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Title: Mademoiselle Blanche - A Novel
Author: Barry, John David
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          Mademoiselle Blanche

                               _A Novel_

                                   BY
                             JOHN D. BARRY


                             [Illustration]


                                NEW YORK
                           STONE AND KIMBALL
                               MDCCCXCVI



                          COPYRIGHT, 1896, BY
                           STONE AND KIMBALL



                          Mademoiselle Blanche

                                   I


"André!"

"Yes, monsieur."

The little waiter, with anxiety in his smooth, blond face, hurried to
the table.

"Bring me the _Soir_."

André shot away, and presently returned, paper in hand.

"What is there good at the theatres, André?"

André wiped his hands in his soiled apron, and looked thoughtful.

"There's the _Folies Bergères_, monsieur. Dumont sings to-night."

"Oh, she tires me. Her voice is cracked."

"There's Madame Judic at the _Variétés_," André suggested, tentatively.

"I saw her in the last piece."

André scratched his head, and stared at the figure at the table.

"Monsieur likes the _Cirque_, does he not?"

Monsieur did not look up from the paper. "What's at the _Cirque_ now,
André?"

"At the _Cirque Parisien_? There's Mademoiselle Blanche, the
acrobat. They say she's a marvel, monsieur,--and beautiful,--the
most beautiful woman in Paris. She dives from the top of the
building backwards--hundreds of feet."

"So you think it's really good, André?"

André nodded. Monsieur dropped the paper, paid his bill, left a little
fee for the _garçon_, and took himself off. At the entrance he stopped
and surveyed the surging crowd in the _Boulevard Montmartre_. He had
just finished an excellent dinner with a glass of _chartreuse verte_; so
he felt particularly complacent. As he prodded his teeth with the easy
grace of the Frenchman who knows no shame of the toothpick, he tried to
think out a plan for the evening. Nothing better occurred to him than
André's suggestion. He was not in the mood for the _Casino de Paris_,
nor for any of the other concert halls, nor even for the theatres. Yes,
he would go to the Circus. He hadn't been there for ten days.

For years Jules Le Baron had attended the _Cirque Parisien_ at least
once a fortnight; his friends used to chaff him for his fondness for it.
Those who had known him from a boy liked to remind him of his first
great ambition--to be a performer on the trapeze. Though this amused him
now, he had never lost his love for feats of daring and skill. Whenever
he felt particularly tired from his work at the wool-house, he would go
to the Circus; it refreshed him, and he fancied that it made him sleep
well afterwards. His first love had been a beautiful Roumanian, who
jumped through hoops of fire, landing on her velvet-caparisoned horse,
without even singeing her long, blond hair. He was fifteen then, and he
discovered that the lady was forty-five, though he could have sworn
there was not a difference of more than three years in their ages. Since
that time he had become enamoured of many of the glittering amazons of
the arena, who shot through the air, or through hoops, or out of the
mouths of cannons, or crossed dizzy heights on the tight-rope, or
juggled with long, villainous-looking knives falling in showers into
their hands.

Those episodes, however, brightened Jules Le Baron's life long before he
was twenty-five. He had since had many similar experiences in the larger
arena of the world. Indeed, he gloried in his susceptibility; he used to
give people to understand that, though fairly successful in business, he
had a very keen appreciation of the sentiments, and of all the
refinements of life. To a foreigner he would have expressed this
complication by saying that he was Parisian to his finger-tips. In
America, where, at the age of twenty-six, he passed three wretched
months, he had been appalled by the lack of sentiment among the people.
Of course, as he represented there the wool-house with which he had been
connected since his sixteenth year, he met chiefly business men; but
even these ought to have displayed an interest in something outside
their commercial routine.

It was those three months in America that gave Jules Le Baron his zest
for Paris. Of course, he had always loved it; but till he left it, his
love had not become self-conscious. America taught him what he had only
dimly known before, that for him Paris was the only city in the world
worth living in. He knew that people born away from Paris liked other
cities; secretly, however, this amused him. He believed that no one,
after living in Paris, could find any other place habitable. Indeed, any
places, any people, any customs foreign to Paris seemed to him so droll
that at the thought of some of them he often laughed aloud. America had
given him things to laugh at for the rest of his life.

Of course, Jules was proud of having visited America; it gave him a
delightful feeling of superiority to his friends and acquaintances at
home. He always felt pleased when the English and Americans that he met
in business complimented him on his English; it enabled him to say
carelessly: "Oh, I just picked it up when I was in America." He really
had learned very little English there; nearly all he knew had been
taught him by his father, a professor of chemistry in a small school in
Paris, who had spent six months in England during the siege. He had
acquired there, however, a smattering of American slang; on his lips it
sounded delicious. His friends in Paris thought he spoke English
beautifully, and frequently referred to his talent for languages. He had
given them glowing accounts of his adventures in America, and said
nothing of his desolate loneliness there; so they looked upon him as a
born traveller,--as, altogether, a man of remarkable qualities. But for
his English and his travels, they would merely have shrugged their
shoulders at the mention of his name, and dismissed him with a "_Bon
garçon!_"

Jules Le Baron knew that he was much more than a _bon garçon_. His
attitude toward the world expressed this; he always acted as if he felt
the world had been made exclusively for him. After losing his father at
fourteen, he promptly proceeded to link his mother in the closest bonds
of slavery. Yet he was kind to her, too, and, in his way, he loved her,
for she was made to obey, just as he had been born to command. When she
died and left him alone at the age of twenty with a small property, he
took a miniature apartment in the _rue de Lisbonne_, and adjusted
himself to his new life. His salary at the wool-house, where his English
helped to make him valuable, together with the property, gave him an
income of ten thousand francs a year. He considered himself rich, a
personage, one who ought to marry well.

Jules had thought so much about marriage that, at thirty, it was
surprising he should have remained unwedded. Every young woman he met he
regarded as a candidate for his hand, and he spent a large part of his
leisure in rejecting these innocent suitors. Even now, as he slowly made
his way up the _Boulevard_, he fancied that the girls he passed were
looking at him admiringly and enviously. He often smiled back at them,
for he was rarely unkind and he never gratuitously wounded any one's
feelings. With his mother, it is true, he had been occasionally severe,
but merely to discipline her, to make her see things as he saw them. At
this moment he felt particularly amiable. He was in Paris, on the
_Boulevard_ that he loved, surrounded by the people that he loved, in
the atmosphere which, as he had discovered in America, was as the very
breath to his being. The spectacle was all for him! Paris, had been
created that he might enjoy it!



                                   II


Saturday was the fashionable night at the _Cirque Parisien_, and the
night when Jules usually attended it. This was Tuesday, however, and
Jules decided not to be fashionable, but simply to amuse himself. As he
approached the letters of light that flashed the name of the _Cirque_
into the eyes of the _boulevardiers_, he suddenly remembered that he had
promised to meet two of his comrades of the wool-house in the evening.
He turned into the _rue Taitbout_, and as he was walking slowly through
the long passageway leading into one of the large apartment-houses
there, he felt himself suddenly seized in the darkness by two pairs of
hands. He looked quickly around, and dimly recognized Dufresne and
Leroux, who had come up from behind him. They were both types, short and
swarthy, with oily faces, thick black moustaches, and pointed beards.

"Why didn't you come before?" and "We've been waiting an hour," they
cried together.

"He's been up to some adventure, I'll wager," said Leroux.

"Answer! The truth! No lies!" Dufresne exclaimed, shaking him by one
shoulder.

Jules pulled away with an effort.

"I thought you were going to rob me!" he laughed.

"You see, he doesn't answer," said Dufresne. "I told you he was up to
some adventure."

"Up to some adventure!" Jules repeated. "I've just been taking dinner,
and I forgot I'd promised to meet you to-night. Where are you going?"

"We're going to the _Folies Bergères_, and then to a masked ball in
Montmartre," Leroux answered, resuming his grip. "Come along."

Jules pulled away with a laugh.

"Thanks. Not to-night. I don't feel like it. Besides, I'm not dressed."

"But _we're_ not dressed," they cried together, throwing open their
coats. "You won't have to dress. Come on."

Jules shook his head decidedly.

"No," he insisted, "it's all very well for you young bucks. I'm too old.
It tires me out for the next day; can't do my work. I think I'll look in
at the Circus. Come along with me."

They scoffed at the idea of going to the Circus, and tried to persuade
him to accompany them, since he had kept them waiting so long. But he
resisted, and, as he turned away from them, they clutched at him again,
but he escaped, laughing, into the street, and he saw them shaking their
fists after him. Those two "boys," as he called them, were always trying
to drag him into their escapades. They looked so much alike that at the
office they were called "the twins," and they were always getting into
scrapes and into debt together.

Before buying his ticket for the Circus, Jules looked carefully over the
program on the posters in the long entrance. Some of the performers he
had already seen and the names of a few of them were unfamiliar to him.
One name was printed in larger letters than the others--Mademoiselle
Blanche. Jules read the paragraph printed below, announcing Mademoiselle
Blanche as the most marvellous acrobat in the world, and proclaiming
that, in addition to giving her act on the trapeze, she would plunge
backward from the top of the theatre, a height of more than seventy-five
feet, into a net below. Jules smiled, and felt a thrill of his old
boyish excitement at the prospect of seeing the feat performed.

When he turned to buy his ticket, he noticed a large photograph on an
easel, standing near the box-office. The name of Mademoiselle Blanche,
printed under it, attracted him. The acrobat, her long sinuous limbs
encased in white tights, was suspended in mid-air, one arm bent at the
elbow, clinging to a trapeze. The tense muscles of the arm made a
curious contrast with the expression of the face, which was marked by
unusual simplicity and gentleness. The profile was clear, the curving
eyelashes were delicately outlined, and the eyes were large and dark.
Something about the lines of the small mouth attracted Jules. He studied
the picture carefully to discover what it was. The whole expression of
the face seemed to him to be concentrated in the mouth; he felt sure
that the teeth were small and very white, and the woman's voice was soft
and musical. The face differed from the ordinary types of performers he
had seen; it reminded him of the faces of some of the girls in the
convent of Beauvais, where his mother had once taken him to visit his
cousin. The woman must be clever to make herself up so attractively. He
wondered if the appearance of youth that she presented was also due to
her cleverness. She might easily pass for twenty. Her figure looked
marvellously supple; she had probably been trained for the circus from
infancy, and she might be fifty years old.

He decided not to buy a seat, but to go into the balcony where he could
walk about and look down at the performance. If it bored him, he could
rest on one of the velvet-cushioned seats till a new "turn" began. He
found more people in the balcony than he had ever seen there before; as
a rule they made only a thin fringe around the railing; now they were
five and six deep. He established himself beside a post where he could
catch glimpses of the arena and get a support, and there he remained for
half an hour.

To-night, however, the antics of the clown, the phenomenal intelligence
of the performing dogs, even the agility of the Schaeffer family of
acrobats, did not interest him. He was impatient to see Mademoiselle
Blanche. Her name stood last on the program; she was probably reserved
for a crowning attraction. Jules dropped on one of the velvet cushions,
and rested there for another half-hour. Then some knife-throwing
attracted him, and he slowly worked his way through the crowd to a place
where he could look down at the performers. The knife-throwing was
followed by an exhibition of trick-riding, which preceded the acrobat's
appearance.

Before this appearance took place, however, there was a long wait caused
by the preparations made for the great plunge. A thick rope was
suspended from one of the beams that supported the roof of the building,
and under it a net was spread. Then the half-dozen trapezes that had
been tied to the walls, were loosened, and as they swung in the air and
the band played, Mademoiselle Blanche, in white silk tights, with two
long strips of white satin ribbon dangling from her throat, ran into the
ring, and bowed in response to the applause of the crowd.

Jules Le Baron drew a long breath. The long supple limbs, the firm white
arms and throat, the pale oval face, framed in dark hair that curled
around the forehead, created a kind of beauty that seemed almost
ethereal. The glamour of youth was over her, too; she could not be, at
most, more than twenty. As she ran up the little rope ladder to the net
and climbed hand over hand along the rope to one of the trapezes, Jules
thought he had never seen such grace, such exquisite sureness of
movement and agility. After reaching the trapeze, she sat there for a
moment, smiling and rubbing her hands. Then she began to swing gently,
and a moment later she shot through the air to another trapeze several
feet away, and from that she passed on to the others with a bewildering
swiftness.

Jules had never seen a woman perform alone on the trapeze before, and
this exhibition of skill and resource fascinated him. The feats were
nearly all new, and some of them of unusual difficulty. When the girl
had finished her performance on the trapeze she returned to the rope,
and began to pose on it, twisting it around her waist, and hanging
suspended with her arms in the air. In this way she rolled gently down
to the net.

The event of the evening was yet to come, however. After resting for a
moment, Mademoiselle Blanche seized the rope again, and, hand over hand,
she climbed to the top of the building; there she sat on a beam, so far
from the audience that she seemed much smaller than she really was. The
ring-master, a greasy-looking Frenchman in evening dress, appeared in
the arena and commanded silence.

"Mademoiselle Blanche must have perfect quiet," he cried, "in order to
perform her great feat. The least noise might disturb her, and cause her
death."

Jules smiled at this speech; it was very clever, he thought. Of course,
it was made merely to impress the audience. He wondered how Mademoiselle
Blanche felt at that moment, perched up there so quietly, ready to hurl
herself into the air. He did not have time to think much about this, for
as he strained his eyes toward her, the signal for the fall was given,
the white figure plunged backward, spun to earth, landed with a
tremendous thump in the padded net, bounded into the air again, and
Mademoiselle Blanche was bowing and kissing her fingers.

For a moment not a sound was heard. Then the audience burst into
applause, and Jules Le Baron breathed. He felt as if his heart had
stopped beating. He had never seen such a thrilling exhibition before.
All his old delight in the circus had come back to him. As he walked out
with the crowd, he congratulated himself on not having gone with
Dufresne and Leroux. He would not have missed his evening for a dozen
balls in Montmartre!

At the door he met Roger Durand, dramatic critic of the _Jour_. He had
known Durand as a boy, and they had continued on a footing of
half-hostile friendship.

"So you've come to see the new sensation?" said the journalist, as they
shook hands.

"Just by chance," Jules replied. "I've never been more surprised in my
life. Who is she?"

"That's just what I haven't been able to find out. I've been talking
about her tonight with old Réju--he's the man who makes the
engagements--but he didn't seem to know much more about her than I did.
He said he first heard of her in Bucharest. She made a hit there, too,
some time last year."

"But she's French, isn't she? Parisian?"

"She's French, but Réju says she isn't Parisian--comes from the
provinces somewhere. There's a woman goes about with her, her mother, I
suppose. Réju says mamma keeps her down here," the journalist added with
a smile, making a significant gesture with his thumb. "Mamma gets all
the money, and Mademoiselle does all the work."

Jules shrugged his shoulders. "Going to your office?" he said. "You have
to turn night into day, haven't you?"

"My dear fellow, night is the best part of life. Days were made for
sleep. We've got mixed up, that's all, and only a few of us are clever
enough to find it out. Come and have a glass of absinthe with me before
I go back."

Jules shook his head.

"Some other time. A glass of absinthe would spoil me for to-morrow. _Au
revoir._"

He was glad to be alone again so that he might think over the evening.
The beautiful figure whirling through the air still haunted him.
"Mademoiselle Blanche!" The name seemed to sing in his mind. He wondered
what her real name was. So she had a mother who kept her under her
thumb! Then he wondered what she was like out of the circus--ignorant
and vulgar, probably, like the rest of them. Yet in her looks she was
certainly different from the rest. At any rate, he must go and see her
performance again. He would go several times.



                                  III


When Jules arrived home he found supper on the table of his little
dining-room. Madeleine, the old woman who had served his mother for
years and remained with him after his mother's death, always left
something for him at night. Now he turned away from it in disgust. His
face was burning; he felt nervous, excited. After going to bed, he was
unable to sleep. He kept seeing Mademoiselle Blanche tumbling through
the air! He could not think of her except as in motion. He tried to
recall her as she stood in the net, just before climbing the rope to the
trapeze, but her figure was vague and shadowy. Then he tried to think
out her features as he had observed them, and he found that he had quite
forgotten her face; all that remained was an impression of sweetness, of
a ravishing smile.

When, finally, he fell asleep, he dreamed of her, still flashing through
the air, striking with a thud the padded net, and bouncing to her feet
again. He woke several times and felt impatient with himself for not
being able to drive the thought away; yet when he sank again into sleep,
the dream came back persistently.

At half-past seven he rose, tired from his broken rest. He went at once
to the long mirror that covered the door of his wardrobe, expecting to
be confronted with the face of an invalid. His gray eyes were slightly
inflamed and his cheeks had more than their usual color; otherwise his
appearance was normal. For several moments he surveyed himself. As a
rule he did not think much about his looks; he knew that he was
considered handsome, and this gave him a half-unconscious gratification.
When he wanted to please a woman he seldom failed. Now he had a distinct
pleasure at the sight of the aristocratic curve of his nose, the strong
outline of his chin, the full red lips under his thick brown moustache.
Jules wished that he could keep from growing fat; but after all, he
reflected philosophically, there was a difference in fatness; some men
it made gross and vulgar; his own complexion, however, was so fair that
he could never look gross. Even now there was a suggestion about him of
the sleekness of a well-kept pigeon.

When he went out to breakfast he found Madeleine looking doleful.
Madeleine had known Jules from birth and considered herself a second
mother to him. She was short and stout, with a mouthful of very bad
teeth, some of which rattled when she spoke, as if they were about to
fall out.

"Monsieur Jules did not eat last night," she said as she poured his
coffee and pushed his rolls into the centre of the little table.

"No, Madeleine, I wasn't hungry." Jules took up the _Figaro_ that was
lying on the table and began to look for a reference to Mademoiselle
Blanche.

"The coffee will grow cold, Monsieur Jules."

Jules did not hear her. When preoccupied, he had a habit of ignoring
Madeleine. Yet, in his way, he liked her; he often wondered what he
would do without her; she was docile and attentive to his wants as his
mother had been, and she was very inexpensive. For five minutes he read;
then, when he found no reference to the acrobat, he threw down the paper
with an exclamation of impatience, and seized his cup and sipped his
coffee.

"It's cold!" he cried.

Madeleine's look of distress deepened.

"Let me take that away," she said. "I'll get another cup."

When she brought the cup and poured some of the hot coffee into it,
Jules drained it, and pushed his chair away from the table.

"But you have eaten nothing, Monsieur Jules!"

"I'm not hungry this morning."

"And you didn't eat anything last night," the old woman repeated,
following him with her eyes. "Are you sick?"

"No, no!" Jules replied, impatiently. "I don't feel like eating, that's
all. Give me my hat and coat, Madeleine; I shall be late if I don't
hurry."

"Monsieur Jules doesn't look well," said Madeleine timidly, as she
helped him on with his coat.

"Oh, don't worry about me." At the door Jules turned. "I shall be out
late again to-night, Madeleine. You needn't leave the light burning."

The wool-house of Ballou, Mercier & Co., where Jules worked, was only
ten minutes' walk from the _rue de Lisbonne_. On his way there, Jules
resolved to say nothing to the twins about Mademoiselle Blanche. Of
course, Leroux would ask him about the evening, and he would say simply
that he had been rather bored. He wanted to keep Mademoiselle Blanche to
himself. He even hoped that her performance would not be noised abroad,
that she would not become one of those women whom all Paris went to see
and every one talked glibly about. But she must be well-known already;
it was evidently her performance that had crowded the Circus.

At the office the twins had a great deal to say about the masked ball of
the previous night, but Jules hardly heard them. He was still so haunted
by the thought of Mademoiselle Blanche that he made several mistakes in
his letters; since his return from America he had been placed in charge
of all the English correspondence, and it was important that he should
be exact. The day had never seemed so long to him, nor his work, in
which he usually took pride, so dull. He was impatient for the evening.
When six o'clock came, he hurried away without bidding the twins
good-night.

Jules walked toward the little restaurant in the _Boulevard_ where he
had dined the night before. He wanted to see André again, to talk over
Mademoiselle Blanche with him. He felt almost a personal affection for
André now. The little _garçon_ was bewildered by Jules' affability, and
overcome by the generous tip which he received as Jules left the place.
Indeed, freed from the labors of the day, Jules felt buoyant and happy.
But when he reached the Circus, his spirits sank; he had forgotten that
Mademoiselle Blanche did not appear till nearly eleven. He would have to
wait for her at least three hours!

He felt so vexed that he turned away from the theatre and walked along
the _Boulevard_. It was late in October, and a light rain was falling,
mixed with snow. The _Boulevard_ was crowded with people, hurrying under
umbrellas. Jules turned up the collar of his overcoat, and shivered.
What was he to do till eleven? He might go to one of the theatres, but
he would not enjoy it. When he reached the _Opéra_, he had not made up
his mind what to do, and he walked on as far as the Madeleine. He
entered a _café_ opposite the church, and called for a bock and one of
the illustrated papers. For an hour he sat there, sipping the beer and
pretending to read. The jokes, however, which he usually enjoyed, seemed
to him vulgar. He was thinking of the figure in white silk tights,
shooting through the air. A score of times he called himself a fool for
not being able to put that thought out of his mind; yet he felt nervous
and irritable, simply because he was impatient to see the spectacle
again. At last he became so uneasy that he looked for the waiter to pay
his bill and leave. Then he felt a slap on the shoulder, and Durand's
smiling face confronted him.

There was no reason why Jules should have been displeased at seeing
Durand; yet at that moment he felt resentful. The journalist was small
and dapper, with the ends of his black moustache carefully waxed. His
little black eyes were always sparkling with humor, and when he smiled
he showed two rows of regular white teeth. Yet, in spite of the care of
himself which he seemed to take, he never looked quite clean; his thick
black hair was always dusty with dandruff, which fell on the shoulders
of his coat. He spoke in a high thin voice and with a patronizing air
that exasperated Jules.

"I thought I recognized your back," he said, when Jules had turned his
face toward him.

Jules grunted and pointed to a chair at the little table. He wanted to
show by his manner that he didn't like that familiar slap. Durand,
however, was unruffled.

"What are you doing here, anyway? Why aren't you at the theatre or one
of the _cafés chantants_?"

Jules took a puff of his cigarette, and then looked down at the little
figure.

"I might ask you the same question."

"Oh, I'm working. This is a busy night for me." Then Durand's face
lighted. "What do you suppose I've got to do to-night?"

Jules knocked the ashes of his cigarette against the edge of the table.
"Now, do you mean? I can't imagine. You're always doing impossible
things."

"I'm going to interview the little acrobat."

Jules came very near jumping. He controlled himself, however, and
carelessly lifted the cigarette to his lips again.

"What little acrobat?" he asked, screwing his eyes.

"The one you saw last night--at the _Cirque_--the _Cirque Parisien_."

"Oh, Mademoiselle--Mademoiselle--what's her name--the one who dives from
the top of the building?"

"Yes, Mademoiselle Blanche. When I went back to the office last night, I
told old Bargy about her--cracked her up to the skies, and he swallowed
the bait, and sent me round to interview her to-night. Ah, my dear boy,
that's one of the advantages of being a newspaper man. It opens every
door to you. Whenever I want to get acquainted with a pretty actress, I
simply go and interview her."

He sat back in his seat and smiled and hummed a popular song, rapping
the table with his fingers. The waiter came up and asked for his order.

"Two bocks!" said Durand, looking at Jules.

"No, no more for me. I haven't finished this yet." When the waiter went
away, Jules glanced sleepily at the journalist. "You're a very lucky
fellow, it seems to me. I should think it would be rather agreeable to
know the pretty actresses."

Durand shrugged his shoulders. "Sometimes, yes--sometimes, no. Usually
it spoils the illusion."

Jules stared thoughtfully at his bock. "Aren't you afraid you'll be
disillusioned by Mademoiselle Blanche?"

"Oh, probably. They're all alike--when you come to know them. But
there's something about her that made me think she might be a little
different from the rest. At any rate, she's dev'lish pretty, isn't she?"

"Do you think so?" Jules asked, with a deprecating lift of the eyebrows.

"Think so! I know so! If you don't think so you must be hard to please."

"Oh, I thought she was pretty in her circus rig. I should like to see
her out of the ring. They make up so, those women. You can't tell
whether they're really pretty or not."

"Well, come around with me, and I'll introduce you. Then you can see for
yourself."

Jules nearly jumped again, but his cigarette helped him to disguise the
impulse. "I'm afraid I shall be in the way," he said, after a meditative
puff.

Durand had seized the bock left on the table by the waiter, and was
holding it over his head. When half the contents had disappeared, he
smacked his lips and wiped them with his handkerchief. "Not at all.
You'll help me draw her out. They say she does the shy-young-girl act;
so she's hard to talk with. That seems to be a favorite pose of
actresses nowadays."

Jules' heart was throbbing. He was afraid that Durand would discover his
elation. So he tried to appear indifferent and cynical. Durand's
cynicism amused him; yet in the journalist's presence he was always
trying to imitate it.

When he had drained his bock, Durand stood up, surveyed with a
professional eye the crowd at the tables, nodded to a few acquaintances,
and made a sign to Jules that he was ready to go. It had ceased raining,
but the sky was still leaden. The splendid portico of the Madeleine
loomed out of the darkness, and the lights in the _Boulevard des
Capucines_ were gleaming faintly in the mist. They met few people as
they walked toward the _Opéra_, but there was plenty of life around the
theatres in the _Boulevard des Italiens_. When they reached the
_Cirque_, Durand had a whispered consultation with the _Control_ who sat
in self-conscious dignity and evening dress at the desk near the main
door. He referred the journalist to a short fat man with a white beard,
lounging a few feet away, and Jules stood apart while the two had an
animated talk. After a few moments, Durand made a sign to Jules to come
up, and Jules found himself presented to Réju as "my _confrère_,
Monsieur Jules Le Baron, of the Marseilles _Gazette_." Réju was very
amiable, and Jules felt angry, though he could not help being amused by
Durand's serene impudence.

They were conducted at once into the theatre, under the great arch,
draped with French flags, where the performers made their exits and
their entrances. Then they found themselves in a large bare room, with
several passages radiating from it.

"The dressing-rooms are here," Réju explained, pointing to the passages.
"Mademoiselle Blanche's room is number 5. I don't know whether she has
come yet or not. Her act doesn't begin till ten minutes of eleven. Wait
here, and I'll see if she can receive you."

Durand smiled at Jules, and as soon as Réju was out of hearing, he
whispered: "I hope you didn't mind that little fairy-tale of mine. I had
to pass you off as one of the fraternity. If I hadn't they wouldn't have
let you come in. Now, don't forget your part, the Marseilles _Gazette_.
It's a good republican paper. The editor's a great friend of mine."

"I'm afraid I sha'n't be a credit to the profession. I've never seen any
one interviewed in my life."

"Then it'll be an education to you." Durand laughed. "Look out. Here he
comes!"

The fat little manager approached them with a smiling face; he evidently
had in mind two free advertisements for the theatre.

"Mademoiselle Blanche," he said impressively, "arrived five minutes ago,
and she hasn't begun to dress yet. If you'll have the kindness to follow
me, messieurs"--he concluded with a bow and a wave of the hand.

Jules' body was tingling, and his heart beat violently. Durand, on the
contrary, seemed more debonair than ever; with an air of importance, he
strutted behind the manager, as if conferring an honor on the performer
by his call. Réju rapped on the door, and after a moment a shrill voice
piped:

"_Entrez!_"



                                   IV


Durand made a bold entrance, and Jules followed sheepishly. The room was
small and uncarpeted; on one side stood a wardrobe and a table, and on
the opposite wall hung a large mirror that reflected nearly the whole of
the apartment. The rest of the furniture consisted of two wooden chairs
and a large trunk. Jules did not realize that he had observed these
details till afterward, for his glance was bent on the face of
Mademoiselle Blanche, who stood beside the trunk, surveying her callers
with apprehension in her big eyes. On one of the chairs sat a woman of
fifty, tall and thin, with strands of flesh hanging at her neck, her
eyes bright, her lips aglow with a false bloom, and her cheeks pallid
with powder. Jules recognized her at once as the acrobat's mother, and
he had a shock of surprise and revulsion.

The manager, after presenting the callers to Madame Perrault, and then
to her daughter, excused himself with a flourish, and left the room.
Madame Perrault was smiling and chattering at Durand, and Mademoiselle
Blanche was flushed and confused.

"I think we must be the first of the Parisian journalists to interview
Mademoiselle," said Durand to the mother, letting his eyes turn vaguely
to the acrobat for information.

Madame Perrault gave a little jump, and glanced hastily at her
daughter's face.

"Yes, you are," she replied. "We did have--that is, there was a
gentleman of the press who wanted to interview Blanche, but she--she was
a little timid about it. Blanche is very timid; so we--we put it off.
But interviewers are very----Ah, you will sit down, will you not?" she
said to Jules, who had remained standing with his eyes fixed on the
girl.

Mademoiselle Blanche had taken a seat on the trunk, and her mother sat
beside her so that Jules might occupy her chair. When they were all
adjusted, Madame Perrault resumed, turning to Jules, whose embarrassment
she had observed.

"Monsieur Réju told me yesterday interviews were so important. They make
people interested. They----"

"But the people are already interested in Mademoiselle Blanche," Durand
interposed, gallantly. "That's why my _confrère_ and I have come here.
The Parisians want to know all about Mademoiselle. She's the sensation
of the hour. Her name is on everybody's lips."

He glanced at Mademoiselle Blanche with his most languishing smile, and
Jules felt a sudden desire to kick him. The acrobat tried to look
pleased, but she succeeded only in appearing more confused. Jules was
surprised to see how frail she was. Her figure, full and vigorous in the
ring, seemed so thin in her plain, tight-fitting gray dress, that he
felt sure she must have been padded for her performance.

"I'm going to ask Mademoiselle a great many questions," Durand resumed,
still leering at the acrobat.

"But I have nothing to tell," she replied, speaking for the first time.

"But you must have been born, and grown up, and done a great many things
besides, that the rest of us don't do," the journalist laughed, growing
more familiar. Jules' dislike for him was rapidly developing into
hatred.

Durand's familiarity, however, seemed to please the acrobat's mother.

"Blanche is too modest," she said. "She's had a great many things happen
to her."

"Have you always been in the circus, Mademoiselle?"

"Yes, ever since she was a child," her mother answered. "Her father was
an acrobat."

"So it's in the family. And were you in the circus too, Madame?"

Madame Perrault shook her head, and Jules thought he saw her blush under
the powder. "No, I have never been in public life. My husband's family
lived in Boulogne, where I lived too. They were all acrobats. After my
marriage I used to travel with the circus, and when Blanche was born,
Monsieur Perrault wanted her to perform, too. When she was only five
years old, they used to appear together."

"Then you have travelled a great deal, Mademoiselle?" Durand turned his
fascinating glance on the girl. She looked at her mother, and as she was
about to reply, Madame Perrault resumed: "Ah, my daughter has been over
nearly the whole world,--in England, in Germany, in Russia--"

"Have you ever been in America?" Jules asked quickly.

The acrobat shook her head.

"But she has had such offers--such splendid--such magnificent offers to
go there," the mother cried, clasping her hands.

"But I'm afraid," the girl murmured, glancing at Jules with her big
timid eyes.

"Afraid of the voyage?" Jules asked. Her eyes were still fixed upon him,
and he felt as if every nerve in his body were vibrating. "That's
nothing. I have made it twice, and I wasn't sick a day."

This was not true, for on each trip Jules had been sick for several
days; but he made the remark with such ease, that for the moment he felt
convinced himself of its truth. Mademoiselle Blanche looked at him
admiringly, and he saw that he had made an impression on the mother,
too, established himself in her regard as a travelled person, a man of
importance.

"Then Monsieur has been in America?" said Madame Perrault.

"Oh, yes," Jules replied, carelessly. "All over it. It's a wonderful
country."

Mademoiselle Blanche sighed, and her mother glanced at her wistfully.

"But it's too far," Madame resumed with a shake of the head. "We could
not go so far from the children."

"Then you have other children?" said the journalist. "Are they in the
circus, too?"

For the first time, the girl's face brightened. "Oh, no!" she replied,
with a suggestion of horror in her tone.

"They are very young," the mother explained. "Jeanne is only fourteen
and Louise will be eleven next month. They are with my sister in
Boulogne."

Durand made a little sign of impatience which indicated to Jules that he
was not getting the information he wanted. Besides, he was evidently
displeased by the failure of his leers to produce any apparent effect
upon the girl; she seemed to be unconscious of them.

"And Monsieur Perrault," he said, "he is still performing?"

An expression of pain appeared in the mother's face, and Mademoiselle
dropped her eyes.

"No, he died three years ago," Madame Perrault replied. "He was killed
at Monte Carlo. He fell from the trapeze."

There was silence for a moment, and the journalist tried to infuse into
his insipid little face a look of sympathy. Just how much sympathy he
felt was shown by his next remark.

"I couldn't help wondering last night," he said briskly, "when I saw
Mademoiselle perform, how she felt just before she took that plunge. How
do you feel, Mademoiselle? Aren't you frightened, just a little?"

The girl shook her head. "I have done it for so many years, I don't
think of being afraid. My father taught me never to have the least fear.
He wouldn't have been killed if the trapeze hadn't broken."

"And we take every precaution," Madame Perrault quickly explained.

Durand began to ask questions about the various cities Mademoiselle had
visited. Most of the replies came from Madame Perrault, who seemed to
have constituted herself her daughter's mouthpiece. Which audiences did
she like best to play to? The Germans! Durand shook his head. He
wouldn't dare to say that in a French paper. It might make Mademoiselle
unpopular with the Parisians. Ah, but Mademoiselle liked the Parisians,
too. Didn't she find them very enthusiastic? No? That was simply because
they were thrilled, overcome, silenced by her performance. Durand grew
excited in extolling the merits of Parisian audiences. For their
favorites they would do anything, and Mademoiselle was fast becoming one
of the most popular of their favorites. Of course they had their
peculiarities. When a performer vexed them, there were no limits to
their wrath. Had Mademoiselle heard of the attack on Sophie Lenoir at
the _Ambassadeurs_? The audience had thrown at her everything they could
lay hands on, and she had fainted, or pretended to faint, on the stage.

Indeed, much of the conversation was supplied by the journalist himself.
He had apparently abandoned hope of making the acrobat talk; so he
addressed most of his speeches to the mother, whom he drew out by many
artful devices. Mademoiselle Blanche sat looking on in open-eyed
surprise, as if she did not have a share in the matters under
discussion. Occasionally she would glance appealingly at Jules; when he
looked back, she would blush and turn her head away.

While Durand was in the middle of one of his stories, Madame Perrault
drew a small gold watch from her pocket. The journalist jumped from his
chair.

"We are keeping Mademoiselle from dressing," he said, as Jules rose,
too. "A thousand pardons. We will go in just a moment. There's only one
more question. That is about your presents, Mademoiselle, your gifts."

"My gifts?" the acrobat repeated vaguely.

"Yes, from the princes, the crowned heads you've appeared before."

"Ah!" the mother exclaimed, in a long breath, "Blanche has received so
many! There was the brooch from the Emperor of Russia, and the ring from
the Prince of Roumania, a costly diamond, monsieur, so clear and
beautiful, and the little gold watch studded with pearls from the King
of Bavaria, the 'mad King' they call him, you know--and then--then the
bracelet set with rubies from the Duchess of Merlino, when Blanche was
in Bucharest. Ah, but we have none of these here. They are all at home,
they--"

"Here in Paris?" Durand asked, impatiently.

"No, monsieur, in Boulogne," Madame Perrault answered, and Jules saw an
expression of wonder and pain cross her daughter's face.

Durand was rubbing his silk hat with his glove, and regarding it
intently.

"Then," he said, looking up quickly, "there must have been some
adventures--some admirers, that have followed Mademoiselle, perhaps,
eh?" he added, leering insinuatingly at the mother.

Madame smiled, and the face of the acrobat turned pink. Jules wanted to
seize the little journalist by the neck, and throw him out of the door.

"Ah, in Bucharest," cried Madame, "the young--"

"Mamma!"

Madame Perrault shrugged her shoulders, and smiled suggestively.
"Perhaps we'd better not speak of that. Blanche is a good girl," she
added, patting her daughter on the back. "She's good to her mother, and
she's good to her sisters. Ah, _ma chère_!"

The girl had turned her head away. Durand offered her his hand
gallantly, and then beamed on the mother. "I will come and see you some
time, if you will give me permission," he said condescendingly.

"Some Sunday," Madame Perrault replied. "It's the only day when Blanche
is free. And you will bring your friend, perhaps, if he is still in
Paris," she added amiably, with a quick glance and smile at the
journalist from Marseilles. Then she produced two cards and passed them
to the callers.

Jules murmured a civil response to the invitation, and, after bowing low
to the ladies, he followed Durand and closed the door behind him. The
expression of languishing pleasure in the journalist's face had given
place to a look of hilarious merriment.

"Did you ever see such a block? She didn't have a word to say. I don't
believe she has an idea. And she thought she was impressing me with her
modesty! And the gifts from the crowned heads--wasn't that droll? Of
course, the old lady made up every one of those stories. She's a sharp
one, with her painted lips and her powdered cheeks. Her little game is
to get a rich husband for the girl, and I'll wager a week's salary
she'll succeed."

Jules said nothing. He knew it would be useless to argue with Durand. If
he were to give his opinion of Mademoiselle Blanche, the journalist
would laugh, and say he didn't understand women, especially actresses.
So, when Durand suddenly asked him what he thought of the girl, he
merely shrugged his shoulders.

As they passed out they met Réju, who offered them seats if they cared
to remain for the rest of the performance. Durand explained that he must
return at once to the office, and urged Jules to accept the invitation.
When Jules found himself alone in the first row of the orchestra he
breathed with relief. He had never before realized what an odious little
creature Durand was. For the moment he forgot even to feel gratitude for
the introduction to the acrobat.

He was unable to take an interest in the performance, and he looked at
his watch to see how long he would have to wait for the appearance of
Mademoiselle Blanche. It was just twenty minutes past ten. Suddenly it
occurred to him that he would have time to go out and buy some flowers
for her. He left his seat, and hurried to the nearest shop in the
_Boulevard_. There he bought the finest bunch of white roses he could
find, went back to the theatre, and sent them to the acrobat with his
card. When at last Mademoiselle Blanche ran into the arena, he was
thrilled with joy. She wore his flowers in her belt.



                                   V


That night Jules Le Baron knew that for the first time in his life he
was really in love. He had often fancied himself in love before, and he
had enjoyed the experience; now he discovered his mistake. Love was not
the pure delight he had imagined it to be. It is true, he had moments of
ecstasy, of sublime self-congratulation, when he felt with stronger
conviction that the world was made for him and he had been created to
conquer the world; but during the next few days these were followed by
long periods of depression, of abject despair.

At times, too, the grotesqueness of this infatuation appalled him. To be
in love with an acrobat, a woman who earned her bread by hurling herself
from the top of a building, who risked her life every day, sometimes
twice a day, that she might live! Then, at the thought of her amazing
courage, Jules would be overcome, and if alone in his room at home, he
would throw himself on the bed, bury his head in the pillow and groan.
Indeed, at this period he went through many strange and violent
performances. Madeleine became alarmed for his health, and thought of
sending for a doctor.

He could not apply himself to his work; he made so many mistakes in his
English correspondence that Monsieur Mercier had to ask him to be more
careful. The twins noticed his condition and chaffed him, and insisted
on knowing "her name"; in secret they decided that Jules had been
investing his money badly; he had often boasted to them about his little
property. They tried to cheer him by urging him to join them in their
nocturnal expeditions, but he always replied that he was staying at home
in the evening now. As a matter of fact, he spent every night or a
portion of every night at the _Cirque Parisien_, and at each appearance
of Mademoiselle Blanche, he was gratified to see that she wore his
nightly offering of roses in her belt. He never received an
acknowledgment of these tributes, for he did not dare write his address
on the cards he sent with them. Once, as she stood in the net, just
before climbing the rope to make her great plunge, he fancied that his
eye caught hers, and she smiled at him. He decided afterward that he had
been mistaken; but the thought of that smile prevented him from sleeping
half the night.

Jules was keeping his courage alive in the hope of seeing her at her
apartment on Sunday. His only fear was that Durand would be there.
Durand's published interview with Mademoiselle Blanche was so flippant
that it deepened the hatred Jules had already conceived for the
journalist. He resolved on Sunday to explain to Madame Perrault that he
was not what Durand had represented him to be and to appear in his own
character; he was conceited enough to believe that in his own character
he could make quite as good an impression as in any other. Besides, had
not Mademoiselle Blanche been impressed by the fact that he had visited
America?

On Saturday night he sent his silk hat to be blocked, and his frock-coat
to be pressed, and he bought a pair of white gloves. Madeleine found him
much more agreeable on Sunday morning than he had been during the week;
but, though he seemed to be recovering his spirits, she still felt
worried. In the afternoon he presented himself before her for
inspection, asked if his coat set well, if she liked the colour of his
gloves, what she thought of the violets that he wore. She became
enraptured over his appearance, told him that he had never looked so
beautiful, and saw him go away with a radiant face. Then, as the door
closed behind him, she went into her little chamber and wept. The truth
had flashed upon her! Her Jules was in love! Some one else was going to
take his mother's place and hers. She felt all the jealousy and misery
that his own mother might have felt at the moment, combined with a
pathetic consciousness that she had no right to grieve. Jules was
everything in the world to her, she said to herself, and she was nothing
to him. She was an old broken woman, and for the rest of her days she
should have to live alone.

Jules had become her pride and the source of her happiness. Yet she
really saw very little of him--the only meal he took at home was his
breakfast--but she really existed for the pleasure of serving him and
looking at his face in the morning. Now, in spite of her misery, she
knelt before the statue of the Blessed Virgin that stood on a little
table beside her bed, and prayed that the woman who was going to take
her place might be a good woman, and worthy of her boy. In her simple
affection for Jules she believed that he had only to show that he cared
for a woman to have her throw herself into his arms.

It was hardly three o'clock, too early for a call, Jules thought, as he
walked toward the _rue St. Honoré_; but he was so impatient to see
Mademoiselle Blanche again that he could not wait till later in the
afternoon. During the week the sun had hardly appeared, and the
succession of leaden skies had helped to depress his spirits. To-day,
however, the sky was blue and the sun shone so brightly that it seemed
almost like spring. He was in one of his buoyant moods, when he felt
sure of his ability to conquer. In his fine clothes and with his
confident manner, he looked very handsome; several pretty girls
gratified him by staring at him as he passed. If he impressed people he
didn't know, why couldn't he impress Mademoiselle Blanche? He planned a
great many things to say to her. He would be particularly amiable to the
mother, too, and tell her all about America.

The number in the _rue St. Honoré_ that Madame Perrault had given
corresponded with one of the great white stucco apartment houses
abounding in Paris. He passed under the wide vaulted entrance, and asked
the wife of the _concierge_ if Madame Perrault lived there. "_Au
sixième_," was the shrill reply, and he started up the narrow stairs.
When he reached the _sixième_, the top floor of the house, he panted and
waited for a moment before ringing, to catch his breath. Then he
carefully arranged his cuffs, touched with his gloved hand his silk
cravat and his flowers and, with a sigh of anticipation, he rang the
bell.

A trim little servant of not more than fifteen opened the door. When
Jules asked for Madame Perrault, she shook her head.

"She went out an hour ago, monsieur, and she won't be back till four."

Jules' heart sank. Of course, mother and daughter were out together. He
was about to turn away despairingly, but he suddenly thought of
inquiring if Mademoiselle were at home. The maid nodded.

"Shall I say that monsieur wishes to see her?" she asked, stepping back
that he might enter.

"If you please," he replied, as he followed the girl into the little
_salon_. It was furnished wholly in Japanese fashion; the walls were
hung with Japanese draperies, and a large thick rug covered the floor.
On the mantel, prettily draped with a wide piece of flowered silk, stood
a number of photographs, one of them a duplicate of the portrait of
Mademoiselle Blanche that he had seen in the entrance of the Circus. As
Jules glanced at this, he heard a light step in the adjoining room, and
when he turned, Mademoiselle Blanche herself was looking at him out of
her dark eyes. She walked toward him, flushing a little, and extended
her hand.

"I am sorry mamma is not here," she said. "She went out only a few
minutes ago, and she'll be back soon. But we--"

"You didn't expect any one so early. I ought to apologize, but I was
impatient to come. Then--I--I hoped to find you alone."

"So you have," she laughed, pointing to a chair near the grate-fire. She
wore a dress of dark silk with little white spots in it that became her
wonderfully, Jules thought. Around her neck was a piece of muslin, open
at the throat, and muslin encircled her wrists. Once again Jules was
impressed by the delicacy of her appearance; her skin had an almost
transparent whiteness, and there was no colour in her cheeks, save when
she flushed, which she did at the least cause.

"How pleasantly you are lodged here," said Jules, looking around the
room. The apartment was as small as his own, which he had considered one
of the smallest in Paris.

"Yes, we were fortunate to get it. And it seems so odd--it belongs to an
actress who's spending the winter in the South of France. We have taken
it furnished."

"Then you're to be here all the winter?" said Jules, feasting his eyes
on the clear white forehead, the white neck that he could see beneath
the muslin. How beautiful she was! His surmise about the teeth had been
correct; they were small and white, with little bits of red between
them.

"No," she replied, "I've been engaged at the _Cirque_ until the first of
January. Then I shall go to Vienna, and appear there for several
months."

"Ah!" For a moment Jules was silent. "But you will take a rest before
you go to Vienna?"

She shook her head.

"No. I should like to go home for Christmas to be with my sisters. But
they will come to Paris instead."

"But doesn't it tire you?"

"No. It isn't hard. And I never like to stop. I must keep in practice."

For an instant Jules was touched by a curious sympathy. There certainly
was something pathetic, even abnormal, in the thought that this frail
woman hurled herself six days in the week from the top of a building.
Then he was thrilled again by the marvel of it, by the consciousness
that he was sitting opposite the phenomenon, gazing into her eyes,
hearing her voice, receiving her smiles. He could think of nothing to
say, but he felt quite happy; he would have liked to sit there for hours
in mute admiration. Mademoiselle Blanche, however, looked confused; she
seemed to be shaping something in her mind.

"It was very kind of you to send the flowers," she said at last. "I
would have thanked you before if I had known where you lived. They were
very lovely."

His face shone with pleasure at the thought that she had recognized him
as the sender, and he leaned toward her. "You needn't thank me," he
said. "I felt repaid when I saw them in your belt."

Then he told her how he had gone to the circus every night just to see
her; how he admired her performance, her grace and skill on the trapeze,
her courage in making the great plunge. As he spoke, her face kept
changing colour. She seemed to him like a bashful child, and he
marvelled at her ingenuousness, for surely she must be used to praise.
Then he recalled what Durand had said about her affectation of modesty,
and he wondered if the journalist could have been right; but when he
looked into the girl's clear eyes he saw nothing but beauty and truth.

When he had finished speaking of her performance, he began to talk about
himself, his favourite topic with women. He told her about his visit in
the United States, and he made fun of the Americans for drinking water
instead of wine at table, and for many other customs that had amused him
because they were so unlike the ways of Parisians. He also imitated the
speech of some of the Americans he had known, and he was surprised to
find that she understood what he said. She had learned English from her
father, she explained; he had often performed in London, and she had
been there with him twice. Then he began to speak with her in English to
display his accomplishment, and he felt disappointed on discovering that
she could converse quite as fluently, and with a better accent. So he
returned to French, and told her about his life in Paris, his dear old
Madeleine who kept him so comfortable in his little apartment, his work
at the office, and about Dufresne and Leroux. She showed no surprise
when he revealed Durand's duplicity; she merely said that she hadn't
liked the journalist, and her mother had been vexed by the article. She
seemed so interested that he went back to his early days, before the
death of his father and mother, described his life at the _lycée_, his
love of sport, his passion for the circus, his boyish adventures at
Montmartre, his happy days in summer at Compiègne, his mother's goodness
and her foolish pride in him. He was so unconscious in his egotism that
it was touching to hear him; Mademoiselle Blanche seemed to be
unconscious of it, too, for she listened with a serious, absorbed
attention. While he was in the midst of an analysis of his own
qualities, the little clock on the mantel struck four and Mademoiselle
Blanche looked up quickly.

"Mamma will be here very soon now," she said.

Jules felt a sudden irritation. At that moment the coming of Madame
Perrault seemed like an intrusion. The reference to it had the effect of
stopping his confidences; it was as if she had already appeared in the
room. He rose from his seat, and began to examine the photographs on the
mantel. Then he took up one of them, a large photograph of a man of more
than fifty, with a white pointed beard, a shock of iron-grey hair, and
laughing eyes.

"Is this your father, mademoiselle?"

She shook her head.

"That is my mother's _fiancé_."

He turned to her quickly. "Your mother's _fiancé_!"

"Yes. My mother has been engaged a long time. She would have been
married a year ago but for me."

"Ah, then you don't like it--you don't want her to marry again?"

"I should not care--that is, I should be glad for Jeanne and Louise.
Monsieur Berthier is very rich, and he has been kind to the girls. He
has offered to give them a home."

Jules came near laughing. It seemed to him ridiculous that the old
powdered woman he had seen in the dressing-room of the Circus should
marry again.

"Then how have you prevented the marriage?" he asked.

"Because I must work," she replied simply, "and mamma cannot leave me.
If mamma married Monsieur Berthier, she would have to stay in Boulogne."

"Ah!" A light broke on Jules. The mother would not marry until her
eldest daughter was married. So, of course, she must be anxious to find
a husband for Mademoiselle Blanche. He felt as if Providence were paving
the way toward happiness for him. For a moment he did not speak again.
Then he said: "But you will marry some day, and then your mother won't
have to travel with you."

She flushed, and made a deprecating gesture. "I shall always stay in the
circus," she said. "It's my life. I can't think of any other."

Then he gradually drew her out. She surprised him by telling him of the
monotony of her life. With most of the other performers she had merely a
slight acquaintance; the coarseness of the women and the vulgarity of
the men shocked her. Her only companion in her travels was her mother.
Yes, it was lonely sometimes not to know other girls of her own age, and
it was very hard to be separated from Jeanne and Louise. She worried a
great deal about Jeanne, who had shown a fondness for the circus. She
thought if her mother married, Jeanne would give up all thought of
becoming a performer. Of course, it was different with herself; she had
been bred to the circus, but she couldn't bear the thought of Jeanne's
being there, too. Jeanne was very pretty and lively; Aunt Sophie was
obliged to be strict with her. Louise was so different, so quiet and
simple, and religious, almost a _dévote_. As she spoke of her sisters,
Mademoiselle Blanche grew very animated. Jules blamed himself for the
momentary doubt he had felt about her. If Durand could only hear her
now! But Durand doubted every woman.

It was nearly five o'clock when Madame Perrault returned. When she saw
Jules, she showed no surprise, but smiled upon him broadly and extended
her hand. Mademoiselle Blanche lapsed into silence and, as her mother
talked, with a superabundance of gesture and with tireless vivacity, she
could feel Jules' eyes fixed upon her. She knew that Jules hardly heard
what was being said, and when he rose to take his departure, she made no
effort to detain him.

"I should like to come again," he said to the girl.

"Some afternoon, perhaps," Madame Perrault suggested amiably. "Blanche
always rests between three and four, but after that she could see you."

"But I am at my office till six."

"Ah, yes!" Madame Perrault exclaimed with a smile. "That wicked
journalist! You must tell him we were vexed with his article."

"Then may I come in the evening? Perhaps you'll let me take you to the
theatre some night?"

Madame Perrault clapped her hands. "That would be perfect!"

Mademoiselle Blanche said nothing, but it was to her that Jules directed
his next remark.

"Perhaps to-morrow night; I will come at eight o'clock."

Madame Perrault displayed her gleaming teeth patched with gold, and her
daughter merely bowed and said, "Thank you."

As Jules was putting on his overcoat in the little hall, he heard a
voice say:

"_Il est très gentil, ce monsieur_," but though he listened he could not
catch the reply. He was radiantly happy, however. When he reached the
street, he felt like running; with an effort he controlled himself, and
walked buoyantly home with a smile on his face. He would take Madeleine
out to dinner, as he used to take his mother when they celebrated his
holidays!



                                   VI


The next night, promptly at eight o'clock, Jules appeared in the little
_salon_ in the _rue St. Honoré_, bearing his offering of flowers to
Mademoiselle Blanche. Madame Perrault gave him the quiet reception of an
old friend, and he felt as if he had long been in the habit of calling
at the apartment. Madame Perrault informed him that she had just risen
from dinner, and asked him to drink a cup of coffee. Then the three
figures sat in the dimly-lighted room and talked; that is, Jules and
Madame Perrault talked, for Blanche ventured a remark only when a
question was put to her.

A few moments later, Madame Perrault went into the next room where she
was occupied with the little maid in making a dress; so Jules was left
alone with her daughter. They had very little to say to each other, and
Jules was content to sit in silence and rapt adoration. As he looked at
her, her name kept singing in his mind: Blanche! He wondered if he
should ever dare to address her in this way. How beautiful she was as
she sat there, the soft light of the fire falling on her face and hands,
and on the folds of her gown! He was glad she was so quiet; he hated
women that talked all the time. That was the great fault with Madame
Perrault; if she said less, he would like her, in spite of her powder
and paint. Since hearing that she was engaged, and wanted to get her
daughter married, Jules' feelings toward her had softened.

It was nearly ten o'clock before they left for the theatre. Jules called
a cab, and all three squeezed into it with a great deal of laughter on
the part of Madame Perrault. As they rattled over the rough pavement,
the noise was so great that they could not talk, and Jules gave himself
up to contemplating the serious face of Mademoiselle Blanche. The
thought that he was riding with her to the scene of her triumphs
thrilled him. He felt as if he were having a share in her performance,
as if her glory were reflected on him. Ah, if Dufresne and Leroux could
see him now! How they would be impressed, and how they would envy him!

Before bidding his friends good-night, he asked if he might not take
them home; he would remain till the end of the performance, anyway, he
said. Instead of entering the theatre at once, he sauntered along the
_Boulevard_ toward the _place de la Bastille_. What were the other
performers to him? Without Mademoiselle Blanche the _Cirque Parisien_
would not be worth visiting. He did not return to the theatre till it
was nearly time for her to appear. Réju was standing at the door, and
made a sign for him to pass in without paying. Jules accepted the
invitation with a twinge of conscience. He wondered what Réju would
think if he discovered Durand's imposition.

After the performance, Jules waited at the stage-door for half an hour
till Mademoiselle Blanche appeared again. Then he asked her and her
mother to take supper with him at one of the restaurants in the
_Boulevard_. Madame Perrault consented amiably, and they entered a
little _café_, where a half-dozen young men and girls were sitting round
a table, playing cards. Jules wanted to order a bottle of champagne; but
Mademoiselle Blanche objected; he could scarcely keep from smiling when
she said she would much rather have beer. So he called for three bocks
and some cheese sandwiches, and over this simple repast they became very
gay. Madame Perrault was the liveliest of the three, and she amused
Jules by a description of her _fiancé_, who had been in love with her,
she said, long before her marriage with Blanche's father. She seemed to
think it was very droll that he should want to marry her now; she had
told him he would do much better to marry Blanche, or to wait till
Jeanne grew up. Under the warmth of her humor, Jules' prejudices against
her disappeared, and he found himself growing fond of her. At that
moment he longed to confide in her, to tell her all about his
infatuation for her daughter, and to ask her advice about the best way
of pleasing the girl.

When they had left the _café_, and Jules had taken his friends home and
dismissed the cab, he fell again into the depression of the week before.
As he walked to the _rue de Lisbonne_ in the damp night, he blamed
Durand for having introduced him to the Perraults. If he hadn't met
Mademoiselle Blanche he might have gone on living comfortably, enjoyed
his daily work, his little dinners, his visits to the theatre, his
comfortable apartment, with Madeleine to look after his wants. Now he
was upset, at sea. He hated the routine of the office; the vulgar
stories of Dufresne and Leroux disgusted him; the apartment was cold and
lonely; Madeleine was always interfering with him. He resolved not to go
to the _Cirque_ again; he would try to forget Mademoiselle Blanche and
her mother's chatter. But when he went to bed it was of her that he
thought, and he dreamed that he saw her again, in her white silk tights,
climbing hand over hand to the top of the Circus, tumbling through the
air, and bouncing with a thud to her feet on the padded net.

The next morning he felt better, and he called himself a fool for his
misery of the night before. As he looked back on the evening, he decided
that, of course, if they hadn't liked him, they would not have allowed
him to take them to the theatre and back, and to a _café_ for supper. He
wondered what they would think if he called for them again that night.
Perhaps it would be better to wait for two or three days. But at the end
of the afternoon he felt so impatient to see Mademoiselle Blanche that
he determined to risk seeming intrusive. So he bought another bunch of
white roses, and at eight o'clock he reappeared in the apartment. Madame
Perrault greeted him just as she had done the night before, without a
suggestion of surprise in her manner. This made him feel so bold that he
did not apologize, as he had intended to do, but took his place by the
fire as if he had a right to be there.

In this way, Jules Le Baron's courtship began. It seemed to him a
strange courtship. It taught him a great many things,--among others, how
little he knew about women. As he had lived in Paris all of his thirty
years, with the exception of his three memorable months in America, he
thought he understood women; now he saw his mistake. He had not led a
particularly good life, though it was so much better than the lives of
most of his acquaintances that he considered himself a man of rather
superior character. If he had studied his character more carefully, he
would have discovered that his superiority was not a matter of morals,
but of taste and temperament. Vice seemed to him vulgar, and it made him
uncomfortable; so in its grosser forms he had always avoided it. He had,
however, the Parisian's frank, ingenuous, almost innocent fondness for
the humorously indecent, and his attitude toward life was wholly French.
The mention of virtue made him laugh and shrug his shoulders. Most
women, he thought, were naturally the inferiors of men; so the better he
understood the character of Mademoiselle Blanche, the more surprised he
grew. Indeed, there were times when he felt awed in her presence and
ashamed of himself. She seemed to know the world and yet to be untainted
by it, to turn away instinctively from its evil phases. If her innocence
had been ignorant, he could not have respected it; the knowledge that
she had lived in the midst of temptation made her goodness seem almost
sublime.

Jules fell into the habit of calling for the Perraults in the evening,
and he soon became recognized at the _Cirque_ as their escort. Réju, who
still showed respect for him as a journalist, admitted him to the
theatre every night without charge, and he was also permitted to enter
the sacred precincts beyond the stage-door, where, instead of waiting on
the sidewalk, he stood in a cold corridor, dimly lighted by sputtering
lamps. After the performance, he sometimes took his friends into the
little _café_ for beer and sandwiches, and occasionally Madame Perrault
would prepare a supper at home.

Jules' equilibrium became restored again; he made fewer mistakes at the
office and he even deceived the twins, who had come to the conclusion
that he must be in love. With Madeleine, in spite of his first
confidences, he had little to say about Mademoiselle Blanche, and she
did not dare ask him questions. His silence and his improved appetite,
together with his renewed amiability, made her hope that he had
recovered from his infatuation, and she felt easier in mind.

On the Saturday evening following his first call on Mademoiselle
Blanche, while Jules was sitting in the little apartment, he asked the
girl if they might not pass Sunday together. "We might drive through the
_Bois_ into the country," he suggested.

She had been looking into the fire, and she glanced at him hesitatingly.
"We always go to mass on Sunday morning," she said.

For a moment Jules appeared confused. "But can't you go to early mass?"

Madame Perrault, who was in the next room, called out: "It's no use
trying to persuade her not to go to high mass, monsieur. She'd think
something terrible was going to happen to her if she didn't go. Now, I
go at eight o'clock; so I have the rest of the day free."

Jules looked at Mademoiselle Blanche and smiled, and she smiled back.

"I like to hear the music," she explained apologetically.

"Oh, she's too religious for _this_ world," Madame Perrault laughed. "I
believe she'd go to mass every morning of her life if she didn't have to
stay up so late at night. She ought to be in a convent instead of a
circus."

"In a convent!" Jules exclaimed, in mock alarm.

"Don't you ever go to church?" the girl asked, turning to Jules.

He looked confused again. "I? Well, no. To tell the truth, I haven't
been in a church for nearly ten years. Oh, yes I have. I went to a
funeral two years ago at the Trinity."

"But weren't you--weren't you brought up to go to church?"

"Brought up to go to church? Oh, yes; my mother went to church every
Sunday of her life. I used to go with her after my father died."

A long silence followed. Mademoiselle Blanche turned again to the fire,
and Jules had a sensation of extreme unpleasantness. Like many
Parisians, he never thought about religion. He had been so affected by
the skepticism of his associates that he had no real belief in any
doctrine. He saw now for the first time that serious complications might
arise from his religious indifference. It was very disagreeable, he
thought, to be confronted with it in this way. Indeed, the more he
thought about it, the more annoyed he became. He felt that he must
justify himself in some way. So at last he spoke up: "I suppose you're
shocked because I don't go to church, aren't you, mademoiselle?"

Mademoiselle Blanche looked down at her hands lying folded in her lap.

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" he repeated, trying to laugh. "Why are you sorry? I rather like
it. I never did enjoy going to church."

"We don't go to church to enjoy it, do we?" she asked gently.

He sank back in his seat, and looked at her. "No, I suppose not." Then,
after a moment, he suddenly leaned forward. "We can't all be good like
you, mademoiselle. Perhaps if I had known you always, I should go to
church. I'd do anything to please you."

"But you ought not to go to please me. You ought to go for your own
good."

"So you think it does good, then--going to church?"

"I'm sure of it," she replied, gazing into the fire. "Sometimes,--when I
feel unhappy because I haven't seen the girls for so long, and because I
must be separated from them so much, or when Aunt Sophie complains about
Jeanne, or Jeanne has been unkind to Louise, or disobedient, then, after
I've been to church, I feel better."

"Why do you feel better?" he asked, more to keep her talking than
because he cared for her answer.

"Because I feel sure," she went on, holding her head down, "I feel sure
it will all come out right--if I only have faith. Jeanne is a good girl;
she's never disobedient or unkind with me."

"Then you worry about Jeanne?"

"Yes--sometimes."

"But you don't worry so much after you've been at church?"

"No."

"And that is why you like to go to church?"

"That's one reason. But there are others--a great many others."

He felt like laughing at the simplicity of her reasoning, and yet he was
touched. He had a sudden desire to take her in his arms and stroke her
soft hair and tell her he loved her. Then he heard her mother's step in
the next room, and this roused him.

"I should like to go to church with you sometimes," he said. "May I?"

"Take him to-morrow, Blanche," cried Madame Perrault, and at that moment
Jules could have kissed her, too. "There's going to be a special service
at _St. Philippe de Roule_ at ten o'clock. The music will be good."

That was how Jules first happened to go to church with Mademoiselle
Blanche. After mass they walked up the _Champs Élysées_ and then along
the _avenue du Bois de Boulogne_, in the midst of the multitude of
promenaders. A few of the men recognized the girl, and turned to look
after her. She seemed not to see them, but Jules did, and he felt very
proud to be her escort. She looked very pretty in her tight-fitting
black jacket and little hat tipped with fur, her cheeks scarlet with the
early frost. She was the last person in the crowd, Jules thought, who
would be taken for an acrobat. It seemed to him wonderful that she
should appear so unlike the marvel that she was, and this lack of
resemblance to herself made her the more attractive to him.

After that day, Jules went to church with Mademoiselle Blanche every
Sunday. At first the sight of the priests in their vestments, of the
altar-boys in their white surplices, of the white altar gleaming with
candles and plate and enshrouded in incense, and the reverberation of
the organ, mingled with the voices singing the music of the mass, all
reminded him so strongly of his mother, that his old affection for her
swept over him, and brought tears to his eyes.

His own disbelief had made him doubt even the faith of others. It had
also inspired him with the hatred for priests, so common even among
Parisians of traditions like his own. Now, as he watched them, chanting
at the altar, they seemed harmless as other men. He tried, as he went
mechanically through the service, to count the men he knew who went to
church. Nearly all of his acquaintances, he found, scoffed at it. Then
gradually the service became subtly mingled with his love for the girl
beside him, and for her sake he loved it. The organ seemed to sing her
praise exultingly. He would have liked to tell her of this fancy, but he
did not dare; he knew it would shock her. In a short time, going through
the mass with her grew to mean to him an expression of his love, a
spiritual exaltation which he offered as a tribute, not to God, but to
her.



                                  VII


By the month of November, Jules had identified himself with Madame
Perrault and her daughter. He took his position as their friend and
recognized escort so quickly and so quietly that he was himself
surprised by it. There were moments when he had a fear that it was all
an illusion, that some night he should find the stage-door of the
_Cirque_ slammed in his face.

It was while watching Mademoiselle Blanche in the ring that he found it
most difficult to realize his happiness. He actually _knew_ this
wonderful creature in white tights who darted from trapeze to trapeze,
who posed like a marble statue on the rope, who shot through the air
like a thunderbolt! He saw her every day; he loved her, and she knew
that he loved her. Sometimes he fancied that she loved him in
return--from an expression in her face, a glance of her eyes, a blush, a
tremor when his hand touched hers. He did not dare speak to her about
his love; he doubted if he should ever dare to speak; at a word he
feared his happiness might be shattered.

Sometimes on Sunday afternoons he drove with Mademoiselle Blanche and
her mother into the country, and on Sunday nights he would dine and pass
the evening with them in the little apartment. Occasionally he had long
talks with the mother; in these he told about his family and about his
property, laying stress on the fact that even if he lost his place at
the office his income was large enough to support him. She told him, in
return, about her own family and her husband's, and gave him a humorous
account of her sister-in-law, Blanche's Aunt Sophie.

"Blanche is a little like her," she said. "Sophie takes everything _au
grand sérieux_. Then she's strict with the children, and that's a great
mistake, for Jeanne hates restraint, and Louise doesn't need it."

She also told him amusing stories about Monsieur Berthier's devotion to
her. He had offered himself to her while she was at the convent where
she was educated, near Boulogne, and she had refused him twice. Her
family had objected to her marriage with Blanche's father, simply
because he was an acrobat. No, she hadn't fallen in love with him at the
circus. She never saw him perform till a short time before she became
engaged to him. Ah, it had been hard for her to be separated from him so
much. Sometimes she travelled with him in his long journeys; but while
the children were very young, she couldn't. Blanche had been such a
consolation to him. Madame Perrault believed that husband and wife ought
never to be separated; it was bad for both of them. If she had her life
to live over again, she would always travel with her husband, no matter
how far he went.

Most of Jules' talk with Madame Perrault, however, consisted of a
discussion of the qualities of her daughter, whose praises she
constantly sang for him. Blanche's ambition, she said, was to provide
dowries for her sisters; she had already accumulated a few thousand
francs, and these she had set aside for the girls. She never seemed to
think that she herself needed a _dot_. Ah, sometimes Madame was very
much worried about her daughter's future. Blanche could not marry any of
the other performers; they were not worthy of her, and their coarseness
and roughness shocked her. Of course, they were good enough in their
way, but their way was not Blanche's way.

Then, as Madame became more familiar with Jules, she also grew more
confidential. Yes, Blanche had had a great many admirers. The young
Prince of Luperto had fallen desperately in love with her in Bucharest
three years before, and he had followed her all over Europe. But she had
refused to notice any of his letters,--and oh, _mon Dieu!_ such letters!
Madame had read every one of them, and she had met the Prince the night
he tried to force himself into Blanche's dressing-room. He seemed _such_
a gentleman, and he had the most beautiful eyes! But Blanche,--she was
so frightened. She cried and cried, and for weeks she was in terror of
her life! Then there were others,--so many, so many. One by one, Madame
Perrault unfolded their histories to Jules, and he listened in rapt
attention, with a growing appreciation of the daughter's charms and of
the mother's amiability.

Jules often wondered why he did not hear more talk about the circus in
the little apartment. The subject was rarely mentioned. Mademoiselle
Blanche displayed no nervousness before or after her performance. She
practised a little in the morning at home, she said, to keep her muscles
limber; she had done the same things on the trapeze so often that they
had become easy to her. Once Jules met in the apartment the oily little
Frenchman who always held the rope when Mademoiselle Blanche climbed to
the top of the _Cirque_, and then he learned for the first time that
Monsieur Pelletier was Mademoiselle's agent. "And he is such a trial to
us," the mother explained when he was gone. "He makes such bad terms,
and we have to pay him such a high percentage; and then he sometimes
mixes up our dates, and we don't know what to do. Ah, if we could only
have some one to take care of our affairs that we could trust. It is so
hard for two unprotected women."

Jules thought of this speech many times. Indeed, he fairly brooded over
it. For several weeks he had felt that his career was too limited; he
hated the thought of being tied down to his business all his life. He
was made for something better than that, for a grander, a more
conspicuous _rôle_.

In his youth he had thought of the army, then of a diplomatic career;
for a time, too, of the stage. But he had been too poor to enter either
of the first two professions, and for the stage he was unfitted by
temperament. Now, in his imagination a brilliant career stretched before
him, combining both glory and love. Up to the present he had not lived;
his life was about to begin. The world seemed to open out to him! He
would travel from one end of the earth to the other in an unbroken march
of triumph. Even Paris lost attractiveness for him and seemed
uninteresting and petty; he pitied the poor _boulevardiers_ who were
bound to a wretched routine of existence, who loved it simply because
they knew of no other. He would not only visit America again--this time
not in a sordid capacity, friendless and lonely, but surrounded by a
retinue--he would go also to Russia, to India, to Australia, perhaps to
Japan and the other countries of the remote East. The night when he was
first enchanted by this vision, he could not sleep for excitement till
nearly four o'clock. Then he saw the vision realized, only to be
shattered by Madeleine's cracked voice, and her injunction that it was
time for him to get up and go to his work.

In the evening, when he saw his friends again, he found them very
unhappy; they had just received news from Jeanne that Aunt Sophie was
very ill, threatened with pneumonia. Madame Perrault was in tears, and
Mademoiselle Blanche's eyes showed that she, too, had been crying. The
next day, they said, Jeanne had promised to write, and the next night
Jules learned that bad news had been received. The doctor pronounced the
case pneumonia, and said the patient was in great danger. Mamma must
come on, Jeanne wrote. But Madame explained to Jules with sobs that she
could not leave Blanche.

"And my poor Jeanne, what will she do, a child of fourteen with only the
little Louise to help her."

Then Jules became inspired. His faithful Madeleine--she would save the
situation. Madame Perrault might go to Boulogne by the first train, and
Madeleine would take her place, would be a second mother to Mademoiselle
Blanche, accompany her to the theatre, help her to dress, come back with
her, keep her from being lonely. Jules wanted to rush off at once, and
bring Madeleine to the _rue St. Honoré_, for inspection and approval.

Then the girl's quiet wisdom asserted itself. Jeanne had said there was
no immediate danger; so if Mamma took the train in the morning, that
would be in quite time enough. After their _petit déjeuner_ they might
call on Madeleine, or Monsieur Jules might tell them if she would come.
Then Jules burst into a eulogy of Madeleine's qualities: he had never
before realized what a good soul she was. He would bring her with him,
he said, in the morning, on his way to the office; he knew she would be
glad to come.

On this occasion Jules had a chance to display his executive ability.
After leaving his friends at the Circus, he drove home furiously, found
Madeleine sound asleep in the big chair by the fireplace, woke her up,
and explained the situation.

"Now, my dear Madeleine," he said at the end, "you are to go to that
poor girl and take her mother's place; she will love you, and you will
love her. So be good to her for my sake, Madeleine," and he leaned over,
and patted the old woman's wrinkled hand affectionately. Madeleine was
moved, chiefly, however, by Jules' unwonted tenderness. She had never
known an actress, not to speak of a performer in a circus, and she felt
alarmed at the thought of meeting one. But she felt sure that
Mademoiselle Blanche must be good. Hadn't Jules said so? Jules had not
said that he was in love with Mademoiselle; he trusted Madeleine to find
that out for herself; he also trusted Madeleine to find out a few other
things for him. Secretly he was blessing the chance that enabled him to
send Madeleine to Mademoiselle; for the moment he did not even think of
the personal discomfort it would cause himself.

That night Jules told his friends that Madeleine had consented to come,
and he promised to bring her with him in the morning. Madeleine was
greatly agitated, and rose unusually early to make an elaborate
toilette. She rarely went out, save to the shops and to mass; so she had
not kept up with the fashions, and her best dress was made in a mode
long before discarded. She was a very grotesque figure as she walked in
her queer little bonnet with long ribbons flying from it, and her wide
skirts. When they reached the apartment in the _rue St. Honoré_, Jules
thought he saw an expression of amusement in Madame Perrault's face, but
Blanche greeted Madeleine with great kindliness. Then the mother
explained that she had just received a letter from Jeanne, saying Aunt
Sophie was in no immediate danger, but begging her to come as soon as
possible. Jules saw that both his friends were pleased with Madeleine,
and it was quickly arranged that she should install herself in the
apartment that day, and at four o'clock Madame Perrault would leave for
Boulogne. He departed radiantly happy, with the promise to return at
three to take Madame to the station. He secured leave of absence from
the office, and on his return to the apartment he found Madeleine there,
helping Mademoiselle Blanche to make a new dress.

"I'll be ready in a minute," Madame Perrault cried from the adjoining
room.

"Are you coming with us, mademoiselle?" Jules asked.

"No, I won't let her," her mother replied. "It's too cold, and it would
tire her. You aren't afraid to ride alone in a cab with me, are you?"

Jules was surprised by her vivacity; he knew that she was greatly
worried about her sister, yet in the midst of her agitation she could
joke. If he had known her less he would have supposed that she was a
woman of little feeling. She presently flounced out of the room, putting
on her gloves and smiling.

"Madeleine and Blanche have become great friends," she said. "I'm afraid
I shall be jealous of her. When I come back there won't be any place for
me." Then she took her daughter by both hands and Jules saw the glimmer
of tears in her eyes. "Good-bye, dear," she said, kissing the girl on
both cheeks. "You must write to me every day, and I'll write to you. In
a week, at least, I shall be back. I have a presentiment that Sophie
will improve as soon as I get there."

Mademoiselle Blanche clung tightly to her mother, and kissed her again
and again.

"There, there! Now, my child--there!" With a parting embrace, Madame
Perrault tore herself away, crying as she passed out of the door,
"Good-bye, Madeleine. Take care of the little one! And remember Monsieur
Jules is coming back to dinner. I'm going to invite him."

This was the first time she had ever called Jules by his first name, and
on hearing it he felt a thrill of joy. She hurried before him down the
steep stairs, wiping her eyes. When they entered the cab, she had
controlled herself again, and was smiling as usual.

The cab rattled so noisily over the pavement that during most of the
ride to the station they kept silent. They arrived there half an hour
ahead of time, and this they spent in walking up and down the platform.

"You must be very kind to my Blanche while I'm away," said Madame
Perrault. "She will be very lonely. She hasn't been separated from me
before since her father died."

Jules assured her that he would be a second mother to her. He would take
her and Madeleine to the _Cirque_ every night, and in the morning on his
way to the office he would call to ask if he could do her any service.
"She'll be spoiled when you come back," he concluded with a smile.

For a moment they walked without speaking. The station was so cold that
their breaths made vapour in the air. Yet Jules felt warm enough; his
whole being seemed to glow.

"There's something I want to tell you."

She made a sign with her head that she was listening.

"I'm in love with Mademoiselle Blanche," he said, impressively, finding
a delicious relief in speaking the words.

She smiled roguishly into his face.

"Is that all?"

They looked into each other's eyes, and read there a mutual
understanding.

"Then you've known all along?"

"Of course, from the very first, from the first night you came into the
dressing-room, and pretended to be a reporter."

"Ah, I thought you had forgiven that."

"So I have--that is, there was nothing to forgive. You didn't deceive
me."

"Do you mean that you knew at the time I wasn't a reporter? And
Blanche--she knew too?"

"No, poor dear, she didn't know. Yet it was plain as daylight. Ah, my
friend, I haven't lived fifty years for nothing. Don't you suppose I
could tell from your looks and your manner, and what you said, and what
you _didn't_ say,--don't you suppose I could tell from all that, what
you had come for?"

Jules looked into her face again.

"How good you are!" he sighed.

She burst out laughing.

"Good? I am not good. Blanche taught me that years ago. There's nothing
like having a good daughter to take a mother down. She makes me feel
ashamed every day of my life."

"That's just the way she makes me feel," Jules cried, delighted to find
that some one else shared his feeling. "Then she's so gentle and so
kind," he rhapsodized, "and she thinks so little about herself! Do
you--do you think----Oh, that's what almost drives me to despair
sometimes. I hardly dare go near her. I hardly dare to speak to her."

Madame Perrault took a deep breath.

"You almost make me feel young again," she said, with a smile.

"Do you think I could make her love me?" Jules asked, marvelling at his
own humility.

"Do you mean that you want to know whether I think she's in love with
you or not?" Madame Perrault said briskly. "Ah, my friend, I can't
answer that question. You must ask her yourself."

"Then you give me permission to ask her? You are willing? You have no
objection?" He stopped suddenly, and looked radiantly at Madame
Perrault's face. "How _good_ you are, madame!" he repeated.

She began to laugh again,--a peculiar, gurgling laugh that came from her
throat.

"Why should I object? You are a good fellow. You would make Blanche a
good husband. It's time for her to get married. She needs some one to
protect her. I can't follow her about all the rest of my life. She is
twenty-two. Why shouldn't she marry?"

Jules' ardor was cooled by this practical reasoning; it made him
practical too. He told Madame Perrault again of his little property. He
could well afford to marry, he said. He loved Mademoiselle Blanche with
all his heart; he couldn't live without her; he would give up everything
for her; he would follow her everywhere. Ah, if he only knew whether she
cared for him or not! She was so strange, so reserved. It was so hard to
tell with a girl like her.

"You are right there, my friend. She has great reserve. With my Jeanne
or Louise, I should know everything. But with Blanche, _non!_ But I
never pry into her secrets; I have learned better. She has a great deal
of inner life; she thinks a great deal; she is not like the other
flighty women that you see in the circus. If she had not been born to
the circus, if she had been brought up as Louise has been, she would be
a _religieuse_."

Jules would have become rhapsodical again if the whistle of the train
had not sounded, and he was obliged hurriedly to help Madame Perrault
into her compartment. He shook the hand that she offered him, received a
few last messages, and he watched the train as it pulled out of the
station. Then, with a sigh, he turned and walked back to his office.



                                  VIII


After the departure of Madeleine, Jules would have found his apartment
cheerless, if he had not used it merely for sleeping. As soon as he rose
in the morning, he went to Madame Perrault's, where he breakfasted with
Mademoiselle Blanche. In spite of her duties elsewhere, Madeleine kept
his rooms in order, and his new domestic arrangements did not in the
least inconvenience him. Indeed, he liked them, and he almost dreaded
the return of Mademoiselle's mother. This would probably not take place
for several weeks, however, for the illness of her aunt Sophie proved to
be very tedious, though after the first ten days she was pronounced out
of danger. Madeleine had speedily won the affections of Mademoiselle
Blanche, and she secretly confided to Jules that the girl was an angel.

"I knew you'd think so," Jules replied. "I've thought so ever since I
first saw her."

"Ah, but it's wicked that she should have to do those dreadful things
every night!" Madeleine cried, rolling her eyes, and throwing up her
hands in horror. "It freezes my blood."

"But she likes it," Jules explained.

"Ah, it's wicked just the same, the poor child!"

Madeleine had speedily adapted herself to her duties as dresser to
Mademoiselle Blanche, and her nightly trips to the theatre were the most
exciting experiences of her life. After seeing the plunge from the top
of the Circus, however, she had refused to look at it again. "It freezes
my blood," she would repeat, whenever Jules referred to it. "It's too
horrible!"

"But she makes a lot of money by it," Jules insisted.

"She would do much better to stay poor," Madeleine replied, with a
tartness that was rare with her and made Jules burst out laughing.

"Madeleine," he said, confidentially. "Madeleine, come over here."

Madeleine bent her head towards him with a smile on her face.

"Madeleine, do you think there's any one--any one that she cares about
particularly--any one you know? Eh?"

Madeleine's wrinkles deepened, as the smile spread over her face and
lighted her faded eyes.

"Ah, Monsieur Jules, she is very fond of her sisters. She is always
talking about them, especially about _la petite_ Jeanne. Then she's very
fond of her mamma, too, of course."

"Madeleine, you're trying to plague me now. You know I don't mean that.
I mean any--any--?"

"Any gentleman, Monsieur Jules?" the old woman asked.

"Yes, Madeleine, any gentleman."

Madeleine grew thoughtful.

"She often speaks of Monsieur Berthier, who is going to marry her
mother. She says he's very kind to her sisters."

"And is that all, Madeleine? Doesn't she speak of any one else? Doesn't
she ever speak of--of me?"

"Oh, yes, Monsieur Jules, she thinks you've been very good to her and
her mother. She often speaks of that."

This was all the information that Jules could extract from Madeleine. On
several occasions he tried her again, but though she seemed amused by
his questions, she evaded them. Once he said to her:

"Madeleine, how would you like to go away with me--to travel--a long
distance?"

Madeleine carefully considered the question. Then she replied simply:

"I should not like to leave Paris, Monsieur Jules, but, if you wanted me
to go, I would go."

After that, Madeleine was less worried. She had little to say, and, like
most silent people, she observed and thought a great deal. For
Mademoiselle Blanche she had conceived a genuine affection, and she
looked forward with regret to the time when she would have to leave the
_rue St. Honoré_ for Jules' lonely apartment.

One Saturday night, on their return from the Circus, Jules asked
Mademoiselle Blanche if she were going to high mass the next day as
usual. He was surprised when she replied that she was going at eight
o'clock instead.

"But that is too early," he said. "You won't have sleep enough."

"I'm going to communion," she explained.

"Oh!"

He could not understand why this announcement should impress him as it
did. He had supposed that of course she went to communion; she had
probably gone to confession early in the afternoon before the _matinée_.
Once again he felt awed by her goodness. How strange it was that she
should be in the confessional at three o'clock, and two hours later
perform in her fleshings before a crowd of people! The very publicity of
her life seemed to exalt the simplicity and the purity of her character.

Jules was so absorbed in thinking of these things that he did not speak
again till the cab reached the _rue St. Honoré_. Then, as he helped
Mademoiselle out, he said:

"I'll go to church with you to-morrow, if you will let me. You won't
leave before half-past seven, will you?"

She protested that he ought not to get up so early; he needed a good
night's rest after his hard work of the week. But he laughed and waved
his hand to her in parting, and told her not to wait for him after a
quarter to eight; now that he didn't have Madeleine to call him, he
might not wake up in time.

He was in time, however, and as he walked to church in the cold December
air with Mademoiselle by his side, he felt repaid for his sacrifice. She
wore a tight-fitting fur coat and a black cloth dress, with the little
fur-trimmed hat he had admired when he first walked with her in the
_Champs Élysées_. Her face was protected by a thick dotted veil, but
under it he could see her sparkling eyes and the color in her cheeks.

"I'm paying you a very great compliment," he said, as they hurried along
towards _St. Philippe de Roule_. "I haven't got up so early on a Sunday
since I was a boy."

She smiled in reply; it was too cold for her to speak. He could see her
breath steaming faintly through the veil.

He felt a curious desire to hear her voice again; he did not realize
that her devotion to the Church made her seem more remote from him, but
he had an unpleasant consciousness that his own lack of religious faith
created a barrier between them.

In the church he kept glancing from the priest celebrating the mass, to
her. She was absorbed in reading her prayer-book, and she did not once
look up at him. He compared her as she appeared then with her appearance
in the glamor of the circus ring. She was the same person, yet
different. She represented to him a kind of miracle. How humble she was,
how sweet and good, as she knelt there!

When the priest began to distribute the communion and Blanche left her
seat and joined the throng approaching the altar, Jules was touched with
a tenderness he had never felt before. He buried his face in his hands,
and prayed that he might be made worthy of her. He did not dare pray for
her love; a certain sense of shame at having neglected God and church
for so many years, at having lived solely for his own gratification,
kept him from that; but if he had examined his motives, he would have
found that this was really what he was praying for. He deceived himself
so easily that he instinctively felt that he might be able to deceive
God too.

On leaving the church, Jules proposed that they go to a restaurant for
breakfast. "We'll make a holiday of it," he said, "and drink to your
Aunt Sophie's health."

But Blanche protested that Madeleine would expect them, and would be
worried if she were not back by half-past nine.

"Then we'll go out at one o'clock. I'll take you over to Bertiny's, in
the _Champs Élysées_. It's very gorgeous; the twins took me there once
to celebrate Dufresne's luck when he won five hundred francs at the
races."

Though the sun was shining, it was still very cold, and as they hurried
to the little apartment Jules could see that she was trembling.
Madeleine had prepared some hot coffee for them and some eggs, and over
these they were very gay. Jules was in a particularly good humor, and
Mademoiselle Blanche laughed at his jokes, though most of them she had
heard before. She had a very pretty laugh, he thought,--like her
mother's, though not so deep and gurgling. After breakfast her face
flushed from her walk and she looked even prettier than she appeared in
the church.

As Madeleine cleared away the table, Blanche began to water the flowers
by the window, and Jules opened the copy of the _Petit Journal_ that he
had bought on the way from the church. He kept glancing up at
Mademoiselle, however, and each time he looked at her he had a new
sensation of pleasure. How domestic she looked in the little dress of
gray wool that she had put on after her return from mass! She seemed to
create an atmosphere of home around her. In her belt were the roses he
had given her the night before, still fresh and sparkling with drops of
water from her fingers. How good it was, he thought, that he could be
with her like this! How lonely his own apartment would be to him when
Madame Perrault came back! He almost wished that she would never return,
that she would marry Monsieur Berthier, and they might go on in this way
forever. He laughed at the thought, and just then Mademoiselle turned
her head.

"Monsieur seems to be amused," she said. "What is he smiling at?"

"I'm smiling because I'm so happy," Jules replied. "Don't you smile when
you're happy?"

She took a seat by the table, where she rested one hand.

"No, I don't think I do," she said, apparently giving the question
serious consideration. "When I am very happy I look serious. Then mamma
sometimes fancies I feel sad."

He took a cigarette-case from his pocket and began to smoke.

"Do you know," he said at last, "I shall be sorry when your mother
returns?"

"Sorry?"

"Yes, because Madeleine will come back to me then, and I shall have to
stay at home. I can't come any more as I do now."

A look of alarm appeared in her face. "But why can't you come just the
same?" she asked, innocently.

He burst out laughing, and he felt a sudden desire to pat her on the
cheek as he might have done to a child. What a child she was, anyway!
Yet he would not have wished her to be different; she seemed to him just
what a young girl should be.

"When your mother comes, I can't take breakfast with you any more, and I
can't come early on Sunday mornings and stay all day. I shall have to go
back to my lonely apartment."

"But you have Madeleine," she said, with a faint smile.

"Madeleine, yes, and she is good enough in her way." Then he suddenly
threw his cigarette into the fireplace, and bent toward her. "Don't you
know," he whispered, in a voice so low that Madeleine, who was moving
about in the next room, could not hear him, "can't you see that it's
_you_ I shall miss? Can't you see that you've become everything in the
world to me? Without you, dear Blanche, I shouldn't care to live. Before
I met you I didn't know what life really was--I didn't know what love
was. I loved you the first time I saw you, and the more I've seen you,
the better I've known you, the dearer you've become to me. I don't think
I ever really understood what it was to be pure and good till I knew
you. You've made me ashamed of myself. Sometimes I feel as if I had no
right to go near you. But I do love you, Blanche, and they say love
helps a man to be good. I haven't dared to tell you this before; I've
been afraid to ask you if you loved me. But this morning in church, it
all came over me so--so that I must tell you. Blanche," he went on,
taking her hand, "you aren't offended with me for saying this, are you?
I love you so much--I can't help loving you. If you'll only love me a
little, dear, I'll be satisfied. Won't you tell me if you do care for me
a little--just a little?"

He knelt by her side, and tried to look into her face; but she turned
her head away, and he saw that her neck was crimson. Her bosom kept
rising and falling convulsively. Then he pressed toward her and clasped
her in his arms and kissed her again and again,--on the face, the
forehead, the hair, even on her ears when she buried her head on his
shoulder. His lips were wet with her tears, and he felt radiantly,
exultantly happy.

"I love you, I love you!" he kept repeating.

For the first time he felt sure that his love was returned; but he was
not satisfied. He wanted to hear her speak out her love. His lips were
on her cheek, and she was lying motionless in his arms, as he whispered:

"Won't you say that you love me, dear? Just three words. That isn't
much, and it will make me the happiest man that ever lived."

Instead of speaking, she put her arms on his shoulders, as a child might
have done, and he pressed her close to his breast again. Then he heard a
noise behind him, and he saw Madeleine standing, big-eyed, in the
doorway; she seemed too startled to move. He rose quickly to his feet,
and still holding Blanche's hand, he said:

"Madeleine, come here!"

She came forward timidly, as if afraid she might be punished for her
intrusion.

"Mademoiselle Blanche is going to be my wife, Madeleine."

Madeleine held out her arms to the girl, and for a moment they stood
clasped in each other's embrace.

"Ah, Monsieur Jules," the old woman cried, "I pray God your mother can
look down from heaven and see what a good daughter she's getting!"



                                   IX


After confessing his love, Jules experienced, mingled with his
exultation, a feeling of bewildered amazement at his own boldness. This
was followed by a poignant regret that he hadn't spoken before. Now,
however, that his weeks of doubt and of intermittent misery were over,
he gave himself up to his happiness, which manifested itself in a wild
exuberance of spirits.

In a short time he was speaking humorously of those weeks, ridiculing
himself as if he had already become different, almost another person
from what he had been then. He told Blanche about his tortures, and even
succeeded in extorting a confession from her that she had been in love
with him since the first Sunday when he had called at the apartment and
acknowledged Durand's duplicity; she, too, had had her doubts and her
fears. Then they became very confidential, and by the time the morning
was over, and they found themselves in the restaurant, they felt as if
they had known each other intimately for years.

In spite of Blanche's protests, Jules ordered a bottle of champagne and
an elaborate luncheon.

"I suppose I ought to have asked Madeleine to come," he said, "but I
wanted to be alone with you. Some day before your mother returns, we'll
have another _fête_, and take Madeleine with us."

In the morning, when he spoke about a definite engagement, and she
protested that her mother must be consulted, he had told her of his talk
with Madame Perrault at the railway station. Now he went on to make
plans for their marriage. There was no reason, he argued, why they
should wait a long time; her mother had been engaged to Monsieur
Berthier for three years, but she would not marry till Blanche had a
protector. Jules liked to talk of himself in this character; it gave him
a feeling of importance. So, altogether, he went on, the sooner the
marriage took place the better. He would give up his place in the
wool-house, and devote himself to his wife's career; for, of course,
they couldn't be separated. They would be very happy travelling about,
from one end of the world to the other.

It never occurred to either of them that Blanche might retire from the
ring after marriage. She herself seemed to regard the circus as part of
her life; she had been born in it, and she belonged to it as long as she
was able to perform. As for Jules, he could not have dissociated her
from the thought of the circus. Even now he felt as if he had himself
become wedded to it, that he had acquired a kind of proprietary interest
in it. He discussed Blanche's professional engagements as if they were
his own. Why, he asked, couldn't the marriage take place during the
weeks that intervened between her engagement at the _Cirque Parisien_
and her appearance in Vienna? Jeanne and Louise could come up to Paris
for Christmas and the New Year, and be present at the ceremony. By that
time he would have his affairs arranged so that he could go with her to
Vienna.

Of course, they must dismiss Pelletier after their marriage. Jules would
take charge of his wife's affairs; his capacity for business would
enable him to make good terms for her. He would plan wonderful tours; he
would write to America, perhaps, and secure engagements for her there;
artists were wonderfully well paid in America, better than in any other
country, and they would enjoy seeing the new world together.

Blanche listened to his talk with a touching confidence; she seemed to
think it natural that he should speak as if he had authority over her.
She made no protest against any of his suggestions, though she repeated
that nothing could be decided till her mother returned to Paris.

"But we'll write to your mother," said Jules. "We'll write to her this
very day--this afternoon when we go back."

For a moment her face clouded.

"What's the matter? Don't you want me to write to your mother?"

She did not reply at once. When she did speak, she kept her eyes fixed
on her plate.

"It will be so hard to be separated from her."

Jules laughed, and bent toward her.

"But you can't stay with her always," he said tenderly. "Then we'll take
Madeleine with us. That will be a capital plan. She's strong and
healthy, though she's over sixty, and she won't mind the travelling.
Besides, we shall be in Vienna three months, and we'll rent a little
apartment. It will be like being at home."

He spoke as if their future were settled, and his tone of confidence
seemed to reassure her.

"I should like to have Madeleine," she said simply. "She is so good."

On their return to the apartment, they devoted themselves to writing
long letters to Madame Perrault. Jules' letter was full of rhapsodies,
of promises to be kind to the girl who had consented to be his wife, and
of his plans for the future. They read their letters to each other, or
rather Jules read all of his, and Blanche read part of hers, firmly
refusing to allow him to hear the rest. They spent a very happy
afternoon together, and in the evening Madeleine had a sumptuous dinner
for them, with an enormous bunch of fresh roses on the table. In the
evening they went to the _Comédie Française_, to finish what Jules
declared to be the happiest day of his life.

Jules counted that day as the beginning of his real career. He looked
back on himself during the years he had lived before it almost with
pity. Since leaving the _lycée_, he had been merely a drudge, a piece of
mechanism in the odious machinery of business. He had been content
enough, but with the contentment of ignorance. How lonely and sordid his
existence out of the office had been! He thought of his solitary dinners
in _cafés_, surrounded by wretched beings like himself deprived of the
happiness that comes from home and from an honest love. To the twins and
his other comrades at the office he said nothing of the change that had
taken place in his life; he was afraid they would chaff him; of course,
when they heard he was going to marry an acrobat, they would make
foolish jokes and treat him with a familiar levity. He determined not to
tell them of his marriage until the eve of his departure from business;
he would have to give the firm at least a fortnight's notice; but he
would merely explain to Monsieur Mercier that he intended to devote a
few months to travel, and thought of going to America.

Madame Perrault replied at once to Jules' letter. She made no pretence
of being surprised by the news it contained; and she expressed her
pleasure at the engagement, and gave her consent. But they must not make
any definite plans until her return to Paris. That would be in about two
weeks, for Aunt Sophie was very much better now and rapidly gaining
strength, though she had as yet been unable to leave her bed. As soon as
Sophie could go out, she was to be carried to the house of her cousin,
Angélique Magnard, who would give her the best of care. Then Madame
Perrault would be able to take Jeanne and Louise to Paris for the
holidays; the girls were wild to see their dear Blanche again and to
meet Jules. Monsieur Berthier talked of coming with them; he, too, was
eager to make the acquaintance of Blanche's future husband.

After these preliminaries, Madame Perrault devoted herself to practical
matters. She felt it her duty to inform Monsieur Jules that Blanche had
no _dot_; she had earned a great deal of money, but most of it had been
spent in maintaining the family; since the death of her father she had
been their sole support. Of course, after marriage, her daughter's
earnings would belong to Jules; but he must distinctly understand that
he was taking a penniless bride. After her own marriage, Madame Perrault
would have no fear for the future; Monsieur Berthier had promised of his
own accord to provide for the girls; indeed, it was chiefly for their
sake that, at the age of fifty-three, she was willing to marry again. So
Blanche would no longer have her family dependent on her.

Jules replied with an impassioned letter. He didn't care whether Blanche
had a _dot_ or not. He wanted to marry her because he loved her, because
without her his life would be unendurable: he would marry her if she
were the poorest girl in France. It took him several pages to say this,
and he read the letter with satisfaction, and then aloud to Blanche, who
laughed over it, and gave him a timid little kiss in acknowledgment of
his devotion. He thought he had done a commendable act, and he felt
convinced that every word he had written was true.

At the office Jules grew reserved, and he resented haughtily the
familiarities of the twins. Indeed, to all of his companions in the wool
house he could not help displaying the superiority he felt. He would be
there only a few weeks longer, and he acted as if he were conferring a
favor on his employer by staying. The twins spent many hours in
discussing the change in him; but they could not discover the cause.

"You ought to have heard him talk to old Mercier the other day," said
Leroux. "You'd think he was the President receiving a deputation."

Early in November, Blanche received a letter from her mother, saying
Aunt Sophie was so much better that they had decided to move her the
next day, and two days later she would herself leave Boulogne with the
girls and Monsieur Berthier. Jules was both glad and sorry to hear the
news,--sorry because his long _tête-à-têtes_ with Blanche would end for
a time, and glad because he would be able to arrange definitely with her
mother for the marriage. Madeleine grieved at parting with the girl, but
was consoled when Jules explained that she would probably be needed
every night at the circus after Madame Perrault's return, for, of
course, Monsieur Berthier would want to take his _fiancée_ to the
theatres. In speaking of Monsieur Berthier, Jules had adopted a
facetious tone, which half-amused and half-pained Blanche.

"How droll it will be," he said one day, "to have two pairs of lovers
billing and cooing together."

"Mamma doesn't bill and coo," the girl replied, with just a suggestion
of resentment in her tone. "She's too sensible." Then Jules patted her
affectionately on the cheek, and told her she mustn't take what he said
so seriously.

"Monsieur Berthier must be a very good man, or he wouldn't get such a
good wife," he said lightly. Then, with a comic look in his eyes, he
added as an afterthought: "What a very good person I must be!"

The next night, when Jules appeared in the _rue St. Honoré_ for dinner,
he found the little apartment crowded. Madame Perrault embraced him, and
by addressing him as "my son," seemed to receive him formally into the
family. Then she introduced the two girls, who were much larger than he
had imagined them to be. Jeanne, rosy-cheeked and black-eyed, approached
him fearlessly, and offered her hand with a smile; Louise, fair and
slight, with her light brown hair braided down her back, looked
frightened, and blushed furiously when she received her salutation. The
little fat man standing in front of the mantel, Jules recognized at once
from his pointed white beard and laughing eyes.

"I should have known you in a crowd on the _Boulevard_," Jules said, as
he extended his hand. "You're exactly like your photograph."

"And you are even better-looking than Mathilde said you were," Monsieur
Berthier replied. "Ah, little one," he went on, turning to Blanche, and
giving her a pinch on the arm, "you're getting a fine, handsome
husband."

Jules tried to make friends with the girls. With Jeanne he had no
difficulty; she was quite ready to banter with him, and he found her
pert and quick-witted. Louise, however, was so shy that he could extract
only monosyllables from her. She seemed to him very like Blanche, only
less pretty. Jeanne had Blanche's beauty, more highly-colored and
exuberant; her snapping black eyes showed, too, that she had a will and
a temper of her own. Jules began to chaff her, to make her show her
spirit, but she parried his jests good-humoredly, and she retaliated
very smartly.

"I don't see how you ever dared to fall in love with Blanche," she said.
"Aren't you afraid of her?"

"Afraid of her?" Jules laughed. "Why should I be afraid of her?"

"Oh, I don't know. I suppose because she's so good. I'm afraid of her
sometimes. And I'm afraid of Louise when she gets her pious look on. How
did you happen to fall in love with her? Do tell me. I'll never tell in
the world."

"I just saw her, that's all," Jules explained with mock gravity. "Isn't
that enough?"

"In the circus?"

Jules nodded.

"Then you fell in love with her because she does such wonderful things,
and looks so beautiful in the ring. Now, you wouldn't have fallen in
love if you'd just met her like any one else."

"But it was because she wasn't like anyone else that I did fall in love
with her," Jules insisted, with the air of carrying on the joke.

"But if she'd never been in the circus--if you'd just met her here, or
anywhere else except in the circus--do you think you would have fallen
in love with her then?"

"Of course I should," Jules replied unhesitatingly, though he knew he
was lying.

Jeanne shrugged her shoulders and looked skeptical.

"I wish I could be in the circus," she said, "and get flowers, and be
admired, and earn a lot of money like Blanche. And isn't it the funniest
thing," she went on, growing more confidential, "Blanche doesn't care
about it at all."

"About the flowers, and being admired, and all that?"

"Yes. And she says the circus isn't a good place for a young girl. But I
say if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me. Anyway, if
mamma doesn't let me do what Blanche does, I'm going on the stage when I
grow up."

Jules was amused by her talk, and drew her out by deft questions. While
she was animatedly describing her life in the convent of Boulogne, where
the nuns were always holding up Louise as a model of good behavior to
her, dinner was announced, and they all went out into the dining-room,
where Jules and Blanche had passed so many hours together. This time
Jules' place was between Jeanne and Louise. Jeanne went on with her
chatter, and Louise scarcely spoke, save to Blanche, with whom she kept
exchanging affectionate smiles.

"The girls are vexed with me," said Madame Perrault, "because I won't
let them go to the Circus to-night."

The pale face of Louise brightened with eagerness and Jeanne turned to
her mother and cried pleadingly:

"Oh, I think it's a shame. The first time we've been in Paris, too, and
we want to see Blanche perform again so much! Why can't we go, mamma?
Please, please let us go."

"Oh, let the children go," said Monsieur Berthier good-naturedly. "It
would be cruel to send them to bed early their first night in Paris."

Then Jules added his voice in the girls' behalf, but Madame Perrault
shook her head decidedly.

"I can't have them up so late. Besides, they need to rest after their
journey. If you are good, Jeanne, and don't tease me to go to-night,
I'll take you and Louise to the _matinée_ on Saturday."

"Oh, the _matinée_!" Jeanne pouted, turning for sympathy to Jules. "Who
cares for the _matinée_! Isn't it too bad?" she went on in a low voice,
so that her mother shouldn't hear her. "When I grow up, Monsieur Jules,
I shall go to the theatre every night--yes, every night of my life. I
don't care what happens."

Jeanne was sullen and Louise looked sad when they were left alone with
Charlotte, the little maid.

"I won't go to bed till twelve o'clock," Jeanne cried, as her mother,
with parting injunctions, went out, followed by the others. "I shall sit
up and cry all the evening."

"Nine o'clock, my dear," said Madame Perrault serenely. "You know what I
said about Saturday."

The door was slammed behind them and, as they filed downstairs, they
heard Jeanne go stamping back into the _salon_.

"Don't you think you're severe with the child, Mathilde?" said Berthier.

"No, Félix, not too severe, if you mean that. It's the only way to keep
her in check. She has too much spirit. I'm afraid of it sometimes."

"That's just the way you used to be at her age," he laughed.

"And that's just why I mean to keep her down," she replied, almost
sternly.

"Jeanne has all the spirit of the family," said Berthier, glancing at
Jules.

After the performance they returned to the apartment for supper. Jules
was surprised to find the table steaming with hot dishes, bright with
flowers and with wine-glasses. Madeleine, who seemed to be in the
secret, put on an apron, and proceeded to assist Charlotte.

"We've prepared a little feast for you," Madame Perrault explained, "in
honour of Blanche's engagement. Félix has provided the champagne."

Berthier rubbed his hands and smiled, and they took their places at the
table. They were all hungry and in good spirits. This was the happiest
time of the day for Blanche; though she never consciously worried about
her work, she always felt relieved when her performance was done, and
she was free to go home and rest. The little rosy-cheeked Charlotte
busied herself around them, passing dishes and bringing on fresh ones.

"It's a shame to keep this poor child up so late," said Berthier, when
she had left the room for a moment. "Why not send her to bed?"

"I'll send her as soon as she brings in the rest of the things," Madame
Perrault replied. "She and Madeleine can have something to eat together.
I sha'n't have to send Madeleine home with you to-night, Jules. We've
made a bed for her in Charlotte's room. She's a good creature, your
Madeleine."

Charlotte came in with the rest of the dishes, and Madame Perrault told
her to eat something, and go to bed. "And tell Madeleine not to wait up
for us. You can clear the things away in the morning. Did Jeanne go to
bed at nine o'clock, Charlotte?"

"Yes, madame."

"And without any trouble?"

"Yes, madame."

"What did she do to amuse herself during the evening?"

Charlotte's cheeks took on a deeper red.

"She tried to imitate Mademoiselle Blanche in the circus," she
confessed.

"Ah, that accounts for the broken chair! Good night, Charlotte." Then,
as the girl left the room, Madame Perrault sighed. "That Jeanne will be
the death of me."

"I'll take her in hand when she comes to me," Berthier laughed. "We'll
have to find a husband for her. That will cure her of her craze for the
circus."

"A husband for Jeanne, little Jeanne!" Madame Perrault exclaimed in
horror. "She's barely fourteen."

"And in two years she'll be a woman. I was in love with you at fifteen.
Don't you remember? We thought of eloping."

"_Taisez-vous!_" cried Madame Perrault, flushing, and trying not to join
in the laughter that the speech excited from Jules. "You make me a great
fool before my daughter and my new son."

"He isn't your son yet," Berthier insisted, to tease her.

"But he will be soon."

"That's just what I wanted you to say!" Jules cried. "The sooner the
better. Tomorrow would suit me."

The glasses had been filled with champagne, and Berthier lifted his
glass high in the air, crying:

"Let us drink to the _fiancés_! May their marriage be long and their
engagement short! Here's health and happiness to them!"

They all stood up smiling and drank together. Then as they sat down
again, Berthier went on:

"Ah, I know the folly of long engagements. Get married, get married, my
children, as soon as you can, while love is young. I once knew a young
girl--as beautiful as the morning--more beautiful, a thousand times more
beautiful. Well, this young girl loved a handsome, yes, I may say a
fairly handsome, at any rate, an honest young fellow, who fairly
worshipped her in return. But the stern parents of this beautiful young
girl----"

"_Taisez-vous!_" Madame Perrault repeated. "No more nonsense. If your
beautiful young girl hadn't obeyed her parents, where would Blanche
Perrault be at this moment, I should like to know?"

"Ah, my friend," said Berthier to Jules, "it's the women who forget.
Only the men are constant in this world."

Madame Perrault rolled her eyes in mock horror.

"Constant--the men!" she repeated scornfully. "They don't know what
constancy is. If it weren't for the constant women in the world, the men
would go straight to the devil."

Berthier burst into hilarious laughter. He loved nothing better than to
be vanquished in an argument by Madame Perrault. Indeed, he often argued
simply in order to provoke her. He gave Jules a quick glance and a nod
which plainly said: "Isn't she a fine woman? Have you ever seen a woman
so clever?"

The innocent pleasantries of the old lovers, however, were lost on
Jules. He wanted to discuss in all seriousness his forthcoming marriage,
and this was certainly a suitable occasion. So he determined to put the
conversation on another basis.

"I am sure Monsieur Berthier is right about long engagements," he said,
"and there's no reason why our engagement shouldn't be short. I love
Blanche, and Blanche loves me, and we think we can make each other
happy. I can afford to marry--I have a little property--and when she
marries me Blanche will have a protector in her professional career."

"Bravo!" cried Berthier. "That was said like a man!"

"And the sooner I'm married, the better for you," Jules went on, fixing
his eyes on Berthier's white beard. "Then Madame Perrault won't be tied
down to Blanche, and there's no reason why you shouldn't be married,
too."

"We might have a double marriage!" said the little man jocosely.

"No, no, _no_!" Madame exclaimed. "When I'm married I shall be married
very quietly in Boulogne, without any fuss. These children shall be
married first. Then some day, Félix, you and I shall walk to the church
and it will be over in five minutes."

Berthier breathed a long sigh, and laid his hand gently on Madame
Perrault's arm.

"I've waited a great many years for those five minutes, _chérie_."

"Blanche's engagement at the Circus ends the last day of the year,"
Jules resumed, "and she begins her season in Vienna on the fifteenth of
January. Now, there's no reason in the world that I can think of to
prevent our being married between the first of January and the
fifteenth."

Then, from every point of view, they discussed the time of the marriage.
Madame Perrault raised the question of dresses for the bride, of Jules'
inability to arrange his affairs in so short a time, but these and all
other objections were overruled.

Blanche herself had very little to say; when her mother asked her
point-blank if she wanted the marriage to take place so early, she
replied that she was willing if Jules and the others decided it was
best. She seemed more like a passive spectator than one actively
interested in the discussion; her eyes kept roving from Jules to her
mother, and from her mother back to Jules. Berthier supported Jules
valiantly, and at two o'clock, Madame Perrault was finally won over, and
it was decided that the marriage should take place during the first week
in January. Jules kissed Blanche on the cheek, and there was general
embracing and laughter. Then the little party broke up, and Monsieur
Berthier followed Jules down the stairs.

"Ah, my boy," he said, as they stood on the sidewalk, before saying
good-night, "I'd give all the money I've made for your youth. Youth is
the time for love. In my youth it came to me, but I lost it. Take good
care of it, my friend," he concluded, tapping Jules' hand affectionately
as they were about to go their separate ways.



                                   X


Jules at once began preparations for his marriage. He gave notice of his
intention to leave the wool-house, and to move from his apartment.
Monsieur Mercier showed no regret at his departure. "I've observed that
you were no longer interested in your work," he said coldly.

Jules turned away with a sense of disappointment and pain, feeling that
he had been badly treated. Though he said nothing to the twins about his
going, they speedily heard of it and gibed him for the reason. He
preferred to maintain an air of mystery, but one morning Leroux came
into the office, shaking a copy of the _Triomphe_ in the air.

"Let me congratulate you!" he cried, extending his hand. "I respect a
man that can make a stroke like that. I've known you were up to some
game all along," he added insinuatingly.

Jules looked at the paper, and in the column devoted to news of the
theatre he read of the engagement of Mademoiselle Blanche, of the
_Cirque Parisien_, to Monsieur Jules Le Baron, a young business man of
wealth. Dufresne added his congratulations, and one after another during
the day Jules' other comrades came up to shake his hand. No wonder he
had been putting on airs with them! They treated him very jocosely,
however, teased him about his reputed wealth, and tortured him with
their coarse jokes, so that he looked forward with relief to escaping
from them.

All of Jules' leisure was passed with Blanche and her family. He made
friends with the girls and with Monsieur Berthier. The better acquainted
he became with Louise the more he liked her; Jeanne sometimes vexed him
by making fun of him, though he was careful not to betray his annoyance.
For Monsieur Berthier he felt a genuine esteem; the little man was
always in good humor, though Jules suspected that, in spite of his
success in business, his whole life had been clouded by the
disappointment of his youth. As for Madame Perrault, notwithstanding the
apparent lightness of her character, which had at first prejudiced him
against her, the effective way in which she managed her affairs made him
realize that she was a woman to be respected. Sometimes Jules wondered
what kind of man Blanche's father had been; he fancied that of the two
the mother had been by far the stronger.

Jules passed Christmas with his friends and spent a month's salary on
gifts for Blanche and her sisters. For the girls Madame had a _fête_ in
the morning after mass, with a Christmas tree laden with presents, and
decorated with candles and trinkets and _bonbons_. She chose this time
of day, as both in the afternoon and evening Blanche gave performances.

The next morning Madame Perrault learned through Pelletier that the
circus in Vienna where Blanche had been engaged to appear was a little
more than ninety feet high; so the plunge would be fifteen feet deeper
than it was in Paris. This news created excitement in the family. It
made Madame so nervous that she urged that the engagement be given up
and an offer that had come from Nice be accepted; but Jules laughed at
the idea.

"What's a difference of fifteen feet to Blanche?" he said. "It's just as
easy for her to dive ninety feet as to dive seventy-five. The only thing
for Blanche to do is to go to Vienna as soon as her engagement here is
over. Then she can practise the plunge every morning for two weeks.
We'll simply have to get married a little earlier than we intended."

Madame Perrault saw the force of the argument, and Monsieur Berthier
seconded Jules. As for Blanche, she declared that she should not be
afraid of the plunge; at Bucharest she had made a plunge of nearly
eighty-three feet. So it was agreed that the civil marriage should take
place very quietly on the third of January, and the religious ceremony
the day after. Jules and his bride could leave Paris by the afternoon
train, accompanied by Madeleine. Madame Perrault was anxious to keep any
notice out of the papers, if possible; she thought it might injure
Blanche professionally. She had been greatly vexed by the paragraph in
the _Triomphe_ and had attributed it to Durand; but Jules explained that
the _Triomphe_ was not Durand's paper; besides, the journalist had been
sent for the winter to the Riviera as correspondent.

On the last day of the year Jules bade farewell to his associates at the
wool-house. Most of them regretted his departure, for before his sudden
accession of dignity he had been well liked among them. The next
morning, on the first day of his emancipation, when he went to the
apartment in the _rue St. Honoré_, he found some pieces of silver there,
the gift of his old comrades. He knew at once that the twins had started
a subscription for him, and he felt ashamed of his treatment of them
during his last weeks among them. He soon forgot about them, however,
and was absorbed in the preparations for his new life. He had sold most
of his furniture, save a few pieces that were so intimately associated
with the memory of his mother that he could not part with them.

For Madeleine this was a trying time; she performed her numerous duties,
involving several journeys to the _rue St. Honoré_, with a look of
bewilderment in her face, as if she could not adjust herself to the
change that was about to take place in her life.

Two days before the time chosen for their civil marriage, Jules was
sitting alone with Blanche, beside the fireplace where he had passed
most of his courtship. They had been making plans for Vienna, and Jules
felt as if he were already at the head of a household.

"Do you know," he said, glancing at the engagement ring on her left hand
that sparkled in the firelight, "I haven't been able to make up my mind
yet what to give you for a wedding present. I wish you'd tell me what
you'd like. I want to give you something that will please you very
much."

She looked intently into the fireplace, and did not reply.

"Isn't there something that you want especially?" Then Jules saw her
face flush, and he went on quickly: "Ah, I know there is, but you're
afraid to tell. Now, out with it. Is it a diamond brooch, or one of
those queer little gold watches that women carry, set with jewels, or
one of those bracelets that we saw in the shop in the _rue de la Paix_
the other day?"

She began to laugh, and without turning her eyes toward him, she said:--

"You know I don't care for those things. But there--there is
something--"

"Well, out with it."

"It isn't a--it isn't what you think--a present or anything like that;
but it is something I should like to have you--something that would make
me very happy."

"Then tell me what it is," said Jules, impatiently. "What are you afraid
of? Am I such an ogre?"

For a moment she did not answer. Then she said timidly: "I wish you'd go
to confession before we're married."

He burst into a laugh that rang through the apartment.

"Oh, is that all? So you're afraid to marry such a wicked person as I am
till the Church has forgiven him and made him good again."

She shook her head.

"No, it isn't that, Jules. I don't believe you are wicked. I don't
believe you ever were; but I should be so much happier if you would go
to confession, and then before we're married in church we could go to
communion together."

He threw himself beside her chair, seized her head in his hands, and
kissed her on the forehead. "I'm not fit to be your husband. You're too
good for me," he said softly.

She drew away from him with a smile.

"And will it make you very much happier if I go to confession?" he
asked.

"Yes, Jules, very much."

For an instant he hesitated, looking into her eyes.

"Then I'll go," he said.

She turned to him, and threw her arms around his neck. As he held her
closely to him, his lips pressed against her hair, he went on:--

"But it will be hard for me, Blanche. I haven't been to confession for
more than twelve years. Think of all the things I shall have to tell."

"It will be over in a few minutes," she said reassuringly. "Then you'll
be glad you've done it."

He rose to his feet and drew his chair nearer hers.

"I've even forgotten how to make a confession. I don't even remember the
_Confiteor_."

"Then I shall have to teach it to you. It's in my prayer-book, and you
can take it and learn it."

"But I sha'n't know what to do. I shall appear awkward and foolish."

"It's easy enough. You begin by examining your conscience; then you--"

"Examining my conscience! I shall have to wake it up first. It's been
sound asleep all these years. Ah, my dear Blanche, you can't imagine how
pleasant it is to have your conscience asleep."

She ignored his jesting, and went on: "Then you have to be sorry for
what you've done,--for the sins, I mean."

"But if you're not sorry. They've been very pleasant, a good many of
them."

"Of course, if you aren't sorry you can't go to confession. That's what
people go for, because they _are_ sorry, and because they intend to try
to be better."

"But all the confessions in the world wouldn't make me better. It's only
you that can do that. I'm sorry for my sins simply because, when I think
of them, they take me so far away from you. If I hadn't met you, I
shouldn't have thought they were so bad. But when I think of you,
Blanche, and when I look at you, you seem so good--well, I--I feel
ashamed, and then I want to be good too. Why can't I confess to you?" he
went on banteringly. "You'd do me more good than all the priests in
Christendom. Only I'm afraid I should shock you. I suppose the priests
hear stories like mine every day; so one or two more or less wouldn't
make any difference to them."

She turned her head away, and he saw that he had offended her. So he
patted her cheek and smiled into her face.

"What a little _dévote_ she is, anyway! She's vexed even when I joke
about her religion. Don't you see that it's all fun, dear? I'm going to
do everything you say, make a clean breast of it to the priest, tell him
I'm sorry, and promise to be good for the rest of my life. It won't be
hard to promise that. How can I help being good when I shall have you
with me all the time?"

Then for an hour they talked seriously about the confession. The more he
thought of the ordeal, the more nervous Jules felt. Sins came back to
him, committed during those first few years after he left the _lycée_,
when his freedom was novel and delicious. How could he tell of those
things, how could he put them into the awful baldness of speech? He knew
that no sin could be concealed in the confessional; but he asked Blanche
if he would have to be particular, if he couldn't say in a general way
that he had broken this commandment or that. He was alarmed by her reply
that she told everything, that sometimes the priest asked probing
questions. He couldn't endure the shame of speaking out those horrors.
He was afraid, however, to acknowledge his fears to the girl; they might
make her suspect what he had done, and inspire her with a loathing for
him.

Jules had heard that some men told the women they were going to marry of
their lapses, and he had been greatly amused. It never occurred to him
that he ought to reveal the dark passages in his life to Blanche; these
would simply shock her, give her wrong ideas about him, perhaps make her
suspicious and jealous after marriage. His sins he had always regarded
as follies of youth: they did not in any way affect his character or his
honor as a gentleman. Now, however, he was looking back on himself, not
from the point of view of the man of the world, but of a good woman.

That night, on leaving Blanche at the theatre, instead of roaming in the
_Boulevards_, or reading the papers in the _cafés_, as he had of late
been doing till half-past ten, he took a _fiacre_ to the Madeleine,
where he spent one of the most disagreeable hours of his life. Vespers
were being sung, and the church was nearly full; he sought an obscure
corner, knelt there before a picture of Christ carrying the Cross of
Calvary, repeated an "Our Father," and a "Hail Mary," which came back to
him like an echo of his mother's voice, and then gave himself up to the
task of examining his conscience.

The whole panorama of his manhood passed before him, the life of the
young Parisian at the close of the century,--selfish, cynical,
pleasure-loving, sense-gratifying, animal. He buried his face in his
hands. Oh, what an existence! Yet he dared to take a pure young girl for
his wife, to make her the mother of his children! He could not think of
himself or of his sins without reference to her, and the more he thought
of her and of them, the deeper his shame became, and this shame he
mistook for contrition. This then was what Blanche had meant by saying
that he must be sorry for what he had done, and must promise to fight
against temptation. From the depth of his heart he believed he was
sorry.

Then he took from his pocket the prayer-book that she had given him, and
read several times the act of contrition and the _Confiteor_. The
repetition recalled them to his memory, and he was ready for his
confession to the priest the next day. With a sigh he rose from his
seat, feeling as if he had thrown off the burden of his past life and
received a benediction.

The next afternoon, when Jules entered with Blanche the church of _St.
Philippe de Roule_, he found groups of people kneeling around the
confessional boxes and in front of the altars. He had resolved to
confess to Father Labiche, who, Blanche had told him, was the most
lenient of all the fathers. The names of the priests were printed on the
boxes, and the largest crowd was gathered around the box assigned to
Jules' choice.

"I'm afraid you'll have to wait a long time," Blanche whispered.

"Never mind," Jules replied nervously.

He felt almost glad that he was to have a respite. The sight of the
confessional boxes and of the people whispering prayers, together with
the atmosphere of devotion that pervaded the place, had filled him with
terror. Blanche made a sign to him to go forward and join the group
awaiting Father Labiche, and she herself stopped near the group beside
it, knelt and made the sign of the cross. Jules, too, knelt before one
of the hard-wood benches, and prayed that he might have the courage and
grace to make a good confession. Then he went over again the sins that
he had to confess, and he repeated the _Confiteor_ and the act of
contrition.

All day long these prayers, and the items of his confession, had been
surging in his mind, and now, as he sat up and waited for his turn to
come in the procession that passed in and out on either side of the
confessional, they kept repeating themselves. He looked at the wrinkled
women around him, and wondered if their feelings were like his; he could
see no nervousness, no fear in their faces; they seemed to be absorbed,
almost exalted in their devotion. Then he began to grow impatient, and
wished that the people who entered the confessional would not take so
much time. He could catch glimpses of the dark figure of the priest,
bending his head from one side to the other, and glancing out at the
people. In his line at least fifteen persons were waiting their turn
before him; it would take Father Labiche more than two hours, Jules
feared, to hear them and the fifteen others in the opposite line. His
thoughts turned to Blanche, and he wondered if she had been heard yet.
He looked around, and saw her in the crowd behind him, reading her
prayer-book; she kept apart from the others, and had evidently finished
her confession and was waiting for him.

How gentle and good she looked; how different from her appearance in the
ring! Once again he saw her tumbling through the air in her silk tights.
He tried to drive this thought from his mind, but again and again he saw
her, climbing hand over hand to the top of the Circus, hurling herself
backward, spinning through the air, striking the padded net with a thud,
bouncing up again, and landing, with the pretty gesture of both hands,
on her feet. And in two days she would be his wife! They would go away
together, and whenever she performed in public, he would appear with
her, hold the rope while she climbed to the top of the building, make
the dramatic announcement that would awe the audience into silence, and
then scamper across the net to the platform before she fell.

For more than an hour Jules thought of this brilliant future; then he
suddenly realized where he was, and he saw that he had moved up within
three places of the confessional. In a few moments it would be his turn
to go into that dark box, where so many ghastly secrets were told, where
he would be obliged to reveal all the vileness and the weakness of his
human nature. His nerves vibrated; he felt as if something within him
were sinking, as if his courage were leaving him. Then his lips began
again to repeat the _Confiteor_, and his mind ran nervously over his
self-accusations.

The woman before him remained so long in the confessional that he
wondered if she would ever come out; but when she did appear he had a
sudden access of terror. He rose mechanically, however, made his way
into the box, and knelt beside the little closed slide, through which
the priest conferred with the penitents. He could hear the low murmur of
Father Labiche's voice, and the more faint responses of a woman
confessing on the other side. He tried not to listen, but he could not
help catching a few words. Suddenly the slide was opened, and he
confronted the kindly face of the old priest whose right hand was raised
in blessing.

Blanche had seen Jules enter the confessional, and she waited for him to
appear again. The woman who had entered before him on the other side
soon came out; so Jules was now making his peace with God. She lowered
her head, and breathed a simple prayer of thankfulness. Ten, fifteen
minutes passed; still he did not come. She wondered why Father Labiche
kept him there so long. When at last he did appear, his face was white.
Poor Jules! she thought. How hard it must have been for him, and how
good he was to have gone through it so heroically. He walked forward to
the main altar, and there he knelt for several moments. When he came
back, he found her waiting.

"Come," he said, touching her on the arm.

They did not speak till they were in the street.

"It was pretty tough," he said doggedly. "I thought he'd never let me
out."

She smiled up into his face. "But it's all over now, Jules."

"Yes, it's all over," he repeated grimly. "But I should hate to go
through it again."

They hurried on through the nipping January air.

"I'm afraid we shall be late for dinner, Jules. It must be after
half-past six, and then we have so many things to do to-night. My trunks
aren't all packed yet."

"I would help you if I could," Jules replied, "but I must go back to the
church. Father Labiche gave me the Stations of the Cross for penance. He
said he thought it would do me good before I was married to reflect on
the sufferings of Christ," he explained with a smile.

"Then you told him you were going to be married?" she laughed, her
breath steaming in the air.

"He asked how I happened to come to confession after staying away so
long; so I had to acknowledge that I did it to please you."

The little apartment was in commotion over Blanche's marriage and
departure two days later; the _petit salon_ was littered with dresses,
and the two girls were greatly excited over their new frocks. Jules saw
that he was in the way, and soon after dinner he left his friends,
saying that he would have the carriages ready for them at half-past
seven in the morning; Blanche, her mother, and Monsieur Berthier would
ride with him in one, and in the other the girls would go with Madeleine
and Pelletier, who had been invited on account of his long business
association with the family.

That night at church Jules did his best to put himself into a religious
frame of mind and to feel a proper pity for the sufferings of Christ. As
he passed from station to station in the Way of the Cross, he reflected
seriously on the significance of each, and he said his prayers devoutly.
But his mind was constantly distracted by the thought of the girl he
loved and of his marriage the next day. At the most inopportune moments
visions of Blanche would haunt him as she looked in the ring, climbing
the rope and whirling through the air.

When his prayers were said he felt radiantly happy. He had done his
duty, and he felt that he deserved to be rewarded. It was only nine
o'clock, but he hurried home at once to go on with his packing. When he
went to bed that night, he dreamed that he was making his first
appearance in the circus at Vienna, holding the rope for his wife, and
speaking the thrilling words of warning to the audience.

In the morning Jules and Blanche received communion at early mass, and
later they went with Madame Perrault and Monsieur Berthier to the
Mayor's office, where the civil marriage ceremony was performed. This
Jules regarded merely as a formality, though it made him feel that she
was at last his, his forever! No one could take her away from him now!
The next morning was clear and cold, and the sun shone as he looked out
of his window in the dismantled apartment. He smiled as he thought that
his lonely days as a bachelor were over. At ten o'clock he drove to the
_rue St. Honoré_ with Madeleine, who looked a dozen years younger in her
simple black silk with a piece of white lace at her throat, the gift of
Madame Perrault. Blanche, in her white satin dress with the bunch of
white roses he had sent to her in her hand, had never seemed to him so
beautiful. It was after eleven o'clock when they reached _St. Philippe_,
and a crowd of idlers hung about the door and followed them into the
church.

To Jules the mass that preceded the marriage ceremony seemed
interminable; he kept glancing at Blanche's flushed face and downcast
eyes, and plucking at his gloves. Then, when he found himself standing
before the priest, holding Blanche's hand, and listening to the solemn
words of the service, he came near bursting into tears. He thought
afterward how ridiculous he would have been if he hadn't been able to
control himself. He was relieved when the service was ended, and as he
walked to the vestry with his wife on his arm, he could have laughed
aloud for joy.

When the register had been signed and they had shaken hands with the
priest, they drove at once to the _café_ in the _avenue de l'Opéra_,
where Jules had ordered a sumptuous breakfast. There they remained till
four o'clock. Monsieur Berthier was the gayest of them all, and he was
seconded by Jeanne, who pretended to flirt desperately with Jules and
made pert speeches to Pelletier. Then they all returned to the _rue St.
Honoré_, where Blanche changed her wedding finery for a travelling
dress.

During the farewell between Blanche and her family, Jules suffered; he
never could bear the sight of women in tears. He was greatly relieved
when he put his almost hysterical wife and Madeleine into the carriage,
and slammed the door behind him.



                                   XI


They went straight to Vienna, arriving fatigued from their long journey.
After three days, spent at a little French hotel, Jules found near the
_Ringstrasse_ a furnished apartment that suited him, and they took
possession at the end of the week.

Blanche soon felt at home, but Madeleine, though she had become deeply
attached to her new mistress, and now had more companionship than she
had known since the death of Jules' mother, secretly grieved for her
beloved Paris, and looked and acted as if utterly bewildered.

The day of his arrival in Vienna, Jules proceeded to the Circus and had
a long talk with Herr Prevost, the manager, with regard to his wife's
engagement. He explained the difference in the plunge Blanche would be
obliged to take there from her usual one, and persuaded Prevost to make
this a feature in his advertisements; he also secured permission for
Blanche to practise in the ring every morning till her engagement began.

So he went back to the hotel elated, and explained to Blanche that,
after all, in the theatrical life good management was half the battle.
Now that she had shaken off that worthless Pelletier and he himself had
taken charge of her affairs, she would undoubtedly be recognized in a
very few years as the greatest acrobat in the world.

She must sit at once, in costume, for some new photographs, and he would
send them to the leading managers of Europe and America. If they could
only arrange to go to America under good auspices, their fortune would
be made. Instead of receiving, as they were doing in Vienna, five
hundred francs a week, they would be paid as much as twice that amount
in New York, if not more. Indeed, Jules had so much to say about
America, he seemed to have it on the brain.

Blanche experienced no difficulty in making her plunge in the new
amphitheatre, and after her first trial there, declared that she had no
fear for the public performances. Jules, however, insisted on her
practising every morning; she must keep her muscles limber, he said;
besides, if she didn't practise, she might lose confidence.

He found himself treating her as her mother had done, directing her
movements like those of a child, and she obeyed him as if she considered
his attitude toward her eminently natural and right. Even Madeleine
adopted a motherly tone with her, chose the dresses she should wear each
day, and instructed her in a thousand feminine details.

Blanche, Jules was surprised and secretly annoyed to discover, could
speak German, and in the mornings she sometimes gave him lessons. He
also picked up a good deal of German slang in the _cafés_ that he
frequented during the day, where he drank coffee and read whatever
French and English papers he could find.

After his wife's performances began, he found himself falling into a
routine of life. In spite of his distaste for his duties at the
wool-house, he had expected to miss them at first; but he quickly became
accustomed to his leisure. He really considered himself a busy person,
for in addition to his nightly appearance in the arena, momentary but
intensely dramatic, he spent considerable time in fraternizing with the
Viennese journalists, to secure newspaper puffs for his wife, in
conferring with Prevost, and in corresponding with managers for future
engagements. After his first month in Vienna, he felt as if he had been
connected with the circus for years.

Blanche heard constantly from home, from either her mother or one of the
two girls,--more often from Louise than from Jeanne, who hated to write
letters. Six weeks after her departure from Paris, her mother became
Madame Berthier, without, as she had said, "any fuss," and was now
installed with the children in the big house where Félix had passed so
many lonely years as a bachelor. Jules and Blanche wrote a joint letter
of congratulation, and after that Blanche seemed even happier than she
had been; it was so good, she said, to think that the girls were
provided for.

In the afternoons Jules took walks or drives with his wife, and on
Sundays he accompanied her to early mass in the little church that they
had discovered near their apartment. Blanche would have liked to go to
high mass, but to this Jules strenuously objected; it was too long, and
he couldn't understand the sermon, and altogether it made him sleepy.
Sometimes on Sundays they would go to one of the _cafés_ for _déjeuner_
or dinner, and over this they used to be very happy, for it recalled the
first months of their love.

After a time, however, these walks grew less frequent. Jules stayed at
home more, and Madeleine became solicitous for Blanche's health. Jules
had long talks with Prevost; Blanche had been engaged at the Circus for
three months, and Prevost wished to reengage her for the spring season;
but Jules explained that he had already received several offers for the
spring, and had refused them all; his wife needed a long rest, and from
Vienna they would go to Boulogne for a few months, to be with her
people.

The reference to the engagements was not exactly true; Jules had one
offer only for the summer; that was from Trouville. For the autumn he
had a fairly generous offer from South America, and a better one from
the Hippodrome in London, to begin on the first of December. He had
practically decided to accept the offer from London; but before giving a
definite answer, he resolved to consult Blanche about it.

"It will just fit in with our plans," he said. "On the first of May
we'll take a good long rest. We'll go to your mother's old house. It
hasn't been let yet, you know, and no one will want it before then. So
you and Madeleine and I will live there together, and we'll pass the
days out of doors, and take long walks by the sea, and forget all about
the circus. Then, when you are well and strong again, we'll go to
London, and astonish the English, who think there's nothing good in
France. What do you say, dear? Don't you think that's a good plan?"

"Yes," she said slowly. "It will be very nice, Jules, if--"

"If? If what?"

"If I'm alive," she answered softly, turning her head away.

He took her in his arms and pressed his cheek against hers. "What a
foolish little girl it is to talk like that! Of course you'll be alive,
and you'll be even better and stronger and happier than you are now. And
then think of all the good times you'll have this summer with Jeanne and
Louise and your mother and Monsieur Berthier. We'll have _fêtes_ for the
girls at our house, and every day we'll go to see your mother. You don't
think she'll be too proud to receive us, do you, now that she's rich and
important? I suppose she's the queen of Boulogne, with her carriages and
her horses and her servants. She'll soon be getting a husband for
Jeanne, some fine young fellow with a lot of money. And won't Jeanne put
him through his paces? She's a high-stepper, that Jeanne, and I should
pity the man who got her and didn't understand her. Think of trying to
keep Jeanne down!"

In her moments of depression he always spoke to her like that, and for
the time it cheered her; but when the spring came, she drooped visibly,
and Jules became alarmed; sometimes she would have attacks of convulsive
weeping, and these would be followed by hours of profound sadness,
during which she spoke scarcely a word. There were other days when she
would be full of courage and hope, gayer than she had ever been; then
they would drive into the country and she would take deep draughts of
the fresh spring air, and her eyes would brighten and her cheeks flush.

In spite of his anxiety, these days were very happy for Jules; the
thought that he might lose her made her dearer to him. Sometimes he
would take her hand and tell her that without her he couldn't live; she
had made him realize how wretched his existence had been before
marriage; he could not go back to that again. Then she would rest her
head on his shoulder and whisper that she would try to be brave. Her
sufferings seemed to be wholly in her mind; the doctor Jules consulted
said that, bodily, she was perfectly strong, and could easily fill her
engagement at the circus; her work in the ring had given her a
remarkable development of the muscles and the chest; if she stopped the
work now, and ceased to practise, she would suffer from the inaction.

Jules, however, felt relieved when the fifteenth of April came, and they
were able to leave Vienna for Paris. There they remained only a day, for
they were eager to reach Boulogne and the little home that Madame
Berthier had arranged for them, in the house where Blanche had been
born, and had passed the few weeks in each year when she was not
travelling.

When they arrived, early in the afternoon, Madame Berthier and the
girls, together with Berthier, were at the station to meet them, and
they received a rapturous greeting, the girls clinging to their sister
with frantic embraces.

"We had _déjeuner_ prepared for you at your house," said Madame, when
the first greetings were over. "I knew you'd want to go there the first
thing. Then to-night you are to come and dine with us. I feel as if I
hadn't seen you for years."

"But we've never met Madame Berthier before," Jules replied, making a
feeble attempt to be gay, for he saw that Blanche's meeting with her
mother threatened to upset her.

Madame blushed like a young girl, and turning, led the way to the
carriages.

"One of these is for you and Jules," she said. "I don't mean just for
now, but for all the time you are here. Félix chose the horse for you,
dear, and she's so gentle you can drive her alone if you want to."

"I'm going to put the three girls and their mother in the big carriage,"
Berthier said to Jules, "and you and Madeleine and I will follow them."
The arrival of his stepdaughter seemed to have given him as much
pleasure as any of the others, and his good-natured face was radiant.
"Jump in, girls," he cried, holding out his hand to Blanche. "We'll have
to turn those lilies of yours into roses this summer, my dear. Here,
Jeanne, stop flirting with Jules, or we won't let you come with us. You
wouldn't have known our little Louise, Blanche, if you hadn't expected
to find her here, would you? She's grown an inch in four months. It's
the most wonderful thing I've ever known in my life. And would you
believe it?--she's become a perfect chatterbox--she's worse than Jeanne.
Sometimes I have to run out of the room to read my paper in peace and
have a quiet smoke."

The whole family seemed to have agreed to assume toward Blanche the
bantering tone that Jules had adopted. When they reached the house they
continued their gayety, though Blanche, tired from her journey, sank
weakly on the couch in the _salon_.

She looked around, however, and saw that the room had been redecorated,
probably by Monsieur Berthier, and when she felt rested she went all
over the house and observed many new pieces of furniture, and many
touches here and there that made the place more attractive and homelike.
"Ah, it is so good to be at home," she said to her mother when they were
alone; and then Madame Berthier took her in her arms and kissed her on
the forehead and told her she must have courage for Jules' sake.

After the excitement of Paris and Vienna, Jules found it hard to
accustom himself to the dull life at Boulogne. He bought a small yacht,
and found amusement in sailing with his new acquaintances, and
sometimes, when the weather was fine, he took Blanche and the girls with
him. He also occupied himself with the little garden around his cottage;
but this soon bored him, and he gave it over to Monsieur Berthier's
gardener, who came every few days to look after it. In the afternoons he
drove with Blanche far into the country, and sometimes they stopped at a
little _café_ by the roadside and had an early dinner, and then hurried
home before the damp night should close around them.

On these occasions they had many earnest talks, and Jules was surprised
by the seriousness and depth of his wife's mind; at any rate, she
impressed him as being wonderfully profound. The longer he knew her, the
more she awed and puzzled him; there were moments when she seemed to
dwell in another world, a world that made her almost a stranger to him.

Since her return to Boulogne she had grown much more cheerful than she
had been during those last weeks in Vienna; but a thousand little things
she said showed him that beneath the surface of her thought there still
lurked a strange melancholy, an unchangeable conviction that life was
slipping away from her. He spoke of this once to her mother, and she
explained mysteriously that he must expect that; it was very natural
with one of Blanche's temperament. She had known many cases like it
before.

As the summer passed, Jules said little to his wife about the circus;
indeed, her work was scarcely mentioned between them, though every
morning she practised her exercises. Jules, however, had decided that
they should go to London late in November and, the first week of the
following month, appear at the Hippodrome, which had been established
with great success the year before, at a short distance from the Houses
of Parliament. The contract had not been signed, for Jules had written
to Marshall, the manager, that he could not bind himself to an
engagement until early in the autumn; but he explained that his word was
as good as any contract.

When September came, Blanche seemed much better for her months of rest;
her eyes were brighter, and her cheeks were shot with color. Sometimes
Jules wished that she were not quite so religious; she went to early
mass every morning now, and rather than let her go alone, he went with
her, for Madeleine had assumed the duties of the household. Their
evenings, which during the summer had been spent chiefly on the porch of
Monsieur Berthier's house, were now passed in their _salon_, bright with
flowers, sometimes with a wood-fire crackling on the old-fashioned
hearth. Blanche's fingers were always busy with soft, fleecy garments,
which Jules used sometimes to take in his hands and rub affectionately
against his face. Then he often noticed a light in her eyes that he had
never seen before; it reminded him of pictures of the Madonna. Sometimes
he was so touched when he looked at her that he would take her in his
arms and hold her close for a long while. Their evenings together became
very dear to him; yet they said little to each other: he was content to
sit and watch her, with the curtains drawn to shut out the rest of the
world.

Occasionally Father Dumény would come in for an hour's chat. He was a
large-framed, heavy man, with deep gray eyes shaded by enormous eyebrows
that moved up and down as he spoke. He spoke as he walked, slowly and
lumberingly, and he had a quaint humor that used to delight Blanche and
puzzle Jules. When he appeared, she always brightened, and she liked to
hear his doleful accounts of his rheumatism. He seemed to find humor in
everything, even in his arduous duties and his ailments.

"Ah, my children," he would say, "why should any one go to the theatre
for pleasure? This life is nothing but a comedy, if you only look at it
in the right way."

From Blanche he derived a great deal of amusement; that she should
perform in a circus always seemed a joke to him, and he was continually
making fun over it. He had never been at a circus; so, though he had
baptized Blanche and had met her during her visits in Boulogne, he had
never seen her perform. Once when Jules showed him a photograph of
Blanche as she appeared while posing on the rope, he rolled his eyes and
pretended to be much shocked, and they all laughed together.

"I suppose you two people will be leaving this nest of yours before
winter comes," he said one night. "You've made your plans already,
haven't you?"

Jules looked down at Blanche, but she avoided his eyes.

"We haven't decided definitely," Jules replied, "but we think of going
to London."

Blanche sighed, and Father Dumény glanced at her quickly and then smiled
up at Jules.

"She has a notion that she isn't going to live," Jules added, nodding at
his wife. "Ridiculous, isn't it?"

Father Dumény put his hands to his sides, and for a moment his great
body shook with laughter.

"Why, I expect to baptize at least half a dozen of your children! In a
few years we shall see them trotting around here in Boulogne and coming
to my Sunday-school to be prepared for their first communion. We need
all the good Catholics we can have, in these days, to fight against the
infidelity that's ruining the country. Ah, my dear child," he said,
patting Blanche's hand, "when you're a grandmother with a troop of
children around you, you'll look back and smile at these foolish little
fears."

After that night he came oftener, and kept Blanche laughing with his
gayety.

"When you go to London," he said one evening, "I shall give you letters
to some dear English friends of mine,--Mr. and Mrs. Tate. I met the
Tates when I was in Paris visiting Father Brémont more than ten years
ago. Mr. Tate represented the banking-house of Welling Brothers, of
London, there, and now he's in London as a member of the firm, I
believe. You'll like Mrs. Tate, my dear. She's a good soul, and she
speaks French almost as well as English. I shall expect to hear that
you've become great friends."

"But we aren't sure of going to England yet," Blanche replied with a
weary smile.

"Perhaps we shall go to America," Jules laughed. "I want Blanche to see
the country."

Toward the end of September Blanche drooped again, and her mother was
with her nearly every moment of the day, remaining sometimes till late
at night. The girls had gone back to the convent, but they were allowed
to come home twice a week, and most of their freedom they devoted to
their sister, whom they treated with a protecting tenderness that used
to afford Jules secret amusement. Madame Berthier maintained a cheerful
composure in her daughter's presence, but when alone with Jules she
became so serious that for the first time he grew nervous. Then as his
anxiety deepened he began to resent it, as he did any long-continued
annoyance. Why should they be kept in idleness and suspense so long? How
stupid to be buried in a wretched provincial town when they might be
earning thousands of francs in Vienna, or Bucharest, or Paris!

Then one night he was suddenly aroused from his sleep, and he felt a
sensation of mingled horror and awe. He dressed himself quickly, his
whole being wrung by the groans he heard from the next room, and tore
out of the house to Doctor Brutinière's, five minutes away. After
delivering his message, he ran breathlessly to summon Madame Berthier.
It took her scarcely five minutes to dress, and then they were in the
street together. Madame Berthier went at once to Blanche's room, and
Jules paced up and down in the half-lighted _salon_.

That was the ghastliest night of Jules Le Baron's life. He was
overwhelmed by the knowledge that Blanche was in agony, that she was
battling for life, that at any moment he might hear she was dead. Why
should the burden of suffering fall on her? Oh, how cruel Nature was,
how pitiless to women! The poor child, the poor little one, to be
tortured so! Several times he listened for a sound, and the silence
terrified him. Suddenly he heard a shriek, loud and piercing, that only
the most exquisite pain could have wrung, and he clenched his hands in
impotent horror and misery.

The stillness that followed made him fear that she was dead, and he
could hardly keep from rushing up the stairs and learning the truth.
After a few moments, as he stood at the door, he heard another cry,
small, timorous, peevish, that changed to a wail and then died away. He
turned into the room, clapsed his face in his hands, and cried, "Thank
God, thank God! And mercy for her, my God, mercy for my poor little
Blanche!"

After what seemed to him a long time, during which he was tortured with
suspense, a door opened and shut, and he heard a rustling on the stairs.
He stepped out into the hall and saw Madame Berthier descending. She
stopped, smiled, and put her hand to her lips; he could see traces of
tears in her eyes.

"Come up," she whispered. "It's all over. It's a girl, and Blanche has
her in her arms."

Jules bounded up the stairs. "Only a minute, you know," she said softly,
"and you must be very quiet."

When she opened the door he almost pushed her aside in his eagerness to
enter. The Doctor and Madeleine were standing beside the bed, where
Blanche, white but bright-eyed and smiling, was lying with the babe
nestling close to her. Jules flung himself by her side, and kissed her
passionately, murmuring incoherent words of love and thankfulness.



                                  XII


The weeks of convalescence that followed were the happiest Blanche had
ever known. She felt wrapped in the devotion of her husband and her
family, and exalted by her love for her child. At moments she feared
that she could not live through such happiness. Sometimes she would
fancy that all her sufferings had been only a dream, and then she would
turn and find with a thrill of joy the babe lying beside her. Jules
would sit by the bed holding her hand, and making jokes about their
daughter's future. They had decided that she should be called Jeanne,
and no one but Father Dumény should baptize her.

One morning, when Blanche was sitting up in bed for the first time,
Jules entered the room with a letter in his hand and in his face a look
of exultation.

"It's from Marshall," he said, "from the Hippodrome in London, you know.
He wants me to make a contract for six months, from the first of
January. I was afraid he might back out because we held off so long. But
this makes it all right. You'll have more than a month to get strong
again and to practise in."

Jules was so excited by the prospect that he did not notice the look of
alarm that had appeared in his wife's eyes. She lay still, with one arm
extended on the coverlet, her head leaning to one side, and her dark
hair making a background for her white face.

"'We want you to open on the first,'" Jules read aloud. "'Let us hear
from you as soon as possible and we will send on the contract for your
signature.' Of course," he went on, folding the note, "we must jump at
it. What do you say?"

For a moment she looked at him without speaking. Then she replied
weakly, "Do what you think best, Jules."

"Good!" he said, jumping up. "I'll write now. We've lost a lot of time,
you know, and we must make up for it when we get back to work."

"Do you--do you think I'll be strong enough?" she went on, as if she
hadn't heard him.

"Strong enough!" he laughed. "Of course you'll be strong enough in seven
weeks more. You're nearly your old self now," he added affectionately.
"Don't you worry about that."

When he had closed the door and left her alone, she felt as if her body
were sinking into the bed from weakness. The circus again! That ghastly
plunge! Since the birth of her child she had hardly thought of it. Now
the thought horrified her! How could she leave her babe and risk her
life night after night? Perhaps some night--oh! it was too horrible. She
couldn't, she couldn't! She lifted her hands to her face as if to shut
out the horror of the thought. Then she turned to the little Jeanne who
was sleeping beside her, and drew her close to her bosom.

She had lost courage! It would never come back to her. When Jules
returned she would tell him, and she would beg him, for Jeanne's sake,
to give up that engagement in London till she felt well again. Oh, if
they could only leave the circus forever! If she could only do as other
women did, devote her life to her child. The circus was no place for a
mother.

Then it suddenly flashed upon her that if she said these things to Jules
he would urge her to place Jeanne in her mother's care while they were
in England; but to that she would never consent, never. She would rather
give up performing altogether. Yes, when Jules came back she would speak
of this. He loved the circus, but for Jeanne's sake he would give it up,
she knew he would.

But when Jules did return, he was so enthusiastic about the engagement
in London that she did not dare oppose it. "Think of the sensation we'll
make there!" he said. "How those stupid English will open their eyes!
And then we'll surely have big offers from other places. After a London
success we can make a fortune in America. They say the Americans are
crazy over everything that makes a hit in London. Oh," he went on,
stretching his arms and yawning, "it will be a relief to get out of this
dull old town. Think of the months we've wasted here. I feel rusty
already."

Something in his tone as well as his words frightened her, and a feeling
of helplessness came over her when he put his hand on her forehead and
said gently: "You must try to get strong as soon as possible, dear.
Think of all the practising you'll have to do for your plunge."

She turned her head away, and he observed nothing strange in her manner.
She wanted to speak of taking Jeanne with them, but a fear that he might
object restrained her.

Two days later, when her mother and Jules were in the room together,
Madame Berthier, with apparent carelessness, asked what they were going
to do with the little one while they were travelling. "Of course you
can't carry her about with you. So you'd better leave her with me. I'll
take the best of care of her."

She was startled by the light that flashed into her daughter's eyes.
"No, no!" Blanche cried. "We shall keep her with us always. I couldn't
bear to leave her here. I couldn't--I couldn't go away without her."

Madame Berthier and Jules exchanged glances, and Blanche saw that her
intuition was correct. They had been discussing the project of leaving
the child in Boulogne. She felt as if they were conspiring against her.

"Don't you think it would be better if your mother--" Jules began, but
Blanche cut him short.

"We shall have Madeleine. She will help me to take care of Jeanne. I
couldn't go without her," she repeated, with tears in her voice.

"There, there!" said Madame Berthier, becoming alarmed. "Have your own
way. Perhaps it's better that you should keep the child with you."

Blanche read annoyance in her husband's face, but she said nothing. A
few moments later, Madame Berthier left the room and Jules followed. She
knew they had gone to discuss the little scene that had just taken
place. But she resolved that she would not give up the child! Rather
than do that she would stay in Boulogne.

The fear of being separated from Jeanne, made her decide not to refer in
any way to her terror of the plunge. That might strengthen Jules' belief
that the presence of the child disturbed her, and he might insist on a
separation. Besides, she tried to convince herself that as she grew
stronger her nervousness would disappear. It must of course be due
solely to her weak condition. Once restored to health, the plunge would
be, as it always had been, merely part of her daily routine.

But in spite of her rapidly increasing strength, Blanche found that
after three weeks she was still depressed by the thought of her season
in London. Jules complained that she was devoting herself too much to
Jeanne; she must drive out more, and walk with the girls, and give more
time to her exercises. Her mother, too, grew severe with her. "One would
think there never was another child in the world," she said, and then
Blanche suspected that Jules had been complaining of her. "The little
one is a dear, and I love her," Madame Berthier continued, "but you have
your work to do, and you must think of that too. No wonder Jules is
growing impatient."

Jules had already received the contract for the engagement at the
Hippodrome, and on signing it at his request, Blanche had had a horrible
fancy that she was putting her signature to a warrant for her own doom.
Once she thought of confiding her fear to her mother, but her mother
would be sure to repeat what she said to Jules. At any cost, she felt
she must hide it from him. Then she determined to tell Father Dumény,
but when the moment came she had not courage to put her feeling into
words, and she was ashamed of it as a superstition. So she decided that
she would keep the miserable secret to herself, finding no relief save
in gusts of weeping when she was alone with the child.

Once Jules found her with traces of tears in her eyes. "What's the
matter?" he asked gently, taking her hand.

She turned her head away. "I don't feel well," she said.

He looked at her closely. "You'll be well when you get back to your
work. That's what the matter is. You aren't used to being idle. The best
thing for us to do is to leave here the day after Christmas. That will
give you nearly a week for practice in London, and we'll have time to
look about for rooms there. Since we are going to have Jeanne with us,
we'll want to take an apartment in some quiet street."

When he went away she sat for a long time without speaking. In a week
they would be far away from this place, among strangers. She wondered
why she had not suffered so on leaving home before. Until now she had
regarded the circus as part of her life; she had not hoped for any other
kind of life. How strange it was that Jules should love it so! Sometimes
it seemed----But it was right that she should go on with her work, for
she must earn money for the little Jeanne now. Perhaps in a few years
she would make a fortune, and then Jules could not object to her leaving
the circus. But before a few years passed she would be obliged to go
through her performance more than a thousand times. At this thought her
heart seemed to stop beating, and then it thumped against her side.

Their Christmas in Boulogne at Monsieur Berthier's house reminded them
of their _fête_ in Paris of the year before. Berthier himself led in the
gayety, and the girls were in the wildest spirits. Blanche sat among
them with the child in her arms, looking, as Jules said, as if she were
posing for a Madonna. In the evening Father Dumény came to bid his
friends good-bye. He pretended to pinch the little Jeanne on the cheek,
and he made jokes with Blanche about her terror before the child's
birth. "She's the healthiest baby I've ever baptized," he said. "You
should have heard her roar when I poured the water on her head. That's a
good sign. I suppose you'll make a great performer of her too," he
continued, smiling into the face of the mother, but growing serious when
he saw the effect of the question.

"Never!" exclaimed Blanche.

"We're going to earn a fortune for her," said Jules with a smile. "So
she won't have to work at all. We'll settle down in Paris and make a
fine lady of her, and marry her into the nobility."

Blanche did not speak again for a long time. They knew she was depressed
at the thought of leaving home the next day. When Father Dumény rose, he
took a letter from the pocket of his long black coat.

"I almost forgot about this. Here's the introduction I promised you to
my friends in London. You will like Mrs. Tate, my dear," he said to
Blanche, "and she'll make a great pet of the little one. She hasn't any
children of her own, poor woman. Be sure to go to see them," he
concluded, "and present my compliments to them."

When he was gone, Jules shrugged his shoulders and turned to his wife.
"What do we want to meet those people for?" he said. "What will they
care about us?"

The next day they left Boulogne, after many farewell injunctions from
the Berthiers, and much weeping on the part of Blanche and her sisters.
Blanche stood for a long time with Madeleine, who held the little Jeanne
in her arms, waving farewell to her kindred on the wharf, and watching
the shores of France recede from her gaze. When the last vestige of land
disappeared in the wintry fog and she found herself shut in by the
shoreless sea, she turned away with a feeling of hopeless weariness. She
had a morbid presentiment that she was leaving home forever.



                                  XIII


Mrs. Tate ran her eyes over the pile of letters at her plate on the
breakfast-table. She was a large, florid woman of forty, verging on
stoutness, with an abundance of reddish-brown hair.

"What a lot of mail!" she said to her husband, who was absorbed in
reading the "Daily Telegraph,"--a small man, with black hair and
moustache tinged with gray, and small black eyes finely wrinkled at the
corners. "Here's a letter from Amy dated at Cannes. They must have left
Paris sooner than they intended; and here's something from Fanny
Mayo,--an invitation to dinner, I suppose. Fanny told me she wanted us
to meet the Presbreys next week,--some people she knew in Bournemouth."

"Fanny's always taking up new people," said Tate from behind his paper,
"and dropping them in a month."

"And here's something else with a French stamp on it. Let me see. From
Boulogne? It must be from Father Dumény. Yes, I recognize the
handwriting."

"Another subscription, I suppose," her husband grunted.

"He hasn't written for nearly a year. I wonder what started him this
time. What a dear old soul he is! Do you remember the night we took him
out to a restaurant in Paris and he was so afraid of being seen? I
always laugh when I think of that."

"What's he got to say?"

With her knife, Mrs. Tate cut one end of the letter open, and her eye
wandered slowly down the page.

"He's been ill, he says, but he's able to be about now. He came near
running over here last summer, but he couldn't get away." For a few
moments Mrs. Tate was absorbed in reading; then she exclaimed with a
curious little laugh: "How funny! Listen to this, will you? He's left
what he really wrote for till the end,--like a woman. He wants us to
look after a _protégée_ of his, a girl that he baptized, the daughter of
an acrobat. Did you ever hear of such a thing? She's in the circus
herself, and she's going to appear at the Hippodrome next week. She
performs on the trapeze, and then she dives backward from the roof of
the building--backward, mind you! Could anything be more terrible?"

"I should think she'd be right in your line," Tate replied without
lifting his eyes from his paper. "She'll be something new. You can make
a lion of her."

"Don't be impertinent, Percy. This is a very serious matter. It seems
the girl's married and had a child about two months ago. She's going to
resume her performances. She doesn't know a soul in London; so she'll be
all alone."

"I thought you said she had a husband."

"So I did. He's given them a letter to us, but he doesn't think they'll
present it. I suppose those theatrical people live in a world of their
own. But of course I shall go to see her. Perhaps I can do something for
her. Anyway, it'll be interesting to meet an acrobat. I've never known
one in my life."

"As I said," her husband remarked, turning to his bacon and eggs, "you
can introduce her into society. People must be tired of meeting artists
and actors and musicians. She'll be a novelty."

"You're very disagreeable to-day, Percy," Mrs. Tate responded amiably,
after sipping the coffee that had been steaming beside her plate. "You
are always attributing the meanest motives to everything I do."

He gave a short laugh. "But you must acknowledge that you do some pretty
queer things, my dear."

She ignored the remark, and a moment later she went on briskly: "I must
go and see this acrobat woman--whoever she is. If I don't--"

"What's her name?" Tate asked, turning to his paper and searching for
the theatrical columns.

"Madame Jules Le Baron, Father Dumény calls her. But I suppose she must
have a stage name. Most of them have."

"I don't see that name in 'Under the Clock!' The Hippodrome? No, it
isn't there. I wonder if this can be the one: 'On Monday evening next,
Mademoiselle Blanche, the celebrated French acrobat, will give her
remarkable performance on the trapeze and her great dive from the top of
the Hippodrome.'"

Mrs. Tate sighed.

"Yes, it must be. Mademoiselle Blanche! How stagey it sounds! I wonder
what she's like."

"We might go to see her first and then we could tell whether she's
possible or not."

"Go to the Hippodrome!"

"Yes, why not? It's perfectly respectable. Only it doesn't happen to be
fashionable. In Paris, you know, it's the thing to attend the circus.
Don't you remember the La Marches took us one night?"

"Yes, and I remember there was a dreadful creature--she must have
weighed three hundred pounds--who walked the tight-rope and nearly
frightened me to death. I thought she'd come down on my head."

"Then it's understood that we're to go on Monday? If we go at all we
might as well be there the first night. It'll be more interesting."

Mrs. Percy Tate was a personage in London. For several years before her
marriage, at the age of twenty-five, she had been known as an heiress
and a belle. Even then she had a reputation for independence of
character, and for an indefatigable zeal for reforming the world. Her
name stood at the head of several charitable societies, and she was also
a member of many clubs for the improvement of the physical and spiritual
condition of the human race. Since her marriage she had grown somewhat
milder; her friends used to say that Percy Tate had "trained" her. They
also said that she had "made" him; without her money he would never have
become a member of the rich firm of Welling and Company.

Percy Tate's business associates, however, knew the fallacy of this
uncharitable opinion. With his dogged determination and his keen insight
into the intricacies of finance, Tate was sure of forging ahead in time,
with or without backing. His association with Welling and Company gave
the house even greater strength than it had had before; for in addition
to his reputation as a financier, he had made his name a synonym for
stanch integrity. He had passed sixteen happy years with his wife,
wisely directed her charities, wholesomely ridiculed her enthusiasms,
followed her into the Catholic Church, where he was quite as sincere if
a much less ardent worshipper; and in all the serious things of life he
treated her, not as an inferior to be patronized, but as an equal that
he respected, with no display of sentiment, but with sincere devotion.
She, on her part, was amused by his humor and guided by his advice,
though she often pretended to ignore it; and she never allowed any of
her numerous undertakings to interfere with her regard for his comfort
or the happiness of her home.

The manager of the Hippodrome had extensively advertised the appearance
of Mademoiselle Blanche, and on Monday night the amphitheatre was
crowded. The Tates arrived early in order to see the whole performance;
as they had never been at the Hippodrome before, the evening promised to
be amusing for them. Tate, however, became so interested in the
menagerie through which they passed before entering the portion of the
vast building devoted to the exhibitions in the ring that they remained
there more than an hour. The interval between their taking seats and the
appearance of the acrobat rather bored them.

"I wish they'd hurry up and let her come out," said Mrs. Tate. "And yet
I almost dread seeing her make that horrible plunge. This must be the
first time she's done it since the birth of her baby. Isn't it really
shocking?"

"Oh, I suppose these people are as much entitled to babies as any other
people."

She cast a reproachful glance at him, and did not reply for a moment.
Then she said: "But what must her feelings be now--just as she's getting
ready?"

"I dare say she's glad to get back to her work and earn her salary
again. Her husband probably doesn't earn anything. Those fellows never
do."

"She must be frightened nearly to death."

Tate laughed softly. "You'll die from worrying about other people."

"What are they doing now?" Mrs. Tate asked, turning her eyes to the
ring. "I suppose that rope they're letting down is for her to climb up
on, and that's the net she'll fall into. How gracefully that trapeze
swings! I feel quite excited. Every one else is too. Can't you see it in
their faces? There must be thousands of people here. How strange they
look! Such coarse faces."

"It's the great British middle class. This is just the kind of thing
they like."

"It reminds me of pictures of the Colosseum. I can almost fancy their
turning their thumbs down. Here she comes. How light she is on her feet!
And isn't she pretty! But she looks awfully thin and delicate, and she's
as pale as a ghost."

"You'll attract all the people round us. Of course she's pale. She's
probably powdered up to the eyes, like the women we used to see in
Paris."

"How lightly she goes up that rope," Mrs. Tate whispered, "and what
wonderful arms she has! Just like a man's. They look as if they didn't
belong to her body."

Silently and dexterously Blanche reached the main trapeze, and for a
moment she sat there, with her arms crooked against the rope on either
side, and rubbing her hands. For the first time during her career she
was terrified in the ring. She had hoped that as soon as she resumed her
work the terror she had felt since Jeanne's birth would pass away. Now,
however, it made her so weak that she feared she was going to fall.

She was thinking of the child as she had seen her crowing in the crib.
If anything should happen to her she might never see Jeanne again. She
was vaguely conscious of the vast mass of people below her, waiting for
her to move. She took a long breath and nerved herself for the start,
before making her spring to the trapeze below; she must have courage for
the sake of the little Jeanne, she said to herself. Mechanically she
began to sway forward and backward; then she shot into the air, and with
a sensation of surprise and delight she continued her performance.

Mrs. Tate watched her with an expression of mingled fear, interest, and
pleasure in her face.

"Isn't she the most wonderful creature you ever saw, Percy?" she cried,
clutching her husband's arm. "It's horrible, yet I can't help looking.
Suppose she should fall!"

"She'd merely drop into the net. There's nothing very dangerous about
what she's doing now. Keep still."

"I never saw anything more graceful. She _is_ grace itself, isn't she?
See how her hair flies; I should think it would get into her eyes and
blind her. I shall speak to her about that when I see her. I shall
certainly _go_ to see her."

In a round of applause, Blanche finished her performance on the trapeze
and then began her posing on the rope, whirling slowly, with a rhythmic
succession of motions to the net. Then Jules, in evening dress, with a
large diamond gleaming in his shirt-front, stepped out on the net, and
for an instant they conferred together. Suddenly she clapped her hands,
bounded on the rope again, and while Jules held it to steady her motion,
she climbed hand over hand to the top of the building. There she sat,
looking in the distance like a white bird ready to take flight, her dark
hair streaming around her head.

"I feel as if I were going to faint," Mrs. Tate whispered.

Her husband glanced at her quickly. "Yes, you'd better--in this crowd. A
fine panic you'd create! Want to go out?"

She seemed to pull herself together. "No, I think I shall be able to
bear it. If I can't, I'll look away. What's that he's saying? What
horrible English he speaks! I can't understand a word. _Oh!_" she
gasped, clutching her husband by one arm and holding him firmly as
Blanche dropped backward and whirled through the air; and this
exclamation she repeated in a tone of horrified relief when the girl
struck the net, bounded into the air again, and landed on her feet.

They rose with the applauding crowd and started to leave the place. "In
my opinion," said Mrs. Tate, clinging to her husband's arm and drawing
her wrap closely around her, "in my opinion such exhibitions are
outrageous. There ought to be a law against them. Think of that poor
little creature going through that every night. Of course she'll be
killed sometime. I wonder if she's afraid. I should think she'd expect
every night to be her last."

"What nonsense you're talking. Of course those people don't feel like
that. If they did they'd never go into the business. It's second nature
to them."

"But they're _human_ just like the rest of us, and that woman is a
mother," Mrs. Tate insisted. "Don't you suppose she thinks of her baby
before she makes that terrible dive? It's a shame that her husband
should allow her to do it."

"There you are, trying to regulate the affairs of the world again. Why
don't you let people alone? They'd be a good deal happier, and so would
you. Her husband probably likes to have her do it."

"Well, I shall go to see her anyway," Mrs. Tate cried with
determination. "Then I can find out all about her for myself."

For the next three weeks Mrs. Tate was absorbed by various duties in
connection with her charitable societies. One morning, however, she
suddenly realized that she had neglected to comply with Father Dumény's
request, and she resolved to put off her other engagements for the
afternoon and call at once on the acrobat; if she didn't go then, there
was no knowing when she could go. At four o'clock she found herself
stepping into a hansom in front of her house in Cavendish Square.

The address that Father Dumény had sent led her to a little French hotel
with a narrow, dark entrance, dimly lighted by an odorous lamp. She
poked about in the place for a moment, wondering how she was to find any
one; then a door which she had not observed was thrown open, and she was
confronted by a little man with a very waxed moustache, who smiled and
asked in broken English what Madame wanted. She stammered that she was
looking for Madame Le Baron, and the little man at once called a
_garçon_ in a greasy apron, who led the way up the narrow stairs. When
they had reached the second landing the boy rapped on the door, and Mrs.
Tate stood panting behind him. For several moments there was no answer;
then heavy steps could be heard approaching, and a moment later
Madeleine's broad figure, silhouetted by the light from the windows from
behind, stood before them. Mrs. Tate saw at a glance that she was
French, and addressed her in her own language.

"_Mais oui_," Madeleine replied. "Madame is at home. Will Madame have
the goodness to enter?"

"Say that I'm Father Dumény's friend, please," said Mrs. Tate as she
gave Madeleine a card. Then she glanced at one corner of the room, where
a large cradle, covered with a lace canopy, had caught her eye. "Is the
baby here?" she asked quickly, going toward it.

"Ah, no--not now. She sometimes sleeps here in the morning; but she is
with her mother in the other room now."

Madeleine disappeared, and Mrs. Tate's eyes roved around the room. She
recognized it at once as the typical English lodging-house drawing-room;
she had seen many rooms just like it before, when she had called on
American friends living for a time in London. It was large and oblong,
facing the tall houses on the opposite side of the street that cut off
much of the light; the wall paper was ugly and sombre, and the carpet,
with its large flowery pattern, together with the lounge and chairs,
completed an effect of utter dreariness.

Mrs. Tate wondered how people could live in such places; she should
simply go mad if she had to stay in a room like this. Then she wondered
why Madame Le Baron hadn't brightened up the apartment a bit; the
photographs on the mantel, in front of the large French mirror, together
with the cradle in the corner, were the only signs it gave of being
really inhabited. How vulgar those prints on the wall were! They and the
mirror were the only French touches visible, and they contrasted oddly
with their surroundings. While Mrs. Tate was comfortably meditating on
the vast superiority of England to France, the door leading to the next
room opened and Blanche entered the room. She looked so domestic in her
simple dress of blue serge that for an instant her caller did not
recognize her.

She held out her hand timidly. "Father Dumény has spoken to me about
you," she said.

"Father Dumény must think I am an extremely rude person. I meant to come
weeks ago," Mrs. Tate replied, clasping the hand and looking down
steadily into the pale face. "But I've been busy--so busy, I've had
hardly a minute to myself. However, I did go to see you perform."

"Ah, at the Hippodrome?"

"Yes, the very first night. Mr. Tate and I went together. We were
both--er--wonderfully impressed. I don't think I ever saw anything more
wonderful in my life than that plunge of yours."

Mrs. Tate adjusted herself in the chair near the window, and Blanche
took the opposite seat. "I'm glad you liked it," she said with a sigh.

"Liked it. I can't really say I did like it. I must confess it rather
horrified me."

"It does some people. My mother never likes to see me do it--though I've
done it for a great many years now."

"But doesn't it--doesn't it make you nervous sometimes?"

"I never used to think of it--before my baby was born."

"Ah, the baby! May I see her? Just a peep."

"She was asleep when I left," Blanche replied, unconsciously lowering
her voice as if the child in the next room might know she was being
talked about; "but she will wake up soon. She always wakes about this
time. Madeleine is with her now, and she'll dress her and bring her in."

For a quarter of an hour they talked about the little Jeanne, and
Blanche, inspired by Mrs. Tate's vivid interest and sympathy, grew
animated in describing the baby's qualities; when she was born she
weighed nearly nine pounds, and she had not been sick a day. Then she
had grown so! You could hardly believe it was the same child. She very
rarely cried,--almost never at night. Mrs. Tate had heard mothers talk
like that before, but Blanche's _naïveté_ lent a new charm to the
narration; she kept in mind, however, their first topic, and at the next
opportunity she returned to it.

"Then what do you do with the child at night?" she asked. "I suppose
your servant goes to the circus with you, doesn't she? Of course you
can't leave the baby alone."

"Ah, no," Blanche replied. "We have a little girl to stay with her."

Mrs. Tate was surprised. So these circus people lived as other people
did, with servants to wait on them, with a nurse for the child. She had
instinctively thought of them as vagabonds. On discovering that they
were well cared for, she had a sensation very like disappointment; they
seemed to be in no need of help of any sort. She was curious to know
more of the life of this girl, who seemed so _naïve_ and had such a
curious look of sadness in her eyes. Mrs. Tate deftly led Blanche to
talk about her husband, and in a few minutes, by her questions and her
quick intelligence, she fancied that she understood the condition of
this extraordinary _ménage_.

Percy had been right; the wife supported the family and the husband was
a mere hanger-on; but it was evident from the way he was mentioned that
the romance still lasted. Then Blanche made a reference to Jules which
led her visitor to make inquiries with regard to him, and these changed
her view of the situation. So, before marriage, Monsieur had been in
business, and he had probably given it up to follow his wife in her
wanderings. She surmised that they were not absolutely dependent on the
circus for their daily bread; perhaps this accounted for their
comfortable way of living.

While apparently absorbed in conversation Mrs. Tate continued this train
of thought. She had never known any one connected with the circus
before, she explained with a smile; people who lived in London all the
time were apt to be so very narrow and ignorant; but she wanted to hear
all about it, and Madame must tell her. Blanche was able to tell very
little, for she was not used to discussing her work. By adroit
questioning, however, Mrs. Tate led her on to an account of her early
career from her first appearance as a child with her father to her
development into a "star" performer.

The narrative seemed to her wildly interesting. How fascinating it would
be if she could persuade the girl to relate her story in a drawing-room!
It would be the sensation of the winter. But this poor child never could
talk in public, even in her own tongue.

"But do tell me," said Mrs. Tate, when Blanche had described the months
her father had spent in teaching her to make the great plunge. "Doesn't
it hurt your back? I should think that striking with full force day
after day on that padded net would destroy the nervous system of a
giant."

Blanche smiled and shook her head. "It never used to hurt. I've only
felt it lately, since the baby was born," she said.

"Then it does hurt now?" Mrs. Tate cried eagerly.

"Sometimes. I feel so tired in the morning now. I never used to; and
sometimes when I wake up my back aches very much. But I try not to think
of it."

"But, my dear child, you ought to think of it. You mustn't allow
yourself to be injured--perhaps for life."

Blanche turned pale. "Do you think it can be serious?" she asked
timidly.

Mrs. Tate saw that she had made a false step. "Of course not--not
_serious_. It's probably nothing at all. I haven't a doubt a physician
could stop it easily. Have you spoken to any one about it?"

"No; not even to my husband. I shouldn't like to tell him. It would make
him unhappy."

Mrs. Tate became thoughtful. "I wonder if Dr. Broughton couldn't do
something for you. He's our physician, and he's the kindest soul in the
world. I'm always sending him to people. Suppose I should ask him to
come and call on you some day. Perhaps he'll tell you there's nothing
the matter, and then you won't be worried any more." She glanced into
the pale face and was startled by the look she saw there. "Oh, you
needn't be afraid," she laughed. "He won't hurt you. But, of course, if
you don't want him to come, I won't send him."

Blanche clasped her hands and dropped her eyes. "I think I should like
to have him come if--if--my husband----"

"But he needn't know anything about it," said Mrs. Tate, with feminine
delight at the prospect of secrecy. "We won't tell him anything. If he
meets Monsieur Le Baron here you can just say I sent him to call on you.
Besides, he can come some time when your husband isn't here," she added
with a smile.

"Jules generally goes out in the afternoon," Blanche replied, feeling
guilty at the thought of concealing anything from him. "He likes to read
the French papers in a _café_ in the Strand."

"Then I'll tell Dr. Broughton to come some afternoon. He'll be
delighted. I don't believe _he's_ ever known an acrobat either," she
laughed.

They talked more of Blanche's symptoms, and Mrs. Tate speedily
discovered that since the birth of the baby Blanche had not been free
from terror of her work; every night she feared might be her last. She
did not confess this directly, but Mrs. Tate gathered it from several
intimations and from her own observations. She felt elated. What an
interesting case! She had never heard of anything like it before. This
poor child was haunted with a horrible terror! This accounted for the
pitiful look of distress in her eyes. Then Mrs. Tate's generous heart
fairly yearned with sympathy; but this she was careful to conceal. She
saw that by displaying it she would do far more harm than good; so she
pretended to be amused at the possibility of Blanche's injuring herself
in making the plunge.

"It must have become second nature to you," she said, "after all these
years. You're probably a little tired and nervous. Dr. Broughton will
give you a tonic that will restore your old confidence. Meantime," she
added enthusiastically, "I'm going to take care of you. I'm coming to
see you very often, and I shall expect you to come to see me. Let me
think; this is Thursday. On Sunday night you and Monsieur Le Baron must
come and dine with us at seven o'clock. We'll be all alone. I sha'n't
ask any one. But wait a minute. Why wouldn't that be a good way for your
husband to meet Dr. Broughton? I'll ask him to come, too. He often looks
in on Sundays. That will be delightful."

She rose to her feet and shook out her skirts. "I suppose I must go
without seeing the baby. But I shall----" She looked quickly around at
the clicking sound that seemed to come from the door. Then the door
opened, and Jules, in a heavy fur-trimmed coat and silk hat, stood
before her. She recognized him at once, and as he bowed hesitatingly,
she extended her hand and relieved the awkwardness of the situation. "I
won't wait for Madame to introduce me," she said, just as Blanche was
murmuring her name.

"Then you are the lady Father Dumény spoke to us about!" Jules said with
a smile.

"Yes; and your wife and I have become the best of friends already."

"And you've made friends with the baby too, I hope," Jules replied,
removing his coat and throwing it over a chair. She liked his face more
than she had done at the Hippodrome; he had a good eye, and, for a
Frenchman, a remarkably clear complexion.

"No; she's asleep," Blanche replied. "I asked Madeleine to bring her in
if she woke up."

"But you must see her," Jules insisted. "I'll go and take a peep at
her."

He went to the door leading to the next room, opened it softly, and
glanced in. Then he made a sign that the others were to follow, and he
tiptoed toward the bed where Jeanne lay sleeping, her face rosy with
health, and her little hands tightly closed. Madeleine, who had been
sitting beside the bed, rose as they approached and showed her mouthful
of teeth.

For a few moments they stood around the child, smiling at one another
and without speaking. Then they tiptoed out of the room, and closed the
door behind them.

"I shall come again soon some morning," Mrs. Tate whispered, as if still
afraid of disturbing the child, "when the baby's awake." Then she went
on in a louder tone: "She's a dear. I know I shall become very fond of
her. And you're coming to us next Sunday night," she added, as she bade
Jules good-bye. "Your wife has promised. I shall expect you both.
Perhaps I shall come before then; I want to get acquainted with Jeanne."

She kissed Blanche on both cheeks, after the French fashion. "I sha'n't
forget, you know. We have great secrets together already," she laughed,
turning to Jules as she passed out of the door.



                                  XIV


As soon as Percy Tate confronted his wife at the table that night he saw
that something was on her mind.

"You've been to see those circus people," he said.

"How did you know that?"

"Oh, clairvoyance,--my subtle insight into the workings of your brain!"

"I suppose Hawkins told you. Well, I _have_ been to see them."

Tate began to pick at the bread beside his plate. He often became
preoccupied when he knew his wife wanted him to ask questions; this was
his favorite way of teasing her.

"It's the strangest _ménage_ I ever saw in my life," Mrs. Tate exclaimed
at last, unable to keep back the news any longer. "And it's just as I
thought it would be. That poor little creature simply lives in terror of
being killed."

Tate rolled his eyes. "'In the midst of life we are in death,'" he said
solemnly.

"It's altogether too serious a matter to be made a joke of, Percy. If
you could have heard--"

"Now, my dear, you know what I told you. You went to see that woman with
the deliberate expectation of finding her a person to be sympathized
with, and I can see that you've imagined a lot of nonsense about her.
Why in the world don't you let such people alone? You belong in your
place and she belongs in hers, and the world is big enough to hold you
both without obliging you to come together. You can't understand her
feelings any more than she can understand yours. You wonder how you'd
feel if you were in her place; you can't realize that if you _were_ in
her place you'd be an altogether different person. If you had to go
through her performances, of course you'd be scared to death; but you
forget she's been brought up to do those things; it's her business, her
life. I knew you'd go there and work up a lot of ridiculous sympathy,
and badger that woman for nothing!"

At the beginning of this speech Mrs. Tate had sat back in her chair with
an expression of patient resignation in her face. When her husband
finished she breathed a long sigh. "I hope you've said it all, Percy.
You're so tiresome when you make those long harangues. Besides, you've
only succeeded in showing that you don't understand the case at all."

Then, as they finished their soup, Mrs. Tate gave an account of her call
of the afternoon, ending with a graphic repetition of the talk with
Blanche about the pains in her back.

"I shall certainly tell Dr. Broughton about it," she cried. "That poor
child--she really _is_ nothing _but_ a child--she's just killing herself
by inches, and her husband is worse than a brute to let the thing go
on."

"So you want to stop it and take away their only means of support."

"It isn't their only means of support. It seems the husband has money.
That makes it all the worse."

"Now, let me say right here, my dear, I wash my hands of this affair. If
you want to rush in and upset those people's lives, go ahead, but I'll
have nothing to do with it."

"I wish you wouldn't scold me so, Percy. It seems to me I usually bear
the consequences of what I do. And I don't see what harm there can be in
consulting Dr. Broughton. You're always cracking him up yourself."

Tate burst into a loud laugh. "If that isn't just like a woman! Turning
it onto poor old Broughton."

"Oh, sometimes you're so _aggravating_, Percy!"

Two days later, in spite of her husband's opposition, Mrs. Tate
consulted Dr. Broughton, and he promised, as soon as he could, to call
some morning at the little hotel in Albemarle Street. Before he appeared
there Mrs. Tate ingratiated herself into the affections of the family.
As Blanche grew more familiar with her, she confided to her many details
of her life, and Mrs. Tate speedily possessed the chief facts in
connection with it. These facts did not increase her esteem for Jules,
whose days, in spite of his duties as his wife's manager, were spent in
what she regarded as wholly unpardonable idleness. She also suspected
that Jules disliked her; it must have been he who sent word that they
would be unable to accept her invitation for dinner on Sunday evening.
This, however, did not prevent their being invited for the following
Sunday. Mrs. Tate was determined to secure her husband's opinion of her
new _protégés_.

Before Sunday came Dr. Broughton unexpectedly made his appearance in the
Tates' drawing-room one evening.

"I've seen your acrobat," he said to the figure in yellow silk and lace,
reading beside the lamp. "Don't get up. Been out? I hardly thought I'd
find you in; you're such a pair of worldlings."

"We came away early. I had a headache," said Tate, shading his eyes with
one hand and offering the other to the visitor. "Or, rather, I pretended
I had."

The Doctor, a short, stout man of fifty, with grayish brown hair, and
little red whiskers jutting out from either side of his face, and with
enormous eyebrows shading his keen eyes, gathered his coat-tails in his
hand, and took a seat on the couch.

"It's late for a call--must be after ten. But I knew this lady of yours
would want to hear about her acrobat. Nice little creature, isn't she?
Seems ridiculous she should belong to a circus."

"She doesn't belong there," Mrs. Tate replied, briskly inserting a
paper-knife in her book and laying the book on the little table beside
her. "I've never seen any one so utterly misplaced. Did you have a talk
with her?"

"Yes--a talk. That was all; but that was enough. Her husband was out."

"O, you conspirators!" Tate exclaimed.

"Then you've satisfied yourself about her?" said his wife, ignoring him.

"Yes. She has a very common complaint, a form of meningitis; slumbering
meningitis, it's often called. Many people have it without knowing it;
and she might have had it even if she hadn't taken to thumping her spine
half a dozen times a week. The trouble's located in the spine."

"There, I told you so!" exclaimed Mrs. Tate; and "What a lovely habit
women have of never gloating over anything!" her husband added amiably.

"Percy, I wish you'd keep quiet! Do you really think it's serious,
Doctor?"

The Doctor held up his hands meditatively, the ends of the fingers
touching, and slowly lifted his shoulders. "In itself it may be serious
or it may not. Sometimes trouble of that sort is quiescent for years,
and the patient dies of something else. Sometimes it resists treatment,
and leads to very serious complications,--physical and mental. I've had
cases where it has affected the brain and others where it has led to
paralysis. In this case it is likely to be aggravated."

"By the diving, you mean?" said Mrs. Tate.

"Exactly. That has probably been the cause of the trouble lately--if it
wasn't the first cause. It may go on getting worse, or it may remain as
it is for years, or it may disappear for a time, or possibly,
altogether."

Mrs. Tate breathed what sounded like a sigh of disappointment. "Then it
isn't so bad as I thought," she said.

For a moment the Doctor hesitated. Then he replied: "Yes, it's worse.
The mere physical pain that it causes Madame Le Baron is of
comparatively little account. I think we may be able to stop that. The
peculiarity of the case is the nervousness, the curious fear that seems
to haunt her."

In her excitement Mrs. Tate almost bounced from her seat. "That is
_exactly_ what I said. The poor child hasn't a moment's peace. It's the
most terrible thing I ever heard of. And to think that that man--her
husband----"

"It's always the husband," Tate laughed. "Broughton, why don't you stand
up for your sex?"

"Percy wants to turn the whole thing into ridicule. I think it's a
shame. I can't tell you how it has worried me. I feel so----"

"For Heaven's sake, Broughton, I wish you'd give my wife something to
keep her from feeling for other people. If you don't, she'll go mad, and
I shall too. She wants to regulate the whole universe. I have a horrible
fear that she's going to get round to me soon."

The Doctor smiled, and bent his bushy eyes on the husband and then on
the wife.

"It's a peculiar case," he repeated thoughtfully, when they had sat in
silence for several moments. "It couldn't be treated in the ordinary
way."

"How in the world did you get so much out of her?" Mrs. Tate asked.
"She's the shyest little creature."

"I had to work on her sympathies. I got her to crying,--and then, of
course, the whole story came out. As you said, she's haunted by the fear
of being killed."

"But that's the baby," said Mrs. Tate quickly. "She told me she never
had the least fear till her baby was born."

The Doctor lifted his eyebrows. "It's several things," he replied dryly,
refusing to take any but the professional view.

Then they discussed the case in all its aspects. The haunting fear Dr.
Broughton regarded as the worst feature. "She says when she goes into
the ring, that usually leaves her; but if it came back just before she
took her plunge it would kill her. The least miscalculation would be
likely to make her land on her head in the net, and that would mean a
broken neck. It's terrible work,--that. The law ought to put a stop to
it."

"The law ought to put a stop to a good many things that it doesn't,"
Mrs. Tate snapped. "To think that in this age of civilization----"

"There she goes, reforming the world again!" her husband interrupted.

"But if the law doesn't stop it in this case," she went on, "_I_ will."

For a time they turned from the subject of Blanche and her ills to other
themes; but when, about midnight, Dr. Broughton rose to leave, Mrs. Tate
went back to it. "We're going to have the Le Barons here for dinner next
Sunday," she said. "I wish you'd come in if you can. I want Percy to see
what they're like."

"She relies on my judgment after all," said Tate, following the guest to
the door. As they stood together in the hall, "You think the case is
serious then?" he asked quietly.

The Doctor whispered something in his ear, and Tate nodded thoughtfully.
"And how do you think it'll end if she doesn't stop it?"

Dr. Broughton tapped his forehead with his hand. "This is what I'm
most afraid of." He seized his stick and thrust it under his arm.
"But giving up her performance, I'm afraid, would be like giving up
her life. She was practically born in the circus, you know, and I
suspect from what your wife has told me that her husband fell in love
with her in the circus. Outside of that she seems to have no interest
in anything,--except, of course, her family and her baby. But to take
her out of the circus would be like pulling up a tree by the roots."

Dr. Broughton was so used to making hurried exits from patients' houses
that he lost no time in getting away from Tate. As he went down the
steps his host stood with one hand on the knob of the front door,
thinking. The Doctor had unconsciously given him a most fascinating
suggestion. Around this his mind played as he walked back to the
drawing-room, where his wife was yawning, and gathering, some books to
take upstairs. He said nothing to her about it; before expressing his
fancy, he decided to wait until he saw those curious people.



                                   XV


Mrs. Tate was right in surmising that Jules had conceived a dislike for
her. The first day he saw her he decided that she was a tiresome,
interfering Englishwoman, and he watched with annoyance her growing
intimacy with Blanche, whom he wished to keep wholly to himself. Of his
wife's success at the Hippodrome he felt as proud as if it were his own;
he loved to read the notices of it in the papers, and while Blanche was
performing, to walk about in the audience and hear her praises. He had
come to look upon her as part of himself, as his property; and this
sense of proprietorship added to the fascination that her performance
had for him.

Though his first ardor of devotion had passed, he was still tender with
her; but his tenderness always had reference more to her work than to
herself. He watched her as the owner of a performing animal might have
watched his precious charge. Sometimes he used to lose patience with her
for her devotion to the little Jeanne; if Jeanne cried at night she
would want to leave the bed to soothe her. In order to prevent this,
Jules had the child's crib moved into Madeleine's room, to the secret
grief of the mother, who, however, did not think of resisting his
commands. In his way Jules was fond of Jeanne; but he could not help
thinking that before she came Blanche had given all her love to him.
However, there was some excuse for that; but there was no reason why a
stranger like Mrs. Tate should come in and take possession of them, act
like a member of the family, and put a lot of silly ideas into his
wife's head.

The mere fact that Mrs. Tate was English would have been enough to
prejudice Jules against her even if he had not objected to her personal
qualities. He hated the English, and he hated England, especially
London. Even Blanche, who was blind to his faults, speedily discovered
that his boast of being a born traveller had no foundation in fact. On
arriving in London he had gone straight to a French hotel, where he was
served to French cooking by a _garçon_ trained in the _cafés_ of the
_Boulevards_. Since then he had associated only with the few French
people he could find in the city; if he hadn't been eager to read
everything printed about Blanche, he would never have looked at any but
French papers. At home he spent a large part of his time in ridiculing
the English, just as on his return from America he had ridiculed the
Americans. Now, at the thought of being obliged to dine with a lot of
those _bêtes d'Anglais_ he felt enraged. He had already refused one
invitation. Why wasn't that enough for them? The second he would have
refused too, if Blanche had not insisted that another refusal would be a
discourtesy to Father Dumény's friends. Ah, Father Dumény, a fine box he
had got them into, the tiresome old woman that he was, with his foolish
jokes and his rheumatism!

Jules never forgot that dinner. In the first place, he was awed by the
magnificence of the Tates' house; it surpassed anything of the kind he
had ever seen in France or in America; it had never occurred to him that
the English could have such good taste. Then, too, in spite of the
efforts of his hosts to make him comfortable, he felt awkward, ill at
ease, out of place. As soon as he entered the drawing-room, Blanche was
taken upstairs by Mrs. Tate, and Jules was left with the husband and
with Dr. Broughton.

A moment later the Doctor disappeared, and for the next half-hour Jules
tried to maintain a conversation in English. Tate turned the
conversation to life in Paris as compared with the life of London, but
Jules had so much difficulty in speaking English that they fell at last
into French.

Meanwhile, Blanche sat in the library with Mrs. Tate and Dr. Broughton,
whom she had not seen since the day of his call upon her. The Doctor had
at once won her confidence, and since her talk with him she had felt
better, and she fancied that the tonic he gave her had already benefited
her. But she still had that pain in her back, she said, and that
terrible fear; every night when she kissed the little Jeanne before
going to the Hippodrome, she felt as if she should never see the child
again. If she didn't stop feeling like that, she didn't know what would
happen.

"If you could give up the plunge for a while," the Doctor suggested,
"you'd be very much better for the rest. Then you might go back to it,
you know."

"But I'm engaged for the season," Blanche replied in French, which the
Doctor readily understood, but refused to speak. "I can't break my
contract."

"Perhaps you could make a compromise," Mrs. Tate suggested. "You could
go on with your trapeze performance,--with everything except the dive."

"I was really engaged for that," said Blanche, a look of dismay
appearing in her face. "There are many others that perform on the
trapeze."

"But you might try to make some arrangement," Mrs. Tate insisted. "Your
husband could talk it over with the managers."

"Ah, but he would not like it," Blanche replied with evident distress.
"It would make him so unhappy if he--if he knew."

"If he knew you were being made ill by your work!" Mrs. Tate
interrupted. "Of course it would make him unhappy, and it would be very
strange if it didn't. But it's much better to have him know it than for
you to go on risking your life every night."

Dr. Broughton gave his hostess a glance that made her quail. A moment
later, however, she gathered herself together.

"I didn't mean to say that, dear, but now that I _have_ said it, there's
no use mincing matters. The Doctor has told me plainly that if you go on
making that plunge every night in your present state of nervousness it
will certainly result in your death--in one way or another. So the only
thing for you to do, for the sake of your baby, and your husband, and
for your own sake too,--the only thing for you to do is to stop it, at
least for a time. If you were to break your neck it would simply be
murder,--yes, murder," she repeated, glancing at the Doctor, who was
looking at her with an expression that showed he thought she was going
too far.

Tears had begun to trickle down Blanche's cheeks, and now they turned to
sobs. For a few moments she lost control of herself, and her frail
figure was shaken with grief. Dr. Broughton said nothing, and he looked
angry. Mrs. Tate paid no attention to him; she went over to Blanche,
took her in her arms, and began to soothe her. In a few moments the
sobbing ceased, and Mrs. Tate went on:--

"It's best that you should know this, dear, though perhaps I've been
cruel in telling it to you so bluntly. We must tell your husband about
it, too. I'm sure he'll be distressed to hear how much you've suffered,
and he'll be glad to do anything that will help you. So now we'll send
the Doctor away, and bathe your face with hot water, and go down to
dinner and try to forget about our troubles for a while."

If Jules had not been absorbed in his own embarrassment at the
dinner-table he might have discovered traces of agitation in his wife's
face. He was secretly execrating the luck that had brought him among
these people, and he resolved when he returned home to tell Blanche that
he would have nothing more to do with them. If she was willing to have
that prying Englishwoman about her all the time, she could, but she
mustn't expect him to be more than civil to her. The conversation had
turned on English politics, and as Jules had nothing to offer on the
subject, his enforced silence increased his discomfort. Mrs. Tate was
devoting herself to Blanche, who sat beside her, relating in French
stories of her life in Paris. Jules felt resentful; no one paid
attention to him; when he dined out in Paris he was always one of the
leaders in the talk. He wanted to justify himself, to show these people
that he was no fool, that he was worthy of being the husband of a
celebrity.

By a fortunate chance, the talk drifted to American politics, and Jules,
seeing his opportunity, seized it. A few moments later he was launched
on an account of his travels in the United States. Tate, relieved at
having at last found a topic his guest could discuss, gave Jules full
play, and listened to him with a light in his eyes that showed his wife
he was secretly amused. Indeed, Jules' criticisms of America and his
descriptions of the peculiarities of Americans greatly entertained them.

The dinner closed in animated talk, much to the relief of Mrs. Tate, who
feared it would be a great failure; it made her realize, however, that
as show people the Le Barons were quite useless. She was afraid Blanche
had been bored; she had been sitting almost speechless during the meal,
sighing heavily now and then, as if thinking that in a few hours her
respite would be over, and she would have to return to her horrible
work.

Mrs. Tate was quite ready to make any sacrifice to rescue Blanche from
the terrors of her circus life; in the enthusiasm of the moment she said
to herself, that rather than let her continue making that plunge, she
would offer to _pay_ her husband what she earned, in order to take his
wife out of the ring altogether. At the thought of persuading him to do
this, Mrs. Tate felt that at last she had a definite task to perform; it
was almost like a mission, and the harder it proved to be, the more
exalted she would feel.

After their return to the drawing-room, Mrs. Tate, with a delightful
feeling that she was engaged in a conspiracy, made a mysterious sign to
Dr. Broughton to come to her.

"I suppose Percy's been whispering to you not to have anything to do
with this scheme of mine, but don't pay any attention to him. Do you
know, I think the best way would be to take the husband into the library
and have it out there. He must _be_ told, you know. He hasn't a
suspicion of it,--not a suspicion. You wait a few minutes, and as soon
as I get a chance, I'll ask him to follow me out."

The Doctor smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"You must take the responsibility," he said carelessly. "I shall merely
do my professional duty. Mr. Tate has just been telling me about a
curious idea----"

"Don't pay any attention to his ideas. Percy thinks everything ought to
be left to regulate itself. A fine world it would be if every one
thought as he does. Now you go back to him, and follow me when I tell
you. No, I have a better plan. You go into the library with Percy. I'll
come in there in a few minutes."

A quarter of an hour later, when Mrs. Tate entered the library with
Jules, she found her husband and the Doctor there, half-hidden in a
cloud of smoke.

"This poor man, too, has been dying for another cigar," she said; "but
he's too polite to say so. So while he's smoking we can have our talk.
We'll take our coffee in here, too. Percy, you go and see that Madame Le
Baron is properly served. I've had to leave her there alone for a
minute, but I said I'd send you in. Dr. Broughton and I are going to
have a secret conference with Monsieur Le Baron."

"Secret conferences are always dangerous," Tate replied, rising to leave
the room. "Look out for them!" he added with a smile to Jules, as he
hesitated at the door. When he had closed the door behind him, he stood
in the hall a moment, thinking.

Tate was a man of sense, of "horse-sense," one of his friends used to
say of him, and not given to forebodings. Now, however, he had a
distinct regret that his wife was interfering in this matter, and fear
of the consequences. She often did things that he disapproved, and he
made no objection, for he believed that she had as much right to
independence as himself; but in this case he would have liked to
interfere. He had spoken to Dr. Broughton about his feeling in the
matter, and the Doctor had merely laughed. Well, the Doctor knew better
than he did; perhaps, after all, his own theory was absurd. At any rate,
he could not be held accountable for any trouble that might result from
his wife's meddling. This thought, however, gave him little consolation.
He usually suffered for her mistakes much more than she did herself.

When he went back to the drawing-room, he had difficulty in sustaining a
conversation with Blanche; he kept thinking of the conference in the
next room, wondering what the result would be. He was prepared to see
Jules enter with a pale face and set lips and with wrath in his eyes.

When Jules finally entered between his hostess and the Doctor, Tate
scanned his face narrowly; it was not white, and the lips were not set,
but the whole expression had changed to a look of dogged determination
and ill-concealed rage. He sat near his wife, staring at her as if he
had never seen her before.

For a few moments the conversation was resumed, but the atmosphere
seemed chilled. Then the Doctor rose to say good-night, explaining that
he had promised to call on a patient in Curzon Street before going home.
This seemed to be the signal for the breaking-up, and all of the guests
left at the same moment, Mrs. Tate calling out to Blanche at the door of
the drawing-room that she would look in on her the next day if she were
not too busy.

When the front door had closed, Tate turned to his wife.

"Well, you had a stormy time of it, didn't you?"

She walked toward the centre of the drawing-room and stood under the
chandelier, keeping her eyes fixed on her husband's face, which seemed
to be much more serious than usual.

"What makes you think so?" she asked, removing a bracelet from her arm
and nervously twirling it.

"I could tell from the expression in his eyes, and from the way you and
the Doctor acted. He was furious, wasn't he?"

"Furious? Le Baron? Hardly; though I could see he didn't believe a word
we said. He was almost too startled to understand it at first. The
little goose hadn't said a word to him about it."

"And what did he say when you told him she ought to give up her
performance? How did he like that?"

"He didn't like it at all, apparently. But I didn't expect him to like
it. It means money out of his pocket."

"No, it means more than that, if I'm not mistaken."

"What else can it mean?" she said, lifting her eyebrows questioningly.

"It means the end of whatever affection he has for his wife. Of course
he never had much. A man of his sort doesn't."

She looked at him with curiosity in her face. "What difference does her
performing make in his affection for her?"

"Can't you see that he didn't fall in love with _her_? He fell in love
with her performance."

Mrs. Tate put one finger to her lips and hesitated for a moment. Then
she said slowly:--

"How ridiculous you are, Percy! As if any one ever heard of such a
thing!"



                                  XVI


On the way home in the hansom that he had called, Jules scarcely spoke.
Blanche kept glancing at him covertly; she had never before seen that
look in his face, and it alarmed her; he seemed to be trying to keep
back the anger that showed itself in his half-closed eyes and his
firm-set chin. When they reached the lodgings, Blanche found Madeleine
sound asleep by the fireplace, and without waking her, she started to go
into the next room to see if Jeanne were comfortable. When she reached
the door, Jules said in a low voice:--

"Wait here a minute. I have something to say to you."

At the sound of the words, Madeleine's eyes opened slowly, and she
blinked at Jules, who was glancing angrily at her.

"This is a pretty way you take care of Jeanne. She might have had a
dozen convulsions without your knowing anything about them."

In spite of Jules' command, the reference to the convulsions, which had
nearly cost Jeanne her life a few weeks after birth, sent Blanche
agitatedly into the nursery. Madeleine lumbered behind her, and both
were relieved to find the child sleeping contentedly in her cradle, her
cheeks flushed, and her chubby hands clenched at her breast. Blanche
would have liked to pass several moments there in rapt adoration, but
Jules appeared at the door and made a sign to her to come to him.

"Madeleine will look out for her," he said, pointing to the cradle. "Go
to bed, Madeleine."

Blanche tiptoed out of the room, removed her wraps, and, with the
overcoat Jules had thrown on the couch, hung them in the little closet
beside the big mirror. Jules, who had taken a seat in front of the
fire-place, watched her impatiently, and then motioned her to sit in the
chair opposite him.

"Now perhaps you'll be kind enough to tell me what all this means. I
knew that Englishwoman would be up to some mischief. What does it mean?"
he said sternly.

Blanche looked timidly into his face; the expression of anger that she
had noticed on their way home was still there. She did not know what to
say, and tears of misery filled her eyes and rolled slowly down her
cheeks. Then weakened by her previous outburst, she covered her face
with her hands, and began to sob, giving expression to all the torture
that had come from the horror of her performance, from her incessant
terror of being killed and separated from Jeanne. Jules was at first
touched, and then alarmed, by the unexpected display of grief.

He waited, thinking that it would soon expend itself; then when the sobs
continued, he went over to her, and taking her gently in his arms, tried
to soothe her by stroking her hair and calling her by the endearing
names he had used during the first weeks of their marriage, and begging
her to control herself for his sake, it hurt him so. After this last
appeal, Blanche put her arms round his neck, and buried her head on his
breast, and for a few moments they sat together without speaking, her
body shaken now and then from the violence of her grief. Then Jules
began to question her quietly, and the whole story of her sufferings
since Jeanne's birth came out so pathetically that, in spite of his
anger, he was touched, and convinced that, after all, the Englishwoman
had been right.

In his remorse that Blanche had suffered in silence, and he had not
found it out, had done nothing to help her, he declared he would have
the diving stopped at once, no matter what the cost might be. Rather
than see her unhappy, he would make her give up performing altogether,
if that were necessary. At any rate, he would go to Marshall the next
day and see what could be done about taking her name off the bills. They
would leave this disgusting London, perhaps for the south of France,
where Blanche could have a long rest, and gather strength for her visit
to America the next year. For a long time they talked over the plan, and
then Jules made Blanche go to bed.

"You'll not be able to do your work tomorrow," he said, "if you sit up
much longer. Of course, you can't stop it at once. Marshall wouldn't
listen to that. You're his best attraction, and he'll have to advertise
your last appearances."

For more than an hour after Blanche left him, Jules walked up and down
the little drawing-room, smoking cigarettes. The revelation of his
wife's trouble had so upset him that he felt unable to sleep. But it was
of himself, not of her, that he was chiefly thinking. Dr. Broughton had
told him that a long rest might cure Blanche of her nervous terror and
relieve her of the pains in the back, but it was probable that she would
be affected again as soon as she resumed her performance.

If this proved true, his own career would be ruined; there would be no
more travelling, no more triumphs! Blanche would sink into obscurity,
would become a mere nonentity, devoted to her child and house-keeping,
like scores of other wives and mothers that he knew and despised in
Paris. Out of the circus, she was utterly commonplace, Jules said to
himself, and the fact came to him with the force of a revelation! But
for that he would never have married her; the brilliancy of her talent
had dazzled him! And now, if she had to leave the circus, how
beautifully he would have been tricked! He would be tied down to her and
her child! The expense of maintaining them would oblige him to live
meanly, in a way that he had never been used to, that he loathed.

What a fine trap he had got himself into! There was absolutely no
escape, unless Blanche recovered from her ridiculous cowardice. And all
on account of that infant, who had come into the world without being
wanted, and had spoiled his life! For the moment Jules hated Jeanne. He
wished she had never been born, or had died at birth; then all this
trouble wouldn't have occurred. But for Jeanne, Blanche might have
accepted that offer for a summer season at Trouville. Then he wouldn't
have been bored at Boulogne, and Father Dumény wouldn't have given him
that letter to those beasts of English.

Then Jules' wrath turned from Jeanne to Father Dumény, and on him he
poured all his old bitterness against priests. They were always
interfering, those black-coated, oily-tongued hypocrites. Oh, if he had
Father Dumény there! He would have liked to choke him!

The more Jules thought, the more convinced he became that his wife's
nervousness was due to imagination rather than to any physical cause.
Then, too, Blanche had been homesick after her long stay in Boulogne,
where she saw her mother and her sisters every day. What a fool he had
been to allow her to go there! He hated the whole pack of them--Father
Dumény, Madame Berthier, her tiresome old husband, all! What right did
they have to interfere with Blanche? She was his wife, she belonged to
him alone. When he reached this point Jules had worked himself into a
fine indignation; but he had exhausted his cigarettes, and it was now
nearly twelve o'clock. Instead of going to bed, however, he threw
himself on the couch in the corner of the room, where a few hours later
Blanche found him, sleeping soundly.

Jules woke in an irritable mood, cross with Madeleine, indifferent to
Jeanne, with whom he usually liked to gambol after breakfast, and silent
with his wife. For a time he said nothing to Blanche about their talk of
the night before, and the expression of his face prevented her from
touching upon it. Till eleven o'clock he was busily engaged in writing
letters; when he had finished these, he turned to Blanche, who was
sitting alone by the table, making a dress for Jeanne.

"I've just written to Hicks in New York," he said, "the man who made me
that fine offer for next September. I told him we couldn't sign the
contract yet. That'll probably make him offer us more money, and it'll
give you time to find out whether you can go on with your work again."

"But I shall surely go on with it," said Blanche, hardly daring to look
into his face. "I shall be well again after a rest. I know I shall. The
Doctor said--"

"Never mind what the Doctor said. I don't believe he knows anything
about it. You're just a little nervous, that's all. You worry about
little things too much, about Jeanne especially. Why can't you let
Madeleine take care of Jeanne? She knows a good deal more about children
than you do. That's what we pay her for. The child costs us enough,
Heaven knows, and if your salary's going to be cut off, we'll have to be
pretty economical."

For a moment Blanche said nothing; her lips quivered, but she controlled
herself. Jules looked at her narrowly, and said to himself that she was
not half so pretty as she had been; she was growing thinner, and there
were little lines in her face that ought not to be in the face of one so
young as her mother said she was. How weak, how helpless she seemed!
Once the thought of her weakness and ingenuousness had given him
pleasure; now it only made him realize his own superiority.

"Perhaps," she suggested hesitatingly,--"perhaps Mr. Marshall might be
willing to make a new contract. Perhaps he would let me go on with my
performance on the trapeze and the rope--without the dive."

"I've thought of that," Jules replied, rising and going to the closet
for his overcoat. "But it isn't at all likely. He's been advertising
your dive all over London, and it's been his best feature. He'll be
pretty mad when I tell him you're going to give it up. He'll probably
try to make me pay a forfeit for breach of contract."

"For breach of contract!" she repeated blankly. "I--"

"Oh, don't worry about it," said Jules, with a pang of regret for the
pain he had caused her. "I think I can make that all right. I suppose
that old Doctor would write a certificate if I asked him."

He drew on the fur-lined coat, and as he took his gloves from his pocket
he started for the door, without kissing Blanche. Then, at the door,
glancing back, and seeing her standing in the middle of the room with a
look of helpless pain in her face, he turned and walked towards her, and
bent his face to hers.

"There, there, dear, don't worry," he said. "You'll be all right again
in a little while!" At the door he added: "I shall be back in an hour or
two, and tell you what Marshall says."

The hour or two proved to be three hours, and these Blanche passed
chiefly in walking up and down the apartment. She could not keep still;
she felt convinced that something dreadful was going to happen. She
hardly dared even to talk to Jeanne, as if she fancied the child might
divine her misery. She feared that she would be unable to give up her
performance, and she feared she would have to go on with it. If she did
give it up, she had a presentiment that she would pay dear for the
release; if she did not, she knew it would result in her death.

Ever since coming to London, she had prepared herself for the
catastrophe. No one, not even kind-hearted Mrs. Tate, could imagine the
agony of mind she had endured. And it was all for Jeanne! Her very
sufferings had fed her love for the child. If she and Jules could go
away with Jeanne, far away, where they would never hear or think of
performances again, how happy they would be! But she must go on with her
work; she ought to fight against her weakness. Jules had said she would
grow strong again; she had always believed what he said, and perhaps he
was right now. Perhaps after a rest she would want to go back to the
ring. But she was afraid, she was afraid! Poor little Jeanne! Every few
moments she ran into the room where Jeanne was taking her mid-day sleep.
She wanted to clasp the child to her breast and walk up and down the
room with her. But for several weeks she had not dared to hold her in
her arms for fear of dropping her from nervousness.

Instead of going directly to the Hippodrome, Jules turned into
Piccadilly, where he had seen the sign of a French physician. He had
suddenly decided to seek further medical advice before speaking to
Marshall, and he did not propose to trust Blanche's case to another
Englishman. He was obliged to wait in Dr. Viaud's outer office for more
than an hour. The Doctor received him with what seemed to Jules an
almost suspicious courtesy; but this disappeared as soon as he explained
that he was French.

Jules was gratified by the interest paid to his repetition of Blanche's
confession of the night before. The Doctor did not interrupt till Jules
had mentioned the advice given by the English physician.

"Broughton!" he exclaimed, repeating the name after Jules. "You couldn't
have consulted a better man. He's at the head of his profession here in
London."

When he had questioned Jules about Blanche's symptoms, he said
thoughtfully: "I cannot add anything to the advice Dr. Broughton has
given,--that is, of course, with my present knowledge of the case. But I
have absolute confidence in his judgment. The pains in the back I do not
fear so much as the terrible apprehension that you say haunts your wife.
In itself that is, of course, great suffering; and the consequences may
be fatal. Your wife's dive requires iron nerve, and that is being
constantly weakened by her continual worrying. I agree with Dr.
Broughton that she at least needs a rest as soon as possible. There
can't be two opinions about that. But I should not like to interfere
with Dr. Broughton's--"

Jules understood at once, and rose from his seat.

"I merely wanted to see what you thought. If you had disagreed--"

"Ah, but Dr. Broughton is very reliable!" said the Frenchman, with a
smile and a shrug, as if afraid of even a suggestion of professional
discourtesy.

Jules left him feeling bitterly disappointed. There was no hope then! He
had surmised that the shrewd-eyed Englishman knew his business. There
was nothing to do but to go to Marshall and explain the situation.

When he returned from the Hippodrome to the apartment Blanche met him at
the door. His face was darkened with a scowl.

"What did he say?" she asked nervously, as he entered and threw his
overcoat on a chair. "Was he--was he angry?"

"Angry? No; he was altogether too cool. If he'd been angry I shouldn't
have cared. I'd have liked that a good deal better."

"Then we sha'n't have to pay a forfeit?" said Blanche, glancing up into
his face.

He turned away and threw himself wearily on the couch. "No, you won't
have to pay a forfeit, but you'll have to go on with the engagement."

"With the diving?" she said, her face growing white.

"No, with the other work--on the trapeze and the rope. He said you'd
have to elaborate that, and he'd pay you half what you're getting now
till you were ready to do the diving again. He wants to keep you on
account of your name. He's advertised you all over the city, and even
out in the country places near London."

"But he--he doesn't object to my giving up the plunge?" Blanche
repeated, in a tone which suggested that her professional pride was
hurt.

"He didn't when I told him the Doctor had forbidden your going on with
it for a while. Besides, he had another reason for not objecting."

"What was that?"

"He showed me a letter he'd just had from that woman who made such a
sensation in Bucharest while we were in Vienna. Don't you remember? I
showed you some of her notices. She does a swimming act, and dives from
a platform into a tank. She's been playing in the English provinces, and
now she wants to come to London."

"So he's going to engage her in my place?" Blanche gasped.

"In your place?" Jules repeated irritably. "How can he engage her in
your place when he's going to keep you? We've got to live, and it won't
hurt you to go on with your work on the trapeze and the rope. He knows
your name will be an attraction, and if he engages that Englishwoman,
she'll be another card for him--a big one. He says she's been drawing
crowds in Manchester for six weeks."

"What's her name?"

"King--Lottie King--or something like that."

"Is she pretty? Did he show you her pictures?"

"Yes; her manager sent him a whole box of them. She's _petite_, with
wicked little eyes."

"Dark?"

"No, blonde."

"And what is her dive?"

"What?"

"How high is it?"

"Fifty feet, Marshall said; but one of the circus hands told me it
wasn't much more, than forty."

"Oh!" There was a suggestion of a sneer in her tone, and Jules looked up
in surprise.

"Of course, it's nothing compared with yours," he said, to console her.

"When is she going to begin?" she asked, after a moment.

"Going to begin? Do you mean here in London? Marshall hasn't signed with
her yet. She's engaged in Manchester for three weeks longer."

"Then I shall have to go on with my dive till she comes?"

"I suppose so," Jules replied coldly.

She saw that he did not wish to continue the conversation; so she went
into the nursery, leaving him lying on the couch, where he often took an
afternoon nap; since coming to London he had grown very lazy, and had
gained flesh. Blanche found Jeanne wide awake and crowing in Madeleine's
arms. She sat beside the cradle, and taking the child in her lap, sent
Madeleine out of the room. Jeanne snatched at the brooch she wore at her
throat, and laughed into her face. Blanche tried to smile in reply, but
the tears welled into her eyes again, and fell in big drops on her
cheeks.



                                  XVII


Three days after Jules' talk with Marshall, the forthcoming engagement
at the Hippodrome of Miss Lottie King was announced in the London
newspapers. Blanche signed a new contract, by which she agreed to
perform for several weeks longer on the trapeze and on the rope at half
the salary she had been receiving. Marshall said that no mention of the
plunge would be made in the papers; her name would continue to "draw,"
and the public would be satisfied with Miss King's great dive into the
tank. This remark made Jules very angry, and it also depressed Blanche,
who felt as if she had already been deposed from her supremacy as the
chief attraction at the Hippodrome. Indeed, as the time drew near when
she was to cease making the plunge, instead of feeling happier, she grew
more despondent; she had already elaborated her performance on the
trapeze by introducing several new feats that she and Jules had planned
together, but with these she was not satisfied; she felt like an actor
obliged to play small parts after winning success in leading characters.

As for Jules, he did not try to hide his discontent at the change in his
wife's work. In the first place, it made his brief but dramatic public
appearance unnecessary; in future he would be obliged to conduct Blanche
to the circus, and live again like any mere hanger-on to the skirts of a
public performer. The _rôle_ was ignoble, unworthy of him. Then, too, he
chafed at the thought of his wife's decline in importance at the
Hippodrome; he fancied that when her inability to go on with the plunge
had become known to the other performers they would lose respect for her
and for himself.

He secretly doubted if the public would accept Blanche merely for her
performance on the trapeze and on the rope. Almost any one could do
that; but in the plunge she was without a rival. He hoped that, as a
compensation for his vexation, the performance of Miss King would be a
failure. Forty feet! What did that amount to in comparison with the
magnificent plunge of more than ninety feet that Blanche had made at
Vienna?

Already Jules had begun to think of his wife in the past tense chiefly,
as if she lived in the triumphs she had made by her nightly flight
through the air. Indeed, she seemed to him almost another person now.
Instead of looking on her almost with reverence, as he had done, he felt
sorry for her, as if she were his inferior; and though he continued to
treat her with kindness, there was a suggestion of pity, almost of
contempt, in his manner toward her. She sought consolation in her child,
who, she thought, grew stronger and more beautiful every day. For
Jeanne's sake she tried to be glad the time was so near when she should
give up risking her life; but the nearer it grew, the more depressed she
became, and the more she thought about that woman who was to take her
place.

Mrs. Tate, who had definitely taken Blanche under her protection, and
called at the little hotel several times each week, had been delighted
at what she considered the fortunate solution of a shocking difficulty.
Now that Blanche was to stop making that horrible dive, there was no
reason why she shouldn't be the happiest woman in the world. With her
keen instinct, however, she observed that Blanche was not happy; she
wondered, too, at the frequent absence of the husband from this
_ménage_. Jules couldn't be very devoted, she thought, for a man who had
been married little more than a year. Perhaps, however, he avoided her;
for, in spite of his French politeness, he had not been able to conceal
his dislike for her. For this reason she did not ask him to dinner
again. She often took Blanche and Jeanne to drive in the afternoon, and
pointed out the celebrities that they passed in the Park.

"My husband says I take you to drive just to show you off," she said
jokingly one day. "He thinks I have a mania for celebrities."

"Ah, but I'm not a celebrity!" Blanche replied, with a smile that was
almost sad.

"Not a celebrity? Of course you are. I haven't a doubt that half the
people we meet recognize you. You know, it's been quite the fashion to
go to the Hippodrome this year."

"But I sha'n't be a celebrity much longer," said Blanche, glancing at
the bare boughs of the trees, and wondering if any other place could be
as desolate as London in winter.

"Why not? You don't think of retiring into private life altogether, do
you?" Mrs. Tate laughed.

"No, but I shall only be an ordinary performer after this week."

"But I'd rather be an ordinary performer and keep my neck whole than be
an _ex_traordinary one and risk my life every night," Mrs. Tate retorted
sharply. She was vexed with Blanche for not appreciating her
emancipation.

They rode on in silence for a few moments. Then Blanche said,--

"There's some one going to take my place, you know."

"Some one that's going to make that dreadful plunge?" Mrs. Tate cried in
horror.

"No, not that. She jumps into a tank of water--from a platform--only
about forty feet. My jump is more than seventy-five feet," Blanche added
with a touch of pride.

Mrs. Tate rested her hands in her lap and burst out laughing. "What a
ridiculous thing! I beg your pardon, dear, but I can't help being
amused. Of course it doesn't seem funny to you. You're used to it; but
it does to me."

Then she questioned Blanche about the new performer, and Blanche
repeated what Jules had told her and what she had since heard of the
woman at the Hippodrome. Mrs. Tate was greatly interested, and laughed
immoderately; afterward, however, when she had returned home and thought
over the conversation, she regarded it more seriously.

"What do you think, Percy?" she said at the dinner table that night.
"Those Hippodrome people have engaged a creature to dive into a tank of
water from a platform. Of course, that's to take the place of Madame Le
Baron's plunge. Could anything be more absurd? The worst of it is that
the poor little woman is frightfully jealous already. I could see that
from the way she talked. What a dreadful world it is, isn't it? They're
all like that, aren't they, even the best of them? Do you remember that
poor Madame Gardini who sang here one night? She told me if she had her
life to live over again she'd never dream of going on the stage. She
said opera-singers were the unhappiest people in the world,--just
poisoned with jealousy. And these circus people are exactly like them!"

"What makes you think she's jealous? What was it she said?"

"It wasn't _what_ she said, it was the _way_ she talked about the woman.
Her husband says she's a great beauty."

"Ah, the husband says so, does he?" Tate remarked dryly. A moment later
he added: "I wish you hadn't had anything to do with those people!"

"You've said that a dozen times, Percy, and I wish you'd stop. For my
part, I'm very glad I've met them. If I hadn't, that poor little
creature would be in her grave before the end of a year."

"Perhaps she'll wish that she _were_ in her grave before the end of the
year."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing, dear, nothing. Don't catch at everything I say. How is she
now--any better? I suppose she's easier in mind now that she's going to
stop that diving?"

"That's the strangest thing about it," Mrs. Tate answered, with a change
of tone. "I thought she would be, too, but she isn't. I really believe
she's sorry she's giving it up. But perhaps that's because she's been
doing it all her life. She'll miss it at first--even if it did worry her
nearly to death!"

"Has Dr. Broughton been to see her lately?"

"No; he said it wouldn't be necessary. He's going to wait to see what
effect the rest from the diving will have on her."

For a few moments Tate looked thoughtfully at his wife. "Upon my word,"
he said, "I half suspect that you _want_ something to happen to that
little woman. It would just be romantic enough to suit you."

"Percy, how can you talk so? You're simply brutal."

"She might at least break a leg to please you," her husband laughed,
"before giving up that plunge."

Blanche made her last dive without the accident that Tate had regarded
as indispensable to dramatic effect. Indeed, since knowing that she was
to give it up, she seemed to have lost much of her terror of the plunge;
she thought of it now chiefly with regret. That night, as she rode home
with Jules and Madeleine, she seemed depressed; Jules, too, was even
more sullen than he had been for the past two weeks. When they had
entered the lodgings and were eating their midnight meal, she said:--

"If to-morrow is pleasant we might take Jeanne for a drive in the
country. The air would do her good."

"I can't go," he replied indifferently. "I have something else to do.
Besides, it would cost too much. We shall have to be economical now that
you're going to be on half-salary."

The next morning Jules left the hotel at eleven o'clock, saying that he
shouldn't be back for luncheon. He did not explain where he was going,
and Blanche did not question him. She busied herself with Jeanne, and
this distracted her till Jeanne fell sound asleep. Then she became a
prey to her old melancholy, and for an hour she walked up and down the
room, to the bewilderment of Madeleine, who could not understand what
the matter was.

"Is Madame suffering with the pain in her back?" Madeleine asked at
last.

No, Madame was not suffering. She had not been troubled by the pain for
several days; she hoped it would leave her for good now that she had
stopped taking the plunge.

"Ah, God be praised that you do that no longer!" Madeleine cried,
lifting her withered hands to heaven and rolling her eyes. "It was too
terrible. Since that first night in Paris, when I went with you and
Monsieur Jules, I never dared to look. It was _affreux_!"

"But Jules loved it," said Blanche, throwing herself into a chair beside
the old woman.

Ah, yes, Madeleine acknowledged. He used to rave about it in the little
flat in the _rue de Lisbonne_. Once Madeleine heard him talking in his
sleep about the circus and the wonderful dive; he always slept with his
door wide-open, and she often heard him talking away like one
wide-awake. He had told her that it was the most wonderful thing he had
ever seen, and no other woman in the world would have dared to do it.
Madeleine was always delighted to have a chance to talk about Jules, and
she babbled on, never suspecting that her words were making Blanche
suffer.

"Do you think," Blanche said at last, "do you think he would have loved
me if I hadn't done that--if I hadn't done that plunge, I mean--in the
Circus?"

Madeleine glanced at her quickly; she was unable to grasp the
significance of the question. "But he did see you in the Circus," she
replied. "If he hadn't seen you there, _chérie_, he wouldn't have seen
you at all."

"Yes, yes, that's true." Blanche realized that it would be useless to
try to explain what she meant. Then, after a moment, she added, "And now
that I've given up the dive,--perhaps I shall never be able to do it
again; the Doctor said I might not,--now that I've given it up, do you
think he'll love me just the same?"

Madeleine's faded eyes turned to Blanche and examined her closely. "If
he'll love you just the same?" she repeated. "What has put such a
strange idea into your head, child? Of course he'll love you just the
same."

Then Madeleine was launched on a flood of eulogy. Jules was so good, so
faithful, so affectionate. There was not another like him. He had always
been so tender with his mother; and oh, how his poor mother had
worshipped him! Madeleine's praises had the effect of soothing Blanche
for a time; they also made her ashamed of the half-conscious suspicion
which had arisen in her mind, and which she would not have dared to
formulate even to herself. She only permitted herself to acknowledge
that his present manner toward her was different from his old one. She
was also disturbed by his refusal for the past three Sundays to go to
church with her.

The next afternoon Jules came home in a rage. "I've been down to see
Marshall," he said. "What do you suppose the old fool's gone and done?
He had the door of your dressing-room opened this morning and all your
things turned out into Miss Van Pelt's old room,--the little hole next
door, you know. It's hardly big enough to breathe in. He said you
weren't the star any longer, and he must give the room to Miss King. It
seems she's a kicker and he's afraid of a row."

Blanche had nothing to say in reply; this seemed to her only another
indignity added to those she had already suffered. The worst was to come
in the evening, when her rival would share the applause that used to be
hers. A few moments later she asked,--

"Was she there--that woman?"

"No; she hasn't appeared yet, and Marshall was a little nervous. She was
to come up from Manchester in a train that got in during the afternoon."

"But suppose she doesn't come."

"Oh, she'll come fast enough. Marshall had a telegram saying she'd
started. Her big iron tub arrived this morning. They were putting it in
the ground and laying the pipes for the water when I was there. They
keep it covered till her act begins."

"What does she do besides her jump?"

"Oh, Marshall says she goes through a lot of antics, stays under the
water till she nearly dies of suffocation, and cooks a meal, and--"

"Under water?" Blanche gasped.

"No, of course not, you ninny," Jules cried impatiently. His wife's
simplicity had long before ceased to amuse him. "She does it while she's
floating. Then one of the circus boys falls into the tank, and she shows
how she used to rescue people out in California."

"Then she's an American."

"She's lived in America all her life, but her father was an Englishman,
and she was born in England. Her father kept a swimming school out in
San Francisco; that's how she got into the business. They say she's got
a lot of medals for saving lives."

As Jules walked into the next room to change his clothes for the
evening, he said to himself that his wife was growing very stupid and
tiresome.

Blanche sat alone for a few moments, feeling cold and forlorn. She could
not keep from thinking and wondering about that woman; she was anxious
and yet afraid to see her. She could not account for the dislike and
terror with which the mere thought of the woman inspired her. She had
never before regarded the other performers in the circus as her rivals;
so, for the first time in her life, she knew the bitterness of jealousy.

Before preparing for the evening she went into the nursery, and for
several moments sat beside the cradle where Jeanne was peacefully
sleeping, her little face rosy with health. The poor child, she thought,
could never know the sacrifice she had made for her. She was glad she
had made it; she had done her duty; but it was hard, it was so hard!
Then she bent over and kissed Jeanne on the cheek; the child drew her
head away, and buried her face impatiently in the pillow. Blanche turned
her gently in the crib, adjusted the lace covering, and stole out of the
room.

Jules met her as she was closing the door softly behind her. "What have
you been doing in there?" he cried petulantly. "Why can't you let Jeanne
alone when she's asleep? Every time she takes a nap you go in and wake
her up. No wonder--"

"I haven't waked her," Blanche replied apologetically. "I only went in
to see if she needed anything, and I sat beside her a moment."

"Well, you'll spoil her if you keep on. From the way you act one would
imagine that Jeanne was the only creature in the world worth thinking
about!"

They both took their places at the table which Madeleine had prepared,
and proceeded silently with their dinner. Madeleine, who hovered about
them, wondered what the matter was; she had never seen Monsieur Jules
like this before; he usually had a great deal to say. When she had left
the room for a few minutes, Jules looked up from his plate.

"I've been wondering whether we ought to keep Madeleine or not. She's a
great expense. We could get along just as well without her. The _garçon_
could serve our meals. We have to pay for the service whether we get it
or not."

When he had spoken he was startled by the look in his wife's face. Not
keep Madeleine! The mere thought of parting with the old woman, whom she
had come to regard almost as a second mother, shocked her so much that
for a moment she could not formulate a reply.

"But we couldn't get along without her!" she said. "Think of all she
does for me and for Jeanne!"

"Oh, Jeanne! It's always Jeanne, Jeanne. I'm sick of hearing her name.
If Jeanne hadn't been born we shouldn't be in the pretty box we're in
now, and you'd be going on with your work like a sensible woman. I tell
you we must economize. We're under heavy expenses here, and we're going
to lose a lot of money by this imaginary sickness of yours."

"I can't let Madeleine go," Blanche replied. "I should die without her.
I should die of loneliness. And she loves you so, as much as if you were
her son, and she loved your mother. She has often talked to me about
her. I can't, I can't let her go. I'd rather--"

"Very well, then. Don't say anything more about it. We'll have to
economize in some other way. Here she comes now. So keep quiet, or
she'll want to find out what we've been talking about."



                                 XVIII


The Hippodrome was crowded on the night of Miss King's first appearance.
Jules, in evening dress as usual, leaned against the railing behind the
highest tier of seats. At this moment he felt that he had been duped by
fate, and he wanted to revenge himself on the crowd that had come to
rejoice over his disappointment; for their presence seemed like a
personal insult to him. But for the machinations of that crazy
Englishwoman, Blanche would now be going on with her work; by this time
they might have made arrangements for her visit to America in the early
summer. However, the mischief was done, and there was no knowing when it
would be undone. Blanche might have recovered in a few weeks from her
terror of the plunge; but after once yielding to it, she would probably
never get over it.

Jules believed in presentiments, and he had a strong presentiment that
Blanche had taken her plunge for the last time. He tried to console
himself, however, with the hope that Lottie King would make a failure.
The extensive advertising that Marshall had given her made Jules hate
the girl; her name had been posted in places all over London where his
wife's alone had been. To Jules this was the most cruel evidence of his
own decadence.

Half an hour before it was time for Blanche to appear Jules sauntered
toward her dressing-room. When he reached the door, he stopped in
surprise; he could hear an unfamiliar voice speaking English. Some one
must be in there with Blanche and Madeleine. When he entered, he saw a
plump, pretty young woman, with a shock of yellow hair and big blue
eyes, dressed in a tight-fitting bathing-suit of blue flannel and in
blue silk stockings. He recognized her at once from her photographs.

"Hello!" she cried, glancing at Jules familiarly. "Is this him?
Introduce me, won't you?"

For a moment Blanche, whose face had been made up and whose figure,
dressed in white silk tights, was covered with the cloak she threw off
as she entered the ring, looked confused. Then she presented Jules to
Miss King, who beamed upon him with extravagant pleasure.

"Your wife's been telling me about you," she said. "I've been making
friends with her. I wanted to see what she was like, and I supposed
she'd want to see what I was like. So we've agreed not to scratch each
other's eyes out. You speak English too, don't you?"

This gave Jules an opportunity to reiterate his story about having
learned English in America.

"So you've been to America!" Miss King cried, her eyes bigger than ever,
and her open mouth showing her white, square teeth. "Were you with a
troupe there?"

Jules shook his head. "I wasn't married then."

"Ah!" The diver glanced sharply at Blanche, and then back at Jules, as
if making a rapid calculation of their ages. "Been married long?" she
asked.

"A little over a year," Blanche replied.

"Too bad your wife had to give her dive up, ain't it?" the girl said to
Jules. "I hear it was great. But I suppose you'll do it again, won't
you, when you're better?"

Blanche flushed. "I don't know," she said, with a half-frightened look
at Jules.

"Well, I would if I was you. It's sensational things like that that
ketches 'em. My act's kind of sensational, but it ain't in it with yours
for cold nerve an' grit. When you do it again you'd oughter go to
America. You can make a good deal more there than you do here. I came
over just for the reputation. It helps you a lot over there if you've
made a hit in Europe."

"But you are English, aren't you?" Jules asked.

"Oh, yes, I s'pose I am, in a sort of way. I was born over here, but my
father took me to America when I was about six, an' I'm American to the
backbone."

"Have you been in the ring long?" Blanche asked.

"No, I only took to giving performances about five years ago; but I've
been in the swimming business all my life. My Dad had a swimming school
out in 'Frisco; but there's more money in this business. But I guess I'm
keeping you folks. It must be most time for your act. Good-bye. P'raps
I'll see you later. I'm mighty glad you can speak English," she laughed,
with a glance at Jules. "I travelled with a troupe once with a lot of
Italians in it, and my, what a time I had tryin' to talk with 'em!"

She hurried out, leaving Jules with a vision of tousled yellow hair, a
roguish smile, and gleaming white teeth, and with the sound of a rich
contralto voice in his ears. As soon as the door closed, he turned to
Blanche.

"How did she happen to come in here?"

"She wanted me to help her with one of her slippers that was torn.
Madeleine sewed it up for her."

"Hasn't she got any maid?"

"She left her behind in Manchester. She was sick. She's coming on when
she gets better."

Jules merely grunted and walked out of the room. The sound of the
contralto voice was still in his ears. What a sweet voice it was! She
seemed to him just like an American in spite of her birth, and Jules
preferred the Americans to the English. He wondered what her performance
was like, and he waited impatiently for Blanche to finish her act on the
trapeze and the rope. As his eyes followed Blanche, he kept seeing the
tousled hair and the broad smile revealing the white teeth.

It took several moments for the tank to be arranged for the crowning
performance. The audience waited in good-natured patience, however, and
when finally the plump little figure in blue flannel ran out, there was
a round of applause. Lottie King had added a touch of rouge to either
cheek, and she looked very pretty as she ran up the flight of steps
leading to the edge of the tank, poised there for a moment with the
fingers of both hands touching high in the air, and then dived in a
graceful curve into the water. She speedily reappeared, shaking her head
and laughing, and struck out for the rope that hung from the platform.
This she climbed hand over hand, the water dripping from her figure, and
glistening on her face.

Jules, whose eyes had been eagerly following her, was surprised to see
that she was going to begin her act with the dive, instead of keeping it
for the climax. She seemed to take it very coolly, he thought, as she
stood on the swaying platform, rubbing her face with a handkerchief and
rearranging one of the sleeves of her costume. Then she steadied the
platform, and, an instant later, she was cutting, feet foremost, through
the air, her arms by her side and her body rigid. When she reached the
water, there was very little splashing, and she speedily reappeared,
shaking her head again and displaying her white teeth.

Jules had watched the dive breathlessly, Just as he had watched
Blanche's on the night when he first saw her in the _Cirque Parisien_,
and now he followed her feats of skill and strength with wonder and
fascination. When she remained beneath the surface for more than three
minutes he felt as if he himself were stifling, and when she reappeared,
calm and smiling, he took a long breath.

He supposed that the rescue of one of the circus hands who fell
opportunely into the tank would end the performance; but instead of
leaving the ring, Lottie King climbed again to the platform. Surely,
Jules thought, she would make a mistake if she repeated that plunge.
Instead, however, she swung on the edge, leaped backward into the air,
and after several swift turns, fell with a crash into the water. As she
swam to the ladder, the band burst into triumphant music, and the
audience cheered, and began to climb down from the circular seats and to
rush to the spot where she was to make her exit.

Then Jules roused himself. He felt as if he had been in a dream. He had
difficulty in reaching Blanche's dressing-room, for the crowd had
gathered at the entrance to the ring in order to catch another glimpse
of the dripping figure of the diver. When finally he succeeded in making
his way there, he found Blanche sitting motionless, her arms resting on
the table. He at once divined the cause of her dejection.

"You see what you've brought on yourself," he said. "A lot you'll amount
to now! You might as well give up the business."

Madeleine looked at him with mild reproach in her eyes. He paid no
attention to her, however. He walked back to the door, and turning, he
added: "But you can't stay here all night. I thought you'd be dressed by
this time. I'll wait out here for you."

Jules looked anxiously up and down the corridor, but he saw no one. He
could hear the noise of the crowd slowly wending out of the Hippodrome,
and from the dressing-rooms on either side the buzz of voices. Miss King
must have succeeded in making her escape to her room.



                                  XIX


If Jules had tried, he would have been unable to explain the fascination
that Lottie King's performance had for him. In daring it was greatly
inferior to his wife's plunge; but the fact that Blanche had lost
courage lent her rival's serene indifference to danger an added
attractiveness for him.

Every night he watched her with more delight. Besides being plucky and
skilful, she was so pretty and so amusing! Jules liked to talk with her
in the evening before she made her appearance, and she used to convulse
him with laughter by her sallies. She soon fell into the habit of
running into Blanche's room to ask Madeleine to do services for her, and
toward Blanche she adopted a manner of half-amused patronage. By the end
of the first week, Blanche had conceived a great dislike for her. This
might have been at least partly due to her discovery of the pleasure
which Jules took in the diver's society.

Mrs. Tate had expected that, after ceasing to make her plunge, Blanche
would improve in health; but she speedily saw that she was mistaken. One
afternoon she called at the hotel in Albemarle Street and found Blanche
alone with the little Jeanne; Madeleine had just gone out to do some
errands. They had a long talk, during which Blanche was obliged to
confess that the pain in her back troubled her just as much as ever, and
that she was very unhappy. When Mrs. Tate tried to find out why she was
unhappy, she could elicit no satisfactory explanation. As soon as she
arrived home that night, she repeated the conversation to her husband.

"Do you suppose the little creature can be mercenary, Percy?" she said.
"Do you think she can be sorry she isn't risking her neck every day? I
wanted to tell her this morning she ought to be ashamed of herself--she
ought to think of her child. Suppose she had been killed! What would
have become of the child, _I'd_ like to know!"

"That other person has made a hit, I see. They're booming her in the
papers. Did she speak of her?"

"Not a word!"

"H'm!"

"What do you mean by that, Percy?"

"Oh, nothing."

"I suppose you think she's jealous of her."

"Jealous?" Tate repeated, lifting his eyes. "You told me yourself that
she was jealous before she even saw the other performer."

"Yes, and now she's jealous of her success."

"Oh, _professional_ jealousy," he said, throwing back his head. A moment
later he added: "There are worse kinds of jealousy than that in the
world."

Mrs. Tate looked at him closely, but his eyes were fixed on his plate.
For a few moments they did not speak; she was pondering his last remark.
They understood each other so well that they often divined each other's
thoughts. Now she saw that he did not care to discuss the subject, and
she let it drop. She continued to think about it so much, however, that
she determined to go to the Hippodrome alone some day, to a _matinée_,
and see for herself what Blanche's successor as a star performer was
like.

She returned home with a sickly feeling of regret and torturing
anticipation; she had not only seen Lottie King, but she had also
studied the face of Jules Le Baron, who, unconscious of her gaze, stood
within a few yards of her seat. What she had observed in his expression,
however, she did not communicate to her husband.

Her visit at the Hippodrome made her resolve to be even kinder to
Blanche than she had been; she would take her and the child to drive in
the Park two or three times a week,--oftener if she could. Mrs. Tate
tried to shake off her forebodings, but for the rest of the day they
clung to her, and the next morning she woke with them fresh in mind. So
she resolved to drive at once to Albemarle Street. The weather was too
dull to take the child out, and she would pass the morning with Blanche
and try to cheer her up.

When she reached the hotel she felt relieved to find Blanche in a much
better frame of mind than she had been on the occasion of her last call.
The pain had left her for a few days, Blanche explained, and she had
been greatly encouraged; even Jules had spoken of her improvement; he
had been so patient with her, and now she felt ashamed of having been so
dispirited. Mrs. Tate went away with a feeling that she had been a fool,
that her forebodings were ridiculous.

One night at the end of the week, Tate returned home with the
announcement that he was to start for Berlin the next day, to confer
with the heads of a banking-house there with regard to the floating of a
great loan. He gave her the choice of staying at home or of starting
with him after only a few hours of preparation. She chose to start, and
for two months she did not see London again; for, once away from the
routine of his work, Tate took advantage of the opportunity to run for a
holiday from Berlin down to Dresden, and thence over to Paris. During
this time Mrs. Tate forgot her self-imposed cares, and gave herself up
to the pleasures of travelling.

When she returned home, she was surprised to hear that Madame Le Baron
had called several times, and had left word that she was anxious to see
her as soon as she came back. This news sent her with a throbbing heart
to Albemarle Street; she felt sure that something terrible had happened,
something she might have prevented by staying in London. She was always
assuming responsibilities and then dropping them! How often her husband
had told her that! She had been more than culpable, she kept saying to
herself, in going away without even bidding Blanche good-bye, without
even leaving an address.

When she arrived at the hotel, at the close of a cold, foggy afternoon,
she was surprised to be told by the _garçon_ that Madame Le Baron had
left, and had gone to an apartment in Upper Bedford Place. "It was too
expensive for them here," the _garçon_ explained with a contemptuous
grin. "So they went to a private house."

Mrs. Tate drove at once to the number the boy gave her, and a few
moments later she was climbing the stairs to Blanche's apartment. She
was out of breath when she rapped on the door, and still breathing hard
when Madeleine admitted her into the shabby drawing-room. A moment
later, as Blanche appeared from the next room, she uttered an
exclamation.

"Good Heavens, child, what has happened to you! You're whiter than ever,
and so _thin_! What have you been doing to yourself? Have you had an
illness?"

Blanche shook her head. "No, I haven't been ill," she replied, but her
looks and her manner seemed to belie her words. The gray cloth dress
which had once fitted her tightly now hung loosely about her; her face
was drawn and of a chalklike pallor, and under the eyes were two black
lines betraying weeks of suffering and sleeplessness.

"You were thin enough before I went away," said Mrs. Tate, "but now
you're a perfect spectre."

Then she went on to explain how she had happened to desert her friends
for so long a time. "I know you have something to tell me," she said,
starting from her seat, "but before you begin I want to see Jeanne. How
is she? But first tell me how you happened to come way up here. Isn't it
a long distance for you to climb after your performance every night?"

"Jules chose these rooms because they were so much cheaper than the
hotel," Blanche replied simply. "We prepare our own meals, too, and we
save in that way. You know my salary is so much smaller than it used to
be."

Mrs. Tate made no comment, and they went into the other room, where
Jeanne was sleeping in the crib.

"She sleeps nearly all the time," said Blanche, with a faint smile that
seemed to exaggerate the expression of pain and weariness in her face.

"How big she's growing!" Mrs. Tate whispered. "There's certainly nothing
the matter with _her_, the dear little thing, with her fat rosy cheeks.
I'd just like to take her in my arms and hug her."

For several minutes they stood talking about the child; then they left
her with Madeleine and went back to the drawing-room, which Mrs. Tate's
keen eyes discovered was used also as a bedroom. "They must be
economizing with a vengeance," she thought. Blanche closed the door, and
took a seat behind her visitor on the couch.

"Now I want to hear all about it," Mrs. Tate cried. "Something has
happened. What is it?" She took both of Blanche's hands and looked into
her eyes. "What is it?" she repeated.

For a moment they sat looking at each other. Then Blanche bent forward,
buried her head on Mrs. Tate's lap, and burst into tears. Mrs. Tate said
nothing, and allowed the paroxysm to spend itself. Then, gradually, the
story came out.

Jules didn't love her any more, Blanche moaned. He had been cruel to
her, oh, so cruel; he had said such dreadful things! And then there had
been days and days when he scarcely spoke to her or to the little Jeanne
or to Madeleine, and he had grown so strict with them all; he hardly
allowed Madeleine enough to buy the things they needed. And once, he had
said such dreadful things about Jeanne. He didn't love even Jeanne any
more,--poor little Jeanne! He said they would have been better off if
she had never been born. Oh, that had nearly killed her, that he should
have spoken so about Jeanne. She didn't care so much about herself,
though sometimes she wanted to die. One night she had prayed that God
would take her and Jeanne together. Jules had always been so good to her
until--until that woman came, that woman who had taken her place in the
circus. It was that woman who had come between them, with her white
teeth and her mocking laugh. She was making a fool of Jules; she did not
care for him, but she pretended that she did, just to amuse herself.
Jules followed her about everywhere; he even talked of going to America,
because she was to go in a few weeks, when her engagement at the
Hippodrome was over. But Blanche would die; she would throw herself into
the river with Jeanne in her arms rather than go there now. Ah, it had
been so hard for her, alone in a strange country, with no one but
Madeleine to confide in. Madeleine had been so good; but she, too, had
grown afraid of Jules in these last weeks. They scarcely dared to speak
when he was at home, now.

From broken utterances, Mrs. Tate pieced together the whole miserable
story. For the moment, her pity was lost in admiration for her husband's
perspicacity. He had foreseen this! Now, for the first time, she
realized what she had vaguely surmised before, the full meaning of his
mysterious remark about Blanche and Jules. Then she turned her attention
to the prostrate figure before her, offering sympathy and counsel. She
knew that she was speaking in platitudes, but they were all she could
offer then; and, after all, it was Blanche's own outburst that would do
the poor pent-up creature the most good, the consciousness that she had
some one to confide in.

Mrs. Tate stayed in the little apartment a long time, and when she went
away, Blanche seemed to feel more hopeful. "Act as if he were just as
kind to you as ever," was her parting injunction, "and I know everything
will come out all right. He'll find out that that dreadful woman is only
making a fool of him, and then he'll care more for you than ever."

In her heart, however, Mrs. Tate knew that what she said was not true.
Jules had probably grown tired of his wife. The more she thought of the
case, the more she pitied Blanche,--the more she realized what a tragedy
in the poor little woman's life it meant. And she really had been to
blame, she kept saying to herself. But for her interference, Blanche
would have gone on with her diving, that other performer would not have
come to the Hippodrome, and all of Blanche's agony of jealousy and
neglect would have been avoided.

Oh, what a lesson it taught her! Never, _never_ would she interfere in a
family again! She would have done much better to let Blanche go to her
death, rather than to drive her to despair, perhaps to a worse form of
death by her meddling.

On reaching home, she was in a fever of remorse and sympathy, and she
passed a miserable hour waiting for her husband to return. When at last
he did appear, she met him in the hall.

"Percy," she cried dramatically, "you're a prophet!"

"Am I, indeed?" he said, putting his umbrella in the rack. "Do you mean
to say this is the first time you've found it out?"

"I'll never doubt your word again, Percy," she went on, stifling a sob.
Her appeal to her husband for sympathy threatened to make her
hysterical, but she controlled herself and gasped out: "Don't you
remember what you said about that man, Le Baron,--you know, the night he
dined here, about his falling in love with his wife's performance! Well,
that's just what he did do. He didn't fall in love with _her_; he's
never _been_ in love with her, poor thing. Fortunately she doesn't know
that. It's only her _performance_, that horrible plunge she used to
make, that he's been in love with all along."

"I don't see anything very prophetic about that," he said, walking into
the drawing-room, where she followed him, clutching at the lace
handkerchief in her hand. "It was as plain as daylight to any one that
heard him talk and saw what kind of man he was."

"I don't mean your seeing merely that. I could tell from what you said
that you saw a great deal more. Don't you remember what you said about
_professional_ jealousy not being the worst kind of jealousy in the
world? That was the first thing that opened my eyes. I went to the next
_matinée_ to see for myself if it could be true, and if I hadn't been an
idiot I should have realized it all then. But the next day, just before
we left for Berlin, I called on that poor woman, and she seemed so much
easier in mind, I thought I must have misunderstood what you meant and
been mistaken about that look."

"My dear, I don't quite follow you. Aren't you just a little bit
illogical?"

"No, I'm not. I'm perfectly logical. I never was more logical in my
life."

"I suppose you mean that the fellow has got tired of his wife, now that
she's given up her dive, and he's fallen in love with the other woman."

Mrs. Tate rose tragically from her chair and made a sweeping gesture
with her right hand. "With the other woman's _performance_."

Tate looked at her for a moment, with smiling incredulity. "How
ridiculous!" he said.

"That's exactly what I said when you told me he had fallen in love with
his _wife's_ performance. I said it was the most ridiculous thing I'd
ever heard in my _life_. I couldn't have believed it if I hadn't
observed it with my own eyes. But that afternoon I saw him--he stood
near me, leaning against the railing--and I wish you could have seen the
expression in his face while that woman was exhibiting herself,
especially when she made her horrible dives."

For a moment Tate stood without speaking. Then he said:--

"I'm afraid you're putting a romantic interpretation on a very simple
sequence of events. That fellow probably did fall in love with his
wife's performance, and incidentally he liked the money that went with
it. When she stopped her diving and became an ordinary performer, like
thousands of others, she ceased to interest him. Then he looked around
for some one else to be interested in, and when the other acrobatic
person appeared he was just in the condition to be caught."

"I don't believe it. It's a----"

"There's one way, of course, of proving whether you're right or not,"
Tate interrupted, with a quizzical smile.

"What's that?"

"If your theory is correct, the only thing for Madame Le Baron to do is
to go back to her performance. Then she'll meet her rival on her own
ground. From what I've read about that other performer, Madame Le
Baron's dive must be twice as difficult and twice as thrilling as hers."

Mrs. Tate turned to her husband with a look of admiration, her breath
coming and going in quick gasps. "Percy, that's the wisest thing you've
ever said in your life." A moment later she added, with a change of
tone: "But isn't the whole thing _too_ absurd?"

He started to go upstairs. "You know we're due at the Bigelows in an
hour?"

"Wait a minute," said Mrs. Tate. "I want to think over what you said.
You can't imagine how this thing has worried me. It's all due to my
meddling. Oh, I know that; you needn't say anything to me about it. But
I'm determined to help that poor woman if I can. Oh, if I had only
followed your advice, and let them alone!" she moaned.

"There's no use worrying now. The mischief's done. He would probably
have got tired of her anyway."

"If something isn't done to bring him back to her," she went on without
heeding his remark, "it will kill her. I'm sure of that. If you could
only see her. She looks like a ghost, and her hands tremble so! I don't
believe she's slept a wink for weeks. I don't see how she gets through
her performances. A clinging creature like her just _lives_ on
affection. Before she was married she always had her mother to take care
of her. To think that that man should treat her so! Oh, it's a shame,
it's a shame!"

Tate was standing at the door. "If she's going to kill herself over that
fellow, she might as well have gone on with her diving and killed
herself that way. You ask her if she doesn't want to go back to it," he
added, with the quizzical smile, "and see if she won't jump at the
chance."

"Do you suppose that she can suspect for an instant that her husband
fell in love with her performance?" she said, her eyes following her
husband up the stairs.

"She probably hasn't reasoned it out, but I haven't a doubt she feels it
intuitively," he replied, continuing his ascent. "You just ask her if
she doesn't want to make the plunge again and see what she'll say," he
concluded, smiling down at her from the floor above.



                                   XX


Mrs. Tate tried, by an almost impassioned kindness, to atone for her
neglect of Blanche during her absence from London. She sent her flowers
from her conservatory, she bought gifts for the little Jeanne, she
called at the apartment in Upper Bedford Place nearly every morning.
During these visits she did not once meet Jules; Blanche told her that
he always went away soon after breakfast, and seldom returned before
dinner. Sometimes he did not accompany her to the Hippodrome, but he
never failed to appear there during the evening. The management had
offered to reëngage Miss King as soon as her contract expired, and the
diver thought of postponing her return to America; but they had not as
yet come to terms, as the girl wanted a much larger salary than she had
been receiving.

It was this information that reminded Mrs. Tate to ask Blanche if she
were sorry she had given up her plunge and if she ever wished to resume
it. Though she had at first been impressed by the solution of Blanche's
troubles suggested by her husband, she had on sober second thought
dismissed it as ridiculously romantic; such things might happen in
novels, but they never could occur in real life. Her belief was shaken,
however, when she saw the pale face light up at her question.

"Oh, yes," Blanche cried, "I have thought of it. Sometimes--sometimes I
think it would be better if I hadn't given it up. Then--then that woman
wouldn't have come." Her eyes filled with tears, but she controlled
herself and, a moment later, she went on:--

"But I--I thought it was wrong for me to risk my life, and it made me so
unhappy for Jeanne's sake. But sometimes I think I might have stopped
being afraid. Before Jeanne was born I never had the least thought of
fear, even after father was killed, because I knew that was because the
trapeze was weak. Oh, I'm sure," she went on piteously,--"I'm _sure_ I
shouldn't be afraid any more!"

"But Dr. Broughton, you remember what he said, don't you?"

"He said that when I stopped making the plunge I should be better,"
Blanche replied simply. "But I'm not better; I feel worse,--oh, so much
worse! I know I should be better if I tried it again. And I sha'n't be
afraid any more," she repeated,--"even for Jeanne. It would be so much
better for us all!"

This speech made Mrs. Tate wonder if, as her husband had suggested,
Blanche had divined that Jules had cared for her performance rather than
for herself, and fancied she could win him back by resuming it. Her
interest increased when she learned that Jules and Miss King had not
spoken to each other for two evenings. Miss King's maid, who had at last
come from Manchester, and who knew a little Canadian French, had told
Madeleine about it. Jules had urged Miss King to accept Marshall's
terms, and was vexed with her because she refused and threatened to go
back to America. This had made him even more disagreeable at home than
he had been before; for the past few days he had not spoken one pleasant
word to them, and he had not even noticed Jeanne.

It was this information that rang in Mrs. Tate's consciousness when she
had left the apartment. Jules and that woman had quarrelled! Of course,
they would make it up again,--perhaps in a few days, perhaps that very
day; but if they did not, the quarrel might be one of the means of
winning him back to his wife. At any rate, she would speak to her
husband about it. When, on her return home, she did speak, he burst out
laughing.

"I don't see how you can find anything funny in that!" she said
resentfully. "It's a very serious matter."

"But it threatens to spoil my beautiful little romance!"

"Your beautiful romance? What do you mean?"

"If you had persuaded her to go back to her diving, and if she drove the
other woman out of the field in that way, it would be a proof of my
theory that he's fallen in love with the _performance_ and not with the
_performer_. But if his wife gets him back again now, it will be merely
because the other woman has broken with him. There's nothing for him to
do _except_ to go back to his wife and be forgiven."

"Well, I don't care what the reason is--if she only _gets_ him back.
She'll certainly die of jealousy and misery if she doesn't,--that's
plain enough. In my opinion, Dr. Broughton was entirely wrong in his
diagnosis of the case. She says herself that she misses her diving and
she wants to take it up again. Her rest hasn't done her a particle of
good. Anyway, I'll speak to the Doctor about it to-morrow. I'll write a
note, and ask him to come in for tea if he can."

"And hold another council of war," her husband suggested.

"A council of _peace_," she retorted smartly. "Oh, I know what you're
thinking of! But I'm determined to undo the harm I've done. There's no
time to be lost. If I can get that poor little woman to resume her
plunge while the husband's still quarrelling with the other performer, I
feel sure everything will come out all right. He'll be interested in her
again. Don't you remember how he used to brag about her? I suppose you
don't, but he did; and I could tell that he was as proud of her as if
she were the most wonderful creature in the world."

"I don't see what she wants him for," Tate said carelessly.

"Well, you're not a woman, and you can't understand how women feel about
men. I sometimes think the worse men are, the more their wives adore
them."

Tate smiled, but he made no reply; he was much more interested in the
case than he would allow himself to appear to be. Indeed, he was so
interested that he left his office the next day earlier than usual, in
order to take part in the conference. He found his wife in earnest talk
with the Doctor. Before coming to the house, Dr. Broughton, at Mrs.
Tate's suggestion, had made a call on Madame Le Baron, and he expressed
his alarm at having found her so thin and weak.

"Do you remember what I said the night we had our first talk about her?"
he asked, glancing at Tate. "I was afraid then that if she gave up her
work it might upset her, though I didn't see how she could go on with
the diving and keep whatever health she had. Now she's a great deal
worse off than she was when I last saw her."

Then they discussed the case in all its aspects. The Doctor laughed when
Mrs. Tate declared she believed the poor woman's happiness depended on
her resuming her plunge. "Oh, it may seem absurd to you!" she cried,
growing more earnest under ridicule; "but Percy believes it, though he
may pretend to you that he doesn't. He was the one who first suggested
it to me."

"I really think the diving wouldn't hurt her health so much as her
worrying about her husband does," the Doctor admitted. "Besides, she
believes she won't be afraid of it any more. She says her rest from it
has taken all her fear away."

"Then you think the best thing for her to do would be to resume the
plunge?" said Mrs. Tate.

For a moment the Doctor stroked his chin. "Under the circumstances I
should say it might," he replied slowly. "At any rate, it would be worth
trying. Of course, if that haunting fear returned she'd have to stop it
again."

A look of triumph flashed from the face of Mrs. Tate; and when she
glanced at her husband she saw that he was trying to dissemble his
interest in the decision. "I shall tell her that to-morrow!" she cried.
"It'll be the best news the poor thing has had for a long time. She's
crazy to begin that plunge again."

"I hope you are ready to take the consequences of your interference in
this business," said Tate, dryly.



                                  XXI


The next morning, in a long and secret talk, Mrs. Tate communicated the
Doctor's judgment to Blanche. She learned that Jules was still sullen
and depressed. That, of course, was a sign that his quarrel with the
diver had not as yet been made up. Blanche said that she would speak to
him at once about resuming the plunge; so far as she knew, no one had as
yet been engaged to take Miss King's place, and perhaps Mr. Marshall
would make a new contract with her on the old terms. Mrs. Tate hurried
away in a state of feverish excitement, dreading, yet hoping, that she
might meet Jules on the stairs, in order to reveal the great news. She
would have liked to return to the apartment that very afternoon, to
learn the effect of the announcement upon him; but she controlled her
impatience.

Jules did not return till late in the afternoon. From his manner Blanche
saw at once that he was in a surly mood. He flung his coat and hat on a
chair and threw himself on the couch. For a long time she did not dare
to speak to him. She thought he was going to sleep, but she suddenly saw
him staring at her with a look that frightened her.

"Jules!" she said.

He had closed his eyes again, and he seemed not to hear.

"Jules."

He opened his eyes, and once more she met that look. "What is it?" he
grunted. Her plaintive manner vexed him; it seemed like a reflection on
himself.

"There's something I want to say to you," she went on apologetically,
and with a suggestion of tearfulness in her voice, as if she felt
disappointed at his manner of receiving her news.

As he did not reply, she said: "It's about--about my plunge. I have been
thinking that I'm--I'm so much better now--I mean I'm not so
nervous--perhaps I can begin it again."

He sat up on the couch, a light coming into his eyes. For a moment he
was too surprised to speak. Then he said: "Well, I'm glad you're coming
to your senses!"

Encouraged by the change in his manner, she repeated what Dr. Broughton
had said to Mrs. Tate. At the mention of the names, Jules' face
darkened; since that night at the Tates' he had felt a personal
resentment against the Doctor, almost as strong as his hatred of the
Englishwoman.

"So that woman's been here again today, has she?" he said bitterly.
After a brief silence, he added more gently: "If you feel able to do the
plunge again, the sooner you begin the better. I know that Marshall will
be glad enough to renew the old contract. It will just fit in with his
plans," he continued, with a grim thought of the diver's discomfiture on
being superseded by Blanche. "I'll speak to him this very night."

Blanche tried to smile, but the effort ended in a sigh. She had thought
that Jules would show more enthusiasm.

"But we can't have any more nonsense," he said, glancing at her
again,--this time, however, without the bitterness she had before
observed in his face. "If you allow yourself to be afraid of the plunge
again, it will simply ruin you as an attraction. It'll make the managers
think you're unreliable, and they won't engage you."

In spite of his apparent indifference, Jules was secretly delighted at
the thought of his wife's resuming her great dive. For the past few days
he had never felt so keenly the humiliation of his own position. A
petulant remark of Lottie King's the day of their quarrel had kept
ringing in his ears: "What do _you_ amount to anyway?" Now he thought
triumphantly of the restoration of his own dignity. With Blanche as the
star attraction of the Hippodrome, earning a large salary, and with a
choice of offers from all over the world, he would become a personage
again! But he must guard her more carefully. He must in future keep her
out of the way of interfering foreigners like Mrs. Tate, who would put a
lot of nonsense into her head!

That night, when Jules consulted Marshall, he learned what he had
already surmised, that the manager was much upset by Miss King's refusal
to extend her engagement on any but exorbitant terms, and though it
would be completed in two weeks, he had not as yet found a sufficiently
strong attraction to take her place; so he was not only willing, but
glad, to renew with Blanche the contract she had at first made with him.
Jules felt the more elated on being told that Miss King had not been
nearly so good an attraction as his wife while giving the sensational
plunge. He was in high spirits when he entered Blanche's dressing-room
and told her the news. Blanche flushed with pleasure, not merely at the
news, but at his affectionate manner as well; Madeleine, however, though
she said nothing, seemed depressed. She had hoped that the poor child
would never make that horrible dive again.

After that night Blanche was so happy that she seemed like another
creature from the thin, white-faced little woman of the past few weeks.
Her eyes were bright, her cheeks flushed. Jules had been so different
with her, she said to Mrs. Tate, since she had told him she would go on
with the plunge. The night before he had taken her to the Hippodrome,
and after the performance they had gone with Madeleine to a _café_; it
reminded them of the days of their courtship in Paris.

The two weeks that followed were the happiest Blanche had known since
those first days after the birth of her child. Jules' devotion extended
not only to her, but to little Jeanne and to Madeleine as well. For
several days the gloom that had wrapped the city during most of the
winter lifted; the sun shone, and the feeling of spring was in the air.
In the afternoons Blanche took walks with Jules in the park, and on
Sunday they went to mass together and then drove out to Richmond and
dined there. They agreed to pretend that they were still in their days
of courtship, and Jules delighted Blanche by repeating some of the
foolish speeches he had made to her in the first weeks of their love.

Then, too, they made great plans for the future. The negotiations with
Hicks in New York had been broken off, but Jules had heard of an
Australian manager who was in London looking for performers to appear
during the following winter in Melbourne. How fine it would be if they
could go out there and give performances in the chief Australian cities!
Blanche, however, showed so little enthusiasm for this plan that Jules
abandoned it for a time. Besides, he himself liked better the plan she
suggested of returning to the _Cirque Parisien_. They might make an
engagement there that would enable them to pass the winter in Paris. How
good it would be to be back there again! Perhaps they could secure the
little apartment in the _rue de Lisbonne_. Jules became so enthusiastic
that he wrote to the manager in Paris, proposing terms. After a winter
there they might think of going to Australia, where they would be much
better paid than in Paris.

The thought of returning to France added to Blanche's happiness. Oh, to
see her mother and Jeanne and Louise again! How good it would be! There
had been times during the past few weeks when she felt as if she could
not bear to be separated from them any longer. But in Paris they could
come to see her; perhaps Monsieur Berthier would let her mother and the
girls pass a few weeks with her. Of course, she would be with them in
Boulogne for the summer. When she spoke of this to Jules, however, he
said nothing. He had in mind other plans, a possible engagement at one
of the French watering places; but he thought it best not to refer to
this at present. He realized the importance of making as much money as
possible and as quickly as possible. There was no knowing how long his
wife's nerve would last. If she only held out for a few years longer,
they could make a fortune in Australia and America. Then they could
retire, and live comfortably in Paris for the rest of their lives. He
expected to earn a great deal of money in America; but he had reasons
for not speaking of that country at all for the present.

The two weeks during which Blanche was enjoying her new happiness were
an exciting time for Mrs. Tate, who felt as if she were responsible for
the success of her _protégée's_ return to her former place in the
Hippodrome. Every day she repaired to Upper Bedford Place and held long
conferences with Blanche. Everything promised well, she thought. Jules
showed no signs of returning to the thraldom of Lottie King. How
providential, Mrs. Tate thought, the quarrel between them had been! She
did not know that, even before his break with her, Jules had begun to
tire of the diver's domineering manner and of her habit of ridiculing
him; moreover, he had at last perceived that she was only playing with
him. This had helped to prejudice him against her performance, and as
the novelty of the performance wore off, he saw that it was far inferior
in daring and skill to his wife's magnificent plunge. This had never
lost its fascination for him, and now, as he assisted Blanche in her
daily exercises he felt the old thrill at its brilliancy and his own
sense of importance in having a part in it.

On the afternoon of the day when her plunge was to be resumed, Blanche
took a long rest. She was awakened by the crowing of Jeanne in the next
room. She raised her hands to her head; at the thought of the ordeal of
the evening, a sudden dizziness came upon her. It was more than three
months since she had made the dive, and she wondered if she should be
equal to it. How horrible if at the last moment she should lose her
nerve! She arose quickly, hardly daring to allow herself to think, and
she hurried to the child. How strong and beautiful Jeanne was! Blanche
took her in her arms and pressed her closely. When Madeleine turned and
lumbered out of the room, leaving them alone together, Blanche began to
kiss the child passionately, and tears welled over on her cheeks. Then
she bathed her face, for fear that Jules would see that she had been
crying.

That night at dinner, Jules was in high spirits. "Marshall expects a big
house," he said. "He's spent a lot of money advertising your dive. He
thinks of getting a big poster made of you flying through the air."

During the whole of the meal Blanche was very quiet. Madeleine noticed
that her eyes were shining. When it was time to go to the Hippodrome,
Jules, wrapping his wife in her cloak, put his arms around her, and
kissed her on the ear, as he had often done in the days of their
engagement. She drew away and started for Jeanne's room.

"Where are you going?" he said.

"I want to kiss the little one good-night."

"But she's asleep!" he cried impatiently. "You mustn't wake her up."

In spite of his protest, she silently made her way into the room where
the child lay, closing the door behind her. Jules listened, thinking
that Jeanne would cry on being disturbed; but there was no sound. Then
he knew that she was praying by the crib, and this angered him. It was
about time to put a stop to her notions, he said to himself. When, a
moment later, she came out, her face was covered with a thick veil, and,
after glancing at her sharply, he said nothing.

On arriving at the Hippodrome, they found Mrs. Tate in the star
dressing-room, which had been assigned to Blanche again.

"I have been waiting for you," Mrs. Tate said nervously. "I suppose I
have no right to be here, but I felt that I _must_ see you, and I made
my husband bring me. Are you quite well?"

She had observed the look of disgust given her by Jules, but this did
not disturb her nearly so much as the white face that Blanche presented.
Moreover, she did not feel reassured when Blanche smiled and said she
felt perfectly well.

"Of course everything will be splendid. There's a tremendous crowd,"
Mrs. Tate added. "You'll have a great success."

Jules, after bowing coldly, had turned from the room. As soon as the
door closed behind him, Mrs. Tate seized Blanche by both hands and
kissed her affectionately. "I mustn't keep you from dressing," she said
with a smile. "Perhaps I'll come in and congratulate you when it's all
over."

Blanche grew a shade paler, and Mrs. Tate hesitated at the door. "What
is it?" she said.

"Nothing."

Mrs. Tate walked toward her. "Nothing?"

Blanche turned her head away. "If anything should happen," she said
quietly, "the--the little one--I should like my mother to take her."

Mrs. Tate began to breathe hard; but she burst out laughing. "You silly
child! Of course; I shall look after Jeanne anyway. Don't you worry
about _her_. Now I must hurry out to that husband of mine. He'll be
furious with me for keeping him waiting so long."

A few moments before Blanche appeared in the ring, Jules returned to the
dressing-room, resplendent in his evening clothes, with three diamonds
gleaming on his shirt-front, and carrying a bouquet of white roses.

"These are just like the roses I bought for you the night I met you. I
selected them this afternoon, and they've just come. You must wear them
in your belt, as you did then," he said, as she flushed with pleasure
and thanked him. "I remember how tickled I was when I saw them; and oh,
how I hated Pelletier when you took them out and gave them to him to
hold, while you were going through your act."

Then, as she adjusted the flowers in her belt, he went on: "It's the
biggest house of the season! Marshall says you're the best attraction he
ever had. Ready?" he asked, surveying Blanche as she stood in her white
silk tights. "You look just as you did when I first saw you," he added,
putting one hand on her cheek and kissing her lightly on the other.
"Come along."

Then he threw over her the robe she always wore on her way to the ring,
and they hurried from the room. As Blanche ran out on the net and heard
the applause of the vast audience, she felt a thrill of joy and an
intoxicating sense of her own power. All fear seemed to leave her, and
she laughed as she climbed hand over hand to the trapeze. From trapeze
to trapeze she shot with delight; she had never felt so sure of herself,
so exultant. When she returned to the net, Jules, who had taken his
place at the rope, whispered to her: "You're in great form to-night.
Keep it up."

She was smiling as she started on her long climb to the top of the
building. But when she had taken her place on the beam from which she
was to make her plunge and looked down at the black mass in the
distance, her strength seemed suddenly to leave her. Her fingers
tightened on the beam, as if she felt afraid of losing her balance. Then
she heard her husband's voice ring through the place, crying the
familiar warning. She knew the moment had come for making the plunge;
but she continued motionless. She felt as if her will had become
suddenly paralyzed, and a moment later, as if her body were frozen.

The black mass below seemed to dance before her, then to beckon to her,
and in her ears she kept hearing the voice of little Jeanne and the
sound of her laughter. Oh, she had known that this moment would come
some time; she had known it ever since Jeanne was born. But she could
not sit there forever; the crowd below was waiting to see her fall. If
she did not make an effort she should lose her self-control and go
plunging into the blackness. She must lift her hands and gather herself
together, and hurl herself out as she had always done. But she had no
strength; she could only lift her arms weakly. Then she tried to give
her body the necessary impetus, and she plunged wildly into the air.

There was a cry of horror from the crowd, and a moment later the white
figure lay motionless in the net. The people rose from their seats and
rushed toward the ring. The police tried to drive them back as Jules
leaped into the net and seized the prostrate body in his arms.

"Keep them back," he cried frantically, not realizing that he was
speaking French. "She must have air." Then, turning, he said: "Blanche!
Blanche! Can't you speak? Open your eyes so I may know you aren't dead."

He was terrified by the way her head fell back from her shoulders. "We
must get her out of this," he said desperately, to two of the circus men
who had followed him on the net, as he glanced down at the struggling
mass beneath him. "Bring her to her dressing-room. Make those people get
out of the way."

With difficulty they bore her through the crowd. Some one threw her
cloak over her as she passed. She gave no sign of life, but the
expression in Jules' face showed that he still hoped. When they reached
her room, they placed her on the floor, and Jules closed the door to
keep out the crowd. Madeleine, who had been ringing her hands and
moaning, quickly loosened the tight bodice. Then the door was forced
open again, and Marshall entered with a physician, who quickly bent over
the prostrate figure and listened for the heart-beat.

"She's dead," he said quietly.

Jules threw himself on the body in a paroxysm of despair.


                                THE END.



                    PRINTED AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS,
                    IN CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS,
                    FOR STONE AND KIMBALL, PUBLISHERS,
                    NEW YORK, M DCCC XCVI



                           Transcriber Notes:

Passages in italics were indicated by _underscores_.

Small caps were replaced with ALL CAPS.

Throughout the dialogues, there were words used to mimic accents of the
speakers. Those words were retained as-is.

Errors in punctuations and inconsistent hyphenation were not corrected
unless otherwise noted.

On page 18, "were" was replaced with "was".

On page 103, "Champs Élyseés" was replaced with "Champs Élysées".

On page 118, "wool house" was replaced with "wool-house".

On page 192, "aimably" was replaced with "amiably".

On page 222, "is" was replaced with "it".

On page 294, "palor" was replaced with "pallor".





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