The Arm-chair at the Inn/Chapter 9
IN WHICH MADAME LA MARQUISE
BINDS UP BROKEN HEADS AND BLEEDING HEARTS
THE morning brought us two most welcome pieces of news, one being that Gaston, his head swathed in bandages, had, with the doctor’s approval, gone home an hour before breakfast, and the other that our now adorable Madame la Marquise de la Caux, with Marc as gentleman-in-waiting, would arrive at the Inn some time during the day or evening, the exact hour being dependent upon her duties at the site of her “ruin.” These pieces of news, being positive and without question, were received with the greatest satisfaction, Gaston’s recovery meaning fresh roses in Mignon’s cheeks and madame’s visit giving us another glimpse of her charming personality.
That which was less positive, because immediately smothered and sent around in whispers, were rumors of certain happenings that had taken place shortly after daybreak. Mignon, so the word ran, before seeking her little cot the night before, had caught a nod, or the lift of Leà’s brow, arched over a meaning eye, or a significant smile—some sort of wireless, anyway, with Leà as chief operator, and a private wire to Louis’ room, immediately over Gaston’s. What she had learned had kept the girl awake half the night and sent her skipping on her toes at the break of dawn to the little passageway at the far end of the court-yard, where she had cried over Gaston and kissed him good-by, Leà being deaf and dumb and blind. All this occurred before the horrible old bogie (Lemois was the bogie), who had given strict orders that everything should be done for the comfort of the boy before he left the Inn, was fairly awake; certainly before he was out of bed.
“By thunder!—I could hardly keep the tears out of my eyes I was so sorry for her,” Louis had said when he burst into my room an hour before getting-up time. “I heard the noise and thought he was suffering again and needed help, and so I hustled out and came bump up against them as they stood at the foot of the stairs. I wasn’t dressed for company and dared not go back lest they should see me, and so I flattened myself against the wall and was obliged to hear it all. I’m not going to give them away; but if any girl will love me as she does that young fellow she can have my bank account. And he was so manly and square about it all—no snivelling, no making a poor face. ‘It is nothing, Mignon—I am all right. Don’t cry,’ he kept saying. ‘Everything will come out our way in the end.’ By Jove!—I wish some girl loved me like that!”
Such an expression of happiness had settled, too, on Leà’s face as she brought our coffee, that Herbert caught up his sketch-book and made her stand still until he had transferred her dear old head in its white cap to paper. Then, the portrait finished—and it was exactly like her—what a flash of joy suffused Mignon’s face when he called to her and whispered in her ear the wonderful tale of why he had drawn it and who was to be its proud possessor; and when it was all to take place, a bit of information that sent her out of the room and skipping across the court, her tiny black kitten at her heels.
It was, indeed, a joyous day, with every one in high good humor, culminating in the
wildest enthusiasm when the sound of a siren, followed by the quick “chug-chug” of the stop brake of madame’s motor, announced the arrival of that distinguished woman an hour ahead of time.
“Ah!—gentlemen!” she shouted out, rising from her seat, both hands extended before any of us could reach her car, “I have come over to crown you with laurel! Oh, what a magnificent lot of heroes!—and to think you saved my poor, miserable little mouse-trap of a villa that has been trying all its life to slide down hill into the sea and get washed and scrubbed. No, I don’t want your help—I’m going to jump!” and out she came, man’s ulster, black-velvet jockey cap, short skirt, high boots, and all, Marc following.
“And now, Monsieur Marc, give me a little help—no, not here—down below the seat. Careful, now! And the teakwood stand is there too—I steadied them both with my feet. There, you dear men!”—here she lifted the priceless treasure above her head, her eyes dancing—“what do you think of your punch-bowl? This is for your choicest mixtures whenever you meet, and not one of you shall have a drop out of it unless you promise to make me honorary member of your coterie, with full permission to stay away or come just as I please. Isn’t it a beauty?—and not a crack or scar on it—Old Ming, they tell me, of the first dynasty. There, dear Lemois, put it among your things, but never out of reach.”
She had shaken every one’s hand now and was stamping her little feet in their big men’s boots to keep up her circulation, talking to us all the while.
“Ah, Monsieur Louis, it was you who carried out my beloved piano—Liszt played on it, and so did Paderewski and Livadi, and a whole lot of others, until it gave out and I sent it down here, more for its associations than anything else. And you too, Monsieur Herbert”—and she gave him a low curtsy, as befitted his rank—“you-were-a-real-major-general, and saved the life of that poor young fisherman; and you, Lemois, rescued my darling miniatures and my books. Yes—I have heard all about it. Oh!—it was so kind of you all—and you were so good—nothing I really loved is missing. I have been all the morning feasting my eyes on them. And now let us all go in and stir up the fire—and, please, one of you bring me a thimbleful of brandy. I have rummaged over my precious things until I have worked myself into a perspiration, and then I must drive like Jehu until I get chilled to the bone. Catch cold!—my dear Monsieur Brierley—I never catch cold! I should be quite ashamed of myself if I did.”
We were inside the Marmouset now, Marc unbuttoning her outer garments, revealing her plump, penguin-shaped body clothed in a blouse of mouse-colored corduroy with a short skirt to match, her customary red silk scarf about her throat; the silver watch with its leather strap, which hung from the pocket of her blouse, her only ornament.
“Take my cap, please,” and she handed it to the ever-obsequious Marc, who always seemed to have lost his wits and identity in her presence. This done, she ran her fingers through her fluff of gray hair, caught it in a twist with her hand, skewered it with a tortoise-shell pin, and, with a “So! that’s all over,” drew up a chair to the blaze and settled herself in it, talking all the time, the men crowding about her to catch her every word.
“And now how about that young fisherman? Thank you, Monsieur Herbert. No, that is quite enough; a thimbleful of cognac is just what I need—more than that I have given up these many years. Come!—the young fisherman, Lemois. Is he badly hurt? Has he a doctor? How long before he gets well? Can I go to see him as soon as I get warm? Such a brave lad—and all to save my miserable jim-cracks.”
Both of Lemois’ hands were outstretched in a low bow. “We could do no less than rescue your curios, madame. Our only fear is that we may have left behind something more precious than anything we saved.”
“No, I have not missed a single thing; and it wouldn’t make any difference if I had; we love too many things, anyway, for our good. As to the house—it is too funny to see it. I laughed until I quite lost my breath. Everything is sticking out like the quills on a mad hedgehog, and the porch steps are smashed flat up against the ceiling. Oh!—it is too ridiculous! Just fancy, only the shelf in my boudoir is left where it used to be, and the plants are still blooming away up in the air as if nothing had happened. But not a word more of all this!” and she rose from her seat. “Take me to see the poor fellow at once!”
Again Lemois bowed, this time with the greatest deference. The exalted rank of his guest was a fact he never lost sight of.
“He is not here, madame,” he said in an apologetic tone; “I have sent him home to his mother.”
“Home!—to his mother?—and after my despatch. Oh!—but I could take so much better care of him here! Why did you do it?”
“For the best of reasons—first, because the doctor said he might go, and then because I”—and he lowered his voice and glanced around to see if Mignon had by any chance slipped into the room—“because,” he added with a knowing smile, “it is sometimes dangerous to have so good-looking a fellow about.”
“So good of you, Lemois,” she flashed back; “so thoughtful and considerate. Twenty years ago I might have lost my heart, but——”
“Oh, but, madame—I never for an instant—” He was really frightened.
“Oh, it was not me, then!” and one of her ringing, silvery laughs gladdened the room. “Who, then, pray?—certainly not that dear old woman with the white cap who— Oh!—I see!—it is that pretty little Norman maid. Such a winning creature, and so modest. Yes, I remember her distinctly. But why should not these two people love each other? He is brave, and you say he is handsome—what better can the girl have?”
Lemois shrugged his shoulders in a helpless way, but with an expression on his obstinate face that showed his entire satisfaction with his own course.
Madame read his thoughts and turned upon him, a dominating ring in her voice. “And you really mean, Lemois, that you are playing jailer, and shutting up two hearts in different cells?”
Lemois, suddenly nonplussed, hesitated and looked away. We held our breaths for his answer.
“Ah, madame,” he replied at last slowly, all the fight knocked out of him, “it is not best that we discuss it. Better let me know what madame la marquise will have for dinner—we have waited all day until your wishes were known.”
“Nothing—not a crumb of anything until I find out about these lovers. Did you ever know anything like it, gentlemen? Here on one side are broken heads and broken hearts—on the other, a charming old gentleman whom I have known for years, and whom I love dearly, playing bear and ready to eat up both of these young turtle doves. When I remonstrate he wants to know whether I will have my chicken roasted on a spit or en casserole! Oh, you are too silly, Lemois!”
“But she is like my daughter, madame,” replied Lemois humbly, and yet with a certain dignity.
“And, therefore, she mustn’t marry an honest young fisherman. Is that what you mean?”
Lemois merely inclined his head.
“And pray what would you make of her—a countess?”
A grim baffled smile ruffled the edges of the old man’s lips as he tried again to turn the conversation, but she would not listen.
“No, I see it all! You want some flat-chested apothecary, or some fat clerk, or a notary, or a grocer, or— Oh, I know all about it! Now do you go and get your dinner ready—anything will suit me—and when it is over and Monsieur Herbert is firmly settled in his big chair, with the funny heads listening to everything we say, I am going to tell you a story about one of your mismated marriages, and I want you to listen, Monsieur Bear, with your terrible growl and your great claws and your ugly teeth. No, I won’t take any apologies,” and another laugh—a whole chime of silver bells this time—rang through the room.
“What a pity it is,” she continued after her opponent had left the room, “that people who get old forget so soon what their own youth has meant to them. He takes this child, puts a soul into her by his kindness, and then, when she becomes a woman, builds a fence around her—not for her protection but for his own pride. It will be so much more honorable, he says to himself, for the great house of Lemois to have one of his distinguished waifs honorably settled in an honorable home,” and she lifted her shoulders ever so slightly. “Not a word, you will please note, about the girl or what she wants—nothing whatever of that kind. And he is such a dear too. But I won’t have it, and I’m going to tell him so!” she added, her brown eyes blazing as her heart went out once more to the girl.
All through the dinner the marquise made no further reference to the love affair, although I could see that it was still on her mind, for when Mignon entered and began moving about the room in her demure, gentle way, her lids lowered, her pretty head and throat aglow in the softened light, I saw that she was following her every gesture. Once, when the girl replenished her plate, the woman of birth, as if by accident, laid her fingers on the serving-woman’s wrist, and then there flashed out of her eyes one of those sympathetic glances which only a tender-hearted woman can give, and which only another woman, no matter how humble her station, can fully understand. It was all done so quickly and so deftly that I alone noticed it, as well as the answering look in Mignon’s eyes: full of such gratitude and reverence that I started lest she should betray herself and thus spoil it all.
With the coffee and cigarettes—madame refusing any brand but her own—“I dry every bit of my tobacco myself,” she offered in explanation, “and roll every cigarette I smoke”—we settled ourselves in pleased expectation, Herbert, as usual, in the Florentine; our guest of honor beside a small table which Lemois had moved up for her comfort, and on which he had placed a box of matches and an ashtray; Brierley stretched out on the sofa with a cushion at his back; Lemois on a low stool by the fire; Louis and I with chairs drawn close. Even the big back log, which had been crooning a song of the woods all the evening, ceased its hum as if to listen, while overhead long wraiths of tobacco smoke drifted silently, dimming the glint and sparkle of copper, brass, and silver that looked down at us from the walls.
“And now, madame,” said Herbert with a smile, when both Leà and Mignon had at last left the room, “you were good enough to say you had a story for us.”
“No,” she answered gayly. “It is not for you. It is for our dear Lemois here,” and she shook her head at him in mock reproval. “You are all too fine and splendid, every one of you. You keep houses from tumbling to pieces and rescue lovers and do no end of beauteous things. He goes about cutting and slashing heads and hearts, and never cares whom he hurts.”
Lemois rose from his seat, put his hand on his shirt-front—a favorite gesture of his—bowed humbly, and sat down again.
“Yes, I mean it,” she cried with a toss of her head, “and I have just been telling these gentlemen that I am going to put a stop to it just as soon as I can find out whether this young hero with the broken head is worth the saving, and that I shall decide the moment I get my eyes on him. Pass me my coffee, Lemois, and give me my full share of sugar—three lumps if you please—and put four into your own to sweeten your temper, for you will need them all before I get through.
“The story I promised you is one of sheer stupidity, and always enrages me when I think of it. I have all my life set my face against this idiotic custom of my country of choosing wives and husbands for other people. In any walk of life it is a mistake; in some walks of life it is a crime. This particular instance occurred some twenty years ago in a little village near Beaumont, where I lived as a girl. Outside our far gate, leading to the best fields, was the house of a peasant who had made some thousands of francs by buying calves when they were very small, fattening them, and driving them to the great markets. He was big and coarse, with a red face, small, shrewd eyes, and a bull neck that showed puffy above his collar. He was loud, too, in his talk and could be heard above every one else in the crowd when the auction sales were being held in the market. But for his blue blouse, which reached to his feet, he might have been taken for one of his own steers.
“The wife was different. Although she was of the same peasant stock, a strain of gentleness and refinement had somehow crept in. In everything she was his opposite—a short woman with narrow shoulders and small waist; a low, soft voice, and a temper so kindly and even that her neighbors loved her as much as they hated her husband. And then there was a daughter—no sons—just one daughter. With her my acquaintance with the family began, and but for this girl I should have known nothing of what I am going to tell you.
“It all came about through a little fête my father gave to which the neighbors and some of the land-owners were invited. You know all about these festivities, of course. Something of the kind must be done every year, and my dear father never forgot what he owed his people, and always did his best to make them happy. On this occasion the idea came into my head that it would be something of a novelty if I arranged a dance of the young people with a May-pole and garlands, after one of the Watteau paintings in our home; something that had never been done before, but which, if done at all, must be carried out properly. So I sent to Paris to get the costumes, the wide hats, petticoats, and all—with the small clothes for the men—and started out to find my characters. One of my maids had told me of this girl and, as she lived nearest, I stopped at her house first. Well, the father came in and blustered out a welcome; then the mother, with a curtsy and a smile, wiped out the man’s odious impression, thanking me for coming, and then the girl appeared—the living counterpart of her mother except that the fine strain of gentle blood had so softened and strengthened the daughter’s personality that she had blossomed into a lovely young person without a trace of the peasant about her—just as any new grafting improves both flower and fruit. I could not take my eyes from her, she was so gentle and modest—her glance reaching mine timidly, the lids trembling like a butterfly afraid to alight; oh, a very charming and lovely creature—an astonishing creature, really, to be the daughter of such a man. Before the visit was over I had determined to make her my prima donna: she should lead the procession, and open the dance with some gallant of her choice—a promise received with delight by the family; the girl being particularly pleased, especially with the last part of it, and so I left them, and kept on my rounds through the village and outlying district.
“It was a lovely summer day—in June, if I remember—too late for May-poles, but I didn’t care—and long before the hour arrived our lawn was thronged with peasants and their sons and daughters, and our stables and paddocks crowded with their carts and vehicles. My father had provided a tent where the young people should change their clothes, but I took my little maid up into my own room, and my femme de chambre and I dressed her at our leisure.
“It is astonishing what you find underneath the rough garments worn by some of our peasants. I have often heard one of my friends—a figure painter—express the same surprise over his models. What appears in coarse cloth to be an ill-shaped arm turns out to be beautifully modelled when bared to the overhead light of a studio. So it was with this girl. She had the dearest, trimmest little figure, her shoulders temptingly dimpled, her throat and neck with that exquisite modelling only seen in a beautifully formed girl just bursting into womanhood. And then, too, her hair—what a lot of it there was when it was all combed out, and of so rich a brown, with a thread of gold here and there where the light struck it; and, more than all, her deep sapphire-blue eyes. Oh!—you cannot think how lovely they were; eyes that drank you all in until you were lost in their depths—like a well holding and refreshing you.
“So we dressed her up—leghorn hat, petticoats, tiny slippers on her tiny feet—and they were tiny—even to her shepherdess crook—until she looked as if she had just stepped out of one of Watteau’s canvases.
“And you may be sure she had her innings! The young fellows went wild over her, as well as the older ones—and even some of our own gentry tried to make love to her—so I heard next day. When all was ready she picked out her own partner, as I had promised she should, a straight, well-built, honest-faced young peasant whom she called ‘Henri’—a year or two her senior, and whom I learned was the son of a poor farmer whose land adjoined her father’s, but whose flocks and herds consisted of but one cow and a few pigs. In his pearl-gray short clothes and jacket, slashed sleeves, and low-cut shoes he looked amazingly well, and I did not blame her for her choice. Indeed she could not have done better, perfectly matched as they were in their borrowed plumes.
“And now comes a curious thing: so puffed up was that big animal of a father over the impression the girl had made, and so proud was he over the offers he received shortly after for her hand—among them a fellow herdsman twenty years her senior—that he immediately began to put on airs of distinction. A man with such a daughter, he said to himself, was also a man of weight and prominence in the community; he, therefore, had certain duties to perform. This was his only child; moreover, was he not rich, being the owner of more than a hundred head of cattle, and did he not have money in the banks? Loyette—have I told you her name was Loyette?—Loyette should marry no one of the young fellows about her—he had other and higher views for her. What these views were nobody knew, but one thing was certain, and that was that Henri, whom she loved with all her heart, and who had danced with her around the May-pole, was forbidden the house. The excuse was that his people were not of her class; that they were poor, his father being … Oh, the same stupid story which has been told thousands of times and will continue to be told as long as there are big, thick-necked fathers who lay down the law with their sledge-hammer fists, and ambitious old gentlemen”—here she cut her eye at Lemois—“who try to wheedle you with their flimsy arguments—arguments which they would have thrown in your face had you tried it on them when they themselves were young. The father forgot, of course—just as they all forget—that she was precisely the same young girl with precisely the same heart before the fête as she was after it; that every rag on her back I had given her; that her triumph was purely a matter of chance—my going first to his house and thus finding her—and that on the very next day she had milked the cows and polished the tins just as she had done since she was old enough to help her mother.
“Again that old story was repeated: the mother begged and pleaded; the girl drowned herself in tears, but the father stormed on. Poor Henri continued to peep over the fence at Loyette when she went milking, or met her clandestinely on the path behind the cow sheds, and everybody was wretched for months trying to make water run uphill.
“Then Loyette confided in me. I had started to walk to the village and she had seen me cross the broad road and had followed. Poor child!—I can see her now, the tears streaming down her cheeks as she poured out her heart: how she and Henri had always loved each other; how fine and brave and truthful he was, and how kind and noble: she emptying her heart of her most precious secret—the story of her first love—a story, gentlemen”—here the marquise’s voice dropped into tones of infinite sweetness—“which the angels bend their ears to catch, for there is nothing more holy nor more sublime.
“I listened, her hand in mine—we were about the same age and I could, therefore, the better understand—her pretty blue eyes like wet violets searching for my own—and when her story was all told, I comforted her as best I could, telling her what I firmly believed—that no father with a spark of tenderness in his heart could be obdurate for long and not to worry—true love like hers always winning its way—whereupon she dried her eyes, kissed my hand, and I left her.
“What happened I do not know, for I went to Paris shortly after and was married myself, and did not return to my old home for some years. Then one day, in the effort to pick up once more the threads of my old life, there suddenly popped into my mind Loyette’s love story. I sent at once for one of the old servants who had lived with us since before I was born.
“‘And Loyette—the girl with the big ugly father—did he relent and did she marry the young fellow she was in love with?’
“‘No, madame,’ she answered sadly, with a shake of the head; ‘she married the cattleman, Marceaux, and a sad mess they made of it, for he was old enough then to be her father, and he is now half paralyzed, and goes around in a chair on wheels, and there are no children—and Loyette, who was so pretty and so happy, must follow him about like a dog tied to a blind man, and she never laughs the whole livelong day. That was her father’s work—he made her do it, and now she must pay the price.’
“‘And what became of the pig of a father?’ I had hated him before; I loathed him now.
“‘Dead; so is her mother.’
“‘And the young fellow?’
“‘He had to do his service, and was gone three years, and when he came back it was too late.’
“‘Well, but why did she give in?’
“‘Don’t they all have to give in at last? Did the husband not settle the farm on her, and fifty head of cattle, and the pasturage and barns? Is not that better for an only daughter than digging in the fields bending over washing-boards all day and breaking your back hanging out the clothes? How did she know he would be only a sick child in a chair on wheels—and this a year after marriage?’
“‘And what did the young fellow do?’
“‘What could he do? It was all over when he came back. And now he never laughs any more, and will look at none of the women—and it is a pity, for he is prosperous and can well take care of a wife.’
“I had it all now, just as plain as day; they had tricked the girl into a marriage; had maligned the young fellow in the same cowardly way, and had embittered them both for life. It was the same old game; I had seen it played a hundred times in different parts of the world. Often the cards are stacked. Sometimes it is a jewel—or a handful of them—or lands—or rank—or some other such make-believe. This trick is to be expected in the great world where success in life is a game, and where each gambler must look to the cards—but not here among our peasantry”—and again she shot her glance at Lemois—“where a girl grows up as innocent as a heifer, her nature expanding, her only ambition being to find a true mate who will help her bear the burdens her station lays upon her.
“I resolved to see her for myself. If I had been wrong in my surmises—and it were true that so sweet and innocent a creature had of her own free will married a man twenty years her senior when her heart was wholly another’s—I should lose faith in girl nature: and I have looked into many young hearts in my time. That her father—big brute as he was—would have dared force her into such an alliance without her consent I did not believe, for the mother would then have risen up. These Norman peasants fight for their children as a bear fights for her cubs—women of the right kind—and she was one.
“My own father shrugged his shoulders when I sought his counsel, and uttered the customary man-like remark: ‘Better for her, I expect, than hoeing beets. All she has to do now is to see him comfortably fixed in his chair—a great blessing, come to think of it, for she can always find him when she wants him.’
“This view of the case brought me no relief, and so the next day I mounted my horse, took my groom, and learning that her cripple of a husband had bought another and a larger farm a few kilometres away, rode over to see her.
“I shall never forget what I found. Life presents some curious spectacles, and the ironies of fate work out the unexpected. In front of the low door of a Norman farm-house of the better class sat a gray-haired, shrivelled man with a blanket across his knees—his face of that dirty, ash-colored hue which denotes disease and constant pain. My coming made some stir, for he had seen me making my way through the orchard and had recognized my groom, and at his call the wife ran out to welcome me. My young beauty was now a thin, utterly disheartened, and worn-out woman who looked twice her age, and on whose face was stamped the hall-mark of suffering and sorrow. The brown-gold hair, the white teeth, and deep-blue eyes were there, but everything else was a wreck.
“When the horses were led away, and I had expressed my sympathy for the cripple, I drew her inside the house, shut the door, and took a chair beside her.
“‘Now tell me the whole story—not your suffering, nor his—I see that in your faces—but how it could all happen. The last time you talked to me we were girls together—we are girls now.’
“‘Madame la marquise,’ she began, ‘I——’
“‘No, not madame la marquise,’ I interrupted, taking her hand in mine; ‘just one woman talking to another. Whose fault was it—yours or Henri’s?’
“‘Neither. They lied about him; they said he would never come back; then, when he did not write and no news came of him and I was wild and crazy with grief, they told me more things of which I won’t speak; and one of the old women in the village, who wanted him for her granddaughter, laughed and said the things were true and that she didn’t mind, and nobody else should; and then all the time my father was saying I must marry the other’—and she pointed in the direction of the cripple—‘and he kept coming every day, and was kind and sympathetic, and good to me I must say, and is now, and at last my heart was worn out—and they took me to the church, and it was all over. And then the next month Henri came back from Algiers, where he had been ill in the hospital, and came straight here and sat down in that chair over there, and looked about him, and then he said: “I would not have come home if I had known how things were; I would rather have been shot. I cannot give you all this”—and he pointed to the furniture—“and you did not want them when we first loved each other.”
“‘And then he told me how many times he had written, and we hunted through my father’s chest which I had brought here with me—he had died that year, and so had my dear mother—and there we found all Henri’s letters tied together with a string, and not one of them opened.’
“‘What did you do?’ I asked.
“‘I went at once to my husband and told him everything. He burst into a great rage; and the two had hard words, and then the next day he was out in the field and the sun was very hot, and he was brought home, and has been as you see him ever since.’
“‘And where is Henri?’
“‘He is here on the farm. When the doctor gave my husband no hope of ever being well again, my husband sent for him and begged Henri’s pardon for what he had said, saying he wanted no one to hate him now that he could not live; that all Henri had done was to love me as a man should love a woman, and that, if I would be willing, Henri should take care of the farm and keep it for me. This was four years ago, and Henri is still here and my husband has never changed. When the weather is good, Henri puts him in his chair, the one we bought in Rouen, and wheels him about under the apple-trees, and every night he comes in and sits beside him and goes over the accounts and tells him of the day’s work. Then he goes back home, six kilometres away, to his mother’s, where he lives.’”
Madame la marquise paused and shook the ashes from her cigarette, her head on one side, her eyes half-closed, a thoughtful, wholly absorbed expression on her face. Lemois, who had listened to every word of the strange narrative, his gaze fastened upon her, made no sound, nor did he move.
“And now listen to the rest: Two years later the poor cripple passed away and the next spring the two were married. The last time she came to me she brought her child with her—a baby in arms—but the dazzling light of young motherhood did not shine in her eyes—the baby had come, and she was glad, but that was all. They are both alive to-day, sitting in the twilight—their youth gone; robbed of the joy of making the first nest, together—meeting life second-hand, as it were—content to be alive and to be left alone.
“As for me, knowing the whole story, I had only a deep, bitter, intense sense of outrage. I still have it whenever I think of her wrongs. God is over all and pardons us almost every sin we commit—even without our asking, I sometimes think—but the men and women who for pride’s sake rob a young girl of a true and honorable love have shut themselves out of heaven.”