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. Helene 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 Abbe told me you would be coming, and I kept two chairs for you."
Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene, 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 Helene, 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, Helene 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. Helene 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, Helene 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 Abbe. 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 Abbe blinked when he laughed inwardly. Helene 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. Helene 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!"
Helene, 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 Helene 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.
Helene 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 Fetu, who was soliciting alms at the church door. Barring Helene'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!"
Helene 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 Fetu 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 Helene, 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 Helene. 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 Helene 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 Helene 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. Helene, 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 Helene, 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; Helene 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.
Helene 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 Helene'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!"
Helene 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 Helene 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. Helene 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 Fetu's hand. When the latter saw the doctor alone with Helene, 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 Helene 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 Helene 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 Fetu. 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 Fetu 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 Helene 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 Helene. "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 Fetu 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 Helene 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 Helene'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 Helene saw nothing and heard nothing; she was eagerly catechising her heart, asking whether she ought not to confess to Abbe 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 Abbe 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 Helene, 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 Helene, in distraction, carried her child, with the assistance of the sorrowing Abbe, 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.
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 Helene 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."
Helene 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. Helene 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. Helene 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 Helene 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."
Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene.
"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. Helene 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 Helene 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, Helene, 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 Helene 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 Helene, 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, Helene 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 Abbe 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, Helene 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 Abbe 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!"
Helene 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. Helene'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 Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene.
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 Helene; 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. Helene, 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 Helene'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 Helene, 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 Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene, 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 Abbe and Monsieur Rambaud made their appearance, Helene 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 Helene 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."
Helene 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 Helene, 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 Helene'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, Helene 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.
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 Helene 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 Helene, 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 Helene. 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 Helene 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 Helene, 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."
Helene 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. Helene 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 Helene, 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 Helene.
"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 Helene. "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. Helene 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 Helene'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!"
Helene, 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. Helene'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. Helene, 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 Helene'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 Helene 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. Helene, 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."
Helene'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 Helene, 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 Helene 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 Abbe, 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 Helene 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 Helene 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. Helene 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 Helene'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 Helene 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 Helene. 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 Helene'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 Helene 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. Helene, 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 Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene 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 Helene'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.
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 Helene'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.
Helene, 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 Helene 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. Helene 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?" Helene 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 Helene, 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 Helene 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.