doctor Deberle and Hélène seemed
good friends, whose sensible and somewhat reserved natures sympathized
well. Thus it was that Juliette frequently declared: “Oh, you two would
get on capitally! Your composure exasperates me!”

The doctor returned from his round of visits at about six o’clock every
evening. He found the ladies in the garden, and sat down beside them.
On the earlier occasions, Hélène started up with the idea of leaving
her friends to themselves, but her sudden departure displeased Juliette
greatly, and she now perforce had to remain. She became almost a member
of this family, which appeared to be so closely united. On the doctor’s
arrival his wife held up her cheek to him, always with the same loving
gesture, and he kissed her; then, as Lucien began clambering up his
legs, he kept him on his knees while chatting away. The child would
clap his tiny hands on his father’s mouth, pull his hair, and play so
many pranks that in the upshot he had to be put down, and told to go
and play with Jeanne. The fun would bring a smile to Hélène’s face, and
she neglected her work for the moment, to gaze at father, mother, and
child. The kiss of the husband and wife gave her no pain, and Lucien’s
tricks filled her with soft emotion. It might have been said that she
had found a haven of refuge amidst this family’s quiet content.

Meanwhile the sun would sink into the west, gilding the tree tops with
its rays. Serene peacefulness fell from the grey heavens. Juliette,
whose curiosity was insatiable, even in company with strangers, plagued
her husband with ceaseless questions, and often lacked the patience to
wait his replies. “Where have you been? What have you been about?”

Thereupon he would describe his round of visits to them, repeat any
news of what was going on, or speak of some cloth or piece of furniture
he had caught a glimpse of in a shop window. While he was speaking, his
eyes often met those of Hélène, but neither turned away the head. They
gazed into each other’s face for a moment with grave looks, as though
heart were being revealed to heart; but after a little they smiled and
their eyes dropped. Juliette, fidgety and sprightly, though she would
often assume a studied languor, allowed them no opportunity for lengthy
conversation, but burst with her interruptions into any talk whatever.
Still they exchanged a few words, quite commonplace, slowly articulated
sentences which seemed to assume a deep meaning, and to linger in the
air after having been spoken. They approvingly punctuated each word the
other uttered, as though they had thoughts in common. It was an
intimate sympathy that was growing up between them, springing from the
depths of their beings, and becoming closer even when they were silent.
Sometimes Juliette, rather ashamed of monopolizing all the talk, would
cease her magpie chatter.

“Dear me!” she would exclaim, “you are getting bored, aren’t you? We
are talking of matters which can have no possible interest for you.”

“Oh, never mind me,” Hélène answered blithely. “I never tire. It is a
pleasure to me to listen and say nothing.”

She was uttering no untruth. It was during the lengthy periods of
silence that she experienced most delight in being there. With her head
bent over her work, only lifting her eyes at long intervals to exchange
with the doctor those interminable looks that riveted their hearts the
closer, she willingly surrendered herself to the egotism of her
emotion. Between herself and him, she now confessed it, there existed a
secret sentiment, a something very sweet—all the sweeter because no one
in the world shared it with them. But she kept her secret with a
tranquil mind, her sense of honor quite unruffled, for no thought of
evil ever disturbed her. How good he was to his wife and child! She
loved him the more when he made Lucien jump or kissed Juliette on the
cheek. Since she had seen him in his own home their friendship had
greatly increased. She was now as one of the family; she never dreamt
that the intimacy could be broken. And within her own breast she called
him Henri—naturally, too, from hearing Juliette address him so. When
her lips said “Sir,” through all her being “Henri” was re-echoed.

One day the doctor found Hélène alone under the elms. Juliette now went
out nearly every afternoon.

“Hello! is my wife not with you?” he exclaimed.

“No, she has left me to myself,” she answered laughingly. “It is true
you have come home earlier than usual.”

The children were playing at the other end of the garden. He sat down
beside her. Their _tete-a-tete_ produced no agitation in either of
them. For nearly an hour they spoke of all sorts of matters, without
for a moment feeling any desire to allude to the tenderness which
filled their hearts. What was the good of referring to that? Did they
not well know what might have been said? They had no confession to
make. Theirs was the joy of being together, of talking of many things,
of surrendering themselves to the pleasure of their isolation without a
shadow of regret, in the very spot where every evening he embraced his
wife in her presence.

That day he indulged in some jokes respecting her devotion to work. “Do
you know,” said he, “I do not even know the color of your eyes? They
are always bent on your needle.”

She raised her head and looked straight into his face, as was her
custom. “Do you wish to tease me?” she asked gently.

But he went on. “Ah! they are grey—grey, tinged with blue, are they
not?”

This was the utmost limit to which they dared go; but these words, the
first that had sprung to his lips, were fraught with infinite
tenderness. From that day onwards he frequently found her alone in the
twilight. Despite themselves, and without their having any knowledge of
it, their intimacy grew apace. They spoke in an altered voice, with
caressing inflections, which were not apparent when others were
present. And yet, when Juliette came in, full of gossip about her day
in town, they could keep up the talk they had already begun without
even troubling themselves to draw their chairs apart. It seemed as
though this lovely springtide and this garden, with its blossoming
lilac, were prolonging within their hearts the first rapture of love.

Towards the end of the month, Madame Deberle grew excited over a grand
idea. The thought of giving a children’s ball had suddenly struck her.
The season was already far advanced, but the scheme took such hold on
her foolish brain that she hurried on the preparations with reckless
haste. She desired that the affair should be quite perfect; it was to
be a fancy-dress ball. And, in her own home, and in other people’s
houses, everywhere, in short, she now spoke of nothing but her ball.
The conversations on the subject which took place in the garden were
endless. The foppish Malignon thought the project rather stupid, still
he condescended to take some interest in it, and promised to bring a
comic singer with whom he was acquainted.

One afternoon, while they were all sitting under the trees, Juliette
introduced the grave question of the costumes which Lucien and Jeanne
should wear.

“It is so difficult to make up one’s mind,” said she. “I have been
thinking of a clown’s dress in white satin.”

“Oh, that’s too common!” declared Malignon. “There will be a round
dozen of clowns at your ball. Wait, you must have something novel.”
Thereupon he began gravely pondering, sucking the head of his cane all
the while.

Pauline came up at the moment, and proclaimed her desire to appear as a
soubrette.

“You!” screamed Madame Deberle, in astonishment. “You won’t appear in
costume at all! Do you think yourself a child, you great stupid? You
will oblige me by coming in a white dress.”

“Oh, but it would have pleased me so!” exclaimed Pauline, who, despite
her eighteen years and plump girlish figure, liked nothing better than
to romp with a band of little ones.

Meanwhile Hélène sat at the foot of her tree working away, and raising
her head at times to smile at the doctor and Monsieur Rambaud, who
stood in front of her conversing. Monsieur Rambaud had now become quite
intimate with the Deberle family.

“Well,” said the doctor, “and how are you going to dress, Jeanne?”

He got no further, for Malignon burst out: “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!
Lucien must be a marquis of the time of Louis XV.”

He waved his cane with a triumphant air; but, as no one of the company
hailed his idea with enthusiasm, he appeared astonished. “What, don’t
you see it? Won’t it be for Lucien to receive his little guests? So you
place him, dressed as a marquis, at the drawing-room door, with a large
bouquet of roses on his coat, and he bows to the ladies.”

“But there will be dozens of marquises at the ball!” objected Juliette.

“What does that matter?” replied Malignon coolly. “The more marquises
the greater the fun. I tell you it is the best thing you can hit upon.
The master of the house must be dressed as a marquis, or the ball will
be a complete failure.”

Such was his conviction of his scheme’s success that at last it was
adopted by Juliette with enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, a dress in
the Pompadour style, white satin embroidered with posies, would be
altogether charming.

“And what about Jeanne?” again asked the doctor.

The little girl had just buried her head against her mother’s shoulder
in the caressing manner so characteristic of her; and as an answer was
about to cross Hélène’s lips, she murmured:

“Oh! mamma, you know what you promised me, don’t you?”

“What was it?” asked those around her.

Then, as her daughter gave her an imploring look, Hélène laughingly
replied: “Jeanne does not wish her dress to be known.”

“Yes, that’s so,” said the child; “you don’t create any effect when you
tell your dress beforehand.”

Every one was tickled with this display of coquetry, and Monsieur
Rambaud thought he might tease the child about it. For some time past
Jeanne had been ill-tempered with him, and the poor man, at his wits’
end to hit upon a mode of again gaining her favor, thought teasing her
the best method of conciliation. Keeping his eyes on her face, he
several times repeated: “I know; I shall tell, I shall tell!”

Jeanne, however, became quite livid. Her gentle, sickly face assumed an
expression of ferocious anger; her brow was furrowed by two deep
wrinkles, and her chin drooped with nervous agitation.

“You!” she screamed excitedly; “you will say nothing!” And, as he still
feigned a resolve to speak, she rushed at him madly, and shouted out:
“Hold your tongue! I will have you hold your tongue! I will! I will!”

Hélène had been unable to prevent this fit of blind anger, such as
sometimes took possession of the child, and with some harshness
exclaimed: “Jeanne, take care; I shall whip you!”

But Jeanne paid no heed, never once heard her. Trembling from head to
foot, stamping on the ground, and choking with rage, she again and
again repeated, “I will! I will!” in a voice that grew more and more
hoarse and broken; and her hands convulsively gripped hold of Monsieur
Rambaud’s arm, which she twisted with extraordinary strength. In vain
did Hélène threaten her. At last, perceiving her inability to quell her
by severity, and grieved to the heart by such a display before so many
people, she contented herself by saying gently: “Jeanne, you are
grieving me very much.”

The child immediately quitted her hold and turned her head. And when
she caught sight of her mother, with disconsolate face and eyes
swimming with repressed tears, she on her side burst into loud sobs,
and threw herself on Hélène’s neck, exclaiming in her grief: “No,
mamma! no, mamma!”

She passed her hands over her mother’s face, as though to prevent her
weeping. Hélène, however, slowly put her from her, and then the little
one, broken-hearted and distracted, threw herself on a seat a short
distance off, where her sobs broke out louder than ever. Lucien, to
whom she was always held up as an example to follow, gazed at her
surprised and somewhat pleased. And then, as Hélène folded up her work,
apologizing for so regrettable an incident, Juliette remarked to her:

“Dear me! we have to pardon children everything. Besides, the little
one has the best of hearts, and is grieved so much, poor darling, that
she has been already punished too severely.”

So saying she called Jeanne to come and kiss her; but the child
remained on her seat, rejecting the offer of forgiveness, and still
choking with tears.

Monsieur Rambaud and the doctor, however, walked to her side, and the
former, bending over her, asked, in tones husky with emotion: “Tell me,
my pet, what has vexed you? What have I done to you?”

“Oh!” she replied, drawing away her hands and displaying a face full of
anguish, “you wanted to take my mamma from me!”

The doctor, who was listening, burst into laughter. Monsieur Rambaud at
first failed to grasp her meaning.

“What is this you’re talking of?”

“Yes, indeed, the other Tuesday! Oh! you know very well; you were on
your knees, and asked me what I should say if you were to stay with
us!”

The smile vanished from the doctor’s face; his lips became ashy pale,
and quivered. A flush, on the other hand, mounted to Monsieur Rambaud’s
cheek, and he whispered to Jeanne: “But you said yourself that we
should always play together?”

“No, no; I did not know at the time,” the child resumed excitedly. “I
tell you I don’t want it. Don’t ever speak to me of it again, and then
we shall be friends.”

Hélène was on her feet now, with her needlework in its basket, and the
last words fell on her ear. “Come, let us go up, Jeanne,” she said;
“your tears are not pleasant company.”

She bowed, and pushed the child before her. The doctor, with livid
face, gazed at her fixedly. Monsieur Rambaud was in dismay. As for
Madame Deberle and Pauline, they had taken hold of Lucien, and were
making him turn between them, while excitedly discussing the question
of his Pompadour dress.

On the morrow Hélène was left alone under the elms. Madame Deberle was
running about in the interests of her ball, and had taken Lucien and
Jeanne with her. On the doctor’s return home, at an earlier hour than
usual, he hurried down the garden steps. However, he did not seat
himself, but wandered aimlessly round the young woman, at times tearing
strips of bark from the trees with his finger-nails. She lifted her
eyes for a moment, feeling anxious at sight of his agitation; and then
again began plying her needle with a somewhat trembling hand.

“The weather is going to break up,” said she, feeling uncomfortable as
the silence continued. “The afternoon seems quite cold.”

“We are only in April, remember,” he replied, with a brave effort to
control his voice.

Then he appeared to be on the point of leaving her, but turned round,
and suddenly asked: “So you are going to get married?”

This abrupt question took her wholly by surprise, and her work fell
from her hands. Her face blanched, but by a supreme effort of will
remained unimpassioned, as though she were a marble statue, fixing
dilated eyes upon him. She made no reply, and he continued in imploring
tones:

“Oh! I pray you, answer me. One word, one only. Are you going to get
married?”

“Yes, perhaps. What concern is it of yours?” she retorted, in a tone of
icy indifference.

He made a passionate gesture, and exclaimed:

“It is impossible!”

“Why should it be?” she asked, still keeping her eyes fixed on his
face.

Her glance stayed the words upon his lips, and he was forced to
silence. For a moment longer he remained near her, pressing his hands
to his brow, and then fled away, with a feeling of suffocation in his
throat, dreading lest he might give expression to his despair; while
she, with assumed tranquillity, once more turned to her work.

But the spell of those delicious afternoons was gone. Next day shone
fair and sunny, and Hélène seemed ill at ease from the moment she found
herself alone with him. The pleasant intimacy, the happy trustfulness,
which sanctioned their sitting side by side in blissful security, and
revelling in the unalloyed joy of being together, no longer existed.
Despite his intense carefulness to give her no cause for alarm, he
would sometimes gaze at her and tremble with sudden excitement, while
his face crimsoned with a rush of blood. From her own heart had fled
its wonted happy calm; quivers ran through her frame; she felt languid;
her hands grew weary, and forsook their work.

She now no longer allowed Jeanne to wander from her side. Between
himself and her the doctor found this constant onlooker, watching him
with large, clear eyes. But what pained Hélène most was that she now
felt ill at ease in Madame Deberle’s company. When the latter returned
of an afternoon, with her hair swept about by the wind, and called her
“my dear” while relating the incidents of some shopping expedition, she
no longer listened with her former quiet smile. A storm arose from the
depths of her soul, stirring up feelings to which she dared not give a
name. Shame and spite seemed mingled in them. However, her honorable
nature gained the mastery, and she gave her hand to Juliette, but
without being able to repress the shudder which ran through her as she
pressed her friend’s warm fingers.

The weather had now broken up. Frequent rain forced the ladies to take
refuge in the Japanese pavilion. The garden, with its whilom exquisite
order, became transformed into a lake, and no one dared venture on the
walks, on account of the mud. However, whenever the sun peeped out from
behind the clouds, the dripping greenery soon dried; pearls hung from
each little blossom of the lilac trees; and under the elms big drops
fell splashing on the ground.

“At last I’ve arranged it; it will be on Saturday,” said Madame Deberle
one day. “My dear, I’m quite tired out with the whole affair. Now,
you’ll be here at two o’clock, won’t you? Jeanne will open the ball
with Lucien.”

And thereupon, surrendering to a flow of tenderness, in ecstasy over
the preparations for her ball, she embraced both children, and,
laughingly catching hold of Hélène, pressed two resounding kisses on
her cheeks.

“That’s my reward!” she exclaimed merrily. “You know I deserve it; I
have run about enough. You’ll see what a success it will be!”

But Hélène remained chilled to the heart, while the doctor, with Lucien
clinging to his neck, gazed at them over the child’s fair head.



 CHAPTER IX.


In the hall of the doctor’s house stood Pierre, in dress coat and white
cravat, throwing open the door as each carriage rolled up. Puffs of
dank air rushed in; the afternoon was rainy, and a yellow light
illumined the narrow hall, with its curtained doorways and array of
green plants. It was only two o’clock, but the evening seemed as near
at hand as on a dismal winter’s day.

However, as soon as the servant opened the door of the first
drawing-room, a stream of light dazzled the guests. The shutters had
been closed, and the curtains carefully drawn, and no gleam from the
dull sky could gain admittance. The lamps standing here and there on
the furniture, and the lighted candles of the chandelier and the
crystal wall-brackets, gave the apartment somewhat the appearance of a
brilliantly illuminated chapel. Beyond the smaller drawing-room, whose
green hangings rather softened the glare of the light, was the large
black-and-gold one, decorated as magnificently as for the ball which
Madame Deberle gave every year in the month of January.

The children were beginning to arrive, while Pauline gave her attention
to the ranging of a number of chairs in front of the dining-room
doorway, where the door had been removed from its hinges and replaced
by a red curtain.

“Papa,” she cried, “just lend me a hand! We shall never be ready.”

Monsieur Letellier, who, with his arms behind his back, was gazing at
the chandelier, hastened to give the required assistance. Pauline
carried the chairs about herself. She had paid due deference to her
sister’s request, and was robed in white; only her dress opened
squarely at the neck and displayed her bosom.

“At last we are ready,” she exclaimed: “they can come when they like.
But what is Juliette dreaming about? She has been ever so long dressing
Lucien!”

Just at that moment Madame Deberle entered, leading the little marquis,
and everybody present began raising admiring remarks. “Oh! what a love!
What a darling he is!” His coat was of white satin embroidered with
flowers, his long waistcoat was embroidered with gold, and his
knee-breeches were of cherry-colored silk. Lace clustered round his
chin, and delicate wrists. A sword, a mere toy with a great rose-red
knot, rattled against his hip.

“Now you must do the honors,” his mother said to him, as she led him
into the outer room.

For eight days past he had been repeating his lesson, and struck a
cavalier attitude with his little legs, his powdered head thrown
slightly back, and his cocked hat tucked under his left arm. As each of
his lady-guests was ushered into the room, he bowed low, offered his
arm, exchanged courteous greetings, and returned to the threshold.
Those near him laughed over his intense seriousness in which there was
a dash of effrontery. This was the style in which he received
Marguerite Tissot, a little lady five years old, dressed in a charming
milkmaid costume, with a milk-can hanging at her side; so too did he
greet the Berthier children, Blanche and Sophie, the one masquerading
as Folly, the other dressed in soubrette style; and he had even the
hardihood to tackle Valentine de Chermette, a tall young lady of some
fourteen years, whom her mother always dressed in Spanish costume, and
at her side his figure appeared so slight that she seemed to be
carrying him along. However, he was profoundly embarrassed in the
presence of the Levasseur family, which numbered five girls, who made
their appearance in a row of increasing height, the youngest being
scarcely two years old, while the eldest was ten. All five were arrayed
in Red Riding-Hood costumes, their head-dresses and gowns being in
poppy-colored satin with black velvet bands, with which their lace
aprons strikingly contrasted. At last Lucien, making up his mind,
bravely flung away his three-cornered hat, and led the two elder girls,
one hanging on each arm, into the drawing-room, closely followed by the
three others. There was a good deal of laughter at it, but the little
man never lost his self-possession for a moment.

In the meantime Madame Deberle was taking her sister to task in a
corner.

“Good gracious! is it possible! what a fearfully low-necked dress you
are wearing!”

“Dear, dear! what have I done now? Papa hasn’t said a word,” answered
Pauline coolly. “If you’re anxious, I’ll put some flowers at my
breast.”

She plucked a handful of blossoms from a flower-stand where they were
growing and allowed them to nestle in her bosom; while Madame Deberle
was surrounded by several mammas in stylish visiting-dresses, who were
already profuse in their compliments about her ball. As Lucien was
passing them, his mother arranged a loose curl of his powdered hair,
while he stood on tip-toe to whisper in her ear:

“Where’s Jeanne?”

“She will be here immediately, my darling. Take good care not to fall.
Run away, there comes little Mademoiselle Guiraud. Ah! she is wearing
an Alsatian costume.”

The drawing-room was now filling rapidly; the rows of chairs fronting
the red curtain were almost all occupied, and a hubbub of children’s
voices was rising. The boys were flocking into the room in groups.
There were already three Harlequins, four Punches, a Figaro, some
Tyrolese peasants, and a few Highlanders. Young Master Berthier was
dressed as a page. Little Guiraud, a mere bantling of two-and-a-half
summers, wore his clown’s costume in so comical a style that every one
as he passed lifted him up and kissed him.

“Here comes Jeanne,” exclaimed Madame Deberle, all at once. “Oh, she is
lovely!”

A murmur ran round the room; heads were bent forward, and every one
gave vent to exclamations of admiration. Jeanne was standing on the
threshold of the outer room, awaiting her mother, who was taking off
her cloak in the hall. The child was robed in a Japanese dress of
unusual splendor. The gown, embroidered with flowers and
strange-looking birds, swept to her feet, which were hidden from view;
while beneath her broad waist-ribbon the flaps, drawn aside, gave a
glimpse of a green petticoat, watered with yellow. Nothing could be
more strangely bewitching than her delicate features seen under the
shadow of her hair, coiled above her head with long pins thrust through
it, while her chin and oblique eyes, small and sparkling, pictured to
the life a young lady of Yeddo, strolling amidst the perfume of tea and
benzoin. And she lingered there hesitatingly, with all the sickly
languor of a tropical flower pining for the land of its birth.

Behind her, however, appeared Hélène. Both, in thus suddenly passing
from the dull daylight of the street into the brilliant glare of the
wax candles, blinked their eyes as though blinded, while their faces
were irradiated with smiles. The rush of warm air and the perfumes, the
scent of violets rising above all else, almost stifled them, and
brought a flush of red to their cheeks. Each guest, on passing the
doorway, wore a similar air of surprise and hesitancy.

“Why, Lucien! where are you?” exclaimed Madame Deberle.

The boy had not caught sight of Jeanne. But now he rushed forward and
seized her arm, forgetting to make his bow. And they were so dainty, so
loving, the little marquis in his flowered coat, and the Japanese
maiden in her purple embroidered gown, that they might have been taken
for two statuettes of Dresden china, daintily gilded and painted, into
which life had been suddenly infused.

“You know, I was waiting for you,” whispered Lucien. “Oh, it is so
nasty to give everybody my arm! Of course, we’ll keep beside each
other, eh?”

And he sat himself down with her in the first row of chairs, wholly
oblivious of his duties as host.

“Oh, I was so uneasy!” purred Juliette into Hélène’s ear. “I was
beginning to fear that Jeanne had been taken ill.”

Hélène proffered apology; dressing children, said she, meant endless
labor. She was still standing in a corner of the drawing-room, one of a
cluster of ladies, when her heart told her that the doctor was
approaching behind her. He was making his way from behind the red
curtain, beneath which he had dived to give some final instructions.
But suddenly he came to a standstill. He, too, had divined her
presence, though she had not yet turned her head. Attired in a dress of
black grenadine, she had never appeared more queenly in her beauty; and
a thrill passed through him as he breathed the cool air which she had
brought with her from outside, and wafted from her shoulders and arms,
gleaming white under their transparent covering.

“Henri has no eyes for anybody,” exclaimed Pauline, with a laugh. “Ah,
good-day, Henri!”

Thereupon he advanced towards the group of ladies, with a courteous
greeting. Mademoiselle Aurelie, who was amongst them, engaged his
attention for the moment to point out to him a nephew whom she had
brought with her. He was all complaisance. Hélène, without speaking,
gave him her hand, encased in its black glove, but he dared not clasp
it with marked force.

“Oh! here you are!” said Madame Deberle, as she appeared beside them.
“I have been looking for you everywhere. It is nearly three o’clock;
they had better begin.”

“Certainly; at once,” was his reply.

The drawing-room was now crowded. All round it, in the brilliant glare
thrown from the chandelier, sat the fathers and mothers, their walking
costumes serving to fringe the circle with less vivid colors. Some
ladies, drawing their chairs together, formed groups; men standing
motionless along the walls filled up the gaps; while in the doorway
leading to the next room a cluster of frock-coated guests could be seen
crowding together and peering over each other’s shoulders. The light
fell wholly on the little folks, noisy in their glee, as they rustled
about in their seats in the centre of the large room. There were almost
a hundred children packed together; in an endless variety of gay
costumes, bright with blue and red. It was like a sea of fair heads,
varying from pale yellow to ruddy gold, with here and there bows and
flowers gleaming vividly—or like a field of ripe grain, spangled with
poppies and cornflowers, and waving to and fro as though stirred by a
breeze. At times, amidst this confusion of ribbons and lace, of silk
and velvet, a face was turned round—a pink nose, a pair of blue eyes, a
smiling or pouting little mouth. There were some, no higher than one’s
boots, who were buried out of sight between big lads of ten years of
age, and whom their mothers sought from a distance, but in vain. A few
of the boys looked bored and foolish by the side of girls who were busy
spreading out their skirts. Some, however, were already very
venturesome, jogging the elbows of their fair neighbors with whom they
were unacquainted, and laughing in their faces. But the royalty of the
gathering remained with the girls, some of whom, clustering in groups,
stirred about in such a way as to threaten destruction to their chairs,
and chattered so loudly that the grown-up folks could no longer hear
one another speaking. And all eyes were intently gazing at the red
curtain.

Slowly was it drawn aside, and in the recess of the doorway appeared a
puppet-show. There was a hushed silence. Then all at once Punch sprang
in, with so ferocious a yell that baby Guiraud could not restrain a
responsive cry of terror and delight. It was one of those bloodthirsty
dramas in which Punch, having administered a sound beating to the
magistrate, murders the policeman, and tramples with ferocious glee on
every law, human and divine. At every cudgelling bestowed on the wooden
heads the pitiless audience went into shrieks of laughter; and the
sharp thrusts delivered by the puppets at each other’s breasts, the
duels in which they beat a tattoo on one another’s skulls as though
they were empty pumpkins, the awful havoc of legs and arms, reducing
the characters to a jelly, served to increase the roars of laughter
which rang out from all sides. But the climax of enjoyment was reached
when Punch sawed off the policeman’s head on the edge of the stage; an
operation provocative of such hysterical mirth that the rows of
juveniles were plunged into confusion, swaying to and fro with glee
till they all but fell on one another. One tiny girl, but four years
old, all pink and white, considered the spectacle so entrancing that
she pressed her little hands devoutly to her heart. Others burst into
applause, while the boys laughed, with mouths agape, their deeper
voices mingling with the shrill peals from the girls.

“How amused they are!” whispered the doctor. He had returned to his
place near Hélène. She was in high spirits like the children. Behind
her, he sat inhaling the intoxicating perfume which came from her hair.
And as one puppet on the stage dealt another an exceptionally hard
knock she turned to him and exclaimed: “Do you know, it is awfully
funny!”

The youngsters, crazy with excitement, were now interfering with the
action of the drama. They were giving answers to the various
characters. One young lady, who must have been well up in the plot, was
busy explaining what would next happen.

“He’ll beat his wife to death in a minute! Now they are going to hang
him!”

The youngest of the Levasseur girls, who was two years old, shrieked
out all at once:

“Mamma, mamma, will they put him on bread and water?”

All sorts of exclamations and reflections followed. Meanwhile Hélène,
gazing into the crowd of children, remarked: “I cannot see Jeanne. Is
she enjoying herself?”

Then the doctor bent forward, with head perilously near her own, and
whispered: “There she is, between that harlequin and the Norman peasant
maiden! You can see the pins gleaming in her hair. She is laughing very
heartily.”

He still leaned towards her, her cool breath playing on his cheek. Till
now no confession had escaped them; preserving silence, their intimacy
had only been marred for a few days past by a vague sensation of
discomfort. But amidst these bursts of happy laughter, gazing upon the
little folks before her, Hélène became once more, in sooth, a very
child, surrendering herself to her feelings, while Henri’s breath beat
warm upon her neck. The whacks from the cudgel, now louder than ever,
filled her with a quiver which inflated her bosom, and she turned
towards him with sparkling eyes.

“Good heavens! what nonsense it all is!” she said each time. “See how
they hit one another!”

“Oh! their heads are hard enough!” he replied, trembling.

This was all his heart could find to say. Their minds were fast lapsing
into childhood once more. Punch’s unedifying life was fostering languor
within their breasts. When the drama drew to its close with the
appearance of the devil, and the final fight and general massacre
ensued, Hélène in leaning back pressed against Henri’s hand, which was
resting on the back of her arm-chair; while the juvenile audience,
shouting and clapping their hands, made the very chairs creak with
their enthusiasm.

The red curtain dropped again, and the uproar was at its height when
Malignon’s presence was announced by Pauline, in her customary style:
“Ah! here’s the handsome Malignon!”

He made his way into the room, shoving the chairs aside, quite out of
breath.

“Dear me! what a funny idea to close the shutters!” he exclaimed,
surprised and hesitating. “People might imagine that somebody in the
house was dead.” Then, turning towards Madame Deberle, who was
approaching him, he continued: “Well, you can boast of having made me
run about! Ever since the morning I have been hunting for Perdiguet;
you know whom I mean, my singer fellow. But I haven’t been able to lay
my hands on him, and I have brought you the great Morizot instead.”

The great Morizot was an amateur who entertained drawing-rooms by
conjuring with juggler-balls. A gipsy table was assigned to him, and on
this he accomplished his most wonderful tricks; but it all passed off
without the spectators evincing the slightest interest. The poor little
darlings were pulling serious faces; some of the tinier mites fell fast
asleep, sucking their thumbs. The older children turned their heads and
smiled towards their parents, who were themselves yawning behind their
hands. There was thus a general feeling of relief when the great
Morizot decided to take his table away.

“Oh! he’s awfully clever,” whispered Malignon into Madame Deberle’s
neck.

But the red curtain was drawn aside once again, and an entrancing
spectacle brought all the little folks to their feet.

Along the whole extent of the dining-room stretched the table, laid and
bedecked as for a grand dinner, and illumined by the bright radiance of
the central lamp and a pair of large candelabra. There were fifty
covers laid; in the middle and at either end were shallow baskets, full
of flowers; between these towered tall _epergnes_, filled to
overflowing with crackers in gilded and colored paper. Then there were
mountains of decorated cakes, pyramids of iced fruits, piles of
sandwiches, and, less prominent, a whole host of symmetrically disposed
plates, bearing sweetmeats and pastry: buns, cream puffs, and
_brioches_ alternating with dry biscuits, cracknals, and fancy almond
cakes. Jellies were quivering in their glass dishes. Whipped creams
waited in porcelain bowls. And round the table sparkled the silver
helmets of champagne bottles, no higher than one’s hand, made specially
to suit the little guests. It all looked like one of those gigantic
feasts which children conjure up in dreamland—a feast served with the
solemnity that attends a repast of grown-up folks—a fairy
transformation of the table to which their own parents sat down, and on
which the horns of plenty of innumerable pastry-cooks and toy dealers
had been emptied.

“Come, come, give the ladies your arms!” said Madame Deberle, her face
covered with smiles as she watched the delight of the children.

But the filing off in couples proved a lure. Lucien, who had
triumphantly taken Jeanne’s arm, went first. But the others following
behind fell somewhat into confusion, and the mothers were forced to
come and assign them places, remaining close at hand, especially behind
the babies, whom they watched lest any mischance should befall them.
Truth to tell, the guests at first seemed rather uncomfortable; they
looked at one another, felt afraid to lay hands on the good things, and
were vaguely disquieted by this new social organization in which
everything appeared to be topsy-turvy, the children seated at table
while their parents remained standing. At length the older ones gained
confidence and commenced the attack. And when the mothers entered into
the fray, and cut up the large cakes, helping those in their vicinity,
the feast speedily became very animated and noisy. The exquisite
symmetry of the table was destroyed as though by a tempest. The two
Berthier girls, Blanche and Sophie, laughed at the sight of their
plates, which had been filled with something of everything—jam,
custard, cake, and fruit. The five young ladies of the Levasseur family
took sole possession of a corner laden with dainties, while Valentine,
proud of her fourteen years, acted the lady’s part, and looked after
the comfort of her little neighbors. Lucien, however, impatient to
display his politeness, uncorked a bottle of champagne, but in so
clumsy a way that the whole contents spurted over his cherry silk
breeches. There was quite a to-do about it.

“Kindly leave the bottles alone! I am to uncork the champagne,” shouted
Pauline.

She bustled about in an extraordinary fashion, purely for her own
amusement. On the entry of a servant with the chocolate pot, she seized
it and filled the cups with the greatest glee, as active in the
performance as any restaurant waiter. Next she took round some ices and
glasses of syrup and water, set them down for a moment to stuff a
little baby-girl who had been overlooked, and then went off again,
asking every one questions.

“What is it you wish, my pet? Eh? A cake? Yes, my darling, wait a
moment; I am going to pass you the oranges. Now eat away, you little
stupids, you shall play afterwards.”

Madame Deberle, calm and dignified, declared that they ought to be left
alone, and would acquit themselves very well.

At one end of the room sat Hélène and some other ladies laughing at the
scene which the table presented; all the rosy mouths were eating with
the full strength of their beautiful white teeth. And nothing could
eclipse in drollery the occasional lapses from the polished behavior of
well-bred children to the outrageous freaks of young savages. With both
hands gripping their glasses, they drank to the very dregs, smeared
their faces, and stained their dresses. The clamor grew worse. The last
of the dishes were plundered. Jeanne herself began dancing on her chair
as she heard the strains of a quadrille coming from the drawing-room;
and on her mother approaching to upbraid her with having eaten too
much, she replied: “Oh! mamma, I feel so happy to-day!”

But now the other children were rising as they heard the music. Slowly
the table thinned, until there only remained a fat, chubby infant right
in the middle. He seemingly cared little for the attractions of the
piano; with a napkin round his neck, and his chin resting on the
tablecloth—for he was a mere chit—he opened his big eyes, and protruded
his lips each time that his mamma offered him a spoonful of chocolate.
The contents of the cup vanished, and he licked his lips as the last
mouthful went down his throat, with eyes more agape than ever.

“By Jove! my lad, you eat heartily!” exclaimed Malignon, who was
watching him with a thoughtful air.

Now came the division of the “surprise” packets. Each child, on leaving
the table, bore away one of the large gilt paper twists, the coverings
of which were hastily torn off and from them poured forth a host of
toys, grotesque hats made of tissue paper, birds and butterflies. But
the joy of joys was the possession of a cracker. Every “surprise”
packet had its cracker; and these the lads pulled at gallantly,
delighted with the noise, while the girls shut their eyes, making many
tries before the explosion took place. For a time the sharp crackling
of all this musketry alone could be heard; and the uproar was still
lasting when the children returned to the drawing-room, where lively
quadrille music resounded from the piano.

“I could enjoy a cake,” murmured Mademoiselle Aurelie, as she sat down.

At the table, which was now deserted, but covered with all the litter
of the huge feast, a few ladies—some dozen or so, who had preferred to
wait till the children had retired—now sat down. As no servant could be
found, Malignon bustled hither and thither in attendance. He poured out
all that remained in the chocolate pot, shook up the dregs of the
bottles, and was even successful in discovering some ices. But amidst
all these gallant doings of his, he could not quit one idea, and that
was—why had they decided on closing the shutters?

“You know,” he asserted, “the place looks like a cellar.”

Hélène had remained standing, engaged in conversation with Madame
Deberle. As the latter directed her steps towards the drawing-room, her
companion prepared to follow, when she felt a gentle touch. Behind her
was the doctor, smiling; he was ever near her.

“Are you not going to take anything?” he asked. And the trivial
question cloaked so earnest an entreaty that her heart was filled with
profound emotion. She knew well enough that each of his words was
eloquent of another thing. The excitement springing from the gaiety
which pulsed around her was slowly gaining on her. Some of the fever of
all these little folks, now dancing and shouting, coursed in her own
veins. With flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, she at first declined.

“No, thank you, nothing at all.”

But he pressed her, and in the end, ill at ease and anxious to get rid
of him, she yielded. “Well, then, a cup of tea.”

He hurried off and returned with the cup, his hands trembling as he
handed it to her. While she was sipping the tea he drew nearer to her,
his lips quivering nervously with the confession springing from his
heart. She in her turn drew back from him, and, returning him the empty
cup, made her escape while he was placing it on a sideboard, thus
leaving him alone in the dining-room with Mademoiselle Aurelie, who was
slowly masticating, and subjecting each dish in succession to a close
scrutiny.

Within the drawing-room the piano was sending forth its loudest
strains, and from end to end of the floor swept the ball with its
charming drolleries. A circle of onlookers had gathered round the
quadrille party with which Lucien and Jeanne were dancing. The little
marquis became rather mixed over the figures; he only got on well when
he had occasion to take hold of Jeanne; and then he gripped her by the
waist and whirled around. Jeanne preserved her equilibrium, somewhat
vexed by his rumpling her dress; but the delights of the dance taking
full possession of her, she caught hold of him in her turn and lifted
him off his feet. The white satin coat embroidered with nosegays
mingled with the folds of the gown woven with flowers and strange
birds, and the two little figures of old Dresden ware assumed all the
grace and novelty of some whatnot ornaments. The quadrille over, Hélène
summoned Jeanne to her side, in order to rearrange her dress.

“It is his fault, mamma,” was the little one’s excuse. “He rubs against
me—he’s a dreadful nuisance.”

Around the drawing-room the faces of the parents were wreathed with
smiles. As soon as the music began again all the little ones were once
more in motion. Seeing, however, that they were observed they felt
distrustful, remained grave, and checked their leaps in order to keep
up appearances. Some of them knew how to dance; but the majority were
ignorant of the steps, and their limbs were evidently a source of
embarrassment to them. But Pauline interposed: “I must see to them! Oh,
you little stupids!”

She threw herself into the midst of the quadrille, caught hold of two
of them, one grasping her right hand the other her left, and managed to
infuse such life into the dance that the wooden flooring creaked
beneath them. The only sounds now audible rose from the hurrying hither
and thither of tiny feet beating wholly out of time, the piano alone
keeping to the dance measure. Some more of the older people joined in
the fun. Hélène and Madame Deberle, noticing some little maids who were
too bashful to venture forth, dragged them into the thickest of the
throng. It was they who led the figures, pushed the lads forward, and
arranged the dancing in rings; and the mothers passed them the youngest
of the babies, so that they might make them skip about for a moment,
holding them the while by both hands. The ball was now at its height.
The dancers enjoyed themselves to their hearts’ content, laughing and
pushing each other about like some boarding school mad with glee over
the absence of the teacher. Nothing, truly, could surpass in unalloyed
gaiety this carnival of youngsters, this assemblage of miniature men
and women—akin to a veritable microcosm, wherein the fashions of every
people mingled with the fantastic creations of romance and drama. The
ruddy lips and blue eyes, the faces breathing love, invested the
dresses with the fresh purity of childhood. The scene realized to the
mind the merrymaking of a fairy-tale to which trooped Cupids in
disguise to honor the betrothal of some Prince Charming.

“I’m stifling!” exclaimed Malignon. “I’m off to inhale some fresh air.”

As he left the drawing-room he threw the door wide open. The daylight
from the street then entered in a lurid stream, bedimming the glare of
lamps and candles. In this fashion every quarter of an hour Malignon
opened the door to let in some fresh air.

Still there was no cessation of the piano-playing. Little Guiraud, in
her Alsatian costume, with a butterfly of black ribbon in her golden
hair, swung round in the dance with a harlequin twice her height. A
Highlander whirled Marguerite Tissot round so madly that she lost her
milk-pail. The two Berthier girls, Blanche and Sophie, who were
inseparables, were dancing together; the soubrette in the arms of
Folly, whose bells were jingling merrily. A glance could not be thrown
over the assemblage without one of the Levasseur girls coming into
view; the Red Riding-Hoods seemed to increase in number; caps and gowns
of gleaming red satin slashed with black velvet everywhere leaped into
sight. Meanwhile some of the older boys and girls had found refuge in
the adjacent saloon, where they could dance more at their ease.
Valentine de Chermette, cloaked in the mantilla of a Spanish senorita,
was executing some marvellous steps in front of a young gentleman who
had donned evening dress. Suddenly there was a burst of laughter which
drew every one to the sight; behind a door in a corner, baby Guiraud,
the two-year-old clown, and a mite of a girl of his own age, in peasant
costume, were holding one another in a tight embrace for fear of
tumbling, and gyrating round and round like a pair of slyboots, with
cheek pressed to cheek.

“I’m quite done up,” remarked Hélène, as she leaned against the
dining-room door.

She fanned her face, flushed with her exertions in the dance. Her bosom
rose and fell beneath the transparent grenadine of her bodice. And she
was still conscious of Henri’s breath beating on her shoulders; he was
still close to her—ever behind her. Now it flashed on her that he would
speak, yet she had no strength to flee from his avowal. He came nearer
and whispered, breathing on her hair: “I love you! oh, how I love you!”

She tingled from head to foot, as though a gust of flame had beaten on
her. O God! he had spoken; she could no longer feign the pleasurable
quietude of ignorance. She hid behind her fan, her face purple with
blushes. The children, whirling madly in the last of the quadrilles,
were making the floor ring with the beating of their feet. There were
silvery peals of laughter, and bird-like voices gave vent to
exclamations of pleasure. A freshness arose from all that band of
innocents galloping round and round like little demons.

“I love you! oh, how I love you!”

She shuddered again; she would listen no further. With dizzy brain she
fled into the dining-room, but it was deserted, save that Monsieur
Letellier sat on a chair, peacefully sleeping. Henri had followed her,
and had the hardihood to seize her wrists even at the risk of a
scandal, his face convulsed with such passion that she trembled before
him. And he still repeated the words:

“I love you! I love you!”

“Leave me,” she murmured faintly. “You are mad—”

And, close by, the dancing still went on, with the trampling of tiny
feet. Blanche Berthier’s bells could be heard ringing in unison with
the softer notes of the piano; Madame Deberle and Pauline were clapping
their hands, by way of beating time. It was a polka, and Hélène caught
a glimpse of Jeanne and Lucien, as they passed by smiling, with arms
clasped round each other.

But with a sudden jerk she freed herself and fled to an adjacent room—a
pantry into which streamed the daylight. That sudden brightness blinded
her. She was terror-stricken—she dared not return to the drawing-room
with the tale of passion written so legibly on her face. So, hastily
crossing the garden, she climbed to her own home, the noises of the
ball-room still ringing in her ears.



 CHAPTER X.


Upstairs, in her own room, in the peaceful, convent-like atmosphere she
found there, Hélène experienced a feeling of suffocation. Her room
astonished her, so calm, so secluded, so drowsy did it seem with its
blue velvet hangings, while she came to it hotly panting with the
emotion which thrilled her. Was this indeed her room, this dreary,
lifeless nook, devoid of air? Hastily she threw open a window, and
leaned out to gaze on Paris.

The rain had ceased, and the clouds were trooping off like some herd of
monsters hurrying in disorderly array into the gloom of the horizon. A
blue gap, that grew larger by degrees, had opened up above the city.
But Hélène, her elbows trembling on the window-rail, still breathless
from her hasty ascent, saw nothing, and merely heard her heart beating
against her swelling breast. She drew a long breath, but it seemed to
her that the spreading valley with its river, its two millions of
people, its immense city, its distant hills, could not hold air enough
to enable her to breathe peacefully and regularly again.

For some minutes she remained there distracted by the fever of passion
which possessed her. It seemed as though a torrent of sensations and
confused ideas were pouring down on her, their roar preventing her from
hearing her own voice or understanding aught. There was a buzzing in
her ears, and large spots of light swam slowly before her eyes. Then
she suddenly found herself examining her gloved hands, and remembering
that she had omitted to sew on a button that had come off the left-hand
glove. And afterwards she spoke aloud, repeating several times, in
tones that grew fainter and fainter: “I love you! I love you! oh, how I
love you!”

Instinctively she buried her face in her hands, and pressed her fingers
to her eyelids as though to intensify the darkness in which she sought
to plunge. It was a wish to annihilate herself, to see no more, to be
utterly alone, girt in by the gloom of night. Her breathing grew
calmer. Paris blew its mighty breath upon her face; she knew it lay
before her, and though she had no wish to look on it, she felt full of
terror at the thought of leaving the window, and of no longer having
beneath her that city whose vastness lulled her to rest.

Ere long she grew unmindful of all around her. The love-scene and
confession, despite her efforts, again woke to life in her mind. In the
inky darkness Henri appeared to her, every feature so distinct and
vivid that she could perceive the nervous twitching of his lips. He
came nearer and hung over her. And then she wildly darted back. But,
nevertheless, she felt a burning breath on her shoulders and a voice
exclaimed: “I love you! I love you!” With a mighty effort she put the
phantom to flight, but it again took shape in the distance, and slowly
swelled to its whilom proportions; it was Henri once more following her
into the dining-room, and still murmuring: “I love you! I love you!”
These words rang within her breast with the sonorous clang of a bell;
she no longer heard anything but them, pealing their loudest throughout
her frame. Nevertheless, she desired to reflect, and again strove to
escape from the apparition. He had spoken; never would she dare to look
on his face again. The brutal passion of the man had tainted the
tenderness of their love. She conjured up past hours, in which he had
loved her without being so cruel as to say it; hours spent in the
garden amidst the tranquillity of the budding springtime God! he had
spoken—the thought clung to her so stubbornly, lowered on her in such
immensity and with such weight, that the instant destruction of Paris
by a thunderbolt before her eyes would have seemed a trivial matter.
Her heart was rent by feelings of indignant protest and haughty anger,
commingling with a secret and unconquerable pleasure, which ascended
from her inner being and bereft her of her senses. He had spoken, and
was speaking still, he sprang up unceasingly before her, uttering those
passionate words: “I love you! I love you!”—words that swept into
oblivion all her past life as wife and mother.

In spite of her brooding over this vision, she retained some
consciousness of the vast expanse which stretched beneath her, beyond
the darkness that curtained her sight. A loud rumbling arose, and waves
of life seemed to surge up and circle around her. Echoes, odors, and
even light streamed against her face, though her hands were still
nervously pressed to it. At times sudden gleams appeared to pierce her
closed eyelids, and amidst the radiance she imagined she saw monuments,
steeples, and domes standing out in the diffuse light of dreamland.
Then she lowered her hands and, opening her eyes, was dazzled. The
vault of heaven expanded before her, and Henri had vanished.

A line of clouds, a seeming mass of crumbling chalk-hills, now barred
the horizon far away. Across the pure, deep blue heavens overhead,
merely a few light, fleecy cloudlets were slowly drifting, like a
flotilla of vessels with full-blown sails. On the north, above
Montmartre, hung a network of extreme delicacy, fashioned as it were of
pale-hued silk, and spread over a patch of sky as though for fishing in
those tranquil waters. Westward, however, in the direction of the
slopes of Meudon, which Hélène could not see, the last drops of the
downpour must still have been obscuring the sun, for, though the sky
above was clear, Paris remained gloomy, dismal beneath the vapor of the
drying house-roofs. It was a city of uniform hue—the bluey-grey of
slate, studded with black patches of trees—but withal very distinct,
with the sharp outlines and innumberable windows of its houses. The
Seine gleamed with the subdued brightness of old silver. The edifices
on either bank looked as though they had been smeared with soot. The
Tower of St. Jacques rose up like some rust-eaten museum curio, whilst
the Panthéon assumed the aspect of a gigantic catafalque above the
darkened district which it overlooked. Gleams of light peeped only from
the gilding of the dome of the Invalides, like lamps burning in the
daytime, sad and vague amidst the crepuscular veil of mourning in which
the city was draped. All the usual effects of distance had vanished;
Paris resembled a huge yet minutely executed charcoal drawing, showing
very vigorously through its cloudy veil, under the limpid heavens.

Gazing upon this dismal city, Hélène reflected that she really knew
nothing of Henri. She felt strong and brave now that his image no
longer pursued her. A rebellious impulse stirred her soul to reject the
mastery which this man had gained over her within a few weeks. No, she
did not know him. She knew nothing of him, of his actions or his
thoughts; she could not even have determined whether he possessed
talent. Perhaps he was even more lacking in qualities of the heart than
of the mind. And thus she gave way to every imagining, her heart full
of bitterness, ever finding herself confronted by her ignorance, that
barrier which separated her from Henri, and checked her in her efforts
to know him. She knew nothing, she would never know anything. She
pictured him, hissing out those burning words, and creating within her
the one trouble which had, till now, broken in on the quiet happiness
of her life. Whence had he sprung to lay her life desolate in this
fashion? She suddenly thought that but six weeks before she had had no
existence for him, and this thought was insufferable. Angels in heaven!
to live no more for one another, to pass each other without
recognition, perhaps never to meet again! In her despair she clasped
her hands, and her eyes filled with tears.

Then Hélène gazed fixedly on the towers of Notre-Dame in the far
distance. A ray of light from between two clouds tinged them with gold.
Her brain was heavy, as though surcharged with all the tumultuous
thoughts hurtling within it. It made her suffer; she would fain have
concerned herself with the sight of Paris, and have sought to regain
her life-peace by turning on that sea of roofs the tranquil glances of
past days. To think that at other times, at the same hour, the
infinitude of the city—in the stillness of a lovely twilight—had lulled
her into tender musing!

At present Paris was brightening in the sunshine. After the first ray
had fallen on Notre-Dame, others had followed, streaming across the
city. The luminary, dipping in the west, rent the clouds asunder, and
the various districts spread out, motly with ever-changing lights and
shadows. For a time the whole of the left bank was of a leaden hue,
while the right was speckled with spots of light which made the verge
of the river resemble the skin of some huge beast of prey. Then these
resemblances varied and vanished at the mercy of the wind, which drove
the clouds before it. Above the burnished gold of the housetops dark
patches floated, all in the same direction and with the same gentle and
silent motion. Some of them were very large, sailing along with all the
majestic grace of an admiral’s ship, and surrounded by smaller ones,
preserving the regular order of a squadron in line of battle. Then one
vast shadow, with a gap yawning like a serpent’s mouth, trailed along,
and for a while hid Paris, which it seemed ready to devour. And when it
had reached the far-off horizon, looking no larger than a worm, a gush
of light streamed from a rift in a cloud, and fell into the void which
it had left. The golden cascade could be seen descending first like a
thread of fine sand, then swelling into a huge cone, and raining in a
continuous shower on the Champs-Elysees district, which it inundated
with a splashing, dancing radiance. For a long time did this shower of
sparks descend, spraying continuously like a fusee.

Ah, well! this love was her fate, and Hélène ceased to resist. She
could battle no longer against her feelings. And in ceasing to struggle
she tasted immeasurable delight. Why should she grudge herself
happiness any longer? The memory of her past life inspired her with
disgust and aversion. How had she been able to drag on that cold,
dreary existence, of which she was formerly so proud? A vision rose
before her of herself as a young girl living in the Rue des
Petites-Maries, at Marseilles, where she had ever shivered; she saw
herself a wife, her heart’s blood frozen in the companionship of a big
child of a husband, with little to take any interest in, apart from the
cares of her household; she saw herself through every hour of her life
following the same path with the same even tread, without a trouble to
mar her peace; and now this monotony in which she had lived, her heart
fast asleep, enraged her beyond expression. To think that she had
fancied herself happy in thus following her path for thirty years, her
passions silent, with naught but the pride of virtue to fill the blank
in her existence. How she had cheated herself with her integrity and
nice honor, which had girt her round with the empty joys of piety! No,
no; she had had enough of it; she wished to live! And an awful spirit
of ridicule woke within her as she thought of the behests of reason.
Her reason, forsooth! she felt a contemptuous pity for it; during all
the years she had lived it had brought her no joy to be compared with
that she had tasted during the past hour. She had denied the
possibility of stumbling, she had been vain and idiotic enough to think
that she would go on to the end without her foot once tripping against
a stone. Ah, well! to-day she almost longed to fall. Oh that she might
disappear, after tasting for one moment the happiness which she had
never enjoyed!

Within her soul, however, a great sorrow lingered, a heart-burning and
a consciousness of a gloomy blank. Then argument rose to her lips. Was
she not free? In her love for Henri she deceived nobody; she could deal
as she pleased with her love. Then, did not everything exculpate her?
What had been her life for nearly two years? Her widowhood, her
unrestricted liberty, her loneliness—everything, she realized, had
softened and prepared her for love. Love must have been smouldering
within her during the long evenings spent between her two old friends,
the Abbé and his brother, those simple hearts whose serenity had lulled
it to rest; it had been growing whilst she remained shut up within
those narrow walls, far away from the world, and gazed on Paris
rumbling noisily on the horizon; it had been growing even when she
leaned from that window in the dreamy mood which she had scarce been
conscious of, but which little by little had rendered her so weak. And
a recollection came to her of that radiant spring morning when Paris
had shone out fair and clear, as though in a glass mirror, when it had
worn the pure, sunny hue of childhood, as she lazily surveyed it,
stretched in her easy-chair with a book upon her knees. That morning
love had first awoke—a scarcely perceptible feeling that she had been
unable to define, and against which she had believed herself strongly
armed. To-day she was in the same place, but devoured by overpowering
passion, while before her eyes the dying sun illumined the city with
flame. It seemed to her that one day had sufficed for all, that this
was the ruddy evening following upon that limpid morning; and she
imagined she could feel those fiery beams scorching her heart.

But a change had come over the sky. The sun, in its descent towards the
slopes of Meudon, had just burst through the last clouds in all its
splendor. The azure vault was illuminated with glory; deep on the
horizon the crumbling ridge of chalk clouds, blotting out the distant
suburbs of Charenton and Choisy-le-Roi, now reared rocks of a tender
pink, outlined with brilliant crimson; the flotilla of cloudlets
drifting slowly through the blue above Paris, was decked with purple
sails; while the delicate network, seemingly fashioned of white silk
thread, above Montmartre, was suddenly transformed into golden cord,
whose meshes would snare the stars as soon as they should rise.

Beneath the flaming vault of heaven lay Paris, a mass of yellow,
striped with huge shadows. On the vast square below Hélène, in an
orange-tinted haze, cabs and omnibuses crossed in all directions,
amidst a crowd of pedestrians, whose swarming blackness was softened
and irradiated by splashes of light. The students of a seminary were
hurrying in serried ranks along the Quai de Billy, and the trail of
cassocks acquired an ochraceous hue in the diffuse light. Farther away,
vehicles and foot-passengers faded from view; it was only by their
gleaming lamps that you were made aware of the vehicles which, one
behind the other, were crossing some distant bridge. On the left the
straight, lofty, pink chimneys of the Army Bakehouse were belching
forth whirling clouds of flesh-tinted smoke; whilst, across the river,
the beautiful elms of the Quai d’Orsay rose up in a dark mass
transpierced by shafts of light.

The Seine, whose banks the oblique rays were enfilading, was rolling
dancing wavelets, streaked with scattered splashes of blue, green, and
yellow; but farther up the river, in lieu of this blotchy coloring,
suggestive of an Eastern sea, the waters assumed a uniform golden hue,
which became more and more dazzling. You might have thought that some
ingot were pouring forth from an invisible crucible on the horizon,
broadening out with a coruscation of bright colors as it gradually grew
colder. And at intervals over this brilliant stream, the bridges, with
curves growing ever more slender and delicate, threw, as it were, grey
bars, till there came at last a fiery jumble of houses, above which
rose the towers of Notre-Dame, flaring red like torches. Right and left
alike the edifices were all aflame. The glass roof of the Palais de
l’Industrie appeared like a bed of glowing embers amidst the
Champs-Elysees groves. Farther on, behind the roof of the Madeline, the
huge pile of the Opera House shone out like a mass of burnished copper;
and the summits of other buildings, cupolas, and towers, the Vendome
column, the church of Saint-Vincent de Paul, the tower of
Saint-Jacques, and, nearer in, the pavilions of the new Louvre and the
Tuileries, were crowned by a blaze, which lent them the aspect of
sacrificial pyres. The dome of the Invalides was flaring with such
brilliancy that you instinctively feared lest it should suddenly topple
down and scatter burning flakes over the neighborhood. Beyond the
irregular towers of Saint-Sulpice, the Panthéon stood out against the
sky in dull splendor, like some royal palace of conflagration reduced
to embers. Then, as the sun declined, the pyre-like edifices gradually
set the whole of Paris on fire. Flashes sped over the housetops, while
black smoke lingered in the valleys. Every frontage turned towards the
Trocadero seemed to be red-hot, the glass of the windows glittering and
emitting a shower of sparks, which darted upwards as though some
invisible bellows were ever urging the huge conflagration into greater
activity. Sheaves of flame were also ever rising afresh from the
adjacent districts, where the streets opened, now dark and now all
ablaze. Even far over the plain, from a ruddy ember-like glow suffusing
the destroyed faubourgs, occasional flashes of flame shot up as from
some fire struggling again into life. Ere long a furnace seemed raging,
all Paris burned, the heavens became yet more empurpled, and the clouds
hung like so much blood over the vast city, colored red and gold.

With the ruddy tints falling upon her, yielding to the passion which
was devouring her, Hélène was still gazing upon Paris all ablaze, when
a little hand was placed on her shoulder, and she gave a start. It was
Jeanne, calling her. “Mamma! mamma!”

She turned her head, and the child went on: “At last! Didn’t you hear
me before? I have called you at least a dozen times.”

The little girl, still in her Japanese costume, had sparkling eyes, and
cheeks flushed with pleasure. She gave her mother no time for answer.

“You ran away from me nicely! Do you know, they were hunting for you
everywhere? Had it not been for Pauline, who came with me to the bottom
of the staircase, I shouldn’t have dared to cross the road.”

With a pretty gesture, she brought her face close to her mother’s lips,
and, without pausing, whispered the question: “Do you love me?”

Hélène kissed her somewhat absently. She was amazed and impatient at
her early return. Had an hour really gone by since she had fled from
the ball-room? However, to satisfy the child, who seemed uneasy, she
told her that she had felt rather unwell. The fresh air was doing her
good; she only needed a little quietness.

“Oh! don’t fear; I’m too tired,” murmured Jeanne. “I am going to stop
here, and be very, very good. But, mamma dear, I may talk, mayn’t I?”

She nestled close to Hélène, full of joy at the prospect of not being
undressed at once. She was in ecstasies over her embroidered purple
gown and green silk petticoat; and she shook her head to rattle the
pendants hanging from the long pins thrust through her hair. At last
there burst from her lips a rush of hasty words. Despite her seeming
demureness, she had seen everything, heard everything, and remembered
everything; and she now made ample amends for her former assumed
dignity, silence, and indifference.

“Do you know, mamma, it was an old fellow with a grey beard who made
Punch move his arms and legs? I saw him well enough when the curtain
was drawn aside. Yes, and the little boy Guiraud began to cry. How
stupid of him, wasn’t it? They told him the policeman would come and
put some water in his soup; and at last they had to carry him off, for
he wouldn’t stop crying. And at lunch, too, Marguerite stained her
milkmaid’s dress all over with jam. Her mamma wiped it off and said to
her: ‘Oh, you dirty girl!’ She even had a lot of it in her hair. I
never opened my mouth, but it did amuse me to see them all rush at the
cakes! Were they not bad-mannered, mamma dear?”

She paused for a few seconds, absorbed in some reminiscence, and then
asked, with a thoughtful air: “I say, mamma, did you eat any of those
yellow cakes with white cream inside? Oh! they were nice! they were
nice! I kept the dish beside me the whole time.”

Hélène was not listening to this childish chatter. But Jeanne talked to
relieve her excited brain. She launched out again, giving the minutest
details about the ball, and investing each little incident with the
greatest importance.

“You did not see that my waistband came undone just as we began
dancing. A lady, whose name I don’t know, pinned it up for me. So I
said to her: ‘Madame, I thank you very much.’ But while I was dancing
with Lucien the pin ran into him, and he asked me: ‘What have you got
in front of you that pricks me so?’ Of course I knew nothing about it,
and told him I had nothing there to prick him. However, Pauline came
and put the pin in its proper place. Ah! but you’ve no idea how they
pushed each other about; and one great stupid of a boy gave Sophie a
blow on the back which made her fall. The Levasseur girls jumped about
with their feet close together. I am pretty certain that isn’t the way
to dance. But the best of it all came at the end. You weren’t there; so
you can’t know. We all took one another by the arms, and then whirled
round; it was comical enough to make one die laughing. Besides, some of
the big gentlemen were whirling around as well. It’s true; I am not
telling fibs. Why, don’t you believe me, mamma dear?”

Hélène’s continued silence was beginning to vex Jeanne. She nestled
closer, and gave her mother’s hand a shake. But, perceiving that she
drew only a few words from her, she herself, by degrees, lapsed into
silence, into thought of the incidents of that ball of which her heart
was full. Both mother and daughter now sat mutely gazing on Paris all
aflame. It seemed to them yet more mysterious than ever, as it lay
there illumined by blood-red clouds, like some city of an old-world
tale expiating its lusts under a rain of fire.

“Did you have any round dances?” all at once asked Hélène, as if
wakening with a start.

“Yes, yes!” murmured Jeanne, engrossed in her turn.

“And the doctor—did he dance!”

“I should think so; he had a turn with me. He lift me up and asked me:
‘Where is your mamma? where is your mamma?’ and then he kissed me.”

Hélène unconsciously smiled. What need had she of knowing Henri well?
It appeared sweeter to her not to know him—ay, never to know him
well—and to greet him simply as the one whose coming she had awaited so
long. Why should she feel astonished or disquieted? At the fated hour
he had met her on her life-journey. Her frank nature accepted whatever
might be in store; and quietude, born of the knowledge that she loved
and was beloved, fell on her mind. She told her heart that she would
prove strong enough to prevent her happiness from being marred.

But night was coming on and a chilly breeze arose. Jeanne, still
plunged in reverie, began to shiver. She reclined her head on her
mother’s bosom, and, as though the question were inseparably connected
with her deep meditation, she murmured a second time: “Do you love me?”

Then Hélène, her face still glad with smiles, took her head within her
hands and for a moment examined her face closely. Next she pressed a
long kiss near her mouth, over a ruddy spot on her skin. It was there,
she could divine it, that Henri had kissed the child!

The gloomy ridge of the Meudon hills was already partially concealing
the disc of the sun. Over Paris the slanting beams of light had yet
lengthened. The shadow cast by the dome of the Invalides—increased to
stupendous proportions—covered the whole of the Saint-Germain district;
while the Opera-House, the Saint-Jacques tower, the columns and the
steeples, threw streaks of darkness over the right bank dwellings. The
lines of house-fronts, the yawning streets, the islands of roofs, were
burning with a more sullen glow. The flashes of fire died away in the
darkening windows, as though the houses were reduced to embers. Distant
bells rang out; a rumbling noise fell on the ears, and then subsided.
With the approach of night the expanse of sky grew more vast, spreading
a vault of violet, streaked with gold and purple, above the ruddy city.
But all at once the conflagration flared afresh with formidable
intensity, a last great flame shot up from Paris, illumining its entire
expanse, and even its hitherto hidden suburbs. Then it seemed as if a
grey, ashy dust were falling; and though the clustering districts
remained erect, they wore the gloomy, unsubstantial aspect of coals
which had ceased to burn.



 CHAPTER XI.


One morning in May, Rosalie ran in from the kitchen, dish-cloth in
hand, screaming out in the familiar fashion of a favorite servant: “Oh,
madame, come quick! His reverence the Abbé is digging the ground down
in the doctor’s garden.”

Hélène made no responsive movement, but Jeanne had already rushed to
have a look. On her return, she exclaimed:

“How stupid Rosalie is! he is not digging at all. He is with the
gardener, who is putting some plants into a barrow. Madame Deberle is
plucking all her roses.”

“They must be for the church,” quietly said Hélène, who was busy with
some tapestry-work.

A few minutes later the bell rang, and Abbé Jouve made his appearance.
He came to say that his presence must not be expected on the following
Tuesday. His evenings would be wholly taken up with the ceremonies
incident to the month of Mary. The parish priest had assigned him the
task of decorating the church. It would be a great success. All the
ladies were giving him flowers. He was expecting two palm-trees about
fourteen feet high, and meant to place them to the right and left of
the altar.

“Oh! mamma, mamma!” murmured Jeanne, listening, wonderstruck.

“Well,” said Hélène, with a smile, “since you cannot come to us, my old
friend, we will go to see you. Why, you’ve quite turned Jeanne’s head
with your talk about flowers.”

She had few religious tendencies; she never even went to mass, on the
plea that her daughter’s health suffered from the shivering fits which
seized her when she came out of a church. In her presence the old
priest avoided all reference to religion. It was his wont to say, with
good-natured indulgence, that good hearts carve out their own salvation
by deeds of loving kindness and charity. God would know when and how to
touch her.

Till the evening of the following day Jeanne thought of nothing but the
month of Mary. She plagued her mother with questions; she dreamt of the
church adorned with a profusion of white roses, filled with thousands
of wax tapers, with the sound of angels’ voices, and sweet perfumes.
And she was very anxious to go near the altar, that she might have a
good look at the Blessed Virgin’s lace gown, a gown worth a fortune,
according to the Abbé. But Hélène bridled her excitement with a threat
not to take her should she make herself ill beforehand.

However, the evening came at last, and they set out. The nights were
still cold, and when they reached the Rue de l’Annonciation, where the
church of Notre-Dame-de-Grace stands, the child was shivering all over.

“The church is heated,” said her mother. “We must secure a place near a
hot-air pipe.”

She pushed open the padded door, and as it gently swung back to its
place they found themselves in a warm atmosphere, with brilliant lights
streaming on them, and chanting resounding in their ears. The ceremony
had commenced, and Hélène, perceiving that the nave was crowded,
signified her intention of going down one of the aisles. But there
seemed insuperable obstacles in her way; she could not get near the
altar. Holding Jeanne by the hand, she for a time patiently pressed
forward, but at last, despairing of advancing any farther, took the
first unoccupied chairs she could find. A pillar hid half of the choir
from view.

“I can see nothing,” said the child, grievously discontented. “This is
a very nasty place.”

However, Hélène signed to her to keep silent, and she lapsed into a fit
of sulks. In front of her she could only perceive the broad back of a
fat old lady. When her mother next turned towards her she was standing
upright on her chair.

“Will you come down!” said Hélène in a low voice. “You are a nuisance.”

But Jeanne was stubborn.

“Hist! mamma,” she said, “there’s Madame Deberle. Look! she is down
there in the centre, beckoning to us.”

The young woman’s annoyance on hearing this made her very impatient,
and she shook her daughter, who still refused to sit down. During the
three days that had intervened since the ball, Hélène had avoided any
visit to the doctor’s house on the plea of having a great deal to do.

“Mamma,” resumed Jeanne with a child’s wonted stubbornness, “she is
looking at you; she is nodding good-day to you.”

At this intimation Hélène was forced to turn round and exchange
greetings; each bowed to the other. Madame Deberle, in a striped silk
gown trimmed with white lace, sat in the centre of the nave but a short
distance from the choir, looking very fresh and conspicuous. She had
brought her sister Pauline, who was now busy waving her hand. The
chanting still continued, the elder members of the congregation pouring
forth a volume of sound of falling scale, while now and then the shrill
voice of the children punctuated the slow, monotonous rhythm of the
canticle.

“They want us to go over to them, you see,” exclaimed Jeanne, with some
triumph in her remark.

“It is useless; we shall be all right here.”

“Oh, mamma, do let us go over to them! There are two chairs empty.”

“No, no; come and sit down.”

However, the ladies smilingly persisted in making signs, heedless to
the last degree of the slight scandal they were causing; nay, delighted
at being the observed of all observers. Hélène thus had to yield. She
pushed the gratified Jeanne before her, and strove to make her way
through the congregation, her hands all the while trembling with
repressed anger. It was no easy business. Devout female worshippers,
unwilling to disturb themselves, glared at her with furious looks,
whilst all agape they kept on singing. She pressed on in this style for
five long minutes, the tempest of voices ringing around her with
ever-increasing violence. Whenever she came to a standstill, Jeanne,
squeezing close beside her, gazed at those cavernous, gaping mouths.
However, at last they reached the vacant space in front of the choir,
and then had but a few steps to make.

“Come, be quick,” whispered Madame Deberle. “The Abbé told me you would
be coming, and I kept two chairs for you.”

Hélène thanked her, and, to cut the conversation short, at once began
turning over the leaves of her missal. But Juliette was as worldly here
as elsewhere; as much at her ease, as agreeable and talkative, as in
her drawing-room. She bent her head towards Hélène and resumed:

“You have become quite invisible. I intended to pay you a visit
to-morrow. Surely you haven’t been ill, have you?”

“No, thank you. I’ve been very busy.”

“Well, listen to me. You must come and dine with us to-morrow. Quite a
family dinner, you know.”

“You are very kind. We will see.”

She seemed to retire within herself, intent on following the service,
and on saying nothing more. Pauline had taken Jeanne beside her that
she might be nearer the hot-air flue over which she toasted herself
luxuriously, as happy as any chilly mortal could be. Steeped in the
warm air, the two girls raised themselves inquisitively and gazed
around on everything, the low ceiling with its woodwork panels, the
squat pillars, connected by arches from which hung chandeliers, and the
pulpit of carved oak; and over the ocean of heads which waved with the
rise and fall of the canticle, their eyes wandered towards the dark
corners of the aisles, towards the chapels whose gilding faintly
gleamed, and the baptistery enclosed by a railing near the chief
entrance. However, their gaze always returned to the resplendent choir,
decorated with brilliant colors and dazzling gilding. A crystal
chandelier, flaming with light, hung from the vaulted ceiling; immense
candelabra, filled with rows of wax tapers, that glittered amidst the
gloom of the church like a profusion of stars in orderly array, brought
out prominently the high altar, which seemed one huge bouquet of
foliage and flowers. Over all, standing amidst a profusion of roses, a
Virgin, dressed in satin and lace, and crowned with pearls, was holding
a Jesus in long clothes on her arm.

“I say, are you warm?” asked Pauline. “It’s nice, eh?”

But Jeanne, in ecstasy, was gazing on the Virgin amongst the flowers.
The scene thrilled her. A fear crept over her that she might do
something wrong, and she lowered her eyes in the endeavor to restrain
her tears by fixing her attention on the black-and-white pavement. The
vibrations of the choir-boys’ shrill voices seemed to stir her tresses
like puffs of air.

Meanwhile Hélène, with face bent over her prayer-book, drew herself
away whenever Juliette’s lace rustled against her. She was in no wise
prepared for this meeting. Despite the vow she had sworn within
herself, to be ever pure in her love for Henri, and never yield to him,
she felt great discomfort at the thought that she was a traitoress to
the confiding, happy woman who sat by her side. She was possessed by
one idea—she would not go to that dinner. She sought for reasons which
would enable her to break off these relations so hateful to her honor.
But the swelling voices of the choristers, so near to her, drove all
reflection from her mind; she could decide on no precise course, and
surrendered herself to the soothing influences of the chant, tasting a
pious joy such as she had never before found inside a church.

“Have you been told about Madame de Chermette?” asked Juliette, unable
any longer to restrain her craving for a gossip.

“No, I know nothing.”

“Well, well; just imagine. You have seen her daughter, so womanish and
tall, though she is only fifteen, haven’t you? There is some talk about
her getting married next year to that dark young fellow who is always
hanging to her mother’s skirts. People are talking about it with a
vengeance.”

“Ah!” muttered Hélène, who was not paying the least attention.

Madame Deberle went into particulars, but of a sudden the chant ceased,
and the organ-music died away in a moan. Astounded at the loudness of
her own voice breaking upon the stillness which ensued, she lapsed into
silence. A priest made his appearance at this moment in the pulpit.
There was a rustling, and then he spoke. No, certainly not, Hélène
would not join that dinner-party. With her eyes fixed on the priest she
pictured to herself the next meeting with Henri, that meeting which for
three days she had contemplated with terror; she saw him white with
anger, reproaching her for hiding herself, and she dreaded lest she
might not display sufficient indifference. Amidst her dream the priest
had disappeared, his thrilling tones merely reaching her in casual
sentences: “No hour could be more ineffable than that when the Virgin,
with bent head, answered: ‘I am the handmaiden of the Lord!’”

Yes, she would be brave; all her reason had returned to her. She would
taste the joy of being loved, but would never avow her love, for her
heart told her that such an avowal would cost her peace. And how
intensely would she love, without confessing it, gratified by a word, a
look from Henri, exchanged at lengthy intervals on the occasion of a
chance meeting! It was a dream that brought her some sense of the
infinite. The church around her became a friend and comforter. The
priest was now exclaiming:

“The angel vanished and Mary plunged into contemplation of the divine
mystery working within her, her heart bathed in sunshine and love.”

“He speaks very well,” whispered Madame Deberle, leaning towards her.
“And he’s quite young, too, scarcely thirty, don’t you think?”

Madame Deberle was affected. Religion pleased her because the emotions
it prompted were in good taste. To present flowers for the decoration
of churches, to have petty dealings with the priests, who were so
polite and discreet, to come to church attired in her best and assume
an air of worldly patronage towards the God of the poor—all this had
for her special delights; the more so as her husband did not interest
himself in religion, and her devotions thus had all the sweetness of
forbidden fruit. Hélène looked at her and answered with a nod; her face
was ashy white with faintness, while the other’s was lit up by smiles.
There was a stirring of chairs and a rustling of handkerchiefs, as the
priest quitted the pulpit with the final adjuration

“Oh! give wings unto your love, souls imbued with Christian piety. God
has made a sacrifice of Himself for your sakes, your hearts are full of
His presence, your souls overflow with His grace!”

Of a sudden the organ sounded again, and the litanies of the Virgin
began with their appeals of passionate tenderness. Faint and distant
the chanting rolled forth from the side-aisles and the dark recesses of
the chapels, as though the earth were giving answer to the angel voices
of the chorister-boys. A rush of air swept over the throng, making the
flames of the tapers leap, while amongst the flowers, fading as they
exhaled their last perfume, the Divine Mother seemed to incline her
head to smile on her infant Jesus.

All at once, seized with an instinctive dread, Hélène turned. “You’re
not ill, Jeanne, are you?” she asked.

The child, with face ashy white and eyes glistening, her spirit borne
aloft by the fervent strains of the litanies, was gazing at the altar,
where in imagination she could see the roses multiplying and falling in
cascades.

“No, no, mamma,” she whispered; “I am pleased, I am very well pleased.”
And then she asked: “But where is our dear old friend?”

She spoke of the Abbé. Pauline caught sight of him; he was seated in
the choir, but Jeanne had to be lifted up in order that she might
perceive him.

“Oh! He is looking at us,” said she; “he is blinking.” According to
Jeanne, the Abbé blinked when he laughed inwardly. Hélène hastened to
exchange a friendly nod with him. And then the tranquillity within her
seemed to increase, her future serenity appeared to be assured, thus
endearing the church to her and lulling her into a blissful condition
of patient endurance. Censers swung before the altar and threads of
smoke ascended; the benediction followed, and the holy monstrance was
slowly raised and waved above the heads lowered to the earth. Hélène
was still on her knees in happy meditation when she heard Madame
Deberle exclaiming: “It’s over now; let us go.”

There ensued a clatter of chairs and a stamping of feet which
reverberated along the arched aisles. Pauline had taken Jeanne’s hand,
and, walking away in front with the child, began to question her:

“Have you ever been to the theatre?”

“No. Is it finer than this?”

As she spoke, the little one, giving vent to great gasps of wonder,
tossed her head as though ready to express the belief that nothing
could be finer. To her question, however, Pauline deigned no reply, for
she had just come to a standstill in front of a priest who was passing
in his surplice. And when he was a few steps away she exclaimed aloud,
with such conviction in her tones that two devout ladies of the
congregation turned around:

“Oh! what a fine head!”

Hélène, meanwhile, had risen from her knees. She stepped along by the
side of Juliette among the crowd which was making its way out with
difficulty. Her heart was full of tenderness, she felt languid and
enervated, and her soul no longer rebelled at the other being so near.
At one moment their bare hands came in contact and they smiled. They
were almost stifling in the throng, and Hélène would fain have had
Juliette go first. All their old friendship seemed to blossom forth
once more.

“Is it understood that we can rely on you for to-morrow evening?” asked
Madame Deberle.

Hélène no longer had the will to decline. She would see whether it were
possible when she reached the street. It finished by their being the
last to leave. Pauline and Jeanne already stood on the opposite
pavement awaiting them. But a tearful voice brought them to a halt.

“Ah, my good lady, what a time it is since I had the happiness of
seeing you!”

It was Mother Fétu, who was soliciting alms at the church door. Barring
Hélène’s way, as though she had lain in wait for her, she went on:

“Oh, I have been so very ill always here, in the stomach, you know.
Just now I feel as if a hammer were pounding away inside me; and I have
nothing at all, my good lady. I didn’t dare to send you word about
it—May the gracious God repay you!”

Hélène had slipped a piece of money into her hand, and promised to
think about her.

“Hello!” exclaimed Madame Deberle, who had remained standing within the
porch, “there’s some one talking with Pauline and Jeanne. Why, it is
Henri.”

“Yes, yes” Mother Fétu hastened to add as she turned her ferret-like
eyes on the ladies, “it is the good doctor. I have seen him there all
through the service; he has never budged from the pavement; he has been
waiting for you, no doubt. Ah! he’s a saint of a man! I swear that to
be the truth in the face of God who hears us. Yes, I know you, madame;
he is a husband who deserves to be happy. May Heaven hearken to your
prayers, may every blessing fall on you! In the name of the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Ghost!”

Amidst the myriad furrows of her face, which was wrinkled like a
withered apple, her little eyes kept gleaming in malicious unrest,
darting a glance now on Juliette, now on Hélène, so that it was
impossible to say with any certainty whom she was addressing while
speaking of “the good doctor.” She followed them, muttering on without
a stop, mingling whimpering entreaty with devout outbursts.

Henri’s reserve alike astonished and moved Hélène. He scarcely had the
courage to raise his eyes towards her. On his wife quizzing him about
the opinions which restrained him from entering a church, he merely
explained that to smoke a cigar was his object in coming to meet them;
but Hélène understood that he had wished to see her again, to prove to
her how wrong she was in fearing some fresh outrage. Doubtless, like
herself, he had sworn to keep within the limits of reason. She never
questioned whether his sincerity could be real. She simply experienced
a feeling of unhappiness at seeing him unhappy. Thus it came about,
that on leaving them it the Rue Vineuse, she said cheerfully:

“Well, it is settled then; to-morrow at seven.”

In this way the old friendship grew closer than ever, and a charming
life began afresh. To Hélène it seemed as if Henri had never yielded to
that moment of folly; it was but a dream of hers; each loved the other,
but they would never breathe a word of their love, they were content
with knowing its existence. They spent delicious hours, in which,
without their tongues giving evidence of their passion, they displayed
it constantly; a gesture, an inflexion of the voice sufficed, ay, even
a silence. Everything insensibly tended towards their love, plunged
them more and more deeply into a passion which they bore away with them
whenever they parted, which was ever with them, which formed, as it
were, the only atmosphere they could breathe. And their excuse was
their honesty; with eyes wide open they played this comedy of
affection; not even a hand-clasp did they allow each other and their
restraint infused unalloyed delight into the simple greetings with
which they met.

Every evening the ladies went to church. Madame Deberle was enchanted
with the novel pleasure she was enjoying. It was so different from
evening dances, concerts, and first nights; she adored fresh
sensations, and nuns and priests were now constantly in her company.
The store of religion which she had acquired in her school-days now
found new life in her giddy brain, taking shape in all sorts of trivial
observances, as though she were reviving the games of her childhood.
Hélène, who on her side had grown up without any religious training,
surrendered herself to the bliss of these services of the month of
Mary, happy also in the delight with which they appeared to inspire
Jeanne. They now dined earlier; they gave Rosalie no peace lest she
should cause them to be late, and prevent their securing good seats.
Then they called for Juliette on the way. One day Lucien was taken, but
he behaved so badly that he was afterward left at home. On entering the
warm church, with its glare of wax candles, a feeling of tenderness and
calm, which by degrees grew necessary to Hélène, came over her. When
doubts sprang up within her during the day, and the thought of Henri
filled her with indefinable anxiety, with the evening the church once
more brought her peace. The chants arose overflowing with divine
passion; the flowers, newly culled, made the close atmosphere of the
building still heavier. It was here that she breathed all the first
rapture of springtide, amidst that adoration of woman raised to the
status of a cult; and her senses swam as she contemplated the mystery
of love and purity—Mary, virgin and mother, beaming beneath her wreath
of white roses. Each day she remained longer on her knees. She found
herself at times with hands joined in entreaty. When the ceremony came
to an end, there followed the happiness of the return home. Henri
awaited their appearance at the door; the evenings grew warmer, and
they wended their way through the dark, still streets of Passy, while
scarce a word passed between them.

“How devout you are getting, my dear!” said Madame Deberle one night,
with a laugh.

Yes, it was true; Hélène was widely opening the portals of her heart to
pious thoughts. Never could she have fancied that such happiness would
attend her love. She returned to the church as to a spot where her
heart would melt, for under its roof she could give free vent to her
tears, remain thoughtless, plunged in speechless worship. For an hour
each evening she put no restraint on herself. The bursting love within
her, prisoned throughout the day, at length escaped from her bosom on
the wings of prayer, amidst the pious quiver of the throng. The
muttered supplications, the bendings of the knee, the reverences—words
and gestures seemingly interminable—all lulled her to rest; to her they
ever expressed the same thing; it was always the same passion speaking
in the same phrase, or the same gesture. She felt a need of faith, and
basked enraptured by the Divine goodness.

Hélène was not the only person whom Juliette twitted; she feigned a
belief that Henri himself was becoming religious. What, had he not now
entered the church to wait for them?—he, atheist and scoffer, who had
been wont to assert that he had sought for the soul with his scalpel,
and had not yet discovered its existence! As soon as she perceived him
standing behind a pillar in the shadow of the pulpit, she would
instantly jog Hélène’s arm.

“Look, look, he is there already! Do you know, he wouldn’t confess when
we got married! See how funny he looks; he gazes at us with so comical
an expression; quick, look!”

Hélène did not at the moment raise her head. The service was coming to
an end, clouds of incense were rising, and the organ-music pealed forth
joyfully. But her neighbor was not a woman to leave her alone, and she
was forced to speak in answer.

“Yes, yes, I see him,” she whispered, albeit she never turned her eyes.

She had on her own side divined his presence amidst the song of praise
that mounted from the worshipping throng. It seemed to her that Henri’s
breath was wafted on the wings of the music and beat against her neck,
and she imagined she could see behind her his glances shedding their
light along the nave and haloing her, as she knelt, with a golden
glory. And then she felt impelled to pray with such fervor that words
failed her. The expression on his face was sober, as unruffled as any
husband might wear when looking for ladies in a church, the same,
indeed, as if he had been waiting for them in the lobby of a theatre.
But when they came together, in the midst of the slowly-moving crowd of
worshippers, they felt that the bonds of their love had been drawn
closer by the flowers and the chanting; and they shunned all
conversation, for their hearts were on their lips.

A fortnight slipped away, and Madame Deberle grew wearied. She ever
jumped from one thing to the other, consumed with the thirst of doing
what every one else was doing. For the moment charity bazaars had
become her craze; she would toil up sixty flights of stairs of an
afternoon to beg paintings of well-known artists, while her evenings
were spent in presiding over meetings of lady patronesses, with a bell
handy to call noisy members to order. Thus it happened that one
Thursday evening Hélène and her daughter went to church without their
companions. On the conclusion of the sermon, while the choristers were
commencing the _Magnificat_, the young woman, forewarned by some
impulse of her heart, turned her head. Henri was there, in his usual
place. Thereupon she remained with looks riveted to the ground till the
service came to an end, waiting the while for the return home.

“Oh, how kind of you to come!” said Jeanne, with all a child’s
frankness, as they left the church. “I should have been afraid to go
alone through these dark streets.”

Henri, however, feigned astonishment, asserting that he had expected to
meet his wife. Hélène allowed the child to answer him, and followed
them without uttering a word. As the trio passed under the porch a
pitiful voice sang out: “Charity, charity! May God repay you!”

Every night Jeanne dropped a ten-sou piece into Mother Fétu’s hand.
When the latter saw the doctor alone with Hélène, she nodded her head
knowingly, instead of breaking out into a storm of thanks, as was her
custom. The church was now empty, and she began to follow them,
mumbling inaudible sentences. Sometimes, instead of returning by the
Rue de Passy, the ladies, when the night was fine, went homewards by
the Rue Raynouard, the way being thus lengthened by five or six
minutes’ walk. That night also Hélène turned into the Rue Raynouard,
craving for gloom and stillness, and entranced by the loneliness of the
long thoroughfare, which was lighted by only a few gas-lamps, without
the shadow of a single passer-by falling across its pavement.

At this hour Passy seemed out of the world; sleep had already fallen
over it; it had all the quietude of a provincial town. On each side of
the street loomed mansions, girls’ schools, black and silent, and
dining places, from the kitchens of which lights still streamed. There
was not, however, a single shop to throw the glare of its frontage
across the dimness. To Henri and Hélène the loneliness was pregnant
with intense charm. He had not ventured to offer her his arm. Jeanne
walked between them in the middle of the road, which was gravelled like
a walk in some park. At last the houses came to an end, and then on
each side were walls, over which spread mantling clematis and clusters
of lilac blossoms. Immense gardens parted the mansions, and here and
there through the railings of an iron gate they could catch glimpses of
a gloomy background of verdure, against which the tree-dotted turf
assumed a more delicate hue. The air was filled with the perfume of
irises growing in vases which they could scarce distinguish. All three
paced on slowly through the warm spring night, which was steeping them
in its odors, and Jeanne, with childish artlessness, raised her face to
the heavens, and exclaimed:

“Oh, mamma, see what a number of stars!”

But behind them, like an echo of their own, came the footfall of Mother
Fétu. Nearer and nearer she approached, till they could hear her
muttering the opening words of the Angelic Salutation “_Ave Marie,
gratia plena_,” repeating them over and over again with the same
confused persistency. She was telling her beads on her homeward way.

“I have still something left—may I give it to her?” Jeanne asked her
mother.

And thereupon, without waiting for a reply, she left them, running
towards the old woman, who was on the point of entering the Passage des
Eaux. Mother Fétu clutched at the coin, calling upon all the angels of
Heaven to bless her. As she spoke, however, she grasped the child’s
hand and detained her by her side, then asking in changed tones:

“The other lady is ill, is she not?”

“No,” answered Jeanne, surprised.

“May Heaven shield her! May it shower its favors on her and her
husband! Don’t run away yet, my dear little lady. Let me say an _Ave
Maria_ for your mother’s sake, and you will join in the ‘Amen’ with me.
Oh! your mother will allow you; you can catch her up.”

Meanwhile Henri and Hélène trembled as they found themselves suddenly
left alone in the shadow cast by a line of huge chestnut trees that
bordered the road. They quietly took a few steps. The chestnut trees
had strewn the ground with their bloom, and they were walking upon this
rosy-tinted carpet. On a sudden, however, they came to a stop, their
hearts filled with such emotion that they could go no farther.

“Forgive me,” said Henri simply.

“Yes, yes,” ejaculated Hélène. “But oh! be silent, I pray you.”

She had felt his hand touch her own, and had started back. Fortunately
Jeanne ran towards them at the moment.

“Mamma, mamma!” she cried; “she made me say an _Ave_; she says it will
bring you good luck.”

The three then turned into the Rue Vineuse, while Mother Fétu crept
down the steps of the Passage des Eaux, busy completing her rosary.

The month slipped away. Two or three more services were attended by
Madame Deberle. One Sunday, the last one, Henri once more ventured to
wait for Hélène and Jeanne. The walk home thrilled them with joy. The
month had been one long spell of wondrous bliss. The little church
seemed to have entered into their lives to soothe their love and render
its way pleasant. At first a great peace had settled on Hélène’s soul;
she had found happiness in this sanctuary where she imagined she could
without shame dwell on her love; however, the undermining had
continued, and when her holy rapture passed away she was again in the
grip of her passion, held by bonds that would have plucked at her
heartstrings had she sought to break them asunder. Henri still
preserved his respectful demeanor, but she could not do otherwise than
see the passion burning in his face. She dreaded some outburst, and
even grew afraid of herself.

One afternoon, going homewards after a walk with Jeanne, she passed
along the Rue de l’Annonciation and entered the church. The child was
complaining of feeling very tired. Until the last day she had been
unwilling to admit that the evening services exhausted her, so intense
was the pleasure she derived from them; but her cheeks had grown
waxy-pale, and the doctor advised that she should take long walks.

“Sit down here,” said her mother. “It will rest you; we’ll only stay
ten minutes.”

She herself walked towards some chairs a short way off, and knelt down.
She had placed Jeanne close to a pillar. Workmen were busy at the other
end of the nave, taking down the hangings and removing the flowers, the
ceremonials attending the month of Mary having come to an end the
evening before. With her face buried in her hands Hélène saw nothing
and heard nothing; she was eagerly catechising her heart, asking
whether she ought not to confess to Abbé Jouve what an awful life had
come upon her. He would advise her, perhaps restore her lost peace.
Still, within her there arose, out of her very anguish, a fierce flood
of joy. She hugged her sorrow, dreading lest the priest might succeed
in finding a cure for it. Ten minutes slipped away, then an hour. She
was overwhelmed by the strife raging within her heart.

At last she raised her head, her eyes glistening with tears, and saw
Abbé Jouve gazing at her sorrowfully. It was he who was directing the
workmen. Having recognized Jeanne, he had just come forward.

“Why, what is the matter, my child?” he asked of Hélène, who hastened
to rise to her feet and wipe away her tears.

She was at a loss what answer to give; she was afraid lest she should
once more fall on her knees and burst into sobs. He approached still
nearer, and gently resumed:

“I do not wish to cross-question you, but why do you not confide in me?
Confide in the priest and forget the friend.”

“Some other day,” she said brokenly, “some other day, I promise you.”

Jeanne meantime had at first been very good and patient, finding
amusement in looking at the stained-glass windows, the statues over the
great doorway, and the scenes of the journey to the Cross depicted in
miniature bas-reliefs along the aisles. By degrees, however, the cold
air of the church had enveloped her as with a shroud; and she remained
plunged in a weariness that even banished thought, a feeling of
discomfort waking within her with the holy quiet and far-reaching
echoes, which the least sound stirred in this sanctuary where she
imagined she was going to die. But a grievous sorrow rankled in her
heart—the flowers were being borne away. The great clusters of roses
were vanishing, and the altar seemed to become more and more bare and
chill. The marble looked icy-cold now that no wax-candle shone on it
and there was no smoking incense. The lace-robed Virgin moreover was
being moved, and after suddenly tottering fell backward into the arms
of two workmen. At the sight Jeanne uttered a faint cry, stretched out
her arms, and fell back rigid; the illness that had been threatening
her for some days had at last fallen upon her.

And when Hélène, in distraction, carried her child, with the assistance
of the sorrowing Abbé, into a cab, she turned towards the porch with
outstretched, trembling hands.

“It’s all this church! it’s all this church!” she exclaimed, with a
vehemence instinct with regret and self-reproach as she thought of the
month of devout delight which she herself had tasted there.



 CHAPTER XII.


When evening came Jeanne was somewhat better. She was able to get up,
and, in order to remove her mother’s fears, persisted in dragging
herself into the dining-room, where she took her seat before her empty
plate.

“I shall be all right,” she said, trying to smile. “You know very well
that the least thing upsets me. Get on with your dinner, mamma; I want
you to eat.”

And in the end she pretended an appetite she did not feel, for she
observed that her mother sat watching her paling and trembling, without
being able to swallow a morsel. She promised to take some jam, and
Hélène then hurried through her dinner, while the child, with a
never-fading smile and her head nodding tremblingly, watched her with
worshipping looks. On the appearance of the dessert she made an effort
to carry out her promise, but tears welled into her eyes.

“You see I can’t get it down my throat,” she murmured. “You mustn’t be
angry with me.”

The weariness that overwhelmed her was terrible. Her legs seemed
lifeless, her shoulders pained her as though gripped by a hand of iron.
But she was very brave through it all, and choked at their source the
moans which the shooting pains in her neck awakened. At one moment,
however, she forgot herself, her head felt too heavy, and she was bent
double by pain. Her mother, as she gazed on her, so faint and feeble,
was wholly unable to finish the pear which she was trying to force down
her throat. Her sobs choked her, and throwing down her napkin, she
clasped Jeanne in her arms.

“My child! my child!” she wailed, her heart bursting with sorrow, as
her eyes ranged round the dining-room where her darling, when in good
health, had so often enlivened her by her fondness for tid-bits.

At last Jeanne woke to life again, and strove to smile as of old.

“Don’t worry, mamma,” said she; “I shall be all right soon. Now that
you have done you must put me to bed. I only wanted to see you have
your dinner. Oh! I know you; you wouldn’t have eaten as much as a
morsel of bread.”

Hélène bore her away in her arms. She had brought the little crib close
to her own bed in the blue room. When Jeanne had stretched out her
limbs, and the bedclothes were tucked up under her chin, she declared
she felt much better. There were no more complaints about dull pains at
the back of her head; but she melted into tenderness, and her
passionate love seemed to grow more pronounced. Hélène was forced to
caress her, to avow intense affection for her, and to promise that she
would again kiss her when she came to bed.

“Never mind if I’m sleeping,” said Jeanne. “I shall know you’re there
all the same.”

She closed her eyes and fell into a doze. Hélène remained near her,
watching over her slumber. When Rosalie entered on tip-toe to ask
permission to go to bed, she answered “Yes” with a nod. At last eleven
o’clock struck, and Hélène was still watching there, when she imagined
she heard a gentle tapping at the outer door. Bewildered with
astonishment, she took up the lamp and left the room to make sure.

“Who is there?”

“’Tis I; open the door,” replied a voice in stifled tones.

It was Henri’s voice. She quickly opened the door, thinking his coming
only natural. No doubt he had but now been informed of Jeanne’s
illness, and had hastened to her, although she had not summoned him to
her assistance, feeling a certain shame at the thought of allowing him
to share in attending on her daughter.

However, he gave her no opportunity to speak. He followed her into the
dining-room, trembling, with inflamed visage.

“I beseech you, pardon me,” he faltered, as he caught hold of her hand.
“I haven’t seen you for three days past, and I cannot resist the
craving to see you.”

Hélène withdrew her hand. He stepped back, but, with his gaze still
fixed on her, continued: “Don’t be afraid; I love you. I would have
waited at the door had you not opened it. Oh! I know very well it is
simple madness, but I love you, I love you all the same!”

Her face was grave as she listened, eloquent with a dumb reproach which
tortured him, and impelled him to pour forth his passionate love.

But Hélène still remained standing, wholly unmoved. At last she spoke.
“You know nothing, then?” asked she.

He had taken her hand, and was raising it to his lips, when she started
back with a gesture of impatience.

“Oh! leave me!” she exclaimed. “You see that I am not even listening to
you. I have something far different to think about!”

Then becoming more composed, she put her question to him a second time.
“You know nothing? Well, my daughter is ill. I am pleased to see you;
you will dispel my fears.”

She took up the lamp and walked on before him, but as they were passing
through the doorway, she turned, and looking at him, said firmly:

“I forbid you beginning again here. Oh! you must not!”

He entered behind her, scarcely understanding what had been enjoined on
him. His temples throbbed convulsively, as he leaned over the child’s
little crib.

“She is asleep; look at her,” said Hélène in a whisper.

He did not hear her; his passion would not be silenced. She was hanging
over the bed in front of him, and he could see her rosy neck, with its
wavy hair. He shut his eyes that he might escape the temptation of
kissing her, as she said to him:

“Doctor, look at her, she is so feverish. Oh, tell me whether it is
serious!”

Then, yielding to professional habit, despite the tempest raging in his
brain, he mechanically felt Jeanne’s pulse. Nevertheless, so fierce was
the struggle that he remained for a time motionless, seemingly unaware
that he held this wasted little hand in his own.

“Is it a violent fever?” asked Hélène.

“A violent fever! Do you think so?” he repeated.

The little hand was scorching his own. There came another silence; the
physician was awakening within him, and passion was dying from his
eyes. His face slowly grew paler; he bent down uneasily, and examined
Jeanne.

“You are right; this is a very severe attack,” he exclaimed. “My God!
the poor child!”

His passion was now dead; he was solely consumed by a desire to be of
service to her. His coolness at once returned; he sat down, and was
questioning the mother respecting the child’s condition previous to
this attack of illness, when Jeanne awoke, moaning loudly. She again
complained of a terrible pain in the head. The pangs which were darting
through her neck and shoulders had attained such intensity that her
every movement wrung a sob from her. Hélène knelt on the other side of
the bed, encouraging her, and smiling on her, though her heart almost
broke at the sight of such agony.

“There’s some one there, isn’t there, mamma?” Jeanne asked, as she
turned round and caught sight of the doctor.

“It is a friend, whom you know.”

The child looked at him for a time with thoughtful eyes, as if in
doubt; but soon a wave of affection passed over her face. “Yes, yes, I
know him; I love him very much.” And with her coaxing air she added:
“You will have to cure me, won’t you, sir, to make mamma happy? Oh,
I’ll be good; I’ll drink everything you give me.”

The doctor again felt her pulse, while Hélène grasped her other hand;
and, as she lay there between them, her eyes travelled attentively from
one to the other, as though no such advantageous opportunity of seeing
and comparing them had ever occurred before. Then her head shook with a
nervous trembling; she grew agitated; and her tiny hands caught hold of
her mother and the doctor with a convulsive grip.

“Do not go away; I’m so afraid. Take care of me; don’t let all the
others come near me. I only want you, only you two, near me. Come
closer up to me, together!” she stammered.

Drawing them nearer, with a violent effort she brought them close to
her, still uttering the same entreaty: “Come close, together,
together!”

Several times did she behave in the same delirious fashion. Then came
intervals of quiet, when a heavy sleep fell on her, but it left her
breathless and almost dead. When she started out of these short dozes
she heard nothing, saw nothing—a white vapor shrouded her eyes. The
doctor remained watching over her for a part of the night, which proved
a very bad one. He only absented himself for a moment to procure some
medicine. Towards morning, when he was about to leave, Hélène, with
terrible anxiety in her face accompanied him into the ante-room.

“Well?” asked she.

“Her condition is very serious,” he answered; “but you must not fear;
rely on me; I will give you every assistance. I shall come back at ten
o’clock.”

When Hélène returned to the bedroom she found Jeanne sitting up in bed,
gazing round her with bewildered looks.

“You left me! you left me!” she wailed. “Oh! I’m afraid; I don’t want
to be left all alone.”

To console her, her mother kissed her, but she still gazed round the
room:

“Where is he?” she faltered. “Oh! tell him not to go away; I want him
to be here, I want him—”

“He will come back, my darling!” interrupted Hélène, whose tears were
mingling with Jeanne’s own. “He will not leave us, I promise you. He
loves us too well. Now, be good and lie down. I’ll stay here till he
comes back.”

“Really? really?” murmured the child, as she slowly fell back into deep
slumber.

Terrible days now began, three weeks full of awful agony. The fever did
not quit its victim for an hour. Jeanne only seemed tranquil when the
doctor was present; she put one of her little hands in his, while her
mother held the other. She seemed to find safety in their presence; she
gave each of them an equal share of her tyrannical worship, as though
she well knew beneath what passionate kindness she was sheltering
herself. Her nervous temperament, so exquisite in its sensibility, the
keener since her illness, inspired her, no doubt, with the thought that
only a miraculous effort of their love could save her. As the hours
slipped away she would gaze on them with grave and searching looks as
they sat on each side of her crib. Her glances remained instinct with
human passion, and though she spoke not she told them all she desired
by the warm pressure of her hands, with which she besought them not to
leave her, giving them to understand what peace was hers when they were
present. Whenever the doctor entered after having been away her joy
became supreme, and her eyes, which never quitted the door, flashed
with light; and then she would fall quietly asleep, all her fears
fleeing as she heard her mother and him moving around her and speaking
in whispers.

On the day after the attack Doctor Bodin called. But Jeanne suddenly
turned away her head and refused to allow him to examine her.

“I don’t want him, mamma,” she murmured, “I don’t want him! I beg of
you.”

As he made his appearance on the following day, Hélène was forced to
inform him of the child’s dislike, and thus it came about that the
venerable doctor made no further effort to enter the sick-room. Still,
he climbed the stairs every other day to inquire how Jeanne was getting
on, and sometimes chatted with his brother professional, Doctor
Deberle, who paid him all the deference due to an elder.

Moreover, it was useless to try to deceive Jeanne. Her senses had
become wondrously acute. The Abbé and Monsieur Rambaud paid a visit
every night; they sat down and spent an hour in sad silence. One
evening, as the doctor was going away, Hélène signed to Monsieur
Rambaud to take his place and clasp the little one’s hand, so that she
might not notice the departure of her beloved friend. But two or three
minutes had scarcely passed ere Jeanne opened her eyes and quickly drew
her hand away. With tears flowing she declared that they were behaving
ill to her.

“Don’t you love me any longer? won’t you have me beside you?” asked
poor Monsieur Rambaud, with tears in his eyes.

She looked at him, deigning no reply; it seemed as if her heart was set
on knowing him no more. The worthy man, grievously pained, returned to
his corner. He always ended by thus gliding into a window-recess,
where, half hidden behind a curtain, he would remain during the
evening, in a stupor of grief, his eyes the while never quitting the
sufferer. The Abbé was there as well, with his large head and pallid
face showing above his scraggy shoulders. He concealed his tears by
blowing his nose loudly from time to time. The danger in which he saw
his little friend lying wrought such havoc within him that his poor
were for the time wholly forgotten.

But it was useless for the two brothers to retire to the other end of
the room; Jeanne was still conscious of their presence. They were a
source of vexation to her, and she would turn round with a harassed
look, even though drowsy with fever. Her mother bent over her to catch
the words trembling on her lips.

“Oh! mamma, I feel so ill. All this is choking me; send everybody
away—quick, quick!”

Hélène with the utmost gentleness then explained to the two brothers
the child’s wish to fall asleep; they understood her meaning, and
quitted the room with drooping heads. And no sooner had they gone than
Jeanne breathed with greater freedom, cast a glance round the chamber,
and once more fixed a look of infinite tenderness on her mother and the
doctor.

“Good-night,” she whispered; “I feel well again; stay beside me.”

For three weeks she thus kept them by her side. Henri had at first paid
two visits each day, but soon he spent the whole night with them,
giving every hour he could spare to the child. At the outset he had
feared it was a case of typhoid fever; but so contradictory were the
symptoms that he soon felt himself involved in perplexity. There was no
doubt he was confronted by a disease of the chlorosis type, presenting
the greatest difficulty in treatment, with the possibility of very
dangerous complications, as the child was almost on the threshold of
womanhood. He dreaded first a lesion of the heart and then the setting
in of consumption. Jeanne’s nervous excitement, wholly beyond his
control, was a special source of uneasiness; to such heights of
delirium did the fever rise, that the strongest medicines were of no
avail. He brought all his fortitude and knowledge to bear on the case,
inspired with the one thought that his own happiness and life were at
stake. On his mind there had now fallen a great stillness; not once
during those three anxious weeks did his passion break its bonds.
Hélène’s breath no longer woke tremors within him, and when their eyes
met they were only eloquent of the sympathetic sadness of two souls
threatened by a common misfortune.

Nevertheless every moment brought their hearts nearer. They now lived
only with the one idea. No sooner had he entered the bed-chamber than
by a glance he gathered how Jeanne had spent the night; and there was
no need for him to speak for Hélène to learn what he thought of the
child’s condition. Besides, with all the innate bravery of a mother,
she had forced from him a declaration that he would not deceive her,
but allow her to know his fears. Always on her feet, not having had
three hours’ uninterrupted sleep for three weeks past, she displayed
superhuman endurance and composure, and quelled her despair without a
tear in order that she might concentrate her whole soul upon the
struggle with the dread enemy. Within and without her heart there was
nothing but emptiness; the world around her, the usual thoughts of each
hour, the consciousness of life itself, had all faded into darkness.
Existence held nothing for her. Nothing now bound her to life but her
suffering darling and this man who promised her a miracle. It was he,
and he only, to whom she looked, to whom she listened, whose most
trivial words were to her of the first importance, and into whose
breast she would fain have transfused her own soul in order to increase
his energy. Insensibly, and without break, this idea wrought out its
own accomplishment. Almost every evening, when the fever was raging at
its worst and Jeanne lay in imminent peril, they were there beside her
in silence; and as though eager to remind themselves that they stood
shoulder to shoulder struggling against death, their hands met on the
edge of the bed in a caressing clasp, while they trembled with
solicitude and pity till a faint smile breaking over the child’s face,
and the sound of quiet and regular breathing, told them that the danger
was past. Then each encouraged the other by an inclination of the head.
Once again had their love triumphed; and every time the mute caress
grew more demonstrative their hearts drew closer together.

One night Hélène divined that Henri was concealing something from her.
For ten minutes, without a word crossing his lips, he had been
examining Jeanne. The little one complained of intolerable thirst; she
seemed choking, and there was an incessant wheezing in her parched
throat. Then a purple flush came over her face, and she lapsed into a
stupor which prevented her even from raising her eyelids. She lay
motionless; it might have been imagined she was dead but for the sound
coming from her throat.

“You consider her very ill, do you not?” gasped Hélène.

He answered in the negative; there was no change. But his face was
ashy-white, and he remained seated, overwhelmed by his powerlessness.
Thereupon she also, despite the tension of her whole being, sank upon a
chair on the other side of the bed.

“Tell me everything. You promised to tell me all. Is she beyond hope?”

He still sat silent, and she spoke again more vehemently:

“You know how brave I am. Have I wept? have I despaired? Speak: I want
to know the truth.”

Henri fixed his eyes on her. The words came slowly from his lips.
“Well,” said he, “if in an hour hence she hasn’t awakened from this
stupor, it will be all over.”

Not a sob broke from Hélène; but icy horror possessed her and raised
her hair on end. Her eyes turned on Jeanne; she fell on her knees and
clasped her in her arms with a superb gesture eloquent of ownership, as
though she could preserve her from ill, nestling thus against her
shoulder. For more than a minute she kept her face close to the
child’s, gazing at her intently, eager to give her breath from her own
nostrils, ay, and her very life too. The labored breathing of the
little sufferer grew shorter and shorter.

“Can nothing be done?” she exclaimed, as she lifted her head. “Why do
you remain there? Do something!” But he made a disheartened gesture.
“Do something!” she repeated. “There must be something to be done. You
are not going to let her die oh, surely not!”

“I will do everything possible,” the doctor simply said.

He rose up, and then a supreme struggle began. All the coolness and
nerve of the practitioner had returned to him. Till now he had not
ventured to try any violent remedies, for he dreaded to enfeeble the
little frame already almost destitute of life. But he no longer
remained undecided, and straightway dispatched Rosalie for a dozen
leeches. And he did not attempt to conceal from the mother that this
was a desperate remedy which might save or kill her child. When the
leeches were brought in, her heart failed her for a moment.

“Gracious God! gracious God!” she murmured. “Oh, if you should kill
her!”

He was forced to wring consent from her.

“Well, put them on,” said she; “but may Heaven guide your hand!”

She had not ceased holding Jeanne, and refused to alter her position,
as she still desired to keep the child’s little head nestling against
her shoulder. With calm features he meantime busied himself with the
last resource, not allowing a word to fall from his lips. The first
application of the leeches proved unsuccessful. The minutes slipped
away. The only sound breaking the stillness of the shadowy chamber was
the merciless, incessant tick-tack of the timepiece. Hope departed with
every second. In the bright disc of light cast by the lamp, Jeanne lay
stretched among the disordered bedclothes, with limbs of waxen pallor.
Hélène, with tearless eyes, but choking with emotion, gazed on the
little body already in the clutches of death, and to see a drop of her
daughter’s blood appear, would willingly have yielded up all her own.
And at last a ruddy drop trickled down—the leeches had made fast their
hold; one by one they commenced sucking. The child’s life was in the
balance. These were terrible moments, pregnant with anguish. Was that
sigh the exhalation of Jeanne’s last breath, or did it mark her return
to life? For a time Hélène’s heart was frozen within her; she believed
that the little one was dead; and there came to her a violent impulse
to pluck away the creatures which were sucking so greedily; but some
supernatural power restrained her, and she remained there with open
mouth and her blood chilled within her. The pendulum still swung to and
fro; the room itself seemed to wait the issue in anxious expectation.

At last the child stirred. Her heavy eyelids rose, but dropped again,
as though wonder and weariness had overcome her. A slight quiver passed
over her face; it seemed as if she were breathing. Finally there was a
trembling of the lips; and Hélène, in an agony of suspense, bent over
her, fiercely awaiting the result.

“Mamma! mamma!” murmured Jeanne.

Henri heard, and walking to the head of the bed, whispered in the
mother’s ear: “She is saved.”

“She is saved! she is saved!” echoed Hélène in stammering tones, her
bosom filled with such joy that she fell on the floor close to the bed,
gazing now at her daughter and now at the doctor with distracted looks.
But she rose and giving way to a mighty impulse, threw herself on
Henri’s neck.

“I love you!” she exclaimed.

This was her avowal—the avowal imprisoned so long, but at last poured
forth in the crisis of emotion which had come upon her. Mother and
lover were merged in one; she proffered him her love in a fiery rush of
gratitude.

Through her sobs she spoke to him in endearing words. Her tears, dried
at their source for three weeks, were now rolling down her cheeks. But
at last she fell upon her knees, and took Jeanne in her arms to lull
her to deeper slumber against her shoulder; and at intervals whilst her
child thus rested she raised to Henri’s eyes glistening with passionate
tears.

Stretched in her cot, the bedclothes tucked under her chin, and her
head, with its dark brown tresses, resting in the centre of the pillow,
Jeanne lay, relieved, but prostrate. Her eyelids were closed, but she
did not sleep. The lamp, placed on the table, which had been rolled
close to the fireplace, lit but one end of the room, and the shade
encompassed Hélène and Henri, seated in their customary places on each
side of the bed. But the child did not part them; on the contrary, she
served as a closer bond between them, and her innocence was
intermingled with their love on this first night of its avowal. At
times Hélène rose on tiptoe to fetch the medicine, to turn up the lamp,
or give some order to Rosalie; while the doctor, whose eyes never
quitted her, would sign to her to walk gently. And when she had sat
down again they smiled at one another. Not a word was spoken; all their
interest was concentrated on Jeanne, who was to them as their love
itself. Sometimes when the coverlet was being pulled up, or the child’s
head was being raised, their hands met and rested together in sweet
forgetfulness. This undesigned, stealthy caress was the only one in
which they indulged.

“I am not sleeping,” murmured Jeanne. “I know very well you are there.”

On hearing her speak they were overjoyed. Their hands parted; beyond
this they had no desires. The improvement in the child’s condition was
to them satisfaction and peace.

“Are you feeling better, my darling?” asked Hélène, when she saw her
stirring.

Jeanne made no immediate reply, and when she spoke it was dreamingly.

“Oh, yes! I don’t feel anything now. But I can hear you, and that
pleases me.”

After the lapse of a moment, she opened her eyes with an effort and
looked at them. Then an angelic smile crossed her face, and her eyelids
dropped once more.

On the morrow, when the Abbé and Monsieur Rambaud made their
appearance, Hélène gave way to a shrug of impatience. They were now a
disturbing element in her happy nest. As they went on questioning her,
shaking with fear lest they might receive bad tidings, she had the
cruelty to reply that Jeanne was no better. She spoke without
consideration, driven to this strait by the selfish desire of
treasuring for herself and Henri the bliss of having rescued Jeanne
from death, and of alone knowing this to be so. What was their reason
for seeking a share in her happiness? It belonged to Henri and herself,
and had it been known to another would have seemed to her impaired in
value. To her imagination it would have been as though a stranger were
participating in her love.

The priest, however, approached the bed.

“Jeanne, ’tis we, your old friends. Don’t you know us?”

She nodded gravely to them in recognition, but she was unwilling to
speak to them; she was in a thoughtful mood, and she cast a look full
of meaning on her mother. The two poor men went away more heartbroken
than on any previous evening.

Three days later Henri allowed his patient her first boiled egg. It was
a matter of the highest importance. Jeanne’s mind was made up to eat it
with none present but her mother and the doctor, and the door must be
closed. As it happened, Monsieur Rambaud was present at the moment; and
when Hélène began to spread a napkin, by way of tablecloth, on the bed,
the child whispered in her ear: “Wait a moment—when he has gone.”

And as soon as he had left them she burst out: “Now, quick! quick! It’s
far nicer when there’s nobody but ourselves.”

Hélène lifted her to a sitting posture, while Henri placed two pillows
behind her to prop her up; and then, with the napkin spread before her
and a plate on her knees, Jeanne waited, smiling.

“Shall I break the shell for you?” asked her mother.

“Yes, do, mamma.”

“And I will cut you three little bits of bread,” added the doctor.

“Oh! four; you’ll see if I don’t eat four.”

It was now the doctor’s turn to be addressed endearingly. When he gave
her the first slice, she gripped his hand, and as she still clasped her
mother’s, she rained kisses on both with the same passionate
tenderness.

“Come, come; you will have to be good,” entreated Hélène, who observed
that she was ready to burst into tears; “you must please us by eating
your egg.”

At this Jeanne ventured to begin; but her frame was so enfeebled that
with the second sippet of bread she declared herself wearied. As she
swallowed each mouthful, she would say, with a smile, that her teeth
were tender. Henri encouraged her, while Hélène’s eyes were brimful of
tears. Heaven! she saw her child eating! She watched the bread
disappear, and the gradual consumption of this first egg thrilled her
to the heart. To picture Jeanne stretched dead beneath the sheets was a
vision of mortal terror; but now she was eating, and eating so
prettily, with all an invalid’s characteristic dawdling and hesitancy!

“You won’t be angry, mamma? I’m doing my best. Why, I’m at my third bit
of bread! Are you pleased?”

“Yes, my darling, quite pleased. Oh! you don’t know all the joy the
sight gives me!”

And then, in the happiness with which she overflowed, Hélène
forgetfully leaned against Henri’s shoulder. Both laughed gleefully at
the child, but over her face there suddenly crept a sullen flush; she
gazed at them stealthily, and drooped her head, and refused to eat any
more, her features glooming the while with distrust and anger. At last
they had to lay her back in bed again.



 CHAPTER XIII.


Months slipped away, and Jeanne was still convalescent. August came,
and she had not quitted her bed. When evening fell she would rise for
an hour or two; but even the crossing of the room to the window—where
she reclined on an invalid-chair and gazed out on Paris, flaming with
the ruddy light of the dying sun—seemed too great a strain for her
wearied frame. Her attenuated limbs could scarce bear their burden, and
she would declare with a wan smile that the blood in her veins would
not suffice for a little bird, and that she must have plenty of soup.
Morsels of raw meat were dipped in her broth. She had grown to like
this mixture, as she longed to be able to go down to play in the
garden.

The weeks and the months which slipped by were ever instinct with the
same delightful monotony, and Hélène forgot to count the days. She
never left the house; at Jeanne’s side she forgot the whole world. No
news from without reached her ears. Her retreat, though it looked down
on Paris, which with its smoke and noise stretched across the horizon,
was as secret and secluded as any cave of holy hermit amongst the
hills. Her child was saved, and the knowledge of it satisfied all her
desires. She spent her days in watching over her return to health,
rejoicing in a shade of bright color returning to her cheeks, in a
lively look, or in a gesture of gladness. Every hour made her daughter
more like what she had been of old, with lovely eyes and wavy hair. The
slower Jeanne’s recovery, the greater joy was yielded to Hélène, who
recalled the olden days when she had suckled her, and, as she gazed on
her gathering strength, felt even a keener emotion than when in the
past she had measured her two little feet in her hand to see if she
would soon be able to walk.

At the same time some anxiety remained to Hélène. On several occasions
she had seen a shadow come over Jeanne’s face—a shadow of sudden
distrust and sourness. Why was her laughter thus abruptly turned to
sulkiness? Was she suffering? was she hiding some quickening of the old
pain?

“Tell me, darling, what is the matter? You were laughing just a moment
ago, and now you are nearly crying! Speak to me: do you feel a pain
anywhere?”

But Jeanne abruptly turned away her head and buried her face in the
pillow.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” she answered curtly. “I want to be
left alone.”

And she would lie brooding the whole afternoon, with her eyes fixed on
the wall, showing no sign of affectionate repentance, but plunged in a
sadness which baffled her forlorn mother. The doctor knew not what to
say; these fits of gloom would always break out when he was there, and
he attributed them to the sufferer’s nervousness. He impressed on
Hélène the necessity of crossing her in nothing.

One afternoon Jeanne had fallen asleep. Henri, who was pleased with her
progress, had lingered in the room, and was carrying on a whispered
conversation with Hélène, who was once more busy with her everlasting
needlework at her seat beside the window. Since the terrible night when
she had confessed she loved him both had lived on peacefully in the
consciousness of their mutual passions, careless of the morrow, and
without a thought of the world. Around Jeanne’s bed, in this room that
still reverberated with her agony, there was an atmosphere of purity
which shielded them from any outburst. The child’s innocent breath fell
on them with a quieting influence. But as the little invalid slowly
grew well again, their love in very sympathy took new strength, and
they would sit side by side with beating hearts, speaking little, and
then only in whispers, lest the little one might be awakened. Their
words were without significance, but struck re-echoing chords within
the breast of each. That afternoon their love revealed itself in a
thousand ways.

“I assure you she is much better,” said the doctor. “In a fortnight she
will be able to go down to the garden.”

Hélène went on stitching quickly.

“Yesterday she was again very sad,” she murmured, “but this morning she
was laughing and happy. She has given me her promise to be good.”

A long silence followed. The child was still plunged in sleep, and
their souls were enveloped in a profound peace. When she slumbered
thus, their relief was intense; they seemed to share each other’s
hearts the more.

“Have you not seen the garden yet?” asked Henri. “Just now it’s full of
flowers.”

“The asters are out, aren’t they?” she questioned.

“Yes; the flower-bed looks magnificent. The clematises have wound their
way up into the elms. It is quite a nest of foliage.”

There was another silence. Hélène ceased sewing, and gave him a smile.
To their fancy it seemed as though they were strolling together along
high-banked paths, dim with shadows, amidst which fell a shower of
roses. As he hung over her he drank in the faint perfume of vervain
that arose from her dressing-gown. However, all at once a rustling of
the sheets disturbed them.

“She is wakening!” exclaimed Hélène, as she started up.

Henri drew himself away, and simultaneously threw a glance towards the
bed. Jeanne had but a moment before gripped the pillow with her arms,
and, with her chin buried in it, had turned her face towards them. But
her eyelids were still shut, and judging by her slow and regular
breathing, she had again fallen asleep.

“Are you always sewing like this?” asked Henri, as he came nearer to
Hélène.

“I cannot remain with idle hands,” she answered. “It is mechanical
enough, but it regulates my thoughts. For hours I can think of the same
thing without wearying.”

He said no more, but his eye dwelt on the needle as the stitching went
on almost in a melodious cadence; and it seemed to him as if the thread
were carrying off and binding something of their lives together. For
hours she could have sewn on, and for hours he could have sat there,
listening to the music of the needle, in which, like a lulling refrain,
re-echoed one word that never wearied them. It was their wish to live
their days like this in that quiet nook, to sit side by side while the
child was asleep, never stirring from their places lest they might
awaken her. How sweet was that quiescent silence, in which they could
listen to the pulsing of hearts, and bask in the delight of a dream of
everlasting love!

“How good you are!” were the words which came several times from his
lips, the joy her presence gave him only finding expression in that one
phrase.

Again she raised her head, never for a moment deeming it strange that
she should be so passionately worshipped. Henri’s face was near her
own, and for a second they gazed at one another.

“Let me get on with my work,” she said in a whisper. “I shall never
have it finished.”

But just then an instinctive dread prompted her to turn round, and
indeed there lay Jeanne, lowering upon them with deadly pale face and
great inky-black eyes. The child had not made the least movement; her
chin was still buried in the downy pillow, which she clasped with her
little arms. She had only opened her eyes a moment before and was
contemplating them.

“Jeanne, what’s the matter?” asked Hélène. “Are you ill? do you want
anything?”

The little one made no reply, never stirred, did not even lower the
lids of her great flashing eyes. A sullen gloom was on her brow, and in
her pallid cheeks were deep hollows. She seemed about to throw back her
hands as though a convulsion was imminent. Hélène started up, begging
her to speak; but she remained obstinately stiff, darting such black
looks on her mother that the latter’s face became purple with blushes,
and she murmured:

“Doctor, see; what is the matter with her?”

Henri had drawn his chair away from Hélène’s. He ventured near the bed,
and was desirous of taking hold of one of the little hands which so
fiercely gripped the pillow. But as he touched Jeanne she trembled in
every limb, turned with a start towards the wall, and exclaimed:

“Leave me alone; you, I mean! You are hurting me!”

She pulled the coverlet over her face, and for a quarter of an hour
they attempted, without success, to soothe her with gentle words. At
last, as they still persevered, she sat up with her hands clasped in
supplication: “Oh, please leave me alone; you are tormenting me! Leave
me alone!”

Hélène, in her bewilderment, once more sat down at the window, but
Henri did not resume his place beside her. They now understood: Jeanne
was devoured by jealousy. They were unable to speak another word. For a
minute or two the doctor paced up and down in silence, and then slowly
quitted the room, well understanding the meaning of the anxious glances
which the mother was darting towards the bed. As soon as he had gone,
she ran to her daughter’s side and pressed her passionately to her
breast, with a wild outburst of words.

“Hear me, my pet, I am alone now; look at me, speak to me. Are you in
pain? Have I vexed you then? Tell me everything! Is it I whom you are
angry with? What are you troubled about?”

But it was useless to pray for an answer, useless to plead with all
sorts of questions; Jeanne declared that she was quite well. Then she
started up with a frenzied cry: “You don’t love me any more, mamma! you
don’t love me any more!”

She burst into grievous sobbing, and wound her arms convulsively round
her mother’s neck, raining greedy kisses on her face. Hélène’s heart
was rent within her, she felt overwhelmed with unspeakable sadness, and
strained her child to her bosom, mingling her tears with her own, and
vowing to her that she would never love anybody save herself.

From that day onward a mere word or glance would suffice to awaken
Jeanne’s jealousy. While she was in the perilous grip of death some
instinct had led her to put her trust in the loving tenderness with
which they had shielded and saved her. But now strength was returning
to her, and she would allow none to participate in her mother’s love.
She conceived a kind of spite against the doctor, a spite which
stealthily grew into hate as her health improved. It was hidden deep
within her self-willed brain, in the innermost recesses of her
suspicious and silent nature. She would never consent to explain
things; she herself knew not what was the matter with her; but she felt
ill whenever the doctor drew too near to her mother; and would press
her hands violently to her bosom. Her torment seemed to sear her very
heart, and furious passion choked her and made her cheeks turn pale.
Nor could she place any restraint on herself; she imagined every one
unjust, grew stiff and haughty, and deigned no reply when she was
charged with being very ill-tempered. Hélène, trembling with dismay,
dared not press her to explain the source of her trouble; indeed, her
eyes turned away whenever this eleven-year-old child darted at her a
glance in which was concentrated the premature passion of a woman.

“Oh, Jeanne, you are making me very wretched!” she would sometimes say
to her, the tears standing in her eyes as she observed her stifling in
her efforts to restrain a sudden bubbling up of mad anger.

But these words, once so potent for good, which had so often drawn the
child weeping to Hélène’s arms, were now wholly without influence.
There was a change taking place in her character. Her humors varied ten
times a day. Generally she spoke abruptly and imperiously, addressing
her mother as though she were Rosalie, and constantly plaguing her with
the pettiest demands, ever impatient and loud in complaint.

“Give me a drink. What a time you take! I am left here dying of
thirst!” And when Hélène handed the glass to her she would exclaim:
“There’s no sugar in it; I won’t have it!”

Then she would throw herself back on her pillow, and a second time push
away the glass, with the complaint that the drink was too sweet. They
no longer cared to attend to her, she would say; they were doing it
purposely. Hélène, dreading lest she might infuriate her to a yet
greater extent, made no reply, but gazed on her with tears trembling on
her cheeks.

However, Jeanne’s anger was particularly visible when the doctor made
his appearance. The moment he entered the sick-room she would lay
herself flat in bed, or sullenly hang her head in the manner of savage
brutes who will not suffer a stranger to come near. Sometimes she
refused to say a word, allowing him to feel her pulse or examine her
while she remained motionless with her eyes fixed on the ceiling. On
other days she would not even look at him, but clasp her hands over her
eyes with such a gust of passion that to remove them would have
necessitated the violent twisting of her arms. One night, as her mother
was about to give her a spoonful of medicine, she burst out with the
cruel remark: “I won’t have it; it will poison me.”

Hélène’s heart, pierced to the quick, sank within her, and she dreaded
to elicit what the remark might mean.

“What are you saying, my child?” she asked. “Do you understand what you
are talking about? Medicine is never nice to take. You must drink
this.”

But Jeanne lay there in obstinate silence, and averted her head in
order to get rid of the draught. From that day onward she was full of
caprices, swallowing or rejecting her medicines according to the humor
of the moment. She would sniff at the phials and examine them
suspiciously as they stood on the night-table. Should she have refused
to drink the contents of one of them she never forgot its identity, and
would have died rather than allow a drop from it to pass her lips.
Honest Monsieur Rambaud alone could persuade her at times. It was he
whom she now overwhelmed with the most lavish caresses, especially if
the doctor were looking on; and her gleaming eyes were turned towards
her mother to note if she were vexed by this display of affection
towards another.

“Oh, it’s you, old friend!” she exclaimed the moment he entered. “Come
and sit down near me. Have you brought me any oranges?”

She sat up and laughingly fumbled in his pockets, where goodies were
always secreted. Then she embraced him, playing quite a love comedy,
while her revenge found satisfaction in the anguish which she imagined
she could read on her mother’s pallid face. Monsieur Rambaud beamed
with joy over his restoration to his little sweetheart’s good graces.
But Hélène, on meeting him in the ante-room, was usually able to
acquaint him with the state of affairs, and all at once he would look
at the draught standing on the table and exclaim: “What! are you having
syrup?”

Jeanne’s face clouded over, and, in a low voice, she replied: “No, no,
it’s nasty, it’s nauseous; I can’t take it.”

“What! you can’t drink this?” questioned Monsieur Rambaud gaily. “I can
wager it’s very good. May I take a little of it?”

Then without awaiting her permission he poured out a large spoonful,
and swallowed it with a grimace that seemed to betoken immeasurable
satisfaction.

“How delicious!” he murmured. “You are quite wrong; see, just take a
little to try.”

Jeanne, amused, then made no further resistance. She would drink
whatever Monsieur Rambaud happened to taste. She watched his every
motion greedily, and appeared to study his features with a view to
observing the effects of the medicine. The good man for a month gorged
himself in this way with drugs, and, on Hélène gratefully thanking him,
merely shrugged his shoulders.

“Oh! it’s very good stuff!” he declared, with perfect conviction,
making it his pleasure to share the little one’s medicines.

He passed his evenings at her bedside. The Abbé, on the other hand,
came regularly every second day. Jeanne retained them with her as long
as possible, and displayed vexation when she saw them take up their
hats. Her immediate dread lay in being left alone with her mother and
the doctor, and she would fain have always had company in the room to
keep these two apart. Frequently, without reason, she called Rosalie to
her. When they were alone with her, her eyes never quitted them, but
pursued them into every corner of the bedroom. Whenever their hands
came together, her face grew ashy white. If a whispered word was
exchanged between them, she started up in anger, demanding to know what
had been said. It was a grievance to her that her mother’s gown should
sweep against the doctor’s foot. They could not approach or look at one
another without the child falling immediately into violent trembling.
The extreme sensitiveness of her innocent little being induced in her
an exasperation which would suddenly prompt her to turn round, should
she guess that they were smiling at one another behind her. She could
divine the times when their love was at its height by the atmosphere
wafted around her. It was then that her gloom became deeper, and her
agonies were those of nervous women at the approach of a terrible
storm.

Every one about Hélène now looked on Jeanne as saved, and she herself
had slowly come to recognize this as a certainty. Thus it happened that
Jeanne’s fits were at last regarded by her as the bad humors of a
spoilt child, and as of little or no consequence. A craving to live
sprang up within her after the six weeks of anguish which she had just
spent. Her daughter was now well able to dispense with her care for
hours; and for her, who had so long become unconscious of life, these
hours opened up a vista of delight, of peace, and pleasure. She
rummaged in her drawers, and made joyous discoveries of forgotten
things; she plunged into all sorts of petty tasks, in the endeavor to
resume the happy course of her daily existence. And in this upwelling
of life her love expanded, and the society of Henri was the reward she
allowed herself for the intensity of her past sufferings. In the
shelter of that room they deemed themselves beyond the world’s ken, and
every hindrance in their path was forgotten. The child, to whom their
love had proved a terror, alone remained a bar between them.

Jeanne became, indeed, a veritable scourge to their affections. An
ever-present barrier, with her eyes constantly upon them, she compelled
them to maintain a continued restraint, an affectation of indifference,
with the result that their hearts were stirred with even greater motion
than before. For days they could not exchange a word; they knew
intuitively that she was listening even when she was seemingly wrapped
in slumber. One evening, when Hélène had quitted the room with Henri,
to escort him to the front door, Jeanne burst out with the cry, “Mamma!
mamma!” in a voice shrill with rage. Hélène was forced to return, for
she heard the child leap from her bed; and she met her running towards
her, shivering with cold and passion. Jeanne would no longer let her
remain away from her. From that day forward they could merely exchange
a clasp of the hand on meeting and parting. Madame Deberle was now
spending a month at the seaside, and the doctor, though he had all his
time at his own command, dared not pass more than ten minutes in
Hélène’s company. Their long chats at the window had come to an end.

What particularly tortured their hearts was the fickleness of Jeanne’s
humor. One night, as the doctor hung over her, she gave way to tears.
For a whole day her hate changed to feverish tenderness, and Hélène
felt happy once more; but on the morrow, when the doctor entered the
room, the child received him with such a display of sourness that the
mother besought him with a look to leave them. Jeanne had fretted the
whole night in angry regret over her own good-humor. Not a day passed
but what a like scene was enacted. And after the blissful hours the
child brought them in her moods of impassioned tenderness these hours
of misery fell on them with the torture of the lash.

A feeling of revulsion at last awoke within Hélène. To all seeming her
daughter would be her death. Why, when her illness had been put to
flight, did the ill-natured child work her utmost to torment her? If
one of those intoxicating dreams took possession of her imagination—a
mystic dream in which she found herself traversing a country alike
unknown and entrancing with Henri by her side Jeanne’s face, harsh and
sullen, would suddenly start up before her and thus her heart was ever
being rent in twain. The struggle between her maternal affection and
her passion became fraught with the greatest suffering.

One evening, despite Hélène’s formal edict of banishment, the doctor
called. For eight days they had been unable to exchange a word
together. She would fain that he had not entered; but he did so on
learning that Jeanne was in a deep sleep. They sat down as of old, near
the window, far from the glare of the lamp, with the peaceful shadows
around them. For two hours their conversation went on in such low
whispers that scarcely a sound disturbed the silence of the large room.
At times they turned their heads and glanced at the delicate profile of
Jeanne, whose little hands, clasped together, were reposing on the
coverlet. But in the end they grew forgetful of their surroundings, and
their talk incautiously became louder. Then, all at once, Jeanne’s
voice rang out.

“Mamma! mamma!” she cried, seized with sudden agitation, as though
suffering from nightmare.

She writhed about in her bed, her eyelids still heavy with sleep, and
then struggled to reach a sitting posture.

“Hide, I beseech you!” whispered Hélène to the doctor in a tone of
anguish. “You will be her death if you stay here.”

In an instant Henri vanished into the window-recess, concealed by the
blue velvet curtain; but it was in vain, the child still kept up her
pitiful cry: “Oh, mamma! mamma! I suffer so much.”

“I am here beside you, my darling; where do you feel the pain?”

“I don’t know. Oh, see, it is here! Oh, it is scorching me!” With eyes
wide open and features distorted, she pressed her little hands to her
bosom. “It came on me in a moment. I was asleep, wasn’t I? But I felt
something like a burning coal.”

“But it’s all gone now. You’re not pained any longer, are you?”

“Yes, yes, I feel it still.”

She glanced uneasily round the room. She was now wholly awake; the
sullen gloom crept over her face once more, and her cheeks became
livid.

“Are you by yourself, mamma?” she asked.

“Of course I am, my darling!”

Nevertheless Jeanne shook her head and gazed about, sniffing the air,
while her agitation visibly increased. “No, you’re not; I know you’re
not. There’s some one—Oh, mamma! I’m afraid, I’m afraid! You are
telling me a story; you are not by yourself.”

She fell back in bed in an hysterical fit, sobbing loudly and huddling
herself beneath the coverlet, as though to ward off some danger.
Hélène, crazy with alarm, dismissed Henri without delay, despite his
wish to remain and look after the child. But she drove him out
forcibly, and on her return clasped Jeanne in her arms, while the
little one gave vent to the one pitiful cry, with every utterance of
which her sobbing was renewed louder than ever: “You don’t love me any
more! You don’t love me any more!”

“Hush, hush, my angel! don’t say that,” exclaimed the mother in agony.
“You are all the world to me. You’ll see yet whether I love you or
not.”

She nursed her until the morning broke, intent on yielding up to her
all her heart’s affections, though she was appalled at realizing how
completely the love of herself possessed this darling child. Next day
she deemed a consultation necessary. Doctor Bodin, dropping in as
though by chance, subjected the patient with many jokes to a careful
examination; and a lengthy discussion ensued between him and Doctor
Deberle, who had remained in the adjacent room. Both readily agreed
that there were no serious symptoms apparent at the moment, but they
were afraid of complex developments, and cross-questioned Hélène for
some time. They realized that they were dealing with one of those
nervous affections which have a family history, and set medical skill
at defiance. She told them, what they already partly knew, that her
grandmother[*] was confined in the lunatic asylum of Les Tulettes at a
short distance from Plassans, and that her mother had died from
galloping consumption, after many years of brain affection and
hysterical fits. She herself took more after her father; she had his
features and the same gravity of temperament. Jeanne, on the other
hand, was the facsimile of her grandmother; but she never would have
her strength, commanding figure, or sturdy, bony frame. The two doctors
enjoined on her once more that the greatest care was requisite. Too
many precautions could not be taken in dealing with chloro-anaemical
affections, which tend to develop a multitude of dangerous diseases.

[*] Adelaide Fouque, already mentioned, who figures so prominently in
“The Fortune of the Rougons,” and dies under such horrible
circumstances in “Doctor Pascal.”

Henri had listened to old Doctor Bodin with a deference which he had
never before displayed for a colleague. He besought his advice on
Jeanne’s case with the air of a pupil who is full of doubt. Truth to
tell, this child inspired him with dread; he felt that her case was
beyond his science, and he feared lest she might die under his hands
and her mother be lost to him for ever. A week passed away. He was no
longer admitted by Hélène into the little one’s presence; and in the
end, sad and sick at heart, he broke off his visits of his own accord.

As the month of August verged on its close, Jeanne recovered sufficient
strength to rise and walk across the room. The lightness of her heart
spoke in her laughter. A fortnight had elapsed since the recurrence of
any nervous attack. The thought that her mother was again all her own
and would ever cling to her had proved remedy enough. At first distrust
had rankled in her mind; while letting Hélène kiss her she had remained
uneasy at her least movement, and had imperiously besought her hand
before she fell asleep, anxious to retain it in her own during her
slumber. But at last, with the knowledge that nobody came near, she had
regained confidence, enraptured by the prospect of a reopening of the
old happy life when they had sat side by side, working at the window.
Every day brought new roses to her cheeks; and Rosalie declared that
she was blossoming brighter and brighter every hour.

There were times, however, as night fell, when Hélène broke down. Since
her daughter’s illness her face had remained grave and somewhat pale,
and a deep wrinkle, never before visible, furrowed her brow. When
Jeanne caught sight of her in these hours of weariness, despair, and
voidness, she herself would feel very wretched, her heart heavy with
vague remorse. Gently and silently she would then twine her arms around
her neck.

“Are you happy, mother darling?” came the whisper.

A thrill ran through Hélène’s frame, and she hastened to answer: “Yes,
of course, my pet.”

Still the child pressed her question:

“Are you, oh! are you happy? Quite sure?”

“Quite sure. Why should I feel unhappy?”

With this Jeanne would clasp her closer in her little arms, as though
to requite her. She would love her so well, she would say—so well,
indeed, that nowhere in all Paris could a happier mother be found.



 CHAPTER XIV.


During August Doctor Deberle’s garden was like a well of foliage. The
railings were hidden both by the twining branches of the lilac and
laburnum trees and by the climbing plants, ivy, honeysuckle, and
clematis, which sprouted everywhere in luxuriance, and glided and
intermingled in inextricable confusion, drooping down in leafy
canopies, and running along the walls till they reached the elms at the
far end, where the verdure was so profuse that you might have thought a
tent were stretched between the trees, the elms serving as its giant
props. The garden was so small that the least shadow seemed to cover
it. At noon the sun threw a disc of yellow light on the centre,
illumining the lawn and its two flower-beds. Against the garden steps
was a huge rose-bush, laden with hundreds of large tea-roses. In the
evening when the heat subsided their perfume became more penetrating,
and the air under the elms grew heavy with their warm breath. Nothing
could exceed the charm of this hidden, balmy nook, into which no
neighborly inquisition could peep, and which brought one a dream of the
forest primeval, albeit barrel-organs were playing polkas in the Rue
Vineuse, near by.

“Why, madame, doesn’t mademoiselle go down to the garden?” Rosalie
daily asked. “I’m sure it would do her good to romp about under the
trees.”

One of the elms had invaded Rosalie’s kitchen with its branches. She
would pull some of the leaves off as she gazed with delight on the
clustering foliage, through which she could see nothing.

“She isn’t strong enough yet,” was Hélène’s reply. “The cold, shady
garden might be harmful to her.”

Rosalie was in no wise convinced. A happy thought with her was not
easily abandoned. Madame must surely be mistaken in imagining that it
would be cold or harmful. Perhaps madame’s objection sprang rather from
the fear that she would be in somebody’s way; but that was nonsense.
Mademoiselle would of a truth be in nobody’s way; not a living soul
made any appearance there. The doctor shunned the spot, and as for
madame, his wife, she would remain at the seaside till the middle of
September. This was so certain that the doorkeeper had asked Zephyrin
to give the garden a rake over, and Zephyrin and she herself had spent
two Sunday afternoons there already. Oh! it was lovely, lovelier than
one could imagine.

Hélène, however, still declined to act on the suggestion. Jeanne seemed
to have a great longing to enjoy a walk in the garden, which had been
the ceaseless topic of her discourse during her illness; but a vague
feeling of embarrassment made her eyes droop and closed her mouth on
the subject in her mother’s presence. At last when Sunday came round
again the maid hurried into the room exclaiming breathlessly:

“Oh! madame, there’s nobody there, I give you my word! Only myself and
Zephyrin, who is raking! Do let her come. You can’t imagine how fine it
is outside. Come for a little, only a little while, just to see!”

Her conviction was such that Hélène gave way. She cloaked Jeanne in a
shawl, and told Rosalie to take a heavy wrap with her. The child was in
an ecstasy, which spoke silently from the depths of her large sparkling
eyes; she even wished to descend the staircase without help in order
that her strength might be made plain. However, her mother’s arms were
stretched out behind her, ready to lend support. When they had reached
the foot of the stairs and entered the garden, they both gave vent to
an exclamation. So little did this umbrageous, thicket-girt spot
resemble the trim nook they had seen in the springtime that they failed
to recognize it.

“Ah! you wouldn’t believe me!” declared Rosalie, in triumphant tones.

The clumps of shrubbery had grown to great proportions, making the
paths much narrower, and, in walking, their skirts caught in some of
the interwoven branches. To the fancy it seemed some far-away recess in
a wood, arched over with foliage, from which fell a greeny light of
delightful charm and mystery. Hélène directed her steps towards the elm
beneath which she had sat in April.

“But I don’t wish her to stay here,” said she. “It is shady and
coldish.”

“Well, well, you will see in a minute,” answered the maid.

Three steps farther on they emerged from the seeming forest, and, in
the midst of the leafy profusion they found the sun’s golden rays
streaming on the lawn, warm and still as in a woodland clearing. As
they looked up they saw the branches standing out against the blue of
the sky with the delicacy of guipure. The tea-roses on the huge bush,
faint in the heat, dropped slumberously from their stems. The
flower-beds were full of red and white asters, looking with their
old-world air like blossoms woven in some ancient tapestry.

“Now you’ll see,” said Rosalie. “I’m going to put her all right
myself.”

She had folded and placed the wrap on the edge of a walk, where the
shadow came to an end. Here she made Jeanne sit down, covering her
shoulders with a shawl, and bidding her stretch out her little legs. In
this fashion the shade fell on the child’s head, while her feet lay in
the sunshine.

“Are you all right, my darling?” Hélène asked.

“Oh, yes,” was her answer. “I don’t feel cold a bit, you know. I almost
think I am sweltering before a big fire. Ah! how well one can breathe!
How pleasant it is!”

Thereupon Hélène, whose eyes had turned uneasily towards the closed
window-shutters of the house, expressed her intention of returning
upstairs for a little while, and loaded Rosalie with a variety of
injunctions. She would have to watch the sun; she was not to leave
Jeanne there for more than half an hour; and she must not lose sight of
her for a moment.

“Don’t be alarmed, mamma,” exclaimed the child, with a laugh. “There
are no carriages to pass along here.”

Left to amuse herself, she gathered a handful of gravel from the path
at her side, and took pleasure in letting it fall from her clasped
hands like a shower of rain. Zephyrin meantime was raking. On catching
sight of madame and her daughter he had slipped on his great-coat,
which he had previously hung from the branch of a tree; and in token of
respect had stood stock-still, with his rake idle in his hand.
Throughout Jeanne’s illness he had come every Sunday as usual; but so
great had been the caution with which he had slipped into the kitchen,
that Hélène would scarcely have dreamt of his presence had not Rosalie
on each occasion been deputed as his messenger to inquire about the
invalid’s progress, and convey his condolences. Yes, so ran her
comments, he was now laying claim to good manners; Paris was giving him
some polish! And at present here he was, leaning on his rake, and
mutely addressing Jeanne with a sympathetic nod. As soon as she saw
him, her face broke into smiles.

“I have been very ill,” she said.

“Yes, I know, mademoiselle,” he replied as he placed his hand on his
heart. And inspired with the wish to say something pretty or comical,
which might serve to enliven the meeting, he added: “You see, your
health has been taking a rest. Now it will indulge in a snore.”

Jeanne had again gathered up a handful of gravel, while he, perfectly
satisfied, and opening his mouth wide from ear to ear in a burst of
silent laughter, renewed his raking with all the strength of his arms.
As the rake travelled over the gravel a regular, strident sound arose.
When a few minutes had elapsed Rosalie, seeing her little charge
absorbed in her amusement, seemingly happy and at ease, drew gradually
farther away from her, as though lured by the grating of this rake.
Zephyrin was now working away in the full glare of the sun, on the
other side of the lawn.

“You are sweating like an ox,” she whispered to him. “Take off your
great-coat. Be quick; mademoiselle won’t be offended.”

He relieved himself of the garment, and once more suspended it from a
branch. His red trousers, supported by a belt round the waist, reached
almost to his chest, while his shirt of stout, unbleached linen, held
at the neck by a narrow horsehair band, was so stiff that it stuck out
and made him look even rounder than he was. He tucked up his sleeves
with a certain amount of affectation, as though to show Rosalie a
couple of flaming hearts, which, with the inscription “For Ever,” had
been tattooed on them at the barracks.

“Did you go to mass this morning?” asked Rosalie, who usually tackled
him with this question every Sunday.

“To mass! to mass!” he repeated, with a chuckle.

His red ears seemed to stand out from his head, shorn to the very skin,
and the whole of his diminutive barrel-like body expressed a spirit of
banter.

At last the confession came. “Of course I went to mass.”

“You are lying,” Rosalie burst out violently. “I know you are lying;
your nose is twitching. Oh, Zephyrin, you are going to the dogs—you
have left off going to church! Beware!”

His answer, lover-like, was an attempt to put his arm round her waist,
but to all appearance she was shocked, for she exclaimed:

“I’ll make you put on your coat again if you don’t behave yourself.
Aren’t you ashamed? Why, there’s mademoiselle looking at you!”

Thereupon Zephyrin turned to his raking once more. In truth, Jeanne had
raised her eyes towards them. Her amusement was palling on her
somewhat; the gravel thrown aside, she had been gathering leaves and
plucking grass; but a feeling of indolence crept over her, and now she
preferred to do nothing but gaze at the sunshine as it fell on her more
and more. A few moments previously only her legs, as far as the knees,
had been bathed in this warm cascade of sunshine, but now it reached
her waist, the heat increasing like an entrancing caress. What
particularly amused her were the round patches of light, of a beautiful
golden yellow, which danced over her shawl, for all the world like
living creatures. She tossed back her head to see if they were
perchance creeping towards her face, and meanwhile clasped her little
hands together in the glare of the sunshine. How thin and transparent
her hands seemed! The sun’s rays passed through them, but all the same
they appeared to her very pretty, pinky like shells, delicate and
attenuated like the tiny hands of an infant Christ. Then too the fresh
air, the gigantic trees around her, and the warmth, had lulled her
somewhat into a trance. Sleep, she imagined, had come upon her, and yet
she could still see and hear. It all seemed to her very nice and
pleasant.

“Mademoiselle, please draw back a bit,” said Rosalie, who had
approached her. “The sun’s heat is too warm for you.”

But with a wave of her hand Jeanne declined to stir. For the time her
attention was riveted on the maid and the little soldier. She pretended
to direct her glances towards the ground, with the intention of making
them believe that she did not see them; but in reality, despite her
apparent drowsiness, she kept watching them from beneath her long
eyelashes.

Rosalie stood near her for a minute or two longer, but was powerless
against the charms of the grating rake. Once more she slowly dragged
herself towards Zephyrin, as if in spite of her will. She resented the
change in manner which he was now displaying, and yet her heart was
bursting with mute admiration. The little soldier had used to good
purpose his long strolls with his comrades in the Jardin des Plantes
and round the Place du Chateau-d’Eau, where his barracks stood, and the
result was the acquisition of the swaying, expansive graces of the
Parisian fire-eater. He had learnt the flowery talk, gallant readiness,
and involved style of language so dear to the hearts of the ladies. At
times she was thrilled with intense pleasure as she listened to the
phrases which he repeated to her with a swagger of the shoulders,
phrases full of incomprehensible words that inflamed her cheeks with a
flush of pride. His uniform no longer sat awkwardly on him; he swung
his arms to and fro with a knowing air, and had an especially
noticeable style of wearing his shako on the back of his head, with the
result that his round face with its tip of a nose became extremely
prominent, while his headgear swayed gently with the rolling of his
body. Besides, he was growing quite free and easy, quaffed his dram,
and ogled the fair sex. With his sneering ways and affectation of
reticence, he now doubtless knew a great deal more than she did. Paris
was fast taking all the remaining rust off him; and Rosalie stood
before him, delighted yet angry, undecided whether to scratch his face
or let him give utterance to foolish prattle.

Zephyrin, meanwhile, raking away, had turned the corner of the path. He
was now hidden by a big spindle-tree, and was darting side-glances at
Rosalie, luring her on against her will with the strokes of his rake.
When she had got near him, he pinched her roughly.

“Don’t cry out; that’s only to show you how I love you!” he said in a
husky whisper. “And take that over and above.”

So saying he kissed her where he could, his lips lighting somewhere on
her ear. Then, as Rosalie gave him a fierce nip in reply, he retaliated
by another kiss, this time on her nose. Though she was well pleased,
her face turned fiery-red; she was furious that Jeanne’s presence
should prevent her from giving him a box on the ear.

“I have pricked my finger,” she declared to Jeanne as she returned to
her, by way of explaining the exclamation that escaped her lips.

However, betwixt the spare branches of the spindle-tree the child had
seen the incident. Amid the surrounding greenery the soldier’s red
trousers and greyish shirt were clearly discernible. She slowly raised
her eyes to Rosalie, and looked at her for a moment, while the maid
blushed the more. Then Jeanne’s gaze fell to the ground again, and she
gathered another handful of pebbles, but lacked the will or strength to
play with them, and remained in a dreamy state, with her hands resting
on the warm ground, amidst the vibrations of the sunrays. Within her a
wave of health was swelling and stifling her. The trees seemed to take
Titanic shape, and the air was redolent of the perfume of roses. In
wonder and delight, she dreamt of all sorts of vague things.

“What are you thinking of, mademoiselle?” asked Rosalie uneasily.

“I don’t know—of nothing,” was Jeanne’s reply. “Yes, I do know. You
see, I should like to live to be very old.”

However, she could not explain these words. It was an idea, she said,
that had come into her head. But in the evening, after dinner, as her
dreamy fit fell on her again, and her mother inquired the cause, she
suddenly put the question:

“Mamma, do cousins ever marry?”

“Yes, of course,” said Hélène. “Why do you ask me that?”

“Oh, nothing; only I wanted to know.”

Hélène had become accustomed to these extraordinary questions. The hour
spent in the garden had so beneficial an effect on the child that every
sunny day found her there. Hélène’s reluctance was gradually dispelled;
the house was still shut up. Henri never ventured to show himself, and
ere long she sat down on the edge of the rug beside Jeanne. However, on
the following Sunday morning she found the windows thrown open, and
felt troubled at heart.

“Oh! but of course the rooms must be aired,” exclaimed Rosalie, as an
inducement for them to go down. “I declare to you nobody’s there!”

That day the weather was still warmer. Through the leafy screen the
sun’s rays darted like golden arrows. Jeanne, who was growing strong,
strolled about for ten minutes, leaning on her mother’s arm. Then,
somewhat tired, she turned towards her rug, a corner of which she
assigned to Hélène. They smiled at one another, amused at thus finding
themselves side by side on the ground. Zephyrin had given up his
raking, and was helping Rosalie to gather some parsley, clumps of which
were growing along the end wall.

All at once there was an uproar in the house, and Hélène was thinking
of flight, when Madame Deberle made her appearance on the garden-steps.
She had just arrived, and was still in her travelling dress, speaking
very loudly, and seemingly very busy. But immediately she caught sight
of Madame Grandjean and her daughter, sitting on the ground in the
front of the lawn, she ran down, overwhelmed them with embraces, and
poured a deafening flood of words into their ears.

“What, is it you? How glad I am to see you! Kiss me, my little Jeanne!
Poor puss, you’ve been very ill, have you not? But you’re getting
better; the roses are coming back to your cheeks! And you, my dear, how
often I’ve thought of you! I wrote to you: did my letters reach you?
You must have spent a terrible time: but it’s all over now! Will you
let me kiss you?”

Hélène was now on her feet, and was forced to submit to a kiss on each
cheek and return them. This display of affection, however, chilled her
to the heart.

“You’ll excuse us for having invaded your garden,” she said.

“You’re joking,” retorted Juliette impetuously. “Are you not at home
here?”

But she ran off for a moment, hastened up the stairs, and called across
the open rooms: “Pierre, don’t forget anything; there are seventeen
packages!”

Then, at once coming back, she commenced chattering about her holiday
adventures. “Oh! such a splendid season! We went to Trouville, you
know. The beach was always thronged with people. It was quite a crush.
and people of the highest spheres, you know. I had visitors too. Papa
came for a fortnight with Pauline. All the same, I’m glad to get home
again. But I haven’t given you all my news. Oh! I’ll tell you later
on!”

She stooped down and kissed Jeanne again; then suddenly becoming
serious, she asked:

“Am I browned by the sun?”

“No; I don’t see any signs of it,” replied Hélène as she gazed at her.

Juliette’s eyes were clear and expressionless, her hands were plump,
her pretty face was full of amiability; age did not tell on her; the
sea air itself was powerless to affect her expression of serene
indifference. So far as appearances went, she might have just returned
from a shopping expedition in Paris. However, she was bubbling over
with affection, and the more loving her outbursts, the more weary,
constrained, and ill became Hélène. Jeanne meantime never stirred from
the rug, but merely raised her delicate, sickly face, while clasping
her hands with a chilly air in the sunshine.

“Wait, you haven’t seen Lucien yet,” exclaimed Juliette. “You must see
him; he has got so fat.”

When the lad was brought on the scene, after the dust of the journey
had been washed from his face by a servant girl, she pushed and turned
him about to exhibit him. Fat and chubby-cheeked, his skin tanned by
playing on the beach in the salt breeze, Lucien displayed exuberant
health, but he had a somewhat sulky look because he had just been
washed. He had not been properly dried, and one check was still wet and
fiery-red with the rubbing of the towel. When he caught sight of Jeanne
he stood stock-still with astonishment. She looked at him out of her
poor, sickly face, as colorless as linen against the background of her
streaming black hair, whose tresses fell in clusters to her shoulders.
Her beautiful, sad, dilated eyes seemed to fill up her whole
countenance; and, despite the excessive heat, she shivered somewhat,
and stretched out her hands as though chilled and seeking warmth from a
blazing fire.

“Well! aren’t you going to kiss her?” asked Juliette.

But Lucien looked rather afraid. At length he made up his mind, and
very cautiously protruded his lips so that he might not come too near
the invalid. This done, he started back expeditiously. Hélène’s eyes
were brimming over with tears. What health that child enjoyed! whereas
her Jeanne was breathless after a walk round the lawn! Some mothers
were very fortunate! Juliette all at once understood how cruel Lucien’s
conduct was, and she rated him soundly.

“Good gracious! what a fool you are! Is that the way to kiss young
ladies? You’ve no idea, my dear, what a nuisance he was at Trouville.”

She was getting somewhat mixed. But fortunately for her the doctor now
made his appearance, and she extricated herself from her difficulty by
exclaiming: “Oh, here’s Henri.”

He had not been expecting their return until the evening, but she had
travelled by an earlier train. She plunged into a discursive
explanation, without in the least making her reasons clear. The doctor
listened with a smiling face. “At all events, here you are,” he said.
“That’s all that’s necessary.”

A minute previously he had bowed to Hélène without speaking. His glance
for a moment fell on Jeanne, but feeling embarrassed he turned away his
head. Jeanne bore his look with a serious face, and unclasping her
hands instinctively grasped her mother’s gown and drew closer to her
side.

“Ah! the rascal,” said the doctor, as he raised Lucien and kissed him
on each cheek. “Why, he’s growing like magic.”

“Yes; and am I to be forgotten?” asked Juliette, as she held up her
head. Then, without putting Lucien down, holding him, indeed, on one
arm, the doctor leaned over to kiss his wife. Their three faces were
lit up with smiles.

Hélène grew pale, and declared she must now go up. Jeanne, however, was
unwilling; she wished to see what might happen, and her glances
lingered for a while on the Deberles and then travelled back to her
mother. When Juliette had bent her face upwards to receive her
husband’s kiss, a bright gleam had come into the child’s eyes.

“He’s too heavy,” resumed the doctor as he set Lucien down again.
“Well, was the season a good one? I saw Malignon yesterday, and he was
telling me about his stay there. So you let him leave before you, eh?”

“Oh! he’s quite a nuisance!” exclaimed Juliette, over whose face a
serious, embarrassed expression had now crept. “He tormented us to
death the whole time.”

“Your father was hoping for Pauline’s sake—He hasn’t declared his
intentions then?”

“What! Malignon!” said she, as though astonished and offended. And then
with a gesture of annoyance she added, “Oh! leave him alone; he’s
cracked! How happy I am to be home again!”

Without any apparent transition, she thereupon broke into an amazing
outburst of tenderness, characteristic of her bird-like nature. She
threw herself on her husband’s breast and raised her face towards him.
To all seeming they had forgotten that they were not alone.

Jeanne’s eyes, however, never quitted them. Her lips were livid and
trembled with anger; her face was that of a jealous and revengeful
woman. The pain she suffered was so great that she was forced to turn
away her head, and in doing so she caught sight of Rosalie and Zephyrin
at the bottom of the garden, still gathering parsley. Doubtless with
the intent of being in no one’s way, they had crept in among the
thickest of the bushes, where both were squatting on the ground.
Zephyrin, with a sly movement, had caught hold of one of Rosalie’s
feet, while she, without uttering a syllable, was heartily slapping
him. Between two branches Jeanne could see the little soldier’s face,
chubby and round as a moon and deeply flushed, while his mouth gaped
with an amorous grin. Meantime the sun’s rays were beating down
vertically, and the trees were peacefully sleeping, not a leaf stirring
among them all. From beneath the elms came the heavy odor of soil
untouched by the spade. And elsewhere floated the perfume of the last
tea-roses, which were casting their petals one by one on the garden
steps. Then Jeanne, with swelling heart, turned her gaze on her mother,
and seeing her motionless and dumb in presence of the Deberles, gave
her a look of intense anguish—a child’s look of infinite meaning, such
as you dare not question.

But Madame Deberle stepped closer to them, and said: “I hope we shall
see each other frequently now. As Jeanne is feeling better, she must
come down every afternoon.”

Hélène was already casting about for an excuse, pleading that she did
not wish to weary her too much. But Jeanne abruptly broke in: “No, no;
the sun does me a great deal of good. We will come down, madame. You
will keep my place for me, won’t you?”

And as the doctor still remained in the background, she smiled towards
him.

“Doctor, please tell mamma that the fresh air won’t do me any harm.”

He came forward, and this man, inured to human suffering, felt on his
cheeks a slight flush at being thus gently addressed by the child.

“Certainly not,” he exclaimed; “the fresh air will only bring you
nearer to good health.”

“So you see, mother darling, we must come down,” said Jeanne, with a
look of ineffable tenderness, whilst a sob died away in her throat.

But Pierre had reappeared on the steps and announced the safe arrival
of madame’s seventeen packages. Then, followed by her husband and
Lucien, Juliette retired, declaring that she was frightfully dirty, and
intended to take a bath. When they were alone, Hélène knelt down on the
rug, as though about to tie the shawl round Jeanne’s neck, and
whispered in the child’s ear:

“You’re not angry any longer with the doctor, then?”

With a prolonged shake of the head the child replied “No, mamma.”

There was a silence. Hélène’s hands were seized with an awkward
trembling, and she was seemingly unable to tie the shawl. Then Jeanne
murmured: “But why does he love other people so? I won’t have him love
them like that.”

And as she spoke, her black eyes became harsh and gloomy, while her
little hands fondled her mother’s shoulders. Hélène would have replied,
but the words springing to her lips frightened her. The sun was now
low, and mother and daughter took their departure. Zephyrin meanwhile
had reappeared to view, with a bunch of parsley in his hand, the stalks
of which he continued pulling off while darting murderous glances at
Rosalie. The maid followed at some distance, inspired with distrust now
that there was no one present. Just as she stooped to roll up the rug
he tried to pinch her, but she retaliated with a blow from her fist
which made his back re-echo like an empty cask. Still it seemed to
delight him, and he was yet laughing silently when he re-entered the
kitchen busily arranging his parsley.

Thenceforth Jeanne was stubbornly bent on going down to the garden as
soon as ever she heard Madame Deberle’s voice there. All Rosalie’s
tittle-tattle regarding the next-door house she drank in greedily, ever
restless and inquisitive concerning its inmates and their doings; and
she would even slip out of the bedroom to keep watch from the kitchen
window. In the garden, ensconced in a small arm-chair which was brought
for her use from the drawing-room by Juliette’s direction, her eyes
never quitted the family. Lucien she now treated with great reserve,
annoyed it seemed by his questions and antics, especially when the
doctor was present. On those occasions she would stretch herself out as
if wearied, gazing before her with her eyes wide open. For Hélène the
afternoons were pregnant with anguish. She always returned, however,
returned in spite of the feeling of revolt which wrung her whole being.
Every day when, on his arrival home, Henri printed a kiss on Juliette’s
hair, her heart leaped in its agony. And at those moments, if to hide
the agitation of her face she pretended to busy herself with Jeanne,
she would notice that the child was even paler than herself, with her
black eyes glaring and her chin twitching with repressed fury. Jeanne
shared in her suffering. When the mother turned away her head,
heartbroken, the child became so sad and so exhausted that she had to
be carried upstairs and put to bed. She could no longer see the doctor
approach his wife without changing countenance; she would tremble, and
turn on him a glance full of all the jealous fire of a deserted
mistress.

“I cough in the morning,” she said to him one day. “You must come and
see for yourself.”

Rainy weather ensued, and Jeanne became quite anxious that the doctor
should commence his visits once more. Yet her health had much improved.
To humor her, Hélène had been constrained to accept two or three
invitations to dine with the Deberles.

At last the child’s heart, so long torn by hidden sorrow, seemingly
regained quietude with the complete re-establishment of her health. She
would again ask Hélène the old question—“Are you happy, mother
darling?”

“Yes, very happy, my pet,” was the reply.

And this made her radiant. She must be pardoned her bad temper in the
past, she said. She referred to it as a fit which no effort of her own
will could prevent, the result of a headache that came on her suddenly.
Something would spring up within her—she wholly failed to understand
what it was. She was tempest-tossed by a multitude of vague
imaginings—nightmares that she could not even have recalled to memory.
However, it was past now; she was well again, and those worries would
nevermore return.



 CHAPTER XV.


The night was falling. From the grey heaven, where the first of the
stars were gleaming, a fine ashy dust seemed to be raining down on the
great city, raining down without cessation and slowly burying it. The
hollows were already hidden deep in gloom, and a line of cloud, like a
stream of ink, rose upon the horizon, engulfing the last streaks of
daylight, the wavering gleams which were retreating towards the west.
Below Passy but a few stretches of roofs remained visible; and as the
wave rolled on, darkness soon covered all.

“What a warm evening!” ejaculated Hélène, as she sat at the window,
overcome by the heated breeze which was wafted upwards from Paris.

“A grateful night for the poor,” exclaimed the Abbé, who stood behind
her. “The autumn will be mild.”

That Tuesday Jeanne had fallen into a doze at dessert, and her mother,
perceiving that she was rather tired, had put her to bed. She was
already fast asleep in her cot, while Monsieur Rambaud sat at the table
gravely mending a toy—a mechanical doll, a present from himself, which
both spoke and walked, and which Jeanne had broken. He excelled in such
work as this. Hélène on her side feeling the want of fresh air—for the
lingering heats of September were oppressive—had thrown the window wide
open, and gazed with relief on the vast gloomy ocean of darkness that
rolled before her. She had pushed an easy-chair to the window in order
to be alone, but was suddenly surprised to hear the Abbé speaking to
her. “Is the little one warmly covered?” he gently asked. “On these
heights the air is always keen.”

She made no reply, however; her heart was craving for silence. She was
tasting the delights of the twilight hour, the vanishing of all
surrounding objects, the hushing of every sound. Gleams, like those of
night-lights, tipped the steeples and towers; that on Saint-Augustin
died out first, the Panthéon for a moment retained a bluish light, and
then the glittering dome of the Invalides faded away, similar to a moon
setting in a rising sea of clouds. The night was like the ocean, its
extent seemingly increased by the gloom, a dark abyss wherein you
divined that a world lay hid. From the unseen city blew a mighty yet
gentle wind. There was still a hum; sounds ascended faint yet clear to
Hélène’s ears—the sharp rattle of an omnibus rolling along the quay,
the whistle of a train crossing the bridge of the Point-du-Jour; and
the Seine, swollen by the recent storms, and pulsing with the life of a
breathing soul, wound with increased breadth through the shadows far
below. A warm odor steamed upwards from the scorched roofs, while the
river, amidst this exhalation of the daytime heat, seemed to give forth
a cooling breeze. Paris had vanished, sunk in the dreamy repose of a
colossus whose limbs the night has enveloped, and who lies motionless
for a time, but with eyes wide open.

Nothing affected Hélène more than this momentary pause in the great
city’s life. For the three months during which she had been a close
prisoner, riveted to Jeanne’s bedside, she had had no other companion
in her vigil than the huge mass of Paris spreading out towards the
horizon. During the summer heats of July and August the windows had
almost always been left open; she could not cross the room, could not
stir or turn her head, without catching a glimpse of the ever-present
panorama. It was there, whatever the weather, always sharing in her
griefs and hopes, like some friend who would never leave her side. She
was still quite ignorant respecting it; never had it seemed farther
away, never had she given less thought to its streets and its citizens,
and yet it peopled her solitude. The sick-room, whose door was kept
shut to the outside world, looked out through its two windows upon this
city. Often, with her eyes fixed on its expanse, Hélène had wept,
leaning on the window-rail in order to hide her tears from her ailing
child. One day, too—the very day when she had imagined her daughter to
be at the point of death—she had remained for a long time, overcome and
choked with grief, watching the smoke which curled up from the Army
Bakehouse. Frequently, moreover, in hours of hopefulness she had here
confided the gladsome feelings of her heart to the dim and distant
suburbs. There was not a single monument which did not recall to her
some sensation of joy or sorrow. Paris shared in her own existence; and
never did she love it better than when the twilight came, and its day’s
work over, it surrendered itself to an hour’s quietude, forgetfulness,
and reverie, whilst waiting for the lighting of its gas.

“What a multitude of stars!” murmured Abbé Jouve. “There are thousands
of them gleaming.”

He had just taken a chair and sat down at her side. On hearing him, she
gazed upwards into the summer night. The heaven was studded with golden
lights. On the very verge of the horizon a constellation was sparkling
like a carbuncle, while a dust of almost invisible stars sprinkled the
vault above as though with glittering sand. Charles’s-Wain was slowly
turning its shaft in the night.

“Look!” said Hélène in her turn, “look at that tiny bluish star!
See—far away up there. I recognize it night after night. But it dies
and fades as the night rolls on.”

The Abbé’s presence no longer annoyed her. With him by her side, she
imagined the quiet was deepening around. A few words passed between
them after long intervals of silence. Twice she questioned him on the
names of the stars—the sight of the heavens had always interested
her—but he was doubtful and pleaded ignorance.

“Do you see,” she asked, “that lovely star yonder whose lustre is so
exquisitely clear?”

“On the left, eh?” he replied, “near another smaller, greenish one? Ah!
there are so many of them that my memory fails me.”

They again lapsed into silence, their eyes still turned upwards,
dazzled, quivering slightly at the sight of that stupendous swarming of
luminaries. In the vast depths of the heavens, behind thousands of
stars, thousands of others twinkled in ever-increasing multitudes, with
the clear brilliancy of gems. The Milky Way was already whitening,
displaying its solar specks, so innumerable and so distant that in the
vault of the firmament they form but a trailing scarf of light.

“It fills me with fear,” said Hélène in a whisper; and that she might
see it all no more she bent her head and glanced down on the gaping
abyss in which Paris seemed to be engulfed. In its depths not a light
could yet be seen; night had rolled over it and plunged it into
impenetrable darkness. Its mighty, continuous rumble seemed to have
sunk into a softer key.

“Are you weeping?” asked the Abbé, who had heard a sound of sobbing.

“Yes,” simply answered Hélène.

They could not see each other. For a long time she continued weeping,
her whole being exhaling a plaintive murmur. Behind them, meantime,
Jeanne lay at rest in innocent sleep, and Monsieur Rambaud, his whole
attention engrossed, bent his grizzled head over the doll which he had
dismembered. At times he could not prevent the loosened springs from
giving out a creaking noise, a childlike squeaking which his big
fingers, though plied with the utmost gentleness, drew from the
disordered mechanism. If the doll vented too loud a sound, however, he
at once stopped working, distressed and vexed with himself, and turning
towards Jeanne to see if he had roused her. Then once more he would
resume his repairing, with great precautions, his only tools being a
pair of scissors and a bodkin.

“Why do you weep, my daughter?” again asked the Abbé. “Can I not afford
you some relief?”

“Ah! let me be,” said Hélène; “these tears do me good. By-and-by,
by-and-by—”

A stifling sensation checked any further words. Once before, in this
very place, she had been convulsed by a storm of tears; but then she
had been alone, free to sob in the darkness till the emotion that wrung
her was dried up at its source. However, she knew of no cause of
sorrow; her daughter was well once more, and she had resumed the old
monotonous delightful life. But it was as though a keen sense of awful
grief had abruptly come upon her; it seemed as if she were rolling into
a bottomless abyss which she could not fathom, sinking with all who
were dear to her in a limitless sea of despair. She knew not what
misfortune hung over her head; but she was without hope, and could only
weep.

Similar waves of feeling had swept over her during the month of the
Virgin in the church laden with the perfume of flowers. And, as
twilight fell, the vastness of Paris filled her with a deep religious
impression. The stretch of plain seemed to expand, and a sadness rose
up from the two millions of living beings who were being engulfed in
darkness. And when it was night, and the city with its subdued rumbling
had vanished from view, her oppressed heart poured forth its sorrow,
and her tears overflowed, in presence of that sovereign peace. She
could have clasped her hands and prayed. She was filled with an intense
craving for faith, love, and a lapse into heavenly forgetfulness; and
the first glinting of the stars overwhelmed her with sacred terror and
enjoyment.

A lengthy interval of silence ensued, and then the Abbé spoke once
more, this time more pressingly.

“My daughter, you must confide in me. Why do you hesitate?”

She was still weeping, but more gently, like a wearied and powerless
child.

“The Church frightens you,” he continued. “For a time I thought you had
yielded your heart to God. But it has been willed otherwise. Heaven has
its own purposes. Well, since you mistrust the priest, why should you
refuse to confide in the friend?”

“You are right,” she faltered. “Yes, I am sad at heart, and need your
consolation. I must tell you of it all. When I was a child I seldom, if
ever, entered a church; now I cannot be present at a service without
feeling touched to the very depths of my being. Yes; and what drew
tears from me just now was that voice of Paris, sounding like a mighty
organ, that immeasurable night, and those beauteous heavens. Oh! I
would fain believe. Help me; teach me.”

Abbé Jouve calmed her somewhat by lightly placing his hand on her own.

“Tell me everything,” he merely said.

She struggled for a time, her heart wrung with anguish.

“There’s nothing to tell, I assure you. I’m hiding nothing from you. I
weep without cause, because I feel stifled, because my tears gush out
of their own accord. You know what my life has been. No sorrow, no sin,
no remorse could I find in it to this hour. I do not know—I do not
know—”

Her voice died away, and from the priest’s lips slowly came the words,
“You love, my daughter!”

She started; she dared not protest. Silence fell on them once more. In
the sea of shadows that slumbered before them a light had glimmered
forth. It seemed at their feet, somewhere in the abyss, but at what
precise spot they would have been unable to specify. And then, one by
one, other lights broke through the darkness, shooting into instant
life, and remaining stationary, scintillating like stars. It seemed as
though thousands of fresh planets were rising on the surface of a
gloomy lake. Soon they stretched out in double file, starting from the
Trocadero, and nimbly leaping towards Paris. Then these files were
intersected by others, curves were described, and a huge, strange,
magnificent constellation spread out. Hélène never breathed a word, but
gazed on these gleams of light, which made the heavens seemingly
descend below the line of the horizon, as though indeed the earth had
vanished and the vault of heaven were on every side. And Hélène’s heart
was again flooded with emotion, as a few minutes before when
Charles’s-Wain had slowly begun to revolve round the Polar axis, its
shaft in the air. Paris, studded with lights, stretched out, deep and
sad, prompting fearful thoughts of a firmament swarming with unknown
worlds.

Meanwhile the priest, in the monotonous, gentle voice which he had
acquired by years of duty in the confessional, continued whispering in
her ear. One evening in the past he had warned her; solitude, he had
said, would be harmful to her welfare. No one could with impunity live
outside the pale of life. She had imprisoned herself too closely, and
the door had opened to perilous thoughts.

“I am very old now, my daughter,” he murmured, “and I have frequently
seen women come to us weeping and praying, with a craving to find faith
and religion. Thus it is that I cannot be deceiving myself to-day.
These women, who seem to seek God in so zealous a manner, are but souls
rendered miserable by passion. It is a man whom they worship in our
churches.”

She was not listening; a strife was raging in her bosom, amidst her
efforts to read her innermost thoughts aright. And at last confession
came from her in a broken whisper:

“Oh! yes, I love, and that is all! Beyond that I know nothing—nothing!”

He now forbore to interrupt her; she spoke in short feverish sentences,
taking a mournful pleasure in thus confessing her love, in sharing with
that venerable priest the secret which had so long burdened her.

“I swear I cannot read my thoughts. This has come to me without my
knowing its presence. Perhaps it came in a moment. Only in time did I
realize its sweetness. Besides, why should I deem myself stronger than
I am? I have made no effort to flee from it; I was only too happy, and
to-day I have yet less power of resistance. My daughter was ill; I
almost lost her. Well! my love has been as intense as my sorrow; it
came back with sovereign power after those days of terror—and it
possesses me, I feel transported—”

She shivered and drew a breath.

“In short, my strength fails me. You were right, my friend, in thinking
it would be a relief to confide in you. But, I beseech you, tell me
what is happening in the depths of my heart. My life was once so
peaceful; I was so happy. A thunderbolt has fallen on me. Why on me?
Why not on another? I had done nothing to bring it on; I imagined
myself well protected. Ah, if you only knew—I know myself no longer!
Help me, save me!”

Then as she became silent, the priest, with the wonted freedom of the
confessor, mechanically asked the question:

“The name? tell me his name?”

She was hesitating, when a peculiar noise prompted her to turn her
head. It came from the doll which, in Monsieur Rambaud’s hands, was by
degrees renewing its mechanical life, and had just taken three steps on
the table, with a creaking of wheels and springs which showed that
there was still something faulty in its works. Then it had fallen on
its back, and but for the worthy man would have rebounded onto the
ground. He followed all its movements with outstretched hands, ready to
support it, and full of paternal anxiety. The moment he perceived
Hélène turn, he smiled confidently towards her, as if to give her an
assurance that the doll would recover its walking powers. And then he
once more dived with scissors and bodkin into the toy. Jeanne still
slept on.

Thereupon Hélène, her nerves relaxing under the influence of the
universal quiet, whispered a name in the priest’s ear. He never
stirred; in the darkness his face could not be seen. A silence ensued,
and he responded:

“I knew it, but I wanted to hear it from your own lips. My daughter,
yours must be terrible suffering.”

He gave utterance to no truisms on the subject of duty. Hélène,
overcome, saddened to the heart by this unemotional pity, gazed once
more on the lights which spangled the gloomy veil enshrouding Paris.
They were flashing everywhere in myriads, like the sparks that dart
over the blackened refuse of burnt paper. At first these twinkling dots
had started from the Trocadero towards the heart of the city. Soon
another coruscation had appeared on the left in the direction of
Montmartre; then another had burst into view on the right behind the
Invalides, and still another, more distant near the Panthéon. From all
these centres flights of flames were simultaneously descending.

“You remember our conversation,” slowly resumed the Abbé. “My opinion
has not changed. My daughter, you must marry.”

“I!” she exclaimed, overwhelmed with amazement. “But I have just
confessed to you—Oh, you know well I cannot—”

“You must marry,” he repeated with greater decision. “You will wed an
honest man.”

Within the folds of his old cassock he seemed to have grown more
commanding. His large comical-looking head, which, with eyes
half-closed, was usually inclined towards one shoulder, was now raised
erect, and his eyes beamed with such intensity that she saw them
sparkling in the darkness.

“You will marry an honest man, who will be a father to Jeanne, and will
lead you back to the path of goodness.”

“But I do not love him. Gracious Heaven! I do not love him!”

“You will love him, my daughter. He loves you, and he is good in
heart.”

Hélène struggled, and her voice sank to a whisper as she heard the
slight noise that Monsieur Rambaud made behind them. He was so patient
and so strong in his hope, that for six months he had not once intruded
his love on her. Disposed by nature to the most heroic self-sacrifice,
he waited in serene confidence. The Abbé stirred, as though about to
turn round.

“Would you like me to tell him everything? He would stretch out his
hand and save you. And you would fill him with joy beyond compare.”

She checked him, utterly distracted. Her heart revolted. Both of these
peaceful, affectionate men, whose judgment retained perfect equilibrium
in presence of her feverish passion, were sources of terror to her.
What world could they abide in to be able to set at naught that which
caused her so much agony? The priest, however, waved his hand with an
all-comprehensive gesture.

“My daughter,” said he, “look on this lovely night, so supremely still
in presence of your troubled spirit. Why do you refuse happiness?”

All Paris was now illumined. The tiny dancing flames had speckled the
sea of shadows from one end of the horizon to the other, and now, as in
a summer night, millions of fixed stars seemed to be serenely gleaming
there. Not a puff of air, not a quiver of the atmosphere stirred these
lights, to all appearance suspended in space. Paris, now invisible, had
fallen into the depths of an abyss as vast as a firmament. At times, at
the base of the Trocadero, a light—the lamp of a passing cab or
omnibus—would dart across the gloom, sparkling like a shooting star;
and here amidst the radiance of the gas-jets, from which streamed a
yellow haze, a confused jumble of house-fronts and clustering
trees—green like the trees in stage scenery—could be vaguely discerned.
To and fro, across the Pont des Invalides, gleaming lights flashed
without ceasing; far below, across a band of denser gloom, appeared a
marvellous train of comet-like coruscations, from whose lustrous tails
fell a rain of gold. These were the reflections in the Seine’s black
waters of the lamps on the bridge. From this point, however, the
unknown began. The long curve of the river was merely described by a
double line of lights, which ever and anon were coupled to other
transverse lines, so that the whole looked like some glittering ladder,
thrown across Paris, with its ends on the verge of the heavens among
the stars.

To the left there was another trench excavated athwart the gloom; an
unbroken chain of stars shone forth down the Champs-Elysees from the
Arc-de-Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where a new cluster of
Pleiades was flashing; next came the gloomy stretches of the Tuileries
and the Louvre, the blocks of houses on the brink of the water, and the
Hotel-de-Ville away at the extreme end—all these masses of darkness
being parted here and there by bursts of light from some large square
or other; and farther and farther away, amidst the endless confusion of
roofs, appeared scattered gleams, affording faint glimpses of the
hollow of a street below, the corner of some boulevard, or the
brilliantly illuminated meeting-place of several thoroughfares. On the
opposite bank, on the right, the Esplanade alone could be discerned
with any distinctness, its rectangle marked out in flame, like an Orion
of a winter’s night bereft of his baldrick. The long streets of the
Saint-Germain district seemed gloomy with their fringe of infrequent
lamps; but the thickly populated quarters beyond were speckled with a
multitude of tiny flames, clustering like nebulae. Away towards the
outskirts, girdling the whole of the horizon, swarmed street-lamps and
lighted windows, filling these distant parts with a dust, as it were,
of those myriads of suns, those planetary atoms which the naked eye
cannot discover. The public edifices had vanished into the depths of
the darkness; not a lamp marked out their spires and towers. At times
you might have imagined you were gazing on some gigantic festival, some
illuminated cyclopean monument, with staircases, balusters, windows,
pediments, and terraces—a veritable cosmos of stone, whose wondrous
architecture was outlined by the gleaming lights of a myriad lamps. But
there was always a speedy return of the feeling that new constellations
were springing into being, and that the heavens were spreading both
above and below.

Hélène, in compliance with the all-embracing sweep of the priest’s
hand, cast a lingering look over illumined Paris. Here too she knew not
the names of those seeming stars. She would have liked to ask what the
blaze far below on the left betokened, for she saw it night after
night. There were others also which roused her curiosity, and some of
them she loved, whilst some inspired her with uneasiness or vexation.

“Father,” said she, for the first time employing that appellation of
affection and respect, “let me live as I am. The loveliness of the
night has agitated me. You are wrong; you would not know how to console
me, for you cannot understand my feelings.”

The priest stretched out his arms, then slowly dropped them to his side
resignedly. And after a pause he said in a whisper:

“Doubtless that was bound to be the case. You call for succor and
reject salvation. How many despairing confessions I have received! What
tears I have been unable to prevent! Listen, my daughter, promise me
one thing only; if ever life should become too heavy a burden for you,
think that one honest man loves you and is waiting for you. To regain
content you will only have to place your hand in his.”

“I promise you,” answered Hélène gravely.

As she made the avowal a ripple of laughter burst through the room.
Jeanne had just awoke, and her eyes were riveted on her doll pacing up
and down the table. Monsieur Rambaud, enthusiastic over the success of
his tinkering, still kept his hands stretched out for fear lest any
accident should happen. But the doll retained its stability, strutted
about on its tiny feet, and turned its head, whilst at every step
repeating the same words after the fashion of a parrot.

“Oh! it’s some trick or other!” murmured Jeanne, who was still half
asleep. “What have you done to it—tell me? It was all smashed, and now
it’s walking. Give it me a moment; let me see. Oh, you _are_ a
darling!”

Meanwhile over the gleaming expanse of Paris a rosy cloud was ascending
higher and higher. It might have been thought the fiery breath of a
furnace. At first it was shadowy-pale in the darkness—a reflected glow
scarcely seen. Then slowly, as the evening progressed, it assumed a
ruddier hue; and, hanging in the air, motionless above the city,
deriving its being from all the lights and noisy life which breathed
from below, it seemed like one of those clouds, charged with flame and
lightning, which crown the craters of volcanoes.



 CHAPTER XVI.


The finger-glasses had been handed round the table, and the ladies were
daintily wiping their hands. A momentary silence reigned, while Madame
Deberle gazed on either side to see if every one had finished; then,
without speaking, she rose, and amidst a noisy pushing back of chairs,
her guests followed her example. An old gentleman who had been seated
at her right hand hastened to offer her his arm.

“No, no,” she murmured, as she led him towards a doorway. “We will now
have coffee in the little drawing-room.”

The guests, in couples, followed her. Two ladies and two gentlemen,
however, lagged behind the others, continuing their conversation,
without thought of joining the procession. The drawing-room reached,
all constraint vanished, and the joviality which had marked the dessert
made its reappearance. The coffee was already served on a large lacquer
tray on a table. Madame Deberle walked round like a hostess who is
anxious to satisfy the various tastes of her guests. But it was Pauline
who ran about the most, and more particularly waited on the gentlemen.
There were a dozen persons present, about the regulation number of
people invited to the house every Wednesday, from December onwards.
Later in the evening, at ten o’clock, a great many others would make
their appearance.

“Monsieur de Guiraud, a cup of coffee,” exclaimed Pauline, as she
halted in front of a diminutive, bald-headed man. “Ah! no, I remember,
you don’t take any. Well, then, a glass of Chartreuse?”

But she became confused in discharging her duties, and brought him a
glass of cognac. Beaming with smiles, she made the round of the guests,
perfectly self-possessed, and looking people straight in the face,
while her long train dragged with easy grace behind her. She wore a
magnificent gown of white Indian cashmere trimmed with swan’s-down, and
cut square at the bosom. When the gentlemen were all standing up,
sipping their coffee, each with cup in hand and chin high in the air,
she began to tackle a tall young fellow named Tissot, whom she
considered rather handsome.

Hélène had not taken any coffee. She had seated herself apart, with a
somewhat wearied expression on her face. Her black velvet gown,
unrelieved by any trimming, gave her an air of austerity. In this small
drawing-room smoking was allowed, and several boxes of cigars were
placed beside her on the pier-table. The doctor drew near; as he
selected a cigar he asked her: “Is Jeanne well?”

“Yes, indeed,” she replied. “We walked to the Bois to-day, and she
romped like a madcap. Oh, she must be sound asleep by now.”

They were both chatting in friendly tones, with the smiling intimacy of
people who see each other day after day, when Madame Deberle’s voice
rose high and shrill:

“Stop! stop! Madame Grandjean can tell you all about it. Didn’t I come
back from Trouville on the 10th of September? It was raining, and the
beach had become quite unbearable!”

Three or four of the ladies were gathered round her while she rattled
on about her holdiday at the seaside. Hélène found it necessary to rise
and join the group.

“We spent a month at Dinard,” said Madame de Chermette. “Such a
delightful place, and such charming society!”

“Behind our chalet was a garden, and we had a terrace overlooking the
sea,” went on Madame Deberle. “As you know, I decided on taking my
landau and coachman with me. It was very much handier when I wanted a
drive. Then Madame Levasseur came to see us—”

“Yes, one Sunday,” interrupted that lady. “We were at Cabourg. Your
establishment was perfect, but a little too dear, I think.”

“By the way,” broke in Madame Berthier, addressing Juliette, “didn’t
Monsieur Malignon give you lessons in swimming?”

Hélène noticed a shadow of vexation, of sudden annoyance, pass over
Madame Deberle’s face. Several times already she had fancied that, on
Malignon’s name being brought unexpectedly into the conversation,
Madame Deberle suddenly seemed perturbed. However, the young woman
immediately regained her equanimity.

“A fine swimmer, indeed!” she exclaimed. “The idea of him ever giving
lessons to any one! For my part, I have a mortal fear of cold water—the
very sight of people bathing curdles my blood.”

She gave an eloquent shiver, with a shrug of her plump shoulders, as
though she were a duck shaking water from her back.

“Then it’s a fable?” questioned Madame de Guiraud.

“Of course; and one, I presume, of his own invention. He detests me
since he spent a month with us down there.”

People were now beginning to pour in. The ladies, with clusters of
flowers in their hair, and round, plump arms, entered smiling and
nodding; while the men, each in evening dress and hat in hand, bowed
and ventured on some commonplace remark. Madame Deberle, never ceasing
her chatter for a moment, extended the tips of her fingers to the
friends of the house, many of whom said nothing, but passed on with a
bow. However, Mademoiselle Aurelie had just appeared on the scene, and
at once went into raptures over Juliette’s dress, which was of
dark-blue velvet, trimmed with faille silk. At this all the ladies
standing round seemed to catch their first glimpse of the dress, and
declared it was exquisite, truly exquisite. It came, they learned, from
Worth’s, and they discussed it for five minutes. The guests who had
drunk their coffee had placed their empty cups here and there on the
tray and on the pier-tables; only one old gentleman had not yet
finished, as between every mouthful he paused to converse with a lady.
A warm perfume, the aroma of the coffee and the ladies’ dresses
intermingled, permeated the apartment.

“You know I have had nothing,” remonstrated young Monsieur Tissot with
Pauline, who had been chatting with him about an artist to whose studio
her father had escorted her with a view to examining the pictures.

“What! have you had nothing? Surely I brought you a cup of coffee?”

“No, mademoiselle, I assure you.”

“But I insist on your having something. See, here is some Chartreuse.”

Madame Deberle had just directed a meaning nod towards her husband. The
doctor, understanding her, thereupon opened the door of a large
drawing-room, into which they all filed, while a servant removed the
coffee-tray. There was almost a chill atmosphere in this spacious
apartment, through which streamed the white light of six lamps and a
chandelier with ten wax candles. There were already some ladies there,
sitting in a semi-circle round the fireplace, but only two or three men
were present, standing amidst the sea of outspread skirts. And through
the open doorway of the smaller drawing-room rang the shrill voice of
Pauline, who had lingered behind in company with young Tissot.

“Now that I have poured it out, I’m determined you shall drink it. What
would you have me do with it? Pierre has carried off the tray.”

Then she entered the larger room, a vision in white, with her dress
trimmed with swan’s-down. Her ruddy lips parted, displaying her teeth,
as she smilingly announced: “Here comes Malignon, the exquisite!”

Hand-shaking and bowing were now the order of the day. Monsieur Deberle
had placed himself near the door. His wife, seated with some other
ladies on an extremely low couch, rose every other second. When
Malignon made his appearance, she affected to turn away her head. He
was dressed to perfection; his hair had been curled, and was parted
behind, down to his very neck. On the threshold he had stuck an
eye-glass in his right eye with a slight grimace, which, according to
Pauline, was just the thing; and now he cast a glance around the room.
Having nonchalantly and silently shaken hands with the doctor, he made
his way towards Madame Deberle, in front of whom he respectfully bent
his tall figure.

“Oh, it’s you!” she exclaimed, in a voice loud enough to be heard by
everybody. “It seems you go in for swimming now.”

He did not guess her meaning, but nevertheless replied, by way of a
joke:

“Certainly; I once saved a Newfoundland dog from drowning.”

The ladies thought this extremely funny, and even Madame Deberle seemed
disarmed.

“Well, I’ll allow you to save Newfoundlands,” she answered, “but you
know very well I did not bathe once at Trouville.”

“Oh! you’re speaking of the lesson I gave you!” he exclaimed. “Didn’t I
tell you one night in your dining-room how to move your feet and hands
about?”

All the ladies were convulsed with mirth—he was delightful! Juliette
shrugged her shoulders; it was impossible to engage him in a serious
talk. Then she rose to meet a lady whose first visit this was to her
house, and who was a superb pianist. Hélène, seated near the fire, her
lovely face unruffled by any emotion, looked on and listened. Malignon,
especially, seemed to interest her. She saw him execute a strategical
movement which brought him to Madame Deberle’s side, and she could hear
the conversation that ensued behind her chair. Of a sudden there was a
change in the tones, and she leaned back to gather the drift of what
was being said.

“Why didn’t you come yesterday?” asked Malignon. “I waited for you till
six o’clock.”

“Nonsense; you are mad,” murmured Juliette.

Thereupon Malignon loudly lisped: “Oh! you don’t believe the story
about my Newfoundland! Yet I received a medal for it, and I’ll show it
to you.”

Then he added, in a whisper: “You gave me your promise—remember.”

A family group now entered the drawing-room, and Juliette broke into
complimentary greetings, while Malignon reappeared amongst the ladies,
glass in eye. Hélène had become quite pale since overhearing those
hastily spoken words. It was as though a thunderbolt, or something
equally unforeseen and horrible, had fallen on her. How could thoughts
of treachery enter into the mind of that woman whose life was so happy,
whose face betrayed no signs of sorrow, whose cheeks had the freshness
of the rose? She had always known her to be devoid of brains,
displaying an amiable egotism which seemed a guarantee that she would
never commit a foolish action. And over such a fellow as Malignon, too!
The scenes in the garden of an afternoon flashed back on her memory—she
recalled Juliette smiling lovingly as the doctor kissed her hair. Their
love for one another had seemed real enough. An inexplicable feeling of
indignation with Juliette now pervaded Hélène, as though some wrong had
been done herself. She felt humiliated for Henri’s sake; she was
consumed with jealous rage; and her perturbed feelings were so plainly
mirrored in her face that Mademoiselle Aurelie asked her: “What is the
matter with you? Do you feel ill?”

The old lady had sunk into a seat beside her immediately she had
observed her to be alone. She had conceived a lively friendship for
Hélène, and was charmed with the kindly manner in which so sedate and
lovely a woman would listen for hours to her tittle-tattle.

But Hélène made no reply. A wild desire sprang up within her to gaze on
Henri, to know what he was doing, and what was the expression of his
face. She sat up, and glancing round the drawing-room, at last
perceived him. He stood talking with a stout, pale man, and looked
completely at his ease, his face wearing its customary refined smile.
She scanned him for a moment, full of a pity which belittled him
somewhat, though all the while she loved him the more with an affection
into which entered some vague idea of watching over him. Her feelings,
still in a whirl of confusion, inspired her with the thought that she
ought to bring him back the happiness he had lost.

“Well, well!” muttered Mademoiselle Aurelie; “it will be pleasant if
Madame de Guiraud’s sister favors us with a song. It will be the tenth
time I have heard her sing the ‘Turtle-Doves.’ That is her stock song
this winter. You know that she is separated from her husband. Do you
see that dark gentleman down there, near the door? They are most
intimate together, I believe. Juliette is compelled to have him here,
for otherwise she wouldn’t come!”

“Indeed!” exclaimed Hélène.

Madame Deberle was bustling about from one group to another, requesting
silence for a song from Madame de Guiraud’s sister. The drawing-room
was now crowded, some thirty ladies being seated in the centre
whispering and laughing together; two, however, had remained standing,
and were talking loudly and shrugging their shoulders in a pretty way,
while five or six men sat quite at home amongst the fair ones, almost
buried beneath the folds of their skirts and trains. A low “Hush!” ran
round the room, the voices died away, and a stolid look of annoyance
crept into every face. Only the fans could be heard rustling through
the heated atmosphere.

Madame de Guiraud’s sister sang, but Hélène never listened. Her eyes
were now riveted on Malignon, who feigned an intense love of music, and
appeared to be enraptured with the “Turtle Doves.” Was it possible?
Could Juliette have turned a willing ear to the amorous chatter of the
young fop? It was at Trouville, no doubt, that some dangerous game had
been played. Malignon now sat in front of Juliette, marking the time of
the music by swaying to and fro with the air of one who is enraptured.
Madame Deberle’s face beamed in admiring complacency, while the doctor,
good-natured and patient, silently awaited the last notes of the song
in order to renew his talk with the stout, pale man.

There was a murmur of applause as the singer’s voice died away, and two
or three exclaimed in tones of transport: “Delightful! magnificent!”

Malignon, however, stretching his arms over the ladies’ head-dresses,
noiselessly clapped his gloved hands, and repeated “Brava! brava!” in a
voice that rose high above the others.

The enthusiasm promptly came to an end, every face relaxed and smiled,
and a few of the ladies rose, while, with the feeling of general
relief, the buzz of conversation began again. The atmosphere was
growing much warmer, and the waving fans wafted an odor of musk from
the ladies’ dresses. At times, amidst the universal chatter, a peal of
pearly laughter would ring out, or some word spoken in a loud tone
would cause many to turn round. Thrice already had Juliette swept into
the smaller drawing-room to request some gentleman who had escaped
thither not to desert the ladies in so rude a fashion. They returned at
her request, but ten minutes afterwards had again vanished.

“It’s intolerable,” she muttered, with an air of vexation; “not one of
them will stay here.”

In the meantime Mademoiselle Aurelie was running over the ladies’ names
for Hélène’s benefit, as this was only the latter’s second evening
visit to the doctor’s house. The most substantial people of Passy, some
of them rolling in riches, were present. And the old maid leaned
towards Hélène and whispered in her ear: “Yes, it seems it’s all
arranged. Madame de Chermette is going to marry her daughter to that
tall fair fellow with whom she has flirted for the last eighteen
months. Well, never mind, that will be one mother-in-law who’ll be fond
of her son-in-law.”

She stopped short, and then burst out in a tone of intense surprise:
“Good gracious! there’s Madame Levasseur’s husband speaking to that
man. I thought Juliette had sworn never to have them here together.”

Hélène’s glances slowly travelled round the room. Even amongst such
seemingly estimable and honest people as these could there be women of
irregular conduct? With her provincial austerity she was astounded at
the manner in which wrongdoing was winked at in Paris. She railed at
herself for her own painful repugnance when Juliette had shaken hands
with her. Madame Deberle had now seemingly become reconciled with
Malignon; she had curled up her little plump figure in an easy-chair,
where she sat listening gleefully to his jests. Monsieur Deberle
happened to pass them.

“You’re surely not quarrelling to-night?” asked he.

“No,” replied Juliette, with a burst of merriment. “He’s talking too
much silly nonsense. If you had heard all the nonsense he’s been
saying!”

There now came some more singing, but silence was obtained with greater
difficulty. The aria selected was a duet from _La Favorita_, sung by
young Monsieur Tissot and a lady of ripened charms, whose hair was
dressed in childish style. Pauline, standing at one of the doors,
amidst a crowd of black coats, gazed at the male singer with a look of
undisguised admiration, as though she were examining a work of art.

“What a handsome fellow!” escaped from her lips, just as the
accompaniment subsided into a softer key, and so loud was her voice
that the whole drawing-room heard the remark.

As the evening progressed the guests’ faces began to show signs of
weariness. Ladies who had occupied the same seat for hours looked
bored, though they knew it not,—they were even delighted at being able
to get bored here. In the intervals between the songs, which were only
half listened to, the murmur of conversation again resounded, and it
seemed as though the deep notes of the piano were still echoing.
Monsieur Letellier related how he had gone to Lyons for the purpose of
inspecting some silk he had ordered, and how he had been greatly
impressed by the fact that the Saone did not mingle its waters with
those of the Rhone. Monsieur de Guiraud, who was a magistrate, gave
vent to some sententious observations on the need of stemming the vice
of Paris. There was a circle round a gentleman who was acquainted with
a Chinaman, and was giving some particulars of his friend. In a corner
two ladies were exchanging confidences about the failings of their
servants; whilst literature was being discussed by those among whom
Malignon sat enthroned. Madame Tissot declared Balzac to be unreadable,
and Malignon did not deny it, but remarked that here and there, at
intervals far and few, some very fine passages occurred in Balzac.

“A little silence, please!” all at once exclaimed Pauline; “she’s just
going to play.”

The lady whose talent as a musician had been so much spoken of had just
sat down to the piano. In accordance with the rules of politeness,
every head was turned towards her. But in the general stillness which
ensued the deep voices of the men conversing in the small drawing-room
could be heard. Madame Deberle was in despair.

“They are a nuisance!” she muttered. “Let them stay there, if they
don’t want to come in; but at least they ought to hold their tongues!”

She gave the requisite orders to Pauline, who, intensely delighted, ran
into the adjacent apartment to carry out her instructions.

“You must know, gentlemen, that a lady is going to play,” she said,
with the quiet boldness of a maiden in queenly garb. “You are requested
to keep silence.”

She spoke in a very loud key, her voice being naturally shrill. And, as
she lingered with the men, laughing and quizzing, the noise grew more
pronounced than ever. There was a discussion going on among these
males, and she supplied additional matter for argument. In the larger
drawing-room Madame Deberle was in agony. The guests, moreover, had
been sated with music, and no enthusiasm was displayed; so the pianist
resumed her seat, biting her lips, notwithstanding the laudatory
compliments which the lady of the house deemed it her duty to lavish on
her.

Hélène was pained. Henri scarcely seemed to see her; he had made no
attempt to approach her, and only at intervals smiled to her from afar.
At the earlier part of the evening she had felt relieved by his prudent
reserve; but since she had learnt the secret of the two others she
wished for something—she knew not what—some display of affection, or at
least interest, on his part. Her breast was stirred with confused
yearnings, and every imaginable evil thought. Did he no longer care for
her, that he remained so indifferent to her presence? Oh! if she could
have told him everything! If she could apprise him of the unworthiness
of the woman who bore his name! Then, while some short, merry catches
resounded from the piano, she sank into a dreamy state. She imagined
that Henri had driven Juliette from his home, and she was living with
him as his wife in some far-away foreign land, the language of which
they knew not.

All at once a voice startled her.

“Won’t you take anything?” asked Pauline.

The drawing-room had emptied, and the guests were passing into the
dining-room to drink some tea. Hélène rose with difficulty. She was
dazed; she thought she had dreamt it all—the words she had heard,
Juliette’s secret intrigue, and its consequences. If it had all been
true, Henri would surely have been at her side and ere this both would
have quitted the house.

“Will you take a cup of tea?”

She smiled and thanked Madame Deberle, who had kept a place for her at
the table. Plates loaded with pastry and sweetmeats covered the cloth,
while on glass stands arose two lofty cakes, flanking a large
_brioche_. The space was limited, and the cups of tea were crowded
together, narrow grey napkins with long fringes lying between each two.
The ladies only were seated. They held biscuits and preserved fruits
with the tips of their ungloved fingers, and passed each other the
cream-jugs and poured out the cream with dainty gestures. Three or
four, however, had sacrificed themselves to attend on the men, who were
standing against the walls, and, while drinking, taking all conceivable
precautions to ward off any push which might be unwittingly dealt them.
A few others lingered in the two drawing-rooms, waiting for the cakes
to come to them. This was the hour of Pauline’s supreme delight. There
was a shrill clamor of noisy tongues, peals of laughter mingled with
the ringing clatter of silver plate, and the perfume of musk grew more
powerful as it blended with the all-pervading fragrance of the tea.

“Kindly pass me some cake,” said Mademoiselle Aurelie to Hélène, close
to whom she happened to find herself. “These sweetmeats are frauds!”

She had, however, already emptied two plates of them. And she
continued, with her mouth full:

“Oh! some of the people are beginning to go now. We shall be a little
more comfortable.”

In truth, several ladies were now leaving, after shaking hands with
Madame Deberle. Many of the gentlemen had already wisely vanished, and
the room was becoming less crowded. Now came the opportunity for the
remaining gentlemen to sit down at table in their turn. Mademoiselle
Aurelie, however, did not quit her place, though she would much have
liked to secure a glass of punch.

“I will get you one,” said Hélène, starting to her feet.

“No, no, thank you. You must not inconvenience yourself so much.”

For a short time Hélène had been watching Malignon. He had just shaken
hands with the doctor, and was now bidding farewell to Juliette at the
doorway. She had a lustrous face and sparkling eyes, and by her
complacent smile it might have been imagined that she was receiving
some commonplace compliments on the evening’s success. While Pierre was
pouring out the punch at a sideboard near the door, Hélène stepped
forward in such wise as to be hidden from view by the curtain, which
had been drawn back. She listened.

[Illustration]

“I beseech you,” Malignon was saying, “come the day after to-morrow. I
shall wait for you till three o’clock.”

“Why cannot you talk seriously,” replied Madame Deberle, with a laugh.
“What foolish things you say!”

But with greater determination he repeated: “I shall wait for you—the
day after to-morrow.”

Then she hurriedly gave a whispered reply:

“Very well—the day after to-morrow.”

Malignon bowed and made his exit. Madame de Chermette followed in
company with Madame Tissot. Juliette, in the best of spirits, walked
with them into the hall, and said to the former of these ladies with
her most amiable look:

“I shall call on you the day after to-morrow. I have a lot of calls to
make that day.”

Hélène stood riveted to the floor, her face quite white. Pierre, in the
meanwhile, had poured out the punch, and now handed the glass to her.
She grasped it mechanically and carried it to Mademoiselle Aurelie, who
was making an inroad on the preserved fruits.

“Oh, you are far too kind!” exclaimed the old maid. “I should have made
a sign to Pierre. I’m sure it’s a shame not offering the punch to
ladies. Why, when people are my age—”

She got no further, however, for she observed the ghastliness of
Hélène’s face. “You surely are in pain! You must take a drop of punch!”

“Thank you, it’s nothing. The heat is so oppressive—”

She staggered, and turned aside into the deserted drawing-room, where
she dropped into an easy-chair. The lamps were shedding a reddish
glare; and the wax candles in the chandelier, burnt to their sockets,
threatened imminent destruction to the crystal sconces. From the
dining-room were wafted the farewells of the departing guests. Hélène
herself had lost all thoughts of going; she longed to linger where she
was, plunged in thought. So it was no dream after all; Juliette would
visit that man the day after to-morrow—she knew the day. Then the
thought struck her that she ought to speak to Juliette and warn her
against sin. But this kindly thought chilled her to the heart, and she
drove it from her mind as though it were out of place, and deep in
meditation gazed at the grate, where a smouldering log was crackling.
The air was still heavy and oppressive with the perfumes from the
ladies’ hair.

“What! you are here!” exclaimed Juliette as she entered. “Well, you are
kind not to run away all at once. At last we can breathe!”

Hélène was surprised, and made a movement as though about to rise; but
Juliette went on: “Wait, wait, you are in no hurry. Henri, get me my
smelling-salts.”

Three or four persons, intimate friends, had lingered behind the
others. They sat before the dying fire and chatted with delightful
freedom, while the vast room wearily sank into a doze. The doors were
open, and they saw the smaller drawing-room empty, the dining-room
deserted, the whole suite of rooms still lit up and plunged in unbroken
silence. Henri displayed a tender gallantry towards his wife; he had
run up to their bedroom for her smelling-salts, which she inhaled with
closed eyes, whilst he asked her if she had not fatigued herself too
much. Yes, she felt somewhat tired; but she was delighted—everything
had gone off so well. Next she told them that on her reception nights
she could not sleep, but tossed about till six o’clock in the morning.
Henri’s face broke into a smile, and some quizzing followed. Hélène
looked at them, and quivered amidst the benumbing drowsiness which
little by little seemed to fall upon the whole house.

However, only two guests now remained. Pierre had gone in search of a
cab. Hélène remained the last. One o’clock struck. Henri, no longer
standing on ceremony, rose on tiptoe and blew out two candles in the
chandelier which were dangerously heating their crystal sconces. As the
lights died out one by one, it seemed like a bedroom scene, the gloom
of an alcove spreading over all.

“I am keeping you up!” exclaimed Hélène, as she suddenly rose to her
feet. “You must turn me out.”

A flush of red dyed her face; her blood, racing through her veins,
seemed to stifle her. They walked with her into the hall, but the air
there was chilly, and the doctor was somewhat alarmed for his wife in
her low dress.

“Go back; you will do yourself harm. You are too warm.”

“Very well; good-bye,” said Juliette, embracing Hélène, as was her wont
in her most endearing moments. “Come and see me oftener.”

Henri had taken Hélène’s fur coat in his hand, and held it outstretched
to assist her in putting it on. When she had slipped her arms into the
sleeves, he turned up the collar with a smile, while they stood in
front of an immense mirror which covered one side of the hall. They
were alone, and saw one another in the mirror’s depths. For three
months, on meeting and parting they had simply shaken hands in friendly
greeting; they would fain that their love had died. But now Hélène was
overcome, and sank back into his arms. The smile vanished from his
face, which became impassioned, and, still clasping her, he kissed her
on the neck. And she, raising her head, returned his kiss.



 CHAPTER XVII.


That night Hélène was unable to sleep. She turned from side to side in
feverish unrest, and whenever a drowsy stupor fell on her senses, the
old sorrows would start into new life within her breast. As she dozed
and the nightmare increased, one fixed thought tortured her—she was
eager to know where Juliette and Malignon would meet. This knowledge,
she imagined, would be a source of relief to her. Where, where could it
be? Despite herself, her brain throbbed with the thought, and she
forgot everything save her craving to unravel this mystery, which
thrilled her with secret longings.

When day dawned and she began to dress, she caught herself saying
loudly: “It will be to-morrow!”

With one stocking on, and hands falling helpless to her side, she
lapsed for a while into a fresh dreamy fit. “Where, where was it that
they had agreed to meet?”

“Good-day, mother, darling!” just then exclaimed Jeanne who had
awakened in her turn.

As her strength was now returning to her, she had gone back to sleep in
her cot in the closet. With bare feet and in her nightdress she came to
throw herself on Hélène’s neck, as was her every-day custom; then back
again she rushed, to curl herself up in her warm bed for a little while
longer. This jumping in and out amused her, and a ripple of laughter
stole from under the clothes. Once more she bounded into the bedroom,
saying: “Good-morning, mammy dear!”

And again she ran off, screaming with laughter. Then she threw the
sheet over her head, and her cry came, hoarse and muffled, from beneath
it: “I’m not there! I’m not there!”

But Hélène was in no mood for play, as on other mornings; and Jeanne,
dispirited, fell asleep again. The day was still young. About eight
o’clock Rosalie made her appearance to recount the morning’s chapter of
accidents. Oh! the streets were awful outside; in going for the milk
her shoes had almost come off in the muddy slush. All the ice was
thawing; and it was quite mild too, almost oppressive. Oh! by the way,
she had almost forgotten! an old woman had come to see madame the night
before.

“Why!” she said, as there came a pull at the bell, “I expect that’s
she!”

It was Mother Fétu, but Mother Fétu transformed, magnificent in a clean
white cap, a new gown, and tartan shawl wrapped round her shoulders.
Her voice, however, still retained its plaintive tone of entreaty.

“Dear lady, it’s only I, who have taken the liberty of calling to ask
you about something!”

Hélène gazed at her, somewhat surprised by her display of finery.

“Are you better, Mother Fétu?”

“Oh yes, yes; I feel better, if I may venture to say so. You see I
always have something queer in my inside; it knocks me about
dreadfully, but still I’m better. Another thing, too; I’ve had a stroke
of luck; it was a surprise, you see, because luck hasn’t often come in
my way. But a gentleman has made me his housekeeper—and oh! it’s such a
story!”

Her words came slowly, and her small keen eyes glittered in her face,
furrowed by a thousand wrinkles. She seemed to be waiting for Hélène to
question her; but the young woman sat close to the fire which Rosalie
had just lit, and paid scant attention to her, engrossed as she was in
her own thoughts, with a look of pain on her features.

“What do you want to ask me?” she at last said to Mother Fétu.

The old lady made no immediate reply. She was scrutinizing the room,
with its rosewood furniture and blue velvet hangings. Then, with the
humble and fawning air of a pauper, she muttered: “Pardon me, madame,
but everything is so beautiful here. My gentleman has a room like this,
but it’s all in pink. Oh! it’s such a story! Just picture to yourself a
young man of good position who has taken rooms in our house. Of course,
it isn’t much of a place, but still our first and second floors are
very nice. Then, it’s so quiet, too! There’s no traffic; you could
imagine yourself in the country. The workmen have been in the house for
a whole fortnight; they have made such a jewel of his room!”

She here paused, observing that Hélène’s attention was being aroused.

“It’s for his work,” she continued in a drawling voice; “he says it’s
for his work. We have no doorkeeper, you know, and that pleases him.
Oh! my gentleman doesn’t like doorkeepers, and he is quite right, too!”

Once more she came to a halt, as though an idea had suddenly occurred
to her.

“Why, wait a minute; you must know him—of course you must. He visits
one of your lady friends!”

“Ah!” exclaimed Hélène, with colorless face.

“Yes, to be sure; the lady who lives close by—the one who used to go
with you to church. She came the other day.”

Mother Fétu’s eyes contracted, and from under the lids she took note of
her benefactress’s emotion. But Hélène strove to question her in a tone
that would not betray her agitation.

“Did she go up?”

“No, she altered her mind; perhaps she had forgotten something. But I
was at the door. She asked for Monsieur Vincent, and then got back into
her cab again, calling to the driver to return home, as it was too
late. Oh! she’s such a nice, lively, and respectable lady. The gracious
God doesn’t send many such into the world. Why, with the exception of
yourself, she’s the best—well, well, may Heaven bless you all!”

In this way Mother Fétu rambled on with the pious glibness of a devotee
who is perpetually telling her beads. But the twitching of the myriad
wrinkles of her face showed that her mind was still working, and soon
she beamed with intense satisfaction.

“Ah!” she all at once resumed in inconsequent fashion, “how I should
like to have a pair of good shoes! My gentleman has been so very kind,
I can’t ask him for anything more. You see I’m dressed; still I must
get a pair of good shoes. Look at those I have; they are all holes; and
when the weather’s muddy, as it is to-day, one’s apt to get very ill.
Yes, I was down with colic yesterday; I was writhing all the afternoon,
but if I had a pair of good shoes—”

“I’ll bring you a pair, Mother Fétu,” said Hélène, waving her towards
the door.

Then, as the old woman retired backwards, with profuse curtseying and
thanks, she asked her: “At what hour are you alone?”

“My gentleman is never there after six o’clock,” she answered. “But
don’t give yourself the trouble; I’ll come myself, and get them from
your doorkeeper. But you can do as you please. You are an angel from
heaven. God on high will requite you for all your kindness!”

When she had reached the landing she could still be heard giving vent
to her feelings. Hélène sat a long time plunged in the stupor which the
information, supplied by this woman with such fortuitous
seasonableness, had brought upon her. She now knew the place of
assignation. It was a room, with pink decorations, in that old
tumbledown house! She once more pictured to herself the staircase
oozing with damp, the yellow doors on each landing, grimy with the
touch of greasy hands, and all the wretchedness which had stirred her
heart to pity when she had gone during the previous winter to visit
Mother Fétu; and she also strove to conjure up a vision of that pink
chamber in the midst of such repulsive, poverty-stricken surroundings.
However, whilst she was still absorbed in her reverie, two tiny warm
hands were placed over her eyes, which lack of sleep had reddened, and
a laughing voice inquired: “Who is it? who is it?”

It was Jeanne, who had slipped into her clothes without assistance.
Mother Fétu’s voice had awakened her; and perceiving that the closet
door had been shut, she had made her toilet with the utmost speed in
order to give her mother a surprise.

“Who is it? who is it?” she again inquired, convulsed more and more
with laughter.

She turned to Rosalie, who entered at the moment with the breakfast.

“You know; don’t you speak. Nobody is asking you any question.”

“Be quiet, you little madcap!” exclaimed Hélène. “I suppose it’s you!”

The child slipped on to her mother’s lap, and there, leaning back and
swinging to and fro, delighted with the amusement she had devised, she
resumed:

“Well, it might have been another little girl! Eh? Perhaps some little
girl who had brought you a letter of invitation to dine with her mamma.
And she might have covered your eyes, too!”

“Don’t be silly,” exclaimed Hélène, as she set her on the floor. “What
are you talking about? Rosalie, let us have breakfast.”

The maid’s eyes, however, were riveted on the child, and she commented
upon her little mistress being so oddly dressed. To tell the truth, so
great had been Jeanne’s haste that she had not put on her shoes. She
had drawn on a short flannel petticoat which allowed a glimpse of her
chemise, and had left her morning jacket open, so that you could see
her delicate, undeveloped bosom. With her hair streaming behind her,
stamping about in her stockings, which were all awry, she looked
charming, all in white like some child of fairyland.

She cast down her eyes to see herself, and immediately burst into
laughter.

“Look, mamma, I look nice, don’t I? Won’t you let me be as I am? It is
nice!”

Repressing a gesture of impatience, Hélène, as was her wont every
morning, inquired: “Are you washed?”

“Oh, mamma!” pleaded the child, her joy suddenly dashed. “Oh, mamma!
it’s raining; it’s too nasty!”

“Then, you’ll have no breakfast. Wash her, Rosalie.”

She usually took this office upon herself, but that morning she felt
altogether out of sorts, and drew nearer to the fire, shivering,
although the weather was so balmy. Having spread a napkin and placed
two white china bowls on a small round table, Rosalie had brought the
latter close to the fireplace. The coffee and milk steamed before the
fire in a silver pot, which had been a present from Monsieur Rambaud.
At this early hour the disorderly, drowsy room seemed delightfully
homelike.

“Mamma, mamma!” screamed Jeanne from the depths of the closet, “she’s
rubbing me too hard. It’s taking my skin off. Oh dear! how awfully
cold!”

Hélène, with eyes fixed on the coffee-pot, remained engrossed in
thought. She desired to know everything, so she would go. The thought
of that mysterious place of assignation in so squalid a nook of Paris
was an ever-present pain and vexation. She judged such taste hateful,
but in it she identified Malignon’s leaning towards romance.

“Mademoiselle,” declared Rosalie, “if you don’t let me finish with you,
I shall call madame.”

“Stop, stop: you are poking the soap into my eyes,” answered Jeanne,
whose voice was hoarse with sobs. “Leave me alone; I’ve had enough of
it. The ears can wait till to-morrow.”

But the splashing of water went on, and the squeezing of the sponge
into the basin could be heard. There was a clamor and a struggle, the
child was sobbing; but almost immediately afterward she made her
appearance, shouting gaily: “It’s over now; it’s over now!”

Her hair was still glistening with wet, and she shook herself, her face
glowing with the rubbing it had received and exhaling a fresh and
pleasant odor. In her struggle to get free her jacket had slipped from
her shoulders, her petticoat had become loosened, and her stockings had
tumbled down, displaying her bare legs. According to Rosalie, she
looked like an infant Jesus. Jeanne, however, felt very proud that she
was clean; she had no wish to be dressed again.

“Look at me, mamma; look at my hands, and my neck, and my ears. Oh! you
must let me warm myself; I am so comfortable. You don’t say anything;
surely I’ve deserved my breakfast to-day.”

She had curled herself up before the fire in her own little easy-chair.
Then Rosalie poured out the coffee and milk. Jeanne took her bowl on
her lap, and gravely soaked her toast in its contents with all the airs
of a grown-up person. Hélène had always forbidden her to eat in this
way, but that morning she remained plunged in thought. She did not
touch her own bread, and was satisfied with drinking her coffee. Then
Jeanne, after swallowing her last morsel, was stung with remorse. Her
heart filled, she put aside her bowl, and gazing on her mother’s pale
face, threw herself on her neck: “Mamma, are you ill now? I haven’t
vexed you, have I?—say.”

“No, no, my darling, quite the contrary; you’re very good,” murmured
Hélène as she embraced her. “I’m only a little wearied; I haven’t slept
well. Go on playing: don’t be uneasy.”

The thought occurred to her that the day would prove a terribly long
one. What could she do whilst waiting for the night? For some time past
she had abandoned her needlework; sewing had become a terrible
weariness. For hours she lingered in her seat with idle hands, almost
suffocating in her room, and craving to go out into the open air for
breath, yet never stirring. It was this room which made her ill; she
hated it, in angry exasperation over the two years which she had spent
within its walls; its blue velvet and the vast panorama of the mighty
city disgusted her, and her thoughts dwelt on a lodging in some busy
street, the uproar of which would have deafened her. Good heavens! how
long were the hours! She took up a book, but the fixed idea that
engrossed her mind continually conjured up the same visions between her
eyes and the page of print.

In the meantime Rosalie had been busy setting the room in order;
Jeanne’s hair also had been brushed, and she was dressed. While her
mother sat at the window, striving to read, the child, who was in one
of her moods of obstreperous gaiety, began playing a grand game. She
was all alone; but this gave her no discomfort; she herself represented
three or four persons in turn with comical earnestness and gravity. At
first she played the lady going on a visit. She vanished into the
dining-room, and returned bowing and smiling, her head nodding this way
and that in the most coquettish style.

“Good-day, madame! How are you, madame? How long it is since I’ve seen
you! A marvellously long time, to be sure! Dear me, I’ve been so ill,
madame! Yes; I’ve had the cholera; it’s very disagreeable. Oh! it
doesn’t show; no, no, it makes you look younger, on my word of honor.
And your children, madame? Oh! I’ve had three since last summer!”

So she rattled on, never ceasing her curtseying to the round table,
which doubtless represented the lady she was visiting. Next she
ventured to bring the chairs closer together, and for an hour carried
on a general conversation, her talk abounding in extraordinary phrases.

“Don’t be silly,” said her mother at intervals, when the chatter put
her out of patience.

“But, mamma, I’m paying my friend a visit. She’s speaking to me, and I
must answer her. At tea nobody ought to put the cakes in their pockets,
ought they?”

Then she turned and began again:

“Good-bye, madame; your tea was delicious. Remember me most kindly to
your husband.”

The next moment came something else. She was going out shopping in her
carriage, and got astride of a chair like a boy.

“Jean, not so quick; I’m afraid. Stop! stop! here is the milliner’s!
Mademoiselle, how much is this bonnet? Three hundred francs; that isn’t
dear. But it isn’t pretty. I should like it with a bird on it—a bird
big like that! Come, Jean, drive me to the grocer’s. Have you some
honey? Yes, madame, here is some. Oh, how nice it is! But I don’t want
any of it; give me two sous’ worth of sugar. Oh! Jean, look, take care!
There! we have had a spill! Mr. Policeman, it was the cart which drove
against us. You’re not hurt, madame, are you? No, sir, not in the
least. Jean, Jean! home now. Gee-up! gee-up. Wait a minute; I must
order some chemises. Three dozen chemises for madame. I want some boots
too and some stays. Gee-up! gee-up! Good gracious, we shall never get
back again.”

Then she fanned herself, enacting the part of the lady who has returned
home and is finding fault with her servants. She never remained quiet
for a moment; she was in a feverish ecstasy, full of all sorts of
whimsical ideas; all the life she knew surged up in her little brain
and escaped from it in fragments. Morning and afternoon she thus moved
about, dancing and chattering; and when she grew tired, a footstool or
parasol discovered in a corner, or some shred of stuff lying on the
floor, would suffice to launch her into a new game in which her
effervescing imagination found fresh outlet. Persons, places, and
incidents were all of her own creation, and she amused herself as much
as though twelve children of her own age had been beside her.

But evening came at last. Six o’clock was about to strike. And Hélène,
rousing herself from the troubled stupor in which she had spent the
afternoon, hurriedly threw a shawl over her shoulders.

“Are you going out, mamma?” asked Jeanne in her surprise.

“Yes, my darling, just for a walk close by. I won’t be long; be good.”

Outside it was still thawing. The footways were covered with mud. In
the Rue de Passy, Hélène entered a boot shop, to which she had taken
Mother Fétu on a previous occasion. Then she returned along the Rue
Raynouard. The sky was grey, and from the pavement a mist was rising.
The street stretched dimly before her, deserted and fear-inspiring,
though the hour was yet early. In the damp haze the infrequent
gas-lamps glimmered like yellow spots. She quickened her steps, keeping
close to the houses, and shrinking from sight as though she were on the
way to some assignation. However, as she hastily turned into the
Passage des Eaux, she halted beneath the archway, her heart giving way
to genuine terror. The passage opened beneath her like some black gulf.
The bottom of it was invisible; the only thing she could see in this
black tunnel was the quivering gleam of the one lamp which lighted it.
Eventually she made up her mind, and grasped the iron railing to
prevent herself from slipping. Feeling her way with the tip of her
boots she landed successively on the broad steps. The walls, right and
left, grew closer, seemingly prolonged by the darkness, while the bare
branches of the trees above cast vague shadows, like those of gigantic
arms with closed or outstretched hands. She trembled as she thought
that one of the garden doors might open and a man spring out upon her.
There were no passers-by, however, and she stepped down as quickly as
possible. Suddenly from out of the darkness loomed a shadow which
coughed, and she was frozen with fear; but it was only an old woman
creeping with difficulty up the path. Then she felt less uneasy, and
carefully raised her dress, which had been trailing in the mud. So
thick was the latter that her boots were constantly sticking to the
steps. At the bottom she turned aside instinctively. From the branches
the raindrops dripped fast into the passage, and the lamp glimmered
like that of some miner, hanging to the side of a pit which
infiltrations have rendered dangerous.

Hélène climbed straight to the attic she had so often visited at the
top of the large house abutting on the Passage. But nothing stirred,
although she rapped loudly. In considerable perplexity she descended
the stairs again. Mother Fétu was doubtless in the rooms on the first
floor, where, however, Hélène dared not show herself. She remained five
minutes in the entry, which was lighted by a petroleum lamp. Then again
she ascended the stairs hesitatingly, gazing at each door, and was on
the point of going away, when the old woman leaned over the balusters.

“What! it’s you on the stairs, my good lady!” she exclaimed. “Come in,
and don’t catch cold out there. Oh! it is a vile place—enough to kill
one.”

“No, thank you,” said Hélène; “I’ve brought you your pair of shoes,
Mother Fétu.”

She looked at the door which Mother Fétu had left open behind her, and
caught a glimpse of a stove within.

“I’m all alone, I assure you,” declared the old woman. “Come in. This
is the kitchen here. Oh! you’re not proud with us poor folks; we can
talk to you!”

Despite the repugnance which shame at the purpose of her coming created
within her, Hélène followed her.

“God in Heaven! how can I thank you! Oh, what lovely shoes! Wait, and
I’ll put them on. There’s my whole foot in; it fits me like a glove.
Bless the day! I can walk with these without being afraid of the rain.
Oh! my good lady, you are my preserver; you’ve given me ten more years
of life. No, no, it’s no flattery; it’s what I think, as true as
there’s a lamp shining on us. No, no, I don’t flatter!”

She melted into tears as she spoke, and grasping Hélène’s hands kissed
them. In a stewpan on the stove some wine was being heated, and on the
table, near the lamp, stood a half-empty bottle of Bordeaux with its
tapering neck. The only other things placed there were four dishes, a
glass, two saucepans, and an earthenware pot. It could be seen that
Mother Fétu camped in this bachelor’s kitchen, and that the fires were
lit for herself only. Seeing Hélène’s glance turn towards the stewpan,
she coughed, and once more put on her dolorous expression.

“It’s gripping me again,” she groaned. “Oh! it’s useless for the doctor
to talk; I must have some creature in my inside. And then, a drop of
wine relieves me so. I’m greatly afflicted, my good lady. I wouldn’t
have a soul suffer from my trouble; it’s too dreadful. Well, I’m
nursing myself a bit now; and when a person has passed through so much,
isn’t it fair she should do so? I have been so lucky in falling in with
a nice gentleman. May Heaven bless him!”

With this outburst she dropped two large lumps of sugar into her wine.
She was now getting more corpulent than ever, and her little eyes had
almost vanished from her fat face. She moved slowly with a beatifical
expression of felicity. Her life’s ambition was now evidently
satisfied. For this she had been born. When she put her sugar away
again Hélène caught a glimpse of some tid-bits secreted at the bottom
of a cupboard—a jar of preserves, a bag of biscuits, and even some
cigars, all doubtless pilfered from the gentleman lodger.

“Well, good-bye, Mother Fétu, I’m going away,” she exclaimed.

The old lady, however, pushed the saucepan to one side of the stove and
murmured: “Wait a minute; this is far too hot, I’ll drink it by-and-by.
No, no; don’t go out that way. I must beg pardon for having received
you in the kitchen. Let us go round the rooms.”

She caught up the lamp, and turned into a narrow passage. Hélène, with
beating heart, followed close behind. The passage, dilapidated and
smoky, was reeking with damp. Then a door was thrown open, and she
found herself treading a thick carpet. Mother Fétu had already advanced
into a room which was plunged in darkness and silence.

“Well?” she asked, as she lifted up the lamp; “it’s very nice, isn’t
it?”

There were two rooms, each of them square, communicating with one
another by folding-doors, which had been removed, and replaced by
curtains. Both were hung with pink cretonne of a Louis Quinze pattern,
picturing chubby-checked cupids disporting themselves amongst garlands
of flowers. In the first apartment there was a round table, two
lounges, and some easy-chairs; and in the second, which was somewhat
smaller, most of the space was occupied by the bed. Mother Fétu drew
attention to a crystal lamp with gilt chains, which hung from the
ceiling. To her this lamp was the veritable acme of luxury.

Then she began explaining things: “You can’t imagine what a funny
fellow he is! He lights it up in mid-day, and stays here, smoking a
cigar and gazing into vacancy. But it amuses him, it seems. Well, it
doesn’t matter; I’ve an idea he must have spent a lot of money in his
time.”

Hélène went through the rooms in silence. They seemed to her in bad
taste. There was too much pink everywhere; the furniture also looked
far too new.

“He calls himself Monsieur Vincent,” continued the old woman, rambling
on. “Of course, it’s all the same to me. As long as he pays, my
gentleman—”

“Well, good-bye, Mother Fétu,” said Hélène, in whose throat a feeling
of suffocation was gathering.

She was burning to get away, but on opening a door she found herself
threading three small rooms, the bareness and dirt of which were
repulsive. The paper hung in tatters from the walls, the ceilings were
grimy, and old plaster littered the broken floors. The whole place was
pervaded by a smell of long prevalent squalor.

“Not that way! not that way!” screamed Mother Fétu. “That door is
generally shut. These are the other rooms which they haven’t attempted
to clean. My word! it’s cost him quite enough already! Yes, indeed,
these aren’t nearly so nice! Come this way, my good lady—come this
way!”

On Hélène’s return to the pink boudoir, she stopped to kiss her hand
once more.

“You see, I’m not ungrateful! I shall never forget the shoes. How well
they fit me! and how warm they are! Why, I could walk half-a-dozen
miles with them. What can I beg Heaven to grant you? O Lord, hearken to
me, and grant that she may be the happiest of women—in the name of the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost!” A devout enthusiasm had suddenly
come upon Mother Fétu; she repeated the sign of the cross again and
again, and bowed the knee in the direction of the crystal lamp. This
done, she opened the door conducting to the landing, and whispered in a
changed voice into Hélène’s ear:

“Whenever you like to call, just knock at the kitchen door; I’m always
there!”

Dazed, and glancing behind her as though she were leaving a place of
dubious repute, Hélène hurried down the staircase, reascended the
Passage des Eaux, and regained the Rue Vineuse, without consciousness
of the ground she was covering. The old woman’s last words still rang
in her ears. In truth, no; never again would she set foot in that
house, never again would she bear her charity thither. Why should she
ever rap at the kitchen door again? At present she was satisfied; she
had seen what was to be seen. And she was full of scorn for herself—for
everybody. How disgraceful to have gone there! The recollection of the
place with its tawdry finery and squalid surroundings filled her with
mingled anger and disgust.

“Well, madame,” exclaimed Rosalie, who was awaiting her return on the
staircase, “the dinner will be nice. Dear, oh dear! it’s been burning
for half an hour!”

At table Jeanne plagued her mother with questions. Where had she been?
what had she been about? However, as the answers she received proved
somewhat curt, she began to amuse herself by giving a little dinner.
Her doll was perched near her on a chair, and in a sisterly fashion she
placed half of her dessert before it.

“Now, mademoiselle, you must eat like a lady. See, wipe your mouth. Oh,
the dirty little thing! She doesn’t even know how to wear her napkin!
There, you’re nice now. See, here is a biscuit. What do you say? You
want some preserve on it. Well, I should think it better as it is! Let
me pare you a quarter of this apple!”

She placed the doll’s share on the chair. But when she had emptied her
own plate she took the dainties back again one after the other and
devoured them, speaking all the time as though she were the doll.

“Oh! it’s delicious! I’ve never eaten such nice jam! Where did you get
this jam, madame? I shall tell my husband to buy a pot of it. Do those
beautiful apples come from your garden, madame?”

She fell asleep while thus playing, and stumbled into the bedroom with
the doll in her arms. She had given herself no rest since morning. Her
little legs could no longer sustain her—she was helpless and wearied to
death. However, a ripple of laughter passed over her face even in
sleep; in her dreams she must have been still continuing her play.

At last Hélène was alone in her room. With closed doors she spent a
miserable evening beside the dead fire. Her will was failing her;
thoughts that found no utterance were stirring within the innermost
recesses of her heart. At midnight she wearily sought her bed, but
there her torture passed endurance. She dozed, she tossed from side to
side as though a fire were beneath her. She was haunted by visions
which sleeplessness enlarged to a gigantic size. Then an idea took root
in her brain. In vain did she strive to banish it; it clung to her,
surged and clutched her at the throat till it entirely swayed her.
About two o’clock she rose, rigid, pallid, and resolute as a
somnambulist, and having again lighted the lamp she wrote a letter in a
disguised hand; it was a vague denunciation, a note of three lines,
requesting Doctor Deberle to repair that day to such a place at such an
hour; there was no explanation, no signature. She sealed the envelope
and dropped the letter into the pocket of her dress which was hanging
over an arm-chair. Then returning to bed, she immediately closed her
eyes, and in a few minutes was lying there breathless, overpowered by
leaden slumber.



 CHAPTER XVIII.


It was nearly nine o’clock the next morning before Rosalie was able to
serve the coffee. Hélène had risen late. She was weary and pale with
the nightmare that had broken her rest. She rummaged in the pocket of
her dress, felt the letter there, pressed it to the very bottom, and
sat down at the table without opening her lips. Jeanne too was
suffering from headache, and had a pale, troubled face. She quitted her
bed regretfully that morning, without any heart to indulge in play.
There was a sooty color in the sky, and a dim light saddened the room,
while from time to time sudden downpours of rain beat against the
windows.

“Mademoiselle is in the blues,” said Rosalie, who monopolized all the
talk. “She can’t keep cheerful for two days running. That’s what comes
of dancing about too much yesterday.”

“Do you feel ill, Jeanne?” asked Hélène.

“No, mamma,” answered the child. “It’s only the nasty weather.”

Hélène lapsed once more into silence. She finished her coffee, and sat
in her chair, plunged in thought, with her eyes riveted on the flames.
While rising she had reflected that it was her duty to speak to
Juliette and bid her renounce the afternoon assignation. But how? She
could not say. Still, the necessity of the step was impressed on her,
and now her one urgent, all-absorbing thought was to attempt it. Ten
o’clock struck, and she began to dress. Jeanne gazed at her, and, on
seeing her take up her bonnet, clasped her little hands as though
stricken with cold, while over her face crept a pained look. It was her
wont to take umbrage whenever her mother went out; she was unwilling to
quit her side, and craved to go with her everywhere.

“Rosalie,” said Hélène, “make haste and finish the room. Don’t go out.
I’ll be back in a moment.”

She stooped and gave Jeanne a hasty kiss, not noticing her vexation.
But the moment she had gone a sob broke from the child, who had
hitherto summoned all her dignity to her aid to restrain her emotion.

“Oh, mademoiselle, how naughty!” exclaimed the maid by way of
consolation. “Gracious powers! no one will rob you of your mamma. You
must allow her to see after her affairs. You can’t always be hanging to
her skirts!”

Meanwhile Hélène had turned the corner of the Rue Vineuse, keeping
close to the wall for protection against the rain. It was Pierre who
opened the door; but at sight of her he seemed somewhat embarrassed.

“Is Madame Deberle at home?”

“Yes, madame; but I don’t know whether—”

Hélène, in the character of a family friend, was pushing past him
towards the drawing-room; but he took the liberty of stopping her.

“Wait, madame; I’ll go and see.”

He slipped into the room, opening the door as little as he could; and
immediately afterwards Juliette could be heard speaking in a tone of
irritation. “What! you’ve allowed some one to come in? Why, I forbade
it peremptorily. It’s incredible!! I can’t be left quiet for an
instant!”

Hélène, however, pushed open the door, strong in her resolve to do that
which she imagined to be her duty.

“Oh, it’s you!” said Juliette, as she perceived her. “I didn’t catch
who it was!”

The look of annoyance did not fade from her face, however, and it was
evident that the visit was ill-timed.

“Do I disturb you?” asked Hélène.

“Not at all, not at all,” answered the other. “You’ll understand in a
moment. We have been getting up a surprise. We are rehearsing
_Caprice_[*] to play it on one of my Wednesdays. We had selected this
morning for rehearsal, thinking nobody would know of it. But you’ll
stay now? You will have to keep silence about it, that’s all.”

[*] One of Alfred de Musset’s plays.

Then, clapping her hands and addressing herself to Madame Berthier, who
was standing in the middle of the drawing-room, she began once more,
without paying any further attention to Hélène: “Come, come; we must
get on. You don’t give sufficient point to the sentence ‘To make a
purse unknown to one’s husband would in the eyes of most people seem
rather more than romantic.’ Say that again.”

Intensely surprised at finding her engaged in this way, Hélène had sat
down. The chairs and tables had been pushed against the wall, the
carpet thus being left clear. Madame Berthier, a delicate blonde,
repeated her soliloquy, with her eyes fixed on the ceiling in her
effort to recall the words; while plump Madame de Guiraud, a beautiful
brunette, who had assumed the character of Madame de Lery, reclined in
an arm-chair awaiting her cue. The ladies, in their unpretentious
morning gowns, had doffed neither bonnets nor gloves. Seated in front
of them, her hair in disorder and a volume of Musset in her hand, was
Juliette, in a dressing-gown of white cashmere. Her face wore the
serious expression of a stage-manager tutoring his actors as to the
tones they should speak in and the by-play they should introduce. The
day being dull, the small curtains of embroidered tulle had been pulled
aside and swung across the knobs of the window-fastenings, so that the
garden could be seen, dark and damp.

“You don’t display sufficient emotion,” declared Juliette. “Put a
little more meaning into it. Every word ought to tell. Begin again:
‘I’m going to finish your toilette, my dear little purse.’”

“I shall be an awful failure,” said Madame Berthier languidly. “Why
don’t you play the part instead of me? You would make a delicious
Mathilda.”

“I! Oh, no! In the first place, one needs to be fair. Besides, I’m a
very good teacher, but a bad pupil. But let us get on—let us get on!”

Hélène sat still in her corner. Madame Berthier, engrossed in her part,
had not even turned round. Madame de Guiraud had merely honored her
with a slight nod. She realized that she was in the way, and that she
ought to have declined to stay. If she still remained, it was no longer
through the sense of a duty to be fulfilled, but rather by reason of a
strange feeling stirring vaguely in her heart’s depth’s—a feeling which
had previously thrilled her in this selfsame spot. The unkindly
greeting which Juliette had bestowed on her pained her. However, the
young woman’s friendships were usually capricious; she worshipped
people for three months, threw herself on their necks, and seemed to
live for them alone; then one morning, without affording any
explanation, she appeared to lose all consciousness of being acquainted
with them. Without doubt, in this, as in everything else, she was
simply yielding to a fashionable craze, an inclination to love the
people who were loved by her own circle. These sudden veerings of
affection, however, deeply wounded Hélène, for her generous and
undemonstrative heart had its ideal in eternity. She often left the
Deberles plunged in sadness, full of despair when she thought how
fragile and unstable was the basis of human love. And on this occasion,
in this crisis in her life, the thought brought her still keener pain.

“We’ll skip the scene with Chavigny,” said Juliette. “He won’t be here
this morning. Let us see Madame de Lery’s entrance. Now, Madame de
Guiraud, here’s your cue.” Then she read from her book: “‘Just imagine
my showing him this purse.’”

“‘Oh! it’s exceedingly pretty. Let me look at it,’” began Madame de
Guiraud in a falsetto voice, as she rose with a silly expression on her
face.

When the servant had opened the door to her, Hélène had pictured a
scene entirely different from this. She had imagined that she would
find Juliette displaying excessive nervousness, with pallid cheeks,
hesitating and yet allured, shivering at the very thought of
assignation. She had pictured herself imploring her to reflect, till
the young woman, choked with sobs, threw herself into her arms. Then
they would have mingled their tears together, and Hélène would have
quitted her with the thought that Henri was henceforward lost to her,
but that she had secured his happiness. However, there had been nothing
of all this; she had merely fallen on this rehearsal, which was wholly
unintelligible to her; and she saw Juliette before her with unruffled
features, like one who has had a good night’s rest, and with her mind
sufficiently at ease to discuss Madame Berthier’s by-play, without
troubling herself in the least degree about what she would do in the
afternoon. This indifference and frivolity chilled Hélène, who had come
to the house with passion consuming her.

A longing to speak fell on her. At a venture she inquired: “Who will
play the part of Chavigny?”

“Why, Malignon, of course,” answered Juliette, turning round with an
air of astonishment. “He played Chavigny all last winter. It’s a
nuisance he can’t come to the rehearsals. Listen, ladies; I’m going to
read Chavigny’s part. Unless that’s done, we shall never get on.”

Thereupon she herself began acting the man’s part, her voice deepening
unconsciously, whilst she assumed a cavalier air in harmony with the
situation. Madame Berthier renewed her warbling tones, and Madame de
Guiraud took infinite pains to be lively and witty. When Pierre came in
to put some more wood on the fire he slyly glanced at the ladies, who
amused him immensely.

Hélène, still fixed in her resolve, despite some heart-shrinking,
attempted however to take Juliette aside.

“Only a minute. I’ve something to say to you.”

“Oh, impossible, my dear! You see how much I am engaged. To-morrow, if
you have the time.”

Hélène said no more. The young woman’s unconcern displeased her. She
felt anger growing within her as she observed how calm and collected
Juliette was, when she herself had endured such intense agony since the
night before. At one moment she was on the point of rising and letting
things take their course. It was exceedingly foolish of her to wish to
save this woman; her nightmare began once more; her hands slipped into
her pocket, and finding the letter there, clasped it in a feverish
grasp. Why should she have any care for the happiness of others, when
they had no care for her and did not suffer as she did?

“Oh! capital, capital,” exclaimed Juliette of a sudden.

Madame Berthier’s head was now reclining on Madame de Guiraud’s
shoulder, and she was declaring through her sobs: “‘I am sure that he
loves her; I am sure of it!’”

“Your success will be immense,” said Juliette. “Say that once more: ‘I
am sure that he loves her; I am sure of it.’ Leave your head as it is.
You’re divine. Now, Madame de Guiraud, your turn.”

“‘No, no, my child, it cannot be; it is a caprice, a fancy,’” replied
the stout lady.

“Perfect! but oh, the scene is a long one, isn’t it? Let us rest a
little while. We must have that incident in proper working order.”

Then they all three plunged into a discussion regarding the arrangement
of the drawing-room. The dining-room door, to the left, would serve for
entrances and exits; an easy-chair could be placed on the right, a
couch at the farther end, and the table could be pushed close to the
fireplace. Hélène, who had risen, followed them about, as though she
felt an interest in these scenic arrangements. She had now abandoned
her idea of eliciting an explanation, and merely wished to make a last
effort to prevent Juliette from going to the place of meeting.

“I intended asking you,” she said to her, “if it isn’t to-day that you
mean to pay Madame de Chermette a visit?”

“Yes, this afternoon.”

“Then, if you’ll allow me, I’ll go with you; it’s such a long time
since I promised to go to see her.”

For a moment Juliette betrayed signs of embarrassment, but speedily
regained her self-possession.

“Of course, I should be very happy. Only I have so many things to look
after; I must do some shopping first, and I have no idea at what time I
shall be able to get to Madame de Chermette’s.”

“That doesn’t matter,” said Hélène; “it will enable me to have a walk.”

“Listen; I will speak to you candidly. Well, you must not press me. You
would be in my way. Let it be some other Monday.”

This was said without a trace of emotion, so flatly and with so quiet a
smile that Hélène was dumbfounded and uttered not another syllable. She
was obliged to lend some assistance to Juliette, who suddenly decided
to bring the table close to the fireplace. Then she drew back, and the
rehearsal began once more. In a soliloquy which followed the scene,
Madame de Guiraud with considerable power spoke these two sentences:
“‘But what a treacherous gulf is the heart of man! In truth, we are
worth more than they!’”

And Hélène, what ought she to do now? Within her breast the question
raised a storm that stirred her to vague thoughts of violence. She
experienced an irresistible desire to be revenged on Juliette’s
tranquillity, as if that self-possession were an insult directed
against her own fevered heart. She dreamed of facilitating her fall,
that she might see whether she would always retain this unruffled
demeanor. And she thought of herself scornfully as she recalled her
delicacy and scruples. Twenty times already she ought to have said to
Henri: “I love you; let us go away together.” Could she have done so,
however, without the most intense emotion? Could she have displayed the
callous composure of this woman, who, three hours before her first
assignation, was rehearsing a comedy in her own home? Even at this
moment she trembled more than Juliette; what maddened her was the
consciousness of her own passion amidst the quiet cheerfulness of this
drawing-room; she was terrified lest she should burst out into some
angry speech. Was she a coward, then?

But all at once a door opened, and Henri’s voice reached her ear: “Do
not disturb yourselves. I’m only passing.”

The rehearsal was drawing to a close. Juliette, who was still reading
Chavigny’s part, had just caught hold of Madame de Guiraud’s hand.
“Ernestine, I adore you!” she exclaimed with an outburst of passionate
earnestness.

“Then Madame de Blainville is no longer beloved by you?” inquired
Madame de Guiraud.

However, so long as her husband was present Juliette declined to
proceed. There was no need of the men knowing anything about it. The
doctor showed himself most polite to the ladies; he complimented them
and predicted an immense success. With black gloves on his hands and
his face clean-shaven he was about to begin his round of visits. On his
entry he had merely greeted Hélène with a slight bow. At the Comedie
Francais he had seen some very great actress in the character of Madame
de Lery, and he acquainted Madame de Guiraud with some of the usual
by-play of the scene.

“At the moment when Chavigny is going to throw himself at your feet,
you fling the purse into the fire. Dispassionately, you know, without
any anger, like a woman who plays with love.”

“All right; leave us alone,” said Juliette. “We know all about it.”

At last, when they had heard him close his study door, she began once
more: “Ernestine, I adore you!”

Prior to his departure Henri had saluted Hélène with the same slight
bow. She sat dumb, as though awaiting some catastrophe. The sudden
appearance of the husband had seemed to her ominous; but when he had
gone, his courtesy and evident blindness made him seem to her
ridiculous. So he also gave attention to this idiotic comedy! And there
was no loving fire in his eye as he looked at her sitting there! The
whole house had become hateful and cold to her. Here was a downfall;
there was nothing to restrain her any longer, for she abhorred Henri as
much as Juliette. Within her pocket she held the letter in her
convulsive grasp. At last, murmuring “Good-bye for the present,” she
quitted the room, her head swimming and the furniture seeming to dance
around her. And in her ears rang these words, uttered by Madame de
Guiraud:

“Adieu. You will perhaps think badly of me to-day, but you will have
some kindly feeling for me to-morrow, and, believe me, that is much
better than a caprice.”

When Hélène had shut the house door and reached the pavement, she drew
the letter with a violent, almost mechanical gesture from her pocket,
and dropped it into the letter-box. Then she stood motionless for a few
seconds, still dazed, her eyes glaring at the narrow brass plate which
had fallen back again in its place.

“It is done,” she exclaimed in a whisper.

Once more she pictured the rooms hung with pink cretonne. Malignon and
Juliette were there together; but all of a sudden the wall was riven
open, and the husband entered. She was conscious of no more, and a
great calm fell on her. Instinctively she looked around to see if any
one had observed her dropping the letter in the box. But the street was
deserted. Then she turned the corner and went back home.

“Have you been good, my darling?” she asked as she kissed Jeanne.

The child, still seated on the same chair, raised a gloomy face towards
her, and without answering threw both arms around her neck, and kissed
her with a great gasp. Her grief indeed had been intense.

At lunch-time Rosalie seemed greatly surprised. “Madame surely went for
a long walk!” said she.

“Why do you think so?” asked Hélène.

“Because madame is eating with such an appetite. It is long since
madame ate so heartily.”

It was true; she was very hungry; with her sudden relief she had felt
her stomach empty. She experienced a feeling of intense peace and
content. After the shocks of these last two days a stillness fell upon
her spirit, her limbs relaxed and became as supple as though she had
just left a bath. The only sensation that remained to her was one of
heaviness somewhere, an indefinable load that weighed upon her.

When she returned to her bedroom her eyes were at once directed towards
the clock, the hands of which pointed to twenty-five minutes past
twelve. Juliette’s assignation was for three o’clock. Two hours and a
half must still elapse. She made the reckoning mechanically. Moreover,
she was in no hurry; the hands of the clock were moving on, and no one
in the world could stop them. She left things to their own
accomplishment. A child’s cap, long since begun, was lying unfinished
on the table. She took it up and began to sew at the window. The room
was plunged in unbroken silence. Jeanne had seated herself in her usual
place, but her arms hung idly beside her.

“Mamma,” she said, “I cannot work; it’s no fun at all.”

“Well, my darling, don’t do anything. Oh! wait a minute, you can thread
my needles!”

In a languid way the child silently attended to the duty assigned her.
Having carefully cut some equal lengths of cotton, she spent a long
time in finding the eyes of the needles, and was only just ready with
one of them threaded when her mother had finished with the last.

“You see,” said the latter gently, “this will save time. The last of my
six little caps will be finished to-night.”

She turned round to glance at the clock—ten minutes past one. Still
nearly two hours. Juliette must now be beginning to dress. Henri had
received the letter. Oh! he would certainly go. The instructions were
precise; he would find the place without delay. But it all seemed so
far off still, and she felt no emotional fever, but went on sewing with
regular stitches as industriously as a work-girl. The minutes slipped
by one by one. At last two o’clock struck.

A ring at the bell came as a surprise.

“Who can it be, mother darling?” asked Jeanne, who had jumped on her
chair. “Oh! it’s you!” she continued, as Monsieur Rambaud entered the
room. “Why did you ring so loudly? You gave me quite a fright.”

The worthy man was in consternation—to tell the truth, his tug at the
bell had been a little too violent.

“I am not myself to-day, I’m ill,” the child resumed. “You must not
frighten me.”

Monsieur Rambaud displayed the greatest solicitude. What was the matter
with his poor darling? He only sat down, relieved, when Hélène had
signed to him that the child was in her dismals, as Rosalie was wont to
say. A call from him in the daytime was a rare occurrence, and so he at
once set about explaining the object of his visit. It concerned some
fellow-townsman of his, an old workman who could find no employment
owing to his advanced years, and who lived with his paralytic wife in a
tiny little room. Their wretchedness could not be pictured. He himself
had gone up that morning to make a personal investigation. Their
lodging was a mere hole under the tiles, with a swing window, through
whose broken panes the wind beat in. Inside, stretched on a mattress,
he had found a woman wrapped in an old curtain, while the man squatted
on the floor in a state of stupefaction, no longer finding sufficient
courage even to sweep the place.

“Oh! poor things, poor things!” exclaimed Hélène, moved to tears.

It was not the old workman who gave Monsieur Rambaud any uneasiness. He
would remove him to his own house and find him something to do. But
there was the wife with palsied frame, whom the husband dared not leave
for a moment alone, and who had to be rolled up like a bundle; where
could she be put? what was to be done with her?

“I thought of you,” he went on. “You must obtain her instant admission
to an asylum. I should have gone straight to Monsieur Deberle, but I
imagined you knew him better and would have greater influence with him.
If he would be kind enough to interest himself in the matter, it could
all be arranged to-morrow.”

Trembling with pity, her cheeks white, Jeanne listened to the tale.

“Oh, mamma!” she murmured with clasped hands, “be kind—get the
admission for the poor woman!”

“Yes, yes, of course!” said Hélène, whose emotion was increasing. “I
will speak to the doctor as soon as I can; he will himself take every
requisite step. Give me their names and the address, Monsieur Rambaud.”

He scribbled a line on the table, and said as he rose: “It is
thirty-five minutes past two. You would perhaps find the doctor at home
now.”

She had risen at the same time, and as she looked at the clock a fierce
thrill swept through her frame. In truth it was already thirty-five
minutes past two, and the hands were still creeping on. She stammered
out that the doctor must have started on his round of visits. Her eyes
were riveted on the dial. Meantime, Monsieur Rambaud remained standing
hat in hand, and beginning his story once more. These poor people had
sold everything, even their stove, and since the setting in of winter
had spent their days and nights alike without a fire. At the close of
December they had been four days without food. Hélène gave vent to a
cry of compassion. The hands of the clock now marked twenty minutes to
three. Monsieur Rambaud devoted another two minutes to his farewell:
“Well, I depend on you,” he said. And stooping to kiss Jeanne, he
added: “Good-bye, my darling.”

“Good-bye; don’t worry; mamma won’t forget. I’ll make her remember.”

When Hélène came back from the ante-room, whither she had gone in
company with Monsieur Rambaud, the hands of the clock pointed to a
quarter to three. Another quarter of an hour and all would be over. As
she stood motionless before the fireplace, the scene which was about to
be enacted flashed before her eyes: Juliette was already there; Henri
entered and surprised her. She knew the room; she could see the scene
in its minutest details with terrible vividness. And still affected by
Monsieur Rambaud’s awful story she felt a mighty shudder rise from her
limbs to her face. A voice cried out within her that what she had
done—the writing of that letter, that cowardly denunciation—was a
crime. The truth came to her with dazzling clearness. Yes, it was a
crime she had committed! She recalled to memory the gesture with which
she had flung the letter into the box; she recalled it with a sense of
stupor such as might come over one on seeing another commit an evil
action, without thought of intervening. She was as if awaking from a
dream. What was it that had happened? Why was she here, with eyes ever
fixed on the hands of that dial? Two more minutes had slipped away.

“Mamma,” said Jeanne, “if you like, we’ll go to see the doctor together
to-night. It will be a walk for me. I feel stifling to-day.”

Hélène, however, did not hear; thirteen minutes must yet elapse. But
she could not allow so horrible a thing to take place! In this stormy
awakening of her rectitude she felt naught but a furious craving to
prevent it. She must prevent it; otherwise she would be unable to live.
In a state of frenzy she ran about her bedroom.

“Ah, you’re going to take me!” exclaimed Jeanne joyously. “We’re going
to see the doctor at once, aren’t we, mother darling?”

“No, no,” Hélène answered, while she hunted for her boots, stooping to
look under the bed.

They were not to be found; but she shrugged her shoulders with supreme
indifference when it occurred to her that she could very well run out
in the flimsy house-slippers she had on her feet. She was now turning
the wardrobe topsy-turvy in her search for her shawl. Jeanne crept up
to her with a coaxing air: “Then you’re not going to the doctor’s,
mother darling?”

“No.”

“Say that you’ll take me all the same. Oh! do take me; it will be such
a pleasure!”

But Hélène had at last found her shawl, and she threw it over her
shoulders. Good heavens! only twelve minutes left—just time to run. She
would go—she would do something, no matter what. She would decide on
the way.

“Mamma dear, do please take me with you,” said Jeanne in tones that
grew lower and more imploring.

“I cannot take you,” said Hélène; “I’m going to a place where children
don’t go. Give me my bonnet.”

Jeanne’s face blanched. Her eyes grew dim, her words came with a gasp.
“Where are you going?” she asked.

The mother made no reply—she was tying the strings of her bonnet.

Then the child continued: “You always go out without me now. You went
out yesterday, you went out to-day, and you are going out again. Oh,
I’m dreadfully grieved, I’m afraid to be here all alone. I shall die if
you leave me here. Do you hear, mother darling? I shall die.”

Then bursting into loud sobs, overwhelmed by a fit of grief and rage,
she clung fast to Hélène’s skirts.

“Come, come, leave me; be good, I’m coming back,” her mother repeated.

“No, no! I won’t have it!” the child exclaimed through her sobs. “Oh!
you don’t love me any longer, or you would take me with you. Yes, yes,
I am sure you love other people better. Take me with you, take me with
you, or I’ll stay here on the floor; you’ll come back and find me on
the floor.”

She wound her little arms round her mother’s legs; she wept with face
buried in the folds of her dress; she clung to her and weighed upon her
to prevent her making a step forward. And still the hands of the clock
moved steadily on; it was ten minutes to three. Then Hélène thought
that she would never reach the house in time, and, nearly distracted,
she wrenched Jeanne from her grasp, exclaiming: “What an unbearable
child! This is veritable tyranny! If you sob any more, I’ll have
something to say to you!”

She left the room and slammed the door behind her. Jeanne had staggered
back to the window, her sobs suddenly arrested by this brutal
treatment, her limbs stiffened, her face quite white. She stretched her
hands towards the door, and twice wailed out the words: “Mamma! mamma!”
And then she remained where she had fallen on a chair, with eyes
staring and features distorted by the jealous thought that her mother
was deceiving her.

On reaching the street, Hélène hastened her steps. The rain had ceased,
but great drops fell from the housetops on to her shoulders. She had
resolved that she would reflect outside and fix on some plan. But now
she was only inflamed with a desire to reach the house. When she
reached the Passage des Eaux, she hesitated for just one moment. The
descent had become a torrent; the water of the gutters of the Rue
Raynouard was rushing down it. And as the stream bounded over the
steps, between the close-set walls, it broke here and there into foam,
whilst the edges of the stones, washed clear by the downpour, shone out
like glass. A gleam of pale light, falling from the grey sky, made the
Passage look whiter between the dusky branches of the trees. Hélène
went down it, scarcely raising her skirts. The water came up to her
ankles. She almost lost her flimsy slippers in the puddles; around her,
down the whole way, she heard a gurgling sound, like the murmuring of
brooklets coursing through the grass in the depths of the woods.

All at once she found herself on the stairs in front of the door. She
stood there, panting in a state of torture. Then her memory came back,
and she decided to knock at the kitchen.

“What! is it you?” exclaimed Mother Fétu.

There was none of the old whimper in her voice. Her little eyes were
sparkling, and a complacent grin had spread over the myriad wrinkles of
her face. All the old deference vanished, and she patted Hélène’s hands
as she listened to her broken words. The young woman gave her twenty
francs.

“May God requite you!” prayed Mother Fétu in her wonted style.
“Whatever you please, my dear!”



 CHAPTER XIX.


Leaning back in an easy-chair, with his legs stretched out before the
huge, blazing fire, Malignon sat waiting. He had considered it a good
idea to draw the window-curtains and light the wax candles. The outer
room, in which he had seated himself, was brilliantly illuminated by a
small chandelier and a pair of candelabra; whilst the other apartment
was plunged in shadow, the swinging crystal lamp alone casting on the
floor a twilight gleam. Malignon drew out his watch.

“The deuce!” he muttered. “Is she going to keep me waiting again?”

He gave vent to a slight yawn. He had been waiting for an hour already,
and it was small amusement to him. However, he rose and cast a glance
over his preparations.

The arrangement of the chairs did not please him, and he rolled a couch
in front of the fireplace. The cretonne hangings had a ruddy glow, as
they reflected the light of the candles; the room was warm, silent, and
cozy, while outside the wind came and went in sudden gusts. All at once
the young man heard three hurried knocks at the door. It was the
signal.

“At last!” he exclaimed aloud, his face beaming jubilantly.

He ran to open the door, and Juliette entered, her face veiled, her
figure wrapped in a fur mantle. While Malignon was gently closing the
door, she stood still for a moment, with the emotion that checked the
words on her lips undetected.

However, before the young man had had time to take her hand, she raised
her veil, and displayed a smiling face, rather pale, but quite
unruffled.

“What! you have lighted up the place!” she exclaimed. “Why? I thought
you hated candles in broad daylight!”

Malignon, who had been making ready to clasp her with a passionate
gesture that he had been rehearsing, was put somewhat out of
countenance by this remark, and hastened to explain that the day was
too wretched, and that the windows looked on to waste patches of
ground. Besides, night was his special delight.

“Well, one never knows how to take you,” she retorted jestingly. “Last
spring, at my children’s ball, you made such a fuss, declaring that the
place was like some cavern, some dead-house. However, let us say that
your taste has changed.”

She seemed to be paying a mere visit, and affected a courage which
slightly deepened her voice. This was the only indication of her
uneasiness. At times her chin twitched somewhat, as though she felt
some uneasiness in her throat. But her eyes were sparkling, and she
tasted to the full the keen pleasure born of her imprudence. She
thought of Madame de Chermette, of whom such scandalous stories were
related. Good heavens! it seemed strange all the same.

“Let us have a look round,” she began.

And thereupon she began inspecting the apartment. He followed in her
footsteps, while she gazed at the furniture, examined the walls, looked
upwards, and started back, chattering all the time.

“I don’t like your cretonne; it is so frightfully common!” said she.
“Where did you buy that abominable pink stuff? There’s a chair that
would be nice if the wood weren’t covered with gilding. Not a picture,
not a nick-nack—only your chandelier and your candelabra, which are by
no means in good style! Ah well, my dear fellow; I advise you to
continue laughing at my Japanese pavilion!”

She burst into a laugh, thus revenging herself on him for the old
affronts which still rankled in her breast.

“Your taste is a pretty one, and no mistake! You don’t know that my
idol is worth more than the whole lot of your things! A draper’s
shopman wouldn’t have selected that pink stuff. Was it your idea to
fascinate your washerwoman?”

Malignon felt very much hurt, and did not answer. He made an attempt to
lead her into the inner room; but she remained on the threshold,
declaring that she never entered such gloomy places. Besides, she could
see quite enough; the one room was worthy of the other. The whole of it
had come from the Saint-Antoine quarter.

But the hanging lamp was her special aversion. She attacked it with
merciless raillery—what a trashy thing it was, such as some little
work-girl with no furniture of her own might have dreamt of! Why, lamps
in the same style could be bought at all the bazaars at seven francs
fifty centimes apiece.

“I paid ninety francs for it,” at last ejaculated Malignon in his
impatience.

Thereupon she seemed delighted at having angered him.

On his self-possession returning, he inquired: “Won’t you take off your
cloak?”

“Oh, yes, I will,” she answered; “it is dreadfully warm here.”

She took off her bonnet as well, and this with her fur cloak he
hastened to deposit in the next room. When he returned, he found her
seated in front of the fire, still gazing round her. She had regained
her gravity, and was disposed to display a more conciliatory demeanor.

“It’s all very ugly,” she said; “still, you are not amiss here. The two
rooms might have been made very pretty.”

“Oh! they’re good enough for my purpose!” he thoughtlessly replied,
with a careless shrug of the shoulders.

The next moment, however, he bitterly regretted these silly words. He
could not possibly have been more impertinent or clumsy. Juliette hung
her head, and a sharp pang darted through her bosom. Then he sought to
turn to advantage the embarrassment into which he had plunged her.

“Juliette!” he said pleadingly, as he leaned towards her.

But with a gesture she forced him to resume his seat. It was at the
seaside, at Trouville, that Malignon, bored to death by the constant
sight of the sea, had hit upon the happy idea of falling in love. One
evening he had taken hold of Juliette’s hand. She had not seemed
offended; in fact, she had at first bantered him over it. Soon, though
her head was empty and her heart free, she imagined that she loved him.
She had, so far, done nearly everything that her friends did around
her; a lover only was lacking, and curiosity and a craving to be like
the others had impelled her to secure one. However, Malignon was vain
enough to imagine that he might win her by force of wit, and allowed
her time to accustom herself to playing the part of a coquette. So, on
the first outburst, which took place one night when they stood side by
side gazing at the sea like a pair of lovers in a comic opera, she had
repelled him, in her astonishment and vexation that he should spoil the
romance which served as an amusement to her.

On his return to Paris Malignon had vowed that he would be more skilful
in his attack. He had just reacquired influence over her, during a fit
of boredom which had come on with the close of a wearying winter, when
the usual dissipations, dinners, balls, and first-night performances
were beginning to pall on her with their dreary monotony. And at last,
her curiosity aroused, allured by the seeming mystery and piquancy of
an intrigue, she had responded to his entreaties by consenting to meet
him. However, so wholly unruffled were her feelings, that she was as
little disturbed, seated here by the side of Malignon, as when she paid
visits to artists’ studios to solicit pictures for her charity bazaars.

“Juliette! Juliette!” murmured the young man, striving to speak in
caressing tones.

“Come, be sensible,” she merely replied; and taking a Chinese fan from
the chimney-piece, she resumed—as much at her ease as though she had
been sitting in her own drawing-room: “You know we had a rehearsal this
morning. I’m afraid I have not made a very happy choice in Madame
Berthier. Her ‘Mathilda’ is a snivelling, insufferable affair. You
remember that delightful soliloquy when she addresses the purse—‘Poor
little thing, I kissed you a moment ago’? Well! she declaims it like a
school-girl who has learnt a complimentary greeting. It’s so
vexatious!”

“And what about Madame de Guiraud?” he asked, as he drew his chair
closer and took her hand.

“Oh! she is perfection. I’ve discovered in her a ‘Madame de Lery,’ with
some sarcasm and animation.”

While speaking she surrendered her hand to the young man, and he kissed
it between her sentences without her seeming to notice it.

“But the worst of it all, you know,” she resumed, “is your absence. In
the first place, you might say something to Madame Berthier; and
besides, we shall not be able to get a good _ensemble_ if you never
come.”

He had now succeeded in passing his arm round her waist.

“But as I know my part,” he murmured.

“Yes, that’s all very well; but there’s the arrangement of the scenes
to look after. It is anything but obliging on your part to refuse to
give us three or four mornings.”

She was unable to continue, for he was raining a shower of kisses on
her neck. At this she could feign ignorance no longer, but pushed him
away, tapping him the while with the Chinese fan which she still
retained in her hand. Doubtless, she had registered a vow that she
would not allow any further familiarity. Her face was now flushed by
the heat reflected from the fire, and her lips pouted with the very
expression of an inquisitive person whom her feelings astonish.
Moreover, she was really getting frightened.

“Leave me alone,” she stammered, with a constrained smile. “I shall get
angry.”

But he imagined that he had moved her, and once more took hold of her
hands. To her, however, a voice seemed to be crying out, “No!” It was
she herself protesting before she had even answered her own heart.

“No, no!” she said again. “Let me go; you are hurting me!” And
thereupon, as he refused to release her, she twisted herself violently
from his grasp. She was acting in obedience to some strange emotion;
she felt angry with herself and with him. In her agitation some
disjointed phrases escaped her lips. Yes, indeed, he rewarded her badly
for her trust. What a brute he was! She even called him a coward. Never
in her life would she see him again. But he allowed her to talk on, and
ran after her with a wicked and brutal laugh. And at last she could do
no more than gasp in the momentary refuge which she had sought behind a
chair. They were there, gazing at one another, her face transformed by
shame and his by passion, when a noise broke through the stillness. At
first they did not grasp its significance. A door had opened, some
steps crossed the room, and a voice called to them:

“Fly! fly! You will be caught!”

It was Hélène. Astounded, they both gazed at her. So great was their
stupefaction that they lost consciousness of their embarrassing
situation. Juliette indeed displayed no sign of confusion.

“Fly! fly!” said Hélène again. “Your husband will be here in two
minutes.”

“My husband!” stammered the young woman; “my husband!—why—for what
reason?”

She was losing her wits. Her brain was in a turmoil. It seemed to her
prodigious that Hélène should be standing there speaking to her of her
husband.

But Hélène made an angry gesture.

“Oh! if you think I’ve time to explain,” said she,—“he is on the way
here. I give you warning. Disappear at once, both of you.”

Then Juliette’s agitation became extraordinary. She ran about the rooms
like a maniac, screaming out disconnected sentences.

“My God! my God!—I thank you.—Where is my cloak?—How horrid it is, this
room being so dark!—Give me my cloak.—Bring me a candle, to help me to
find my cloak.—My dear, you mustn’t mind if I don’t stop to thank
you.—I can’t get my arms into the sleeves—no, I can’t get them in—no, I
can’t!”

She was paralyzed with fear, and Hélène was obliged to assist her with
her cloak. She put her bonnet on awry, and did not even tie the
ribbons. The worst of it, however, was that they lost quite a minute in
hunting for her veil, which had fallen on the floor. Her words came
with a gasp; her trembling hands moved about in bewilderment, fumbling
over her person to ascertain whether she might be leaving anything
behind which might compromise her.

“Oh, what a lesson! what a lesson! Thank goodness, it is well over!”

Malignon was very pale, and made a sorry appearance. His feet beat a
tattoo on the ground, as he realized that he was both scorned and
ridiculous. His lips could only give utterance to the wretched
question:

“Then you think I ought to go away as well?”

Then, as no answer was vouchsafed him, he took up his cane, and went on
talking by way of affecting perfect composure. They had plenty of time,
said he. It happened that there was another staircase, a small
servants’ staircase, now never used, but which would yet allow of their
descent. Madame Deberle’s cab had remained at the door; it would convey
both of them away along the quays. And again he repeated: “Now calm
yourself. It will be all right. See, this way.”

He threw open a door, and the three dingy, dilapidated, little rooms,
which had not been repaired and were full of dirt, appeared to view. A
puff of damp air entered the boudoir. Juliette, ere she stepped through
all that squalor, gave final expression to her disgust.

“How could I have come here?” she exclaimed in a loud voice. “What a
hole! I shall never forgive myself.”

“Be quick, be quick!” urged Hélène, whose anxiety was as great as her
own.

She pushed Juliette forward, but the young woman threw herself sobbing
on her neck. She was in the throes of a nervous reaction. She was
overwhelmed with shame, and would fain have defended herself, fain have
given a reason for being found in that man’s company. Then
instinctively she gathered up her skirts, as though she were about to
cross a gutter. With the tip of his boot Malignon, who had gone on
first, was clearing away the plaster which littered the back staircase.
The doors were shut once more.

Meantime, Hélène had remained standing in the middle of the
sitting-room. Silence reigned there, a warm, close silence, only
disturbed by the crackling of the burnt logs. There was a singing in
her ears, and she heard nothing. But after an interval, which seemed to
her interminable, the rattle of a cab suddenly resounded. It was
Juliette’s cab rolling away.

Then Hélène sighed, and she made a gesture of mute gratitude. The
thought that she would not be tortured by everlasting remorse for
having acted despicably filled her with pleasant and thankful feelings.
She felt relieved, deeply moved, and yet so weak, now that this awful
crisis was over, that she lacked the strength to depart in her turn. In
her heart she thought that Henri was coming, and that he must meet some
one in this place. There was a knock at the door, and she opened it at
once.

The first sensation on either side was one of bewilderment. Henri
entered, his mind busy with thoughts of the letter which he had
received, and his face pale and uneasy. But when he caught sight of her
a cry escaped his lips.

“You! My God! It was you!”

The cry betokened more astonishment than pleasure. But soon there came
a furious awakening of his love.

“You love me, you love me!” he stammered. “Ah! it was you, and I did
not understand.”

He stretched out his arm as he spoke; but Hélène, who had greeted his
entrance with a smile, now started back with wan cheeks. Truly she had
waited for him; she had promised herself that they would be together
for a moment, and that she would invent some fiction. Now, however,
full consciousness of the situation flashed upon her; Henri believed it
to be an assignation. Yet she had never for one moment desired such a
thing, and her heart rebelled.

“Henri, I pray you, release me,” said she.

He had grasped her by the wrists, and was drawing her slowly towards
him, as though to kiss her. The love that had been surging within him
for months, but which had grown less violent owing to the break in
their intimacy, now burst forth more fiercely than ever.

“Release me,” she resumed. “You are frightening me. I assure you, you
are mistaken.”

His surprise found voice once more.

“Was it not you then who wrote to me?” he asked.

She hesitated for a second. What could she say in answer?

“Yes,” she whispered at last.

She could not betray Juliette after having saved her. An abyss lay
before her into which she herself was slipping. Henri was now glancing
round the two rooms in wonderment at finding them illumined and
furnished in such gaudy style. He ventured to question her.

“Are these rooms yours?” he asked.

But she remained silent.

“Your letter upset me so,” he continued. “Hélène, you are hiding
something from me. For mercy’s sake, relieve my anxiety!”

She was not listening to him; she was reflecting that he was indeed
right in considering this to be an assignation. Otherwise, what could
she have been doing there? Why should she have waited for him? She
could devise no plausible explanation. She was no longer certain
whether she had not given him this rendezvous. A network of chance and
circumstance was enveloping her yet more tightly; there was no escape
from it. Each second found her less able to resist.

“You were waiting for me, you were waiting for me!” he repeated
passionately, as he bent his head to kiss her. And then as his lips met
hers she felt it beyond her power to struggle further; but, as though
in mute acquiescence, fell, half swooning and oblivious of the world,
upon his neck.


[Illustration]



 CHAPTER XX.


Jeanne, with her eyes fixed on the door, remained plunged in grief over
her mother’s sudden departure. She gazed around her; the room was empty
and silent; but she could still hear the waning sounds of hurrying
footsteps and rustling skirts, and last the slamming of the outer door.
Then nothing stirred, and she was alone.

All alone, all alone. Over the bed hung her mother’s dressing-gown,
flung there at random, the skirt bulging out and a sleeve lying across
the bolster, so that the garment looked like some person who had fallen
down overwhelmed with grief, and sobbing in misery. There was some
linen scattered about, and a black neckerchief lay on the floor like a
blot of mourning. The chairs were in disorder, the table had been
pushed in front of the wardrobe, and amidst it all she was quite alone.
She felt her tears choking her as she looked at the dressing-gown which
no longer garmented her mother, but was stretched there with the
ghastly semblance of death. She clasped her hands, and for the last
time wailed, “Mamma! mamma!” The blue velvet hangings, however,
deadened the sound. It was all over, and she was alone.

Then the time slipped away. The clock struck three. A dismal, dingy
light came in through the windows. Dark clouds were sailing over the
sky, which made it still gloomier. Through the panes of glass, which
were covered with moisture, Paris could only be dimly seen; the watery
vapor blurred it; its far-away outskirts seemed hidden by thick smoke.
Thus the city even was no longer there to keep the child company, as on
bright afternoons, when, on leaning out a little, it seemed to her as
though she could touch each district with her hand.

What was she to do? Her little arms tightened in despair against her
bosom. This desertion seemed to her mournful, passing all bounds,
characterized by an injustice and wickedness that enraged her. She had
never known anything so hateful; it struck her that everything was
going to vanish; nothing of the old life would ever come back again.
Then she caught sight of her doll seated near her on a chair, with its
back against a cushion, and its legs stretched out, its eyes staring at
her as though it were a human being. It was not her mechanical doll,
but a large one with a pasteboard head, curly hair, and eyes of enamel,
whose fixed look sometimes frightened her. What with two years’
constant dressing and undressing, the paint had got rubbed off the chin
and cheeks, and the limbs, of pink leather stuffed with sawdust, had
become limp and wrinkled like old linen. The doll was just now in its
night attire, arrayed only in a bed-gown, with its arms twisted, one in
the air and the other hanging downwards. When Jeanne realized that
there was still some one with her, she felt for an instant less
unhappy. She took the doll in her arms and embraced it ardently, while
its head swung back, for its neck was broken. Then she chattered away
to it, telling it that it was Jeanne’s best-behaved friend, that it had
a good heart, for it never went out and left Jeanne alone. It was, said
she, her treasure, her kitten, her dear little pet. Trembling with
agitation, striving to prevent herself from weeping again, she covered
it all over with kisses.

This fit of tenderness gave her some revengeful consolation, and the
doll fell over her arm like a bundle of rags. She rose and looked out,
with her forehead against a window-pane. The rain had ceased falling,
and the clouds of the last downpour, driven before the wind, were
nearing the horizon towards the heights of Père-Lachaise, which were
wrapped in gloom; and against this stormy background Paris, illumined
by a uniform clearness, assumed a lonely, melancholy grandeur. It
seemed to be uninhabited, like one of those cities seen in a
nightmare—the reflex of a world of death. To Jeanne it certainly
appeared anything but pretty. She was now idly dreaming of those she
had loved since her birth. Her oldest sweetheart, the one of her early
days at Marseilles, had been a huge cat, which was very heavy; she
would clasp it with her little arms, and carry it from one chair to
another without provoking its anger in the least; but it had
disappeared, and that was the first misfortune she remembered. She had
next had a sparrow, but it died; she had picked it up one morning from
the bottom of its cage. That made two. She never reckoned the toys
which got broken just to grieve her, all kinds of wrongs which had
caused her much suffering because she was so sensitive. One doll in
particular, no higher than one’s hand, had driven her to despair by
getting its head smashed; she had cherished it to a such a degree that
she had buried it by stealth in a corner of the yard; and some time
afterwards, overcome by a craving to look on it once more, she had
disinterred it, and made herself sick with terror whilst gazing on its
blackened and repulsive features.

However, it was always the others who were the first to fail in their
love. They got broken; they disappeared. The separation, at all events,
was invariably their fault. Why was it? She herself never changed. When
she loved any one, her love lasted all her life. Her mind could not
grasp the idea of neglect and desertion; such things seemed to her
monstrously wicked, and never occurred to her little heart without
giving it a deadly pang. She shivered as a host of vague ideas slowly
awoke within her. So people parted one day; each went his own way,
never to meet or love each other again. With her eyes fixed on the
limitless and dreary expanse of Paris, she sat chilled by all that her
childish passion could divine of life’s hard blows.

Meantime her breath was fast dimming the glass. With her hands she
rubbed away the vapor that prevented her from looking out. Several
monuments in the distance, wet with the rain, glittered like browny
ice. There were lines of houses, regular and distinct, which, with
their fronts standing out pale amidst the surrounding roofs, looked
like outstretched linen—some tremendous washing spread to dry on fields
of ruddy grass. The sky was clearing, and athwart the tail of the cloud
which still cloaked the city in gloom the milky rays of the sun were
beginning to stream. A brightness seemed to be hesitating over some of
the districts; in certain places the sky would soon begin to smile.
Jeanne gazed below, over the quay and the slopes of the Trocadero; the
street traffic was about to begin afresh after that violent downpour.
The cabs again passed by at a jolting crawl, while the omnibuses
rattled along the still lonely streets with a louder noise than usual.
Umbrellas were being shut up, and wayfarers, who had taken shelter
beneath the trees, ventured from one foot pavement to another through
muddy streams which were rushing into the gutters.

Jeanne noticed with special interest a lady and a little girl, both of
them fashionably dressed, who were standing beneath the awning of a
toy-shop near the bridge. Doubtless they had been caught in the shower,
and had taken refuge there. The child would fain have carried away the
whole shop, and had pestered her mother to buy her a hoop. Both were
now leaving, however, and the child was running along full of glee,
driving the hoop before her. At this Jeanne’s melancholy returned with
intensified force; her doll became hideous. She longed to have a hoop
and to be down yonder and run along, while her mother slowly walked
behind her and cautioned her not to go too far. Then, however,
everything became dim again. At each minute she had to rub the glass
clear. She had been enjoined never to open the window; but she was full
of rebellious thoughts; she surely might gaze out of the window, if she
were not to be taken for a walk. So she opened it, and leaned out like
a grown-up person—in imitation of her mother when she ensconced herself
there and lapsed into silence.

The air was mild, and moist in its mildness, which seemed to her
delightful. A darkness slowly rising over the horizon induced her to
lift her head. To her imagination it seemed as if some gigantic bird
with outstretched wings were hovering on high. At first she saw
nothing; the sky was clear; but at last, at the angle of the roof, a
gloomy cloud made its appearance, sailing on and speedily enveloping
the whole heaven. Another squall was rising before a roaring west wind.
The daylight was quickly dying away, and the city grew dark, amidst a
livid shimmer, which imparted to the house-fronts a rusty tinge.

Almost immediately afterwards the rain fell. The streets were swept by
it; the umbrellas were again opened; and the passers-by, fleeing in
every direction, vanished like chaff. One old lady gripped her skirts
with both hands, while the torrent beat down on her bonnet as though it
were falling from a spout. And the rain travelled on; the cloud kept
pace with the water ragefully falling upon Paris; the big drops
enfiladed the avenues of the quays, with a gallop like that of a
runaway horse, raising a white dust which rolled along the ground at a
prodigious speed. They also descended the Champs-Elysees, plunged into
the long narrow streets of the Saint-Germain district, and at a bound
filled up all the open spaces and deserted squares. In a few seconds,
behind this veil which grew thicker and thicker, the city paled and
seemed to melt away. It was as though a curtain were being drawn
obliquely from heaven to earth. Masses of vapor arose too; and the
vast, splashing pit-a-pat was as deafening as any rattle of old iron.

Jeanne, giddy with the noise, started back. A leaden wall seemed to
have been built up before her. But she was fond of rain; so she
returned, leaned out again, and stretched out her arms to feel the big,
cold rain-drops splashing on her hands. This gave her some amusement,
and she got wet to the sleeves. Her doll must, of course, like herself,
have a headache, and she therefore hastened to put it astride the
window-rail, with its back against the side wall. She thought, as she
saw the drops pelting down upon it, that they were doing it some good.
Stiffly erect, its little teeth displayed in a never-fading smile, the
doll sat there, with one shoulder streaming with water, while every
gust of wind lifted up its night-dress. Its poor body, which had lost
some of its sawdust stuffing, seemed to be shivering.

What was the reason that had prevented her mother from taking her with
her? wondered Jeanne. The rain that beat down on her hands seemed a
fresh inducement to be out. It must be very nice, she argued, in the
street. Once more there flashed on her mind’s eye the little girl
driving her hoop along the pavement. Nobody could deny that she had
gone out with her mamma. Both of them had even seemed to be exceedingly
well pleased. This was sufficient proof that little girls were taken
out when it rained.

But, then, willingness on her mother’s part was requisite. Why had she
been unwilling? Then Jeanne again thought of her big cat which had gone
away over the houses opposite with its tail in the air, and of the poor
little sparrow which she had tempted with food when it was dead, and
which had pretended that it did not understand. That kind of thing
always happened to her; nobody’s love for her was enduring enough. Oh!
she would have been ready in a couple of minutes; when she chose she
dressed quickly enough; it was only a question of her boots, which
Rosalie buttoned, her jacket, her hat, and it was done. Her mother
might easily have waited two minutes for her. When she left home to see
her friends, she did not turn her things all topsy-turvy as she had
done that afternoon; when she went to the Bois de Boulogne, she led her
gently by the hand, and stopped with her outside every shop in the Rue
de Passy.

Jeanne could not get to the bottom of it; her black eyebrows frowned,
and her delicate features put on a stern, jealous expression which made
her resemble some wicked old maid. She felt in a vague way that her
mother had gone to some place where children never go. She had not been
taken out because something was to be hidden from her. This thought
filled her with unutterable sadness, and her heart throbbed with pain.

The rain was becoming finer, and through the curtain which veiled Paris
glimpses of buildings were occasionally afforded. The dome of the
Invalides, airy and quivering, was the first to reappear through the
glittering vibration of the downpour. Next, some of the districts
emerged into sight as the torrent slackened; the city seemed to rise
from a deluge that had overwhelmed it, its roofs all streaming, and
every street filled with a river of water from which vapor still
ascended. But suddenly there was a burst of light; a ray of sunshine
fell athwart the shower. For a moment it was like a smile breaking
through tears.

The rain had now ceased to fall over the Champs-Elysees district; but
it was sabring the left bank, the Cité, and the far-away suburbs; in
the sunshine the drops could be seen flashing down like innumerable
slender shafts of steel. On the right a rainbow gleamed forth. As the
gush of light streamed across the sky, touches of pink and blue
appeared on the horizon, a medley of color, suggestive of a childish
attempt at water-color painting. Then there was a sudden blaze—a fall
of golden snow, as it were, over a city of crystal. But the light died
away, a cloud rolled up, and the smile faded amidst tears; Paris
dripped and dripped, with a prolonged sobbing noise, beneath the
leaden-hued sky.

Jeanne, with her sleeves soaked, was seized with a fit of coughing. But
she was unconscious of the chill that was penetrating her; she was now
absorbed in the thought that her mother had gone into Paris. She had
come at last to know three buildings—the Invalides, the Panthéon, and
the Tower of St.-Jacques. She now slowly went over their names, and
pointed them out with her finger without attempting to think what they
might be like were she nearer to them. Without doubt, however, her
mother was down there; and she settled in her mind that she was in the
Panthéon, because it astonished her the most, huge as it was, towering
up through the air, like the city’s head-piece. Then she began to
question herself. Paris was still to her the place where children never
go; she was never taken there. She would have liked to know it,
however, that she might have quietly said to herself: “Mamma is there;
she is doing such and such a thing.” But it all seemed to her too
immense; it was impossible to find any one there. Then her glance
travelled towards the other end of the plain. Might her mother not
rather be in one of that cluster of houses on the hill to the left? or
nearer in, beneath those huge trees, whose bare branches seemed as dead
as firewood? Oh! if she could only have lifted up the roofs! What could
that gloomy edifice be? What was that street along which something of
enormous bulk seemed to be running? And what could that district be at
sight of which she always felt frightened, convinced as she was that
people fought one another there? She could not see it distinctly, but,
to tell the truth, its aspects stirred one; it was very ugly, and must
not be looked at by little girls.

A host of indefinable ideas and suppositions, which brought her to the
verge of weeping, awoke trouble in Jeanne’s ignorant, childish mind.
From the unknown world of Paris, with its smoke, its endless noises,
its powerful, surging life, an odor of wretchedness, filth, and crime
seemed to be wafted to her through the mild, humid atmosphere, and she
was forced to avert her head, as though she had been leaning over one
of those pestilential pits which breathe forth suffocation from their
unseen horrors. The Invalides, the Panthéon, the Tower of
Saint-Jacques—these she named and counted; but she knew nothing of
anything else, and she sat there, terrified and ashamed, with the
all-absorbing thought that her mother was among those wicked places, at
some spot which she was unable to identify in the depths yonder.

Suddenly Jeanne turned round. She could have sworn that somebody had
walked into the bedroom, that a light hand had even touched her
shoulder. But the room was empty, still in the same disorder as when
Hélène had left. The dressing-gown, flung across the pillow, still lay
in the same mournful, weeping attitude. Then Jeanne, with pallid
cheeks, cast a glance around, and her heart nearly burst within her.
She was alone! she was alone! And, O Heaven, her mother, in forsaking
her, had pushed her with such force that she might have fallen to the
floor. The thought came back to her with anguish; she again seemed to
feel the pain of that outrage on her wrists and shoulders. Why had she
been struck? She had been good, and had nothing to reproach herself
with. She was usually spoken to with such gentleness that the
punishment she had received awoke feelings of indignation within her.
She was thrilled by a sensation of childish fear, as in the old times
when she was threatened with the approach of the wolf, and looked for
it and saw it not: it was lingering in some shady corner, with many
other things that were going to overwhelm her. However, she was full of
suspicion; her face paled and swelled with jealous fury. Of a sudden,
the thought that her mother must love those whom she had gone to see
far more than she loved her came upon her with such crushing force that
her little hands clutched her bosom. She knew it now; yes, her mother
was false to her.

Over Paris a great sorrow seemed to be brooding, pending the arrival of
a fresh squall. A murmur travelled through the darkened air, and heavy
clouds were hovering overhead. Jeanne, still at the window, was
convulsed by another fit of coughing; but in the chill she experienced
she felt herself revenged; she would willingly have had her illness
return. With her hands pressed against her bosom, she grew conscious of
some pain growing more intense within her. It was an agony to which her
body abandoned itself. She trembled with fear, and did not again
venture to turn round; she felt quite cold at the idea of glancing into
the room any more. To be little means to be without strength. What
could this new complaint be which filled her with mingled shame and
bitter pleasure? With stiffened body, she sat there as if waiting—every
one of her pure and innocent limbs in an agony of revulsion. From the
innermost recesses of her being all her woman’s feelings were aroused,
and there darted through her a pang, as though she had received a blow
from a distance. Then with failing heart she cried out chokingly:
“Mamma! mamma!” No one could have known whether she called to her
mother for aid, or whether she accused her of having inflicted on her
the pain which seemed to be killing her.

At that moment the tempest burst. Through the deep and ominous
stillness the wind howled over the city, which was shrouded in
darkness; and afterwards there came a long-continued
crashing—window-shutters beating to and fro, slates flying,
chimney-tops and gutter-pipes rattling on to the pavements. For a few
seconds a calm ensued; then there blew another gust, which swept along
with such mighty strength that the ocean of roofs seemed convulsed,
tossing about in waves, and then disappearing in a whirlpool. For a
moment chaos reigned. Some enormous clouds, like huge blots of ink,
swept through a host of smaller ones, which were scattered and floated
like shreds of rag which the wind tore to pieces and carried off thread
by thread. A second later two clouds rushed upon one another, and rent
one another with crashing reports, which seemed to sprinkle the coppery
expanse with wreckage; and every time the hurricane thus veered,
blowing from every point of the compass, the thunder of opposing navies
resounded in the atmosphere, and an awful rending and sinking followed,
the hanging fragments of the clouds, jagged like huge bits of broken
walls, threatening Paris with imminent destruction. The rain was not
yet falling. But suddenly a cloud burst above the central quarters, and
a water-spout ascended the Seine. The river’s green ribbon, riddled and
stirred to its depths by the splashing drops, became transformed into a
stream of mud; and one by one, behind the downpour, the bridges
appeared to view again, slender and delicately outlined in the mist;
while, right and left, the trees edging the grey pavements of the
deserted quays were shaken furiously by the wind. Away in the
background, over Notre-Dame, the cloud divided and poured down such a
torrent of water that the island of La Cité seemed submerged. Far above
the drenched houses the cathedral towers alone rose up against a patch
of clear sky, like floating waifs.

On every side the water now rushed down from the heavens. Three times
in succession did the right bank appear to be engulfed. The first fall
inundated the distant suburbs, gradually extending its area, and
beating on the turrets of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Saint-Jacques,
which glistened in the rain. Then two other downpours, following in hot
haste one upon the other, streamed over Montmartre and the
Champs-Elysees. At times a glimpse could be obtained of the glass roof
of the Palace of Industry, steaming, as it were, under the splashing
water; of Saint-Augustin, whose cupola swam in a kind of fog like a
clouded moon; of the Madeleine, which spread out its flat roof, looking
like some ancient court whose flagstones had been freshly scoured;
while, in the rear, the huge mass of the Opera House made one think of
a dismasted vessel, which with its hull caught between two rocks, was
resisting the assaults of the tempest.

On the left bank of the Seine, also hidden by a watery veil, you
perceived the dome of the Invalides, the spires of Sainte-Clotilde, and
the towers of Saint-Sulpice, apparently melting away in the moist
atmosphere. Another cloud spread out, and from the colonnade of the
Panthéon sheets of water streamed down, threatening to inundate what
lay below. And from that moment the rain fell upon the city in all
directions; one might have imagined that the heavens were precipitating
themselves on the earth; streets vanished, sank into the depths, and
men reappeared, drifting on the surface, amidst shocks whose violence
seemed to foretell the end of the city. A prolonged roar ascended—the
roar of all the water rushing along the gutters and falling into the
drains. And at last, above muddy-looking Paris, which had assumed with
the showers a dingy-yellow hue, the livid clouds spread themselves out
in uniform fashion, without stain or rift. The rain was becoming finer,
and was falling sharply and vertically; but whenever the wind again
rose, the grey hatching was curved into mighty waves, and the
raindrops, driven almost horizontally, could be heard lashing the walls
with a hissing sound, till, with the fall of the wind, they again fell
vertically, peppering the soil with a quiet obstinacy, from the heights
of Passy away to the level plain of Charenton. Then the vast city, as
though overwhelmed and lifeless after some awful convulsion, seemed but
an expanse of stony ruins under the invisible heavens.

Jeanne, who had sunk down by the window, had wailed out once more,
“Mamma! mamma!” A terrible weariness deprived her limbs of their
strength as she lingered there, face to face with the engulfing of
Paris. Amidst her exhaustion, whilst the breeze played with her
tresses, and her face remained wet with rain, she preserved some taste
of the bitter pleasure which had made her shiver, while within her
heart there was a consciousness of some irretrievable woe. Everything
seemed to her to have come to an end; she realized that she was getting
very old. The hours might pass away, but now she did not even cast a
glance into the room. It was all the same to her to be forgotten and
alone. Such despair possessed the child’s heart that all around her
seemed black. If she were scolded, as of old, when she was ill, it
would surely be very wrong. She was burning with fever; something like
a sick headache was weighing on her. Surely too, but a moment ago,
something had snapped within her. She could not prevent it; she must
inevitably submit to whatever might be her fate. Besides, weariness was
prostrating her. She had joined her hands over the window-bar, on which
she rested her head, and, though at times she opened her eyes to gaze
at the rain, drowsiness was stealing over her.

And still and ever the rain kept beating down; the livid sky seemed
dissolving in water. A final blast of wind had passed by; a monotonous
roar could be heard. Amidst a solemn quiescence the sovereign rain
poured unceasingly upon the silent, deserted city it had conquered; and
behind this sheet of streaked crystal Paris showed like some phantom
place, with quivering outlines, which seemed to be melting away. To
Jeanne the scene now brought nothing beyond sleepiness and horrid
dreams, as though all the mystery and unknown evil were rising up in
vapor to pierce her through and make her cough. Every time she opened
her eyes she was seized with a fit of coughing, and would remain for a
few seconds looking at the scene; which as her head fell back once
more, clung to her mind, and seemed to spread over her and crush her.

The rain was still falling. What hour might it be now? Jeanne could not
have told. Perhaps the clock had ceased going. It seemed to her too
great a fatigue to turn round. It was surely at least a week since her
mother had quitted her. She had abandoned all expectation of her
return; she was resigned to the prospect of never seeing her again.
Then she became oblivious of everything—the wrongs which had been done
her, the pain which she had just experienced, even the loneliness in
which she was suffered to remain. A weight, chilly like stone, fell
upon her. This only was certain: she was very unhappy—ah! as unhappy as
the poor little waifs to whom she gave alms as they huddled together in
gateways. Ah! Heaven! how coughing racked one, and how penetrating was
the cold when there was no nobody to love one! She closed her heavy
eyelids, succumbing to a feverish stupor; and the last of her thoughts
was a vague memory of childhood, of a visit to a mill, full of yellow
wheat, and of tiny grains slipping under millstones as huge as houses.

Hours and hours passed away; each minute was a century. The rain beat
down without ceasing, with ever the same tranquil flow, as though all
time and eternity were allowed it to deluge the plain. Jeanne had
fallen asleep. Close by, her doll still sat astride the iron
window-bar; and, with its legs in the room and its head outside, its
nightdress clinging to its rosy skin, its eyes glaring, and its hair
streaming with water, it looked not unlike a drowned child; and so
emaciated did it appear in its comical yet distressing posture of
death, that it almost brought tears of pity to the eyes. Jeanne coughed
in her sleep; but now she never once opened her eyes. Her head swayed
to and fro on her crossed arms, and the cough spent itself in a wheeze
without awakening her. Nothing more existed for her. She slept in the
darkness. She did not even withdraw her hand, from whose cold, red
fingers bright raindrops were trickling one by one into the vast
expanse which lay beneath the window. This went on for hours and hours.
Paris was slowly waning on the horizon, like some phantom city; heaven
and earth mingled together in an indistinguishable jumble; and still
and ever with unflagging persistency did the grey rain fall.



 CHAPTER XXI.


Night had long gathered in when Hélène returned. From her umbrella the
water dripped on step after step, whilst clinging to the balusters she
ascended the staircase. She stood for a few seconds outside her door to
regain her breath; the deafening rush of the rain still sounded in her
ears; she still seemed to feel the jostling of hurrying
foot-passengers, and to see the reflections from the street-lamps
dancing in the puddles. She was walking in a dream, filled with the
surprise of the kisses that had been showered upon her; and as she
fumbled for her key she believed that her bosom felt neither remorse
nor joy. Circumstances had compassed it all; she could have done naught
to prevent it. But the key was not to be found; it was doubtless
inside, in the pocket of her other gown. At this discovery her vexation
was intense; it seemed as though she were denied admission to her own
home. It became necessary that she should ring the bell.

“Oh! it’s madame!” exclaimed Rosalie as she opened the door. “I was
beginning to feel uneasy.”

She took the umbrella, intending to place it in the kitchen sink, and
then rattled on:

“Good gracious! what torrents! Zephyrin, who has just come, was
drenched to the skin. I took the liberty, madame, of keeping him to
dinner. He has leave till ten o’clock.”

Hélène followed her mechanically. She felt a desire to look once more
on everything in her home before removing her bonnet.

“You have done quite right, my girl,” she answered.

For a moment she lingered on the kitchen threshold, gazing at the
bright fire. Then she instinctively opened the door of a cupboard, and
promptly shut it again. Everything was in its place, chairs and tables
alike; she found them all again, and their presence gave her pleasure.
Zephyrin had, in the meantime, struggled respectfully to his feet. She
nodded to him, smiling.

“I didn’t know whether to put the roast on,” began the maid.

“Why, what time is it?” asked Hélène.

“Oh, it’s close on seven o’clock, madame.”

“What! seven o’clock!”

Astonishment riveted her to the floor; she had lost all consciousness
of time, and seemed to awaken from a dream.

“And where’s Jeanne?” she asked.

“Oh! she has been very good, madame. I even think she must have fallen
asleep, for I haven’t heard her for some time.”

“Haven’t you given her a light?”

Embarrassment closed Rosalie’s lips; she was unwilling to relate that
Zephyrin had brought her some pictures which had engrossed her
attention. Mademoiselle had never made the least stir, so she could
scarcely have wanted anything. Hélène, however, paid no further heed to
her, but ran into the room, where a dreadful chill fell upon her.

“Jeanne! Jeanne!” she called.

No answer broke the stillness. She stumbled against an arm-chair. From
the dining-room, the door of which she had left ajar, some light
streamed across a corner of the carpet. She felt a shiver come over
her, and she could have declared that the rain was falling in the room,
with its moist breath and continuous streaming. Then, on turning her
head, she at once saw the pale square formed by the open window and the
gloomy grey of the sky.

“Who can have opened this window?” she cried. “Jeanne! Jeanne!”

Still no answering word. A mortal terror fell on Hélène’s heart. She
must look out of this window; but as she felt her way towards it, her
hands lighted on a head of hair—it was Jeanne’s. And then, as Rosalie
entered with a lamp, the child appeared with blanched face, sleeping
with her cheek upon her crossed arms, while the big raindrops from the
roof splashed upon her. Her breathing was scarcely perceptible, so
overcome she was with despair and fatigue. Among the lashes of her
large, bluey eyelids there were still two heavy tears.

“The unhappy child!” stammered Hélène. “Oh, heavens! she’s icy cold! To
fall asleep there, at such a time, when she had been expressly
forbidden to touch the window! Jeanne, Jeanne, speak to me; wake up,
Jeanne!”

Rosalie had prudently vanished. The child, on being raised in her
mother’s embrace, let her head drop as though she were unable to shake
off the leaden slumber that had seized upon her. At last, however, she
raised her eyelids; but the glare of the lamp dazzled her, and she
remained benumbed and stupid.

“Jeanne, it’s I! What’s wrong with you? See, I’ve just come back,” said
Hélène.

But the child seemingly failed to understand her; in her stupefaction
she could only murmur: “Oh! Ah!”

She gazed inquiringly at her mother, as though she failed to recognize
her. And suddenly she shivered, growing conscious of the cold air of
the room. Her memory was awakening, and the tears rolled from her
eyelids to her cheeks. Then she commenced to struggle, in the evident
desire to be left alone.

“It’s you, it’s you! Oh, leave me; you hold me too tight! I was so
comfortable.”

She slipped from her mother’s arms with affright in her face. Her
uneasy looks wandered from Hélène’s hands to her shoulders; one of
those hands was ungloved, and she started back from the touch of the
moist palm and warm fingers with a fierce resentment, as though fleeing
from some stranger’s caress. The old perfume of vervain had died away;
Hélène’s fingers had surely become greatly attenuated, and her hand was
unusually soft. This skin was no longer hers, and its touch exasperated
Jeanne.

“Come, I’m not angry with you,” pleaded Hélène. “But, indeed, have you
behaved well? Come and kiss me.”

Jeanne, however, still recoiled from her. She had no remembrance of
having seen her mother dressed in that gown or cloak. Besides, she
looked so wet and muddy. Where had she come from dressed in that dowdy
style.

“Kiss me, Jeanne,” repeated Hélène.

But her voice also seemed strange; in Jeanne’s ears it sounded louder.
Her old heartache came upon her once more, as when an injury had been
done her; and unnerved by the presence of what was unknown and horrible
to her, divining, however, that she was breathing an atmosphere of
falsehood, she burst into sobs.

“No, no, I entreat you! You left me all alone; and oh! I’ve been so
miserable!”

“But I’m back again, my darling. Don’t weep any more; I’ve come home!”

“Oh no, no! it’s all over now! I don’t wish for you any more! Oh, I
waited and waited, and have been so wretched!”

Hélène took hold of the child again, and gently sought to draw her to
her bosom; but she resisted stubbornly, plaintively exclaiming:

“No, no; it will never be the same! You are not the same!”

“What! What are you talking of, child?”

“I don’t know; you are not the same.”

“Do you mean to say that I don’t love you any more?”

“I don’t know; you are no longer the same! Don’t say no. You don’t feel
the same! It’s all over, over, over. I wish to die!”

With blanching face Hélène again clasped her in her arms. Did her
looks, then, reveal her secret? She kissed her, but a shudder ran
through the child’s frame, and an expression of such misery crept into
her face that Hélène forbore to print a second kiss upon her brow. She
still kept hold of her, but neither of them uttered a word. Jeanne’s
sobbing fell to a whisper, a nervous revolt stiffening her limbs the
while. Hélène’s first thought was that much notice ought not to be paid
to a child’s whims; but to her heart there stole a feeling of secret
shame, and the weight of her daughter’s body on her shoulder brought a
blush to her cheeks. She hastened to put Jeanne down, and each felt
relieved.

“Now, be good, and wipe your eyes,” said Hélène. “We’ll make everything
all right.”

The child acquiesced in all gentleness, but seemed somewhat afraid and
glanced covertly at her mother. All at once her frame was shaken by a
fit of coughing.

“Good heavens! why, you’ve made yourself ill now! I cannot stay away
from you a moment. Did you feel cold?

“Yes, mamma; in the back.”

“See here; put on this shawl. The dining-room stove is lighted, and
you’ll soon feel warm. Are you hungry?”

Jeanne hesitated. It was on the tip of her tongue to speak the truth
and say no; but she darted a side glance at her mother, and, recoiling,
answered in a whisper: “Yes, mamma.”

“Ah, well, it will be all right,” exclaimed Hélène, desirous of
tranquillizing herself. “Only, I entreat you, you naughty child, don’t
frighten me like this again.”

On Rosalie re-entering the room to announce that dinner was ready,
Hélène severely scolded her. The little maid’s head drooped; she
stammered out that it was all very true, for she ought to have looked
better after mademoiselle. Then, hoping to mollify her mistress, she
busied herself in helping her to change her clothes. “Good gracious!
madame was in a fine state!” she remarked, as she assisted in removing
each mud-stained garment, at which Jeanne glared suspiciously, still
racked by torturing thoughts.

“Madame ought to feel comfortable now,” exclaimed Rosalie when it was
all over. “It’s awfully nice to get into dry clothes after a
drenching.”

Hélène, on finding herself once more in her blue dressing-gown, gave
vent to a slight sigh, as though a new happiness had welled up within
her. She again regained her old cheerfulness; she had rid herself of a
burden in throwing off those bedraggled garments. She washed her face
and hands; and while she stood there, still glistening with moisture,
her dressing-gown buttoned up to her chin, she was slowly approached by
Jeanne, who took one of her hands and kissed it.

At table, however, not a word passed between mother and daughter. The
fire flared with a merry roar, and there was a look of happiness about
the little dining-room, with its bright mahogany and gleaming china.
But the old stupor which drove away all thought seemed to have again
fallen on Hélène; she ate mechanically, though with an appearance of
appetite. Jeanne sat facing her, and quietly watched her over her
glass, noting each of her movements. But all at once the child again
coughed, and her mother, who had become unconscious of her presence,
immediately displayed lively concern.

“Why, you’re coughing again! Aren’t you getting warm?”

“Oh, yes, mamma; I’m very warm.”

Hélène leaned towards her to feel her hand and ascertain whether she
was speaking the truth. Only then did she perceive that her plate was
still full.

“Why, you said you were hungry. Don’t you like what you have there?”

“Oh, yes, mamma; I’m eating away.”

With an effort Jeanne swallowed a mouthful. Hélène looked at her for a
time, but soon again began dreaming of the fatal room which she had
come from. It did not escape the child that her mother took little
interest in her now. As the dinner came to an end, her poor wearied
frame sank down on the chair, and she sat there like some bent, aged
woman, with the dim eyes of one of those old maids for whom love is
past and gone.

“Won’t mademoiselle have any jam?” asked Rosalie. “If not, can I remove
the cloth?”

Hélène still sat there with far-away looks.

“Mamma, I’m sleepy,” exclaimed Jeanne in a changed voice. “Will you let
me go to bed? I shall feel better in bed.”

Once more her mother seemed to awake with a start to consciousness of
her surroundings.

“You are suffering, my darling! where do you feel the pain? Tell me.”

“No, no; I told you I’m all right! I’m sleepy, and it’s already time
for me to go to bed.”

She left her chair and stood up, as though to prove that there was no
illness threatening her: but her benumbed feet tottered over the floor
on her way to the bedroom. She leaned against the furniture, and her
hardihood was such that not a tear came from her, despite the feverish
fire darting through her frame. Her mother followed to assist her to
bed; but the child had displayed such haste in undressing herself that
she only arrived in time to tie up her hair for the night. Without need
of any helping hand Jeanne slipped between the sheets, and quickly
closed her eyes.

“Are you comfortable?” asked Hélène, as she drew up the bedclothes and
carefully tucked her in.

“Yes, quite comfortable. Leave me alone, and don’t disturb me. Take
away the lamp.”

Her only yearning was to be alone in the darkness, that she might
reopen her eyes and chew the cud of her sorrows, with no one near to
watch her. When the light had been carried away, her eyes opened quite
wide.

Nearby, in the meantime, Hélène was pacing up and down her room. She
was seized with a wondrous longing to be up and moving about; the idea
of going to bed seemed to her insufferable. She glanced at the
clock—twenty minutes to nine; what was she to do? she rummaged about in
a drawer, but forgot what she was seeking for. Then she wandered to her
bookshelves, glancing aimlessly over the books; but the very reading of
the titles wearied her. A buzzing sprang up in her ears with the room’s
stillness; the loneliness, the heavy atmosphere, were as an agony to
her. She would fain have had some bustle going on around her, have had
some one there to speak to—something, in short, to draw her from
herself. She twice listened at the door of Jeanne’s little room, from
which, however, not even a sound of breathing came. Everything was
quiet; so she turned back once more, and amused herself by taking up
and replacing whatever came to her hand. Then suddenly the thought
flashed across her mind that Zephyrin must still be with Rosalie. It
was a relief to her; she was delighted at the idea of not being alone,
and stepped in her slippers towards the kitchen.

She was already in the ante-room, and was opening the glass door of the
inner passage, when she detected the re-echoing clap of a swinging box
on the ears, and the next moment Rosalie could be heard exclaiming:

“Ha, ha! you think you’ll nip me again, do you? Take your paws off!”

“Oh! that’s nothing, my charmer!” exclaimed Zephyrin in his husky,
guttural voice. “That’s to show how I love you—in this style, you
know—”

But at that moment the door creaked, and Hélène, entering, discovered
the diminutive soldier and the servant maid seated very quietly at
table, with their noses bent over their plates. They had assumed an air
of complete indifference; their innocence was certain. Yet their faces
were red with blushes, and their eyes aflame, and they wriggled
restlessly on their straw-bottomed chairs. Rosalie started up and
hurried forward.

“Madame wants something?”

Hélène had no pretext ready to her tongue. She had come to see them, to
chat with them, and have their company. However, she felt a sudden
shame, and dared not say that she required nothing.

“Have you any hot water?” she asked, after a silence.

“No, madame; and my fire is nearly out. Oh, but it doesn’t matter; I’ll
give you some in five minutes. It boils in no time.”

She threw on some charcoal, and then set the kettle in place; but
seeing that her mistress still lingered in the doorway, she said:

“I’ll bring the water to you in five minutes, madame.”

Hélène responded with a wave of the hand.

“I’m not in a hurry for it; I’ll wait. Don’t disturb yourself, my girl;
eat away, eat away. There’s a lad who’ll have to go back to barracks.”

Rosalie thereupon sat down again. Zephyrin, who had also been standing,
made a military salute, and returned to the cutting of his meat, with
his elbows projecting as though to show that he knew how to conduct
himself at table. Thus eating together, after madame had finished
dinner, they did not even draw the table into the middle of the
kitchen, but contented themselves with sitting side by side, with their
noses turned towards the wall. A glorious prospect of stewpans was
before them. A bunch of laurel and thyme hung near, and a spice-box
exhaled a piquant perfume. Around them—the kitchen was not yet
tidied—was all the litter of the things cleared away from the
dining-room; however, the spot seemed a charming one to these hungry
sweethearts, and especially to Zephyrin, who here feasted on such
things as were never seen within the walls of his barracks. The
predominant odor was one of roast meat, seasoned with a dash of
vinegar—the vinegar of the salad. In the copper pans and iron pots the
reflected light from the gas was dancing; and as the heat of the fire
was beyond endurance, they had set the window ajar, and a cool breeze
blew in from the garden, stirring the blue cotton curtain.

“Must you be in by ten o’clock exactly?” asked Hélène.

“I must, madame, with all deference to you,” answered Zephyrin.

“Well, it’s along way off. Do you take the ‘’bus’?”

“Oh, yes, madame, sometimes. But you see a good swinging walk is much
the best.”

She had taken a step into the kitchen, and leaning against the dresser,
her arms dangling and her hands clasped over her dressing-gown, she
began gossiping away about the wretched weather they had had that day,
about the food which was rationed out in barracks, and the high price
of eggs. As soon, however, as she had asked a question and their answer
had been given the conversation abruptly fell. They experienced some
discomfort with her standing thus behind their backs. They did not turn
round, but spoke into their plates, their shoulders bent beneath her
gaze, while, to conform to propriety, each mouthful they swallowed was
as small as possible. On the other hand, Hélène had now regained her
tranquillity, and felt quite happy there.

“Don’t fret, madame,” said Rosalie; “the kettle is singing already. I
wish the fire would only burn up a little better!”

She wanted to see to it, but Hélène would not allow her to disturb
herself. It would be all right by-and-by. An intense weariness now
pervaded the young woman’s limbs. Almost mechanically she crossed the
kitchen and approached the window, where she observed the third chair,
which was very high, and when turned over became a stepladder. However,
she did not sit down on it at once, for she had caught sight of a
number of pictures heaped up on a corner of the table.

“Dear me!” she exclaimed, as she took them in her hand, inspired with
the wish of gratifying Zephyrin.

The little soldier gaped with a silent chuckle. His face beamed with
smiles, and his eyes followed each picture, his head wagging whenever
something especially lovely was being examined by madame.

“That one there,” he suddenly remarked, “I found in the Rue du Temple.
She’s a beautiful woman, with flowers in her basket.”

Hélène sat down and inspected the beautiful woman who decorated the
gilt and varnished lid of a box of lozenges, every stain on which had
been carefully wiped off by Zephyrin. On the chair a dish-cloth was
hanging, and she could not well lean back. She flung it aside, however,
and once more lapsed into her dreaming. Then the two sweethearts
remarked madame’s good nature, and their restraint vanished—in the end,
indeed, her very presence was forgotten by them. One by one the
pictures had dropped from her hands on to her knees, and, with a vague
smile playing on her face, she examined the sweethearts and listened to
their talk.

“I say, my dear,” whispered the girl, “won’t you have some more
mutton?”

He answered neither yes nor no, but swung backwards and forwards on his
chair as though he had been tickled, then contentedly stretched
himself, while she placed a thick slice on his plate. His red epaulets
moved up and down, and his bullet-shaped head, with its huge projecting
ears, swayed to and fro over his yellow collar as though it were the
head of some Chinese idol. His laughter ran all over him, and he was
almost bursting inside his tunic, which he did not unbutton, however,
out of respect for madame.

“This is far better than old Rouvet’s radishes!” he exclaimed at last,
with his mouth full.

This was a reminiscence of their country home; and at thought of it
they both burst into immoderate laughter. Rosalie even had to hold on
to the table to prevent herself from falling. One day, before their
first communion, it seemed, Zephyrin had filched three black radishes
from old Rouvet. They were very tough radishes indeed—tough enough to
break one’s teeth; but Rosalie all the same had crunched her share of
the spoil at the back of the schoolhouse. Hence it was that every time
they chanced to be taking a meal together Zephyrin never omitted to
ejaculate: “Yes; this is better than old Rouvet’s radishes!”

And then Rosalie’s laughter would become so violent that nine times out
of ten her petticoat-string would give way with an audible crack.

“Hello! has it parted?” asked the little soldier, with triumph in his
tone.

But Rosalie responded with a good slap.

“It’s disgusting to make me break the string like this!” said she. “I
put a fresh one on every week.”

However, he came nearer to her, intent on some joke or other, by way of
revenging the blow; but with a furious glance she reminded him that her
mistress was looking on. This seemed to trouble him but little, for he
replied with a rakish wink, as much as to say that no woman, not even a
lady, disliked a little fun. To be sure, when folks are sweethearting,
other people always like to be looking on.

“You have still five years to serve, haven’t you?” asked Hélène,
leaning back on the high wooden-seated chair, and yielding to a feeling
of tenderness.

“Yes, madame; perhaps only four if they don’t need me any longer.”

It occurred to Rosalie that her mistress was thinking of her marriage,
and with assumed anger, she broke in:

“Oh! madame, he can stick in the army for another ten years if he
likes! I sha’n’t trouble myself to ask the Government for him. He is
becoming too much of a rake; yes, I believe he’s going to the dogs. Oh!
it’s useless for you to laugh—that won’t take with me. When we go
before the mayor to get married, we’ll see on whose side the laugh is!”

At this he chuckled all the more, in order that he might show himself a
lady-killer before madame, and the maid’s annoyance then became real.

“Oh!” said she, “we know all about that! You know, madame, he’s still a
booby at heart. You’ve no idea how stupid that uniform makes them all!
That’s the way he goes on with his comrades; but if I turned him out,
you would hear him sobbing on the stairs. Oh, I don’t care a fig for
you, my lad! Why, whenever I please, won’t you always be there to do as
I tell you?”

She bent forward to observe him closely; but, on seeing that his
good-natured, freckled face was beginning to cloud over, she was
suddenly moved, and prattled on, without any seeming transition:

“Ah! I didn’t tell you that I’ve received a letter from auntie. The
Guignard lot want to sell their house—aye, and almost for nothing too.
We might perhaps be able to take it later on.”

“By Jove!” exclaimed Zephyrin, brightening, “we should be quite at home
there. There’s room enough for two cows.”

With this idea they lapsed into silence. They were now having some
dessert. The little soldier licked the jam on his bread with a child’s
greedy satisfaction, while the servant girl carefully pared an apple
with a maternal air.

“Madame!” all at once exclaimed Rosalie, “there’s the water boiling
now.”

Hélène, however, never stirred. She felt herself enveloped by an
atmosphere of happiness. She gave a continuance to their dreams, and
pictured them living in the country in the Guignards’ house and
possessed of two cows. A smile came to her face as she saw Zephyrin
sitting there to all appearance so serious, though in reality he was
patting Rosalie’s knee under the table, whilst she remained very stiff,
affecting an innocent demeanor. Then everything became blurred. Hélène
lost all definite sense of her surroundings, of the place where she
was, and of what had brought her there. The copper pans were flashing
on the walls; feelings of tenderness riveted her to the spot; her eyes
had a far-away look. She was not affected in any way by the disorderly
state of the kitchen; she had no consciousness of having demeaned
herself by coming there; all she felt was a deep pleasure, as when a
longing has been satisfied. Meantime the heat from the fire was
bedewing her pale brow with beads of perspiration, and behind her the
wind, coming in through the half-open window, quivered delightfully on
her neck.

“Madame, your water is boiling,” again said Rosalie. “There will be
soon none left in the kettle.”

She held the kettle before her, and Hélène, for the moment astonished,
was forced to rise. “Oh, yes! thank you!”

She no longer had an excuse to remain, and went away slowly and
regretfully. When she reached her room she was at a loss what to do
with the kettle. Then suddenly within her there came a burst of
passionate love. The torpor which had held her in a state of
semi-unconsciousness gave way to a wave of glowing feeling, the rush of
which thrilled her as with fire. She quivered, and memories returned to
her—memories of her passion and of Henri.

While she was taking off her dressing-gown and gazing at her bare arms,
a noise broke on her anxious ear. She thought she had heard Jeanne
coughing. Taking up the lamp she went into the closet, but found the
child with eyelids closed, seemingly fast asleep. However, the moment
the mother, satisfied with her examination, had turned her back,
Jeanne’s eyes again opened widely to watch her as she returned to her
room. There was indeed no sleep for Jeanne, nor had she any desire to
sleep. A second fit of coughing racked her bosom, but she buried her
head beneath the coverlet and stifled every sound. She might go away
for ever now; her mother would never miss her. Her eyes were still wide
open in the darkness; she knew everything as though knowledge had come
with thought, and she was dying of it all, but dying without a murmur.



 CHAPTER XXII.


Next day all sorts of practical ideas took possession of Hélène’s mind.
She awoke impressed by the necessity of keeping watch over her
happiness, and shuddering with fear lest by some imprudent step she
might lose Henri. At this chilly morning hour, when the room still
seemed asleep, she felt that she idolized him, loved him with a
transport which pervaded her whole being. Never had she experienced
such an anxiety to be diplomatic. Her first thought was that she must
go to see Juliette that very morning, and thus obviate the need of any
tedious explanations or inquiries which might result in ruining
everything.

On calling upon Madame Deberle at about nine o’clock she found her
already up, with pallid cheeks and red eyes like the heroine of a
tragedy. As soon as the poor woman caught sight of her, she threw
herself sobbing upon her neck exclaiming that she was her good angel.
She didn’t love Malignon, not in the least, she swore it! Gracious
heavens! what a foolish affair! It would have killed her—there was no
doubt of that! She did not now feel herself to be in the least degree
qualified for ruses, lies, and agonies, and the tyranny of a sentiment
that never varied. Oh, how delightful did it seem to her to find
herself free again! She laughed contentedly; but immediately afterwards
there was another outburst of tears as she besought her friend not to
despise her. Beneath her feverish unrest a fear lingered; she imagined
that her husband knew everything. He had come home the night before
trembling with agitation. She overwhelmed Hélène with questions; and
Hélène, with a hardihood and facility at which she herself was amazed,
poured into her ears a story, every detail of which she invented
offhand. She vowed to Juliette that her husband doubted her in nothing.
It was she, Hélène, who had become acquainted with everything, and,
wishing to save her, had devised that plan of breaking in upon their
meeting. Juliette listened to her, put instant credit in the fiction,
and, beaming through her tears, grew sunny with joy. She threw herself
once more on Hélène’s neck. Her caresses brought no embarrassment to
the latter; she now experienced none of the honorable scruples that had
at one time affected her. When she left her lover’s wife after
extracting a promise from her that she would try to be calm, she
laughed in her sleeve at her own cunning; she was in a transport of
delight.

Some days slipped away. Hélène’s whole existence had undergone a
change; and in the thoughts of every hour she no longer lived in her
own home, but with Henri. The only thing that existed for her was that
next-door house in which her heart beat. Whenever she could find an
excuse to do so she ran thither, and forgot everything in the content
of breathing the same air as her lover. In her first rapture the sight
of Juliette even flooded her with tenderness; for was not Juliette one
of Henri’s belongings? He had not, however, again been able to meet her
alone. She appeared loth to give him a second assignation. One evening,
when he was leading her into the hall, she even made him swear that he
would never again visit the house in the Passage des Eaux, as such an
act might compromise her.

Meantime, Jeanne was shaken by a short, dry cough, that never ceased,
but became severer towards evening every day. She would then be
slightly feverish, and she grew weak with the perspiration that bathed
her in her sleep. When her mother cross-questioned her, she answered
that she wasn’t ill, that she felt no pain. Doubtless her cold was
coming to an end. Hélène, tranquillized by the explanation, and having
no adequate idea of what was going on around her, retained, however, in
her bosom, amidst the rapture that made up her life, a vague feeling of
sorrow, of some weight that made her heart bleed despite herself. At
times, when she was plunged in one of those causeless transports which
made her melt with tenderness, an anxious thought would come to her—she
imagined that some misfortune was hovering behind her. She turned
round, however, and then smiled. People are ever in a tremble when they
are too happy. There was nothing there. Jeanne had coughed a moment
before, but she had some _tisane_ to drink; there would be no ill
effects.

However, one afternoon old Doctor Bodin, who visited them in the
character of a family friend, prolonged his stay, and stealthily, but
carefully, examined Jeanne with his little blue eyes. He questioned her
as though he were having some fun with her, and on this occasion
uttered no warning word. Two days later, however, he made his
appearance again; and this time, not troubling to examine Jeanne, he
talked away merrily in the fashion of a man who has seen many years and
many things, and turned the conversation on travelling. He had once
served as a military surgeon; he knew every corner of Italy. It was a
magnificent country, said he, which to be admired ought to be seen in
spring. Why didn’t Madame Grandjean take her daughter there? From this
he proceeded by easy transitions to advising a trip to the land of the
sun, as he styled it. Hélène’s eyes were bent on him fixedly. “No, no,”
he exclaimed, “neither of you is ill! Oh, no, certainly not! Still, a
change of air would mean new strength!” Her face had blanched, a mortal
chill had come over her at the thought of leaving Paris. Gracious
heavens! to go away so far, so far! to lose Henri in a moment, their
love to droop without a morrow! Such was the agony which the thought
gave her that she bent her head towards Jeanne to hide her emotion. Did
Jeanne wish to go away? The child, with a chilly gesture, had
intertwined her little fingers. Oh! yes, she would so like to go! She
would so like to go away into the sunny land, quite alone, she and her
mother, quite alone! And over her poor attenuated face with its cheeks
burning with fever, there swept the bright hope of a new life. But
Hélène would listen to no more; indignation and distrust led her to
imagine that all of them—the Abbé, Doctor Bodin, Jeanne herself—were
plotting to separate her from Henri. When the old doctor noticed the
pallor of her cheeks, he imagined that he had not spoken so cautiously
as he might have done, and hastened to declare that there was no hurry,
albeit he silently resolved to return to the subject at another time.

It happened that Madame Deberle intended to stop at home that day. As
soon as the doctor had gone Hélène hastened to put on her bonnet.
Jeanne, however, refused to quit the house; she felt better beside the
fire; she would be very good, and would not open the window. For some
time past she had not teased her mother to be allowed to go with her;
still she gazed after her as she went out with a longing look. Then,
when she found herself alone, she shrunk into her chair and sat for
hours motionless.

“Mamma, is Italy far away?” she asked as Hélène glided towards her to
kiss her.

“Oh! very far away, my pet!”

Jeanne clung round her neck, and not letting her rise again at the
moment, whispered: “Well, Rosalie could take care of everything here.
We should have no need of her. A small travelling-trunk would do for
us, you know! Oh! it would be delightful, mother dear! Nobody but us
two! I should come back quite plump—like this!”

She puffed out her cheeks and pictured how stout her arms would be.
Hélène’s answer was that she would see; and then she ran off with a
final injunction to Rosalie to take good care of mademoiselle.

The child coiled herself up in the chimney-corner, gazing at the ruddy
fire and deep in reverie. From time to time she moved her hands forward
mechanically to warm them. The glinting of the flames dazzled her large
eyes. So absorbed was she in her dreaming that she did not hear
Monsieur Rambaud enter the room. His visits had now become very
frequent; he came, he would say, in the interests of the poor paralytic
woman for whom Doctor Deberle had not yet been able to secure admission
into the Hospital for Incurables. Finding Jeanne alone, he took a seat
on the other side of the fireplace, and chatted with her as though she
were a grown-up person. It was most regrettable; the poor woman had
been waiting a week; however, he would go down presently to see the
doctor, who might perhaps give him an answer. Meanwhile he did not
stir.

“Why hasn’t your mother taken you with her?” he asked.

Jeanne shrugged her shoulders with a gesture of weariness. It disturbed
her to go about visiting other people. Nothing gave her any pleasure
now.

“I am getting old,” she added, “and I can’t be always amusing myself.
Mamma finds entertainment out of doors, and I within; so we are not
together.”

Silence ensued. The child shivered, and held her hands out towards the
fire which burnt steadily with a pinky glare; and, indeed, muffled as
she was in a huge shawl, with a silk handkerchief round her neck and
another encircling her head, she did look like some old dame. Shrouded
in all these wraps, it struck one that she was no larger than an ailing
bird, panting amidst its ruffled plumage. Monsieur Rambaud, with hands
clasped over his knees, was gazing at the fire. Then, turning towards
Jeanne, he inquired if her mother had gone out the evening before. She
answered with a nod, yes. And did she go out the evening before that
and the previous day? The answer was always yes, given with a nod of
the head; her mother quitted her every day.

At this the child and Monsieur Rambaud gazed at one another for a long
time, their faces pale and serious, as though they shared some great
sorrow. They made no reference to it—a chit like her and an old man
could not talk of such a thing together; but they were well aware why
they were so sad, and why it was a pleasure to them to sit like this on
either side of the fireplace when they were alone in the house. It was
a comfort beyond telling. They loved to be near one another that their
forlornness might pain them less. A wave of tenderness poured into
their hearts; they would fain have embraced and wept together.

“You are cold, my dear old friend, I’m certain of it,” said Jeanne;
“come nearer the fire.”

“No, no, my darling; I’m not cold.”

“Oh! you’re telling a fib; your hands are like ice! Come nearer, or I
shall get vexed.”

It was now his turn to display his anxious care.

“I could lay a wager they haven’t left you any drink. I’ll run and make
some for you; would you like it? Oh! I’m a good hand at making it. You
would see, if I were your nurse, you wouldn’t be without anything you
wanted.”

He did not allow himself any more explicit hint. Jeanne somewhat
sharply declared she was disgusted with _tisane_; she was compelled to
drink too much of it. However, now and then she would allow Monsieur
Rambaud to flutter round her like a mother; he would slip a pillow
under her shoulders, give her the medicine that she had almost
forgotten, or carry her into the bedroom in his arms. These little acts
of devotion thrilled both with tenderness. As Jeanne eloquently
declared with her sombre eyes, whose flashes disturbed the old man so
sorely, they were playing the parts of the father and the little girl
while her mother was absent. Then, however, sadness would all at once
fall upon them; their talk died away, and they glanced at one another
stealthily with pitying looks.

That afternoon, after a lengthy silence, the child asked the question
which she had already put to her mother: “Is Italy far away?”

“Oh! I should think so,” replied Monsieur Rambaud. “It’s away over
yonder, on the other side of Marseilles, a deuce of a distance! Why do
you ask me such a question?”

“Oh! because—” she began gravely. But she burst into loud complaints at
her ignorance. She was always ill, and she had never been sent to
school. Then they both became silent again, lulled into forgetfulness
by the intense heat of the fire.

In the meantime Hélène had found Madame Deberle and her sister Pauline
in the Japanese pavilion where they so frequently whiled away the
afternoon. Inside it was very warm, a heating apparatus filled it with
a stifling atmosphere.

The large windows were shut, and a full view could be had of the little
garden, which, in its winter guise, looked like some large sepia
drawing, finished with exquisite delicacy, the little black branches of
the trees showing clear against the brown earth. The two sisters were
carrying on a sharp controversy.

“Now, be quiet, do!” exclaimed Juliette; “it is evidently our interest
to support Turkey.”

“Oh! I’ve had a talk about it with a Russian,” replied Pauline, who was
equally excited. “We are much liked at St. Petersburg, and it is only
there that we can find our proper allies.”

Juliette’s face assumed a serious look, and, crossing her arms, she
exclaimed: “Well, and what will you do with the balance of power in
Europe?”

The Eastern crisis was the absorbing topic in Paris at that moment;[*]
it was the stock subject of conversation, and no woman who pretended to
any position could speak with propriety of anything else. Thus, for two
days past, Madame Deberle had with passionate fervor devoted herself to
foreign politics. Her ideas were very pronounced on the various
eventualities which might arise; and Pauline greatly annoyed her by her
eccentricity in advocating Russia’s cause in opposition to the clear
interests of France. Juliette’s first desire was to convince her of her
folly, but she soon lost her temper.

[*] The reader may be reminded that the period of the story is that of
the Crimean war.

“Pooh! hold your tongue; you are talking foolishly! Now, if you had
only studied the matter carefully with me—”

But she broke off to greet Hélène, who entered at this moment.

“Good-day, my dear! It is very kind of you to call. I don’t suppose you
have any news. This morning’s paper talked of an ultimatum. There has
been a very exciting debate in the English House of Commons!”

“No, I don’t know anything,” answered Hélène, who was astounded by the
question. “I go out so little!”

However, Juliette had not waited for her reply, but was busy explaining
to Pauline why it was necessary to neutralize the Black Sea; and her
talk bristled with references to English and Russian generals, whose
names she mentioned in a familiar way and with faultless pronunciation.
However, Henri now made his appearance with several newspapers in his
hand. Hélène at once realized that he had come there for her sake; for
their eyes had sought one another and exchanged a long, meaning glance.
And when their hands met it was in a prolonged and silent clasp that
told how the personality of each was lost in the other.

“Is there anything in the papers?” asked Juliette feverishly.

“In the papers, my dear?” repeated the doctor; “no there’s never
anything.”

For a time the Eastern Question dropped into the background. There were
frequent allusions to some one whom they were expecting, but who did
not make his appearance. Pauline remarked that it would soon be three
o’clock. Oh he would come, declared Madame Deberle; he had given such a
definite promise; but she never hinted at any name. Hélène listened
without understanding; things which had no connection with Henri did
not in the least interest her. She no longer brought her work when she
now came down into the garden; and though her visits would last a
couple of hours, she would take no part in the conversation, for her
mind was ever filled with the same childish dream wherein all others
miraculously vanished, and she was left alone with him. However, she
managed to reply to Juliette’s questions, while Henri’s eyes, riveted
on her own, thrilled her with a delicious languor. At last he stepped
behind her with the intention of pulling up one of the blinds, and she
fully divined that he had come to ask another meeting, for she noticed
the tremor that seized him when he brushed against her hair.

“There’s a ring at the bell; that must be he!” suddenly exclaimed
Pauline.

Then the faces of the two sisters assumed an air of indifference. It
was Malignon who made his appearance, dressed with greater care than
ever, and having a somewhat serious look. He shook hands; but eschewed
his customary jocularity, thus returning, in a ceremonious manner, to
this house where for some time he had not shown his face.

While the doctor and Pauline were expostulating with him on the rarity
of his visits, Juliette bent down and whispered to Hélène, who, despite
her supreme indifference, was overcome with astonishment:

“Ah! you are surprised? Dear me! I am not angry with him at all! he’s
such a good fellow at heart that nobody could long be angry with him!
Just fancy! he has unearthed a husband for Pauline. It’s splendid,
isn’t it?”

“Oh! no doubt,” answered Hélène complaisantly.

“Yes, one of his friends, immensely rich, who did not think of getting
married, but whom he has sworn to bring here! We were waiting for him
to-day to have some definite reply. So, as you will understand, I had
to pass over a lot of things. Oh! there’s no danger now; we know one
another thoroughly.”

Her face beamed with a pretty smile, and she blushed slightly at the
memories she conjured up; but she soon turned round and took possession
of Malignon. Hélène likewise smiled. These accommodating circumstances
in life seemed to her sufficient excuse for her own delinquencies. It
was absurd to think of tragic melodramas; no, everything wound up with
universal happiness. However, while she had thus been indulging in the
cowardly, but pleasing, thought that nothing was absolutely
indefensible, Juliette and Pauline had opened the door of the pavilion,
and were now dragging Malignon in their train into the garden. And, all
at once, Hélène heard Henri speaking to her in a low and passionate
voice:

“I beseech you, Hélène! Oh! I beseech you—”

She started to her feet, and gazed around her with sudden anxiety. They
were quite alone; she could see the three others walking slowly along
one of the walks. Henri was bold enough to lay his hand on her
shoulder, and she trembled as she felt its pressure.

“As you wish,” she stammered, knowing full well what question it was
that he desired to ask.

Then, hurriedly, they exchanged a few words.

“At the house in the Passage des Eaux,” said he.

“No, it is impossible—I have explained to you, and you swore to me—”

“Well, wherever you like, so that I may see you! In your own house—this
evening. Shall I call?”

The idea was repellant to her. But she could only refuse with a sign,
for fear again came upon her as she observed the two ladies and
Malignon returning. Madame Deberle had taken the young man away under
pretext of showing him some clumps of violets which were in full
blossom notwithstanding the cold weather. Hastening her steps, she
entered the pavilion before the others, her face illumined by a smile.

“It’s all arranged,” she exclaimed.

“What’s all arranged?” asked Hélène, who was still trembling with
excitement and had forgotten everything.

“Oh, that marriage! What a riddance! Pauline was getting a bit of a
nuisance. However, the young man has seen her and thinks her charming!
To-morrow we’re all going to dine with papa. I could have embraced
Malignon for his good news!”

With the utmost self-possession Henri had contrived to put some
distance between Hélène and himself. He also expressed his sense of
Malignon’s favor, and seemed to share his wife’s delight at the
prospect of seeing their little sister settled at last. Then he turned
to Hélène, and informed her that she was dropping one of her gloves.
She thanked him. They could hear Pauline laughing and joking in the
garden. She was leaning towards Malignon, murmuring broken sentences in
his ear, and bursting into loud laughter as he gave her whispered
answers. No doubt he was chatting to her confidentially about her
future husband. Standing near the open door of the pavilion, Hélène
meanwhile inhaled the cold air with delight.

It was at this moment that in the bedroom up above a silence fell on
Jeanne and Monsieur Rambaud, whom the intense heat of the fire filled
with languor. The child woke up from the long-continued pause with a
sudden suggestion which seemed to be the outcome of her dreamy fit:

“Would you like to go into the kitchen? We’ll see if we can get a
glimpse of mamma!”

“Very well; let us go,” replied Monsieur Rambaud.

Jeanne felt stronger that day, and reaching the kitchen without any
assistance pressed her face against a windowpane. Monsieur Rambaud also
gazed into the garden. The trees were bare of foliage, and through the
large transparent windows of the Japanese pavilion they could make out
every detail inside. Rosalie, who was busy attending to the soup,
reproached mademoiselle with being inquisitive. But the child had
caught sight of her mother’s dress; and pointed her out, whilst
flattening her face against the glass to obtain a better view. Pauline
meanwhile looked up, and nodded vigorously. Then Hélène also made her
appearance, and signed to the child to come down.

“They have seen you, mademoiselle,” said the servant girl. “They want
you to go down.”

Monsieur Rambaud opened the window, and every one called to him to
carry Jeanne downstairs. Jeanne, however, vanished into her room, and
vehemently refused to go, accusing her worthy friend of having
purposely tapped on the window. It was a great pleasure to her to look
at her mother, but she stubbornly declared she would not go near that
house; and to all Monsieur Rambaud’s questions and entreaties she would
only return a stern “Because!” which was meant to explain everything.

“It is not you who ought to force me,” she said at last, with a gloomy
look.

But he told her that she would grieve her mother very much, and that it
was not right to insult other people. He would muffle her up well, she
would not catch cold; and, so saying, he wound the shawl round her
body, and taking the silk handkerchief from her head, set a knitted
hood in its place. Even when she was ready, however, she still
protested her unwillingness; and when in the end she allowed him to
carry her down, it was with the express proviso that he would take her
up again the moment she might feel poorly. The porter opened the door
by which the two houses communicated, and when they entered the garden
they were hailed with exclamations of joy. Madame Deberle, in
particular, displayed a vast amount of affection for Jeanne; she
ensconced her in a chair near the stove, and desired that the windows
might be closed, for the air she declared was rather sharp for the dear
child. Malignon had now left. As Hélène began smoothing the child’s
dishevelled hair, somewhat ashamed to see her in company muffled up in
a shawl and a hood, Juliette burst out in protest:

“Leave her alone! Aren’t we all at home here? Poor Jeanne! we are glad
to have her!”

She rang the bell, and asked if Miss Smithson and Lucien had returned
from their daily walk. No, they had not yet returned. It was just as
well, she declared; Lucien was getting beyond control, and only the
night before had made the five Levasseur girls sob with grief.

“Would you like to play at _pigeon vole_?” asked Pauline, who seemed to
have lost her head with the thought of her impending marriage. “That
wouldn’t tire you.”

But Jeanne shook her head in refusal. Beneath their drooping lids her
eyes wandered over the persons who surrounded her. The doctor had just
informed Monsieur Rambaud that admission to the Hospital for Incurables
had been secured for his _protégée_, and in a burst of emotion the
worthy man clasped his hands as though some great personal favor had
been conferred on him. They were all lounging on their chairs, and the
conversation became delightfully friendly. Less effort was shown in
following up remarks, and there were at times intervals of silence.
While Madame Deberle and her sister were busily engaged in discussion,
Hélène said to the two men:

“Doctor Bodin has advised us to go to Italy.”

“Ah! that is why Jeanne was questioning me!” exclaimed Monsieur
Rambaud. “Would it give you any pleasure to go away there?”

Without vouchsafing any answer, the child clasped her little hands upon
her bosom, while her pale face flushed with joy. Then, stealthily, and
with some fear, she looked towards the doctor; it was he, she
understood it, whom her mother was consulting. He started slightly, but
retained all his composure. Suddenly, however, Juliette joined in the
conversation, wishing, as usual, to have her finger in every pie.

“What’s that? Are you talking about Italy? Didn’t you say you had an
idea of going to Italy? Well, it’s a droll coincidence! Why, this very
morning, I was teasing Henri to take me to Naples! Just fancy, for ten
years now I have been dreaming of seeing Naples! Every spring he
promises to take me there, but he never keeps his word!”

“I didn’t tell you that I would not go,” murmured the doctor.

“What! you didn’t tell me? Why, you refused flatly, with the excuse
that you could not leave your patients!”

Jeanne was listening eagerly. A deep wrinkle now furrowed her pale
brow, and she began twisting her fingers mechanically one after the
other.

“Oh! I could entrust my patients for a few weeks to the care of a
brother-physician,” explained the doctor. “That’s to say, if I thought
it would give you so much pleasure—”

“Doctor,” interrupted Hélène, “are you also of opinion that such a
journey would benefit Jeanne?”

“It would be the very thing; it would thoroughly restore her to health.
Children are always the better for a change.”

“Oh! then,” exclaimed Juliette, “we can take Lucien, and we can all go
together. That will be pleasant, won’t it?”

“Yes, indeed; I’ll do whatever you wish,” he answered, smiling.

Jeanne lowered her face, wiped two big tears of passionate anger and
grief from her eyes, and fell back in her chair as though she would
fain hear and see no more; while Madame Deberle, filled with ecstasy by
the idea of such unexpected pleasure, began chattering noisily. Oh! how
kind her husband was! She kissed him for his self-sacrifice. Then,
without the loss of a moment, she busied herself with sketching the
necessary preparations. They would start the very next week. Goodness
gracious! she would never have time to get everything ready! Next she
wanted to draw out a plan of their tour; they would need to visit this
and that town certainly; they could stay a week at Rome; they must stop
at a little country place that Madame de Guiraud had mentioned to her;
and she wound up by engaging in a lively discussion with Pauline, who
was eager that they should postpone their departure till such time as
she could accompany them with her husband.

“Not a bit of it!” exclaimed Juliette; “the wedding can take place when
we come back.”

Jeanne’s presence had been wholly forgotten. Her eyes were riveted on
her mother and the doctor. The proposed journey, indeed, now offered
inducements to Hélène, as it must necessarily keep Henri near her. In
fact, a keen delight filled her heart at the thought of journeying
together through the land of the sun, living side by side, and
profiting by the hours of freedom. Round her lips wreathed a smile of
happy relief; she had so greatly feared that she might lose him; and
deemed herself fortunate in the thought that she would carry her love
along with her. While Juliette was discoursing of the scenes they would
travel through, both Hélène and Henri, indeed, indulged in the dream
that they were already strolling through a fairy land of perennial
spring, and each told the other with a look that their passion would
reign there, aye, wheresoever they might breathe the same air.

In the meantime, Monsieur Rambaud, who with unconscious sadness had
slowly lapsed into silence, observed Jeanne’s evident discomfort.

“Aren’t you well, my darling?” he asked in a whisper.

“No! I’m quite ill! Carry me up again, I implore you.”

“But we must tell your mamma.”

“Oh, no, no! mamma is busy; she hasn’t any time to give to us. Carry me
up, oh! carry me up again.”

He took her in his arms, and told Hélène that the child felt tired. In
answer she requested him to wait for her in her rooms; she would hasten
after them. The little one, though light as a feather, seemed to slip
from his grasp, and he was forced to come to a standstill on the second
landing. She had leaned her head against his shoulder, and each gazed
into the other’s face with a look of grievous pain. Not a sound broke
upon the chill silence of the staircase. Then in a low whisper he asked
her:

“You’re pleased, aren’t you, to go to Italy?”

But she thereupon burst into sobs, declaring in broken words that she
no longer had any craving to go, and would rather die in her own room.
Oh! she would not go, she would fall ill, she knew it well. She would
go nowhere—nowhere. They could give her little shoes to the poor. Then
amidst tears she whispered to him:

“Do you remember what you asked me one night?”

“What was it, my pet?”

“To stay with mamma always—always—always! Well, if you wish so still, I
wish so too!”

The tears welled into Monsieur Rambaud’s eyes. He kissed her lovingly,
while she added in a still lower tone:

“You are perhaps vexed by my getting so angry over it. I didn’t
understand, you know. But it’s you whom I want! Oh! say that it will be
soon. Won’t you say that it will be soon? I love you more than the
other one.”

Below in the pavilion, Hélène had begun to dream once more. The
proposed journey was still the topic of conversation; and she now
experienced an unconquerable yearning to relieve her overflowing heart,
and acquaint Henri with all the happiness which was stifling her. So,
while Juliette and Pauline were wrangling over the number of dresses
that ought to be taken, she leaned towards him and gave him the
assignation which she had refused but an hour before.

“Come to-night; I shall expect you.”

But as she at last ascended to her own rooms, she met Rosalie flying
terror-stricken down the stairs. The moment she saw her mistress, the
girl shrieked out:

“Madame! madame! Oh! make haste, do! Mademoiselle is very ill! She’s
spitting blood!”



 CHAPTER XXIII.


On rising from the dinner-table the doctor spoke to his wife of a
confinement case, in close attendance on which he would doubtless have
to pass the night. He quitted the house at nine o’clock, walked down to
the riverside, and paced along the deserted quays in the dense
nocturnal darkness. A slight moist wind was blowing, and the swollen
Seine rolled on in inky waves. As soon as eleven o’clock chimed, he
walked up the slopes of the Trocadero, and began to prowl round the
house, the huge square pile of which seemed but a deepening of the
gloom. Lights could still be seen streaming through the dining-room
windows of Hélène’s lodging. Walking round, he noted that the kitchen
was also brilliantly lighted up. And at this sight he stopped short in
astonishment, which slowly developed into uneasiness. Shadows traversed
the blinds; there seemed to be considerable bustle and stir up there.
Perhaps Monsieur Rambaud had stayed to dine? But the worthy man never
left later than ten o’clock. He, Henri, dared not go up; for what would
he say should Rosalie open the door? At last, as it was nearing
midnight, mad with impatience and throwing prudence to the winds, he
rang the bell, and walked swiftly past the porter’s room without giving
his name. At the top of the stairs Rosalie received him.

“It’s you, sir! Come in. I will go and announce you. Madame must be
expecting you.”

She gave no sign of surprise on seeing him at this hour. As he entered
the dining-room without uttering a word, she resumed distractedly: “Oh!
mademoiselle is very ill, sir. What a night! My legs are sinking under
me!” Thereupon she left the room, and the doctor mechanically took a
seat. He was oblivious of the fact that he was a medical man. Pacing
along the quay he had conjured up a vision of a very different
reception. And now he was there, as though he were paying a visit,
waiting with his hat on his knees. A grievous coughing in the next room
alone broke upon the intense silence.

At last Rosalie made her appearance once more, and hurrying across the
dining-room with a basin in her hand, merely remarked: “Madame says you
are not to go in.”

He sat on, powerless to depart. Was their meeting to be postponed till
another day, then? He was dazed, as though such a thing had seemed to
him impossible. Then the thought came to him that poor Jeanne had very
bad health; children only brought on sorrow and vexation. The door,
however, opened once more, and Doctor Bodin entered, with a thousand
apologies falling from his lips. For some time he chattered away: he
had been sent for, but he would always be exceedingly pleased to enter
into consultation with his renowned fellow-practitioner.

“Oh! no doubt, no doubt,” stammered Doctor Deberle, whose ears were
buzzing.

The elder man, his mind set at rest with regard to all questions of
professional etiquette, then began to affect a puzzled manner, and
expressed his doubts of the meaning of the symptoms. He spoke in a
whisper, and described them in technical phraseology, frequently
pausing and winking significantly. There was coughing without
expectoration, very pronounced weakness, and intense fever. Perhaps it
might prove a case of typhoid fever. But in the meantime he gave no
decided opinion, as the anaemic nervous affection, for which the
patient had been treated so long, made him fear unforeseen
complications.

“What do you think?” he asked, after delivering himself of each remark.

Doctor Deberle answered with evasive questions. While the other was
speaking, he felt ashamed at finding himself in that room. Why had he
come up?

“I have applied two blisters,” continued the old doctor. “I’m waiting
the result. But, of course, you’ll see her. You will then give me your
opinion.”

So saying he led him into the bedroom. Henri entered it with a shudder
creeping through his frame. It was but faintly lighted by a lamp. There
thronged into his mind the memories of other nights, when there had
been the same warm perfume, the same close, calm atmosphere, the same
deepening shadows shrouding the furniture and hangings. But there was
no one now to come to him with outstretched hands as in those olden
days. Monsieur Rambaud lay back in an arm-chair exhausted, seemingly
asleep. Hélène was standing in front of the bed, robed in a white
dressing-gown, but did not turn her head; and her figure, in its
death-like pallor, appeared to him extremely tall. Then for a moment’s
space he gazed on Jeanne. Her weakness was so great that she could not
open her eyes without fatigue. Bathed in sweat, she lay in a stupor,
her face ghastly, save that a burning flush colored each cheek.

“It’s galloping consumption,” he exclaimed at last, speaking aloud in
spite of himself, and giving no sign of astonishment, as though he had
long foreseen what would happen.

Hélène heard him and looked at him. She seemed to be of ice, her eyes
were dry, and she was terribly calm.

“You think so, do you?” rejoined Doctor Bodin, giving an approving nod
in the style of a man who had not cared to be the first to express this
opinion.

He sounded the child once more. Jeanne, her limbs quite lifeless,
yielded to the examination without seemingly knowing why she was being
disturbed. A few rapid sentences were exchanged between the two
physicians. The old doctor murmured some words about amphoric
breathing, and a sound such as a cracked jar might give out.
Nevertheless, he still affected some hesitation, and spoke,
suggestively, of capillary bronchitis. Doctor Deberle hastened to
explain that an accidental cause had brought on the illness; doubtless
it was due to a cold; however, he had already noticed several times
that an anaemical tendency would produce chest diseases. Hélène stood
waiting behind him.

“Listen to her breathing yourself,” said Doctor Bodin, giving way to
Henri.

He leaned over the child, and seemed about to take hold of her. She had
not raised her eyelids; but lay there in self-abandonment, consumed by
fever. Her open nightdress displayed her childish breast, where as yet
there were but slight signs of coming womanhood; and nothing could be
more chaste or yet more harrowing than the sight of this dawning
maturity on which the Angel of Death had already laid his hand. She had
displayed no aversion when the old doctor had touched her. But the
moment Henri’s fingers glanced against her body she started as if she
had received a shock. In a transport of shame she awoke from the coma
in which she had been plunged, and, like a maiden in alarm, clasped her
poor puny little arms over her bosom, exclaiming the while in quavering
tones: “Mamma! mamma!”

Then she opened her eyes, and on recognizing the man who was bending
over her, she was seized with terror. Sobbing with shame, she drew the
bed-cover over her bosom. It seemed as though she had grown older by
ten years during her short agony, and on the brink of death had
attained sufficient womanhood to understand that this man, above all
others, must not lay hands on her. She wailed out again in piteous
entreaty: “Mamma! mamma! I beseech you!”

Hélène, who had hitherto not opened her lips, came close to Henri. Her
eyes were bent on him fixedly; her face was of marble. She touched him,
and merely said in a husky voice: “Go away!”

Doctor Bodin strove to appease Jeanne, who now shook with a fresh fit
of coughing. He assured her that nobody would annoy her again, that
every one would go away, to prevent her being disturbed.

“Go away,” repeated Hélène, in a deep whisper in her lover’s ear. “You
see very well that we have killed her!”

Then, unable to find a word in reply, Henri withdrew. He lingered for a
moment longer in the dining-room, awaiting he knew not what, something
that might possibly take place. But seeing that Doctor Bodin did not
come out, he groped his way down the stairs without even Rosalie to
light him. He thought of the awful speed with which galloping
consumption—a disease to which he had devoted earnest study—carried off
its victims; the miliary tubercles would rapidly multiply, the stifling
sensation would become more and more pronounced; Jeanne would certainly
not last another three weeks.

The first of these passed by. In the mighty expanse of heaven before
the window, the sun rose and set above Paris, without Hélène being more
than vaguely conscious of the pitiless, steady advance of time. She
grasped the fact that her daughter was doomed; she lived plunged in a
stupor, alive only to the terrible anguish that filled her heart. It
was but waiting on in hopelessness, in certainty that death would prove
merciless. She could not weep, but paced gently to and fro, tending the
sufferer with slow, regulated movements. At times, yielding to fatigue,
she would fall upon a chair, whence she gazed at her for hours. Jeanne
grew weaker and weaker; painful vomiting was followed by exhaustion;
the fever never quitted her. When Doctor Bodin called, he examined her
for a little while and left some prescription; but his drooping
shoulders, as he left the room, were eloquent of such powerlessness
that the mother forbore to accompany him to ask even a question.

On the morning after the illness had declared itself, Abbé Jouve had
made all haste to call. He and his brother now again came every
evening, exchanging a mute clasp of the hand with Hélène, and never
venturing to ask any news. They had offered to watch by the bedside in
succession, but she sent them away when ten o’clock struck; she would
have no one in the bedroom during the night. One evening the Abbé, who
had seemed absorbed by some idea since the previous day, took her
aside.

“There is one thing I’ve thought of,” he whispered. “Her health has put
obstacles in the darling child’s way; but her first communion might
take place here.”

His meaning at first did not seem to dawn on Hélène. The thought that,
despite all his indulgence, he should now allow his priestly character
the ascendant and evince no concern but in spiritual matters, came on
her with surprise, and even wounded her somewhat. With a careless
gesture she exclaimed: “No, no; I would rather she wasn’t worried. If
there be a heaven, she will have no difficulty in entering its gates.”

That evening, however, Jeanne experienced one of those deceptive
improvements in health which fill the dying with illusions as to their
condition. Her hearing, rendered more acute by illness, had enabled her
to catch the Abbé’s words.

“It’s you, dear old friend!” said she. “You spoke about the first
communion. It will be soon, won’t it?”

“No doubt, my darling,” he answered.

Then she wanted him to come near to speak to her. Her mother had
propped her up with the pillow, and she reclined there, looking very
little, with a smile on her fever-burnt lips, and the shadow of death
already passing over her brilliant eyes.

“Oh! I’m getting on very well,” she began. “I could get up if I wanted.
But tell me: should I have a white gown and flowers? Will the church be
as beautiful as it was in the Month of Mary?”

“More beautiful, my pet.”

“Really? Will there be as many flowers, and will there be such sweet
chants? It will be soon, soon—you promise me, won’t you?”

She was wrapt in joy. She gazed on the curtains of the bed, and
murmured in her transport that she was very fond of the good God, and
had seen Him while she was listening to the canticles. Even now she
could hear organs pealing, see lights that circled round, and flowers
in great vases hovering like butterflies before her eyes. Then another
fit of coughing threw her back on the pillow. However, her face was
still flushed with a smile; she seemed to be unconscious of her cough,
but continued:

“I shall get up to-morrow. I shall learn my catechism without a
mistake, and we’ll be all very happy.”

A sob came from Hélène as she stood at the foot of the bed. She had
been powerless to weep, but a storm of tears rushed up from her bosom
as Jeanne’s laughter fell on her ear. Then, almost stifling, she fled
into the dining-room, that she might hide her despair. The Abbé
followed her. Monsieur Rambaud had at once started up to engage the
child’s attention.

“Oh dear! mamma cried out! Has she hurt herself?” she asked.

“Your mamma?” he answered. “No, she didn’t cry out; she was laughing
because you are feeling so well.”

In the dining-room, her head bowed dejectedly on the table, Hélène
strove to stifle her sobs with her clasped hands. The Abbé hung over
her, and prayed her to restrain her emotion. But she raised her face,
streaming with tears, and bitterly accused herself. She declared to him
that she herself had killed her daughter, and a full confession escaped
from her lips in a torrent of broken words. She would never have
succumbed to that man had Jeanne remained beside her. It had been fated
that she should meet him in that chamber of mystery. God in Heaven! she
ought to die with her child; she could live no longer. The priest,
terrified, sought to calm her with the promise of absolution.

But there was a ring at the bell, and a sound of voices came from the
lobby. Hélène dried her tears as Rosalie made her appearance.

“Madame, it’s Dr. Deberle, who—”

“I don’t wish him to come in.”

“He is asking after mademoiselle.”

“Tell him she is dying.”

The door had been left open, and Henri had heard everything. Without
awaiting the return of the servant girl, he walked down the stairs. He
came up every day, received the same answer, and then went away.

The visits which Hélène received quite unnerved her. The few ladies
whose acquaintance she had made at the Deberles’ house deemed it their
duty to tender her their sympathy. Madame de Chermette, Madame
Levasseur, Madame de Guiraud, and others also presented themselves.
They made no request to enter, but catechised Rosalie in such loud
voices that they could be heard through the thin partitions. Giving way
to impatience, Hélène would then receive them in the dining-room,
where, without sitting down, she spoke with them very briefly. She went
about all day in her dressing-gown, careless of her attire, with her
lovely hair merely gathered up and twisted into a knot. Her eyes often
closed with weariness; her face was flushed; she had a bitter taste in
her mouth; her lips were clammy, and she could scarcely articulate.
When Juliette called, she could not exclude her from the bedroom, but
allowed her to stay for a little while beside the bed.

“My dear,” Madame Deberle said to her one day in friendly tones, “you
give way too much. Keep up your spirits.”

Hélène was about to reply, when Juliette, wishing to turn her thoughts
from her grief, began to chat about the things which were occupying the
gossips of Paris: “We are certainly going to have a war. I am in a nice
state about it, as I have two cousins who will have to serve.”

In this style she would drop in upon them on returning from her rambles
through Paris, her brain bursting with all the tittle-tattle collected
in the course of the afternoon, and her long skirts whirling and
rustling as she sailed through the stillness of the sick-room. It was
altogether futile for her to lower her voice and assume a pitiful air;
her indifference peeped through all disguise; it could be seen that she
was happy, quite joyous indeed, in the possession of perfect health.
Hélène was very downcast in her company, her heart rent by jealous
anguish.

“Madame,” said Jeanne one evening, “why doesn’t Lucien come to play
with me?”

Juliette was embarrassed for a moment, and merely answered with a
smile.

“Is he ill too?” continued the child.

“No, my darling, he isn’t ill; he has gone to school.”

Then, as Hélène accompanied her into the ante-room, she wished to
apologize for her prevarication.

“Oh! I would gladly bring him; I know that there’s no infection. But
children get frightened with the least thing, and Lucien is such a
stupid. He would just burst out sobbing when he saw your poor angel—”

“Yes, indeed; you are quite right,” interrupted Hélène, her heart ready
to break with the thought of this woman’s gaiety, and her happiness in
possessing a child who enjoyed robust health.

A second week had passed away. The disease was following its usual
course, robbing Jeanne every hour of some of her vitality. Fearfully
rapid though it was, however, it evinced no haste, but, in
accomplishing the destruction of that delicate, lovable flesh, passed
in turn through each foreseen phase, without skipping a single one of
them. Thus the spitting of blood had ceased, and at intervals the cough
disappeared. But such was the oppressive feeling which stifled the
child that you could detect the ravages of the disease by the
difficulty she experienced in breathing. Such weakness could not
withstand so violent an attack; and the eyes of the Abbé and Monsieur
Rambaud constantly moistened with tears as they heard her. Day and
night under the shelter of the curtains the sound of oppressed
breathing arose; the poor darling, whom the slightest shock seemed
likely to kill, was yet unable to die, but lived on and on through the
agony which bathed her in sweat. Her mother, whose strength was
exhausted, and who could no longer bear to hear that rattle, went into
the adjoining room and leaned her head against the wall.

Jeanne was slowly becoming oblivious to her surroundings. She no longer
saw people, and her face bore an unconscious and forlorn expression, as
though she had already lived all alone in some unknown sphere. When
they who hovered round her wished to attract her attention, they named
themselves that she might recognize them; but she would gaze at them
fixedly, without a smile, then turn herself round towards the wall with
a weary look. A gloominess was settling over her; she was passing away
amidst the same vexation and sulkiness as she had displayed in past
days of jealous outbursts. Still, at times the whims characteristic of
sickness would awaken her to some consciousness. One morning she asked
her mother:

“To-day is Sunday, isn’t it?”

“No, my child,” answered Hélène; “this is only Friday. Why do you wish
to know?”

Jeanne seemed to have already forgotten the question she had asked. But
two days later, while Rosalie was in the room, she said to her in a
whisper: “This is Sunday. Zephyrin is here; ask him to come and see
me.”

The maid hesitated, but Hélène, who had heard, nodded to her in token
of consent. The child spoke again:

“Bring him; come both of you; I shall be so pleased.”

When Rosalie entered the sick-room with Zephyrin, she raised herself on
her pillow. The little soldier, with bare head and hands spread out,
swayed about to hide his intense emotion. He had a great love for
mademoiselle, and it grieved him unutterably to see her “shouldering
arms on the left,” as he expressed it in the kitchen. So, in spite of
the previous injunctions of Rosalie, who had instructed him to put on a
bright expression, he stood speechless, with downcast face, on seeing
her so pale and wasted to a skeleton. He was still as tender-hearted as
ever, despite his conquering airs. He could not even think of one of
those fine phrases which nowadays he usually concocted so easily. The
maid behind him gave him a pinch to make him laugh. But he could only
stammer out:

“I beg pardon—mademoiselle and every one here—”

Jeanne was still raising herself with the help of her tiny arms. She
widely opened her large, vacant eyes; she seemed to be looking for
something; her head shook with a nervous trembling. Doubtless the
stream of light was blinding her as the shadows of death gathered
around.

“Come closer, my friend,” said Hélène to the soldier. “It was
mademoiselle who asked to see you.”

The sunshine entered through the window in a slanting ray of golden
light, in which the dust rising from the carpet could be seen circling.
March had come, and the springtide was already budding out of doors.
Zephyrin took one step forward, and appeared in the sunshine; his
little round, freckled face had a golden hue, as of ripe corn, while
the buttons on his tunic glittered, and his red trousers looked as
sanguineous as a field of poppies. At last Jeanne became aware of his
presence there; but her eye again betrayed uneasiness, and she glanced
restlessly from one corner to another.

“What do you want, my child?” asked her mother. “We are all here.” She
understood, however, in a moment. “Rosalie, come nearer. Mademoiselle
wishes to see you.”

Then Rosalie, in her turn, stepped into the sunlight. She wore a cap,
whose strings, carelessly tossed over her shoulders, flapped round her
head like the wings of a butterfly. A golden powder seemed to fall on
her bristly black hair and her kindly face with its flat nose and thick
lips. And for Jeanne there were only these two in the room—the little
soldier and the servant girl, standing elbow to elbow under the ray of
sunshine. She gazed at them.

“Well, my darling,” began Hélène again, “you do not say anything to
them! Here they are together.”

Jeanne’s eyes were still fixed on them, and her head shook with the
tremor of a very aged woman. They stood there like man and wife, ready
to take each other’s arm and return to their country-side. The spring
sun threw its warmth on them, and eager to brighten mademoiselle they
ended by smiling into each other’s face with a look of mingled
embarrassment and tenderness. The very odor of health was exhaled from
their plump round figures. Had they been alone, Zephyrin without doubt
would have caught hold of Rosalie, and would have received for his
pains a hearty slap. Their eyes showed it.

“Well, my darling, have you nothing to say to them?”

Jeanne gazed at them, her breathing growing yet more oppressed. And
still she said not a word, but suddenly burst into tears. Zephyrin and
Rosalie had at once to quit the room.

“I beg pardon—mademoiselle and every one—” stammered the little
soldier, as he went away in bewilderment.

This was one of Jeanne’s last whims. She lapsed into a dull stupor,
from which nothing could rouse her. She lay there in utter loneliness,
unconscious even of her mother’s presence. When Hélène hung over the
bed seeking her eyes, the child preserved a stolid expression, as
though only the shadow of the curtain had passed before her. Her lips
were dumb; she showed the gloomy resignation of the outcast who knows
that she is dying. Sometimes she would long remain with her eyelids
half closed, and nobody could divine what stubborn thought was thus
absorbing her. Nothing now had any existence for her save her big doll,
which lay beside her. They had given it to her one night to divert her
during her insufferable anguish, and she refused to give it back,
defending it with fierce gestures the moment they attempted to take it
from her. With its pasteboard head resting on the bolster, the doll was
stretched out like an invalid, covered up to the shoulders by the
counterpane. There was little doubt the child was nursing it, for her
burning hands would, from time to time, feel its disjointed limbs of
flesh-tinted leather, whence all the sawdust had exuded. For hours her
eyes would never stray from those enamel ones which were always fixed,
or from those white teeth wreathed in an everlasting smile. She would
suddenly grow affectionate, clasp the doll’s hands against her bosom
and press her cheek against its little head of hair, the caressing
contact of which seemed to give her some relief. Thus she sought
comfort in her affection for her big doll, always assuring herself of
its presence when she awoke from a doze, seeing nothing else, chatting
with it, and at times summoning to her face the shadow of a smile, as
though she had heard it whispering something in her ear.

The third week was dragging to an end. One morning the old doctor came
and remained. Hélène understood him: her child would not live through
the day. Since the previous evening she had been in a stupor that
deprived her of the consciousness even of her own actions. There was no
longer any struggle with death; it was but a question of hours. As the
dying child was consumed by an awful thirst, the doctor had merely
recommended that she should be given some opiate beverage, which would
render her passing less painful; and the relinquishing of all attempts
at cure reduced Hélène to a state of imbecility. So long as the
medicines had littered the night-table she still had entertained hopes
of a miraculous recovery. But now bottles and boxes had vanished, and
her last trust was gone. One instinct only inspired her now—to be near
Jeanne, never leave her, gaze at her unceasingly. The doctor, wishing
to distract her attention from the terrible sight, strove, by assigning
some little duties to her, to keep her at a distance. But she ever and
ever returned, drawn to the bedside by the physical craving to see. She
waited, standing erect, her arms hanging beside her, and her face
swollen by despair.

About one o’clock Abbé Jouve and Monsieur Rambaud arrived. The doctor
went to meet them, and muttered a few words. Both grew pale, and stood
stock-still in consternation, while their hands began to tremble.
Hélène had not turned round.

The weather was lovely that day; it was one of those sunny afternoons
typical of early April. Jeanne was tossing in her bed. Her lips moved
painfully at times with the intolerable thirst which consumed her. She
had brought her poor transparent hands from under the coverlet, and
waved them gently to and fro. The hidden working of the disease was
accomplished, she coughed no more, and her dying voice came like a
faint breath. For a moment she turned her head, and her eyes sought the
light. Doctor Bodin threw the window wide open, and then Jeanne at once
became tranquil, with her cheek resting on the pillow and her looks
roving over Paris, while her heavy breathing grew fainter and slower.

During the three weeks of her illness she had thus many times turned
towards the city that stretched away to the horizon. Her face grew
grave, she was musing. At this last hour Paris was smiling under the
glittering April sunshine. Warm breezes entered from without, with
bursts of urchin’s laughter and the chirping of sparrows. On the brink
of the grave the child exerted her last strength to gaze again on the
scene, and follow the flying smoke which soared from the distant
suburbs. She recognized her three friends, the Invalides, the Panthéon,
and the Tower of Saint-Jacques; then the unknown began, and her weary
eyelids half closed at sight of the vast ocean of roofs. Perhaps she
was dreaming that she was growing much lighter and lighter, and was
fleeting away like a bird. Now, at last, she would soon know all; she
would perch herself on the domes and steeples; seven or eight flaps of
her wings would suffice, and she would be able to gaze on the forbidden
mysteries that were hidden from children. But a fresh uneasiness fell
upon her, and her hands groped about; she only grew calm again when she
held her large doll in her little arms against her bosom. It was
evidently her wish to take it with her. Her glances wandered far away
amongst the chimneys glinting with the sun’s ruddy light.

Four o’clock struck, and the bluish shadows of evening were already
gathering. The end was at hand; there was a stifling, a slow and
passive agony. The dear angel no longer had strength to offer
resistance. Monsieur Rambaud, overcome, threw himself on his knees,
convulsed with silent sobbing, and dragged himself behind a curtain to
hide his grief. The Abbé was kneeling at the bedside, with clasped
hands, repeating the prayers for the dying.

“Jeanne! Jeanne!” murmured Hélène, chilled to the heart with a horror
which sent an icy thrill through her very hair.

She had repulsed the doctor and thrown herself on the ground, leaning
against the bed to gaze into her daughter’s face. Jeanne opened her
eyes, but did not look at her mother. She drew her doll—her last
love—still closer. Her bosom heaved with a big sigh, followed by two
fainter ones. Then her eyes paled, and her face for a moment gave signs
of a fearful anguish. But speedily there came relief; her mouth
remained open, she breathed no more.

“It is over,” said the doctor, as he took her hand.

Jeanne’s big, vacant eyes were fixed on Paris. The long, thin,
lamb-like face was still further elongated, there was a sternness on
its features, a grey shadow falling from its contracted brows. Thus
even in death she retained the livid expression of a jealous woman. The
doll, with its head flung back, and its hair dishevelled, seemed to lie
dead beside her.

“It is over,” again said the doctor, as he allowed the little cold hand
to drop.

Hélène, with a strained expression on her face, pressed her hands to
her brow as if she felt her head splitting open. No tears came to her
eyes; she gazed wildly in front of her. Then a rattling noise mounted
in her throat; she had just espied at the foot of the bed a pair of
shoes that lay forgotten there. It was all over. Jeanne would never put
them on again; the little shoes could be given to the poor. And at the
sight Hélène’s tears gushed forth; she still knelt on the floor, her
face pressed against the dead child’s hand, which had slipped down.
Monsieur Rambaud was sobbing. The Abbé had raised his voice, and
Rosalie, standing at the door of the dining-room, was biting her
handkerchief to check the noise of her grief.

At this very moment Doctor Deberle rang the bell. He was unable to
refrain from making inquiries.

“How is she now?” he asked.

“Oh, sir!” wailed Rosalie, “she is dead.”

He stood motionless, stupefied by the announcement of the end which he
had been expecting daily. At last he muttered: “O God! the poor child!
what a calamity!”

He could only give utterance to those commonplace but heartrending
words. The door shut once more, and he went down the stairs.



 CHAPTER XXIV.


When Madame Deberle was apprised of Jeanne’s death she wept, and gave
way to one of those outbursts of emotion that kept her in a flutter for
eight-and-forty hours. Hers was a noisy and immoderate grief. She came
and threw herself into Hélène’s arms. Then a phrase dropped in her
hearing inspired her with the idea of imparting some affecting
surroundings to the child’s funeral, and soon wholly absorbed her. She
offered her services, and declared her willingness to undertake every
detail. The mother, worn out with weeping, sat overwhelmed in her
chair; Monsieur Rambaud, who was acting in her name, was losing his
head. So he accepted the offer with profuse expressions of gratitude.
Hélène merely roused herself for a moment to express the wish that
there should be some flowers—an abundance of flowers.

Without losing a minute, Madame Deberle set about her task. She spent
the whole of the next day in running from one lady friend to another,
bearing the woeful tidings. It was her idea to have a following of
little girls all dressed in white. She needed at least thirty, and did
not return till she had secured the full number. She had gone in person
to the Funeral Administration, discussed the various styles, and chosen
the necessary drapery. She would have the garden railings hung with
white, and the body might be laid out under the lilac trees, whose
twigs were already tipped with green. It would be charming.

“If only it’s a fine day to-morrow!” she giddily remarked in the
evening when her scurrying to and fro had come to an end.

The morning proved lovely; there was a blue sky and a flood of
sunshine, the air was pure and invigorating as only the air of spring
can be. The funeral was to take place at ten o’clock. By nine the
drapery had been hung up. Juliette ran down to give the workmen her
ideas of what should be done. She did not wish the trees to be
altogether covered. The white cloth, fringed with silver, formed a kind
of porch at the garden gate, which was thrown back against the lilac
trees. However, Juliette soon returned to her drawing-room to receive
her lady guests. They were to assemble there to prevent Madame
Grandjean’s two rooms from being filled to overflowing. Still she was
greatly annoyed at her husband having had to go that morning to
Versailles—for some consultation or other, he explained, which he could
not well neglect. Thus she was left alone, and felt she would never be
able to get through with it all. Madame Berthier was the first arrival,
bringing her two daughters with her.

“What do you think!” exclaimed Madame Deberle; “Henri has deserted me!
Well, Lucien, why don’t you say good-day?”

Lucien was already dressed for the funeral, with his hands in black
gloves. He seemed astonished to see Sophie and Blanche dressed as
though they were about to take part in some church procession. A silk
sash encircled the muslin gown of each, and their veils, which swept
down to the floor, hid their little caps of transparent tulle. While
the two mothers were busy chatting, the three children gazed at one
another, bearing themselves somewhat stiffly in their new attire. At
last Lucien broke the silence by saying: “Jeanne is dead.”

His heart was full, and yet his face wore a smile—a smile born of
amazement. He had been very quiet since the evening before, dwelling on
the thought that Jeanne was dead. As his mother was up to her ears in
business, and took no notice of him, he had plied the servants with
questions. Was it a fact, he wanted to know, that it was impossible to
move when one was dead?”

“She is dead, she is dead!” echoed the two sisters, who looked like
rosebuds under their white veils. “Are we going to see her?”

Lucien pondered for a time, and then, with dreamy eyes and opened
mouth, seemingly striving to divine the nature of this problem which
lay beyond his ken, he answered in a low tone:

“We shall never see her again.”

However, several other little girls now entered the room. On a sign
from his mother Lucien advanced to meet them. Marguerite Tissot, her
muslin dress enveloping her like a cloud, seemed a child-Virgin; her
fair hair, escaping from underneath her little cap, looked, through the
snowy veil, like a tippet figured with gold. A quiet smile crept into
every face when the five Levasseurs made their appearance; they were
all dressed alike, and trooped along in boarding-school fashion, the
eldest first, the youngest last; and their skirts stood out to such an
extent that they quite filled one corner of the room. But on little
Mademoiselle Guiraud’s entry the whispering voices rose to a higher
key; the others laughed and crowded round to see her and kiss her. She
was like some white turtle-dove with its downy feathers ruffled.
Wrapped in rustling gauze, she looked as round as a barrel, but still
no heavier than a bird. Her mother even could not find her hands. By
degrees the drawing-room seemed to be filling with a cloud of
snowballs. Several boys, in their black coats, were like dark spots
amidst the universal white. Lucien, now that his little wife was dead,
desired to choose another. However, he displayed the greatest
hesitation. He would have preferred a wife like Jeanne, taller than
himself; but at last he settled on Marguerite, whose hair fascinated
him, and to whom he attached himself for the day.

“The corpse hasn’t been brought down yet,” Pauline muttered at this
moment in Juliette’s ear.

Pauline was as flurried as though the preliminaries of a ball were in
hand. It was with the greatest difficulty that her sister had prevented
her from donning a white dress for the ceremony.

“Good gracious!” exclaimed Juliette; “what are they dreaming about? I
must run up. Stay with these ladies.”

She hastily left the room, where the mothers in their mourning attire
sat chatting in whispers, while the children dared not make the least
movement lest they should rumple their dresses. When she had reached
the top of the staircase and entered the chamber where the body lay,
Juliette’s blood was chilled by the intense cold. Jeanne still lay on
the bed, with clasped hands; and, like Marguerite and the Levasseur
girls, she was arrayed in a white dress, white cap, and white shoes. A
wreath of white roses crowned the cap, as though she were a little
queen about to be honored by the crowd of guests who were waiting
below. In front of the window, on two chairs, was the oak coffin lined
with satin, looking like some huge jewel casket. The furniture was all
in order; a wax taper was burning; the room seemed close and gloomy,
with the damp smell and stillness of a vault which has been walled up
for many years. Thus Juliette, fresh from the sunshine and smiling life
of the outer world, came to a sudden halt, stricken dumb, without the
courage to explain that they must needs hurry.

“A great many people have come,” she stammered at last. And then, as no
answer was forthcoming, she added, just for the sake of saying
something: “Henri has been forced to attend a consultation at
Versailles; you will excuse him.”

Hélène, who sat in front of the bed, gazed at her with vacant eyes.
They were wholly unable to drag her from that room. For six-and-thirty
hours she had lingered there, despite the prayers of Monsieur Rambaud
and the Abbé Jouve, who kept watch with her. During the last two nights
she had been weighed to the earth by immeasurable agony. Besides, she
had accomplished the grievous task of dressing her daughter for the
last time, of putting on those white silk shoes, for she would allow no
other to touch the feet of the little angel who lay dead. And now she
sat motionless, as though her strength were spent, and the intensity of
her grief had lulled her into forgetfulness.

“Have you got some flowers?” she exclaimed after an effort, her eyes
still fixed on Madame Deberle.

“Yes, yes, my dear,” answered the latter. “Don’t trouble yourself about
that.”

Since her daughter had breathed her last, Hélène had been consumed with
one idea—there must be flowers, flowers, an overwhelming profusion of
flowers. Each time she saw anybody, she grew uneasy, seemingly afraid
that sufficient flowers would never be obtained.

“Are there any roses?” she began again after a pause.

“Yes. I assure you that you will be well pleased.”

She shook her head, and once more fell back into her stupor. In the
meantime the undertaker’s men were waiting on the landing. It must be
got over now without delay. Monsieur Rambaud, who was himself affected
to such a degree that he staggered like a drunken man, signed to
Juliette to assist him in leading the poor woman from the room. Each
slipped an arm gently beneath hers, and they raised her up and led her
towards the dining-room. But the moment she divined their intention,
she shook them from her in a last despairing outburst. The scene was
heartrending. She threw herself on her knees at the bedside and clung
passionately to the sheets, while the room re-echoed with her piteous
shrieks. But still Jeanne lay there with her face of stone, stiff and
icy-cold, wrapped round by the silence of eternity. She seemed to be
frowning; there was a sour pursing of the lips, eloquent of a
revengeful nature; and it was this gloomy, pitiless look, springing
from jealousy and transforming her face, which drove Hélène so frantic.
During the preceding thirty-six hours she had not failed to notice how
the old spiteful expression had grown more and more intense upon her
daughter’s face, how more and more sullen she looked the nearer she
approached the grave. Oh, what a comfort it would have been if Jeanne
could only have smiled on her for the last time!

“No, no!” she shrieked. “I pray you, leave her for a moment. You cannot
take her from me. I want to embrace her. Oh, only a moment, only a
moment!”

With trembling arms she clasped her child to her bosom, eager to
dispute possession with the men who stood in the ante-room, with their
backs turned towards her and impatient frowns on their faces. But her
lips were powerless to breathe any warmth on the cold countenance; she
became conscious that Jeanne’s obstinacy was not to be overcome, that
she refused forgiveness. And then she allowed herself to be dragged
away, and fell upon a chair in the dining-room, with the one mournful
cry, again and again repeated: “My God! My God!”

Monsieur Rambaud and Madame Deberle were overcome by emotion. There was
an interval of silence, but when the latter opened the door halfway it
was all over. There had been no noise—scarcely a stir. The screws,
oiled beforehand, now closed the lid for ever. The chamber was left
empty, and a white sheet was thrown over the coffin.

The bedroom door remained open, and no further restraint was put upon
Hélène. On re-entering the room she cast a dazed look on the furniture
and round the walls. The men had borne away the corpse. Rosalie had
drawn the coverlet over the bed to efface the slight hollow made by the
form of the little one whom they had lost. Then opening her arms with a
distracted gesture and stretching out her hands, Hélène rushed towards
the staircase. She wanted to go down, but Monsieur Rambaud held her
back, while Madame Deberle explained to her that it was not the thing
to do. But she vowed she would behave rationally, that she would not
follow the funeral procession. Surely they could allow her to look on;
she would remain quiet in the garden pavilion. Both wept as they heard
her pleading. However, she had to be dressed. Juliette threw a black
shawl round her to conceal her morning wrap. There was no bonnet to be
found; but at last they came across one from which they tore a bunch of
red vervain flowers. Monsieur Rambaud, who was chief mourner, took hold
of Hélène’s arm.

“Do not leave her,” whispered Madame Deberle as they reached the
garden. “I have so many things to look after!”

And thereupon she hastened away. Hélène meanwhile walked with
difficulty, her eyes ever seeking something. As soon as she had found
herself out of doors she had drawn a long sigh. Ah! what a lovely
morning! Then she looked towards the iron gate, and caught sight of the
little coffin under the white drapery. Monsieur Rambaud allowed her to
take but two or three steps forward.

“Now, be brave,” he said to her, while a shudder ran through his own
frame.

They gazed on the scene. The narrow coffin was bathed in sunshine. At
the foot of it, on a lace cushion, was a silver crucifix. To the left
the holy-water sprinkler lay in its font. The tall wax tapers were
burning with almost invisible flames. Beneath the hangings, the
branches of the trees with their purple shoots formed a kind of bower.
It was a nook full of the beauty of spring, and over it streamed the
golden sunshine irradiating the blossoms with which the coffin was
covered. It seemed as if flowers had been raining down; there were
clusters of white roses, white camellias, white lilac, white
carnations, heaped in a snowy mass of petals; the coffin was hidden
from sight, and from the pall some of the white blossoms were falling,
the ground being strewn with periwinkles and hyacinths. The few persons
passing along the Rue Vineuse paused with a smile of tender emotion
before this sunny garden where the little body lay at peace amongst the
flowers. There seemed to be a music stealing up from the snowy
surroundings; in the glare of light the purity of the blossoms grew
dazzling, and the sun flushed hangings, nosegays, and wreaths of
flowers, with a very semblance of life. Over the roses a bee flew
humming.

“Oh, the flowers! the flowers!” murmured Hélène, powerless to say
another word.

She pressed her handkerchief to her lips, and her eyes filled with
tears. Jeanne must be warm, she thought, and with this idea a wave of
emotion rose in her bosom; she felt very grateful to those who had
enveloped her child in flowers. She wished to go forward, and Monsieur
Rambaud made no effort to hold her back. How sweet was the scene
beneath the cloud of drapery! Perfumes were wafted upwards; the air was
warm and still. Hélène stooped down and chose one rose only, that she
might place it in her bosom. But suddenly she commenced to tremble, and
Monsieur Rambaud became uneasy.

“Don’t stay here,” he said, as he drew her away. “You promised not to
make yourself unwell.”

He was attempting to lead her into the pavilion when the door of the
drawing-room was thrown open. Pauline was the first to appear. She had
undertaken the duty of arranging the funeral procession. One by one,
the little girls stepped into the garden. Their coming seemed like some
sudden outburst of bloom, a miraculous flowering of May. In the open
air the white skirts expanded, streaked moire-like by the sunshine with
shades of the utmost delicacy. An apple-tree above was raining down its
blossoms; gossamer-threads were floating to and fro; the dresses were
instinct with all the purity of spring. And their number still
increased; they already surrounded the lawn; they yet lightly descended
the steps, sailing on like downy balls suddenly expanding beneath the
open sky.

The garden was now a snowy mass, and as Hélène gazed on the crowd of
little girls, a memory awoke within her. She remembered another joyous
season, with its ball and the gay twinkling of tiny feet. She once more
saw Marguerite in her milk-girl costume, with her can hanging from her
waist; and Sophie, dressed as a waiting-maid, and revolving on the arm
of her sister Blanche, whose trappings as Folly gave out a merry tinkle
of bells. She thought, too, of the five Levasseur girls, and of the Red
Riding-Hoods, whose number had seemed endless, with their
ever-recurring cloaks of poppy-colored satin edged with black velvet;
while little Mademoiselle Guiraud, with her Alsatian butterfly bow in
her hair, danced as if demented opposite a Harlequin twice as tall as
herself. To-day they were all arrayed in white. Jeanne, too, was in
white, her head laid amongst white flowers on the white satin pillow.
The delicate-faced Japanese maiden, with hair transfixed by long pins,
and purple tunic embroidered with birds, was leaving them for ever in a
gown of snowy white.

“How tall they have all grown!” exclaimed Hélène, as she burst into
tears.

They were all there but her daughter; she alone was missing. Monsieur
Rambaud led her to the pavilion; but she remained on the threshold,
anxious to see the funeral procession start. Several of the ladies
bowed to her quietly. The children looked at her, with some
astonishment in their blue eyes. Meanwhile Pauline was hovering round,
giving orders. She lowered her voice for the occasion, but at times
forgot herself.

“Now, be good children! Look, you little stupid, you are dirty already!
I’ll come for you in a minute; don’t stir.”

The hearse drove up; it was time to start, but Madame Deberle appeared,
exclaiming: “The bouquets have been forgotten! Quick, Pauline, the
bouquets!”

Some little confusion ensued. A bouquet of white roses had been
prepared for each little girl; and these bouquets now had to be
distributed. The children, in an ecstasy of delight, held the great
clusters of flowers in front of them as though they had been wax
tapers; Lucien, still at Marguerite’s side, daintily inhaled the
perfume of her blossoms as she held them to his face. All these little
maidens, their hands filled with flowers, looked radiant with happiness
in the golden light; but suddenly their faces grew grave as they
perceived the men placing the coffin on the hearse.

“Is she inside that thing?” asked Sophie in a whisper.

Her sister Blanche nodded assent. Then, in her turn, she said: “For men
it’s as big as this!”

She was referring to the coffin, and stretched out her arms to their
widest extent. However, little Marguerite, whose nose was buried
amongst her roses, was seized with a fit of laughter; it was the
flowers, said she, which tickled her. Then the others in turn buried
their noses in their bouquets to find out if it were so; but they were
remonstrated with, and they all became grave once more.

The funeral procession was now filing into the street. At the corner of
the Rue Vineuse a woman without a cap, and with tattered shoes on her
feet, wept and wiped her cheeks with the corner of her apron. People
stood at many windows, and exclamations of pity ascended through the
stillness of the street. Hung with white silver-fringed drapery the
hearse rolled on without a sound; nothing fell on the ear save the
measured tread of the two white horses, deadened by the solid earthen
roadway. The bouquets and wreaths, borne on the funeral car, formed a
very harvest of flowers; the coffin was hidden by them; every jolt
tossed the heaped-up mass, and the hearse slowly sprinkled the street
with lilac blossom. From each of the four corners streamed a long
ribbon of white watered silk, held by four little girls—Sophie and
Marguerite, one of the Levasseur family, and little Mademoiselle
Guiraud, who was so small and so uncertain on her legs that her mother
walked beside her. The others, in a close body, surrounded the hearse,
each bearing her bouquet of roses. They walked slowly, their veils
waved, and the wheels rolled on amidst all this muslin, as though borne
along on a cloud, from which smiled the tender faces of cherubs. Then
behind, following Monsieur Rambaud, who bowed his pale face, came
several ladies and little boys, Rosalie, Zephyrin, and the servants of
Madame Deberle. To these succeeded five empty mourning carriages. And
as the hearse passed along the sunny street like a car symbolical of
springtide, a number of white pigeons wheeled over the mourners’ heads.

“Good heavens! how annoying!” exclaimed Madame Deberle when she saw the
procession start off. “If only Henri had postponed that consultation! I
told him how it would be!”

She did not know what to do with Hélène, who remained prostrate on a
seat in the pavilion. Henri might have stayed with her and afforded her
some consolation. His absence was a horrible nuisance. Luckily,
Mademoiselle Aurelie was glad to offer her services; she had no liking
for such solemn scenes, and while watching over Hélène would be able to
attend to the luncheon which had to be prepared ere the children’s
return. So Juliette hastened after the funeral, which was proceeding
towards the church by way of the Rue de Passy.

The garden was now deserted; a few workmen only were folding up the
hangings. All that remained on the gravelled path over which Jeanne had
been carried were the scattered petals of a camellia. And Hélène,
suddenly lapsing into loneliness and stillness, was thrilled once more
with the anguish of this eternal separation. Once again—only once
again!—to be at her darling’s side! The never-fading thought that
Jeanne was leaving her in anger, with a face that spoke solely of
gloomy hatred, seared her heart like a red-hot iron. She well divined
that Mademoiselle Aurelie was there to watch her, and cast about for
some opportunity to escape and hasten to the cemetery.

“Yes, it’s a dreadful loss,” began the old maid, comfortably seated in
an easy-chair. “I myself should have worshipped children, and little
girls in particular. Ah, well! when I think of it I am pleased that I
never married. It saves a lot of grief!”

It was thus she thought to divert the mother. She chatted away about
one of her friends who had had six children; they were now all dead.
Another lady had been left a widow with a big lad who struck her; he
might die, and there would be no difficulty in comforting her. Hélène
appeared to be listening to all this; she did not stir, but her whole
frame quivered with impatience.

“You are calmer now,” said Mademoiselle Aurelie, after a time. “Well,
in the end we always have to get the better of our feelings.”

The dining-room communicated with the Japanese pavilion, and, rising
up, the old maid opened the door and peered into the room. The table,
she saw, was covered with pastry and cakes. Meantime, in an instant
Hélène sped through the garden; the gate was still open, the workmen
were just carrying away their ladder.

On the left the Rue Vineuse turns into the Rue des Reservoirs, from
which the cemetery of Passy can be entered. On the Boulevard de la
Muette a huge retaining wall has been reared, and the cemetery
stretches like an immense terrace commanding the heights, the
Trocadero, the avenues, and the whole expanse of Paris. In twenty steps
Hélène had reached the yawning gateway, and saw before her the lonely
expanse of white gravestones and black crosses. She entered. At the
corners of the first walk two large lilac trees were budding. There
were but few burials here; weeds grew thickly, and a few cypress trees
threw solemn shadows across the green. Hélène hurried straight on; a
troop of frightened sparrows flew off, and a grave-digger raised his
head towards her after flinging aside a shovelful of earth. The
procession had probably not yet arrived from the church; the cemetery
seemed empty to her. She turned to the right, and advanced almost to
the edge of the terrace parapet; but, on looking round, she saw behind
a cluster of acacias the little girls in white upon their knees before
the temporary vault into which Jeanne’s remains had a moment before
been lowered. Abbé Jouve, with outstretched hand, was giving the
farewell benediction. She heard nothing but the dull thud with which
the stone slab of the vault fell back into its place. All was over.

Meanwhile, however, Pauline had observed her and pointed her out to
Madame Deberle, who almost gave way to anger. “What!” she exclaimed;
“she has come. But it isn’t at all proper; it’s very bad taste!”[*]

[*] In France, among the aristocracy and the upper _bourgeoisie_—to
which Madame Deberle belonged—mothers seldom, if ever, attend the
funerals of their children, or widows those of the husbands they have
lost. They are supposed to be so prostrated by grief as to be unable to
appear in public. This explanation was necessary, as otherwise the
reader might not understand the force of Madame Deberle’s remarks.

So saying she stepped forward, showing Hélène by the expression of her
face that she disapproved of her presence. Some other ladies also
followed with inquisitive looks. Monsieur Rambaud, however, had already
rejoined the bereaved mother, and stood silent by her side. She was
leaning against one of the acacias, feeling faint, and weary with the
sight of all those mourners. She nodded her head in recognition of
their sympathetic words, but all the while she was stifling with the
thought that she had come too late; for she had heard the noise of the
stone falling back into its place. Her eyes ever turned towards the
vault, the step of which a cemetery keeper was sweeping.

“Pauline, see to the children,” said Madame Deberle.

The little girls rose from their knees looking like a flock of white
sparrows. A few of the tinier ones, lost among their petticoats, had
seated themselves on the ground, and had to be picked up. While Jeanne
was being lowered down, the older girls had leaned forward to see the
bottom of the cavity. It was so dark they had shuddered and turned
pale. Sophie assured her companions in a whisper that one remained
there for years and years. “At nighttime too?” asked one of the little
Levasseur girls. “Of course—at night too—always!” Oh, the night!
Blanche was nearly dead with the idea. And they all looked at one
another with dilated eyes, as if they had just heard some story about
robbers. However, when they had regained their feet, and stood grouped
around the vault, released from their mourning duties, their cheeks
became pink again; it must all be untrue, those stories could only have
been told for fun. The spot seemed pleasant, so pretty with its long
grass; what capital games they might have had at hide-and-seek behind
all the tombstones! Their little feet were already itching to dance
away, and their white dresses fluttered like wings. Amidst the
graveyard stillness the warm sunshine lazily streamed down, flushing
their faces. Lucien had thrust his hand beneath Marguerite’s veil, and
was feeling her hair and asking if she put anything on it, to make it
so yellow. The little one drew herself up, and he told her that they
would marry each other some day. To this Marguerite had no objection,
but she was afraid that he might pull her hair. His hands were still
wandering over it; it seemed to him as soft as highly-glazed
letter-paper.

“Don’t go so far away,” called Pauline.

“Well, we’ll leave now,” said Madame Deberle. “There’s nothing more to
be done, and the children must be hungry.”

The little girls, who had scattered like some boarding-school at play,
had to be marshalled together once more. They were counted, and baby
Guiraud was missing; but she was at last seen in the distance, gravely
toddling along a path with her mother’s parasol. The ladies then turned
towards the gateway, driving the stream of white dresses before them.
Madame Berthier congratulated Pauline on her marriage, which was to
take place during the following month. Madame Deberle informed them
that she was setting out in three days’ time for Naples, with her
husband and Lucien. The crowd now quickly disappeared; Zephyrin and
Rosalie were the last to remain. Then in their turn they went off,
linked together, arm-in-arm, delighted with their outing, although
their hearts were heavy with grief. Their pace was slow, and for a
moment longer they could be seen at the end of the path, with the
sunshine dancing over them.

“Come,” murmured Monsieur Rambaud to Hélène.

With a gesture she entreated him to wait. She was alone, and to her it
seemed as though a page had been torn from the book of her life. As
soon as the last of the mourners had disappeared, she knelt before the
tomb with a painful effort. Abbé Jouve, robed in his surplice, had not
yet risen to his feet. Both prayed for a long time. Then, without
speaking, but with a glowing glance of loving-kindness and pardon, the
priest assisted her to rise.

“Give her your arm,” he said to Monsieur Rambaud.

Towards the horizon stretched Paris, all golden in the radiance of that
spring morning. In the cemetery a chaffinch was singing.



 CHAPTER XXV.


Two years were past and gone. One morning in December the little
cemetery lay slumbering in the intense cold. Since the evening before
snow had been falling, a fine snow, which a north wind blew before it.
From the paling sky the flakes now fell at rarer intervals, light and
buoyant, like feathers. The snow was already hardening, and a thick
trimming of seeming swan’s-down edged the parapet of the terrace.
Beyond this white line lay Paris, against the gloomy grey on the
horizon.

Madame Rambaud was still praying on her knees in the snow before the
grave of Jeanne. Her husband had but a moment before risen silently to
his feet. Hélène and her old lover had been married in November at
Marseilles. Monsieur Rambaud had disposed of his business near the
Central Markets, and had come to Paris for three days, in order to
conclude the transaction. The carriage now awaiting them in the Rue des
Reservoirs was to take them back to their hotel, and thence with their
travelling-trunks to the railway station. Hélène had made the journey
with the one thought of kneeling here. She remained motionless, with
drooping head, as if dreaming, and unconscious of the cold ground that
chilled her knees.

Meanwhile the wind was falling. Monsieur Rambaud had stepped to the
terrace, leaving her to the mute anguish which memory evoked. A haze
was stealing over the outlying districts of Paris, whose immensity
faded away in this pale, vague mist. Round the Trocadero the city was
of a leaden hue and lifeless, while the last snowflakes slowly
fluttered down in pale specks against the gloomy background. Beyond the
chimneys of the Army Bakehouse, the brick towers of which had a coppery
tint, these white dots descended more thickly; a gauze seemed to be
floating in the air, falling to earth thread by thread. Not a breath
stirred as the dream-like shower sleepily and rhythmically descended
from the atmosphere. As they neared the roofs the flakes seemed to
falter in their flight; in myriads they ceaselessly pillowed themselves
on one another, in such intense silence that even blossoms shedding
their petals make more noise; and from this moving mass, whose descent
through space was inaudible, there sprang a sense of such intense
peacefulness that earth and life were forgotten. A milky whiteness
spread more and more over the whole heavens though they were still
darkened here and there by wreaths of smoke. Little by little, bright
clusters of houses became plainly visible; a bird’s-eye view was
obtained of the whole city, intersected by streets and squares, which
with their shadowy depths described the framework of the several
districts.

Hélène had slowly risen. On the snow remained the imprint of her knees.
Wrapped in a large, dark mantle trimmed with fur, she seemed amidst the
surrounding white very tall and broad-shouldered. The border of her
bonnet, a twisted band of black velvet, looked like a diadem throwing a
shadow on her forehead. She had regained her beautiful, placid face
with grey eyes and pearly teeth. Her chin was full and rounded, as in
the olden days, giving her an air of sturdy sense and determination. As
she turned her head, her profile once more assumed statuesque severity
and purity. Beneath the untroubled paleness of her cheeks her blood
coursed calmly; everything showed that honor was again ruling her life.
Two tears had rolled from under her eyelids; her present tranquillity
came from her past sorrow. And she stood before the grave on which was
reared a simple pillar inscribed with Jeanne’s name and two dates,
within which the dead child’s brief existence was compassed.

Around Hélène stretched the cemetery, enveloped in its snowy pall,
through which rose rusty monuments and iron crosses, like arms thrown
up in agony. There was only one path visible in this lonely corner, and
that had been made by the footmarks of Hélène and Monsieur Rambaud. It
was a spotless solitude where the dead lay sleeping. The walks were
outlined by the shadowy, phantom-like trees. Ever and anon some snow
fell noiselessly from a branch that had been too heavily burdened. But
nothing else stirred. At the far end, some little while ago, a black
tramping had passed by; some one was being buried beneath this snowy
winding-sheet. And now another funeral train appeared on the left.
Hearses and mourners went their way in silence, like shadows thrown
upon a spotless linen cloth.

Hélène was awaking from her dream when she observed a beggar-woman
crawling along near her. It was Mother Fétu, the snow deadening the
sound of her huge man’s boots, which were burst and bound round with
bits of string. Never had Hélène seen her weighed down by such intense
misery, or covered with filthier rags, though she was fatter than ever,
and wore a stupid look. In the foulest weather, despite hard frosts or
drenching rain, the old woman now followed funerals in order to
speculate on the pity of the charitable. She well knew that amongst the
gravestones the fear of death makes people generous; and so she prowled
from tomb to tomb, approaching the kneeling mourners at the moment they
burst into tears, for she understood that they were then powerless to
refuse her. She had entered with the last funeral train, and a moment
previously had espied Hélène. But she had not recognized her
benefactress, and with gasps and sobs began to relate how she had two
children at home who were dying of hunger. Hélène listened to her,
struck dumb by this apparition. The children were without fire to warm
them; the elder was going off in a decline. But all at once Mother
Fétu’s words came to an end. Her brain was evidently working beneath
the myriad wrinkles of her face, and her little eyes began to blink.
Good gracious! it was her benefactress! Heaven, then, had hearkened to
her prayers! And without seeking to explain the story about the
children, she plunged into a whining tale, with a ceaseless rush of
words. Several of her teeth were missing, and she could be understood
with difficulty. The gracious God had sent every affliction on her
head, she declared. The gentleman lodger had gone away, and she had
only just been enabled to rise after lying for three months in bed;
yes, the old pain still remained, it now gripped her everywhere; a
neighbor had told her that a spider must have got in through her mouth
while she was asleep. If she had only had a little fire, she could have
warmed her stomach; that was the only thing that could relieve her now.
But nothing could be had for nothing—not even a match. Perhaps she was
right in thinking that madame had been travelling? That was her own
concern, of course. At all events, she looked very well, and fresh, and
beautiful. God would requite her for all her kindness. Then, as Hélène
began to draw out her purse, Mother Fétu drew breath, leaning against
the railing that encircled Jeanne’s grave.

The funeral processions had vanished from sight. Somewhere in a grave
close at hand a digger, whom they could not see, was wielding his
pickaxe with regular strokes.

Meanwhile the old woman had regained her breath, and her eyes were
riveted on the purse. Then, anxious to extort as large a sum as
possible, she displayed considerable cunning, and spoke of the other
lady. Nobody could say that she was not a charitable lady; still, she
did not know what to do with her money—it never did one much good.
Warily did she glance at Hélène as she spoke. And next she ventured to
mention the doctor’s name. Oh! he was good. Last summer he had again
gone on a journey with his wife. Their boy was thriving; he was a fine
child. But just then Hélène’s fingers, as she opened the purse, began
to tremble, and Mother Fétu immediately changed her tone. In her
stupidity and bewilderment she had only now realized that the good lady
was standing beside her daughter’s grave. She stammered, gasped, and
tried to bring tears to her eyes. Jeanne, said she, had been so dainty
a darling, with such loves of little hands; she could still see her
giving her silver in charity. What long hair she had! and how her large
eyes filled with tears when she gazed on the poor! Ah! there was no
replacing such an angel; there were no more to be found like her, were
they even to search the whole of Passy. And when the fine days came,
said Mother Fétu, she would gather some daisies in the moat of the
fortifications and place them on her tomb. Then, however, she lapsed
into silence frightened by the gesture with which Hélène cut her short.
Was it possible, she thought, that she could no longer find the right
thing to say? Her good lady did not weep, and only gave her a
twenty-sou piece.

Monsieur Rambaud, meanwhile, had walked towards them from the parapet
of the terrace. Hélène hastened to rejoin him. At the sight of the
gentleman Mother Fétu’s eyes began to sparkle. He was unknown to her;
he must be a new-comer. Dragging her feet along, she followed Hélène,
invoking every blessing of Heaven on her head; and when she had crept
close to Monsieur Rambaud, she again spoke of the doctor. Ah! his would
be a magnificent funeral when he died, were the poor people whom he had
attended for nothing to follow his corpse! He was rather fickle in his
loves—nobody could deny that. There were ladies in Passy who knew him
well. But all that didn’t prevent him from worshipping his wife—such a
pretty lady, who, had she wished, might have easily gone wrong, but had
given up such ideas long ago. Their home was quite a turtle-doves’ nest
now. Had madame paid them a visit yet? They were certain to be at home;
she had but a few moments previously observed that the shutters were
open in the Rue Vineuse. They had formerly had such regard for madame
that surely they would be delighted to receive her with open arms!

The old hag leered at Monsieur Rambaud as she thus mumbled away. He
listened to her with the composure of a brave man. The memories that
were being called up before him brought no shadow to his unruffled
face. Only it occurred to him that the pertinacity of the old beggar
was annoying Hélène, and so he hastened to fumble in his pocket, in his
turn giving her some alms, and at the same time waving her away. The
moment her eyes rested on another silver coin Mother Fétu burst into
loud thanks. She would buy some wood at once; she would be able to warm
her afflicted body—that was the only thing now to give her stomach any
relief. Yes, the doctor’s home was quite a nest of turtle-doves, and
the proof was that the lady had only last winter given birth to a
second child—a beautiful little daughter, rosy-cheeked and fat, who
must now be nearly fourteen months old. On the day of the baptism the
doctor had put a hundred sous into her hand at the door of the church.
Ah! good hearts came together. Madame had brought her good luck. Pray
God that madame might never have a sorrow, but every good fortune! yes,
might that come to pass in the name of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Ghost!

Hélène stood upright gazing on Paris, while Mother Fétu vanished among
the tombs, muttering three _Paters_ and three _Aves_. The snow had
ceased falling; the last of the flakes had fluttered slowly and wearily
on to the roofs; and through the dissolving mist the golden sun could
be seen tinging the pearly-grey expanse of heaven with a pink glow.
Over Montmartre a belt of blue fringed the horizon; but it was so faint
and delicate that it seemed but a shadow such as white satin might
throw. Paris was gradually detaching itself from amidst the smoke,
spreading out more broadly with its snowy expanses the frigid cloak
which held it in death-like quiescence. There were now no longer any
fleeting specks of white making the city shudder, and quivering in pale
waves over the dull-brown house-fronts. Amidst the masses of snow that
girt them round the dwellings stood out black and gloomy, as though
mouldy with centuries of damp. Entire streets appeared to be in ruins,
as if undermined by some gunpowder explosion, with roofs ready to give
way and windows already driven in. But gradually, as the belt of blue
broadened in the direction of Montmartre, there came a stream of light,
pure and cool as the waters of a spring; and Paris once more shone out
as under a glass, which lent even to the outlying districts the
distinctness of a Japanese picture.

Wrapped in her fur mantle, with her hands clinging idly to the cuffs of
the sleeves, Hélène was musing. With the persistency of an echo one
thought unceasingly pursued her—a child, a fat, rosy daughter, had been
born to them. In her imagination she could picture her at the
love-compelling age when Jeanne had commenced to prattle. Baby girls
are such darlings when fourteen months old! She counted the
months—fourteen: that made two years when she took the remaining period
into consideration—exactly the time within a fortnight. Then her brain
conjured up a sunny picture of Italy, a realm of dreamland, with golden
fruits where lovers wandered through the perfumed nights, with arms
round one another’s waists. Henri and Juliette were pacing before her
eyes beneath the light of the moon. They loved as husband and wife do
when passion is once more awakened within them. To think of it—a tiny
girl, rosy and fat, its bare body flushed by the warm sunshine, while
it strives to stammer words which its mother arrests with kisses! And
Hélène thought of all this without any anger; her heart was mute, yet
seemingly derived yet greater quietude from the sadness of her spirit.
The land of the sun had vanished from her vision; her eyes wandered
slowly over Paris, on whose huge frame winter had laid his freezing
hand. Above the Panthéon another patch of blue was now spreading in the
heavens.

Meanwhile memory was recalling the past to life. At Marseilles she had
spent her days in a state of coma. One morning as she went along the
Rue des Petites-Maries, she had burst out sobbing in front of the home
of her childhood. That was the last occasion on which she had wept.
Monsieur Rambaud was her frequent visitor; she felt his presence near
her to be a protection. Towards autumn she had one evening seen him
enter, with red eyes and in the agony of a great sorrow; his brother,
Abbé Jouve, was dead. In her turn she comforted him. What followed she
could not recall with any exactitude of detail. The Abbé ever seemed to
stand behind them, and influenced by thought of him she succumbed
resignedly. When M. Rambaud once more hinted at his wish, she had
nothing to say in refusal. It seemed to her that what he asked was but
sensible. Of her own accord, as her period of mourning was drawing to
an end, she calmly arranged all the details with him. His hands
trembled in a transport of tenderness. It should be as she pleased; he
had waited for months; a sign sufficed him. They were married in
mourning garb. On the wedding night he, like her first husband, kissed
her bare feet—feet fair as though fashioned out of marble. And thus
life began once more.

While the belt of blue was broadening on the horizon, this awakening of
memory came with an astounding effect on Hélène. Had she lived through
a year of madness, then? To-day, as she pictured the woman who had
lived for nearly three years in that room in the Rue Vineuse, she
imagined that she was passing judgment on some stranger, whose conduct
revolted and surprised her. How fearfully foolish had been her act! how
abominably wicked! Yet she had not sought it. She had been living
peacefully, hidden in her nook, absorbed in the love of her daughter.
Untroubled by any curious thoughts, by any desire, she had seen the
road of life lying before her. But a breath had swept by, and she had
fallen. Even at this moment she was unable to explain it; she had
evidently ceased to be herself; another mind and heart had controlled
her actions. Was it possible? She had done those things? Then an icy
chill ran through her; she saw Jeanne borne away beneath roses. But in
the torpor begotten of her grief she grew very calm again, once more
without a longing or curiosity, once more proceeding along the path of
duty that lay so straight before her. Life had again begun for her,
fraught with austere peacefulness and pride of honesty.

Monsieur Rambaud now moved near her to lead her from this place of
sadness. But Hélène silently signed to him her wish to linger a little
longer. Approaching the parapet she gazed below into the Avenue de la
Muette, where a long line of old cabs in the last stage of decay
stretched beside the footpath. The hoods and wheels looked blanched,
the rusty horses seemed to have been rotting there since the dark ages.
Some cabmen sat motionless, freezing within their frozen cloaks. Over
the snow other vehicles were crawling along, one after the other, with
the utmost difficulty. The animals were losing their foothold, and
stretching out their necks, while their drivers with many oaths
descended from their seats and held them by the bridle; and through the
windows you could see the faces of the patient “fares,” reclining
against the cushions, and resigning themselves to the stern necessity
of taking three-quarters of an hour to cover a distance which in other
weather would have been accomplished in ten minutes. The rumbling of
the wheels was deadened by the snow; only the voices vibrated upward,
sounding shrill and distinct amidst the silence of the streets; there
were loud calls, the laughing exclamations of people slipping on the
icy paths, the angry whip-cracking of carters, and the snorting of
terrified horses. In the distance, to the right, the lofty trees on the
quay seemed to be spun of glass, like huge Venetian chandeliers, whose
flower-decked arms the designer had whimsically twisted. The icy north
wind had transformed the trunks into columns, over which waved downy
boughs and feathery tufts, an exquisite tracery of black twigs edged
with white trimmings. It was freezing, and not a breath stirred in the
pure air.

Then Hélène told her heart that she had known nothing of Henri. For a
year she had seen him almost every day; he had lingered for hours and
hours near her, to speak to her and gaze into her eyes. Yet she knew
nothing of him. Whence had he come? how had he crept into her intimacy?
what manner of man was he that she had yielded to him—she who would
rather have perished than yield to another? She knew nothing of him; it
had all sprung from some sudden tottering of her reason. He had been a
stranger to her on the last as on the first day. In vain did she patch
together little scattered things and circumstances—his words, his acts,
everything that her memory recalled concerning him. He loved his wife
and his child; he smiled with delicate grace; he outwardly appeared a
well-bred man. Then she saw him again with inflamed visage, and
trembling with passion. But weeks passed, and he vanished from her
sight. At this moment she could not have said where she had spoken to
him for the last time. He had passed away, and his shadow had gone with
him. Their story had no other ending. She knew him not.

Over the city the sky had now become blue, and every cloud had
vanished. Wearied with her memories, and rejoicing in the purity before
her, Hélène raised her head. The blue of the heavens was exquisitely
clear, but still very pale in the light of the sun, which hung low on
the horizon, and glittered like a silver lamp. In that icy temperature
its rays shed no heat on the glittering snow. Below stretched the
expanses of roofs—the tiles of the Army Bakehouse, and the slates of
the houses on the quay—like sheets of white cloth fringed with black.
On the other bank of the river, the square stretch of the Champ-de-Mars
seemed a steppe, the black dots of the straggling vehicles making one
think of sledges skimming along with tinkling bells; while the elms on
the Quai d’Orsay, dwarfed by the distance, looked like crystal flowers
bristling with sharp points. Through all the snow-white sea the Seine
rolled its muddy waters edged by the ermine of its banks; since the
evening before ice had been floating down, and you could clearly see
the masses crushing against the piers of the Pont des Invalides, and
vanishing swiftly beneath the arches. The bridges, growing more and
more delicate with the distance, seemed like the steps of a ladder of
white lace reaching as far as the sparkling walls of the Cité, above
which the towers of Notre-Dame reared their snow-white crests. On the
left the level plain was broken up by other peaks. The Church of
Saint-Augustin, the Opera House, the Tower of Saint-Jacques, looked
like mountains clad with eternal snow. Nearer at hand the pavilions of
the Tuileries and the Louvre, joined together by newly erected
buildings, resembled a ridge of hills with spotless summits. On the
right, too, were the white tops of the Invalides, of Saint-Sulpice, and
the Panthéon, the last in the dim distance, outlining against the sky a
palace of fairyland with dressings of bluish marble. Not a sound broke
the stillness. Grey-looking hollows revealed the presence of the
streets; the public squares were like yawning crevasses. Whole lines of
houses had vanished. The fronts of the neighboring dwellings alone
showed distinctly with the thousand streaks of light reflected from
their windows. Beyond, the expanse of snow intermingled and merged into
a seeming lake, whose blue shadows blended with the blue of the sky.
Huge and clear in the bright, frosty atmosphere, Paris glittered in the
light of the silver sun.

Then Hélène for the last time let her glance sweep over the unpitying
city which also remained unknown to her. She saw it once more, tranquil
and with immortal beauty amidst the snow, the same as when she had left
it, the same as it had been every day for three long years. Paris to
her was full of her past life. In its presence she had loved, in its
presence Jeanne had died. But this companion of her every-day existence
retained on its mighty face a wondrous serenity, unruffled by any
emotion, as though it were but a mute witness of the laughter and the
tears which the Seine seemed to roll in its flood. She had, according
to her mood, endowed it with monstrous cruelty or almighty goodness.
To-day she felt that she would be ever ignorant of it, in its
indifference and immensity. It spread before her; it was life.

However, Monsieur Rambaud now laid a light hand on her arm to lead her
away. His kindly face was troubled, and he whispered:

“Do not give yourself pain.”

He divined her every thought, and this was all he could say. Madame
Rambaud looked at him, and her sorrow became appeased. Her cheeks were
flushed by the cold; her eyes sparkled. Her memories were already far
away. Life was beginning again.

“I’m not quite certain whether I shut the big trunk properly,” she
exclaimed.

Monsieur Rambaud promised that he would make sure. Their train started
at noon, and they had plenty of time. Some gravel was being scattered
on the streets; their cab would not take an hour. But, all at once, he
raised his voice:

“I believe you’ve forgotten the fishing-rods!” said he.

“Oh, yes; quite!” she answered, surprised and vexed at her
forgetfulness. “We ought to have bought them yesterday!”

The rods in question were very handy ones, the like of which could not
be purchased at Marseilles. They there owned near the sea a small
country house, where they purposed spending the summer. Monsieur
Rambaud looked at his watch. On their way to the railway station they
would still be able to buy the rods, and could tie them up with the
umbrellas. Then he led her from the place, tramping along, and taking
short cuts between the graves. The cemetery was empty; only the imprint
of their feet now remained on the snow. Jeanne, dead, lay alone, facing
Paris, for ever and for ever.


AFTERWARD


There can be no doubt in the mind of the judicial critic that in the
pages of “A Love Episode” the reader finds more of the poetical, more
of the delicately artistic, more of the subtle emanation of creative
and analytical genius, than in any other of Zola’s works, with perhaps
one exception. The masterly series of which this book is a part
furnishes a well-stocked gallery of pictures by which posterity will
receive vivid and adequate impressions of life in France during a
certain period. There was a strain of Greek blood in Zola’s veins. It
would almost seem that down through the ages with this blood there had
come to him a touch of that old Greek fatalism, or belief in destiny or
necessity. The Greek tragedies are pervaded and permeated, steeped and
dyed with this idea of relentless fate. It is called heredity, in these
modern days. Heredity plus environment,—in these we find the keynote of
the great productions of the leader of the “naturalistic” school of
fiction.

It has been said that art, in itself, should have no moral. It has been
further charged that the tendencies of some of Zola’s works are
hurtful. But, in the books of this master, the aberrations of vice are
nowhere made attractive, or insidiously alluring. The shadow of
expiation, remorse, punishment, retribution is ever present, like a
death’s-head at a feast. The day of reckoning comes, and bitterly do
the culprits realize that the tortuous game of vice is not worth the
candle. Casuistical theologians may attempt to explain away the notions
of punishment in the life to come, of retribution beyond the grave. But
the shallowest thinker will not deny the realities of remorse. To how
many confessions, to how many suicides has it led? Of how many reformed
lives has it been the mainspring? The great lecturer, John B. Gough,
used to tell a story of a railway employee whose mind was overthrown by
his disastrous error in misplacing a switch, and who spent his days in
the mad-house repeating the phrase: “If I only had, if I only had.” His
was not an intentional or wilful dereliction. But in the hearts of how
many repentant sinners does there not echo through life a similar
mournful refrain. This lesson has been taught by Zola in more than one
of his romances.

In “A Love Episode” how poignant is this expiation! In all literature
there is nothing like the portrayal of the punishment of Hélène
Grandjean. Hélène and little Jeanne are reversions of type. The old
“neurosis,” seen in earlier branches of the family, reappears in these
characters. Readers of the series will know where it began. Poor little
Jeanne, most pathetic of creations, is a study in abnormal jealousy, a
jealousy which seems to be clairvoyant, full of supernatural
intuitions, turning everything to suspicion, a jealousy which blights
and kills. Could the memory of those weeks of anguish fade from
Hélène’s soul? This dying of a broken heart is not merely the figment
of a poet’s fancy. It has happened in real life. The coming of death,
save in the case of the very aged, seems, nearly always, brutally
cruel, at least to those friends who survive. Parents know what it is
to sit with bated breath and despairing heart beside the bed of a
sinking child. Seconds seem hours, and hours weeks. The impotency to
succour, the powerlessness to save, the dumb despair, the overwhelming
grief, all these are sorrowful realities. How vividly are they pictured
by Zola. And, added to this keenness of grief in the case of Hélène
Grandjean, was the sense that her fault had contributed to the illness
of her daughter. Each sigh of pain was a reproach. The pallid and
ever-paling cheek was a whip of scorpions, lashing the mother’s naked
soul. Will ethical teachers say that there is no salutary moral lesson
in this vivid picture? To many it seems better than a cart-load of dull
tracts or somnolent homilies. Poor, pathetic little Jeanne, lying there
in the cemetery of Passy—where later was erected the real tomb of Marie
Bashkirtseff, though dead she yet spoke a lesson of contrition to her
mother. And though the second marriage of Hélène has been styled an
anti-climax, yet it is true enough to life. It does not remove the
logical and artistic inference that the memory of Jeanne’s sufferings
lingered with ever recurring poignancy in the mother’s heart.

In a few bold lines Zola sketches a living character. Take the picture
of old Mere Fétu. One really feels her disagreeable presence, and is
annoyed with her whining, leering, fawning, sycophancy. One almost
resents her introduction into the pages of the book. There is something
palpably odious about her personality. A pleasing contrast is formed by
the pendant portraits of the awkward little soldier and his
kitchen-sweetheart. This homely and wholesome couple one may meet any
afternoon in Paris, on leave-of-absence days. Their portraits, and the
delicious description of the children’s party, are evidently studies
from life. With such vivid verisimilitude is the latter presented that
one imagines, the day after reading the book, that he has been present
at the pleasant function, and has admired the fluffy darlings, in their
dainty costumes, with their chubby cavaliers.

It is barely fair to an author to give him the credit of knowing
something about the proper relative proportions of his characters. And
so, although Dr. Deberle is somewhat shadowy, he certainly serves the
author’s purpose, and—well, Dr. Deberle is not the hero of “An Episode
of Love.” Rambaud and the good Abbé Jouve are certainly strong enough.
There seems to be a touch of Dickens about them.

Cities sometimes seem to be great organisms. Each has an individuality,
a specific identity, so marked, and peculiarities so especially
characteristic of itself, that one might almost allow it a soul. Down
through the centuries has fair Lutetia come, growing in the artistic
graces, until now she stands the playground of princes and the capital
of the world, even as mighty Rome among the ancients. And shall we
object, because a few pages of “A Love Episode” are devoted to
descriptions of Paris? Rather let us be thankful for them. These
descriptions of the wonderful old city form a glorious pentatych. They
are invaluable to two classes of readers, those who have visited Paris
and those who have not. To the former they recall the days in which the
spirit of the French metropolis seemed to possess their being and to
take them under its wondrous spell. To the latter they supply hints of
the majesty and attractiveness of Paris, and give some inkling of its
power to please. And Zola loved his Paris as a sailor loves the sea.

C. C. STARKWEATHER.





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