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Chapter 1-3

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« on: September 18, 2023, 10:26:30 am »



WRAPPED in a wadded silk dressing-gown, with frilled muslin cape and under-sleeves to it, Gabrielle St. Leger had made her nightly round. Had seen that lights were switched off, fires safe, shutters bolted, and the maids duly retired to their bedchamber. Had embraced her mother, and looked into details of night-light and spirit-lamp, lest the excessive cold should render some hot beverage advisable for the elder lady in the course of the night. Had visited Bette in the little room adjoining her own, and found the child snuggled down in her cot profoundly and deliciously asleep. Then, being at last free of further obligation to house or household, she turned the key in the lock of her bedroom door and sat down to think.

Until the day’s work, its courtesies as well as its duties, was fully done she had agreed with herself not to think. For even startling events and agitating experiences should, in her opinion, be dealt with methodically in their proper season and order, without fear and without haste. Only so could you be both just and clear-sighted in respect of them. All of which---had she known it---went to prove a theory of Adrian’s---namely, that in her case, as in that of so many modern women between the ages of eighteen and, say, eight and twenty, the reasoning, the intellectual, rather than the sensuous and emotional elements are in the ascendant.

And, indeed, Gabrielle honestly regretted that which had to-day happened by the conversion of a valued friend into a declared lover. It was tiresome, really tiresome to a degree! Nor was her vexation lessened by the fact that she could not excuse herself of blame. The catastrophe had been precipitated by her fatal habit of teasing. How constantly she resolved to be staid and serious in the presence of mankind! And then, all uninvited, a sprickety, mischievous humour would take her, making it irresistible delicately to poke fun at those large, self-confident, masculine creatures, to plague and trick them, placing them at a disadvantage; and, by so doing, to lower, for a moment at least, the crest of their over-weening self-complacency. Only this afternoon, as she ruefully admitted, she had gone unwisely far, letting malice tread hard on the heels of mere mischief. This was what vexed her most. For why should malice find entrance in this particular connection? Gabrielle would gladly have shirked the question. But it stood out in capital letters right in front of her, with a portly note of interrogation at the end of the sentence, asking, almost audibly, “Why? Why? Why?”

With a movement of her hands, at once impatient and deprecatory, the young woman lay back in her long chair. In part it was Anastasia Beauchamp’s fault. Anastasia had come rather close, venturing to criticize and to warn. Anastasia was anti-feministe, distrustful of modern tendencies, of independence, of woman’s life and outlook in and for itself. This genial unbeliever preached orthodoxy; this unmarried woman---with a legend, for there were those who reported events in the far past---preached matrimony. “In the end,” she said, “in the end independence proved a mistake.” And not improbably she was right in as far as her own generation was concerned. But now the world had moved forward a big piece. The conditions were different. And in this, Gabrielle’s generation, how, save by experiment, could you possibly prove that independence mightn’t very much pay? Whereupon her thought began to march down alluring avenues of speculation guarded by vague, masterful theories of feminine supremacy.

The crimson shades of the electric lights above her dressing-table, the crimson silk coverlet of her bed, gave an effect of warmth and comfort to the otherwise cool-coloured room, its carved, white furniture and blue-green carpet, curtains, and walls. Formerly this had been a guest-chamber. But, since her husband’s death, Gabrielle had taken it for her own. Her former room was too peopled with experiences and memories for solitude. And, like all strong and self-realized natures, Gabrielle demanded solitude at times---a place not only for rest, but for those intimate unwitnessed battles which necessarily beset the strong.


Just now, however, the desired solitude was almost too complete. Presently her attention began to be occupied by it to the exclusion of all other things. In the stillness of the sleeping house she heard the wind crying along the steep house-roofs and hissing against the windows. There was a note of homelessness, even of desolation, in the sound. Involuntarily her thought returned upon Adrian Savage. She saw the mail steamer thrashing out from Calais harbour into the black welter of blizzard and winter sea. Saw, too, the young man’s momentarily tremulous lips and tearful eyes as he declared his love. And the subsequent fine recovery of his natural gladness of aspect, as, standing hat in hand in the doorway, a notably gallant and handsome figure, he had asserted his speedy return rather than bade her good-bye.

For quite an appreciable space of time she gazed at this visualized recollection of him. Then, shutting her eyes, she turned her back on it, and lay sideways in the long chair. She determined to be rid of it. Almost fiercely she told it to go. For it was useless to deny that it both charmed and moved her. And she didn’t want that and all which it involved and stood for. Earnestly, honestly, she didn’t want it!---Ah! what misguided temerity to have teased! For she wanted---yes she did, Anastasia Beauchamp’s middle-aged wisdom notwithstanding---to retain her but lately acquired freedom; not only the repose, but the stimulating clarity of mind and obligation, the conscious development of personality and broadening of thought which went along with that freedom. She had passed straight from the obedience of young girlhood to the obedience of young wifehood. Now she wanted to belong wholly and exclusively to herself, not to be the property of any man, however devoted, talented, charming---not ever---not certainly for a long while yet.

This craving for the conservation of her freedom took its rise neither in the fact that the memory of her husband was hateful to her, nor that it was so dear as to render the thought of a second marriage a desecration, shocking to the heart. She remembered Horace St. Leger with affection, in many respects with gratitude. He had been considerate, watchfully protective of her beauty and her youth. As the mother of his child he had yielded her a worship touched by an immense tenderness. He had been irreproachably loyal and indulgent. All this she admitted and valued. Wasn’t it, indeed, very much?---The circumstances of her marriage, moreover, had not been without their romantic aspect. Madame Vernois, after the death of her husband, who held a professorship at the Collège de France, both from motives of economy and the wish to be near her own family, had retired to her native Chambéry, in the Haute Savoie. It was in this strangely picturesque town, rich in remarkable buildings and in traditions both literary and historic, guarded by fantastic mountains and traversed by unruly torrents, that Gabrielle Vernois passed her childhood---mixing in a society both refined and devout though somewhat prejudiced and circumscribed of outlook, the members of it being more distinguished for the magnitude of their united ages and the multitude of their quarterings, than for the length of their purses or their acquaintance with the world as it now actually is.

And it was here, too---she being barely nineteen, he little short of fifty---that Horace St. Leger had met her; had been captivated by her singular type of beauty and the delicious combination of her innocence and ready wit. He was something of a connoisseur in women. Now he surely discovered a unique specimen! Naturally he wished to acquire that specimen for himself. The years of his apprenticeship were over. He had made a name; had, within the limits of his capacity, evolved his style and mastered the exacting technique of his art. He was young for his age, too; well-preserved, in the plentitude of his popularity. He had made money and he had spent money, but he had never, to all appearance, been more secure of continuing to make. He could well afford to indulge his tastes, even when they took the expensive form of a serious establishment and a seductive wife. He hastened back to Paris, put a final and satisfactory termination to a connection which had long lost its pristine ardours and begun to pall upon him, and then returned to Chambéry, officially to offer this enchanting child of nineteen the sum total of his life’s achievement in respect of fame, fortune, social opportunity, along with that suavity of temper and outlook which result from the successful cultivation of a facile talent untroubled by the torments and dislocations of genius.

The young girl’s dowry was of the slenderest. The marriage offered not only a secure and agreeable future for herself; but---and this influenced her decision at least equally---relief to her mother from straitened means and their attendant deprivations and anxieties. The subtle unrest, the haunting ambitions and curiosities of her awakening womanhood stirred in her, while the disparity of age between herself and her suitor seemed, to her inexperience, a matter of indifference. The marriage took place in due course, and ostensibly all went well. Yet, looking back upon it now, sitting here alone in her bedchamber while the wind cried along the house-roofs and Paris cowered in the grip of the bitter frost, Gabrielle St. Leger knew that she had learned life, the actualities both of human nature and civilized society, in a hard enough school.

For indisputably the thirty years’ difference in age between herself and her husband, which, before marriage, had seemed so negligible a quantity, entailed consequences that intruded themselves at every turn. St. Leger’s character and opinions were fixed, crystallized, insusceptible of change, while her own were still, if not in the actually fluid, yet in the distinctly malleable stage. This rendered any equality of intercourse impossible. Her husband treated her as a child, whose ignorance one finds exquisitely entertaining, and enlightens with high, if indulgent, amusement---his attitude toward her quasi-paternal in its serene assumption of omniscience. Yet, being quick-witted and observant, she soon perceived that assumption did not receive, by any means, universal indorsement. Among the younger generation of the artistic and literary brotherhood it became evident to her that, though the man was held in affection, the painter was regarded as a bit of a charlatan, destitute of illumination and sincerity of method---as one who had never possessed the courage or the capacity to attempt any lifting the veil of Isis and penetration of the mysteries it conceals. Nor was she slow to learn, hearing the witty talk and covert allusions of the dinner-table and studio---although her guests made honest and honourable effort to restrain their tongues in her presence---that the rule of faith and morals which had been so earnestly enjoined upon her in her childhood was very much of a dead letter to the average man and woman of the world. The general scheme of existence was a far more complicated affair than she had been taught to suppose. The dividing line between the sheep and the goats was by no means always easy of recognition. Delightful people did very shady, not to say very outrageous and abominable, things. She suffered moments of cruel perspicacity and consequent disgust, during which she was tempted to accuse even her dearly loved mother of having purposely misled and lied to her. For was it not idle to suppose that her husband differed from other men? Or that his passion for her was unique, without predecessors? Was it not very much more reasonable to see, in the perfection of tactful delicacy with which he treated her, proof positive of a large and varied emotional experience?

Then followed a further discovery. In this marriage she had looked confidently for a brilliant future. But, in plain truth, what future remained? St. Leger had reached the zenith of his career. He was well on in middle life. The only possible future for him lay in the direction of decline and decay. She recognized that her mission, therefore, was not to share a brightening glory, but to maintain a fondly cherished illusion, to soften the asperities of his declension and mask the approach of age and lessening powers by the stimulus of her own radiant youth.

One by one these revelations came upon her with the shock of detected and abiding deceptions. Her pride suffered. Her jealous respect for her own intelligence and personality was rudely shaken. But she kept her own counsel, making neither complaint nor outcry. Silently, after a struggle which left its impress in the irony of her smiling eyes and lips, she faced each discovery in turn and reckoned with it. Then she ranged herself, dismissing once and for all, as she believed, high-flown heroic conceptions of love between man and woman, accepting human nature and human relations as they actually are and forgiving---though it shrewdly taxed her longanimity---all those pious frauds which, from time immemorial, civilized parents and teachers have supposed it their duty to practise upon the children whom they at once adore and betray.

It remained to her credit, however, that, even in the most searching hours of disillusionment, Gabrielle did not lose her sense of justice or fail to discriminate, to the best of her ability, between that for which the society in which he moved and that for which her husband, personally, should be held responsible. So doing she admitted, and gladly, that any legitimate cause of quarrel with him was of the smallest. Taking all the circumstances of the case into account, he had behaved well, even admirably, by her. The way of the world, its habits and standards, the constitution of human nature, rather than Horace St. Leger, was in fault. And it was precisely on that finding, as she told herself now, having reasoned it out sitting here alone in her bedchamber, that she deprecated any change of estate, the contraction of any fresh and intimate relation. If she had not known it might have been different---and there she paused a little wistfully, sorrowfully. But she did know, and therefore she could not consent to part with her freedom, with the repose of mind and the large liberty of thought and action her freedom permitted her. Her body was her own. Her soul, her emotions were her own. Almost fiercely she protested they should remain so. Hence it was useless, useless, that Anastasia should warn, or that the image of Adrian Savage should solicit her, standing there handsome, devoted, and how maddeningly self-confident! She could not listen. She would not listen. No, no, simply she would not.

Having thus analyzed the position, summed up and delivered judgment upon it, clearly it was the part of common-sense to go to bed and to sleep. Gabrielle stretched out her hand for the crystal and silver rosary lying, along with her missal and certain books of devotion, on a whatnot beside her chair. She fingered it, making an effort to concentrate and compose her thoughts. But they refused to be composed, darting hither and thither like a flight of startled birds. Restlessness still possessed her, making recitation of the hallowed invocations which mark each separate bead trench perilously on profanity. She let the rosary drop and pressed her hands over her eyes. Certain words, over and above the disturbing ones spoken by Adrian Savage, haunted her. For the agitations of the afternoon had not ended with his declaration and exit. A subsequent episode had contributed, in no small degree, to produce her existing state of perturbation.

It had happened thus. A few minutes after Adrian left her, going out on to the gallery, which runs the length of the flat from the vestibule and studio at one end to the dining-room and offices at the other, she had been struck by the strangely cold, haggard light filling it. The ceiling stared, while details of pictures and china upon the walls, the graceful statuette of a slim, unclad boy carrying a hooded hawk on his wrist, and, farther on, a portrait bust of Horace St. Leger---each set on an antique porphyry column---started into peculiar and shadowless prominence. The windows of the gallery gave on to the courtyard. Gabrielle held aside one of the vitrine curtains and looked out.

Snow was falling. Countless thin, fine flakes circled and eddied, drifted earthward, and swept up again caught in some local draught. Through the lace work of black, quivering branches the backs of the houses across the courtyard showed pallid and gaunt. Far below, on the frost-bitten grass-plat, the lichen-stained nymph tilted her ice-bound pitcher above the frozen basin. The familiar scene in its present aspect was indescribably dreary, provocative of doubting, distrustful thoughts. With a movement of impatience, her expression hard, her charming lips compressed, the young woman turned away, conscious of being foolishly, unreasonably out of conceit with most things. Doing so, the bust of her husband confronted her, seeming to watch her from out the blank cavities in the eyeballs which so uncomfortably travesty sight. An expression of amused, slightly cynical inquiry rested upon the sculptured face. This, in her present somewhat irritable and over-sensitized condition, she resented, finding it singularly unpleasant. She moved rapidly away along the gallery. Then stopped dead.

From the dining-room came a joyful racket. But, to her astonishment, cutting through the rippling staccato of children’s talk and laughter, came the grave tones of a man’s voice. Hearing which, steady of nerve and strong though she was, Gabrielle turned faint. The blood left her heart. She made for the nearest window-seat and sank down on it.---Horace was there, in the dining-room, playing with Bette and her little friends as he so dearly loved to play. The fact of her widowhood, the past eighteen months of freedom, became as though they were not. In attitude and sentiment she found herself relegated to an earlier period, against which her whole nature rose in rebellion. She realized how quite horribly little she wanted to see Horace again, or renew his and her former relation. Realized her jealousy of him in respect of her child. Realized, indeed, that, notwithstanding his many attractive qualities and invariable kindness, his resurrection must represent to her something trenching upon despair.

Yet it was cruel, she knew, heartless, to feel thus. She glanced in positive mental torment at the marble bust. It still watched her, through the haggard clarity of the snow-glare, with the same effect of cynically questioning criticism and amusement, almost, so she thought, as one should say: “My dear, be consoled. Even had I the will, I am powerless to return and to claim you. Follow your own fancy. Make yourself perfectly easy. Have no fear but that I am very effectually wiped out of your life.”

The blood rushed back to her heart. Her face flamed. She felt humiliated, as though detected in a secret villainy, in an act of detestable meanness. It is an ugly thing to pillage the dead. But she was also very angry, for she understood what had happened. Not Horace---poor, undesired Horace---but Adrian Savage was there in the dining-room. He had changed his mind after all; and, in the hope of somehow working upon her, had stayed to bid grandmother and grandchild good-bye. This was a plot, a plant, and she was furious, her sense of justice suffering violent eclipse. For was it not abominable of him to have placed her in so unworthy and mortifying a position in respect of her dead husband, and, incidentally, to have given her such a dreadful fright? Regardless of reason she piled his offences mountain-high. However, this simplified matters in a way, disposing of a certain question forever. Marry him? She’d as soon marry a ragpicker, a scavenger! She hoped devoutly he would have an atrocious crossing when he did at last seek foreign shores.

Thereupon she rose and swept onward, in the stateliest manner imaginable, with trailing, somber skirts, over the polished, shining floor.

As she threw open the dining-room door a slender, white-frocked, black-silk-legged figure rushed upon her and clasped her about the hips with ecstatic cries.

“Ah! mamma,” it piped. “At last you have come! I am so excited. We have waited and listened. But it was a secret. He forbade us to tell you he was here. It was to be a great surprise. Now you may look, but you must promise not to interrupt with conversation. That is very important, you understand, because the next few moments are critical. M. Dax is cooking an omelette in my tiny, weeny frying-pan for our dolls and Teddy-bears.”

And so, once again upon this day of self-revelations, Madame St. Leger had to revise her position and own herself in the wrong. Yet the relief of finding neither resuscitated husband nor importunate lover, but simply M. René Dax, in possession was so great that she greeted that eccentric and gifted young man with warm cordiality---wholly ignoring his affectations and the rumours current regarding his moral aberrations, remembering only the irreproachable correctness of his dress and manners, and the quaintly pathetic effect of his small, tired face, great domed head and bulging forehead---like those of a hydrocephalic baby---and the ingeniously fascinating qualities he displayed as self-elected play-fellow of Bette and her little friends.

Yes, she told herself, she really had a great regard for René Dax. He touched her. And now she, undoubtedly, passed a wholly delightful three-quarters of an hour in his and the little girls’ company, Madame Vernois looking on, meanwhile, sympathetic yet slightly perplexed. For Gabrielle, in her reaction of feeling, forgetful of her black dress and twenty-seven years, and the rather tedious restraints and dignities of her matronhood, was taken with the sprightliest humour. She remembered that three-quarters of an hour now with a degree of regret. If only it could have stopped at that! But, unfortunately, things went further.

For, at parting, she had lingered in the gallery, where the haggard whiteness of the snow-glare struggled with the deepening twilight, thanking René Dax for his kindness to the children and for the happy afternoon he had given them. The sense of holiday, of playtime, was still upon her and she spoke with unaccustomed gaiety and intimacy of tone.

The young man looked up at her attentively, queerly---the top of his head barely level with her shoulder---and answered, a certain harshness observable in his carefully modulated voice: “Do not spoil it all by accusing me of a good action. In accusing me of that you do my intelligence a gross injustice. My conduct has been dictated, as always, by calculated selfishness.”

And, when she smilingly protested, he went on: “I have many faults, no doubt. But I am guiltless of the weakness of altruism---contemptible word, under which the modern mind tries to conceal its cowardice and absence of all sound philosophy. I am an egoist, dear Madame, believe me, an egoist pure and simple.”

He paused, looking down with an effect of the utmost gravity at his very small and exquisitely shod feet.

“It happened, for reasons with which it is superfluous to trouble you, that to-day I required a change of atmosphere. I needed to bathe myself in innocence. I cast about for the easiest method of performing such ablutions, and my thought traveled to Mademoiselle Bette. The weather being odious, it was probable I should find her in the house. My plan succeeded to admiration. Have no delusions under that head. It is invariably the altruist, not the egoist, whose plans miscarry or are foiled!”

He took a long breath, stretching his puny person.

“I am better. I am cleansed,” he said. “For the moment at least I am restored, renewed. And for this restoration the reason is at once simple and profound. You must understand,” he went on, in a soft conversational manner, as one stating the most obvious common-place, “my soul when it first entered my body was already old, immeasurably old. It had traversed countless cycles of human history. It had heard things no man may repeat and live. It had fed on gilded and splendid corruptions. It had embraced the forbidden and hugged nameless abominations to its heart. It had gazed on the naked face of the Ultimate Self-Existent Terror whose breath drives the ever-turning Wheel of Being. It had galloped back, appalled, through the blank, shouting nothingness, and clothed itself in the flesh of an unborn, unquickened infant, thus for a brief space obtaining unconsciousness and repose.”

René Dax looked up at her again, his little, tired face very solemn, his eyes glowing as though a red lamp burned behind them.

“Has it ever occurred to you why we worship our mothers?” he asked. “It is not because they bring us into life, but because for nine sacred months they procure us blessed illusion of non-living. How can we ever thank them sufficiently for this? And that,” he added, “is why at times, as to-day, I am driven to seek the society of young children. It rests and refreshes me to be near them, because they have still gone but a few steps along the horrible, perpetually retrodden pathway. They have not begun to recognize the landmarks. They have not yet begun to remember. They fancy they are here for the first time. Past and future are alike unrealized by them. The aroma of the enchanted narcotic of non-living, which still exhales from their speech and laughter, renders their neighbourhood infinitely soothing to a soul like mine, staggering beneath the paralyzing burden of a knowledge of accumulated lives.”

Whether the young man had spoken sincerely, giving voice to a creed he actually, however mistakenly, held, or whether his utterances were merely a pose, the outcome of a perverse and morbid effort at singularity, Madame St. Leger was uncertain. Still it was undeniable that those utterances---whether honest or not---and the sombre visions evoked by them remained, distressing and perplexing her with a dreary horror of non-progression, of perpetual and futile spinning in a vicious circle, of perpetual and futile actual sameness throughout perpetual apparent change.

So far all the essentials of the Faith in which she had been born and educated remained to her. Yet, too often now, as she sorrowfully admitted, her declaration of that Faith found expression in the disciple’s cry, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.” For unbelief, reasoned not merely scoffing, had, during these years of intercourse with the literary and artistic world of Paris, become by no means inconceivable to her. More than half the people she met smiled at, if they might not openly repudiate, Christianity. It followed that she no longer figured the Faith to herself as a “fair land and large” wherein she could dwell in happy security, but rather as a fortress set on an island of somewhat friable rock, against which winds and waves beat remorselessly. And truly, at moments---cruel moments, which she dreaded---the onslaught of modern ideas, of the modern attitude in its contempt of tradition and defiance of authority---flinging back questions long since judged and conclusions long established into the seething pot of individual speculation---seemed to threaten final undermining of that rock and consequent toppling of the fortress of Faith surmounting it into the waters of a laughing, envious, all-swallowing sea. This troubled her the more because certain modern ideas---notably that of emancipated and self-sustained womanhood---appealed to and attracted her. Was there no middle way? Was no marriage between the old Faith and the new science, the new democracy, possible? If you accepted the latter, did negations and denials logically follow, compelling you to let the former go?

And so it came about that to-night, she alone waking in the sleeping house, the gloomy pictures called up by René Dax’s strange talk held her painfully. They stood between her and sleep, between her and prayer, heightening her restlessness and suggesting thoughts very subversive of Christian theology and Christian ethics.

Gabrielle rose from her chair and moved to and fro, her hands clasped behind her. She never remembered to have felt like this before. The room seemed too narrow, too neat, its appointments too finicking and orderly, to contain her erratic and overflowing mental activity. The abiding mystery which not only surrounds each individual life, but permeates each individual nature, the impassable gulf which divides even the nearest and most unselfishly loved---even she herself and her own darling little Bette---from one another, presented itself oppressive and distressing as a nightmare. Just now it appeared to her inconceivable that to-morrow she would rise just as usual, satisfied to accept conventions, subscribe to compromises, take things in general at their face value, while contentedly expending her energies of brain and body upon trivialities of clothes, housekeeping, gossip, the thousand and one ephemeral interests and occupations of a sheltered, highly civilized woman’s daily existence. The inadequacy, the amazing futility of it all!

Then, half afraid of the great stillness, she stood perfectly quiet, listening to the desolate cry of the wind along the house-roofs and its hissing against the window-panes.

“ ‘My soul has gazed on the Ultimate Self-Existent Terror whose breath drives the ever-turning Wheel of Being,’ ” she murmured as she listened. “ ‘It galloped back, appalled, through the blank, shouting nothingness’ "----

Yes, that was a dreadful conception of human fate! But what if it were true? Millions believed it, or something very closely akin to it, away in the East, in those frightening lands of yellow sunrise and yellow, expressionless peoples of whom it always alarmed her to think! Swiftly her mind made a return upon the three men, living and dead, who to-day had so deeply affected her, breaking up her practised calm and self-restraint. She ranged them side by side, and, in her present state of exaltation, they severally and equally---though for very different reasons---appeared to her as enemies against whom she was called upon to fight. Seemed to her as tyrants, either of whom to sustain his own insolent, masculine supremacy schemed to enslave her, to rob her of her intellectual and physical freedom, of her so jealously cherished ownership of herself.

“ ‘It galloped back through the blank, shouting nothingness,’ ” she repeated. But there came the sharpest sting of the situation. For to what covert? Where could her soul take sanctuary since friendship and marriage proved so full of pitfalls, and her fortress of Faith was just now, as she feared, shaken to the base?

Then, the homeless cry of the wind finding echo in her homelessness of spirit, a sort of anger upon her, blind anger against things as they are, she moved over to the window, drew back the curtains and opened the locked casements. The cold clutched her by the throat, making her gasp for breath, making her flesh sting and ache. Yet the apprehension of a Presence, steadying and fortifying in its great simplicity of strength, compelled her to remain. She knelt upon the window-seat and leaned out between the inward opening casements, planting her elbows on the window-ledge and covering her mouth with her hands to protect her lips from the blistering chill.

Outside was the wonder of an unknown Paris, a vacant, frozen, voiceless Paris, wrapped in a winding-sheet of newly fallen snow. Under the lamps, along the quay immediately below, that winding-sheet glittered in myriad diamond points, a uniform surface as yet unbroken by wheel tracks or footprints---misery, pleasure, business, alike in hiding from the bitter frost. Elsewhere it spread in a heavy, muffling bleachedness, from the bosom of which walls, buildings, bridges reared themselves strangely unsubstantial, every ledge and projection enameled in white. Beneath the Pont des Arts on the right and the Pont des Saints Pères on the left---each very distinct with glistening roadway and double row of lamps---the river ran black as ink. The trees bordering the quays were black, a spidery black, in their agitated, wind-tormented bareness. And the sky was black, too, impenetrable, starless, low and flat, engulfing the many domes, monuments, and towers of Paris, engulfing even the roofs and pavilions of the Louvre along the opposite bank of the Seine, inclosing and curiously isolating the scene. This effect of an earth so much paler and, for the most part, so much less solid than the sky above it, this effect of buildings rising from that pallor to lose themselves in duskiness, was unnatural and disquieting in a high degree. The sentiment of this desert, voiceless Paris was more disquieting still. For Gabrielle retained something of the provincial’s persistent distrust of the siren personality of la ville lumière. The wonderful and brilliant city had enthralled her imagination, but had never quite conquered her affections. Now, leaning out of the high-set window, she gazed as far as sight carried, east, west, and north, while a vague, deep-seated excitement possessed her. It was as though she touched the verge of some extraordinary revelation, some tremendous crisis of the cosmic drama. Had universal paralysis seized the heart of things, she asked herself, of which this desert, voiceless Paris was the symbol? Had the ever-turning Wheel of Being ceased to turn, struck into immobility, as the world-famous city appeared to be, by some miracle of incalculable frost?

The cry of the wind answered. So the wind, at least, was alive and awake yet, as were the black seaward-flowing waters of the river.

Then suddenly, unexpectedly, along with that homeless cry of the wind hailing from she knew not what immense desolation of polar spaces, came a small, plaintive, human cry close at hand.

Hearing which last the young woman sprang down from her kneeling place, locked the gaping casements together, and ran lightly and swiftly into the adjoining room. There in the warm dimness, her hands outstretched grasping the rail of her cot on either side, slim little Bette sat woefully straight up on end.

“Mamma, mamma,” she wailed, “come and hold me tight, very tight! I have had a bad dream. I am frightened. M. René Dax touched all my toys, all my darling, tiny saucepans and kettles, all my dolls and Teddy-bears with his little walking-cane. And it was terrifying. They all came alive and chased me. Hold me tight. I am so frightened. They rushed along. They chased me and chased me. They panted. Their mouths were open. I could see their red tongues. And they yelped as the little pet dogs do in the public gardens when they try to catch the sparrows. I called and called to you, but you were not there. You did not come. I tried very hard to run away, but my feet stuck to the floor. They were so very heavy I could not lift them. It is not true? Tell me it is not true. He cannot touch all my toys with his little cane and make them come alive? I think I shall be afraid ever to play with them any more. They were so dreadfully unkind. Tell me it is not true!”

“No, no, my angel,” Gabrielle declared, soothingly. “It is not true, not in the very least true. It is only a silly dream. All the poor toys are quite good. You will find them obedient and loving, asking ever so prettily to be played with again to-morrow morning.”

She took the slender, soft, warm body up in her arms---it was sweet with the flower-like sweetness of perfect cleanliness and health---and held it close against her. And for the moment perplexities, far-reaching speculations and questionings were obliterated in a passion of tenderness for this innocent life, this innocent body, which was the fruit of her own life and her own body. All else fell away from her, leaving her motherhood triumphant and supreme.


The child, making good the opportunity, began to wheedle and coax.

“I think it is really very cold in my bed,” she said. “I am sure it would be far warmer in yours. And I may dream M. Dax came back and touched my toys with his little walking-cane and made them naughty if I remain here by myself. Do not you think it would be rather dangerous to leave me here alone? I might wake grandmamma if I were to be terrified again and to scream. I like your big bed so very much best.”

The consequence of all of which was that Gabrielle St. Leger said her rosary that night fingering the beads with one hand while the other clasped the sleeping child, whose pretty head lay on her bosom. Her mind grew calm. The fortress of Faith stood firm again, as she thankfully believed, upon its foundation of rock. She recovered her justness of attitude toward departed husband and absent lover. But she determined to reduce her intercourse with M. René Dax to a minimum, since the tricks he played with his little walking-cane seemed liable to be of so revolutionary and disintegrating a character.

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